December 31, 2006

Mk 1 / Isaiah wrap-up

(Instead of a reading a psalm today, we take another look at Luke 1:46-55, the seasonal canticle for December; relevant links are here.)

The Evangelist St. Mark as illustrated in a 12th-century Byzantine Greek manuscript of the Gospel accounts now in the special collections of the University of GlasgowWith the reading of Mark 1, today our main reading shifts back to the New Testament for about two weeks before returning to the Old Testament. I give some details about Mark and his Gospel account in the background information for December's and January’s readings, and I comment on Mark 1 in this post from last year. The image with this post is of St. Mark as depicted in a 12th-century Byzantine Greek manuscript of the Gospel accounts now in the special collections of the University of Glasgow (to see a larger version of the image with this post, either click it or see from where we got it). Likely from a family known to Christians in Jerusalem (if not also to our Lord), St. Mark was apparently a coworker of both Paul and Peter. The New Testament gives evidence of Mark’s working with Paul and of a relationship with Peter, and the early church fathers tell us that the Gospel account bearing his name was the content of Peter’s preaching. Likely recorded in Rome, Mark’s account of the Gospel was likely written in the 50s or 60s, perhaps occasioned by Roman persecution of Christians with a goal of holding out for the mostly-Gentile believers our Lord’s suffering so they could follow Him in their own suffering. This Gospel account is unashamedly teaching or doctrine that fills out the basic preaching about Jesus the hearers of the Gospel would have already known. Special themes include the cross, discipleship, and Jesus’ identity as the Son of God.

The following verses and topics are addressed in previously posted questions and answers, the links for which may be repeated in this space from day to day, as the answers may also refer to preceding or following verses:

Ask a question of your own this way.

The historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace for Sunday and festival services does not tap Mark 1 for any Gospel readings, but hymn #557 in The Lutheran Hymnal is said to refer to Mark 1:32-34. Translated in a number of other languages, this hymn was written in English and, at least at one time, was said to be “one of the most popular evening hymns in the English-speaking Church”. However, the hymn did not make it into the Lutheran Service Book, and, while one might only guess as to why, the text of the hymn still does seem to have some edifying sentiments.

Today I have an Isaiah wrap-up. Such a summary of a recently completed book was requested in our survey at the end of Year 1 of our Daily Lectionary reading.

Who was the author? We accept that Isaiah, son of Amoz, principally wrote the book that bears his name and that makes him be regarded as the greatest of the writing prophets.
What is the book? The first of the so-called “latter” or “major” prophets, the book of Isaiah primarily recounts prophecies God gave through Isaiah.
Where was it written? Isaiah’s prophecies were most likely written down in Jerusalem, the capital city of Judah, the southern kingdom.
When was it written? Isaiah began his work as a prophet in the year King Uzziah died (probably 740 or 742 B.C.), probably had his zenith under Hezekiah, and may have ended it during the reign of Manasseh, when an unsubstantiated but credible Jewish tradition says he was sawed in half while inside a hollow log (confer Hebrews 11:37). Thus, Isaiah likely served as a prophet around the same time as Amos, Hosea, and Micah. The precise dates the various prophecies were recorded are harder to set.
Why? God through Isaiah pronounces condemnation on His people for their sin and warns them of coming judgment and consequences of that sin, but through Isaiah God also declares a message of comfort and hope to His people, telling of the Servant, the Christ, Who will deliver them from their sin and its judgment if they only believe.
How? Writing both prose and poetry, the Divinely-inspired Isaiah uses a variety of literary devices to warn and comfort in his book. For examples, we find Isaiah personifying inanimate and other objects, using sarcasm, making plays on words, and alluding to events from earlier in Israel’s history. As much judgment, death, and destruction Isaiah foretells, we must not forget that for believers life and salvation comes through that same judgment.

If you are interested in further reading on the book of Isaiah, you may make use of the following:
  • Keil, C.F. and F. Delitzsch. Isaiah, volume VII of their Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes, translated by James Martin and published as one book. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprinted January 1986. (What I consult first, but a somewhat hard to use more-scholarly commentary, although generally right on the money, as they say.)
  • Leupold, Herbert Carl. Exposition of Isaiah. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1971. (I have not consulted it, but I am told it is very good.)

Our webmaster will make the short summaries like this one a part of the Daily Lectionary - Biblical Index page for each book, which you can find linked here.

Especially today in Word and Sacrament, receive the Word made flesh, full of grace and truth, dwelling among you!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 30, 2006

Ps 29 / Is 64-66

When we have to make significant or maybe even less-significant decisions in life, we may long for a direct revelation from God. More than ten years ago I would have said all I needed was a message on my answering machine, but now I suppose I would be content with an email. How different such desires are from the reverential fear the psalmist put into words for the people of Israel in Psalm 29. “The voice of the Lord” (v.3) is not something that is therein described as bringing comfort and peace. In reading Psalm 29 today, I was reminded of the people of Israel pleading with Moses to speak to them on God’s behalf and for God not to speak to them directly (Exodus 20:18-19). Such appearances of God as at Sinai and as the king of creation are quite different from our Lord’s speaking words of comfort and peace through His Word, whether in Scripture, sermons, or sacraments. There is also guidance and direction for our significant and less-significant decisions in life, but, as with His words of comfort and peace, we content ourselves with it being spoken through others God uses to guide and direct us. (My initial post on Psalm 29 is here, and a subsequent one here.)

Psalm 29 is included by The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for Sunday and festival services at Grace, among those psalms appointed for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany and the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity. (No hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer to Psalm 29.)

An image of a potter working clayI very much suspect that even though Adelaide A. Pollard’s 1907 hymn is not in any LCMS-approved hymnal (at least not that I am aware of) we all still know her text that draws on a verse from today’s reading of Isaiah 64-66. Already elsewhere in Isaiah we have read of potters and clay, but such imagery does not always apply to God and to humankind as it does in Isaiah 64:8 (to see a slightly larger version of the picture of an unidentified potter taken by an unidentified photographer included with this post, either click the image or see from where we got it). God had formed the first man out of the dust of the earth, and in a similar way He forms and shapes forms and shapes us today—not at our initiating the action but at His. And, we do well to remember our place as His creation and not question the way He shapes us or what He shapes us into (see, for example, Isaiah 45:9). My previous post on these chapters is here.

The following verses and topics are addressed in previously posted questions and answers, the links for which may be repeated in this space from day to day, as the answers may also refer to preceding or following verses:

Feel free to ask a question of your own this way.

The historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace for Sunday and festival services taps Isaiah 65:1-2 for the Old Testament reading on the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity and Isaiah 65:17-19 for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday after Trinity. (No hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer to verses from these chapters.)

Especially tomorrow in Word and Sacrament, receive the Word made flesh, full of grace and truth, dwelling among you!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 29, 2006

Ps 28 / Is 61-63 / Folo

Television’s so-called “reality shows” (don’t get me started on whether that name fits) often put a person or team in competition with other people or teams. Judges or viewers at home often compare and contrast what each person or team did in order to decide which did the best. Today in Psalm 28 there’s sharp contrast between at least two different works: what the hands of the wicked have done (v.4) and what the hands of the Lord have done (v.5). You may notice that the psalmist does not contrast what the wicked have done with what he, the psalmist, has done. Perhaps we could say that implicit between the verses is that whereas the human psalmist may also have done some wicked things at least He has regard for the works of the Lord, especially His redemption of Israel. In much the same way, we have all sinned and what determines our eternal state is not what we have done but what we do with what God has done for us in the birth, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. Those who disregard salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ will be eternally punished for their own works, as will those who claim to believe but “treat as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him” (Hebrews 10:29, and understand a reference to the Sacrament of the Altar). On the other hand, we who in sorrow confess our sins and trust God to forgive us for Jesus’ sake will receive eternal salvation because of what God has done. (My previous, more-general post on Psalm 28 is here, and a post focusing in on the “pit” of verse 1 is here.)

Psalm 28 is included by The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for Sunday and festival services at Grace, among those psalms appointed for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany and the Sixth Sunday after Trinity. Hymn #6 in The Lutheran Hymnal is said to refer to Psalm 28:2 (see your hymnal for the text). Interestingly, the German original of this hymn that dates back to the 16th-century was itself a paraphrase of a 9th-century Latin sequence hymn. The Latin hymn, its German paraphrase, and our English translation all preserve the Greek expression: Kyrie, eleison!, that is, “Lord, mercy!” You might also note the three-fold repetition of the petition, once for each of the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity.

A watercolor image of Christ in the Synagogue reading from Isaiah 61 by French artist James Tissot (1836-1902)For me, hearing the opening verses of today’s reading, Isaiah 61-63, immediately brings to mind our Lord’s application of those verses to Himself when He “preached” on the text in a synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth. (Jesus made only a partial use of the quote, ending in the middle of verse 2, which stopping point one commentator suggests was because the “day of vengeance” does not fully occur until His final coming.) The image with this post, a watercolor by the French artist James Tissot (1836-1902), depicts that event (to see a larger version of the image, either click the image or see from where we got it). Although the term “Servant” is not used, the Spirit’s commission and empowerment on the speaker to bring about the new era makes a clear connection with the earlier Servant Songs. Also related is the Jubilee year described by Leviticus 25. My previous, very-general post on these chapters is here, and a previous post applying Isaiah 63:4 to a “contemporary” issue is here.

Given the very-general nature of my previous main post on these chapters, today in what follows I concentrate on a few more details. You might notice how Isaiah 61:3 turns emblems of mourning into emblems of joy; you won’t notice in English, however, a clever play on words in the Hebrew. The emblems are like all positive things in the Bible: gifts of God! In 61:5 aliens shepherding the flocks of Israel and working in fields and vineyards are positive things; those foreigners have become the people of God and entered into His congregation. Regarding the double portion of 61:7, see here. Note how the significant meaning of the names in 62:4 are immediately explained: Hephzibah means “My delight is in you” and Beulah “married”. One commentator says, “We need to recall that Biblical names usually are not just IDs, but partake of and help establish the circumstances they describe.” Isaiah 62:6-7 seems to suggest that the Lord’s ordained watchmen are to call the people to ceaseless prayer, in order, as it were, to “harass” God. (The watchmen are prophets, as whose duties are described in such places as Ezekiel 33.) Regarding the highway of 62:10, see here. Regarding 63:1-6, see TLH #209, although it doesn’t show up in the index I am using for the entries below. This hymn from the “Easter” section, originally written for Ascension, seems to be directly based on these verses. (Appreciate the hymn in TLH, because it isn’t in Lutheran Worship or Lutheran Service Book.) This dialogue, as it were, between Isaiah and the Lord makes it clear there is no victory without defeat nor salvation without damnation. Finally, in 63:17 the people apparently thought the Lord had hardened their hearts. While he may have done that to some, if He had actually done that to all, then they would have been turning to Him in prayer (there is more hardening of hearts and the example of Pharaoh here).

The only previously posted question connected to today’s reading has to do with others who were anointed and serve as types of the Messiah. What isn’t clear to you? Please ask!

In the historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace, Isaiah 63:7-18 is the appointed Old Testament reading for New Year’s Eve, Isaiah 61:1-3 for the First Sunday after Epiphany, and Isaiah 61:10-11 for the Transfiguration. The Lutheran Hymnal is said to contain three hymns that refer to verses from today’s reading:
  • 61:1, 2 -- #66 (an Advent hymn drawing on what the Anointed One will do), #482 (a "ministry" hymn that draws a parallel between the Lord's anointing and ordination; see your hymnal for the text)
  • 61:3 -- #48 (a "close of service" hymn that rightly sees the comfort in God's Word--if you look at only one today, maybe make it this one)

If you want to hear the music for these hymns, you can look them up alphabetically by title here. (If that isn’t working for you, please let us know so we can try to facilitate the process better.)

Today’s Biblog folo relates to this image and my comment regarding it in Wednesday’s post relative to Isaiah 55-57. A reader emailed the following:

Could it be the Magi, with the star in the upper right hand corner? I don’t know what to make of the black; first it seemed like blotches, but now I see elephants. I don't know why elephants, but it’s Dali.

The Magi had entered my mind, too, although given the association with Isaiah 55:6, I had more or less ruled them out, although to be sure the Magi were seeking the Lord while He could be found. The rider in red appears to be on a camel, although the other two beasts of burden seem to me to be more like horses (the middle one perhaps some transitional creature between a camel and a horse). I agree with the reader that the black blotches appear to be elephants (is one of their riders carrying a parasol?), and Dali’s reported recurring use of elephants reinforces that perception of elephants, even if it does not clarify why the elephants appear in this particular painting.

Receive the Word made flesh, full of grace and truth, dwelling among you!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 28, 2006

Ps 27 / Is 58-60 / Folo

People who spend a lot of time involved in serving their church or congregation may feel like they “live” at Church, and others measure the health of a congregation by how often during the week the lights are on with cars in the parking lot. The dwelling in the house of the Lord mentioned in Psalm 27 is not really along either of these lines. As I previously noted regarding Psalm 15 (see here and its related links), priests temporarily lived in the Temple complex during their time of service, but the psalmist desires much more—the dwelling in the House of the Lord forever, as also in Psalm 23:6 and 61:4. The dwelling is also more than just being in the Temple complex; the dwelling is an “intimate spiritual intercourse” with God. In the case of such eternal dwelling (made possible only by grace through faith in the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ), the only work being done is praise of God, and that’s hardly “work” as we think of work. In this life there is certainly work in the more traditional sense to be done, and congregations certainly need volunteers to carry out various tasks and responsibilities, but the measure of congregation’s health is hardly people spending so much time at their church building that they are neglecting their vocations as parents, children, and the like. The Lutheran Reformation did not free us from a false understanding of monasticism so that we could enslave ourselves to a new monasticism that says everyone must be “doing something” in service to the congregation or to be out spreading the Gospel. When the average person comes in to Grace Lutheran Church his or her primary purpose for being there is to receive God’s gift of forgiveness through Word and Sacrament. So forgiven and fed, he or she can go out to live in his or her calling and, as the Holy Spirit gives opportunity, give answer for the hope that lies in him or her. We might like to make the church building our place of refuge now and stay there constantly, away from the madness of the world, much like Peter wanted to stay on top of the mountain with Moses and Elijah when Jesus was transfigured. But, in this life we are called to go out of the church building, down from the mountain, and to live our life during the week, coming back in and up the next Sunday or feast day until we come back in and up for eternity. (See the sequence in Psalm 121:8 and the similar statement in our Baptismal rite!) (My original, somewhat-general post on Psalm 27 is here, and my second post on this psalm, focusing more on verse 10, is here.)

The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for Sunday and festival services at Grace, includes Psalm 27 among those appointed for the Fourth Sunday in Advent, the First Sunday after Epiphany, the Fifth Sunday after Trinity, the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity, and the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity. Hymn #18 in the “worship and praise” section of The Lutheran Hymnal apparently draws on Psalm 27:8.

An image of a watercolor by British-American Alan Falk (1945-) portraying the light to the nations prophesied by Isaiah 60:1-3Every week in the Nunc dimittis of the communion liturgy we sing about Christ as “a Light to lighten the Gentiles” (the nations of non-Jews), although we may not think much of the rich Old Testament background to that Song of Simeon (Luke 2:29:32), such as that which we read today as part of our reading of Isaiah 58-60, which also seems to be background for Revelation 21-22. Jesus truly is the Light of the World (John 8:12), whether or not everyone confesses that reality, such as British-American Alan Falk (1945-), the Jewish artist who painted the watercolor image with this post (to see a larger version of the image, either click the image or see from where we got it). The Hebrew words on the hand in the image are l’owr goyim “for a light to nations”. I expect the artist thought of the hand as the Father’s hand that also first created light, but we can also think of the hand of our Lord, which is inscribed with the marks of His crucifixion for us that also revealed His glory to the world. My original post on Isaiah 58-60, accenting the reading’s “light” connection with Epiphany and containing an overview and a few specific notes, is here. (There is also a mention of Isaiah 59:17 here, in connection with “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”.) Be sure to also note that in 59:20 the true Zion consists of those who repent of their sins, which repentance includes faith in Jesus Christ, “Who for us … and for our salvation came down from heaven And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary And was made man”.

There are no previously posted questions and answers on these chapters, but, if you’ve got a question or a comment, you are certainly welcome to ask it or make it! Your question will be posted anonymously when it is answered.

In the historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace, Isaiah 58:6-12 is the Old Testament reading for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity. (I expected some Epiphany readings, but maybe I’m thinking of a different lectionary series.) There are a variety of hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal that are said to refer or allude to verses from today’s reading:
  • 59:20 -- #62 (apparently picking up on the Advent theme of “coming” in verse 20)
  • 60:1 -- #498 (a nice “missions” hymn that confesses Jesus as the Light of Nations)
  • 60:1 ff. -- #503 (a familiar tune to a relatively unfamiliar hymn, although I especially like stanza 4’s statement about the permanence of God’s Word)
  • 60:1-6 -- #126 (a more-familiar Epiphany hymn; if you are going use only one in your devotion today I would recommend this be the one)
  • 60:3 -- #642 (again a familiar tune for a less-familiar hymn in the “foreign missions” category)
  • 60:13 -- #633 (also a familiar tune for I would think a seldom-used hymn)

If you want to hear the music for these hymns, you can look them up alphabetically by title here. (If that isn’t working for you, please let us know so we can try to facilitate the process better.)

Yesterday’s lengthy discussion of eunuchs brought emails that prompted today’s Biblog folo. One email pointed out a now-corrected typo (Deuteronomy 23:2 for 23:1) and asked if Leviticus 22:24 wasn’t talking about sacrificed animals. Yes, Leviticus 22:24 is talking about sacrificed animals, but the Deuteronomy and Leviticus verses are related in that they both show three things: the common forms of castration and the disregard for those made imperfect in these ways that mutilated the nature of men as created by God, the overall relationships between the different forms of purity, and perhaps also the extent to which people themselves are to be living sacrifices (see Romans 12:1). Regarding the latter, one commentator suggests the twelve defects that disqualified animals in 22:22-24 parallel twelve defects that disqualify priests in 21:18-20. Another email suggested that the mentioned fulfillment of Isaiah 56:4-5 in Acts 8 was new to the reader, but the reader also asked how the eunuch of Acts 8:25-40 could have been up to the Jerusalem to worship (as Acts 8:27 says) if the old covenant said he couldn’t be a part of the assembly. As I understand it, there were various degrees of access to the Temple: the high-priest, of course, had access to the most-holy place as needed; the other priests and Levites their levels of access; full-fledged members of the community could go in so far; women could go in to their court; and the Gentiles had their court. The Ethiopian eunuch may not have been a full-fledged convert if indeed he was castrated and the Jews were sticking to the old covenant laws, but he surely was at least a Gentile so-called “God-fearer”, or believer. We might recall that even today anyone is welcome into the Divine Service as a hearer and participant in the liturgy, although, due to the sad divisions in Christendom, not all are welcome at the altar rail.

There’s a fine Memorial Moment here about God’s gift of doctrinal unity. Receive the Word made flesh, full of grace and truth, dwelling among you!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 27, 2006

Ps 26 / Is 55-57 / Folo

Like the psalm before it, Psalm 26 expresses trust in the Lord and cries for the Lord to show mercy and deliver the psalmist, although in Psalm 26 the psalmist does not confess his sin as in the one before it. Psalm 26’s superscription says only that it is “Of David”, but some speculate that the particular opponents are those who joined David’s son Absalom in his attempt to take over the kingdom. In that case, you might see 2 Samuel 15:6, 25 for thoughts that may be behind those in this psalm. You can see the comments on this psalm in my previous post on it, to which I add the following. In verse 6, the psalmist uses a figure of speech to make his claim of relative innocence; the figure of speech refers to a symbolic act we may know from elsewhere in Holy Scripture (see Deuteronomy 21:6 and Matthew 27:24). You might also note how by the end of the psalm the psalmist is confident of God’s deliverance and his restoration to the worshipping community.

The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for Sunday and festival services at Grace, includes Psalm 26 among those appointed for the feast of St. Stephen (yesterday), the Presentation of Christ and the Purification of Mary, Rogate (the Fifth Sunday after Easter), the Second Sunday after Trinity, the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity, and the day of St. James the Elder. Hymn #568 in The Lutheran Hymnal, a free rendition of a sixteenth-century Dutch prayer of thanksgiving for a victory with England’s help over a Spanish oppressor, apparently refers or alludes to Psalm 26:12.

An image of the work of Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali (1904-1989) depicting Isaiah 55:6I like some of the religious paintings by Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali (1904-1989), although the one with this post that is associated with a verse from our reading today of Isaiah 55-57, specifically 55:6, was new to me (to see a larger version of the image, either click the image or see from where we got it). To me, the image could be taken as Isaiah prophesying to those going by, or it could be taken as suggesting some sort of journey is needed to find the Lord. In fact, no pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Mecca, or Rome is needed to find the Lord. Quoting Deuteronomy 30:14, St. Paul in Romans 10:8 says the Word of faith is near you. I’m certainly not saying that reading your Bible online is all that is needed, for those who believe will make a pilgrimage of a sort to receive, with the community of believers, God’s gift of forgiveness from His called and ordained servants through the purely preached Word and rightly administered Sacraments (Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Sacrament of the Altar). Those who truly believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins will want to seek His gift in those ways. (My previous more or less general post on Isaiah 55-57 is here.)

As I, a single man trying to live a chaste and decent life, today read Isaiah 56:1-8, my curiosity was piqued about what the verses said regarding the eunuchs (the Hebrew word is saris), and I would think others, especially other "single" individuals, would also be interested. When you first hear the English word “eunuch” you may think of a boy or man who has been castrated or for some reason cannot produce sperm. While such people are certainly “eunuchs” in one sense of the word, eunuchs in Bible times could also be court officials or harem attendants, for which latter task those who had been castrated or could not produce sperm were perhaps ideally suited. (You might be interested to know that the word “eunuch” comes from Greek and more-literally translates as “keeper of the bed”.) Not all court officials called “eunuchs” were necessarily castrated, however, and the modern informal use of “eunuch” for an ineffectual or powerless man is in contrast to the older idea of uncastrated people called “eunuchs” being important officials of a king’s court. What does all of this have to do with our reading today? Well, the context of the Hebrew word saris helps one know whether a court official or castrated man is in view. Isaiah 56:3 certainly seems to reflect an inability to procreate, which would lead us to think a castrated or otherwise impotent man is in view, perhaps especially Israelite men mutilated against their will in order to serve foreign officials. Verses 4-5 are addressed to them (verses 6-8 are addressed to the “foreigner” mentioned first in verse 3). Where the old covenant apparently excluded physical eunuchs from the worshipping assembly (Leviticus 22:24 [clearer in translations other than the KJV] and Deuteronomy 23:1), God through Isaiah is saying such is not the case under the new testament (for an example of fulfillment, see Acts 8:27, 38-40). Where the eunuchs may have been worried about not having descendants, Isaiah’s prophecy says that in a sense such believers will not be excluded from the community and will be more blessed than those who have sons and daughters. The words of our Lord in Matthew 19 and of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 are also relevant in this regard. In Matthew 19:10-12, our Lord says the demands of the kingdom may mean that some people must live celibate, eunuch-like lives, such as a divorced couple that is unable to reconcile (see 1 Corinthians 7:10-11; St. Paul also can be seen as suggesting widows and widowers, like him, might do best not to marry a second time). (While we may think of celibacy primarily in connection with the Roman Catholic abstaining from marriage by a vow, it can also mean a state of being unmarried or in voluntary singleness and virginity.) Living such a life is not an impossibility, Jesus says, for with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26), and, to be sure, there is forgiveness for when we fail to live such a life. God gives us grace sufficient for each day to be content in all circumstances. In 1 Corinthians 7:26-38, Paul, like Isaiah, seems to say that those who do not marry and have children are in some ways more blessed. With the Corinthians, Paul was dealing both with those who thought sexual issues did not matter and with those who made too much of them. Our Lutheran Confessions (Apology XXIII:38 is just one example) similarly are careful both to recognize that the celibate state is more praised in Holy Scripture and to make it clear that no one is saved by being celibate (in contrast to the Roman Catholic teaching of that day, which suggested becoming a monk or nun was necessary for the “perfection” of justification). Although in no way am I denigrating the holy estate of marriage instituted by God Himself, like Isaiah’s prophecy, I do not think that marriage and children are necessary for people to be fulfilled. In Christ we have brothers, sisters, and other family members through the waters of Holy Baptism and our common bond in Christ’s blood, for the receiving of which—not the usual familial ties but—the common confession of the faith unites those around the Lord’s Table.

There are no previously posted questions and answers on these chapters, but, if you’ve got one, you are certainly welcome to ask it! Your question will be posted anonymously when it is answered.

The historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace for Sunday and festival services taps Isaiah 55:1-13 as the Old Testament reading for the Circumcision and Name of Jesus, Isaiah 55:10-13 for Sexagesima Sunday (the Sunday in the sixth period of ten days before Easter), and Isaiah 57:15 for Ascension Day. (No hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal apparently make use of these chapters.)

Today’s Biblog folo comes after the most recent discussion of Psalm 23 and the translation of its opening verse. A reader sent two more translations. Young’s Literal Translation renders the verse: “Jehovah [is] my shepherd, I do not lack”, which still seems to take the “lack” as applying to the shepherd. Better and closer to the translation I thought I had read somewhere is the Holman Christian Standard Bible’s “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.” I am reminded of St. Paul’s words in Romans 8:32.

Receive the Word made flesh, full of grace and truth, dwelling among you!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 26, 2006

Ps 25 / Is 52-54

There’s much talk in some church circles about “lifting up” someone in prayer, and Psalm 25 arguably could be said to support such a notion. In verse 1, the psalmist calls his own soul to look to God in faith, especially for the two petitions named in verse 2. The Hebrew verb nasa’ is significant for a number of reasons. In 25:1 some sort of confident trust seems to be in mind, although elsewhere the verb can be used for people sinning. Perhaps more importantly the same verb is used for Christ bearing our sin and then for our sin being removed or forgiven. Only because the Holy and Innocent Son of God carries our sin can it be forgiven and can we lift up or direct ourselves to confidently trust in the Lord’s ultimate deliverance in Christ. (My more-general previous post on Psalm 25 is here, and a second post focusing more on verse 10 is here.)

Psalm 25 is among those appointed by The Lutheran Liturgy for the First Sunday in Advent, Reminiscere (the Second Sunday in Lent), Oculi (the Third Sunday in Lent), and the Third Sunday after Trinity. Psalm 25:5 is said to be referred or alluded to by hymn #532 in The Lutheran Hymnal.

A contemporary image of Jesus Christ, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52:13-53:12, before being nailed to the crossThe Church in its wisdom put feast days for martyrs on two of the three days after Christmas Day—St. Stephen on December 26 and The Holy Innocents on December 28—in part to temper the syrupy sentimentality that surrounds the annual celebration of our Lord’s birth. Our timely reading of Isaiah 52-54 in some ways serves the same purpose for us, a point I made in my original post on these chapters, which post contains an overview of the reading. The image of the Suffering Servant with this post is, from the style, by a relatively recent, though unknown, artist (to see a larger version of the image, either click the image or see from where we got it). While there may be some biographical experience that enters into description of the Suffering Servant, at its core it is to be understood as pointing prophetically and typologically to Jesus, the Christ. Jesus, as is sometimes said, is “Israel reduced to one”, Who both in a sense repeated and fulfilled the nation’s history and prophecy. By faith we through Holy Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper become and stay a part of the body of which Christ is the Head and so in a sense experience what He experienced but more importantly benefit from what He has done for us.

The following verses and topics are addressed in previously posted questions and answers, the links for which may be repeated in this space from day to day, as the answers may also refer to preceding or following verses:

Ask a question of your own this way.

In the historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace, Isaiah 52:13-15 is the appointed Old Testament reading for Easter Sunday, and Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is the appointed "Epistle" reading for Good Friday. There are a “perfect number” of hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal, from a variety of different categories, that are said to refer or allude to verses from today’s reading:
  • 52:7-10 -- #487
  • 52:8 -- #609
  • 53:3-5 -- #153
  • 53:4-7 -- #142
  • 54:2 -- #510
  • 54:2, 3 -- #640 (check the hymnal for the text of this hymn)
  • 54:10 -- #337

If you want to hear the music for these hymns, you can look them up alphabetically by title here. (If that isn’t working for you, please let us know so we can try to facilitate the process better.)

Receive the Word made flesh, full of grace and truth, dwelling among you!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 25, 2006

Ps 24 / Is 49-51

With Advent now officially behind us and the Christmas season begun, in some ways Psalm 24, a psalm anticipating the Lord’s coming to His Temple and calling us to prepare His way, almost seems out of date. Yet, from the Ark’s arriving at the Jerusalem Temple, to the Lord’s tabernacling in the Temple of His flesh, to His dwelling among us in His Church by way of Word and Sacrament, we in the New Testament Church continue to anticipate His final coming in glory, even as we celebrate the anniversary of His birth. My original post on this psalm provides a general overview, and today I elaborate on three things. First, in verse 6 we see how those whom God has prepared to dwell with Him (by their receiving His blessings) are those who seek and believe in Him; they are the Church, the true Israel. Even if they cannot trace their family line to Jacob according to the flesh, they are Israel after the spirit. Second, verses 7 and 9 make it seem as if the gateways or doorways dating back to the beginning need to expand in order to accommodate the Lord’s entering, as if their “heads”, essentially their lintels, need to be lifted up. Third and finally, the Lord’s coming to Jerusalem in the form of His Ark surely was glorious, and more so will be His final coming. His birth into the flesh was humble and lowly, of course, as is His coming to us now with the forgiveness of sins in bread that is His body and wine that is His blood. Thanks to the window above the altar and the Sacrament below on the altar, we at Grace can easily picture the Lord gloriously enthroned between the Cherubim and humbly and really, physically present for us. (For more on Psalm 24, you can also see this recent Memorial Moment.)

Given its Advent focus, there is little surprise Psalm 24 is among those appointed by The Lutheran Liturgy for the First Sunday of Advent. Psalm 24 is also appointed for Christmas (the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord) and for Ascension. As I mentioned in my original post on the psalm, the psalm is the basis for hymn #73 in The Lutheran Hymnal.

Picture of an unidentified spring of water by an unidentified photographerComing from up north, where I lived most of life (although I have been in Texas six years now, which is more than I lived in Canada), I’m used to Christmas Eves and Days with precipitation, usually the white kind. I think Central Texas meteorologists tease us each year with forecasts of snow, if only for the Hill Country. To be sure, I’m not complaining about the rain, because it is a blessing, if not almost a Christmas present, from God! Water is supplied by the Lord, and water is frequently used in Holy Scripture to illustrate His provision, as we see in our reading of Isaiah 49-51 today, specifically in 49:10. The image with this post is of an unidentified spring by an unidentified photographer (to see a larger version of the image, either click it or from where we got it). (My previous post on these chapters with an overview and other specific notes is here.) Note in 49:10 how the shepherd imagery that we saw yesterday in Psalm 23 is in play, as is the apocalyptic image of heaven that we read in Revelation 7:16-17. The best water of all, of course, is that living water or water of life which flows over us in the Baptismal Font, working forgiveness of sins for us, rescuing us from death and the devil, and giving us eternal salvation.

The following verses and topics are addressed in previously posted questions and answers, the links for which may be repeated in this space from day to day, as the answers may also refer to preceding or following verses:

Ask a question of your own this way.

In the historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace, Isaiah 49:1-7 is the Old Testament reading for Epiphany, Isaiah 49:8-13 for Laetare (the Fourth Sunday in Lent—the more joyous one, like Advent’s Gaudete), Isaiah 50:6-9 for Good Friday, and Isaiah 51:9-16 for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Trinity. Two hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer or allude to verses from today’s reading:
  • 49:14-17 -- #268 (which seems unfamiliar to me but appears to have a nice text)
  • 50:6 -- #172 (a timely reminder that Christmas is about more than a cute baby in a manger)

If you want to hear the music for these hymns, you can look them up alphabetically by title here. (If that isn’t working for you, please let us know so we can try to facilitate the process better.)

Receive the Word made flesh, full of grace and truth, dwelling among us!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 24, 2006

Ps 23 / Is 46-48

Used so often for funerals, I think Psalm 23 must be familiar even to unbelievers, although I often wonder what they think the psalm’s opening verse means. As I noted, among other things, in my initial post on this psalm, the “I shall not want” of the KJV, ASV, NASB, NKJV, and ESV can make it sound as if the believer does “not want” the Good Shepherd, when what it means is that with the Lord as our Good Shepherd we “shall not be in want” (NIV; “I shall want nothing” NEB; “I have everything I need” Beck’s AAT; I thought someone translated “I shall lack nothing”, but I can’t seem to find it). My second post on Psalm 23 is here, a folo to the initial post is here. Since that folo was posted I have spent some time and effort trying to track down the sources behind the claim that at the time of the Reformation the term “pastor” (German Pastor) was not used but came into Lutheranism later from pietism, supposedly emphasizing “edification” (perhaps from Ephesians 4:12). I was able to trace the claim back through the writings of the now-sainted Rev. Prof Kurt Marquart and James H. Pragman to that of Wilhelm Pauck, who makes the claim but offers neither a citation for it nor evidence of how he came to that conclusion. Other evidence I found suggested four terms were more or less in use at the time of the Reformation: Pastor, Prediger, Pfarrer (or Pfarrherr), or Priester (“pastor”, “preacher”, “master of the parish”, and “priest”, respectively)—and that’s not to mention Seel-sorger or Seel-hirten (“soul-carer” or “soul-shepherd”, respectively), which also may have come into use later under the influence of Pietism. Distinctions may be made between how the spiritual leader was spoken of and how he was addressed, of course, as well as between different people with different primary responsibilities. The Rev. Dr. David P. Scaer, with his usual accurate acerbity, wrote in an email to me last February, “Since so many clergy persons are addressed with their first name ‘Joe,’ the issue is moot.” At Grace usually I am addressed as “Pastor”, for which I am thankful, as it is a reminder of what my relationships are both to the people who call me that and to the Good Shepherd (in Latin Pastor Bonus), Whose under-shepherd I am.

Psalm 23 is among those appointed by The Lutheran Liturgy for Misericordias Domini (the Second Sunday after Easter, also called Good Shepherd Sunday) and the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity. The psalm is also referred or alluded to by five hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal: #312 (a beautiful Lord's Supper hymn that makes the psalm's Sacramental connection), #368, #426, #431, and #436 (probably the best known and most loved of the bunch).

Pouring silver that has been refined from lead ores from Mt. Isa and George Fisher, Queensland, AustraliaTo most people today, especially around Central Texas, the purification of water may be better known than the purification of metals such as silver or iron. But, it is that latter type of purification that we find today in our reading of Isaiah 46-48, specifically in 48:10, timely, too, as our season of Advent draws to a close today. (The image with this post is of the pouring of silver refined from lead ores extracted from Mt. Isa and George Fisher in Queensland, Australia; to see a larger version of the image click it or from where we got it.) Refining by fire and testing in the furnace in some ways relate to judgment, although in this case not necessarily to judgment’s final verdict (compare Jeremiah 9:7 and Ezekiel 22:18-22). (Compare “choosing” in the KJV and ASV, either based on a different reading of the Hebrew or taking a broader sense of the word.) Israel’s time of affliction in Egypt was regarded as a furnace (Deuteronomy 4:20; 1 Kings 8:51; Jeremiah 11:4), and so was the exile in Babylon. Our own afflictions can also be regarded as the furnace that helps burn off the dross (or waste product) of our sinful natures so that we can be pure and thus stand in the presence of our Holy God. If the metal ores could feel, I am sure they would not find the refinement pleasurable, just as we seldom enjoy the afflictions we experience. But, rather than destroying, the Lord in mercy refines us, and He also provides the grace we need to endure what He allows us to experience (2 Corinthians 12:9) until we experience full and final deliverance (Psalm 66:6-12). (My previous comments on these chapters with a bit of an overview are here.)

There are no previously posted questions and answers on these chapters, but, if you’ve got one, please ask it so we can answer it!

The historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace for Sunday and festival services does not tap Isaiah 46-48 for any Old Testament readings, nor do any hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal apparently make use of these chapters. None of which is to say that we would not benefit from hearing verses such as 46:9 and from being reminded that the Triune God revealed in Jesus Christ alone is God and that there is none besides Him--not the god of Mohamed or the god of the Jews who deny Jesus is the Messiah.

The Lord be with you, especially as you today come to be with Him in Word and Sacrament

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 23, 2006

Ps 22 / Is 43-45

Do you ever feel as if God has forsaken you and does not hear your cries for help? In that way perhaps all of us can relate to the opening verses of Psalm 22, even if the rest of the psalm does not apply to us as much as to King David and to our Lord. You can read my previous post on the psalm here, a folo up to that post here, and a previously posted Q&A that touches on the psalm here. Again I encourage you to note the infant—if not pre-natal—faith of verses 9-10 (confer v.31). In view of the reference to the Messiah’s mother in those verses we can note that the Old Testament reportedly never refers to a human father or begetter of the Messiah, thereby indirectly—but nevertheless clearly—teaching the virgin birth. We do well to think of how the psalmist from birth would have been cast upon the Lord sacramentally by way of circumcision, as we are by way of Holy Baptism today. Furthermore, we similarly can see in verse 26 a reference to the Holy Supper that we share with the Church and that satisfies our every need.

Given its connection to our Lord’s passion, Psalm 22 is not surprisingly among those appointed by The Lutheran Liturgy for Palmarum (Palm Sunday) and Good Friday. Only hymn #269 in The Lutheran Hymnal is said to refer or to allude to a verse from this psalm (v.5); I expected some Lenten and/or Passion hymns.

A picture of the Baptismal Font at Grace Lutheran Church, Elgin, TexasAs with Psalm 22, we can find application to Holy Baptism in today’s reading of Isaiah 43-45, thus the picture of the Baptismal Font at our Grace Lutheran Church (click the image to see a larger version; this image is ours, taken by Grace’s fine secretary, Betty Gaskamp). In Holy Baptism we “pass through waters” (Isaiah 43:2), although in a positive sense, and at the font God calls us by name and makes us His own (Isaiah 43:1, confer John 10:3). We also can see application to Baptism with the living water imagery in Isiaah 43:19-21 and 44:3-4, forgiveness in 43:25, and the “branding” with the Lord’s sign of the cross in 44:5. Unless we turn away from God, we who are made holy by God certainly persevere (see the hymn reference below), for no one can remove us from God’s hand (Isaiah 43:13, quoting Deuteronomy 32:39).

My previous post on Isaiah 43-45 is here, but more general comments about the reading may be helpful. God had judged His unfaithful people but, as Isaiah prophesies, would restore them. Israel witnesses the Lord’s new Exodus and new creation. Israel/Jacob is again God’s servant. In a sense, Cyrus, the leader of Persia, is the Lord’s anointed servant, too, for the Lord works through Cyrus to bring devastation to Babylon, send the exiles back to Judah, and order the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. God does truly have a plan of salvation and works through history to accomplish it, but not everything is revealed to us (see especially Isaiah 45:15 for a key passage on the notion of a hidden God—the Latin term is Deus absconditus). Isaiah 44:9-20 somewhat interrupts the flow of thought between the preceding and following verses, although the section can be said to fit in that the other “gods” are nothing and that only the Lord is the Rock (see Isaiah 44:8-9).

There are no previously posted questions and answers on these chapters, but, if you’ve got one, please ask it so we can answer it!

The historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace for Sunday and festival services appoints Isaiah 43:1-3 as the Old Testament reading for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Isaiah 45:20-25 for Reminiscere (the Second Sunday in Lent), and Isaiah 44:21-23 for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity. The only hymn found in The Lutheran Hymnal that makes use of Isaiah 43-45 is #427, based on Isaiah 43:1-7.

There are two new questions and answers about Isaiah posted, beginning with this one (the other is right below it). Thanks to those who keep our Bible study interactive! The Lord be with you all, especially as you tomorrow come to be with Him in Word and Sacrament!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 22, 2006

Ps 21 / Is 40-42

You can find previous posts on Psalm 21 here and here. Verse 12 raises a bit of a question I haven’t addressed previously. The verse seems to mean that the king (or the Lord?) will intimidate his attacking enemies by standing firm and taking aim at them with the result that they will turn around and flee (not that he shoots or stabs them in the back as some cowardly or dastardly act). One commentator, however, says, “The arrows hit the front of the enemy, as the pursuer overtakes them.” I’m not expert in warfare, but that interpretation doesn’t seem right. As for the psalm as a whole, most assuredly in its original writing it applied to an earthly king such as David, but such an application did not then—nor does it now—rule out an application to the Messiah. The Jews understood the psalm to be Messianic, and so do we. One commentator says, “David’s cause … in its course towards a triumphant issue – a course leading through suffering – is certainly figuratively the cause of Christ”. To the extent that our way to glory is also the way of the cross, the psalm speaks of us, too.

Psalm 21 is among those appointed by The Lutheran Liturgy for the Fourth Sunday in Advent, Misericordias Domini (the Second Sunday after Easter), Ascension, the Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Trinity, and the Dedication of a Church. (No hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal said to refer or to allude to verses from this psalm.)

An image of a soaring eagle (no photographer given)Isaiah 40-42, the opening chapters of Isaiah’s so-called Book of Comfort addressed to exiles, include a beautiful figure of speech that centers on an eagle (we’ve reproduced the image with this post the size it was from where we got it). Those beautiful and comforting verses (40:27-31) come amid complaints from God’s people that He is ignoring their needs. My original post on these chapters is here, and there’s a brief folo related to the eagle imagery here. Of course, we want to be sure to note chapter 40’s connection to our season of Advent and to John the Baptizer, who pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world (40:1-9, and see the use of Isaiah 42:1 as conflated with Psalm 2:7 in connection with Jesus’ baptism by John). That Redeemer is the Servant (“right-hand man” or “minister”) mentioned in 41:8, Who resolves the cause of the exile (40:2) and of our problems today, that is, sin. (Note that in 42:19 Israel is sarcastically called the “servant”.) These themes of sin and redemption are treated throughout the Book of Comfort, climaxing in Isaiah 53, but chapter 40 is said to be an “overture” of a sort.

When we do something wrong, we expect to be punished, or at least we should expect to be punished. When it comes to Isaiah 40:2, there’s apparently some debate as to of what God’s people receive a “double” portion. Is it of the chastisement they deserve? Or, is it of good things given despite what they deserve? Isaiah 51:19 would seem to suggest double chastisement, although comfort is not as ruled out as that verse suggests (see 51:3). Jeremiah 16:18 seems to be quite similar to Isaiah 40:2, and chastisement also seems to be in view there (see also Jeremiah 17:18). Isaiah 61:7 seems to suggest that Israel received double chastisement but also received double blessings, as was due the firstborn. Double restoration is promised in Zechariah 9:12, which literally may mean twice as much or figuratively may mean full or complete restoration. I might suggest that the context of 40:2 still makes it seem that double chastisement is in view there. I thought I had read or heard somewhere that Babylon had “over-punished” Israel, so that the “double” chastisement may have resulted in that fashion (and perhaps thus also the “double” blessing), but I cannot seem to find any claims of that correspondence in connection with Isaiah 40:2. (Perhaps related is Revelation 18:6-7, where the apocalyptic Babylon is given double, although that seems to correspond there to a 1:1 ratio of her own glory and luxury.) One commentator seems to think such an “over-punishment” would be unlikely, writing of Isaiah 40:2 as follows.

It is not to be taken, however, in a judicial sense; in which case God would appear over-rigid, and therefore unjust. Jerusalem had not suffered more than its sins had deserved; but the compassion of God regarded what His justice had been obliged to inflict upon Jerusalem as superabundant. This compassion also expresses itself in the words “for all” ...: there is nothing left for further punishment. The turning-point from wrath to love has arrived. The wrath has gone forth in double measure. With what intensity, therefore, will the love break forth, which has been so long restrained!

I italicized the clause that really made me stop and ponder God’s love, although we have to be careful not to make God out to be schizophrenic. The bottom line for us, of course, is that, on account of our sin, we justly deserve death and eternal damnation (“temporal and eternal punishment”, as the liturgy has us say), but by God’s grace and mercy we instead receive life and eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, Who died that we need not. We do not deserve that grace and mercy, of course, nor do we deserve life and salvation. I’m not sure whether life and salvation are “double”, but they are full, complete, and “superabundant”.

There are no previously posted questions and answers on these chapters, but, if you’ve got one, please ask it so we can answer it!

In the historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace, Isaiah 40:1-8 is the Old Testament reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Isaiah 42:1-9 for the Sunday after New Year (perhaps more properly the Second Sunday after Christmas), and Isaiah 40:9-11 for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Trinity (confer above regarding Psalm 21 that we read today). Isaiah 40 apparently inspired a number of hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal, including two for Advent:
  • 40:1-8 -- #61 (Written originally in German for the festival of St. John the Baptist and first published in 1671.)
  • 40:3 -- #63 (Written originally in Latin and first published in 1736.)
  • 40:6 -- #601 (A “death and burial” hymn that also beautifully recalls Isaiah 6 and Revealtion.)
  • 40:11 -- #628 (Said to be a “rather free translation … of one of our oldest Christian hymns, attributed to Clement of Alexandria”, who lived about 150-215 and composed his hymn in Greek.)

If you want to hear the music for these hymns, you can look them up alphabetically by title here. (If that isn’t working for you, please let us know so we can try to facilitate the process better.)

In its fourth week, “The Nativity Story” is apparently now showing in 750 fewer theatres for a nationwide total of 1,824 (still some in the Austin area); see it if you can! The Lord be with you!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 21, 2006

Ps 20 / Is 37-39

When we hear someone’s name, we might think of what they look like and what we know about them, things such as their character, reputation, and family line. While such thoughts associated with a name are not far from the Old Testament idea of a “name”, they also are not quite all the way there, either. In Psalm 20, which we read today, for example, the psalmist says, “May the Name of the God of Jacob protect you” (v.1, NIV). (You can see my post last year for who might be speaking at that point in the psalm and for other general comments on the psalm as a whole.) The Name of the Lord generally is inextricably bound up with God’s being and how He reveals Himself, as well as things such as His power and grace. Thus, in Psalm 20:1 the “Name” essentially stands in for God Himself. Being protected by the Name is to be protected by God. When He calls His Name over something or someone it signifies “ownership” and protection. We who have been baptized have had God’s Name called over us not only signifying but also effecting God’s adoption of us as children and His promise to protect us. The faith in God that He creates in Baptism (see Psalm 20:7) also leads us to confess His Name—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—which is Who He is and how He has revealed Himself to us. This Triune God has created, has redeemed, and is sanctifying us, for which we praise Him (an alternate translation of v.7 has “praise” for “trust”).

Even though Psalm 20 seems primarily addressed to the king, The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for church services at Grace, includes Psalm 20 among those appointed for the Twenty-sixth Sunday after Trinity and for the day of St. Simon and St. Jude. (There are no hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal said to refer or to allude to verses from this psalm.)

Hezekiah’s illness as depicted around 1625-1630 by the Swiss copperplate engraver Matthaeus Merian the Elder (1593-1650)King Hezekiah is a central character in today’s reading of Isaiah 37-39, including God’s delivering Judah from the Assyrians during his reign, God’s delivering him from an illness likely before that Assyrian threat, and Hezekiah’s hospitality to Babylonian envoys that likely contributed to their later attacks. My previous post on these chapters makes some general and specific comments on them. The image with this post is of Hezekiah’s illness as depicted between 1625-1630 by Matthaeus Merian the Elder (1593-1650), a Swiss copperplate engraver (to see a larger version of the image, either click the image or see from where we got it).

There are no previously posted questions and answers on these chapters. What’s not clear to you? Please ask about it!

Perhaps in part due to fact that today’s reading is mostly historical narrative, neither the historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace nor apparently any hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal make use Isaiah 37-39.

Here's a new Q&A. The Lord be with you!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 20, 2006

Ps 19 / Is 34-36

Like so many psalms, Psalm 19 seems to keep on speaking no matter how many times one might read it! The post from last December has some helpful comments on the psalm as a whole, and you might see this previously posted Q&A on verse 4. You might also note of verse 4 that in Psalm 19 the “line” or “voice” is that of the heavens and skies, which, in this context, only communicate the natural knowledge of God. St. Paul’s Divinely-inspired use of this verse in Romans 10:18, however, applies the verse to the words of the Gospel of forgiveness and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. That Gospel is a part of the the broad sense of the “law” or torah (v.7). If you and I did not inherit original sin, we might be able to keep the law, understood in its narrower sense of “commandments”. But, as it is, the law primarily shows us our sin (confer v.11). In connection with Galatians 2:21, Pastor Sullivan Sunday in Bible Class explained how the Bible can say both that the law is good as a means to salvation and that the law is not a means to salvation. (You might see Paul’s exposition in Romans 3, which relates to the value of the law.) Jesus kept the law perfectly, but we sinners do not. His perfect obedience is ours only by faith, by which we also receive the forgiveness of sins on account of His death and resurrection for us.

The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for church services at Grace, includes Psalm 19 among those appointed for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Christmas, the Epiphany of our Lord, Oculi (the Third Sunday in Lent), and for the days of St. Philip and St. James, St. James the Elder, and St. Andrew. The Lutheran Hymnal includes a number of hymns, all in the “law and Gospel” section, that refer or allude to verses from this psalm.

Highway 71 between Houston and Austin by an unknown photographerAround central Texas it doesn’t take much, in most cases, to make a road level and flat. (Now, when a couple of nice flat heavily-traveled roads need to intersect, that’s when we see some building up.) The land of Judah at the time of Isaiah, however, needed places to be filled in and knocked down to make a road or pathway that was enjoyable to travel. We do well to notice in today’s reading of Isaiah 34-36 another of the references to a “highway” in Isaiah. (The Hebrew mesillaw or maslool for “highway” is often used parallel to or as synonymous with dehrek for “road”.) In 11:16 God through Isaiah says the remnant of Israel on its return from Assyrian exile will travel a highway that God will create (Isaiah 49:11; see also Isaiah 62:10?), perhaps a literal one (compare Isaiah 33:8 for the lack of highways in Assyria then), as the Israelites traveled through the sea on the exodus from Egypt (also Isaiah 51:10). Similarly, the end-times highway that connects Egypt and Assyria in Isaiah 19:23 may be literal or perhaps figurative. In other places the “highway” is more along the lines of the path the righteous should follow, as today in 35:8 (confer Proverbs 16:17), and in still other places the highway is used in connection with the kind of repentance we pray the Holy Spirit to bring about in us and others this Advent (40:3-4; 57:14; confer Jeremiah 31:21; 50:5). Incidentally, the highway and blooming flowers going through the desert described by Isaiah in chapter 35 also sounds like central Texas, as indicated in the picture with this post that was apparently taken along Highway 71 between Houston and Austin (to see a larger version of the image, either click the image or see from where we got it). My previous post overviews chapters 34-36, the last of which sets up tomorrow’s reading of chapters 37-39.

There are no previously posted questions and answers on these chapters. What’s not clear to you? Please ask about it!

In the historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace, Isaiah 35:3-7 is the appointed Old Testament reading for Quinquagesima Sunday (the Sunday in the fifth period of ten days before Easter). Similarly, Isaiah 35 is said to be referred or alluded to hymn #499 in The Lutheran Hymnal.

Our recent reading of Isaiah prompted this new Q&A. The Lord be with you!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 19, 2006

Ps 18 / Is 31-33

Today we read Psalm 18, and there you can a good overview of the psalm in my post on it last December, and there are some additional comments about it in this post (the link to the “praise song” in that post didn’t work for me, but I think this one illustrates the same problems). If in the KJV of verse 18 the obsolete meaning of the word “prevented” doesn’t make sense to you, see the more contemporary translations: “came upon” (ASV) or “confronted” (NIV, NASB, ESV, NKJV).

Our The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for church services at Grace, includes Psalm 18 among those appointed for the Second Sunday after Trinity. Psalm 18 is said to be referred to by two hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal: #429 (a favorite of mine and planned for my funeral, especially its last stanza) and #247 (which is said to specifically refer to Psalm 18:18).

An unidentified artist’s rendering of Isaiah warning the complacent women (Isaiah 32:9-20)As I indicate in last year’s post on Isaiah 31-33, the chapters complete the “Six Woes” we began in yesterday’s reading. Chapter 31 especially condemns those rely for help not on the Lord but on Egypt. (Don’t confuse 31:3’s use of “flesh” and “spirit” with how St. Paul uses those terms in such places as Galatians 5.) Chapter 32 begins with wonderful words of comfort (32:1-8), then condemns the women of Jerusalem for their false sense of security (confer Isaiah 3, especially vv.16-26), but see below how the Church has used the chapter’s ending verses. (The image with this post, whose artist is not identified, depicts Isaiah warning those women; to see a larger version of the image, either click the image or see from where we got it.) Finally, chapter 33 delivers the final woe (v.1), prays for the Lord’s deliverance (vv.2-9), and gives the Lord’s prophetic promise of providing it (vv.10-24), again possibly in various liturgical forms. Be sure to note the wonderful words of 24:10 that tell how that deliverance finally comes.

There are no previously posted questions and answers on these chapters, but you are always invited to ask one!

In the historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace, Isaiah 32:14-20 is the appointed Old Testament reading for Whitmonday, the Monday after Whitsunday or Pentecost. (“Whitsunday” is the English name for Pentecost, and it may derive from something like the use of white robes for Baptisms that were frequently done on the holy day.) Isaiah 32:1-8 is appointed for the Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity. Two hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer to verses from Isaiah 31-33:
  • 32:2 -- #345 (I had no idea this verse was the basis for this hymn.)
  • 33:20, 21 -- #469 (The changes in tune for this hymn are an interesting story, but the more recent hymnals have reversed a "politically correct" decision made in the 1941 hymnal.)

If you want to hear the music for these hymns, you can look them up alphabetically by title here.

The Lord be with you!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 18, 2006

Ps 17 / Is 28-30

How do you know something is true? When you see it? We pay taxes, but how many of us have ever seen the IRS with our own eyes? You say you’ve seen the agency on TV? Well, did you never see the movie “Capricorn 1”? (In other words, don’t believe everything you see on TV, the former TV news producer said.) Accepting God for Who He is would certainly be easier if we saw Him, the way the way we will see Him after our deaths, which Psalm 17 anticipates in its final verse. (My previous post on this psalm gives more-general thoughts.) Moses saw the likeness of the Lord (Numbers 12:8, most likely a reference to what is described in Exodus 33:20-23). If we could see God like that we might be more willing to do the difficult things He puts before us (like the Jesus character sings in this song from “Jesus Christ Superstar”). In this life , however, we live by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Still, we will see God with our own eyes (Job 19:27), at least after our bodies are resurrected and we have eyes again! Jesus says the pure in heart will see God (Matthew 5:8), but that includes us whose hearts by nature are impure but who are nevertheless made holy by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:14; see also 1 John 3:2). The psalmist is not just making a pious wish but is expressing a sure and certain hope. (Although some commentators do not think believers like David knew of the resurrection of the body, I’d say this psalm verse alone gives pretty good evidence they did, at least in some sense.)

Psalm 17 is included by The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for church services at Grace, among those appointed for Sexagesima Sunday (the Sunday that comes in the sixth period of ten days before Easter), the Third Sunday after Trinity, the Sixth Sunday after Trinity, the Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity, and the Twenty-seventh Sunday after Trinity. (No hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer to this psalm.)

Photo of a capstone in the Edi Upper Cemetery in the North East part of Victoria in Australia (photo by Kelvin Freemantle)My previous post on Isaiah 28-30 gives a good overview of the chapters and some specific comments on the reading. In 28:16 the Lord speaks through Isaiah of Himself as a cornerstone, which is sometimes also called a “capstone” (Psalm 118:22), over which He has already said people will stumble (Isaiah 8:14). The image with this post is of an apparently neglected capstone, from a grave marker or tomb, that is displaced in such a way that people might stumble over it (to see a larger version of the image, either click the image or see from where we got it). Israel’s king may have changed from those earlier prophecies, but the problem and Isaiah’s counsel are the same. Somewhat similarly, New Testament writers, in such places as 1 Corinthians 3:11 and 1 Peter 2:4-7, seem to have Isaiah’s passages in view. (See also the Q&A linked below.)

Today I make a few more detailed comments on some of the verses from today’s reading of Isaiah 28-30. In 28:21 note the expression “strange work” (KJV, ASV, NIV; “extraordinary work” NASB) regarding God’s work of judgment through history; it becomes Dr. Luther’s favorite phrase to refer to God’s work through His law. In 29:1, 2, 7, “Ariel” refers to the city of “Jerusalem”, although there’s debate about how the word does so. The “potter-clay” imagery in 29:16 will come up again later (for example, Isaiah 64:8). Understand 30:8 as a possible indication of the recording of at least some of Isaiah’s prophecies. If you missed in 30:15 the wonderful call to repentance and in 30:18 the Lord’s earnest desire for all to be saved, be sure to read those verses again. Finally, note the liturgical overtones near the end of chapter 30; they most likely are regarding the Feast of Tabernacles, which has an end-time emphasis anyway.

The following verses and topics are addressed in previously posted questions and answers, the links for which may be repeated in this space from day to day, as the answers may also refer to preceding or following verses:

Ask a question of your own this way.

In the historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace, Isaiah 29:18-19 is the Old Testament reading for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity, but no verses from chapters 28-30 are said to be referred or alluded to by hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal.

By the way, “The Nativity Story”, about which I commented in yesterday’s post, apparently was #9 at the box office this past weekend, making another $4.7 million in some 500 fewer theatres. Again I say, see it while you can! The Lord be with you!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:05 AM

December 17, 2006

Ps 16 / Is 25-27 / "The Nativity Story"

“Who do you trust?” That’s what the character of Joker, played by Jack Nicholson, asked a crowd of Gothamites in the 1989 movie “Batman”. Well, whom do you trust? Is it God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth? In his Large Catechism, Dr. Luther says, “That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is … really your God” (LC I:3, Tappert, 365). Dr. Luther emphasizes that point by restating it a number of times, such as, “to have a God properly means to have something in which the heart trusts completely” (LC I:10, Tappert, 366). I don’t know about you, but there are all too frequently times that I do not trust as completely in God as I should. In Psalm 16 the psalmist confesses faith and trust in the God as his Lord, especially in contrast to other gods, idols of the land, in whose sacrifices and rituals he will not participate. You see, fearing, loving, and trusting in God above all things shows itself both in how one relates to God (such as in how one worships) and in how one relates to one’s fellow human beings. Thank God that, by means of the Holy Spirit working through His Word, He brings about in us such trust in Him, and thank God that by grace through repentant faith in Jesus Christ we are forgiven for those times we fail to trust in Him. (My previous posts on Psalm 16 are here and here, and, in the first one, the allusion to this Metallica song is somewhat intentional.)

The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for church services at Grace, includes Psalm 16 among those appointed for the Second Sunday after Christmas, Easter, the Fifth Sunday after Trinity, and the day of St. Philip and St. James. In The Lutheran Hymnal, #283 is said to refer to Psalm 16:6 and #564 to 16:9. (Interestingly, #283 was originally a stanza in a Danish version of Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress”.)

Photo of a vineyard in Israel (unknown location and photographer)Reading Isaiah 25-27 today, we wrap-up a section of the book dealing with the promise of the Day of the Lord, the consummation of history. Chapter 25 praises God as if His promise of deliverance has already been faithfully fulfilled, chapter 26 is a song of praise for the Day of the Lord, and chapter 27 tells of the restoration of Israel’s remnant, including a somewhat happier vineyard song. The picture with this post is said to be of an Israeli vineyard (what you see is as large as the image is, but here is from where we got it). My previous post on these chapters is here.

There are no previously posted questions and answers on these chapters, but you are always invited to ask one!

In the historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace, Isaiah 25:6-9 is the Old Testament reading for the Second Sunday after Trinity. And Isaiah 26:9 is said to be referred to by #356 in The Lutheran Hymnal.

Yesterday I saw “The Nativity Story” movie, and I highly recommend it. If you read this post in Year 1, you know I had my doubts when the first trailers of the movie appeared, but, for someone who is usually pretty critical of such things, I had very little to nitpick. Yes, they made up things to help tell the story, but the things they made up did not seem out of the question and did help tell the story. (Herod was likely accurately portrayed as especially paranoid about the threat to his throne.) Yes, the “traditional” magi provide some comic relief (they weren’t the only ones), and they do come to the manger/cave and not a Bethlehem house, but then whose crèche does not have a set of wisemen? (Don’t get me started on the latest Matthew commentary I heard about where the magi are said to visit Jesus in Nazareth.) Overall, I was amazed at the accuracy of the whole thing (although I wished for everyone’s sake there had been subtitles for the Hebrew!). I appreciated the hints of Christmas hymns and carols that echoed through the soundtrack (although I, too, missed the Gloria). The movie told the story of our Lord’s birth with full credibility and great reverence. (Unlike other reviewers, I don’t have a major problem with the idea that God worked the “star” through a convergence of celestial phenomena.) The movie tastefully handled human matters that surely arose at the time. I will say the movie is rated PG for such adult situations and some violence, but neither the adult situations nor the violence were all that graphic. I didn’t have too much trouble explaining some things to my two nieces, one nearly six and the other nearly ten. If you are going to see it, I would suggest going soon. The movie opened December 1 and is estimated to have grossed about $19.5 million as of Friday (its production budget was about $35 million), but we went to a 7:20 p.m. showing on a Saturday night, and there were less than a dozen people in the theatre. I’m sorry more weren’t there, as two of us were moved to tears (one of us more than once). What great love our God has for us, to be born of poor human flesh and suffer and die to save us wretches from ourselves.

The Lord be with you, especially as you today come to be with Him in Word and Sacrament

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 16, 2006

Ps 15 / Is 22-24 / Folo

Do you always tell the truth? Even when it might hurt someone else? Or you? The righteous person described in Psalm 15 apparently does. Verse 4 says the person keeps his or her oath even when it hurts him or her, that he or she does not change (like, “I’ll do this for you instead”). The NIV of this verse is lacking in a couple of regards: the NIV does not make it clear that the person who could be hurt is the person keeping the oath, and the NIV also omits the phrase saying the person “does not change” what he or she has sworn or promised (in both cases compare the KJV, ASV, and NASB). Maybe you are thinking, like we all sometimes do, that little white lies are okay, especially when they make someone else (like a spouse or coworker) happy. Verse 4 may not address that matter, but the rest of the psalm does. An oath does not need to be sworn in order for us to tell the truth (see our Lord’s teaching on such matters in Matthew 5:33-37). Of course, as I say in my earlier comments on this psalm (see here and here), none of us live up to this standard of righteousness, and only by grace through faith are we forgiven for failing to do so and seen as righteous as Christ’s perfect obedience. Verse 4, interestingly enough, has another translational issue. The first phrase is often translated “In whose eyes a vile person is contemned” (KJV; or “In whose eyes a reprobate is despised” ASV, NASB; or “who despises a vile man” NIV), but a somewhat convincing argument can be made for seeing the verse as saying the righteous person is despicable in his or her own eyes, as worthy to be condemned. The proper sense of lowliness and degrading oneself (thinking less of oneself) are especially important as we approach our holy and righteous God in repentance and faith.

The Lutheran Liturgy we use for church services at Grace includes Psalm 15 among those appointed for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, Quinquagesima (the Sunday in the fifth period of ten days before Easter), Reminiscere (the Second Sunday in Lent), Rogate (the Fifth Sunday after Easter), the Fourth Sunday after Trinity, and the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity. (The Lutheran Hymnal contains no hymns said to be based on or significantly allude to Psalm 15.)

Photo of the Key of David on the outside of Hesburgh Library at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana (unknown photographer)In the midst of the judgment that we read of today in Isaiah 22-24, we also find words describing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His authority over heaven and hell. Jesus is the Key of David Whose coming we with the Church of all times and all places we call for in one of the so-called “O antiphons” dating back to before the 9th century.

O Key of David and Scepter of the House of Israel, You open and no one can close, You close and no one can open: Come and rescue the prisoners who are in darkness and the shadow of death.

The 12th-century hymn verse based on this antiphon goes as follows (The Lutheran Hymnal #62, although three stanzas missing there are given in Lutheran Worship #31 and Lutheran Service Book#357):

O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on hgh
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emamanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

As my previous post on these chapters indicates, the reference to the Key of David in Isaiah 22:22 is part of the background to the “Office of the Keys”. The picture with this post is of the Key of David symbol on the outside of the Hesburgh Library at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana (to see a larger version of the image, either click the image or see from where we got it).

There are no previously posted questions and answers on these chapters, but you are always invited to ask one!

Isaiah 22-24 is not tapped for an Old Testament reading in the historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace, nor are there any hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal that are said to be based on or allude to its verses.

Today's Biblog folo comes from this Q&A linked again in yesterday’s post that prompted a reader to email the following comment and follow-up question.

In the first three or four centuries, Christianity was more widespread in the Middle East than it is now, also in “North Africa”, including Egyptian cities. Might this [Isaiah 19:23-24] be a description of something that “has been” already?

Not all prophecy has to have an immediate and longer-range fulfillment. The wider spread Christianity the reader describes could be some form of a more-immediate fulfillment of the prophecy that I just didn’t think of when answering that question a year ago. However, the contextual clues found in the expression “In that day” (which usually refers to the final, triumphant day) still make me think the prophecy was primarily, if not solely, longer-range and that its fulfillment is yet to come.

For more on Isaiah 19-20, see this newly posted Q&A. And, there's also this new Q&A regarding Matthew 1, which we read in November. My apologies for the delay in posting yesterday; the post was there before midnight, but I apparently failed to "publish" it. The Lord be with you, especially as you tomorrow come to be with Him in Word and Sacrament!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 15, 2006

Ps 14 / Is 19-21

We anticipate weekends, holidays, and the like, often just to catch up on our sleep and rest! We anxiously wait to be delivered from difficulties, illnesses, and even this life. We long for complete deliverance, and in that way we are very much like the human author of Psalm 14. That complete deliverance comes when God defends those on whom the wicked prey. Verse 7 especially expresses the psalmist’s longing for salvation, and such a sentiment is very appropriate this Advent season as we anxiously anticipate our Lord’s final return at the close of the age, even as we regularly receive Him coming to us in Word and Sacrament. (I remember one of the first choral pieces I ever sang in church during the Advent season used v.7 as its opening.) The Lord’s deliverance in the psalmist’s time came from the Holy City, where the Lord dwelled, and in our time the Lord’s deliverance comes from His Church, where He dwells in Word and Sacrament. There we receive a foretaste of the feast to come. Our Lord’s final return will bring complete deliverance from difficulties, illnesses, and this life, and it will begin the eternal period of the rest that remains for the righteous (Hebrews 4:8-11). (You can see last year’s comments on Psalm 14 here.)

In the one-year historic lectionary we use for church services at Grace, Psalm 14 is included among those appointed for the First and Twenty-Fourth Sundays after Trinity. (Apparently no hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal are based on or significantly allude to this psalm.)

Paul Hardy’s depiction of a watchman as described by Isaiah 21:11We continue to hear of God’s judgment against the nations, as we read Isaiah 19-21, specifically prophecies against Egypt and Cush, Babylon, Dumah (that is, Edom), and Arabia. Chapter 21 makes several mention of “watchmen”, as is pictured by Paul Hardy with this post (to see a larger version of the image, either click the image or see from where we got it), and such watchmen come up again in Habakkuk and Ezekiel. Remember that there is hope in these oracles of judgment, however, as my previous comments on these chapters point out. I might also draw your attention to 19:15 and its figure of speech that is familiar from 9:14-15, and, lest after reading 20:2 you think of Isaiah as one of the first “streakers”, Isaiah probably wore a loincloth.

The following verses and topics are addressed in previously posted questions and answers, the links for which may be repeated in this space from day to day, as the answers may also refer to preceding or following verses:

If you have a question of your own, please ask it!

Nothing from Isaiah 19-21 is used for an Old Testament reading in the historic 1-year lectionary, but Isaiah 21:11 is the basis for #71 in The Lutheran Hymnal, an Advent hymn found neither in Lutheran Worship nor Lutheran Service Book. (We recently sang this hymn, and you might note how hymnwriter John Bowring takes the one question asked and answer given in Isaiah and turns them into a much longer—and clearer!—exchange.)

The Lord be with you!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 14, 2006

Ps 13 / Is 16-18 / Folo

Who or what are your enemies? Are there people that hate and actively oppose you? (Did you know the words “enmity” and “enemy” come from the same Latin word that can be translated literally as “against-friend”?) Do you feel as if, instead of a person, food, or boredom, or your health, or something else is an enemy? Psalm 13 is thought by some to have been written when Saul sent out people to hunt David from place to place. When casually reading this psalm, we may not think of ourselves as having the kind of enemies that David did, but it seems, if we stop and think about it, that we actually do. (I had written this part of this post before our midweek Advent service last night, but in his sermon in that service Pastor Sullivan made a similar point in regards to Luke 1:71.) Citizens of the United States have national enemies, and citizens of God’s kingdom, the Church, also have “national” enemies, such as the devil and the world. On a more personal level, we can also think of our own sinful flesh as actively opposed to us. Jesus Christ conquered all His and our enemies, and we by faith in Him are partakers of those victories. When we repent of our sin and trust in Him, we ultimately defeat our enemies, too. (Other thoughts on Psalm 13 can be found in last year’s post.)

In the one-year historic lectionary we use for church services at Grace, Psalm 13 is appointed apparently only for the First Sunday after Trinity. Verse 3 is said to be the basis for #555 in The Lutheran Hymnal, an ancient Greek hymn dating back to possibly the 6th or 7th century and perhaps taken from portions of the Greek Orthodox church’s Late Evening Service (and lost to the two more recent LCMS hymnals).

An unidentified artist’s depiction of terror coming at night but only lasting a night, as described by Isaiah 17:14These previous comments are helpful as you read Isaiah 16-18. Be sure not to miss the Messianic prophecy in 16:5, and, on 16:14, you might also read the brief comment here. This time as I read the chapters through I was struck by the night of terror in 17:14, which by morning is over. The image with this post, the artist of which is not identified, depicts that night of sudden terror (to see a larger version of the image, either click the image or see from where we got it). The afflictions the Lord brings on are not without an end, that is, a purpose or termination. See also 2 Kings 19:35 and Psalm 30:5. And, when our Lord comes for the final time the day after will never end.

There are no previously posted questions and answers, but please ask about what is unclear to you.

Isaiah 16-18 is used neither for Old Testament readings in the historic 1-year lectionary nor for hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal.

The Biblog folo today comes in response to my comments yesterday about the relevance for us today of Isaiah 13-15 and its prophecies against the nations. A reader emailed the following comment:

The behaviors seem to be repeated. Isaiah 13:15-18 sounds like a news report out of Bosnia or one of the African countries! And, our hands are not clean either. If I am not mistaken, the Taliban whom we now decry was our “weapon” against the Russians.

Yes, conquering armies do commit similar atrocities, regardless of where they are from and when they are conquering. I know the United States government has funded foreign forces that served its purpose at the time, only to have those forces become enemies another day. I imagine that the reader’s point of contact with the reading was that God used the Babylonians for His purpose and then turned on them when their sinful pride became offensive. In my original post I was thinking of relevance at a much more personal level, however, the warnings to us as individuals who do not repent and believe, whether in this repentant season of Advent or at any other time.

The Lord be with you!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 13, 2006

Ps 12 / Is 13-15

Psalm 12 is appointed to read today, and you can find some comments on it here and here. Today as I read this psalm, the second part of the concluding verse struck me for its less-than-happy ending to the psalm. The thought expressed in the verse is not new to the psalm there, but in some ways goes back to the psalmist’s opening complaint, although more succinctly describing the evil generation of the psalmist’s day. “The present is gloomy”, one commentator rightly says, to which I might add, “And it’s going to get only worse before it gets better.” Or, to borrow a phrase from this product of which Pastor Sullivan’s Sunday sermon reminded me, “It’s always darkest just before it goes pitch black.” Yet, although this psalm forms a circular setting of gloom, at the psalm’s center is the jewel in which the Divinely-inspired psalmist speaks for the Lord to answer his own complaint (v.5). You might also note the psalmist’s own “Amen” (v.6).

Given Psalm 12’s focus on lies and wickedness, there is little surprise that it is appointed to be used for St. Stephen’s day and the Tuesday of Holy Week, according to the lectionary we use for church services at Grace. Psalm 12 is beautifully paraphrased in Martin Luther’s hymn Ach Gott vom Himmel, sieh darein, which I picked to be sung at the Vespers Service this past Reformation Day as we have it in The Lutheran Hymnal as #260 (it is not in Lutheran Worship or Lutheran Service Book).

French artist Gustave Dore (1832-1883) rendering of Isaiah’s prophesying of the destruction of BabylonThe vast majority of Isaiah 13-15, for which you can find an overview here, gives God’s prophecy through Isaiah of Babylon’s destruction. That moment of Isaiah prophesying of Babylon’s destruction is depicted by the French artist Gustave Dore, who lived from 1832-1883 (to see a larger version of the image, either click it or here, from where we got the image).

We should not think that the prophecies against these specific nations are no longer of any relevance to us today. They certainly were in a great sense addressed to the people of those nations then, but those nations serve as examples of any kingdom of the world at any time, and their people of any people. We, likewise, need to hear the prophecy against them as warnings to us, most appropriate in this Advent season of repentant watchfulness and expectant longing for our Lord’s final deliverance.

The following verses and topics are addressed in previously posted questions and answers, the links for which may be repeated in this space from day to day, as the answers may also refer to preceding or following verses:

You are always welcome to ask your own questions this way.

Isaiah 13-15 is not excerpted in any Old Testament readings for the historic 1-year lectionary we use in services at Grace, nor are there any hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal said to be based on or allude to its verses.

The Lord be with you!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:12 AM

December 12, 2006

Ps 11 / Is 10-12 / Folo / Old folos

Psalm 11 is appointed to read today, and there are comments on it both here and here. The historical setting may well be Absolom’s rebellion that we will read about later this year, but which those of you who read last year may remember, although the psalm at least also recalls the time that David took literal shelter from Saul in mountain caves. As I read through the psalm this time, at first I was trying to understand why someone would advise a bird to flee to a mountain if there were archers poised to shoot at it if it took flight. Those two thoughts are not connected in that way, however. Rather, the reason for David to flee like a bird from the plain to a mountain is that his enemies are like archers who have not only drawn their bows but also made ready their arrows.

The lectionary we use for church services at Grace includes Psalm 11 among those appointed for the day of St. John, Apostle, Evangelist, and for the day of St. Thomas. However, there apparently are no hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal that are based on or significantly allude to Psalm 11.

Dutch painter Jan Mostaert’s unusual rendering of the Jesse Tree with oil on panel (1485)Isaiah 10-12 is our main reading today. My post from a year ago provides a good overview of the chapters and a few particular observations; there is also a brief folo on that original post here. (One other related comment is that grammatically the Spirit of 11:2 is threefold.) Certainly a highlight of the reading is chapter 11’s prophecy about the shoot that will not only rise from Jesse’s stump (the cut off end of David’s line) but also bear fruit. (In reading 10:33-34, some who read with us in Year 1 may remember the tree imagery we found in the reading of the other Old Testament prophets; note how in this case it sharpens the contrast and prepares for the promise of chapter 11.) The image with this post is the Dutch painter Jan Mostaert’s 1485 work of oil on panel illustrating the so-called Jesse Tree (to see a larger version of the image, either click it or here, from where we got the image), about which you can read more here, if you wish.

Today I want to draw your attention to the second part of 10:4 (as also in 5:25; 9:12, 17, and 21). The Lord’s righteous anger burns against His unfaithful people, and He raises His hand to strike them down, but even carrying out such punishment does not end His wrath. There is, of course, in 10:25 the promise of eventually ending His wrath and of punishing those whom He used as His rod of discipline against His people (10:26, note the parallels with Egypt in this verse and again in 11:11, 16). Although we are not literally going to be carried away into exile in Assyria (nor are we going to see the Assyrians punished), we in a sense are in exile in this world. The only way God’s wrath against us sinners comes to an end is by the substitution of Jesus’ death on the cross for our eternal death. As with the Old Testament exiles, our exile in this world will eventually come to an end, and, by grace through faith in Jesus, all who believe will be received into the promised homeland of heaven, even as the devil, whom God has used as a rod of discipline against us, ultimately himself will be punished. Finally, along these same lines, note the song of praise in chapter 12 for the Lord turning away His anger (v.1)!

There are no previously posted questions on today’s reading, but you are most welcome to ask one—click here.

Isaiah 11:1-5 is the Old Testament reading appointed by our church’s lectionary for the Sunday after Christmas, and Isaiah 12:1-6 is the Old Testament reading appointed for Cantate, The Fourth Sunday after Easter (note how that use of those verses draws a parallel between the deliverance from exile and our deliverance from sin by grace through faith in Jesus Christ Who died and rose again). The early verses of chapter 11 are also referred to by the following hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal:
  • 11:1, 2 -- #645 (Though originally a far-lengthier hymn in honor of Mary, not long after a wonderful and now relatively popular Christmas carol; I like Lutheran Worship #67's tune and translation better than that here in TLH, although either text is preferable to Lutheran Service Book #359's translation.)
  • 11:2 -- #235 (A 17th-century Pentecost hymn based on a familiar 16th-century tune, and it doesn't take sides on how many "folds" the Spirit has.)

If you want to hear the music for these hymns, you can look them up alphabetically by title here.

Today’s Biblog folo pertains to Isaiah 9:14-15, in commenting on which I drew attention to the palm branches and the reeds, the elders and prominent men and the false prophets. A reader emailed the following comment.

I see in the middle a people with no one to show them the right way; their kings are doing wrong and the spiritual leaders, as you say, are encouraging it. Of course, how few people wanted to do the right thing just doesn't happen to be in these verses. The people get roasted further along in 9:17-19. Contemporary? To be very “un PC”, the Evangelicals’ mindless pro-Israeli stance comes to mind; it may get them “face time” in the White House, but is it right?

Yes, the political and spiritual leaders were to blame for not leading the people properly, but no one made the people go along with the unfaithfulness. Even the very people who should most be protected had become wicked, as the verses to which the reader refers point out. And, while I don’t disagree with the reader’s application, I might apply it a little closer to home and say that the faithful middle of the Missouri Synod is in danger of being lost if it doesn’t do something other than follow the palms and the reeds.

Emails with our webmaster Monday reminded me that I had neglected to include links to a couple of old folos the last two days.

The Lord be with you!!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 11, 2006

Ps 10 / Is 7-9 / Folo / Comment

Remembering that in some versions Psalm 9 is one psalm with Psalm 10 helps make Psalm 10 not seem quite so harsh. We should thank and praise God for His past blessings before we ask Him for more, as the psalmist is doing in Psalm 10. Psalm 10 also gives what is regarded as a “classic” description of the wicked. In addition to thinking of those who oppress us, we might also ask if that description of the wicked does not sometimes describe us. To the extent it does, we need to repent of our own wickedness, lest our prayers for God to hold the wicked to account bring down judgment on us. (You can find earlier comments on Psalm 10 here.)

The lectionary we use for church services at Grace does not appoint Psalm 10 for Sundays, feasts, or festivals, nor does The Lutheran Hymnal contains any hymns that are said to be based on or to refer to this psalm. Those facts, while arguably not surprising given the nature of the psalm, still in and of themselves may be worth reflecting on.

A woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld depicting Isaiah being shown Jesus as, among other things, the Prince of PeaceIn some ways happier thoughts come to mind reading the next section of Isaiah, which deals with prophecies of “God with us” and the kingdom of the Messiah, beginning today with Isaiah 7-9. The German artist Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872) used the woodcut pictured in this post to depict Isaiah being shown all the wonderful things the Messiah would do (to see a larger version of the image, either click it or here, from where we got the image). My previous post on these chapters overviews them well.

Today I want to comment on just a few other things. My study Bible’s comment on 7:8 helpfully reminded me that the Assyrian colonists’ intermarriage with the Israelites of the northern kingdom gave us the “Samaritans”, who, as prophesied, could not be regarded any longer as an unique people, and whom we know from Jesus’ day. I was struck by the second part of 7:9, in part because I think it was the basis for the statement in this song by popular Christian songwriter Michael Card but also because the statement is so true: we stand before God only by faith in Jesus Christ Who died and rose again to save us from our sins. In 8:3 the term “prophetess” may only be a way of referring ot Isaiah’s wife, that is, the wife of the prophet, sort of like Pastor Sullivan’s reference in his sermon yesterday to “Mrs. Noah” (see more on “prophetesses” here). Although 8:12 is variously translated, its meaning is that Isaiah is not to go along with the people in their calling for an alliance with Assyria nor their condemnation of his going against it. Sometimes 8:16 is understood as Isaiah taking a semi-retirement of a sorts until there was more favorable leadership. Still thinking a little of Pastor Sullivan’s fine sermon, note in 9:2 the light of salvation dawning on the darkness of judgment. Finally, I was struck by 9:14-15, although I’m not exactly sure why, whether the interesting figure of speech (the palm branches and the reeds) or the idea that the false prophets might be regarded as the tail (not so much wagging the dog as coming behind flattering).

Isaiah 7:10-14 is the Old Testament reading appointed by our church’s lectionary for Christmas Day, but it is Isaiah 9 to which we find reference by the following hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal:
  • 9:2 -- #106 (A wonderful Christmas hymn based on this verse—probably the one hymn to look at today if you look at only one.)
  • 9:3 -- #574 (Who knew this hymn was from this context? Note the same tune as #93 below.)
  • 9:6 -- #78, #93 (I don’t think I’ve ever sung either one, although #78 [the lyrics of which are reportedly still under copyright] reminds me in some ways of Lutheran Worship #125, #148, and #159, all combined as #489 in Lutheran Service Book; also note that #93 has the same tune as #574 above.)

If you want to hear the music for these hymns, you can look them up alphabetically by title here.

Today’s Biblog folo comes from a reader responding to my comment in yesterday’s post on Isaiah 6 about Isaiah potentially being disappointed finding out after his miraculous call that not all people would understand and respond to his preaching. The reader emailed the following comment:

I expect all who hear the call to preach wonder about the people’s understanding, one time or another—not, I hope, all the time.

I can’t comment for all who hear the call to preach, but I can say for myself that mixed with the sadness when people do not understand and respond there is also some sense of responsibility even though I know that those who reject me are for themselves rejecting the One Who sent me and thereby the One Who sent Him (Luke 10:16). When someone understands and responds, however, I have no sense of pride or self-accomplishment but glorify God Who works through such an earthen vessel (2 Corinthians 4:7).

A reader yesterday emailed a Biblog comment about liking the hymn links in part because they bring up hymns that we don’t use that often. I’m glad if you like them. I have been enjoying them because they help me see the scriptural basis of the hymn and the context or setting for that basis. In some cases there may be a reason we don’t use the hymn often or at all. There are some hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal that we don’t use, just as there would be some in The Lutheran Service Book that we wouldn’t use, either.

Thanks to all who were a part of the Childrens’ Christmas Program last night at Grace; I still get goosebumps when I hear the Good News of our Savior’s birth proclaimed in such a way. The Lord be with you!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 02:14 AM

December 10, 2006

Ps 9 / Is 4-6

To whom do you go to settle a dispute? When we are children, we might go to a parent or a teacher. When we are older, we might go to a supervisor at work or a court judge, although more and more decisions between right and wrong are being replaced by compromises that seek to find middle or so-called common ground. The mediation and binding arbitration we all agree to in various aspects of our lives is a far cry from God’s righteous judgment of which we have a glimpse in Psalm 9. Verse 4 describes God on His royal heavenly throne and our prayers and petitions coming before Him. The O.J. Simpson-like miscarriages of justice known in this world (assuming, as so many do, that, though he was found innocent, he was guilty as sin) do not occur with God as the just judge, to whom we present our causes and claims of rights. The psalmist understands that the victory he had received was evidence of God’s more or less ruling in his favor. To the extent that our causes and claims of rights line up with God’s, we, too, will have the favor of His judgment, either immediately, as the psalmist seems to have experienced, or eventually, on the Last Great Day. On account of our guilt, we certainly deserve to enter the gates of death (v.13, and confer Job 17:16’s “bars of the pit”, Isaiah 38:9’s “gates of the grave”, and Matthew 16:18’s “gates of hell”), but by grace through faith in Jesus Christ we are not just found but made innocent by God’s righteous judgment that brings about what He says. So, instead we enter the gates of Zion with songs of praise rejoicing in God’s salvation (v.14). (Other thoughts on and comments about Psalm 9 are here and here, and there's a brief follow-up comment here.)

The lectionary we use for church services at Grace includes Psalm 9 among those psalms appointed for quite a number of Sundays, feasts, and festivals: the Third Sunday of Advent, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, The Holy Innocents, Septuagesima (the Sunday in the seventh period of ten days before Easter), Oculi (the Third Sunday in Lent), Quasimodogeniti (the First Sunday after Easter), the First Sunday after Trinity, the Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Trinity, and the day of St. Bartholomew. (The Lutheran Hymnal contains no hymns that are based on or refer to this psalm.)

The call of Isaiah as painted by Giovauni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770)There are a lot of wonderful things in today’s reading of Isaiah 4-6, but I think the highlight has to be the glimpse of eternity and heavenly worship we receive in chapter 6’s narration of the call of Isaiah. The picture in this post is of a fresco depicting the event as painted by Giovauni Battista Tiepolo, who lived from 1696-1770 (to see a larger version of the image, either click it or here, from where we got the image). You can find some general and specific comments on these chapters in the post from last year. There are also references to chapter 6 here and here.

As I read the chapters this year, a few things that warrant comments today struck me. Those of you reading in Year 1 may remember (and those of you new this year will learn in time) that those exiled to Babylon were the remnant, not those who stayed behind in Jerusalem; in Isaiah 4, however, note how “in that day” (v.2), the remnant consists of those in Jerusalem (v.3), who are redeemed (v.4), and live in the Lord’s protective Presence (vv.5-6, reminiscent of the Presence in the desert wilderness after the Exodus). You might note how chapter 5’s “Song of the Vineyard” lures the listener in with pleasant lyrics but then turns to the point the song is supposed to make (v.7 punctuates that point with a play on words in the Hebrew that is lost in English translations). We see a misuse of the Lord’s gift of music in Isaiah 5:11-12, verses that may be behind St. Paul’s comments in Ephesians 5:15-21, on which I preached this past Twentieth Sunday after Trinity. Reading chapter 6 (don’t miss the Trinitarian plural in v.8!), I reflected on what must have been disappointment for Isaiah after receiving such a miraculous call to be a prophet and then being told that the obdurate people, because they had passed the proverbial point of no return, would not understand or perceive the Good News and thereby repent. One can appreciate Isaiah’s question in verse 11, one faithful prophets and people continue to ask today: “How long, O Lord?” So, in Advent, as always we should, we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

There are no previously posted questions on today’s reading, but you are most welcome to ask one—click here.

Although no Old Testament readings appointed by our church lectionary tap Isaiah 4-6, there are a number of hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal that are based on or allude to verses from Isaiah 6:
  • 6:1-4 -- #249 (Luther's "Sanctus" hymn, as noted in last year's post.)
  • 6:7 -- #489 (A wonderful "ministry" hymn you can pray for your pastors.)
  • 6:8 -- #496, #641 (I indirectly criticized #496 a little in last year's post; we sang #641 at Pr. Sullivan'ts 25th anniversary here at Grace.)

If you want to hear the music for these hymns, you can look them up alphabetically by title here.

The Lord be with you, especially as you today come to be with Him in Word and Sacrament!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 09, 2006

Ps 8 / Is 1-3 / Revelation wrap-up

As you read Psalm 8, this post and this post provide some insights. Today I add the following thoughts. You can see the psalmist pointing to the heaven above as the Lord’s realm (vv.1, 3), but that does not mean the Lord is absent from the earth. The Lord has placed human beings as God’s representative ruler over the earthly realm (vv.6-8). And, of course, the earthly realm is from where praise comes (vv.1, 2, 9). You might also note that in contrast to the morning psalms we have been reading so far that Psalm 8 seems to be more of an evening psalm (for example, the mention of the moon instead of the sun in verse 3). This psalm is also said to be the first where more than one person appears to be speaking (that is, the “our” in the refrain of vv.1, 9), and the number of people are the Church.

In church services at Grace the lectionary we use appoints Psalm 8 among those psalms for the Fourth Sunday in Advent, the Circumcision, Easter, The Feast of the Holy Trinity, the Ninth Sunday after Trinity, and St. Michael and All Angels. No hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal are said to be based on or allude to this psalm, however.

Michelangelo’s ‘Isaiah’ in the Sistine ChapelIf you’ve been anxiously waiting to finish Revelation, today’s your day, as we read Isaiah 1-3. If Revelation fit the first half of Advent on account of their common end-times focus, then Isaiah fits the second half on account of their common focus on the beginning of the age of the Messiah (the Anointed One, or Christ), and both help us focus on repenting during this season. In fact, from now through December 30th we will be reading the book of Isaiah, the first of the so-called “latter” or “major” prophets, whose Divinely-inspired author is pictured in this post as painted in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel by the artist Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni who lived from 1475-1564 (to see a larger version of the image, either click it or here, from where we got the image). Isaiah was a son of Amoz and is regarded as the greatest of the writing prophets. He began his work as a prophet in the year King Uzziah died (probably 740 or 742 B.C.), probably had his zenith under Hezekiah, and may have ended it during the reign of Manasseh, when an unsubstantiated but credible Jewish tradition says he was sawed in half (confer Hebrews 11:37). Thus, Isaiah likely served as a prophet around the same time as Amos, Hosea, and Micah, whose books we read in October and November. Isaiah appears to have authored a biography of a sort for both Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:22) and Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 32:32), which books have not survived to our time, but may have been source material for the author of Chronicles. During the time that Isaiah wrote, the Assyrian empire was expanding and Judah’s stature was declining. Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, which threatened Judah. Isaiah ultimately prophesied both of the Babylonian captivity of Judah and of Babylon’s fall at the hands of the Medes and Persians. Isaiah was married, and his two sons were given symbolic names of such prophecies. (If you followed the Daily Lectionary during Year 1, these historical developments are probably going to be familiar; if you are new to the Daily Lectionary during this Year Two, then do not worry too much about the historical details yet, as you will have lots of opportunities over the year for them to be reinforced and expanded.) Isaiah can be divided into two parts, although, unlike others, we do not thereby wrongly deny Isaiah’s authorship of both. The first part, chapters 1-39, speaks words of judgment and promise, and the second part, chapters 40-66, speaks words of comfort.

The December Lectionary Background gives some highlights of the book, and this post addresses today’s reading of Isaiah 1-3. Today I make the following comments. First, the opening prophecies in chapter 1 are likely not Isaiah’s first prophecies but stand at the head of the book by way of introducing its contents. Second, in light of the perhaps well-known expression of sin’s stain in 1:18, be sure not to miss in 1:16 the sacramental direction for removing that stain by way of Holy Baptism, the washing of water and the Word. Baptized and so with the right approach of faith, our sacrifices of praise and confession in word and deed are most welcome by God. Third, as we all grow weary of the seemingly endless war in Iraq, we do well to remember that the kind of peace described in 2:1-5, which is similar to Micah 4:1-3, is not likely to be a worldwide “peace on earth” until our Lord’s final coming. (So much for v.4’s reported use on the cornerstone of the United Nations’ building in New York.)

For all the use of Isaiah as Old Testament readings in the historic 1-year lectionary we use in services at Grace, there are no readings appointed from chapters 1-3, nor are there any hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal that are said to refer to verses from these chapters.

Today I have a Revelation wrap-up. Such summaries of the books after we complete them were one of the things suggested in our survey at the end of Year 1.

Who was the author? Revelation was written by the beloved disciple, the apostle and evangelist John, the brother of James and fellow son of Zebedee and co-“son of thunder”, a Jew who also wrote the Gospel according to St. John, and the letters known as 1, 2, and 3 John.
What is the book? The book of Revelation may be regarded as a letter, or epistle, that begins with seven short letters to specific congregations but primarily consists of a letter to the church at large detailing a revelation from the Lord Jesus to St. John, given in highly apocalyptic imagery.
Where was it written? The book may have been written while John was in Ephesus before John was exiled to the island of Patmos, where he is held to have died of natural causes.
When? The church father Irenaeus says the book was written near the end of the reign of the emperor Domitian’s reign, so we might date the book around 95-96 A.D., making it the last canonical New Testament book to have been written.
Why? In addition to revealing Jesus Christ as the only Savior from sin, the book of Revelation especially comforts the Church, troubled by false teachers and persecuted by the world (“church” and “state”) in these latter days, and calls Her to prepare for the Lord’s final coming.
How? Written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Revelation accomplishes its purposes of strengthening and comforting the saints by painting various scenes of the difficulties the Church must experience but essentially concluding each with a picture of the Church triumphing by faith in Christ and joining in His eternal worship and leading Her to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

If you are interested in further reading on the book of Revelation, the following are recommended:
  • Brighton, Louis A. Revelation, Concordia Commentary: A Theological Exposition of Sacred Scripture, eds. Jonathan F. Grothe et. al. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. (A relatively recent and scholarly, though accessible, commentary.)
  • Poellot, Luther. Revelation: An Explanation of the Last Book in the Bible. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing Hosue, 1962. (A very accessible though a bit dated treatment.)

In the future, I hope to have these short summaries made a part of the Daily Lectionary - Biblical Index page for each book.

I pray that God is blessing you through your daily reading of His Word and through the pages we provide. Let us hear from you with any comments or questions. You might be interested to know that Friday I stumbled across a similar web-based project, although I honestly think ours is better because it reflects the true teaching of Holy Scripture. The Lord be with you, especially as you tomorrow come to be with Him in Word and Sacrament!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 08, 2006

Ps 7 / Rev 21-22 / Purple or blue?

To whom do we turn when something happens to us as individuals or as a family? What about when something to our country? Our congregation or church body? That the Lord our God is the only refuge we have from any and all who pursue us is the focus of the opening verse of Psalm 7. The KJV translates “I put my trust” where the ASV, NIV, and NASB have “take refuge” and a commentator renders “hide myself”; all essentially have the same meaning, the more literal meaning of taking shelter gives us the more figurative meaning of putting trust in someone or something. Similarly, the things that might be sought for literal refuge come to be used as figures of speech for God’s protection—rock, shield, cover, wings, fortress, and the like. Perhaps these figures of speech come full circle with the Temple as a place of refuge. When we seek out the Lord as refuge, we are confessing that on our own we are threatened and helpless, but seeking the Lord as our refuge leads to salvation, the forgiveness of sins by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. (You can find my original somewhat general comments on Psalm 7 here, a post on verses 14-16 here, and follow-up discussion of that post here.)

In the lectionary we at Grace use in church, Psalm 7 is among those psalms appointed for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Palm Sunday, the Monday of Holy Week, the Second Sunday after Trinity, and the day of St. Simon and St. Jude. And, Psalm 7 is said to be the basis for two hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal: verse 1 for #526 (a wonderful “cross and comfort” hymn that helps us accept the afflictions we face) and verse 17 for #549 (a hymn that I don’t think I know at all, although its title is similar to an evening hymn I know).

The Angel Showing St.John the New Jerusalem Hopefully any doubts about the comforting nature of the book of Revelation will disappear after reading Revelation 21-22 today. Before concluding the book, these two chapters tell of the new heaven, new earth, and new Jerusalem. My previous post on these chapters covers them fairly well, I think, and there is a very brief comment here about 22:18-19. (Note that any jokes about St. Peter letting people in through the pearly gates don’t fit with St. John’s vision.) The last of our Durer Revelation woodcuts depicts the angel showing St. John the new Jerusalem, while in the foreground is pictured the angel of 20:1 with the key to the bottomless pit (to see a larger version of the image, either click it or here, from where we got the image).

The following verses and topics are addressed in previously posted questions and answers, the links for which may be repeated in this space from day to day, as the answers may also refer to preceding or following verses:

If you have a question, please ask.

Revelation 21:1-5 is appointed by our church lectionary to use as the Epistle reading for the Dedication of a Church. There are also a number of hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal that focus on verses from today’s reading:
  • ch.21 -- #72 (As I noted yesterday, this Advent hymn is replete with bridal and festal imagery; having been omitted from Lutheran Worship, it is given a different tune and updated language in Lutheran Service Book #515.)
  • 21:4 -- #592
  • 21:18 -- #613
  • 21:22 -- #609 (The last line of the second stanza of this hymn, as I noted yesterday, is better translated “To eat the Supper at Thy call”, as by LSB #516.)
  • 21:24 -- #605 (“The beatific vision” in the third stanza is the vision of God that the blessed have in heaven, although Moses [Exodus 34:28-35] and St. Paul [2 Corinthians 12:2-4] may be said to have had it briefly in this life.)
  • ch.21-22 -- #23
  • 22:16 -- #343 (Lutheran Worship #73 omitted the second stanza from TLH, and Lutheran Service Book follows suit.)

If you want to hear the music for these hymns, you can look them up alphabetically by title here.

Purple or blue? In Wednesday’s Biblog post while discussing Revelation 15-17’s teaching about the urgency of repentance, I commented on the common penitential nature of Advent and Lent as reflected in their shared purple paraments (altar, lectionary, and pulpit frontals and pastors’ stoles and chasuble—the color of the Advent wreath candles, too, to some extent). Email from a Biblog reader and questions from members at churches this past Sunday that had blue paraments prompted today’s discussion. Let me start by saying that generally-speaking when it comes to parament colors we are dealing with what could be called an adiaphoron, an indifferent matter, at least under normal circumstances (for example, provided no one tells us we cannot, or must, use purple or blue). We do not have a word of Holy Scripture or the Lutheran Confessions telling us to use purple or blue paraments during the season of Advent, although the Lutheran Confessions clearly keep the seasons of the church year and presumably all their customs that do not interfere with the proclamation of salvation only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The historical—or, if you will pardon the word “traditional”—practice is usually a good guide in such cases, but in this matter may not be as guiding as we might like.

Although we usually think of purple as the more “traditional” color and blue as the more “contemporary” color, the colors used for Advent apparently varied in different places among different groups, as apparently also did the particular emphasis of Advent. Blue is said to originate, perhaps independently, in the ancient Spanish Roman Catholic rites and in Swedish Lutheran practice. Many, however, think the use of blue is a relatively recent innovation of the last 30 years or so, and at least one Lutheran source refers to “liturgical revisions of the 1960s”, what could even be a veiled reference to the Roman Catholic church’s Second Vatican Council. Blue for Advent, however, is apparently regarded by the Roman Catholics as “not standard” and is apparently not to be used in the United States. Depending on what sources of information are deemed credible, especially those on the internet (few of which give their sources), one might make different conclusions about any number of aspects of this discussion.

Nothing about the discussion is easy, even the colors in question. Are we talking about deep blue, light blue, or royal blue? What about deep purple, light purple, violet, or bluer-hues of purple to distinguish Advent from Lent? Even if the two seasons are taken with the greatest of emphasis on penitence, Advent still is a different season, and some suggest it have its own purple paraments (perhaps violet instead of the deep or dark purple). To be sure, one does not want symbols most specifically related to the passion (such as nails, a crown of thorns, a whip, a spear, etc.) on paraments used for Advent and Lent, and the Lamb is said to be the only symbol truly common to each season. As Advent supposedly changed somewhat from a solemn penitential preparation, first for Epiphany and then for the Nativity of our Lord, the call for fasting during Advent lessened and the season took on a more hopeful emphasis, eventually anticipating the Lord’s return in glory, even as we presently also emphasize His coming to us now in Word and Sacrament.

The sure and certain hope we have by faith in our Lord’s death and resurrection, the sure and certain hope of our Lord’s return, and somewhat repentant preparation during this time of anticipation are included in the use of blue over purple. Some point to a darker blue of the night sky that lacks the Dayspring, the source of day’s light. Others point to a lighter sky blue (perhaps like our chancel walls and ceiling) that recall the heavens to which He ascended and from which He will return. Blue, of course, is also a color associated with the Virgin Mary, the Mother of our Lord, who to still others is the Queen of Heaven. Mary may well in a sense wait with those in heaven while we wait and watch below, but that hardly justifies the use of a Marian blue during Advent. Similarly, while Mary figures prominently in some Advent readings, she is not the season’s focus (any more than she is the focus even of the festival days more closely associated with her, such as the Visitation and Anunciation).

Blue and purple are both royal colors appropriate for the Newborn, Crucified, and Coming King. The royal association apparently came about because fabrics dyed in darker colors were more expensive and thus only available to wealthy kings. Sources of the dye—whether berries, shellfish, or something else—may have differed by region and resulted in different colors being used by kings and thus for church paraments. The season of Lent, of course, has less of a royal emphasis than Advent, whereas they are both penitential seasons. Dying something black was very difficult, so the use of dark purple or dark blue for the penitential seasons may have just been the closest people could come to black. Congregations that could not afford purple fabric back then may have had to settle for blue, and costs are still a consideration for congregations that perhaps cannot afford different paraments for Lent and Advent. Today’s parament providers do not profit from the use of one color over another, although such providers certainly benefit from selling an additional set of paraments. (Did I mention some congregations have rose-colored paraments to match the “pink” candle associated with Gaudete, the Third Sunday of Advent?)

The Lord be with you!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 07, 2006

Ps 6 / Rev 18-20

Following a morning psalm, Psalm 6 somewhat similarly looks back on a sorrowful night. In fact, this psalm is one of the so-called seven penitential Psalms, perhaps associated with the seven days of the week. There is no formal confession of sin, but the psalmist surely recognizes that God would be righteous in carrying out His anger and wrath, although he nevertheless pleads for God’s mercy (vv.1-2). The psalmist does not plead for the removal of the rebuke or discipline, mind you, but for the rebuke and discipline to proceed not from God’s anger and wrath but from God’s love and grace. We do well likewise to pray this psalm, recognizing our own sin that deserves God’s anger and wrath but nevertheless pleading for God’s mercy and for His rebuke and discipline to proceed from His love and grace. You can find more about praying this psalm in my previous post on Psalm 6.

Given Psalm 6’s penitential focus, there is little surprise that, in the lectionary we use in church, Psalm 6 is among those appointed for the First Sunday in Advent, Ash Wednesday, Oculi (the Third Sunday of Lent), the Monday of Holy Week, the Second Sunday after Trinity, and a Day of Humiliation and Prayer. Likewise, based on Psalm 6:1, The Lutheran Hymnal #321 is a 1572 hymn by Nikolaus Selnecker that focuses on finding comfort in absolution. I don’t know that I had ever noticed this hymn before, but it is quite good. (Sadly, it was not included in Lutheran Worship, nor is it included in Lutheran Service Book.)

The Adoration of the Lamb In our reading of Revelation, Revelation 18-20 tells us of the fall of Babylon (chapter 18), of praise for Babylon’s fall and for the wedding of the Lamb (chapter 19), and of the period of the church that ends with Satan’s ultimate destruction and judgment of all (chapter 20). My previous post on these chapters also provides a bit of an overview, as well as some specific comments. (I might add that the lament over Babylon in Revelation 18:9-20 is apparently modeled after the lament over, or prophecy against, Tyre in Ezekiel 27, which some of you may recall from our reading and discussion October 18th.) Incidentally, the Durer woodcut with today’s post is said to be based on the adoration of the Lamb as described in chapter 5, but I thought it also worked today, given the praise for the wedding of the Lamb in chapter 19 that breaks forth after the destruction of Babylon (to see a larger version of the image, either click it or here, from where we got the image).

Are you remembering that Revelation is to provide comfort to the Church undergoing persecution? Last night before our first midweek Advent meal and Vespers service, a member who was struggling through the daily reading of Revelation thanked me for my words encouraging perseverance (perhaps those in this post). The member rightly recognized that Revelation is part of God’s Word, but I think that some of the difficulty in reading the book was keeping the member from appreciating how it related to our faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Maybe walking through today’s reading a little bit will help. The destruction of Babylon in chapter 18 generally symbolizes the destruction of all the evil forces threatening God’s faithful people in the Church. Even though this destruction has not yet been fully carried out, its completion is certain, and we can sing forth in worship as described in chapter 19. Note how 19:5 is addressed to us who believe in God. We are part of the Church, the Bride of Christ, Who He has made holy (Ephesians 5:26-27), and, although we have not yet begun the eternal marriage feast of the Lamb, we have a foretaste of that feast now in the Sacrament of the Altar. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is that Lamb, Who also is the conqueror of Satan and all those allied with him. Chapter 20 tells essentially the same story just in different terms: Satan has limited influence now, during the symbolic 1,000-year time of the Church, but when the end comes he will get what is coming to him, as will unbelievers and believers receive their respective rewards. Praise God that by His gracious act in Holy Baptism we are forgiven by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and find our names written in the Book of Life.

Previous questions and answers deal with the following verses and topics (note that these links may repeat from one day to the next, based on different verses referred to in the answers):

If you have a question of your own, please ask.

While nothing from our reading of Revelation 18-20 is appointed by our lectionary for use in services at Grace, there are a number of hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal based on verses from these chapters:
  • 19:1 -- #23, #244 (I had never noticed that these popular hymns of praise were based on this Revelation text.)
  • 19:6-9 -- #609 (More strictly based on Matthew 25:1-13, this hymn makes the connection between the wedding feast and the Sacrament of the Altar, although the last line of the second stanza is better translated “To eat the Supper at Thy call” [LSB #516].)
  • 19:8 -- #305 (Note this Lord’s Supper hymn with its bridal imagery.)
  • 19:12 -- #341 (I had never connected this popular hymn with this verse, even though it is listed at the top of the page and looking at it now I don’t know why I am surprised.)
  • 19:16 -- #339 (This hymn is another one of our Lord’s glorious final triumph.)
  • ch.20 -- #72 (This Advent hymn is replete with bridal and festal imagery; having been omitted from Lutheran Worship, it is given a different tune and updated and altered language in Lutheran Service Book #515, although there the “Desire of nations” in the fourth stanza is sadly replaced with “O Sun so longed for”.)

If you want to hear the music for these hymns, you can look them up alphabetically by title here.

The Lord be with you!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:41 AM

December 06, 2006

Ps 5 / Rev 15-17 / Folos

You can find comments on Psalm 5 here, with follow-up comments prompted by questions here and here. When what appear to be bad things happen to us, we question God’s protection and favor (vv.11-12), but God does not fail to protect or shield us with His favor or good will. Our problem is either that we do not see how the things that happen to us are for our benefit or that we do not let them be to our benefit. We are challenged to perceive all things according to the will of God that is revealed to us in Jesus Christ, knowing that all things work together for good for those who love God (Romans 8:28), that is, in His Church for the benefit of which He rules the world (Ephesians 1:22).

In the historic 1-year lectionary we use in the services at Grace, Psalm 5 is among those appointed for Reminiscere (the Second Sunday in Lent), Laetare (the Fourth Sunday in Lent), and the First Sunday after Trinity. Only hymn #541 in The Lutheran Hymnal is said to refer to Psalm 5 (verse 3, the reference to “morning”; note the hymn’s placement in the morning section).

The Whore of BabylonRevelation 15-17 today tells us about St. John’s vision of the seven bowls (chapters 15-16) and describes Babylon as a great prostitute (chapter 17). The image is of the so-called whore of Babylon (to see a larger version of the image, either click it or here, from where we got the image). My previous post on these chapters is here. Remember not to get too caught up in trying to identify what are most likely symbolic numbers with actual people or events.

The urgency of repentance is clear. Chapter 15’s seven plagues connected with the seven vials or bowls are the complete number of the final warnings God gives the world before the end comes. Whereas in our reading the warnings affect only the unbelievers, that does not mean that believers should not live every day in repentant faith. Advent is a season not so much as the world thinks of it with excitement and joy that Christmas is coming, but it is a season of repentance, sorrow over our sin and faith in the Lord—Who came, comes, and is coming again—for forgiveness of that sin. Advent shares that penitential nature with Lent, as symbolized by the deep purple paraments on the altar, lectern, pulpit, and pastors’ stoles and chasuble. Depending on the severity of our sin, we may fall out of the faith and need to be reconverted. No one knows at what point the gracious invitation to believe may be withdrawn or when the person’s own death or the Lord’s final coming may make repentance too late. All is not doom and gloom, however, and our reading from Revelation reminds us that believers are joyous and at worship, with psalm-like hymns, confessing their faith and declaring the Gospel to the world. (We do well to note how prominently the Temple, incense, and other accoutrements of worship figure in these visions.)

Previous questions and answers deal with the following verses and topics (note that these links may repeat from one day to the next, based on different verses referred to in the answers):

If you have a question, click here.

Nothing from our reading today of Revelation 15-17 is used in the series of readings we use in the services at Grace, nor are there any hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal that are said to refer to verses from these chapters.

I have two Biblog folos today. First, reacting to the reading of Revelation 9:5-6 and its comments on the sting of the scorpion and people longing to die, a reader comments via email as follows.

Meant to be scary, isn’t it! I’ve seen one nest of scorpions, with babies the length of my little finger. That’s as close as I want to get. Nobody got stung, but we were a lot more careful in picking up our firewood that camp out. [As to the next verse,] I have known, and do know, people who feel they have lived too long—usually because illness has restricted their activities, or because they feel “warehoused” by their children, or both.

I would not be surprised if for some people having activities restricted and being warehoused are excruciating torment. As St. John describes it by Divine inspiration, the sting of the scorpion represents excruciating torment just short of death. Such torment by locust is allowed for five months (said to be the usual length of the locust season), which is to say that, while the torment is not short, it is limited. The torment is so excruciating that people despair but find that they cannot die to end the torment.

Second, a reader emailed to comment on the Durer woodcut included in the December 4th post that “feet like pillars of fire” were a rather literal rendering of Revelation 10:1. The reader also wondered what Durer might have done with the pillars of cloud and fire that followed the Israelites day and night, respectively. I agree that Durer did not picture the fiery-pillar legs the way I might have, but then I might be unduly influenced by Cecil B. DeMille’s “Ten Commandments” visualization of the pillars of cloud and fire. Since the reader raised the topic of the woodcuts, I can say that I would love to understand Durer’s images more than I do, but I think even without understanding every detail we can still benefit from seeing them.

Thanks to a reader's question on Revelation 12:11, there's a new answer posted here. Remember all are invited to the first midweek Advent Vespers service tonight at 7:00, with the meal preceding, starting at 6:00. The Lord be with you!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 05, 2006

Ps 4 / Rev 12-14

Remembering that yesterday’s Psalm 3 is related to today’s Psalm 4, you can find comments on the psalm both here and here. Since Jesus’ death on the cross has fully atoned for our sin, the kind of sacrifices we can think of in regards to verse 5 are those described in such places as Psalm 51:17 and Hebrews 13:15, remembering that God calls us to repent of our sins and that His forgiveness brings forth the praise and confession of His Name!

Psalm 4 is included among the Psalms appointed for the 1st Sunday in Advent and for the days of St. Matthias and St. Philip and St. James in the historic 1-year lectionary we use in the services at Grace. (There are no hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal that are said to refer to Psalm 4.)

The Dragon with Seven Heads Revelation 12-14 that we read today is headed “Various Personages and Events” on one of the outlines of Revelation that I checked. On that same outline, we find various subsections, beginning with the vision of the woman and the dragon in chapter 12, as pictured on the left (to see a larger version of the image, either click it or here, from where we got the image). Chapter 13 tells of the two beasts, and chapter 14 tells both about the Lamb and the 144,000 (14:1-5) and about the harvest of the earth (14:6-20). My previous post on these chapters follows a slightly different organizational scheme, but, of course, has helpful comments! There I pointed out how Dr. Luther was likened to the angel in 14:6-7, but his Roman Catholic opponents found him in a different place in today’s reading (for a clue, click here). Here is another literary reference based on 14:19 and the song I mentioned in the previous post.

The book of Revelation provides hope and thus comfort to the persecuted Church during the time of its exile on earth. Do note that in 12:6 the time of the woman’s stay in the desert is the same as the time of persecution (see also 11:2; 13:5). The victory is assured, as the proclamation in heaven declares (12:10-12). We patiently endure the persecution in this world, never wavering from our confession of the faith (13:10).

Previous questions and answers deal with the following verses and topics:

If you have a question of your own, use the link on the left side near the top of the main Biblog page.

Of today’s reading of Revelation 12-14, Revelation 14:1-5 is appointed as the Epistle reading for Holy Innocents and Revelation 14:6-7 for Reformation in the historic 1-year series of readings that we use in the services at Grace. There’s little surprise, then, that you also find a number of hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal based on verses from that same chapter; among them are one corresponding to Holy Innocents and one to Reformation:
  • 14:4 -- #273 (For more on Holy Innocents, see here; I have also since learned that this hymn is in the electronic version of Lutheran Service Book.)
  • 14:6 -- #505
  • 14:6,7 -- #266 (Check your hymnal, as the lyrics are not posted on the usual site.)
  • 14:13 -- #589, #592 (Remember that the body sleeps in the earth, but the soul does not.)

If you want to hear the music for these hymns, you can look them up alphabetically by title here.

The Lord be with you!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 04, 2006

Ps 3 / Rev 9-11

Moving on from the two psalms that somewhat introduce the Psalter, today we come to Psalm 3, which has some connections to Psalm 4, including the references to the psalmist sleeping, which help drive home God’s care for us day and night. You can read my previous thoughts on Psalm 3 here, and today I add a few more. Verse 2 quotes the mockers, which is said to be a frequent device in the Psalms, but the content of this verse made me think of our Lord’s Passion and those who taunted Him while He was on the cross. (See Psalm 22:8 and, for example, Matthew 27:43.) Such taunting is hardly necessary for us to feel as if we are completely surrounded and about to be overcome (verse 6). How easily we let difficulties and uncertainties in our own lives darken our outlooks and make us think all is nearly—if not completely—lost. Not so David, who, at least in this Psalm verse, refuses to be afraid or doubt that God will sustain him. We do well to emulate his faith, remembering that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:28-39, but especially vv.38-39).

Given the potential connection to our Lord’s Passion, there maybe is little surprise that the historic 1-year lectionary we use in the services at Grace includes Psalm 3 among those for Good Friday; it also among those appointed for the 27th Sunday after Trinity (the last Sunday of the church year) and for the day of St. Andrew. Verse 5 of the psalm is the basis for two 19th-century“evening” hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal, #553 and #653. (#653 is a favorite of many at Grace and is printed in Lutheran Service Book with the four German stanzas that originally went with the tune [#887], although the English is apparently at least somewhat of an independent composition).

St.John Devouring the Book In Revelation 9-11, we continue with the vision of the seven trumpets that we began yesterday. The sixth trumpet unleashes much destruction as told in chapter 9. Next is the vision of St. John receiving a scroll from an angel (chapter 10 and see the image [to see a larger version of the image, either click it or here, from where we got the image]), and after that vision we hear of the two witnesses and the seventh and final trumpet, which brings the end and thus more worship of God. As I read these chapters this time, I was struck by many of the same things as last time, so I am happy to simply direct you to that post.

There are no previously posted questions with answers on today’s reading, but you are welcome to ask about anything; use the link on the left side near the top of the main Biblog page. The chapters we read today are not included in the 1-year lectionary of readings for Divine Services, and the only hymn connected with today’s reading is The Lutheran Hymnal #222, indexed under Revelation 11:15 (even though the hymn seems to relate to our Lord’s final coming, it is in the “ascension” section in TLH, as well as in LSB, where it also has a completely different tune).

I apologize for the delay in getting yesterday’s post up. I had some technical difficulties that would not allow me to post it Saturday night. (And, for those of you who are new to the Biblog this church year, I will say that such technical glitches are generally rare.) The Lord be with you!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:06 AM

December 03, 2006

Ps 2 / Rev 6-8 / Folo / Biblog Comments

The second of two Psalms that serve as a bit of an introduction to the Psalms, Psalm 2 is appointed to read today. We do well to remember that this Psalm, more than many other Psalms, is highly Messianic, that is, it points very clearly to the Messiah, the Christ, our Lord Jesus. New Testament writers frequently quote this Psalm, you might notice, for example, how verse 7 is used in Acts 13:33 and Hebrews 1:5. (Verse 9 may seem familiar, for we just read Revelation 2:27, which alludes to it.) For other thoughts on this Psalm, you can find last December 3rd’s post here. I mentioned in that post that Psalm 2 brings to my mind Handel’s Messiah. Movement 40 is a bass solo based on verses 1-2; movement 41 is a chorus based on verse 3; movements 42 and 43 are tenor solos based on verses 4 and 9, respectively. (You can listen to a few seconds of three of the four and buy them all here, where they are numbered 17-20 in Part II.)

Given the Messianic emphasis of Psalm 2, there is little surprise that it comes up in the historic 1-year lectionary we use in the services at Grace appointed for Christmas, the Feast of the Nativity (or “birth”) of Our Lord. Psalm 2 is also appointed for the Presentation of Christ and the Purification of Mary (February 2); Easter, the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord; and the day of St. Thomas.

Four Angels Staying the Winds You may come across some familiar verses with today’s appointed reading of Revelation 6-8. The previous post on these chapters provides a good overview of the reading. (There is also a comment on 6:10 in passing here.) The image that you hopefully can see as part of this post, another Durer woodcut, relates to Revelation 7 and shows the angels restraining the four winds while the servants of God are sealed on their foreheads with the sign of the cross. Such signing with the cross takes place in Holy Baptism and is recalled with the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday. (To see a larger version of the image, either click it or here, from where we got the image.)

Today I add the following comments on 6:9-11. When the fifth seal is opened, we see under the altar the souls of the martyrs, presumably disembodied. They seem to be aware of the passage of time, waiting for the final consummation of the Lord’s promises, at which time their blood would be avenged and when they would also receive their glorified bodies. In this figurative vision, however, they are given robes to wear, robes of Christ’s righteousness that we receive in Holy Baptism (and see Matthew 22:11-14). These souls’ apparent awareness of the passage of time is sometimes used as an argument that the saints in heaven are aware of things going on here below and therefore also that they can make specific prayers for us. Even if they do know what is going on below and can make specific prayers for us, however, we are not justified in praying to them. The usual argument that they don’t know what is going on here below is that if they did then they wouldn’t be happy in heaven (the kind of happiness alluded to in 7:17—and note the Shepherd imagery there), but in some ways that argument underestimates the heavenly bliss of God’s eternal Presence.

Previous questions and answers deal with the following verses and topics:

Remember your questions are welcome and will be posted anonymously. To ask, use the link on the left side near the top of the main Biblog page.

Of today’s reading of Revelation 6-8, Revelation 7:9-17 is appointed for All Saints’ Day in the historic 1-year series of readings that we use in the services at Grace. There’s little surprise, then, that you also find a number of hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal based on verses from that same chapter:
  • 7:2-7, 9, 10 -- #471
  • 7:13-17 -- #656 (a very strong and favorite hymn)
  • 7:15 -- #468
  • 7:17 -- #476

If you want to hear the music for these hymns, you can look them up alphabetically by title here.

Reaction to the craziness regarding Santa Claus linked as a tidbit in Thursday’s post is today’s Biblog folo. A reader emailed suggesting that the Santa Claus Americans recognize is a product of the mid 1800s. The reader also reported reading in an on-line discussion forum that well-known figures from the earliest days of the LCMS had reported Santa Claus being a part of Lutheran congregational festivities in the 1500s, which festivities also reportedly included presentations of the Nativity story using marionettes.

We are just the third day into the year two of the Daily Lectionary, but I already have some Biblog comments, generally related to the new content and “format”. A reader said there was a lot the first day’s post and expressed appreciation for the hymn links related to the day’s reading and for the art work, although the reader commented on the complexity of Durer’s images. I am trying to provide at least something new each day so that, if you read the Biblog posts during year one, you will find new content. I am mindful that not everyone will have time to take all the content in, but I hope you all feel the basics are still being covered. Linking to the old post does take you to old tidbits and other content that is in some ways dated (references to old church services, specific current events, and the like), but until we have the new version of at least the Daily Lectionary pages on-line we will have to settle for linking to those old posts. I will try to always make sure the new hymn links work, and today I gave some direction for finding the tunes to them, if you want to. (Hymns in the new Lutheran Service Book can be found in the copy of that new hymnal that is in our church library.) You also have the option of going to a larger version of the image, and we will leave that image as large as possible so you can inspect it more carefully, but the larger image will not automatically open so as to keep your page download time as short as possible. Durer has some great woodcuts in connection with Revelation, but there may or may not be an image every day, and it most likely will not always be a Durer woodcut. Thanks to that reader for the comments, and I will be happy to hear what you think, too!

The Lord be with you, especially today in Word and Sacrament!!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 02, 2006

Ps 1 / Rev 3-5 / Folo

For comments on today’s reading of Psalm 1, see here and here, which together cover this particular psalm fairly well. Since I don’t think I have done that anywhere else, today I thought I would make a few general comments about the book of Psalms. The book of Psalms is often called the hymnal of the Old Testament for its contents of songs of praises and prayer, used both in public worship and at home. The titles “Psalms” or “the Psalter” come from the title for the book used by the Greek translation of the Old Testament; the word originally referred to stringed instruments and then to songs sung accompanied by such instruments. (The title “Psalms” is also used in the New Testament to refer to all the Old Testament “writings”, of which Psalms came first.) Not all every “psalm” is found in the book of “the Psalms”, that is, there are Psalm-like songs in other books (for example, 1 Samuel 2:1-10, Luke 1:46-55, 68-79), and some psalms found in Psalms are also found in other books (for example, Psalm 18 in 2 Samuel 22). The Psalter as we have it contains psalms collected over a period of time and most likely written by a number of people (not just David, although he is said to have authored a goodly number of them). Some psalms identify their authors in their superscriptions, which also sometimes specify the type of psalm, provide musical or liturgical notations, or say what occasioned the psalm’s composition, thus giving a potential clue to a date. Not everyone accepts the superscriptions at face value, especially the accuracy of the author and occasion superscriptions (the New English Bible omits all superscriptions). The ones indicating authorship might instead reflect use by, dedication to, or style of. Regardless of style the psalms are all poems of one sort or another, rich in figures of speech, parallelism (either restating a statement or stating its opposite), stanzas and strophes, and other usual characteristics of poetry, although the usual attribute of rhyme, which we generally think of in connection with poetry in our time, was not an attribute of Hebrew poetry. Meter is a somewhat more complex matter, as are the numbering of verses and the psalms themselves. The Psalter as we have it has been divided into five Books, perhaps imitating the five books of Moses, the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Bible. Dr. Luther thought the Psalter promised Christ’s death and resurrection so clearly that it could be thought of as a little Bible. (St. Matthew’s Gospel account, which some read at the end of November, pointed out some of those promises of Christ.) Dr. Luther also saw the Psalms as a book of examples of the saints, showing both what we saints still do (such as our attitudes toward God, friends, enemies, suffering, and the like) and what the chief saint, Jesus Christ, has done—and He is surely the author, speaker, and content of the Psalms as He is of all of Holy Scripture.

Psalm 1 is more than something to read as part of the Daily Lectionary. You may be interested to know that in the historic 1-year lectionary we use in the services at Grace that Psalm 1 is one of those appointed for the Second Sunday in Advent, Invocavit (the First Sunday of Lent), Rogate (the Fifth Sunday after Easter), the Eighth Sunday after Trinity, and the days of St. Philip and St. James; St. James the Elder; and St. Simon and St. Jude. And, you may choose today to include in your devotions The Lutheran Hymnal #414, which is Isaac Watts’ hymn paraphrasing the psalm.


St. John in the clouds
We hear a hymn sung in heaven as part of our reading today of Revelation 3-5. You can find a general overview of and some notes and thoughts on these chapters here. If you were reading with us last church year, I trust that you are recognizing some of the imagery in Revelation as drawing on Old Testament apocalyptic literature. (The image that you hopefully can see as part of this post, another Durer woodcut, shows St. John before the heavenly throne; to see a larger version of the image, either click it or here, from where we got the image.)

How do you like Central Texas’ 50-degree swings in temperature? From nearly 80 Wednesday to nearly 30 then next—wouldn’t something a little more tepid be better? When it comes to our spiritual lives, however, tepid temperatures are not what we need. Jesus tells St. John to write to the pastor (and church) at Laodicea: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other” (Revelation 3:15 NIV). Water from hot springs entered a river at Hierapolis, but it cooled down considerably by the time the water reached nearby Laodicea. Jesus alludes to this as He calls the people there—and us—to commit fully to Him and His Church. Jesus came to give His life for you and for me, to save us from our sinful selves and the death we deserve. He went to the cross for us and calls us to follow Him in that way. His call means regularly receiving His gift of forgiveness through Word and Sacraments, being willing to make Him our highest priority, and confessing Him to the world in deed and word. Too many people, however, want the privileges or blessings of Christianity without sharing in the responsibilities or obligations those blessings involve. They are lukewarm, Jesus says in Revelation, and they are facing judgment: “So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am going to spit you out of my mouth” (3:16). You can imagine how gross a tepid and tasteless drink is. You might want to spew it out of your mouth. You can imagine how God feels about apathetic Christians! His spitting out of judgment can come at any time. There is a dividing line on God’s thermometer, and “lukewarm” falls on the “cold” side of the line. In some ways it is harder to overcome such “featureless lukewarmness” than to overcome coldness, complete alienation from or hostility to Christ. Yet, the Holy Spirit is calling all to repentance and indeed makes it possible for us to be hot, to follow the Lord in fervent faith and burning love and zeal. Such faithful following with zealous love for God and our neighbor is what God wants from us and is willing to produce in us. We cannot sit on the sidelines expecting others to do the work of God’s kingdom in this place and support the proclamation of God’s Word without our help. For those who do follow, there is rebuke and discipline from God (3:19); this will seldom be pleasant at the time. To us who endure, though, Jesus gives a heavenly throne (3:21).

Previous questions and answers deal with the following verses and topics:

Remember you are invited to ask your questions; use the link on the left near the top of the main Biblog page.

Like yesterday’s reading of Revelation 1-2, Revelation 3-5 is not read as part of the historic 1-year series of readings that we use in the services at Grace. However, for your own devotional purposes you may make use of the following hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal that are said to be related to today’s reading from Revelation:
  • 3 -- #479 (sorry there's no link, but the lyrics are said to be under copyright; you'll have to check your hymnal)
  • 3:5 -- #407
  • 3:8 -- #279
  • 3:20 -- #650
  • 4:8 -- #239
  • 4:8-11 -- #246
  • 4:11 -- #242, #367
  • 5:5 -- #211 (lyrics are said to be under copyright; check the hymnal)
  • 5:12 -- #344

Today Biblog folo (follow-up to a previous day’s Biblog post) has to do with yesterday’s reading of Revelation 1-2. The Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray’s fine Memorial Moment yesterday coincidentally dealt with Revelation 1:12-18. (I saw the epistle as an email, but it is also posted here.)

The Lord be with you, especially as you tomorrow come to be with Him in Word and Sacrament.

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 01, 2006

Year Two / Lk 1:46-55 / Rev 1-2

Welcome to Year Two of our efforts to Be in the Word with daily Bible reading by way of the Daily Lectionary originally found in Lutheran Worship. If you are just starting out, I am glad to have you aboard! If you were with us last church year, thanks for coming back! If you haven’t already, check out the new content on the Welcome page and those pages linked off it, including the summary of the “End of Year 1 Survey”, which was distributed at Grace this fall. This Biblog will be a little different than it was during our first year of reading, especially in that it will link more to content previously posted, but I hope you will still find it useful. One thing that hasn’t changed is that I still welcome your comments and questions on the readings and posts. By all means, if something isn’t clear to you in either, please ask! Your being able to ask without embarrassment is a major goal of our reading together “virtually”. And so, without further ado …

Luke 1:46-55 is the seasonal canticle for December, and you can read my comments on it in the background for December’s readings and this post.

Today as I read this canticle, I reflected on our fixation on material things, worrying about food, shelter, and transportation. Perhaps our occasional lack in these regards can keep us humble before God, recognizing that not only does He provide all that we truly “need”, but also that as we are at least spiritually humble and hungry we are lifted up and filled.

You may be interested to know that in the historic 1-year lectionary we use in the services at Grace, Luke 1:39-56 is the appointed Gospel reading for the Visitation, July 2. (Note that the readings appointed for Sundays and festivals cycle over one year but do not cover the whole of Scripture as does the daily lectionary we are following.)

For your devotional meditation on December’s canticle, you might make use of The Lutheran Hymnal #275 (sorry there's no link, but the lyrics are apparently copywritten).

The best places to start with Revelation 1-2 are the background for December’s readings and this previous post. I also give more background about John here.


St. John beholding the Lord and the seven candlesticks
The image that you hopefully can see as part of this post is said to be a woodcut by Albrecht Durer (or perhaps from his studio or just in his style) that shows St. John beholding the Lord and the seven candlesticks. (We got the image from here.) Click the image to see the full-size version.

Today I was struck by Revelation 2:7. There the tree of life is said to be in the “paradise of God”, and we think of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2:9; 3:22-24; we will see, however, in Revelation 22;2, 14, and 19 how the tree is in the New Jerusalem, where believers live eternally with God. Eating of the tree of life figuratively promises that eternal life. Because our eternal life comes from Jesus’ victory on the cross, the cross is also sometimes pictured as the tree of life (as beautifully expressed in Lutheran Service Book #561).

Previous questions and answers deal with the following verses and topics:

You may be interested to know that in the historic 1-year series of readings that we use in the services at Grace today’s reading from Revelation does not come up at all.

For your own devotional purposes you may make use of the following hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal that are said to be related to today’s reading from Revelation:
  • 1:5, 6 -- #244
  • 1:7 -- #64
  • 1:10 -- #7 (still under copyright)
  • 1:18 -- #199
  • 2:10 -- #470 (still under copyright)
  • 2 -- #479 (still under copyright)

The Lord be with you!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:53 AM