1 Kings 2 Bloody Beginnings

King David Presenting the Scepter to Solomon By Cornelis de Vos – (1601-1651)

1 Kings 2: 1-12 Final Words and Death of David

1 When David’s time to die drew near, he charged his son Solomon, saying: 2 “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, be courageous, 3 and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn. 4 Then the LORD will establish his word that he spoke concerning me: ‘If your heirs take heed to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.’

5 “Moreover you know also what Joab son of Zeruiah did to me, how he dealt with the two commanders of the armies of Israel, Abner son of Ner, and Amasa son of Jether, whom he murdered, retaliating in time of peace for blood that had been shed in war, and putting the blood of war on the belt around his waist, and on the sandals on his feet. 6 Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to Sheol in peace. 7 Deal loyally, however, with the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be among those who eat at your table; for with such loyalty they met me when I fled from your brother Absalom. 8 There is also with you Shimei son of Gera, the Benjaminite from Bahurim, who cursed me with a terrible curse on the day when I went to Mahanaim; but when he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the LORD, ‘I will not put you to death with the sword.’ 9 Therefore do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man; you will know what you ought to do to him, and you must bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.”

 10 Then David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David. 11 The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. 12 So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established.

Many people when they were growing up were taught a romanticized version of King David and King Solomon, almost like a pre-medieval King Arthur. Yet, the narratives of the bible are often far less romantic than the Sunday school stories that were taught to children. It would be problematic to attempt to use this period at the end of David’s life and the beginning of the reign of King Solomon to teach some type of moralistic lesson. Perhaps it is helpful to remember that woven in with the assumption of the need for a king to provide leadership for the people is the prophetic critique of the places where that leadership does not keep the statues, commandments, ordinances, and testimonies as outlined in the law of Moses. Yet, even in this chapter where the requirements of the law are met and the reactions of Solomon are coherent within the cultural expectations of his time, his actions would not be viewed as acceptable in our very different cultural space.

The final words of David begin in a manner that highlights that this is a narration of history from the perspective of the law and David’s final words can be read in a similar way to Moses’ and Joshua’s final charges to the people. They all are concerned with obedience to the law of God, presumably similar in form to Deuteronomy. David’s charge to Solomon echoes to the recurring words at the beginning of Joshua where the LORD and the people charge Joshua to, “Only be strong and courageous.” (Joshua 1:6,7, 9, 18). Solomon is charged to walk in the way of wisdom, a way that conforms to the vision of God’s commandments and is promised that the reward for that fidelity will be God’s continual provision and protection of the line of Solomon.

Yet, the world that David and Solomon navigate is morally ambiguous. David was a warrior king who consolidated his reign through military might and political maneuvering. As Brueggemann deftly states, “It is enough to recognize that David on his deathbed is a person of deep contradiction and incongruity, caught between the clear claims of faith and the obvious requirements of raw power.” (Brueggemann, 2000, p. 39) A cynical reading of this passage hears David asking Solomon to enact the revenge for political reasons he may have been unable to enact. A more favorable reading hears David alerting Solomon to potential dangers to power early in his reign. The truth may lie somewhere between these perspectives.

Joab son of Zeruiah is a frequent player in David’s narrative as a fierce fighter and commander of the forces of David. Yet, Joab has previously aligned himself with Solomon’s rival Adonijah and although he has always been a supporter of David he has often exercised his own judgment, often neglecting David’s stated desires. Joab was a man of bloodshed and the two incidents listed in David’s final words are times when Joab counteracted David’s negotiations to bring peace after conflict. The narrative of Abner and Joab takes place in 2 Samuel 2-3 where Abner, as the commander of the Saul’s army remains a significant opponent who ends up killing Joab’s brother Asahel. As David becomes stronger and the house of Saul becomes weaker there is a loss of trust between Ishbaal, Saul’s heir, and Abner. Abner’s action to make a covenant with David allows for David to consolidate control over Israel. Yet, when Joab learns of this peace he seeks Abner out and executes him. Amasa son of Jether was appointed over the army of Israel by Absalom when he rebels against his father David and seizes the kingdom for a time. Yet, after the death of Absalom, Amasa is still given a position in the military until Joab kills him. Joab was a man of war and David may have believed that without his removal Solomon would not have known peace. Yet, it is morally ambiguous at best for David to leave this vengeance to his son to enact on a military ally from throughout his lifetime.

Shimei son of Gera may have represented the continued threat of the kingdom splitting apart from loyalists to King Saul, David’s predecessor. This is another instance where David in a moment of military and political vulnerability is forced to make an uneasy peace rather than enact revenge. During the time of Absalom’s rebellion while David and those loyal to him flee Jerusalem, Shimei curses David and throws stones at him. Yet, David at this moment believes this curse may be from the LORD (2: Samuel 16: 10-11). After the death of Absalom, Shimei comes with a thousand men from Benjamin and appeals to the king for forgiveness. David promises Shimei he shall not die, but the presence of one thousand Benjaminites prompts the reader to question if this forgiveness is an act of political necessity which David feels compelled to keep throughout his lifetime. Upon the death of David a cynical reader sees this as revenge delayed where a more compassionate reader might see David pointing out a potential political threat to Solomon’s new rule. Regardless the advice to eliminate two political enemies and the identification of one who Solomon should bestow loyalty to sets the stage for a consolidation of power that is bloody. The peaceful death of King David will not lead to a peaceful beginning for the reign of Solomon.

1 Kings 2: 13-25 The Elimination of Adonijah

13 Then Adonijah son of Haggith came to Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother. She asked, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably.” 14 Then he said, “May I have a word with you?” She said, “Go on.” 15 He said, “You know that the kingdom was mine, and that all Israel expected me to reign; however, the kingdom has turned about and become my brother’s, for it was his from the LORD. 16 And now I have one request to make of you; do not refuse me.” She said to him, “Go on.” 17 He said, “Please ask King Solomon — he will not refuse you — to give me Abishag the Shunammite as my wife.” 18 Bathsheba said, “Very well; I will speak to the king on your behalf.”

19 So Bathsheba went to King Solomon, to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. The king rose to meet her, and bowed down to her; then he sat on his throne, and had a throne brought for the king’s mother, and she sat on his right. 20 Then she said, “I have one small request to make of you; do not refuse me.” And the king said to her, “Make your request, my mother; for I will not refuse you.” 21 She said, “Let Abishag the Shunammite be given to your brother Adonijah as his wife.” 22 King Solomon answered his mother, “And why do you ask Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? Ask for him the kingdom as well! For he is my elder brother; ask not only for him but also for the priest Abiathar and for Joab son of Zeruiah!” 23 Then King Solomon swore by the LORD, “So may God do to me, and more also, for Adonijah has devised this scheme at the risk of his life! 24 Now therefore as the LORD lives, who has established me and placed me on the throne of my father David, and who has made me a house as he promised, today Adonijah shall be put to death.” 25 So King Solomon sent Benaiah son of Jehoiada; he struck him down, and he died.

Adonijah escaped death in the first chapter when he, Abiathar, and Joab along with the other royal sons and many of the people of standing in Judah proclaimed him king by paying obeisance. He is still a person who is a potential threat to the reign of Solomon. This short political drama between Adonijah, Bathsheba, and Solomon sets in motion a chain of events which removes the participants in the earlier plot to declare Adonijah king while David was still alive. Perhaps the placing of this event after the death of David makes it easier for Solomon to act in a manner that is more ruthless, but it is also a point in Solomon’s reign where his power has not been consolidated and he may be viewed as vulnerable.

Adonijah’s request for Abishag the Shunammite would not be heard primarily in this culture as a man wanting a beautiful woman as a consolation prize for losing the crown. Marriages were economic and political transactions. Although there is perhaps some difference between Abishag’s position and concubines there is still the reality that Abishag was brought in to lay with the king. There are a number of parallels between Adonijah and Absalom as mentioned in the previous chapter, but one of the actions that Absalom did to consolidate his power was to demonstrate his virility by laying with his father’s concubines. Absalom’s act of sexual politics was an act of claiming all that was his father’s. Adonijah’s request may not be as blatant as Absalom’s action but it is an act which would be viewed symbolically as claiming the beautiful woman that belonged to his father, and by extension his father’s household.

Bathsheba’s actions are shrewder in Hebrew than they are often portrayed in English. When approached by Adonijah with this bold request she does not promise to relay the petition, but only that she will speak to the king about you (‘aleyka). The NRSV’s translation that she will speak on Adonijah’s behalf gives a positive spin to her answer, but the Hebrew is more neutral. Bathsheba has already demonstrated in the previous chapter the ability to navigate the political world of the court of King David, and now as the queen mother she is likely shrewd enough to see the implications of Adonijah’s request. It is plausible that her action of making Adonijah’s one request into ‘one small request’ that she is speaking ironically (NIB III: 32). Unfortunately, the ironic tone is not something that the scriptures often communicate in their telling of a narrative. Regardless of how it is communicated Solomon immediately sees the danger in this position and the political import of the requested act.

Solomon understands that his claim is still challenged, and that there are still those with power who are invested in Adonijah’s bid for the crown. Solomon acts quickly and dispatches his commander to kill Adonijah for his audacious request. Solomon’s wisdom is used for power politics as he acts in a bloody matter to consolidate his power. In Solomon’s view Adonijah’s request has proven that he is not a worthy man, but a wicked agitator and his response is without mercy.

The ancient world was violent. This is not the Solomon you may have encountered in the Sunday school lessons at your church, but the scriptures are written in a world of wars, assassinations, and threats. Solomons name is derived from the Hebrew Shalom, and while his reign would be more peaceful than his father David’s it does not begin in a peaceful manner. Solomon claims power by eliminating his potential rivals. Even though modern readers may have idealized the reign of Solomon, there is a prophetic critique written into the narrative of 1 Kings. The narrator of 1 Kings does not indicate either approval or disapproval of these individual acts and this is probably viewed as the narration of the reality into which Solomon entered. Yet, its presence in the scriptures does not indicate that this should be a normative practice for those who still claim this story as a part of their scriptures.

1 Kings 2: 26-27 The Removal of Abiathar the Priest

26 The king said to the priest Abiathar, “Go to Anathoth, to your estate; for you deserve death. But I will not at this time put you to death, because you carried the ark of the Lord GOD before my father David, and because you shared in all the hardships my father endured.” 27 So Solomon banished Abiathar from being priest to the LORD, thus fulfilling the word of the LORD that he had spoken concerning the house of Eli in Shiloh.

Abiathar the priest was a loyal servant of King David but he also had aligned himself with Adonijah in his attempt to seize the crown while David was alive. Abiathar is the sole survivor of the murder of the priests at Nob by King Saul and Doeg the Edomite (1 Samuel 22: 6-23) in retribution for giving David the sword of Goliath and the altar bread when he flees. David takes Abiathar into his household and he is loyal to David, even during the rebellion of Absalom. At the same time Abiathar has backed the wrong contender and in light of Adonijah’s recent request King Solomon probably sees Abiathar and Joab continuing to advise Adonijah. In King Solomon’s view Abiathar is deserving of death, but in recognition of his role as priest and his previous allegiance to his father he exiles him to his house in Anathoth. The banishment of Abiathar is also linked to the prophecies against the household of Eli by the man of God in 1 Samuel 2: 27-36 and through Samuel in 1 Samuel 3: 10-14. The removal of Abiathar is the last of the old guard of priests from Shiloh who minister before the LORD in Jerusalem.

1 Kings 2: 28-35 The Elimination of Joab

28 When the news came to Joab — for Joab had supported Adonijah though he had not supported Absalom — Joab fled to the tent of the LORD and grasped the horns of the altar. 29 When it was told King Solomon, “Joab has fled to the tent of the LORD and now is beside the altar,” Solomon sent Benaiah son of Jehoiada, saying, “Go, strike him down.” 30 So Benaiah came to the tent of the LORD and said to him, “The king commands, ‘Come out.'” But he said, “No, I will die here.” Then Benaiah brought the king word again, saying, “Thus said Joab, and thus he answered me.” 31 The king replied to him, “Do as he has said, strike him down and bury him; and thus take away from me and from my father’s house the guilt for the blood that Joab shed without cause. 32 The LORD will bring back his bloody deeds on his own head, because, without the knowledge of my father David, he attacked and killed with the sword two men more righteous and better than himself, Abner son of Ner, commander of the army of Israel, and Amasa son of Jether, commander of the army of Judah. 33 So shall their blood come back on the head of Joab and on the head of his descendants forever; but to David, and to his descendants, and to his house, and to his throne, there shall be peace from the LORD forevermore.” 34 Then Benaiah son of Jehoiada went up and struck him down and killed him; and he was buried at his own house near the wilderness. 35 The king put Benaiah son of Jehoiada over the army in his place, and the king put the priest Zadok in the place of Abiathar.

Previously King David encouraged his son to use his wisdom to eliminate Joab. Joab, on seeing the elimination of Adonijah and the exile of Abiathar knows that he is probably the next target of Solomon’s regime. Solomon commands the striking down of Joab even though he has fled to the tent of the LORD seeking sanctuary. Benaiah, on Solomon’s orders, goes to the tent of the LORD to confront Joab but when Joab refuses to emerge Beniah seeks the king’s instructions before entering the tent of God and killing Joab.

There is provision in the law for a person to flee to a place of refuge (in Deuteronomy 19: 1-13 and Joshua 20 there are cities designated as places of refuge) in the event of an accidental death to allow the tribal elders or judges to discern the viability of the case. Yet, Solomon, as instructed by David, knows that Joab is guilty of the murder of Abner son of Ner, and Amasa son of Jether. Although Solomon’s immediate issue is probably with his support of Adonijah (and perhaps continued advisement of Adonijah until Solomon has him executed) the knowledge of his being a killer enables Solomon to order Benaiah to strike Joab down while still conforming to the letter of the law as stated in Exodus 21: 12-14:

 12 Whoever strikes a person mortally shall be put to death. 13 If it was not premeditated, but came about by an act of God, then I will appoint for you a place to which the killer may flee. 14 But if someone willfully attacks and kills another by treachery, you shall take the killer from my altar for execution.

With the central figures that supported Adonijah now dealt with Solomon is able to place his allies Benaiah and Zadok over the military and the priesthood respectively. We can acknowledge the cultural conditions and the reading of the law that make this execution of a bloody justice possible without endorsing this as the type of actions we would want our leaders to take in our own cultural conditions.

1 Kings 2: 36-46 The Confinement and Death of Shimei

36 Then the king sent and summoned Shimei, and said to him, “Build yourself a house in Jerusalem, and live there, and do not go out from there to any place whatever. 37 For on the day you go out, and cross the Wadi Kidron, know for certain that you shall die; your blood shall be on your own head.” 38 And Shimei said to the king, “The sentence is fair; as my lord the king has said, so will your servant do.” So Shimei lived in Jerusalem many days.

39 But it happened at the end of three years that two of Shimei’s slaves ran away to King Achish son of Maacah of Gath. When it was told Shimei, “Your slaves are in Gath,” 40 Shimei arose and saddled a donkey, and went to Achish in Gath, to search for his slaves; Shimei went and brought his slaves from Gath. 41 When Solomon was told that Shimei had gone from Jerusalem to Gath and returned, 42 the king sent and summoned Shimei, and said to him, “Did I not make you swear by the LORD, and solemnly adjure you, saying, ‘Know for certain that on the day you go out and go to any place whatever, you shall die’? And you said to me, ‘The sentence is fair; I accept.’ 43 Why then have you not kept your oath to the LORD and the commandment with which I charged you?” 44 The king also said to Shimei, “You know in your own heart all the evil that you did to my father David; so the LORD will bring back your evil on your own head. 45 But King Solomon shall be blessed, and the throne of David shall be established before the LORD forever.” 46 Then the king commanded Benaiah son of Jehoiada; and he went out and struck him down, and he died.

So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon.

Shimei was the second person that King David told Solomon to use his wisdom to bring about his death. Solomon confines Shimei to his property in Jerusalem and Shimei assents to this house arrest. Shimei remains alive for three years while Solomon reigns but departs to capture two slaves who fled his household. The mention of Achish the King of Gath who Shimei goes to in the search of his slaves may suggest that there is some larger political play in Shimei’s plans, and that may be a part of Solomon’s harsh enforcement of his threat, but it is also possible that Solomon uses this transgression as a way to eliminate one final opponent to his rule. 1 Kings 2 remains a story of Solomon eliminating his rivals. In our modern world we may debate if based upon the witness of 1 Kings 2 whether the situations Solomon uses to eliminate these potential threats is dubious or justified. Either way this chapter is a “fairly sordid story of power politics” (Cogan, 2001, p. 180). Although the actions of Solomon may be permissible under the law of Moses I doubt many modern readers would want to apply this type of ethics to modern politics.

Digital Worship November 20, 2022

Both the contemporary online service and the sermon from this service are embedded at the bottom of the post.

Christ the King Sunday, November 20, 2022

We are gathered in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy   Spirit.

Amen

God of all mercy and consolation, come to the aid of your people, turning us from our sin to live for you alone. Give us the power of you Holy Spirit that, attentive to your Word, we may confess our sins, receive your forgiveness, and grow into the fullness of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Let us confess our sins in the presence of God and of one another.

Gracious God, have mercy on us. In your compassion forgive us our sins, known and unknown, things done and left undone. Uphold us by your Spirit so that we may live and serve you in newness of life, to the honor and glory of your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life

Amen

Greeting:

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Prayer of the Day

O God, our true life, to serve you is freedom, and to know you is unending joy. We worship you, we glorify you, we give thanks to you for your great glory. Abide with us, reign in us, and make this world into a fit habitation for your divine majesty, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 First Reading: Jeremiah 23: 1-6

1Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. 2Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. 3Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.

5The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Psalm: Psalm 46

1God is our refuge and strength,
 a very present help in trouble.
 2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
 though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
 3though its waters roar and foam,
 though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

 4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
 the holy habitation of the Most High.
 5God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
 God will help it when the morning dawns.
 6The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
 he utters his voice, the earth melts.
 7The LORD of hosts is with us;
 the God of Jacob is our refuge.

 8Come, behold the works of the LORD;
 see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
 9He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
 he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
 he burns the shields with fire.
 10“Be still, and know that I am God!
 I am exalted among the nations,
 I am exalted in the earth.”
 11The LORD of hosts is with us;
 the God of Jacob is our refuge.


 Second Reading: Colossians 1: 11-20

11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Gospel: Luke 23: 33-43

33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Sermon: Pastor Neil White

Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Assisting Minister

Let us pray:

Creating God, source of all life, we rejoice in the incredible creation that you have given us to watch over. As you continue to renew your creation day by day we ask that you grant both your people and leaders, global and local, a heart to care for the earth. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord God, ruler of all the earth, where nations and communities yearn for peace and justice we ask for your steadfast love and righteousness to guide those working for peace. Watch over those who dedicate their lives to the protection and service of others including: Ben, Brycen, Christian, Clayton, Daniel, Dillan, Ethan, Evan, Luke, Michael, Spencer, Sydney, Tyler B. and Tyler G. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Healing God look on your children with compassion and ease the suffering of those dealing with emotional or physical pain. Have your healing hand upon:  Aubrey, Avery, Betsy, Billie, Bob, Brenda, Brandon, Campbell, Cohen, Dan, Dennis, Denver, Donna, Eliza, Gary, Jamie, Jan, Judy, Laurie, Linda, Makayla, Maureen, Mike, Nolan, Patrick, Roger, Sandy C., Sandy P., Sara, Tom and Wayne 

Lord, we pray for the ministries of the ELCA and the Northern Texas – Northern Louisiana Synod, we also lift up in prayer today: Oslo Lutheran Church, Gruver, Faith Lutheran Church, Sagerton and NT-NL Ministry Teams.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Leader: In trust and hope, we commend to you, O Lord, all for whom we pray. Amen.

Sharing of the Peace

Highlights

Offering Offering may be given in the offering plate or electronically through the Tithe.ly app. If you want to honor your electronic gift during the offering there are cards on the usher’s table for that purpose.

Words of Institution

Lord’s Prayer

 Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer

A: Let us pray. Lord Jesus, in this sacrament you strengthen us with the saving power of your death and resurrection. May these gifts of your body and blood create in us the fruits of your redemption and grace in our lives, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Verses 1, 2, 3, and 5 of All Hail the Power of Jesus Name!

Blessing

DiscipleLife

L:    As God has claimed us as his own in Christ,

       we seek to follow Christ with these marks of DiscipleLife:

§Praying Daily

§Worshiping Weekly

§Studying the Bible

§Serving Others

§Building Spiritual Friendships

§Giving to God and our Neighbors in Need

§Engaging God’s Mission

Dismissal: “Go in peace, serve the Lord. Thanks be to God” Alleluia

1 Kings 1 An Uneasy Transition from David to Solomon

David, Bathsheba, and Abishag by Fredrick Goodall (1888)

1 Kings 1

1 Kings 1: 1-4 A Feeble King

1 King David was old and advanced in years; and although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm. 2 So his servants said to him, “Let a young virgin be sought for my lord the king, and let her wait on the king, and be his attendant; let her lie in your bosom, so that my lord the king may be warm.” 3 So they searched for a beautiful girl throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king. 4 The girl was very beautiful. She became the king’s attendant and served him, but the king did not know her sexually.

The initial chapter of 1 Kings serves as a bridge between the stories of 1 and 2 Samuel which culminates with the reign of King David and the transition to the narrative of the kings that come after David. People in the United States have generally taken for granted a peaceful transition of power and the political machinations of an election and swearing in of new leaders has, with one notable exception recently, been accepted as a matter-of-fact occurrence. The transition of power in the ancient world was often a matter of life and death for those who would claim the power to reign. King David was a warrior king who had forged a unified Israel by both his military prowess and his ability to forge alliances with various religious and tribal authorities.

1 Kings begins with “an enfeebled king, a mere shadow of the robust leader he once was,” (Cogan, 2001, p. 164) and in the absence of a robust leader coalitions are forming. The servants of the king have attempted to keep the king able to maintain power, but his health is failing him. The solution is to bring another young, beautiful woman into the king’s bed to keep him warm and to for her to lie in his bosom. The language of Abishag lying in the king’s bosom may intentionally echo the prophet Nathan’s parable to David after the affair with Bathsheba where the poor man’s ewe lamb “used to lie in his bosom” (2 Samuel 12:3) and if this echo is intentional it may help prepare us for the awkward conversation between David and Bathsheba while Abishag is warming the king’s bed.

David as a roughly seventy-year-old man is no longer physically able to hold the kingdom together and his physical frailty and lack of clear succession sets the stage for the conflict of the chapter. The chapter is a political narrative about the effective and ineffective use of symbols and alliances to gain power. It also lives in the shadows of the sins of the past which have weakened David’s house and the central presence of Nathan and Bathsheba throughout this episode as well as the parallels between Adonijah and Absalom bring us to the place where an enfeebled king is no longer able to effectively hold his broken house together. David remains passive as the conflict between those who see Adonijah and Solomon as the next king begins.

1 Kings 1: 5-10 Adonijah’s Bold Claim to Power

5 Now Adonijah son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king”; he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. 6 His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, “Why have you done thus and so?” He was also a very handsome man, and he was born next after Absalom. 7 He conferred with Joab son of Zeruiah and with the priest Abiathar, and they supported Adonijah. 8 But the priest Zadok, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and the prophet Nathan, and Shimei, and Rei, and David’s own warriors did not side with Adonijah.

9 Adonijah sacrificed sheep, oxen, and fatted cattle by the stone Zoheleth, which is beside En-rogel, and he invited all his brothers, the king’s sons, and all the royal officials of Judah, 10 but he did not invite the prophet Nathan or Benaiah or the warriors or his brother Solomon.

The perspective of 1 Kings is a complicated question, but in this initial chapter it frames the person and actions of Adonijah in a way that is parallel to Absalom (Israel, 2013, pp. 18-19). Both Absalom and Adonijah are described as being attractive men (2 Samuel 14:25) and this physical attraction is a part of their appeal as the future king (and a reason for David’s failure to correct his sons). Both Absalom and Adonijah attempt to secure the crown by their own machinations while David still lives, and each is the next in line by birth order. Both sons will have chariots and runners to demonstrate their power in the city (2 Samuel 15:1) and the presence of both chariots (the military technology of the day) and runners who were often counted on as loyal bodyguards indicate the military strength to defend his claim. Adonijah has developed a power base of both religious and military leaders and is actively excluding those who he feels may pose a challenge to his ascension as the next king. The act of sacrificing and dining with the royal sons (sans Solomon) the royal officials of Judah is a political action designed to further his aspirations of ruling in his father’s stead. One powerful claimant to the throne has been introduced and the enfeebled king has done nothing to oppose the actions of his attractive son and may be unaware of the machinations occurring in his kingdom.

1 Kings: 1: 11-37 Nathan and Bathsheba Rouse King David to Action

11 Then Nathan said to Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, “Have you not heard that Adonijah son of Haggith has become king and our lord David does not know it?

 12 Now therefore come, let me give you advice, so that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. 13 Go in at once to King David, and say to him, ‘Did you not, my lord the king, swear to your servant, saying: Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne? Why then is Adonijah king?’ 14 Then while you are still there speaking with the king, I will come in after you and confirm your words.”

15 So Bathsheba went to the king in his room. The king was very old; Abishag the Shunammite was attending the king. 16 Bathsheba bowed and did obeisance to the king, and the king said, “What do you wish?” 17 She said to him, “My lord, you swore to your servant by the LORD your God, saying: Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne. 18 But now suddenly Adonijah has become king, though you, my lord the king, do not know it. 19 He has sacrificed oxen, fatted cattle, and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the children of the king, the priest Abiathar, and Joab the commander of the army; but your servant Solomon he has not invited. 20 But you, my lord the king — the eyes of all Israel are on you to tell them who shall sit on the throne of my lord the king after him. 21 Otherwise it will come to pass, when my lord the king sleeps with his ancestors, that my son Solomon and I will be counted offenders.”

22 While she was still speaking with the king, the prophet Nathan came in. 23 The king was told, “Here is the prophet Nathan.” When he came in before the king, he did obeisance to the king, with his face to the ground. 24 Nathan said, “My lord the king, have you said, ‘Adonijah shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne’? 25 For today he has gone down and has sacrificed oxen, fatted cattle, and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the king’s children, Joab the commander of the army, and the priest Abiathar, who are now eating and drinking before him, and saying, ‘Long live King Adonijah!’ 26 But he did not invite me, your servant, and the priest Zadok, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and your servant Solomon. 27 Has this thing been brought about by my lord the king and you have not let your servants know who should sit on the throne of my lord the king after him?”

28 King David answered, “Summon Bathsheba to me.” So she came into the king’s presence, and stood before the king. 29 The king swore, saying, “As the LORD lives, who has saved my life from every adversity, 30 as I swore to you by the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne in my place,’ so will I do this day.” 31 Then Bathsheba bowed with her face to the ground, and did obeisance to the king, and said, “May my lord King David live forever!”

32 King David said, “Summon to me the priest Zadok, the prophet Nathan, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada.” When they came before the king, 33 the king said to them, “Take with you the servants of your lord, and have my son Solomon ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon. 34 There let the priest Zadok and the prophet Nathan anoint him king over Israel; then blow the trumpet, and say, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ 35 You shall go up following him. Let him enter and sit on my throne; he shall be king in my place; for I have appointed him to be ruler over Israel and over Judah.” 36 Benaiah son of Jehoiada answered the king, “Amen! May the LORD, the God of my lord the king, so ordain. 37 As the LORD has been with my lord the king, so may he be with Solomon, and make his throne greater than the throne of my lord King David.”

The prophet Nathan and Bathsheba act to attempt to undercut the ambitions of Adonijah and to forward Bathsheba’s son Solomon as the next king of Israel. Together they come up with a plan to approach David and remind the king of his previous oath that Solomon would reign. Some commentators are dubious about this oath since it is not mentioned in 2 Samuel and believe that the prophet and Solomon’s mother are taking advantage of the king’s weakened mental faculties. While that is a possible interpretation, the David presented in the text will respond decisively and order a set of actions that are both clear and significant to ensure that Solomon is recognized by the people as the new king. David may have withdrawn from the administration of the kingdom due to his health, but when confronted by Nathan and Bathsheba he acts quickly.

Bathsheba enters the bedroom of the king while Abishag is attending to him. Bathsheba comes and does obeisance to the king and is granted the space to make her plea. Bathsheba’s plea comes from the perspective that the king is unaware of the actions of his son Adonijah that contradict his promises to her under oath. Bathsheba makes the reasonable claim that if Adonijah ascends to the throne she and Solomon will be perceived as ‘offenders’ or enemies of the throne and their lives will be at risk. As Nathan indicated while Bathsheba makes her appeal he also approaches the room of the king and is announced. The prophet Nathan confronts the king questioning his knowledge and at least tacit approval of Adonijah’s actions and lists several of the major political players who are now declaring that Adonijah is king. The acclamation, “long live Adonijah” (rendered by the NRSV king Adonijah) is the typical acclamation of a person who has been declared king. Apparently Bathsheba has left the room while the prophet Nathan has reported to the king, but King David summons her back and affirms his previous oath and declares that he will make it official this day.

David is apparently aware enough to summon the officials who are loyal to Solomon and who are not with Adonijah. The action of Solomon riding on King David’s mule is symbolic but also sends a different image than the chariots and runners of Adonijah. This is image of a king of peace riding on a mule or donkey will become an important prophetic image and will shape the action of Jesus in his approach to Jerusalem. Yet, Solomon is surrounded by those of religious and military power. They anoint him at Gihon, the central water source of the city so that it may be seen by many in the city. This is a very public action that King David decrees and then the symbolism is increased by having Solomon take his seat upon David’s throne. David, who has never acted to displease his son Adonijah in the past, now acts decisively and quickly once he is confronted by Bathsheba and Nathan.

Bathsheba and Nathan in this scene make their decisive reemergence after a long period of silence in the story of David. Both are central figures in a story where David’s actions to sleep with Bathsheba and ordering the death in combat of her husband Uriah to cover his actions bring about a judgment delivered by the prophet Nathan of both the death of their first son and the future unrest in David’s household. Yet, Nathan also delivers a message that God favors Solomon (2 Samuel 12:25) before he, Bathsheba, and Solomon recede into the background of the story as David struggles with the discord in his household and unrest in his reign. Yet, as David’s reign reaches its twilight Nathan and Bathsheba reemerge in the story to prepare for the ascension of Solomon.

1 Kings 1: 38-40 The Anointing of Solomon

38 So the priest Zadok, the prophet Nathan, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites, went down and had Solomon ride on King David’s mule, and led him to Gihon. 39 There the priest Zadok took the horn of oil from the tent and anointed Solomon. Then they blew the trumpet, and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!” 40 And all the people went up following him, playing on pipes and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth quaked at their noise.

Adonijah had initiated an act of political theater to rally support for his claim to reign in David’s stead, but now the allies of Solomon, on King David’s instructions, have their own set of symbolically significant actions in the presence of the people to place Solomon on the throne. The priest and the prophet, the military leader and the servants of David place Solomon on David’s mule and lead him to Gihon. The Cherethites and the Pelethites are likely David’s own warriors indicated in 1:8 but they may also be mercenaries who provide “muscle for the throne a popular support ebbs.” (Brueggemann, 2000, p. 18) Solomon may symbolically be riding a mule instead of a chariot, but he is not without the military might to uphold his claim. In contrast to the action of Adonijah which takes place with the leaders outside of the city, this is done in the midst of the people of Jerusalem and the anointment and blowing of the trumpet to signal Solomon’s appointment as the new king is met with the declaration of the people declaring Solomon king and breaking into a spontaneous celebration. The city erupts into celebration and this joyous noise disrupts the gathering outside of town.

1 Kings 1: 41-53 Adonijah Concedes to Solomon

41 Adonijah and all the guests who were with him heard it as they finished feasting. When Joab heard the sound of the trumpet, he said, “Why is the city in an uproar?” 42 While he was still speaking, Jonathan son of the priest Abiathar arrived. Adonijah said, “Come in, for you are a worthy man and surely you bring good news.” 43 Jonathan answered Adonijah, “No, for our lord King David has made Solomon king; 44 the king has sent with him the priest Zadok, the prophet Nathan, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites; and they had him ride on the king’s mule; 45 the priest Zadok and the prophet Nathan have anointed him king at Gihon; and they have gone up from there rejoicing, so that the city is in an uproar. This is the noise that you heard. 46 Solomon now sits on the royal throne. 47 Moreover the king’s servants came to congratulate our lord King David, saying, ‘May God make the name of Solomon more famous than yours, and make his throne greater than your throne.’ The king bowed in worship on the bed 48 and went on to pray thus, ‘Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who today has granted one of my offspring to sit on my throne and permitted me to witness it.'”

49 Then all the guests of Adonijah got up trembling and went their own ways. 50 Adonijah, fearing Solomon, got up and went to grasp the horns of the altar. 51 Solomon was informed, “Adonijah is afraid of King Solomon; see, he has laid hold of the horns of the altar, saying, ‘Let King Solomon swear to me first that he will not kill his servant with the sword.'” 52 So Solomon responded, “If he proves to be a worthy man, not one of his hairs shall fall to the ground; but if wickedness is found in him, he shall die.” 53 Then King Solomon sent to have him brought down from the altar. He came to do obeisance to King Solomon; and Solomon said to him, “Go home.”

Adonijah has been playing a dangerous game and he was outmaneuvered politically by Nathan and Bathsheba. Adonijah likely saw King David’s lack of previous condemnation as a tacit approval of his actions or signs of the king’s lack of awareness of power. David’s instructions carried out publicly by Nathan the prophet, Zadok the priest, Benaiah and with the physical presence of the Cherethites and the Pelethites is met with public acclamation. When Jonathan, a man of worth,[1] reports in detail the proceedings in the city. The repetition of the details in the story reinforces the significance of the actions but Jonathan is also aware of the words of King David to affirm this from his bed. King David may be physically weak, but his position still holds power over the people and his blessing of the LORD for allowing Solomon to sit upon his throne adds the intimation of divine approval.

The actions on behalf of Solomon sends shockwaves through the assembled allies of Adonijah. Realizing that they have been outmaneuvered they retreat from the gathering and try to distance themselves from Adonijah. Adonijah recognizes the precarious nature of his position and flees to the temple for sanctuary, clinging to the horns of the altar. Solomon will either have to grant him clemency or spill blood on the altar. Solomon grants him an opportunity to prove himself loyal but the cost of any perceived action that would be harmful to Solomon’s authority will result in Adonijah’s death. Adonijah comes and bows down before Solomon before being sent home. The narrative is not concluded yet and Solomon will have to make choices in the future to secure his position, but the first chapter has moved us from the reign of King David to the new era under King Solomon in an initially bloodless transition.

 

[1] The Hebrew ‘is hayil is a person of economic and social status.

Transitioning into First Kings

Isaak Asknaziy, Vanita vanitatum et omnia vanitas (19th Century)

Like the book of Judges, which is the most recent book I completed my work through, the narrative of First Kings is a part of what scholars call the Deuteronomic History since it views the story of Israel through the perspective of the covenantal vision of the book of Deuteronomy. First and Second Kings were initially a common book, the book of Kings, which was later divided into two books in our current divisions. The book of Kings as a whole narrates the story beginning with the reign of King Solomon, to the division of the kingdom into Judah and Israel, or the northern Kingdom of Israel, and then the recurring pattern of unfaithful rulers, with a few good rulers who attempt to reform the people, which eventually lead to the northern kingdom’s destruction by the Assyrian empire in 721 BCE and the Babylonian empire’s conquering of Judah in roughly 587 BCE. First Kings, which covers roughly half of the original combined book, begins with Solomon, narrates the secession of the northern tribes when Rehoboam fails to listen to the cries of the people and continues through the kings of Judah and Israel until the Omri dynasty in the north and the emergence of the prophet Elijah to challenge the unfaithfulness of King Ahab.

In the Jewish division of the Hebrew Scriptures the Deuteronomic History (Joshua, Judges, 1&2 Samuel, and 1&2 Kings) are all grouped with the prophets. They are history viewed through a theological lens and with the intention of looking backwards to understand the situation of the people in exile. There is a tradition of associating these books with Jeremiah, and they do share a common worldview. It is a helpful process of looking backward upon the history of a people critically to attempt to bring meaning to the present crisis.

I do these reflections in a semi-random order and so I have skipped the narratives of Samuel, Saul, and David in first and second Samuel. I may at some point go back and walk through these narratives, but the time period of the kings after Solomon is also a time period I am less familiar with. The perspective of First Kings is somewhat difficult to discern. On the one hand it is a part of a collection of books that specifically deals with the dynasty of kings and understands those kings as an integral part of the story of Israel. The presence of a Davidic king in Judah maintains a symbolically important place throughout the books. At the same time the book includes several critiques of the kings, even kings that would be viewed as successful in many other respects. Solomon begins well, but eventually abandons the wisdom of God for accumulation and adopts the practices of his many wives in worshipping other gods. The assessment of individual kings is often summarized by phrases like, “He committed all the sins that his father did before him; his heart was not true to the LORD his God like the heart of his father David.” (1 Kings 15:3 referring to Abijam, son of Rehoboam, son of Solomon).

I grew up with the stories in First Kings, but I have not ever spent any sustained reflection upon this book. I would assume this is true of most Christian pastors, and more broadly most Christians. I am not sure what this journey will uncover, but I enter it with humility and interest. I do trust that there is wisdom to be found in this reflection upon this time of kings and prophets, of struggle and division, of unfaithful leaders and a God who desires a faithful people.

The Book of Psalms 1-80

Love is Not a Victory March by Marie -Esther@deviantart.com

BOOK I  (Psalms 1-41)

Psalm 1: Poetry and Law
Psalm 2: The Lord’s Messiah
Psalm 3: Hope in the Heart of Brokenness
Psalm 4: Finding a Space in the Blessing
Psalm 5: The God Who Hears and Protects
Psalm 6: How Long, O Lord
Psalm 7: The God Who Judges
Psalm 8: The Soul Searcher’s Psalm
Psalm 9: Praising the God of Justice and Might
Psalm 10: Calling on God to be God
Psalm 11: Confident Faith in the Midst of Trouble
Psalm 12: Save Us From Ourselves
Psalm 13: The Cry from the God Forsaken Place
Psalm 14: The Wisdom of Holding to the Covenant
Psalm 15: Entering the Sacred Presence of God
Psalm 16: Remaining Faithful in a Pluralistic Setting
Psalm 17: An Embodied Prayer
Psalm 18: Royal Thanks at the End of the Journey
Psalm 19: Creation, the Law and a Faithful Life
Psalm 20: In the Day of Trouble
Psalm 21: A Blessing for the King
Psalm 22: A Desperate Cry to God
Psalm 23: The LORD as Shepherd, Host and Destination
Psalm 24: The Coming of the LORD
Psalm 25: The Struggle of Faith from Aleph to Tav
Psalm 26: Liturgy of the Falsely Accused
Psalm 27: Faith in an Age of Anxiety
Psalm 28: Can You Hear Me LORD?
Psalm 29: The Thundering Voice of God
Psalm 30: The Life of Praise
Psalm 31: Faith, Questions and the Life of Faith
Psalm 32: A Psalm of Restoration
Psalm 33: The Earth is Full of the Steadfast Love of God
Psalm 34: The Experienced Faithfulness of God
Psalm 35: Lord, Fight for Me in the Struggle
Psalm 36: The Way of God and the Way of the Wicked
Psalm 37: A Song of a Wise Life
Psalm 38: A Cry for Forgiveness and Healing
Psalm 39: There Are No Words
Psalm 40: Experienced Faithfulness and the Hope of Deliverance
Psalm 41: The One Who Cares for the Poor

BOOK II (Psalms 42-72)

Psalm 42 Thirsting for God in an Arid Time
Psalm 43 Calling for God’s Love among a Loveless People
Psalm 44 Demanding a Fulfillment of God’s Covenant Promises
Psalm 45 A Love Song among the Psalms
Psalm 46 A Mighty Fortress
Psalm 47 God Assumes Kingship Over Creation
Psalm 48 God and Zion
Psalm 49 Wealth, Wisdom and Death
Psalm 50 Recalled to the Covenantal Life
Psalm 51 Seeking the Possibility of Redemption
Psalm 52 The Wicked Will Not Prosper Forever
Psalm 53 Reflecting Again on the Unjust
Psalm 54 A Cry for Deliverance
Psalm 55 A Desperate Prayer from an Unsafe Environment
Psalm 56 Trusting God in the Midst of Trouble
Psalm 57 Fleeing to the Steadfast Love and Faithfulness of God
Psalm 58 A Jagged Prayer for Vengeance
Psalm 59 God’s Steadfast Love as an Alternative to the Dog-Eat-Dog Worldview
Psalm 60 A Plea for God’s Return to the People
Psalm 61 A Life Dependent on God
Psalm 62 Truly Faith Surrounds My Troubles
Psalm 63 Hungering and Thirsting 
Psalm 64 Protect the Innocent One from the Words of the Wicked
Psalm 65 A Song of Thanksgiving to a Gracious Creator
Psalm 66 Formed by Steadfast Love
Psalm 67 A Blessing for the Earth
Psalm 68 God as Warrior and Protector of the Powerless
Psalm 69 A Cry for Deliverance from Unjust Suffering
Psalm 70 God Help Me Quickly
Psalm 71 A Prayer for Help Shaped by a Life of Worship
Psalm 72 Leading God’s Covenant People

Book III (Psalms 73-89)

Psalm 73 When Faith is Challenged
Psalm 74 A Psalm When the World Collapses
Psalm 75 God’s Answer to the Boastful and Arrogant
Psalm 76 The Fearfully Powerful Defender of Peace
Psalm 77 Searching for God in a Shattered World
Psalm 78 Telling History to Change the Future
Psalm 79 Words of Pain and Hope in a National Crisis
Psalm 80 A People Waiting for God’s Forgiveness

Psalm 80 A People Waiting For God’s Forgiveness

By Hans Peter Feddersen – anagoria, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47028911

Psalm 80

<To the leader: on Lilies, a Covenant. Of Asaph. A Psalm.>
1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
2 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!
3 Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
4 O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.
6 You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.
7 Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
8 You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.
9 You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.
10 The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches;
11 it sent out its branches to the sea, and its shoots to the River.
12 Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
13 The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it.
14 Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine,
15 the stock that your right hand planted.
16 They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down;  may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance.
17 But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.
18 Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.
19 Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Over the years I have done a lot of work with couples preparing for a marriage or dealing with conflict in a marriage. One of the things I will remind them is that for a relationship to work it takes both parties working on the relationship. Both parties have to be willing to enter the dance, to move in complement to one another. In a time where forgiveness is needed and where trust is broken, both parties have to be willing to reenter into the relationship and enter into the hard work of offering and receiving forgiveness. Although the metaphor of marriage is not one of the images used in this psalm, these words revolve around a call to God to restore the relationship. It is a commitment that the people turned away from. In the aftermath of God’s act of turning away from the people and removing their protection they call upon God for forgiveness and a renewal of the relationship. Yet, the repentance of the people is not enough. They ask for a change in God’s stance towards them because there is no renewing of the relationship without God’s participation.

Psalm eighty deploys several images for God’s relationship with the people. God is the shepherd of Israel who leads the people like a flock, the one seated among the cherubim, the God of hosts, and the vintner who cultivates a vineyard. Shepherds are those responsible for the care and feeding of the flock and in the poetic dualism of the poem the feeder of Israel is now allowing it to be consumed. God who has been the faithful shepherd has turned away from caring for the flock as Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh now wander in the wilderness unprotected. Being a shepherd in the bible is also a common metaphor for kings/rulers. The flock stands in desperate need of God’s protection and provision as a shepherd or king. God as one seated among the cherubim is an image often associated with the ark of the covenant, which has two cherubim on the lid. Within the space of worship or within the tabernacle (or temple) God’s absence has been felt where God’s presence is expected. The LORD God of hosts is an image of God’s military might. The common translation of ‘God of hosts’ often obscures that what is being referred to is the God of armies.[1] The power of the ‘God of hosts’ is contrasted to the weakness of the ‘child of humanity’[2] Finally a second agricultural image is introduced as God is the vintner who transplants the vine from Egypt to the land of Canaan, clears the ground and allows for it to grow only to remove the walls protecting it allowing travelers and wild animals to leave it fruitless.

The reference to Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh may refer to a time when the northern kingdom of Israel is encountering a crisis where they feel abandoned by God, perhaps the conquest of Assyria in 721 may form the backdrop of this psalm, but the words would provide language to call upon God to renew the relationship with the people of God in multiple situations. The psalmist asks three times for people to be restored with the full understanding that any reconciliation in the relationship now rests in God’s hands. The image of the vine transplanted, tended, and now abandoned calls attention to all the work God has put into the people as a motivation to resume God’s care. As Beth Tanner skillfully distills the question of these verses: “Why have you, God, destroyed what you have worked so hard to build?” (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 634) Now God must decide whether the sunk cost into this relationship and the promise of faithfulness in the future is enough to overcome God’s broken heart and grief.

This psalm exists in the space between the confession and repentance of people of God and the broken heart of God. The people have begun to experience the consequences of the sins of the past as God’s countenance has turned away from them. They are fruitless without God’s protection, they are vulnerable without God’s guidance, and they are powerless without the might of the God of hosts. Yet in the aftermath of the broken covenant the congregation’s actions can only wait for a response in God. They can only hope for a turning in God: a turning back to them in grace, an assumption of the mantle of shepherd to the flock, returning to the space of worship, resuming the protection of the children of humanity and the rebuilding of the wall of the vineyard. They long, in the words of the priestly blessing given to Aaron, for a time when:

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26

But they speak from an experience where God’s countenance has turned away and they wait for God’s gracious turning towards them again.

[1] This is what ‘hosts’ refers to. God as a leader of military might whether heavenly or earthly. The divine warrior is expanded to the divine general.

[2] Hebrew ben’adam literally ‘son of Adam, son of humanity, or son of man.’ Like the usage of the ‘son of man’ imagery in Daniel and the New Testament it is in the recognition of God that the ‘one’ is given authority or power.

Review of The English Koren Tanakh: The Magerman Edition

The English Koren Tanakh: The Magerman Edition The Hebrew Bible in a New English Translation. Translated by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Rabbi Tzvi Weinreb, et. al. Jerusalem: Koren Publisher, 2021

The Magerman Edition of the English Koren Tanakh is a beautifully put together volume. This translation of the Hebrew Scriptures done by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hirsch Weinreb and several other distinguished Jewish scholars does a good job of capturing both the richness of the Hebrew language in an understandable English syntax. As a Christian reader who has some fluency in the Hebrew language it is a gift to have the loving work of this dedicated group of scholars. This is one of translations I now use when doing a close reading of a text.

One of the gifts of doing work on the scriptures that we share with our Jewish ancestors is being aware of some of the differences in form and structure between how Christian and Jewish interpreters have approached these holy books that we share. The Jewish organization of scripture divides the scripture into three sections: Torah (Genesis-Deuteronomy), Prophets (Joshua-Kings, Isaiah-Malachi excluding Daniel), and Writings (Wisdom literature, Ruth, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles, and Daniel).  The introductions also give several insights into how the scriptures are used in both personal devotion and corporate worship by our Jewish counterparts. The translations themselves capture balance the Hebrew syntax with English flow and readability and manage to capture the form of poetry and prose. The casual English reader will quickly realize that the names of individuals and places have been transliterated from the Hebrew rather than using the English traditional renderings of these names and places which date bank to the original English translations and are often significantly different than the Hebrew pronunciation. Even the layout of the text on the page is attractive to the eye and large enough to easily read. The maps, diagrams, and images at the end of the book are also very well done.

I’ve used several resources from Koren Publishers in the past and they have consistently been insightful and readable. I was given a copy of the Magerman Edition of the English Koren Tanakh to share an honest review of the resource and for those who are interested in a readable translation of the Hebrew Scriptures to inform their reading, devotions, and study I highly recommend this work.

Psalm 79 Words of Pain and Hope in a National Crisis

James Tissot, The Flight of the Prisoners

Psalm 79

<A Psalm of Asaph.>

1 O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.
2 They have given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the air for food, the flesh of your faithful to the wild animals of the earth.
3 They have poured out their blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them.
4 We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us.
5 How long, O LORD? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealous wrath burn like fire?
6 Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call on your name.
7 For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation.
8 Do not remember against us the iniquities of our ancestors; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low.
9 Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and forgive our sins, for your name’s sake.
10 Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants be known among the nations before our eyes.
11 Let the groans of the prisoners come before you; according to your great power preserve those doomed to die.
12 Return sevenfold into the bosom of our neighbors the taunts with which they taunted you, O Lord!
13 Then we your people, the flock of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise.

Most of the Psalms of Asaph in this section are likely written in the aftermath of the devastation of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians in 587 BCE and emerge in a space of broken dreams and deep pain. The placement of this psalm immediately after Psalm 78, with its condemnation of Northern Israel and its belief that God’s love and protection focused on Judah and the sanctuary at Mount Zion, highlights the hopes that are now in pieces after the experience of the surviving the destruction caused after a long siege. The Davidic monarchy is shattered, the temple lies in ruins, the people are being forced into exile, and the land has languished under the violence of Babylon’s campaigns against Judah. The Babylonians have defiled the things the people of Judah believed would endure forever under God’s protection. In a space of national defeat and humiliation where God’s hand has not protected them the psalmist narrates the trauma of the survivors as they walk among unburied corpses in the shattered city calling on God for a response to the violence that has been done to them.

Prophets like Jeremiah had indicated that Babylon was God’s instrument of judgment, but the Asaph who narrates this psalm may have been one of those who would have considered Jeremiah’s words dangerous at best and traitorous at worst. Jeremiah and other prophets may have warned about the failure of the people to live according to God’s covenant with them and that their trust in the Davidic king and the temple were misplaced without this covenant faithfulness. One of the gifts of scripture is bringing together multiple voices and experiences around these critical times of crisis as the individuals and the people navigate who they are and how they are to live in the face of national disaster. This psalm comes from a place of shock, anger, and grief about the plight of the people and God’s apparent lack of action on their behalf.

The psalm tries to appeal to God’s honor and glory and the ways in which Babylon’s actions have defiled that. Instead of the peoples’ inheritance or the temple of Solomon the things that are broken are God’s. The corpse of God’s servant[1] is left unburied for the birds and wild animals to scavenge and with the imagery of the blood being poured out like water it is poetically like the Babylonians in their act of war have made a mockery of the sacrificial offerings of Judah. Now Israel itself has become the sacrifice laid upon the altar of the shattered stones of the city and no one is able to begin the process of undoing this desolation. Their situation is one of devastation and disgrace. Babylon made them an example of the cost of defiance of the might of their empire so that other nations might see and respond in fear.

Yet, the devastation has not turned the psalmist from their trust in God and it is to God they cry from their anguish. There is in the psalm an awareness that it is God’s anger that has allowed the devastation to occur and there is an awareness that God is justified in his anger over the sins of the past. Yet, in the psalmist’s view, the punishment far exceeds the crime and the license extended to the Babylonians has not brought dishonor not only to Israel but to God’s name. Moses used a similar argument after the golden calf to get God to turn away from God’s wrath towards the people, and here the psalmist appeals both to the nations’ perception of the God of Israel but also to the compassion of God that demonstrated when God responded to the cries of the oppressed in the past. They ask God to open God’s hearing to the cries of the prisoner[2] and to deliver the condemned[3] and to repay their enemies sevenfold[4] for the violence they have done and the dishonor they have done to God’s name.

The psalm ends in a place of hope where the broken people will praise God from generation to generation. Most of this psalm dwells in trauma and brokenness as the psalmist cries out in anger to God asking for vengeance but it does not end there. The hurt and pain eventually turn to praise, the deep wounds of the present heal, and the anger recedes as hope emerges out of the devastation. Times of national crisis change us. In my lifetime we thankfully have not experienced the depth of disaster that the Babylonian exile would have been, but September 11, 2001, the Covid Pandemic, the uncertainty of January 6, 2020, and many other events have caused me to cry out to God asking questions and wondering about my perception of God’s action or lack of action in these moments. Times of crisis force us to ask hard questions about our beliefs and to refine them. My instructor in Hebrew Bible two decades ago, Ann Fritschel, once said that the answer to almost any historical question in reference to the Hebrew scriptures was the Babylonian exile. That event caused both a great reconsideration of what the covenant faith in the LORD the God of Israel meant and a gathering and consolidation of the stories, poems, reflections, and words of the prophets to form the scriptures to ensure the tradition could be handed down. We stand as the inheritors of these voices that have come together to reflect upon the life of faith in both times of peace and times of conflict. These words spoken in trauma yet ending in hope may give words to our anger, grief, and mourning but they may also allow us to hope for a time when healing allows us to lift our voices in praise.

[1] This is singular in Hebrew. The Septuagint and most English translations make this plural, but it probably is used here like the servant in Isaiah which may refer collectively to Israel.

[2] Again, singular in Hebrew but also is probably used as a collective to refer to Judah.

[3] Literally the ‘sons of death’.

[4] Possibly an allusion to the words of God in protection of Cain in Genesis 4:13.

Psalm 78 Telling History to Change the Future

Grigory Mekheev, Exodus (2000) artist shared work under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Psalm 78

<A Maskil of Asaph.>
1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old,
3 things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their children; we will tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.
5 He established a decree in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach to their children;
6 that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and rise up and tell them to their children,
7 so that they should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments;
8 and that they should not be like their ancestors, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.
9 The Ephraimites, armed with the bow, turned back on the day of battle.
10 They did not keep God’s covenant, but refused to walk according to his law.
11 They forgot what he had done, and the miracles that he had shown them.
12 In the sight of their ancestors he worked marvels in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.
13 He divided the sea and let them pass through it, and made the waters stand like a heap.
14 In the daytime he led them with a cloud, and all night long with a fiery light.
15 He split rocks open in the wilderness, and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
16 He made streams come out of the rock, and caused waters to flow down like rivers.
17 Yet they sinned still more against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert.
18 They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved.
19 They spoke against God, saying, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?
20 Even though he struck the rock so that water gushed out and torrents overflowed, can he also give bread, or provide meat for his people?”
21 Therefore, when the LORD heard, he was full of rage; a fire was kindled against Jacob, his anger mounted against Israel,
22 because they had no faith in God, and did not trust his saving power.
23 Yet he commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven;
24 he rained down on them manna to eat, and gave them the grain of heaven.
25 Mortals ate of the bread of angels; he sent them food in abundance.
26 He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens, and by his power he led out the south wind;
27 he rained flesh upon them like dust, winged birds like the sand of the seas;
28 he let them fall within their camp, all around their dwellings.
29 And they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved.
30 But before they had satisfied their craving, while the food was still in their mouths,
31 the anger of God rose against them and he killed the strongest of them, and laid low the flower of Israel.
32 In spite of all this they still sinned; they did not believe in his wonders.
33 So he made their days vanish like a breath, and their years in terror.
34 When he killed them, they sought for him; they repented and sought God earnestly.
35 They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer.
36 But they flattered him with their mouths; they lied to him with their tongues.
37 Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not true to his covenant.
38 Yet he, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them; often he restrained his anger, and did not stir up all his wrath.
39 He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and does not come again.
40 How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert!
41 They tested God again and again, and provoked the Holy One of Israel.
42 They did not keep in mind his power, or the day when he redeemed them from the foe;
43 when he displayed his signs in Egypt, and his miracles in the fields of Zoan.
44 He turned their rivers to blood, so that they could not drink of their streams.
45 He sent among them swarms of flies, which devoured them, and frogs, which destroyed them.
46 He gave their crops to the caterpillar, and the fruit of their labor to the locust.
47 He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycamores with frost.
48 He gave over their cattle to the hail, and their flocks to thunderbolts.
49 He let loose on them his fierce anger, wrath, indignation, and distress, a company of destroying angels.
50 He made a path for his anger; he did not spare them from death, but gave their lives over to the plague.
51 He struck all the firstborn in Egypt, the first issue of their strength in the tents of Ham.
52 Then he led out his people like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.
53 He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid; but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
54 And he brought them to his holy hill, to the mountain that his right hand had won.
55 He drove out nations before them; he apportioned them for a possession and settled the tribes of Israel in their tents.
56 Yet they tested the Most High God, and rebelled against him. They did not observe his decrees,
57 but turned away and were faithless like their ancestors; they twisted like a treacherous bow.
58 For they provoked him to anger with their high places; they moved him to jealousy with their idols.
59 When God heard, he was full of wrath, and he utterly rejected Israel.
60 He abandoned his dwelling at Shiloh, the tent where he dwelt among mortals,
61 and delivered his power to captivity, his glory to the hand of the foe.
62 He gave his people to the sword, and vented his wrath on his heritage.
63 Fire devoured their young men, and their girls had no marriage song.
64 Their priests fell by the sword, and their widows made no lamentation.
65 Then the Lord awoke as from sleep, like a warrior shouting because of wine.
66 He put his adversaries to rout; he put them to everlasting disgrace.
67 He rejected the tent of Joseph, he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim;
68 but he chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which he loves.
69 He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded forever.
70 He chose his servant David, and took him from the sheepfolds;
71 from tending the nursing ewes he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel, his inheritance.
72 With upright heart he tended them, and guided them with skillful hand.

We narrate the story of our past to attempt to understand our present reality, and yet our narrations of the past are always shaped by our present experiences and questions. Psalm seventy-eight is a long narration of the rebellion of the people in the wilderness and God’s judgment of Egypt to force the release of the people of Israel. Yet, the narration is told not merely to relay historical information but to point to the impact of Israel’s failure to keep the covenant (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 623) Within this historical retelling it focuses on God’s wrath as it is shown towards Israel even after God’s gracious action to deliver them from slavery and to provide food and water in the wilderness. God’s exercise of power for deliverance and provision does not seem to compel the people to obedience and it is only God’s wrath appears that the people change their ways and sought God’s ways. Martin Luther referred to God’s wrath as God’s alien work which reflects the belief that God is fundamentally gracious, but that disobedience provokes this alien expression of punishment or wrath from God. Living much of my life in Texas or the southeastern United States I have always wondered why so many people were drawn to churches that focused on God’s judgment and wrath which articulated clear but rigid definitions of insiders and outsiders having been raised and formed in a tradition that focused heavily on the grace of God, but perhaps for some the God of judgment is more comforting and the rigid boundaries are comfortable. Yet, the God presented by the Bible is both gracious and demanding. God hears the cries of the people and is roused to deliver them, but this same God who is the mighty warrior who delivers refuses to be taken for granted. The narration of the central story of the people of Israel, perhaps in a time where a portion of that people has fallen away, with an emphasis on obedience is to bring about fidelity to God and God’s covenant.

There is no scholarly consensus on the historical background of this psalm, but my suspicion is that it is probably written sometime after the fall of the northern kingdom in 722 BCE but prior to the Babylonian exile in 586 BCE. There are several pointed phrases about Ephraim, Shiloh, and Israel which indicate a perspective of the kingdom of Judah and there is an indication of a disaster in the northern kingdom which seems to be one more example of God’s judgment upon the unfaithful ones in the view of the psalmist.[1] Narrating the ancient and perhaps recent past to learn from it is one of the reasons for revisiting the memories of the people. We live in a world where the written scriptures are readily available, but in a world where the written word is painstakingly handed on and typically only available to priests or royalty this psalm may have been an important way of impressing the historical memory on the current and future generations.

The memory of the past is recited to the community to help it learn how to properly relate to its God. As Walter Brueggemann and William Bellinger can memorably state, “In the recital of memory there is hope for the future.” (Brueggemann, 2014, p. 340) The initial eleven verses are a call to listen and sets the expectations for the hearers to, “not be like their ancestors, a stubborn and rebellious generation…they did not keep the covenant, and they refused to walk according to his teaching:” (8,10) Ephraim, synonymous with the northern kingdom of Israel, is highlighted as being turned back in battle and as mentioned above this may suggest a situation after the conquest of Israel by the Assyrians. Recent events may set the backdrop for the hearing of this examination of the disobedience of the people during the Exodus.

There are two major narrations of the past in this psalm. Both share a common pattern of narrating God’s gracious act, a rebellion by the people, God’s response in anger to the disobedience of the people and a summary of the section. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 623) In the first section verses twelve through sixteen narrate God’s action to deliver the people from Egypt, pass them through the sea, lead them in the wilderness, and provide water in the wilderness. Yet, the response of the people in verses seventeen through twenty is to speak against God and to question God’s provision. Their lack of trust or gratitude provokes God and many of the strongest of the people die in this time. Yet, when God responds in judgment they seek him but even this seeking is halfhearted. Their words are deceitful, and their actions do not hold fast to the covenant God placed before them. Yet, God’s compassion restrains God’s wrath even though their actions cause God grief.

The second narration begins in verse forty-three looking back to God’s actions to bring the people out of Egypt. This second narration looks in amazement at all the actions God did in comparison to the continual rebellion of the people. There are some differences between the narration in Exodus 7-11 and the remembrance here, but it is clear they are pointing to a common memory. Yet, in the psalm time begins to compress as the hearers are moved from God’s action to deliver the people from Egypt, lead them through the wilderness and into the promised land seems to move to a more recent judgment beginning in verse fifty-six. The central focus of the judgment seems to be on the northern kingdom of Israel which is rejected with its holy place at Shiloh abandoned by God. God’s arousal from sleep liberates Judah, but Ephraim (northern Israel) is rejected. The psalm ends with Judah being delivered by God and cared for by David (and the Davidic line). Yet, just like Ephraim and the northern kingdom, Judah’s position is due to the gracious provision of God but carries the expectation to live within the covenant. The psalmist encourages the people to choose the way of faithfulness instead of the disobedient and stubborn ways of their ancestors and their brothers in the north.

The bible narrates a theological interpretation of history which focuses on the interaction between God and the people of God. Interpreters of scripture in both Jewish and Christian traditions have seen within the scriptures a witness to a tension within a God who desires to be gracious but whose people only seem to respond to punishment or wrath. In Beth Tanner’s words this psalm,

tells of God’s great passion for humans, even when those humans turn away. It also tells the sad story of human determination to ignore the good gifts of God and to remember God only when the way becomes hard or violent. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 625)

God’s anger and wrath may be, to use Luther’s term, God’s alien work but the God of scripture refuses to be taken for granted. God is jealous for the people’s attention and allegiance and when the people turn away from God’s gifts God responds. I tell my congregation that “God wants to meet you in grace and love and peace, but if you can only hear God in judgment God will meet you there even though it creates a struggle within God.” We still come together and remember these stories to learn from the wisdom and the struggles of our ancestors in faith, to seek God in grace, to live in obedience and faithfulness but also to attempt to interpret our world in light of God’s gifts and God’s discipline. This may be harder in our very secular world but just as we attempt to learn from our more recent history, we listen to the narration of the psalmist to the memory of the people and learn from their life with God under grace and under judgment.

[1] See for example verses 9, 56-64, and 67

Review of the Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Time Magazine Top 100 Novels
Book 14: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

This is a series of reflections reading through Time Magazine’s top 100 novels as selected by Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo published since 1923 (when Time magazine was founded). For me this is an attempt to broaden my exposure to authors I may not encounter otherwise, especially as a person who was not a liberal arts major in college. Time’s list is alphabetical, so I decided to read through in a random order, and I plan to write a short reflection on each novel.

The Blind Assassin is a story within a story narrated in flashback by Iris Chase Griffen. Looking back as an old woman she remembers her time growing up with her sister Laura in household whose father shattered by World War I and the economic downturn of the 1930s and whose mother died while both girls were still young. Their father, Norval Chase, runs the Button Factory in the fictional town of Port Ticonderoga but struggles with alcoholism and depression and often isolates himself from the family to drink his pain away. Both girls were raised by Reenie, the family housekeeper, and while much of their childhood they live a relatively privileged life until the economic downturn and its impact on their father’s factory sets the conditions that cause her father to allow the wealthy Richard Griffen to propose to Iris at only eighteen to provide for his daughters. Iris’ marriage into the family of the politically ambitious Richard and his dominating sister Winifred leaves her feeling powerless, manipulated and controlled. Her husband’s version of love is abusive and Iris suspects he has several affairs during their marriage. Richard and Winifred also control the life of her sister Laura after the death of her father while Iris is on her honeymoon with Richard. The control of Laura’s life leads to her confinement in a mental health asylum and eventually her choice to commit suicide in a vehicular accident. Yet, Iris maintains her own secret life, an affair with Alex Thomas who tells her science fiction stories but who is also on the run for his activities with Communist groups in Canada in the 1930s. The story moves between the reflections and life of an old woman, remembrances of the affair and the narration of the story of the blind assassin, and a narration of the life of Iris to be handed on to her granddaughter who she is unable to see or visit due to the manipulation of the relationship between her daughter and her by Winifred.

The ending of this story is clever and the overall story is well written, but it takes a long time to develop. There is something in the voice of the old Iris which a bit haughty and detached in her view of the world around her and I had to work to get through the first two thirds of the book. Iris’ character is passive for much of the book and life happens to her, it is only in the end where we see the places where she has carved out a space to reclaim some control of her life. It is a book told from the perspective of regret: regret for her own feelings of powerlessness, regret for the damage she was unable to shield her sister, her daughter, or herself from. There is a realism in the lack of agency for a woman who is both the child of an alcoholic and who lives in a time where women had few options. I enjoyed the ending and that made the overall journey worth it. It is difficult to read the story of a woman who has no agency from the perspective of a man who is used to exercising agency and there were times I wanted to rage at the male characters in the story for the way they treated their daughter, their wife, or their lover. Yet, the views of the past are often as alien as the worlds that are described in the science fiction narrative of the blind assassin and the strange power of a book to place you in that alien place and allow you to rage at the situations of the characters in a book is part of the strange magic that authors yield in their words.