Archive for May, 2012
The stage is set, the audience is ready. This is the showdown of the ages. The tension has been building for a while and now the adversary is set to take on the Creator. This is where he’s going to prove, once and for all, that God’s little human experiment is an undeniable failure. Satan, playing the role of the know-it-all teenager, stands in defiance of his father (after all, God created him, too) and dares him to take away the things that, in Satan’s eyes, have caused Job to be so faithful.
In truth, the story of Job reads a little like a cross between Tolkien and Dr. Suess. “In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job.” Over the next several days, we’ll be introduced to this man Job, to his friends and his family. Ultimately, I think we’ll probably find that we can see a little bit of ourselves in all of these characters. This is a story that, in the beginning, pits ultimate good against ultimate evil. But it doesn’t take too long to get into a deeper, more philosophical realm.
Job himself throws everything into chaos with four lines of prose:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:21)
Here is a guy who has just lost his livestock, nearly all of his servants and even his children. His life has been decimated. But his response is not what you might expect. It takes just four lines for Job to utter the words that, if I’m honest, might take me months or years to say if I was in his situation – “May the name of the Lord be praised.”
Suddenly, this is no longer a story about Satan trying to overthrow God. Sure, that’s still in there, but Job has turned this into a story about a man, his God and his understanding of faithfulness, blessing and justice. As we continue to dig into the story of Job, with all of its ups and downs, twists and turns, it it probably wise to keep in perspective what is being represented here: Ultimate good, ultimate evil and…well…us. Job, standing in for all of humanity, stands in the middle of good and evil, being purely neither, but partially both.
And it is in this tension that we still live. Broken but restored, weak but given strength, God’s people but trapped in a messed up world. What lessons can we learn from our friend Job. Let’s keep reading!
Man, what a story! The bad guy gets what he deserves. The heroine prevails. Good stuff. But there is something greater going on here than just a good story. In fact, there is a principle at work in the story of Esther that has served to encourage and challenge God’s people ever since.
You see, Esther had a choice to make. She could have kept quiet and not approached the king, but Mordecai reminded her of the unique situation she found herself in. She was the only Jew who had a chance to get the ear of the king. It would mean that she would have to risk her life, but, in the view of Mordecai, this moment could very well be the reason she was put in this place at this time.
Esther’s response, “If I die, I die,” puts everything into perspective. You see, Esther was prepared to give her life in order for the chance to save her people. And not only did she save her people (and destroy her uncle’s enemy) but she helped to grow the number of people who were following God. In chapter 8, verse 17, we are told that people from other nations became Jews.
Esther’s extraordinary courage should serve as an inspiration for us. When faced with a choice of whether to stand up for the persecuted or to keep our distance and remain quiet, it is my prayer that we will all choose to path of Esther. What would happen if we were all willing to stand up for those mistreated and be willing to suffer whatever consequences came? What would happen if we were all willing to say, in the words of the Star Queen, “If I die, I die.”
The story of Esther is one of my favorite stories in the entire Bible. I first became enamored with Esther’s story when I was 10 or 11 years old and a young guy (in his early twenties) visited our church and performed songs from a musical he had written entitled Star Queen. He explained that the musical was based on the story of Esther (which means “Star”).
At the time, I didn’t know anything about Esther, but the story presented in the music was incredible. It felt like a Hollywood script (or at least a good Disney animated feature). There was a beautiful heroine, an evil villain and the royal setting that served as a great backdrop for the whole piece. In fact, I remember wondering why I had never heard this story in my church Sunday School class.
Now, perhaps I had been taught the story and simply wasn’t listening, or maybe it hadn’t been presented because it’s a little too “adult” for a 3rd grade Sunday School class. Whatever the case, I was gripped by the story on that Sunday night in a sleepy little one red light town in Tennessee and I have been fascinated by it ever since.
For today’s reading, we get the first half of the story and, let me be frank, this part is not very female-friendly. There is a lot of talk about how Queen Vashti doesn’t respect her husband, there is a search for virgins, a year’s worth of beauty treatments before a woman could approach the king, and on and on it goes. It is, however, important to realize that Xerxes was not an Israelite and didn’t make any attempt to seek or follow God’s desires. Therefore, when he seeks counsel from those who “understood the times,” he is not getting Godly advice or advice based on God’s law, but rather, he is getting political advice that is uninformed by God’s wisdom.
The reality of the entire situation, however, is that it is all a setup – a way for God to get a young woman into the palace of the king in order to save her people. So, if you are put off by the sexism on display in the first half of Esther, just wait until tomorrow. I think you will be pleasantly surprised!
I have to say, the close of Nehemiah’s book it a little off-putting. I mean, again, this blog is my first impression of what I read each day and I haven’t ever done an in-depth study of the book of Nehemiah. However, it appears at first glance that Nehemiah is doing a little self-promotion (and finger-pointing) to close out his book.
Does God really need to be reminded of what happened? Does Nehemiah really feel the need to inform God or give him a history lesson? Or is the last chapter of Nehemiah meant, like so many spoken prayers, more for the “audience” than for God. Whatever the case, I don’t really get it…and yet, I do. I don’t get it because as people of God, we (and Nehemiah) should be above this – not always jockeying for position. But I do get it because we still do jockey for position.
In some ways, perhaps Nehemiah’s jockeying is better than my own. While you and I may jockey for position on earth, Nehemiah just wants to be remembered by God. While you and I may seek respect from others, Nehemiah wants adoration from God.
I guess if you’re Nehemiah and are going to look for some amount of edification, at least you’re focused in the right direction – on the only one whose opinion ultimately matters. And, by the way, God seems to have remembered Nehemiah and he has given us a chance to remember him as well.
It’s “reset” time in Israel…again. The wall has been rebuilt, the law of God rediscovered and the promise of the people renewed. Following the lead of Nehemiah, the people are determined to get it right this time – to do what they should have been doing all along.
I’m reminded, as I read of their re-commitment and resettlement, of the many New Year’s resolutions that are made and broken each year. Just like these Israelites, we hit January 1st with anticipation, excitement and drive. We vow that we are, once and for all, going to change our ways. This year is the year we turn the corner.
And yet, what typically happens? Somewhere along the way, we run out of steam. The thing that was so difficult to do last year is still difficult to do this year. You tell me: we’re almost 5 months into our Bible in a Year commitment. Has it gotten any easier? Hopefully, it has been interesting and maybe even fun at times, but it still requires commitment and, at times, some small sacrifice (of time or sleep) to keep up.
But like the people who volunteered to live in Jerusalem (chapter 11, verse 2) you are to be commended. You are still here. Maybe you skipped some days (or weeks) or maybe you’re a little behind on your reading and are just catching up (anyone reading this on summer vacation?), but you’re here.
God’s desire for us in life is that we keep at it – that we follow through on our commitments and that, when we find ourselves sidetracked or out of steam, we find a way to push past our desire and into his desire for us. That we take a moment to right ourselves, recommit and dig back in. If you’re struggling with this or any other commitment, just know that you aren’t alone. We humans have been pretty bad at this for a long time. But don’t give up. Hang in there. There is (or will be) joy in the journey!