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.

Jeremiah X – Liberty and Order

February 15, 2017

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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

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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.