2Chronicles 5 – Muscial priests

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The priests in ancient Israel were musicians!  That may come as a surprise to many.  Learning to be proficient in playing a musical instrument hardly takes priority over Greek in most seminaries today!

The temple of Jerusalem in the time of King Solomon was completed in 959 BC.  The Book of Chronicles (dated variously between 500 BC and 325 BC), in the Bible, tells us what happened at the consecration of the temple soon after 959 BC:

All the Levitical-priest singers (Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun and their sons and relatives) stood on the east side of the altar, dressed in fine linen and playing cymbals, harps and lyres. They were accompanied by 120 priests sounding trumpets. The trumpeters and singers joined in unison, as with one voice, to give praise and thanks to the LORD. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, they raised their voices in praise to the LORD and sang: “He is good; his love endures forever.” Then the temple of the LORD was filled with a cloud, 14 and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple of God. (2 Chronicles 5:11-14)

God became mysteriously present (mystically present: “the glory of the Lord”) when the musicians and singers performed.

Perhaps the best known word from ancient Hebrew is Hallelujah.  The word Hallel comes from ancient temple worship.  The word Hallel means “praise” and Hallelujah means “praise the Lord” with music and song. The word often comes at the beginning and end of the Psalms.  The Book of Psalms (in the Bible) is the song book of ancient temple worship.  The Hebrew root Hallel, however, means not only “praise” but also “shine”.  The biblical scholar Margaret Barker says that the word Hallelujah at the beginning of Psalms was probably an instruction to the priest-musicians to cause the Lord’s face to shine: Lord Shine!  It’s an invitation for God to be mysteriously (mystically) present.  God’s shining face, according to Margaret Barker, is what we nowadays would call “enlightenment”.

Revd Dr Peter Pimentel

1Samuel 8 – The demand for a king

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The Iron Crown of the Lombards, a surviving example of an early medieval royal crown

The demand for a King

‘When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. … But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.  So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah.  They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
(8:1, 3-5)

This passage is dripping with irony.  First Eli’s sons were no good and then Samuel’s sons were also bad and for this reason, the people want a king!  The very definition of a King is that the sons (or daughters now for UK Royal family) regardless of how good they are will become the absolute ruler.  So it’s very ironic that the reason they give for wanting a king is that Samuel’s sons are no good.  We see the real reason come in verses 19-20:

‘But the people refused to listen to Samuel.  “No!” they said.  “We want a king over us.  Then we will be like all the other nations, with a King to lead us and to go our before us and fight our battles.” (8:19-20).

‘V 20 shows that although the elders wanted Israel to be able to defeat other nations, they also wanted to adopt the patterns set by other nations. Consciously or unconsciously, God’s people are always under social pressure to conform to the ways of the world.’ (Payne).  Paul warns us of the same danger:

‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.’ (Rom 12:2).

1Samuel 3 – Here I am

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Icon of the prophet Samuel from the 17th century. Tempera on wood. In the collection of the Donetsk regional art museum.

Samuel a young boy, living and serving in the temple, under the priest Eli.  We see Eli now as an ageing man, his sight is failing. So Samuel is looking after Eli, as well as helping with His priestly duties.  

‘in those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions’ (v1)

The people had not heard much from God, and as this small boy goes to sleep in a place filled with reminders of God speaking to his people:

‘Samuel was lying down in the house of the lord where the ark of the Covenant was’ (v3)

And so God speaks and calls out to Samuel.  Samuel thinks its Eli that is calling out to him and so goes to Eli, and this repeats 3 times.

We are told:

‘Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him’  (v7)

No wonder Samuel doesn’t answer the lord.  I think we must see this as Eli’s failing, he has had Samuel in the temple for at least a couple of years.  Why had Eli not given Samuel any expectation of the presence of God in the sacred space where he lives, works and sleeps?

We see in the chapter before of Eli’s failings with his own Sons ‘Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord’ (1 Samuel 2:12).  We also read about how Eli doesn’t try and reign in his sons and lets them get away some terrible things.

But Eli does on the third time of Samuel coming to him realise what’s going on and tells Samuel how to respond.

And then we hear what God says, and this one of my favorite verses in the Bible:

‘And the Lord said to Samuel: “See I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle.’

What must Samuel have thought, when God told him that he was going to do something so big that the ears of everyone who heard it would tingle.  Samuel, must have had big expectations from then on.

1st time Samuel speaks: ‘Here I am’ (v4)

2nd time Samuel speaks: ‘Here I am, you called me’ (v5)

3rd time Samuel speaks: ‘Here I am; you called me’ (v6)

4th time Samuel speaks: ‘Here I am; you called me. (v8)

5th time Samuel speaks: ‘Speak for your servant is listening’ (v10)

Servant-hearted, ready to respond to being called, reliable, committed, patient.  Are we always ready to respond to the call of God in our lives like Samuel?

Isaiah 6 & Revelation 4 – Be transformed into the Body of Christ

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“‘Holy, holy, holy

is the Lord God Almighty,’

who was, and is, and is to come.” (Rev 4:8)

Holy, holy, holy is the lord almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory’. (Isaiah 6:3)

These verses from the prophet Isaiah and from the book of revelation are echoed in lots of Communion liturgy:

‘Holy, holy, holy Lord,

God of power and might,

Heaven and earth are full of your glory’

Holiness means to be set apart.  God called on Israel to be holy, to be set apart from other peoples.  God called for the Sabbath to Holy and to be set apart, a time where no work should take place.  God is holy, God is uniquely set apart, because of his uncreatedness.

God calls us to be holy, to be set apart, and this is what we enact as we move through the communion liturgy.  We sing or say ‘holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might’. This comes just as before we ask God to enact change.  We invoke the holy spirit over the bread and wine, and over the people. We also repeat the transforming words of Jesus: ‘this is my body … this is my blood’.  We call upon God’s promise of transformational holiness. (Paul Kennedy)

Augustine of Hippo an African bishop (354-430AD) tells us that this is not just about transforming bread and wine, but rather it is mainly about our own calling to be holy, to be the body of Christ.

If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying “Amen” to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear “The body of Christ”, you reply “Amen.” Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your “Amen” may ring true! (Augustine, sermon 272, a sermon on pentecost)

We are called to be holy, as we move through communion, we affirm our decision to become the body of Christ, and we are transformed

Exodus 3-4 – Don’t pick me

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Sculpture in the U.S. House of Representatives.

One of the things that jumped straight out at me in this passage was that Moses was very reluctant to be called by God:

‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’(3:11).

Moses thinks he is to insignificant a person to be called by God to save God’s people.  God reassures Moses in the next verse but Moses’ response is:

‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?’ (3:14)

Moses is worried that the people might ask him difficult questions that he cannot answer.  God tells Moses what to say in the next few verses and sets out what will happen and then Moses responds:

‘What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?’ (4:1)

Moses is now worried that they won’t listen to him or even believe him.  So again God helps by giving Moses signs he can perform so that they will believe (staff into snake etc).  Moses responds:

‘Pardon your servant, Lord.  I have never been eloquent, neither in the pas tnor since you have spoken to your servant.  I am slow of speech and tongue’ (4:10).

Now Moses moves onto what I think is his real concern, his own ability.  His previous concerns are about this as well, he is worried that he is not a good enough public speaker to answer questions or persuade people.  God answers him saying that he will help him with speaking and teach him what to say. Moses responds:

‘Pardon your servant, Lord.  Please send someone else.’ (4:13)

Moses is still not convinced!  God has responded to all his problems and Moses tells God to send someone else!  Moses is either so unconvinced of his own ability or daunted by the task which he thinks is too big for even God to do, or both.  We are told that God’s anger rises here but his response is to get someone (Moses’ brother) to help by doing the speaking part.

I find Moses’ responses here to being called fascinating and comforting in a way!  ‘God’s call of Moses is a vivid reminder of how we are all called to serve the living God.  ‘Moses’ hesitant response has a familiar ring to it!’ (Alexander). I think we all worry sometimes when God is calling us to do something that we don’t think we can do and it helps to know that even the ‘greats’ of the Bible like Moses worried and had doubts.  The message is God works in and through our weaknesses.

 

Genesis 14 – Melchizedek the first priest

 

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Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek – by Dieric Bouts the Elder, 1464–1467

‘Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine.  He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,

Creator of heaven and earth.

And praise be to God Most High,

Who delivered your enemies into your hand”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.’ (Genesis 14:18-20).

We are told Melchizedek was king of Salem and also a priest.  Melchizedek is the first priest to be mentioned in the Bible. He is called priest of El-Elyon, El-Elyon is one of the titles for God that is used by Abram and the patriarchs.  Melchizedek is a priest before the Levitical priesthood was set up. We see Melchizedek bless Abram which is the first blessing since the promises made in 12:1-3 (that Abram would be a great nation and that God will bless those who bless him, ie Melchizedek).  The reason I wanted to focus on Melchizedek here is that he is a very important figure in Hebrews. Hebrews says:

[Jesus] was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. (Heb 5:10)

and then goes on (in Heb 7) to use these verses from Genesis to show that Jesus’ priesthood is superior to the Levitical priesthood because Abram gave a tenth of everything to Melchizedek (Gen 14:20).  

‘Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him’ (Heb 7:9-10).

So the priesthood of Melchizedek is superior to the Levitical one because in essence Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek. What is more, Hebrews says,

It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior (Heb 7:7).

So because Melchizedek blessed Abram that shows him to be superior to him and therefore his offspring.  This Genesis passage is part of the foundation of why we hold Jesus to be our High Priest even though he was not from the Levitical line and therefore could not be a priest under the law. Jesus is a superior High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.

1Samuel 1 – First words

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A lecturer once told me that within Hebrew story writing the first words of a character are meant to give a clue about that person and how they will turn out.  It is meant to give an insight into their personality or something about them.  Upon asking another lecturer if this was the case they were quite dismissive!   I thought we would explore this a little in the opening chapter of 1 Samuel by looking at the first words of a few characters:

The first is Hannah’s husband:

‘Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping?  Why don’t you eat?  Why are you downhearted?  Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” (1Samuel 1:8).

First of all his first words are introduced by him being called ‘Her husband’ which in itself tells us something about his character not be very important in the story.  He certainly doesn’t come across very well, he doesn’t understand his wife’s pain and what the situation means to her.

Hannah:

‘And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.” (1Samuel 1:11).

We see Hannah’s first words are very serious, she makes a vow to God, and pleads with God to give her a son who she will give back to the Lord.  Serious heartfelt words, but like Elkanah she is not really a major character after the first few chapters so this doesn’t tell us too much.

Eli:

‘and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk?  Put away your wine.”’ (1Samuel 1:12).

This one might be a little more revealing.  Eli misreads the situation and thinks Hannah is drunk.  What is interesting here is that his first words are to condemn the innocent Hannah whereas in fact as we find out he is unable to keep his own sons bad behaviour in check.

Samuel:

 ‘The the Lord called Samuel.  Samuel answered, “Here I am.” (1Samuel 3:4).

This certainly fits with Samuel’s character.  Samuel’s first words show him to be ready and listening, a servant of the Lord.

So can we conclude that there is something in the first words of a character?  Hmm for me the idea needs more exploring but I certainly think it merits looking into a bit more.  I will try to come back to this in another blog later on.  The useful point is that if the first words are meant to be revealing (something we can check with the main characters throughout the story) then we might learn something more about the minor characters who only appear briefly and speak very little because the writer might be telling us more then we might initially think.