Reflections on Is.45:1-7 “A Dangerous Theology”

As a long-time student of the Hebrew Bible, I naturally spend a good deal of time thinking about the work of Is.40-55, a corpus of literature known prosaically as II-Isaiah. This bland nomenclature was chosen to differentiate this material from the older 8th century BCE Isaiah that preceded it, comprising Is.1-39 (within which various texts are assigned to later writers), and Is.56-66 considered to be a hodge-podge of writings from post-exilic hands. Universally, Is.40-55 has been seen as exilic literature,… Read more

Peek-a-Boo God

(Lectionary for October 22, 2017) I have long found the text for today richly delightful in its feints between Moses and his God. After the long and wonderful Molten Calf story of the previous chapter, it is difficult to predict just what the relationship between the lawgiver and YHWH might now be. After all, Moses has first talked God into sparing the reveling people at Horeb’s base by using a series of odd and rather tendentious arguments, and then finally… Read more

Reflections on Is 25:1-9 “The Song of the Ruthless Was Stilled”

I always try to be especially attentive to repeated words used in the Hebrew Bible. Since the total number of words in classical Hebrew is a mere 8,000 (modern English has over 1,000,000 words!), it is often instructive to note when any of those words show up more than once in a short text. So it is here in Is.25. In verses 3-5, the word “ruthless” shows up three times: “ruthless nations,” we are told, will fear YHWH; a “ruthless… Read more

Exodus 32:1-14 ” On the Road to Disaster”

(Lectionary for October 15, 2017) Once again we face perhaps the single best written narrative in the Hebrew Bible. This classic of biblical storytelling has a rich cast of characters, a stunning plot line, hilarious scenes of a lying weasel, and an all-too-familiar connection with modern life as we see it today. One short article can never hope to encompass all the wonders of this tale, a story that must include all of chapter 32, but can at best focus attention… Read more

Reflections on Ezekiel 18 “Finding Fault”

It makes no difference which news source you access—Fox, MSNBC or somewhere in between—there is an inordinate level of commentary concerning questions of guilt and fault. Whenever some tragedy or other, whether natural, human-induced, or a combination of the two, you can always count on “expert commentators” to weigh in on the reasons these events occurred. To be sure, if you watch Fox exclusively, you are bound to hear words like “fuzzy-headed liberal” quite often when culprits are hunted and… Read more

Demanding the Presence of God

(Lectionary for October 1, 2017) On the surface of this well-known story, we find a typical miracle tale in which the harried Moses is confronted again by the nagging Israelite mob, demanding that he provide something for them in the blasted wilderness where he has led them. This time the problem is lack of water, an obvious and all-too- familiar issue in the midst of a desert. It is more than reasonable for the thirsting people to make this demand,… Read more

Reflections on Jonah

I have loved the book of Jonah from the first time I read it. It never crossed my mind that it might have a shred of historical truth in it, since I had read and loved satiric masterworks since my boyhood—Gulliver’s Travels; Innocents Abroad; Tom Jones, Tristram Shandy—I loved them all. In satire everything is too big, too fast, too loud, too something in order to make one point or another about life as the author was experiencing it. And… Read more

Greed!

(Lectionary for September 24, 2017) Greed seems much in favor these days. There is first and foremost the Greedy One in Chief, Donald Trump, who while performing his presidential duties, however poorly, is profiting all the while from numerous overseas property ventures, thus smashing the emolument clause of the Constitution that forbids any sitting president from foreign source profits. But, what the hey? Greed is on, baby, and a blind eye seems to be the vision quest of the day…. Read more

Reflections on Genesis 50:15-21″The Trickiness of Forgiveness”

I have long believed that the famous forgiveness that Joseph offers his terrified brothers at the end of the saga of the book of Genesis is in the main a failure and may in fact be no real forgiveness at all. Forgiveness is tricky business. The word’s English synonyms are illuminative of this trickiness. My thesaurus lists the following: pardon, excuse, allow, indulge, condone, vindicate, overlook, ignore, disregard, pass over. The related word “forgiveness” yields some other words: reprieve, absolution,… Read more

Exodus 14:19-31 “Victory at Sea”

(Lectionary for September, 17, 2017) The very first time I visited Israel, now 40 years ago, our guide was a veteran tank commander of the Israeli army, who, not many years before, had led his forces into battle on the Golan Heights against one of Israel’s many enemies at the time. He regaled us with a brutal account of that battle as we American tourists gazed at the Golan just over our shoulders. We were at that moment standing at… Read more

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