Good morning! Oh how I wish that the book of Esther had ended with chapter 8! However, after the turn of events yesterday that lead to Haman’s death and Mordecai’s ascension to the king’s closest advisor, we have a little more than a chapter of “epilogue” to this book. It shows the victorious Jews under Mordecai pressing their advantage against their neighbors, wreaking vengeance on anybody they feel threatened by. As a consequence, this lovely book about triumph over enemies leaves us with a bad taste in our mouths.
Good morning! Much of the Esther narrative is told in the Hebrew festival of Purim, which celebrates deliverance from genocidal enemies like Haman. Purim parties often use child-friendly means to engage readers in acting the story out, inviting responses such as cheers (for Mordecai), hisses (Haman) and love-sighs (Esther). Today in Esther 5-8 we read the most familiar and dramatic part of this provocative book.
Good morning! Today in Esther (chapters 1-4) we discover a lovely book that acts as a hinge between the previous “history” books, and that of the “wisdom” genre coming up. There is a historical connection to Esther, since it is set in the time of the Persian king Ahasuerus, after his predecessor Darius let those Jews who wanted start returning to Judah. But there is wisdom here also about what “the good life” looks like. It celebrates the power of Jews, women and eunuchs to shape their circumstances even in a deeply patriarchal, non-Jewish culture. The book also offers wisdom on the importance of individual commitment, and reveals a temptation to over-react when seeking to right wrongs—more on that at the end of Esther.
Good morning! Today’s last three chapters of Nehemiah (11-13) describe the way of life in Jerusalem under Nehemiah’s governance. They give us an impression of who was in (priests and Levites) and who was out (non-Jews).
Good morning! When I was in college I once participated in a 24-hour reading of Homer’s Odysseus, designed to heighten awareness of the classic work and help more people come to appreciate it. Something like that (on a much grander scale) takes place in today’s passage, Nehemiah 8-10. Public recitation, interpretation and recommitment to the Torah are central themes here. Nehemiah parallels the renewals of covenant under Josiah and Hezekiah, but Nehemiah adds elements of purity and temple support that make this “revival” unique.
Good morning! Now that Nehemiah has repaired the walls and gates of Jerusalem, he discovers in chapters 5-7 that managing people has its own troubles. He advocates on behalf of the poor, declares the righteousness of his own conduct, and defends against those who would ensnare him or take him out.
This helps me remember that the Good News of God is always connected to bodies. It also responds to the concern I hear at church over people who don’t like to “pass the peace”. (I’ve read survey results suggesting that new guests identify this as one of the most uncomfortable things to experience in worship.) Yet when we touch one another–in worship or beyond–we feel God’s presence and are drawn to respond in kind to other creatures whom God has made. Continue reading “Touch in Church (Ann Weems)”
Good morning! Today we start a new narrative of the Hebrew return from exile in the book of Nehemiah. Key areas of focus in Nehemiah 1-4 include leadership of the fledgling community in Jerusalem, and rebuilding the protections of the city against its opponents. The book as a whole, as we see, also emphasizes the separateness of the Hebrew community over and against other cultures.
Good morning! Today we finish the book of Ezra with chapters 9-10. This final section reveals the core of Ezra’s concerns for purity and the extent to which they govern official Hebrew practice after the exile. Ezra has such fear that the seedling of recovering Hebrew culture would be corrupted or choked out by others in the land that he leads a movement to split up marriages between Jews and non-Jews throughout Judah. There are parallels to this in anti-Jewish and anti-Black laws of the last century, and many still today consider marrying outside one’s faith sufficient grounding for severe disapproval. Ezra expresses a very contemporary sentiment, with families being severed because some members are deemed “unworthy” by others, who put ideology before blood.
Good morning! Today’s passage (Ezra 7-8) officially introduces us to Ezra—the priest, scribe and leader for whom this book is named. Note the prominence of writing again as a theme, both in the occupation of Ezra (scribe), and in the content of chapter 7, which is one long letter from Persian king Artaxerxes. Ezra is essentially an ancient lawyer, commissioned by Artaxerxes to lead a wave of Hebrew migrants from Babylon to Jerusalem. Their journey comes with the full blessing of the Persian king, including gold and silver. Ezra receives what amounts to a blank check to cash at treasuries anywhere along the way through the province Beyond the River.