Archive for June, 2016

2 SAMUEL 7:1-14a

Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”

But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.

In a time when the gods of other tribes and nations were represented in idols and established in sacred shrines and temples, Yahweh, the deity rediscovered by Moses in the mountains of Sinai, was acknowledged as being not only non-representable but also unwilling to settle down inside the more permanent structures of religion.

Yahweh had cautioned the exodus community against fashioning graven images of the divine likeness. And since the early experience of God took shape during an event of radical transition, as the people were moving from one place to another, the presence of Yahweh needed to be ‘portable’ and not tied down to location. In the forty years of wilderness wandering, Yahweh’s dwelling was a movable tabernacle, and whenever Moses needed to consult the oracle of the deity he went outside the boundary of the camp to the tent of meeting and waiting for God’s word.

There we have some of the essential history behind the conflict between David’s desire to make for God a more permanent dwelling place (temple) and God’s refusal to be clapped up inside a building. David’s intention was innocent enough, and we notice that even the prophet Nathan thought it was a good idea at first. It’s always more convenient to have a place where God stays put.

MARK 6:14-29

14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.”16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.”24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her.27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

The degeneration of King Herod as a human being, descending the way of ‘harmless’ fantasies, swelling impulses, a growing disregard for conscience, the fateful decision, maneuvers in self-justification, an attempted cover-up, and finally adding murder to infidelity, presents us with a negative image of our unique capacity among God’s creatures. The tree and the bird each unfolds in its development according to the design and potential of their distinct natures. Their beauty is what we could call an ‘instinctive’ beauty, flowing out through natural tendencies and inherited patterns.

Human beings, in addition to having an instinctive nature, are conspicuous among the animal kingdom for being morally free, which means that our destiny as a species has been given to a great extent into our own hands. We can feel the drive of impulse in our organs and blood, but we can also discern the voice of conscience calling us to acts of fidelity, love, and self-sacrifice.

At some point in the progression of Herod’s guilt – a point that would preferably h come early rather than too late – there was a pause, a hesitation, a second thought. At that precise moment he was free to weigh the moral virtue and predictable consequences of his impending choice. Had he successfully uprooted the fantasy of his attraction to Herodias, or repented of his wrongful act when inwardly or outwardly convicted, he could have elected for a different path altogether. Instead of conspiring in the assassination of one of God’s prophets, Herod could have become an inspiring example of integrity and godly character.

MARK 6:14-29

14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.”16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.”24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her.27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

King Herod suffered from the chronic pangs of a guilty conscience. He had played into an underhanded scheme to dispose of John the Baptist, consenting to the prophet’s unjust execution rather than humbly retracting a foolish promise made in the flush of excitement. John had been a tireless critic of Herod’s illicit relationship with his brother’s wife – reason enough to put John in chains, but not enough to take his head.

The progression of Herod’s guilt is instructive. His affair and unlawful marriage to his brother’s wife, Herodias, was his second decision, following his willingness to entertain the fantasy of it in the first place. For a while after having committed the act, he could get away with it. But when John got wind of the deed and started confronting Herod on the legal and moral demerits of his behavior, the king shifted into a mode of self-justification. “Because I’m king, that’s how!” or “Philip doesn’t love her anyway” or “that law is so antiquated!” might have been declared in his own defense.

Finally, in putting John away Herod was attempting to remove the voice of moral judgment entirely. Locking the prophet away in prison is really a reflection in the outer world of what Herod had already achieved in his inner world, by throwing his own better judgment behind bars. His supposed ‘slip up’ in making such an outlandish promise to his daughter managed to further compound his existing guilt with yet another guilty act.

Behold, the tangled web.