Zechariah the priest (Lk 1:5-1:5)

“In the days

Of King Herod

Of Judea,

There was a priest

Named Zechariah.

He belonged to

The priestly order

Of Abijah.

His wife was

A descendant

Of Aaron.

Her name

Was Elizabeth.”

 

Ἐγένετο ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις Ἡρῴδου βασιλέως τῆς Ἰουδαίας ἱερεύς τις ὀνόματι Ζαχαρίας ἐξ ἐφημερίας Ἀβιά, καὶ γυνὴ αὐτῷ ἐκ τῶν θυγατέρων Ἀαρών, καὶ τὸ ὄνομα αὐτῆς Ἐλεισάβετ.

 

The first person that Luke introduced was Zechariah.  None of the other gospel writers mentioned Zechariah.  However, Luke placed him within a historical context.  This all this took place during the reign of King Herod of Judea (Ἐγένετο ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις Ἡρῴδου βασιλέως τῆς Ἰουδαίας).  Matthew, chapter 2:1-12, had mentioned King Herod and the intriguing story of the Magi.  King Herod the Great (74 BCE-1 CE) was the Roman client king of Judea.  In fact, the Roman Senate named him King of the Jews in 40 BCE.  He built many things during his reign, including expanding the Second Temple in Jerusalem.  At his death, his kingdom was divided among his children.  There was a prophet and book of Zechariah, chapter 1:1, who lived around 520 BCE.  However, this Zechariah here (τις ὀνόματι Ζαχαρίας) was a priest (ἱερεύς), probably in Jerusalem.  He belonged to the priestly division of Abijah (ἐξ ἐφημερίας Ἀβιά), which was the 8th of the 24 divisions of priests that served in the Temple as laid out in 1 Chronicles, chapter 24:7-19.  His wife was also a daughter or descendant of Aaron (καὶ γυνὴ αὐτῷ ἐκ τῶν θυγατέρων Ἀαρών), a Levite or part of the priestly class.  She was called Elizabeth (καὶ τὸ ὄνομα αὐτῆς Ἐλεισάβετ).  Thus, the action of his gospel begins with the unique story of the Jerusalem Temple priest Zachariah and his Levite wife Elizabeth.  Some biblical scholars think that this infancy story, like the infancy story of Matthew, chapter 1:18-2:23, are later additions.  They are here, so I will deal with it.

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Oracle against Jerusalem (Ezek 21:1-21:2)

“The word of Yahweh

Came to me.

‘Son of man!

Set your face

Toward Jerusalem!

Preach

Against the sanctuaries!

Prophesy

Against the land of Israel!’”

Once again, in the first person, Ezekiel explained that the word of Yahweh came to him, the son of man. He was to set his face against Jerusalem. He was to preach against their sanctuaries. He was to prophesy against the land of Israel. These verses are verses 7 and on in the Jerusalem Bible, so that the verses for this chapter will be different in the two Bibles. I will follow the New Oxford Bible verse numbers.

The Spirit and the people at the River Chebar (Ezek 3:14-3:15)

“The Spirit

Lifted me up.

He took me away.

I went in bitterness

In the heat

Of my spirit.

The hand

Of Yahweh

Was strong upon me.

I came

To the exiles

At Tel-abib.

They lived

By the river Chebar.

I sat there

Among them,

Stunned,

For seven days.”

Ezekiel continued his first person recounting of what happened to him after he saw this colorful vision. The same Spirit of Yahweh or the Holy Spirit lifted up Ezekiel and took him away. Ezekiel went in bitterness of spirit, because the hand of Yahweh was strongly on him. Thus he went to the exiles at Tel-abib, by the river Chebar, near Nippur, not far from the Chebar canal. There Ezekiel sat among these exiles for about a week stunned, in a state of shock.

No one to comfort Zion (Lam 1:17-1:17)

Phe

“Zion stretches out

Her hands.

But there is no one

To comfort her.

Yahweh has commanded

Against Jacob.

His neighbors should

Become his foes.

Jerusalem has become

A filthy thing

Among them.”

Now we are back to a description about Zion, rather than a first person lament from Jerusalem. Zion wanted to be comforted, but there was no one to reach out to her outstretched hands. Yahweh had commanded that the neighbors of Jacob should become his enemies. Jerusalem itself has become a filthy useless thing among its neighbors. This verse starts with the Hebrew consonant letter Phe. Each verse after this will use the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet in this acrostic poem.

The crushing defeat of Zion (Lam 1:15-1:15)

Samek

“Yahweh has rejected

All my warriors

In the midst of me.

He proclaimed a time

Against me

To crush

My young men.

Yahweh has trodden

As in a wine press

The virgin daughter,

Judah.”

This lament continued with Jerusalem speaking in the first person. Yahweh has rejected all the warriors from Jerusalem and Judah. Yahweh, not the king of Babylon, has crushed the young men of Judah and Jerusalem. He has trodden and stomped over his virgin daughter, Judah, like a wine press. This verse starts with the Hebrew consonant letter Samek. Each verse after this will use the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet in this acrostic poem.

The yoke of sin (Lam 1:14-1:14)

Nun

“My transgressions

Were bound

Into a yoke.

By his hand

They were

Fastened together.

They were

A weight

On my neck.

They were

Sapping

My strength.

Yahweh handed me over

To those whom

I cannot withstand.”

Once again, Jerusalem spoke in the first person in this personal lament. Jerusalem claimed that her own transgressions were like a yoke around her neck. Yahweh had fashioned this yoke by his hand. He then put this weight on Jerusalem so that her strength was sapped. Finally, Jerusalem was handed over to people that it could not defeat, the Babylonians. This verse starts with the Hebrew consonant letter Nun. Each verse after this will use the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet in this acrostic poem.

The prayer of Ezra (Ezra 9:5-9:9)

“At the evening sacrifice I got up from my fasting, with my garments and my mantle torn. I fell upon my knees. I spread out my hands to Yahweh my God, saying.

O my God,

I am too ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you,

My God,

Our iniquities have risen higher than our heads,

Our guilt has mounted up to the heavens.

From the days of our ancestors to this day

We have been deep in guilt.

Because of our iniquities,

We, our kings, and our priests

Have been handed over to the kings of the lands,

To the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame,

As is now the case.

But now for a brief moment

Favor has been shown by Yahweh our God,

He has left us a remnant,

He has given us a stake in his holy place,

So that he may brighten our eyes

And grant us a little sustenance in our slavery.

We are slaves.

Yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery.

But he has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia,

To give us new life

To set up the house of our God,

To repair its ruins,

To give us a wall in Judea and Jerusalem.’”

This is the beautiful prayer of Ezra in the first person, singular and plural. He accepted the guilt for his fellow returning captives for their actions. Ezra is so ashamed that he cannot lift up his head. The guilt of his people from the beginning to today has mounted up to the heavens. Due to their guilt, they have been handed over to others, killed, captured, and plundered. However, in the midst of this slavery, there is a bright spot. Yahweh has led the kings of Persia to let a small remnant return to a new life, to repair the Temple, and build a wall around Jerusalem. This later part was the point of a big dispute earlier in this work.