Daily Bible Readings – Friday, October 19, 2012

Prayer Psalm: 16

Prayer Point: It is hard to pray, “You are my LORD; apart from you I have no good thing”, because we don’t believe it. We all have little gods, idols, saviors other than Jesus that we believe we need in order to be happy. Confess those other gods to the LORD and pray that we might have the faith to believe that is he is our greatest hope.  With him we have the hope of resurrection and eternal life.

Luke 9:28-36

Moses and Elijah symbolized for Jews the Law and the Prophets, the Old Testament. What does this vision communicate to Peter, James, and John about Jesus’ relationship to the dreams of the Old Testament (notice what Jesus, Elijah and Moses are discussing)? What does God the Father want Peter, James and John (and us) to know about his Son?

Deuteronomy 18:15 The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me [Moses] from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.

Acts 28:1-16

Paul is a prisoner of the most powerful empire on earth, seemingly at the mercy on the greatest natural force on the planet, the sea, and yet God demonstrates through Paul, that he and he alone is the God of this world and is in firm control of his creation.

How does God display his power through Paul once he reaches shore? What causes the people of Malta to conclude that he is some sort of god? How is the governor of Malta and all the people of the island impacted by Paul’s ministry?

Jeremiah 38:14-28

What is God’s final challenge to Zedekiah spoken through Jeremiah? What is promised to him? What will it take for him to obey the LORD’s instruction? How is Zedekiah’s struggle, our struggle?

Sirach 1:1-13, 18-27 

Sirach is one of the books of the apocrypha which is not part of the Bible we use. The following is from The New Interpreter’s Study Bible: NRSV = New Revised Standard Version

“Sirach belongs to the deuterocanonical/apocryphal listing of biblical books. It is one of the few biblical books that is actually written by the author to whom it is attributed. ‘Jesus son of Eleazar son of Sirach of Jerusalem’ (50:27), known as Ben Sira. The author provides some interesting autobiographical information: He was a teacher (24:30-34; 33:16-18) who did extensive traveling (34:12-13). It seems that he was associated with some kind of school, a ‘house of instruction’ (51:23). His panegyric [a eulogistic oration or writing; formal or elaborate praise] on Simon son of Onais (50:1-21), most likely Simeon II, the high priest from 219 to 196 B.C., helps to date the composition of the work around 180 B.C.. A later preface was written by his grandson around ‘the 38th year of the reign of King Euergetes,’ probably Ptolemy VII Euergetes (170-116 B.C.). This would place the translation somewhere around 132 B.C. It was this grandson who translated into Greek the teachings of the Jewish sage in order that, as Ben Sira states (33:16-18), they might be included with the other wisdom writings.

“The Hellenization of the Near East had already taken hold among the educated upper classes by the time Ben Sira put his teachings into writing It appears that many Jews were wondering whether their ancient traditions could match the comprehensiveness and depth of Greek thought. Being a well traveled man, Ben Sira would have witnessed the decline in favor that had overtaken many of his fellow Jews. Being an observant Jew, he would have been greatly troubled by this decline. It seems clear that his object in writing was to show the Jews of his day that real wisdom was to be found in the traditions of Israel and not in Greek philosophy. He intended his work to be a comprehensive, authoritative reference wherein could be found guidance and instruction for every circumstance of life.

“Ben Sira exhorted his readers to study the ancient traditions in order to find there the kind of direction needed to cope with their new and challenging situation (2:10). He warned against trying to live according to the standards of both Judaism and Hellenism (2:12), and he condemned those who chose the latter over the former (2:13-14). Using a figure of speech that is traditional in wisdom literature (‘those who fear the LORD’), he identified the wise as those who were faithful to the religion of Israel (2:15-17); later he used history to provide examples of those predecessors who had been guided by the wisdom of the religious tradition and who were rewarded for their faithfulness (44:1-49:16).

“The Greek version of the book survives in two different forms. The Hebrew text was lost until the 19th century, when about two-thirds of it was found in a Cairo Genizah, a medieval synagogue room where discarded manuscripts were stored. Other fragments have been found at Qumran (1962 and 1965) and Masada (1964). These fragments substantiate the authenticity of the Cairo documents. This evidence from multiple manuscripts explains the disparity, both in content and in chapter and verse identification, among these available versions. (The numbering of the critical edition of the Septuagint used in the NRSV [New Revised Standard Version] is followed here.) The book is known under several titles: Sirach, the Greek version of the author’s name; the Wisdom of Ben (son of) Sira, the Hebrew spelling of the name; Ecclesiasticus, or ‘church book,’ as found in the Latin Vulgate. The latter title dates back to St. Cyprian and may have originated in the book’s extensive use as a resource for early Christian catechesis [training for those who seek to become Christians].

“Sirach’s canonical status is disputed. Although there is now literary evidence that it was originally written in Hebrew and in city of Jerusalem, the Pharisees who determined the Jewish list of sacred writings omitted it from their collection. They may have done so because Ben Sira challenged some of the theology they espoused, particularly the notion of retribution in an afterlife. Despite these features, many subsequent rabbis considered the book to be sacred writing and quoted passages from it. Protestants who adopted the Jewish canonical listing consider the book to be apocryphal, while Roman Catholics regard it as deuterocanonical.

“It is clear that in content, basic structure, and choice of literary genre Ben Sira was particularly influenced by the book of Proverbs. Although most of the proverbs found within Proverbs are short, two-line sayings, Ben Sira does not seem to have been content with merely citing a specific proverb. Instead, he joined individual sayings by means of common words or themes. In this way he developed a topic and explained its implications for his own day. He preferred the longer instructional form that is sometimes found in Proverbs rather than the simple proverbial sentence. Like Proverbs, Sirach begins with a hymn to Woman Wisdom (see Prov. 1-9; Sir. 1:1-20) and ends with an acrostic or alphabetic poem (see Prov. 31:10-31; Sir. 51:13-20). Following Sirach’s introductory hymn is a 22-line poem (the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet) that, with the final 22-line acrostic poem, forms a kind of inclusio, or envelope. Features such as these give evidence of the ultimate canonical unity of the book.” The New Interpreter’s Study Bible pp.1451-1452.

[Verses in brackets are not found in the original Hebrew text.]

The Prologue
Many great teachings have been given to us through the Law and the Prophets and the others that followed them, and for these we should praise Israel for instruction and wisdom. Now, those who read the scriptures must not only themselves understand them, but must also as lovers of learning be able through the spoken and written word to help outsiders. So my grandfather Jesus, who had devoted himself especially to the reading of the Law and the Prophets and the other books of our ancestors, and had acquired considerable proficiency in them, was himself also led to write something pertaining to instruction and wisdom, so that by becoming familiar also with his book those who love learning might make even greater progress in living according to the law.

You are invited therefore to read it with goodwill and attention, and to be indulgent in cases where, despite our diligent labor in translating, we may seem to have rendered some phrases imperfectly. For what was originally expressed in Hebrew does not have exactly the same sense when translated into another language. Not only this book, but even the Law itself, the Prophecies, and the rest of the books differ not a little when read in the original.

When I came to Egypt in the thirty-eighth year of the reign of Euergetes and stayed for some time, I found opportunity for no little instruction. It seemed highly necessary that I should myself devote some diligence and labor to the translation of this book. During that time I have applied my skill day and night to complete and publish the book for those living abroad who wished to gain learning and are disposed to live according to the law.

Chapter 1
Verses 1-13, 18-27

1 All wisdom is from the LORD,
and with him it remains forever.
2 The sand of the sea, the drops of rain,
and the days of eternity — who can count them?
3 The height of heaven, the breadth of the earth,
the abyss, and wisdom — who can search them out?
4 Wisdom was created before all things,
and prudent understanding from eternity.
[5 The source of wisdom is God’s word in the highest heaven,
and her ways are the eternal commandments.]
6 The root of wisdom — to whom has it been revealed?
Her subtleties — who knows them?
[7The knowledge of wisdom — to whom was it manifested?
And her abundant experience — who has understood it?]
8 There is but one who is wise, greatly to be feared,
seated upon his throne — the LORD.
9 It is he who created her;
he saw her and took her measure;
he poured her out upon all his works,
10 upon all the living according to his gift;
he lavished her upon those who love him.
[Love of the LORD is glorious wisdom
to those to whom he appears he apportions her
that they may see him.]
11 The fear of the LORD is glory and exultation,
and gladness and a crown of rejoicing.
12 The fear of the LORD delights the heart,
and gives gladness and joy and long life.
[The fear of the LORD is a gift from the Lord;
also for love he makes firm paths.]
13 Those who fear the LORD will have a happy end;
on the day of their death they will be blessed.

——————————————————————————————————————————————–

18 The fear of the LORD is the crown of wisdom,
making peace and perfect health to flourish.
[Both are gifts of God for peace;
glory opens out for those who love him.
He saw her and took her measure.]
19 She rained down knowledge and discerning comprehension,
and she heightened the glory of those who held her fast.
20 To fear the LORD is the root of wisdom,
and her braches are long life.
[21 The fear of the LORD drives away sins;
and where it abides, it will turn away all anger.]

22 Unjust anger cannot be justified,
for anger tips the scale to one’s ruin.
23 Those who are patient stay calm until the right moment;
then the lips of many tell of their good sense.
24 They hold back their words until the right moment;
then the lips of many tell of their good sense.

25 In the treasuries of wisdom are wise sayings,
but godliness is an abomination to a sinner.
26 If you desire wisdom, keep the commandments,
and the LORD will lavish her upon you.
27 For the fear of the LORD is wisdom and discipline,
fidelity and humility are his delight.
from the NRSV — New Revised Standard Version 1989

From where does wisdom come and where does it remain? (“All wisdom is from the LORD, and with him it remains forever.” (Sirach 1:1 NRSV))

How is wisdom characterized? (“The sand of the sea, the drops of rain, and the days of eternity — who can count them?” Wisdom cannot be calculated, nor can it be contained in all the universe: “The height of heaven, the breadth of the earth, the abyss, and wisdom — who can search them out?” (Sirach 1:2 NRSV))

In the next section Sirach undertakes to explain the origins of wisdom. Verses Sirach 1:5-10 venture an opinion regarding who or what wisdom is and where she belongs. From The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003):

Excursus [an appendix or digression that contains further exposition of some point or topic]: The Figure of Wisdom

A mysterious female figure appears in several of the wisdom books. She is more than a wise woman; she is Wisdom itself. In the book of Proverbs, she is the one who addresses the readers, urging them to follow her instruction and inviting them to love her passionately (Prov. 8:1-21; 9:1-18). In the Wisdom of Solomon, she is the object of Solomon’s highest praise, described by him in language reminiscent of Isis, the Egyptian goddess of wisdom (Wisdom 7:7-10:21). In Sirach, she is identified as the law of the covenant (Sir. 24:23). Over the centuries, this figure has been interpreted in various ways.
The simplest explanation regards this figure as the personification of a divine attribute. Such an imaginative technique is not foreign to the Bible. The kindness, truth, and justice of God have also be so personified (see Ps. 85:10-14). However, this explanation does not take into account the fact that wisdom is described as an entity separate from the Creator and so it is clear that the characterization is more than personification. It is closer to hypostatization, a technique that transforms what is normally a personal trait into a person with its own existence. It is clear that Wisdom has cosmic dimensions. She existed before the rest of creation and she appears to be active beyond the confines of space and time. This suggests mythological origin. Such an interpretation would not be opposed to biblical religion, for several other sections of the Bible contain mythological elements (e.g., the garden with the talking serpent, Gen. 2-3; the sea dragon, Isa. 27:1).

A third way of understanding this mysterious figure is gaining more prominence today. It claims that Wisdom was originally a goddess. Some maintain that she was a Canaanite deity, others that she was early Israelite. Scholars have long believed that Israel moved from believing in many gods (polytheism), to believing that other nations may have their gods, but Israel was to worship only one (monolatry), to believing that there is only one God (monotheism). It is possible that the early ancestors of Israel believed in a goddess of wisdom from which this figure originated.
The gender of this mysterious figure continues to be a source of great interest. No one questions the high esteem in which wisdom is held in all cultures. However, why would a society that is otherwise so male-centered envision this great treasure as a woman? Various answers have been advanced, from a claim that she represents the feminine side of a masculine god, to the position that a male-oriented society would naturally render what it most desires in female form.

The opening chapters of Sirach describe this mysterious figure as a creature of God who plays a role in creation that is reserved for divine beings (chapters 1 and 24). Further in the book, the author takes this characterization a step beyond that found in the book of Proverbs. Wisdom searches for a place to dwell and finally, upon the command of God, pitches her tent in Jerusalem. Traces of a similar poetic characterization can be found in the Prologue to the Gospel of John, where the Word, present with God from the beginning and involved in the creation of all things, ‘lived among us’ (John 1:1-14).

The first part of the reading (verses 1:1-10) concern themselves with ‘wisdom’ and her attributes and origin. What are the latter verses (1:18-27) addressing? (Verses 1:18-27 are all about the ‘fear of the LORD’ .)

What do we learn about the “fear of the LORD”? (“The fear of the LORD is glory and exultation, and gladness and a crown of rejoicing. The fear of the LORD delights the heart and gives gladness and joy and long life.” (Sirach 1:11-12 NRSV)).

What is it in verse 1:13 that (I think) most of us don’t associate with “the fear of the LORD”? (“Those who fear the LORD will have a happy end; on the day of their death they will be blessed.” (Sirach 1:13NRSV) The unhappy truth is that most people fear death (and perhaps with good reason) but here Sirach is telling us that the fear of the LORD will bring peace with the end of life. That’s great: “the day of their death they will be blessed.”)

“The fear of the LORD is the _________________ (crown) of _____________________ (wisdom)” (verse 1:18 NRSV).

According to verse 1:19 what is the root of wisdom? (“To fear the LORD is the root of wisdom, and her branches are long life” (Sirach 1:19 NRSV))

What do verses 1:22-24 tell us about anger and patience? (“Unjust anger cannot be justified, for anger tips the scale to one’s ruin Those who are patient stay calm until the right moment, and then cheerfulness comes back to them. They hold back their words until the right moment; then the lips of many tell of their good sense.” (NRSV))

How can one acquire wisdom? (“If you desire wisdom, keep the commandments, and the LORD will lavish it upon you.” (Sirach 1:26 NRSV))

“For the fear of the LORD is wisdom and discipline, fidelity and humility are his delight.” (Sirach 1:27 NRSV)

Excursus: Fear of the LORD

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” Several variations of this familiar saying appear in the wisdom tradition of Israel. What does it mean? Surely Israel had something more positive in mind than that we should be afraid of God. The phrase was not intended to foster the troublesome view of God as a stern judge or disciplinarian. On the contrary, “fear of the LORD ” is based on the recognition of the holiness of God. This does not deny the presence of an element of terror in those who behold the awesomeness of God and realize their own deficiency. Still, this idea is better characterized by awe and reverence than be terror and dread. Awe, not fear, was to be the response to the realization of God’s power and activity in life.
The people of Israel learned some of the profound truths about life and the patterns of reality through simple, but reflective, observation. They saw the regularity in the heavens, in the life systems of the environment, in ordinary social encounters. They believed that there was an inherent order in the universe that could be discerned and should be followed and were convinced that happiness depended on being in harmony with this order. The wise person was the one who had discovered this order and was docile to it. The religious person believed that behind this order was an all-wise and all-powerful God.
To “fear the Lord” was to acknowledge and commit oneself to God, revealed through this order. Knowledge about God was the beginning of true knowledge about the world. The more one was committed to God, the more one was committed to live in harmony with the orders placed in the world by this same God.

From The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003) p. 1455

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