Teach me (Ps 119:33-119:40)

He

“Yahweh!

Teach me the way of your statutes!

I will observe it to the end.

Give me understanding!

Thus I may keep your law.

I will observe it with my whole heart.

Lead me in the path of your commandments.

I delight in it.

Turn my heart to your decrees.

Turn my heart not to gain.

Turn my eyes from looking at vanities.

Give me life in your ways.

Confirm to your servant your promise.

That is for those who fear you.

Turn away the disgrace that I dread.

Your ordinances are good.

See!

I have longed for your precepts!

In your righteousness give me life!”

This psalmist wanted to be taught by Yahweh. He wanted to learn all about his precepts and statutes. He wanted to observe them to the end of his life. He wanted understanding so that he could observe all his commandments with his whole heart. He wanted to delight in the decrees of Yahweh. He wanted his heart to turn away from self gains or vanities. He wanted to live in the life of Yahweh by following his ways. He wanted God’s promise to be confirmed in him. He wanted to avoid disgrace because he feared God. Yahweh’s ordinances were good so that he longed to follow his precepts in order to live a good life. This section of the fifth consonant letter of the Hebrew alphabet, He, ended here.

Defeat our current enemies (Ps 83:13-83:18)

“O my God!

Make them like whirling dust!

Make them like chaff before the wind.

As fire consumes the forest,

As the flame sets the mountains ablaze,

So pursue them with your tempest!

Terrify them with your hurricane!

Fill their faces with shame!

Thus they may seek your name.

Yahweh!

Let them be put to shame!

Let them be dismayed forever!

Let them perish in disgrace!

Let them know that you alone,

Whose name is Yahweh,

Are the Most High over all the earth.”

This psalm ends with a call for Yahweh to do as he had done in the past. Very specifically this psalmist wants Yahweh to make all the Israelite enemies like whirling dust or chaff before the wind. He wanted them burned like a forest or mountain fire. He wanted them pursued and terrified like in a hurricane. They were to be filled with shame. They were to die in disgrace. They were to know that there was only one God, Yahweh, who ruled the earth. In a certain sense, this prayer was a curse to the present and traditional enemies of Israel.

God be near to me (Ps 71:12-71:16)

“O God!

Do not be far from me!

O my God!

Make haste to help me!

Let my accusers be put to shame!

Let them be consumed!

Let those who seek to hurt me

Be covered with scorn and disgrace!

But I will hope continually!

I will praise you,

Yet more and more!

My mouth will tell

Of your righteous acts!

My mouth will tell

Of your deeds of salvation,

All day long,

Even though their number is past my knowledge.

I will come praising

The mighty deeds of Yahweh.

I will praise your righteousness,

Yours alone.”

Once again, this aging psalmist wanted God to be close to him. He wanted it to happen quickly. The theme of bringing the pursuers to shame came out again. There is an idea of a curse to those who were wicked. He wanted his accusers put to shame and consumed. Anyone who tried to hurt him, he wanted them covered with scorn and disgrace. However, he was going to still hope and praise Yahweh more and more. All day long he would tell people about Yahweh and his marvelous deeds that were too numerable to mention. He was going to praise the righteous God, Yahweh alone.

Job recalls his creation by God (Job 10:8-10:17)

“Your hands fashioned and made me.

Now you turn and destroy me.

Remember that you fashioned me like clay.

Will you turn me to dust again?

Did you not pour me out like milk?

Did you not curdle me like cheese?

You clothed me with skin and flesh.

You knit me together with bones and sinews.

You granted me life.

You granted me steadfast love.

Your care has preserved my spirit.

Yet these things you hide in your heart.

I know that this was your purpose.

If I sin, you watch me.

You do not acquit me of my iniquity.

If I am wicked,

Woe to me!

If I am righteous,

I cannot lift up my head.

I am filled with disgrace.

Look upon my affliction.

Bold as a lion,

You hunt me.

You repeat your exploits against me.

You renew your witnesses against me.

You increase your vexation toward me.

You bring fresh troops against me.”

Job used very descriptive terms to explain his creation by God. The concept of the hands and eyes of God were a common theme among these biblical writers who were talking about a spiritual God. The God who created Job was now trying to destroy him. Job was like clay and would return to dust. He could be poured out like milk or curdled like cheese. His skin was like clothes and his bones were knit together. God had given Job life and love. However, God’s heart is hidden. Job knew that if he sinned or was wicked, he would not be acquitted. He could not lift his head because of his disgrace and affliction. He knew that God would come after him like a lion, with many witnesses and fresh troops.

The speech of Eleazar (2 Macc 6:24-6:28)

“Eleazar said.

‘Such pretense is not worthy of our time of life.

Many of the young should suppose

That Eleazar in his ninetieth year

Has gone over to an alien religion.

Through my pretense,

For the sake of living a brief moment longer,

They should be led astray because of me.

While I defile and disgrace my old age.

Even if for the present I should avoid the punishment of mortals,

Yet whether I live or die

I will not escape the hands of the Almighty.

Therefore, by bravely giving up my life now,

I will show myself worthy of my old age.

I will leave to the young

A noble example of how

To die a good death willingly and nobly

For the revered and holy laws.’”

Much like Socrates, Eleazar gave a speech talking about an honorable death. He too was old man in his 90s. He did not have to corrupt the youth by giving the impression that he was worshiping an alien god. What was the use of doing this for a few more moments of life? Why should he disgrace his old age? Whether he lived or died, he could not escape the hands of the Almighty one. He wanted to leave a noble example of following the law for the young people. So he was willing to die for the law.

The deposed high priest Jason leads an unsuccessful uprising (2 Macc 5:5-5:10)

“When a false rumor arose that King Antiochus was dead, Jason took no fewer than a thousand men. He suddenly made an assault on the city. When the troops upon the wall had been forced back, at last the city was taken. Menelaus took refuge in the citadel. Jason kept relentlessly slaughtering his compatriots, not realizing that success at the cost of one’s kindred is the greatest misfortune. He imagined that he was setting up trophies of victory over enemies and not over compatriots. He did not, however, gain control of the government. In the end he got only disgrace from his conspiracy. He fled again into the country of the Ammonites. Finally he met a miserable end. He was accused before Aretas the ruler of the Arabs. He had to flee from city to city, pursued by everyone, hated as a rebel against the laws, and abhorred as the executioner of his country and his compatriots. He was cast ashore in Egypt. There he who had driven many from their own country into exile died in exile. He embarked to go to the Lacedaemonians in hope of finding protection because of their kinship. He who had cast out many to lie unburied had no one to mourn for him. He had no funeral of any sort and no place in the tomb of his ancestors.”

Jason, the former high priest, thought that the Syrian King Antiochus IV had died. Since Jason was pro-Egypt, he wanted to take back Jerusalem for them. He attacked Jerusalem with 1,000 troops. He was initially successful as he forced the high priest Menelaus to flee to the Seleucid citadel in Jerusalem. However, like the late 18th century French revolutionaries, he started killing his fellow Israelites in Jerusalem. He thought that he was killing the enemy but it was his own Jewish compatriots. He was not successful. He was once again driven into the land of Ammonites, east of the Jordan River. However, the Arabs pursued him from country to country. He finally made his way to Egypt but he was not accepted there either. Finally, he died in Sparta where no one mourned for him since he had no funeral or ancestral tomb.

The celebration at the renewed Temple (1 Macc 4:52-4:58)

“Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Chislev, in the one hundred forty-eighth year, they rose and offered sacrifice. As the law directs, they offered this on the new altar of burnt offering that they had built. At the very season and on the very day that the gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs, harps, lutes, and cymbals. All the people fell on their faces and worshiped. They blessed heaven who had prospered them. So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days. They joyfully offered burnt offerings. They offered a sacrifice of well-being and a thanksgiving offering. They decorated the front of the temple with golden crowns and small shields. They restored the gates and the chambers for the priests. They fitted them with doors. There was very great joy among the people. The disgrace brought by the gentiles was removed.”

Now this took place on the 25th day of Chislev in the 148th year, December of 164 BCE, exactly 3 years after the gentiles had profaned the sanctuary with the worship of Zeus. They were very careful to point out that it was the same day, and same month, only 3 years later. They now sacrificed on their new burnt offering altar. All the people fell on their face as they worshipped. They blessed heaven. It is interesting to note that it is heaven and not explicitly God that they praise. Heaven has become more than a high place, but the place of God himself. There is a personification or divination of heaven. They celebrated for 8 days, as they offered sacrifices of well-being and thanksgiving. They decorated the front of the Temple with golden crowns and shields. They restored the gates and the chambers for the priests with new doors. There was great joy among the people because the disgrace of the gentiles had been removed.

The Assyrians discover the death of General Holofernes (Jdt 14:14-14:19)

“Bagoas went in as he knocked at the entry of the tent. He assumed that General Holofernes was sleeping with Judith. But when no one answered, he opened it. Then he went into the bedchamber. There he found General Holofernes sprawled on the floor dead, with his head missing. He cried out with a loud voice. He wept, groaned and shouted. He tore his clothes. Then he went to the tent where Judith had stayed. When he did not find her, he rushed out to the people and shouted.

‘The slaves have tricked us!

One Hebrew woman has brought disgrace

On the house of King Nebuchadnezzar!

Look!

General Holofernes is lying on the ground!

His head is missing!’

When the leaders of the Assyrian army heard this, they tore their tunics. They were greatly dismayed. Their loud cries and shouts rose up throughout the camp.”

Bagoas was the chief personal steward of General Holofernes. He politely knocked at the entry way to the general’s tent. He thought that the general was sleeping with Judith and did not want to disturb him. However, when no one answered, he entered the bedchamber.   There he found the general sprawled out on the floor beheaded. He was really upset. He wept, groaned, and shouted as he tore his clothes. When people were upset they would tear their clothes. Then he went to the tent of Judith to see how she was. However, she was gone. Then he realized what had happened. He ran out of the tent shouting that they had been tricked by the slaves. This Hebrew woman had brought disgrace to the house of King Nebuchadnezzar. The general was dead with his head missing. When the Assyrian army leaders heard this, they tore their clothes as they too were dismayed. Thus there were loud shouts throughout the camp. Strangely enough, there was no second in command to take over things.

The invitation of General Holofernes (Jdt 12:10-12:11)

“On the fourth day, General Holofernes held a banquet for his personal attendants only. He did not invite any of his officers. He said to Bagoas, the eunuch, who had charge of his personal affairs.

‘Go and persuade the Hebrew woman.

As she is in your care

To join us

To eat

And to drink with us.

It would be a disgrace

If we let such a woman go,

Without having intercourse with her.

If we do not seduce her,

She will laugh at us.’”

The plan of General Holofernes was very clear. He was having a banquet with only his own personal attendants and no officers. Bagoas, who was the eunuch in charge of the general’s personal affairs, was to invite Judith and persuade her to come to the banquet. Apparently there was a real Persian eunuch named Bagoas, who lived in the 4th century BCE, about 200 years after the supposed setting of this story. Eunuchs were men who were castrated or sometimes just impotent or celibate. They were not interested in sex or marriage so that leaders felt safe having them take care of their personal matters for them, particularly their women. General Holofernes felt it would be a disgrace to him if he did not have sex with Judith before she left camp. If he did not seduce her, she would probably laugh at him.

Let us not fall into slavery (Jdt 8:21-8:24)

“If we are captured,

All Judea will be captured.

Our sanctuary will be plundered.

He will make us pay for its desecration.

The slaughter of our kindred,

The captivity of the land,

The desolation of our inheritance,

All this he will bring upon our heads among the Gentiles.

Wherever we serve as slaves,

We shall be an offense and a disgrace,

In the eyes of those who acquire us.

Our slavery will not bring us into favor,

But the Lord our God will turn it to dishonor.

Therefore, my brothers,

Let us set an example for our kindred.

Their lives depend upon us.

The sanctuary,

Both the temple and the altar,

Rests upon us.”

If they suffer defeat, Judea will be defeated. It is no longer Judah. The sanctuary in Jerusalem will be desecrated. Our relatives will be killed. Our inheritance will be lost. The captivity will be a reality. We will be slaves to the Gentiles, an offense and disgrace to all. Our slavery will not bring us favor but dishonor with God. We have to set an example for all our kindred. They depend on us to defend the sanctuary, the Temple, and the altar. It is our challenge.