Old Testament Lectionary 16th August Trinity 11 Proverbs 9:1-6

Regular thoughts on the oft-neglected Old Testament Lectionary passages.

The parallels with today’s gospel reading are clear: Wisdom, so often personified as a socially intelligent woman, offers to all who are interested a feast of food and wine. A glance at two other passages will help us get the best from this one, though.

The first is in the previous chapter, a passage which is the classic text on the personification of wisdom. She (perhaps because the Hebrew for ‘wisdom’ hokmah is a feminine noun) is pictured as being present at the creation of the world. She was the very first thing to be created by God (8:22) and was at his side throughout the process of creation (8:30). Whether the wisdom tradition writers saw her as a distinct being, or an aspect of God’s creativity, or even as the Holy Spirit is unclear, but the point is that wisdom is an absolutely fundamental and foundational characteristic of God’s intentions for his world.

Then we have her in our passage, preparing a banquet, starting as far back as building her own banqueting hall. The reference to the seven pillars carved out and/or set up by her suggests both significant size, and therefore room for all, and the perfection which seven represents. There may also be a reference back to the seven days of creation. The ‘simple’ (pethi) are invited, but so is absolutely everyone else. The simple are both those who are naïve through lack of experience, but also those culpably lacking in savoir faire because they have turned down the invitations to the feast. This makes them both gullible and reckless. The food and wine are sumptuous, and provide food for ‘insight’. The mention of ‘walking’ suggests not just a one-off flash of inspiration, but rather a life lived in the right direction long-term.


The concept of wisdom isn’t about what we might call intelligence or cleverness, but much more about knowing the prudent way to act in any situation, hence the French term above which best captures this meaning. But to understand it better we need to read the whole chapter, which the author surely intended us to. In the second part, from v13, we get Wisdom’s ugly sister ‘Folly’. She is simple, but in a way a bit more sinister than merely being naïve. She too sits in her doorway calling out to all comers. She purports to offer wisdom, but actually her house is full of deadness, and what she offers is dishonesty and cheap thrills.

Both Wisdom and Folly’s houses are at the highest point of the city, as the temple and royal palace would have been, and are therefore in a commanding and highly visible position. One can’t help but compare the messages sent out to us constantly through the media, TV adverts and so on, all claiming that in their products are to be found health, wealth and happiness. As with Folly’s wares, much of what we are sold turns out to be dead and empty, but the wise and experienced have learnt more discernment. I have often encouraged people in my congregations to ‘shout back at the Telly’: when someone says something crass, stupid or just plain wrong, just argue back with a wiser and more Christian perspective. I have a theory that the people on the telly can’t actually hear you, but your family can and it teaches us all not simply to absorb all that comes out at us, but to use the mind of Christ to see things from a different perspective. Whilst not brimming with Christian content the         TV show Gogglebox shows us different families interacting, often encouragingly, with the media.

In the gospel reading Jesus also offers food and drink, but not just for this life. Food and wine from Christ nourish us into eternity.

Image: Vassia Atanassova – Spiritia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

OT Lectionary Apr 5th Easter Sunday Isaiah 25:6-9

 Reflections on the oft-neglected OT lectionary passages

Those among my dear readers who have undergone any academic training will probably have had to answer this essay question: ‘1 Corinthians 15:4 states that Christ “was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures”. Which scriptures, exactly?’

This is an interesting question: Paul, along with our liturgical creeds, clearly saw the resurrection as have been predicted in some way in the OT, although it is not easy to see exactly where. So our solitary OT lectionary passage for Easter Day (not counting the Psalm, of course) doesn’t directly address the resurrection per se, but it does talk in symbolic language about what some of the results of resurrection might be, whether or not it directly expected the physical resurrection from death of an individual.

It’s worth noting first that Isaiah’s scene is played out on a mountain, while Jesus is crucified on Skull Hill. In the OT mountains are often places of encounter with God, and most clearly the place of law. The cross becomes the place where earth and heaven meet, but the place of law becomes the place of grace.

Isaiah begins here, as he so often does, with food. Whatever event he is looking towards, it is set around a laden table, with people celebrating joyfully with the finest of fare, something of a contrast with the austerity of the Last Supper. It is also a feast open, he tells us, to all peoples. The resurrection of Jesus, our lectionary compilers are clearly trying to tell us, is for celebration and nourishment, and all are welcome, not just ‘PLU’s (People Like Us).

While the people feast a ‘shroud’ is removed from them. This might refer to the shroud of death which, like taxes, is inevitable for all, or it might be an introductory phrase which is spelt out in the next few verses as he promises the defeat of death, misery and disgrace, negative elements as much of a threat to all of us today as they were in Isaiah’s time and ever since. The resurrection of Jesus promises us not just freedom from the sting and fear of death, but also the possibility of forgiveness for the shamefaced, healing for the sick and joy for the downcast.

File:Empty Tomb 2046 (498329409).jpg

Isaiah ends by noting that whatever it is that God is doing, it has been long-awaited. It shows the other side of the coin from all those desperate ‘How long?’ cries which ring through the OT and down the ages. For so long, it seems, God has chosen, for whatever reasons, not, apparently, to do very much. But now he has stirred himself: he is on the move, his purposes are being worked out, and his salvation is there for the asking.

Our response to all this? As it will be on Easter Sunday in our churches, rejoicing is the only appropriate way to celebrate this mighty act of God.

OT Lectionary October 12th Trinity 17 Isaiah 25:1-9

To understand today’s passage we need first to understand the concept of ‘apocalyptic’ literature. The word literally means ‘unveiling’ and is applied to the kind of writing, usually coming from times of great tribulation and persecution, when our eyes are lifted from the present troubles to the final page, on which God will have the ultimate victory and everything will be fine. We’re most familiar with this genre from the book of Revelation, but there is plenty more of it throughout the Bible, and Isaiah chapters 24-27 have been called ‘Isaiah’s Apocalypse’. Like all apocalyptic literature it is gloriously vague as to geography and timescale: ‘on that day’ is used seven times over these four chapters, but never with any indication of exactly what day. Similarly ‘this mountain’ (v 7) is never identified. It is also difficult to place from which period of Israel’s history this passage originates, although the evidence would suggest that it comes from difficult times.

So all this vagueness notwithstanding, what was the point of writing this stuff, and what truths can this text tell us? The idea of apocalyptic is always to encourage, to help people stay focussed, remain steadfast through the trials, and somehow to find the strength to keep plodding on. It does this by encouraging the readers to see past the trouble to the outcome. For a marathon runner it might be the vision of the winners’ podium; for a dieter it could be a picture of the new slimmed-down you: for persecuted Israel it is a banquet. Enemies will have been defeated by the hand of God (v 2, 5), and yet the original call of Abraham to bless all nations is being fulfilled by the inclusivity of the feast which is ‘for all peoples’ (v 6). As you might expect the banquet is no Tesco Value kind of meal: there is no ‘Christian Quiche’ or ‘Beige Buffet’ in sight. Only the best will do for God’s purposes.

Then, in line with apocalyptic vagueness, there are even greater purposes behind God’s final action: ‘the shroud that enfolds all peoples’ (whatever that is) will be taken away, ‘the people’s disgrace’ will be removed, and death itself will be swallowed up. The God who has been a refuge in hard times (v 4) becomes the warrior who will not just hide people from trouble but will deal with those causing the trouble at root level. The punchline comes in v 9, where the people are encouraged to anticipate the final dénouement, and to celebrate the fact that in spite of it all God has been with them and for them.


Christians are often accused of ‘triumphalism’ (which I define as ‘wanting your triumph too early’), and of an excessive concern with ‘pie in the sky when you die’. This passage, like so many others in Scripture, forbids triumphalism by taking seriously the present evil, but also promises exactly ‘pie in the sky’, even if we don’t have to die to get it. Every strand of the NT motivates Christians by holding before them the promise of future reward, from the Sermon on the Mount, which is all about being rewarded, through to Revelation and its glimpses of final glory. I love the quote from CS Lewis:


“If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith.

“Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised to us in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.

“We are far too easily pleased.”

(C S Lewis, The Weight of Glory.)


God will have the last word – let that encourage you!