Jeremiah XI – Feeling God’s presence in the valley

February 22, 2017

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 .

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.


Christmas presents – the Universe of Spirit

December 21, 2016

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.”



August 6, 2014

We are now concluding our study of the four rivers defined in the Glossary of Science and Health. This Wednesday’s readings are on the fourth river, the River Euphrates.
There is also a link to an article by L. Ivimy Gwalter who wrote many articles for our periodicals, some of which are republished in the Classic Anthology series. Ms. Gwalter gives a spiritual summary of all the rivers with a longer discussion of the second half of the glossary definition of Euphrates. (If you would like to receive this article, and don’t have a jsh-online subscription, you will have to send me an email so that I can send it to you separately.)
Thanks again for joining us at we explored these four great rivers of the Middle East. Our guiding principle was peace, “peace as a river,” as it is described in the book of Isaiah (Is. 48:18).