INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE
Year B - Proper 16
1 KINGS 8: (1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43. Solomon succeeded in building the temple in Jerusalem where his father, David, had failed. This event took place about 950 BC. This passage tells the whole story as recalled from centuries old traditions in the late 7th century BC when Josiah centralized all worship in the temple in Jerusalem. Solomon's prayer is an exceptionally creative act of worship presumed to have been recited by Solomon at the dedication of the temple.
PSALM 84. This psalm celebrates the significance of the temple for the individual worshiper. It may well have been written by one of the lesser priests or Levites whose daily duties required him to be there participating in the normal liturgies.
JOSHUA 24:1-2A, 14-18. (Alternate) The conquest of Canaan completed, Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to the holy place at Shechem to renew their covenant with God initially made by Abraham. He issued a compelling challenge that they should choose to serve the Lord as he and his family had chosen. They promised to do so although Joshua warned them of how difficult it would be and of the penalty if falling away from their commitment to worship the gods of their foreign neighbours.
PSALM 34:15-22. (Alternate) In difficult times many people have found solace in the words from a psalmist of the Wisdom period, who may also have known some unstated affliction. He also felt that God cared only for the select few righteous people.
EPHESIANS 6:10-20. The issue for Christians in the 1st century to whom this letter was written was whether they would worship God as revealed in Jesus Christ or the Roman emperor who claimed to be a god. In those days too, the emperor's power was seen to represent cosmic forces. In this
remarkable series of metaphors, the unknown author who was using Paul's name encouraged his audience by identifying the spiritual equipment they would need for their struggle.
JOHN 6:56-69. Jesus' discourse on the nature of the spiritual life he offered to all who believed so challenged many that they turned away. Would his disciples also leave him, an option he freely gave them? Peter answered for the rest in a striking confession of faith. John added to his account of this incident that his disregard for Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus. Undoubtedly many in John's audience also faced a similar challenge at the end of the 1st century CE.
A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS.
1 KINGS 8: (1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43. About 950 BCE Solomon succeeded in building the temple in Jerusalem where his father, David, had failed.
1 Kings 5-8 gives the whole story of the building of Solomon's palace and the temple with the help of King Hiram of Tyre. That gives us a clue to the design of the two structures, especially that of the temple. Relatively recent research reported in the Biblical Archaeological Review (May/June 2000) stated that the discovery of a temple at Ain Dara in northern Syria "has more in common with the Jerusalem temple described in the Book of Kings than any other known building." Close by was a royal palace as was Solomon's. Tyre was
a Phoenician city from which Solomon enlisted many artisans for his enterprise. It would appear that this was the model for the Jerusalem temple rather than any other source such as an earlier Canaanite or purely Israelite design.
This passage gives the conclusion to the story as recalled from centuries old traditions and perhaps some surviving chronicles in the late 7th century BCE when Josiah centralized all worship in the temple in Jerusalem. In the post-exilic period, when the temple was being rebuilt, a priestly editor also made certain additions to the traditions from the point of view of the Priestly Code
with its penchant for proper divisions, categories and liturgies. (E.g. The specific festival references of 6:1.) Thus Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the temple is an exceptionally creative act of worship presumed to have been recited by Solomon at the dedication of the temple. The original dedication may have been in the form of a song recorded in an ancient saga which the LXX says was in the Book of Jasher (N.H. Snaith. The Interpreter's Bible, 3:
The first part of Solomon's prayer (vss. 22-30) emphasized the Davidic succession as a crucial element of the covenant between Yahweh and Israel. The temple was but one more artifact symbolizing this covenant relationship which gave all Israelites both the privilege of approaching Yahweh in prayer and the responsibility of keeping the covenant law. However, according to this prayer, the temple also had a missionary function. Vss. 41- 43 point to
this role for the foreigner who came to Jerusalem, recognized the temple as a symbol of the transcendent deity, and joined in Israel's reverence for Yahweh's sacred name and the covenantal faith.
Issues we face today: Why build new churches when so many older ones are virtually empty? Who are the foreigners who see our temples, so many minimally used as places of worship? In an age when our sanctuaries are
left deserted more and more, does not their very existence in every community point to a transcendent reality without which humanity cannot exist?
PSALM 84. This psalm celebrated the significance of the temple for the
individual worshiper. It may well have been written by one of the lesser priests or Levites whose daily duties required him to be there participating in the normal liturgies. Lowest of the hierarchy of the priesthood and representative of the whole people of Israel, Levites performed two main functions: they assisted
the higher order of priests and the chief priest in the celebration of the liturgy by preparing for the daily sacrifices and leading the singing of the worshiping congregation; and they cared for and guarded the temple against interlopers who might render the sacred precincts impure by their presence. They did not serve on a permanent basis, but each group attended according to a regular schedule while living normal lives the rest of the year in various parts of the country.
According to Exodus 6:21 and 1 Chronicles 6:22 & 37, and Numbers 26:58, the Korahites of the psalm's superscription was an order of Levites descended from Levi and resident in the region of Hebron.
Obviously, the psalmist was very familiar with the temple, as a Levite would have been. He saw even the sparrows that nested in various crannies of the building and likened them to those worshipers who frequented the sacred precincts (vs. 3). He also knew the traditions about Israel's history, referring to the valley of Baca as a place where Yahweh refreshed the Israelites. The name Baca is a variety of gum-producing "balsam trees." No valley of that name has been found, but the
reference may be to the valley of Rephaim, a rich agricultural area near Jerusalem mentioned in several OT passages.
The psalmist’s attention, however, focused on Zion and Yahweh's presence in the temple. There he had been a functionary who held his role in high regard (vs. 10). He saw this as representative of every worshiper who sought Yahweh's blessing in keeping the covenant in both its liturgical and its moral expression (vss. 10-11). "This is our faith," he seemed to say in his closing burst of praise.
Two laymen, father and son, gave distinctive leadership in local congregations throughout long lives of nearly ninety-four and ninety years. Bible class leaders, elders, evangelists in their workplaces, they were stewards of their faith whose children and grandchildren have followed closely in their steps. At their funerals, I was privileged to read this psalm as expressive of the joyful tradition which they pioneered. Truly they had been “doorkeepers in the house of the Lord.”
JOSHUA 24:1-2A, 14-18. (Alternate) The Book of Joshua is part of the Deuteronomic history of the settlement of Canaan by the Jews following the Exodus and the forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Based on collected memories and oral traditions, and possibly some earlier documentation, it reached its final form during the Babylonian exile. Scholars believe that it could have been written in either Judea or in Babylon. One of its themes addresses a people who through disobedience to the law had lost their right to the divine gift of the Promised Land. An associated theme points out the clear relationship between obedience to the law and divine blessing. This latter theme comes forth most strongly in this excerpt.
The conquest and settlement of Canaan completed, Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to the holy place at Shechem to renew their covenant Yahweh had initially made with Abraham. He issued a compelling challenge that they should choose to serve the Yahweh as he and his family had chosen to do. They promised to do so too although Joshua warned them of how difficult it would be and the penalty of falling away from their commitment to worship the gods of their foreign neighbours.
The greatest challenge to any religious tradition comes from alternative beliefs and religious practices. Idolatry, the anxious seeking for certainty and security in relationships other than trust in a transcendent deity and commitment to a strong moral standard, has been the bane of every generation of believers. As this lesson describes, the children of Israel faced this issue as forthrightly as we do today. The Canaanites and the other tribal communities in the lands through which the Israelites had passed had their own religious traditions, “other gods” as Joshua called them in vs. 16. Joshua set before his people the choice they must make. Was Yahweh truly to be their God with whom they were to have a special relationship by being obedient to the moral code of their sacred covenant? He and his family had made that choice. They would serve Yahweh.
It would appear from this passage that Jewish religious thought had not yet settled finally on the moral monotheism, the faith in one God alone and a rigorous moral commitment. The thought that there might be deities other than Yahweh which other nations revered and worshiped remained a very present threat during the Babylonian exile (586-539 BCE). Today we can easily understand this threat to our own tradition. In recent decades it has become increasingly tempting to let other relationships, practices and pursuits dominate our lives. One brilliant insight into the religious challenge to our generation cited professional spectator sports as the dominant religious practice which a visitor from outer space would find in our world. It was just such a distraction against which Joshua warned his people more than three thousand years ago.
PSALM 34:15-22. (Alternate) In difficult times many people have found solace in the words from a psalmist of the Wisdom period, who may also have known affliction. But he also felt that God cared only for the select few righteous people.
In the Hebrew text the psalm has an acrostic form, each line beginning with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The psalm also is in the wisdom style and so dates from the late Persian or early Greek period (400-300 BCE). Some scholars believe it may also have been associated with the lament of Ps. 25 as a hymn of thanksgiving. The main purpose of the psalm is to celebrate with gratitude the saving power of Yahweh. It expresses great confidence and trust in Yahweh’s special care for the righteous.
While the superscription mistakenly attributes the psalm to an incident in David’s flight from his rebellious son Abimilech, no direct reference to that or any other event in David’s reign can be found. The Davidic references were found in about half of the psalms most likely related to a special collection attributed to David. These titles were added during the compilation process somewhere between the fourth and second centuries BCE.
Viewed from a wider perspective, the psalm points to the constant mercy and love with which Yahweh watched over and delivered Israel from innumerable disasters. At the same time it draws more attention to the individual believer who trusts in Yahweh than to the nation as a whole. This too has been the attitude of saintly Christians through many generations.
EPHESIANS 6:10-20. The issue for Christians in the 1st century to whom this letter was written was whether they would worship God as revealed in Jesus Christ or the Roman emperor who claimed to be a god. In those days too, the emperor's power was seen to represent cosmic forces against which the Christian community had to struggle as representatives of their sovereign lord, Jesus Christ In this remarkable series of metaphors, the unknown author who was using Paul's name encouraged his audience by identifying the spiritual equipment they would need for their struggle.
One can imagine the apostle Paul himself and/or his disciple in prison guarded by a Roman soldier. The Book of Acts recorded such a scene several times. William Barclay suggested that the prisoner may well have been shackled to the guard night and day. Each piece of the guard's equipment represented spiritual armor which every Christian needed for his or her daily conflict with the evil forces seeking to dominate life. Did Paul himself use these metaphors in his attempt to convert his guard?
The passage epitomizes the tension in which every life must be lived. While in faith we have accepted Jesus as Lord and subjected ourselves to his sovereignty, this also remains an incomplete goal and a future hope. For all of us, a moral and ontological tension exists between "being" Christian and "becoming Christian." This is as true for the whole church as for the individual
believer. We have not yet achieved the fullness of Christ who is all in all. So there remains a constant tension between being incorporated into Christ and our earthly existence in a world that is not yet subject to his dominion. While believing and fervently desiring to belong wholly to Christ, we still live in the "old age" as yet un-actualized in what faith tells us we shall become. These weapons are the faith-warrior's armament for today's struggle provided for us by our Lord through the gift of his Spirit.
JOHN 6:56-69. Jesus' discourse on the nature of the spiritual life he offered to all who believed so challenged many that they turned away. Would his disciples also leave him, an option he freely gave them? Peter answered for the rest in a striking confession of faith. John added to his account of this incident his disregard for Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus. Undoubtedly many in John's audience also faced a similar challenge as to whether to follow or betray Jesus by their daily actions.
The basic issue in this whole discourse and the dialogue with the Jews that runs through it was about the person of Jesus Christ. John raised this issue in his own way rather differently from the Synoptic Gospels. They presented it in the question Jesus asked the disciples at Caesarea Philippi (Matt.16:13-23; Mark 8:27-33; Luke 9:18-22). John placed it in a more literary framework as one of several discourses characteristic of his reflective style. Who really was Jesus for the Christians at the end of the 1st century? Who is he for us today?
Again, it was Peter who responded, so the tradition about Peter’s primacy must have been well fixed even at that early date. (Cf. John 21) Note, however, the unique way John told of Jesus' question and Peter's answer. Was there a wistful loneliness in the question? Was there also a sense of love deeper than loyalty in Peter's reply? The term "Holy One of God" was a messianic euphemism. In the OT, "the Holy One of Israel" referred only to Yahweh, especially in Isaiah and Second Isaiah. In the NT the same term referred to the Messiah (Mark 1:24; Acts 3:14; 1 John 2:20). Here John altered the
traditional form, possibly for the benefit of his Gentile audience.
Jesus' simultaneous approbation of Peter response and condemnation of Judas served John's purpose of setting before his audience the crucial challenge everyone must face. In every age the issue is the same: one is with Christ as a disciple or against Christ as a betrayer. The moment of decision comes again and again for each one of us.
When this analysis was first composed, the General Council of The United Church of Canada was debating how to rearrange the criteria for membership in the church and participation in the life and work of the church, especially with respect to serving on congregational boards and voting in congregational meetings. Should adherents in a congregation who have not yet made a profession of faith, but who sympathetically participate in the life of the church, be granted essentially the same privileges and responsibilities as members? Is confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour a barrier to participation? For some, is membership in the church becoming a "barrier" to involvement?
Does this incident recorded in John's Gospel give a clear answer to those questions? Did all who went away do so simply because they did not believe all those difficult things Jesus had said? Were there others who stayed besides "the twelve"? Even Judas Iscariot had not yet totally committed himself. Jesus may still have had an open mind about him. At the end of the 1st century,
the case of Judas’ loyalty was closed as far as John was concerned.