RSS

Tag Archives: prophecies

PSALM 54, DOUAY-RHEIMS BIBLE

PSALM 54, DOUAY-RHEIMS BIBLE

PSALM 54

Exaudi, Deus

A prayer of a just man under persecution from the wicked. It agrees to Christ persecuted by the Jews, and betrayed by Judas.

1 Unto the end, in verses, understanding for David. 

2 Hear, O God, my prayer, and despise not my supplication: be attentive to me and hear me.

I am grieved in my exercise; and am troubled, at the voice of the enemy, and at the tribulation of the sinner.

For they have cast iniquities upon me: and in wrath they were troublesome to me.

My heart is troubled within me: and the fear of death is fallen upon me.

Fear and trembling are come upon me: and darkness hath covered me.

And I said: Who will give me wings like a dove, and I will fly and be at rest?

Lo, I have gone far off flying away; and I abode in the wilderness.

I waited for him that hath saved me from pusillanimity of spirit, and a storm.

Cast down, O Lord, and divide their tongues; for I have seen iniquity and contradiction in the city.

Day and night shall iniquity surround it upon its walls: and in the midst thereof are labour, and injustice.

And usury and deceit have not departed from its streets.

For if my enemy had reviled me, I would verily have borne with it.

And if he that hated me had spoken great things against me, I would perhaps have hidden my self from him.

But thou a man of one mind, my guide, and my familiar,

Who didst take sweetmeats together with me: in the house of God we walked with consent.

Let death come upon them, and let them go down alive into he’ll.

For there is wickedness in their dwellings: in the midst of them.

But I have cried to God: and the Lord will save me.

Evening and morning, and at noon I will speak and declare: and he shall hear my voice.

He shall redeem my soul in peace from them that draw near to me: for among many they were with me.

God shall hear, and the Eternal shall humble them.

For there is no change with them, and they have not feared God: he hath stretched forth his hand to repay.

They have defiled his covenant, they are divided by the wrath of his countenance, and his heart hath drawn near.

His words are smoother than oil, and the same are darts.

Cast thy care upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall not suffer the just to waver for ever.

But thou, O God, shalt bring them down into the pit of destruction.

Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days; but I will trust in thee, O Lord.

Footnotes:

Verse 16, “Let death, &c. This, and such like imprecations which occur in the psalms, are delivered prophetically; that is, by way of foretelling the punishments which shall fall upon the wicked from divine justice, and approving the righteous ways of God: but not by way of ill will, or uncharitable curses, which the law of God disallows. – Verse 19, Among many, &c. That is, they that drew near to attack me were many in company all combined to fight against me. Verse 22, They are divided &c. Dispersed, scattered, and brought to nothing, by the wrath of God; who looks with indignation on their wicked and deceitful ways. 

 

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

THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MANKIND AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE – “AT LAST THEY KNEW THE MYSTERY OF JESUS”

“‘WITH GREAT JOY’

After the Ascension of Jesus to His Father the Apostles returned to Jerusalem. St Luke tells us that they returned ‘with great joy. And they were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God’ (Luke 24:52-53).

WHY DID THE APOSTLES REJOICE – AFTER ALL, THEY HAD LOST JESUS’ PHYSICAL PRESENCE?

At first sight it seems strange that they should have rejoiced at the departure of Jesus, their Lord and Master, from this world. By His going they had lost the physical presence of their Friend, their Master, indeed, their God. But, they rejoiced, they praised and blessed God. What explains their joy, their praise of God? It must be – what the Gospel story intimates – that in the interval between the Resurrection and the Ascension of Jesus they learned, through the instruction of Jesus Himself, the real meaning of Jesus, the significance of His life, His death, His Resurrection and His Ascension. This new knowledge was so important, so filled with blessing for them and for the world that, in spite of their sadness at the departure of Jesus Himself, they rejoiced and, in turn, praised the God they had known in Him. At last they knew the mystery of Jesus, and they believed in Him, hoped in Him and loved Him. They would spend their lives giving to the world this belief, this hope and this love.

TRANSFORMING THE LIVES OF MEN

What was this new understanding of Jesus which so filled them with joy and with the desire to communicate this joy to the whole world? Since the time of the Apostles innumerable books have been written to explain the mystery which is Jesus. Here we must be content to give the simplest outline of the belief of the Apostles, a belief which was to change the face of the earth, to transform the lives of men.

JESUS IS THE SALVATION WHICH GOD HAD PROMISED TO MANKIND

First of all, we must remember that the Apostles were Jews, members of God’s Chosen People. They saw Jesus against the background of the sacred history of their own people. Thus they saw in Jesus the fulfilment of God’s promises to Israel and, through Israel, to the whole world. In Jesus they saw the salvation which God had promised to mankind.

THE FIRST FRUIT

They knew that Adam, the forefather of all men, had by his sin brought death and disorder to mankind. They remembered that it was the malice of the devil which had led to the sin of Adam. God had promised that sometime the son, the child of woman, would triumph over the devil and sin. In the Resurrection of Jesus they saw the first fruit of that triumph. By the power of God Jesus had risen from death to eternal life with the Father in heaven.

HE WHOM THE NATIONS SHALL OBEY

They knew, too, that when mankind had grown to some maturity in the disordered world which sin had created, when the great empires of Babylonia and Egypt had flourished, bringing civilisation and human culture to the world, then God had chosen Abraham to be the father of God’s Chosen People. He had promised great blessings to Abraham and, through Abraham, to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:1-3).

This blessing has descended from Abraham to Isaac, from Isaac to Jacob. And Jacob had passed it on to Juda [Judah]. Jacob had promised that the rule over the Chosen People would belong to Juda until ‘he comes to whom it (the sceptre) belongs and to whom the nations shall obey’ (Genesis 49:10).

From the house of Juda then was to come the great ruler of the people of God, a ruler whom even the nations of the world would obey. The prophet Balaam had also foretold that a ‘star’ would rise from Jacob, a sceptre from Israel (Numbers 24:17).

THE LORD ‘BEGOTTEN’ BY GOD

In the tribe of Juda the blessing was given to King David. The prophet Nathan promised to David, ‘Your house and your kingship will exist forever before me; your throne will remain firm forever’ (2 Samuel 7:16).

In the Psalms David himself described the ‘Anointed One,’ the Christ Whom the Chosen People awaited. In Psalms David portrayed the kings and peoples of the earth conspiring against God and His Anointed. But God says to His Anointed, ‘You are my son, today I have begotten you. Petition me and I will give you the nations as an inheritance, the ends of the earth as your possession’ (Psalm 2:7-8).

In Psalm 110 David spoke of a ‘Lord’ Who sits at the right hand of God, Whom God sends forth from Sion to ‘rule in the midst of your enemies.’ This ‘Lord’ is ‘begotten’ by God, and a ‘priest forever, according to the order of Melchisedech.’

MORE PROPHECIES

To Achaz, one of the descendants of David, God had said, ‘Behold, the virgin will conceive and bear a son, and she will call his name Emmanuel’ (Isaias [Isaiah] 7:14). At the time when the armies of Assyria were advancing on Jerusalem Isaias had foretold that this child would be born to the Chosen People. ‘Sovereignty’ would rest upon his shoulders; he would be called ‘Wondrous-Counsellor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace.’ He would sit upon the throne of David and rule his kingdom ‘through righteousness and justice’ (Isaias 9:1-6).

A DESCENDANT OF JESSE

Again Isaias had described the Anointed One of God as a descendant of Jesse, the father of David: ‘A twig will come forth from the stump of Jesse, from his roots a sprig will sprout. The spirit of Jahweh will rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Jahweh’ (Isaias 11:1-2). The descendant of Jesse will rule with justice and righteousness.

Both Isaias and Micheas [Micah] had foretold that in the time of the Anointed One of God all the nations of the earth would enter the Kingdom of God. The word of God would go out from Jerusalem to all the world (Isaias 2:2-4; Micheas [Micah] 4:1-3).

Micheas had proclaimed that the promised king would be born at Bethlehem: ‘from you will he come forth to me who will reign over Israel’ (Micheas [Micah] 5:1).

THEY HAD BEEN EXPECTING A POLITICAL MESSIAH

The Apostles, like their contemporary fellow-countrymen, knew that God had promised to bring blessings to them and, through them, to the rest of the world. They knew that the channel of these blessings had been narrowed down by God from Abraham through Isaac, Jacob, Juda and David to some one individual, a descendant of David, who would extend the Kingdom of God to the whole world. They knew that this promised king, this Anointed One of God, would be born of a virgin at Bethlehem.

Thus when they met Jesus and followed Him they were ready to accept Him as the Messias, the Anointed One of God. His doctrines and His miracles enabled them to see in Him the Promised One for Whom they had been waiting.

But, like their countrymen, they had been expecting a royal Messias who would lead them to worldly glory. Hence, when they saw Him refusing to become a temporal king, when they saw Him arrested, tried and put to death like a common criminal, they were bewildered and confused and they lost heart.

EVERYTHING FALLS INTO PLACE

The Resurrection of Jesus, however, and the instructions which He gave them during the forty days He remained with them on earth opened their eyes to the unperceived riches of their own scriptures. After His Resurrection Jesus showed them that they had attended only to the glorious aspects of the Messias they expected. They had ignored the more difficult prophecies about the sufferings and death of the Messias. Jesus recalled to them the words of Isaias about the ‘Servant of Jahweh,’ Who as the Messias would bring blessings to all men, but who would suffer and die. Far from being a man the people might admire, he would be despised. He would take upon Himself the sins of men: He would be bruised and pierced for the sins of men so that men might be saved. He would be led to death like a lamb to the slaughter.

He recalled to them the words of Zacharias [Zechariah]: ‘Behold thy King will come to thee, the just and the saviour. He is poor and riding upon an ass and upon a colt, the foal of an ass’ (Zacharias [Zechariah] 9:9).

HE WOULD RULE NOT AN EARTHLY KINGDOM BUT THE HEARTS OF MEN

Faced with the risen Jesus, perceiving in His very aliveness the triumph of man over sin and death, the Apostles under His instruction finally saw the true meaning of their own scriptures, the true meaning of God’s promises. The Messias, the Christ, would be a king indeed, but a king in the world of the spirit of man. He would rule, not an earthly kingdom but the hearts of men. He would gain His kingdom, not by military or political conquest but by the sacrifice of Himself on the cross for the salvation of mankind. His triumph would be achieved through humiliation and death. His triumph would not be over the kingdoms of the earth, but over the devil, sin and death. The evils brought into the world by the disobedience of Adam – sin, disease and death, the rule of the devil over the souls of men – these evils would be overcome by the obedience of the Anointed One of God. By his sin Adam had preferred his own advantage to God and so had lost the Kingdom of God for himself and for all his children. By His obedience, and obedience unto death, Jesus had preferred God to His own advantage, to His own human life, and so He had won back for all men the kingdom of God.

The Apostles knew that the sacrifice of Jesus was successful, effective, for they saw with their own eyes that God had given life back to Jesus, had made Him immortal in the flesh and glorious. Thus they were able to reconcile the two apparently contradictory descriptions of the Messias given in the scriptures of their people. The Messias would be a glorious, triumphant king; He would also be a servant, despised and humiliated, put to death by His enemies. In Jesus, in the gloriously risen Jesus, the Apostles saw these contradictions merge with one another, vanish. And the picture of the Messias which emerged from this merging of contradictories was even more glorious than had been their former dreams of worldly glory.

MORE GLORIOUS THAN THEIR DREAMS OF WORLDLY GLORY

For Jesus, Whom they recognised clearly as the Messias, the Christ, was not only man, He was God Himself, the Son of God. In Him they saw God Himself. He had come into this world not to establish simply an earthly kingdom filled with earthly peace and blessing. He had come to give men the far greater blessing of eternal life, the blessing of sharing in the life of God Himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Through Him and in Him and with Him they would conquer sin and death and the devil. By His grace they would rise with Him to the Father, to rule gloriously in heaven.

THE MYSTERY OF HUMAN EXISTENCE IS SOLVED

In the mysterious love and providence of God they had been chosen to bring this great blessing of eternal life to the rest of men. They had been chosen to assist the Son of God to establish the Kingdom of God among men. It is no wonder, then, that they returned from witnessing the Ascension of Jesus with hearts filled with joy and thankfulness to God. For them the mystery of human existence had been solved. Man had been bound over to death and the devil through sin. In Jesus sin had been overcome, and with sin death and the devil had been conquered. They rejoiced as men truly reborn, and born now not just to a passing existence here on earth but born to eternal life.

RAISED ABOVE EARTH-BOUND CYCLES

Under the tutelage of the risen Jesus they now saw that all human history up to that time was but a preparation for the coming of Jesus and His work of redemption. Jesus was the centre of all history, the centre which gave meaning to the growing circle of human history.

Without Jesus human life on earth was doomed to the ever-recurring cycles of human history, to repetitive beginnings, flowerings and decay of human civilisations and cultures.

But with Jesus human life could be raised above these earth-bound cycles to the eternal Now of God. God Himself had descended into the world of man, became a man to raise men to God. Without Jesus all men had been doomed after this present life to the eternal boredom, frustration and pain which is hell. Through Jesus it became possible for all men to rise to the perfect satisfaction of all human desires which is life with God in heaven.

WHY DOES THE BIBLE NEED THE OLD TESTAMENT AT ALL?

Because all human history up to that time was but a preparation for the coming of Jesus it was only fitting that previous persons and events foreshadow or prefigure Jesus Himself. Thus the Apostles were able to see even Adam, the first man, as a figure of Jesus. As the first man it was the function of Adam to bind men to God by his obedience. Adam, it is true, failed. But Jesus, the Christ, the First Man of the New Covenant, succeeded.

Abel offered to God an acceptable sacrifice. So did Jesus, in fact, the only sacrifice perfectly acceptable to God and effective of human salvation.

Melchisedech, whose name means ‘king of justice,’ the king of Salem (which means ‘peace’), offered to God a sacrifice of bread and wine. Jesus offered to God at the Last Supper bread and wine which He changed into His own Body and Blood. This was the clean oblation of which the prophet Malachias [Malachi] spoke, the sacrifice which would be offered to God all over the world, from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof. Melchisedech appears in history with no father or mother, no human genealogy. Jesus has no human father; He was born of a virgin. As God He has no mother; for Mary was only the Mother of God in His human nature.

Isaac carried the wood to Mount Moriah, where at the command of God he was to be sacrificed. Jesus, at the command of God, His Father, carried the wood of the cross to Calvary, where He was to be sacrificed for the sins of men.

JESUS IS THE CENTRE OF HISTORY

This same correspondence between men and events of the Old Testament with Jesus might be expressed in another way by saying that Jesus summed up or recapitulated in Himself the history of mankind in its relations with God. Of course in Jesus this recapitulation is realised in a perfect way. In Jesus there is no failure to respond to God’s will and in Jesus there is found the fullness of God’s grace, in fact, the very fullness of the Godhead Himself.

ADAM REPRESENTED THE WHOLE HUMAN RACE

In the eyes of God Adam represented the whole human race. His obedience would have brought inconceivable blessings to all men. In God’s eyes Jesus represented the whole human race. His obedience has brought great blessings to all men. The Chosen People were in God’s eyes as His ‘son,’ a son through whom the whole world would be blessed. Jesus is Himself the very Son of God, the Son through Whom mankind is really and fully blessed. The Chosen People, God’s ‘son,’ were exiled in Egypt before they entered for good the Promised Land. Jesus, the Son of God, was exiled in Egypt before He returned to the Promised Land to carry out His redemptive work. The Chosen People, God’s ‘son,’ were saved from destruction in Egypt by the shedding of the blood of a lamb. Jesus is Himself the lamb whose blood washes the world from sin. In the annual Passover celebration the Chosen People were forbidden to break any bones of the lamb through whose blood they were saved. On the Cross at Calvary God saw to it that the bones of Jesus, the true Lamb of God, were not broken. Thus also the realities of the Old Testament prefigure Jesus, and the life and deeds of Jesus sum up the realities of the Old Testament and give them new dimension, new depths of reality; for the Old Testament is but a shadow of Jesus, Jesus Himself is the substance of God’s plans for the salvation of mankind.

All these things the Apostles came to see clearly after the Resurrection of Jesus, either through the tutelage of Jesus Himself before His Ascension or through the light of the Holy Spirit which they received on the day of Pentecost.

THEY SAW THEIR ROLE IN THE PLAN OF GOD

More than this, they saw finally their own role in the plan of God. They saw that they had been chosen by Jesus to bring the blessing of salvation to all men. They were to be instruments of Jesus in establishing the Kingdom of God among men. From Jesus Himself they had received the commission to make disciples (that is, believers in Jesus) in all nations. These disciples were to be initiated into the Kingdom of God by the reception of the Sacrament of Baptism, that washing with water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, which would expel sin from their souls and introduce therein the divine life which Jesus had won for them by shedding His blood on the Cross. Once saved from sin by Baptism these disciples were to be guided in their moral lives by the instructions, by the commands of the Apostles. From Jesus the Apostles received this threefold power to teach men the truths of salvation, to give men the graces by which they could achieve salvation and to rule the human conduct of men in order to lead them to eternal life. Among the Apostles themselves, even though all shared in this threefold power, Peter had been chosen by Jesus to be the head of the whole kingdom, of the whole Church. In the Kingdom of God Peter was the absolute head, the supreme ruler.

THE LIGHT ON A MOUNTAIN TOP

The Apostles also knew that while the Kingdom of God would be in this world, it would not be of this world. It would be as observable to men as a light on a mountain top. It would have a structure, an organisation. It would make use of perceptible signs to transmit the life of God to men, the signs of baptism, the laying on of hands for the giving of the Spirit, of the Body and Blood of Jesus, of remission of sins, of the anointing of the sick and the dying, of the laying on of hands for the transmission of the powers entrusted to the Apostles by Jesus, of the elevation of marriage as a sign of the unity of the Church. But, as the last phrase indicates, all these would be external signs of an incomparably greater invisible reality, the union of men with God through union with Jesus, the God-Man. Jesus the Christ is the vine through which the divine life is communicated to those men who would be grafted on Him by baptism. The Kingdom of God on earth would be a union of men with Jesus, a spiritual union whereby Jesus would be the source of divine life for those united to Him, Himself the way by which men reach God, the very Truth the grasping of which would make men free, free of sin and free from the downward drag of sinful human history.

Filled with thoughts such as these the Apostles and the disciples of Jesus, one hundred and twenty in number, waited in Jerusalem for the coming of the Spirit of God Whom Jesus had promised to send them.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959 (Headings in capital letters added afterwards.)

 

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

4th MARCH, BIBLE READING (1 PETER 1:10-16)

THEIR PROPHECIES WERE ABOUT THE GRACE WHICH WAS TO COME TO YOU. FREE YOUR MINDS THEN OF ENCUMBRANCES.

It was this salvation that the prophets were looking and searching so hard for; their prophecies were about the grace which was to come to you. The Spirit of Christ which was in them foretold the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would come after them, and they tried to find out at what time and in what circumstances all this was to be expected. It was revealed to them that the news they brought of all the things which have now been announced to you, by those who preached to you the Good News through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, was for you and not for themselves. Even the angels long to catch a glimpse of these things.

Free your minds, then, of encumbrances; control them, and put your trust in nothing but the grace that will be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. Do not behave in the way that you liked to before you learnt the truth; make a habit of obedience: be holy in all you do, since it is the Holy One who has called you, and scripture says: Be holy, for I am holy.

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

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

MANKIND’S SALVATION HISTORY THROUGH THE HOLY ROSARY: THE JOYFUL MYSTERIES “ANNOUNCIATION” AND “VISITATION”

MATERIALLY A ‘GOLDEN AGE’

“To the people of the ancient Roman empire it may have seemed as if the establishment of the empire would bring to mankind a golden age in the history of man. From Parthia in the East to Britain in the West the power of Roman arms and the shrewdness of Roman diplomacy had brought that order in tranquillity which is peace. And with peace had come prosperity and culture.

EMPERORS WERE WORSHIPPED AS GODS

In accordance with the belief of the times the blessings of peace were attributed to the ruler, to the emperor of Rome. People were accustomed to consider the ruler as in some way descended from or related to the gods. In virtue of this close relationship to the gods the ruler was the source of all the prosperity of his people.

In such a climate of belief it was natural enough that both the people and the rulers themselves should regard a ruler as himself a god. The Ptolemies of Egypt held themselves as the direct descendants of the gods. Antiochus IV, of the Seleucid dynasty in Syria and Palestine, had called himself Epiphanes, that is, ‘God manifested.’ The Roman emperors, from Augustus Caesar on, were worshipped as gods.

THEY BELIEVED THAT THE GODS WERE SMILING ON THEM

The vast extent of the Roman Empire, its enormous wealth, the clear rationality of its Hellenistic culture, the stabilising influence of Roman law, all these, combined with the popular belief in the divinity of the emperors, must have nourished in the minds of men the thought that the gods were smiling on mankind, the idea that God, or the gods, was with men, bringing in an era of beneficient peace.

OF DEEPER SIGNIFICANCE

In a sense the people of the Roman Empire were right, and in a sense they were wrong. Peace was being ushered into the world of men, but it was not simply the political and economic peace which they were consciously experiencing. God was with men, but the emperor was not the God in question. God was smiling upon men, but His smile was much more significant than they imagined.

THE ONE AND TRUE GOD WAS COMING THROUGH THE UNIVERSALLY DESPISED JEWS

Rome and its emperor and the peace and prosperity they brought were only secondary elements in the great drama of human history. Strangely enough, the peace of God and God Himself were coming to all men, not in Rome or in the person of the emperor, not through the most peaceful nor the most powerful elements of the empire, but through and in the Jews, the most turbulent and the most universally despised group within the empire.

THE PRINCE OF PEACE ARRIVES UNEXPECTEDLY

That the blessings of true peace would come to the world through the Jews was not, of course, an idea unfamiliar to the Jews themselves. Their faith in Jahweh had led them to. Expect it to come to pass. But to the Gentile world of the empire it would have seemed absurd. Yet this was God’s design, and it came to pass in the time of the Roman Empire. Moreover, it came to pass in a way that was surprising and unexpected both to Jews and to Gentiles alike. So surprising and so unexpected was it that the most startling reversal of roles in history took place; the Jews who had awaited it refused it, and the Gentiles who had not expected it ultimately accepted it.

A MOST STARTLING REVERSAL OF ROLES

It is this coming of God’s peace to all men which we must now examine in its historical circumstances. Its coming was in this wise.

A PIECE OF ‘UNBELIEVABLE’ NEWS

In the days of Herod the Great, King of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zachary. He was married to Elizabeth, also a descendant of Aaron. They were old and childless. One day while he was burning incense to Jahweh in the Temple at Jerusalem, an angel of God appeared to him and said: ‘Fear not, Zachary, for thy prayer is heard: and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son. And thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness: and many shall rejoice in his nativity. For he shall be great before the Lord and shall drink no wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And he shall convert many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias: that he may turn the hearts of the fathers unto the children and the incredulous to the wisdom of the just, to prepare unto the Lord a perfect people’ (Luke 1:13-17).

JOHN THE BAPTIST’S FATHER DID NOT BELIEVE THE ANGEL

Because of the advanced age of himself and his wife, Zachary was loath to believe this. For his lack of faith the angel Gabriel struck him dumb until the birth of the child.

MEANWHILE, IN THE COUNTRYSIDE…

[THE FIRST JOYFUL MYSTERY: THE ANNUNCIATION]

Meanwhile, in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy the angel Gabriel again appeared, this time to a virgin named Mary who was espoused to Joseph, a carpenter of Nazareth, of the House of David. ‘Hail, full of grace,’ he said to her, ‘the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women… Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb and shalt bring forth a son: and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father: and he shall reign in the house of Jacob forever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end’ (Luke 1:28-33).

A SIGNIFICANT QUESTION

Mary replied to Gabriel: ‘How shall this be done, because I know not man?’ (Luke 1:34). Now, since Mary was betrothed to Joseph, a descendant of King David, and so could in the natural course of events have expected to bear children who would be descendants of David, this question might seem very naïve. But we must remember that we are here concerned with a divine communication to a person apparently highly favoured by God, a virgin ‘full of grace,’ a virgin who is destined to be the mother of the ‘Son of the Most High.’ It would be naïve to suspect her of such childish naivete.

PIOUS VOWS OF VIRGINITY WERE NOT UNCOMMON AT THE TIME

It seems more likely, as theologians tell us, that Mary had made a vow of virginity and wished, if it were not against the will of God, to keep the vow. Hence her question really meant, ‘How shall this be done, since I have vowed not to know man?’

It is true that Mary was betrothed to Joseph and intended to marry him. We must, therefore, suppose that Joseph (perhaps in common with the ideas of the Essenes, a Jewish sect of that time) was of the same mind as Mary in this matter of virginity and intended to practise virginity with her in the married state.

GOD HAD NO INTENTION OF ASKING HER TO GIVE UP HER VOW

In his reply to Mary the angel Gabriel revealed to her that God had no intention of asking her to give up her vow of virginity. Instead God would bring her to conceive without the agency of any man: ‘The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God’ (Luke 1:35). Her child, then, is to have no father but God.

A DIVINE SIGN

Though Mary had asked for no divine sign that this mysterious conception and birth-giving might come to pass, nevertheless the angel gives her a sign: ‘And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren. Because no word shall be impossible with God’ (Luke 1:36-37).

MARY’S ‘FIAT’

At that moment there took place the most momentous free decision ever made by any human being. Mary, the virgin of Nazareth, consented to be the mother of the ‘Son of the Most High.’ ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord,’ she said, ‘be it done to me according to thy word’ (Luke 1:38).

EVERY JEWISH PERSON KNEW THE PROPHECIES ABOUT THE AWAITED MESSIAH

Whether or not Mary knew the complete identity of the Child Who became flesh in her womb at that moment, this much at least she must have realised, that He was the Messias, the Anointed One of Israel. Had not the angel told her to call her son Jesus, that is, Jahweh is a saviour? Had not the angel called him the ‘Son of the Most High’ and the ‘Son of God’? Had Gabriel not said that Jesus would inherit the throne of David His father? Had he not said that the reign of Jesus on the throne of David would be eternal? Who could this Jesus be but the Promised One of Israel? Might not Mary have thought at that moment of the words of Isaias [Isaiah]: “For 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 judgment and with justice, from henceforth and forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this’? (Isaias 9:6-7).

‘BLESSED ART THOU THAT HAST BELIEVED’

[THE SECOND JOYFUL MYSTERY: THE VISITATION]

The impression that something extraordinary, something marvellous is happening is strengthened by what follows after this mysterious interchange between God and the Virgin of Nazareth. Mary, moved no doubt by a concern for her aged cousin Elizabeth who, according to the words of Gabriel, was already six months with child, went with haste to the town of Juda in which her cousin lived. When she entered the house of Elizabeth, her cousin, filled with the spirit of God, cried out: ‘Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb! And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord’ (Luke 1:42-44).

JOHN THE BAPTIST FELT JESUS CHRIST’S PRESENCE

Under the inspiration of God Elizabeth realised both that Mary was with child and that the child was, in some way, her Lord. Moreover, Elizabeth’s own child in the darkness and silence of her own womb felt himself in the presence of One Who would bring joy to the world, and so he stirred in exultation because of this wondrous presence.

THE MAGNIFICAT IS SPOKEN FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER

Mary, in her turn, was filled with the spirit of God and she spoke that wonderful acknowledgement of God’s design which the world has since known as the ‘Magnificat.’

THE MAGNIFICAT

‘My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because he hath regarded the humility of his hand-maid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because he that is mighty hath done great things to me: and holy is his name. And his mercy is from generation to generations, to them that fear him. He hath showed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy. And he spoke to our fathers: to Abraham and his seed forever’ (Luke 1:46-55).

In this paean of praise to God Mary manifests her understanding of the wonderful things which God is preparing for mankind. She knows that through her, God is in some way fulfilling the promises He made to Abraham and his seed forever. She knows, too, that God’s blessings come only to those who fear Him. She realises that God is so mighty that He will accomplish His designs through her own self, through the humility of her own child, in the face of the mighty ones of this human world.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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

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

 

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

THE STORY OF THE REPATRIATION IN THE BIBLE; ANOTHER STORY OF GOD’S GREAT LOVE (FROM 538 B.C. ONWARDS)

UNDERSTANDING THE BACKGROUND TO THE ONGOING WEEKDAY-OLD-TESTAMENT-READINGS

“In the year 538 B.C. Cyrus gave the people of Israel permission to return to their own country and to rebuild the temple of Jahweh. Naturally no emigration on a large scale could be attempted at once. Any sizeable caravan would require extensive preparations: the gathering of animals for transport, the amassing of provisions, the appointment of leaders, and even the determination of those who were to go.

LEAVING BABYLON

Since at least fifty years had passed since the arrival of the children of Israel in Babylon, a whole new generation existed who had known no other home than Babylon. Many of these had prospered in the new land. It was only natural that some of these should choose to remain in the only land they knew. On the other hand it seems reasonable to suppose that many had not prospered and would be only too happy to seek their fortunes in the old homeland. In addition there was a strong group dedicated to the worship of Jahweh, with a strong desire to restore the Temple of Jahweh at Jerusalem and to provide for the pure worship of the one true God. This latter group was, no doubt, the vital core around which the preparations for the return were built.

TWELVE LEADERS

In the spring of 538 B.C. the exiles began their return journey to Jerusalem. The caravan counted 42,360 Israelites, some 7,000 slaves and numerous horses, mules, camels and asses. At the head of the group were twelve leaders. The number was probably intended to remind the people of the twelve tribes of the nation, and so to signify that it was the whole race of the Chosen People who were returning to their home and to the worship of their God.

There is some doubt about the identity of the leader of the whole caravan. Esdras tells us that Cyrus entrusted the caravan and the governorship to Sassabasar, ‘the prince of Juda.’ But there is also mention of Zorobabel, a grandson of Joachim who had been king of Juda. Historians are undecided as to whether or not Sassabasar and Zorobabel are the same person. But it does seem clear that some time after the arrival of the Israelites in Jerusalem the people are governed by Zorobabel, a descendant of the House of David, and by Josue, the high priest, a descendant of Seraias, the last high priest at Jerusalem before the Exile.

The first concern of the people who returned was to establish themselves either in their old homes and estates or in new ones. Some were fortunate enough to find their old homes or land unoccupied. Others no doubt had to buy back their former houses or land.

THE SAMARITANS

Seven months after their return they were able to rebuild an altar to Jahweh on the spot where the previous Temple altar had stood. In the second month of the second year of their return they laid the foundations for the rebuilding of the Temple itself. The Samaritans asked to be allowed to take part in the work of rebuilding the Temple. The Samaritans were a mixed people – Babylonians, Syrians, Arabs and the Israelites who remained in Samaria after the fall of the kingdom of Israel in 721 A.D. The foreign peoples adopted the worship of Jahewh as symbolised in the golden bull at Bethel. They do not seem to have renounced entirely the worship of their own gods.

The repatriated Israelites refused the offer of the Samaritans. They were afraid that the idolatrous nature of the Jahwistic worship of the Samaritans might prevent or taint the pure spiritual worship of Jahweh which they felt obliged to restore at Jerusalem. This refusal made the Samaritans hostile both to the returned settlers and to the project of rebuilding the Temple. The hostility of the Samaritans and probably the lack of material resources prevented the continuance of the work.

HOME COMFORTS RATHER THAN BUILDING GOD’S HOUSE

It was not until the year 520 B.C. that the task of rebuilding the Temple was taken up again. On August 29 of that year, when the people had assembled at the altar of Jahweh, the prophet Aggaeus addressed Zorobabel and Josue, the high priest: ‘Thus saith the Lord of hosts, saying: This people saith: The time is not yet come for building the house of the Lord… Is it time for you to dwell in ceiled houses, and this house lies desolate?’ (Aggaeus [Haggai] 1: 2 and 4). The prophet then told them that they had not prospered as much as they had hoped because, while they had exerted great efforts to provide for their own homes and comfort, they had neglected to build a house for God. The people accepted the word of the prophet, especially after he had told them, ‘I am with you, saith the Lord’ (Aggaeus [Haggai] 1:13). On September 21, under the leadership of Zorobabel and Josue, the work of rebuilding the Temple began.

NOT AS SPLENDID AS SOLOMON’S TEMPLE

It was apparent, however, to those who could remember the former Temple, that the resources of the people would not allow them to build a Temple equal to Solomon’s Temple. This disheartened them, but God again sent the prophet Aggaeus to console them in their efforts. ‘Take courage all ye people of the land, saith the Lord: and perform (for I am with you saith the Lord of hosts) the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of the land of Egypt. And my spirit shall be in the midst of you: fear not. For thus saith the Lord of hosts: Yet one little while, and I will move the heaven and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will move all nations: and the desired of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts’ (Aggaeus [Haggai] 2:5-8). God then promised them that the glory of this new Temple would surpass the glory of the Temple of Solomon.

ZECHARIAH: A MYSTERIOUS MESSAGE

At this same time God also sent the prophet Zacharias [Zechariah] to strengthen the people in their resolution to rebuild the Temple of Jahweh. Through Zacharias God promised to be merciful to Jerusalem and to come to dwell therein. ‘Sing praise and rejoice, O daughter of Sion: for behold I come and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the Lord’ (Zacharias 2:10). God promises to send a King to save them: ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion, shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem: Behold thy King will come to thee, the just and the saviour. He is poor and riding upon an ass and upon a colt, the foal of an ass’ (Zacharias 9:9).

While the message of Zacharias was in part a message of joy and hope, it was also mysterious and terrifying. It was mysterious because it spoke of a King Who would be poor ‘and riding upon an ass.’ It was terrifying because Zacharias foretold also the destruction of the people: ‘I will no more spare the inhabitants of the land, saith the Lord: behold I will deliver the men, every one into his neighbour’s hand and into the hand of his king’ (Zacharias 11:6). It was both mysterious and terrifying when Zacharias told them that they would value their God at a price of only thirty pieces of silver: ‘And I said to them: If it be good in your eyes, bring hither my wages: and if not, be quiet. And they weighed for my wages thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said to me: Cast it to the potter, a handsome price, that I was prized at by them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver and I cast them into the house of the Lord, to the potter’ (Zacharias 11:12-13). It was both consoling and mysterious and terrifying when God, through Zacharias, said to them: ‘I will pour out upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem the spirit of grace and of prayers: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced. And they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for an only son: and they shall grieve over him, as the manner is to grieve for the death of the first-born’ (Zacharias 12:10).

THE TEMPLE IS COMPLETED

The urgings of the two prophets succeeded in strengthening the resolution of the people. They continued the work of rebuilding the Temple. Despite the opposition of the Samaritans and others, they completed the work in 515 B.C., four and a half years after they had begun. The Temple was dedicated to Jahweh with great solemnity and rejoicing and that year the Passover was celebrated with a renewed faith in God Who had brought them out of bondage from both Egypt and Babylonia.

We can assume with probability that the success of their efforts to restore the Temple rekindled their faith and virtue and that the flame of their faithfulness to God continued for some time. But they were living in difficult conditions. They were living in the midst of strangers, disliked by the Samaritans and Edomites. To live they had to do business with these foreigners whose religious ideas and practice could hardly be reconciled with a pure worship of Jahweh. In addition Israelite women were in the minority among those who had returned from Babylon. This led to a number of mixed marriages between Jahwistic Israelites and idolatrous foreigners. As a result the worship of Jahweh suffered.

MALACHI

When this breakdown of the worship of God occurred God first sent the prophet Malachias [Malachi] (perhaps the last of the prophets) to reprove the people. Malachias reproached the priests and the people because they had offered inferior and polluted sacrifices in the Temple. Because of this contempt of God their sacrifices are no longer pleasing to God: ‘I have no pleasure in you, saith the Lord of hosts: and I will not receive a gift of your hand.’ Instead God will turn to the Gentiles, the pagan nations of the world: ‘For from the rising of the sun even to the going down thereof, my name is great among the Gentiles and in every place there is sacrifice and there is offered in my name a clean oblation. For my name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of hosts’ (Malachias 1:10-11).

Malachias also rebuked the people for marrying women who worshipped strange gods and for being too ready to resort to divorce. But God’s chief complaint was against the loss of faith of the Chosen People. Apparently their restoration to their homeland had not fulfilled their expectations. They must have thought that the glorious Messianic future of which their former prophets had spoken would begin when they returned to Jerusalem and Juda. They must have expected God to make them at once a mighty nation and give them the dominion of the world. But this had not happened. They remained subject to the overlordship of the Persians and to the hostility of the neighbouring peoples. This made them doubt the justice of God and complain: ‘Every one that doth evil is good in the sight of the Lord and such please him: or surely where is the God of Judgment?’ (Malachi 2:17).

In reply God promised to come to His Temple and to His people to execute justice. First, He said, He would send an angel ‘to prepare the way before (His) face.’ Then He would restore the purity of worship in His Temple and pronounce judgment on all the evil doers of the Chosen People (Malachias 3:1-6). Finally, He would send Elias to turn the hearts of the Chosen People back to God, and then He would make a final judgment of all mankind (Malachias 4:1-6).

ATTEMPTS TO IMPROVE FAITH AND MORALS

The message of Malachias does not seem to have produced a lasting improvement in the faith or the morals of thee people. Their evil practices, especially that of contracting mixed marriages [with one spouse outside the faith], continued. When news of this reached the Israelites who had remained in Babylonia, it led to the reforms of Esdras and Nehemias. With the favour of Artaxerxes II, Esdras returned to Jerusalem to stir up a greater allegiance to the Mosaic Law. At his direction the Law was read solemnly to all the people. The contrast between the directives of the Law and their own way of living produced a feeling of sorrow and repentance in the hearts of the people. But when Esdras insisted on the dissolution of the mixed marriages the people refused and his reform failed to achieve its objective. Nehemias, who also enjoyed the favour of the Persian monarch, came later and was more successful.

The captivity of the Chosen People in Babylon and their repatriation in Jerusalem and Judah taught them one valuable lesson: there is no true God but Jahweh, the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is true that their restoration to their homeland had not produced the worldly advantages they expected. They needed the exhortations of Aggaeus and Zacharias to drive them to the rebuilding of the Temple of God. They needed the reproaches of Malachias to restore their faith in God’s justice. But they had learned that the gods of other nations were empty and vain.

THERE IS NO TRUE GOD BUT JAHWEH

This same difficult period in the history of the Chosen People also brought further mysterious manifestations of God’s designs for the salvation of mankind. Salvation was to be wrought by a Servant of God Who would be a King; a King, strangely enough, Who would be poor, too poor to ride upon a horse or a camel; a King Who would ride upon an ass and a colt, the foal of an ass; a King Who would be despised by His own people and valued at only thirty pieces of silver; a King Who would be pierced by His own people; but still a King Who would gain the allegiance of the Gentiles, that is, the non-Israelitic nations of the world.

JESUS CHRIST, EMMANUEL

Perhaps the most significant of the divine messages to the Chosen People at this time was the revelation of God’s ardent desire to be with His people, to dwell in their midst. When the prophets urge the people to rebuild the Temple they encourage the people with the thought: The Lord is with you, and the Lord Himself will come and dwell in your midst.

This recalls the reality of God’s presence to His people in the wilderness, when He rested on the Ark of the Covenant, a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. It recalls the reality of God’s presence in the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple. Though the people fail Him, reject Him, despise Him, still God pursues them.

GOD’S LOVE FOR MANKIND

In the prophetic messages of this period it is possible to see the extreme poignancy of God’s love for mankind. From Abraham to Malachias God sought only to bring blessings to His Chosen People, and through them to the world. But, in spite of all His mercies and in the face of the wonders which He performed for them, the pleasures and comforts as well as the trials and cares of this sad human world proved too much for them. But God would not abandon His designs. Even though He knows that His Chosen People will reject Him and abandon Him, He still promises to redeem both them and the other nations of mankind. God’s love for men is the love of a father for his children; it is even more than this, it is the love of a lover giving the totality of Himself for His beloved.”
– Rev. Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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

TODAY’S BIBLE READING (ACTS 13:26-33)

GOD HAS FULFILLED HIS PROMISE BY RAISING JESUS FROM THE DEAD.

Paul stood up in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia, held up a hand for silence and began to speak: “My brothers, sons of Abraham’s race, and all you who fear God, this message of salvation is meant for you. What the people of Jerusalem and their rulers did, though they did not realise it, was in fact to fulfil the prophecies read on every sabbath. Though they found nothing to justify his death, they condemned him and asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out everything that scripture foretells about him they took him down from the tree and buried him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had accompanied him from Galilee to Jerusalem: and it is these same companions of his who are now his witnesses before our people.

“We have come here to tell you the Good News. It was to our ancestors that God made the promise but it is to us, their children, that he has fulfilled it, by raising Jesus from the dead. As scripture says in the first psalm: You are my son: today I have become your father.”

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

 

Tags: , , , ,