Monthly Archives: December 2014

On the readings for December 21

The “Annunciation by El Greco,” subject of today’s Gospel…



In this regular feature I meditate* on Bible readings for the Sunday coming up, as determined by the “RCL.”  Those readings for Sunday December 21 – the Fourth Sunday of Advent – are 2d Samuel 7:1-11;16, followed by what would normally be the psalm-reading; in this case either Canticle 15 (the Magnificat) or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26.

For more on those psalm-choices, see On the psalms up to December 21.  The New Testament reading is Romans 16:25-27, followed by the Gospel, Luke 1:26-38.  The full readings are at Fourth Sunday of Advent.    Here are some highlights.

As to the First and Second Books of Samuel, the International Bible Commentary (IBC) noted they covered the same time period as First and Second Kings, but with different emphases.  Second Samuel follows the death of King Saul and the rise of David as King of Israel.

Today’s reading is about “the latest” in a long line of covenants or contracts between God and His Chosen People.  The contracts began with Noah, then on to Abraham, then came up to the Contract with Moses.  This latest contract was between God and David (and his line, on to Jesus).

2 Samuel 7:1-11;16 begins with David saying to the prophet Nathan that he will “build a house for God.”  (Up to then God had been “staying in a tent” since the days of Moses, metaphorically anyway.)   But that’s followed by God appearing to David (via Nathan) and saying – basically – “You think you’re going to build a house for me?  I’ll build a house for you!”

I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went…  Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house.  Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.

This was a matter of considerable importance.  It’s why Matthew and Luke included genealogies to show Jesus was David’s direct descendant.  “Both aim to establish a direct descent of Jesus from David, and thus [His] legal inheritance of the throne of Israel.”  (Genealogy of Jesus – Wikipedia, which added that the two genealogies appear markedly different.)

Since the reading from Romans 16:25-27 is so short, it can be included in its entirety:

Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith – to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever!  Amen.

For a further explanation of this concluding section of the Epistle see Romans 16 Commentary, which “waxed poetic” on Paul’s unique ability to maintain the difficult balance between being wise as a serpent yet harmless as a dove.  (Referring to Matthew 10:16.)  Note also that except for the “Amen” at the end, that was all one sentence.  (Paul was basically a lawyer – a “rabbinic” lawyer anyway – and certainly wrote like one.  See 2 Peter 3:16.)

Turning to the Gospel reading, Luke 1:26-38 tells of the Annunciation, of the angel Gabriel to Mary, that she would bear Jesus.  That is, the Annunciation is “the Christian celebration of the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus, the Son of God, marking his Incarnation.”  See Annunciation – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  Today’s Gospel begins, “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.  The virgin’s name was Mary….


Which is of course “the reason for the season!”

The upper image is courtesy of Annunciation – Wikipedia, noted above, which added that the painter El Greco, (born Doménikos Theotokópoulos; 1541-1614) “was a painter, sculptor and architect of the Spanish Renaissance.”  He lived and worked in Spain from 1577 until his death, and his nickname (“The Greek”) was ostensibly a reference to his birth-place, but he was actually “born in Crete, which was at that time part of the Republic of Venice.)

As to the “RCL,” see Revised Common Lectionary, and also Revised Common Lectionary – Wikipedia

*  On the subject of meditating on the Bible, see for example Psalm 1:2, “Their delight is in the law of the Lordand they meditate on His law day and night;”  Psalm 77:12, “I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds;”  Psalm 119:15, “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways;”  Psalm 119:23, “The evil have been sitting and plotting against me, but I have been meditating upon your commandments;”  and Psalm 119:48, “I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.”

Incidentally, Psalm 119 – where three of the five quotes above came from – “is the longest psalm as well as the longest chapter in the Bible…    It is the prayer of one who delights in and lives by the Torah, the sacred law.  With its 176 verses, Psalm 119 has more verses than 14 Old Testament Books and 17 New Testament Books.”  See Psalm 119 – Wikipedia.

As to both Samuel and Kings, both “sets of two books” were originally one book – actually one “scroll” – and both scrolls were so long that they had to be cut in two, for ease of handling and reading, eventually in the local synagogue.  See for example Books of Kings – Wikipedia

As to Romans 16 Commentary – Commentary Critical and Explanatory, vis-a-vis the New Testament reading for today, the author noted in pertinent part:

In every age … there have been real Christians whose excessive study of the serpent’s wisdom has … at times [excited] the distressing apprehension that they were no better than wolves in sheep’s clothing.  Nor is it to be denied, on the other hand, that, either from inaptitude or indisposition … many eminently simple, spiritual, devoted Christians, have throughout life exercised little or no influence on any section of society around them.  (E.A.)

Which may be another way of saying:  “If it was easy, anybody could do it!!


The lower image is courtesy of a “fellow blog” at  The blogger (Ms. Holmes) has a bachelor’s degree in magazine journalism from the University of Georgia, “has lived in the metro Atlanta area since she was six years old and considers Atlanta her home.”  Her home page lists professional experience “writing and working for an assortment of newspapers, magazines, websites and other publications,” as well as a commitment to her church, having served as “Sunday School teacher, Vacation Bible School and play director in addition to serving on numerous committees.”

On the psalms up to December 21




Mary’s Magnificat

“(Le magnificat)”

“James Tissot – Brooklyn Museum”









In this regular feature I focus on the psalm-reading for the upcoming Sunday, and try to post that meditation-on-a-psalm by the Wednesday leading up to that upcoming Sunday.  I also meditate on and highlight the psalms in the Daily Office Readings (DORs) for the week leading up to that Wednesday posting.   (Confused about “DORs?”  See What’s a DOR?)

That means this week the highlighted DOR psalms will be chosen from the The Lectionary – Satucket readings from Wednesday December 10 through Tuesday December 16.  (And at this point there may be some readers asking, “What, the psalms again?  Why pay so much attention to the Psalms?”  For the simple answer to this question, see On the psalms.)

The Lectionary has two choices for Sunday December 21, either Canticle 15 (the Song of Mary also known as The Magnificat) or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26, discussed further below.  The DOR psalms are from the readings for Wednesday December 10 up to Tuesday December 16.

Here are some highlights from those past-week Daily Office readings.

From Thursday December 11, Psalm 37:14 and 17:  “The Lord laughs at the wicked, because He sees that their day will come,” and “The little that the righteous has is better than great riches of the wicked.”  On the note of God having a sense of humor (He “laughs at the wicked”), see On the readings for Pentecost (6/8/14), citing Psalm 104:27: “There move the ships, and there is that Leviathan, which [God] made for the sport of it.”

From Friday December 12, Psalm 31:5:  “Into your hands I commend my spirit, for you have redeemed me, O Lord, O God of truth.”  Jesus quoted that verse on the cross, at Luke 23:46:  “Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’   When he had said this, he breathed his last.”  (See also Acts 7:59.)

The readings for Sunday December 14, included Psalm 63, known to some as “Patton’s psalm,” a psalm at once both “humble and defiant.”  See On Patton, Sunday School teacher.  They also included Psalm 98:1, “Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things.”  On that note see On the DORs for July 20, which asked the musical question:

How can we do greater works than Jesus if we interpret the Bible in a cramped, narrow, strict and/or limiting manner?   For that matter, why does the Bible so often tell us to “sing to the Lord a new song?”   (For example, Isaiah 42:10 and Psalms 96:1, 98:1, and 144:9.)

Or use the Search-box above right and just type in “sing Lord new song.”

And finally, the DORs for Monday December 15 included Psalm 41:1: “Happy are they who consider the poor and needy!  The Lord will deliver them in time of trouble.”  Note also the GOD’S WORD® Translation, which reads, “Blessed is the one who has concern for helpless people.  The LORD will rescue him in times of trouble.”

Either way, that sentiment is particularly appropriate at this time of year.

As to the psalms for December 21, the first Lectionary choice is Canticle 15, also known as the Song of Mary or the Magnificat, which begins, “My soul doth magnify the Lord…” 

As noted in Magnificat – Wikipedia, the text of the canticle is from the Luke 1:46-55, “where it is spoken by the Virgin Mary upon the occasion of her Visitation to her cousin Elizabeth.”  When Mary greeted Elizabeth – “pregnant with the future John the Baptist” – the child (John) moved within Elizabeth’s womb, and when “Elizabeth praises Mary for her faith, Mary sings what is now known as the Magnificat in response:”

Mary’s Magnificat, celebrated only in Luke’s Gospel, [is] distilled from a collection of early Jewish-Christian canticles [and] patterned on the “hymns of praise” in Israel’s Psalter…   Mary symbolizes both ancient Israel and the Lucan faith-community as the author/singer of the Magnificat…  The canticle echoes several Old Testament biblical passages [including] the Song of Hannah, from the Books of Samuel (1Samuel 2:1-10).  Scriptural echoes from the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings complement the main allusions to Hannah’s “magnificat of rejoicing” in l Samuel 2:1-10.

The alternate choice is Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26, which begins in a similar vein:   “Your love, O LORD, for ever will I sing; from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.”

Psalms 89 – Matthew Henry Commentary summarized Psalm 89 like this:

Many psalms that begin with complaint and prayer end with joy and praise, but this [psalm] begins with joy and praise and ends with sad complaints and petitions…   It is uncertain when it was penned; only, in general, that it was at a time when the house of David was woefully eclipsed; some think it was at the time of the captivity of Babylon, when king Zedekiah was insulted over, and abused, by Nebuchadnezzar…  (E.A.)

And the International Bible Commentary (IBC) said this psalm illustrates faith’s perplexity:  “Nowhere is the paradox of faith and sight, divine promise and human experience, more pronounced.”  Further on the IBC said the psalm as a whole alternated the “glorious revelation” of God with the “ugly reality” of everyday life.

But the verses in today’s psalm focus on the positive.  Verses 3-4 read:  “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn an oath to David my servant:  ‘I will establish your line for ever, and preserve your throne for all generations.'”  And verses 25-26 close on a positive note for the line of King David (seen below):  “I shall make his dominion extend from the Great Sea to the River.  He will say to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the rock of my salvation.'”

The upper image is courtesy of Magnificat – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Re: “Happy are they who consider the poor and needy!”  See also Deuteronomy 15:10Ruth 2:19Psalm 82:3Psalm 82:4Proverbs 14:21Proverbs 29:7, and  Daniel 4:27.

Re: canticle.   A”hymn, psalm or other song of praise taken from biblical texts other than the Psalms,” derived from the “Latin canticulum, a diminutive of canticum, ‘song.'”  See Canticle – Wikipedia.

The lower image was prompted by the web article King David misunderstood says Yale scholar, with the rest of the headline reading:  “Politician, psalmist, adulterer and more.”  The Old Testament scholar in question is Doctor Joel Baden, whose work – including his The Historical David: The Real Life of an Invented Hero – “ruined King David” according to some Yale divinity students. 

his new book, The Historical David: The Real Life of an Invented Hero, – See more at:
Politician, psalmist, adulterer and more
Politician, psalmist, adulterer and more

Baden said as a result of his research he “found someone more animated than the glorified felt-board action hero many have come to know.”  He added that even though David was an authentically-important historical figure who literally changed the course of history, that glorification came at a price:  We’ve since lost sight of David as a real-life “living breathing human being” with all our inherent faults and flaws.  Baden went on to say of his methods:

The starting point is the biblical text itself.  I try to understand not only what the biblical authors were saying, but why they were saying it.  That is to say, what was their purpose in writing these stories the way that they did?   I take very seriously what they actually wrote: what they included (and didn’t include)…   The second important step is to view David not as a character in the Bible, but as a living, breathing man in the early first millennium BCE…  The portrayal of David I put forward in the book is thus a combination of these two approaches:  a close reading of the biblical text filled out with the background of the ancient world as we now understand it.   It is an attempt to find the real David moving beneath the veneer of the Bible’s own interpretation of his life. (E.A.)

Which is pretty much what I’m trying to do in and with this blog, under the theory that the Bible was not written by super-heroes who aren’t remotely like us, but rather that it was written by people just like us –  “with all our inherent faults and flaws” – but we digress…    

The starting point is the biblical text itself. I try to understand not only what the biblical authors were saying, but why they were saying it. That is to say, what was their purpose in writing these stories the way that they did? I take very seriously what they actually wrote: what they included (and didn’t include), what they must have known of David’s life (and what they could not have known). The life of David as we have it in the books of Samuel and Kings is not presented as a mere rehearsal of historical facts. There is a consistent portrayal of David, and those around him, that leads to a very specific interpretation of his life.

Throughout, the elements that support this interpretation are those that, from a purely historical perspective, are most unverifiable: private moments and dialogues, secret divine pronouncements, and the like. In other words, the tools of an author writing a story intended to convince his readers. And convincing they have certainly been. But for just that reason, I want to try to understand the arc of David’s life without the interpretive overlay provided by the biblical authors. Which is not to say that everything they suggest is necessarily false, by any means. But it is not necessarily the most likely explanation either.

The second important step is to view David not as a character in the Bible, but as a living, breathing man in the early first millennium BCE. Archaeological and historical work has gone a long way toward filling in the gaps in our knowledge of this period, though there is always more to be done.  But we are no longer at the mercy of the Bible in trying to reconstruct the world that David inhabited. We know plenty about ancient Israel and its neighboring cultures – especially their politics, economy, and religion – and this knowledge allows us to make at least some reasonable guesses as to what sort of life David would have lived.

The portrayal of David I put forward in the book is thus a combination of these two approaches: a close reading of the biblical text filled out with the background of the ancient world as we now understand it. It is an attempt to find the real David moving beneath the veneer of the Bible’s own interpretation of his life.

– See more at:

I.e., the lower image itself is courtesy of File: Gerard van Honthorst – King David Playing the Harp.  The artist (1590-1656) was a “Dutch Golden Age painter” who early in life visited Rome, where he found success “painting in a style influenced by Caravaggio.  Following his return to the Netherlands he became a leading portrait painter.”  See Gerard van Honthorst – Wikipedia.



he found someone more animated than the glorified felt-board action hero many have come to know. – See more at:

On Amanuenses…

The caption is “Paul Writing His Epistles,” but he really had an amanuensis.  (See Romans 16:22.)


The New Testament reading in the Daily Office for Saturday December 13 is from Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians 3:6-18.  (If you’re puzzled about that see What’s a DOR?)

Here’s what Paul said in 2d Thessalonians 3:17:  “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand.  This is the mark in every letter of mine; it is the way I write.”  On that note, here’s what “Pulpit Commentary” said about Paul writing one of the verses in his own hand:

The apostle usually dictated his Epistles to an amanuensis, but wrote the concluding words with his own hand.  Thus Tertius was his amanuensis when he wrote the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 16:22).  [See also (Galatians 6:11), (Philemon 1:19), (1 Corinthians 16:21), and Colossians 4:18)…]   Such authentication was especially necessary in the case of the Thessalonians, as it would seem that a forged epistle had been circulated among them…

See the parallel commentaries in 2 Thessalonians 3:17 I, Paul, write this greeting (emphasis added, with (2 Thessalonians 2:2 cited as to a possible forgery:  “Now we request you, brethren … that you not be … disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us.”)

I briefly discussed amanuenses in the notes to On the readings for August 31- Part II, citing among other sources Amanuensis – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  But it seems that such amanuenses may have played a much larger role in writing the Bible.

See for example Were Some Of The Biblical Books Actually Written By A Scribe, which gave a positive “yes” answer:  “In the ancient world many books were written by a person dictating his thoughts to a scribe.”  The author noted the prophet Jeremiah dictated to his secretary Baruch, and that Paul too dictated his letters, noting the “seal of authenticity” given in 2d Thessalonians 3:17, noted above.  The article then noted that even though Paul himself “did not actually do the physical writing,” that had “nothing to do with the divine inspiration of the finished product…   [T]he key is where did the words originate – not who put them down in written form.”

But see also SamuelMartin: The Amanuensis in Scripture:

It should come as no surprise to us … that not every word purported to appear in certain books was written by the original author whose name may appear on the book.  A very simple example of this concerns the death of Moses, which is referenced in a narrative text found in Deuteronomy 34.  While this text is certainly a part of the Mosaic body literature … it is clear that this text is added by some type of an authorized secretarial figure.  This is just one place where we find this phenomenon taking place. (E.A.)

Martin said it appears “whole books which bear the names of certain persons” were in fact written by others, “known as “amanuenses.”   Then too the article The Authorship of Second Peter | says Second Peter is a prime example of so-called pseudepigrapha:

Most conservative evangelicals hold to the traditional view that Peter was the author, but historical and literary critics have almost unanimously concluded that to be impossible…   The result of this debate is that 2 Peter is concluded by most critical scholars to be pseudepigraphal literature.  But the evangelical world rejects the critics’ claims.  Conservatives say this has serious ramifications for the doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy.  The critics, on the other hand, claim this was standard procedure and therefore not dishonest. (E.A.)

See also Pseudepigrapha – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which said the term can apply to either:   1) falsely attributed works, or  2) texts whose claimed author is represented by a separate author, or  3) a work “whose real author attributed it to a figure of the past.”

I talked about the idea that – to some people – every word of the Bible must be taken as literally true in On snake-handling, Fundamentalism and suicide – Part II, in On broadminded, spelled “s-i-n”, and in On dissin’ the Prez.  (The latter post also raises the possible issue of “selective enforcement” by some…)   I also discussed the more reasonable approach – promoted by such scholars as John R. W. Stott – in On Job, the not-so-patient, which noted this:

“…requiring every word of the Bible to be inerrant” brings to mind what Jesus said in Matthew 23:4, as He chastised the scribes and Pharisees.  The Easy-to-Read translation says … that such people “make strict rules that are hard for people to obey.  They try to force others to obey all their rules.  But they themselves will not try to follow any of those rules.”

All of which is another way of saying it’s always easier to follow the letter of any given law, rather than trying to follow its “life-giving spirit,” as people like Isaac Asimov have noted:

The priesthood, then as always, was primarily interested in the minutiae of ritual.  This was something that could easily be followed by anyone and generally presented no difficulties.  It might be a tedious way of gaining God’s favor, but it was not really painful…  The prophets, however, were likely to disdain ritual and to insist, instead, on a high ethical code of behavior, something that could present serious difficulties…  (E.A.)

Asimov wrote about the prophet Isaiah, but other prophets who shared the same idea included one Jesus of Nazareth, as noted in Woes of the Pharisees – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:  “The woes mostly criticise the Pharisees for hypocrisy and perjury.  They illustrate the differences between inner and outer moral states.”

Which brings up the question of inspiration and inerrancy, noted above:  Can the Bible inspire you if you must believe – on pain of hellfire and damnation – that every word in that Bible is inerrant  Most people would say “probably not,” which is one of the themes of this blog.

Another theme is that you can get far more out of the Bible by approaching it with an open mind, and on occasion even “suspending disbelief.”  (See On “Titanic” and suspending disbelief:  “Consider the person who viewed the movie [“Titanic”] with a closed mind.  A person unwilling – even for a moment – to suspend disbelief.  A person who simply had to believe that everything in the movie had to be 100% accurate…  Wouldn’t that viewer just be short-changing himself?“)

So one way of wrapping up this post would be to say that for a person of deep faith – a faith based on a personal experience of God working in his life, rather than on some courtroom “inerrancy” – it wouldn’t matter if Peter literally wrote the “second letter” attributed to him, or if someone other than Moses wrote Chapter 34 of the Book Deuteronomy attributed to him.

On a possibly-related note, here’s what Will Durant said about Aristotle, whose list of written works is widely deemed as legendary. (For a complete list see Corpus Aristotelicum):

[I]t is possible that the writings attributed to Aristotle were not his, but were largely the compilations of students and followers who embalmed the unadorned substance of his lectures in their notes…   About this matter there rages a sort of Homeric question, of almost epic scope, into which the busy reader will not care to go, and on which a modest student will not undertake to judge.  We may at all events be sure that Aristotle is the spiritual author of all these books that bear his name: that the hand may be in some cases another’s hand, but that the head and heart are his. (E.A.)

So to sum up:  “Who knows?  In a sense we may all be God’s ‘amanuenses.’  As has been said, ‘The  key is where did the words originate – not who put them down in written form.’   And if that’s true then it doesn’t matter who gets the credit, as long as God gets the glory…”

The upper image is courtesy of Epistle to the Romans – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, with the caption:  “A 17th-century depiction of Paul Writing His Epistles. [Romans] 16:22 indicates that Tertius acted as his amanuensis.”

The lower image is courtesy of, which included this description of Paul dictating:

Sweat was beading up on his bald head and thick eyebrows. His pointed beard wagged as he paced the stone floor speaking rapidly. His dark eyes flashed, his hands gesticulated in rhythm with his rapid utterance. His quick mind was obviously way ahead of the words that rushed from his mouth.

Tertius struggled to keep up, his quill scratching rapidly across the parchment. After hours of dictation and careful refinement this letter was rolled up and given into the hands of Phoebe who boarded a wooden merchant vessel heading for the hub of the Empire. The words were Greek, written from the Greek city of Corinth, dictated by a Jew of the Hebrew religion and sent to Latin Rome.

– See more at:

Sweat was beading up on his bald head and thick eyebrows. His pointed beard wagged as he paced the stone floor speaking rapidly. His dark eyes flashed, his hands gesticulated in rhythm with his rapid utterance. His quick mind was obviously way ahead of the words that rushed from his mouth.

Tertius struggled to keep up, his quill scratching rapidly across the parchment. After hours of dictation and careful refinement this letter was rolled up and given into the hands of Phoebe who boarded a wooden merchant vessel heading for the hub of the Empire. The words were Greek, written from the Greek city of Corinth, dictated by a Jew of the Hebrew religion and sent to Latin Rome.

– See more at:

Sweat was beading up on his bald head and thick eyebrows.  His pointed beard wagged as he paced the stone floor speaking rapidly.  His dark eyes flashed, his hands gesticulated in rhythm with his rapid utterance…   Tertius struggled to keep up, his quill scratching rapidly across the parchment.  After hours of dictation and careful refinement this letter was rolled up and given into the hands of Phoebe who boarded a wooden merchant vessel heading for the hub of the Empire.  The words were Greek, written from the Greek city of Corinth, dictated by a Jew of the Hebrew religion and sent to Latin Rome.

As to the “challenged” authorship of Second Peter, see also Second Epistle of Peter – Wikipedia.

The Asimov quote is from Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel Books (1981), at page 527. 

The Durant quote is from The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant, Washington Square Press (“Pocket Books”), 1953, at page 57.  See also Aristotle – Wikipedia:  “His writings cover many subjects – including physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theater, music, rhetoric, linguistics, politics and government – and constitute the first comprehensive system of Western philosophy.”


On the original St. Nicholas

*   *   *   *

Saint Nicholas Saves Three Innocents from Death…”

*   *   *   *

Normally at this point in the week – by Wednesday afternoon – I publish a post on the readings for the next upcoming Sunday.  (As for example On the readings for December 7.)   However, I just got back late last night (Tuesday night) from a funeral in Florida (which wasn’t so sunny), and now am struggling to get back up to “game speed.”

So for a change of pace (and a bit of CYA), this week I’ll do a post on the original St. Nicholas, “also called Nikolaos of Myra … a historic 4th-century Christian saint and Greek Bishop of Myra (Demre, part of modern-day Turkey) in Lycia[, who b]ecause of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker.”  See Saint Nicholas – Wikipedia, and also Saint Nicholas (bishop of Myra) | Encyclopedia Britannica:

Saint Nicholas, also called Nicholas of Bari or Nicholas of Myra [is] one of the most popular minor saints commemorated in the Eastern and Western churches and now traditionally associated with the festival of Christmas.  In many countries children receive gifts on December 6, Saint Nicholas Day.

Which is being interpreted:  December 6 is the Feast for “Nicholas, Bishop of Myra” in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion, not to mention numerous other denominations, as noted below.  But that gives rise to a reasonable question:  Why do we celebrate Christmas on December 25, if Saint Nicholas Day is December 6?

There are any number of theories, but the most reasonable seems to be that December 25 is exactly nine months after March 25, traditionally celebrated as the date of The Annunciation, the date of the “announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus, the Son of God.”  See Annunciation – Wikipedia, and also Why is Christmas celebrated on December 25? — Ask HISTORY,Why December 25? | Christian History, and/or How December 25 Became Christmas – Biblical Archaeology Society.

There were some notes in those sites about about the “pagan origins of the Christmas date,” and also about the confusion caused by the changeover to the Gregorian Calendar:

Another wrinkle was added in the sixteenth century when Pope Gregory devised a new calendar, which was unevenly adopted.  The Eastern Orthodox and some Protestants retained the Julian calendar, which meant they celebrated Christmas 13 days later than their Gregorian counterparts.  Most – but not all – of the Christian world now agrees on the Gregorian calendar and the December 25 date.

But before the digression we were talking about the original St. Nicholas, who eventually became the prototype for the modern-day Santa Claus, not to mention being the patron saint for sailors, pawnbrokers and “repentant thieves:”

He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, a practice celebrated on his feast day … and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas, itself from a series of elisions and corruptions of the transliteration of “Saint Nikolaos…”   The historical Saint Nicholas is commemorated and revered among Anglican,Catholic, Lutheran, and Orthodox Christians [and others].  Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers and students in various cities and countries around Europe.

Incidentally, you can see the full set of Bible readings – in the Anglican Church – for this original prototype of Santa Claus at Nicholas, Bishop, but here’s the Collect for the Feast Day:  “Almighty God, in your love you gave your servant Nicholas of Myra a perpetual name for deeds of kindness both on land and sea:  Grant, we pray, that your Church may never cease to work for the happiness of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief…”

But this “Saint Nicholas” wasn’t always so popular, especially after the Reformation.  (See Protestant Reformation – Wikipedia.)   Most of the new “Protestant countries of Europe” abandoned the idea of praying to saints, except for Holland:

Dutch colonists took this tradition [of St. Nicholas] with them to New Amsterdam (now New York City) in the American colonies in the 17th century.  Sinterklaas was adopted by the country’s English-speaking majority under the name Santa Claus, and his legend of a kindly old man was united with old Nordic folktales of a magician who punished naughty children and rewarded good children with presents.  The resulting image of Santa Claus in the United States crystallized in the 19th century, and he has ever since remained the patron of the gift-giving festival of Christmas.

See Saint Nicholas … Encyclopedia Britannica.   So there you have the rest of the story…

*   *   *   *

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of Saint Nicholas – Wikipedia, with the caption:  “Saint Nicholas Saves Three Innocents from Death (oil painting by Ilya Repin, 1888, State Russian Museum).”   See also St. Nicholas Center ::: Saint Who Stopped an Execution:

[W]hile Nicholas was visiting a remote part of his diocese, several citizens from Myra came to him with urgent news: the ruler of the city, Eustathius, had condemned three innocent men to death.  Nicholas set out immediately for home.  Reaching the outskirts of the city, he asked those he met on the road if they had news of the prisoners.  Informed that their execution was to be carried out that morning, he hurried to the executioner’s field.  Here he found a large crowd of people and the three men kneeling with their arms bound, awaiting the fatal blow.  Nicholas passed through the crowd, took the sword from the executioner’s hands and threw it to the ground, then ordered that the condemned men be freed from their bonds.  His authority was such that the executioner left his sword where it fell…

 The lower image is courtesy of Santa Claus – Wikipedia, with the caption, “1881 illustration by Thomas Nast who, along with Clement Clarke Moore’s poem ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas,’ helped to create the modern image of Santa Claus.”

*   *   *   *

On the readings for December 7

St. Andrew - Georges de la Tour

St. Andrew, by  Georges de la Tour



As noted in On the readings for Advent Sunday, November 30 was the First Sunday of Advent, which means that on Sunday December 7, most churches will be celebrating – and using the readings for – the Second Sunday of Advent.  However, on that same December 7, churches with “St. Andrew” in their names (like mine) will be celebrating the Feast Day of St. Andrew.  (For more on this saint – whose name means “manly” – see On St. Andrew, the “First Apostle”.)

Thus the readings for Sunday December 7 – when celebrated as the Feast of St. Andrew – are Deuteronomy 30:11-14, Psalm 19, Romans 10:8b-18, and Matthew 4:18-22.  For more on the Season of Advent, see Advent Sunday.  For more on Psalm 19 – what some call a “masterpiece of poetic literature” and another call “the greatest poem in the Psalter” – see On the Psalms up to December 7.  For the complete readings, see St Andrew, Apostle.  

Here are some highlights.

The reading from the Old Testament is Deuteronomy 30:11-14:

Moses said to the people of Israel:   Surely, this commandment … is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?”   Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?”  No, the word is very near to you…

Here’s the background for what the International Bible Commentary (IBC) called a “recap” of the original covenant – or contract between God and His People – from Deuteronomy 29:1 to 30:20, and specifically of Moses’ “appeal to commitment” from Deuteronomy 30:11 to 30:20.

The Book of Numbers ended with the Hebrews on the plains of Moab and/or the territory of Gilead, east of the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee, what is now the nation of Jordan.  They were about to enter The Promised Land after their escape from slavery in Egypt, and after 40 years wandering in the Wilderness and numerous battles and other adventures.  But as Asimov said, Deuteronomy doesn’t “advance Israelite history but purports to be a series of addresses [“sermons” if you will] given by Moses on the eve of his death.”  (Moses getting to the edge of the Promised Land but not allowed to enter was discussed in On the readings for October 26, with a note on the “Transfiguration, where Moses … realized a centuries-old dream.”)

Asimov said these addresses “recapitulate the events of the Exodus and restate key portions of the law as it was received from [Mount] Sinai.”  And the IBC said of 30:11-14:

It is natural to emphasize the remoteness of truth and wisdom in daily life and the difficulty of achieving them [see for example Job 28:12 and following].  But God’s law was accessible to every Israelite [see also Psalm 19:7-11, part of the Psalm reading for this Sunday].  In Rom[ans] 10:6-8, Paul uses these words to illustrate the character of the new covenant, based on Our Lord’s incarnation and the free offer of the gospel, in the power of the Spirit, all of which bring the word … very near.

(Page 279, emphasis and ellipses in original.)  Which brings up the New Testament reading.

In Romans 10:8b-18, Paul quoted Moses in this Sunday’s OT reading:  “‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);  because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  The emphasized part supports a theory that being in a particular “club” or denomination will neither “save” you nor get you to heaven.  (Or as has been said, “there are no denominations in heaven.”  See the notes for About the psalms.)

Paul continued that theme in verse 11: “The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.'”  In doing so Paul quoted Isaiah 28:16, “this is what the Sovereign LORD says:  ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic.‘”  See also verse 13, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  Here Paul cited Joel 2:32, “And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved;  for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, even among the survivors whom the LORD calls.”

And Matthew 4:18-22 tells of Jesus walking by the Sea of Galilee and seeing brothers Simon and Andrew, and saying to them (in the King James Version, the one God uses), “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  But see also On St. Andrew, the “First Apostle”, which noted the different spin given in John 1:35-42 about that first meeting:

The next day John [the Baptist] was … with two of his disciples, when he saw Jesus walking… The two disciples [followed] Jesus[, who] turned, saw them following him, and asked, “What are you looking for?”  They answered, “Where do you live, Rabbi?” … “Come and see,” he answered…    So they went with him…  One of them was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.  At once he found his brother Simon and … took Simon to Jesus.  [E.A.]

Which brings up the question whether this difference in testimony should shake your faith.  After all, if Matthew and John can’t agree on how Jesus met Andrew and Peter, how can you have any faith in the rest of the Bible?  The shortest and best answer comes from a theory that the Bible wasn’t written by “giants” but by people just like us.  See for example On Harry Truman:

I liked the New Testament stories best, especially the Gospels.  And when I was older, I was very much interested in the way those fellas saw the same things in a different manner.  A very different manner, and they were all telling the truth…   That’s why I always hesitated to call a man a liar unless I had the absolute goods on him.

In turn the Good News is that if the Bible was written by people just like us, we too can accomplish miracles just like Jesus and the rest of the Bible-writers did.  See John 14:12, Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”  (Emphasis added.)



 The upper image is courtesy of St. AndrewGeorges de la Tour –, with notes:  “Artist: Georges de la Tour; Start Date: 1615; Completion Date:1620; Style: Tenebrism.”  See also Tenebrism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, “from the Italian, tenebroso (murky), also called dramatic illumination, [a] style of painting using very pronounced chiaroscuro, where there are violent contrasts of light and dark, and where darkness becomes a dominating feature of the image. The technique was developed to add drama to an image through a spotlight effect…”

As to this fifth book of the Bible, see Book of Deuteronomy – Wikipedia, which added:

The book consists of three sermons or speeches delivered to the Israelites by Moses on the plains of Moab, shortly before they enter the Promised Land.  The first sermon recapitulates the forty years of wilderness wanderings which have led to this moment, and ends with an exhortation to observe the law (or teachings), later referred to as the Law of Moses;  the second reminds the Israelites of the need for exclusive allegiance to one God and observance of the laws (or teachings) he has given them, on which their possession of the land depends;  and the third offers the comfort that even should Israel prove unfaithful and so lose the land, with repentance all can be restored.

(Note that the emphasized portion applies to us “even to this day.)  See also Book of Numbers – Wikipedia.  The notes from Isaac Asimov, as to the end of Numbers and Deuteronomy in general, are from Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel Books (1981), at pages 190-192.

The promise of John 14:12 was discussed in Quick summary.

The lower image is courtesy of The Raising of Lazarus (Rembrandt) – Wikipedia, with the caption, “The Raising of Lazarus, Rembrandt. Oil on panel. 37 15/16 x 32 in. (96.36 x 81.28 cm). Late 1620s or 1630-32. Los Angeles County Museum of Art.”  The article added:

The painting shows the moment Lazarus re-awakens from death and rises from his tomb as Christ calls him.  Lazarus is in the darker half of the painting while the figures at left are far more illuminated.  Mary and those assembled look on in amazement as Lazarus comes to life.  The painting depicts a parable of spiritual life, the miracle of the hardened sinner receiving first grace (sorrow for sins committed in order to seek penitence and redemption).

Which leads to one final word to the wise:  “Kids, don’t try this (miracle) at home!

On the Psalms up to December 7

C.S. Lewis (of “Narnia”) on Psalm 19: “one of the greatest lyrics in the world…”


This regular feature focuses on next Sunday’s psalm, and – normally – on highlights from the psalms in the Daily Office Readings (DORs) for the week leading up to that upcoming Sunday.  But in this case Psalm 19 is so important that I spent the whole post on it.

At this point there may be some who ask, “What, the psalms again?  Why pay so much attention to the Psalms?”    For the simple answer see About the psalms.

*   *   *   *

As noted, Psalm 19 is widely considered to be a “masterpiece of poetic literature,” and  C.S. Lewis (shown above) considered it to be “the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.”  The psalm begins, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork.”  For the full text see Psalm 19 – For the director.

As noted in Psalm 19 – Bible Teaching Notes, the first six verses of the psalm “speak of God’s general revelation of Himself through nature,” and in these verses “David represents the universe as a cathedral in which the sun is the preacher bearing witness to the existence and glory of God.”  And as noted in Treasury of David—Psalm 19 – The Spurgeon Archive:

This song very distinctly divides itself into three parts…  The creatures show God’s glory, 1-6. The word showeth his grace, 7-11.  David prayeth for grace, 12-14.  Thus praise and prayer are mingled, and he who here sings the work of God in the world without, pleads for a work of grace in himself within.

The International Bible Commentary (IBC, 569) said the psalmist – according to tradition, David – may have been influenced by the fact that in the “ancient Near East ‘sun’ and ‘justice’ were thought of as belonging together; e.g. Shamash, the Mesopotamian sun-god, was considered to be the upholder of justice and righteousness.”  See also Shamash – Wikipedia:

The attribute most commonly associated with Shamash is justice.  Just as the Sun disperses darkness, so Shamash brings wrong and injustice to light.  Hammurabi attributes to Shamash the inspiration that led him to gather the existing laws and legal procedures into code

And see also Code of Hammurabi – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, but we digress…

Getting back to Psalm 19, here’s what Wikipedia says:

The psalm considers the glory of God in creation, and moves to reflect on the character and use of “the law of the LORD.”  A comparison is made between the law and the sun, which lends a degree of unity to the psalm…   Like the Sun, the law is able to uncover hidden faults, and nothing can hide from it.  As the Psalmist meditates on the excellencies of the law, he feels that his sins have been laid open before God’s word, and asks for forgiveness and help.

See Psalm 19 – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  Or as the IBC said, the first six verses are a hymn in praise of God in nature, while verses 7 through 14 are a hymn in praise of God’s law.  Note that verse six ends with an ode to the sun; it “goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens and runs about to the end of it again; nothing is hidden from its burning heat.”

Moving on to the law of the LORD, verse 7 said it “revives the soul” and “gives wisdom to the innocent.”  Of God’s statutes verse 10 said that they are “more to be desired are they than gold,
more than much fine gold.”   Verse 11 adds, “By them also is your servant enlightened,
and in keeping them there is great reward.”

Verse 12 asks, “Who can tell how often he offends?  Cleanse me from my secret faults.”  I addressed that subject – “secret” or unknown sins – in On Ecclesiasticus (NOT “Ecclesiastes”), which cited Ecclesiasticus 5:5:  “Do not be so sure of forgiveness that you add sin to sin.”  The post also discussed “Holier than thou”, along with self-righteousness and hypocrisy.

On that note, Psalm 19:13 added, “Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not get dominion over me.”  And finally, the psalm ends with the well-known verse 14:  “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.”  Wikipedia said of this verse, and the psalm:

Verse 14 is used as part of the conclusion of the Amidah, the main daily prayer in Judaism…   As the author spends time thinking about God’s demands, he realizes that his own actions and thoughts fall short of this law that he loves.   The author prays to be kept from sins of ignorance as well as deliberate sins [and] that his words and thoughts be pleasing to God.

See Psalm 19 – Wikipedia, and also Amidah – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, referring to the central prayer of the Jewish liturgy recited at each of three prayer services in a typical weekday: morning, afternoon, and evening.  “The prayer is recited standing with feet firmly together, and preferably while facing Jerusalem,” and ends with this concluding prayer:

My God, keep my tongue and my lips from speaking deceit, and to them that curse me let my soul be silent, and like dust to all. Open my heart in Your Torah…  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Eternal, my rock and my redeemer.




The upper image is courtesy of C. S. Lewis – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which said Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) “was a novelist, poet, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian, and Christian apologist.  Born in Belfast, Ireland, he held academic positions at both Oxford University (Magdalen College), 1925–54, and Cambridge University (Magdalene College), 1954–63.  He is best known both for his fictional work, especially The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Space Trilogy, and for his non-fiction Christian apologetics, such as Mere Christianity, Miracles, and The Problem of Pain…   Lewis and fellow novelist J. R. R. Tolkien were close friends.”   See also Psalm 19 – Bible Teaching Notes:  “The Psalm is considered to be a masterpiece of poetic literature.  C.S. Lewis wrote, ‘I take this [Psalm 19] to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.'”

The lower image is courtesy of Psalms – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, with the full caption:  “David Playing the Harp by Jan de Bray, 1670.”

As to David playing the harp, see David – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which noted the account of First Samuel, Chapter 16, which told of Saul, the first-ever king of Israel, being tormented by an evil spirit.  In turn it was suggested that “he send for David, a young warrior famed for bravery and his lyre playing.  Saul did so, and made David one of his armor-bearers. From then on, whenever ‘the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play.  Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him,’” as illustrated above.


One final note:  the usual post on the psalms up to December 7 would have included this:

For those who already appreciate the psalms – and rightfully so – my usual practice is to review the next Sunday’s readings on the Wednesday before, including the individual Sunday-psalm noted above, and also to review the psalms from the DORs for the week ending on the Tuesday just before that “prior Wednesday.”  For example, The Lectionary  psalm for Sunday, December 7, is Psalm 19, discussed further below.  The Daily Office psalms are from the readings for Wednesday November 26 up to Tuesday December 2.

On “Y1V1” and the Ten Virgins

Peter striking the High Priests‘ servant Malchus…”



As noted in On the readings for Advent Sunday, Sunday November 30 marked the end of 2014′s Season of Pentecost and started the new church-calendar year, most of which is in 2015.   It also started a new cycle in the Daily Office readings.  As noted in What’s a DOR, rather than flipping back and forth in your Bible to find the various readings for the day, you can buy a four-volume set with all the readings in one place, thus “eliminating much of the work involved.”  If you use that four-volume set – as I do – then on Sunday November 30 you changed over from Year Two, Volume 2 to Year One, Volume 1.  (Thus the “Y1V1” in the title of this post).

Note also that with the changeover to Year One, Volume 1, I began the markings in my Y1V1 book an eleventh trip through the Bible – that’s 11 times – as well as 33 to 40 times through the psalms and Gospels.  (For what that’s worth, but at least it means “I’m familiar…”)

For the complete DORs for the week of November 30 to December 6 (in the New Revised Standard Version), see NRSV.  For highlights from the DOR psalms from Wednesday November 26 to Tuesday December 2, see the successor post to On the Psalms up to November 30, now in the works.   Here are some highlights from the DORs for November 30, which include Isaiah 1:1-9, 2d Peter 3:1-10, and Matthew 25:1-13 (all presented in the  Good News Translation).

The readings from Isaiah 1:1-9 mark the start of this Old Testament book that is at once the one most often quoted in the New Testament – second only to the Psalms – and held in such high esteem in the development of the Christian church that it has been called “the Fifth Gospel.”  See About the psalms, On the readings for Advent Sunday, and On the Psalms up to November 30.  (As you can see, this blog quotes Isaiah a lot as well.)

Isaiah 1:1 begins,  “This book contains the messages about Judah and Jerusalem which God revealed to Isaiah son of Amoz during the time when Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah were kings of Judah.”  (The GNT wrap-up for the passage: “God Reprimands His People.”)  The prophet has God calling “earth and sky” as witness against His Chosen People, a people which has fallen short.  (And according to Isaac Asimov, the time of this “falling short” was between 780 and 692 B.C., that is, between the reigns of kings Uzziah and Hezekiah.)

Isaiah began by saying the nation of Israel was doomed and dragged down by its sins, then compared Jerusalem to two other corrupt cities:  “Jerusalem alone is left, a city under siege[, and i]f the Lord Almighty had not let some of the people survive, Jerusalem would have been totally destroyed, just as Sodom and Gomorrah were.”

Thus the 66 chapters of Isaiah begin on a gloomy note, but as the International Bible Commentary summarized (at page 718), the book as a whole offers hope:

If chs. [chapters] 1-39 above all invite readers to subject themselves to rigorous critical self-examination, and chs. 40-55 above all challenge readers to make a ready response to the summons of God, chs. 56-66 offer modes of thought and patterns of behavior appropriate to every age as the people of God move, however slowly, towards the fulfillment of His purpose and their destiny.  [E.A.]

The Good News Translation (GNT) summary of 2d Peter 3:1-10 reads:  “The Promise of the Lord’s Coming.”  And in response to criticism that God moves way too slowly for some people, Peter answered (in verse 9), “The Lord is not slow to do what he has promised, as some think.  Instead, he is patient with you, because he does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants all to turn away from their sins.”  (Emphasis added.)

(But as shown in the painting above, Peter himself wasn’t always so patient.  See Malchus – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:  “The story is related in all four gospels, in Matthew 26:51, Mark 14:47, and Luke 22:50-51, and John 18:10–11, but the servant and the disciple are named only in John.  Also, Luke is the only gospel that says Jesus healed the ear.”  See also John 18:26, “One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, ‘Didn’t I see you with [Jesus] in the garden?'”  This was the time when Peter denied knowing Jesus, and probably presents some sort of object lesson…)

And finally, in Matthew 25:1-13, Jesus tells the Parable of the Ten Virgins – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which begins, “the Kingdom of heaven will be like this.  Once there were ten young women who took their oil lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish, and the other five were wise…”

As Wikipedia noted, “The parable has a clear eschatological theme: be prepared for the Day of Judgment.”   Wikipedia further noted that the parable neither praised “virginity” nor criticized any of the young women for sleeping, “since both groups do that.”  Indeed one interpretation said the parable was “a warning addressed specifically to those inside the professing church who are not to assume that their future is unconditionally assured.” (Emphasis added.)

On that note see On Ecclesiasticus (NOT “Ecclesiastes”), which quoted Ecclesiasticus 5:5 – “Do not be so sure of forgiveness that you add sin to sin” – and also cited “On holier than thou”.




The upper image is courtesy of Saint Peter – Wikipedia, with the caption, “Apostle Peter striking the High Priests‘ servant Malchus with a sword in the Garden of Gethsemane.”  The work is by Giuseppe Cesari (1568-1640), an “Italian Mannerist painter, also named Il Giuseppino and called Cavaliere d’Arpino, because he was created Cavaliere di Cristo by his patron Pope Clement VIII…    chief of the studio in which Caravaggio trained upon the younger painter’s arrival in Rome. 

Re:  “according to Isaac Asimov.”  See Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel Books (1981), at page 526, as to the time of Isaiah’s ministry.  See also page 527, as to Isaiah’s being an “unusual” prophet, in that he came from the upper classes, not “from the poor, since the prophets [as a rule] were spokesmen of protest.”  On this page Asimov also noted the general tendency of the Established Priesthood to focus on the “minitiae of ritual,” as an easier-to-follow way of “gaining God’s favor,” rather than the more appropriate focus on “a high ethical code of behavior.”

As to an object lesson, that is defined as an “example from real life that typifies/explains a principle or teaches a lesson,” or “Anything used as an example or lesson which serves to warn others as to the outcomes that result from a particular action or behavior, as exemplified by the fates of those who followed that course.”  See object lesson – Wiktionary.

The lower image is courtesy of Parable of the Ten Virgins (supra), with the caption, “Friedrich Wilhelm Schadow, The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, 1838–1842 (detail), Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main.