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The Prayer Of Foreigners: Evidence of the Biblical Tradition
Lawrence E. Frizzell
In the ancient Near East the various nations and cultures expressed their religious beliefs in a variety of ways. Did they show tolerance towards the practices of others? What was the situation of minorities? Very often this may not have been an issue; it was an easy matter for a resident alien to accept the pantheon of his host nation. The per-son would reason that, because religion and state were identified, it behooved him to adhere to the cultic practices of the people with whom he lived for an extended period (1).
Perhaps some Israelites followed that practice as well, but the records insisted on the necessity of an exclusive commitment to the God who had revealed himself to Abraham. Millennia later, the modern situation of Jews, Christians and Muslims is very different. Inspite of debates on various issues, adherents to these monotheistic faiths all worship the same God and root their faith in the experience of Abraham. The arguments for or against common prayer or worship cannot be solved simply by an investigation of the biblical witness. Many other factors enter the picture, yet it should be of interest to present a reflection on the biblical heritage as such.
I. Relations between Israel and its neighbours
It would seem that the philosophical questions relating to worship entered the doctrine of Israel's teachers only during the Babylonian Exile (587-538 B.C.E.). Before that purifying experience apart from the Land and Temple, the people seemed to tolerate the fact that the other nations worshiped many deities. However, the nation that entered into conflict with Israel would learn that God protects his people! Thus, when Israel was enslaved in Egypt the people cried out; "God heard their groaning and remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" (Ex. 2:23-24). Because the Pharaoh of Egypt claimed to be the son of the sun god, the contest was not merely between Moses with Aaron and the Pharaoh with his magicians. Rather, the confrontation took place between the God of Israel and the gods of Egypt. Something unheard of in the ancient world had occurred: Israel's God intervened in a land adhering to other divine powers! This perspective of the narrator is clear from the beginning. For example, when Moses cast his staff to the ground in the wilderness, it became a "snake" (nahash - Ex. 4:3) whereas, in the contest with the magicians, the term for each staff is "serpent" or "dragon" (tanin in Ex. 7:9, 10, 12). The staff of Aaron consumed the "dragons" of Pharaoh's sages! In second part of Isaiah (51:9) tanin is a symbolic name for Egypt, so this prophet of the Babylonian Exile compared the Exodus to a divine act whereby the forces of evil were vanquished by the God of Israel. The symbolism of a combat, central to the religion of Babylon whose god Marduk killed the sea monster Tiamat, was transposed poetically to the historical order. Rather than merely exhort Israelites to ignore the myths of the neighbors, these great teachers boldly adapted the stories so that their power over the human imagination could be guided to acceptable channels.
Inspite of the tragic burden of slavery, the biblical record preserves indications of benign relations between Israelites and their neighbors. God commanded: "...When you go, you shall not go empty but each woman shall ask of her neighbor and of her house guest for jewelry of silver and of gold and clothing..." (Ex. 3:21-22; see 11:2-3; 12:35-36) (2). One need not discuss the intricacies of the these passages to note that there were some non-Israelites who showed generosity, probably because in the past the people had made a pilgrimage into the wilderness (beyond the territory of Egyptian gods), using such precious vessels and garments in worship (3).
The description of those departing from Egypt included "a crowd of mixed ancestry" (Ex. 12:37-38), who in late times would be blamed for the complaints and rebellion against Moses. The Passover legislation in Exodus 12:43-49 laid down norms for the presence of foreigners in Israel. Only those who were circumcized could participate in the Passover meal; since this was the symbolic experience of Israel's deliverance from Egypt, it was open only to members of the community (see Gen. 17:12-13). The Priestly tradition, quite naturally concerned with precise liturgical legislation, offers evidence that conversion to the Covenant of Abraham was feasible for those foreigners in a long-term relationship with an Israelite family. One cannot expect the legislation to include reference to faith or a decision of conscience, even though the interior response of Israelites to their Covenant obligations was stressed in both the Torah and the prophets. Such instruction may have formed part of the preparation for initiation into the Covenant.
At times Israel's closest neighbors posed a threat to her members, by way of persecution or seduction. Attacks on the weak by the Amalekites during the desert wandering was the reason given for the implacable war against this tribe down through the ages (see Ex. 17:16; Deut. 25:17-19). When the people crossed the Jordan, war against the seven nations that inhabited the land of Canaan was commanded "lest they make you sin against me by ensnaring you into worshiping their gods" (Ex. 23:33; see Deut. 20:17-18). A historical reason was given for excluding the Ammonite or the Moabite from the qahal (convocation for worship) of the Lord: "they would not succor you with food and water on your journey after you left Egypt, and because Moab hired Balaam... to curse you" (Deut. 23:4-6). Inspite of this law the woman named Ruth was welcomed into the community of Israel and became the great-grandmother of King David (Ruth 4:21-22). Descendants of Edomites and Egyptians could be admitted to the qahal in the third generation (Deut. 23:7-8).
II. Prayer in the Temple
The solemn assembly convoked by God at Mount Sinai formed Israel as a people destined to possess a territory. This orientation toward the promised land constituted Israel as a nation (goy - Ex. 19:6). The service of God could take place only in a "no-man's land", such as the Sinai peninsula, or in a land which had been purified of false worship. For this reason God drove the seven nations from the land of Canaan (Lev. 18:24-30).
This theological ideal became the basis for the historians responsible for the Book of Joshua to interpret the conquest of the land. However, there are indications elsewhere that the process of taking over the land was gradual and included many setbacks for those advocating exclusive fidelity to the Lord. "They did not exterminate the peoples, as the Lord had commanded them, but mingled with the nations and learned their works..." (Psalm 106:34-39).
Ideally, there should have been one place of worship for all twelve tribes; first this was the "tent of meeting" (tabernacle) in the desert and at Shiloh. Moses constructed it according to the heavenly mode) (Ex. 25:40; 26:30). Then, after David conquered Jerusalem (2 Samuel 5:6-12), he Made it the political and spiritual center for Israel's life (4).
The First Book of Kings described the construction of the first Temple in Jerusalem, completed by an elaborate prayer attributed to King Solomon (i Kings 8:22-53) that follows his dedication of the edifice to God (1 Kings 8:12-21). After a recollection of the dynastic promise mediated by Nathan (8:27-30), there is a tightly-knit series of seven intercessory prayers for future situations (8:31-51). "Solomon petitions God in advance for all possible contingencies, all situations which may face this people, and so places the unlimited future under the aegis of this beginning moment, when the temple first opened to sacred power and Solomon the righteous king stands at the apex of his royal and priestly powers on behalf of the people" (5). The first of the series deals with conflicts in ordinary life, when people would bring a case to the Temple for judgment (8:31-32). Then the adverse circumstances affecting the entire community are presented: defeat in war, drought, plagues and famines (8:33-40). The fifth petition mentions the foreigner (8:41-43), followed by prayer to be offered before an army goes into battle (8:44-45, see Deut. 20:1-9) and prayer of the people in captivity (8:46-51). The Temple is mentioned seven times and the phrase "listen in heaven/your heavenly dwelling" recurs in each petition, indicating the symbolic completeness of the prayer (6).
"To the foreigner, likewise, who is not of your people (am) Israel but comes from a distant land for the sake of your name (since men will learn of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this House, listen from your heavenly dwelling" (8:41-43). Rather than the ger or resident alien, this prayer speaks of the stranger (nokry), the person without any legal relation to the people (`am meaning "members of the community", without reference to land). The learning experience wherein Gentiles carne to know God and his deeds was especially widespread during the Babylonian Exile (see Ezekiel 36:22-23). The plaintiffs and petitioners in the first three petitions are described as being in God's House (8;31, 33 and 35), but in 8:38 and 42 the individual is said to pray towards this House. Orientation toward Jerusalem during prayer (see Tobit 3:11; Daniel 6: l I ) may imply that the person could not make a pilgrimage. Of course, the prayer was addressed to God in the heavenly Temple, so the important insight gained by the foreigner involved acceptance of God's relationship with Israel and its Land, even though access might not be possible.
"Do all that the foreigner asks of you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and stand in awe of you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this House which I have built is called by your name" (8:43). The prayer is remarkable in its generosity, for it presupposes that the foreigner's petitions will not be adverse to Israel's best interests. Recognition of the divine name means the acknowledgment of the presence of Israel's God (see Jer. 16:21). Knowledge of God's name implies a profound experience of God in prayer, so the deep purpose of God's benign activities in favor of lsraelites or foreigners is to bring them into intimate union with God.
II . The Prophets
The prophets Isaiah (2:2-4) and Micah (4:1-4) presented an oracle which placed the coming of the nations to the Temple and a general human search for God's ways in the final days (7). Divine teaching of the Torah will be accompanied by arbitration of all cases involving disputes, so that no one will be able to find an excuse to engage in warfare. Among the benefits of a world-wide service of the God of Israel will be the universal peace that accompanies a transformed social order.
Shortly after the return from Exile, the prophet Haggai exhorted the people to rebuild the Temple; he promised that God would cause the nations to contribute their treasures for the decoration of the divine dwelling (2:6-9). However, this was not accompanied by a positive appreciation of God and his people by the Gentiles. Quite the opposite! The last of Haggai's prophecies promises that foreign kingdoms would be overthrown (2:20-23).
The first six chapters of Zechariah describe a series of visions that have been shown to form a structure, moving from assurance of God's power over the world and its empires to his benevolent care for the Land of Judah, Jerusalem and the Temple (8). Nations which plundered Jerusalem would be punished and God promised to come and dwell in the midst of his people again (2:12-14 M.T.). "Many nations shall join themselves to the LORD on that day and shall be my people; and I will dwell in the midst of you..." (2:15). When the Temple is rebuilt God will dwell there as "Lord of all the earth" (see 4:14; 6:5). Covenant terms such as "you shall be my people" (see Jer. 31;33; 32:38; Ez. 36:28) are applied here to the nations who recognize that the God of Israel is their Lord. The text seems to imply that there will be one people, with a special place for the surviving tribes of Israel (see 2:16).
"Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling" (2:17). This call for attention and awe in the divine presence probably derived from worship services (see Hab. 2:20; Zeph. 1:7). "AH flesh" in Zechariah conveys the same universality as "all the earth" in Habakkuk; in the past some may have been ignorant of God but now his power will be manifest for all to see. As if God has just arisen from slum-ber, he will depart from the heavenly court to dwell among human beings, the new Temple in Jerusalem being modelled again after the heavenly sanctuary. The experience of silent awe before the divine majesty should lead to praise and thanksgiving; would the worshipers then come to the recognition that each human being bears the divine image? That perspective of faith should move each person to accept the challenge to moral excellence and to respect what God is accomplishing in others. Did a teacher like Zechariah develop such a theological synthesis rooted in the worship of Israel's God as Creator and Lord of the universe? We cannot be certain which terms he would have used, but certainly he did summarize the message of earlier prophets in terms of exalted ideals. "Thus says the LORD of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy, each one to his brother do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the sojourner or the poor; and let none of you devise evil against his brother in his heart" (7:9-10; see 8:16-17).
At the end of his work, Zechariah envisioned a growing response to God's pian among the Gentiles. "Thus says the LORD of hosts; People shall yet come... the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, `Let us go at once to entreat the LORD's favor, and to seek the LORD of hosts; am going" (8:20-21). The goal of this pilgrimage would be Jerusalem (see 8:22). It is noteworthy that the Tetragrammaton is used to designate God, with the phrase "LORD Sabaoth" being reminiscent of the title uniquely associated with the Ark of the Covenant and the Temple (see 1 Samuel 4:4; Psalm 24:7-10; Isaiah 6:3). Entreating divine favor implies prayer of petition, whereas "seeking the LORD of hosts" provides an indication of openness and obedience. Together these words manifest a mature level of prayer: awareness of need and desire to learn the divine will. After the oracle, Zechariah commented: "Many people and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to entreat the LORD's favor" (8:22).
The active role of the Jewish community in the conversion of the nations is shown in the last verse of First Zechariah. "Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you" (8:23). The pilgrimage envisioned in Isaiah and Micah comes from the divine initiative basic to every Covenant experience. However, just as Abram was to be a blessing for all the families of the earth (Gen. 12:3), so the Jewish people have a concrete role in the process of bringing humanity to an understanding of God's purpose. The message that God is with his people implies that the Word of God has been proclaimed for the Gentiles to hear. Does this mean a proclamation of Israel's history such as Rahab heard (Joshua 2:10) or the message of Achior to Holofernes (Judith 5:5-21)? Or would the living of liturgical faith in daily life be intended? The important point is that Zechariah hoped for the response of people manifesting good will and open to the mystery of divine holiness in the world, precisely in a Covenant experience wherever the people of Israel might be (9).
III. The Psalms
The Psalter contains texts from a variety of sources extending over a considerable time span. Rather than attempt to analyze each pertinent passage in an effort to locate it in time and place, this study will consider only the implications of the psalm as used in the Temple liturgy. There the core of the community's prayer consisted in acts of adoration, praise and thanksgiving; confession of sins and petitions for various needs are subordinate themes in the ancient liturgy. This approach continued into the use of the psalms in the synagogue service for sabbath and weekdays.
Pilgrimage to Jerusalem's Temple was an important feature of Israelite piety during the monarchic period (Deut. 16:1-7) and quite naturally became the context for a number of psalms, especially 120-134 (10). The inclusion of converts from several nations is celebrated in Psalm 87. They include traditional enemies, such as Egypt (here called Rahab, the name of a sea monster) and Babylon, and peoples from near and far. Conversion was seen already to constitute a new birth, Zion being the mother of all.
"The Lord has made his salvation known; in the sight of the nations (ha-goyym) he has revealed his righteousness (sedeqah)" (98:2). In what way are salvation and righteousness made manifest? Traditionally, the prophets would not discuss the possibility of revelation directly to the Gentiles but has would postulate that Israel is the vehicle of divine teaching. The same may be intended here. "He remembered his lovingkindness (hesed) and his faithfulness ('emunah) to the house of Israel" (98:3). These divine attributes active in favor of Israel are always associated with the Covenant. "All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation (victory) by our God" (98:3). How will this take place? The Lord's coming will bring these effects. "He will rule the world with righteousness (sedeq) and the peoples with equity" (98:9). Accomplished in relation to the Covenant, the full experience of divine dominion will transform all humanity in the final days. However, this is a "new song" (98:1) celebrated in the Temple as the indication that the song of Moses at the Exodus (Ex. 15:1-18) is the paradigm for understanding new experiences of deliverance and revelation through divine power. The music of Temple worship enters into harmony with the reverberation of joy from mountains, seas and rivers the world over (98:4-8).
The awesome presence of God is manifested in storm, volcano and earthquake (97:1-4); the result is that "the heavens proclaim his righteousness (sedeq) and all peoples see his glory" (97:6) (11). The people of Israel also has the obligation to "tell his glory among the nations; among the peoples his wondrous deeds" (96:3). As those who experienced the Babylonian Exile overcame their initial depression, their teachers began to stress the value of their witness through this enforced contact with foreign nations (see Isaiah 43:1-13). The psalms integrated this sense of mission into the worship of Israel's God (145:10-13). Even the polemic of prophets like Second Isaiah (44:9-20) against the deities of the nations was incorporated into Psalm 115:4-8. On the other hand, the nations are encouraged to praise the Lord (using the Tetragrammaton). "Praise the LORD, all nations, extol him, all peoples! For great is his lovingkindness (hesed) toward us, and the LORD's fidelity reme0 endures forever" (117:1-2). Seeing the benefits of the Covenant for Israel, the nations should glorify God. However, as Psalm 87 indicated, they need not remain outside the Covenant. They can benefit by divine revelation. "The nations will revere the name of the LORD, and all the Kings of the earth your glory. For the LORD will build up Zion; he will appear in his glory" (102: / 6-17). This will happen "so that a people to be created may praise the LORD in order to proclaim in Zion the LORD's name, and in Jerusalem his praise, when peoples gather together, and Kingdoms, to worship the LORD" (102:19 and 22-23).
The praise of Israel is integrated into the great orchestra of all creation, from the angels and the celestial bodies to earthly creatures of all sorts. "Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and maidens together, old men and children I Let them praise the name of the LORO..." (148:11-13; see Daniel 3:35-68) (12). As noted for Israel's liturgy, the references in the psalms to the general privilege of human beings to pray emphasize adoration and praise. Prayers of petition and intercession are secondary, at the service of the human vocation to reflect God's image and to honour the Creator.
This survey of the Hebrew Bible is far from exhaustive but it may provide an insight into an important facet of Jewish-Gentile relations. All human beings are created in the divine image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-28) and are obliged to render thanks-and-praise (the "ascending" blessing) in response to the gift of life. They should adore their Creator and, quite spontaneously, call for help in times of danger, temptation and other situations when human weakness is all too evident. The prophets and psalmists laid the foundation for hope that good will prevail over evil intent among God's Creatures. In some future time, according to the prophet Zephaniah, God will vanquish evil and unite all nations in his service.
I will make ah the peoples pure of speech, so that they all invoke the LORD by name and serve him of one accord (3:9).
We are happy to announce that
Professor EMILIO BACCARINI,
who is already a member of the Board of Directors
of the SIDIC Association is now
Director Responsible for the SIDIC periodical,
in place of Renzo Fabris, who died recently.
SIDIC is grateful to Professor Baccarini for
accepting this task which is often difficult and time
- consuming. Welcome!
* Rev. Lawrence Frizzell D. Phil is a Priest of the Archdiocese of Edmonton, Canada. He teaches in the Department of Judeo-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University, New Jersey, USA and is a member of the Editorial Board of SIDIC.
1) See H. Frankfort (ed.), The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977).
(2) See Y. Radday, "The Spoils of Egypt", Annual of the Swedish Theological Institute 12 (1983) pp. 127-147 and my essay ''Spoils from Egypt in early Christian literature" in the proceedings of the Second Toronto Conference "Christianity and the Classics" edited by Wendy Helleman (forthcoming).
(3) A regular practice would make reasonable the request of Moses to lead the people three days journey into the wilderness so that they could offer sacrifice to God (Ex. 3:18; 5:1-3; 7:26; 8:16; 9:13; 10:3,8; 12:31).
(4) See my article, "Jerusalem: City of God and of His People", The Bible Today 97 (October 1978), pp. 1670-75.
(5) See Burke O. Long, I Kings with an Infroduction to Historical Literature (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), pp. 90-104 at p. 104.
(6) See the detailed analysis of A. Camper, "Die heilsgeschichtliche Bedeutung des salomonischen Tempel Weihgebets", Zeitschrifl for katholische Theologie 85 (1963), pp. 55-61. Clear reference te exile and return has led scholars to postulate that this section was composed after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Tempie in 587. Questions about the "court of the Gentiles" in the Second Tempie are beyond the scope of my essay.
(7) See J.G. Strydom, "Micah 4; 1-5 and Isaiah 2:2-5: Who said it first"? Old Testament Essays (Old Testament Society of South Africa) 2 (1989), pp. 15-28.
(8) See Carol and Eric Meyers, flagga Zechariah 1-8 (Garden City: Doubleday, 1987), p. VII.
(9) The second part of Zechariah, the work of an author belonging to a later period, completes this picture by describing the annual pilgrimages of the nations to Jerusalem for the feast of booths (14:16-21). At the end of this autumnal feast the priests /ed prayers for raia during the winter season. Any people who failed to make the pilgrimage up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, would not receive rain!
(10) See my sketch in "Pilgrimage: A study of the Biblica! experience", Jeevadgara 71 (1982), pp. 358-367.
(11) The term "glory" has two dimensions - first, the impressive, illuminating presence of God, and secondly, the "ascending" response of those alert to Ciad in their midst.
(12) See Terence E. Freitheim, "Nature's praise of God”A hymn of creation in Daniel", SIDIC I ( # 3 1978), pp.in the psalms", Ex Audint 3(1988), pp. 16-30 and my article 8-13. Apocryphal psalm 154 is also universal in scope.