Glory and Infamy of the Kings: some reflections on Samuel 1&2, and Kings 1&2

Glory and Infamy of the Kings:

some reflections on Samuel 1&2, and Kings 1&2

 

Year 2, Week 1, Wednesday                                     Glenroy 1978

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!””                  1 Samuel 3:2-4

It is night time; the eyes of Eli have grown dim and the prophetic voice speaks rarely. All are asleep, all seemingly finished.

Into the gloom comes a sudden ray of hope. Even if all seems lost, “the lamp of God had not yet gone out”.The voice of God breaks through the stillnesswith one word: “Samuel”.

Without precedents He acts, with initiative, with freedom. His action is to call a boy at that crucial age, to call him by name and to send him.

Samuel is the lamp of the Lord, Samuel is the ray of light. God’s call breaks the stillness, his initiative dispels the gloom.

Our action is to be free, and our freedom will make others free. Our freedom is not to enslave. Our call is not to make servants. Freedom inspires freedom. That is our initiative, our role, our ray of light in the dark.

 

Year 2, Week 1, Thursday                                       Glenroy 1978

“So, the Philistines fought; Israel was defeated, and they fled, everyone to his home. There was a very great slaughter, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. The ark of God was captured; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.”  1 Samuel 4:10-11

Defeated is the army; gone is the Ark; dead are the prophets. All seems lost. The great People of God, of Sinai, of the Exodus, of the Law, of the Promise, seems doomed to extinction.

So, ends the reading. Yet out of this gloom come the leaders Samuel, Saul, and David, for into chaos God shines his light.

 

Year 2, Week 1, Friday                                           Glenroy 1978

“Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations”.”    1 Samuel 8:4-5

It is a crucial moment: the shift from charismatic leadership to institutional rule. from the chaos and uncertainty of inspired leaders to the stability of clear authority; from the freedom of the spirit to the slavery of law and routine.

The people demand this transition, to move from one ‘mixed bag’ to another. Who can combine the virtues of the two?

Obedience to truth is united with the freedom of wisdom.

 

Year 2, Week 2, Monday                                         East Doncaster, 1990

“Since you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you.”                  1 Samuel 15:23

God is the origin of all things, the architect of this world. To be in union with him means to partake of all that he is. To separate from him means divorcing ourselves from all that is good.

Saul, king of Israel, has failed to be totally obedient. He had been commanded to destroy everything belonging to the enemy in a scorched earth policy. The enemy was to be exterminated but Saul lets some of the animals be offered in sacrifice. His obedience was imperfect.

Christ was perfectly obedient without demur, obedient even to the point of death. Therefore, he is king forever. Likewise, with Mary. From the start she is the handmaid of the Lord. Therefore, she is given heaven and earth as her crown and glory.

Growth in holiness and the power for good can come only with a growing obedience, assenting in every way to the word of God addressed to us, following our conscience, allowing the inspirations of the Spirit to guide us, being attentive to the calls of the Church, heeding the needs of those in our care.

 

Year 2, Week 4, Thursday                                       Burwood 1982

When David’s time to die drew near, he charged his son Solomon, saying: “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, be courageous, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn.                      I Kings 2:1-3

David, the man of action, the creator of Jerusalem and Israel, is about to die. The reading recounts his farewell discourse and the brief details of his death and burial.

What a contrast with the Son of David.

David’s instructions to his son urge him to follow the decrees as laid down in the Book of Moses. The Son of David’s instructions to his disciples enjoin on them to love as he has loved. It is not to the Book that they must turn for instruction but to his example. It is not the Law but his very self that is the guide to action: indeed, it is the very possibility of action. David promises Solomon success in all he undertakes. Jesus promises lasting success, but of a different kind: not goods and chattels but the eternal glory of God. David dies after a full and fruitful life. Jesus dies in failure. David reigns for a whole generation, Jesus’ life is cut short. David is buried with full honour, Jesus is buried hurriedly and secretly.

Yet David lies buried while Jesus is raised from the dead, for if Jesus is Son of David, he is more properly Son of God.

 

Year 2, Week 5, Monday                                         Glenroy 1976

And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.”                   I Kings 8:10-13

The Israelites experienced God in the desert and worshipped him in the Tent. When they reached Canaan they were amazed, and rightly so, at its culture. Progressively, they effected a synthesis between the religion of the desert and the religion of Canaan. The people decided for kingship under Saul in place of the tribal organization of the desert, and decided, under David and Solomon, in favour of a temple instead of the desert Tent. Once the Ark is installed, the cloud they had known in the desert comes and fills the Temple to show that God approves and that he agrees to take up his abode in this holy place.

The great experience of the Church is the resurrection of Christ. From age to age, as it meets different cultures and different ways of thought, the Church makes a synthesis. The one faith in Christ takes up new forms according to the context. God is pleased with this inculturation and sanctifies the new as he sanctified the old. It becomes the vehicle of his presence on earth.

But just as the Temple of Solomon finally disappeared, being replaced by Christ, so too the many styles the Church adopts over the ages, will disappear, to be replaced by the fullness of the whole Christ. Then God will be all in all.

 

Year 2, Week 5, Wednesday                                     Glenroy 1976

When the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon …  she came to test him with hard questions. She came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices, and very much gold, and precious stones.”            I Kings 10:1-2

The Queen of Sheba comes to Jerusalem to hear the wisdom of Solomon. She is amazed and gives the king one hundred and twenty talents of gold and great quantities of spices more precious than gold.

The Church too, over the centuries, has received all manners of people, of ideas, arts and cultures. And the wisdom of the Church is to love one another as Christ has loved us. Its wisdom is not that of Solomon’s in the ways of the world, but a wisdom of service and forgiveness. This is the great wealth, the great marvel of the Church. This is what attracts the greatness of the world. The Christ who learnt to serve, to become obedient even unto death was raised to the fullness of lordship over all creation.

And so also to us who imitate him, the whole essence of creation is given to us. We surpass Solomon in glory, for our wisdom is to serve.

 

Year 2, Week 10, Monday                                       Oakleigh, 1978

Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”                      1 Kings 17:1

The word of Elijah comes like a bolt out of the blue, with no introduction and no explanation. Only later do we realize the context of the drought: the idolatry of Ahab through his wife Jezebel.

Idolatry has cosmic effects, for an act of the will is not confined to the heart but is a blight upon nature as well. If human beings are the centre of the universe and if the heart is their centre, the perversion of the heart leads to the disruption of all that surrounds it

Ahab’s idolatry is not the cause, but only its trigger. It is Elijah who causes the drought. A person sins but God punishes. A person brings disharmony but dislocation is God’s doing, for God remains Lord of all. Therefore Elijah, before speaking the prophetic word, acknowledges that he is servant of the living God.

How can God act in this way? Is it not unfair to be so lacking in mercy and forgiveness? Yet if God did not punish sin, how could the truth be known. If no drought followed upon the idolatry, how could Ahab, in his dullness of heart, know the folly of Baal-worship. Humans come to know the laws of nature by seeing the consequences of disregarding them, and come to know truth by seeing the effect of the lie.

Persistence in folly involves lasting punishment. To live forever in a lie means being forever caught in its trap.

Ahab recognizes his folly, the priests of Baal are slaughtered, and the drought ends.

 

Year 2, Week 10, Wednesday                                   Burwood, 1982

“Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred fifty.”   1 Kings 18:22

On Mount Carmel, the promontory sacred to the god of weather and fertility, Elijah enters into conflict with the prophets of Baal.

The people of Israel had encountered God during their desert sojourn and had received his Law. Upon their entry into Canaan they came into contact with a vastly superior culture and took on many of its customs, even to the point of building their temple on the design of Canaanite structures. Would the people would take the next step and accept the gods of the Canaanites?

‘I, I alone am left as a prophet of the Lord’ cries Elijah. When, like Joshua, he challenges the people to proclaim their faith in God, he meets, not with a thunderous acceptance as happened for Joshua, but ‘The people said never a word’.

Nevertheless, by his activity in every sphere, Elijah restores the people to the worship of their ancestors, while the temples of Baal are but ruins today.

A similar conflict is going on today, but who is our Elijah, where is our Mount Carmel?

 

 Year 2, Week 10, Thursday                                     Burwood, 1982

“He said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” He went up and looked, and said, “There is nothing.” Then he said, “Go again seven times.” At the seventh time he said, “Look, a little cloud no bigger than a person’s hand is rising out of the sea.” Then he said, “Go say to Ahab, ‘Harness your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’”     1 Kings 18:43-44

Elijah withholds the rain. Elijah forthtells the rain. His servant can see nothing, but Elijah knows the mind of God. He announces ruin and he proclaims salvation. From Carmel, that mountain sacred to Baal, the prophet forecasts the act of God who is not tied to any mountain or function. What the prophets of Baal could not achieve, Elijah foreknows because God takes the initiative and gives even when not asked.

The absence of the signs of grace is not due to God’s absence but to his holiness. Grace is withheld till such time as the modern mind recognizes the incapacity of technology to bring happiness. The absence of grace is the fruit of disbelief.

 

Year 2, Week 10, Thursday                                      Burwood, 1984

“Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of rushing rain.”” 1 Kings 18:41

At the beginning of the Elijah Cycle, the prophet commanded there should be a drought so as to show the impotence of the Baal of Carmel, god of rain and fertility. Now at the conclusion of the three years he hears the rain coming. He who spoke disaster, hears liberation in the end. He who showed the power of speech, shows the sensitivity of perception.

Elijah commanded drought; he has slain the prophets of Baal; he has cleared the land of false worship and has restored the credibility of God in the eyes of king and people. The rain of blessing comes now, not from Baal but from God.

So too in our own day. Only after the period of cleansing by means of the prophetic word does the blessing of grace come. Only after cleansing and casting out is it possible to hear the divine mystery and to receive the time of favour from the Lord.

 

 Year 2, Week 10, Friday                                         Burwood, 1982

“He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.”           1 Kings 19:8

The nation is apostate, worship is abandoned, and the prophets are dead. It is not some enemy, but the sons of Israel that have done this.

At this low point, Elijah goes to Horeb, and God is made manifest to him in a way unparalleled. A sudden reversal then takes place: the appointment of a new king and another prophet to succeed Elijah.

Thus it is that God works. The moment of despair is the moment of reversal. The moments of darkness are the preludes to light. In the gloom the light shines brightest.

However, it is only on condition that Horeb is revisited. Elijah must return to the sources of his faith. It is only at Horeb that he hears the comforting words

and receives the commission to renew the nation.

 

Year 2, Week 10, Friday                                          Burwood, 1984

“He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.”      1 Kings 19:11-13

The people have apostatized. Elijah, therefore, retraces the steps of Israel’s history. Where once there was Sinai, now it is Horeb; for Moses there is Elijah; where once there was wind, earthquake and fire, now there is the gentle breeze Renewal of the people means the rediscovery of God but differently, more delicately, and in fact more easily than in the past.

All renewal is on the same pattern: a return to the roots. At the same time, it involves a rejection of outmoded forms. More importantly, it requires a finer sensitivity and a greater availability. Basic to all is the journey into the desert, into solitude, into penance, into prayer. Then one will be empowered, as was Elijah, to speak and to appoint rulers and prophets, and so to establish the good.

 

Year 2, Week 10, Friday                                         Burwood, 1986

“Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also, you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.”             1 Kings 19:15-16

Elijah flees to Horeb, for the people of Israel have deserted their God and have destroyed all trace of him. Only he is left. The past and the future of the Chosen People depend on this one man.

Moses too had seen the people abandon their God and worship the golden calf. He had received the two tables of stone containing the Law and had caught a glimpse of God from the cleft of a rock.

Here, however, Elijah receives no new tables of stone. There is no returning to the past. God says rather: Go and anoint one person as king of the pagan nation, Aram, another as king of the Chosen People and a third, Elisha, as prophet to all. Instead of tables of stone he sets in place three men anointed with the Spirit. Instead of words he shows the power of God. It is these men who will, at God’s and Elijah’s command restore true worship.

Our own day is a critical period. Who are the new anointed? What is the new task?

 

Year 2, Week 10, Saturday                                       Burwood, 1982

“So, he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.”       1 Kings 19:19-21

Rarely in scripture do we hear of the call made by one prophet to another. Nowhere is it described so graphically as here.

Elisha is reluctant. Elijah’s rejection of him – ‘Go, go back’ – calls his bluff. So, Elisha follows him wholeheartedly. He slaughters the oxen that are his livelihood and gives them as food to his men. He then leaves all and follows Elijah.

Elisha will bear his master’s name; he will wear his mantle; he will do the same works, but first

he must leave all.

 

Year 2, Week 11, Tuesday                                      Glenroy, 1976 

“You shall say to him, “Thus says the Lord: Have you killed, and also taken possession?” You shall say to him, “Thus says the Lord: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood. …Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster on his house.”      I Kings 21:19, 28-29

Ahab has killed Naboth and his family and confiscated their inheritance.

Elijah condemns this terrible action. ‘in the place where the dogs licked the blood of Naboth, dogs will lick your blood too.’ The God of justice makes evil recoil on the head of the perpetrator. He brings about his purposes, and imposes his law. Elijah, his mouthpiece, speaks out his condemnation: Ahab has destroyed Naboth, and has destroyed himself. What he does to others he does to himself.

Yet Ahab is vacillating. He is torn between Jezebel his wife and Elijah his prophet. Having listened to his wife he now listens to Elijah and repents. Elijah then recants: the disaster will come at a later time.

Thus, the purpose of the condemnation is shown in its true light. It is not a fixed and final ban, but a punishment for the time being. As long as Ahab persists in his sin the excommunication will continue. When he repents, what was absolute has limits put to it.

 

Year 2, Week 11, Wednesday                                  Glenroy, 1976

“He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.”         2 Kings 2:13-14

Elijah crosses the Jordan. Even as he is talking, he is taken up by the whirlwind. His mantle falls to Elisha who then returns across the Jordan by the same path.

These events have parallels in the life of Christ. As Elijah crosses the Jordan, so too Jesus goes through his passion. Elijah is taken up; so too is Jesus on the Mount of Olives. As Elijah is separated from his disciples by the fire of the chariot, Jesus is wrapped away by that power of the Spirit who at Pentecost will manifest himself in wind and fire. Just as Elijah leaves his mantle at the very moment of his exaltation, so too Christ, at the very moment of his exaltation commissions his disciples, promising them his authority

Jesus is the new Elijah. And his Church is the new Elisha taking up the mantle of Christ and continuing his work.

The moments of disappearing and commissioning are one, both in the case of Christ and in the case of Elijah. He who is exalted is too great for mortal vision, his light is too bright to be comprehended and so he seems to disappear. Yet that very light is the source of energy, an unrealized, uncomprehend energy. He who achieves the fullness of humanity no longer appears on earth but gives strength and impetus to all.

 

Year 2, Week 11, Wednesday                                  Burwood, 1982 

“Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.”          2 Kings 2:1, 6-14

This last episode in the life of Elijah – the last until his appearance at the side of the transfigured Lord – is his ascension.

Elijah tells his disciple Elisha that if he sees him ascending to heaven he, Elisha, will receive a double share of his master’s spirit, as he had requested. At Christ’s ascension, the angels tell

the disciples that they have seen Jesus ascend into heaven. This is more than a statement of fact. It is an acknowledgment that they will receive a double share of their Master’s spirit.

The contrasts are many also. Where Elijah allows his disciple to follow him, Jesus leads his out, not to a place beyond the Jordan but to the Mount of Olives, the hill of the last things. Where Elisha asks, Jesus promises. Where Elijah speaks about his spirit, Jesus speaks about “power from on high”, that is the very Spirit of God. Where Elijah leaves some doubt whether his disciple will receive his spirit, Jesus assures his own that they will indeed be clothed. Elijah ascends to heaven. Jesus ascends to where he was before.

Jesus is Elijah, but more than Elijah.

 

Year 2, Week 11, Wednesday                                   Burwood, 1984

“Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water, and the water divided to left and right and the two of them crossed over dry shod.  He took the cloak of Elijah and struck the water. and it divided to right and left and Elisha crossed over.”            2 Kings 2:8,14

Moses divided the Red Sea with his staff in order to free the people and destroy Pharaoh’s army. Elijah forms a rod of his cloak and divides the water because he has the power to liberate and to destroy with his words. He crosses the Jordan to return to the region where Moses died. He leaves the promised land for a greater heaven, for the region whence his prophetic word originates.

So too Jesus leaves Jerusalem and crosses the brook Kedron. The disciples witness, like Elisha, the ascent of their Master and like Elisha, receive their Master’s authority. Elisha returns to the land of Israel to continue the prophetic task Like his master he strikes the water, parting it with his master’s cloak.

The authority of Moses was renewed in Elijah who bequeathed it to Elisha. That authority is fulfilled in Jesus who bestows it on his Church, to speak the prophetic word with authority.

 

Year 2, Week 11, Thursday                                      Glenroy 1976

“Happy shall they be who see you, and those who have fallen asleep in move; for we too shall have life.”            Ecclesiasticus 48:11-12

A belief had arisen that Elijah would one day return with blessing for the living and the dead. His departure in the whirlwind was only temporary and he would return to perform even greater marvels. Such was the power of the prophet of God.

This belief is at the background to our understanding of Christ. Christ, the Prophet and Word of God, has departed for a time, to return with blessing for all who have loved. Christ is Elijah and more than Elijah.

If his first coming was an advantage, his second coming is fullness. The Man of God continues for ever since God continues for ever. God brings things to completion; therefore, the Man of God is involved in this completion. He was God’s champion during his life; he will no less be his champion at the end of time, to bring blessing to those who live and to those who sleep.

 

Year 2, Week 11, Friday                                          Glenroy, 1976

“Then all the people of the land went to the house of Baal, and tore it down; his altars and his images they broke in pieces, and they killed Mattan, the priest of Baal, before the altars. The priest posted guards over the house of the Lord. He took the captains, the Carites, the guards, and all the people of the land; then they brought the king down from the house of the Lord, marching through the gate of the guards to the king’s house. He took his seat on the throne of the kings. So, all the people of the land rejoiced; and the city was quiet after Athaliah had been killed with the sword at the king’s house.”     2 Kings 11:18-20

The prophet Elijah was active in the North, fighting against Ahab and Jezebel. The. priest Jehoiada was active in the South, fighting against Athaliah, a relative of Jezebel. Both fought for the same cause: fidelity to the covenant with the God of Israel as against the cult of Baal that was attractive to the people and to the court.

In today’s reading we hear of Jehoiada. In tomorrow’s reading we will hear of his son Zechariah. The two readings show that priests were active in the fight against Baal worship, just as the prophets Elijah and Elisha had been.

In those days it was not so easy to realize that the worship of Baal was false. Had not Abraham himself changed gods, learning to worship the God of Israel? Had not Moses been influenced by the religion of Jethro, his father-in-law, priest of Midian? Yet Elijah and Jehoiada could distinguish between the truth of Moses’ covenant and the errors of Jezebel and Athaliah.

We ourselves are living in times of great change. The Church has thrown open its doors to the modern world and is influenced by new insights. This can be good or bad. The Spirit will nevertheless teach us to distinguish between good and evil and enable us to remain both faithful to the old and welcoming to the new.

 

Year 2, Week 11, Friday                                          Burwood, 1984

“Jehoiada made a covenant between the Lord and the king and people, that they should be the Lord’s people; also, between the king and the people. 18Then all the people of the land went to the house of Baal, and tore it down; his altars and his images they broke in pieces, and they killed Mattan, the priest of Baal, before the altars.”   2 Kings 11:17-18

The Elijah cycle shows how the prophet, whether all alone in the desert or in public on Mt Carmel, re-establishes true worship by the sheer power of his prophetic word.

Today’s reading shows the same reform being established through the power of the institutions of Israel. Priests, soldiers and people work in concert to establish the legitimate king upon the throne and in that process to re-establish the covenant between God and his people, the covenant between king and nation. The Temple of Baal is destroyed, and its priest Mattan is put to death along with Athaliah, the apostate and usurper.

The power of the individual prophet and the institutions of the people are both required for the renewal of religion, today as yesterday.

 

Year 2, Week 11, Friday                                          Burwood, 1986

“But in the seventh year Jehoiada summoned the captains of the Carites and of the guards and had them come to him in the house of the Lord. He made a covenant with them and put them under oath in the house of the Lord; then he showed them the king’s son. He commanded them, “This is what you are to do: …”                     2 Kings 11:4-5

 

Elijah struggled with success against Ahab and Jezebel and their Baals. Elijah was a prophet and accomplished his task with words of authority.

Jehoiada, on the other hand, accomplishes his task by using the institutions of Israel, the army and the Temple, the rightful heir to the throne and the will of the people. His palace revolution secures a religious revolution: the temples of Baal are destroyed and their priest, Mattan, is slaughtered. However, it is the exile that will finally convince the people that the gods of the heathen are naught.

As God won out through Elijah the prophet, through Jehoiada the priest and through the pain of exile, so too he will win out through the paschal mystery of Christ. In the end all will learn that it is faith in Christ that shapes the world.

 

Year 2, Week 12, Monday                                       Glenroy, 1976

“Then the king of Assyria invaded all the land and came to Samaria; for three years he besieged it. In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria captured Samaria; he carried the Israelites away to Assyria. He placed them in Halah, on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.”   2 Kings 17:5-6

The first readings of this week are grouped together in a pattern. They show the humiliation of the people both of Israel and of Judah and their deportation. They recount the end of an era.

Today’s reading tells of the destruction of Israel, a troubling and scandalous event, for God had promised to Abraham that his descendants would inherit this land; he had commissioned Moses to lead the people to it. How could he be unfaithful? How could he go back on his promise?

God had indeed made the covenant but the people had broken it; he had given them the Promised Land, but they worshipped other gods; he had sent prophets to warn them but they refused to listen. So, God rejects them.

 

Year 2, Week 12, Monday                                       Oakleigh, 1978

Therefore, the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight; none was left but the tribe of Judah alone.”  2 Kings 17:18

Covenant had been made with twelve tribes, yet the vast majority of them disappeared into the surrounding nations. Judah, the Southern Kingdom had to be preserved, although it was no better than Israel, the Northern Kingdom.

The new covenant has been made with the Church but there is no certainty that all Christians will remain true. Indeed, the majority may well be dispersed. Who will remain? The one who is its head!

Jesus is raised from the dead, and in him the plan of God is fulfilled. We look to the future, yes,

but not as to the fulfilment of something incomplete. Rather we look to the completion of something already fulfilled, the Lordship of Christ, whereby all are transformed into his image.

 

Year 2, Week 12, Monday                                       Burwood, 1986

“Then the king of Assyria invaded all the land and came to Samaria; for three years he besieged it. In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria captured Samaria; he carried the Israelites away to Assyria. He placed them in Halah, on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. This occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They had worshiped other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had introduced.”                                2 Kings 17:5-8

Over the past two weeks we have heard of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, and of the priests Jehoiada and Zechariah in their attempt to preserve the faith of Israel in the face of the culture of Canaan.

This week the readings state that God has rejected the people he had brought out of Egypt. Because they have not been faithful to him they are sent into exile.

Today’s reading recounts the conquest of Israel by Assyria. The greater part of the Chosen people is taken into exile. The ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom lose their identity and disappear. They had not remained faithful to the God of Abraham in their contact with the culture of Canaan. They are dispersed, therefore, into the cultures of Assyria.

How shall we retain the faith of our ancestors? Many Christians are overwhelmed by the grandeur of modern secularism. How shall we reconcile the truths of the faith with the truths of the modern world?

 

Year 2, Week 12, Tuesday                                      Glenroy, 1976

“‘Therefore, thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city, shoot an arrow there, come before it with a shield, or cast up a siege ramp against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return; he shall not come into this city, says the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.’”               2 Kings 19:32-34

Yesterday’s reading recounted the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians. In today’s reading we hear of the same Assyrians marching on Jerusalem to destroy it.

However, Hezekiah has been faithful to the covenant. He has destroyed the idols and promoted true worship. His piety wins reprieve for the city. Jerusalem is not taken. Suddenly, at the last-minute Sennacherib is obliged to return to his capital. Jerusalem is safe.

Hezekiah remains faithful, so that, despite the eventual destruction of the city, Judah survives. Whereas Israel disappears in the morass of time, Judah maintains its identity and will return after the exile to provide a remnant and to allow for the Virgin Mary from whom will come the Saviour.

 

Year 2, Week 12, Wednesday                                   Glenroy, 1976

“The high priest Hilkiah said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord.” … When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. Then the king commanded the priest Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary, and the king’s servant Asaiah, saying, “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our ancestors did not obey the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.””         2 Kings 22:8, 11-13

The kings of Judah have been implicated in the worship of the gods and goddesses of Canaan. They had even allowed their shrines and altars to be built within the Temple itself.

The Book of the Law comes to light in this context. It states in no uncertain terms that the People which is faithful will prosper, but that idolaters are doomed. This revelation comes as a shock. The king and the People set about a reform of state and religion, but it is too late. Jerusalem is destroyed and the People are taken into exile.

The Church, which fails to keep the law of love, will collapse. The state that does live in harmony cannot survive. The family that is divided against itself becomes a hell.

 

Year 2, Week 12, Friday                                          Burwood, 1982

He burned the house of the Lord, the king’s house, and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down.  Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried into exile the rest of the people …. But the captain of the guard left some of the poorest people of the land to be vinedressers and tillers of the soil.”    2 Kings 25:9, 11-12

So, ends the history of the kings of Judah. With a starkness that is all the more terrible for its objectivity, the sacred writer reports, almost like a verdict, the fate of the last of the kings. So, ends the sorry tale.

What had begun so well with David and Solomon ends in the deportation in chains of a king whose last sight was the execution of his sons. The kings, who were to be as God to the people, are now cast out, and with them all the institutions of Israel.

Lament though we might at such a pass, there is to be another Babylon, another king. Rome is that other Babylon and Christ is that other king. Far more terrible is the clash that occurs. Zedekiah, like any mortal, is a mixture of good and bad. Babylon, like any power, is not without good even in its ruthlessness. Yet the later story sees the King of kings, entirely good, in conflict with the Beast. What clash, what sound of arms, what thunder of dispute.

After the punishment of Zedekiah comes the years of exile. After the crucifixion of the Nazarene come the hours in the tomb. A generation, a day, come and go. From exile, Israel is restored in their purity of faith in the One God. From entombment, Jesus is raised for the glory of the Three.

While we lament the fate of the last crowned head of Judah, even so God draws value. While we lament the maltreatment of the finest of men, we rejoice at the salvation that springs forth and, supremely, at the revelation of the Three.

 

Year 2, Week 12, Friday,                                        East Doncaster, 1990

And in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came with all his army against Jerusalem, and laid siege to it; they built siege works against it all around.  Then they captured the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah, who passed sentence on him. They slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, then put out the eyes of Zedekiah; they bound him in fetters and took him to Babylon.”   2 Kings 25:1, 6-7

What began so well ends in disaster. The triumphant entry into the Promised Land ends with exile. Jerusalem, which had witnessed the victories of David, now sees the flight of Zedekiah. Anyone who has talent or ability is sent into Babylon as the booty of war. Only the simplest of the people are left, to tend the vine and work the land.

The exile in Babylon is to be a moment of darkness. By the power of God who brings light out of darkness, it is to be the moment of greatest enlightenment. They are sent into Babylon to learn that the gods of the heathen are naught. Their king is imprisoned and his heirs are killed, to heighten the People’s desire for a David who will last forever. They are sent into exile to learn to long for a land that will never fail. Thus, the destruction of the kingdom of Judah is a preparation for a sense of the kingdom of God. The exile is both a punishment for sin and a gestation of truth.

This same occurs in our day. The destruction of what we hold dearest is the prelude to a new reality. The end of an institution is an increase of the reign of the Spirit. The end of the stress on dogma heightens the sense of the Spirit of truth. The decline in the numbers of clergy is the beginning of the sense of universal responsibility.

 

Year 2, Week 12, Saturday,                                      East Doncaster, 1990

“Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint for hunger at the head of every street.”                   Lamentations 2:19

Jerusalem has been destroyed. The people have been taken into exile. The Temple is in ruins, and the royal family is executed. The traditions have been brought to nothing. The destruction is complete.

But the prophet does not lose faith. His lamentation concludes with an invitation to prayer: “Stretch out your hands to him for the lives of your children.” The tears do not bring doubt but lead only to a more insistent prayer.

On the cross Jesus will commend his spirit to God. By his death the lives of God’s children will be saved.

 

 

 

 

About interfaithashram

Rev. Dr. John Dupuche is a Roman Catholic Priest, a senior lecturer at MCD University of Divinity, and Honorary Fellow at Australian Catholic University. His doctorate is in Sanskrit in the field of Kashmir Shaivism. He is chair of the Catholic Interfaith Committee of the Archdiocese of Melbourne and has established a pastoral relationship with the parishes of Lilydale and Healesville. He is the author of 'Abhinavagupta: the Kula Ritual as elaborated in chapter 29 of the Tantraloka', 2003; 'Jesus, the Mantra of God', 2005; 'Vers un tantra chrétien' in 2009; translated as 'Towards a Christian Tantra' in 2009. He has written many articles. He travels to India each year. He lives in an interfaith ashram.
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