Job 38, Daniel 7, Revelation 5 – Angels

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Angels in the Bible are sometimes called in Hebrew bene Elohim which is translated as “sons of God”.  So, e.g., in the Book of Job (composed in Hebrew somewhen in the mid 6th to mid 4th century BC) we read:

“The morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” (Job 38:7)

The morning stars in the ancient world are what we now know as planets of our solar system.  The morning stars are: MercuryVenusMars, Jupiter and Saturn because these can be seen with the naked eye.

Some translations of the Bible into English have “angels” or “heavenly beings” but a literal translation of the Hebrew bene Elohim is “sons of God”.  The angels in the Bible are not, strictly speaking, created by God.  It would be closer to the point to say that God begets them.  Angels are “sons and daughters of God” we would say today.  Angels eternally proceed out from God.  Beyond this space-time universe the angels eternally proceed out from God and as sons of God they share the divine nature.  Another book of the Bible describes this sublime effulgence of angels.

The Book of Daniel probably written in its final version in 164 BC in Aramaic and Hebrew.  The book contains a magnificent vision of “the Ancient of Days”.  The vision is highly metaphorical and pictorial but includes the procession of angels:

“A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.” (Daniel 7:10)

The numerical words (“a thousand thousands” and “ten thousand times ten thousand”) is an ancient Near Eastern way of saying “infinity”.  An infinity of angels!  We also have here an example of a literary device in ancient Hebrew called by scholars “parallelism”.  This is when the second line is an echo of the first line.  The echo explains the meaning of the first line.  So the stream of fire that issues out from God is the infinity of angels.  An infinity of angels proceeds out from the Infinite One.  The last book of the Bible called The Book of Revelation or The Apocalypse written in Greek but full of Hebrew idioms towards the end of the first century refers to Daniel’s vision:

“Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands.”  (Revelation 5:11)

Rev Dr Peter Pimentel

Psalm 1 – Meditation

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It’s easy for us to think that meditation has roots in the eastern (Hindu and Buddhist) religions.  And of course it does – but not exclusively. Meditation is also prominent in the Bible. It is foundational to Judeo-Christian spirituality.

There are 150 Psalms (poem-songs) in the Bible.  The first Psalm sets the scene. It has to do with meditation:

“Their delight is in the law of the Lord and they meditate on his law day and night.” (Psalm 1:2)

The Hebrew word translated in English bibles as “meditate” is pronounced haga.  We get a good idea of what haga means by looking at the usage in the Bible.  In addition to the obvious texts that have to do with meditation, the word is also used of a lion that growls (haga) over its prey (Isaiah 31:4).  The lion is meditating presumably because it is doing something repetitive and audible and it is focused on its prey.  The lion is aware of the present moment! The Bible also speaks about the cooing (haga) of a dove (Isaiah 38:14).  The word haga in other contexts describes the wailings in the mourning rituals of the ancient Near East.  

The noun “meditation” (in Hebrew higgäyôn) in Psalm 92:3 refers to the melody played on a musical instrument.

“Their delight is in the law of the Lord and they meditate on his law day and night.” (Psalm 1:2)

The word “law” in the Bible doesn’t mean what it means in English. The Hebrew word torah very often means: “teaching”, “instruction” and “guidance”.  Meditation in the Bible has to do with focus, recital, repetition, melody and chewing over the guidance given by the Good Lord.  The person who meditates on the torah

“is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.  Whatever he does prospers.” (Psalm 1:3).  

Unlike trees growing wild or planted in the fields, where rainfall might be sporadic; the person who meditates on God’s good guidance is like a tree that has been planted beside irrigation canals (in Hebrew, palgê māyim, “streams of water”) – artificial water channels made for the purpose of irrigation.  Whatever he does prospers.

Rev Dr Peter Pimentel

See also: Pslam 1 – We are formed by what we love

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.