Advent explained, advent expressed – Monday, 1st week in Advent – Isaiah 2:1-5 (crf Micah 4:1-5)

The text of today occurs twice in the Bible-with minor variations; here in Isaiah and again in Micah 4:1-3. Interpreters have had as little success solving the “which came first” question as people have had with the proverbial chicken and egg. Micah and Isaiah are contemporaries, both are prophets of the eighth century B.C. and both were concerned primarily with issues of justice and integrity before God in a time of social inequality and hypocritical worship.

We know little about Isaiah other than what is revealed in this book. Most scholars believe that this Isaiah wrote chapters 1-39 of this book and that another person or persons added chapters 40-66. We know nothing about his father Amoz, who should not be confused with Amos, the prophet. Our text today is from the historical Isaiah or what is called ‘first Isaiah’, son of Amoz, who lived during the reigns of King Uzziah to King Hezekiah in Judah. His partner in life was a prophetess (Isaiah 8:3) and together they had several children.

The text of today opens with the words, “In days to come or in latter days.” This phrase, points to the future, but offers no clue as to how far in the future this might be, signalling that, however attractive the promise of no more war sounds, it is not one that we can usher in in our own time or in our own way. When and how it comes is God’s business; though this does not at all mean that the word has no message for present hearers. What is clear is that it will be, by the grace of Yahweh, a glorious future.

When you look at the text of today, the word of promise in Isaiah 2:1-5 is embedded within prophetic oracles of judgment (see Isaiah 1:21-31; 2:5-22). In the prior chapter, the “holy” city of Jerusalem is accused of murder, rebellion, injustice, and corruption (Isaiah 1:21-23). And the texts immediately following Isaiah 2:1-5, claim that God’s people have forsaken God’s ways (Isaiah 2:6-9). So, while chapter 1 speaks of Judah’s sin and the judgment that its people could expect, it also offers a brief glimpses of hope; of Yahweh’s enduring love.

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Understanding Apocalyptic writing – Saturday, 34th Week in ordinary time – Daniel 7:15- 27

Chapters 1-6 of the book of Daniel contained 6 stories of faithfulness. Chapter 7-12 contains 4 visions that Daniel saw. These visions pertain to the religious crisis that the Jews were undergoing in the second century under Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The setting or the background of these visions is still Babylon where Daniel is an official though now advanced in age. Daniel is still the hero of this section as he was in the last section but there are differences.

In the stories previously Daniel was the interpreter of visions now he is the recipient of dreams; he narrates  them. In the stories previously, Daniel is spoken of in the third person. Now, Daniel narrates the visions in the first person. In both sections the message is the same; to encourage Jews of the Maccabean age to remain loyal to their religion but the form of the message is communicated differently. Now the form used is not stories, but VISIONS. The author looks forward to the end of the present age.

From this section onwards, the literary form used is Apocalyptic. Apocalyptic thinking and writing arose out of a historical situation consisting of three elements. The problem of evil, the emergence of “righteous remnant” who were loyal to God against the prevailing mood of compromise and the cessation or the end of prophecy at the very time when the people needed a divine explanation for their historical plight.

Apocalyptic thought is always eschatological, focusing on the end times. The eyes of apocalyptist are focused on some future period of time when God will break into this world of time and space to bring the entire present world system to a final judgement. Apocalyptic thought also has signs like cosmic upheaval. Besides this, apocalyptic thought is dualistic; it believes in the existence of two supernatural powers (God and Satan), two worlds (heaven and hell) and two ages.

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Survival that leads to revival – Thursday, 34th Week in ordinary time – Daniel 6: 11-27

The book of Daniel is a fascinating book which speaks profoundly to our day as it did to the day it was first written. It was written at a time when Hellenization ( Greek Culture and language) was spreading rapidly in the Ancient Near East. Alexander’s dream was to conquer the world and before he died he had founded 70 colonies and organised them as Greek cities. After his death his officers fought to control parts of the empire, but they kept the dream of Hellenization alive. For the hundred odd years that the Ptolemies of Egypt (305-198 BCE) ruled Palestine, Hellenization was kept alive through persuasion and without force. This changed under Seleucid (Syrian) rule. The crisis began with Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Now Hellenization was no longer peacefully promoted but imposed upon the Jews under pain of death.

The Book of Daniel presents an account of the adventures and vision of Daniel, a Jew in Babylon who was exiled in the 6th century. Most scholars, however, are agreed that as it now stands, this book is the product of the second century B.C and was written probably around the year 165 towards the end of the troublesome reign of the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164 B.C.).

It was written as an encouragement to fellow Jews to resist the Greek King, Antiochus IV Epiphanes’s policies of religious persecution and as a source of encouragement to those were experiencing anxiety and despair. The book brings hope and assurance that Yahweh would intervene, deliver them from the present plight and establish a kingdom. But till then they are to remain FAITHFUL to Yahweh and LAW.

While the previous narratives were held during the reign of King Nebuchadnez’zar, today’s text takes place during the reign of King Darius, the Mede. The essential elements of the story are the same. Once again, this is not a historical narrative but didactic ; which means that we are looking at the message not the details of the story. Hence, Darius is just a figure in the story and not ahistorical figure. His edict, which sounds foolish, could never have been made, as it is improbable that a pagan king would break out in praise of the God of Israel. The lion’s den is a just a setting for the story and not to be taken literally.

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The death of a despot – Saturday, 33rd week in ordinary time – 1Maccabees 6:1-13

The Jewish Resistance movement under Judas Maccabeus lasted from 166-164. After the death of his father, Judas took command as the leader of the resistance movement. His efforts were so successful that the whole revolt is commonly called the Maccabean war. The military exploits of Judas may be divided into two periods from 166-164 BC. This period ended in 164 with the rededication of the temple and this marked the end of the religious persecution.

The second period was from 164-160 BC, during the reign of Antiochus V Eupator (164-162) and of Demetrius I Soter (162-160). Having won religious freedom for his people, Judas gave the movement new direction. He struggled to gain political independence. The first to lead an army against Judas was Appollonius, governor of Syria, and probably the same one responsible for the rape of Jerusalem. He was attacked by Judas, defeated and killed A second force under Seron was similarly routed. Seron was not sent by the kings but driven by his own ambitions. With this victory Judas and his friends were in command of the highlands of Judah.

The news of these military reversals filled Antiochus with rage but he was unable to engage them in battle as he was attending a campaign in the East and he was in need of funds. He was determined to invade Persia (165) where he thought great treasures lay. Since he was unable to deal with Palestine, he gave his kinsman, Lysias half his troops and elephants with a command seen in 1Mac 3:35-36. Though hopelessly outnumbered, Judas Maccabeus and his troops gathered at the former holy place of Mizpah. There they prayed, fasted and did penance. They sought the holy will of the Lord in the book of the law and fulfilled their religious obligations.

Lysias came with his generals, Gorgias, Nicanor and Ptolemy. 1Mac4:1-33 tells us of Judas’ victory over Gorgias troops. 2Mac8:8-29 tells us of Judas’ victory over Nicanor troops. The victory was due to a combination of human planning and strategy and the benevolence and intervention of Yahweh, the God of Israel. Having defeated both the armies who fled for their lives at Philistia, Judas and his army plunder the enemy camp and returned to Mizpah, praising God. When Lysias heard the news, he was initially filled with discouragement but this gave birth to a greater determination to exterminate the rebels. He decides to take matters in his own hands.

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The story of the Jewish feast of Hanukkah – Friday, 33rd week in ordinary time – 1 Maccabees 4:36-37, 52-59

The kingdom of the Greek king Antiochus the IV is threatened on every side. Faced with a need to defend his kingdom he decides to unify them through aggressive Hellenization and for money he resorted to the pillage and plunder of Jerusalem. For the Jews their problem was compounded by a struggle for power within the community and these included the high priestly office. All the parties in the struggle sought to win the favour of the king and Antiochus promised to support the one who acted most according to his will and to provide the money he so desperately needed for his military campaigns. So, he begins to meddle in Jewish religious affairs in a way that no other Greek ruler before him had done.

One reason for Antiochus’ aggression on Jerusalem was his chronic shortage of funds. But the rivalries among the Jews for power provided him with another reason. Rumour had reached Palestine that Antiochus had lost his life in his second campaign against the Egyptians. Relying on this rumour, Jason who had been dispossessed of his high priestly office came out of his exile and with a force of a thousand men invaded Jerusalem. He took the city and forced the high priest Menelaus to take refuge in a citadel. But he did not gain control of the government and of the city, probably because he massacred his own people and thus was alienated by them. He had to flee once more to the Transjordan. He was hunted, like a fugitive, till his death.

Interpreting these events as a rebellion against his rule, Antiochus ravaged Jerusalem and placed a royal commission there to keep the people in line. To enforce his rule Antiochus sent his commander, Appollonius to Jerusalem in early 167; he continued the reign of terror. Initially he presented himself to the Jews as a man of peace but then he showed his true colours and massacred many of the people and took others as slaves. He looted the city and partially destroyed it. He erected in Jerusalem a citadel called Acra (1 Mac 1:33-40). It was a Greek city within the larger city of Jerusalem. Acra remained a hated symbol of foreign domination for some twenty-five years. Antiochus was set to unleash a thorough Hellenization for the Jewish people; Yahweh was displaced in favour of Zeus or identified with Zeus. In 167 Antiochus issued an edict which cancelled the concessions made by his father. He prohibited the religious customs of the Jews and imposed Greek religious customs.

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