Two Scriptural Notes on the MP Readings

  • The first reading, Amos 5:1-17 has one of my favorite bits of prophetic poetry in it, one that gets used for an opening sentence at evening prayer. Yet the context is important, especially understanding exactly what’s being said. Here’s the bit in full:

For thus saith the LORD unto the house of Israel, Seek ye me, and ye shall live: But seek not Bethel, nor enter into Gilgal, and pass not to Beersheba: for Gilgal shall surely go into captivity, and Bethel shall come to nought. Seek the LORD, and ye shall live; lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and devour it, and there be none to quench it in Bethel. Ye who turn judgment to wormwood, and leave off righteousness in the earth, Seek him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night: that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The LORD is his name

It’s important to catch the significance of the places mentioned at the beginning: Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba. These are all names we’ve heard before, of course, but they have a special significance. We often have this idea—because it’s pressed quite hard by the Deuteronomistic tradition—that the Jerusalem Temple was the only worship site where the Israelites ever worshiped. That’s not accurate, especially given the seperation of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms after Solomon. Jerusalem was in the South—Northerners didn’t go there so much… In any case, these three places were all major religious centers discussed in the OT histories.

Bethel was the site of Jacob’s famous ladder and his reception of the name Israel. The Ark of the Covenant was kept there before its move to Shiloh and Jeroboam after Israel and Judah split made the shrine at Bethel the theological counterpart of the Temple at Jerusalem (complete with golden calves).

Gilgal was the site of a major shrine mentioned repeatedly in Joshua through 1 Saumel. This is where the Israelites crossed the Jordan with a miraculous rolling back of the water, twelve stones were set up as witnesses, where sacrifices were brought, and where Saul was anointed king.

Beersheba is also one of the great early centers of Israelite religion. It is mentioned several times in Genesis as a worship site in the time of the patriarchs. Other references make it clear that major religious activity happened there—but none of them are as explicit about it as the two above.

The point that Amos (who was operating in the Northern Kingdom or else one suspects Jerusalem may well have made the list…) is making here is that seeking the places of sanctuary and great sacrificial worship are not enough—one must seek the Lord. Sacrifice and adherence to the ritual laws is not enough and is incomplete without also adhering to the social laws that mandate justice for the oppressed and care for widows, orphans, and sojourners.¬† I don’t think Amos is being “anti-liturgical” here as some would like to make it, rather, he’s once again calling Israel to observance of the whole Law with all its demands, not just the easier and more publicly performable parts.

  • The Daily Office lectionary has, well, its issues… In particular, it tends to jump around when we get near to significant feasts and one wonders what gets missed. Indeed even in its continuous reading it seems not to be so continuous. I remember a complaint on the Ship of Fools a while back that it specifically skipped the condemnations of sexual immorality from 2 Peter; this was produced as proof of TEC’s screwing around with the Scriptures. Let me explain that today by way of noting the second reading from Jude 1. Yes, the Daily Office lectionary does leave out a fairly large bit of 2 Peter 2—but that’s because 2 Peter 2:1-22 comes directly from Jude 1:4-16. I’m guessing the compilers decided it didn’t make sense to read the exact same passage within a few days of each other… And yes, this is one of those on-going conversations in Scripture that bls is talking about.