A New Purim Tradition for a Free People

My final, disjointed post on this blog:

In the story told by the Book of Esther, Prime Minister Haman talked the King of Persia into signing and sealing a law allowing the people to kill and plunder all Jews. Queen Esther, unbeknownst to the king, was a Jew. She revealed her identity and exposed Haman as a villain, prompting the king to have him executed and to promote Esther’s uncle Mordechai to the post of Prime Minister. The king could not revoke a law that had been sealed with his signet ring, so Mordechai and Esther convinced him to sign a counter-order allowing the Jews to arm and defend themselves. The defense was successful and Mordechai declared the 14th and 15th days of Adar to be an annual holiday.

Read the Book of Esther if you want more details. Don’t be lazy; It isn’t very long.

I want you to notice a few key facts about this story:

1. God used a personally distressing series of events to place Esther in a position of influence where she could help her people.
2. God used Mordechai’s defiance of a lawfully appointed civil authority to destroy that authority and to elevate him to the second highest position in the land.
3. God did not rescue the people by sending the Angel of Death to kill all the first born of Persia. He did not turn the waters to blood or the dust to fleas. He did not send an angelic host to fight for them.
4. God used the political influence of Esther and Mordechai to enable the Jews to arm themselves and kill their enemies.

In the United States of America, the right of all people to arm and defend themselves is enshrined in the Second Amendment to the Constitution. No matter what the historical revisionist claim, it absolutely does not allow Congress or the President or anyone else to restrict who may own weapons nor what type of weapons they may own. The clause concerning “a well-regulated militia” says nothing about “restricted ownership”. It refers only to the regulation (training, organization, command, etc.) of the militia itself, not to the weapons owned by the members of the militia, who were commonly understood and frequently stated to be all able-bodied men.

I want you to know two more things:

1. Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the absence of fear.
2. Fear is not preparation for terrible events, but the absence of faith that God will carry us through those events.

What would have happened if the Jews had refused to defend themselves, trusting in God’s protection alone? The story of a man on a rooftop during a flood comes to mind: a rowboat, a motorboat, a helicopter… Surely you’ve heard it before. God gives ultimate victory to the faithful by whatever means he chooses. Sometimes he does so through an overt miracle like a battalion of angels. Sometimes he just gives you a little boost, like better aim.

In honor of Queen Esther, the honorable Mordechai, and the men who risked–and frequently gave–their lives and property so that we could live free, I propose that all free people, especially those who put their faith in the God of Esther, arm themselves and gather with like-minded members of their communities to practice marksmanship and martial skills on or about Purim every year.

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One More Post

I believe there will be only one more post on this blog.

Shouting into the wind, and all that.

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The Little Kaph and the Breaking of Abraham

Genesis 23:2 And Sarah died in Kiriatharba – the same is Hebron – in the land of Canaan; and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.

This is such a sad verse. Abraham and Sarah had been together for more than one hundred years. Can you even imagine that? We all cheer at golden anniversaries and gasp at diamond, but just think of living, working, and loving with someone for one hundred years! Abraham had experienced all of these things with Sarah:

  • Family breakups
  • Drought
  • Decades of childlessness
  • Miraculous conception and birth
  • Kidnappings
  • War
  • Extraordinary wealth
  • Near filicide
  • Actual fire and brimstone
  • Personal visits from God!

And then she was gone.

Scripture doesn’t have much to say about Abraham after the death of Sarah. Nothing more of significance happens in his life. He hadn’t done anything wrong. He didn’t suddenly become a failure. In fact he remarried and had six more sons and probably as many daughters. All of those sons went on to be the patriarchs of their own tribes. But compared to what he had been, the “Friend of God”, all of this pales. The entire story of the rest of Abraham’s life is wrapped up in a single character in the last word in the Hebrew text of Genesis 23:2, the little kaph.

Read that last sentence again:

Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.

Why does Moses say “mourn” and “weep”? Wouldn’t one of those words be enough? Whenever Scripture appears to repeat itself, there is a reason, and there are a couple of reasons in this case.

First, mourning and weeping in this context are two different things. “Mourning” is a ritual frequently involving sackcloth, ashes, and hair pulling. Sometimes there are hired mourners who might not have even known the deceased. They’re hired to put on an emotional show. (There’s a cultural disconnect here for me. I don’t understand how the practice of hiring official mourners honors the dead. Fortunately, I don’t have to understand it. I just have to acknowledge that other people understand it, and then move on.) This is probably what Abraham did. He put on a good show of wailing and tearing and maybe hired some locals to join in.

Weeping, on the other hand, is a genuine outpouring of emotion. Sarah had been a huge part of Abraham’s entire life, and he must have been terribly heartbroken at her death.

There is something else going on here, though. The word Hebrew word for weep is bakah. It has only three letters: bet-kaph-heh. The really unusual thing is that the middle letter, kaph, is written smaller than usual. Remember that nothing in the Torah is superfluous; there is a reason for every jot and tittle. The Jewish sages believed that this little kaph tells us that Abraham only wept a little: the grief in his heart was infinite, but in his humility he didn’t want to make a big show of it. However, this interpretation seems to be at odds with the mourning of only a few words earlier. The sages have passed down a lot of wisdom, but it appears to me that they were wrong in this case. The little kaph does not mean that Abraham didn’t cry very much. It actually tells us about the depth of his sorrow.

Take a look at the meanings behind the three letters in bakah.

Bet = house = nation, descendants, kingdom
Kaph = hand = strength, control, pride
Heh = window = revelation, wisdom, prophecy

In the death of Sarah Abraham saw much more than the loss of his lifelong companion. He saw the diminution of his role in God’s plan. Isaac, the child or promise, was grown into a man. The great prophecy of the Lamb of Providence who would take away the sins of the world had been given at Mount Moriah. Abraham’s days at the center of God’s work were done, and it was time to move on. He saw all this in Sarah’s passing. Moses’ writing of the little kaph certainly tells of Abraham’s humility, but not in subdued weeping. Even in his humility, Abraham was grand. He showed us what true humility means through his willingness to reduce his active role (the hand) in the ongoing revelation (the window) of God’s house (the house). He acknowledge that he was nothing but a tool in God’s hand. His purpose having been served, he stepped back from a spectacular life and allowed Isaac to take center stage.

After he buried Sarah, instead of continuing to vie with kings and to claim the Promised Land for future generations, he settled down to live a relatively mundane life. He remarried, had children, grew old, and died. Abraham was always a man of great faith, but in the end, he was still just a man with hopes and disappointments, joys and sorrows.

Before he died, someone called him Grandpa.

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A Morality Tale of One Who Chose Security over Liberty

Protection by Robert Sheckley is a classic Science Fiction short story about a man who was offered protection from every threat, but he didn’t realize until it was too late that protection is itself a real threat.

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Who Among Us Will Live?

After carrying the wood of his own death to the mountain, Isaac, a grown man, stood still for Abraham and waited for the knife to fall.

After losing their families and homes and serving the King of Babylon for many years, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walked into the furnace and Daniel walked into the lion’s den.

After carrying his execution cross to Golgotha, Yeshua allowed the Roman soldiers to nail him to the wood, pierce his side with a spear, and force a crown of thorns onto his head.

After Stephen, Peter, and countless others dedicated their lives to preaching salvation and the Word of God to the world, they willingly gave up their lives in the dungeons, arenas, and fires of evil men.

Meanwhile, the userer, the unjust, the reprobate, and the cruel live freely and without fear.  As Solomon wrote,

Ecclesiastes 8:14 There is a vanity which is done upon the earth: that there are righteous men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there are wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous – I said that this also is vanity.

Where exactly is justice in this world? Solomon also said this,

Ecclesiastes 12:1 Remember then thy Creator in the days of thy youth, before the evil days come…

Evil days will come; they come for everyone eventually. Everyone suffers. Everyone goes through fire. But in the very end, only that which is pure survives:

Isaiah 33:10-22 Now will I arise, saith the LORD; now will I be exalted; now will I lift Myself up. (11) Ye conceive chaff, ye shall bring forth stubble; your breath is a fire that shall devour you. (12) And the peoples shall be as the burnings of lime; as thorns cut down, that are burned in the fire. (13) Hear, ye that are far off, what I have done; and, ye that are near, acknowledge My might. (14) The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling hath seized the ungodly: ‘Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?’ (15) He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from looking upon evil; (16) He shall dwell on high; his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks; his bread shall be given, his waters shall be sure. (17) Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty; they shall behold a land stretching afar. (18) Thy heart shall muse on the terror: ‘Where is he that counted, where is he that weighed? Where is he that counted the towers?’ (19) Thou shalt not see the fierce people; a people of a deep speech that thou canst not perceive, of a stammering tongue that thou canst not understand. (20) Look upon Zion, the city of our solemn gatherings; thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a peaceful habitation, a tent that shall not be removed, the stakes whereof shall never be plucked up, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken. (21) But there the LORD will be with us in majesty, in a place of broad rivers and streams; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby. (22) For the LORD is our Judge, the LORD is our Lawgiver, the LORD is our King; He will save us.

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Predator vs Shepherd

Genesis 21:20 And God was with the boy, and he grew, and lived in the wilderness, and became an archer.

At least on a personal level, archery is an almost exclusively offensive art. You can’t effectively defend yourself with a bow the way you can with a shield or even a pike. So it fits with Ishmael’s character and God’s prophecy about him that he would be an accomplished archer.

Like other shady characters in the Bible*, Ishmael was a predator by nature. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; God needs hunters too. They can put food on the table (or the spit, as the case may be) and can take down the enemy’s king from a distance in the heat of battle. But a man who is a predator by nature may not be suitable for certain roles, such as carrying on God’s promise to send a Messiah who would take away the sins of the world.

Of course, this does not mean that Isaac was chosen for that role because of his superior character. He was only an infant. He had no character yet. Isaac was chosen to inherit the blessing of Abraham because that’s what God had promised to do. Nothing more or less. There was nothing Isaac could have done to merit God’s grace.

 

* Nimrod, Esau, Simeon, and Levi, for example. Please let me know if I missed any.

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When Good Things Happen to Bad People

Genesis 21:17 And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar out of the heavens, and said to her, What ails you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.

Hagar was ungrateful and spiteful. Proverbs 30:22 could have been written about her. Ishmael was arrogant and cruel. The situation was so bad that God told Abraham to send them out of his house into the wilderness alone.

How are we to reconcile this with Genesis 21:17 which says that God heard Ishmael’s cries and sent an angel to Hagar? Or with Genesis 21:20 which says that God was with Ishmael as he grew up?

God had to rescue them because of his promise to Abraham and because Ishmael had a role to play in God’s plan, but why did he take such a personal interest? Why did he send the “angel of God”?

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Don’t Shoot the Messenger

Peter told us that Sarah obeyed Abraham, not the other way around. (1 Peter 3:5-6) She respected her husband so profoundly that she even called him “Lord.” Can you imagine what kind of reception that would have in one of today’s churches? They would probably call the police on Abraham and report him for emotional abuse. Even so, Peter points to her attitude as the biblical ideal, saying, “Ladies, if you are Sarah’s daughters you should emulate her.”

Peter painted a rosy picture, but it was incomplete. Sarah and Abraham weren’t perfect. Far from it. They didn’t always believe, Abraham wasn’t always wise, and Sarah wasn’t always respectful. Consider the matter with Hagar.

Do I need to say anything else?

.

.

…but, of course, I will anyway.

Genesis 21:10-11 And she said to Abraham, Cast out this slave woman and her son. For the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son, with Isaac. (11) And the thing was very evil in Abraham’s sight, because of his son.

Sarah overstepped her bounds when she told Abraham what to do with Hagar and Ishmael. She had every right to make her wishes known and to give Abraham advice (respectfully and gently!), but this was neither a wish nor advice. It was a command. Old Abe would have been perfectly within his rights to tell her to take a hike.

Whatever we may think of polygamy and concubinage, God recognized both as legitimate–if not always wise–marriage. Abraham had a responsibility to Hagar as her husband and to Ishmael as his father. They needed him. He had put them in this position of need and, even if they weren’t faithful to him, he was determined to be faithful to them. He couldn’t just abandon them. The very idea is abhorrent to an honorable man!

Nonetheless, Abraham knew that Sarah was not normally given to such termagent outbursts. Instead of replying in anger and dismissing her words, he considered them and brought them to God who told him she was right. There was much more going on here than just a personality conflict between two women in the same house. Their lives were prophetic. Hagar and Ishmael had to go in order to set the stage for millennia of conflict that was necessary for God’s ultimate plans. They had to go in order to further establish a pattern of dividing sheep from goats.

My point is that despite Sarah’s flawed manner, if Abraham had refused to listen, doing what he thought was right instead of what God said was right, he would have rejected God’s promise too. God would have either made his life very much harder until he complied or Abraham would have become Ishmael, the cast out one. God would have chosen someone else.

Don’t be quick to anger, and don’t be so bound to propriety that you cannot hear truth through a difficult tone of voice.

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Lot’s Passover and Exodus

There are several parallels between the stories of Lot in Sodom and Israel in Egypt that tell us that both stories are prophetically linked, even if the chronology isn’t precisely the same.

Exodus from Sodom  Exodus from Egypt
A meal with angels in the evening An evening meal commanded by God
Meal includes unleavened bread Unleavened bread taken on exodus
Confrontation at the door Blood on the door posts
Sodomites stricken by angels Egyptians stricken by an angel
Everyone outside the protected house condemned to die Firstborn outside the protected houses were killed
Lot and family led to safety by an angel/God Israelites led to safety by an angel/God
Lot’s wife wanted to return to Sodom and was killed Some Israelites wanted to return to Egypt and were killed
Lot and family take detour to Zoar before exile to wilderness Israelites take long way to Canaan, disobey God, and are exiled to wilderness

 

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The Three Angels at Sodom

In the stories of Abraham and Lot we can see two sides of a single prophecy. On the one hand is Abraham, through whom would come Israel, the Torah, and the Messiah. The whole world would be blessed through him and a portion of it would ultimately be saved. On the other hand is Lot, through whom at least Sodom could have been saved. But instead of preaching righteousness, he tried to be one of them without being like them. God had given him an opportunity to build the Kingdom through the witness of his words and righteous life, but he squandered the opportunity and lost even his own family.

See The Roles and Fields of Righteous Men for more on the contrast between Lot and Abraham.

There are some interesting patterns in the behavior of the three angels who came to judge and execute Sodom.

Genesis 18:1-2 present us with one mystery.

Recall the pattern of Genesis 1 and 2. In Genesis 1, Moses gave us a broad overview of the 7 days of creation. In Genesis 2, he zoomed into a subset of events that took place within those 7 days. They aren’t two contradictory accounts, but a single account told from two perspectives. The same thing happens in here. Verse 1 says that YHWH appeared to Abraham, and then verse 2 says that three men appeared to him. There aren’t four men here. Moses gave us a summary first, saying that YHWH appeared. Then he zoomed in and gave us another perspective on the same event: YHWH appeared to Abraham as three men. There is only one God; he is not three separate Gods. So what are we to make of this?

We will have to be content with a certain amount of mystery; we can never fully comprehend God. When he appears to men, we only see part of him. If we were to see him in all his glory we would die. So when we see him, we see him as the ten blind Indian men saw the elephant: a small part at a time, seeming to be one thing when he is really something greater. So Abraham saw God as three men, and we understand him in terms of Father, Son, and Spirit, even while we know that God is One: Hear, O Israel, YHWH our God is one YHWH. Shema, Yisrael, YHWH elohenu YHWH echad. When God reveals a part of himself, sometimes he appears as fire, sometimes as cloud, sometimes as a man, and sometimes as three men. He is still the One True God. None of these perspectives can define him.

God never does anything without purpose. He might be arational–meaning his actions might have no reason that we can know or understand–but he is never irrational. So when God appears to us as three men or as two men or as one man, then there is something we can know about him through it.

Here are the things that the character called YHWH does in these interactions with Abraham and Lot when he is referenced distinctly from the three, two, or one angels:

  • 18:1: Appears
  • 18:10: Prophesies
  • 18:13: Questions
  • 18:15: Judges
  • 18:17: Questions
  • 18:19: Prophesies
  • 18:20: Judges
  • 18:22: Stands
  • 18:26: Judges
  • 18:33: Leaves
  • 19:13: Judges
  • 19:24: Judges

Here are the things that the three men (with Abraham) or two men (with Lot) do together:

  • 18:8: Eat (three)
  • 18:9: Question (three)
  • 18:16: Rise and look (three)
  • 18:22: Turn and go (two)
  • 19:1: Come to Sodom (two)
  • 19:2: Inform (two)
  • 19:3: Turn, walk, and eat (two)
  • 19:4: Prepare to sleep (two)
  • 19:10: Rescue and protect (two)
  • 19:11: Blind attackers (two)
  • 19:12: Question and command (two)
  • 19:16: Compel to safety (two)
  • 19:17: Commands to safety

There is only one action ascribed to a singular angel who is not identified directly as YHWH:

  • 19:18: Extends mercy

In these three views of God we see three distinct roles:

  1. YHWH as investigator and judge.
  2. Three or two men together as friends, protectors, and guides.
  3. One man as giver of mercy.

How can anyone not love Torah!?

One question remains: Why were there three angels with Abraham and only two with Lot? The answer is in the pattern I showed above. Remember that every capital crime must have at least two witnesses and a judge, and the judge cannot also be a witness. So  one sperately referred to as YHWH stood back while the two angels went down to observe the crimes of Sodom and to see if any might be saved. As soon as they had brought God’s people to safety, judgment was executed.

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