Jeremiah XI – Feeling God’s presence in the valley

February 22, 2017

http://www.christianscienceneworleans.org/WedReadings.html

This month is the end of my three-year-term as First Reader of Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist, in New Orleans. Thank you for your support of this blog which was a weekly diary of what I was learning through my time with our Pastor, the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy.

Thank you especially for letting me explore different approaches to the Wednesday service. Sometimes our readings were based on the holidays — liberty for the 4th of July, nativity stories during Advent, or a passion week series during Lent. Sometimes our readings were explorations of Mary Baker Eddy’s terms in the “Glossary,” such as Jacob’s sons or the four rivers in the Garden of Eden. Sometimes we focused on Bible characters — the famous, such as King David; or the mysterious, such as “Melchizedek? Melchisedec Who?” Sometimes our topics matched events in the news, such as immunity from sickness or terrorism, and sometimes the readings were about issues facing our own members, such as discouragement, employment, or home. Sometimes we’ve read whole books of the Bible, such as Paul’s epistles or our current study of Jeremiah.

We’ve had the opportunity to explore our Pastor in depth during our Wednesday services, and I like to think that we’ve addressed “Some Objections Answered” where Mrs. Eddy wrote:

The strictures on this volume would condemn to oblivion the truth, which is raising up thousands from helplessness to strength and elevating them from a theoretical to a practical Christianity. These criticisms are generally based on detached sentences or clauses separated from their context. Even the Scriptures, which grow in beauty and consistency from one grand root, appear contradictory when subjected to such usage. (Science and Health, 341:1-8)

In Jeremiah, the Scriptures do appear contradictory. First, God helps Babylon; then He destroys Babylon. First, King Jehoiakim cuts up Jeremiah’s words and is killed by the Babylonians, but then his captured son Jeconiah is released from his Babylonian prison. Forgiveness of an individual became forgiveness to the nation of Israel as all worked out their “own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).  Did you notice that national forgiveness became global forgiveness in Jeremiah’s oracles to the ten nations? (“bring again their captivity” KJV or “restore their fortunes” NRSV) Or in this famous quote from an Anglican bishop: “It takes a whole world to understand the whole Christ” (Kenneth Cragg, The Call of the Minaret, p. 183).

I was familiar with individual verses from the Book of Jeremiah, but learning his whole story added new layers of meaning — not just to the Bible, but also to Science and Health. For example, Jeremiah told his messenger to read his words to the Babylonians, then cast his message into the River Euphrates.  According to the “Glossary” definition, did the infinity of the Euphrates swallow up the finity of a corporeal Babylon? I’ve been pondering whether Jeremiah, this “prophet to the nations,” was learning the frustrating limits to human communication, whereas the incorporeal Word “needs no material method for the transmission of messages”  (Science and Health 78:17-19), which is a really good reminder when we feel tongue-tied to technology.

Since the Book of Jeremiah ends abruptly, here is what happens after those last paragraphs.  King of Babylon, Evil-Merodach, reigned briefly during the period before his nation was defeated by King Cyrus of Persia.  The released King Jeconiah had seven children and was the grandfather of Zerubbabel who led the first group of Jews back to Jerusalem from the Babylonian Captivity in the first year of Cyrus, King of Persia.  Zerubbabel also laid the foundation of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Jeconiah and Zerubbabel are listed as ancestors of Joseph, the husband of Mary in Jesus’ chronology in Matthew 1:11-12 .  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeconiah  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zerubbabel

Jeremiah felt God’s presence in the valley, in the midst of “fear and trembling,” and his book ends with hope, with the mercy and love of being fed “in the presence of mine enemies” (Psalm 23:5). “Fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Science and Health 442:25-28).

Here are the Bible Notes from The New Oxford Annotated Bible:

Jeremiah 43:7 Tahpanhes was an Egyptian border fortress in the eastern Nile Delta.

Jeremiah 44.1-30: A final oracle against the Jewish refugee communities in Egypt. . . .Jeremiah associates the disaster with the people’s faithlessness toward God. He meets popular resistance form those who insist that the disaster has come precisely because they had discontinued their ancient syncretistic ritual practices, especially that of the adoration of and homage paid to the goddess known as the “queen of heaven,” probably Astarte, variously known as Ishtar in Babylon and Ashtart in Canaan.  17: The worship of the queen of heaven was popular throughout the ancient world, including popular religious expression in Israel (compare the worship of Aphrodite and Venus). Her worship included the making of raisin cakes to her, expressive of prayers for fertility. This goddess represented the evening-star phase of the planet Venus, while in Canaan her brother, Ashtar, represented the morning-star phase which refers to an ancient myth  associated with Ashtar, the “day star” who ushers in the light of morning.

Jeremiah 46.1-51.64 Oracles against the nations. Prophetic books commonly have collections of such oracles directed against Israel’s enemies. These oracles may preserve one of the early functions of prophecy as “war prophecy” undermining the strength of the enemy with curses and psychologically fortifying the home troops for victory. . . .The Hebrew tradition begins with the oracle against Egypt. . . .The general sweep is then from west to east (or using the language of the text from “south” to “north”) and concludes with the lengthy oracle against Babylon, the major enemy in the book of Jeremiah. . . .Afterward Egypt shall be inhabited, that the oracle concludes with a brief word of promise for the restoration of Egypt is strange . . . .Moab’s fortunes will be restored, as will those of Ammon and Elam. 49.34-39: Against Elam. One of the few dated oracles, it is placed in the context of the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah following the first deportation (597 BCE). Elam, with its capital at Susa, lay to the east of Babylon.

Jeremiah 50: The oracle against Babylon (Chaldea) appears last in the list, reflecting its historical importance and the cosmic aspects of Jeremiah’s proclamation of judgment against the nations. This lengthy oracle, made up of numerous fragments, expresses both a harsh judgment upon Babylon and visions of restoration for Judah. Lacking is the sense expressed elsewhere that Babylon was an agent in God’s purposeful design. Instead the oracle stresses the arrogance and defiance of Babylon, which will now face retribution from Israel’s God. . . .2. Bel, a title of Marduk, the chief deity of Babylon, related to the Canaanite title ba’al, “lord, master.” Merdach refers to the chief patron deity of Babylon, Marduk, creator of the world in Babylonian mythology and founder of the city of Babylon. . . Even Babylon, the enemy from the north, is subject to her own “enemies from the north.” Babylon was conquered by Cyrus, head of a coalition of Medes and Persians, in 539 BCE.

Jeremiah 51. The oracles against Babylon (“all these words”) were according to this account, sealed in a scroll and then taken to the Euphrates by courier and thrown in as a prophetic sign and curse that Babylon would so sink in divine disaster. This action is dated to 594 BCE, the year of the likely aborted revolt against Babylon.

Advertisements

Jeremiah X – Liberty and Order

February 15, 2017

http://www.christianscienceneworleans.org/WedReadings.html

We are completing the Book of Jeremiah this Wednesday and next Wednesday.  In today’s readings, we begin with the Mosaic law about releasing Hebrew slaves from their debt after seven years. The Judean slaveowners disobeyed this law, which was just another debt their nation would have to pay off with their own 70 years of captivity. (Did you notice that some of the poor farmers were permitted to remain in Judea while most of the ruling class was carried away to captivity in Babylon?  Seven years for an individual slave becomes 70 years for a whole nation — I love that symbolism!)

Jeremiah never deserted his countrymen, but did his influence ever bear fruit, even in Egypt where he was carried away captive? Here is an interesting connection, but first some history about Bible translations:

The Septuagint (from the Latin “seventy”) is the primary Greek translation of the Old Testament. This title refers to the legendary 70 Jewish scholars who translated the five books of Moses into Koine Greek as early as the 3rd century BCE. (Koine Greek was the trading language of the Egyptian city of Alexandria and the Eastern Mediterranean at that time.) The traditional story is that 72 Jewish scholars (or 6 elders from each of the 12 tribes) were asked by the Greek king of Egypt Ptolemy II to translate the Torah from Hebrew to Greek for the Library in Alexandria. This is the story repeated by Josephus and St. Augustine:

King Ptolemy once gathered 72 Elders. He placed them in 72 chambers, each of them in a separate one, without revealing to them why they were summoned. He entered each one’s room and said: “Write for me the Torah of Moshe your teacher”. God put it in the heart of each one to translate identically as all the others did.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Septuagint

Did Jeremiah inspire the ancestors of these Egyptian Jews to treasure and remember their law so precisely?  Jeremiah’s ministry was from 626 BCE under King Josiah to 595 BCE. Then we no longer have any record of Jeremiah and no account of his death, but I like to think that his cherishing of the Word in Egypt impacted the later Greek translation.

Here are the Bible Notes about today’s readings from The New Oxford Annotated Bible:

Deuteronomy 15 Manumission. . .A court might require a thief, unable to repay a theft, to indenture his labor as compensation or, overcome by debt, a serf might assign his labor to repay a loan. The gift provided the manumitted slave recalls and reenacts the nation’s own manumission by God from slavery in Egypt.

Jeremiah 34.8-22: The aborted manumission of slaves. The context for this event is the period when the siege was briefly lifted because Egyptian forces under Pharaoh Hophra arrived in Judah to attempt to break the siege of the Babylonian army. Babylonian forces temporarily withdrew from Jerusalem in order to face Hophra’s army. . . .The manumission likely also served practical purposes, given scarcity of food resources and the need for male support troops. As soon as the site was lifted, however, the people presumed that normality would return and therefore the manumission was retracted.

Jeremiah 40: Jeremiah was allowed to choose exile or residence in Judah. Choosing the latter, he was placed in the custody of Gedaliah, the newly appointed governor of Judah whose family Jeremiah had long been friendly. Gedaliah’s family figures prominently, not only in the life of Jeremiah but also at the Judean court and in relation to the Deuteronomic reform. Gedaliah’s grandfather Shaphan delivered the newly discovered law scroll to King Josiah. Gedaliah’s father, Ahikam, a member of the delegation sent to the prophetess Huldah, was Jeremiah’s champion as well.

Jeremiah IX – Discovering the Ever-Present Word

February 8, 2017

http://www.christianscienceneworleans.org/WedReadings.html

The Bible stories this week illustrate how the Word cannot be destroyed because it is Everlasting and Ever-present. There is a comparison between the obedience of good King Josiah (who repented after discovering part of the Book of Deuteronomy while repairing the Temple) and the disrespect of bad King Jehoiakim (who cut up Jeremiah’s scroll and threw it in the fire). Josiah consulted the prophetess Huldah, so whenever there is a woman in the Bible, I have to do some more research. Here is what I learned:

Huldah was one of the seven prophetesses, with Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, and Esther. (We’ve covered them all on Wednesdays, so I’m glad I didn’t miss Huldah!)

According to Rabbinic interpretation, Huldah said to the messengers of King Josiah, “Tell the man that sent you to me,” etc. (2 Kings 22:15), indicating by her unceremonious language that for her Josiah was like any other man. The king addressed her, and not Jeremiah, because he thought that women are more easily stirred to pity than men, and that therefore the prophet would be more likely than Jeremiah to intercede with God in his behalf (Meg. 14a, b; comp. Seder ‘Olam R. xxi.). Huldah was a relative of Jeremiah, both being descendants of Rahab by her marriage with Joshua (Sifre, Num. 78; Meg. 14a, b). While Jeremiah admonished and preached repentance to the men, she did the same to the women (Pesiḳ. R. 26 [ed. Friedmann, p. 129]). Huldah was not only a prophet, but taught publicly in the school (Targ. to 2 Kings 22:14), according to some teaching especially the oral doctrine. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7923-huldah

There is some disagreement as to why King Josiah went to Huldah instead of Jeremiah. According to another Jewish website, Jeremiah was not consulted because he was visiting the Jewish exiles in Assyria at the time. http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/112503/jewish/Huldah-the-Prophetess.htm

Under bad King Jehoiakim (Josiah’s son), Jeremiah used the example of the Rechabites’ faithful obedience to the rules of their human father compared to the Hebrews’ disobedience of the Word of their heavenly Father. The Rechabites were a guild of metal workers who made chariots and other weaponry. They lived apart and abstained from alcohol so they wouldn’t divulge their trade secrets while under the influence. (Eugene Peterson, Run with the Horses, pages 135-136).

I am so grateful to be reading the Book of Jeremiah. I had not discovered Huldah or the Rechabites until I started studying Jeremiah from beginning to end. If the Bible is our Temple, then discovering this book could be how King Josiah felt when he found Deuteronomy. Or Mary Baker Eddy’s discovery of Christian Science — the Word was always there, waiting for the receptive heart.

Here is a beautiful poem reflecting this sentiment in this month’s Journal which begins:

Fresh upon the listening ear

Of one who waits upon the Word,

Comes inspiration, calm and clear,

As whispers of God’s truth are heard.

New concepts only Mind can give

Call gently at the open door

Of consciousness, which longs to live

In heavenly places, more and more!

(Revelation for a Reader, by Wanda Richard, from the February 2017 issue of the Christian Science Journal)

Here are the Bible notes from The New Oxford Annotated Bible:

2 Kings 22: For the authors of the book of Kings, Josiah (640-609 BCE) is the perfect king, a new David, but also a new Moses and a new Joshua. . .8-10: The book, which reaches the king through Shaphan and Hilkiah is meant to be some form of the book of Deuteronomy. . . 19-20: Hilkiah’s oracle concerning Josiah is inconsistent with what is reported later, since he did not die in peace but was killed by the Egyptian king. Perhaps her prophecy meant that Josiah would be spared the agony of Judah’s destruction and exile.23.1-3: The king himself reads the book to all the people and renews the covenant with the Lord. The book of the law can therefore also be called the book of the covenant.

2 Kings 23. 34-35: When making Eliakim the new king, Neco changes his hame to Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim reigned 608-597 BCE.

Jeremiah 36: In a pivotal year, the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians in battle and asserted themselves as the dominant power over Judah, forcing the radical reshaping of Judean aspirations and allegiances. . . Jeremiah has the assistance of Baruch, who serves as his scribe, and is supported by the family of Shaphan within the royal court and who sent Baruch and Jeremiah into protective hiding. Piece by piece Jehoiakim burned the scroll, likely as a means of mitigating the effects of the words of judgment, which would have been received as a type of curse. Most scholars assume that the second scroll, produced to replace the first destroyed by Jehoiakim contained the core of material now found in chapters 1-24. . . Jeremiah 36:22 Ninth month, November-December.

Jeremiah VIII – Hope

February 1, 2017

http://www.christianscienceneworleans.org/WedReadings.html

A contemporary of Mary Baker Eddy, the New England poet Emily Dickinson, wrote:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

Years later, Mrs. Eddy would write the poem “Mother’s Evening Prayer” which has this stanza:  “O make me glad for every scalding tear, / For hope deferred, ingratitude, disdain!”  The phrase “hope deferred” matches this quote from Proverbs:  “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Prov 13:12).

“Hope deferred” certainly seems to be a term we could use to describe our current global unrest, whether it is disappointed refugees or citizens disillusioned by the government or frustrated with the media. A helpful article in praying about hope to heal divisions is “When family ties are tested,” which included two definitions for “deferred hope”:

A dictionary reference pointed out that the verb “to defer” has two distinct meanings. One is “to put off to a future time, to postpone.” The second is “to submit to the opinion, wishes, or decision of another.” Some of the synonyms for this second meaning are “yield, submit, surrender, entrust.”

Ah, the light was beginning to dawn. My hopes for a happier family could sadly be postponed for a future date, relegated to the realm of someday possibilities. Or I could submit all my personal hopes and expectations for good to a loving Father-Mother, God, who created us and governs His creation every moment. I could yield my preconceived story lines and plots. I could surrender my timetable for when and how things should be accomplished. I could entrust myself, my family, my cat, to God, knowing that omnipresent Good governs all of us, always.

Each day, I choose the latter. For me, “hope deferred” no longer implies waiting until cherished hopes are realized or postponing good. “Hope deferred” has become a time of active yielding to the divine (Earleen Bailey, Christian Science Sentinel, June 27, 2005).

A few years ago, I read a biography about Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was a German Lutheran pastor active in the German resistance (Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas). He became engaged to a young woman shortly before being imprisoned, and then a few weeks before the end of World War II, he was executed by the Nazis.  I remember thinking that the romance must have felt like a sign of hope for the future in a war-torn country.  Or at least, that is the connection I made when I read about Jeremiah buying a field while sitting in prison with Jerusalem at war. It was an orderly business transaction in the midst of disorder. It was hope.

In the readings, Israel is referred to as “Ephraim, my firstborn” (Jer. 31:9). Ephraim was blessed by Jacob as Joseph’s first born son, although he was the last born.  Reversing the birth order reminded me of Jesus’ words that the “first shall be last, and the last shall be first” (Matt. 19:30). Then I began thinking of all the other symbols that Jesus reversed: the burdensome yoke and the yoke which was easy; the unclean leaven of the Pharisees, and the treasured leaven of the woman baking bread. It is like a hidden blessing to call Israel “Ephraim” because it is acknowledging that God blesses the reverse order of the physical senses.

Here are some notes on Jeremiah from The New Oxford Annotated Bible:

Jeremiah 31:18 – Ephraim, the more powerful of the Joseph tribes, and therefore representative of all Israel (the north).

Jeremiah 32: God’s restoration of Israel. These chapters are thematically linked to the “Book of Consolation” and so are included here, even though they should follow ch 34 chronologically; they are dated to the very end of there reign of Zedekiah and of the Babylonian siege (588-586 BCE), during which Jeremiah was in confinement.

Jer. 32.1-44 centers on the theme that “fields shall be bought. . .and deeds shall be signed and sealed and witnessed” using Jeremiah’s offer of redeeming family property in Anathoth as a sign. . . .During a brief lifting of the siege, Jeremiah tried to leave the city, was accused of desertion, and was arrested. 4: Chaldeans, i.e., Babylonians. 7: Right of redemption, to keep property within the extended family, members who could do so were expected to “redeem” land that was in jeopardy of being forfeited or sold outside the family. 9: Seventeen shekels, 7 oz. At this time there was no coinage, and “money” was weighed in. 11: sealed deed. . .open copy, contracts were sealed with a signet ring on a clay “bulla,” but a copy or summary of the contents was left available on the outside of the scroll for reference and public scrutiny. Storage of such documents in clay jars was common practice. 12: Baruch, son of Neriah, Jeremiah’s scribe.

Lamentations 3:29 – Put one’s mouth to the dust, accept God’s discipline submissively.

Jeremiah VII – Transitions

January 25, 2017

http://www.christianscienceneworleans.org/WedReadings.html

We have heard much in these past weeks about having a peaceful transition of power.  Mary Baker Eddy wrote about the transitional qualities we should express: “Humanity, honesty, affection, compassion, hope, faith, meekness, temperance” (SH 115).  In this Wednesday’s service, we will be looking at the subject of transitions through the words of the prophet Jeremiah whose sentiments have been expressed by many of the citizens of today.  Jeremiah wrote, “Seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace” (Jer 29:7 NKJV).

The “peace” in this verse is from the Hebrew “shalom” which Strong’s translates as “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace.” Different Bible translations use different words, all striving to give a sense of shalom.  For example, the New International Version reads: “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer 29:7 NIV).

The Bible readings from the Old Testament begin and end with references to life in the womb and childbirth.  According to Bible commentaries, “delicacy, growth, and maternal involvement are God’s work,” and “childbirth is a common metaphor for distress in the midst of crisis” (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Ps 139:13 and Jer 30:6). I really like how these two concepts are addressed in the Science and Health paragraph on “scientific obstetrics” discussing “the birth of the new child, or divine idea” (SH 463:6).

Below is additional Bible commentary on Jeremiah from The New Oxford Annotated Bible:

Jeremiah 26:15 Innocent blood, the killing of an innocent person was a horrific crime that had disastrous consequences, especially in the perspective of Deuteronomy. 16-19: The charge is mitigated for two reasons. First, they recognize the prophet’s claim to immunity on the basis of being constrained by God to deliver a message. Second, the precedent of Micah is involved, with a rare quotation of an earlier book (Mic 3.12). Micah’s prediction of disaster did not come to pass because, it is argued, he successfully prompted Hezekiah to plead for divine favor. . . .20-23: The precedent of Uriah, however, indicated the danger facing Jeremiah. For exactly the same charge, Uriah was hunted down by Jehoiakim and executed.

Jeremiah 29:5 Build. . .plant, characteristic language of Jeremiah’s vision of restoration which will first occur in Babylon itself. 7: Welfare, that is “the peace” (Heb. shalom). They are to pray for the peace not of Jerusalem, but of Babylon.

Jeremiah VI – Our cup overflowing beyond threescore and ten

January 18, 2017

http://www.christianscienceneworleans.org/WedReadings.html

Last week my family saw the movie “Hidden Figures” about three African American women who broke barriers of gender, race, AND space at NASA with their knowledge of math, engineering, and computer programming.  Mary Baker Eddy wrote of “the great exponent of God” which made me think of her remarks about going beyond our “threescore years and ten.” I love the sense of multiplying our spiritual completeness in our earthly experience, and looking beyond the numbers for the blessings, as the women proved in this movie.

In doing these readings on Jeremiah, there is a constant reminder that the Israelites were to be in captivity for 70 years; and elsewhere in the Bible, man’s lifespan was set at threescore years and ten.  Jacob’s descendants numbered 70 when they entered Egypt;  Moses chose 70 elders to expand his ability to rule, and Jesus sent out 70 disciples to multiply his healing work. Yet there were thousands leaving Egypt in the Book of Exodus and thousands being baptized in the Book of Acts. So whenever we feel restricted by age, location, or any other experience, then ponder God’s multiplying power since “we may as well improve our time in solving the mysteries of being. . .” (Science and Health, p. 90).

Did you notice that Jeremiah used the symbolism of the cup, despised by the Israelites who craved another lifestyle, and which became central to Jesus’ teachings?  The name of the place where the Israelites were buried in the wilderness after their demands were satisfied with overflowing quails was called “Kibrothhattaavah” which means “graves of craving” (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Numbers 11:34).

Jeremiah V – “What is the chaff to the wheat?”

January 11, 2017

http://www.christianscienceneworleans.org/WedReadings.html

There is a poem in The Christian Science Journal, entitled “Jeremiah’s question,” which begins:

“What is the chaff to the wheat?”*

What is the husk to the seed?

Is it the thing that is gathered and cherished?

Is it the thing that we need?

Is it the thing that can grow and bear fruit?

Is it the thing that can feed?

What is the chaff to the wheat—

the mortal lies to God’s thought?

Which is the one

to be gathered and cherished?

Which is the one to be taught?

(“Jeremiah’s question” by Diane Allison from the August 2014 issue of The Christian Science Journal)

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah strongly rebuked the swirling chaff of false prophets and lying prophecies. The Jews were being forced to separate themselves from the sin in believing that God (and therefore good) was limited to a particular place (Jerusalem and its Temple). The conquest of Nebuchadnezzar burnt up this sin (like the tares and the wheat), so nothing was left but the Christ-seed, which was present with them in Babylon, and which inspired them to write many of the books of our Old Testament during their captivity.

Then in the New Testament, Jesus expresses his harshest criticism for the scribes and Pharisees and their burdensome rules. “God’s glowing denunciations of man when not found in His image, the likeness of Spirit, convince reason and coincide with revelation in declaring this material creation false.” (Science and Health 522:21)  I think this acronym for SIN, “Separate Individual Nature,” sums up this pride in a false creation.

There is so much in the news today about fair wages and immigration, so here’s a reminder from Jeremiah about the importance of social justice: “Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbor’s service without wages, and giveth him not for his work” (Jeremiah 22:13).  The warning about callous “pastors” in the King James Version is translated as “shepherds” in other versions, and according to the Bible Notes, “shepherds” is a metaphor for Judah’s kings.

There is an unnamed reference to Megiddo in Jeremiah 22:10, and there is a recent two-minute video by Bible scholar Madelon Maupin on this ancient battleground which you can watch here:  http://bibleroads.com/tel-megiddo/  (Madelon has a free Bible Roads e-newsletter which you can sign up for on the same link.)

Here are some more Bible Notes from The New Oxford Annotated Bible which are helpful in understanding the swirling history in Jeremiah’s verses.

Jeremiah 22:10-11: Him who is dead, Josiah was killed at Megiddo in 609 BCE in a battle with Pharaoh Neco. Neco was leading the Egyptian army northward to come to the aid of the Assyrian army, which was under critical pressure from the Babylonians. Josiah’s political program was governed by his revolt against Assyria, so he did not want Neco’s campaign to relieve Assyria to succeed. Him who goes away, Josiah’s son Jehoahaz (Shallum) reigned briefly but was taken captive by Pharaoh Neco II of Egypt who placed his brother Jehoiakim (608-598 BCE) on the throne. . . . 13-23: An oracle against Jehoiakim, who is judged to be the antithesis of his father, Josiah. 13: Work for nothing, the royal building projects were carried out by use of conscripted laborers, one of the realities of dynastic kingship as suggested by Samuel’s warning. References to elaborate building projects completed by means of uncompensated labor suggest that Jehoiakim was perceived as imitating Solomon’s grandeur and autocratic power. 14: Windows…cedar…vermillion, signs of royal ostentation and arrogance. 15: Your father, that is Josiah.

Jeremiah IV – “Go down to the potter’s house.”

January 4, 2017

http://www.christianscienceneworleans.org/WedReadings.html

I’ve read and heard many comments about how awful the year 2016 was due to the bitter presidential elections, celebrity deaths, terrorists attacks, and so on. I find great hope in reading the Book of Jeremiah, as did Christian Science Bible scholar Elaine Follis who wrote the following testimony:

I was particularly struck by the eighteenth chapter of the book, which describes Jeremiah’s vision of a potter. The text indicates the vision is based on an experience he had while struggling with despair over the impending doom of his nation. God told Jeremiah to take a walk to the part of the city where potters’ shops were located. He obeyed, and became absorbed in watching a craftsman at work. Just as a lovely design was emerging from the clay, the potter suddenly stopped the wheel and pressed the clay back into a lump. Initially startled, Jeremiah continued to watch as the potter turned the wheel again and eventually produced a piece even more beautiful than before.

Jeremiah realized the meaning of the vision as a parable for his own day. Even as the potter brought fresh creativity out of what appeared to be destruction, so God was working something new in the hearts of the people Israel. God told Jeremiah, “Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hands, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel” (18:6). I began to think: Perhaps that is what is happening to me, as well. Perhaps the foundations of my previous concepts of life are being torn away to make way for new perspectives, based on a better foundation.

I decided to believe that might be possible, and, accordingly, to take hope and heart. Every time I felt tempted to despair, I thought of God as the potter and me as the clay, safe in His hands. I reasoned, “If this can work for Jeremiah—and if Scripture includes basic principles as to the nature of God and humanity—it ought to work for me as well.” (“The Spirit in the Word,” by Elaine Follis, from the September 1, 2003 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel)

Jeremiah pleaded with the besieged people to accept a way out — instead of facing death in Jerusalem, they could surrender to the Babylonians and live.  What a shock this message must have felt like to the citizens of Jerusalem! Was God treating them like he threatened to do to the Ninevites in the story of Jonah a century earlier? Yet the Jews’ captivity in Babylon forced them to progress spiritually; and in a short time, the Babylonians were defeated by the Persians who allowed the exiled Jews to return and rebuild Jerusalem.

Bible Notes from The New Oxford Annotated Bible:

Jeremiah 17:1-4: Israel’s intransigence is likened to an engraver writing on rock. 1: Diamond point, the term usually refers to sharp thorns, but can be used also of sharp hard stone, probably flint. Tablet of their hearts, combining the images of the Torah being written on the human heart and on tablets of stone. But now it is their sinfulness that is so engraved. The human heart represented the center of resolve and will. Its hardening was a common metaphor for human stubbornness. Horns of their altars, protrusions at each of the four corners of a cut-stone altar, symbolizing divine strength and functioning to hold in place the wood and animal parts. Sanctuary could be gained by seizing the horns.

 

Jeremiah 18:12: Although God may have a “plan,” the people can only follow their own. The people express their fatalistic sense of doom, their inability to be “reworked.”

 

Jeremiah 19: This section continues the theme of pottery as a symbol of divine judgment. . . .No time reference is given, but by 605 BCE Jeremiah had been barred from the Temple, perhaps as a result of his confinement by the priest Pashhur, the chief officer of the Temple personnel.

 

Jeremiah 21: Zedekiah was the last of Judah’s kings who reigned from the first deportation in 597 until the final fall of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. . . .In the face of the people’s confidence, the Lord warns that he will fight against Judah, and Jerusalem and Zedekiah will fall to Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah repeatedly sent envoys to Jeremiah for divine guidance and information, always with similar results: Zedekiah should capitulate to the Babylonian armies. The historical setting is apparently 588 BCE, after Zedekiah had committed himself to a rebellion against Babylon. . . . 8: Jeremiah offers the people the opportunity to choose, but their choices do not include the option of avoiding the Babylonian onslaught. The only possibility for life is surrender to the enemy besieging the city; Jerusalem, however, will be destroyed.

 

Christmas presents – omniscience

December 28, 2016

http://www.christianscienceneworleans.org/WedReadings.html

We’ve been unwrapping the wisemen’s presents — the gold or the indestructible man; the frankincense or the divine atmosphere of the universe of Spirit; and this week, the myrrh or “Science as applied to humanity” (Science and Health, p. 127).  Do you see a connection between the three gifts and the three omnis— the omnipotence, the omnipresence, and the omniscience? Actually, I didn’t see that connection until I started putting this third lesson together, and then I had this epiphany. (That’s some pun humor; the Feast of the Epiphany is also Three Kings Day.)   The spiritual meaning of the three gifts dates back to Origen, an early Christian theologian, who divided them this way: “gold, as to a king; myrrh, as to one who was mortal; and incense, as to a God.”

I love the concept of eternal Science interpreting God to make Him knowable to man. Paul was certainly a Scientist —  making God knowable with his speeches in Athens, and his writings and church-building throughout Asia Minor. Mrs. Eddy made God knowable as well. She admired the search for wisdom of Greek philosopher Socrates (470-399 BCE), and even included his hemlock cup when writing about the sacrifices of approaching the divine Principle (Science and Health, 215:17, 559:28). If Paul could quote Greek philosophers in making God understandable, then Mrs. Eddy could also compare Socrates’ sacrifice to that of later Christians. And how interesting that she combined the sacrifices of the Greeks (hemlock cup) and the Jews (bitter herbs), much as Paul also strived to be a unifier.

Below are Bible Notes from The New Oxford Annotated Bible about Paul’s missionary work in Athens:

Acts 17:18 Babbler, a term of disparagement; the Greek word is literally used in reference to birds to mean “picking up seeds,” of persons “one who makes a living by picking up scraps” (here implied of learning). . . .19. Took him, could either imply arrest or friendly escort, and Areopagus could refer either to arraignment before the Council of the Areopagus (essentially the chief Roman court in Athens) or the Areopagus hill west of the Acropolis. The request “May we know…?” suggests a more relaxed setting for discussion, though allusions to Socrates before the Areopagus court are surely intended. 21: The curiosity of the Athenians was proverbial. . . .27. God created “all nations” to search for God. That God was near to all people was a Stoic belief. 28: Although the first quotation is sometimes attributed to Epimenides, its language is probably to be associated with Posidonius (based on Plato); the second quotation is from Aratus, a Greek poet of Cilicia educated as a Stoic. In Paul’s usage, the original pantheistic sense of both quotations is reinterpreted. . . .34: The conversion of Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus court, contributes to the theme of rulers attracted to Christianity. The note about Damaris conforms to a pattern found in both the Gospel and Acts of juxtaposing characters of both genders.

Christmas presents – the Universe of Spirit

December 21, 2016

http://www.christianscienceneworleans.org/WedReadings.html

Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, wrote, “Christmas to me is the reminder of God’s great gift, — His spiritual idea, man and the universe…” (My. 262)  Last Wednesday’s service was on Christ Jesus’ gift of the indestructible man, indestructible Life and indestructible Love. This Wednesday’s service is about the gift of the glory of God’s presence, or the universe of Spirit where man dwells.

There is a theme of expansiveness in the Bible readings — the gentle Gihon Spring, and then the overflowing Euphrates RIver; Joseph’s angel, and then the multitudes of angels on Jesus’ birth; the voice in a burning bush speaking to Moses, and then the tongues of fire speaking to all at Pentecost; the one blessed womb becoming all who are receptive.

The readings from Science and Health begin and end with casting your anchor of hope “beyond the veil of matter into the Shekinah. .  .” (SH p. 41).

Shekinah is the divine manifestation through which God’s presence is felt by man. It is the radiance and glory of God manifested in the cloud and fire over Mount Sinai and over and within the tabernacle (see Ex. 19:16-18; 40:34-38). Shekinah derives from the Hebrew term shakan (to dwell), but does not appear directly in the Bible. Harper’s Bible Dictionary notes that “behind the Shekinah was the idea of the divine transcendence.” (October 12, 1968 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel)

I have been reading Eugene Peterson’s autobiography, and his story about the Shekinah really helps me understand this term. (Peterson is an expert in Hebrew and Greek, and he is the author of The Message, a contemporary rendering of the Bible.) He wrote about how the Israelites wept when they returned from their Babylonian captivity and saw their replacement temple in Jerusalem. Solomon’s glorious building had been replaced with what looked to them like a tarpaper shack.

As they wept, a dazzling, light-resplendent presence descended, the Shekinah – God’s personal presence – and filled that humble, modest, makeshift, sorry excuse for a temple with glory. They lifted their arms in praise. They were truly home. God was truly present. The Shekinah faded out. The glory stayed. (The Pastor, p. 101)

Then I was speaking with a friend about what I had gained from reading this description of Shekinah, and she remarked that it reminded her of the Romanian churches — plain as a chicken coop on the outside but full of color and beauty on the inside. The glory of those churches was what she remembered most about her visit to a country that was still bleak after years of Communism.

Now, you may wonder where I am going with this discussion of Shekinah, but I began thinking about how Mrs. Eddy only uses the word “Shekinah” once in Science and Health, but she uses the phrase “man in Science” many times. (Sometimes it appears with other words in between, such as “Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals.” SH 476). I am mentioning this because “man in Science” is the same concept as Shekinah to me — man dwelling in that glory beyond the veil of matter, man and the universe of Spirit.

The following Bible Notes from The New Oxford Annotated Bible are helpful in understanding the symbolism about the rivers in the Book of Isaiah:

Isaiah 7:3-9 The end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Fuller’s Field. A fuller is a person who processes wool. The location refers to the Gihon spring, Jerusalem’s water source, which was located beyond the fortified wall of the city in the Kidron Valley immediately east of the city of David. All ancient cities faced the problem of access to water in times of siege. Like several ancient Israelite cities, Jerusalem had a tunnel that would allow protected access to the Gihon from inside the walls of the city. Ahaz was inspecting Jerusalem’s defenses when Isaiah arrived with his son, symbolically named Shear-jashub (“a remnant will return”). The symbolic name is both a reassurance that the Lord would defend Jerusalem in keeping with the Davidic/Zion tradition, and also an acknowledgment of Judah’s losses. . . . Isaiah 7:10-25 the narrative suggests that Ahaz is skeptical, prompting the prophet to demand that the king ask a “sign” of the Lord. Although Ahaz rejects Isaiah’s advice, his response to the prophet is a model of piety insofar as he will not put the Lord to the test. 14: Isaiah’s reply emphasizes the Lord’s own sign, the birth of the child Immanuel (“God is with us”) to express the Lord’s commitment to defend Jerusalem.

 

Isaiah 8:5-8 The prophet makes clear the Lord’s dissatisfaction with Ahaz’s refusal to accept the divine offer of protection. The waters of Shiloah, the stream fed by the Gihon spring that symbolizes the Lord’s sustenance of Jerusalem and the house of David. The oracle plays on the imagery of the protective stream that now becomes a threatening force as it overflows its banks to flood the land. 7: The River, the Euphrates, in western Assyria. 8: Whereas Immanuel, “God is with us,” earlier signified God’s protection of Judah, the name now symbolizes the Lord’s punishment of the land.

 

I Corinthians 1:21 Paul shapes a playful contrast between two types of wisdom: on the one hand, a divine attribute; on the other, a human attainment. 22: The desire for wisdom among the Greeks was proverbial. 23: The first-century BCE orator Cicero attests the constraint upon discourse about the cross among persons of higher social class: “The mere mention of the word ‘cross’ is shameful to a Roman citizen and a free man.”