Archive for March 31st, 2008

With A Secret Hand

March 31, 2008


One of the joys of the newly published, Orthodox Study Bible (OSB), containing all the canonical Orthodox books of the Bible, is the fact that the Old Testament was carefully brought into agreement with the text of the Septuagint, long a standard and important liturgical translation for Orthodox Christians.

The early Church generally used the Septuagint, a translation from the Hebrew made in Alexandria, Egypt, some 200 or more years before Christ. By the time of the birth of the Church it was a dominant form of the Old Testament, particularly within the Jewish Diaspora. New Testament writers regularly quote it and seem to prefer it over the Hebrew text (though not always).

But for modern American, Orthodox Christians, it affords probably the first practical glimpse at the Orthodox texts that have most influenced the Fathers of the Church. It rewards its readers with wonderful, hidden treasures. I have no argument with someone who finds fault with this or that about the Orthodox Study Bible, but I think it is a great achievement, long awaited, that, even with its short-comings (which are often in the eye of the beholder) is still a great leap forward for English-speaking Orthodoxy.

A case in point:

My wife, who is an avid reader of the Bible, Saint’s lives, British mysteries, and the editor of almost everything I write, was given an Orthodox Study Bible as soon as it arrived at our parish book store (I held out for a leather-bound copy and so received mine some weeks later). But she recently began a read through Exodus (partly spurred on by a few scenes from The Ten Commandments). It was a place to start reading.

She brought this verse to me the other night:

Exodus 17:16  Now Moses built an altar and called its name The-Lord-My-Refuge; for with a secret hand the Lord wars with Amalek from generation to generation.

She had never seen the verse before and brought it to me. The Hebrew Masoretic text reads differently:

And Moses built an altar and called its name, The-LORD-Is-My-Banner; for he said, “Because the LORD has sworn: the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”

I looked at the Hebrew and the Greek (which I both read), and the Septuagint translation was absolutely accurate from the Greek, as was the other translation from the Hebrew. It’s just a place where the Masoretic text and the Septuagint text differ. Some Orthodox would note that the Septuagint represents a translation of manuscripts far older than the Masoretic texts (though I’m not sure how the Dead Sea Scrolls come down in this debate).

But all of that is a side question. More to the point is Amalek. In Orthodox hymnody, on many feast-days, reference is made to Amalek. This past weekend was one of those occasions when we celebrated the Sunday of the Life-Giving Cross.  Amalek is mentioned because in the original battle with Amalek, recorded in Exodus 17, Moses stretches forth his arms in the form of a cross. So long as his arms remain so outstretched, the battle against Amalek is won. When Moses weakens and his arms droop, Amalek begins to gain the upperhand. Finally Aaron and Hur supported Moses arms and Amalek is defeated. The Fathers of the Church saw in this a prefigurement of Christ on the Cross.

And the very verse my wife brought to my attention is the verse which underlines the true nature of the battle with Amalek. Early Christians rightly saw in this battle a foreshadowing and prophecy of God’s war against all the forces of evil. Thus we have the wonderfully mysterious verse in the Septuagint:

Now Moses built an altar and called its name The-Lord-My-Refuge; for with a secret hand the Lord wars with Amalek from generation to generation.

Indeed the battle against the forces of our adversary has never been quit by our God. He indeed battles against evil from generation to generation. But quite fascinating to me was the statement, “with a secret hand.” For surely that is a description our our own experience. God has defeated the forces of the enemy (Amalek) at the cross of Christ, and yet we still have to make that victory complete. I was struck with the phrase “with a secret hand” for I realized how little of the war we actually see. How many times have we been protected from evil but saw nothing of it? We complain about the problems in the world, but how many times do we stop and give thanks that the problems are not, in fact, worse than they are – and God knows they could be.

But by His “secret hand” God works for our salvation and the salvation of the whole world. Part of that secret hand is the prayers of His saints, and the prayers of the righteous who live silently and secretly among us all.

May God hurry the final victory when Amalek is no more and every secret battle is made manifest that we may sing: Glory to God for all things!