Esther 7

Haman’s downfall is completed. Esther, offered the Kings request up to half the kingdom asks merely for her life along with her people. She has tied her fate to theirs. Haman is exposed, and then the story turns to high farce as Haman’s desperate pleas to the Queen for mercy are mistaken by the king for molestation.

The reversal of fortunes is completed: after Mordecai got the honor designed by Haman for himself, Haman got the ghastly death he designed for Mordecai: impaled on his own ridiculously huge stick.

Too neat? Too literary? Some scholars argue this book conforms to a literary genre of narrative history that dressed up history to make a good story. Herodotus uses similar devices.

On this theory, it’s like we are watching the Hollywood bio pic of Esther’s life. The basic outline is real, but the facts have been edited and organised to tell a good story.

Historically a few Kings and queens around the time fit the facts.  It’s not so much an issue of could this story have been true, is a matter of which influential Jewish Queen was it?

There is certainly no doubt that the Jewish people went from the verge of destruction to being restored in a rebuilt Jerusalem because of the good favor of successive Persian Kings. I sure think God had a hand!

And I just love the story of Esther, the woman who was heroic and saved the nation.

 

Esther 5

Esther sees the king, her fear that he won’t see her is unfounded, he advances the sceptre. She invites Haman and the king to banquets on two successive nights. I expected her to raise the Jewish issue straight away, but she’s got a crafty plan. She’s a politician, Esther.

Is it too post modern to view her as a feminist hero?  Certainly there are lots of feats in Esther, and they have their own story to tell. Commentators note that this is Esther’s feast, in contrast to the Kings feast which was Vashti’s downfall. Esther has taken control.

After the first Haman sees Mordecai and is all the more enraged at his non regard because he has been favored by Esther’s banquet. He thinks his stocks are ever on the rise because of the exclusive King/Queen time.

He is persuaded by his family to kill Mordecai more spectacularly than the rest of the Jews, on an impaling stick as big as his ego. A 75 foot pole is set up for the purpose.

Haman is built up to get the most spectacular schadenfreude in the Bible. You will almost feel sorry for how his fate will turn over the next few chapters. Unless that is, you forget he was planning arbitrary genocide.

Esther was almost fully assimilated into Persian culture. But the pull of her ethnicity and her god are stronger. Once you believe God is behind history its hard, in the crunch, to unbelieve. 

Esther 2

The search is on for a beautiful young virgin for the king of Persia. Scene moves to Mordecai’s house, and his notably beautiful cousin Esther. They are both displaced Jews.

Esther is taken into the King’s harem. Turns out she is really good at what you need to learn… She takes the eunuch’s advice as to what to say and how to behave. After a year of beauty school, she is the King’s chosen.

I find this a wonderfully mind blowing story about serving your purpose on earth by doing what you do do well. Esther is a born beauty queen.

Meanwhile Mordecai is all ears, obviously concerned about Esther he becomes a palace obsessive, hanging round and hearing what he can. In addition to scraps of info about Esther, he uncovers a plot to kill the king, which Esther brings to the King. The plot is foiled and Esther’s stakes go sky high.

There is still a sense of “where is god going with this?” It’s in the Bible so you bring to it the expectation that it must be about him. So god is at work in the petty and relatively unholy daily activities of those who never give him a second thought? I love it. Like the old hymn says, god is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year.

Genesis 16

A jolt back into real politik.  Another biblical pattern, from the clear exalted mountain to the murky mess of the plain, like moses getting the law and coming down the mountain to faithless revelling, or Jesus going from the transfiguration to the faithlessness of the people and the bickering of the disciples.

And for me going from Sunday to Monday.  Bless me, keep me positive.

…that prayer was answered, I had a great Monday. The rhythm and discipline of work is making me feel so good. Plus I am good at it, and its such a powerful thing to feel competent. Part of the sense of dread I feel for my son who is 23 is that there is every possibility he may never feel that. He is in a psychological prison. Give me wisdom lord, and bless Lewes

Abram and Hagar are helping god along again. It’s a crooked web of weakness being woven here as Hagar the Egyptian slave girl is left over from the faithless deception in Egypt where Abram pretended Sarai was his sister and virtually gave her to the Pharoah. So the remnant of that unfortunate event is now enlisted as surrogate mother for the nation of Israel.  A very earthly plan for a cosmic promise.

Did Sarah not think that setting up a younger, fertile second wife in the household would drive her crazy? Hagar gets uppity, Sarai gets hurt, there is a falling out, and Hagar runs off.

A person, not a pawn

But oh the intervention of God in this one. People call the bible the “Good book”. So it’s rather shocking how bad people are without any much comment on their behaviour.  God adjusts for the mess.  He could have condemned Abram: “Abram, you have managed to turn my glorious promise into a sordid soap opera, I can’t work with this.” I did not expect God to speak to Hagar first, after all its supposed to be about the bloke and the promise that his offspring will be like stars and lead to salvation, right?  Hagar is just the meat in the sandwich, so to speak.

No! She is a person, not a piece of meat!  God speaks to her, and makes his own promise to her who has lost all, no postion or protection, a single mum alone in an unforgiving culture.

Hagar will have a son, called “God hears” because God has heard her misery.  She names God “the one who sees me” In being seen, Hagar becomes a person, not a pawn. And she has seen the one who sees her.  To god, its not about the plan, its about the collateral damage, the lost lamb. Oh the love and tenderness of that interaction!

Again, though the promise has a sting – Abrams’ promise to found a nation included it becoming a slave nation. Hagars includes trouble for Ishmael.

These promises are jarring.  Perhaps I need to just trust God over my children.  Another of my sons is brilliant at wrong footing me on who he is, and who he will become, he’s great at making me panic.

I can’t force the plan. He sees them, he hears their misery.  Give me patience to trust you Father. Shine into the murky messes, Father, with the clarity of love. 

Genesis 5

The family line from Adam to Noah.  A joining chapter.  Yes, in the old testament, not every chapter has a neat message you can take into the day with you…

Note in the summary of creation we go back to the man and woman in God’s image again… I love the egalitarian ideal in that.

Everyone lives a very long time.  It seems ridiculous.  No one knows whether people actually did live much longer in ancient days.  Reports show up in a number of cultures, but it could be a different idea of a year or any number of things.  Or it could be literally true.

It is referenced in establishing the genealogy of Jesus, the fulfiller of the promise to strike the snake.

To google this chapter brings out a lot of whacky commentary.  I settled on Matthew Henry as usual. He always has so much to say, you feel ashamed for thinking a passage didn’t mean much.  The pattern of lives breaks with Enoch, who is so good he does not die.  And Methusala, the one who lives longest dies with the flood.  People suggest that this was a prophecy, and the length of his life is an example of God’s grace, putting off the judgement of the flood.

Anyhow, this zooms us forward through lots of time until Noah, and shows us that while man became so corrupt as to require judgement, a line that led to the faithful Enoch, who walked faithfully with God, who’s great grandchild was Noah.

Genesis 3

Now Adam and eve. This really isn’t a creation story.

Prayer: so tired today. Remember my sinful state, claim forgiveness and move on.

The story has so many strange elements. An evil talking snake. The sense of inevitability, given that they have free will to reject gods word. And I recall as a kid wondering why knowing good and evil was a bad thing.

There is a great banal accuracy in the nature of the temptation however. Did god really say that? Does God really want the best for you or is he just trying to stop you from being cool and experiencing everything? You know better than god! It’s so boringly familiar.

It’s not an outright lie about the fruit. It does change their perception, or at least the rebellion against God does. They realise they are naked and clothe themselves. They have shame. I suppose if you make yourself God you make yourself prone to massive insecurity, because you aren’t.

There is an element of “what just happened?” for me. So much is packed in such a simple story. It’s something the bible will do a lot.

Read it again today. Brain hurts God, just don’t get it. I mean I get the things you would be told to get in a sermon: our rebellion, separation of humans from God. But it’s such an odd way to tell it.

The two fruit trees, the garden around which god walks like an earthly being (though Adam becomes the symbol of a failed messiah). The agency of the snake to put tempting thoughts into their brain.

Though as an aside I do really like the chain of command blame game… It wasn’t me it was the woman, it wasn’t me it was the snake. That’s so human, anyone trying to build a case for gender flaws on this has descended to the same primary school play ground level of argument. God dismisses it as any tired parent would… You can all be cursed!

Then there is the tree of life. It’s like god has the antidote, but he won’t give it to them. And the question of why the trees are there in the first place. I suppose if you create a sentient creature, capable of free will, you only demonstrate that capacity by showing it can make bad choices, and can indeed be aware of and consider bad choices. So the tree and the serpent are concrete external representations of the capacities that make us human, free will. Perhaps it could have been more literally told as an Ingmar Bergman type psycho drama. But no one would have watched.

It is palpably sad. Third chapter in and we have tragedy, loss of innocence, and curses. Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Reading again the litany of nastiness Australia has done to assylum seekers today, the truth of the fall, of evil is to easy to see. Christianity is still the best explanation I have come across for the world I know. And the most hopeful. But how much doubt must this chapter have been responsible for over the years?

So to summarise and move on:

– we have an ideal of perfect relationship of God and man, a garden of plenty where we and god walk about as equals, we are not ashamed in his presence.
– a very real and recognisable temptation and disobedience, our nature demonstrated in a narrative
– the overwhelming sadness of separation and difficulty entering the world.

I still feel that temptation, shame, sadness every day. I suspect even people who refuse to believe in God feel it. It’s human nature.

In both of these creation stories, I feel the immediacy. The “days” creation was like birth, like everyone’s creation, and the Adam and eve creation was like first love, the promise of perfection that can’t be sustained because of human nature. The honeymoon is over. It’s like the stories take everyone’s birth and everyone’s first live and document those genus in poignant narratives that show us truths about God as creator and us as fallen creation.

Genesis 1

First chapter of Genesis. A great place to start the bible. There is nothing no definition. Just water.

It’s very womb like, it takes us to the mystery of how every life starts. Why do cells start to think?

We are being imprinted like an empty brain getting is first impressions.

Light comes first, out of the darkness, which is monumental, but also indistinct.

And God is there, the hovering spirit, the creator. God made it, God did it, it’s God made life.

Prayer/Meditation break: God was there before I knew what light was. He is in control. I’m not foolish to trust him, even though there is no pattern or poetry discernable at the moment. I seen the light!

Its a song with a refrain: God made it, and it was good.

Emphasis on WAS good, as our globe becomes exposed to higher and higher temperatures, and the activities of humankind generally seem to do as much bad as good.

I started reading Genesis as a new start book, looking for optimism.  I intend to read John’s gospel as well, both of them start with the light.  The creation story told twice.  But the arc of Genesis is not optimisitc, it is tragic.  If I remember rightly it ends with a story of numbing brutality and nastiness, the story of sodom and gomorrah.  But John’s is the messiah story, so perhaps both together will chart a path of saftety through a cruel world.

Its not the best idea to read the bible as a book to fill your needs, like a therapy book, but I think I do need that at the moment.

The vault to separate the waters, which is called sky, and comes after light but before land is hard to understand.  It is the sky as roof to the world, but how it separates the waters is difficult to conceptualise.  It seems like an understanding of the sky pre-solar system, pre knowing the earth is a ball.  Worth remembering when considering the people for whom this story is literal science rather than poetry.

The third day, land and vegetation, brings the refrain that “it was good”.

Patterns

It is the natural human state to believe in God. Every culture has independently stumbled across the idea of God and made it central to their community.   I imagine this story being told to children from the moment they could understand language to explain how the world came to be.  It still is for many children, and other cultures have variations.

I love the way the elements are introduced like a newborn would get the patterns of life.  Children would still be in this process, assimilating the patterns of life, when they heard this story, so it would make perfect sense to them, it is at their experience level.

Reading the story again takes me back to my own uncomplex state, my own creation.

Dividing the creative act into days, and definng the initial elements by simple binaries or separations: darkness, light. Water, sky. Water, land, Day, night.  It is making patterns, bringing meaning into focus: light, then types of light.  The types of light then define time: moon and stars by night, sun by day.  The patterns of binaries stack onto each other and create layered meaning.

The creation of life brings objects into focus.  They are staged in a crescendo of complexity: vegetation.  Seeds and fruit, it is good.  It conjurs up a lush visual and also a practical connection to food.  It all comes from God, it is good, we are loved and cared for by a divine being, there is meaning beyond ourselves.

Fifth day brings fish and birds.  And God didn’t just make them, he made them to make themselves so the sea would be teeming with them and the sky filled with them: abundance.  This is a blessing, goodness from God.  What a huge theme, the theme of God’s overflowing abundant blessing. It is central to his nature as a creator, he creates things that create, resources are beyond our needs.

Then animals.  The order does seems to reflect meaning for people: the crawly things, wild animals then livestock. Multiple subdivisions… each “according to their kinds”, and it is all by God and all good.

And at the apex, men and women, the ones in the image of God. The image of God is male, the image of God is female. Equality is asserted!  They rule the other animals and subdue them.  It is given to us, it exists for us. Seeds and fruit for food, green plants to feed the animals.

It is all very good, seventh day he rests.  New pattern: the week.  The seven day pattern has stuck, its really quite mind blowing.  This pattern here in this ancient text is still a pattern by which our lives are divided.  People mock creationism, saying how ridiculous it sounds to make the whole of it in 7 days, without questioning where the idea of 7 days even came from in the first place.

I noticed that when adolescents rebel against their parents there is an irony – they become more like them the more they try to make their own way.  Because the very structure of their thought processes, their language, their understanding of meaning is so strongly influenced by their parents, the way they process these new found emotions and desires is reflective of the parents they are hating on.  Likewise I think humankind can’t escape their createdness in the image of God through the very act of denying him.

This passage is a huge reason for my belief in God. It makes sense in ways I can’t bring into my conscious state, it makes sense of the natural inclination of people to believe there must be a God. How did patterns come out of chaos?  Why do we gain endless comfort from finding patterns? Why do we have a concept of good?  How are things different (why is dark not light and light not dark?)  It is all given a context and an explanation: God made it.

Prayer/Meditation: Praise God! Praise God praise God!  Have confidence in the purpose of my existence. Have confidence to present God as an answer to people who are struggling.  Its actually almost impossible not to believe in God, atheisim is a complex artifice of a mind in denial.

Return to the start, remember your creation.  I’ve written a lyric for maybe a song about the creation story being everyone’s experience.  When it says male and woman are the image of God, it strikes me that parents are the first god to a baby.

just one cell, floating in a watery night
grew my brain, grew my eyes, one day saw light

one tiny baby, waters all gave way
the sky is up, earth is down, night follows day

create me, make me
Mother god
wrapped in your succour and love endlessly

teeming through infinity, teach me, help me grow
flowers and trees, birds and bees,
teach me to know

Two sleepy people play with me at dawn,
again again, again again, a new day is born,

create me, make me
stroke my busy head to peace, sing rest to me

Luke 8

Jesus trusted God and women for the money.

Persevere is the key word for the sower. The 3 bad examples are all different length failures of perseverance. Never started, a brief fling, a slow divorce. It’s the nobility of perseverance that makes the good soil bountiful.

For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. 18 Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.” say what? Jesus?

Mega chapter.. Parables About listening and serious credentialing. The demon man is told to tell everyone what Jesus did. But no one is to know that he could raise the Girl from the dead

Luke 2

Birth of christ. Such a strange story, the return to hometown, the line of David, the inn, the swaddling clothes. Such a miserable birth.

The punch line is so often “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart”.

All these people get signs and wonders indicating that Jesus is the messiah, God’s salvation.

Simeon and Anna. Remarkable gender equality. Both old people.

Mary didn’t really understand when Jesus said he would be in his father’s house. But she treasured it in her heart anyway.