Words That Never Pass Away Except in Some Forums

 

Imagine a chemist or an engineer or doctor thinking that what came before in his field, the accumulated wealth of knowledge and of best practices, is no longer of value and foundational for what he does now…

 

One major modern-day theological misconception comes from assuming that the Pharisees, one Jewish sect of many in Jesus’ day, represented the opposite of Jesus’s teachings.  Assumptive preaching, directly or indirectly, seeks to make a contrast between the Law keepers and Jesus. The Law, presented as antiquated, and the Jews, presented as Law fixated, are projected in a negative light. Jesus and his followers, presented in humanistic fashion, in a positive light. In so doing, the Pharisees and the Law have become stereotyped in the minds of many and with it, Jesus has become stereotyped. With mischaracterization comes misapplication of the gospel.

What is juxtaposed in the gospel are the encounters Jesus has with those of his day and the prevailing opinions about the Law and about the Messiah. Jesus speaks to Pharisees, scribes, religious leaders, prostitutes, tax collectors, Samaritans, fishermen, the blind, the lame, the sick, the rich, the poor and to political power – Pontius Pilate – and to a massive crowd. These occurrences reveal Jesus’ dealing with misunderstandings of the Torah. Jesus’ countering their perceptions of the Law caught many off guard and troubled the righteous who lived by the Law. To ward off their concerns and not willing to destroy one iota of the Law, Jesus says to the Sermon on the Mount crowd “Don’t suppose that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy them; I came to fulfill them!” Not one iota of the Torah will pass away until all is fulfilled with the New Creation (Matt. 24:35).

With his Sermon on the Mount Jesus offered the big picture truth – the Law of Love should be the arbiter of our intents and actions as the fulfillment of the Law. This is God’s intentions for his created beings (Matt. 7:12). The Law basically said “Don’t do this and if you do…” Jesus, in the his sermon, explains his interpretation of the Torah to the Jewish crowd (Matt: 5:17-20). He counters each of their “You heard it said…” understandings by telling them to look at the Torah his way. He summarizes the Torah and the Jewish understanding of the righteous being admitted into the New Creation with “Well, then: you must be perfect, just as your heavenly father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48)

One important consideration to keep in mind with regard to framing a picture of the law is that the gospel writers did not intend to paint an across-the-board history of the time of Jesus. This context was provided by the intertestamental scribes. The Jewish community and the gospel writers knew their writings. The gospel writers stated purpose (John 20:31) was to write an account of the One they called the Messiah. This is the focus of the gospels, not “Law bad, Jesus good”. None of their accounts diminish or denigrate the Law or the Law keepers. Their accounts tell us of Jesus’ juxtaposed encounters and ways of thinking about the Law and life in a Jewish contemporary context. Matthew’s gospel account in particular addresses issues of concern for second temple Jews including matters of the Torah and righteousness which is mentioned over and over again in his account.

Another basis for the assumption that the Law had been negated and done away with is the fact that Christians are not obligated to follow the Law. For one thing, animal sacrifices were no longer required. Jesus – the Lamb of God – sacrificed himself for us. The righteous were to do the same. The assumption that the law, with its instructions and blessings and curses was done away with is a misunderstanding of the sending of the spirit at Pentecost upon those who believed in Jesus as Messiah. In fact, Pentecost confirms the words of the Law and the prophets: “the “word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.” (Deut. 30:14)

And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh ,… Ezekiel 11:19

 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Jeremiah 31;33

There are some who draw many parallels between the giving of the Torah and the giving of the spirit at Pentecost: The Many Parallels of Sinai and Pentecost. Others line up the dates: The Giving of The Ten Commandments was on Pentecost.

The Torah, the instructions, never went away. In fact, it is right in front of you. Here’s Moses telling the children of Israel this very thing:

For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. “It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ “Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ “But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it. Deut. 30: 11-14 (emphasis mine)

The English word “law” is a translation of the Greek word nomos. And, nomos is a translation of the Hebrew word “Torah”. Deuteronomy, as quoted from above, is a restating of the nomos – the law, the Torah. And, as stated above, one cannot presume that a Moses needs to be dragged off mountain top to restate the law. The law is a by-your-side tutor. So, one is without excuse regarding the knowledge of God and his Torah (restated by Paul in Romans1:18-32).

The Torah is teaching, instruction, and “best practices” to point the Jews the way to walk, to learn to be holy as God is holy. The Torah contains blessings for those who obey the Torah and curses for the those who choose not to obey. The Torah life is not a life of bondage. Rather, it is a life with boundaries. (Boundaries are conflated with bondage these days). The Torah for the Jews and especially for the Qumran community was not a religion but a way of life.

The wisdom literature of the Scripture speaks about observing the law – the Torah – to become wise. This includes home schooling one’s children in the Torah.

Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching (torah). Prov. 1:8

The Apostle Paul, the chosen emissary of Jesus to the Gentiles, would speak also speak to the Messianic Jews regarding how to understand Jesus in relation to the Torah, especially in light of the fact that Paul did not require the Gentiles to follow the Torah. Many today assume that meant Paul disposed of the law for Christians. The trained as a Pharisee and law observant Paul taught a different approach to the Torah in accordance with the resurrection of Jesus and his kingdom on earth (Gal. 3: 19-20). The thinking that the law was made irrelevant by Jesus was countered early on by Paul as he taught that the Messiah delivered on his covenant faithfulness:

The Messiah, you see, is the goal of the law, so that covenant membership may be available for all who believe. Rom. 10:4

Like Jesus, Paul didn’t dismiss the law. And, like Jesus Paul made it known that obeying specific laws was secondary to one’s intent and love for the One who redeemed them to walk in love. Perspective, God’s perspective is what mattered most and not man’s attempt to practice the Law.

Circumcision is nothing; uncircumcision Is nothing: what matters is keeping God’s laws. 1 Cor. 7: 19

This perspective, as taught by Jesus (“Except your righteousness exceed that of…”) and later by Paul to the Jews who wanted to be declared “righteous” to be accepted in the age to come, also made clear that the law brought God’s people only so far.

We are Jews by birth, not Gentile “sinners.” But we know that a person is not declared “righteous” by works of the Jewish law, but through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah.

That is why we too believed in the Messiah, Jesus: so that we might be declared “righteous” on the basis of the Messiah’s faithfulness, and not on the basis of works of the Jewish law. On that basis, you see, no creature will be declared “righteous.” Gal. 2: 15-16

It would be hard to imagine a chemist or an engineer or doctor thinking that what came before in his field, what works and what doesn’t work, is no longer of value and foundational and to declare a new way. But, it is easy for social engineers to discard what came before, including the law, to invoke a societal tolerance of all manner of license against perceived authoritarianism.

The gospel as dispensed today in many churches leaves out the historical context of the Law (and of Jesus) and coaxes out stereotypes. The Jews of Jesus’ day are presented as under the heavy yoke of the Law and obsessive about rules and regulations and keeping the law. Jesus is presented as chastising them for bothering with the law and not being more human. Some preaching will go so far as to say that the law was a failed attempt by God to make his people righteous and that Jesus came to discard it and to try a new way.

Jesus is presented as setting people free from the Law and therefore accountability so that they can be their own person. And, erroneously, the Jews are presented as caring about the Law and Jesus caring about people. I have seen Jesus presented as enlightened man of peace and love. Often on social media I have seen Jesus hailed as a Progressive along with Che Guevara and other radicals. Others on social media have stated that Jesus is OK with homosexuality based on the thinking that God made them that way and the law Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin. is pre-Jesus and therefore invalid (Jesus as social-justice warrior).

Others, including a well-known Jesuit priest on social media, have implied that the Law is authoritarian and “conservative values” and therefore must be vilified as uncaring and Jesus as humanistic “Progressive values” to be embraced. These pagans worship their gods and follow their laws even sacrificing children to them in the name of Jesus the Progressive.

The effects of suppressing the truth about the Law is seen in our culture and individually, as accountability is thrown out the door with the law. Lawlessness abounds, anarchy follows and in-your-face mocking of the righteous. “Law bad, Jesus good”.

Moses and the Ten Commandments – Gustave Doré

Imagine listening to a singer’s performance and the singer and musicians didn’t care about tonality, meter and pitch. Imagine that they didn’t care about what came before musically and what worked to harmonize their performance. The sounds they make are jarring to the ears but you listen because it is promoted as avant-garde, unheard of and en vogue. You leave the performance feeling unsettled because the music didn’t resolve – there were no tonic chords only an establishment mocking dissonance. The ‘music’ was unconstrained and lacked direction and meaning. Yet, you feel proud of yourself that you were involved in something unconventional and iconoclastic. Later, at dinner with your companions, you rave about the performance. You want to come off sounding, liberal, broad-minded and, …Progressive, and not like so many others who are so conventional and lacking your insight. There is preaching today just like that today. “They declare themselves wise, but in fact became foolish.” (Rom. 1: 22)

Finally, there are three Psalms in which the Lord’s instruction is central to understanding life before God: Psalm 1, Psalm 19 and Psalm 119. The writers show a strong desire to know God and His ways. The Psalmists want God’s instruction more than life itself. We would do well to do likewise, since man does not live by bread alone.

 

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There is so much more that could be said about Jesus and the law, so I commend the following:

Required reading: the chapter Did Jesus Abolish the Law of Moses?  Mind the Gap: How the Jewish Writings Between the Old and New Testament Help Us Understand Jesus by Matthias Henze

 

Rejection and Revenge, A Breath Apart

The Murder of Abel – Gustave Dore

There is a well-known account in Scripture (Gen. 4) that on its face seems simple and straightforward. Yet, the Hebrew writer presents a scenario with enormous ramifications. We must dig deep to understand its meaning for us.

Now Adam had sexual relations with his wife, Eve, and she became pregnant. When she gave birth to Cain, she said, “I have acquired a man with God’s help!”  Later she gave birth to his brother and named him Abel.

When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while Cain cultivated the ground.  When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. Abel also brought a gift—the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.

 “Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected?  You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”

Early in Hebrew Scripture we learn of pairs and contrast: light and dark, human and animals, Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel. The pairings and contrast are meant to be instructive, as are the names of Cain and Abel.

Although Cain’s name has the primary meaning of “acquire,” the word that his name comes from (קָנָה kanah) also means “to erect, to found,” and “to create.” In Genesis 14:19 we see various translations describe God as either the “Possessor of heaven and earth” (King James Bible, New American Standard Bible, Webster‘s Bible Translation), or “Creator of heaven and earth (New Living Translation, New International Version). Both words “Possessor” and “Creator” are translations of the same word קֹנֵה konay, a cognate of Cain’s name Kayin. What’s In A Name: A Secret About Cain and Abel

In the context of contrasting the brothers Cain and Abel, “Cain!”, an exclamation from mom and the name for her son, connotes “Possessor” and “Creator”. It’s possible that Eve’s new found God-likeness had gone to her head, perhaps claiming co-creation with God. The name signals Eve’s bending in toward self-divination and for her son to project himself in the same way – as self-sufficient creator and possessor of all before him – in contrast to the “Creator and Possessor of heaven and earth”. The pairing of the two names – Cain and Abel – tends toward this interpretation.

Abel as noun הבל (hebel) means vapor, breath, or something very close to nothing. Abel could have been nicknamed Whiff.

I wonder. Did Eve feel exhausted and out of breath chasing after little Cain? Naming her second son Abel implies a here-one-minute-gone-the-next tracking of a little life. Abel’s name is further contexed in Ecclesiastes: Everything is breath (not “vanity”, a current mistranslation). And, in Ps. 39:5, 144:4; Prov. 31:30.

We get the impression from their names that Cain is a rooted of-the-earth man and that Abel is a reed in the winds of heaven. Their vocations tell us more about them..

We learn from the narrative that both brothers are fulfilling the human vocation given earlier in Genesis: dominion and care of animals and the land. They are doing so successfully under God’s blessing and in communion with God. At the end of the year, harvest time, the brothers bring an offering to God. Cain brought only some of the fruits of the soil. Abel brought the fat portions from the firstborn of his flock.

God makes a distinction between the two offerings. God looks with favor on Abel’s offering – the best of what he has. And, God rejects Cain’s token offering. The prophet Malachi gives us some understanding as to what offering the “Possessor of heaven and earth” – the Landowner – desires:

“When you bring injured, lame or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?” says the Lord. “Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations.

-Malachi 1:13-14

God’s response does not go over well with Cain. Farmer Cain, “Possessor” and “Creator” of his own domain, grows an attitude. God notices and issues a warning.

 “Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected?  You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”

God gives Cain a choice. He could repent and do right. Then his fallen countenance would be lifted up. He would know joy. Or, if he refuses to what is right sin will have dominion over him. His fallen countenance will remain. Sin’s chaos will rule his life and the lives of his descendants. We learn that Cain, his own man, chooses pathway number two which takes him away from home and out of God’s sight (does he think this?):

Cain said to Abel his brother, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. -Gen. 4:8

The advent of civilization (Gen. 4:17-26) is stained by a wrong choice, one made out of anger and of a desire for revenge. The horrific ramifications of the wrong choice are the pollution of the land, blood guilt and curses (as opposed to God’s blessing). The Land Owner had warned the tenant and now asks Cain the same question posed to Adam (Gen. 3: 9):

 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me this day away from the ground; and from thy face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will slay me.” Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, east of Eden. -Gen. 4:9-16

 Cain lies and evades responsibility for his actions. The sin in his heart is growing rapidly. It is taking dominion over him, the self-made dominionist. Cain’s domain, his farm land, is now working against him and Cain has become more cursed than the land. The once solid self-defined man is to become a wanderer through life– fleeting, ephemeral, mortal, transient, without strength, a passing wind, …a breath.

Cain, beginning to feel the weight of his actions, balks at his punishment. But murder is no small thing. Murder brings about a greater punishment, as we learn in Numbers 35:33:

Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it.

But in the Cain and Abel account God does not take a life for a life. Rather, as an act of mercy, God exiles Cain from his home, from others and from the land, his source of strength. Cain is removed from out of the context of God’s blessing. Exiled, Cain still has a chance to repent and return to the Land Owner.

As Cain finds out, man’s sin affects the land that we are to have dominion over. Hosea wrote about it (Hos. 4: 2-3):

There is only cursing, lying and murder,
stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Because of this the land dries up,
and all who live in it waste away;
the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the fish in the sea are swept away

 

 This early account in Scripture is a study of contrasts. It reveals two ways of being and two distinct personalities. There are the Abels who acknowledge the transient and dependent nature of their being, as in the words of the Psalmist (39:5)

You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
    the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
    even those who seem secure.

And, there are the Cains who deem themselves god-like Creators and Possessors and thereby mocking the One True Creator and Possessor, as described in Prov. 21:24:

The proud and arrogant person— “Mocker” is his name—
    behaves with insolent fury.

There is an offering of the best portion and there is an offering of a token. Clearly from this account and from many more, our offerings reveal what we think about God. Do we view God as Creator and Possessor? Do we view God as the Land Owner under Whom we work as faithful stewards and return the best of our stewardship? Or, do we see God as an obligation that needs to be dealt with on our terms?  (See the Parable of the Ten Talents, Matt. 25: 14-30) (See also the account of Ananias’ and Sapphira’s token offering in Acts chapter 5. It doesn’t end well!)

The Cain and Abel account reveals that there is God’s view of things and man’s. God’s warning to Cain makes His view clear beyond a doubt. And though a victim is entitled to revenge in the Old testament God does not take revenge. Rather, God lets Cain live with the consequences of his actions. “You want to live outside my blessing – Go for it!”

 This account reveals that Biblical ethics are not the same as Biblical Law. God does not take a life for a life. God does not seek monetary compensation (2 Sam. 21). The Law should be read in a larger context. Jesus tried to get the Scribes and Pharisees to understand the bigger context, the Big Picture, of His work of Redemption.

One final contrast. Abel – “breath” or “breeze” – dies in accordance with the transient nature of human existence. Cain, who saw himself as the rooted “Creator” and “Possessor” is to wander the earth like a breeze. As a fugitive he has to keep moving. He’s not tied to the land (a symbol of his strength) as he once was. What Cain had refused to accept of God and of his brother Whiff he now has to accept as his existence “east of Eden”.

Deliver Us from Evil

Evil and its enforcer, power, has been around long before man employed both to consolidate empires. Cain killed Abel to gain power over the living reminder of his own disobedience. Joseph’s brothers sold Joseph into slavery to gain power over the living reminder of their supposed unfair treatment and over their father’s love and estate. Evil and its enforcer, power, have always worked together with ruthless abandon to take truth hostage.

 “Violence finds its only refuge in falsehood, falsehood its only support in violence.”

-Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

An astute student of world history would discern that seeking and holding absolute power is valued as far superior to seeking and holding absolute truth. Those who hold power believe they can generate a ‘regime of truth’ by virtue of their position: “truth is what I say it is.”. Anyone attuned to current world affairs can readily see that culture and politics, including our democratic Republic in the U.S., revolve around who holds what power and therefore controls what is and what has been. For, as Winston repeated over and over in George Orwell’s 1984, “who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” A student of Scripture will see that the regimes of power and truth, beastly kingdoms, are made subject to Absolute Power and Absolute Truth.

It has been said that the gospel crafted by Mark, an ace narrator, was written to a Roman audience. Certainly, there is a “just then” immediacy to his gospel. A sense of action is invoked which would peek a centurion’s ‘man of action’ curiosity. Of more importance to a Roman though, and to any earthly authority and to those under authority, is the theme of who holds power. On earth, regimes of power control regimes of truth. The spiritual world of unclean spirits requires a human habitation to control truth incarnate (Rom. 1:21). Mark’s gospel is the proclamation of a new regime of power and has nothing to do with a justice league of super-heroes with super powers.

In terms similar to announcing a new emperor who claimed to be a son of god, Mark begins his gospel by proclaiming Jesus’ title:

“This is where the good news starts – the good news of Jesus the Messiah, God’s son.”

With this proclamation a new regime is declared. The title acknowledges Jesus’ authority and connotes his power. The title announces what Israel had so hoped for — a Messiah, one who is anointed by God and therefore God’s representative. The Hebrew scriptures chronicled anointed kings, priests and prophets who represented God to Israel. The book of Daniel and writings between the Testaments, in particular the Messianic Apocalypse and the Son of God text from the Dead Sea Scrolls, record Jewish Messianic beliefs in ancient Judaism. In these texts, “Son of Man” is the title given to the one who will reign and hold dominion over all things and offer blessings to those under him.

The new regime, anticipated in Psalm 146 and the Messianic Apocalypse, comes with four blessings:

-The hungry are fed

-the prisoner is set free

-the blind receive their sight

– all things are put right.

Mark’s opening statement declares Jesus to be the anointed One of God. And, of vast more import to the Jews and to the regimes of power and truth, Jesus is declared to be not just another mere mortal claiming to be a son of god, but the One God’s own Son. Human and spirit and citizen and centurion encounter Jesus in Mark’s account. They soon come to this realization.

In the first paragraphs of Mark, Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist is recorded. Here is the anointing of Jesus by water, by the spirit and by The Voice from the realm of heaven: “You are my son! You are the one I love! You make me very glad!”

Next, Jesus is tested by the Satan. The temptation is for Jesus to accept the realm of power and authority that the Satan offers to him.

A few paragraphs later we read of Jesus and his new disciples going to Capernaum. There Jesus encounters a force from the realm of darkness, the same realm offered to him by the Satan:

They went to Capernaum. At once, on the sabbath, Jesus went into the synagogue and taught. They were astonished at his teaching. He wasn’t like the legal teachers; he said things on his own authority.

All at once, in the synagogue, there was a man with an unclean spirit.

“What business have you got with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” he yelled. “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: you’re God’s Holy One!”

“Be quiet!” ordered Jesus “And come out of him!”

The unclean spirt convulsed the man, gave a great shout, and came out of him. Everyone was astonished.

“What’s this?” they started to say to each other. “New teaching – with real authority! He even tells unclean spirits what to do, and they do it!”

Mark’s gospel account goes on to detail events which show the authority and power of Jesus. Over and over we read of Jesus’ power over demons, the unclean spirits which roam the earth seeking whom they may inhabit. Realms of power are juxtaposed – heaven’s and the dark forces of the Satan which control men. They are shown in direct conflict. And note above: the unclean spirt knows who Jesus is and by whose authority he works before anyone else in the story. But why does Jesus stop the demon from declaring his identity? Mark’s beginning narrative imposes a tension that is resolved at the end of his gospel.

Before the end of the gospel we read of exorcisms. The realms of darkness are dealt with in these passages:

Mark 1:21-28 – shown above

Mark 5:1-20 – a wild untamed man with inhuman strength is possessed by an unclean spirit. He lives in a graveyard. We read that “No one had the strength to tame him”. This demon possessed man sees Jesus and throws himself in front of Jesus and shouts at the top of his voice…

“Why you and me, Jesus?”  “Why you and me, son of the High God?” By God stop torturing me!”  this last, because Jesus was saying to him “Unclean spirit, come out of him!”

Jesus cast The Legion of demons into a herd of pigs. The pigs then rush to the sea where they drowned. (The unclean spirits leave the dead pigs and go on searching for someone to inhabit.)

Mark 7:24-30 – a Greek woman throws herself at Jesus’ feet. She pleads with Jesus to cast an unclean spirit out of her daughter. After hearing the gentile woman’s “even the dogs under the table eat the crumbs that the children drop” Jesus affirms her words and sends her on her way. Her demon-possessed daughter back at home was rid of the unclean spirit.

Mark 9:14-29 – a father brings his demon possessed son to Jesus. The disciples could not cast out the demon. Jesus is notably angry at the unbelief in the power of God, especially when the father hedges, “…if you can do anything…” Jesus reprimands the father. “What do you mean, ‘If you can?” “Everything is possible to someone who believes.” The father shouts “I do believe! “Help me in my unbelief!” Jesus commands the unclean spirit to come out of the boy. The boy convulses and the unclean spirit comes out. The disciples go to question why they were ineffective. Jesus responds, “This sort can only be cast out by prayer.”

In Mark 3:15, 6:7 & 13 and 9:38-39 Jesus gives his followers the authority to cast out unclean spirits.

Mark is an excellent story-teller. As you read above, tension was imposed by Mark in the beginning paragraphs – the silence imposed on the unclean spirit who disclosed Jesus’ identity. This was done to pique the reader’s curiosity. Mark wanted the reader to discover for themselves who Jesus is. Like those involved with Jesus, the reader would question “Is Jesus really the Messiah?” and “Is Jesus really God’s son?” Each encounter and event would provoke questioning and amazement in the reader: “What’s this?”; “New teaching – with real authority! “He even tells unclean spirits what to do, and they do it!” And then the crucifixion appears to give the regime in power – the Romans- the final word about Jesus. But Mark gives us the final word through the mouth of a centurion:

When the centurion who was standing facing him saw that he died in this way, he said, “This fellow really was God’s son.”

The tension is resolved by an onlooker.

 

Lest anyone think that Jesus’ sole purpose on earth was to promote social justice and to have his words later passed on as “all you need is love” sixties-style bromides, Mark’s gospel declares to us that Jesus came to deal with evil and its enforcer, power, and with the agents of corruption possessing a will.

Mark declares that there is a new Lord in power, one with all authority in heaven and on earth. As shown by Mark, no power-enforced “regime of truth” on earth or under the earth can take Jesus’ truth hostage. Truth is what Jesus says it is and his truth can set a person free from power-and will-enforced bondage. No regime of power on earth or under the earth can keep his creation hostage. The world of men is to be set free and blessed by his reign. He chose his followers to make that happen.

Jesus has conferred his authority and power to his followers so that the blind will receive their sight and the hungry are fed and the prisoners are set free and unclean spirits are cast out. The world is to be put right under his Lordship.

To sum Mark’s gospel into today’s media parlance, Jesus slammed, crushed and owned the enemy of our souls. To sum Mark’s gospel in Scriptural phrasing…

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our LORD and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever. -The Revelation of Jesus Christ 11:15

Leech or Lizard?

 

 When you think of Thanksgiving you of think family, food and football. Let me suggest a fourth focus: creature features.

 

The Book of Proverbs, found in the wisdom literature of the Bible, offers insight into the human condition. From my youth on I have asked God for wisdom, knowledge and a good understanding. I have not always used the wisdom, knowledge and understanding given me. Much of my younger life can attest to Proverb’s description of fools and folly.

Proverbs contrasts fools and folly with those who gain wisdom and avoid imprudence. Proverbs gives us examples of what one should not be like and what one should be like. Leeches and lizards are among the examples. Let’s start with leeches.

The leech has two daughters. ‘Give! Give!’ they cry. Prov. 3:15 

How would you characterize a leech? The picture that first comes to mind is that of a bloodsucker that extracts what it wants and then goes on to the next source to extract again. Personified as above, do you see them as never satisfied? As never contented? As always craving more?  Are they greedy and covetous? Are they insatiable in their appetite? Do they see themselves as deserving and therefore warranted in entering your space and presenting their unending demands? What about another space intruder, the lizard?

a lizard can be caught with the hand, yet it is found in kings’ palaces. Prov. 30:28

Lizards, the proverb says, can be easily controlled but they show up in highly respectable places, places like lavish Caribbean hotels. Lizards like to come indoors for a meal. They are attracted by an insect infestation. Due to their small size, tiny gaps or cracks around doors and windows can be enough for geckos to let themselves in. Some owners may allow a few innocuous lizards to come and take care of the greater insect problem. And, insects are not as ‘cute’ as Geckos. The GEICO commercials invite us to let them into our lives to solve insurance problems.

The creeping and crawling Lizards can be held in check but they show up anyway in king’s palaces looking for insects hiding in dark places and likely feasting on the crumbs dropped from the royal table.

The Gospels provide with us with human examples of these creature’s features:

A recent review of a first century survey (Luke 17) found that nine out ten lepers do not give thanks. Apparently, nine lepers saw Jesus, latched on to his presence and demanded ‘Give! Give! And one leper, the out of place Samaritan, saw Jesus, creeped up slowly and waited for the crumbs to fall from the Master’s table. When Jesus healed all ten of the lepers, the nine leeches went on their way feeling they got what they deserved. But the once dried, scaling, atrophic, depigmented-skinned lizard returned and gave thanks for being allowed into the royal court and receiving a new skin on life.

As we learned, one can live their life as a leech: show up, latch on, cry ‘Give! Give!’, take and feel deserving and ungrateful. Or, one can live life as the lowly out of place lizard who shows up in our King’s palace looking for the means to go on.  The latter provides us with a prime example of grace – that easily controlled lowly lizards like us are even allowed a notice and a few bread crumbs that fall from the King’s table. Thanks be to God.

 

Marginalizing Truth…

 

…to Fit Around One’s Agenda

Below, a recent Tweet by the same Jesuit priest referred to in my previous post. James Martin, as he often does, redefines the Gospel so as to frame the #LGBT as “intersectional” (I’m using a popular SJW word) with those who may be on the fringe of society – in other words, those deemed as being over-looked and under-loved. The LGBT’s one-of-a-kind “trials”, he posits, must be considered independently and also, curiously, in relation to others who have suffered some…thing.

Martin is seeking to brand himself as the patron saint of gays. He may well succeed with his populist mission in the venue of the Catholic church. Know that he will be held accountable for his use of the Gospel as a means to an end.

Here are my replies to his Tweet:

And…

1/Jesus’ encounter w/Zacchaeus (whose name means “pure”; a chief tax-collector) reveals the POWER OF GOD to redeem a man’s life…

2/3-Zacchaeus completely repents: he finds that the Kingdom of God is worth more to him than riches & power. Read the full account: (Luke 19:1-10)

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+19:1-10&version=NIV

3/3-Jesus’ encounter w/Paul on the Damascus road is another example of the life changing POWER OF GOD affecting those who have power over others

 Added 10-8-2017:

As I have said, the LGBT are self-marginalizing: (Caution vulgar and repulsive language)

As recorded in the four Gospels and also in the Book of Acts, Jesus and his Apostles encounter those in power and those under the influence of power. Jesus and his Apostles redefine power in every instance.  In so doing they proclaim the Lordship of Jesus the Christ and introduce them to the Kingdom of God on earth. More about this in a subsequent post.

Haman and Hate (and Hamas by Proxy?) meet the Hangman, Conclusion

Part One: A Feast for the Eyes

Part Two: Persia Meets Reality and Esther

Part Three: Haman and A Star is Worn

 

Mordecai sitting at the King's Gate-all ears and eyes

Mordecai sitting at the King’s Gate-all ears and eyes

 

 

Haman is booked

Haman is booked

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part Four, Conclusion: Who Remains Silent in Times Like These?

 “The entire story of Israel, on one level at least, is the story of how Israel’s God is taking on the arrogant tyrants of the world, overthrowing their power, and rescuing his people from under its cruel weight.” N.T. Wright, “How God Became King”

 As we have learned so far, Persian King Xerxes and his right hand man Haman have issued decrees, edicts and proclamations. At the urging of Haman a death warrant for the Jews was sent throughout Xerxes’ vast kingdom.

 The edict, that genocide of the Jews was to occur on a certain day, is shouted from the citadel in the capital city of Susa. The targeted Jew’s days are numbered: on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar the Jews are to be annihilated, their property plundered.

 This horrifying declaration is soon answered by the Jewish population. The people mourn and fast. They put on sackcloth and ashes as signs of their distress. Xerxes and Haman, on the other hand, party on.

 But then banqueting tables are turned and the Jew’s great sadness is turned to rejoicing. Moving quickly though the events we’ll see how.

 Before we go on you should know this Resurrection Day that…The days of evil are numbered and the Day of Final Deliverance from Death is at hand. The empty tomb is the proclamation of our deliverance from both evil and death, on a certain future day. The Purim celebration would become a foretaste of deliverance. Resurrection day is the foretaste of the Day of Deliverance.

 From Chapter One of The Book of Esther: King Xerxes, in response to Queen Vashti’s no-show at the royal bacchanalia deposes Queen Vasti and sends out a decree to everyone in his kingdom, a decree proclaiming that every man should be ruler over his own household.

From Chapter Two: Esther is fast-tracked by the head eunuch to become Xerxes new queen. The king then gives a great banquet, “Esther’s Banquet” to show off his queen to all his nobles and officials. Xerxes proclaims a holiday throughout the provinces and distributed gifts with liberality. Mordecai’s salvation of Xerxes from an assignation attempt is recorded in the king’s record books.

 From Chapter Three: Xerxes honors Haman, making him his right-hand man. Haman is paraded about and is honored by all except a particular Jew-Mordecai. Haman’s ego is crushed. His anger turns to hate. Haman chooses to become anti-Semitic. Haman complains to Xerxes about a “certain people”.

 Xerxes to Haman regarding the Jews, “do with the people as you please.” A genocidal Death Warrant is issued after the king’s authority via his signet ring is handed over to Haman. A copy of the text of the edict is to be issued as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality so they would be ready for that day.  …couriers went out, spurred on by the king’s command, and the edict was issued.”

Chapter 4: Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, hears about the edit. It is shouted from the citadel in the capital city of Susa. Mordecai is stunned. With sackcloth and ashes Mordecai let’s the world know, and more importantly, let’s God ‘know’ that he is mourning the loss of his family and his people the Jews. (Notice how Mordecai’s protest (like Job’s) is personal and self-effacing and not riotous, vulgar, angry and destructive like today’s demonstrations?)

Important to our understanding of The Book of Esther wherein there is no mention of God is the fact that God had promised Abraham in a covenant (see Genesis 15) that “a) Abraham’s seed would become as numerous as the stars of heaven, b) his family would be exiles in a foreign land and eventually be brought out, and c) his family would inherit the land of Canaan.” (N.T. Wright, “Justification”.)

Mordecai’s great distress is based, I believe, on his understanding of God’s promises to Abraham and his understanding of God righteousness–God keeping his promises-and the declared challenge to God’s faithfulness by an earthly tyrant. Sackcloth and ashes are man’s quiet submission to God: man is dust and will return to dust and that salvation alone comes from God. Let’s see what happens next.

Esther quickly learned about Mordecai’s distress. She sends him new clothes to put on, to comfort him. She did not know about the edict.

Mordecai responds to the eunuch sent by Esther. He hands him the edict to give to Esther. Mordecai tells the eunuch that Esther must approach the king and get him to rescind this edict. Esther receives the news with great dread. She replies to Mordecai that people who just show up at court uninvited are put to death. And, “…thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.”

When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”(emphasis mine)

 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai:  “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

So Mordecai went and carried out all of Esther’s instructions. The Jews in every corner of the kingdom fasted for three days.

Submission takes the high road.

Maybe you have noticed by now that submission plays a big role in this and other Biblical narratives. Putting on sackcloth and ashes and fasting are forms of submission. Replying, “If I perish, I perish” is another. Recall Mary’s submission to the angel regarding her being impregnated by the Holy Spirit? “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered, May it be to me as you have said.” And, we must recall our Lord’s submission to the Father’s divine purpose: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

 The act of submission to a sovereign God even when God’s presence and His direct intervention are not evident is described for us in a ‘genealogy of faith found in Hebrews chapter 11. There we read of the “By faith…” accounts of individuals who submitted themselves to God. That submission is faith in the righteousness of God. It is saying God keeps His promises and that He does so no matter what men do to affect them, even up annihilation of those promises personified in God’s people the Jews.

 Submission to a scepter

After three days of fasting Esther puts on her royal robes and presents herself to the King. She appears in the hallway within direct view of the king. She anxiously awaits his invitation. Xerxes scepter is offered to her. Esther touches the tip of scepter showing respect and submission to his authority.

Civil disobedience and submission

Civil disobedience and submission

 Now imagine for a moment being Queen Esther. Xerxes, the King of his household had, had by proxy decree allowed for the annihilation of her people the Jews without giving it second thought. Queen Esther no doubt felt that her life hung in the balance, one side of the scale weighted against her. But then the finger God was upholding her.

 The king asked Esther “What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given you.”

Esther’s response is not direct. She invites Xerxes and Haman to a banquet that same day. The banquet happens, the wine is poured and again the king asks Esther what her petition is. And again, Esther, faltering in courage, suggests another banquet the next day and “Then I will answer the king’s question.” On to banquet number two and a swelling ego.

 With banquet number one under his belt and banquet number two written into his day planner Haman is pretty impressed with himself. He brags to his wife and friends that it was only the King and himself who were invitees to the Queens banquets. Haman boasts of his great connections and vast wealth. Yet, there was something sticking in his craw-that Mordecai who is mourning everyday at the gate in sack cloth and ashes.

 Haman’s wife, knowing that Mordecai was the decreed king of his household offered a solution to Haman’s hangdog demeanor.

“Have a gallows built, seventy-five feet high, and ask the king in the morning to have Mordecai hanged on it. Then go with the king to the dinner and be happy.” In other words, “Don’t Worry. Be Happy!” Haman liked the idea and had the gallows built. Problem solved.

 Sleepless in Susa

That same night the king couldn’t sleep. This was due to too much wine at the banquet or perhaps God’s purpose was the pea under the mattress. Whatever the reason the king ordered his favorite book to be brought in-the king’s chronicles. These books were records all of the king’s doings, perfect for nights like these.

The king ordered his favorite book to brought in-the king’s chronicles. These books were records all of the king’s doings, perfect for nights like these.

 Lo and behold, what was long ago forgotten was still in black and white on the parchment- Mordecai had saved the king by exposing an assassination plot. The king then asked his attendants what had been done for Mordecai. Such an act of respect for the king’s life should be honored. His attendants answered, “nada” (I don’t know Persian for “nothing.”) The king wanted to settle up with Mordecai immediately so he asked his servants, “Who is in the court?”

 Lo and behold, Haman, the proud, is, at that very moment, standing in the outer court hoping to get permission from the king to have Mordecai hanged. Haman, too, wanted to settle up quickly as possible.

 Haman enters the king’s presence and immediately the king asks Haman “What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?”

 Haman, already full of Haman, thinks the king is, of course, talking about whom else but Haman. Haman, with great flare, then details a litany of delights that the king should lavish on such a man.

 The king commands Haman, “Go at once.” “Get the robe and horse and do just as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate. Do not neglect anything you have recommended.” Oh, the irony.

 Haman did as the king commanded. He paraded Mordecai through the city streets proclaiming as he went, “This is what is to be done for the man the king delights to honor!”

Carpe the irony:  Haman is leading Mordecai through Susa

Carpe the irony: Haman is leading Mordecai through Susa

 Afterward Mordecai returned to the king’s gate (nothing had changed; a curious ride through the city on horseback does not a decree rescind). Haman returned to his wife and friends and gave them the low down.

 Zeresh, Haman’s wife, taking the reins away from Haman decides, like many others had in recorded history, that it is time to stop messing with the Jewish people. In her mind the Jews’ God defends them. He is real. Enough already, Haman, your pride is plaguing us. Be done with this man and his people.

 While she is talking Haman is whisked away to banquet Number Two

 No Fear (well maybe some)

 King Xerxes and Haman, knees knocking I’m guessing, dine with Queen Esther a second time. And, a second time the king asks Esther, “What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given you.”

 “Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor with you, O king, and if it pleases your majesty, grant me my life-this is my petition. And spare my people-this is my request. For I and my people have been sold for destruction and slaughter and annihilation.”

 Well, king Xerxes is greatly troubled by such a statement. He wonders out loud who would do such a thing “Who is he?” ”Where is the man who would dare do such a thing?”

 “Esther said, “The adversary and enemy is this vile Haman.” 

Esther points out the evil.

Esther points out the evil.

In a rage, knowing that he had been used by Haman, Xerxes got up from the dinner and went into the palace garden. In the mean time, Haman knowing that his life is over throws himself at Esther’s feet and begs for his life. The king returns and finds Haman now clawing at Esther. His rage grows.

As it is written, one of the eunuchs attending the king, Harbona, pointed in the direction of Haman’s house. He told the king that Haman had erected a seventy-five foot high gallows on which to hang Mordecai, “the same Mordecai who helped my lord.”

 The king didn’t ponder this at all. “Hang Haman on that same gallows”. Then his fury subsided. Problem solved. Seventy-five feet: my how the mighty have fallen! 

Evil begs for mercy and finds none.

Evil begs for mercy and finds none.

The tables are turned

 That same day King Xerxes gave Queen Esther the estate of Haman. Esther told the King of her uncle and how he adopted her after her parents had died. The king took off his signet ring and put it on Mordecai’s finger. Mordecai was appointed the head of Haman’s vast estate by Esther. But, a decree was still out there and could not be rescinded. Something had to be done before the day of annihilation.

 Déjà vu all over again but this time Sovereignty steps in.

 Esther once again approached the king weeping and pleading for the life of her people. She asked for a counter decree to be issued. King Xerxes answered both Esther and Mordecai, “Write another decree in the king’s name in behalf of the Jews as seems best to you.”

 So, all the same secretaries who were summoned once before to write out the Jew’s death warrant were summoned again. Mordecai’s counter decree would allow the Jews to defend themselves from all enemies and to take their plunder. The edict was dispatched via multiple couriers to the 127 provinces of king Xerxes.

 “The couriers, riding the royal horses, raced out, spurred on by the king’s command. And the edict was also issued in the citadel of Susa.” The response is celebration in each Jewish community.

 “In every province and in every city, where ever the edict of the king went, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating. And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them.”(emphasis mine)

 Hate has its day in the People’s Court

Haman’s day of holocaust, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month of Adar, finally arrived. But the Jews had prepared to defend themselves. Mordecai’s edict gave them the power to stand against their enemies and take their plunder. And so the attempt at genocide began throughout the kingdom.

 It is written about the Jews, “No one could stand against them, because the people of all other nationalities were afraid of them. And all nobles of the provinces, the satraps, the governors and the king’s administrators helped the Jews because fear of Mordecai had seized them….The Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them, and they did what they pleased to those who hated them…But they did not lay hands on the plunder.”

 In summary, the last two Chapters of The Book of Esther detail the extent of the Jews self-defense against hatred. Various numbers of deaths occur in different places within the 127 provinces. In one verse (16 of Chapter 9) it is written that seventy-five thousand enemies of the Jews were killed. That is seventy-five times one thousand deaths or one thousand deaths for each foot of height of the “Haman Gallows”

 Speaking of justice by extrapolation, Haman’s ten sons, the ten acorns that don’t fall far from the tree are hanged on their father’s gallows. The Jews understood that evil is passed down from generation to generation. The sins of the father, in this case anti-Semitism, would continue to manifest its ugly hatred if not nipped in the neck. 

Haman meets the end of his rope.

Haman meets the end of his rope.

After all of the fighting had stopped and the Jews enemies vanquished, Mordecai sent letters to all the Jews in every province of King Xerxes. He declared these days of Adar to become an annual celebration, “as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned to joy.” These days would become known as The Feast of Purim, “For Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them and had cast pur (that is, the lot) for their ruin and destruction.”

 The balance of The Book of Esther tells us that all of the prior events were recorded for posterity in the king’s books. Mordecai was held in high esteem by all who knew his name.

 

 Something to think about this Resurrection Day

You may cast your lot with those who hate the Jews but the outcome will be the same as those enemies of the Jews in the Kingdom of the Media and Persia. This historically proven pronouncement includes Hamas, the anti-Semitic Boycott-Divest & Sanction (BDS) groups, Iran-The Islamic Republic, ISIS, anti-Semitic Europeans and all those who hate the Jews. So all such, you are forewarned. And, nuclear bombs are no threat to the God who created the vast universe, the infinitesimal atom, a particle’s chirality and also allowed man to find quantum mechanics among the mysteries of life. God knows the number hairs on your head. Did you think that he doesn’t notice the hatred raging in your head?

If you cast your faith on God’s sovereignty you will find that God is faithful to his covenant promises. Make a stand with God and you find God standing with you (read about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the book of Daniel). Esther’s life is an exemplary illustration of submission to God’s sovereignty.

 Esther, in an act of civil disobedience came before King Xerxes and spoke truth to power. It took Esther a couple of banquets to ramp up the courage but Esther made a stand for herself and for the people of God.

Esther is also an example of one life given as a ransom for many (see the Gospel of mark, chapter 10, vs. 45 regarding these words spoken about Jeshua, Jesus).

 It has been said that the degree of anti-Semitism in a society is an indicator of its health. Look at Europe to see where the U.S. is heading.

 Finally, Orthodox Christian theologian Charles Malik who was also a Lebanese diplomat, political theorist, philosopher and president (1958) of the U.N.’s General Assembly wrote a book titled “Christ and Crisis” (1962).

 Malik’s definition of crisis: “the crisis is simply the fact that Jesus Christ is the Lord and is judging.”

 Malik warned that “The greatest weakness of Western strategy is its relative neglect of the intellectual and spiritual dimension.”(emphasis mine)

 When facing a crisis at any level, in any context we must confront it with courage and the cross.

 In 1962 Malik wrote,

“There are three unpardonable sins today, to be flippant or superficial in the analysis of the world situation, to live and act as though halfhearted measures would avail; and to lack the moral courage to rise to the historic occasion.”

 Esther understood “crisis” and acted with sober courage to avert a holocaust that was decreed with hatred within the shadow of a gallows. (See also the life of Dietrich Bonheoffer.) 

Who Remains Silent in Times Like These? 

***

For current information regarding the increasing anti-Semitism in our world bookmark this website: LegalInsurrection

 Here is a sample post: Vienna, “Free, Free Palestine” chant becomes “Kill, Kill the Jews”

 

 

Haman and Hate (and Hamas by Proxy?) meet the Hangman, Part Three

Part One: A Feast for the Eyes 

Part Two: Persia Meets Reality and Esther

 

Part Three: Haman and A Star is Worn

 

We begin this post with an understanding of Mordecai’s world view:

 “Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.  Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; …” Deuteronomy 6: 13-14

 As we have learned previously an assassination plot against King Xerxes had been foiled because of Mordecai’s ‘spying’ at the king’s gate. The information he gathered was relayed to his adopted daughter Queen Esther. She alerted the King, the story was checked out and the would-be assassins were sent to the gallows. Mordecai and Queen Esther had saved the Persian King’s life. But then a curious thing happens. We are not told why.

 “After these events, king Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles. All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor.”

Haman on Parade

Haman on Parade

 The king’s officials took note of Mordecai’s lack of protocol and respect. They asked Mordecai, “Why do you disobey the king’s command? Day after day they spoke to him but he refused to comply. Therefore they told Haman about it to see whether Mordecai’s behavior would be tolerated, for he told them he was a Jew.”

 Let’s rewind and reflect for a moment. Remember, the king’s officials also wondered about Queen Vashti’s refusal to the King’s request to appear before him at the end of the banquet days. The king, as could be imagined at the climax of his “keep-my-cup-full” wine fest, had way too much to drink. Queen Vashti was well aware of this and made a wise choice to stay put.

 Subsequently, though, because of her choice, the queen was deposed from her throne, banished from the king’s presence via a decree sent out to the whole of Xerxes’ kingdom. The decree was worded so as to place all women in the kingdom into subservience to their husbands. Men were to be officially made the masters of their households and women were officially to be put in their ‘proper’ place.

 Since nothing happens in isolation, what, more importantly, also transpired? Hegemonic patriarchy took over.

 The king’s officials, evil men, conspired together and wrote the self-serving decree.  This perverted patriarchy would go on to exclude women on the basis that women had a voice and a will of their own and therefore could make choices. To counter their fear of women and to shore up their insecurities the intended impact of the officials’ decree was to make women unequal with men. They placed a lesser value on women giving them no voice and no choice. A woman’s will was not to be her own anymore.

 This was all done ‘officially’ to promote ‘order’ in each household throughout Xerxes’ kingdom. The official exclusion of a woman’s natural rights removed women’s choice. Exclusion by decree also created a hierarchal marriage based on gender. Later, Islam and its guard dog Sharia law would codify the same exclusion and misogyny of women.

 As an aside, it should be noted that the Islamic ‘revelation’ of the false prophet Muhammad (born c. 570 A.D.) was a synthesis of Zoroastrianism, Christianity and other pagan religions. This ‘revelation’ inculcated the same hegemonic patriarchy and misogyny of women.

 The very same evil of Xerxes’ day became the basis for the prophet’s written ‘revelation’-the Quran. And it is the modern day interpretation of the Quran by one if its religious scholars, Qutb, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, that prompted the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2013 to announce to the world the “Islamic Awakening”-an invitation to join the Islamic world order revolution or else.

 What can be said about the roots of this destructive world order that declares a deadly fatwa and religious crusades (jihads) to eradicate the West and all infidels? What can be said when at the edge of a sword you must either embrace Islam and Sharia law or face exclusion of your head from your body?

 Per Miroslav Volf, the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, in his book, “Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation”:

 “What then is exclusion? In a preliminary and rather schematic way one can point to interrelated aspects of exclusion, the one that transgresses against “binding” and the other that transgresses against “separating.” First, exclusion can entail cutting the bonds that connect, taking oneself out of the pattern of interdependence and placing oneself in a position of sovereign independence. The other then emerges either as an enemy that must be pushed away from the self and driven out of its space or as a nonentity-a superfluous being-that can be disregarded and abandoned. Second, exclusion can entail erasure of separation, not recognizing the other as someone who in his or her otherness belongs to the pattern of interdependence. The other then emerges as an inferior being who must either be assimilated by being made like the self or be subjugated to the self. Exclusion takes place when the violence of expulsion, assimilation, or subjugation and the indifference of abandonment replace the dynamics of taking in and keeping as the mutuality of giving and receiving.” (Empahsis mine)

 By now, from the story of Esther, you know the basic riff: insecure hegemonic masculinity, subjugation, exclusion, lots of drinking and Xerxes’ knee jerk reaction to kick things off. The Book of Esther contains two unmistakable examples of exclusion. It reveals both aspects of exclusion in Volf’s “bare bones sketch of exclusion.”

 Now let’s return to the story.

 

Haman became enraged when he heard about Mordecai’s defiance. Haman, in fact, was so apoplectic that he not only “scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all of Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole Kingdom of Xerxes.” An eradication of all Jews would be sufficient to serve Haman’s huge hegemonic ego. Holocaust became his answer. Exclusion of the Jews to the nth degree was his judgment.

 It was about four years after Esther became Queen that Haman, a superstitious man, cast lots (pur) to see when would be the best time to carry out his evil plan. The lot fell on the twelfth month, the month of Adar. This being the case, Haman would have time to plan his holocaust. But the delay would also give the Jews time to react. Haman went to work.

 “Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed in all the provinces of your kingdom whose custom are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will put ten thousand talents of silver into the royal treasury for the men who carry out the business.”

 Haman, the enemy of the Jews was then given the king’s signet ring, told to keep the blood money and then told to do with the people as he pleased. Xerxes washed his hands of the matter, as would Pontius Pilate of the crucifixion of Jesus. 

A signet, a star, a slaughter

A signet, a star, a slaughter

 Royal secretaries were summoned. Royal decrees were written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s signet ring. Dispatches were sent out to all of the governors and prefects of the kingdom. The royal order: kill and annihilate all the Jews-young and old, women and children on a single day-the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar. And, don’t forget to plunder their goods. This is the law. ‘Problem’ solved.

 “Spurred on by the king’s command, the couriers went out, and the edict was issued in the citadel of Susa. The king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was bewildered.”

 Bewilderment is only a sliver of what the Jews were feeling while the Cult of Personality band played on. Imagine being hated to death by a Supreme Leader.

Mordecai mourning

Mordecai mourning

 Part Four: Who Can Remain Silent in Times Like These?

 

Haman and Hate (and Hamas by Proxy?) meet the Hangman, Part Two

Part One: A Feast for the Eyes

Part Two:  Persia Meets Reality and Esther

 As you will recall from Part One, King Xerxes put on a six month display of his kingdom’s wealth (c. 482 B.C.) Most likely he wanted to show off his ability to conquer and to accumulate the wealth of the conquered as a means to impress his generals and his court advisors. Xerxes was whetting the troop’s appetite for the next conquest.

Persian Empire circa 500 BC

Persian Empire circa 500 BC

 To carry on the family’s acquisition ‘business’ the Persian monarch Xerxes planned to invade Greece. This after King Darius’ had died while he was preparing for his second invasion of Greece. Xerxes, like Darius, wanted to punish and subdue the Greeks for previous loses in battle and for Greek resistance to the Persian throne.

 You might recall the Battle of Thermopylae (lit. “hot gates”) the Persians fought against Greek city-state alliances led by King Leonidas of Sparta (as depicted in the movie “300”). A conquest of Greece would increase Xerxes’ kingdom, his wealth, his harem and his fame. Xerxes was already known as “King of Persia and Media”, “Great King”, “King of Kings and King of Nations” (i.e. of the world). He wanted another conquest, another notch in his titles.

 There was a ‘reason’ for the exalted titles: about 2500 years ago, modern Iran (Biblically referred to as Elam and Media and Persia), and portions of Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Pakistan Tajikistan, Turkey, and Turkmenistan were once part of the extensive Persian Empire.

 Speaking about the ancient Persians in his recent book “World Order” Henry Kissinger noted, “The fifth-century B.C. Greek historian Herodotus described the self-confidence of the people that had absorbed the finest customs of all foreign nations-Median dress, Egyptian armor-and now regarded itself as the center of human achievement.”

 Now, one could wonder, also, with regard to attacking Greece if Xerxes had heard of the Greek Dionysian festivals dating from 487 B.C. These rural and city festivals honored the Greek god Dionysus and involved a lot of alcohol. Xerxes, it could be said, based upon past conquests, was into monarchial enforced multiculturalism.

 The same self-absorbed hard-nosed demeanor is seen in modern Iran’s obstinate conquer-the-world-for Islam rulers ‘two-faced diplomacy’. That ‘diplomacy’ includes their diplomats saying “let’s talk about us” and the most recent words, ‘Death to America” spoken by the Supreme Leadership Authority of Iran. In fact, the title given to Iran’s (Persia’s) theocratic head honcho is “Supreme Leader”.

 The religious lineage of Persia, foundational to its later acceptance of the false premises of Islam, includes, like many ancient empires, the worship of numerous pagan gods. Ahura Mazda (Mazdaism) was considered by Persia as the Creator and the supreme god. Lesser deities Spenta and Mainyu were included. Herodotus, the historian, considered the Persian religions as being simplistic- a worship of many gods and of nature itself-wind, fire, water, earth and sky.

 Back to the Future: by way of the Lord’s prophet Ezekiel, in chapters 38 and 39 of his recorded words we learn of a future confederacy of nations linked to Persia (Iran)-the Last Assyrian, Gog and Magog (Russia), Gomer and Togarmah (Turkey), Ethiopia and Libya-that align to do battle, to plunder and spoil Israel and the ten tribes living there. Also recorded for our faith in God’s salvation is the fact that the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Lord Jesus Christ, intervenes and does not let the enemy of His people come into Jerusalem.

 Back to the Past: For the invasion of Greece Xerxes would need everyone on board with the plan. His ‘greatness’ and his designs for a Persian world order were at stake.

 During the six months of lavish exhibition Xerxes spoke with his military men plotting with them the invasion of Greece. Then, as recorded in The Book of Esther Chapter One verse 5, Xerxes, at the end of those six months, declared a seven day drinking feast. It was time to ‘juice’ up the troops. I could easily imagine that Xerxes was aware that wine played an important role in the Greek Dionysian culture. So why not give the troops a taste of what could be had-a harvest of grapes from someone else’s garden?

 “By the King’s command each guest was allowed to drink in his own way, for the king instructed all the wines stewards to serve each man what he wished.” Chapter 1, vs. 8

 Jeopardy answer: “liquid courage”. Jeopardy Question: “What happens when men drink the king’s wine and sing the king’s songs?”

 Same song, second verse: Queen Vashti, it is recorded, “also gave a banquet for the women in the royal palace of King Xerxes.” Wine, women and song-a “Ladies Only” sign hung on the door. This was a smart move considering that hordes of inebriated men were in the wings of the palace.

 Well, after seven days of ‘perfected’ drinking the King decided to show off his most prized possession to the rabble. Xerxes sent an envoy of seven eunuchs to fetch his queen. As mentioned in Part One, Queen Vashti said “No.”. So, after some bad counsel Xerxes, as king of his household, banished the Queen and… invaded Greece in 480 B.C.

 Well, again, the Greeks defeated Xerxes’ men after several battles. (At the climax of the battles Xerxes cried out, “A queen, a queen, my kingdom for a queen!” Not really but I like Richard III.)

 Defeated in battle and the prior decree of the Queen’s banishment left Xerxes feeling, let’s say, like one of his eunuchs. The bad decisions were taking their toll on his manhood. Maybe a new queen would help him regain his machismo.

 Reenter Mordecai and Esther. (Before we go on you should know that Esther, in Persian, means “star”. Hadassah her Hebrew name meant “myrtle”.) 

Esther in Harem Painting by Edwin Long, 1878

Esther in Harem
Painting by Edwin Long, 1878

 In the Book of Esther Chapter Two we read:

 “And Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her. She was taken to King Xerxes in the royal residence in the tenth month, the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign. Now the king was attracted to Esther more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. And the king gave a great banquet, Esther’s banquet, for all his nobles and officials. He proclaimed a holiday…”

Mordecai sitting at the King's Gate-all ears and eyes

Mordecai sitting at the King’s Gate-all ears and eyes

 Mordecai, the one who had adopted Esther, the orphaned daughter of his uncle Abihail, kept a close eye and ear on Esther. Mordecai would daily sit by the king’s gate where all the important news and gossip could be heard. He listened and this is what he heard:

 “During the time Mordecai was sitting at the gate, Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, became angry and conspired to assassinate King Xerxes. .. Mordecai … told Queen Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai. And when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were hanged on a gallows. All this was recorded in the book of the annals in the presence of the king.”

 Now here’s something rather strange. A disconnect begins.

 “After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman…” Huh, and huh?

 Haman, an Agagite-who may possibly be related to the Amalekites and if so, a descendent of Esau, an enemy of the descendents of Isaac-demands to be honored as divine in keeping with other Persian prefects.

 Mordecai, a Jew, will not worship anyone but the One True God, ergo….

 Part Three: Haman and A Star is Worn