Archive for the ‘Esther 3’ Category

Overcoming Opposition and Completing the Rebuilding of the Walls of Jerusalem   Leave a comment

Above:  Nehemiah the Governor

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 2 KINGS 22-25, 1 ESDRAS, 2 CHRONICLES 34-36, EZRA, AND NEHEMIAH

PART XVIII

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Nehemiah 6:1-7:5

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The LORD is my light and my salvation;

whom then shall I fear?

the LORD is the strength of my life;

of whom then shall I be afraid?

–Psalm 27:1, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Sanballat and company, not content merely to lie about the loyalties of Nehemiah and company, added attempted entrapment to their strategies.  Nehemiah was both pious and shrewd, though.  He succeeded, with the help of God.  Completing the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem in just over seven weeks was astonishing.  It was especially astonishing that half of the workforce rebuilt the walls while the other half of the workers guarded them.

Persian monarchs were usually religiously tolerant.  This was a virtue.  It was also a political necessity.  Judah’s proximity to Egypt made the loyalty of the Jews to the Persian Empire essential from the perspective of the Persian government.  Official sponsorship of rebuilding projects in Jerusalem was one way to encourage Jewish loyalty to the Persian Empire.  Nehemiah was fortunate to remain in the good graces of Artaxerxes I (r. 465-424 B.C.E.), not as firmly pro-Jewish as Cyrus II and Darius I.

One hopes that the depiction of Artaxerxes I as Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther is an over-the-top satire.  On the other hand, mercurial and lazy potentates continue to exist.  So, the depiction of Artaxerxes I as Ahasuerus could be feasible.  That is scary.

Meanwhile, back in Judah, the rebuilding of the culture needed to occur.

I will turn to that matter in the next post.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 9, 2020 COMMON ERA

PROPER 14:  THE TENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT EDITH STEIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN AND PHILOSOPHER

THE FEAST OF SAINT HERMAN OF ALASKA, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MONK AND MISSIONARY TO THE ALEUT

THE FEAST OF JOHN DRYDEN, ENGLISH PURITAN THEN ANGLICAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC POET, PLAYWRIGHT, AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF MARY SUMNER, FOUNDRESS OF THE MOTHERS’ UNION

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The Prayer of Nehemiah and His Mission to Jerusalem   Leave a comment

Above:  Nehemiah the Cupbearer

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 2 KINGS 22-25, 1 ESDRAS, 2 CHRONICLES 34-36, EZRA, AND NEHEMIAH

PART XV

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Nehemiah 1:1-2:20

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Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:

“May they prosper who love you.

Peace be within your walls

and quietness within your towers.

For my brethren and companions’ sake,

I pray for your prosperity.

Because of the house of the LORD our God,

I will seek to do you good.”

–Psalm 122:6-9, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Circa 445 B.C.E., during the reign (465-424 B.C.E.) of Artaxerxes I, King of the Persians and the Medes…

Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king.  If anyone was going to poison the royal wine, Nehemiah would drink it and suffer the consequences.

Nehemiah had a well-honed sense of national sin and of complete dependence on God.  He also understood divine mercy.  Fortunately, he swayed Artaxerxes I, who allowed him to travel to Jerusalem.  Unfortunately, Nehemiah contended with opposition.  Of course he did.  That was consistent with the readings for the previous post in this series.

Nehemiah also carried a letter from the king.  Our hero resumed the construction of the city and its walls.  This was risky, for (1) opposition remained strong and (2) Artaxerxes I changed his mind easily.  The king was, after all, one of the models for the capricious, lazy, and easily-swayed Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther.

Aren’t we glad that mercurial potentates no longer rule?  (I ask that question sarcastically.)

Nehemiah combined trust in God with political savvy.  He knew when and how to speak to the king.  Nehemiah understood what to say.  He knew how to follow God, work in the world as it is, and accomplish his goals without tarnishing himself morally.  Nehemiah’s overriding goal was to improve the lives of his people, the Jews.

As we move in the world, we need to know that piety alone is insufficient.  So are good intentions and high ideals.  We need to wed all of the above with savvy tactics that do not betray all of the above.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 9, 2020 COMMON ERA

PROPER 14:  THE TENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT EDITH STEIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN AND PHILOSOPHER

THE FEAST OF SAINT HERMAN OF ALASKA, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MONK AND MISSIONARY TO THE ALEUT

THE FEAST OF JOHN DRYDEN, ENGLISH PURITAN THEN ANGLICAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC POET, PLAYWRIGHT, AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF MARY SUMNER, FOUNDRESS OF THE MOTHERS’ UNION

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Opposition to Rebuilding Jerusalem and Its Walls   Leave a comment

Above:  Artaxerxes I

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 2 KINGS 22-25, 1 ESDRAS, 2 CHRONICLES 34-36, EZRA, AND NEHEMIAH

PART XIV

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1 Esdras 2:16-30

Ezra 4:6-24

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How long shall the wicked, O LORD,

how long shall the wicked triumph?

–Psalm 94:3, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Just as consistent chronology is not the organizing principle in Ezra-Nehemiah, neither is it the organizing principle in 1 Esdras.

During the reign (465-424 B.C.E.) of Artaxerxes I of the Persians and the Medes…

…Lies about the loyalty of Jews in Jerusalem persisted.  The Jews were going to rebel against the empire, critics alleged.  Artaxerxes I believed the lies and issued orders to cease reconstruction.

The identification of Artaxerxes and one of the models for the fictional Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther makes sense.  Artaxerxes I comes across in 1 Esdras and Ezra as a king quite different from Darius I.  Also, Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther comes across as an easily-swayed ruler who let others make decisions in his name.

Next stop:  The Book of Nehemiah.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 9, 2020 COMMON ERA

PROPER 14:  THE TENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT EDITH STEIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN AND PHILOSOPHER

THE FEAST OF SAINT HERMAN OF ALASKA, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MONK AND MISSIONARY TO THE ALEUT

THE FEAST OF JOHN DRYDEN, ENGLISH PURITAN THEN ANGLICAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC POET, PLAYWRIGHT, AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF MARY SUMNER, FOUNDRESS OF THE MOTHERS’ UNION

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The Continuation of the Rebuilding and the Completion of the Second Temple   Leave a comment

Above:  Reconstruction of the Temple of Jerusalem

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 2 KINGS 22-25, 1 ESDRAS, 2 CHRONICLES 34-36, EZRA, AND NEHEMIAH

PART XIII

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1 Esdras 6:1-7:15

Ezra 5:1-6:22

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How dear to me is your dwelling, O LORD of hosts!

My soul has a desire and a longing for the courts of the LORD;

my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.

–Psalm 84:1, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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As I have written in this series, consistent chronology is not the organizational principle in Ezra.  Consider, O reader, the following examples:

  1. Ezra 4:5 establishes the range of Persian kings during the delay in rebuilding of the Second Temple in Jerusalem as spanning Cyrus II (r. 559-530 B.C.E.), Cambyses (r. 530-522 B.C.E.), and Darius I (r. 522-486 B.C.E.).
  2. Ezra 4:6 names the king as Ahasuerus–in this case, Xerxes I (r. 486-465 B.C.E.)
  3. Ezra 4:7 names the king as Artaxerxes I (r. 465-424 B.C.E.), with Xerxes I, one of the models for Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther.
  4. Ezra 5:1 names the king as Darius I (r. 522-486 B.C.E.).

In U.S. presidential terms, that would be like establishing the range as the administrations of George Washington (1789-1797), John Adams (1797-1801), and Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) then mentioning the administrations of James Madison (1809-1817) and James Monroe (1817-1825) before returning to the Jefferson Administration.  If one is not well-versed in the chronology, one can easily become confused.

To add to the confusion, Ezra 4:7-24 belongs to the next topic–rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.  I am still writing about the rebuilding of the Temple.  I resume, therefore, at Ezra 5:1.

Darius I took the rebuilding of the Temple seriously (Ezra 6:11-12; 1 Esdras 6:32-33).  The completion of the Second Temple happened on his watch, to use an anachronistic figure of speech.  A celebration of the Passover followed.

Passover was the annual celebration of God liberating the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt.  Passover was a great national holiday and a religious festival.  Jewish independence was in the past at that Passover, but the Persian monarch was friendly toward the Jews, at least.  Being subjects of Darius I was far better for Jews than being subjects of Nebuchadnezzar II.  Those Jews who had chosen to return to the ancestral homeland, part of the satrapy Beyond the River, had participated in an exodus from Babylon.  They had many reasons to be thankful.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 9, 2020 COMMON ERA

PROPER 14:  THE TENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT EDITH STEIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN AND PHILOSOPHER

THE FEAST OF SAINT HERMAN OF ALASKA, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MONK AND MISSIONARY TO THE ALEUT

THE FEAST OF JOHN DRYDEN, ENGLISH PURITAN THEN ANGLICAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC POET, PLAYWRIGHT, AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF MARY SUMNER, FOUNDRESS OF THE MOTHERS’ UNION

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Esther III: National Security   1 comment

Caiaphas

Above:  Caiaphas

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, you are always more ready than we are to pray,

and you gladly give more than we either desire or deserve.

Pour upon us your abundant mercy.

Forgive us those things that weigh on our conscience,

and give us those good things that come only through your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Esther 3:7-15

Psalm 138

Acts 2:22-36

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Though I live surrounded by trouble

you give me life–to my enemies’ fury!

You stretch out your right hand and save me,

Yahweh will do all things for me.

Yahweh, your faithful love endures for ever,

do not abandon what you have made.

–Psalm 138:7-8, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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The story in Esther picks up at the point at which Haman persuades Ahasuerus to order genocide against the Jews.  The official reason for the decree, according to the royal decree (as contained in Chapter B, as The New American Bible labels it) is national security.  The Jews allegedly follow laws which set them at opposition to all other people and to royal decrees.  The official purpose of the planned genocide is to restore the stability of the Persian Empire.  The actual reasons, of course, are Haman’s egotism and anti-Semitism.  As Dr. Samuel Johnson stated,

Patriotism is the last resort of a scoundrel.

The reading from Acts 2 concerns the crucifixion of Jesus.  Roman imperial personnel executed Jesus, of course, but certain Jewish religious leaders were complicit in the unjust act.  As Caiaphas said in John 11:50,

You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die than to have the whole nation destroyed.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

National security is a legitimate concern, one which requires difficult decisions sometimes.  Nevertheless, genocide is never a justifiable practice.  Just as national security has its place, so does patriotism.  My point is that some scoundrels hide behind these virtues and convince other people to support them in unjust actions.  I would like to be a pacifist, but my sense of reality prevents me from doing that.  I do propose, however, that most violence is immoral and unnecessary.  This is especially true of the violence planned in Esther 3 and the crucifixion of Jesus.

There is a proper balance between individual rights and the common good.  There is also such a thing as the tyranny of the majority or of a powerful minority.  The common good, by definition, cannot justify genocide or judicial murder.  Those with power have no moral right to victimize any person or population.  And nobody has a moral right to be complicit in such a plot or effort.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, BISHOP OF ARMAGH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/devotion-for-friday-before-proper-12-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Esther II: Heroes and Villains   1 comment

Mordecai and Haman

Above:  Mordecai and Haman

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, you are always more ready than we are to pray,

and you gladly give more than we either desire or deserve.

Pour upon us your abundant mercy.

Forgive us those things that weigh on our conscience,

and give us those good things that come only through your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Esther 2:19-3:6

Psalm 138

Acts 1:15-20

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I praise your name for your faithful love and your constancy;

your promises surpass even your fame.

–Psalm 138:2b, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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The plot thickens in Esther 2 and 3.  Mordecai thwarts an assassination plot against King Ahasuerus.  The two eunuchs who plotted to kill the monarch die after Mordecai alerts Ahasuerus via Queen Esther.  The loyal courtier receives no reward immediately; he must wait until Chapter 6 for Ahasuerus to think about doing that.  Mordecai refuses to bow to Haman, who receives a promotion for no apparent reason and who seeks to destroy not just Mordecai but all Jews in the Persian Empire.

The reason for Mordecai’s refusal to bow down is unclear in the Hebrew text.  However, in Chapter C, as The New American Bible labels it, Mordecai explains in a prayer that he bows only to God.  This is consistent with a later rabbinical interpretation.  The germane notes in The Jewish Study Bible–Second Edition (2014) mention that argument yet prefers a different explanation, that Mordecai refused to honor an enemy of the Jews.  Those notes also argue that, in the Hebrew Bible, bowing to a human superior is permissible, as in Genesis 23:7; Genesis 43:28; Exodus 18:7; and 1 Kings 1:23.  Another interpretation from Jewish tradition is that, if Haman were wearing an idol on his chest, Mordecai would have bowed refused to bow to the object.

In the Acts of the Apostles the eleven surviving Apostles completed their number (twelve) by choosing one of the outer circle of 70 (or 72, depending on the translation) to replace the recently deceased Judas Iscariot.  They select St. Matthias, of whom we know little.  According to tradition he was a faithful evangelist who brought much glory to God and many people to salvation before becoming a martyr.

The main characters in the readings for today are Mordecai, Haman, and St. Matthias.  Haman seeks to glorify himself and harm others, Mordecai to glorify God and do his duty, and St. Matthias to glorify God, regardless of the cost to himself.  Two of the three died violently, one as a villain and the other as a martyr.

May we pursue righteousness, as demonstrated in the characters of Mordecai and St. Matthias and manifested by love of God and our fellow human beings, regardless of the cost to ourselves.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, BISHOP OF ARMAGH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/devotion-for-thursday-before-proper-12-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Two Kings   15 comments

Ahaseurus and Haman at Esther's Feast

Above:  Ahasuerus and Haman at Esther’s Feast, by Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

God of power and might, your Son shows us the way of service,

and in him we inherit the riches of your grace.

Give us the wisdom to know what is right and

the strength to serve the world you have made,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 53

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The Assigned Readings:

Esther 2:1-18

Psalm 7

2 Timothy 2:8-13

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I will bear witness that the LORD is righteous;

I will praise the Name of the LORD Most High.

–Psalm 7:18, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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This is a devotion for the day after Christ the King Sunday.  Pope Pius XI created that festival in 1925, when dictators governed much of Europe, interwar tensions were rising, and the Holy Father perceived the need to issue a reminder that God is in control, despite appearances.  The original date was the last Sunday in October, opposite Reformation Sunday in many Protestant churches, but the Roman Catholic Church moved the date to the Sunday before Advent in 1969.  In the middle of the twentieth century many U.S. Protestants observed Christ the King Sunday on the last Sunday in August.  I have found evidence of this in the official materials of the reunited Methodist Church (1939-1968).  Today observance of Christ the King Sunday (on the Sunday before Advent) has become common in many non-Roman Catholic communions.  I have detected it in the Revised Common Lectionary and the Common Lectionary before that, as well as in official materials of Anglican/Episcopal, Methodist, Moravian, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ, Cooperative Baptist, Evangelical Covenant, and other denominations.

In contrast to Christ the King we have the fictional Ahasuerus, a pompous figure whose courtiers manipulate him.  He and others figure in the Book of Esther, which the germane notes in The Jewish Study Bible (2004) refer to as a low comedy with burlesque elements, as well as a serious side.  (Comedy has a serious side much of the time.)  The Book of Esther pokes fun at authority figures, one of the oldest pastimes.  Ahasuerus, humiliated when Queen Vashti refuses his summons, decides angrily to replace her.  Before he can reverse that decision, his advisers intervene.  This opens the narrative door for Esther to become the secretly Jewish Queen of Persia just in time for Haman to plot to kill the Jews.  Esther might have been a tool of schemers initially, but she becomes an instrument of God.

St. Paul the Apostle might not have written 2 Timothy, but the letter is of the Pauline tradition.  Certainly the Apostle did suffer hardship due to his obedience to God and agreed, as the text says:

If we have died with [Christ Jesus], we will also live with him;

if we endure, we will also reign with him;

if we deny him, he will also deny us;

if we are faithless, he remains faithful–

for he cannot deny himself.

–2:11b-13, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Regardless of the situations of our daily life and how they became our reality, may we obey God and do the right thing.  This might prove to be quite dangerous, leading even to death, but so did the path of Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 8, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SHEPHERD KNAPP, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN DUCKETT AND RALPH CORBY, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS IN ENGLAND

THE FEAST OF NIKOLAI GRUNDTVIG, HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/devotion-for-monday-after-proper-29-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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