Friday, May 30

Ezekiel 41: Everything in the temple expresses the principles of mathematics. In the Bible (as in Pythagoras and Plato), numbers are sacred; they are spiritual emanations of God’s creative act, giving form, structure, and significance to the universe. Numbers are the basis of “form,” that internal principle of proportion that causes things to be what they are. And because the knowledge of anything consists in the comprehension of its form, all knowledge involves a mathematical perception, a “measure,” the perception of “limits,” which “define” things.

Even this future temple—a reflection of the heavenly sanctuary seen by Moses on Mount Sinai—now being “visited” in prophetic vision by Ezekiel, is shaped (that is, receives its form) by the principles of measurement. Because the house of God is a house of order, not chaos, it is a house structured according to the eternal principles of proportion.

Step by step, and in reverent silence, the angelic tour guide patiently lays his royal cubit stick to determine the proportions of the sacred space. The unit of measure that he employs is the royal cubit, which in modern measurement is 52.5 centimeters or 20.6692 inches.

When the heavenly minister enters the Holy of Holies to take its measure in verses 3-4, Ezekiel reverently remains outside; when that inner sanctuary has been measured, the angel gives the prophet a brief explanation.

Ezekiel also receives an explanation of the altar in verse 22. The elaborate carvings described in verses 19-26 are early proof that the Jews of that period (and for centuries to come, well into the Christian era), did not interpret the Decalogue as prohibiting works of representative art in places of worship.

1 Samuel 20:1-24: With respect to God’s purpose in the painful unfolding of the events in these chapters of Samuel, the comments of Holy Scripture are necessarily brief, modest, and occasionally indirect. The biblical writer claims no clarity of perception into the divine mind beyond the experienced conviction that the Lord of history had a decisive hand in the political development described in these pages. Things did not simply happen. They happened, rather, because they were guided by a mysterious providential impulse that nudged events along in a determined direction. At no point in the story, moreover, did this providential impulse violate or impair the free choices and decisions of those taking part in the drama.

Saturday, May 31

Ezekiel 42: This chapter of Ezekiel elaborately describes the temple area enclosed by a wall that made “a separation between the holy and the common” (42:20). In Holy Scripture there is a strong sense of sacred space, a consecrated area devoted solely to sacred worship. Indeed, the Greek verb meaning to “divide” (temno) provides the root of our word “temple,” designating a special space set apart or “divided” for sacred worship. (The same verbal root gives us such English words as “time” and “temporal.” Just as space is “divided,” so is time.)

The original type of such space was the area adjacent to the Burning Bush, which Moses could not enter without removing his shoes. (Observe that in Ezekiel 42:14, the priests were required to change their clothing when they entered or left the temple. Secular clothing was inappropriate within the sacred space, and liturgical clothing was inappropriate outside of it.)

When Moses later received the Law, all of Mount Sinai became sacred space, off-limits except to those designated to approach the Divine Presence. In varying gradations, all the space of the temple was consecrated and, therefore, off-limits except to those designated for entrance. Most sacred of all was the Holy of Holies, which only the high priest could enter, nor could even he enter it except on the holiest day of the year (the divided and thereby consecrated “time”), which was the Day of the Atonement.

Here on earth, all consecrations of space are reflections of heaven itself, that tabernacle not made with hands, where our own Forerunner and High Priest has entered once and for all, having obtained eternal redemption for us.

1 Samuel 20:25-34: Even as he is faithful to his father, Jonathan is fully aware that the old man cannot be trusted, even with his son’s life. Saul is doomed, and Jonathan knows it, but Saul is still his father. David, to whom he is bound by personal covenant, is in danger, and Jonathan must protect him, even at the cost of offending Saul. At the same time, he knows, David will prevail; David will wear the crown—not he. And what—he wonders—will David do, when he comes to power, to secure this power against the claims of Jonathan’s own family? Most of all, in the present chapter, what can Jonathan do to demonstrate his absolute loyalty to his friend, whom the rest of the world must see as Jonathan’s rival for the throne? Was ever a friendship so tested as this one?

Sunday, June 1

Ezekiel 43: God’s glory, which Ezekiel had seen depart eastward from the temple in 11:23, now returns from the same direction. This glory of God, witness by the prophet, was revealed in a great luminosity, in reference to which we are surely correct in thinking of the bright cloud of fire that led Israel through the Red Sea and the Sinai desert. This same divine luminosity adorned the face of Christ our Lord at His Transfiguration and is an image of divine revelation itself (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:6).

When the divine glory returns to the temple, it is accompanied, Ezekiel tells us, by all the mystic images that he originally saw at the time of his calling, at the beginning of this book. In verse 10 he is commissioned to write a description of all that he sees, and there immediately follows an account of the altar (verses 13-17) and its construction and consecration (verses 18-27).

One is particularly struck by the detail that this new altar must be ascended by stairs, a feature expressly prohibited in Exodus 20:25-26.

Matthew 28:16-20: The Great Commission, with which Matthew closes his Gospel, is given specifically to eleven specific men, the first Apostles. It is not a general mandate given to all Christians, even though all Christians, under the pastoral leadership of those men and their successors, are needed to fulfill it. The Commission itself, however, is specific to those men, who were officially charged with the ministry of Word and Sacrament.

Those same men, although some of them were still weak in faith, adore the risen Christ. In this respect we notice that Matthew, who tells of only two post-resurrection appearances of Christ, mentions the adoration of the Church in both instances.

The Great Commission itself is rooted in Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecy, specifically that of Daniel. Its mandate is directed to all the nations and not only to the Jews.

Jesus’ presence “with us” forms an inclusio with that same theme at the beginning of Matthew (1:22-23).

Psalm 5: This psalm, obviously appropriate for morning prayer, has always been used this way in the history of the Christian Church. In the West it is traditionally used at Matins, and in the East at First Hour (Prime). Over and over the psalms speak of prayer as the day’s first task: “Rise up, my glory; awaken, lute and harp; I myself will awaken the dawn—I will sing aloud of Your mercy in the morning—In the morning shall my prayer come before You—To show forth Your loving kindness in the morning” and so forth.

This early morning prayer is also mentioned elsewhere in Holy Scripture (Exodus 29:39, 40; Leviticus 6:12; Numbers 28:4; Daniel 6:10; Mark 1:35, etc.) and across a wide area by several early Christian sources (Hippolytus in Rome, Origen and Clement in Egypt, Tertullian and Cyprian in Latin Africa, Basil in Cappadocia, and so forth). The spirit of this morning prayer was well summed up by the Book of Wisdom: “ . . . to make it known that one must rise before the sun to give You thanks, and must pray to You at the dawning of the light” (16:28).

Monday, June 2

Ezekiel 44: The first three verses of this chapter testify to the special holiness of the temple’s east gate, consecrated by the entrance of God’s glory through it. This gate must remain sealed forever. Because God Himself has used this gate, the prophet is told, no one else may do so. Even the prince, who may approach the gate from the vestibule to the west of it, may not pass through the gate itself, though he is permitted to eat certain consecrated foods while within the gateway.

This account of the consecration of the temple’s eastern gate, by reason of God’s having entered it, is read at Vespers on most feast days of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Eastern Orthodox Church, which interprets the text as an image prophetic of Mary’s perpetual virginity. According to this interpretation, her very body, because God’s Word used it as His entrance into this world by means of the Incarnation, was consecrated in an exclusive way; if this was the case with respect to the divine cloud of God’s glory in the Old Testament, how much more with respect to God’s definitive entry into human life by Incarnation. After His passage through it, the door of His entrance, because it was definitively consecrated, must remain forever shut. (Mary’s perpetual virginity, unquestioned for centuries and considered defined dogma by most Christians throughout the world, was consistently defended by the magisterial Reformers: Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and so forth. The current denial of Mary’s perpetual virginity is not a product of Protestantism but of a modern secularism that has no sense of physical consecration.)

The rest of this chapter deals with the consecration of the priests and Levites. Himself a member of the priestly family, Ezekiel habitually shows special concern for the distinction between holy and profane, as we see here in verses 17-27.

Luke 1:39-56: Luke’s earliest and arguably most significant use of the expression “full of the Holy Spirit” refers to John the Baptist, of whom Gabriel tells Zacharias: “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). This striking prophecy is fulfilled only twenty-six verses later, when the unborn infant’s response to this filling with the Holy Spirit is to jump for joy inside his mother’s body. Indeed, the mother herself is filled with the Holy Spirit: “And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:41).

Furthermore, Elizabeth credits this outpouring of the Holy Spirit to the sound of Mary’s voice: “For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy” (1:44).

And what does the Holy Spirit prompt Elizabeth to say to Mary? “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (1:42). This is the way that one addresses the Mother of God, if one is filled with the Holy Spirit. This point is emphatic.

The word “blessed” in Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary is not the makarios, or “happy,” of the Beatitudes (though this is used in the same context in Luke 1:45, 48). It is, rather, eulogemene, the participle of the verb “to bless.” This particular “blessed” is of the same root as the “blessed” (eulogetos) in Zacharias’s “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel,” a detail surely significant inasmuch as Zacharias himself is also described in that passage as “filled with the Holy Spirit” when he said it (1:67–68).

Tuesday, June 3

Ezekiel 45: The first eight verses of this chapter treat of particular dispositions of real estate in Jerusalem: for the holy place, for the priests and Levites, and for the people and the prince. The disposition of the land is arranged in relation to the temple, with the property of the priests around it, and the real estate of the prince and the citizens out beyond that of the priests. The arrangement of the land in and around Jerusalem thus reflects the structure of society, with God at the center, then His ministers, and then the civic order.

Ezekiel envisions, then, the restoration of theocracy. His vision is entirely ideal, because even from the perspectives of demography and topography, Ezekiel’s purely symmetric arrangement would be impossible to implement on actual real estate on earth. Nonetheless, this same passion for precision must be applied to proper measurements and currency (verses 10-12), and to appropriate offerings to be brought for the various public sacrifices (verses 13-25). In offering these gifts, the people shall act through their prince (verses 16-17).

1 Samuel 21:1-9: The author of the Book of Samuel portrays David’s sojourn in the wilderness along the pattern of ancient Israel’s forty years of wandering in the desert.

One of the most striking parallel lines in this pattern is that of the bread in the wilderness. We recall the story of the Manna, which preserves Moses and the children of Israel. This was heavenly and spiritual bread, baked in the ovens of heaven. We recall that an urn of that bread was preserved in the Ark of the Covenant.

David and his men are also fed with another spiritual bread. This bread, likewise, was kept in the shrine. The bread David receives from Ahimelech comes from “the loaves of the presence,” the dedicated bread placed in the sanctuary before the Lord and replaced each Sabbath (cf. Exodus 25:30; 35:13; 1 Chronicles 9:32).

This bread, like the Manna, becomes David’s bread in the wilderness, and, as such, it serves as a type of the Holy Eucharist. We Christians, too, have a “bread of the presence” in our tabernacles on the altar of our churches. We maintain a fire adjacent to this bread of the presence. This bread, too, is the covenant bread.

Wednesday, June 4

Ezekiel 46: In this chapter the interest goes from sacred space to sacred time. The west gate of the temple’s inner court, the gate facing east, is to remain closed on ordinary work days, but the Sabbath and the monthly feast day (“the new moon”) are to be marked by the gate’s opening (verse 1).

The civil authority (“the prince”) will regularly consecrate the life of the nation by appearing reverently at that gate on those appointed days to present a special sacrifice (verses 2,8). The gate will also be opened for the prince whenever devotion prompts him to make an additional offering (verse 12). The prince shall also see to it that regular offerings are made, twice daily, at morning and at evening.

The prayers designated for those two times of daily sacrifice became a standard component of Jewish piety and eventually passed into Christian discipline as the “canonical hours” of Matins and Vespers; this explains the language about sacrifice found in the traditional texts of those two daily services of prayer.

Verse 18 indicates a return to the ancient Mosaic mandate keeping inherited real estate within family ownership (cf. Leviticus 25:10-17).

1 Samuel 21:10—22:5: David continues to elude Saul by going southwest and crossing into Philistine territory. This is risky, but David is a bit desperate. We suspect that reports of the political crisis in Israel may have reached Philistine ears, but David takes no chances. To make certain the Philistines will see in him neither a threat nor an advantage, he begins to act demented. When David recently watched Saul in a completely demented state, he took notes and knows what to do. The Philistines are impressed.

There had been abroad lately whole sections of Saul’s army—even Saul himself—suddenly growing crazy, so the Philistines are on their guard. The problem might be contagious, for all they know, so Achish, the king of Gath, declines to have anything to do with this mad visitor from Israel. Out with him!

While David is playing the idiot in Gath, Saul’s Edomite spy wastes no time getting word to the king about what has just happened at Nob.

Meanwhile, it occurs to David that his own family is at risk; he must get them to safety, away from Saul. They will be safest in Moab, he considers. Through their venerable ancestor, Ruth, the family has a touch of Moabite blood. It is time to turn east and see to the thing.

David is joined in his wanderings by his family and other outcasts interested in eluding Saul. This group will provide the wanderer with the makings of a guerilla army.

Thursday, June 5

Ezekiel 47: A secret spring, flowing from the holy place, sends fresh waters eastward, and Ezekiel is taken outside to see the growing stream. Since the eastern gate of the temple is forever locked and the southern gate lies in the area of the flooding water, he exits the temple by the north gate. The river deepens as it goes along through the Judean desert until it reaches the Dead Sea (verse 8). This stagnant pool is refreshed by the new living water flowing from the temple, enabling fish to live in it and trees to grow on its banks.

This is the living water of which Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman in John 4. This is the stream of Genesis 2:10-14 and Revelation 22:1-2. It is the living water of Pentecost. This living stream, flowing from God’s glory in the temple, is the life-giving water of Baptism.

The rest of this chapter (verses 13-23) contains a detailed geographical outline of the Promised Land, which prepares for its distribution among the twelve tribes in the next chapter.

One observes in this section (verse 22) an attitude toward non-Israelites far more positive than the attitude in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which narrate Israel’s actual return to the Promised Land.

1 Samuel 22:6-23: This reading presents the activities of Saul and Doeg, presents three scenes:

First, Saul convenes a sort of “court of inquiry,” during which he upbraids his officers for their alleged disloyalty to him (verses 6-8). Doeg, by way of defending himself against this indictment, reports on David’s helpful reception by the priests of Nob (verses 9-10).

Second, in pursuit of Doeg’s charge, Saul subpoenas Ahimelech and interrogates him on the charges alleged by Doeg (verses 13-15). In spite of the priest’s able defense and asseverations of innocence, Saul condemns him and all his family to death (verse 16).

Third, when Saul is unable to find anyone else to do the deed, he commissions Doeg to execute the priests, and his slaughter is extended to the entire priestly city of Nob (verses 17-19). Nob became—like Jericho of old—a city under a divine ban (cf. Deuteronomy 13:16-17; 20:16-17; Joshua 10:28,30,32; Judges 1:8,25).

The number of slain priests varies in the sources: the Massoretic text—85; the Septuagint—305; Josephus (Antiquities 6.12.6[260])—385.

The final section of this chapter (verses 20-23) tells of the escape of Ahimelech’s son, Abiathar, who seeks and finds refuge in David’s company. Now this group includes a priest as well as a prophet.

Saul’s mental and spiritual deterioration is now extreme. What began as personal jealousy is quickly becoming a civil war, including the willful slaughter of innocent people.

Saul has sunk so low that he throws in his lot with the likes of Doeg, arguably the worst man in the Bible. When Dante put Judas Iscariot in the lowest place in hell, he must have forgotten about Doeg. This was a man of cultivated cruelty, an individual with a developed taste for evil and a singular delight in the shedding of blood, a callous villain of no remorse.

Friday, June 6

1 Samuel 23: Three episodes make up the narrative of this chapter: first, David at Keilah (verses 1-13); second, Jonathan and David together (verses 14-18); and third, Saul’s further pursuit (verses 19-28).

The complex episode at Keilah, in which David delivers the city from the enemies of Israel, may be contrasted with the story of Nob, in which there was no one to deliver the city from the King of Israel.

Faced with reports of the Philistine siege of Keilah, David is uncertain of his course: Does he dare take his modest guerilla band to fight the besiegers, even as Saul pursues him with a large army? David is no coward, but he also does not want to tempt the Lord by presumption.

Well, then, there is nothing for it but to consult the Lord, and recent events have made this recourse a bit easier. When Abiathar fled from Nob, he took with him the oracular ephod used by the priests to discern God’s will (verse 6). David, who appeals to this source several times in the present chapter, seeks guidance about what to do about Keilah. He consults the oracle once for himself, and then again to reassure his men. The answer, both times, is “Go for it!” He does, and a mighty victory ensues (verses 1-5).

Saul, who should have been the one to help Keilah, learns that David is now in the city, behind its walls. Aha, says he to himself, now we’re got him! Forthwith, the king proceeds to march toward Keilah.

David now confronts a new dilemma: Should he stay and take a stand in Keilah, to face Saul’s inevitable siege of the city, or should he flee before Saul arrives? There is a more direct way of posing the question: Will the citizens of Keilah protect David from Saul as he protected them from the Philistines?

On the face it, there is every reason to believe that the people in Keilah will be unwilling to put themselves at risk. They know what Saul just did to Nob, when he believed that city had aided David. David, again guided by oracular counsel, leads his men out of Keilah. It is a close call, nonetheless, and David is afraid (verses 14-15).

Jonathan, learning David’s whereabouts, leaves Saul’s force and comes to visit his friend in the Judean Desert (verses 16-18). On this, their final meeting, they renew their fraternal covenant.

One suspects that if Jonathan can ascertain the whereabouts of David, so can Saul, and he does. A messenger arrives, however, to report that the army is needed elsewhere to engage another Philistine attack. Once again, David experiences a providential mercy.

Before Jonathan departs from his friend, he professes certainty that David will inherit the throne. He adds that Saul, too, knows this. Thus, the reader is given an update on the state of Saul’s mind: He is aware of the hopelessness of his cause; he is conscious of resisting the inevitable.

This resistance, nonetheless, is still pretty strong. Relying on further reports of David’s whereabouts in the southern desert, Saul again advances and closes in on him. Just as the situation seems critical for David, word reaches Saul that he must break off the pursuit and journey back to deal with those pesky Philistines (verses 19-28). Divine Providence strikes again.