Archive for the ‘Hebrews 13’ Tag

Devotion for the Last Sunday After the Epiphany (Year D)   1 comment


Above:  The Wrath of Elihu, by William Blake

Image in the Public Domain

The Oratory and Theology of Elihu, Part VII

FEBRUARY 11, 2024


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


Job 36:14-37:24

Psalm 11

Matthew 8:5-13 or John 4:43-54

Jude 1-25 or Hebrews 13:9-14, 17-25


Elihu’s speeches contain much that sounds pious.  Job 36:24-37:24 supports this generalization.  We read, among other things, that we should praise God and that divine grandeur exceeds our knowledge of it.  Elihu even sounds like God in Job 38-41, the “I am God and you are not” speeches:

Mediate on God’s wonders.

Can you tell how God controls them

or how his clouds make the lightning flash?

Can you tell how he holds the clouds in balance:

a miracle of consummate skill?

When your clothes are hot to your body

and the earth lies still under the south wind,

can you help him to spread the vault of heaven,

Or temper the mirror of cast metal?

–Job 37:14b-18, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

I prefer the God of Job 42:7-8 to the God of Job 38-41, for the former acknowledges that Job was correct.  For some reason I have really noticed Job 43:7-8 during the preparation for this series of posts, despite the many times I have read that passage over the years.  Part of the wonder of scripture is that one can always find something one has missed.

Among my favorite aspects of Judaism is the practice of arguing faithfully with God.  The character of Job exemplifies that well.  He is, contrary to an inaccurate cliché, impatient and argumentative–justifiably, I contend.  Yes, we can take refuge in God, but this does preclude a good argument now and then.

We should repent of and express remorse for our sins, as grace helps us to recognize them.  As we do so, we ought to follow the advice of Hebrews 13:13-15 and follow Jesus, who healed people around whom he was not present, into the world as pilgrims each day.  We might suffer reproach, but the servant is not greater than the master.  Sometimes we will suffer for reasons neither we nor others understand, or because of the sins of others.  That is simply reality.

One lesson to learn from the Book of Job is the difference between speaking the truth in love and blaming the victim.  Unfortunately, recognizing that distinction can prove difficult in the moment.  May we, by grace, prove innocent of being like Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, Zophar the Naamathite, and Elihu, who were sincerely wrong and not helpful.










Devotion for the Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany (Year D)   1 comment


Above:  The Wrath of Elihu, by William Blake

Image in the Public Domain

The Oratory and Theology of Elihu, Part III

FEBRUARY 4, 2024


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


Job 34:1-20

Psalm 28

Matthew 6:7-15

Hebrews 13:9-14 (15-16) 17-25


Elihu seems like a rather annoying person.  He is eager to defend God against Job’s complaints and to offer a more vigorous theodicy than that of Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite.  Elihu argues, in part:

So far is God removed from wickedness,

and Shaddai from injustice,

that he requites a man for what he does,

treating each one as his way of life deserves.

God is never wrong, do not doubt that!

Shaddai does not deflect the course of right.

–Job 34:10b-12, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Translation:  Job sinned, and these sufferings of his are divine punishment for those sins.  If he repents, God will forgive Job and end his sufferings.  This conclusion contradicts Job 1 and 2, which offer a truly disturbing answer:  God has permitted an innocent man to suffer as part of a wager.

This seems like an excellent place at which to add the analysis of John Job, author of Job Speaks to Us Today (Atlanta, GA:  John Knox Press, 1977), pages 102-103.  The author asks, “Why are Job’s friends not truly wise?”  He concludes, in part:

The friends, first of all, are shameless utilitarians.  Repentance, in the estimation of Eliphaz, is a kind of insurance policy.  Making petition to God is advocated, not for the intrinsic value of a relationship with him, but simply for the pay-off in material terms–as when he says, “Come to terms with God and you will prosper; that is the way to mend your fortune” (22:21).  The interesting point here is that the friends adopt precisely the position which Satan regards as universally occupied by those who make a show of being god-fearing.  “Does Job fear God for nothing?” he had asked.  Eliphaz makes no secret of the grounds on which he is advising Job to fear God.  It is all too shallow.  Faith is depersonalized:  it becomes self-centered instead of God-centered.  Its character as faith is destroyed.  Fear of God is simply not the right way to describe it.

If one replaces “Eliphaz” with “Elihu” and changes the citation from Job 22 to one from Chapter 34, this analysis remains valid.

The Book of Job defies the desire for easy answers that fundamentalism typifies.  God is just, correct?  Then how does one explain the wager in Job 1 and 2?  And does not Job deserve better than the “I am God and you are not” speeches in Job 38-41?  In Job 42, however, God expresses his displeasure with Eliphaz and company for speaking falsely about him and praises Job for speaking honestly about him (God).  Those two responses seem incompatible, do they not?  Of course, one came from one source and the other came from another.  Elihu, who states correctly that God does not meet human measures (Job 33:12b), also spouts foolishness.  The Book of Job provides no easy answers and offers a false, Hollywood ending, at least in its final, composite form.  The original version ends with Job’s repentance for overreaching a few verses into Chapter 42.

Job needed good friends, not Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu.  He needed people who came to comfort him, to listen to him, and to let him cry on their shoulders.  He needed friends who followed advice from Hebrews 13:16:

Never neglect to show kindness and to share what you have with others; for such are the sacrifices which God approves.

The Revised English Bible (1989)

The standard we apply to others will be the standard God applies to us; we read this in Matthew 7:1-5.  Forgiveness is something we are to extend to others, and divine forgiveness of our sins depends on our forgiveness of the sins of others.  This is a lesson the author of Psalm 28 had not yet learned.  This is a lesson with which I have struggled mightily and with which I continue to struggle.  Success in the struggle does not depend on my own power, fortunately; grace is abundant.  The desire to do something one knows one ought to do is something with which God can work.  It is, metaphorically, a few loaves and fishes, which God can multiply.

In Job 42 God burned with anger toward Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.  (The text does not mention Elihu, most likely because the text of the Book of Job did not yet contain the Elihu cycle.)  The alleged friends had not spoken truthfully of God, but Job had.  Job interceded on their behalf, however, and God excused their folly and forgave their sins.  Job, who had complained bitterly to his alleged friends, who had taunted him and sometimes even enjoyed his sufferings, all while imagining that they were pious and that he had done something to deserve his plight, prayed for their forgiveness.

That is a fine lesson to draw from the Book of Job.









Devotion for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday After the Third Sunday of Advent, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   3 comments

St. Paul by Theophanes the Cretan

Above:  Icon of St. Paul, by Theophanes the Cretan

Image in the Public Domain

Authority and Grace

DECEMBER 13-15, 2021


The Collect:

Stir up the wills of your faithful people, Lord God,

and open our ears to the preaching of John, that

rejoicing in your salvation, we may bring forth the fruits of repentance;

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 19


The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 16:1-19 (Monday)

Numbers 16:20-35 (Tuesday)

Micah 4:8-13 (Wednesday)

Isaiah 11:1-9 (All Days)

Hebrews 13:7-17 (Monday)

Acts 28:23-31 (Tuesday)

Luke 7:31-35 (Wednesday)


But a shoot shall grow out of the stump of Jesse,

A twig shall sprout from his stock.

The spirit of the LORD shall alight upon him:

A spirit of wisdom and insight,

A spirit of counsel and valor,

A spirit of devotion and reverence for the LORD.

He shall sense the truth by his reverence for the LORD:

He shall not judge by what his eyes behold,

Nor decide by what his ears perceive.

Thus he shall judge the poor with equity

And decide with justice for the lowly of the land.

He shall strike down a land with the rod of his mouth

And slay the wicked with the breath of his lips.

Justice shall be the girdle of his loins,

And faithfulness the girdle of his waist.

The wolf shall lay down with the lamb,

The leopard lie down with the kid;

The calf, the beast of prey, and the fatling together,

With a little boy to herd them.

The cow and the bear shall graze,

Their young shall lie down together;

And the lion, like the ox, shall eat straw.

A babe shall play

Over a viper’s hole,

And an infant pass his hand

Over an adder’s den.

In all of My sacred mount

Nothing evil or vile shall be done;

For the land shall be filled with devotion to the LORD

As water covers the sea.

–Isaiah 11:1-9, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)


In the Torah Moses was God’s choice to lead the Hebrews for many years.  To oppose Moses, therefore, was to sin, according to that extended narrative, as it has come down to us in its final form.  Disobedience to the principles of the Law of Moses, according to the theology of subsequent biblical books, led to the destruction of two Hebrews kingdoms.  Yet, texts indicated, restoration and good times would follow the Babylonian Exile.

The theology of obeying religious leaders, which occurs in Hebrews 13, meshes well with the composite pericope from Numbers 16.  The historical context of Christian calls to obey approved religious leaders, present in the Bible as well as in early Christian writings from subsequent centuries, occurred in the context of doctrinal formation.  Doctrines did not fall from Heaven or appear magically, fully formed.  No, human beings debated them and sometimes even fought (literally) over them.  Orthodoxy, as approved church leaders have defined it, has changed over time.  For example, Origen (185-254 C.E.) was orthodox by most of the standards of his time.  Yet he became a heretic ex post facto and postmortem because the First Council of Nicaea (325 C.E.) contradicted elements of his Trinitarian theology.

Throughout the Christian past orthodox leaders have disagreed with each other and with those they have labeled heretics (often accurately) in real time.  This raises a legitimate question:  Whom is one supposed to regard as authoritative.  This is an old problem.  The ultimate answer has ways been God, but even heretics have tended to agree with that answer.  Early Christianity was quite diverse–more so than historians of Christianity understood for centuries.  How was one supposed to avoid following a false teacher?  St. Paul the Apostle understood the answer as being to listen to him and his associates.  Apostolic succession was another way of establishing orthodox credentials.  There were always critics of orthodox leaders (who were no less imperfect than heretics), as there had been of Jesus and St. John the Baptist before them.

The question of who speaks for God remains a difficult one much of the time.  I think, for example, that I am generally on the right path theologically, but I know people who disagree with that opinion strongly.  My best answer to the difficult question is to evaluate people and their messages according to certain criteria, such as the following:

  1. Do they teach and practice love of others, focusing on the building up of community without sacrificing the individual to the collective?
  2. Do they teach and practice respecting the image of God in their fellow human beings, even while allowing for the reality of difficult moral quandaries relative to that issue?
  3. Do they focus on the lived example of Jesus, leading people to God via him, instead of focusing on any human personality, especially that of a living person?
  4. Do they teach and practice compassion, as opposed to legalism?

Salvation, which is for both the community and the individual, is a matter of God’s grace and human obedience.  That grace demands much of its recipients.  Go, take up your cross and follow Jesus, it says.  Share your blessings and take risks for the glory of God and the benefit of others, it requires.  Fortunately, it does not command that I have an answer for the question of whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son or just from the Father.






Week of 4 Epiphany: Saturday, Year 1   16 comments

Above:  Logo of the Moravian Church

Jesus:  Shepherd and Lamb

FEBRUARY 4, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Hebrews 13:9-25 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

Do not be led astray by diverse and strange teachings; for it is well that the heart be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited their adherents.  We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.  For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought for sin are burned outside the camp.  So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.  Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing abuse for him.  For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come.  Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.  Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account.  Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for what would be of no advantage to you.

Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.  I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever.  Amen.

I appeal to you, brethren, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.  You should understand that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon.  Greet all your leaders and all the saints.  Those who come from Italy send you greetings.  Grace be with all of you.  Amen.

Psalm 23 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 The LORD is my shepherd;

I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie in green pastures

and leads me beside still waters.

3 He revives my soul

and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.

4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I shall fear no evil;

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me;

you have anointed my head with oil,

and my cup is running over.

6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Mark 6:30-34 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

The apostles returned to Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.  And he said to them,

Come away by yourselves to a quiet place, and rest a while.

For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.  And they went away in the boat to a lonely place by themselves.  Now many saw them going, and knew them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns, and got there ahead of them.  As he landed he saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.


The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


A shepherd is  a shepherd only if there are sheep to guard and lead.

The imagery of sheep and shepherds runs throughout the Old and New Testaments.  Various groups of people–royal subjects, people in front of Jesus, et cetera–filled the role of sheep, depending on the text in question.  Depending on the passage of Scripture one considers, the shepherd was God, a king, or Jesus.  And some shepherds neglected their flocks.  Jesus, we read, is the Good Shepherd.  And he is, indeed.

We, as sheep, need a shepherd to protect us from ourselves, for we want to wander off to dangerous places.  Despite what we like to think about ourselves, we are not always the brightest crayons in the box.  Dealing with this issue effectively begins with recognizing the truth about ourselves and how much we need God, specifically in the form of Jesus.  May we acknowledge our shepherd and follow his lead.

Yet Jesus is also the victorious and worthy sacrificial lamb.  Members of the Church Triumphant wash their robes in his blood, and their robes become white. This poetic image communicates a great truth regarding atonement.  So, as the logo of the Moravian Church encourages us, may we follow the lamb.  Considering what he sacrificed and why he did it, we should reciprocate in love, devotion, and gratitude.


Written on June 20, 2010

Week of 4 Epiphany: Friday, Year 1   14 comments

Above:  The Beheading of St. John the Baptist, by Caravaggio, 1608

God is With the Righteous (Even When Appearances Seem to Indicate Otherwise)

FEBRUARY 3, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Hebrews 13:1-8 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

Let brotherly love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.  Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them; and those who are ill-treated, since you also are in the body.  Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for God will judge the immoral and adulterous.  Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said,

I will never fail you or forsake you.

Hence we can confidently say,

The Lord is my helper,

I will not be afraid;

what can man do to me?

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.

Psalm 27:1-13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 The LORD is my light and my salvation;

whom then shall I fear?

the LORD is the strength of my life;

of whom shall I be afraid?

2 When evildoers came upon me to eat up my flesh,

it was they, my foes and my adversaries, who stumbled and fell.

3 Though an army should encamp against me,

yet my heart shall not be afraid;

4 And though war should rise up against me,

yet will I put my trust in him.

5 One thing I asked of the LORD;

one thing I seek;

that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life;

6 To behold the fair beauty of the LORD

and to seek him in his temple.

7 For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter;

he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling

and set me high upon a rock.

8 Even now he lifts up my head

above my enemies round about me.

9 Therefore I will offer in his dwelling an oblation with sounds of great gladness;

I will sing and make music to the LORD.

10 Hearken to my voice, O LORD, when I call;

have mercy on me and answer me.

11 You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.”

Your face, LORD, will I seek.

12 Hide not your face from me,

nor turn away your servant in displeasure.

13 You have been my helper;

cast me not away;

do not forsake me, O God of my salvation.

Mark 6:14-29 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known.  Some said,

John the Baptist has been raised from the dead; that is why these powers are at work in him.

But others said,

It is Elijah.

And others said,

It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.

But when Herod heard of it he said,

John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.

For Herod had sent and seized John, and bound him for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife.  And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him.  But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe.  When he heard him, he was much perplexed; and yet he heard him gladly.  But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and the leading men of Galilee.  For when Herodias’ daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl,

Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will grant it.

And he vowed to her,

Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.

And she went out, and said to her mother,

What shall I ask?

And she said,

The head of John the Baptist.

And she came in immediately with haste to the king, and asked, saying,

I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.

And the king was exceedingly sorry; but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her.  And immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard and gave orders to bring his head.  He went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother.  When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.


The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


A link to my thoughts for the Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist (August 29):


The reading from Hebrews is pleasant enough.  It contains sage advice on how we can live together harmoniously in society before it makes the famous statement about the unchanging nature of Christ.  The portion of the psalm is pleasant, also, reinforcing the excerpt from Hebrews.

Then we arrive at the Gospel reading, which tells of disturbing events.  The author of Mark has framed the execution of St. John the Baptist as a flashback.  The present day of the reading has Herod Antipas, the Roman client ruler of the Galilee, hearing about the wonders of Jesus and thinking that St. John the Baptist, whom he has had killed, has risen from the dead.  The flashback part of the story tells of how Herod Antipas had married Herodias, the niece of his late half-brother, Alexander, and former wife of his brother, Philip Herod I.  (Think then, what that makes Salome, the daughter of Herodias, in relation to Herod Antipas, other than daughter-in-law.)  St. John the Baptist is in prison for speaking the truth, which is that this marriage is incestuous.  Herodias is spiteful and capable of murder; Herod Antipas, who leers erotically at Salome’s dancing, is more concerned with notions of public honor than sparing a life; and Salome seems to be a willing pawn in her mother’s plot.

I wonder how much better events would have played out had Herodias, Salome, and Herod Antipas lived in accordance with the advice in Hebrews 13:1-8.  That text did not exist at the time, but the principles did.

The text of Psalm 27 says that God protects the faithful, but St. John the Baptist died the way he did.  What are we supposed to make of this?  The theology in some of the psalms is overly simplistic, if not optimistic, in places:  God will protect the faithful, the righteous will prosper, and the evil will meet their doom.  But have you looked around the world recently or read history?  Liars and cheaters win, courts convict both the innocent and the guilty, both the righteous and the unrighteous prosper and stumble, and dictators execute political prisoners.  Perhaps the most generous assessment of some of the theology of Psalms (and Proverbs) is that it is true in the long term, perhaps even the afterlife.

Back in this life, meanwhile, evil wins much of the time.

But, as Voltaire wrote, “Man is free at the moment he wishes to be.”  Consider the cases of jailed civil rights activists in the Deep South of the United States in the 1960s.  These were nonviolent people who challenged the racial status quo.  For their troubles local authorities arrested and jailed them.  Without resorting to unpleasant and graphic details, I assure you, O reader, that Southern jails, especially in Mississippi, were hellholes and places where guards delighted in humiliating these brave men and women.  Yet faith lifted the spirits of these incarcerated activists.  Many prisoners sang so much and so happily that they irritated and angered those who had jailed them.  They were incarcerated, yet they were free because they chose to be free and because they tapped into their deep faith.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has retired recently from public life, tells the story of a Nazi guard and a Jew during the Holocaust.  The guard was forcing the Jew to clean an especially disgusting toilet.  “Where is your God now?”  the guard asked the Jew.  “With me in the muck,” the Jew replied.

Where was God when St. John the Baptist was languishing in prison and as he died?  God was with the saint.  And where was God when the guards raped and humiliated civil rights activists during the 1960s?  God was with the activists.  Jesus said that many would suffer for the sake of righteousness, but that they would not be alone.  This promise holds true today, despite any appearances to the contrary.

Here ends the lesson.