Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Esther 7-10 and Acts 3

Esther 7 – The king’s eunuchs come to get him for the banquet with Esther. There, the king asks Esther what it is she wants; and she tells him she desires only “the lives of [her] people” (7:4). In the course of talking to him about the matter, Haman’s name comes up as the one behind the terror. The king leaves the banquet in a fury and Haman realizes the “gig is up.” He begs Esther for mercy and help. When the king returns he thinks Haman is trying to assault Esther. One of the eunuchs throws a “veil” over Haman, and the end of it all is Haman is hanged on the gallows he erected for Mordecai.

Esther 8 – Esther receives all the property of the “House of Haman” and Mordecai the ring with the king’s seal that Haman had. Esther asks the king to revoke the order he had issued at Haman’s prompting – for the extermination of the Jewish population.

Xerxes feels that it would be unacceptable to revoke a proclamation issued in the his name and stamped with the royal seal (8:8), but it would be acceptable to her to write a letter of warning to the Jews and also have it stamped. She may write “whatever [she] wants. . . in [the king’s] name” and have it stamped with his seal. So Mordecai assembles the king’s secretaries and has them write letters to all 127 provinces in the empire explaining that “the king would allow the Jews in every city to organize for self-defense” (8:11). The Jews would be permitted to “fight back and destroy the attackers; they could slaughter them to the last man and take their possessions” (8:11).

The Jerusalem Bible also includes translation of the Greek additions to the Hebrew text. There follows in the Greek version a long letter, ostensibly from Ahaseurus [Xerxes], lamenting the ill-influence of bad advisers [like Haman] on kings and describing the things Haman did. Haman is called a Macedonian attempting to win for Macedon a victory over the Persians, but a note indicates they probably meant he was a Mede, as it was the Medes who had had a struggle for mastery with the Persians.

The letter goes on to say, “you will . . . do well not to act on the letters sent by Haman . . . since their author has been hanged at the gates of Susa with his whole household” (8:12). “Put up copes of this letter everywhere, allow the Jews freedom to observe their own customs, and come to their help against anyone who attacks them on the day originally chosen for the maltreatment . . . Jews, for your part, among your solemn festivals celebrate this as a special day with every kind of feasting, so that now and in the future, for you and for Persians of good will it may commemorate your rescue” (8:12). It refers to the Jews as people “of the Most High, the great and living God to whom we and our ancestors owe the continuing prosperity of our realm.”

Then the text returns to the Hebrew. The edict is greeted with “feasting and holiday-making” (8:17). An interesting last sentence from the Hebrew text says, “Of the country’s population many became Jews, since now the Jews were feared” (8:17).

Esther 9 – With Mordecai’s growing power and influence at the court, the persecutions end, and indeed it was the Jews who struck out, bringing their enemies down “with the sword, with resulting slaughter and destruction” (9:5). In Susa, five hundred are killed, including ten of Haman’s sons, but no plunder is taken. At Esther’s request the reprisals are permitted to continue for one more day, another three hundred are killed, and the bodies of Haman’s ten sons are displayed on the gallows.

Elsewhere in Persia, 75,000 are killed in the same way. The Jerusalem Bible notes says that there is no historical record of any such reprisals, that they should be taken as a way of showing how God will bring justice in an “eye for and eye” way.

When it is over, the Jews have a day of feasting and gladness—the 14th day of the month of Adar becomes the day for Purim – the word Purim comes from the word Pur for “lot.” Haman “had cast lots to determine the day for destroying the Jews (9:24). The festival was on the 15th in the cities. Mordecai writes the Jews everywhere and tells them to celebrate these days annually as days on which “their sorrow had been turned into gladness” (9:22). They are to celebrate and give gifts to the poor. Verses 9:20 on are, the note says, additions to the book from various sources.

Esther 10 – The deeds of Xerxes [Ahasuerus] and Mordecai are recorded in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Media and Persia. Mordecai was “honored and well-liked; he worked for the good of his people and for the security of all their descendants” (10:3).

The OT reading about Queen Esther is the prayer in which she (joined through a common memory with her whole people) begs for God to remember his promises to the Jewish people.  She accepts that the “handing over” of her people to their enemies has happened because of their unfaithfulness.  Still, the promises and favor of God do miraculously endure even when we are punished for our failures and are scattered.  God will listen to the “voice of the desperate,” (New Jerusalem 4:19 – the book is garbled organizationally).   The relationship with God is wonderfully reciprocal.  He hears our cries, our calls to him, our praises; and in return he expects us to listen for His voice, observe His commands, respond to His majesty, and fulfil His will with respect to what He has created.  This reciprocity is at the center of the psalm #138 “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with all my heart, for you have heard the words of my mouth.” It is also at the center of the gospel (Matt. 7:7-12) where Jesus tells us that God will give if we ask, open if we knock.

Acts 3 – Peter and John encounter a man “lame from birth,” being carried to the temple, to the gate called the Beautiful Gate where he begs for alms. He accosts the two, and they approach him, looking intently at him. They tell him to look at them, and Peter says “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk” (3:6). Immediately he is able to get up and walk and leap. The people who know who he is are amazed and filled with wonder (3:10).

The man clings to Peter as they go into Solomon’s Portico. Peter uses the occasion as an opportunity to preach again. He says to the crowd that it is not through any power of theirs that the man was healed. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob healed him as a way of glorifying the name of his servant Jesus “whom you handed over and rejected” (3:13). You “rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead” (3:15). But he says, he knows they “acted in ignorance” (3:17). It is in this way though that “God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer” (3:18).

He asks them to repent, “and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets” (3:21). He refers to Deut. 18:15. “Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you from your own people a prophet like me. You must listen to whatever he tells you.” He tells them they are the descendents of the prophets, that in them “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (3:25). That is why God sent Jesus first to them, to bless them and turn them from their wicked ways.

I left this chapter and turned to Penn’s No Cross, No Crown and found this very apropos reflection on the state of early Friends minds when they came to be aware how far they had strayed (with all of Christendom, in ignorance of the spirit) from the true path of Christian faithfulness:

. . .we were made to see him whom we had pierced, and to mourn for it. A day of humiliation overtook us, and we fainted to that pleasure and delight we once loved. Now our works went beforehand to judgment, a thorough search was made, and the words of the prophet became well understood by us; ‘Who can abide the day of his coming, and who shall stand when he appears. . . . . .the terrors of the Lord took such hold upon us, because we had long, under a profession of religion, grieved God’s Holy Spirit, which reproved us in secret for our disobedience; that as we abhorred to think of continuing in our old sins, so we feared to use lawful things, lest we should use them unlawfully” (Penn 104-105).

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