Call: Conversion or Career Guidance?

For many people, the word “call” refers to a post-conversion experience directing a person to full or part-time service in missions or church work.  Others have used the word to characterize their way of doing their wage or salary earning activity to glorify God and serve human kind.  I am not questioning the validity of the experiences these people have had and identified with the word “call”.   One can, I think, pursue the separate task of analyzing the use of the word “call” in scripture.

There are a number of verses in scripture that use the word “call” to designate a stage in one’s spiritual journey.  Several are often cited to illustrate this understanding the use of “call” to mean a special post-conversion experience.  In this experience one receives the guidance of the spirit to enter church planting, missionary activity or religious institution employment. [Calling to any employment]  In this essay I want to raise some questions about these passages and will give my understanding of them as well. 

Interpretation guide

There are several passages where the word “call” fairly clearly is a synonym for conversion. 

  1. Most of the time Paul (and others) use the word/term “call” (or “called” or “calling”) they are dealing with starting the journey with Jesus.  1Th 4:7; 1Co 1:2; Eph. 4:1, 2 Pet.1:10, 1 Cor. 1:26, 2 Thess. 1:11, 2 Tim 1:9, Heb. 3:1, 2 Peter 1:3.

            1Th 4:7  For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.

            1Co 1:2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:

            Eph. 4:1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.        

            2 Pet.1:10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters,[a] make every effort to confirm your calling and election.

            1 Cor. 1:26, For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards,[a] not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.

            2 Thess. 1:11  To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power,

             2 Tim 1:9  who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began

            Heb. 3:1 Therefore, holy brothers,[a] you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession,

            2 Peter 1:3. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to[a] his own glory and excellence

  • In the lists of qualifications for ministry, “call” is not included. (1Tim. 3:1-16, Titus 1:6-9).  
  • When writing about gifts associated with leadership in Romans, I Corinthians. and Ephesians, Paul writes about the leading of the spirit, but does not use the word “call”.

Two Ambiguous Passages

There are two passages that are often assumed that Paul is writing about his “call” as his leading to become an apostle. The  question to ask is:  How do other passages above using the word “call” help interpret these passages?

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, (Ro 1:1.)  Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, …. (1 Co 1:1)

With regard to these passages, does Paul mean?

–As a result of my decision to follow Jesus, I realized I was being led to reach out to the Gentiles

OR

–Sometime after my Damascus road experience, I had an experience that made it clear that I should minister primarily to the Gentiles

The Acts passage

One day as they were worshiping God—they were also fasting as they waited for guidance—the Holy Spirit spoke: “Take Barnabas and Saul and commission them for the work I have called them to do.” (Acts 13:2 Message).  The more familiar translation perhaps: “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, “Separate unto me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” KJV.

In interpreting this passage, does one assume that 1) “work” refers to Barnabas’s and Saul’s lives?  (But we know that Saul probably already has his “call”). OR, 2) the “work” has to do with the trip to Cyprus and Asia Minor?  On what basis do we decide?  Do the keys I proposed above provide guidance? Which verses are prime or basic for interpreting others?  In addition, contemporary application requires an additional step.  Is Paul’s leading by the spirit to become an apostle something unique?  Is the guidance I have experience to serve the church the same kind of experience?

Conclusion

My conclusion is that Paul uses the word “call” to refer to beginning the walk with Jesus.  This is due to the weight I give

  1. to the lack of “call” as a qualification for elders,
  2. to the absence of the term “call” in discussion of gifts, and
  3. to the frequency of the use of the word call as a synonym of conversion. 

Speaking of “leading of the spirit” to explain either a choice of a career or a desire to exercise gifts in the church seems a move in the right direction.

*I have talked to many people who have experienced the leading of the spirit to serve God through employment in missions, the pastorate and related positions.  Most of these were post-conversion, intensive experiences (sometimes, occurring over a period of time) that were life changing.  I do not question the sincerity of these experiences or the dedicated service resulting from them.  My focus in this essay is questioning how to appropriately use Biblical language.

Note: A possible origin of the use of the word CALL for full time church workers is the development of a two-tiered spirituality after the establishment of the state church under Constantine.  According to this tradition, Jesus had a special spiritual vocation/calling as Messiah.  Since it was his ‘vocation’ to suffer and die, the events of his life are not a norm or example for us to follow.  Some Christians like Jesus have a ‘spiritual’ rather than a temporal or secular vocation and receive a special “call.”   These are the people who become priests and nuns.  The laity did not need to follow Christ closely in spirituality, direction for Christian service or service in the military.  Priests, for instance, were expected to be pacifists, but not the average Christian.  At the time of the Reformation, some claimed that only the ordained were CALLED and part of the church.   Taking issue with this separation of life into secular and spiritual, Anabaptist sought to recover the sense of following Christ in all of our lives.  They insisted that those called were to follow Christ in ‘churchly’ activities, work and all of our daily lives.

One historian of ancient church history (Holl**) comments that the Greek word for “call” was not used for career choice until after 400 AD.

Does insisting on a “CALL” experience for those employed by religious institutions contribute to a separation or stratification of church members (between “clergy” and “laity”) not envisioned by New Testament writers?

** quoted in The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology  22 no 1 Spr 2018, p 46-65 “Some Kind of Life to Which We Are Called of God:” The Puritan Doctrine of Vocation, Leland Ryken.

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Violent Revolt or Faithful Living and Teaching Wisdom?

A Maccabean warrior and a Wisdom Prophet disciple: A dialogue

The situation: 

169-164 BCE was the time of the great Seleucid persecution, :  Impure sacrifices, Books of the Law destroyed, Jews killed, enslaved, Jews forced to eat pork.  Mattathias, a priest, kills a royal official, a Hellenistic Jew who was about to make an impure sacrifice.  Then, some of the “Holy Ones”, allies of Mattathias, who had taken refuge in a cave rather than fight on the Sabbath, were massacred by the Seleucids. There may have been a thousand including women and children. (According to the book of the Maccabees)

Aziel is a disciple of the wisdom prophet, (my name for the author and editor of the book of Daniel, –based on Daniel 11:33, 12:1-4).  He is recalling the Babylonian stories and the visions of Daniel to encourage the Hebrews to seek the way of peace and teach wisdom. 

Gidon is a follower of Mattathias and his sons. He is calling the Hebrews to join the revolt against the forces of Antiochus Epiphanes who has been oppressing the people of Judah

Gidon:  “We must follow the example of Mattathias who defied the demands of the Seleucid Greek official to offer a sacrifice to their gods. He showed no fear in killing the Greek-loving Jew who offered to perform the sacrifice.  Don’t you know that thousands of Jews were killed by Syrians and that thousands of men and women were sold into slavery? We must follow Judah, the hammer, in the fight to drive the Syrians out of our land.” (It is estimated that twenty to forty thousand Jews were sold into slavery to raise funds to support Antiochus Epiphanes’ wars. (2 Maccabees 5:11–14)

Aziel:  Thousands of Daniel’s people were killed when Jerusalem was destroyed and many died on the way to Babylon.  Leaders of Israel were killed or taken to Babylon. Many more of our ancestors were killed or died during the fifteen years of the siege of Jerusalem. ” (2 Kings 25:1–72 Chronicles 36:12

Aziel:   Daniel was probably made a eunuch, since most of those close to the king where treated this way.”(  https://www.gotquestions.org/Daniel-eunuch.html accessed 3-22-21)

Gidon:  “They are trying to destroy our faith and way of life. Jews are being forced to eat pork!  Mother’s forced to wear slain circumcised baby boys around their necks” (2 Maccabees 6:10)

Aziel:  Daniel persuaded Babylonians to get him and his friends “kosher” food that would make him wise. The hyper king (and his dream interpreters) by contrast, who ate all the rich food, couldn’t remember the dream (the king) or interpret (the astrologers, etc.) the dream.1

Gidon:   “We must stop the pagan worship that is being conducted in temple and purify the temple.” (I Maccabees 1:47)

Aziel:  The Jerusalem temple was destroyed and Daniel’s people were to Babylon, had no temple available for worship. ” (2 Kings 25)

Gidon:  “We should follow the example of Phineas, our ancestor, who ran a spear through the sinning Zimri and the Moabite woman he was consorting with. Only by killing the pagans and the Hebrews who cooperate with them will our people be pure. (I Maccabees 1:26)  Joshua, David and others have been strong in defending our land. (Numbers 25)

Aziel:  Daniel was faithful to God without violence. Remember that our people triumphed over the Egyptians at the Red Sea without our effort.  God did it all.  His command in Exodus was “Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.” (Exodus 14:3)  Even though our ancestors believed that the possession of our land came due to the power of their arms, Exodus 23:28 and Deuteronomy 7:20 tells us that the Lord could have used hornets to drive out our enemies.  King Asa called for help from the Lord and the Ethiopian army was put to flight.***  Later King Asa made an alliance with  Under King Jehoshaphat.  The Lord defeated our enemies without the need for human help. (2 Chron. 20)

Gidon:  “Egyptians and Antiochus, the Syrian ruler, have stolen temple vessels.”(I Maccabees 1:21)

Aziel:  Babylonians also stole and used temple vessels in a banquet for their leaders. (Daniel 5)

Gidon:  “We cannot just to do nothing when Antiochus claims to be god in the land of the Lord.”2

Aziel:  But we can laugh at Antiochus as Daniel laughed at the dumb ox ruler of Babylon. (Dan. 5)

Gidon:  “Antiochus has banned traditional worship and begun burning of Torah scrolls.”(1 Maccabees 1:57)

Aziel:  Remember that when the Babylonian “god for a month” banned prayer to any god but him? Daniel defied the ban and openly prayed as before (even though he knew he would be sent to the lions’ den. (Dan. 6)   Daniel’s three friends refused to worship the pagan image, acknowledging death might be the result. The wisdom prophet made fun of Babylonian religion and its elaborate festival and image. But, the straightforward deliverance of the three Hebrews by their God was gives us confidence. (Dan. 3)

Gidon:  “If all of us do as some Jews have done and refuse to fight the Gentiles to defend our lives and our religion, we will soon be wiped off the face of the earth.” (1 Maccabees 2:39)

Aziel:  We can find confidence in the words of the wisdom prophet who recounts Daniel’s visions of kingdoms rising and falling from the time of Nebuchadnezzar to the Roman Empire (depending on your interpretation).  According to the wisdom prophet, God will be the one who brings down the empires. And, remember, Michael, God’s warrior, fights for Israel.  Remember God’s promise to Abraham. (Daniel 10:13-21; Daniel 12:1)

Gidon:  “But you are doing nothing, while your brothers are fighting, laying down their lives to preserve our faith, protecting our families and our land.”

Aziel:  But you have allied yourselves with the pagans, the Romans.3 

Gidon:  “Death of fighters on battlefield will provide atonement for others.”4

Aziel:  We will follow the guidance of the Wisdom Teacher.  We are doing what God commanded.  We have cared for the widows and children of  those who died at the hands of the foreigners. We continue to teach the wisdom, practice covenant ways faithfully, trust God.  Those who teach the wisdom (above) may die, but will “shine as stars”. (Dan. 11:33, 12:1-4)

The Aftermath:  History of Palestine
Maccabees through guerilla warfare, then open warfare defeated Seleucids with the help of threats from Romans.  An independent Jewish state was established under the Hasmonian dynasty (the family name for the Maccabee army leaders).  The temple was purified and Torah-guided worship re-established.  The Hasmonians intermarried with family of Cleopatra to maintain security between Egypt and Judah against Syria. Herod (of New Testament note) marries last Hasmonian princess. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hasmonean_dynasty  accessed 3-22-21

The wisdom teacher and followers may have retreated to desert (the Qumran settlement?) and establish what became the Essenes, avoiding the political intrigues in which the Pharisees and Sadducees participated.  Jesus was probably influenced by rural or city Essenes and their non-violent approach.5

Notes

*** (and Asa’s army slaughtered many of them)

1Valeta, David M. “Court or Jester Tales:  Resistance and Social Reality in Daniel 1-6.”  Perspectives in Religious Studies, 32 no. 3, Fall 2005, p 309-324. All of the references to humor in Daniel come from Valeta.

2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antiochus_IV_Epiphanes

3https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman%E2%80%93Jewish_Treaty#:~:text=The%20Roman%E2%80%93Jewish%20Treaty%20was,Jewish%20people%20and%20the%20Romans. Accessed 3/20/2021

Portier-Young, Anathea. Apocalypse against empire : theologies of resistance in early Judaism. William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2011. Portier-Young provides a scholarly basis for some of the ideas I developed in an earlier essay part of which was published in The Mennonite Vol. 6, No. 7, April 1, 2003., p.12-14.

4Ripley, Jason. “Atonement and Martyrdom in the Gospel of John”, Horizons in Biblical Theology, 30 Apr 2020, Volume 42:  Issue 1 Pages 58-89 [abstract only] https://doi.org/10.1163/18712207-12341403    accessed 3/20/2021.

5Trever, John C. “The Qumran Teacher- another candidate?”  Early Jewish and Christian Exegesis,  edited by Craig A. Evans and William Stinespring, Scholars Press, 1987, pp 101-121.  Note p. 105

General background:

Daniel Smith-Christopher, “Daniel”  New Interpreters Bible Commentary (Reference Shelves, EMU Library). The development of my understanding of Daniel has been aided significantly by this article. [I was unable to get the page numbers due to the closing of the library to those without EMU ID.]

deSilva, Daniel.  Day of Atonement.  Kregel Press, 2015 (novel about the background to beginning of Maccabees’ revolt.  Personal copy)

____________________________________

Calling: Not for preachers only

Living our call in all of life

During a time of leadership transition in our small church when I was in my forties, the overseer (or conference minister) asked me if I had a call to serve the church.  I thought about the question and responded to what I sensed was his question:  “I have not identified within myself a leading of the spirit to the pulpit ministry.”  He asked no further questions about how I was serving God or felt I should serve God, even though I was then wondering how I could best serve God in the church.  Sometime later a young man from the congregation began pastoral leadership in our congregation.  We were discussing some issue and he responded that his views should have greater weight because he had been ‘called.’   These experiences and later discussions with people who talked of their “call”, lead me to analyze what scripture says about “call”.

First look at call

You have all been called to follow Christ.  Just as Jesus called disciples and the Spirit called Paul at Damascus, everyone hearing the gospel has a call to follow and serve Jesus.  Most Christians would agree with these two sentences.  [This use of the word call will appear in lower case letters.]   In the Bible, there are many ordinary uses of the word “call” such as “request to come”, to beg or entreat (call on the name of the Lord) or to give someone a name.  Paul, according to this essay, uses the word ‘call’ refer to the spirit’s leading or God’s encouraging us begin to follow Jesus.  For example:

 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 1Th 4:7

To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ–their Lord and ours: (1Co 1:2)

Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 2 Pet.1:10

We are all called to become Christ‘s followers.  Our call includes doing as Jesus’ disciples did, whether it is holding the baskets to collect the leftovers after the feeding of the 5,000 or going to the village for food while Jesus talked to a woman of Samaria or going out like the seventy-two to announce the coming of the kingdom.  As Paul was directed to take the gospel to the gentiles, our call also includes making tents while talking about Jesus to shoppers. 

CALL as a special experience

At one point the Mennonite Church had a program to address our concern over the lack of candidates for pastoral office.  “Culture of CALL” initiative encourages people with pastoral and administrative skills to consider church ministry, usually on a full-time basis.  Historical shifts of the past century (status and difficulties of church workers, a shift away from use of the lot, and perhaps opening of the pastorate to women and probably other factors) have affected the drawing of young people to church work.  But if everyone is called, why are we speaking of CALL in the specific sense regarding Christians entering church offices?  What is the origin of the use of the word ‘call’ to mean a special leading of the spirit to service and leadership in the church? Almost always people experiencing a CALL in this sense are already Christians. [I will use the CALL to indicate this specific use.]

The word call in the Bible

Jesus uses the word call only once.  “For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17, Luke 5:32) Paul refers to himself as being called to be an apostle in the salutation of two letters

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, (Ro 1:1.)  Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, (1Co 1:1)

These are probably references to Paul’s Damascus experience.  Was that a conversion experience, a vocation change invitation or both?  Prior to his ‘call’ was he (were Jesus’ disciples) a follower(s) of Christ?  Paul, in discussing the office of elder/bishop/overseer and deacons, does not list “call” as one of the qualifications for these positions.  These servants of the church, of course, had a call that led to their salvation.  One passage that includes both the word call and speaks of church offices is Eph. 4. 

 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Eph. 4:1

Does “calling” here refer to beginning one’s walk with God?  Or, does it refer to a post-conversion experience?  This experience or leading identified what would be one’s way of earning a living and doing God’s will.  In Acts 13:2 we are told that the Spirit has “called” Barnabas and Paul to a particular task.  Does this imply a lifetime leading?  When speaking of the leading of the spirit to church office, the Paul does not use the word ‘call’.  Is the pattern of use of the word ‘call’ in the New Testament reflected in our use today?  When Paul discusses gifts of the spirit (1 Cor. 12), he does not use the word “call”.  Finally, Paul uses the word church, ecclesia, as the distinctive term for followers of Jesus.  This word is defined as the “called out ones”

Uses of the term CALL in the church

The probable origin of the use of the word CALL for full time church workers is the development of a two-tiered spirituality after the establishment of the state church under Constantine.  It was only around the time of Constantine that the first use of word “call” is used to identify the way one earned one’s living.  According to this tradition, Jesus had a special spiritual vocation/calling as Messiah.  Since it was his ‘vocation’ to suffer and die, the events of his life are not a norm or example for us to follow.  Some Christians like Jesus have a ‘spiritual’ rather than a temporal or secular vocation and receive a special “call.”   These are the people who become priests and nuns.  The laity did not need to follow Christ closely in spirituality, direction for Christian service or service in the military.  Priests, for instance, were expected to be pacifists, but not the average Christian.  At the time of the Reformation, some claimed that only the ordained were CALLED and part of the church.   Taking issue with this separation of life into secular and spiritual, Anabaptist sought to recover the sense of following Christ in all of our lives.  They insisted that those called were to follow Christ in ‘churchly’ activities, work and all of our daily lives.

CALL and daily work

The word CALL has come to be used to identify the leading of the spirit, the thinking of the individual and counseling by other Christians directed toward individuals considering full time work in the church, especially the pastorate.  This term is infrequently used for those who are considering other careers or occupations.  (Some have proposed extending this sense of a special leading of the Spirit to all work situations. In the Reformed tradition this emphasis is strong.)  I wonder if this focus places unnecessary stresses both on those considering church work and on those considering secular jobs?   For those with gifts and skills suitable for the pastorate or full-time church work, there is pressure to expect a high intensity and memorable experience (probably datable) of the Spirit’s leading to full time church work.  On the other hand, devout followers of Christ seeking the leading of the Spirit for work direction or job change who desire to serve God in their work and in their non-vocational time may wonder how God leads them differently.  Does using the impetus of the concept of CALL accomplish in a scripturally sound way (as interpreted above) the important job of encouraging individuals into missionary or pastoral positions?  If we used “call” as a synonym of conversion, (which seems to me the primary meaning in scripture), would people entering “secular” work better understanding that work as a way of serving Christ?  The thrust of this essay should not be seen as denying the force and meaning of many peoples’ experience of the Spirit leading them to do Kingdom work with a church agency.

Living out our call

Let’s find ways of encouraging and aiding people making decisions about their life’s work.  Initial career choice or later changes are major life milestones at which fellow Christians should provide support for one another.   Finding a job in which we can honor and glorify God requires the spirit’s leading within us, as well.  To cooperate with the spirit’s leading and to work with the spirit in aiding all Christians in career choice, we should affirm that

1. Serving the church/extending the kingdom is an important responsibility of all Christians.

2. Serving Christ in one’s daily word is part of every Christian’s calling.

3. Encouraging fellow Christians to make the best use of their gifts is an important task for the people of God.

3. Challenging jobs such as the full-time pastorate or outreach in difficult areas may require encouragement from others, and extra prayer and courage by the one making the choice.

God’s call comes to all people.  Those who respond are called to salvation and a life of serving God.  Let those who answer God’s call live all their life in response to the call.

            David Alleman, Revision of an earlier posting.

Boot strap pulling/loin-girding or trust

Reflections on Isaiah 30:15

For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not. (KJV)

In repentance and rest is your salvation,
    in quietness and trust is your strength,
    but you would have none of it. (NIV)

If you repented and patiently waited for me, you would be delivered;  if you calmly trusted in me, you would find strength, but you are unwilling. (NET)

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:  In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.  But you refused. (NRSV)

Loins girded
Note bootstraps sticking up

Somewhere in my past was a motto with “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength”. Perhaps I read it “be the strong silent type”.  For me, the motto’s meaning had shifted to bootstrap lifting or loin-girding.  So, I must prepare myself for battle.  Be ready to work hard (lift, take care of, protect myself by my own efforts).  Later thinking took me in two directions.  First, I found in this passage personal comfort and encouragement.  Later I looked at the context of the verse.

The context of this verse with the use of the words “Israel” and the acknowledgement “you refused” suggests an historical context.  Here, like in chapter six (where Ahaz wanted a military alliance with Assyria), Israel was ready to trust an alliance with Egypt rather than trust God.  God’s prophet gave this word about their prospective ally: “Egypt’s help is worthless and empty;” (verse 7 ESV).  The next verses have some vivid language detailing how worthless Egypt is.  So, in the context, the word from God has to do with public policy for the government.  Am I justified in shifting the use of this passage for personal comfort and encouragement?

First reflection on the passage.

In resting and turning to God will be your deliverance. In quietness and trust will be your strength. (my paraphrase of verse 15)

To rest, repent and trust,

Brings strength and hope in God.

We rest who turn and trust;

We trust who in Him rest.

To rest and trust brings hope;

And hope in God is strength.

Breath Prayer

These reflections later developed into a breath prayer. (See https://biologos.org/articles/breath-prayer-an-ancient-spiritual-practice-connected-with-science for some background on “breath prayers”.  The article makes a useful connection between science and faith.  Or, do a general Google search.)  My breath prayer helped me deal with several medical procedures and in times of frustration with life events.

Just three words, one on inhale, the other two on exhale:

Rest … and trust.  (Or, one might use the following: Rest in God . . . trust in God.)

*For the technique of girding up loins, see: https://www.churchpop.com/2016/02/02/an-important-biblical-skill-how-to-gird-up-your-loins/

**For the current socio-cultural meaning of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps”, do a search on that phrase.  Be sure to click on the “Images” link to see some of the graphic interpretations of the phrase.

Fallowing land, Jubilee year for land

 

Biblical principles and todays gardens?

middleeasternploughmangrimmversion2016From childhood, I have had the blessing of being immersed in scripture.  My parents regularly read the Bible and Bible storybooks to us.  My father had only one year of high school, but he had gone further in knowledge of scripture than anyone that I knew.  On Sunday evenings our small church frequently featured a Bible quiz.  Because he could answer quicker and more questions than anyone, a “Dean Alleman rule” was instituted:  When anyone answered three questions, that person was not eligible to answer again until no one knew the answer.  From that heritage, I have questioned why we don’t celebrate Christmas as the disciples and Paul did, wondered if it was significant that the only time in the Bible a man tells a woman “I love you” it is Samson to Delilah and raised the question of “fallowing”. I have known of the “fallow” year rule, but have never heard a farmer or gardener practice it or discuss it**.  After all, we eat pork, plant two kinds of seeds in a field (rye with clover) and wear cotton/polyester clothes. Fallowing fields is commanded by God:

Ex 23:11 but during the seventh year let the land lie unploughed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.  (See also, Lev. 25: 1-4)

 Interpretations of “fallow ground” law

To what extent is the ‘land rest’ command binding on the Christian today? What are the principles by which to interpret scripture on the matter of land rest?    Do we choose the general interpretation, looking for the principles behind the law?  This approach would conclude that practices like crop rotation, manuring the fields, composting and mulching meet the purpose of these regulations and are the equivalent of “rest”?  Or, should we follow the practice of some observant Jews who do not use the land at all during the seventh year. I read of some who lease their orchards the seventh year (to Arabs) to meet the requirement of the law of land rest?

Basic principles

What is the basis for the Christian taking this scripture literally?  First, I assume that the Gen. 2 instruction to Adam to “serve and preserve the land” provides the basis for interpreting this passage.  Second, Jesus (Mark 2 23-28) tells us that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  From this I conclude that the Sabbath rest was made for human benefit in three areas: 1. Observing the Sabbath and the Sabbath year was commanded the Hebrew people as a symbol of their trust in God to provide for them.  Letting the land rest for the seventh year demonstrated their trust in God.  2. Resting the land from cultivation during the Sabbath year provided for rejuvenation of the land.  3. Sabbath rest for the land was one way of providing for the poor.  These three principles stand behind the literal application of the fallowing law (as it does the related practices in Leviticus).

Trust in God

How do Christians demonstrate their trust in God for provision of food?  Trust in God for provision of food seems even more distant in a society where most do not have gardens, get their meat and dairy products from the grocery store and buy their orange juice from Brazil and more distant sources.  Gardens, however small, give parents and children a way to experience dependence on God.  Even when the water comes from a faucet and the fertilizer comes from a bag, there is realization that some part of the growth is beyond our control.  Organic practice seeks to feed the soil and let the soil feed the plant.  Here the dependence is a bit clearer.  With the use of permanent mulch, the work of worms and their allies to convert leaves, grass and kitchen trimmings to “new earth” is evidence of God’s creative work on our behalf.  The third principle, providing for the poor relates closely to this one.  Giving a portion of our garden production to the poor acknowledges that we rely on God to provide for us.  However, one benefit that observing the Sabbath rest demonstrates, trust in God, is difficult to provide for in modern agricultural practice.  Is it possible that returning to a literal “fallowing” would be an opportunity to increase our trust in God?

Rest and renewal

What contemporary agricultural practices provide for the land to get rest and renewal?  While the “rest” part may be difficult to understand in modern practice, the renewal part is clear.  I believe that the organic standard of “feed the soil, let the soil feed the plants” comes close to replicating the benefits of the Sabbath year.  Jesus words that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath establishes the principle.  The practice of agricultural Bible-believers to exempt farmers, especially dairy farmers and poultry farmers from the “no work on Sunday” rule is a tacit recognition of this principle.   The agricultural practices seen in the Bible such as those required by the fallowing rule were reflective of climate and soil conditions typical of the Middle East.  Stiff soils and dry climates where there are two crops per year taking off the land, lose fertility faster than in temperate zones where the soil lies dormant from Oct. to April (or is covered with a “green manure” crop of rye, vetch or a combination of plants.

The renewal of permanent mulching is apparent at the garden I worked with.  The red clay ridge had probably been stripped of most of its fertility before the slaves were freed.  With the application of six inches or so per year of leaves, hay, grass and the addition of coffee grounds, what had been “waste” became soil amendment: “fertilizer”, if you please.  (Due to the pressure of companies producing nitrogen fertilizers using fossil fuels, organic gardeners/farmers are not permitted to call these ingredients “fertilizers”.) Over a period of ten or so years, three to six inches or more of organic matter has turned to black soil—the original red mineral portion of soil (subsoil) is still below it.  The soil tests completed (at conventional agricultural laboratories) show that all nutrients are well above optimum for nourishing crops.  A soil scientist told me that if I were a farmer with a soil management plan, I would not be permitted to add even compost to the garden.  So, does this restoration of land (and the rescuing of organic matter from the landfill) equal the Biblical requirement of renewal? If all of creation is good, then the worms, sow bugs and microorganisms that process leaves, grass and coffee grounds into soil are an important part of creation.  When the right conditions are created, these creatures transform raw organic matter into compost or humus which is the plant and animal part of soil (the rest being primarily mineral).  By mixing carbon and nitrogen materials, reducing the particle size and maintaining a good moisture level, worms and the microherd can convert several feet of “yard trimmings” (wastes) into “new earth”.  Is this part of God’s work to bring about a new earth/reverse the degradation of land by erosion and overuse? Extending the idea of shalom to all of creation is a continuation of this understanding.  The good or best of conditions for organic matter processors is the “shalom of the microherd”.  Mulching creates a suitable environment for sow bugs and worms.  Letting the worm created channels for moisture and nutrients function in the intended manner creates soil creations that permit plants to be at their best:  part of the creation God declared was good.

Care for the poor

How do contemporary gardening practices provide for the poor in the way that gleaning from volunteer grain or other plants might provide during the fallow year?  The garden referred to in the previous paragraph raised produce and flowers for a food pantry.  If there was a practice comparable to carbon sequestration/carbon banking which permits those adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere to pay, for instance, forest owners a fee to continue to pump out excess amounts of carbon.  Forests sequester or capture “excess” carbon and give off oxygen.  So, food pantry gardens can be a “bank” for agricultural practices, which do not of themselves provide for the poor.  Since 1995 the Garden Writers of America/GardenComm (a secular organization) have promoted their “plant a row for the hungry” program where the extra rows of produce can be taken to the local food pantry.  Again, this is a way that gardeners can meet the principle of “providing for the poor” while continuing to use the land.  https://gardencomm.org/PAR Can permanent mulch, minimum and organic gardening fulfill the purpose of the Sabbath rest for the land?  If the poor are fed, the land is improved and trust in God for provision is taught and experienced, then one can say that there is some accomplishment of the principles behind fallowing/Jubilee year.

(Whether conventional gardening practices accomplish God’s purpose in giving the fallowing command can be investigated by someone else.)

 

**Two later references (Jeremiah 4:3-4a, Hosea 10:12) to “break up your fallow ground” are sometimes interpreted to mean ‘stop sinning.’  But since God instructed the Hebrews to let ground lie fallow, normal “fallowing practice” would not constitute sin.  Ploughing previously fallow ground would begin the next cycle of creation and renewal.  That seems the most likely focus of Jeremiah and Hosea.

 


 

Isaiah to Joseph: Watch out for leaders who rely on political/military alliances over Immanuel

Isaiah and Ahaz

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.  He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. Isaiah 7:14-16

What happened in Isaiah:  Ahaz made an alliance with Assyria and traveled there.  He liked the altar he saw there and had one made to use in Jerusalem—he may have been required by the treaty to erect an altar for Assyrian gods.  Israel became a dependent of Assyria.  During the time it took the young woman’s son to reach twelve, the kings threatening Ahaz and Judah were defeated and, one of them, Israel, ceased to exist as a nation.   (See the story of Asa for the prophet’s pronouncement of judgment because Asa made a military alliance with a foreign nation, rather than trusting God as he had in the past. 2 Chron. 16:7-10)

What would have happened if Ahaz had trusted in “God with us”?

Five hundred years later

 Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 This all happened so that what did the Lord through the prophet speak would be fulfilled: 23 Look! The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel,” which means “God with us.  Mt. 1:20-23 (NET) [Emphasis from NET]

Was the angel was reminding Joseph of Isaiah’s word to Ahaz of the consequences of not trusting “God with us”?

We might conclude that part of the message was that Joseph’s trust in God (Immanuel) was essential in the days to come. Challenges included social disapproval due to Mary’s pregnancy, immigration to Egypt under the threat of death, and a son would be born into a world hostile to the message of “God with us.”

For Isaiah, Immanuel meant trusting God, rather than turning to military alliances (violence).    The freedom fighters of a century and a half before Joseph, the Maccabees, decided that only by a violent revolt against Syria and a military alliance with Rome could the people of God practice their religion as they should. Their contemporary, compiler of the Daniel experiences, called for faithful living like Daniel and friends, teaching wisdom, and trusting the visions of God’s control of history.

However, the “chief priests and rulers” of Joseph’s time were part of the ruling class which gained power after the successful revolt against the Syrian (Seleucid) government.  The Jewish leaders had chosen violence as a way to protect the temple and their way of worship.   After the Hebrews gained their independence, the Romans used the treaty with them as a pretext to take over Judah.  Some of the chief priests and legal experts maintained their alliance with Rome for personal economic advantage as well as to protect their religious freedom.

Later, the legal experts were frequent opponents of Jesus during his teaching ministry.  At the time of Jesus’ torture and execution, we know that the chief priests collaborated with the Romans to seek the death of Jesus – Immanuel.  Did the angel bring a word of warning to Joseph because they, like Ahaz, had made accommodations with a pagan nation of the day, rather than trusting Immanuel?

The Wisemen

This collaboration of the religious leaders with political shows up in another part of the birth of Jesus events.  The Persian priests came following a star, looking for a king.  But, then they went to Jerusalem.  It is not clear that the star led them to Jerusalem.  I wonder if it was their assumption that religion and government/politics (a king) went together led them there, not the star.  When Herod consulted “the chief priests and experts in the law”, they gave him the location information he requested.  Surely, they found the passage about “Immanuel” as well as the Micah passage they quoted for Herod and the Persians?  When they left Herod the text of Matthew is “once again they saw the star” which suggests to me that they did not see it on their way to Jerusalem. The bias (only the political/governmental capital would house a king) of the Persian priests about a king which may have led them to go to Jerusalem, rather than keeping the star as their guide.   That and the Jewish leaders’ alliance with Herod, the Romans ruler, resulted in the death of many young boys in Judea and forced Jesus’ family to be refugees.  Could it be that the rest of Isaiah’s words (not quoted in Matthew) warned Joseph?   He knew that the rulers of his time, like Isaiah’s, would prefer a foreign military alliance to trusting Immanuel, so he was ready to flee to Egypt


 

Mary’s prophecy, Jesus’ first sermon

What’s the connection?

 

Mary responded to Elizabeth’s confirmation of the angel’s words about the identity of the child she was carrying.  She spoke strong words about God’s work in the future:

He has demonstrated power with his arm; he has scattered those whose pride wells up from the sheer arrogance of their hearts.

The angels declared:

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among people
with whom he is pleased!”

After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 

 

The message from the angels of peace was one to be remembered and passed on to her son.  In her song are words about raising up the humble.  Didn’t the shepherds coming as Jesus’ first visitors reflect Mary’s song of praise?  The visit of humble shepherds and their response to Jesus have been remembered throughout history.  Mary’s place in history is a prime example of the humble being raised.  Jesus should be added.  A carpenter’s son in an area remote from the centers of political and economic power who become the most important name for many.

What of these words and birth events do we see in Jesus’ first sermon and subsequent work?

 

Compare Mary’s song and Jesus’ first sermon:

He has demonstrated power with his arm; he has scattered those whose pride wells up from the sheer arrogance of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up those of lowly position;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and has sent the rich away empty (Luke 1:51-53)

 From Jesus first sermon

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and the regaining of sight to the blind,
to set free those who are oppressed
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
 (Luke 4:18-19)

 

 The Connection?

What in his sermon shows that Mary had taught Jesus her understanding of how God worked in the world? I do not believe I have given Mary enough credit for her influence on Jesus and his teachings.

To what extent does Jesus omit Mary’s theme of bringing down the mighty?  Can one only release the captives by eliminating the “mighty”? Should we conclude that this is a call to revolution?  Followers of Jesus in the spirit of Mary should, perhaps, seek by force to eliminate the Roman oppressors and their Hebrew collaborators. Taxes imposed by Romans and collected frequently by Hebrews, plus the temple tax often led to the peasant farmer losing his property due to the inability to pay the taxes.  But Jesus’s way was different. The oppressed, of course, are freed only by dealing with the oppressor.  Mary sees the hungry filled with good things and Jesus speaks of good news to the poor. This good news is possible when “the mighty” (Mary’s words) are not like the “rich fool” (Luke 12:13-21), Dives (who neglected Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31) or the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-30).  The poor will be feed when people understand Jesus’ parables of the rich farmer (and what he should be doing with his bountiful harvest). In understanding the Lazarus parable, they will see themselves as the “brothers” (Luke 16:28) who should pay attention to the “law and the prophets” and care for Lazarus’ kin.   The wealthy will see the contrast between the rich young man and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10).

Heeding Jesus’ word there will be more people now like Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus’ example of giving half his wealth to the poor will be the model for those who, living in the spirit of Mary’s prophecy, want to be true sons of Abraham.

 

Quotations from The New English Translation

Also posted on Rawley Pike Peace and Justice Notes

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Praying for rain

rain.pexels-photo-459451

The record for rain in a twenty-four-hour period is 73 inches on an island in the Indian Ocean.

Mt. Wal-ale-ale (Hawaii) gets 460 inches of rain per year.  Rain falls 335 days of the year.

 

Then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil.  Deut. 11:14

Then the LORD’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the LORD is giving you.  Deut. 11:17

The Desierto del Atacama in Chile had 1/4 “ of rain in 1971.  As far as can be determined, the previous rain had occurred some 400 years earlier. (Weather Book)

 

At one time in my life, I would not hesitate to pray for rain.  Now, I hesitate to pray for rain.  As a boy growing up on the farm, I welcomed the rain.  Frequently, rain meant no more digging out thistles or chopping brush out of fence rows and the possibility that I could spend some time reading.  A refreshing summer sound, the cooling rain rattled the corn leaves to announce its coming across the creek field and up the hill toward the house.

Some pastors or worship leaders were uncomfortable about praying for rain in public.  “I always give thanks for rain in public prayers.”  said a worship leader.  Another person said we should not expect God to give an area normally getting ten inches of rain a year to suddenly get forty inches a year.

Rain imagery occurs in many songs and hymns of the church.  Most people I ask for their memories of “rain” in songs and hymns thought of “Showers of Blessing” The song “Healing River” implies rain to cleanse.  A song from my childhood, “Sunshine and Rain” invites both rain and sun.  The children’s song “The foolish man built his house upon the sand” has in the third verse “The blessings will come down as the prayers go up.”

 

Rain images abound in the Bible as indicated (see the header):

“When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you, and when they pray toward this place and confess your name and turn from their sin because you have afflicted them, 2 Chronicles 6:26

Throughout most of the OT rain is associated with blessing, the lack of rain with sin of God’s people.

The prophets saw rain as blessing:

He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful. In that day, your cattle will graze in broad meadows. Isaiah 30:23

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater. Isaiah 55:10

 

Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”  Hosea 6:3

Rain as blessing frequents the Psalms, although Psalm 78: 47-48 provides a contrast:  Storms, at least hail and lightning can be a means of punishing God’s enemies:

During the twilight of the Kingdom of Judah, the prophet Ezekiel brings this word:

Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: In my wrath, I will unleash a violent wind, and in my anger hailstones and torrents of rain will fall with destructive fury. Ezekiel 13:13

Ezekiel’s God can use the rain to punish as well as bless.  Just as the “day of the Lord” once meant salvation for Israel, later it meant a day of judgment, so now rain comes to warn and punish God’s people.

But in the New Testament, Jesus announces:

“that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  Matthew 5:45

If God sends us rain without regard for our goodness, and if we have the Weather Channel, why pray for rain?  But today with the likelihood that some drought is the result of (in part) human caused, climate change, the prayer of repentance (including changing our behavior) takes on new significance.  (The verse from Matthew focuses on how we should treat those around us, not on what we should pray about–or when we should pray.)

Reflecting on praying for rain the thought came to me:  Does “give us this day our daily bread” imply a prayer for rain?  Praying the prayer Jesus gave his disciples gives us a start with our prayer for rain.  Perhaps praying for rain is part of our regularly reporting to God what we feel our needs are, not telling God what he should do.  Maybe I can pray about rain without feeling embarrassed!

 

Moses’ farewell “song” is an excellent blessing:

May God’s teaching fall on you like rain and his words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.  [paraphrase of Deut. 32:2]

 

 

Advent:  Learning about the other side of Christmas?

Our congregation is beginning the Advent season worship observances. Do these make our Christmas different from that of the rest of the world, Christian and otherwise?  The bright side of Advent has always been well represented.  There will be candles, bright lights, “Joy to the World” and angels, all as they should be.  Most of these we see and hear when we venture outside our church or home where the world is bright with lights, filled with inflated animals, birds and machines; busy with shoppers and noisy advertisements.  How might we use Advent to make our Christmas focus different from what we see and hear at the Mall?

Mary’s Role

Perhaps to get away from the negative attitudes of neighbors who wondered why she was pregnant before marriage, Mary left Nazareth.  She traveled nearly ninety miles, perhaps by herself, probably on foot to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, to exchange news of their pregnancies.  (Mary would have been six or more months pregnant by the time she returned.)  When Mary arrived, Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Spirit, praised God for blessing Mary as the mother of the Son of God.  Mary responded by praising God for his promise to bring salvation, to bring down the rich and powerful and to feed the hungry.   Not long after that, Mary and Joseph experienced the effect of the oppressive government.  To fund their oppression of the people of Judah, the Romans were collecting a tax that required Joseph and Mary to go to Joseph’s hometown.   They traveled ninety miles (probably more) from Nazareth east to the Jordan down the Jordan valley to Jericho, then up into the hills to Bethlehem.

Jesus birth

Did nearly nine-months-pregnant Mary repeat her prophecy of the downfall of the rich and powerful of her time to Joseph as she and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem?  Because many people had arrived in Bethlehem for the taxing, the couple could only find shelter in an animal pen.  They may have found the warmth of animals for their comfort there or the animals may have been out in the field because it was warm at the time. Due to the Roman occupying army, Mary had none of the comforts of home, presence of family and friends and may or may not have found a midwife.  After the Jesus birth, Mary may have placed Jesus in a feed trough of stone.

The lights, bells and cheery greetings of the season as we celebrate it do not remind us of the words of Simon reported by Luke.  Simon’s words to Mary “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35).

Herod’s role

Then after somewhat less than two years, Persian wisemen/astrologers/priests stumbled into Herod’s schemes.  A violent ruler who had killed several relatives who he feared wanted his throne, Herod saw Jesus a threat to his rule.  Jewish leaders located scripture that they probably could guess Herod would use to find and kill the child.  To try to eliminate Jesus as a threat to his throne, Herod ordered killed maybe 10 to 30 young boys in Bethlehem and the surrounding area.  God had already warned Joseph to take his family away; so, by night they were started their trip to Egypt when the massacre happened.  For several years Jesus’ family were immigrants in Egypt.  So, Joseph, his teenage wife, and son had been away from home probably five years.  Murders, forced immigration and hardship due to the efforts of the political and religious leaders to maintain their power and privileges are nothing new.

Advent vs Christmas?

Perhaps the old Anabaptist idea of “separation from the world” needs dusted off and used here.  Perhaps our Advent observance should be used to balance the world’s (including much of contemporary Christian world’s) Christmas focus?  Maybe we need a sermon on occasion from the Revelation 12 Christmas story on the dragon and the woman.  Do we recognize that turmoil and suffering will be a byproduct of Jesus coming (and probably of our proclamation of his coming), but redemption and peace is the goal of the season?  Mary, mother of Jesus spoke of a time when the rich and powerful would be brought low and the poor and hungry would be cared for.  Thirty years later her Son spoke very similar words in his first sermon at Nazareth (see Luke 4).  This, too, was Jesus Advent.  Is this our Advent proclamation?

 

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How is Christ our Cornerstone?

“Christ is our cornerstone,

On Him alone we build.”

Hymnal:  Worship Book #43

            “A cornerstone is a largely ornamental architectural feature.” -Encyc. Brit. (unknown ed.)

In celebration of our church’s one-hundredeth anniversary, the pastor had carefully chiseled away the crumbling mortar from around the stone.  As people of the community, former and current church members watched, he carefully slid the stone onto the stand prepared for it.  A small metal box was removed from a recess in the stone.  From it came a few coins, a decaying newspaper and a moldy Bible.  Later, the first cornerstone was replaced with a new, hermetically sealed container with new ingredients in the recess in the stone.  In the weeks between the removal of the stone and its replacement, the church building, minus the cornerstone, stood, and the church (people)  continued normal activities.  The still functioning, cornerstone-less building remained in my memory.

Singing “Christ is our cornerstone” reminded me of the earlier experience.  Having recently studied the scripture referring to Christ as the capstone, I wondered how the capstone and cornerstone were related.  While beginning some research on this topic, I asked several people what the image suggested to them.  “Christ is the foundation, something strong and firm.” one offered.  Later she agreed that she didn’t distinguish between Christ the foundation stone, and the  corner foundation stone .  A song leader offered that “cornerstone” suggested a rock with it’s strength and solidity*.  Another said that the cornerstone was the one by which the foundation was set straight.  After these comments, I still felt the dissonance of the song and dictionary definition.  My research turned up some clarification.

In the modern era, most buildings do not have a functional cornerstone. I have not been able to find out when the load bearing function of the cornerstone ended.  I did find some information about a commercial building in Chicago (early 20th century) that was thought to be the last commercial building with a load bearing foundation.  I am still trying to find out when the “surveying” function of the cornerstones (plural) was no longer important.

During the time the Psalms were written, foundations were seldom laid with dressed or finished stone.  Rough stones were used.  For Solomon’s temple, however, dressed stones were used for the entire foundation  I Kings 7:9-10 which reports that the stones used were eight and ten cubits (12 to 15 feet) and that they were all trimmed with a saw on the inner and outer surfaces.  The first stone laid was carefully squared and finished to line up the rest of the foundation wall.  The other corners had some of the same function, but the first was the “chief” cornerstone.  The rest of the wall was laid up, often without mortar.  Fresh cut stones would dry and settle together.  Some of these foundations remain today, cut so precisely, a knife blade could not be stuck between the stones.

So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed. Isaiah 28:16

Since uniform, ready-made stone was not used, some irregularities would result so that the last space to be filled required a stone not exactly the size of the others.  Since this was the final stone a good fit would tie the wall together.  A stone which previously had been set aside might be used because it was an exact fit.  This was the capstone, the one that tied together the wall and fit exactly.  Laying the last stone was a ceremonial occasion as

“What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of `God bless it! God bless it!’ Zechariah 4:7

In the New Testament, Jesus is seen as both the chief cornerstone and the capstone.

For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone, 1 Peter 2:6, 7

If we believe our eyes and experience, we understand that in our day, a cornerstone is a decorative repository of items from the past history of a church or other institution.  A closer look at the world of the Bible helps us see how the people of Jesus time used this image to move toward an understanding of him.  I hope this helps.

Jesus is the first stone and the last, the “tested” stone, the one that determines that the rest of the building is well-build, solid, and will stand.  He is the final stone, the one that just fits and holds the building together.

 

*The image of the cornerstone and stone or rock overlap.   I have pursued these images in another blog, “On being chips off  the old Rock.”