Friday, October 18

1 Chronicles 25: More than one commentator on Holy Scripture, observing the Chronicler’s partiality toward the Levitical singers (1 Chronicles 15:16-22; 16:4-42; 2 Chronicles 15:12-13; 29:27-30; cf. Ezra 3:10; Nehemiah 12:27), has suggested that this writer himself may have been numbered among them.

In correspondence to the twenty-four courses of the officiating priests, the Chronicler now introduces us to an equal number of groups of Temple musicians.

Particularly to be noted in this chapter is the ease with which the Chronicler associates music with prophecy. Thus, the musicians are said to “prophesy with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals” (verse 1), and the author speaks of “their father Jeudthun, who prophesied with the lyre in thanksgiving and praise to the Lord” (verse 3).

Earlier, in Chapter 15, we observed that the very expression “to lift up the voice” suggested that music was a ‘burden’ of some kind. Indeed, the word employed there, massa’, which comes from the root ns’ (“to lift”), also means “oracle.” So often in the prophetic writings we find the expression “the burden of the Lord” in the sense of a prophetic statement.

No one in antiquity questioned the relationship between prophecy and music, not even Saul (cf. 1 Samuel 10:5). It was not unknown, “when the musician played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him” (2 Kings 3:15). In the Bible one moves easily from the prophets to the psalms (cf. Luke 24:44), and the Bible’s chief musician, David, is also called a prophet.

David’s own place in the history of Israel’s liturgical music was so dominant in the tradition that it became customary among the Church Fathers to ascribe to him the authorship of whatever parts of the Psalter were not otherwise ascribed. David’s name became synonymous with the Book of Psalms very much as Solomon’s with Proverbs and Moses’ with the Pentateuch.

The present chapter should remind us that the singing of hymns is an essential part of the Christian’s birthright (not to be usurped by a church choir of specialists). Indeed, the chanting of psalms, hymns, and spiritual canticles is an essential, irreplaceable feature of the Church’s worship of God. This feature is, if anything, even more characteristic of the Church in glory (cf. Revelation 4:8-11; 5:8-14 and so on).

Saturday, October 19

1 Chronicles 26: The office of gatekeeper or porter was not so insignificant as the name may suggest. These men, in fact, enjoyed considerable prestige as ministers of the sanctuary, serving in such functions as did not require the ministry of a priest.

Indeed, for many centuries, and differing somewhat from place to place, the Christian Church revived this ministry as one of the minor orders and graced it with a rite of ordination. Analogous to the porters of the Old Testament, these Christian porters were charged with such responsibilities as the locking and unlocking of the church doors (hence their name, from the Latin word for door, porta), the ringing of the bells for the sacred services (and therefore care of the church clocks), the maintenance of certain material elements used in those services (such as prayer books and hymnals), and the general upkeep of the sanctuary.

With all the candles and incense consumed by fire, vestments soiled, oil inadvertently spilt, penitential ashes accidentally dispersed, bay leaves and rose petals scattered for special feasts, and so forth, it is no small work to keep a church building clean.

As these duties were gradually taken over by others (which would always be the case in those congregations that did not have an ordained porter), the Christian order of porter eventually disappeared. (The Roman Catholic Church, for instance, stopped ordaining porters in the early 1970s.) Even if they are no longer ordained, a special respect and honor is due to those who take care of a church building, mend its vestments and linens, polish its candlesticks, maintain the appointments of its worship, clean its floors and windows, arrange its flowers, dust its pews, replace its light bulbs, and adorn it for the special services of feast days. These folks, the spiritual progeny of those who cared for the sanctuary of David and the Temple of Solomon, are especially respected in that temple made without hands.

We have already reflected that the higher office of Levite in the Old
Testament became the model for the office of deacon in the Christian
Church. In particular, we may note that Christian deacons, like the Jewish Levites (vv. 20, 24, 26–28), have traditionally been charged with the oversight of the Church’s material resources, becoming the successors to those original seven who served at tables in the early Church (Acts 6).

As they managed the physical and financial assets of the Church, it often happened that deacons became very powerful. In some places it was not unusual for a deacon to succeed the bishop he served. Among the more famous deacons who did so was St. Athanasius of Alexandria in the fourth century.

Sunday, October 20

Galatians 4:21-31: It seems significant that the covenants of God with Abraham and David are each ushered into history by an account of a barren woman. Thus, Holy Scripture introduces the covenant with Abraham by telling of the barrenness of Sarah, and the narrative of the Davidic covenant is introduced by the story of barren Hannah. It is not surprising, then, that the account of barren Elizabeth should introduce the story of the Incarnation. Jesus Christ is, after all, “the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1).

St. Paul, moreover, explicitly appeals to the story of barren Sarah in order to illustrate the Christian covenant. He writes, “it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic” (verses 22-24).

The Greek word translated by the NKJV as “symbolic” is allegoroumena, which literally means “things said in allegory.” This is our first instance of the work “allegory” in Christian thought, where it properly means the New Testament meaning of the Old Testament text. Indeed, this is why Paul brings up the subject of barren Sarah—her historical and symbolic relevance to the Christian covenant.

Paul’s insertion of this image into his exposition of the Christian covenant prompts us to reflect on a particular aspect of Sarah: her sense of frustration.

Sarah wanted a son, and she was willing to do just about anything to get one. We all know the story of her attempt to use ancient Middle Eastern adoption laws to have her handmaid act as her surrogate. We recall how she urged Abraham to father a child with that servant, Hagar. We also remember that the arrangement did not work out very well.

This should not have been surprising. God alone gives life, and human life in particular is not just a matter of biology. Sarah stands in history as an excellent example of those who tried to take the place of God with respect to their offspring. In the case of Hagar, this was very much a “planned pregnancy.” Forgetting that children are a gift and a blessing from God, Sarah contrived to impose her own will on the order of nature in order to achieve what she wanted. “Planned parenthood” is a very bad way to start raising children, because it treats those children as the products of a human strategy instead as precious gifts from the creating hand of God.

She stands, then, as an early example of all attempts to produce human life by medical contrivances, to overcome human barrenness through artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, and all other mechanical attempts to produce a baby, to make a child as a merely human product, something other than a pure gift from God.

In Sarah’s case, the entire enterprise backfired, of course, and after the birth of Ishmael her life became more frustrated than ever. Eventually Hagar and her baby were driven out into the desert, where Ishmael became the father of the Arabs. That is to say, things did not turn out as the mother of the Jews had in mind, but the God that brings good out of evil had His own plans.

Monday, October 21

1 Chronicles 28: David did not simply abdicate the throne in favor of Solomon; he placed that succession, rather, in a larger framework of tradition, so that his son would benefit from the support and counsel of “all the leaders of Israel: the officers of the tribes and the captains of the divisions” (v. 1). The king was, after all, the representative of the whole nation, and his accession to the throne was inseparable from that representation.

Basing his work on this high calling of Israel’s kings, the Chronicler omits from his succession narrative the dramatic and often chaotic intrigues among David’s ambitious sons, stories that fill eight chapters between 2?Samuel 13 and 1?Kings 2. For the Chronicler these events are simply not significant. Those shallow, ephemeral incidents are petty and uninteresting. They do not even begin to touch the true meaning of Solomon’s accession to the throne.

In the Chronicler’s account of the matter, David simply announces that God picked Solomon, and that settles the matter of the transition (v. 5). Solomon, whom the Lord hereby adopts as His son, will build the temple (v. 6) that David was unable to complete (v. 3).

We observe, in this matter of succession, that Solomon is not David’s oldest son, but neither was David the oldest son of Jesse (v. 4). In fact, from the day the Lord’s choice fell on Seth rather than Cain, He has shown scant regard for the human tradition of primogeniture. God’s choices have nothing to do with man’s calculations.

Drawing the blueprint of the temple is ascribed to David (vv. 11– 12), just as transmitting the blueprint of the desert tabernacle was ascribed to Moses (Exodus 25:9; Hebrews 9:1–2), and as the mystic Ezekiel will provide the blueprint for the second temple. In each instance, the design is “revealed”; that is, it is known “by the Spirit” (ba-ruach, v. 12; cf. v. 19). Such constructions are modeled on the heavenly sanctuary, which Moses beheld on the mountain and which John gazed upon in the mystic visions of Patmos (cf. Heb. 8:5; 9:1–5). Man’s entire endeavor to worship God is an attempt to create on earth an image of heaven.

The history of God’s people, then, is a chronicle of temple building. Indeed, the construction of a dwelling place for the Lord—the mystery of the temple—is the very goal of history. Such is the perspective of the Chronicler, who uses this viewpoint to distinguish between what is truly important and what is not. This is his interpretive lens through which to survey the course of years and centuries. It is a narrative wisdom higher and more serene.

Although David has already given this charge to Solomon in private (22:6–16), he now does so in the sight of “all Israel” (v. 4). This charge contains what the Chronicler regards as the true substance of orthodox historical transmission—namely, provision for the orthodox worship of God. Solomon’s duties include, therefore, not only the construction of the temple but also the oversight of its worship.

For the Chronicler, then, Israel’s anointed kingship is directly related to Israel’s worship, for it is the king who provides the priests and Levites and supplies their needs. This is how the king must justify his existence, and such is the standard by which the Chronicler will now begin to assess the reign of each monarch that inherits David’s throne.

Tuesday, October 22

1 Chronicles 29: It is both interesting and profitable to compare the instructions David gives Solomon near the end of 1?Chronicles with the instructions this same David gives to this same Solomon in 1?Kings 2:1–9.

In the Kings account David commends certain irreproachable moral instructions to Solomon (1?Kings 21:14) and then goes on to recommend the killing of Joab and the punishing of Shimei (21:5–6, 8–9). In the Chronicles account, on the other hand, David goes to great length instructing Solomon with respect to the temple, its priesthood, and its worship. The differences between the two stories are . . . well, striking.

Similarly, here in the Chronicler’s narrative of the submission of Solomon’s brothers to their new king (v. 24), he leaves out the more colorful account found in 1?Kings 1:5–49. Such details, for the Chronicler, would constitute something of a distraction from his chosen theme.

David, in his final charge to the nation, summons the people to be generous for the construction of the temple (vv. 1–5). His words are modeled on the similar charge that Moses gave to the Israelites with respect to the tabernacle in the wilderness (Ex. 35:4–19).

In describing those ancient events, the Chronicler employs terms characteristic of the Persian period during which he is writing. Thus, one of the terms he uses in reference to the temple is birah, a Persian word meaning “palace” (vv. 1, 19). Nowhere else in the Bible is the temple called by that name, though we do find the expression rather often, in its usual and secular sense, in this and other works from the Persian and Greek periods (2?Chronicles 17:12; 27:4; Nehemiah 1:1; 2:8; 7:2; Esther 1:2, 5; 2:3, 5, 8; 3:15; 8:14; 9:6, 11, 12; Dan. 8:2).

In like fashion, the wealth given for the construction of the temple is measured by its equivalent in the golden coins of Persia, the ‘adarkanim (“darics,” v. 7). The use of such expressions rendered the Chronicler’s story more intelligible to his contemporaries.

The rich theology of the Chronicler is perhaps nowhere more explicit than in David’s closing prayer (vv. 10–19), a solemn liturgical blessing that epitomizes God’s true worship at all times. At the heart of this prayer is the mystery of the temple. It is prayer, after all, that makes a temple a temple, and David’s blessing here contains the sentiments of humility of that other man who, having prayed in the temple with humility, went down to his house more justified than the other (v. 14; Luke 18:9–14).

The Chronicler names three literary sources for his description of the reign of David (v. 29). The only one of these three sources still extant is the Books of Samuel and 1?Kings. The other material found in the Books of Chronicles, we presume, must be attributed to those sources that have not otherwise come down to us.

The major contribution of Chronicles, as compared with the Books of Samuel, is all the extensive material relative to David’s preparation for the temple and its worship. Samuel devotes 77 verses to David’s liturgical concerns, whereas here in 1?Chronicles there are 323 verses devoted to this theme.

This difference of Chronicles from the Books of Samuel and Kings is not only material, it is also formal. That is to say, it pertains not only to what was written, but also to why it was written. The Chronicler had in mind to portray David as a man of worship rather than as a political and military figure. In this respect David most resembles Moses.

This view of David is based on the Chronicler’s view of biblical history. The history of Israel, for this writer, is the history of worship. It is Israel’s worship, therefore, that defines the Chronicler’s historical perspective.

Wednesday, October 23

Luke 15:11-32: The three persons in this story—the father and the two sons–provide three points for reflection:

First, there is the younger brother, often known as “the prodigal son,” after whom the parable is commonly named. When I think of this younger son, I am invariably reminded of Jacob’s older son, Esau, inasmuch as both men were so heedless of their inheritance. Both of these young men, who enjoyed the fortune of having good fathers, proved themselves to be utter fools. Indeed, both of them seem to be rather “modern” in their views. Each of them follows a simple philosophy: “What’s in it for me?”

The younger son in the parable seems particularly modern in his ability to waste, in a short time, the fortune accumulated in his family over several generations. In the beginning of the parable he appears as a shallow and insensitive young man. Both Esau and the younger son in the parable, I say, were careless about their inheritance. Esau sold his inheritance for a bowl of soup, and this younger son spent his in riotous living in a far country.

In due course both young fools came to regret their mistakes. It is in respect to those regrets, however, that our comparison between Esau and today’s younger son must be modified into a significant contrast: Whereas Esau simply regretted his loss, this younger son actually repented of his sin. The difference between these two men illustrates the difference between regret and repentance, because they are certainly not the same thing.

Second, there is the older brother in this parable, the man who feels himself entirely righteous and passes judgment on his younger brother.

This older brother puts me in mind of the prophet Jonah. Indeed, the stories of these two men—–Jonah and the older brother in the parable—correspond very closely to one another. To begin, they have the same theme: both the Book of Jonah and today’s parable are stories of the divine mercy bestowed on unworthy sinners. Today’s younger brother repents of his sins, as did the men of Nineveh. Both, in turn, are forgiven of their sins and reconciled to God.

But how do Jonah and the older brother react to this repentance and divine mercy toward the sinner. Both are resentful, and both become angry. They are angry at the divine mercy!

At the end of each story, therefore, we find a further call to repentance. In the last line of the Book of Jonah, God questions Jonah, “Should I not pity Nineveh?” And that is how the Book of Jonah ends—with that question, which summons Jonah himself to repentance. Likewise, in today’s parable the father of the two sons calls his older son to come in and enjoy the banquet celebrating the return of his wayward brother: “”It was right that we should make merry and be glad.”

Third, there is the father in today’s parable, the figure who represents God Himself. This father is portrayed as merciful and loving. The Gospel tells us that when the younger son “was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.”

This is that ancient Father, from whose house the human race departed even at the time of Adam. This ancient Father was symbolized through the character of Läertes in Homer’s Odyssey. The saga of Odysseus, who is a figure of the human being as the wanderer on the earth, comes to its end when Odysseus finally comes home to his father, Läertes.

Thursday, October 24

2 Chronicles 2: Solomon’s great building projects begin!

As though the fact were an afterthought barely mentioned in just two Hebrew words, we are told that Solomon also planned “a royal house for himself” (v. 1; 1:18 in the traditional Hebrew text). This latter construction, which served for governmental administration as well as Solomon’s residence, required elaborate planning and labor over a period of thirteen years (1?Kings 7:1–12). Once again, we note, as in the case of David, the Chronicler is relatively uninterested in this political and worldly aspect of Solomon’s reign; he all but ignores it. In the eyes of this writer, the historical importance of Solomon had to do entirely with the temple and what took place there.

Writing long after the worldly prestige and power of the Davidic monarchy had disappeared from the geopolitical scene, the Chronicler was not disposed to dwell on the worldly grandeur of Solomon’s reign. All that greatness was gone. What, then, asked the Chronicler, was Solomon’s real historical significance? What was the true, important legacy of his reign? It was the temple, the institutional provision for the worship of God. In this effort lay the genuine greatness of Solomon.

This was the authentic work of the wisdom with which the Lord endowed him (v. 12). It was his provision for the worship of God that made Solomon’s reign significant. This significance is expressed in detail and at length in Solomon’s letter to Hiram (Huram in the Hebrew), which the Chronicler employs to elaborate the theology the temple will embody. This letter, along with Hiram’s response, goes to the heart of the matter.

The temple, first of all, will not “contain” God in the sense of being His adequate residence. Although the Lord’s “name” will dwell there (v. 4; cf. 1?Chronicles 28:3; 29:16), the house itself is properly intended for man’s worship of Him (vv. 4b–7, with no parallel in 1?Kings). God Himself, after all, cannot be enclosed in space. Even the highest heaven, the place of that true tabernacle not made with hands, is unable to contain the One who made it (v. 6). Such was the new king’s conviction, and if he had adopted any other attitude toward his work, Solomon’s very temple would have become only a more subtle form of worldliness.

The reply of Hiram (especially vv. 11–12) should be read as the Gentiles’ proper response to Solomon’s plan. In the full context of biblical history and revelation, Hiram and his skilled artisan Huram (v. 13) foreshadow the Magi and all other generations of Gentiles that will come with their gifts to worship the God of David and Solomon. Hiram here plays Cornelius to Solomon’s Peter.

Properly to understand this correspondence, then, we should read
Solomon’s letter rather in the way we read those of the Apostle Paul—as a proclamation of the Gospel to the nations. Hiram’s letter, in turn, is the faithful response to that proclamation.

Later on, in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke’s long narrative of the apostolic mission to the Gentiles, Stephen’s famous sermon on the true significance of the temple will serve as a sort of manifesto. In order to make way for that evangelical extension, Stephen will die for making the same assertion that Solomon makes here in Chronicles (Acts 7:47–50). Solomon’s building of the temple, then, an endeavor in which the Gentiles, too, have their part, foreshadows the mission of the Apostles to construct God’s true and universal place of worship in this world.

Friday, October 25

2 Chronicles 3: This chapter is the only place in Holy Scripture where the location of the temple is identified as Mount Moriah (v. 1), the very site where Abraham took Isaac to be sacrificed (Gen. 22:2). This is no incidental detail. By introducing this connection of the temple to that distant event, not only does the Chronicler subtly indicate the new temple’s continuity with the distant patriarchal period, but he also provides his readers with a very rich theme of theology.

The ancient scene on Mount Moriah is the Bible’s first mention of a “substitutionary sacrifice.” Abraham and Isaac, father and son, climb the mountain of immolation (Gen. 22:6). In the enigmatic conversation between the two climbers (Gen. 22:7–8), the attentive Bible-reader perceives a rich mystery concealed in Abraham’s reply that “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” The Chronicler’s mention of Moriah in the present chapter shows his awareness that Abraham’s words are prophetic of the many paschal lambs sacrificed in the temple.

Isaac himself, we recall, said nothing in reply (Gen. 22:9–10). Indeed, Isaac remained entirely silent after Abraham spoke. He was like a lamb led to the slaughter that opens not his mouth (Is. 53:7). In his sacrificial silence, Isaac bore in himself the mystery of the temple and its worship.

We discern this mystery in the victim substituted for Isaac, the ram caught by its horns. This is the Bible’s first instance of a substitution made in the matter of sacrifice. This ram caught in the bush foreshadows, first of all, the paschal lamb of the Mosaic Covenant, which would be slaughtered on behalf of Israel’s firstborn sons on the night of the Exodus.

In Genesis 22, then, we are dealing with the Bible’s earliest configuration of a category important in biblical soteriology. The paschal lambs offered in Solomon’s temple over the centuries were all prefigured by that earlier event on Mount Moriah. The attentive reader will observe that the Chronicler never mentions a celebration of Passover except in Jerusalem (cf. chs. 30; 35).

The Christian will, of course, perceive this mystery in its true fullness. The Apostle Paul appealed to this category of substitution when he wrote that God “did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up or us all” (Rom. 8:32). Echoing this text from Romans, Irenaeus of Lyons wrote in the second century,

Abraham, according to his faith, adhered to the command of God’s Word, and with a ready mind delivered up, as a sacrifice to God, his only-begotten and beloved son, in order that God also might be pleased to offer up, for all his seed, His own beloved and only-begotten Son, as a sacrifice for our redemption” (Against the Heresies 4.5.4).

Hence, Isaac carrying the wood up the sacrificial hill has always signified to Christian readers—at least since a paschal homily of Melito of Sardis in the second century—the willingness of God’s own Son, the true Paschal Lamb, to take up the cross and carry it to the place of immolation.