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Bible Tuesday for January 17, 2015

Bible Tuesday for January 17, 2015

Isaiah 62:1-5

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,
till her vindication shines out like the dawn,
her salvation like a blazing torch.
2 The nations will see your vindication,
and all kings your glory;
you will be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
3 You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand,
a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
4 No longer will they call you Deserted,
or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,[a] and your land Beulah[b];
for the Lord will take delight in you,
and your land will be married.
5 As a young man marries a young woman,
so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
so will your God rejoice over you.


Isaiah 62:4 Hephzibah means my delight is in her.

Isaiah 62:4 Beulah means married.

This last section of the prophecy of Isaiah is written after some captives have returned from Babylon, but still others are in bondage and suffering. The prophet does not see his job as completed until all Israelites are free to return and the Temple is restored. The prophet speaks to God saying that good has been done but there is much more than is needed.

The Bible has many stories of people and places being renamed. In our society, names are cultural or family tradition, items of beauty, earned through sponsorship, or considered marketable. In both Hebrew and Christian scriptures, names are statements of physical or emotional state, and can be changed to reflect a new state. Naomi (meaning joyful) returned from a foreign land a widow whose two sons have died. “I am no longer Naomi! Call me Mara” (meaning bitterness). God frequently renames people. Abram and Sarai are renamed Abraham and Sarah by God. God changes Jacob’s name to Israel after a particularly strenuous night. Saul/Paul, Simon/Peter, John/Mark, Thaddeus/Matthais, etc.

In this passage, the prophet calls God to action according to God’s covenant with Israel and then turns to comfort Israel with the promise of new names. No, Israel will no longer be rejected due to her unfaithfulness. No! God will change your name to Hephzibah (my delight is in her) and you will no longer be cast away from God but instead be called Beulah (married).

Psalm 26:5-10

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
6 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your judgments are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.

7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
9 For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.

10 O continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
and your salvation to the upright of heart!

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, starting in the first chapters of Genesis, God makes covenants with humans and all creation. The covenant is most clearly stated in with Abraham in Genesis 12, but expanded on in the Exodus Mt. Sinai story. Each covenant reiterates God’s dedication to all humanity through Abraham and his descendants. This psalm celebrates those covenants. The Hebrew word translated “steadfast love” is a legal word meaning “complete, selfless fealty”. “Faithfulness” describes God’s activities in keeping the covenant; completely trustworthy. “Righteousness” describes God’s history in these covenants; God has always kept God’s end of the covenants and never strayed or defaulted.

Humans stray from marriages, default on loans, blab though they promise never to tell a soul, throw each other “under the bus”, invent new ways to break covenants every day. But God is flawless, keeping covenants forever, even fulfilling them himself.

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Now concerning spiritual gifts,[a] brothers and sisters,[b] I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

Paul’s letters to the churches, aka Epistles, contain both content from Paul, and Paul’s answers to questions from the church addressees. In the above passage, and throughout I Corinthians, scholars surmise that the church in Corinth has asked Paul to clarify/instruct about spiritual gifts, and Paul does at length from several vantage points. The above is one.

The pericope begins with the phrase, “Now concerning pneumatikon, …” This Greek word can be translated two ways and it appears Paul used it for that very purpose. The first translation would be “spiritual things/gifts”. The other would be “spiritual people”. First, let’s explore “spiritual people”. On the one hand, early Christians were “spiritualists” because they exhibited signs of the Holy Spirit when they were baptized into not only Father and Son, but also Holy Spirit. Throughout Paul’s letters and the book of Acts, when folks were baptized into the Holy Spirit, they began to speak in tongues or prophesy, or manifest other unworldly gifts. But on the other hand, there were various religions and cults in Greco Roman culture at that time which taught about “spiritual people”, which were the antithesis of Jesus’ teaching, life, death, and resurrection. As the city of Corinth was a hotbed for these cults, Paul addresses both meanings of “spiritual people” since both appear to be manifest in this congregation.

These Holy Spirit given gifts are lavished upon God’s people to further the kingdom, Paul says. While the receiver might feel proud, even high and mighty, to what end? It is the Holy Spirit who gives the gifts. In this above passage, Paul emphasizes that there is only one spirit through many gifts. One can only imagine the difficulty folks converting from polytheism were having in accepting this teaching.

John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

This story is so rich in symbolism that a fair treatment of it cannot be done by me (save as a PhD thesis) or in this space. So let’s just consider a few aspects here.

In this first sentence of this story, we are told that Jesus’ mother was at this wedding in Cana. As the gospel of John does not have any story of Jesus’ birth, this is the first that the readers hear of Jesus’ family. It is the second sentence in which we are told that not only Jesus, but his disciples are also guests. Why not Jesus’ father? It is because Mary shows up in Jesus’ adult life but Joseph does not that tradition has it that Joseph was an old man when Jesus was born. Surely the man that God chose to father his son did not divorce Mary or act so socially unacceptably as to not accompany Mary to this wedding. Joseph must have been dead by this time. What does it mean that Jesus declines to address the problem Mary poses to him, and she indirectly pushes him into it anyway?

Six stone jars holding 20-30 gallons each for the Jewish rite of purification. The rite of purification was a bathing ritual prescribed after every flow of blood, and after other illnesses or physical issues which would render one ritually unclean. The bath was one of submersion in clear, moving, preferably flowing, water. Slow flowing rivers that were at least four feet deep were ideal but very rare. Bodies of water can also work., but with naturally occurring water, there is the modesty/privacy issue. Man made ritual baths, called mikvahs, were very common in Jewish communities. These mikvahs were pits dug into the ground with steps leading in and out, a drainage system, and a bath house or bath tent erected around them for privacy. These large stone jars were used to fill the mikvahs. By turning this purification water into wine, good wine, Jesus may be replacing the need for old purification with his own death and resurrection. Jesus may be replacing water of the current life under Rome, under the biblical Law, with “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly!”

Why six jars? Of course, it may just be that there were six jars standing there and it doesn’t mean anything. But biblical stories don’t give details unless they want us to have them so why six jars is a valid question to ask. First, six jars holding 20-30 gallons turned into good wine. That is a lot of wine!!! That is a sign of abundant life! Second, the number 6 in Hebrew culture is the number of incompleteness, lacking, even evil. 666 is the number for the anti-Christ in Revelation because 3 is the number of wholeness, balance and the number for God, so three sixes are the symbolic number for the entirety of evil. Six jars could symbolize a lacking: lacking enough wine for the guests, lacking righteousness which could be temporarily relieved by a ritual bath in the mikvah, humans lacking faithfulness to the covenant which needs God to become Word made Flesh.