Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Bible Challenge: Day 174

The scriptures read are Esther 1-3, Psalm 142 and 2 Corinthians 1.

Esther. This book is unique in many ways. It is the basis of the Jewish holiday of Purim, which is a fun occasion involving music and feasting and dressing up in costumes. Gifts of food and drink are exchanged, special charitable giving to the poor is practiced and the climax is the reading of the whole book (often by women, since Esther is the heroine of the story, a kind of Jewish Cinderella with moxie) with special chants and cheering for the hero and noise-making to drown out the name of the villain who is mentioned 54 times in the book. Rabbis even prescribing drinking until one could not distinguish between cursing the bad guy and blessing the good guy. This is a time of raucous rejoicing.

There is something else unique about this book of the Bible. In the Adventure of the Silver Blaze, when a police detective asks Sherlock Holmes if there is anything else about the crime that he wishes to draw their attention to, Holmes says, "The curious incident of the dog in the night." But, the police inspector says, the dog did nothing in the night. "That is the curious incident," Holmes replies. There is likewise a curious omission in the Book of Esther. Are you observant enough to catch it?

Esther 1. The whole thing starts when the Xerxes, King of Persia, gets drunk at a party, calls for his Queen to leave her party, come over and show herself off to his guests. She refuses. He gets mad. His advisers tell him to dump her lest all the women in the kingdom forget their places. And to bolster the positions of husbands everywhere, he does. (BTW, Xerxes is the Persian king made famous in the film 300 for losing a lot of men to just 300 Spartans.)

Esther 2. The king starts to regret his action so his advisers go about rounding up virgins to present to the king so he, presumably, forgets his uppity wife. Enter our heroine. Hadassah, which is Hebrew for "myrtle," is a virgin orphan raised by her Uncle Mordecai (yay!). She's hot and is selected by the king's men to be one of the virgins. Mordecai (yay!) has advised her to keep her race secret so we know her as Esther, probably from the Persian word for "star." After a 12 month beauty regimen (Katniss got off easy!) Esther is presented to the King. He falls for her and makes her queen. It doesn't hurt that Mordecai (yay!) passes on word of a plot to assassinate the king and Esther warns the king of the treachery of two of his eunuchs. They get impaled. (That's how they hung people in Persia.)

(BTW Hadassah is the name of a Jewish women's volunteer group, like WELCA in the Lutheran Church or the Daughters of the King in the Episcopal Church.)

Esther 3. Enter the villain. Haman (boo! hiss!) is the king's right hand man and he likes it. He doesn't like that everyone bows to him but Mordecai (yay!). So in true supervillain fashion Haman (boo! hiss!) plots to kill all the Jews on the 13th of the month Adar. And after poisoning the king's ear about the Jews, Xerxes is going to let him.

Psalm 142. Feeling all alone, the psalmist (David according to the ascription) appeals to God.

2 Corinthians 1. The problems in Corinth were not entirely resolved by Paul's last letter to the church there. He evidently made a quick visit to them which did not go well. Then he wrote a rather harsh letter to them (some commentators think that it is chapters 10 through 13 of this letter). That did bring results and so we get to the present letter.

Unlike 1 Corinthians, Paul does have his usual prayers and blessings for the church. And he is grateful to God to getting him and his mission team out of a potentially deadly crisis in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey).

Paul talks about his change of plans, assuring the church he wasn't being wishy-washy. But after his last visit he was pretty sure another visit would just be painful so for their sake, he cancelled.

Great verse: 20. Jesus is the "Yes" to all God's promises.

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