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.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Inevitability of destruction, a reflection on 2 Esdras 16:1-34

Can you turn back an arrow shot by a strong archer? The Lord God sends calamities, and who will be able to drive them away? The Last Days will begin with lamentation, fame, wars--all sent for correction of humankind. Yet humans won't pay attention, won't quit sinning.

What would it take to get us humans to want to change? to change?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

You'll get what you deserve, a reflection on 2 Esdras 15:46-63

Woe to Asia (the Roman province of Asia Minor):
You have made yourself like Babylon (translate, as Rome); therefore, God will send evils on you: widowhood, famine, sword, and pestilence. You shall be weakened like a wretched woman (the worst metaphor the writer could come up with). You will get what you deserve: hunger, slaughter, handed over to your enemies. They shall destroy your cities, your land, your forests. They shall kidnap your children, steal your wealth, and mar the glory of your countenance.

As I read the assertion their punishments would be deserved, I wondered if we look at hunger, destruction, damaged cities, and think "Well, if things are this bad for them, they must have done something wrong."

Monday, September 28, 2015

Coming Apocalypse, a reflection on 2 Esdras 15:34-45

From the east, from the north to the south appear threatening clouds, clashing against one another, pouring out a heavy tempest of blood. On the earth shall be fear, great trembling horror. After that, heavy storm clouds will be stirred up from the south, the north, and west. But, the winds from the east shall prevail.

Great and mighty clouds, full of wrath and tempest, shall rise and destroy all the earth and its inhabitants, cities and walls, mountains and hills, trees in the forests, grass of the meadows, then blot out Babylon. And those who survive shall serve those who have destroyed it.

Commentary in the New Interpreter's Study Bible explains that Chapters 15-16 of 2 Esdras were written in 3rd century CE and are intended to console and confirm the people of God in the midst of persecution by Rome. The Bible was written to address issues and problems of the time in which they were written, and, in some cases, then edited to fit the problems of a later day. We aren't writing any more Scripture, but we still may interpret it to fit our times.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sins and Punishment, a reflection on 2 Esdras 15:1-33

Ezra continues to prophesy: Do not be afraid of the plots against you. Do not be troubled by unbelievers for they will die in their unbelief. Beware, says the Lord, I am bringing evils on the world, sword and famine, death and destruction because iniquity has spread throughout every land. I will be silent no longer. I will no longer tolerate their wicked practices. I will avenge the righteous. My people are in Egypt, but I will bring them out and strike Egypt with plagues as I did before.

Seeds won't grow. Trees shall be ruined by blight and hail and storms. Wars, unrest, and disrespect for government will come. Cities will have destroyed houses. People will have no pity on their neighbors, but will plunder their good because they are hungry.

God says, " am calling together all the kings of the earth to turn to me; to repay what they have been given. I will not spare the sinners.

A terrifying vision will appear from the East: armies like wild boars, dragons; ambush, destruction, fear and trembling by the army.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Writing it down, a reflection on 2 Esdras 14:27-48

Ezra says: "As the Lord has commanded me, I gathered the people together and said, 'Hear these words, O Israel. Our ancestors were freed from Egypt, received the law of life, which they did not keep, and you haven't kept it either. Since the Lord is a righteous judge, he took from you what you had been given. So here you are, facing the need to do what you already know that you should do. If you rule over your minds and discipline your hearts, you shall be kept alive, and after death, you shall obtain mercy. For after death, the judgment will come. The names of the righteous will be made manifest and the deeds of the ungodly shall be disclosed. But, for now, do not disturb me for forty days.'"

Ezra continues, "I took the five men to the field, as the Lord had commanded. A voice called, saying 'Ezra, open your mouth and drink what give you.' The cup was full of something like water but its color was like fire. When I had drunk it, my heart poured forth with understanding and wisdom increased in my heart. Moreover, the Most High gave understanding to the five men who then took turns writing what was dictated, using characters that they did not know.

"For forty days, they wrote during the daytime and ate at night. But I spoke in the daytime and was not silent at night. So during the forty days, 94 books were written. Then the Most High spoke to me, 'Make public the 24 books you wrote first be read to both the worthy and the unworthy, but keep the 70 that were written last. They are to be given to the wise, for in them is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the tree of knowledge.' I did what I was told."

Friday, September 25, 2015

Last Days Instructions, a reflection on 2 Esdras 14;1-26

On the third day, as I was sitting under an oak, suddenly a voice came from a bush and said, "Ezra, Ezra!" I answered, "Here I am, Lord," and I rose to my feet. The Lord said, "When my people were in bondage, I revealed myself in a bush when I spoke to Moses. I sent him to Mount Sinai where I told him many wondrous things and declared to him the end of times. I told him which worlds he could repeat openly and which were to be kept secret.

And now, I say to you "Remember the dreams and their interpretations that you have heard for you are to be taken to live with my Son and with those that are like you until the times are ended. Get your house in order and reprove your people; comfort the lowly and instruct the wise.  And now renounce whatever in your life that is corruptible (referring to the body). The world is nearing the end.

I answered, "I will do what you have commanded and reprove the people who are now living, but who's going to be able to warn those that are born after I am gone?" Send the Holy Spirit into me so I can write down everything that has happened from the beginning, the law so they'll know how to find the path, and that those who want to live in the last days may do so."

The Lord told him to tell the people not to look for him for forty days added, "Get some writing tablets. Take with you the face who are trained to write rapidly, I'll light in your heart the lamp of understanding which will not be put out until the writing is completed. And when you are finished, you may relay some of this to the wise."

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The day will come, a reflection on 2 Esdras 13:14-58

The interpretation: the day will come when the most High will begin to deliver the ones left behind. They will fight each other, city against city, one people against another, one realm against another. The man you saw ascending is my Son. When everyone hears his voice, they will stop fighting each other. A multitude will gather to overcome him. But, he shall stand on the top of Zion. The hill you saw as carved without hands. He will rebuke the ones with wicked intentions.

He will gather another peaceful multitude--the ten tribes that were taken by the Assyrians. They intended to keep the law, which they had never kept in their own land. They made a plan to go to a more distant region so that there at least they might keep the statues. The Most High performed signs for them and stopped the river so they could cross it. After an 18 month journey, they will arrive at Arzareth. They lived there until the last times, when they are to come again. The Most High will again stop the river, so they may cross over in peace.

Therefore, the Most High will destroy the multitude of nations gathered together but will save those who are found within the holy orders.

Ezra said, "O sovereign Lord, why did I see the man coming up from the sea? The reply: "Just as no one can know what is in the depths of the sea, so no one on earth can see my Son or those who are with him, except in the time of his day. You alone have seen him because you have forsaken your ways and have followed mine; you have devoted your life to wisdom and called understanding your mother. Therefore I have shown you these things; for there is a reward laid up with the Most High. After three more days I will tell you other things, and explain weighty and wondrous matters to you."

Ezra stayed in the field three days, giving great glory and praise to the Most High.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Another depiction of the coming Messiah 2 Esdras 13:1-13

Third vision: A powerful man came from the sea. Everything he looked at trembled; when he spoke, all that heard his voice melted. A multitude of men, from the four winds of heaven, gathered to subdue him.

He carved out  a great mountain and flew up on it. I looked but couldn't find the spot from which he had carved out enough material to make a mountain. The ones who had gathered to subdue him were afraid yet dared to fight. As he saw the crowd, he didn't raise any weapons. He didn't need a sword--he sent flames, sparks, and tempests from his mouth, burnin up every who had gathered to fight him.

He came down from the mountain and called a peaceable multitude, some glad, some sorry, some bound, some bought.

This dream scared Ezra. He prayed for an interpretation. His understanding was that the last days would be full of wore.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Hope, a reflection on 2 Esdras 12

The eagle, malicious, evil, and worthless, disappeared. Ezra woke up from the vision perplexed and fearful. He asked the Lord to interpret.

The Lord said "Daniel had a vision of the four kingdoms. Now, I can explain to you that the days are coming when a new kingdom shall rise, one more terrifying than all that came before it. After the disasters and tumult, a remnant will be saved.

Ezra reported to the people, "Take courage, the Most High has not forgotten you." After they returned to their homes, Ezra remained in the field for seven days as the angel had commanded.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Vision of Painful History, a reflection on 2 Esdras 11

Second vision: a big three-headed eagle ruled world; on the eagle, rival wings rose up. One wing would rule for a while then be succeeded by another, then eventually  that wing would also disappear.

One head on the eagle gained control over all the world then it disappeared. Of the two remaining heads, one devoured the other. [Commentary in the NISB offers the explanation that the succession of  the heads represent the history of the series of Roman emperors.]

Ezra saw a vision of a roaring lion that in a human voice told him to listen to the Most High. The last of the four beasts has conquered the whole world, oppressed the meek, injured the peaceable, hated those who told the truth, destroyed homes; therefore, you the eagle will disappear so that the earth, freed from your violence, may hope for the judgment and mercy of the Creator.

[again, from the NISB: compare with Daniel 7, the sequence of Babylon, Russia, Greece, Rome.]

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Vision explained, a reflection on 2 Esdras 10:25-59

While he was talking to the mourning woman, suddenly, her face shone like lightening. She cried out and the earth shook in response. She vanished, and in her place was a city being built. The fearful Ezra called out to Uriel to come back and explain this to him.

Uriel did return--and found Ezra lying on the ground. Uriel helped him up and asked why he was so upset. Ezra responded that he felt abandoned because he had gone out to the field as he had been told but that he couldn't comprehend what he had seen.

Uriel explained the vision of the woman--a metaphor of Zion's history. Not only history, but instruction for what to do next. "Stay here. Don't be afraid." Uriel than told Ezra to expect another vision tomorrow.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Mititgations, a reflection on 2 Esdras 9:1-10:24

In response to Ezra's comment, "You've told us what not when," the Lord listed some signs: earthquakes, tumult of peoples, intrigues of nations, wavering of leaders, confusion of princes.

He did offer some reassurance that some will be saved--on account of their works or by their faith.

And some won't: the ones who didn't recognize that the Lord was providing them with benefits, that scorned the law, didn't repent.

Ezra contended that by using those standards, not many would be saved. The Lord agreed.

Ezra spent some time contemplating how Israel after being given so much did not respond by obeying the Lord. His assessment, "For we who have received the law and sinned will perish, as well as our hearts that received it; the law, however, does not perish but survives in its glory."

His thoughts were interrupted by the appearance of a woman who was weeping and mourning loudly. When he asked her what had happened, she told him that she had prayed for 30 years to have a son, and that after God answered her prayers, that son died on his wedding day,

Ezra assessed this tragedy as depicting what had happened to Israel, "You are mourning the loss of one son, but we are mourning the loss of our mother Zion."

After detailing more of the losses, Ezra exhorted her, "Shake off your great sadness and lay aside your many sorrows, so that the Mighty One may be merciful to you again, and the Most High may give you rest, a respite from your troubles."

Excerpts: Gifts bring responsibilities; blessings may follow losses.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Future of the Prideful, a reflection on 2 Esdras 8:37-64

The Lord said to Ezra, "I'm not going to discuss what happens to the wicked, but the righteous will be rewarded."

The Lord then used the analogy of the farmer sowing many seeds and planting many seedlings, but not all seeds will sprout; nor will all that was planted will take root."

Ezra countered, "What if the reason that the seed didn't come up was because it didn't get enough rain or it got too much? Haven't you made all people the same way as the farmer planted all the same seeds? Spare your people. After all, they are your people."

God answered, "You don't love my creation as much as I do. But, the prideful among you will suffer. Even though you are going to paradise, some others will perish. They were contemptuous of the law. They even trampled on the righteous."

Ezra then inquired when the judgment days were coming.

Do you agree with Ezra that we should be given mitigated sentences?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Need for Mercy, a reflection on 2 Esdras 8:1-36

Ezra pleads with God for mercy. "O Lord, we are a work of your hands. You have given us life. You have nurtured us, instructed us in your law, and reproved us in your wisdom. We are your work. If you suddenly and quickly destroy us, what was the purpose of having created us? Israel is your people. Now, I am going to pray for myself and for them."

In his prayer,  Ezra asked, "Don't pay attention to sins some have committed; look at the ones who have kept your commandments amid afflictions. Don't think about the wicked; remember those who have willingly acknowledged you. Don't be angry with those who behave worse than wild animals, but love those who have always put their trust in your glory."

He then presented this argument to God, "It is because we are sinners that you are called merciful. In truth, there is no one among those who have been born who has not acted wicked, no one who has not done wrong. For in this, O Lord, your righteousness and goodness will be declared, when you are merciful to those who have no store of good works."

Is Ezra saying that the ones who have done what God wanted them to do can compensate for those who haven't? Does he see the fate of the people an all-or-nothing decision?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Punishment or Mercy, a reflection on 2 Esdras 7:102-140

Ezra asked, "On the day of judgment, will the righteous be allowed to intercede?" Citing scripture that gives example of religious people praying for sinners: Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Daniel, David, and Hezekiah, he asked, "If they did it, why, in this time of more unrighteousness and corruption, can't we pray for the ungodly?"

Uriel told him in the current age, the strong can still pray for the weak, but the Day of Judgment will end mercy.

Ezra said that it would have been better if either Adam had not been created at all or that, having been created, he had been restrained from sinning. "What good is heaven to us if we can't ever do enough to get in?"

Uriel replied, "It's up to you how you end up. Remember what Moses said, Choose life for yourself, so that you may live." Ezra dwelt on the history of abundant mercy that God had exhibited.

Is Uriel's comment that it is up us how we end up reassuring or frightening?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Between death and the last judgment, a reflection on 2 Esdras 7:62-101

Ezra asked, "How much worse off we are than animals--we know that we are going to judged; they don't. After all,  we each of us has sinned." Uriel replied, "From the beginning, God established standards and measurement. Yes, you have a mind, so you will understand breaking the commandments is sinful. How long should the Most High be patient? Does patience encourage disobedience?"

Ezra wanted to know what will happen in that interim period between an individual's death and the point of the last judgment of everyone. After assuring Ezra that he was blameless, he talks about the ways to the new creation.

"There are seven different ways that someone may have to travel: torment, purgatory, seeing the reward, considering the punishment, seeing how some are guarded by angels, crossing over torments, and wasting away in confusion and shame at the sins committed."

Uriel then described the process of those that have kept the ways of the Most High, also seven categories.

I keep going back to Ezra's question of whether it worse to know that we are going to be judged.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Who goes where, a reflection on 2 Esdras 7:26-61

Uriel tells Esdras that God will send a Messiah. After 400 years, the Messiah will die, as will everyone else--the world will be turned back into primeval silence. Seven days later, the Most High will judge. No more compassion or patience. The pit of torment shall appear, and opposite it shall be the place of rest; the furnace of hell shall be disclosed, and opposite it the paradise of delight.

Esdras exclaimed, "Who hasn't sinned? Who hasn't transgressed your covenant?"

Uriel said, "Listen to me. That's why the Most High has made two worlds not just one." He then offered a metaphor, "If you have only a few precious stones, would you add to them lead and clay?" Ezra told him "Of course not." "So," Uriel told him to ask the earth why she has produced more silver than gold, and bronze more than silver, and iron more than bronze, and lead than iron, and clay than lead.

Uriel continued, "Judge for yourself which things are precious and desirable, those that are abundant or those that are rare. God  will save a few, because they are the ones who have honored God.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Getting what they deserve, a reflection on 2 Esdras 7:1-25

In response to his questions of why did the Lord do this and when will we overcome our oppressors, Uriel responded with a metaphor illustrating that getting to a desirable place requires some effort. He then asked Ezra, "Why are you disturbed about what happens in this life? Why haven't you considered what is to come, rather than what is now present?"

Ezra responded that, according to scripture, the righteous were supposed to get to that better world and the ungodly weren't. Uriel reminded Ezra, "The Lord issued commandments on how people were supposed to live and what they were supposed to do to avoid punishment. Nevertheless, they were disobedient. So, they'll get what they deserve."

Are Uriel's comments satisfying or disturbing?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Questions for God, 2 Esdras 6:29-59

After the second vision came an earthquake (metaphor? literal attention-getter?) The messenger told him to pray and fast for another seven days then he would reveal even greater things than before.

After the prescribed week, Ezra was troubled. Addressing the Lord, he recounted the story of creation  (Genesis 1 version, but with some variations; e.g., no Eve).

Ezra interpreted God's intention was to create the world for humans, but not all humans. "He complained, "Now, some other nations domineer over us while we, your firstborn, only begotten, have been given into their hands. Why aren't we in charge? How long will it be like this?"

Do we think God has favorites?

Friday, September 11, 2015

Division of Times, a reflection on 2 Esdras 6:1-28

The Lord assures Ezra that the end of this age is coming and that the wicked will be punished, evil blotted out, and the truth, which has for too long been fruitless, shall be revealed.

Note that in this vision, the ones left behind are the ones who are rewarded.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Why did you let this happen?, a reflection on 2 Esdras 5:21-56

After the allotted seven days, Ezra began to be able to pray again. He reminded the Lord, "You are sovereign over every forest of the earth and chose one vine, one region, one lily, one city-Zion, one sheep out of all the flocks, and one people. To them, your people, you have given the law."

After reminding the Lord of these choices and gifts to Israel, Ezra then asked, "Why have you let other nations take us over, dishonor us, scatter us?"

He added, "You let other nations, nations that don't follow your instruction, to trample on us. If you really hate your people so much, you should have punished us directly."

The angel reappeared and told Ezra that he would have to wait. Ezra responded with a plea to be shown the one who was to be sent.

We still wonder why God allows bad things to happen to faithful people.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

How to tell the end is near, a reflection on 2 Esdras 5:1-20

Uriel describes for Ezra the signs that the end is near: observable terror, hidden truth, and no faith, increased unrighteousness, environmental decline, inability to make a sufficient income.

Uriel tells him to pray, to weep, and to fast for seven days in order to hear greater things than these.

Ezra awoke from the vision troubled.

The next night, Phaltiel, an official, came to him and asked where he had been and why was he so sad. "Don't you know that Israel has been entrusted to you? Get up and eat some breakfast. Do not forsake us like a shepherd that leaves his flock to the wolves."

Ezra told him to go away for seven days.

If what Uriel described as signs that the end was near, shouldn't we be worried? Am I being cynical? Are there occurrences or situations that seem to indicate inevitable doom?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

But When?, 2 Esdras 4:33-53

Esdras then asked, "How long?"

The answer was: Don't be in a bigger hurry than the Most High. The righteous will be rewarded at the right time.

Esdras responded "All of us have sinned. Are our sins delaying the saving of the righteous?"

Urial answered: "Go ask a pregnant woman if she can keep her fetus in the womb for longer than nine months." When Esdras agreed that she couldn't, Uriel said that just as a woman wants to get the labor over so those chambers holding the souls want to get them out. He added, "Then the things that you desire to see will be disclosed to you."

Esdras wanted to know what was to come.  A vision appeared, a flaming furnace passing by, leaving smoke behind. A heavy rainstorm came and passed, leaving drops in the cloud.

Uriel said, "Consider for yourself. Just as rain is more than the drops and the fire greater than the smoke."

Esdras then asked if he would live long enough to see the last days, if anybody would.

Uriel answered "I don't know."

Monday, September 7, 2015

End of the World, a reflection on 2 Esdras 4:22-32

Not satisfied with the parable, Ezra responds to Uriel, "I wasn't asking about what's going on in heaven. I'm asking about things that happen here on earth. I want to know why Israel, the people you loved, was given over to the godless Gentiles in disgrace. Why aren't we worthy to obtain mercy? What will God do about this?

Uriel responded that the end was near but that not every righteous person would would get everything promised because of all the sadness and infirmities of this time.

He explained, "Evil has been sown, but has not been harvested. Until it has been, there's no field for the good. A grain of evil seed was sown in Adam's heart, and that seed has produced a lot of ungodliness and will continue to until the time of threshing comes."

Peter Hayman, in The Oxford Bible Commentary, The Apocrypha explains:

Salvation is seen as a catastrophic intervention of God to wipe out this present world and to replace it with an entirely new heaven and earth.

We may tend to treat this vision as predicting the end of the earth--See the Left Behind novels for example. Or, we may interpret it as forecasting what is going to happen when finally Rome is overturned.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Inevitable Incomprehension, a reflection on 2 Esdras 4:1-21

As he was pondering the mystery of why the ungodly Babylon was able to defeat Israel, Ezra experienced a vision of the angel Uriel. He challenged Ezra, "You can't understand this world; do you think you can comprehend the way of the Most High?" When Ezra said he could, Uriel posed three problems: Weigh the weight of fire; measure a blast of wind; relive a past day.

When Ezra said that all three of those were impossible, Uriel said "If I asked you questions about the bottom of the ocean or where doors to Hell or Heaven are, you could respond that you have never been to the ocean bottom or to Hell or Heaven. But, I asked you about fire, wind, and your own past--all of which you have experienced--and you can't answer my questions abut them. If you can't understand the things that you have grown up with, how can you comprehend the way of the Most High?

He then posed a parable: A forest decided to take over the land occupied by the sea. The sea decided to flood the forest. The forest's plan failed when fire burned it down. The sea's plan failed when the sand on the beach blocked it. If now you were the judge, which plan would you justify and which would you condemn?

Ezra responded, "Each was foolish for trying to take more than was intended." Uriel said, "You are right about that. Now why can't you apply your judgment correctly to your own case? For as the land has been assigned to the forest, and the sea to the waves, so also can those on earth, and the one who is above the heavens understand the height of the heaven.

I'm quite unsure how to interpret Uriels's assessment. I can accept the judgment that we shouldn't try to take something that is somebody else's. But, I don't want to believe that we aren't supposed to ask questions.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Why do good things happen to bad people? a reflection on 2 Esdras 3

Ezra (Esdras) says to the Lord:

Adam didn't obey. His descendants didn't obey. You destroyed all of them except for Noah and his family. Then many of Noah's descendants turned out to be more ungodly than the their ancestors had been.

You chose Abraham, made an everlasting covenant with him, promising never to forsake his descendants. You gave them the law but didn't take away their evil hearts. Over time, what was good departed and evil remained. David built your city, but its inhabitants sinned. So, you handed over your city to Babylon, your enemies.

Why Babylon? They sin, too. Why did you allow them to take over Zion? Why do you let those foreigners who don't obey you be so wealthy? You may find a few individuals that follow your commands, but in no nation does everyone do so.

Friday, September 4, 2015

To-do List for the Church, a reflection on 2 Esdras 2

The Jews had tried to overthrow Rome but were defeated soundly. Their temple, the home for the Lord, was destroyed. To explain how this could happen, Ezra explains: The Lord said "I brought them out of bondage and gave them commandments through the prophets. They didn't listen."

Israel admits, "We deserve what has happened, and Assyria had better remember what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah--complete destruction because they would 't listen to the Lord." [The annotation in the NISB explains that Assyria is code for the Romans.]

The Lord tells Ezra, "I'm going to take away my kingdom from Israel and give it to others who will be my people. Tell the mother of these new people, 'I will send you help."

The Lord then reminds these new people what they are supposed to do:  Guard the rights of the widow, secure justice for the ward, give to the needy, defend the orphans, clothe the naked, care for the injured and the weak, the lame, the maimed, the blind. All things that the Lord had told Israel to do.

[Another annotation in the NISB points out that the first two chapters of 2 Esdras provide an early example of supersessionism in Christian theology.]

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A reflection on 2 Esdras, The Lord gets tired of their disobedience

Ezra (Esdras) recounts his call by God to tell the people what they had been doing wrong and to tell their children so that they can tell their children: "Remind them that I got them out of Egypt and then they ignored my commands. How long will I be able to put up with this? I have shown you mercy over and over, made your path through the wilderness safe, provided food and drink for your journey, then provided adequate real estate for you when you got home. What am I going to do with you? I can give up on you and,  turn to other people. Even though they haven't received any of the mercies I have showered on you, they will do what I command."

According to Peter Hayman in The Oxford Bible Commentary, 2 Esdras was written not long after the Jewish War against the Romans in 66-73 CE during which the temple was destroyed. He pondered how God could have allowed this to happen. This book goes through despair and doubt into certainty. Hayman adds that this book did not have a major impact on the mainstream of Jewish culture but did influence some of the peripheral groups that evolved into the Christian church.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Home Again, a reflection on 3 Maccabees 7:17-23

They reached the seaport, where a fleet of ships had been waiting for them, where they toasted their rescue by the king who had generously supplied them, each of them, with every thing they needed for the journey home.

When they reached their land in peace, they had another festival, then departed unharmed, free, and overjoyed to their own homes. They gained more influence among their enemies than they had had previously, and were held in honor and awe.  People who had taken their possessions returned them with the greatest deference. Credit was given to the supreme God who had perfectly performed mighty deeds for their salvation.

Sarah Pearce, in The Oxford Bible Commentary, sums up 3 Maccabees: to the God of Israel will be rewarded with life, apostasy with death. Finally, the story serves, as does Esther for the feast of Purim, to explain and support an existing Jewish festival whose origins had perhaps been forgotten by the Jews of Egypt.
[Sara R. Johnson, in the Women's Bible Commentary, points out the differences in this version with that presented in the book of Esther; e.g., whether the Jews asked permission to kill apostates or Gentiles, and, of course, emphasis on or less attention to a woman with influence. On the other hand, she reminds us that in both books, the ordeal ends happily for the Jews.]

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

King recognizes power of God, a reflection on 3 Maccabees 7:1-16

King Phil blames some of his friends for the harsh treatment of Jews and credits God for shielding them. Based on the goodwill they have demonstrated for generations, he declares them innocent of every charge of whatever kind.

He orders them to return to their homes, adding that no one anywhere is to harm them or to blame them for the elephant debacle. "If anybody tries to harm these people, God will punish them."

When the Jews learned this, they didn't rush to depart immediately. Instead, they asked the king if they could first punish those Jews who had voluntarily turned away from God and God's law. They insisted that anyone who had feared the king's government more than God's commands couldn't be trusted to follow the king's law either. The king agreed with this assessment and let them destroy their apostates. After killing more than 300, they had a festival to celebrate then left the city singing hymns to God, the eternal savior of Israel.

Revenge or Rational caution?