Tag Archive | Solomon

The Best Decision I Ever Made: Delighting in the Wife of My Youth

Charlayne and me on our wedding day, August 15, 1987.

The last thing I thought I needed in the fall of 1986 was a girlfriend. When the Army had assigned me to Germany three years earlier, I half expected that I might find the woman of my dreams there. A few fun-but-fruitless relationships later, I realized that this process was more complicated that I thought, and far more difficult. And so, when I made my way to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, at the beginning of November for the next phase of my military career, I determined that it would be better to get a dog than find a girlfriend. Oddly enough (seeing that God has quite the sense of humor), it was nearly thirty more years before I would get a dog, but the woman of my dreams was only days away from walking into my life.

It happened on Sunday, November 9, 1986, at the First Baptist Church of Sierra Vista, Arizona. Charlayne was among the single young adults in the Sunday School class that morning, but her presence didn’t register with me until that evening, when I joined the church at the evening worship service. That’s when this vision of loveliness came bounding down the aisle to give me a hug and welcome me into the congregation. She also invited me to go out with all the singles to the Village Inn for pie. It was an unexpected, but very agreeable, invitation. What was more unexpected, and even more agreeable, was how quickly we became good friends. Within days we were dating, and within six weeks we were engaged.

I tell people that we were engaged by decree of my mother-in-law, and it’s true. Both of us had plans for our lives that a serious relationship would disrupt. As we grew closer and closer, the thought of those disruptions caused us no end of distress, until one Sunday afternoon they brought us to the brink of panic. We asked her parents to come over and talk with us. They sat in her apartment listening to us talk things out for about an hour and a half, and then her mother said the last thing I expected: “Well, it seems to me you kids need to get married.”

Many times in my life, a sense of peace has settled over me, indicating that God’s answer in the present predicament had been revealed. That moment in Charlayne’s apartment was one of the first, and is still one of the most profound, of those occasions. When her mother said the one thing we had dared not consider, we knew it was right, and it was holy. We were married some months later, and after 31 years we remain true to the covenant that established our household when we were young.

I do not recall whether any woman other than Char has ever captured my attention in any way that might cause her to be a rival to the wife of my youth. I have had many female friends and coworkers, some of whom have been quite attractive, but in all those years, I cannot remember a time when any of them attracted me in any inappropriate way. Perhaps I am peculiar in that regard; I have known many situations when such attractions severely damaged and even ended the marriages of people I knew. In our culture, we do not look favorably on unfaithfulness to the marriage covenant. For reasons grounded in Scripture, we in the West have, since time immemorial, taken seriously and literally the words of Moses and Yeshua (Jesus) that a man must leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife as one flesh. Even King Henry VIII of England could not get around those words. When his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, could not produce a male heir, he annulled the marriage and took Anne Boleyn. When she produced no male heir, he found a reason to have her executed (one can do that if one is a king), and replaced her with Jane Seymour. She became mother to his only son, but died only days later. Henry’s next wife, Anne of Cleves, was so young and innocent that he chose to annul the marriage rather than consummate it. In her place, he married Catherine Howard, a young-but-not-so-innocent woman whose flirtatious behavior eventually cost her her head. That left Catherine Parr, the wife who outlived the old king.

I learned the tale of Henry VIII as a boy, thanks to a classic BBC miniseries about his life. It struck me as odd that Martin Luther himself had stated his preference that the king commit bigamy and marry Anne Boleyn rather than divorce the first Catherine. Henry did not adopt Luther’s prescription as far as I can tell, but chose annulment instead. It helped that Catherine was Spanish and Catholic; in one stroke, he ended a cumbersome political entanglement and its attendant religious fetters. When the Roman Church refused to grant the annulment (perhaps because the reigning pope was at that time a prisoner of Catherine’s nephew, Emperor Charles V), Henry simply declared England separate from Rome and established the Anglican Church.

It is the stuff of soap operas, but it is our history. So also are the tales of the patriarchs and many great men of the Bible. Abraham, Jacob, Elkanah, David, Solomon, and the kings of Judah and Israel seemed to have no trouble taking multiple wives. After all, there is no Scriptural prohibition against polygamy. The closest thing to a prohibition that appears in the Bible is Paul’s advice to Titus and Timothy that congregational elders should have but one wife. I surmise that Paul’s wise counsel came not merely from his extensive knowledge of the Torah and the traditions of the elders, but his experience in guiding the many congregations forming in the Mediterranean world of his day. Perhaps that experience is what motivated him to write what I believe is the best word on this matter:

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12 NASB)

Lawful, but not profitable. Is that not the lesson of the Patriarchs? King Henry VIII may have been thinking about the woeful consequences in the households of those men – consequences that included incest, murder, extreme sibling rivalry, jealousy, and all manner of dysfunction. I saw the same phenomenon when I studied the Ottoman Empire. No prince who attained the sultanate was safe as long as his half brothers from his father’s other wives were still alive. King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia understood this quite well, which is why he arranged for his sons from his many wives to rule sequentially so that none of them would be the father of a new dynasty. The last of those sons is on the throne in Riyadh today, sixty-five years after his father’s death.

I do not know much about the wives of these polygamous kings, whether of ancient Israel, Ottoman Turkey, or modern Saudi Arabia. The best commentary I heard came from a Saudi amir whose hospitality I enjoyed in 1990, while I served with the army deployed there to defend his country from Iraqi aggression. Over the course of our conversation, the question of Muslim views on marriage came up. Multiple wives entered into the religious culture of Islam because it was already a cultural institution in Arabia. Muhammad seems to have endeavored to regulate the practice, which is why the custom is to limit a man to four wives. What the life of those wives is like, I do not know, but I have heard some terrible things. What I do know is that this kindly amir who had invited us into his home told us that, for some reason which he confessed he did not understand, his sons wanted to depart from the precedent of his household. They believed, he said, that it would be better to marry only one wife, and that only for love.

This is an interesting perspective when compared with something I heard from an American friend of mine. He lives in close proximity to polygamous families of the Mormon faith. They are nice people, he says, but the practice of polygamy has served only to oppress the women and disrupt the families. Is that a consistent result of multiple wives in one family? Or is it the result of imposing such a model on a culture that is accustomed to one man marrying one woman for life? This I cannot say.

What I can say is that many cultures do have marriage practices that differ from my own. This came to my attention in an unusual way in 2009 upon the election of former president Jacob Zuma of South Africa. Another friend of mine, founder of an influential prayer ministry, sent out a notice asking prayer for Mr. Zuma and his wives (four at the time). She did not issue that notice in a judgmental way, but rather in the same way as she had done when asking prayer for other heads of state. It just so happened that this one was polygamous. It was merely a statement of fact: this particular president of this particular country needed prayer for himself in his new role, and for his family, which happened to include several wives and children by them.

I think my friend did well in asking for such prayer in the usual way. Another friend of mine tells me that we will encounter many followers of Yeshua in Africa and other places who genuinely love God and love their many wives. It is their culture. He, himself, comes from a native culture in America that is matrilineal, and whose marriage norms are different from those of my Scottish, Irish, and English ancestors. I do not understand such a culture, nor do I desire to adopt it, nor is there a need to do so. At the same time, there is no need to impose my culture on his. Such a thing would be unhealthy at best, and genocidal at worst (another sad fact I cannot ignore from our history).

Where, then, does this leave me? It leaves me with the wife of my youth. Charlayne has satisfied me in every way. Why would I seek another to take her place, or to share me with her? It is not my culture. It is not right to her, to our children, and to the many people whom we have enriched through our example as man and wife. Neither is it consistent with the vows we both took to establish our marriage covenant. When I married her, my father said to me, “We McCarns marry for keeps.” Now, over 30 years later, I know the great wisdom of his words.


© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2018.  Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Barking Fox Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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Israel 2016: In Search of Hebrew Roots Judaism

General Douglas MacArthur wades ashore on Leyte, Philippine Islands, in October 1944 to keep his promised, "I shall return".

General Douglas MacArthur wades ashore on Leyte, Philippine Islands, in October 1944 to keep his promised, “I shall return”.

There is a joke from World War II that no longer makes sense without some explanation.  It is said that a foreign student at an American university wrote an essay about General Douglas MacArthur.  In the early months of 1942, as MacArthur presided over a doomed defense of the Philippine Islands, he was ordered to leave his command and go to Australia, there to organize the multinational Allied force that would halt Japanese expansion in the South Pacific.  At his departure, MacArthur reportedly promised the people of the Philippines and his Filipino and American troops that he would one day come back with an army to liberate them – which he did two years later.  On that momentous day in 1942, though, all he could do was promise, “I shall return.”

Those were inspiring words to Americans about to lose their forward bases and their largest military force in the Far East, and who could not bear to lose with them one of the most senior officers of their Army.  MacArthur’s words inspired this young foreign student as well.  However, his knowledge of English being imperfect, he conducted his research in his native tongue, and therefore committed an unfortunate faux pas when he presented his paper.  Standing proudly in front of his peers, the young man said, “I write about Douglas MacArthur, who said those famous words, ‘I’ll be right back!’”

What is the proper response in such a situation?  If there is no offense, then laughter erupts.  However, if the hearers take offense, then they respond in anger.

It may be that neither is the proper response.  If the one who made the error is trying to communicate in good faith, then the audience should give grace, seek to understand the true message, and help the author overcome the error.  That is the point behind King Solomon’s wise words:

Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins.  (Proverbs 10:12 NKJV; see also Proverbs 17:9)

Solomon’s observation is rooted in a Torah principle:

You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shall fear your God:  I am the Lord.  (Leviticus 19:14 NKJV)

Jewish sages understand that this principle refers not only to the physically deaf and blind, but also to people who cannot hear or see things clearly.  Perhaps they are not present when something is said, or perhaps they do not have the language or experience to grasp the intricacies of a subject under discussion.  Consider, for example, a man who is brilliant in his native language, but struggles to order a cup of coffee in English, and is laughed to scorn by those who do not realize the importance of being kind to strangers (another Torah principle).

To be honest, Jews are strangers to me, and I am a stranger to Jews.  Although I identify as a Hebrew Roots follower of Messiah Yeshua, I have yet to grasp the intricacies of Judaism.  The more Jews I meet and get to know, the more I begin to understand, but always what I say and do is tempered with the fear that I may give offense in some way that I had never anticipated.

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Intentional Faithfulness: Meditations on What It Means to Be Human

bfb161104-elderly-coupleIt takes a conscious effort for me to bless an elderly person whose slow, feeble steps are impeding my progress.  The default position in my mind is to examine possibilities for hastening the moment when I can get them out of my way.  Much though I am reluctant to admit it, that default position amounts to a curse aimed at removing an obstacle to my own selfish definition of happiness.  That is why I am cultivating the habit of blessing the gray head.  I have lived enough years to know that each of those gray hairs was purchased at great cost, both in joy and in sorrow.  Who am I to ridicule those transactions in time and sweat and blood and tears, seeing that I, too, engage in those same transactions every moment of every day?

This is the way of all flesh, and it scares us.  We do not like to consider the fact that we all are destined to grow old – provided something does not take us out before our time.  That reality first dawned on me as a teenager, watching my once-vigorous grandfather lie helpless in a hospital bed, swollen with the fluids that would eventually crush his heart.  Then there was my mother, whose loud and lively voice was silenced in the last weeks of her life by the feeding tube the doctors inserted in a desperate attempt to help her recover.  And my father?  The pain there was watching his brilliant mind lose its ability to remember, until at last he could recall nothing more than the blissful sleep of eternity.

Surely growing old is not for the faint of heart.  Solomon understanding of this led him to a very wise conclusion:

Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, “I have no pleasure in them”:
While the sun and the light, the moon and the stars, are not darkened, and the clouds do not return after the rain;
In the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men bow down;
When the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look through the windows grow dim;
When the doors are shut in the streets, and the sound of grinding is low;
When one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of music are brought low.
Also they are afraid of height, and of terrors in the way;
When the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper is a burden, and desire fails.
For man goes to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets. 
(Ecclesiastes 12:1-6 NKJV)

Careful reading of Solomon’s poetry reveals his references to weak and aching muscles, brittle bones, dim eyes, deaf ears, rotting teeth, jaded spirit, and broken heart.  It is enough to drive one to desperation – which is why Solomon begins this passage with an exhortation to remember the Creator while we can.  Without the Creator and the hope He imparts, we face a terrifying descent into debility before we cease breathing.

Which explains why each generation since Adam has wished so intently for the resurrection.

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Israel 2016: Between the Surreal and a Holy Place

Our plan today was to visit the Kotel (Western Wall) and then go shopping.  At least that was the general outline.  Pete and I had other things in mind – activities which involved more walking and exploration, and less exchange of hard currency.  It would be cheaper, of course, but more importantly, it would help vigorous teenage boys expend more energy and perhaps enjoy their time in Jerusalem a little more.

Worshippers at the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem for Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), October 23, 2016.

Worshipers at the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem for Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), October 23, 2016.

We are now veterans at navigating Jerusalem.  Drive through Ein Kerem (hometown of John the Baptist) up to Mount Herzl, get on the light rail, and ride to the City Hall.  Walk down to the Jaffa Gate, and wind our way through the Jewish Quarter to the Kotel.  It was easy – aside from forgetting to remove my wallet from my pocket at the security checkpoint.  Not a problem, other than embarrassment when the sensor announced my faux pas.  The officer was patient and professional; he sees this a thousand times a day.  Put the wallet on the table, go back through the sensor, and all is well.

This is my third time to the Kotel.  It’s the first time for the young people with us.  The women went to their side, leaving the six of us men to move through the crowds on our side.  Tommy and Pete led the way, followed by Pete’s sons Jeremiah, Joseph, and Silas.  I brought up the rear.  Eventually we found space at the wall where all of us could touch the ancient stones and pray side by side.  What I prayed recalled the words of the Son of David who dedicated this holy place above us:

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth?  Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You.  How much less this temple which I have built!  Yet regard the prayer of Your servant and his supplication, O Lord my God, and listen to the cry and the prayer which Your servant is praying before You today:  that Your eyes may be open toward this temple night and day, toward the place of which You said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that You may hear the prayer which Your servant makes toward this place.  And may You hear the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel, when they pray toward this place.  Hear in heaven Your dwelling place; and when You hear, forgive.  (I Kings 8:27-30 NKJV)

Why do we pray toward Jerusalem?  That is why.  It is His city, the place He has chosen from all the places on this planet.  The one place where His visible glory appeared and remained for centuries – and will return one day.

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A Yom Kippur Repentance From a Devout Non-Jew and My Jewish Response – Israel News

The Reconciliation Statute, St. Michael's Cathedral, Coventry, England.

The Reconciliation Statute, St. Michael’s Cathedral, Coventry, England.

Many people realized the significance of Ken Rank’s letter to the Jewish people when he published it last week.  We have only begun to see the impact of it.  Within a few short days it appeared as a guest blog piece in The Times of Israel, and today Breaking Israel News published it along with a deeply moving response by Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz.

In years to come, when our God has completed His work of bringing together the fragmented parts of His people, these two letters by Ken and Eliyahu will be counted as major milestones in the process of breaking down the wall between those of us from the Christian side and our brethren from the Jewish side.

Source: A Yom Kippur Repentance From a Devout Non-Jew and My Jewish Response – Israel News


A Yom Kippur Repentance From a Devout Non-Jews and My Jewish Response

Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz
October 11, 2016 
Originally published on Breaking Israel News

I received this letter from Ken Rank last week.  Rank founded United 2 Restore in order to bring Jews and Christians, or as he prefers to describe it, Judah and Ephraim closer together, in order to “re-build bridges of communication which have been previously burned”.  He sent me this letter as part of his personal teshuvah (repentance) for Yom Kippur.  My response to him was sincere, and I intend for it to be a part of my Yom Kippur prayers.

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Sowing, Reaping, Lost Sheep, and Hebrews

Strange things happen when disciples of Jesus (Yeshua) awaken to their identity as Hebrews. One phenomenon is that they begin to see the Two Houses of Israel throughout the Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. Judah (Yehuda) and Joseph (Yosef) have been rivals since the days of their youth, when Judah led his brothers in putting Joseph into a pit and selling him into slavery in Egypt (Genesis 37:18-28). By the time of their reunion over twenty years later, Joseph had become the leader of a foreign nation and Judah had become the leader of Jacob’s family. Their father Jacob formalized that division before he died, passing on the birthright and the family name to Joseph and to his son Ephraim, but giving the rulership to Judah (Genesis 48:8-22; 49:8-12; I Chronicles 5:1-2).

The division of status did not work out well. In time Judah’s descendant Solomon began to oppress all the other tribes of Israel, and Joseph’s descendant Jeroboam led ten of the tribes in rebellion against Solomon’s son Rehoboam (I Kings 12:1-19). For the next 250 years the nation was divided into the Northern Kingdom of Israel, led by the tribe of Ephraim, and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The Ten Tribes of the Northern Kingdom eventually fell into such wicked idolatry that YHVH pronounced a sentence of national death on them: He allowed the Assyrian Empire to conquer them, and then dispersed them into every nation on earth. Judah, however, remained a people, although they lost their national sovereignty in the Babylonian Conquest. They regained sovereignty for a time before the Roman era, but the Jews for the most part were a wandering people until the State of Israel came into existence in 1948.

But what happened to Joseph, or Ephraim as that people are also called in Scripture? They are still dispersed in the nations, but it seems that they are awakening to their identity. In fact, it seems that such was the main purpose of Messiah Yeshua’s ministry 2,000 years ago. He Himself said He had come to the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel (Matthew 15:24) – something that brings to mind the prophecies of Micaiah the man of God to Ahab the wicked king (I Kings 22:15-18), and of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 50:6).

What has happened over the last two millennia is that the Lost Sheep and many of their companions among the Gentiles (nations) have been found. Through Yeshua they have joined themselves to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The next step in the process is the awakening of these formerly Lost Sheep to the full revelation of their identity as Israelites – as Hebrews. From there is is but a small step to eager anticipation of their reunification with their Jewish brethren of the House of Judah. That is happening right now, in our day.

Jewish sages have long taught about two messiahs revealed in the Tanakh (Old Testament). One is Messiah Son of Joseph (Mashiach ben Yosef), the suffering servant who will take the punishment for Israel’s sin and covenant-breaking departure from YHVH’s standards of righteousness (His Torah). The other is Messiah Son of David (Mashiach ben David), the conquering king who will regather and restore the scattered tribes of Israel, subdue the nations under his rule, and bring the resurrection of the dead. That is the message of such passages as Isaiah 11, Daniel 7:13-14, and Psalm 110, whereas Isaiah 53 is the quintessential passage describing the work of Mashiach ben Yosef, the Messiah whose life and ministry was prefigured in the life and ministry of Joseph. 

Since Yeshua of Nazareth suffered greatly, even to the point of death as a criminal through a horrendous miscarriage of justice, it would seem that He fits the description of Mashiach ben Yosef. The question is whether He is also Mashiach ben David. That is the position of Christians and those who come from and align with the Christian position on Yeshua (including this author). Jews do not see it that way. If they even consider Yeshua to have fulfilled any messianic function at all, it would be Mashiach ben Yosef. We can all agree that Yeshua has not completed the work of Mashiach ben David; the entire world is still awaiting the coming King of Israel who will arrive in power and great glory. How fascinating that Christians, Jews (Messianic and non-Messianic), and Hebrew Roots believers are all waiting on the same Mashiach ben David. The only disagreement seems to be on that Messiah’s identity.

Let us consider for a moment what Yeshua’s work as Mashiach ben Yosef might mean for the many hundreds of thousands of people around the world who consider themselves non-Jewish Hebrews. If they are Ephraimites of the House of Joseph, then that introduces a whole new dimension on Yeshua’s redemptive work. Just as the story of Joseph prefigures the life, death, and resurrection of Yeshua, so also the story of Yeshua prefigures the national life, death, and resurrection of the House of Joseph. If one day is as a thousand years to the Lord (Psalm 90:4; II Peter 3:8), then we are now nearing the end of the third day since the Northern Kingdom’s national death in 721 BCE. Are we therefore witnessing the Northern Kingdom’s resurrection as the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel return to national life as a people?

Much has been written on this, and much more will be said and done in the days to come.  For now, consider these illustrations of New Testament passages in the context of the Two Houses, the Two Sticks, and the Two Brothers coming together as their Father in Heaven has promised.

This is what the Sovereign Lord says:  I am going to take the stick of Joseph—which is in Ephraim’s hand—and of the Israelite tribes associated with him, and join it to Judah’s stick.  I will make them into a single stick of wood, and they will become one in my hand.  (Ezekiel 37:19 NIV)

From Pete Rambo on natsab: I have just started reading Angus Wooten’s Restoring Israel’s Kingdom, a book that promises to deepen my understanding of who I am and what my Father’s business is. In the comments on the cover credit (artwork of the two sticks being made one, Ez. 37:15ff), I saw a neat paradigm shifting idea: the house of Israel was scattered into the nations for disobedience.  If they were sown as Israelites, what makes us think they’ll be harvested as anything other than Israelites? In fact, the Scriptures attest, over and over, that God’s intent is to restore the whole house of Israel.  See Acts 1:8; Ez. 37:24ff; Deu. 30; Is. 2:1-5; Eph. 2:12, etc… If God will harvest Israelites, what might they look like??  Hmmmm… Got Torah?

From Pete Rambo on natsab:
I have just started reading Angus Wooten’s Restoring Israel’s Kingdom, a book that promises to deepen my understanding of who I am and what my Father’s business is.
In the comments on the cover credit (artwork of the two sticks being made one, Ez. 37:15ff), I saw a neat paradigm shifting idea: the house of Israel was scattered into the nations for disobedience. If they were sown as Israelites, what makes us think they’ll be harvested as anything other than Israelites?
In fact, the Scriptures attest, over and over, that God’s intent is to restore the whole house of Israel. See Acts 1:8; Ez. 37:24ff; Deu. 30; Is. 2:1-5; Eph. 2:12, etc…
If God will harvest Israelites, what might they look like?? Hmmmm…
Got Torah?


© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2014-2016.  Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Barking Fox Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Fox Byte 5775 #42-43: Mattot (Tribes); Massei (Stages)

מַּטּוֹת / מַסְעֵי

The Princes in the Tower. John Everett Millais, depicts the young King Edward V of England and his brother, Richard, Duke of York, two royal sons allegedly murdered by order of their uncle, King Richard III, who sought to deprive them of their rightful inheritance and claim the throne of England for himself.

The Princes in the Tower. by John Everett Millais, depicts the young King Edward V of England and his brother, Richard, Duke of York, two royal sons allegedly murdered by order of their uncle, King Richard III, who sought to deprive them of their rightful inheritance and claim the throne of England for himself.

William Shakespeare has such as way with murder.  With so many characters meeting violent death in his plays it would seem that he regarded murder as an essential part of good drama.  Richard III is an excellent example.  When my daughter studied the play in school, she and her fellow students kept a “body count” of the many characters who died over the course of Richard’s rise to power.  Shakespeare’s preoccupation with murder may have been the product of the violent world in which he lived, and indeed England in the 16th century was a violent place, yet we need only look at the headlines of events in our own cities to realize that our world is no less violent than Shakespeare’s.  If the Bard had no qualms about employing murder as a plot device, it was because his art imitated life.  Richard III was a historical play based on events that shook the British Isles just one hundred years earlier.  The play’s popularity derived in part from the horrendous nature of Richard’s quest for power, extending even to allegations that in 1483 he ordered the deaths of his two nephews, the 12-year-old King Edward V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York.  Their uncles’ guilt has never been proven, but it is plausible that he removed them so they would not stand in the way of his quest to seize the throne of their father, the late Edward IV.

Richard III is not the only Shakespearian villain to usurp a throne and seize the inheritance of a rightful heir.  Two others that come to mind are MacBeth of Scotland and Claudius of Denmark.  Although not historical plays, MacBeth and Hamlet have roots in actual events.  The central action of MacBeth occurs when the warrior of that name murders King Duncan of Scotland.  Duncan’s sons, fearing they will be blamed for the murder, flee the country, allowing Macbeth to take the throne.  In Hamlet, we do not see the murder of Denmark’s king; when the play opens his brother Claudius has already seized the throne by killing him and marrying his queen.  The plot follows Prince Hamlet as he learns the truth of his father’s death and his uncle’s guilt. 

As was necessary for Richard III, MacBeth and Claudius must deal with the heirs to the murdered kings.  MacBeth prepares to defend Scotland against the exiled princes Malcolm and Donalbain, and Claudius concocts a plot to have Hamlet killed in a duel by an opponent wielding a poisoned blade.  In the end all three villains meet violent deaths.  Richard and MacBeth fall in battle as their own countrymen rise in revolt against them, and Claudius is slain by Hamlet himself just before the young prince dies.

Shakespeare’s works have remained popular for over 400 years because they really do imitate life, even to a disturbing degree.  In these plays we see that an inheritance is not secure even if there are sons ready to claim their fathers’ legacy.  What worse things might the villains have done had there been no sons and heirs?  Who would ensure that the bereaved family retained their place in the nation?  That very question prompted the tribe of Manasseh to ask Moses for guarantees not only for their brethren who had no sons, but for the entire tribe’s legacy in the Promised Land.

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Fox Byte 5775 #41: Pinchas (Phinehas)

פִּינְחָס

One of the great depictions of American historical events is John Trumbull’s painting, Declaration of Independence, which hangs in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol.  The scene captures the moment on June 28, 1776, when the five men who drafted the Declaration present their work to the Continental Congress.  Of the 56 signers of the Declaration, 42 appear in Trumbull’s work, the others having died before he could obtain their images.  The painting also depicts five men who did not sign, including Robert Livingston of New York.  Livingston was one of the men who drafted the Declaration, but New York recalled him from the Congress before he could sign his work.  In Trumbull’s painting Livingston appears in the center of the drafting committee, with Roger Sherman of Connecticut on his right and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia on his left.  Americans may not remember the distinguished men from Connecticut and New York, but they do remember Jefferson and John Adams of Massachusetts, two future presidents.  Jefferson and Adams embraced different visions of how to govern the infant American Republic, and even though they became political rivals, they remained friends until their deaths on the same day, July 4, 1826. 

There is a legend that Jefferson paid Trumbull to paint his foot on top of Adams’, but it is only a legend.  The two men’s feet are close together in the picture, and as time and dirt wore away at the painting it came to appear that Jefferson’s foot was resting on Adams’.  That is not the only oddity in Trumbull’s work.  Like many works of art it is not entirely accurate, but is effective in capturing the spirit of the moment and of the age.  So also is 1776, a musical play which humorously explores the events during that fateful summer of American independence.  Howard DaSilva dominates the film version with his portrayal of Dr. Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania.  If we are to believe the movie, independence was Adams’ idea, and the declaration was expressed in Jefferson’s words, but it was Franklin who brought it into being with his wisdom, wit, and ability to achieve consensus.  1776 embellishes the story with fictional dialogue, but it captures a number of famous quotes by the Founding Fathers, including Franklin’s immortal words:  “If we do not hang together, we shall most assuredly hang separately!”

Dr. Franklin spoke a warning to a people facing the threat of political extinction before they could become a nation.  Long before Franklin uttered his warning, Yeshua of Nazareth spoke the same truth to the people He had come to redeem from the threat of extinction by the enemy of their souls:

And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand.  (Matthew 12:25 NASB; see also Mark 9:38-40; Luke 9:49-50, 11:16-23)

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Fox Byte 5775: Pesach (Passover)

פֶּסַח

Tolkien in 1972, in his study at Merton Street (from J. R. R. Tolkien. A Biography by H. Carpenter; accessed on lotr.wikia.com)

Tolkien in 1972, in his study at Merton Street (from J. R. R. Tolkien. A Biography by H. Carpenter; accessed on lotr.wikia.com)

Professor J.R.R. Tolkien insisted that there was no hidden meaning behind his works on Middle Earth.  Such was his assertion in his Foreword to The Lord of the Rings:

I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.  I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers.  I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.

– J.R.R. Tolkien, Foreword to the Second Edition of The Lord of the Rings

Yet there are allegorical elements throughout his writings, however unintended.  Tolkien’s Catholic world view infused his work with well-known Christian concepts such as atonement, salvation, redemption, and fulfillment of prophecy.  A consistent story line appears throughout his writing, repeated on several levels.  It is the story of paradise defiled, of blessed people tempted by evil into betrayal of their calling, of their exile and dissolution, and their restoration at last after the struggles of their exile produce the required degree of contrition and of resolve to live up to their destiny.  In The Silmarillion the tale plays out in the long defeat of the Noldor in their forlorn quest to regain the Silmarils from Morgoth the defiler of Middle Earth.  The cycle ends and begins anew in their redemption beyond all hope by the Valar, the powers over the earth who had exiled the Noldor from the blessed realm of Valinor because of their rebellion.  In The Hobbit it is the restoration of the House of Durin as the Dwarves under the leadership of Thorin Oakenshield set in motion the events that bring the death of the great dragon Smaug and the coronation of a new Dwarf King Under the Mountain.  And in The Lord of the Rings it is the return of Aragorn as King Elessar of Gondor, restoring the long lost (and nearly forgotten) kingdom of the Númenóreans after the defeat of Sauron, Morgoth’s chief lieutenant.

Among the many things we learn from Tolkien is that things happen in cycles.  Life is cyclical, not linear.  What happens to the fathers happens to the sons, and what has come before will come again.  Whether he realized it or not, that is the Hebraic way of looking at the world.  And it is quite biblical.  As Solomon, the son of David, teaches us:

That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done.  So there is nothing new under the sun.  (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #22-23: Vayakhel (And He Assembled) / Pekudei (Accounts Of)

וַיַּקְהֵל / פְקוּדֵיּ

The Traveler (Eric Menyuk) and Wesley (Wil Wheaton) discuss the connection of Space and Time and Thought in "Where No One Has Gone Before" (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Episode 5.  Photo from The Viewscreen.)

The Traveler (Eric Menyuk) and Wesley (Wil Wheaton) discuss the connection of Space and Time and Thought in “Where No One Has Gone Before” (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Episode 5. Photo from The Viewscreen.)

What is the secret of the success of Star Trek?  Since 1966 three generations of science fiction fans have followed the adventures of four separate crews on the starship Enterprise, as well as other heroes of Gene Roddenberry’s creation through six TV series and 12 movies.  There must be something more to the Star Trek universe than adventure stories, special visual effects, and outlandish aliens.  Perhaps it is that Star Trek provides us with an opportunity to imagine, to push the boundaries of what is “real”, at least according to what we encounter in our everyday lives.

Certainly that was a key ingredient in the original series, the popularity of which has long outlived the three short seasons it was on the air.  In 1987, Star Trek:  The Next Generation picked up the mantle and carried on that boundary-pushing tradition.  In “Where No One Has Gone Before”, the fifth episode of its first season, a propulsion expert named Kosinski (Stanley Kamel) comes aboard the USS Enterprise to make modifications to the ship’s engines that will enhance their performance.  What we soon learn is that Mr. Kosinski’s equations are meaningless by themselves; the real power behind the modifications is the presence of Kosinski’s assistant, an alien known only as the Traveler (Eric Menyuk).  In the first test, the Enterprise moves faster than ever thought possible into a region of space far beyond our galaxy, a result which astonishes not only the ship’s officers, but Kosinski as well.  Only young Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) notices the Traveler’s role in the proceedings.  As the officers argue among themselves, he draws near to the Traveler to learn the truth.  Their conversation includes a very interesting bit of dialogue:

Wesley:  Is Mister Kosinski like he sounds?  A joke?

Traveler:  No, that’s too cruel.  He has sensed some small part of it.

Wesley:  That space and time and thought aren’t the separate things they appear to be?  I just thought the formula you were using said something like that.

Later in the episode, the Traveler explains, “You do understand, don’t you that thought is the basis of all reality?  The energy of thought, to put it in your terms, is very powerful.”  And with that we have an articulation from a fantastic science fiction television show of a profound truth first explained by Moses 3,500 years ago.

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