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Tag Archives: Israel

TODAY’S BIBLE READING (JEREMIAH 31:31-34)

I WILL MAKE A NEW COVENANT AND WILL NEVER CALL THEIR SIN TO MIND.

Behold the days shall come, saith the Lord, and I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Juda:

Not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt: the covenant which they made void, and I had dominion over them, saith the Lord.

But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, after those days, saith the Lord: I will give my law in their bowels, and I will write it in their heart: and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying: Know the Lord: for all shall know me from the least of them even to the greatest, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

V. The word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.

 

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TODAY’S BIBLE READING (2 KINGS 17:5-8, 13-15, 18)

THE LORD THRUST ISRAEL AWAY FROM HIM. THERE WAS NONE LEFT BUT THE TRIBE OF JUDAH.

The king of Assyria invaded the whole country and, coming to Samaria, laid siege to it for three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria. He settled them in Halah on the Habor, a river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

This happened because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the grip of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. They worshipped other gods, they followed the practices of the nations that the Lord had dispossessed for them.

And yet through all the prophets and all the seers the Lord had given Israel and Judah this warning, ‘Turn away from your wicked ways and keep my commandments and my laws in accordance with the entire Law I laid down for your fathers and delivered to them through my servants the prophets.’ But they would not listen, they were more stubborn than their ancestors had been who had no faith in the Lord their God. They despised his laws and the covenant he had made with their ancestors, and the warnings he had given them. For this, the Lord was enraged with Israel and thrust them away from him. There was none left but the tribe of Judah only.

V. The word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.

 

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TODAY’S BIBLE READING (1 KINGS 18:41-46)

(Previous reading of Week 10 – 1 Kings 18:20-39)

MAY THIS PEOPLE KNOW THAT YOU, LORD, ARE GOD AND ARE WINNING BACK THEIR HEARTS.

Ahab called all Israel together and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. Elijah stepped out in front of all the people. “How long” he said “do you mean to hobble first on one leg then on the other? If the Lord is God, follow him; if Baal, follow him.” But the people never said a word. Elijah then said to them, “I, I alone, am left as a prophet of the Lord, while the prophets of Baal are four hundred and fifty. Let two bulls be given us; let them choose one for themselves, dismember it and lay it on the wood, but not set fire to it. I in my turn will prepare the other bull, but not set fire to it. You must call on the name of your god, and I shall call on the name of mine; the god who answers with fire, is God indeed.” The people all answered, “Agreed!” Elijah then said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one bull and begin, for there are more of you. Call on the name of your god but light no fire.” They took the bull and prepared it, and from morning to midday they called on the name of Baal. “O Baal, answer us!” they cried, but there was no voice, no answer, as they performed their hobbling dance round the altar they had made. Midday came, and Elijah mocked them. “Call louder,” he said “for he is a god: he is preoccupied or he is busy, or he has gone on a journey; perhaps he is asleep and will wake up.” So they shouted louder and gashed themselves, as their custom was, with swords and spears until the blood flowed down them. Midday passed, and they ranted on until the time the offering is presented; but there was no voice, no answer, no attention given to them.

Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come closer to me,” and all the people came closer to him. He repaired the altar of the Lord which had been broken down. Elijah took twelve stones, corresponding to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, “Israel shall be your name,” and built an altar in the name of the Lord. Round the altar he dug a trench of a size to hold two measures of seed. He then arranged the wood, dismembered the bull, and laid it on the wood. Then he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the holocaust and on the wood”; this they did. He said, “Do it a second time”; they did it a second time. He said, “Do it a third time”; they did it a third time. The water flowed round the altar and the trench itself was full of water. At the time when the offering was presented, Elijah the prophet stepped forward. “Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel,” he said “let them know today that you are Lord in Israel, and that I am your servant, that I have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, Lord, are God and are winning back their hearts.”

Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the holocaust and wood and licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this they fell on their faces. “The Lord is God,” they cried, “the Lord is God.”

1 Kings 18:41-46

ELIJAH PRAYED AND THE SKY GAVE RAIN.

Elijah said to Ahab, “Go back, eat and drink; for I hear the sound of rain.” While Ahab went back to eat and drink, Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel and bowed down to the earth, putting his face between his knees. “Now go up,” he told his servant “and look out to the sea.” He went up and looked. “There is nothing at all” he said. “Go back seven times” Elijah said. The seventh time, the servant said, “Now there is a cloud, small as a man’s hand, rising from the sea.” Elijah said, “Go and say to Ahab, ‘Harness the chariot and go down before the rain stops you.'” And with that the sky grew dark with cloud and storm, and rain fell in torrents. Ahab mounted his chariot and made for Jezreel. The hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and tucking up his cloak he ran in front of Ahab as far as the outskirts of Jezreel.

V. The word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.

 

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15th FEBRUARY, BIBLE READING (1 KINGS 12:26-32; 13:33-34)

JEROBOAM MADE TWO GOLDEN CALVES.

Jeroboam thought to himself, “As things are, the kingdom will revert to the House of David. If this people continues to go up to the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices, the people’s heart will turn back again to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will put me to death.”

So the king thought this over and then made two golden calves; he said to the people, “You have been going up to Jerusalem long enough. Here are your gods, Israel; these brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” He set up one in Bethel and the people went in possession all the way to Dan in front of the other. He set up the temple of the high places and appointed priests from ordinary families, who were not of the sons of Levi. Jeroboam also instituted a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth of the month, like the feast that was kept in Judah, and he went up to the altar.

That was how he behaved in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves he had made; and at Bethel he put the priests of the high places he had established.

Jeroboam did not give up his wicked ways after this incident, but went on appointing priests for the high places from the common people. He consecrated as priests of the high places any who wished to be. Such conduct made the House of Jeroboam a sinful House, and caused its ruin and extinction from the face of the earth.

V. The word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.

 
 

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29th JANUARY, BIBLE READING (2 SAMUEL 7:4-17)

YOUR HOUSE AND YOUR SOVEREIGNTY WILL ALWAYS STAND SECURE BEFORE ME.

The word of the Lord came to Nathan:
“Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus the Lord speaks: Are you the man to build me a house to dwell in? I have never stayed in a house from the day I brought the Israelites out of Egypt until today, but have always led a wanderer’s life in a tent. In all my journeying with the whole people of Israel, did I say to any one of the judges of Israel, whom I had appointed as shepherds of Israel my people: Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’ This is what you must say to my servant David, ‘The Lord of hosts says this: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be leader of my people Israel; I have been with you on all your expeditions; I have cut off all your enemies before you. I will give you fame as great as the fame of the greatest on earth. I will provide a place for my people Israel; I will plant them there and they shall dwell in that place and never be disturbed again; nor shall the wicked continue to oppress them as they did, in the days when I appointed judges over my people Israel; I will give them rest from all their enemies. The Lord will make you great; the Lord will make you a House. And when your days are ended and you are laid to rest with your ancestors, I will preserve the offspring of your body after you and make his sovereignty secure. (It is he who shall build a house for my name, and I will make his royal throne secure for ever.) I will be a father to him and he a son to me; if he does evil, I will punish him with the rod such as men use, with strokes such as mankind gives. Yet I will not withdraw my favour from him, as I withdrew it from your predecessor. Your House and your sovereignty will always stand secure before me and your throne be established for ever.'”
Nathan related all these words to David and this whole revelation.

V. The word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.

 
 

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27th JANUARY, BIBLE READING (2 SAMUEL 5:1-7, 10)

YOU SHALL BE SHEPHERD OF MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.

All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron. “Look,” they said, “we are your own flesh and blood. In days past when Saul was our king, it was you who led Israel in all their exploits; and the Lord said to you, ‘You are the man who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you shall be the leader of Israel.'” So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a pact with them at Hebron in the presence of the Lord, and they anointed David king of Israel.

David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned for forty years. He reigned in Hebron over Judah for seven years and six months; then he reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel and Judah for thirty-three years.

David and his men marched on Jerusalem against the Jebusites living there. These said to David, “You will not get in here. The blind and the lame will hold you off.” (That is to say: David will never get in here.) But David captured the fortress of Zion, that is, the Citadel of David.

He grew greater and greater, and the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.

V. The word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.

 
 

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24th JANUARY, BIBLE READING (1 SAMUEL 24:3-21)

I WILL NOT RAISE MY HAND AGAINST HIM, FOR HE IS THE ANOINTED OF THE LORD.

Saul took three thousand men chosen from the whole of Israel and went in search of David and his men east of the Rocks of the Wild Goats. He came to the sheep-folds along the route where there was a cave, and went in to cover his feet. Now David and his men were sitting in the recess of the cave; David’s men said to him, “Today is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘I will deliver your enemy into your power, do what you like with him.’ David stood up and, unobserved, cut off the border of Saul’s cloak. Afterwards David reproached himself for having cut off the border of Saul’s cloak. He said to his men, “The Lord preserve me from doing such a thing to my lord and raising my hand against him, for he is the anointed of the Lord.” David gave his men strict instructions, forbidding them to attack Saul.

Saul then left the cave and went on his way. After this, David too left the cave and called after Saul, “My lord king!” Saul looked behind him and David bowed to the ground and did homage. Then David said to Saul, “Why do you listen to the men who say to you, ‘David means to harm you’? Why, your own eyes have seen today how the Lord put you in my power in the cave and how I refused to kill you, but spared you. ‘I will not raise my hand against my lord,’ I said, ‘for he is the anointed of the Lord.’ O my father, see, look at the border of your cloak in my hand. Since I cut off the border of your cloak, yet did not kill you, you must acknowledge frankly that there is neither malice nor treason in my mind. I have not offended against you, yet you hunt me down to take my life. May the Lord judge between me and you, and may the Lord avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be laid on you. (As the old proverb says: Wickedness goes out from the wicked, and my hand will not be laid on you.) On whose trail has the king of Israel set out? On whose trail are you in hot pursuit? On the trail of a dead dog! On the trail of a single flea! May the Lord be the judge and decide between me and you; may he take up my cause and defend it and give judgement for me, freeing me from your power.”

When David had finished saying these words to Saul, Saul said, “Is that your voice, my son David?” And Saul wept aloud. “You are more upright than I,” he said to David, “for you have repaid me with good while I have repaid you with evil. Today you have crowned your goodness towards me since the Lord had put me in your power yet you did not kill me. When a man comes on his enemy, does he let him go unmolested? May the Lord reward you for the goodness you have shown me today. Now I know you will indeed reign and that the sovereignty in Israel will be secure in your hands.”

V. The word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.

 
 

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17th JANUARY, BIBLE READING (1 SAMUEL 8:4-7, 10-22)

YOU WILL CRY OUT ON ACCOUNT OF THE KING YOU HAVE CHOSEN FOR YOURSELVES, BUT GOD WILL NOT ANSWER YOU.

All the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. “Look,” they said to him, “you are old, and your sons do not follow your ways. So give us a king to rule over us, like the other nations.” It displeased Samuel that they should say, “Let us have a king to rule us,” so he prayed to the Lord. But the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for it is not you they have rejected; they have rejected me from ruling over them.” All that the Lord had said Samuel repeated to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the rights of the king who is to reign over you.

He will take your sons and assign them to his chariotry and cavalry, and they will run in front of his chariot. He will use them as leaders of a thousand and leaders of fifty; he will make them plough his ploughland and harvest his harvest and make his weapons of war and the gear for his chariots. He will also take your daughters as perfumers, cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields, of your vineyards and olive groves and give them to his officials. He will tithe your crops and vineyards to provide for his eunuchs and his officials. He will take the best of your manservants and maidservants, of your cattle and your donkeys, and make them work for him. He will tithe your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out on account of the king you have chosen for yourselves, but on that day God will not answer you.”

The people refused to listen to the words of Samuel. They said, “No! We want a king, so that we in our turn can be like the other nations; our king shall rule us and be our leader and fight our battles.” Samuel listened to all that the people had to say and repeated it in the ears of the Lord. The Lord then said to Samuel, “Obey their voice and give them a king.”

V. The word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.

 
 

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THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MANKIND AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: AS A PREPARATION FOR THE GOSPEL TO SPREAD TO ALL, GOD FACILITATES A UNIVERSALLY SPOKEN LANGUAGE FOR JEWS AND THE REST OF THE KNOWN WORLD

THE BOOKS OF THE MACCABEES IN THE BIBLE ILLUMINATE THE CONTINUOUS AND STEADY UNFOLDING OF GOD’S SALVATION PLAN FOR ALL MANKIND. WITHOUT READING THOSE BIBLICAL BOOKS, QUITE AN AMOUNT OF THE REST OF THE BIBLE MAKES AS MUCH SENSE AS TRYING TO UNDERSTAND THE “WHODUNNIT” WHEN SEVERAL CHAPTERS TOWARDS THE END OF AN AGATHA CHRISTIE BOOK HAVE BEEN RIPPED OUT.

KING HEROD

“From the time of Malachias (perhaps shortly before the reforms of Esdras) no prophet had appeared in Israel. The Chosen People were left by God to keep faith in Him without the inspiring activity of the prophets. In the period between Malachias and Herod there is evidence that the faith of many was weakened. Many fell victim to the Hellenising tendencies of the Seleucid dynasty [for details about this, as described in the Holy Scriptures, please see the previous episode of “The Salvation History As Revealed in the Bible” posted 2 days ago]. On the other hand, the Macchabaean revolt shows that many retained a firm hold on their ancient faith. The final defeat of the Macchabaean ambitions by Herod the Great did not mean that the religion of Jahweh had perished or that God had deserted His people.

On the contrary, to those who like ourselves can look back over history, there are not lacking signs that the divine plan for the salvation of mankind was maturing during this long period of divine silence. God had promised that His blessings would be brought to the world through the descendants of Abraham. Through His prophets He had foretold that all the nations would be brought to worship Jahweh. While this great gathering of the nations to Jahweh had been slightly foreshadowed by the inclusion of isolated individuals in the company of the people of God, until this period there did not appear any significant developments pointing to the accomplishment of God’s design for universal salvation. But during this period signs of the maturation of the divine plans appear.

IMPORTANT SIGNS OF THE MATURATION OF THE DIVINE PLANS APPEAR

These signs are chiefly three: the Diaspora of the Chosen People, Hellenism and the establishment of the Roman Empire. It is these three factors in universal history which we must now consider, with a view to perceiving their role in the accomplishment of God’s will to save man.

THE DIASPORA

The word ‘Diaspora’ was a term used by Jews to signify the Jews who lived outside the Promised Land given them by Jahweh. In 857 B.C. some Jews had gone to live in Damascus after Achab had defeated the king of Syria. The ten northern tribes had been deported to Assyria by Sargon. The kingdom of Juda had been deported to Babylon by Nabuchodonosor. The ten northern tribes were apparently assimilated by their conquerors, for they disappear from history. But many of the kingdom of Juda returned to Palestine under Zorobabel, and later under Esdras and Nehemias.

The evidence shows, though, that many of the Jews remained in Babylonia. There is also historical proof that a Jewish colony was established at Elephantine in Egypt. Later, after Alexander the Great had founded the city of Alexandria in Egypt, many Jews went there and established a Jewish colony. By the time of Herod the Great the Jewish colony at Alexandria seems to have numbered a million souls. From Alexandria it is legitimate to suppose that they emigrated to other ports throughout the Mediterranean world. At any rate, by the time the Roman Empire was established the Jews were to be found dispersed throughout the Mediterranean world.

This dispersion of the Jews so widely through the parts of the civilised world then known to them meant that at least some knowledge of the existence and character of Jahweh, the only true God, had gone beyond the borders of Palestine, had penetrated the lands of people who still worshipped false gods and practised idolatry. It represented at least a beginning of God’s efforts to bring all men back to Himself.

This view is reinforced by three facts: first, the preservation of Jahwism among the dispersed Jews; second, the translation of the Sacred Books of the Jews into Greek, the common language of the nations within the scope of Roman domination, and third, proselytism.

AN AMAZING FACT

It is an amazing but true fact that the Jews, even though dispersed throughout a pagan world, preserved their faith in Jahweh. With the exception of the ten northern tribes who become lost to history as an independent entity or group once they are deported to Assyria, the other Jews throughout the Diaspora retain their identity both as Jews and as worshippers of Jahweh. Through all antiquity this is a singular fact.

Other peoples may have emigrated from their own lands but they ceased to retain their own identity and, for want of a better word, their insularity, their own allegiance to their religion and their God. There remained always between the different Jewish communities spread throughout the world and the centre of Jahwistic worship at Jerusalem a close bond. Communication between the dispersed Jews and the mother-centre at Jerusalem continued throughout this period. With the exceptions of the Jewish communities at Elephantine and Leontopolis in Egypt, the Jewish communities in the Diaspora preserved their faith in the one true God by meeting in their synagogues once a week to read their Sacred Books and meditate on their message.

At Elephantine and Leontopolis, perhaps contrary to the best traditions of their faith, the Jews actually built temples in which they offered sacrifices to Jahweh. In this way the Jews preserved their faith in the one true God. In this way they gave an example to the non-believing nations of the world of faithfulness to the one true spiritual God.

THE SEPTUAGINT

Because they were living in lands foreign to their original homeland, they lost contact with their mother tongue. But so great was their devotion to their religion and to its long tradition that they produced a translation into Greek, the one language understood throughout the Mediterranean world, of their own Sacred Books. This translation was known as the Septuagint.

Entirely apart from its value to the Jews in enabling them to remain true to their ancient religious traditions, it also served the greater purpose of revealing to the world at large the treasures of God’s dealings with the human race. It would not be correct to overestimate the influence of the Septuagint on pagan thought or life before the advent of Christianity. On the other hand, it would be foolish to deny that it did provide to the unbelieving nations of the world an opportunity to discover the written record of God’s relations with the world of man since the beginning of time.

THE JEWS MANIFESTED ALWAYS AN AIR OF MORAL SUPERIORITY

Lastly, a an indicationof the influence of the Diaspora of the Jews in preparing the world at large for the extension of God’s salvation to all men, there is evidence of proselytism. It is true that the attitude of the Jews throughout the Roman Empire drew down upon them the hatred and the ridicule of many. Wherever they went they lived together, in isolation from their fellowmen.

They despised the gods and religions of the people in whose midst they dwelt. Despite the social superiority of their pagan neighbours the Jews manifested always an air of moral superiority. This naturally begot in their neighbours a feeling of suspicion and hatred. They were regarded as atheists because most had no temples and offered no sacrifices. To an idolatrous world the crowning proof f this was the fact that Pompey, the Roman general, found no statue to a god in the Temple at Jerusalem when he entered the Holy of Holies there.

THE BLESSINGS OF JAHWEH WERE TO BE EXTENDED TO ALL NATIONS

Yet, despite this somewhat general feeling that the Jews were to be despised and shunned, converts to Judaism were made. During this period the very fact of the dispersion of the Jews among the nations of the world brought about a widening of the viewpoint of the Jews themselves. Though they still continued to regard themselves as the Chosen People of God, they began to allow others to participate in the privileges of God’s Chosen People.

Although in Palestine itself the Jews, at the time of the repatriation and ever after, rejected the offers of the Samaritans to join with them in the worship of Jahweh, outside Palestine the Jews did not reject the desire of the pagan peoples to turn to the true religion. Undoubtedly this somewhat contradictory attitude was due to the fact that the Samaritans wished to worship Jahweh while still worshipping other false gods. But it was also due to some extent to the realisation on the part of the Jews of the Diaspora of the fact that even their prophets had foretold that the blessings of Jahweh were to be extended to all nations.

ANOTHER SIGN OF THE PREPARATION OF THE WORLD FOR THE PROMISED SALVATION

A second sign of the preparation of the world for the salvation promised by Jahweh was the extension of Hellenism during this period. Hellenism might be described approximately as the diffusion of Greek culture, Greek customs and ideas through the world from India to the Atlantic coast. It began with the conquests of Alexander the Great. It was the ambition of Alexander to bring the whole world the benefits of Greek culture. The vast extent of his conquests helped to make this dream a reality. Through his own conquests Greek culture pervaded in the world of Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. Because the Romans accepted the essential features of Greek culture, Hellenism penetrated also the world of western Europe and northern Africa.

From the point of view of preparing the world for the accomplishment of God’s plan for human salvation Hellenism did two things. First, it broke down the barriers of national feeling and prepared men’s minds for the idea that all men might be one community. Only a universal idea was necessary to bring this idea to realisation. The universal love of God for all men could be such a universal idea. Second, Hellenism gave to the world from India to the Atlantic a universal language, Greek. Surely a universal language would be of inestimable advantage in propagating a universal religion.

WHY GOD BROUGHT FIRST ALEXANDER THE GREAT AND LATER THE ROMAN EMPIRE

The third factor in preparing the world for the advent of God’s plan to save men was the establishment of the Roman Empire. The conquests of Alexander were great, but those of the Roman Empire were even more magnificent. The Romans subdued all of southern Europe, northern Africa, Greece itself, Asia Minor, Syria and Palestine. For several centuries they brought to these areas a reign of peace. This Pax Romana, the Roman peace, would make it possible for a universal religion to spread easily.

The Romans established good roads, both land and sea roads throughout their empire. It is true that they did this to enable themselves to control their holdings more efficiently. But these wonderful roads, free from brigandage and piracy, enabled men to travel easily from one part of the empire to the other. It thus enabled ideas or religious movements to spread easily throughout the empire. In this way it made it easy for God’s love of all men to become known rapidly and effectively.

THE ‘MYSTERY RELIGIONS’ ACCUSTOMED PEOPLE IN A VERY VAGUE WAY WITH THE NOTION OF A NEED FOR REDEMPTION

As part of Hellenism and the general atmosphere of the Roman Empire, it is also worthy of mention that the religious ideas of the Mediterranean world were also undergoing a change at this time. While the worship of the traditional gods of Rome and Greece continued, there is also observable at this time a trend to a more spiritual form of worship. In the third century before Christ the worship of Serapis, a ‘saviour’ god, had spread from Alexandria in Egypt through the Roman Empire. The mystery religions, as they are known, even though in a vague way, began to popularise the same notion of a need for redemption. More precisely, they accustomed the people to the notion of a union with divinity. This notion was not so concrete as the notion of the Divine Presence which was part of Judaism. But it was at least the beginning, a preparation for the extension of the Divine Presence to the whole world.

THE ADVENT OF THE SALVATION OF THE HUMAN RACE IS IMMINENT

Thus, while it might have seemed as if God had deserted His Chosen People, had given up His plans to save the world during this period, a closer view of the historical situation reveals a different picture. During this period God worked, especially through the Macchabees, to preserve the faith of His Chosen People. On the other hand, through the Diaspora, the spread of Hellenism and the establishment of the Roman Empire, He seems to have been preparing the world at large for the advent of His salvation of the human race.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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932 B.C. – THE PERIOD OF THE TWO KINGDOMS IN THE BIBLE EXPLAINED: I. THE KINGDOM OF ISRAEL

THE HEAVY TAX YOKE KING SOLOMON HAD IMPOSED ON THE KINGDOM

“The splendid achievement of King Solomon brought great glory to the people of Israel, and his reign would be long remembered with nostalgia as a time of great glory for the nation. But the splendour of his time was bought at a great price. He did not add sufficiently to the resources left him by David to achieve his great projects without imposing on his people a tax and labour burden which aroused great resentment.

REVOLT

As a consequence Roboam, his successor, found himself ruling a discontented people. They asked him to relieve them of the heavy yoke that Solomon had placed upon them. Roboam, refusing to listen to the sage advice of the elders of the kingdom, refused.

Ten of the tribes – all except Juda and Benjamin – rose in revolt and elected Jeroboam, a former official under Solomon, king of the new kingdom of Israel. The portion of the old kingdom remaining to Roboam became known as the kingdom of Juda. This division of the kingdom took place in the year 932 B.C.

A STEADY PROGRESS TOWARD DISASTER

The subsequent history of the two kingdoms of Juda and Israel is, on the whole, a steady progress toward disaster. In the political and military spheres they found themselves slowly destroyed between the crushing rivalries of the great empires of Egypt, Assyria and Babylonia.

Unable to reach any permanent unification of their forces for the protection of all the Chosen People of God, they embarked upon a course of political and military intrigues, now allied with one another, now opposed to one another; now allied with other petty states against Assyria; now allied with Assyria against Egypt, or with Egypt against Assyria. Almost always these alliances brought more harm to the Chosen People, until both kingdoms were destroyed.

In 721 the kingdom of Israel fell and its people were led into captivity by the Assyrians. In 586 the kingdom of Juda fell and its people were led into captivity by the Babylonians.

A NECESSARY PREPARATION OF THE PEOPLE FOR THE COMING OF SALVATION

If this were the whole history of these times, we would have concluded that God’s plan to save the world through the Chosen People had failed. The strength of His love had been squandered uselessly on the weakness of men.

But at this time the phenomenon of prophetism was sent to Israel by God to correct the errors of the people and to lay the foundation of hope for the future. In the light of the teaching of the prophets this unfortunate period in the life of Israel can be seen as a necessary preparation of the people and of the world for the coming of salvation.

THE ROLE OF GOD’S PROPHETS

The Hebrew prophets were men raised up by God to speak to the Chosen People in God’s name. It was their mission to speak against the errors of the kings, priests and people. In fulfilling this mission they extolled trust in Jahweh and denounced the purely human [worldly] policy of seeking safety through political and military alliances. They urged the simple worship of Jahweh, and condemned the infiltration of idolatry into the religious life of the people. They castigated the abuses of justice and the luxuriousness of the people. But they also promised ultimate victory to Jahweh and His people.

HISTORIC CONTEXT

To perceive the universal significance of their message we must consider it in its historical context. For this purpose we shall consider first the history of the schismatic kingdom of Israel, and then that of the Davidic kingdom of Juda.

GOLDEN CALVES WERE PLACED IN BETHEL AND IN DAN

The first disastrous consequence of the rebellion of the ten tribes was the destruction of the religious unity of the people. The attempt of David and Solomon to secure religious unity by centralising worship at. Jerusalem – an attempt already dramatically successful at the completion of Solomon’s great Temple in Jerusalem – became a failure through the division of the kingdom.

A religious unity of divided peoples, a unity made real by the centralisation of divine worship at Jerusalem, would be a constant threat to the powers of the schismatic kings of Israel.

With more political foresight than devotion to Jahweh, Jeroboam, the first ruler of the kingdom of Israel, established two centres of worship for his kingdom, one at Bethel and the other in Dan. Unfortunately the ever present tendency of the people to debase the true worship demanded by Jahweh manifested itself at once. Though Jeroboam designated these two centres as places of worship of Jahweh, he adulterated the Mosaic religion by placing, both in Bethel and in Dan, golden calves to represent Jahweh.

THE WARNING OF THE PROPHET AHIAS REGARDING THE GOLDEN CALVES

At the command of Jahweh, Ahias, a prophet, told the wife of Jeroboam that the kingdom would be taken from his dynasty because of this disobedience to God’s command to make no graven image of Himself. After a reign of two years, Nadab, the son of Jeroboam, was slain by Baasa, who then reigned for twenty-four years. Baasa’s long reign was unusual in the kingdom of Israel. The tradition of revolt inaugurated by Jeroboam became a characteristic of the northern kingdom. Ela, the son of Baasa, reigned two years before he was overthrown by Zimri, who, in turn, was replaced by Omri.

WORSHIP TO THE TRUE GOD WAS NOW IN GRAVE DANGER OF EXTINCTION

Politically Omri was a good king. He probably avoided difficulty with the Assyrians by paying tribute to the Assyrian monarch Ashur-nasir-pal II. He seems to have subdued Moab. He maintained friendly relations with Ethbaal, king of Tyre, and arranged the marriage of his son Achab to Jezabel, daughter of Ethbaal.

Under his son Achab, the Phoenician Jezabel encouraged the worship of the Baal of Tyre and persecuted the faithful followers of Jahweh. A temple was built to Baal at Samaria, the capital of the kingdom, and maintained at the expense of the royal treasury.

At this time, when the worship of the true God was in grave danger of extinction, God sent the prophet Elias to defend Jahwism.

THE PROPHET ELIAS APPEARS

Elias prophesied that God would send a severe drought to punish Achab and Israel for their idolatrous worship of Baal. In the year 857 B.C. the drought occurred. As the drought lasted until late in the year 856, Achab was impressed and agreed to a trial of power between Baal and Jahweh. In accordance with the wish of Elias, the prophets of Baal – over four hundred in number – and the people assembled on Mount Carmel for the trial.

ONLY OUR GOD REIGNS, ALWAYS, FOR EVER & EVER

A bullock was given to the prophets of Baal and a bullock to Elias. The prophets of Baal placed their bullock upon sticks of wood for burning. Elias then said to the people: ‘How long do you halt between two sides? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him… Call ye on the names of your gods, and I will call on the name of my Lord: and the God that shall answer, let him be God’ (1 Kings 18:21, 24).

The prophets of Baal prayed and performed their rites in vain. The wood for their holocaust would not ignite. Then Elias placed his bullock on a pile of wood and drenched the sacrifice and the wood with water, and called upon Jahweh. ‘The fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the holocaust’ (1 Kings 18:38). At once the people cried out their allegiance to Jahweh, and they killed the prophets of Baal. After this, God sent rain to relieve the drought.

STERN MEASURES AGAINST THE WORSHIP OF BAAL

But even this pointed lesson did not destroy completely the debased religious practices of the house of Omri. Under Joram, the son and second successor of Achab, the prophet Eliseus arranged to have Jehu, one of the captains of Joram’s army, anointed king as a punishment for the destruction of God’s true prophets by Achab and Jezabel.

Jehu took stern measures against the worship of Baal. But he did not destroy the idolatrous worship of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan.

Jeroboam II, the great-grandson of Jehu, ruled for forty-one years (784-744 B.C.) and restored the kingdom of Israel to a position of strength and prosperity. But after his reign the kingdom declined steadily.

THE GOLDEN CALVES REMAINED IN PLACE

His son Zacharias was murdered after a rule of only six months. He was succeeded by Sellum, who in turn was murdered by Menahem. Menahem became a vassal king to Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria. The kingdom was thus embroiled in the struggles between Assyria and Egypt. Peqahia, son of Menahem, was murdered by a group of conspirators who favoured Egypt over Assyria.

THE KINGDOM DECLINED STEADILY

He was succeeded by Peqah, who entered into an alliance with Rasin, king of Damascus, against Assyria. Failing to induce the kingdom of Juda to enter the alliance with them so as to insure help from Egypt against Assyria, they besieged Jerusalem. This led Achaz, king of Juda, to appeal for help to Tiglath-Pileser. In the year 732 the Assyrians defeated Rasin and Peqah. The tribes of Nephtali and of the Transjordan were transported to Assyria.

An Israelite named Osee killed Peqah and aSsumed the crown. While nominally subject to Assyria, he seems to have intrigued with the Pharaoh of Egypt against Salmanassar V. When the Assyrian monarch learned of this he made Osee his prisoner. But in Samari the people continued to resist the Assyrians. Salmanassar laid siege to the city in 724.

THE ORIGIN OF THE SAMARITANS, AND WHY THEY WERE DIFFERENT

In 721 Sargon, successor to Salmanassar, took Samaria and deported over 27,000 inhabitants of the kingdom of Israel to distant regions in the empire of Assyria. Other races conquered by the Assyrians were imported into Israel. While these new peoples, in accordance with the customs of the time, worshipped Jahweh, they continued to worship their own gods also. As a result there arose in Israel that people known as the Samaritans, a people of mixed religious beliefs and practices.

THE PROPHETS AMOS AND HOSEA EXPLAIN THE MEANING OF THE FALL OF THE KINGDOM OF ISRAEL

The meaning of the fall of the kingdom of Israel is given to us in the message of the prophets Amos and Osee [Hosea] sent by God to the kingdom of Israel in the last years of the kingdom. According to both prophets the kingdom of Israel was forgotten by God because of her sins. The people of Israel have sinned against justice, oppressed the poor, sought the riches of this world, rather than the friendship of their God. In their pursuit of the riches, pleasures and power of this world they have relied upon political alliances rather than on Jahweh. Desirous of material prosperity they have worshipped the false gods of the land in which they dwelt and so have become unfaithful to Jahweh. According to Amos they would not pay heed to the blessings or the chastisements sent them by Jahweh. They became incorrigible in their faithlessness. As a consequence both prophets foretell the destruction of the kingdom and the captivity of the people in Assyria. But, as Osee [Hosea] points out, the captivity will be a blessing, for the people thus humiliated will see the error of their ways, they will give up the worship of the false god Baal and will return to the worship of Jahweh, the true God. Then God will lead them out of captivity and will restore them to their native land.

GOD REMAINS FAITHFUL

The teaching of Osee [Hosea] in particular sheds new light on the relationship which God desires with man. Osee portrays God as the loving Spouse of Israel, and Israel as the faithless wife of God. The covenant of God with His people, then, is not simply a contract founded on justice. It is a union of love which God desires. He will be not simply the Lord of His people but their loving Spouse. And His love for His spouse is so great that even though she is unfaithful to Him and enters into sinful relations with other and false gods, still God will remain faithful to His love for her. Her chastisement will be heavy and painful, but it will be administered by love and will bring about her return to her true husband.

ISRAEL JOURNEYING FROM THE WORLDLY OUTLOOK TO THE TRULY SPIRITUAL

This portrayal of God as the Spouse of Israel and the prophet’s castigation of the worldliness of the Israelites and his teaching that God desires mercy and not sacrifice show that Israel had not appreciated the true spirituality of the religion of Moses. They had regarded their covenant with Jahweh simply as a means to temporal [material] advantage, and they had sought this advantage in a purely external worship of their God. Osee, in the portrayal of God as their Spouse and of themselves as God’s unfaithful wife, emphasises the truth that God will be bound to His people by love, the total and faithful love which obtains between husband and wife. God wishes to be worshipped not only externally but internally with the love of the spirit. This is the great lesson of the prophets of Israel.”
– Martin J. Healy, 1959

 

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