INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE
2 SAMUEL 5:1-5, 9-10 The first part of this passage is one version of the tradition of how David became king of Israel. As a successful military leader, he was the people’s choice as well the as divinely anointed sovereign. He first established Hebron as his capital; then he captured the fortress of Jerusalem and made it his capital city. The intervening verses between the two segments of the passage are confusing due to a corrupt Hebrew text.
EZEKIEL 2:1-5 (Alternate) The call of Ezekiel to be prophet among the exiles in Babylon included a strong warning that he would encounter much resistance. In spite of their rebellion against God and their impudent and stubborn nature, he was to deliver an outspoken message directly from God, “Thus says the Lord God.”
PSALM 48 This highly nationalistic psalm praises Jerusalem as the holy city of God. It still retains this designation for three great religious traditions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – all for different reasons.
PSALM 123 (Alternate) Assumed to be for pilgrims approaching the temple this “psalm of ascent” saw it as representing the very presence of the invisible God among God’s people. That brought considerable relief from the contempt and scorn of unbelievers who felt no need for God in their lives.
2 CORINTHIANS 12:2-10 In the midst of a conflict with the Corinthian Christian community, Paul tells about two of his deepest spiritual experiences. In one he had an ecstatic theophany when he received an exceptional revelation. He does not say exactly what the revelation was. In the other, he fervently prayed to have the unidentified cause of great suffering removed, but was given instead the reassurance that God’s grace would be sufficient for his every need.
MARK 6:1-13 Jesus’ hometown folk felt uneasy with him in their midst, especially when he taught in their synagogue on a sabbath. We are not told why they were so offended. Certainly they thought he had far gone beyond what one of his status as a humble carpenter should go. They did not expect him, a mere tradesman, to be skilled in the interpretation of the scriptures.
So Jesus adopted another strategy. He gathered his disciples together and sent them out “with authority over the unclean spirits.” This may have meant that they merely had power to change people’s minds about what they might expect from Jesus. The end of the story tells how successful they were in calling people to repent, casting out demons and curing the sick.
A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS
2 SAMUEL 5:1-5, 9-10
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The first part of this passage is one version of the tradition of how David became king of Israel. It comes from the Deuteronomic editors who viewed David as the supreme commander of all Israel’s army. This agrees with 1 Samuel 18:5, but not 1 Samuel 18:13. Traces of an earlier source are found is vs. 3 where it is only representative elders of the tribes rather than “all the tribes” (vs. 1) who gather at Hebron to covenant with David and anoint him king. This narrative makes the point that as a successful military leader, he was the people’s choice as well the as divinely anointed sovereign.
Vss.4-5 also give the standard Deuteronomic formula for successive monarchs of Israel. It tells us the duration of his reign which is now calculated as spanning the year 1000 BCE. David first established Hebron as his capital; then he captured the fortress of Jerusalem and made it his capital city. The intervening verses between the two segments of the reading are confusing due to a corrupt Hebrew text. The narrator obviously knew much more about the lay of the land than we are now able to determine from the most advanced archeological data. Scholars still debate how much we can depend on the geographical and historical validity of much of the biblical narrative.
The intent of the Deuteronomic editors of this passage was to tell their generation of Israelites of the utmost significance of David’s reign and especially his relocation of the capital city to Jerusalem. They wrote during the Babylonian exile about 550 BCE when the holy city had very special significance for the nation’s religious tradition. They sought to justify to the exiles in Babylon why their captivity was the judgment of Yahweh, but also that their hope lay in the greatness of David’s reign as the sign of Yahweh’s eternal covenant with Israel.
The stronghold of Zion (vs. 7) was indeed a fortress situated on the southern ridge between the valleys of Tyropoen and the Kidron brook. It later included the whole of the fortifications of Jerusalem. The name Zion subsequently became associated with the sacred site of the temple built by David’s son, Solomon. In religious parlance, it became known as the dwelling place of Yahweh, as evidenced by the numerous reference in the Psalms. Today, it is occupied by two great mosques of Islam, Al Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock.
The reference to “the Millo” in vs. 9 is obscure, but may indicate a particular element of the fortifications which David built. I Kings 9:15, 24; 11:27 attribute its construction to Solomon. The word suggests a place of stamped earth. It may have been a very secure house or perhaps a military barracks and parade ground for gathering the city’s defensive forces.
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In the century after their return from exile in Babylon in 539 BCE, the Jews sought to recover their national identity by rebuilding their temple and their capital city of Jerusalem. The monarchy had ceased to exist, but the temple priesthood replaced royalty as the most prominent leaders of the people. Out of this restored religious culture arose a fundamentally theocratic system which flowered in the elaboration of the cultus of temple sacrifices, the creation of psalmody and other religious literature which subsequently became the canon of scripture. This highly nationalistic psalm praising Jerusalem as the holy city of Yahweh is part of that renaissance.
Believed to be from a collection of “Songs of Zion,” it may well have been sung by pilgrims who came to Jerusalem for the sacred festivals. Many Jews, especially those of the Diaspora, could only afford to make this pilgrimage once in a lifetime. Every stone and handful of dust from the city would be sacred to them. Pilgrims today still return from Jerusalem with souvenirs of all kinds, the more valuable if they are part of the urban fabric rather than commercial trinkets.
The theme of this psalm is Yahweh’s protection for the city itself. It is “his holy mountain” (vs. 2). The second part of that parallelism likens Mount Zion to a mountain in the far north, possibly Mount Hermon, which reaches to heaven. There follows a rewriting of history in vss. 4-8. Israel had suffered from many foreign invasions. Her enemies had all perished but Jerusalem had remained. With poetic hyperbole, the fear and panic of those enemies is ridiculed “as a woman in travail.”
The psalmist was undoubtedly a male who had little regard for the subject of his simile. He drew another derogatory image from the violent storms that drove ships from the eastern Mediterranean bound for the Phoenician port of Tartessus in Spain (Tarshish), frequently wrecking them with its violent east wind (vs. 7). Amidst all this terror, Jerusalem remained safe, at least in the imagination of the poet.
Worshiping in the temple, strolling through the streets, or marveling at the city’s fortification brings to mind why this Jerusalem is so secure: Yahweh loves Israel. There can be only one response to this insight: praise for Israel’s protector.
Despite having been destroyed and rebuilt several times, Jerusalem still retains the designation of “the holy city” for three great religious traditions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – all for different reasons.
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(Alternate) Assumed to be for pilgrims approaching the temple this “psalm of ascent” saw it as representing the very presence of the invisible God among God’s people. That brought considerable relief from the contempt and scorn of unbelievers who felt no need for God in their lives.
Without doubt, the temple when seen from the Mount of Olives would have been an awesome experience for the weary pilgrim. We should note, however, that the psalm makes no mention whatever of the temple. The prayer could have been uttered in any place where the supplicant looked toward the sky and imagined God seated on a throne as the master of a household with a company of servants gathered around him.
The strong emotions of the latter verses suggest the time of the exile when the Jews were treated contemptuously by their neighbours who felt superior to them. This gives us some insight into the personal feelings of Jews subjected to anti-Semitism. Powerless to fight back as in recent times when Israel withstood every assault from hostile neighbours, they could only turn to prayer to avert the pain such attacks inevitably imposed. One hears the same note of despondency in those survivors of the Holocaust remembering the time when six million Jews were left to suffer at the hands of the Nazis.
2 CORINTHIANS 12:2-10
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In the midst of a conflict with the Corinthian Christian community, Paul tells about two of his deepest spiritual experiences. In one he had an ecstatic theophany when he received an exceptional revelation. He does not say exactly what the revelation was. Perhaps it was beyond words, as such experiences often are.
Such religious ecstasy brings forth negative attitudes and criticisms in our intellectually sophisticated age. We should neither spurn them nor invent opportunities to create moments such as Paul describes. They can be very real, however or to whom they occur. It may well be that certain people, like Paul and innumerable other saints in the history of the church, have a special gift for or are particularly susceptible to such experiences. There is some recent psycho-neurological research that certain neurological structures of the brain make intense religious experiences not only possible but likely. (See The Global Spiral, monthly online publication of the Metanexus Institute.)
Bruce Chilton adds to the scholarly uncertainty about these experiences in his Rabbi Paul: An Intellectual Biography . (Doubleday, 2000) He believes that Paul, like Jesus and Peter before him, shared in what later became known as the Merkabah tradition. Jey J.Kanagaraj ( Mysticism’ in the Gospel of John: An Inquiry into its Background . Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998) discussed the Merkabah tradition in positing the theory that “the Gospel John is a “mystical” document, written, at least as one of its purposes, to address with the Gospel those who were preoccupied with Merkabah mystical practice and with cosmological speculations.” It is known that from the 2 nd to the 7 th centuries CE, Jewish mystics were inspired and guided by the mystical visions of Ezekiel and the divine chariot (Ezekiel 1) to experience direct, personal communion with God.
Modern psychology, psychiatry and neurology have attempted to describe how these mystical experiences do happen. One of the best analyses was written nearly fifty years ago by a British psychiatrist, William Sargent, in his book Battle For The Mind . Sargent showed that physiological similarities exist between religious ecstasy and conversion, healing for shell-shocked and battle-fatigued war veterans, forced criminal confessions, and politically motivated brain-washing. He might also add the behavioral compulsions of teenagers in response to their favorite rock stars.
In the other spiritual experience described in this passage, Paul tells how he fervently prayed to have the unidentified cause of great suffering removed. Instead he was given the reassurance that God’s grace would be sufficient for his every need. Much speculation has been expended as to the exact nature of Paul’s problem. These vary from a painful and incurable disease, a physical disability due to paralysis, a facial disfigurement or poor eyesight, all the way to a tendency to homosexuality. Chilton adds to the speculation by proposing that because he was under such constant stress from the time of his conversion onward, he was subject to frequent attacks of shingles ( herpes zoster ) that left him disfigured. The fact is that we can never know for sure. More important, however, is the way he deals with his “thorn in the flesh.” It became a source of power in that it made possible a deeper spiritual experience enabling him to withstand ever greater hardship in pursuing his mission as an evangelist.
Many ministers can attest to the reality that when they feel most incapable of making an effective witness to faith, others have greatly benefited from their perceived failures. One minister invited to preach in a prominent New York church felt he had utterly ruined the opportunity. Retiring to the vestry after the service, his eye fell on a wall plague bearing the words, “Hallelujah anyway! God is with us.”
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To say the least, Jesus’ hometown folk felt uneasy with him in their midst, especially when he taught in their synagogue on a sabbath. We are not told why they were so offended. Perhaps it was just their jealousy that one whom they knew so well had become so famous. Certainly they thought he had far gone beyond what one of his status as a humble carpenter should go. They would have had respect for him as one skilled in such trades as carpentry that contributed to the general welfare of the community. But they would not have expected him to be skilled in the interpretation of the scriptures or a radical social reformer. One of the contemporary group of Jesus scholars has speculated that although verbally gifted in a predominately oral culture, Jesus may have been illiterate.
Rejected at home, Jesus adopted another strategy. He gathered his disciples together and sent them out “with authority over the unclean spirits.” This may have meant that they merely had power to change people’s minds about what they might expect from Jesus. The gospel authors like Mark who wrote down the tradition for subsequent generations also believed that the disciples possessed the same authority over unclean spirits that Jesus himself had demonstrated. Apparently that is what Mark intended. But was this “authority” (Greek = exousia ) a moral and spiritual authority of a pastoral nature or was it something more of a power to effect physical cures? Without question then as now, anyone suffering from an illness, however caused, would seriously affect everyone in the extended family or the immediate community of the sick person. In such circumstances, even death has a healing effect over time.
There is an interesting analysis by John Dominic Crossan of the differentiation between the actual events in Galilee when Jesus lived there during the late third decade of the lst century and the way the story was told by Mark in the seventh decade. Crossan believes that the Markan account described a difference of approach between those who were itinerant apostles and those who were resident followers of the Way. This occurred in the later period when the apostolic church was spreading out into the Gentile world. He elaborates this thesis in his essay “Jesus And The Kingdom” in the volume edited by Marcus Borg, Jesus At 2000 . (Westview Press, 1998). He concludes that this passage is Mark’s own description of the kingdom as “companionship of empowerment” rather than the actual historical events of Jesus’ ministry. This is in keeping, Crossan claims, with Jesus’ inauguration of the kingdom as an “interactive social radicalism” consisting of two distinct elements: those who were itinerant preachers of a radical gospel and those who were resident householders who witnessed to it less radically in their normal community living.
The end of the story as we now have it in this passage revealed how successful they were in calling people to repent, casting out demons and curing the sick. This appears to have been a trial run for the post-Pentecost period when Mark was an active itinerant with Paul and Barnabas, at least for a while before accompanying Peter to Rome.