| Where Recherche duTemps Perdu|
---- meets Kirchliche Dogmatik
I am extremely blessed in the work space I have at home, since I no longer have an institutionally-provided office with an institutionally-sponsored library next door. (Clarification: I still have library privileges at Taylor, but it's a half-hour drive away.) My arrangement at home now is that I have an office/study, and across the hallway we have our library, with well over two thousand books. So, I keep carrying books from the library to the study, and sometimes I carry them back. Usually that only happens after a big pile of books has accumulated on the futon which sits in the study right behind me when I write. So, today I made myself a cart, which is supposed to become the official receptacle for books currently in use. I can roll it around, or, when I want to work downstairs or, say, on the porch, I can carry whatever I need in the laundry basket. For quite a while now, whenever a piece of furniture has become basically unusable, I have salvaged whatever I thought might come in handy in the future, particularly casters and "legs," and so I used some of those pieces to put the cart together. Doing so took pretty much all day, which I had not planned on, and it's not quite as straight as I wanted it to be, but I'm quite happy with it, as well as thankful that I can still do such a thing from time to time.
|In return President Obama may have given his Holiness a few tips on getting ahead in rock, paper, and scissors.|
The two Nobel Peace Prize winners got together today, and China was quite unhappy about it. The United States recognizes Tibet as an integral part of China, but China still gets miffed if a U.S. official so much as talks to the Dalai Lama. Sounds like a bad conscience to me.
I can't see the Dalai Lama's thumb, so I can't tell exactly what mudra (hand position) he is making. It could be an adaptation of the Vitarka mudra, which would mean that he could be teaching President Obama the way to Nirvana. However, the president's posture and mudra are unequivocal. His legs are crossed, but not in the full lotus position, a typical depiction of a Bodhisattva (a Buddha-in-the-making). Furthermore, it appears that his right index finger is pointed at his cheek. This is the gesture traditionally used to depict Siddhartha Gautama after he has seen the visions of old age, death, and disease, and is wrestling with the idea of leaving the palace to become a monk. Eventually he accepted the notion and became the Buddha. Is the Dalai Lama persuading President Obama to become a bikhu? Is the president on his way to Buddhahood? Time will tell.However,the other piture shows that there were more items on the agenda than whether President Obama had yet reached the stage of an arhat. In the interest of spreading eveything that is best in cross-cultural comunication, aparently President Obama gave Mr. Tenzen Gyatsu, now actually retired, some basic pointers in leading a sucessful life with a second career as Walmart greeter, or with a steady diversified income based on hard practice of rock, paper, scissors. (Surely I don't have to clarify that the above comments are tongue-in-cheek?)
|Bible Reading: 2 Kings 16|
|v. 15c: "The bronze altar will be for me to seek guidance." (HCSB)|
I skipped chapter 16 for the most part in order to finish the story of the northern kingdom, except for Ahaz buying off Tiglath Pileser III ("TP"), the Assyrian menace, to protect him from Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Aram. King TP, you may remember, took the goodies, conquered Damascus, killed Rezin, and then went rampaging around the northern part of the northern kingdom. Pekah lost the throne by what had become the standard method of electing new leaders in Israel. After his assassination, Hoshea, the poster child of disastrous diplomacy, had the privilege of being the last king of Israel.
In the meantime, Ahaz was making a thorough mess of things in Judah. This was the time when Isaiah was hanging around the court in Jerusalem, so Ahaz was quite aware of the reason for the fate of the northern kingdom. (I'll repeat my commentary on Isaiah 7:14 on request.) His father, Jotham, had personally been devoted pretty meticulously to the Lord, but apparently had not made a huge difference to Ahaz, who was definitely one of the most idolatrous kings. The kings of Israel were pretty consistently bad. The kings of Judah were like the little girl with the curl, "When they were good, they were very good, but when they were bad, they were horrid." Ahaz definitely belonged into the latter category.
After his well-paid-for success, Ahaz went up to Damascus to brown-nose TP. While there, he visited the local temple, which was dedicated to Baal and other Canaanite gods, and he fell in love with the altar. Apparently it was much larger and more beautiful than the brass altar in the Jerusalem temple at the time. Ahaz's attraction to it must have been aesthetic to a great extent, but he also decided that it would be a good thing to add worship of the Aramean versions of the gods to his busy schedule of idolatry. (2 Chron. 28:23) Even though Damascus, and thereby its gods, had just been defeated, he still feared their power. He was so impressed by the altar that he had a drawing made of it, and sent it ahead to Jerusalem to be in place by the time he returned. Uriah, the high priest at the time, followed his orders. When we talk about the "altar" in the temple, be sure to picture a large structure with steps leading up to it, as shown in the picture (which is actually an illustration in my Shepherd's Notes to 1 & 2 Chronicles.)
It was not intrinsically sinful to replace the old altar with a new one. The old altar had been put in place by Solomon with the help of Huram-abi, who was technically a Jew, but culturally a Phoenician (2 Chron 2:13). The altar was not sacred per se as the Ark of the Covenant was. But it had been a part of the temple furnishings, the totality of which had been approved by God (2 Chron. 5:14). It was definitely wrong for Ahaz to install a new altar modelled on a pagan one. He compounded his guilt by then acting as his own priest and performing the traditional priestly rituals on it. However, as far as Uriah's role in the matter goes, once again a number of commentaries take advantage of the situation to pounce on Uriah's supposed culpability, which had been my initial response as well. But we need to raise the question of why what he did should have been wrong. Even without the biblical evidence, which I will bring up in a moment, a little reflection should show that he only did what he was supposed to do.
Please don't misunderstand me. The next time that I update the fifteen or so items that constitute my list of the top ten things I never want to hear again, I need to add, "I (or he, she) was only following orders," along with "I'm only doing my job." But, in this case, Uriah was following orders, which did not conflict with his personal job description. He was leading the congregation (however small it may have become by that time) in the worship of Yahweh as one of the few remaining active priests of God. Since the altar itself was not an idol, and since he did not share Ahaz's idolatrous beliefs, the year, model, and make of the altar were not his responsibility. Here's what God said to Isaiah about Uriah, a short time subsequent to this scenario: "I have appointed trustworthy witnesses—Uriah the priest and Zechariah son of Jeberechiah.” (Is 8:2 HCSB)
Ahaz supervised a thorough "remodeling" of the temple. He commanded that the old brass altar should be shoved to the side, and then he went through all the fixtures and pirated everything that was not totally essential, such as the decorative foundations of the basins, and sent it off to his TP.
So, Ahaz installed a new altar, based on a pagan blueprint and gave the order that from now on all sacrifices should be performed on this one. But he did not get ready of the old one. He instructed Uriah to leave it there for his private use. His stated reason was that it would serve him in seeking "guidance." Oh, the hypocrisy! Guidance from whom?--I wonder. In fact, whom was Ahaz worshiping when he performed the various sacrifices on the new altar? Was it Yahweh? I doubt it; Ahaz was passionate in his hatred of Yahweh. Was it Baal? Probably not either; Baal had his own sites, and Ahaz made use of those. My guess is that he was directing his actions at no deity in particular. It was the altar itself that mattered, performing the rituals for their own sake, and trusting in whatever fortune-telling power he may have seen in the bronze altar by itself that led him to leave it in place. Rituals are not necessarily dependent on belief in gods or the mythologies that surround them. In the deepest core of his being, Ahaz was a superstitious and frightened person. He sacrificed his son to Baal, and he could not bring himself to accept God's promise of delivery when Isaiah offered it to him, perhaps because he would not trust a god whom he could not control. Still, for a while he still allowed the Yahweh temple to continue operating, though he vandalized it and accommodized it to TP's wishes. Ahaz was a lot like many nominal Christians today, who think that they can regulate whatever they think is good enough for God as well as maintain ungodly practices. That really does not work too well. When Ahaz realized that it did not work for him, he shut the doors of the temple altogether (2 Chron. 28:24), definitely a move in the wrong direction.