20 August 2010

Aug 20

Reference links:
Old Testament

We finish Esther today, making it our shortest book (in days) so far. We wrap things up in a somewhat unpleasant way.

The command that was issued in the king's name cannot be taken back. (Hint to anyone who might design a government: bad idea; always leave yourself loopholes.) Because of this, the people of the empire are still free to murder Jews on the appointed day. However, the king issues a new decree giving them permission to defend themselves.

Now, I am guessing the real point of this new decree was to indicate to the people that, despite what the previous decree had said, they should not attack the Jews. I cannot imagine that before getting this permission to defend themselves, the Jews were going to just let themselves be killed.

The Jews defend themselves with great success. However, despite having the permission to take the property of anyone they kill, they do not take advantage of this. I suppose the point of this is to show that the Jews are better than the people who would have killed them.

Up to this point, I am kind of okay with this. If you have a stupid government system that does not allow the king to change his mind, then encouraging self defense is the next best thing. And if people were stupid enough to attack the Jews under these conditions, let them die.

It's what happens next that bugs me and makes me like Queen Esther less than I have so far. After the appointed day, the Jews had killed 500 people in the fortress of Susa (where the king and queen lived) and 75,000 throughout the rest of the provinces (side note: these numbers are one of the things that leave scholars to think this is fictional; such massive killing is unlikely to have gone unrecorded in other sources).

When the day is over, the king asks Esther if there is anything else she wants.
Esther responded, “If it please the king, give the Jews in Susa permission to do again tomorrow as they have done today, and let the bodies of Haman’s ten sons be impaled on a pole.”
How unnecessarily vengeful! Asking to let the Jews kill anyone they want for another day. Now, if this had been phrased as a request for continuing permission to defend themselves, that would be acceptable. But this! This just sounds like Esther is out for blood.

In any case, the purpose of this story (and it was a good story) was to explain the origin of the festival of Purim. Thus ends Esther. Tomorrow: Job!

New Testament

Paul finishes his body analogy by talking about some of the specific roles within the early church. This is followed by one of the most famous Pauline passages: the commentary on love. This passage is so familiar that I have nothing to say about most of it except that, even to a non-believer, it is very lovely.

I do, however, want to highlight one passage,
When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
Paul has often implies that believers should not be too critical of those who express their beliefs differently, and should limit what judgments they have to fellow believers. The main tempering of this permissiveness is the warning that people should take into account the needs and limitations of those they interact with. (Paul's discussion of what is and is not proper to eat is a illustrative example).

The passage above takes those ideas even further. Here, Paul emphasizes that even what he knows is partial and incomplete, despite the fact that he sees much more clearly than he use to. This makes clear why he often hesitates in condemning others. Even though he has certain feelings about what is right and wrong, he knows that he only has partial knowledge now.

This is, in my opinion, one of those passages that many modern Christians, especially the type who end up getting attention in the main stream media, do not take seriously enough.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing new.