It took a year to read the Bible, then almost 9 months to read the Apocrypha. Now, I'm going to try to offer reflections on the Narrative Lectionary. But, I won't be posting daily--at least, for a while.

Monday, August 31, 2015

King Reversal, a reflection on 3 Maccabees 6

The priest Eleazar prayed, acknowledging God's power and mercy, "Remember how you rescued our ancestors from an arrogant Pharaoh and again in Assyria and another time, you rescued Daniel and Jonah. We ask you to once more rescue your people from vile, arrogant, lawless Gentiles. Don't let them praise their empty gods by saying that you wouldn't rescue us. Show them your power."

As Eleazar concluded his prayer, the king arrived. The Jews cried out in prayer so loudly that even the nearby valleys echoed, panicking the army. God then sent two frightening angels down. Although the Jews could not see them, everybody else good, and the sight paralyzed them in fright. The elephants  that had been leading the army turned back on them and trampled them.

The king's anger repented. He accused his friends of using their power badly, that they were trying to destroy him. He demanded that the Jews be released and allowed to go back to their homes. On the other hand, he ordered punishment for those who had believed that the Jews should have been destroyed.

When he got back to Alexandria, the king commanded the treasurer to give the Jews wine and everything else needed for a seven-day festival. Consequently, in the very place where they had thought they were going to be killed, they instead prepared for a festival of deliverance.

The Jews decided that this festival should be celebrated annually by Jews living in exile there--not an occasion to eat and drink too much, but as a memory of the rescue that God had accomplished for them.

They appealed to the king, asking for his permission to return to their homes. Read Chapter 7 to find out how the king responded.

After the king decided not to discriminate against the Jews, he denounced people who had believed the way he had used to. When we repent, should we forgive people who did what we used to do?

How do survivors of discrimination forgive people who had escaped the effects of that discrimination?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Deliverance or Delay? a reflection on 3 Maccabees 5:24-51

At dawn, Hermon began leading the elephants to where the Jews were imprisoned. Crowds of people from throughout the city gathered for the most sorry spectacle and were eagerly awaiting the early morning. The Jews again prayed to God begging for help.  Hermon invited the king to come along to witness the carrying out of his orders. The king was surprised to be asked. He was confused what it was that he had asked Hermon to do.

God, the Lord over all things, had inflicted forgetfulness on the king's mind. Hermon tried to remind the king of the plan to have the drunken elephants annihilate the Jews. This assertion infuriated the king because God had removed all memory of this plan. He turned on Hermon, "If your parents or children were here, I would have them prepared as a lavish meal for those elephants. The Jews are blameless as far as I'm concerned. They have always demonstrated loyalty toward us. If it weren't for your long and loyal service to me I'd have you executed."

When the Jews heard about what the king had said, they praised God, the Lord, the king of kings, who had made this power apparent in giving them this assistance.

The king resumed the banquet, inviting the guests to return. He summoned Hermon and threatened "How many times must I tell you to get those elephants to destroy the Jews? Do it tomorrow." But, the king's officials, catching on to his instability, protested, "Your majesty, how many times are you going to order the destruction of the Jews then reverse your decision? The city is upset by this back and forth and is close to rioting."

The king, forgetting that he had given an order then retracted it, firmly swore that he was going to have the captured Jews destroyed by the elephants. Moreover, he was then going to Judea, burn it to the ground, and, furthermore, that temple that they had not let him enter, he was going to level it with fire. This pleased his friends and officials. They prepared to watch the outcome.

Hermon drove the drunk elephants toward the racecourse. Around dawn, countless crowds had gathered to witness; the king also rushed out to see. When the Jews saw the dust cloud created by the elephants, the army following them, and the accompanying crowd and heard the noisy ruckus, they thought that this was the end. They wept and embraced each other. Then, remembering how God had helped them in the past, they prayed again, pleading once more for mercy.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Protection by the Lord, a reflection on 3 Maccabees 5:1-22

Then the king came up with a new plan. He ordered their keeper to drug all 500 elephants then bring them to the racecourse where the Jews were imprisoned, thus bringing them to their doom. After giving these commands, he went back to partying with those of his friends who were especially hostile toward the Jews.

Hermon, the elephant keeper, promptly began to carry out the orders. The guards in charge of the Jews tied up their hands. To the Gentiles, it seemed that the Jews were entirely without any way of escape from their fate. But, the Jews called on their almighty Lord and merciful God and father, who rules over every power. They continued to pray to turn away the evil plot against them and rescue them with a glorious display of power from their impending fate.

When Hermon got the savage elephants drunk, he reported to the king, who had also gotten drunk. Further, God had sent the king a pleasant and deep sleep. Because he was asleep, he couldn't give Hermon the final command. The Jews praised their holy God and again prayed that the arrogant Gentiles would be overcome.

As the day went on, one of the king's servants waked him, with some difficulty, and told him it was past time for that celebratory banquet. The king decided to drink some more. After they feasted and partied for a while, the king called Hermon in to account for why the Jews were still alive. Hermann pointed out that he had done what he was ordered to do. So, the king, now really angry, said that the Jews could be grateful for today’s sleep, but “Tomorrow,” he said, “without delay, prepare the elephants in the same way for the destruction of the unseemly Jews.”  So the king spoke, and when all those present gave their unanimous approval readily and joyfully, they all departed for their own homes. But they didn’t spend their night sleeping so much as devising all kinds of insults for those who seemed to be doomed.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Dealing with troublesome immigrants, 3 Maccabees 4

Initially, the Alexandrians welcomed the harsh threats against the Jews, but when they saw the results of their being carried out, many changed their opinion.

The treatment was horrific. Many, including old men and young brides, were transported to a neighboring city by boat. Their necks and feet were fettered. They were confined under the deck in total darkness.

On arrival, they were enclosed in a hippodrome with monstrously high walls. When the king learned that the prisoners' compatriots were gathering to lament, he ordered that be given the same punishment. All Jews were to be registered in order that, eventually, they could all be destroyed. The scribes spent 40 days attempting to complete the registration.

Meanwhile, the king celebrated with feasts his false gods and slandered the true God. His mood changed when the scribes said the task was impossible, that there were too many Jews to count.  He threatened them severely accusing them of accepting bribes. They responding by saying that their supply of paper and pens had run out.

God was aiding the Jews.

Long, long ago, majority populations resented what they considered intrusion into their social customs.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Reaction to people with different religious practices, a reflection on 3 Maccabees 3

The king was so incensed that the Jews living in Egypt were determined to remain Jewish that he ordered them to be put to death. An untrue rumor was circulated that the Jews were trying to keep other Egyptians from complying with their own customs.

However, the Jews continued to maintain goodwill and loyalty toward the rulers while still adhering to their religion; for example, keeping their food laws. Some Egyptians hated the Jews for being different; others admired their good deeds and uprightness. Another minority group, Greeks, weren't strong enough to help the Jews but did try to offer comfort to them.

The king, not considering what God would think, published his own thoughts about the Jews, "Although we treated these people well, supported their temple and cities financially, in their arrogance, they refused to let us enter their temple. Despite this offense, when we got back to Egypt, we offered alliance with and citizenship to them. But, in their malice, some of them continued to demonstrate their determination to adhere to their own ways. So, arrest them. Torture anyone who tries to protect them, torture them to death. Anyone who informs on somebody will get that person's property plus 2,000 drachmas. Anyone who shelters a Jew will be burned with fire."

Is it always difficult for the majority to tolerate the minority?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Raising the Ante, a reflection on 3 Maccabees 2

Facing the sanctuary, the high priest bent down and extended his hands with great dignity and prayed, "Lord, give attention to those of us suffering from a powerful, impious man. You've destroyed those who committed injustices, even the strong." He listed several examples including how Pharoah's army had been swallowed up when chasing the escaping Hebrew slaves led by Moses.

They continued their prayer, "See now, O holy King, that because of our many great sins we are rushed with suffering, subjected to our enemies, and overtaken by helplessness. In our downfall this audacious and profane man undertakes to violate the holy place on earth. Do not punish us for the defilement by these men. Wipe away our sins. Reveal your mercy."

God, having heard the prayer, complied dramatically. God shook Phil so hard that he lay helpless on the ground, paralyzed, unable to speak. His friends and bodyguards quickly dragged him away. After a while he recovered, but, in no way did he repent.

In retribution, when he returned to Alexandria, Phil required registration and branding of the Jews living there, and imposed poll taxes and slave status on them. But, if they agreed to give up being Jewish, they would attain equal citizenship with the Alexandrians. Although a lot of Jews did change their citizenship, most refused to abandon their religion. Instead they used bribes to save themselves.

They remained hopeful, and abhorred the collaborators.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

3 Maccabees, Sanctity of the Sanctuary

When Philopater (also called Ptolomy), the king of Egypt heard that the Syrians (led by Antiochus) had seized some of the land under his control (land Egypt had seized from the Jews), he ordered all his forces--infantry and calvary--to go to war. He took his sister Arsinoe with him.

Theodotus, a Syrian, decided to stop the advance by assassinating Philopater. His attempt was thwarted by Dosithesis, a Jew by birth who had become an apostate. Then, when the Syrians attacked and were winning, Arsinoe, in tears and disheveled clothes, pleaded with the troops to defend themselves and their families. She also offered them gold if they won the battle. And they did.

When he arrived in Jerusalem, Phil was greeted with gifts. But, when he attempted to enter the temple sanctuary, they told him that it wasn't permitted--that not even all Jews, not even all priests were allowed to go into the sanctuary; only the high priest, and for him, only once a year.

Phil just could not see why their rules applied to him. After all, he was not any ordinary citizen. The priests responded by prayed to God. Their prayers were so loud that crowds gather and rushed to the temple--even brides and their mothers.

Phil arrogantly determined to do what he wanted. The crowds kept up the protest, preferring death to profanation of the temple.

Questions that arise from reading this chapter: 1) What are our rules for enforcing the sanctity of our worship centers? 2) Do those rules make a distinction between some members and other members? 3)  How seriously do we take objections to our ways of protecting the sanctity of our worship centers?

Monday, August 24, 2015

God makes unlikely choices, a reflection on Psalm 151

This psalm is attributed to King David as a response to his  killing Goliath. Although he was the smallest and youngest brother, a musician and sheep herder, he was the one who called by God. God's choices are not always the same as ours might be.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

When forgiveness is needed, a reflection on The Prayer of Manasseh

Look back at 2 Kings 21 to see the poor evaluation of King Manasseh's reign over Judah. Not only did he encourage the worship of many false gods, he also had many innocent people murdered. Yet, the Apocrypha includes this prayer attributed to him.

The prayer opens with acknowledgement of how powerful God is and how feared. But not only feared, God is merciful, relenting at human sufferings. God forgives those who repent. God will forgive even me.

Read again the last few verses if you find yourself needing forgiveness for something you really should notLook back at 2 Kings 21 to see the poor evaluation of King Manasseh's reign over Judah. Not only did he encourage the worship of many false gods, he also had many innocent people murdered. Yet, the Apocrypha includes this prayer attributed to him.

The prayer opens with acknowledgement of how powerful God is and how feared. But not only feared, God is merciful, relenting at human sufferings. God forgives those who repent. God will forgive even me.

Read again the last few verses if you find yourself needing forgiveness for something you really should not have done:
I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned,
and I acknowledge my transgressions.
I earnestly implore you,
forgive me, O Lord, forgive me!
Do not destroy me with my transgressions!
Do not be angry with me forever or store up evil for me;
do not condemn me to the depths of the earth.
For you, O Lord, are the God of those who repent,
and in me you will manifest your goodness;
for, unworthy as I am, you will save me according to your great mercy,
and I will praise you continually all the days of my life.
For all the host of heaven sings your praise,
and yours is the glory forever. Amen. have done:
I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned,
and I acknowledge my transgressions.
I earnestly implore you,
forgive me, O Lord, forgive me!
Do not destroy me with my transgressions!
Do not be angry with me forever or store up evil for me;
do not condemn me to the depths of the earth.
For you, O Lord, are the God of those who repent,
and in me you will manifest your goodness;
for, unworthy as I am, you will save me according to your great mercy,
and I will praise you continually all the days of my life.
For all the host of heaven sings your praise,
and yours is the glory forever. Amen.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Marriages--approved and unapproved, 1 Edras 9

After a period of mourning over their great iniquities, Ezra made a proclamation that all the returned exiles should assemble in Jerusalem. Anybody who didn't come within two or three days would be expelled from the category of returned from captivity and his livestock be confiscated.

On the day of assembly, the weather was cold. Ezra told them, "Separate yourselves from your foreign wives." The multitude shouted their agreement with loud voices. But, they added that since it was winter, the cold would prevent them from doing all they were supposed to do. They asked that the leaders stay but that the rest of them who had foreign wives take care of the situation 

Eventually many men who had married foreign women put them away together with their children.

Everyone gather to hear Ezra read the law.They wept as they heard the law--"Eat the fat and drink the sweet, and share with those who don't have any. This day is holy; do not be sorrowful, for the Lord will exalt you." 

So, with great rejoicing, they ate and drank and shared because they were inspired by the words which they had been taught. And they came together.

What was life like for the men who had had to give up their marriages in order to remain in their society? How did those marriages affect other married people? Why did they have this rule at this time? After all, many of their leaders in the past had taken foreign wives, and many in the future will, too.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Mixed marriages, a reflection on 1 Esdras 8

The Oxford Bible Commentary points out that the move from Zerubbabel to Ezra is a move from discussion of the physical restoration to the spiritual. Further, as in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, the gap in the time periods of something like 70 to 120 years is not made explicit. (p 203ff).

Esdras (from now on, I think I'll go ahead and call him Ezra), a scribe, was sent by the king along with  other Israelites, priests, holy singers, porters, and ministers to live in Judea and Jerusalem and there to abide in the law of the Lord. He directed the treasurers of Syria and Phenice to give them whatever resources the needed and that no taxes be levied on the temple professionals.

One matter that arose--Some of their sons had married Gentile women. Ezra reacted strongly, went into mourning. He tore his clothes, pulled out his hair from his head and beard, fasted, and sat in mourning all day.  Then, he rose and prayed, "O Lord, we are sinners, but you have shown us mercy. We now have been allowed to return home and to rebuild your temple. Yet, we have disobeyed your commandments.

As he lay flat on the ground weeping, a large number of men, women, and children gathered around him, and they were weeping too. One of them called out, O Ezra, we have sinned against the Lord God, we have married foreign women. Let us now make an oath that we will put away all our heathen wives and their children.

Ezra agree that they should do this.

//Ezra 7-9

Today also we are confronted with religious leaders preaching against some marriages.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Reflection on 1 Esdras Chapter 7, New Temple

Temple completed. At the dedication, 100 bullocks, 200 rams, and 400 lambs were offered in sacrifice; also, 12 goats for the sins of the tribes of Israel.  The priests and Levites were arrayed in their vestments, arranged by family. Passover was celebrated followed by the feast and merry making.

In this celebration and religious remembrances, some distintion was made between those who had been taken in captivity and those who had been left in the land.

//Ezra 6; 1 Chronicles 23-26

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The King Says Build, Esdras 6

The Jews wanted to rebuild the temple, but the others did not. The Syrian governor and other rulers wrote to King Darius telling him that some Jews who were in captivity have now returned and they are building a big, new, costly building. They are doing this rapidly. When we asked them who had given permission for this, they replied that they are servants of the Lord who made heaven and earth, and that a king of Israel long ago had built one. However, that God, provoked by their sinning, gave then over to Babylon who burned the building down and took the people captive. They then added that King Cyrus had given them permission to come back here and rebuild and restock their temple. We're asking that you search the records to see if King Cyrus really did allow this. Further, if he did, let us know if you agree.

King Darius found the evidence that Cyrus had commanded the rebuilding of the temple and the restoration of the valuable holy vessels. He told the Syrian rulers not to interfere but to provide some support.

Disobeying or making fun of anything the king said carried severe punishment.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

1 Esdras 5, First Try at Rebuilding

After the third bodyguard, Zerubbabel, won permission to restore Jerusalem, King Darius sent along with them a thousand calvary for their protection and musicians to make them merry on their journey.

After seven months, they were home. They gathered to worship, joined by some of the other citizens but to the hostility of other citizens. They gave burnt offerings every morning and evening and other offerings and sacrifices at the appropriate times. But, they did not have a temple.

In the second year after their arrival, they laid a foundation for the temple. The people responded with trumpets and shouts praising the Lord. The trumpets were so loud that some other people heard them and came to find out what was going on. When they learned that the returned exiles were building the temple, they offered to help. The offer was rejected.

Their response was that if you won't accept our help, then we won't let you build it at all. They cut off supplies and by plots and demagoguery and uprisings, preventing completion for two years.

Parallel: 1 Edras 5:7-73 to Ezra 2:1-4;5

Monday, August 17, 2015

1 Esdras 4, Pick your prize

In the contest to name what's the strongest thing in which the first bodyguard named wine, the second bodyguard said, "The king is the strongest because people have to do what he says. Soldiers have to go to war and whatever they win, they have to give to the king Those who aren't in the army have to give the king a portion of their crops. Whatever he tells anybody, they have to do it. Furthermore, while the king is lying around eating and drinking, somebody has to keep watch over him. Is not the king the strongest thing since he has to be obeyed in everything?"

The third bodyguard asked, "Who is it who has mastery over kings and over wine? Nobody--king, all other rulers, and everybody who plants the vineyards--nobody would exist unless a woman gave them birth. Moreover, they are the ones who make clothes for men. Men must thing women bring them glory because if a man has gold or silver and sees a lovely woman, he'll let that gold and silver go. A man will leave his own father to cling to his wife. He'll work, face danger, give all his valuables to the woman he loves. Even the king allows his concubine to be disrespectful to him. Therefore, of course, women are the strongest thing.

Then the third bodyguard shifted to a new answer. Truth is the greatest thing because unlike wine, the king, or women, it is righteous. Truth shows no partiality. Everyone approves its deeds. To it belongs all power and majesty. Great is truth, and strongest of all.

In response, the king said, "Ask for anything, and I'll give it to you." He also promised him that he would named one of the close associates, the Kinsmen.

What the winner of the contest named what he wanted: "Remember that when you became king, you promised to restore Jerusalem, send back what was looted, and to rebuild the temple. I'm asking you now to fulfill that vow."

The king started the rebuilding project.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

1 Esdras 3, What One Thing Is Strongest?

After a big banquet with a big guest list--from Persia, Media, and satraps from India to Ethiopia, King Darius went to his bedroom. While he was sleeping, three of his bodyguards decided to stage a competition. Each of them would state what one thing is strongest, and the king would richly reward the one whose answer seemed wisest.

Each of the bodyguards wrote his own statement, sealed it, and put it under the king's pillow. The first wrote, "Wine is the strongest;" the second, "The king is strongest;" the third, "Women are the strongest, but above all things, truth is victor."

When the king waked up, he read their statements. He summoned all the nobles to hear the young men read and explain their choices. The first said, "Wine leads astray the minds of all who drink it--king, orphan, slave, free, poor, rich. It makes them forget sorrow and debt. They become bellicose. And when they do sober up, they don't remember what they have done. Is not wine the strongest since it forces people to do these things?"

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Hearing from the Lord and from worried people, reflection on 1 Esdras 2

Citing a command to him from the Lord to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, the Persian king announced, "For all of you who are people of the Lord of Israel, you can go to Jerusalem, and, from your neighbors here, you can obtain gold and silver, horses and cattle, and other things useful in preparing the temple."

The heads of the families of Judah and Benjamin, and priests and Levites, and all whose spirit had been stirred by the Lord received contributions from their neighbors. King Cyrus gave back to them the holy vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem.

However, various Samarian leaders objected to this resettlement, alleging that if the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem, they not only wouldn't pay taxes but even resist kings, "Read your history to see that we are right, if they rebuild their city and repair the walls, you will be blocked from access to Colesyria and Phoenicia.

The king responded, "You're right about their history so I've rescinded my permission fro building their city."

Building was halted

The Levant in c. 300 A.D.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Feast and Devestaton, a reflection on 1 Esdras 1

As I read this book, I thought "History is not told just to satisfy our curiosity about what happened, but, rather, to remind us not to repeat it."

Esdras (another name for Ezra) 1 parallels 2 Chronicles 35:1-36:21, Josiah to destruction--and reconstruction) of the temple.

1 Esdras begins with a Passover feast and describes the generosity of King Josias (aka Josiah) and the people in authority.

We are told that although Josias is upright, many other people are not--a situation that grieves the Lord exceedingly.

Disregarding the words of the prophet Jeremy (Jeremiah), Josias interferes with the Egyptian king's march toward the Euphrates and is killed.

Mourning and lamentation over his death. His son Jeconiah (Jehoahaz) is made king but rules for only three months before being deposed by the Nebuchadnezzar, King of Egypt who puts in his place Jehoaikim, who did evil before the Lord and was captured by Babylon. His son, also named Jehoaikim, is made king. He also did evil, also was taken to Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar next appoints Zedekiah to be king--pattern repeats: did what was evil in sight of the Lord, didn't heed the words of Jeremiah, transgressed the laws of the Lord, the God of Israel. Not just Zedekiah, but also the leaders of the people and the priests committed many acts of sacrilege. When God sent messengers to call them to back to obedience, they mocked and scoffed.

The Lord gave them up to the Chaldeans. The temple was destroyed and plundered.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

My computer has undergone an upgrade; I have not. I will return to posting eventually.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Battle planned for the Sabbath, a reflection on 2 Maccabees 15

When Nicanor heard that Judas's troops were in Samaria, he decided to attack Jerusalem on the Sabbath. The Jews that were compelled to be with him tried to dissuade him from this lack of respect for the day that the Lord had hallowed above all days.

Nicanor responded by asserting that he himself was sovereign.

When Judas learned of this plan, he exhorted his troops not to fear the attack but to trust that the Almighty would help them. He related to them a dream that he had had: The high priest Onias had introduced Jeremiah who had then give Judas a golden sword saying, "Take this holy sword, a gift from God, with which you will strike down your adversaries."

Encouraged by these words, they determined to attack the enemy because the city and the sanctuary and the temple were in danger. Yet, protecting the temple had higher priority than protecting their wives and children.

Do we make decisions based on dreams--ours or someone else's? How do we decide the priorities?