Deuteronomy 32-34 (Day 364)

Today we finish the book of Deuteronomy and the Bible as a whole. (There are only 364 days of readings because they’re divided up into 52 7-day weeks [52 x 7 = 364], rather than 365 days).

In our last reading in Deuteronomy, God told Moses to write down a song that would be a witness against the people of Israel, because their children would know it and it would describe all the bad things that would happen to them for turning away. Today’s reading begins with that song. And it is part song, part prophecy. It tells of all the things God has done and will do for His people, poetically. It tells of God bringing them out of Egypt and of protecting them in the desert, and bringing them into the land they are about to enter. It also tells of how, once the Israelites settle down and experience prosperity, they turn away from God. And God has something to say about that: “Is this the way you repay the Lord, O foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made and formed you?…You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth. The Lord saw this and rejected them, because he was angered by his sons and daughters” (32:6, 18-19). And this is before they even get into the Promised Land. That’s why it’s prophecy.

Then the song details the consequences of their action of turning away: “‘I will hide my face from them,’ he [God] said, ‘and see what their end will be; for they are a perverse generation, children who are unfaithful’…I will heap calamities upon them and expend my arrows against them” (32:20, 23). A sampler of these calamities are: wasting famine, consuming pestilence, deadly plague, wild beasts, vipers, other nations killing them by the sword, you get the idea. But, like all prophecy, God also promises to restore them. He reasons, “I said I would scatter them and blot out their memory from mankind, but I dreaded the taunt of the enemy, lest the adversary misunderstand and say, ‘Our hand has triumphed. The Lord has not done all this'” (32:26-27). So the song directs, “Rejoice, O nations with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants; he will take vengeance on his enemies and make atonement for his land and people” (32:43).

And after this, for the umpteenth time, Moses reminds the people to keep the Law, not because it’s a good idea or because it will keep them safe and/or prosperous, but because, “they are not just idle words for you – they are your life” (32:47a). And God tells Moses to go to Mount Nebo and climb it, but that he will die there, because Moses can’t enter the Promised Land because of the incident with striking the rock (Numbers 20:6-13), so he’ll only see it from far away (i.e. the top of Mount Nebo).

Since Moses knows he’s going to die soon, he blesses all the tribes of Israel. These blessings are somewhat similar to the blessings Jacob gave his sons in Genesis 49, though Moses’ blessings are more consistently positive. The Levites get the longest blessing, except for maybe Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh’s blessings are contained within Joseph’s), but then again, they’re the priests, and so “closest” to God. And Joseph was the one that God liked the best. And Moses finishes with a general blessing, “Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, saved by the Lord? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you and you will trample down their high places” (33:29).

Then Moses climbs Mount Nebo and God does show him all the land that the Israelites will eventually be in. “And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He [i.e. the Lord] buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth-Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over…Since then no prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt – to Pharaoh and all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel” (34:5-8, 10-12). Not, that is, until Jesus came.

Jude (Day 363)

Today we read the letter of Jude. The author identifies himself as a brother of James, and it’s assumed this is the James that was Jesus’ brother.  So Jude would be one of Jesus’ other brothers, who, like James, must have come to faith after Jesus’ death and resurrection. There are a number of similarities between Jude and 2 Peter (see post on 2 Peter here), and it is assumed that one of them “borrowed” from the other, but it’s not certain which was which. Many scholars say that 2 Peter incorporates Jude, rather than the other way around, which would mean Jude could have been written as early as 65 AD. If Jude “borrowed” from 2 Peter, then it could have been written as late as 80 AD. Jude is combating the same heresy as Peter and 1 John – that of the precursor to Gnosticism.

It appears that Jude had originally intended to write some kind of doctrinal statement about salvation, but then felt it necessary to discuss the heresy that was infiltrating the community to which he was writing (but doesn’t identify): “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (3). Jude warns them about a certain libertine strain of this nascent Gnosticism that taught that since we are saved by grace (through faith), a person could sin all they wanted, either because God would forgive that sin through His grace, or because the more sin there was, the more grace there would be. It’s twisted logic, but I see some of this in the “discussions” going on in the church today.

Jude doesn’t pull any punches when discussing these people: “They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord…these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings…Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals, these are the things that destroy them” (4b, 8, 10). So he calls them godless, blasphemous and stupid.

And Jude’s not done yet: “These men are blemishes at your love feasts [a feast that happened after Holy Communion – something like a ramped up coffee hour], eating with you without the slightest qualm – shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees without fruit and uprooted – twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars for whom the blackest darkness has been reserved forever…These men are grumblers and fault-finders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage (12-13, 16). These are not people that the Christians should be listening to. It’s a stern warning to the letter’s recipients, which, remember, includes us.

And I think it’s unfortunate that Jude doesn’t get read more often, because I think Christians would be more on their guard to maintain “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” if it was. There’s a strain of libertine sentiment in some Christian communities/denominations today, and I think that we ignore that at our peril.

Jude follows his warning, however, with advice on how to persevere and how to handle those who are beginning to be influenced by this false teaching: “But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh” (20-23). So Jude is encouraging them (and us) to remain firm in the faith, reaching out to those who are falling away and helping them to strengthen or restore their faith, including those who are following the false teachings. When he says “to others show mercy mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh” Jude seems to be telling them to try and bring these people back to true faith, without getting sucked in to the false teaching themselves.

Jude finishes his letter with one of my favorite doxologies, because it shows such trust in God to give us the strength we need when we need it, and demonstrates that our salvation comes only through God: “To him who is able to keep you from falling and present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power, and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen” (24-25).

Acts 27-28 (Day 362)

Today we finish the book of Acts. When we last left Paul, he had appealed to the Emperor to hear his case, because he hadn’t done anything wrong and he knew that Rome was the only place he had any hope of getting a fair trial. So today, we see his trip to Rome. And what a trip it is!

It starts out well enough. Paul and some other prisoners and apparently Paul’s companions and a centurion named Julius and his detachment all board a ship. It’s getting late in the year for sailing, but the sailors generally hug the shore and things go smoothly for a while. Julius lets Paul get some provisions from some friends of his (Paul’s) in Sidon, and then they continue on their trip. They get to Myra in Lycia and Julius finds a ship that has come from Alexandria and is going to Rome, so they get on it. This is where things start to turn bad: “We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off of Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salome [the safe way to go]. We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea” (27:7-8).

So now it’s even later in the year, and sailing is even more dangerous. Paul urges the centurion and the sailors to stay put for the winter, because he’s worried about not making it to Rome, “But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship” (27:11). And, really, who can blame old Julius? Why would he listen to this rather, um, eccentric person he’s accompanying to his trial in Rome rather than the men who sail for a living? So they all start out, since there’s a favorable wind blowing, but things go south pretty fast. They sail right into a nor’easter, and get totally blown off course. There’s all sorts of wind and rain and the sailors are desperately trying to save the ship – who says the Bible isn’t exciting? It’s like an action movie! And eventually, they “finally gave up all hope of being saved” (27:20b).

But Paul gets a bit of an “I told you so” moment – he tells the men that even though if they’d listened to him they’d all be safe in a harbor, God has told him that they’ll all be saved, so they should be encouraged. After fourteen days, they start taking soundings (measuring the depth of the water they’re in) and they realize they’re getting close to shore. So they drop anchor and pray for daylight, afraid they’re going to run aground overnight, and some of the sailors try to save themselves by escaping in a lifeboat. Paul tells the centurion they have to stay or everyone on board the ship will die. So they soldiers make them stay. I told you it was quite a trip!

So just before daylight, Paul urges all the people on board to have some food. He takes the food and blesses it, and they all eat. Paul sets a great example here – he’s confident that they’ll reach land soon and need some strength to get there, which is why he eats, and he also prays to God as an example to the others. And daylight finally does come, and even though they don’t know where they are, it’s land. So they sail toward it, but unfortunately run aground. Some of the soldiers want to kill the prisoners to prevent them from escaping, because if the prisoners escape, the soldiers’ lives are taken in exchange. Big incentive to keep the prisoners from escaping. But Julius prevents them from doing so, because he wants to save Paul. Julius is a really nice guy, especially for a Roman centurion! Julius orders those who can swim to swim to land and the others to hang on to anything that floats to get them to land. And they all reach land safely, just like Paul (and God) said they would.

So they get onshore and find out the island is Malta, and that the people that live there are friendly. They’re not savages, they’re descendants of the Phoenicians, but they don’t speak Greek, and anyone who doesn’t speak Greek is called a Barbarian. In any case, the “natives” take good care of them, lighting a fire since it’s cold and rainy, so they can keep warm. While Paul is gathering wood for the fire, he gets bit by a snake. He shakes the snake off into the fire, and the “natives” are thinking he’s a terrible criminal, because “Justice” has found him to kill him by the snake, since he survived the shipwreck. So they’re all waiting for Paul to swell up and drop dead, but nothing happens to him. So they change their minds and decide he’s a god. Which, of course isn’t the first time this has happened (see Acts 14:11-18).

But Paul didn’t really help the people thinking he’s a god because he goes and prays over Malta’s leader’s father and God heals him of fever and dysentery. And once people on the island find out about it, all the sick people start coming to Paul to be healed. And God heals them through Paul. And I’m certain that Paul was preaching the Gospel the whole time he was doing all this. It doesn’t say if anyone was converted, but I like to think that some were. So, after three months waiting for favorable weather, they get on a ship in Malta and finally make it to Rome.

Paul is given a lot of leeway in his prisoner status in Rome and kind of checks in with the local synagogue, to plead his case, in a way, before them before the Jews who are trying to kill him get there. The Jews in Rome haven’t heard anything bad about him, and so, as is his wont, Paul starts preaching the Gospel to them. And, as usual, “some were convinced by what he said, but others refused to believe” (28:24). And Paul reacts in his usual way by telling the Jews there, “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” (28:28).

And the book ends in a somewhat enigmatic way, “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” (28:30-31). Tradition says that Paul was martyred in Rome, but not until 6 years after this. So why does Luke end the book here? Some say that Tradition is wrong about when Paul was martyred and that Luke ends the book here because he doesn’t want it to end on the “downer” of Paul’s martyrdom. But given what the early Christians were going through, Paul’s endurance to the end should have given them courage. I think that Luke ends the book here because he parted company with Paul after Paul got out of prison, and this was the last Luke knew of Paul. And, it pretty much invites the reader to pick up where Paul left off – to “boldly and without hindrance…[preach] the kingdom of God and [teach] about the Lord Jesus Christ.” Because that is what we’re called to do, just like Paul was.

Revelation 18-22 (Day 361)

Today we finish the book of Revelation (thanks be to God!). Our last reading in Revelation ended with the destruction of the woman sitting on the beast who was drunk with the blood of the saints – that is, the destruction of those who oppose Jesus and His Kingdom and all who believe in Him.

Today, our reading starts with an angel proclaiming the destruction of Babylon, which may represent Rome, or an actual restored Babylon, or just evil in general. And the angel talks about the three main groups what will lament this destruction.

The first group are “the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury…they will weep and mourn for her. Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry: ‘Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!'” (18:9-10). So all the rulers who were in league with evil will see its destruction and lament and be afraid – likely because they know they will be destroyed as well.

The second group are the merchants. They “will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore…They will say, ‘The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your riches and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.’ The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep an mourn and cry out: ‘Woe! Woe, O great city, dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet, and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls! In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!'” (18:11, 14-17a). So all the merchants who benefited from evil will also see its destruction and lament and be afraid, just like the rulers.

The third group  are “every sea captain, and all who travel by ship, the sailors, and all who earn their living from the sea” (18:17b). They, too, “will stand far off. When they see the smoke of her burning, they will exclaim, ‘Was there ever a city like this great city?’ They will throw dust on their heads, and with weeping and mourning cry out: ‘Woe! Woe, O great city, where all who had ships on the sea became rich through her wealth! In one hour she has been brought to ruin!'” (18:18-19). So all those who transport the goods, making a living off of evil, will also mourn its destruction.

And each group proclaims that the city was destroyed in one hour – so the destruction will not only be complete, but it will be sudden and quick.

But the seafarers tell the Kingdom of God: “Rejoice over her, O heaven! Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets! God has judged her for the way she treated you” (18:20). Then an angel throws a huge boulder in the sea to demonstrate the violence of the destruction of Babylon and to prophesy the complete destruction that will follow – nothing will be left and it will never be inhabited again, because “In her was found the blood of prophets and of the saints, and of all who have been killed on the earth” (18:24).

And in response to this, there is great rejoicing in heaven and praise for God. They say, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants” (19:1b-2). And the twenty four elders and the four living creatures also bow down and worship and praise God. It’s a party in heaven! And the angel tells John, “‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ And he added, ‘These are the true words of God'” (19:9). And to get an invitation to the wedding supper of the Lamb, one needs to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and turn your life over to Him. And John tries to worship the angel, but the angel says he’s just another servant of God, and that John should worship (only) God.

Then John sees a white horse, whose rider is most likely Christ, returning as the Judge/King, who “with justice he judges and makes war” (19:11b). This is the ultimate justice, the justice of God, not humanity. And the war He makes is with evil, and all the birds of the air are called to the battleground between God and evil, in which many, if not all, rulers of the earth participate. The birds are called because there will be so many dead from this war that the birds will have a feast, a (rather gruesome) “great supper of God” (19:17c).  And the battle happens and the beast and the false prophet are captured, and “the two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur” (19:20c) and the birds get their feast on the remains of the dead. It seems kind of gory, but, well, evil is gory.

Then the dragon/serpent/Satan gets locked up for a thousand years and “those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God [who] had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (20:4b). After this thousand years, the dragon/serpent/Satan is let out and gathers all the nations for battle. “they marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night forever” (20:9-10). So the forces of evil, all the way up to the Devil himself, will be overcome and will be punished and unable to hurt God’s people ever again. This is a message of hope for all who believe and suffer for that belief. And I think most of us who truly believe in Jesus suffer in some way for that belief – even if it is just grief over our own sins and the sins of humanity, though some may be called to martyrdom.

And then John records that after this war and the throwing of the beast and the false prophet into the fire comes Judgment Day, when “each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown in to the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (20:13b-15). So even those whose name is written in the book of life are judged, but since we believe, our sin is covered by Jesus’ atoning death, and our names are written in the book of life, so we will not be thrown into the lake of fire to be tormented forever.

And John records, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (21:1-4). So the war with evil is over – it has been won by Jesus Christ, and we who believe in Him have been purified and will be able to take our places in the new heaven and earth, and dwell with God forever. And “nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27).

And then John is shown a beautiful river flowing through the tree of life, which will bear abundant fruit. “And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever” (22:2c-5). This is what we who believe in Jesus have to look forward to – a time of peace and joy where we can see our Lord face to face and live – live with Him in glory and honor forever and ever. There will be no darkness, and thus no fear, no evil. Just the eternal presence of God! How awesome is that?

The book ends on a note of hope for those who believe, but warning for those who do not, because Jesus says, “Behold! I am coming soon!” (22:7a). And He reiterates the hope that has been shown in the last part of the book: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gate into the city” (22:14). And He also reiterates the warning: “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (22:15). In other words, those who do not love God and do not strive to live a life that delights Him will not be allowed to enter this new Holy City nor live with God eternally. And Jesus confirms, “Yes, I am coming soon” (22:20a). To which we who believe ought to say without fear and with great hope: “Amen! Come Lord Jesus!” (22:20b).

Song of Songs 7-8 (Day 360)

Today we finish the Song of Songs. Last time, the reading ended with a poetic description of the Beloved by the Lover. Today’s reading continues that poetic description.

Beginning from her legs and continuing up to her head, the Lover describes his Beloved’s beauty. He is giving voice to his delight in his Beloved. This is, in summary, what the whole book is about – the delight that the two feel for each other. It is a model for Christian married life. Christian married life is not about sex or (just) procreation or the wife “keeping the husband honest” (a troubling attitude that I see among many married and engaged people). Christians should delight in their spouses. They shouldn’t marry someone unless they do delight in them. Anything else is just headed for disaster and heartache.

The Beloved responds by inviting the Lover out “to the countryside…early to the vineyards, to see if the vines have budded, if their blossoms have opened, and if the pomegranates are in bloom – there I will give you my love” (7:11-12). The Beloved wants to share the joyful creation of new life that is Spring with her Lover. Again, she is expressing her delight in her Lover. She even says that she wishes her Lover could be a brother – not because she’s into incest, but because then she could express her delight, her love, for him in public without shame (8:10). This kind of love is the kind of love that wants to be shared – that wants to bring all of creation into its joy.

And the Beloved asks the Lover for a strong statement of commitment – a sign of their delight in each other and their love for each other. She says, “Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave.  It burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned” (8:6-7). And the phrase “like a mighty flame” could also be translated, “like the very flame of the Lord.” So this kind of love comes from God and is manifested through us toward each other. So often, we hear divorcing couples say that they “fell out of love for each other.” But if it was “true” love, that just doesn’t happen. Love is as strong as death – it doesn’t give up on the loved one, just like the grave does not give up those who are there. This doesn’t mean that those who love each other in this way never have problems. The world always interferes. But they look to God for their strength and never forget their delight in each other, and this helps them get through the rough patches. This kind of love is more precious than all the wealth in the world – and, it seems, quite rare.

The Beloved, after asking for such a commitment, offers one back – she gives herself completely to her Lover: “But my own vineyard is mine to give; the thousand shekels are for you, O Solomon, and two hundred are for those who tend its fruit” (8:12). The vineyard, throughout this book, represents the Beloved – it is the garden of delights for her Lover. And she willingly gives herself to her Lover, no holds barred, because he has made a similar commitment to her. And those around them benefit because of this love.

It’s easy, during this Christmas season, to get caught up in the giving of “things” to those we love. But in the end, they are just that – things. They spoil and rust and rot – they are consumed in one way or another. But the gift we can give to those we love that will never rot or spoil is our true love for them – our delight in them, our concern for them, our willingness to compromise, to be unselfish with them. This is the kind of giving that Christmas represents – our Lord’s willingness to give up His situation outside of time and space, to be constrained by that which He created, and be born of a virgin in the humblest circumstances of all. And we must remember that Christmas only has meaning in the shadow of the cross, because the reason Christmas happened is so our Lord Jesus could go to the cross to die for us, redeeming us and reconciling us to God.

And that is the greatest gift, the greatest love, of all.

Psalms 149-150 (Day 359)

Today we finish the book of Psalms. And it ends with two psalms of praise.

Psalm 149 begins and ends with the word “Hallelujah,” the Hebrew word meaning, “Praise God!” The psalmist tells the people to praise God in a new way: “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful…let them praise his Name in the dance; let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp” (149:1, 3). They are to praise with their voices and their bodies. And why should they praise Him? Because “the Lord takes pleasure in his people and adorns the poor with victory” (149:4). And it seems that this praise of the poor having victory is literal. The psalmist says, “Let the praises of God be in their throat and a two edged sword in their hand; to wreak vengeance on the nations and punishment on the people…to inflict on them the judgment decreed; this is glory for all his faithful people” (149:6-7, 9). Now this might seem like a strange way to praise God, but God promised His people that He would give them victory over their oppressors, and this victory is God’s punishment of the oppressors and evidence of God’s favor to His people. So this is why it is called praise in this psalm.

Psalm 150, the final psalm in the book, is pure praise. It, too, begins and ends with “Hallelujah,” and calls for God to be praised everywhere: “Praise God in his holy temple; praise him in the firmament of his power” (150:1), for all that He has done: “Praise him for his mighty acts; praise him for his excellent greatness” (150:2) in many ways: “Praise him with the blast of the ram’s horn; praise him with lyre and harp. Praise him with timbrel and dance; praise him with strings and pipe. Praise him with resounding cymbals; praise him with loud-clanging cymbals” (150:3-5) and by everybody: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (150:6).

Hallelujah!!

Esther 6-10 (Day 358)

We left the story last time with Haman, after leaving the banquet with Queen Esther, having a gallows built so that he could hang Mordecai at the suggestion of his family.

Esther had been coy about what she wanted from the king, so maybe that’s why “that night, the king could not sleep, so he ordered the book of the chronicles, the record of his reign, to be brought in and read to him” (6:1). Maybe he’s trying to figure out what Esther wants. The king’s secretary reads the account of Mordecai discovering the plot to kill the king, and the king wants to know if Mordecai has been rewarded. The secretary says he hasn’t.

Then, “coincidentally,” Haman is in the court (to ask the king’s permission to hang Mordecai no doubt), and the king summons him. The king asks Haman what should be done for someone the king wants to honor. Haman, being the arrogant person he is, assumes the king is talking about him. So he tells the king, “For the man the king delights to honor, have them bring a royal robe the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, one with a royal crest placed on its head. Then let the robe and horse be entrusted to one of the king’s most noble princes. Let them robe the man the king delights to honor, and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!'” (6:7-9). And Haman is shocked when the king tells Haman to do this to Mordecai, but he does it. Afterward, he goes home and tells his family what happened, and they’re convinced that something bad will happen to Haman, but before they can plot any strategy, Haman gets summoned back to the king for the next banquet with Esther.

So Esther has the banquet, and after a couple days of eating and drinking, the king asks Esther (again) what she wants. This time, Esther tells him, “If I have found favor with you, O king, and if it pleases your majesty, grant me my life – that is my petition. And spare my people – that is my request. For I and my people have been sold for destruction and slaughter and annihilation” (7:3-4a). King Xerxes wants to know who would do such a thing, and Queen Esther throws Haman right under the bus. The king is very, very, angry and storms out of the room. Haman is terrified, knowing that the king will probably execute him, and so while the king is out of the room, he starts to plead with Esther to save his life. Unfortunately, “just as the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was reclining” (7:8a). The king thinks Haman is trying to molest the queen, and that makes him even more angry. One of the eunuchs tells the king about the gallows Haman made for Mordecai, and so the king orders Haman hanged on it. Hoisted by one’s own petard, literally…

So after Haman is hanged, the king gives Esther Haman’s estate and he gives Mordecai his signet ring that Haman had. So Esther and Haman are safe, but the edict to annihilate the Jews still stands. So Esther pleads with the king to do something so that the Jews won’t be destroyed. So he has his secretaries write a second edict that allows the Jews to defend themselves on the day they’re supposed to be annihilated. And this edict goes everywhere, in each local language, just like the first one did. And there was much rejoicing among the Jews, but “many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them” (8:17b).

And the day of destruction, as it were, comes, but the Jews triumph. They’re ready to fight, and they win partly because they’re well-armed, but also “because the people of all the other nationalities were afraid of them” (9:2b). And in the resulting melee, Haman’s ten sons are killed. News of the Jews’ victory in the outlying areas reaches Susa, but for some reason Esther asks the king to let the Jews defend themselves for another day in Susa only, and to hang the bodies of Haman’s ten sons on the gallows. The king grants all this. The author of the book explains that this is why Jews in rural areas celebrate the holiday commemorating all this on different days from those in Jerusalem.

Then “Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote to them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor” ” (9:20-22). This is the holiday still celebrated by Jews as Purim, named after the lot (pur – purim is the plural of the word) that was used to choose the date of the Jews’ (foiled) destruction.