RSS

Tag Archives: Babylonians

932 B.C. – THE PERIOD OF THE TWO KINGDOMS IN THE BIBLE EXPLAINED: II. THE KINGDOM OF JUDAH

(Ten of the tribes revolted against tax and labour burdens imposed since King Solomon during the early part of the reign of his successor Roboam. They elected a former official under Solomon, Jeroboam, as their king. The portion of the old kingdom remaining to Roboam became known as the kingdom of Juda [Judah]. This division of the kingdom took place in the year 932 B.C. – The fate of the Kingdom of Israel from Jeroboam onwards until their captivity by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. is related in Part I, posted immediately before today’s Mass readings on this blog.)

JUDA’S WORSHIP, UNLIKE ISRAEL’S, REMAINED FREE OF GOLDEN CALF STATUES

The tribes of Juda and Benjamin remained loyal to the House of David. They are known as the kingdom of Juda. The kingdom of Juda endured longer than the kingdom of Israel. This was due in part to the fact that their geographical position protected them from the Syrians, the Assyrians and the Egyptians. It may also be due to greater protection from God. The divine protection of Juda was fitting for several reasons. In the first place the kingdom was faithful to the House of David and God had promised that David should rule forever.

In the second place the kingdom was, by and large, more faithful to the worship of Jahewh, the true God. The worship of Jahweh at Jerusalem was not adulterated by the use of a calf-representation of Jahweh as it was at Dan and Bethel in the northern kingdom. The Davidic kings, Asa (913-873 B.C.), Josaphat (873-849 B.C.), Joas (836-797 B.C.), Ezechias (718-689 B.C.) and Josias (639-609 B.C.), all made strenuous efforts to induce the people to worship Jahweh properly at Jerusalem.

In fact, Ezechias trusted so firmly in God that when Jerusalem was threatened by Sennacherib, king of Assyria, he both refused to surrender or to make an alliance with Egypt for his own protection. On the advice of the prophet Isaias Ezechias trusted in God alone. In return God sent a plague or a pestilence to the army of the Assyrians and they withdrew without attacking the city.

NOT WITHOUT FAULT IN THE SIGHT OF GOD

But the House of David and the people of the kingdom of Juda were not without fault in the sight of God. Abia (915-913 B.C.) allied himself with Tab-Rimmon, king of Damascus, against the kingdom of Israel and thus helped to bring about the interference of Syria in the affairs of Israel and Juda.

Josaphat, even though he was an ardent Jahwist, married his son Joram to Athalia, the daughter of Jezabel, Queen of Israel and a militant anti-Jahwist. The Jahwism of Josaphat was thus later overturned by the anti-Jahwism of Athalia when she seized the throne in 842.

Achaz (733-718), when threatened by an anti-Assyrian league formed by Rasin of Damascus and Peqah of Israel, appealed to Tiglath-Pileser III, king of Assyria, instead of trusting in Jahweh. As a result the kingdom of Juda became a vassal of Assyria.

During the reign of Joachim (608-597) the kingdom conspired with other principalities, relying on the aid of Egypt against the Babylonians. As a result, in 597, Nabuchodonosor of Babylonia entered Jerusalem and effected the first deportation of the people to Babylonia. Sedecias, the last king of the dynasty of David, also conspired with the Egyptians against Babylonia. In 586 Nabuchodonosor captured Jerusalem and deported the more important or wealthier people to Babylonia. The kingdom of Juda had perished.

THE KINGDOM OF JUDA, TOO, FAILED BECAUSE OF LACK OF TRUST IN GOD

The kingdom failed first of all because it had not trusted in Jahweh. Instead it had turned to political and military alliances with polytheistic and idolatrous peoples to insure its own political preservation. And the kings, the nobles and the peoples did this in the face of repeated warnings of the prophets of God.

THEY IGNORED THE WARNINGS OF GOD’S PROPHETS

When Achaz was in danger from the kings of Damascus and Israel (Rasin and Peqah), the prophet Isaias counselled him to trust in God alone. But he appealed instead to the Assyrians, even though Isaias threatened that God would let the Babylonians devastate the land.

When Joachim was seeking an alliance with Egypt against Assyria, the prophet Jeremias warned that the people would suffer as much harm through Egypt as through Assyria: ‘And thou shalt be ashamed of Egypt as thou wast ashamed of Assyria’ (Jeremias 2:36). Their miseries, he tells them, are due to the fact that they have deserted their God: ‘Hath not this been done to thee because thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God…?’ (Jeremias 2:17).

DURING MANASSES’ REIGN, THE GODS OF ASSYRIA WERE WORSHIPPED IN JUDA

The concern of the prophets with the problem of alliances with other nations was not so much political as it was religious. As events almost always proved, such alliances led to a deterioration of the religious views and practices of the people. Thus, the alliance of Achaz with the Assyrians led to the introduction of a new altar in the Temple at Jerusalem, an altar modelled after an Assyrian altar which Achaz saw at Damascus when he went there to see Tiglath-Pileser. Achaz even sacrificed his own son in a holocaust, probably made to Moloch, the god of the Ammonites. During the reign of Manasses (689-641), when the kingdom was subject to Assyria, the gods of Assyria were worshipped in the land of Juda.

AN INSIDIOUS WORLDLINESS ATTACKED JUDA’S MORAL AND RELIGIOUS LIFE

But the lack of trust in God and the acceptance of idolatrous elements in the religious practices of the people were only the more striking manifestations of an insidious worldliness which had attacked the moral and religious life of the nation. In the eyes of God. As the prophets so strongly asserted, the people had given up God and the things of God for the pleasures, riches and power of this fallen world.

Thus the prophet Micheas [Micah] complains of the people: ‘And they have coveted fields and taken them by violence, and houses they have forcibly taken away: and oppressed a man and his house, a man and his inheritance.’ Isaias says to the people: ‘Wash yourselves: be clean. Take away the evil of your devices from your eyes. Cease to do perversely. Learn to do well. Seek judgment. Relieve the oppressed. Judge for the fatherless. Defend the widow… The princes are faithless, companions of thieves; they all love bribes, they run after rewards. They judge not for the fatherless: and the widow’s cause cometh not in to them’ (Isaiah 1:16-17, 23).

UNRULY DESIRES FOR WORLDLY THINGS LEAD TO DISTRUST OF GOD

It is easy to see how the unruly desires of the people for possessions, power and influence could lead to a lack of trust in God. The man whose property is threatened will tend to put greater trust in force of arms than he will place in an invisible God. This is especially true if the wealth has been acquired by breaking the law of justice which God has established. The man whose wealth has been gained by sinning against God’s will can hardly look to God to protect him. This is why the prophets reproach the people of Juda for their sins. This is why they call for a return to the Mosaic Law as a means of obtaining God’s mercy.

WHAT MADE THE PEOPLE OF JUDAH TURN TO BAAL AND OTHER IDOLS INSTEAD?

Again, a people enamoured of the pleasures and power of the world will easily tend to admire the gods of nations wealthier or more powerful than themselves. This explains, too, why the Chosen People turned to the worship of Baal and Astarte, of Ishtar and Moloch. The shrewd seeker after fame and wealth will neglect no divinity that might farther or hinder his aims.

At any rate, Juda sinned against God. The prophets pleaded with the people to give up their sins and return to God. But their admonitions were in vain. God therefore announced the destruction of the kingdom of Juda. ‘Be in pain and labour,’ said the prophet Micheas, ‘O daughter of Sion, as a woman that bringeth forth: for now thou shalt go out of the city and shalt dwell in the country and shalt come even to Babylon’ (Micah 4:10).

To King Ezechias Isaias prophesied: ‘Behold the days shall come, that all that is in thy house, and that thy fathers have laid up in store until this day shall be carried away into Babylon: there shall not any thing be left, saith the Lord. And of thy children that issue from thee, whom thou shalt beget, they shall take away: and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon’ (Isaiah 39:6-7).

STILL GOD WILL NOT FORSAKE HIS PEOPLE, SAY THE PROPHETS

But the future history of the people, as seen by the prophets, is not all darkness and despair. God will deliver a remnant, a portion of his people from captivity. ‘Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who are carried by my bowels, are borne up by my womb. Even to your old age I am the same. And to your grey hairs I will carry you. I have made you and I will bear: I will carry you. I have made you and I will bear: I will carry and I will save’ (Isaiah 46:3-4). And again: ‘Come forth out of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, declare it with the voice of joy: make this to be heard, and speak it out even to the ends of the earth. Say: The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob’ (Isaiah 48:20).

Jeremias sends a word of comfort to those who have been led into captivity in Babylon: ‘When the seventy years shall begin to be accomplished in Babylon, I will visit you, and I will perform my good word in your favour, to bring you again to this place… and I will bring back your captivity, and I will gather you out of all nations, and from all the places to which I have driven you out, saith the Lord; and I will bring you back from the place to which I have caused you to be carried away captive’ (Jeremiah 29:10, 14).

THE PROPHETS FORESEE IN THE FUTURE THE JUST KING FOR ALL, JESUS CHRIST

The prophets foresee not only the return of the people to Jerusalem; they foresee in the distant future the reign of a just king who shall be a descendant of King David. Isaias, when seeking to dissuade Achaz from making an alliance with Tiglath-Pileser, says that God will send a wonderful sign to the House of David: ‘Hear ye, therefore, House of David… Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son: and his name shall be called Emmanuel’ (Isaiah 7:14).

Of this child Isaias also foretells: ‘A child is born to us, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the World to come, the Prince of Peace. His empire shall be multiplied and there shall be no end of peace. He shall sit upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom: to establish it and strengthen it with judgement and with justice, from henceforth and forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this’ (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Jeremias echoes the same thought: ‘Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, and I will raise up to David a just branch. And a king shall reign, and shall be wise, and shall execute judgement and justice in the earth. In those days shall Juda be saved and Israel shall dwell condfidently: and this is the name that they shall call him: The Lord, Our Just One’ (Jeremiah 23:5-6).

Micheas adds the detail that the just King will be born at Bethlehem of Juda: ‘And thou, Bethlehem Ephrata, art a little one among the thousands of Judah: out of thee shall He come forth unto me that is to be the ruler in Israel: and His going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity’ (Micah 5:2).

HIS BLESSINGS WILL BE EXTENDED TO ALL THE NATIONS OF THE EARTH

Moreover, when this King shall come, His blessings will be extended to all the nations of the earth. ‘And in the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be prepared on the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills: and all nations shall flow into it. And many people shall go, and say: Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and to the house of the God of Jacob: and He will teach us His ways, and we will walk in His paths. For the law shall come forth from Sion; and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge the Gentiles and rebuke many people: and they shall turn their swords into ploughshares and their spears into sickles. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation: neither shall they be exercised any more to war’ (Isaiah 2:24).

THEY WILL BE CONVERTED FROM SIN AND RETURN TO THE LORD

God’s plan, then, to redeem the world through the people of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, will not fail. Because His people have sinned against Him, He will allow their kingdoms to be destroyed and the people to be led away into captivity. But a remnant of them, a small portion of them, will repent of their sins. The severity of their chastisement will cause them to be converted from sin and to return to the Lord their God. Then, after seventy years of humiliating captivity, they will return to their land.

WHEN JESUS CHRIST COMES, GOD’S PROMISE TO ABRAHAM WILL BE FULFILLED

When, through disastrous defeat and bitter misfortune, they have learned to trust in and worship Jahweh alone, God will send them a King who will restore justice and judgment to the world. They will be able to recognise their true King because in some mysterious way known only to God He will be conceived and born of a virgin of the House of David. He will be born at Bethlehem of Judah.

When the promised King comes, then the word of God to Abraham will be fulfilled: the blessings of God will be extended to all nations through the seed of Abraham.

THE PLAN FOR THE REDEMPTION OF THE HUMAN RACE IS STILL UNFOLDING AT THAT POINT IN TIME

It is clear, then, that the divine plan for the redemption of the human race is still in the process of its mysterious unfolding. In the historic moment of defeat the divine promise still rings clear: God will save men through the seed of Abraham. But first He will mould. To His own requirements a remnant of His people. This remnant will learn the lesson of faithfulness to Himself.

Through humiliation and suffering they will learn the utter emptiness of the false gods of the other nations of the world. Through the failure of their worldly aims they will learn to seek the blessings of God. When, through their dispersal throughout the nations of the world the nations have heard of Jahweh, the true God, then the Just One of God will come to extend the blessings of God to all men.

THE SUFFERING SERVANT

To those who trusted in God this message of the prophets must have been most consoling. But it was accompanied, in the case of the prophet Isaias, with another message which must have been most mysterious to the people of Juda. For Isaias spoke to his compatriots not only of a great King who would save them but also of a mysterious Servant of Jahweh Who would redeem men through his sufferings. The prophecy of the Suffering Servant of Jahweh is found scattered in the Book of Isaias [Isaiah], in chapter 42:1-7; chapter 49:1-9a; chapter 50:4-9, and in chapters 52:13 to 53:12.

A LIKELY CAUSE FOR BEWILDERMENT AMONG THE CHOSEN PEOPLE

[…] This picture of the Servant of Jahweh no doubt caused much bewilderment to the Chosen People. In the first place, they were probably looking for worldly success and power rather than forgiveness of sin. This ambition looked for a powerful king-deliverer rather than the abject figure of the Servant of Jahweh. In the second place they were looking for a deliverer who would make them the rulers of the world. But, according to Isaias, they would reject the Servant of Jahweh and He would become instead the light of the Gentiles.

THE WISDOM OF GOD WILL ULTIMATELY MAKE THINGS CLEAR

It is true that the reference to the tender plant and the root might have recalled to them the ‘root of Jesse’ of whom Isaias had already spoken, the Descendant of David Who would save them. But still, it would have been difficult for them to reconcile the mighty King, the Descendant of David, with the Suffering Servant. […] But to us, who have the benefit of hindsight and the inestimable blessing of faith, we can for the moment rest easy in the thought that the wisdom of God will ultimately make all things clear.”
– Martin J. Healy, 1959

Advertisements
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

PRAYERS ANSWERED: GOD GRANTS THE ISRAELITES THEIR WISH WHEN THEY ASK FOR KINGS DUE TO LACK OF FAITH IN HIM…

THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MANKIND AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE MONARCHY OF THE ISRAELITES

SAMUEL

“The last of the great Judges of Israel was Samuel, the son of Hannah and Elcana. He defended his people against the encroachments of the Philistines. His influence, however, was felt chiefly in the matter of religion. By his teaching and exhortations he induced the people to give up the worship of the Canaanite gods, Baal and Astarte, and to worship Jahweh alone.

But in his old age he entrusted the power of the judgeship to his sons Joel and Abia. They lacked the virtue and integrity of their father and regarded their power as a means to acquire personal wealth rather than a sacred trust. Besides, the Philistines became an increasingly dangerous threat to the Chosen People. The leaders of the people came to Samuel and asked him to give them a king, a king such as ruled among other peoples.

WORLDLY VIEWPOINT

From a purely human point of view the request must have seemed reasonable. The Chosen People must have observed the stabilising and unifying influence of the institution of kingship among their neighbours. They will have seen also the political and military advantages which a single ruler and government might produce for them.

A LACK OF FAITH IN GOD’S PROVIDENCE

But, on the other hand, their desire for a human king to rule over them betrayed a lack of faith in the providence of God. Samuel was quick to perceive this and to point out to the leaders of the people the disadvantages of royalty. He told them that kings would levy taxes, draft men for military service and subject the people generally to forced labour. But the people persisted in their desire to be ruled by a king.

KING SAUL

Following God’s instructions Samuel anointed Saul, the son of Cis, of the tribe of Benjamin, and the people acknowledged Saul as their king. For a time Saul was a good king. But his disobedience to God made him displeasing to God, and God chose David, son of Jesse, of the tribe of Juda to be his successor.

KING DAVID

Samuel secretly anointed David as king of the Chosen People. In this way the blessing which Jacob had given to Juda [Judah] was realised, and the channel of salvation was narrowed down to the family of David. [Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of all mankind was to be born in Flesh to the Virgin Mary and her spouse Joseph of the ancestry of David.]

In a war with the Philistines the Israelites were defeated and Saul and Jonathan were slain. David returned to Hebron in Juda. There the men of Juda chose David to be king of the tribe of Juda. Isboseth, the son of Saul, under the tutelage of Abner, one of Saul’s generals, began to rule over the other tribes of Israel. In the struggle for power which ensued, David was triumphant. At the age of thirty he was recognised as king by all the tribes of Israel.

DAVID’S PLANS TO BUILD A TEMPLE

During his reign he forced the Philistines back to the plain of Philistia, defeated the Ammonites, the Aramaeans, the Moabites and put them under tribute. He also conquered Edom and gave the Israelites access to the Red Sea. He also seized Jerusalem from the Jebusites and made it the capital of his kingdom.

David also made Jerusalem the religious centre of his kingdom by bringing there the Ark of the Covenant. It was his intention to build a temple for divine worship. But on being advised by the prophet Nathan that it was God’s will that David’s son rather than David himself should build the temple, David contented himself with the task of gathering the materials for the temple.

KING SOLOMON

After ruling forty years, seven in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem, David died and Solomon succeeded to the throne. Solomon inherited from David, his father, a strong kingdom. He increased its strength in several ways: he married a daughter of the Pharaoh of Egypt and so increased his own prestige; he continued his father’s friendship with Hiram, the king of Tyre; with Hiram’s assistance he built a fleet and sent it on trading expeditions which brought him much gold; he seems also to have developed remarkably the iron industry of his country; he strengthened his army by the addition of 1,400 chariots and 4,000 horses.

SOLOMON BUILDS THE TEMPLE

But the most lasting achievement of his reign was the building of the great temple at Jerusalem. From Hiram of Tyre Solomon hired skilled workmen. They were assisted by the enforced labour of thirty-thousand Israelites and one hundred and fifty-three thousand six hundred Canaanites. The Temple was built between the years 961 and 955 B.C.

When it was completed Solomon brought the Ark of the Covenant to the Temple. Then the Temple was solemnly dedicated with numerous sacrifices.

SOLOMON’S GROWING LOVE FOR WORLDLY LIFESTYLE AND WOMEN

Solomon himself imitated the style of the Oriental monarchs of his time. He built magnificent palaces for himself and his harem of wives and concubines. He maintained a large staff of servants and retainers to serve the royal household. The kingdom was organised chiefly to support the king’s army and extravagant expenditures.

But his marriage to foreign women proved to be his downfall. At the beginning of his reign he was faithful to Jahweh, the one true God. But later on his foreign wives induced him to build temples for false gods. He himself worshipped Astarte and Moloch. God became angry with him and told him that because of his sin his kingdom would be divided after his death and his son would inherit only a small part of the kingdom.

CHANGES IN INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS STRAIN FOREIGN RELATIONS

As a consequence, at the end of the reign of Solomon, the signs portending the dissolution of the kingdom became apparent. A new Pharaoh replaced the father of Solomon’s wife and he gave shelter to the enemies of Solomon, especially Jeroboam, who as later to seize most of the kingdom from Roboam, Solomon’s son.

MOUNTING INTERNAL POLITICAL PROBLEMS

In addition, the people became restless under the great exactions in money and service and tithes which Solomon laid upon them. But, for the sake of David, his father, Solomon was allowed by God to rule the kingdom until his death.

AT ALL TIMES RELATIVELY BACKWARD KINGDOM

The reigns of David and Solomon, from the purely human point of view, mark the period of Israel’s greatest glory. During their reigns the kingdom is one and reaches its greatest geographical extension. Their power is acknowledged by other peoples, and nations pay tribute to them.

Still, it must be admitted that the kingdom of David and Solomon did not rank with the great empires of their own or any other time. They were never so large or so powerful as the empires of the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Medes and the Persians, the Greeks or the Romans. Nor did they reach the cultural level in the arts and crafts of the other peoples of the surrounding lands. Even Solomon had to import foreign sailors to man his fleets and navigate them successfully. To build the Temple he had to import workmen from Tyre.

THE COVENANT WITH THE HOUSE OF DAVID

But the true greatness of their kingdom is found elsewhere. It is found in the covenant which God made with the house of David. When David desired to build a temple for the Ark of the Covenant, Nathan the prophet told him that God wished the son of David to build the temple. But he also told David that his son would establish a house that would remain forever.

And later, at the end of Solomon’s reign, the prophet Ahias told Jeroboam that God had chosen him to rule over ten of the tribes of Israel, but that God had also said: ‘to his (Solomon’s) son, I will give one tribe: that there may remain a lamp for my servant David before me always in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen, that my name might be there’ (2 Kings 11:36). It is God’s intention that the throne of David shall remain forever. This means that both Israel and the world shall be saved through the house of David. The line of God’s plan to save men runs from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, through Juda to David. This would seem to indicate also that while the world of man is to be saved through the Chosen People, it will be saved possibly by one individual.

DAVID’S KINDLINESS AND MILDNESS

This great honour is given to David because he was pleasing to God. His faith in Jahweh was very great and he never wavered in his service to his God. Unlike Solomon and later kings David never fell into idolatry, not even during his exile among the Philistines. He followed God’s commands as they were transmitted to him by Nathan, God’s prophet. So great was his reverence for the things of God that he would not even try to injure Saul, God’s anointed king. More than once, when Saul was in his power he let Saul go uninjured. After Saul’s death he brought Saul’s son Mephiboseth to live in his own palace. He wished to build a temple to honour God. But when Nathan told him that this was not God’s wish he contented himself with gathering the materials for its construction and allowed the great honour of building it to go to his son Solomon. He centralised the worship of Jahweh by bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. So great was his joy at bringing God’s dwelling place to Jerusalem, his capital, that he himself danced and sang in the procession before the Ark. And this he did with no thought of catering to human respect [what people thought]. The simplicity and sincerity of his soul in this action is made clear by the attitude of his wife Michol, the daughter of Saul. When she saw David dancing before the Ark she despised him because she felt that he had demeaned himself by acting not as a king but as a hired singer. David, however, seems to have felt that even a king cannot demean himself by doing honour to God.

Moreover, in David God found a model of that kindliness and mildness which He Himself practised towards men. David stands out among the Oriental kings of his time for the mildness of his treatment of his enemies. He spared Saul, his mortal enemy. He extended mercy and kindness to the relatives of Saul, even though their continued existence was a menace to his own rule. He was merciful, perhaps even, as some think, to the point of weakness, to his own sons when they challenged his authority. He wished even to spare the life of Absalom, who rebelled against him and attempted to seize his throne.

DAVID’S GRAVE SIN AND SOUL-STIRRED REPENTANCE

It is true that David had some human weaknesses. He committed adultery with Bethsabee, the wife of Urias, and tried to conceal it by arranging for the death of Urias. But though his crime was great, his repentance was greater, and he immortalised it in the soul-stirred hymn of repentance, the Miserere (Psalm 50): ‘Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy mercy; according to thy great clemency blot out my iniquity…’

As we see in this Psalm, David repented bitterly and humbly his great crime. But he trusted the mercy and the love of God. Moreover he realised the truth of what Samuel had told Saul, that God preferred obedience to sacrifice, a humble and contrite heart to whole-burnt offerings. He perceived clearly what other monarchs of his time did not, that God preferred the gift of man’s heart to gifts of animals and grain. Briefly David saw that religion must not only be external but also internal. Man’s external acts of religion must proceed from a love of God in the will of man. And in return for God’s love David sang many Psalms in praise of God. In fact so great was his reputation as a singer of praise to God that the Chosen People gave him credit for composing all the psalms in the Book of Psalms, even though many of them were composed by other psalmist.

THROUGH DAVID’S DYNASTY GOD WILL SAVE MEN FROM THEMSELVES

As for the Chosen People themselves, during this period of their history we see in them a strong desire for national unity as opposed to tribal particularism. This feeling for national unity no doubt strengthened their allegiance to Jahweh, and so we find them forsaking the worship of Baal and Astarte and clinging only to the service of the one true God.

It is clear that their desire for a king was due to a lack of faith in God and to their desire to imitate their neighbours, in a word, to human respect. But God, who realised this, was patient. He acceded to their request and gave them a king and a kingdom. But He turned their desires to His own loving purpose. He will make the dynasty of David everlasting, and through that dynasty He will save men from themselves.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MANKIND AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: THE PROMISE TO ABRAHAM (I)

(This part can be read independently from Part I, “Are the creation story, Adam and Eve and the fall from grace scientific accounts?” which is found on this blog.)

THE STORY SO FAR:

“When Adam and Eve were seduced by the devil and ate the forbidden fruit, they lost for themselves and for themselves and for the whole human race the friendship of God. Up to the moment of their sin they had lived familiarly with God; they had been His faithful children; their human wills had been subject in love to the divine will. By their sin they rebelled against the will of God; they sought to achieve their own happiness and perfection in a way forbidden by God.

Their rebellion against God brought swift punishment upon them. They lost the gift of bodily immortality; they lost the perfect control of their bodily passions which God had given them; they were condemned to work out their livelihood, to procreate and to raise their children with pain and difficulty. Last of all, they were expelled from the paradise of pleasure which God had made for them.

GOD IS JUST AND MERCIFUL

In this first fateful episode of the story of the encounter of the devil, man and God, it might seem that the devil had won, and man and God had lost. But God is almighty and just and merciful. His might and His justice are shown in the punishment to which He condemns both the devil and man. His mercy appears in the promise of ultimate victory which He promises to man.

HOW IS THIS VICTORY OVER THE DEVIL TO BE WON?

God’s first promise of victory to man is made in the most general terms. The woman and her seed will war against the devils and will triumph over them. God foretells and promises the final victory of some men, at least, over the wiles and deceits of the devil. But how is this victory to be won? How is it being won? Since the participants in the struggle are innumerable – Satan and the devils allied with him, the whole human race from Adam to the end of this world, and God – only the infinite mind of God can know all the details of the victory. But God has seen fit to reveal us at least the general plan of the reconciliation with Himself. Moses tells us the earliest elements of the plan in the Book of Genesis.

BOOK OF GENESIS, CHAPTER 4 TO CHAPTER 11

From all the descendants of Adam God chose Abraham and his descendants to be the first historically significant actors in the drama of man’s reconciliation with God. From chapter four to chapter eleven of the Book of Genesis Moses traces the genealogy of Abraham from Adam to Thare, the father of Abraham. Since Moses takes such great pains to establish this genealogy, and since the genealogy itself is subject to misunderstanding, it may be useful to pause a while to reflect upon its real meaning.

First of all it is apparent that Moses intends to show by these genealogies that the human race is one, that all men are ultimately descended from Adam and Eve. But it is equally clear that Moses had no intention of listing the complete genealogies of all the known races of men. At the moment when Cain kills his brother Abel, Cain and Abel are the only children of Adam and Eve mentioned by Moses. Yet Cain fears that others may find him and kill him because of his crime. This implies that there other descendants of Adam and Eve, perhaps many in number, already living on the earth. It would be fruitless for us, therefore, to attempt to see in the genealogies of Genesis a complete history of the parentage of all the races of mankind.

What is more important is the central fact that Moses is chiefly concerned with the task of relating the descent of Abraham from Adam. When a particular family ceases to be of interest from this point of view, it is dropped from the story. In this way, for example, the family of Cain is not mentioned, at least by name, after the fourth chapter of Genesis. The chief centre of interest always is the descent of Abraham from Adam. Since salvation is to come to mankind through Abraham it is important to see how Abraham is the descendant of the parents of the race of man, the parents to whom God promised ultimate victory over the devil.

CAIN AND ABEL

Embedded in these genealogies we find moral elements which are of the utmost significance for the understanding of man’s history. The murder of Abel by Cain shows how quickly serious sin enters the history of the descendants of Adam and Eve. But God’s words to Cain show that man is free not to sin: ‘If thou do well, shalt thou not receive? But if ill, shall not sin forthwith be present at the door? But the lust thereof shall be under thee, and thou shalt have dominion over it’ (Genesis 4:7). Temptation to sin may afflict Cain, but he can master it if he will.

A MIXTURE OF GOOD AND EVIL

BEGINNING OF CIVILISATION

Again, the early history of mankind shows that curious mixture of good and evil which is the constant characteristic of mankind since the fall of Adam. This mixture of good and evil appears in several guises. Cain and his descendants are portrayed as the bearers of material good to the human race. They appear as the first agents of human civilisation. Cain himself builds the first human city. Jubal introduces mankind to music, Tubalcain invents the art of metal-working. On the other hand, Cain is the first murderer and Lamech the second; Lamech is also the first polygamist. The Cainites, then, bring the world many material blessings; to that extent they realise God’s plan for the mastery of the world by man.

SUCCUMBING TO SEEKING HAPPINESS IN MATERIAL THINGS

But on the other hand they succumb to the lust for material happiness and fall victim to sin. In the race of Seth, the third son of Adam mentioned by Moses, and the forefather of Abraham, we find also this admixture of good and evil. Enos, the son of Seth, is apparently a holy man, for it is said of him that he ‘began to call upon the name of the Lord’ (Genesis 4:26). Henoch [Enoch] and Noe [Noah] are holy, for Henoch ‘walked with God’ (Genesis 5:22) and Noe ‘found grace before the Lord’ (Genesis 6:8). But of the contemporaries of Noe, Moses writes, ‘And God seeing that the wickedness of men was great upon the earth, and that all the thought of their heart was bent upon evil at all times, it repented him that he had made man on the earth’ (Genesis 6:5-6).

It seems clear, then, from the beginning that the history of the human race will always appear as a mixture of good and evil. As men freely submit to God or freely rebel against Him, so good or evil will cast light or darkness over the face of mankind. Nor is the promise of victory over sin, the devil and death to be fulfilled only through a line of men of constant goodness in the sight of God. Even the Sethites from whom Abraham is descended were in their time corrupted by sin. From the beginning, the ultimate victory of God and man waits obscurely behind the dark clouds of satanic and human evil.

NOAH: THE DATES AND CIRCUMSTACES OF THE GREAT FLOOD

Abraham, through whom the divine promise of deliverance is fulfilled, is the descendant of Adam through Seth and through Noe. With the tale of Noe and the great flood, the story of Moses enters for the first time into relation with humanly recorded history as we now know it. The ancestors of Abraham lived for some time in the territory of the empire Babylonia. In the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh there is an account of a vast flood and of an ark in which the hero Utanapishtim and other persons are saved. There is also evidence of severe floods at Kish and at Ur in ancient Babylonia. These floods are dated by historians as occurring between the years 3400 and 4200 B.C. It seems quite probable the flood recorded by the Babylonians and that mentioned by Moses are the same flood. But it is not possible at present to give the exact date of the flood.

If we accept this identification, then it is probable that the flood of which Moses tells us was not universal, that is, it did not cover the whole earth and it did not destroy all men and living things upon the earth except those which Noe saved in his ark. When Moses says that all men and all living creatures were destroyed he means that all living beings in the world known to his ancestors, that is, in the world of the ancient Babylonian empire, were destroyed by this great flood.

It will follow also from this fact that not all the races of men known historically to us are the descendants of Noe. The divine plan for the salvation of all men will be working even for those who are not descended from Noe. On the other hand, it is not working through them at the time of Noe. Such peoples, then, as might have been dwelling in far eastern Asia or Europe or in the Americas at this time in human history do not enter into the main lines of the development of God’s plan for ultimate triumph over evil.

‘GO FORTH OUT OF THY COUNTRY… INTO THE LAND I WILL SHOW THEE.’

Abraham is the descendant of Noe through Noe’s son Sem. He was, therefore, of the race of Semites. His own father, Thare, lived at Ur of the Chaldees, in the confines of the Babylonian empire. Thare seems to have been, like his neighbours at Ur, a polytheist, a worshipper of many gods. By this time, then, the descendants of Noe have lost any certain knowledge of the existence of the one true God. It is at this moment in human history, when the first great civilisations known to us have already come into existence, the great empires of Babylonia and Egypt, when the knowledge and understanding of the true God seem to be lost to mankind. God speaks directly to Abraham, the son of Thare: ‘Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father’s house, and come into the land which I shall show thee. And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and magnify thy name, and thou shalt be blessed. I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee, and in thee shall all the kindred of the earth be blessed’ (Genesis 12:1-3).

As God, in the paradise of pleasure, had told the devil, Adam and Eve, that the woman and her seed would triumph over the devil, so now He tells Abraham that through him all men will be blessed. God is renewing His promise, and precisely at a moment when it might seem as if man was totally lost, for he had forgotten even the existence of the one true God.

MANKIND BEGAN ITS SLOW ASCENT TO GOD

It is permissible to see in the history of Abraham a second divine test for mankind. In the paradise of pleasure God had tested Adam, and in Adam all humanity failed. In Abraham mankind was tested again, but this time Abraham was faithful and mankind began its slow ascent to God.

The trial of Abraham was difficult and long. Think first of all of the fact that Abraham lived in the empire of Babylonia. His father was a worshipper of the gods of Babylonia. Before God called Abraham, Abraham himself was no doubt a worshipper of the gods of his native land. He is asked to give up the worship of the gods to which he was accustomed and to accept a God whom he has never known before. Then he is asked to leave his native land and journey through strange lands until this God who speaks to him gives him a new land for himself and his descendants. This is surely a great trial of faith. But Abraham obeys and journeys from Ur to the land of Canaan, from Canaan to Egypt and then to Palestine once again.

A GREAT TRIAL OF FAITH

Moreover, Sara, the wife of Abraham, was barren, yet God promised him: ‘I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: if any man be able to number the dust of the earth, he shall be able to number thy seed also’ (Genesis 13:16). When Abraham thought that he would not have any heirs, God said to him, ‘Look up to heaven, and number the stars if thou canst… So shall thy seed be’ (Genesis 15:5). When Abraham and Sara are in their old age, God fulfils his promise and gives them a son, Isaac. God’s promise to make of Abraham a mighty and numerous nation seems possible of fulfilment. But then God tests his fidelity even more severely. ‘Take thy only begotten son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and go into the land of vision: and there thou shalt offer him for an holocaust upon one of the mountains which I will show thee’ (Genesis 22:2). To Abraham it must have seemed as if God were withdrawing his promise to give him numerous descendants. If Isaac were killed, how could Abraham have any legitimate descendants at all? Yet Abraham was obedient to God, and he set out to fulfil God’s command. At the last moment, satisfied with Abraham’s faith and obedience, God intervened and said, through an angel, ‘Lay not thy hand on the boy, neither do thou any thing to him. Now I know that thou fearest God, and hast not spared thy only begotten son for my sake’ (Genesis 22:12).

Where Adam was tried and was found unfaithful and disobedient, Abraham was tested and found faithful and obedient. In Adam the whole human race fell away from God. In Abraham the race begins to come back to God. In Adam the whole of mankind was cursed. In Abraham mankind is blessed again. The first pact which God made with mankind in Adam was broken by the sin of Adam. Through Abraham God makes a new pact with men and the pact is ratified by the firm faith and obedience of Abraham.

THE PACT WITH ABRAHAM

Two things are remarkable in the pact which God makes with Abraham. First of all, God seems to be promising to Abraham only material blessings. He promises him numerous descendants, land, great power and possessions. To a man of Abraham’s time and place these promises would seem attractive. It is possible that Abraham may not have seen beyond these material things to the truly heavenly blessings which God would restore to men through him and his children. If this be so, then God, in so speaking to Abraham, is stooping to the level of the spirituality of the men of Abraham’s time. We must remember that Abraham lived some time in the second millennium before Christ. If the human race is as old as many scientists say, then a very long time intervened between the creation of Adam and the time of Abraham. In all that time, through the weakness and sinfulness of men, the knowledge of the true God and of man’s true destiny was gradually weakened and men’s thoughts and desires tended to the material blessings of this world. God in His wisdom and divine condescension would lead men gently to Himself, raising them slowly but surely from the pleasures of this world to the far more precious realities of the world of the spirit.

‘THE WEAK THINGS OF THE WORLD HATH GOD CHOSEN…

Lastly, it is not without significance that God chose Abraham to be, as it were, the vehicle which would carry deliverance to all mankind. At first sight it might seem strange that the choice was made. Instead of choosing Abraham and his descendants, the Jewish race, God might have chosen the Babylonians or the Egyptians. Or He might have chosen the Assyrians who appear a little later, or the Persians or the Greeks or the Romans, or even the Chinese or the Japanese. In short, God might have chosen one of the great civilising nations which have arisen in the course of human history. But He did not. He chose one of the small nations of the earth, one of the weak nations of the earth. The Hebrews were not chosen because of their military preeminence, or their economic prosperity, or their cultural superiority. God’s choice of Abraham and his descendants will always remain somewhat mysterious to us. But it is perhaps legitimate to see in it a foreshadowing of St Paul’s words,’…the weak things of the world hath God chosen, that He may confound the strong… That no flesh should glory in His sight’ (1 Cor 1:27, 29).”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,