Day 258 (Sept. 15): Esther cautiously takes her request to King Xerxes, Haman’s plan to kill Mordecai, Xerxes honors Mordecai, King impales Haman, decree circumvents Haman’s earlier decree to kill Jews, Jews have victory, Festival of Purim, Mordecai promoted and was a “shepherd” of Jews

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Esther 5-10:3

Questions & Observations

O. (Esther 5:13): This sounds like modern-day ultra racism.  It’s hard to believe that racism — like God created one race better than the others — ever existed.  But, I still hear about it, especially in the last presidential election, from both “sides.”  Some were voting for Obama because he was black and others couldn’t handle the thought of having a black man in the White House.  I don’t get that.  Vote for the guy who will do the best job, period.  Skin color doesn’t matter.  My husband and I watched “42” the other night.  It was a long movie, but worth it.  It’s about Jackie Robinson being the first black player in professional baseball.  He had to take a lot of harassment and heckling, but his manager told him to take it, not show his temper and he would come out on top, which he did.  The scene I want to highlight was when there were white people in the stands calling him names and telling him he doesn’t belong.  There was a young boy, happy and celebrating his birthday or something — I don’t remember exactly, but he was in very happy, innocent spirits.  Then, when Jackie Robinson came in the spotlight, the white crowd started heckling him, telling him he doesn’t belong in white baseball.  The boy just looked at all of his adult “role models” doing this and decided it was the right thing to do and joined in.  I’m glad I didn’t live back then!

Q. (7:10): There is something about revenge that is satisfies and calms anger.  Here, King Xerxes is satisfied after Haman is impaled on a pole.  We have read that God’s anger can be satisfied with destruction and devastation.  Why is this?  God is God and He can think, feel and do as he pleases.  But, Xerxes.  I know you have said before that that’s just how the culture was back then.  But, in our culture today, we learn tolerance and give second and third chances.  We are taught to turn the other cheek or to gently, patiently show the offender the better way.  I have also learned that for me, revenge gets you nowhere.  I have never had any huge grudges that have made me want to hurt someone — make them go away, yes, but to hurt them, no — but I do have a history of wanting things my way.  I think many of us do, which makes relationships hard.  But, I have learned that when my husband and I are having a conflict, it does no good to try to be victorious in the battle.  It comes back at me with a vengeance and makes me feel like the bad guy.  Anyway, what changed that revenge used to be OK, but now it’s not?

A. From Deuteronomy on down (32:35 to be exact), the Jews are warned to not take revenge: vengeance is God’s business, not ours.  So I guess you could say that God “changed” the policy of His people — they were not to take revenge, but rather to leave it to God.  This went a long way in ancient society to ending the “blood feuds” where families or villages would get into endless back and forth killing to avenge someone they had lost on their side.  Revenge is poison to all involved.  Note that while Haman’s death is surely a form of revenge, it is not Esther that seeks it, but only the king.  Xerxes was under no obligation of God to avoid doling out vengeance (I’m not saying that makes it right, just noting he’s not under the Jewish obligations to do so).  Jesus and Paul will both have some powerful things to say about taking revenge and its danger, so watch for that.

O. (8:10,11): Yea!  We finally see evidence of how messengers were sent to all ends of the kingdom.  This was an interesting tactic to confront the decree that was already made against the Jews!

Day 216 (Aug. 4): Jehoahaz rules Judah for three months, Egypt’s king made Eliakim the next king and changed his name to Jehoiakim, warning that Judah will be rubble, the temple will fall, Jehoiakim rules with evil and will be punished, Jeremiah escapes death, Judah faces 70 years of captivity

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

2 Chronicles 36:1-4

2 Kings 23:31-37

2 Chronicles 36:5

Jeremiah 22:1-23

Jeremiah 26:1-24

2 Kings 24:1-4

Jeremiah 25:1-14

Questions & Observations

Q. (2 Chronicles 36:1-4, 2 Kings 23:31-35): This seems like an odd move of the king of Egypt to take one brother as a prisoner and make another brother ruler. The Kings’ version tells us that Jehoahaz was evil.  This isn’t why Egypt’s King Neco would remove him though, right?

A. No, Neco likely installed a sibling that he felt that he could control, and possibly one that was weak or easily manipulated.  But regardless, God was not pleased with either of the brothers and the ways that they strayed from their father’s choices.

Q. (Jeremiah 22:1-5): So at this point, Judah has been pretty much destroyed, but Jerusalem still stands in fairly good shape?  So, this is a warning told to Jehoiakim in Jerusalem?

A. It is hard to tell, but Judah’s territory did keep shrinking.  I don’t know the exact breakdown of the territory, but the warning is for the capital.

O. (26:1-19): I love this scripture because it is so clear and easy to understand what is happening.  It has a person who is saying it, a place where it is being said and a good reason for saying it.  Jeremiah has captured the people’s attention.  To me, this is a much different, much more specific style of writing than we have seen from the other prophets.

Q. (26:16, 23-24): Is there something here to make note of?  Why was Uriah killed, but not Jeremiah?

A. He was protected by God and the city elders/leaders, for reasons that only God knows, but he’s not out of danger yet.

Q. (25:11-14): Again, this is clear text and we see exactly what’s happening.  Seventy years of captivity is a long time. Does this have anything to do with 70 years would be a good amount of time for a generation to be gone which would help rid the people of their evil?

A. It is surely a multi-generational punishment (remember 40 is one of our numbers that symbolizes a generation).  The 70 years is also a round figure, corresponding to the period from roughly 605 BC to around 538 BC, when Judah began to return from exile for reasons that will be clear later.  Other scholars believe that this section is prophetic, and refers to a later action in which Jerusalem, including Solomon’s Temple, is destroyed, which takes place in 583 BC, and the rebuilding of the Temple, which begins around 515 BC.

The important thing to note is that Judah will be conquered and controlled by Babylon, but not demolished for a period of many years (roughly 605 to 583 BC).  The Babylonian leadership will begin to take the best and brightest of Judah’s leaders (royal advisors, priests, civil leaders, etc.) and bring them to Babylon as slaves in order to strengthen their own society and weaken Judah.  So by 583, the city is weak, and easily conquered, though there are still some events to come.  So this is why some of the materials that, say, Jeremiah will write will make reference to the people in captivity (Jeremiah 29 is a perfect example): he is writing to the leaders who have been taken hostage, but does so before Jerusalem is actually leveled.  I hope that information can be a guide for our next few days of reading.

Day 142 (May 22): Solomon builds his palace, Great and grand is the interior and furnishings for the Lord’s temple

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

1 Kings 7:1-51

2 Chronicles 3:15-4:22

Questions & Observations

Q. (1 Kings 7:1-12): It sounds like Solomon is building his ego with a palace larger than the temple he’s building for God.  It took him almost twice as long to build his palace than the Lord’s temple.

A. Yes, I would say so.  This is not Solomon’s, uh, wisest move, is it?

Q. (7:13-51): This description of the Lord’s temple is so detailed that it sounds as if it came from God himself.  I think Solomon has certainly honored God with such a lavish place!  Does God comment on the temple later?  I wonder if it’s pleasing to Him.

A. You will find out very soon.  The next step will be to dedicate it.

Q. Is there any of these designer details of the Temple that we should take note of?

A. Other than the objects in question are absolutely massive?  I would say that’s the only thing that needs to be made clear.  This is a massive building — even by modern standards — in every way recognizing, but being superior to, the design of the Wilderness Tabernacle.  Solomon intended his Temple to be eternal (1 Kings 9:13), so he used his father’s fortune in resources to do the best that he could to make it that way.

Day 16 (Jan. 16): Joseph’s brothers go to Egypt twice, brothers feast at the palace, silver cup trick, Judah pleads with Joseph, Joseph reveals identity

Genesis 42-45:15

Questions & Observations

Q. (42:9): Joseph sees his dreams come true.  Are we to believe that this just happened, that Joseph can see into the future or that God made it happen?  In Gen. 45:5, Joseph said that it was God who sent him to Egypt to save his family.

A. My interpretation would be that God was telling Joseph in the vision that he would be the leader of his family, and that his power would rise even above his father Jacob (the sun in Joseph’s dream).  It was God that provided the vision to Joseph, but it was unclear exactly HOW this would come about.  God’s actions, especially providing Joseph with the interpretation of dreams that he could not have known otherwise, certainly points to God being involved in the process, but you can decide for yourself if God “made it happen” in the deterministic sense.

Q & O. (42:14): I see a common scenario thus far in the Bible of schemes for the purpose of assessing loyalty, honor and love.  1) In the Garden, the serpent tempts Eve and Adam to see if they are following God’s commands.  Adam and Eve fail and lose their cushy lifestyle.  2) God tests Abraham’s loyalty by asking him to sacrifice Isaac, his only son.  Abraham is rewarded with a blessing that he is the father of many and through his descendants, all nations will be blessed.  3) Jacob’s loyalty to God is tested when he is tricked by Laban and has to put up with Laban’s cruelty.  Jacob remains true to God, giving Him the credit for his fortune.  4) Jacob tests his father-in-law with his spotted goats and sheep. Laban tries to trick Jacob, but it backfires on him.  He fails the test. Jacob outwits him and prospers.  5) Joseph tests his brothers compassion by planting a silver cup in Benjamin’s bag and accusing him of stealing.  Joseph wins his brothers back.  There are obvious reasons for these tests of love and loyalty.  These tests seem necessary to set wrongs right or weed out the bad apples.  God has apparently administered some of these tests himself and allows others to test on his behalf.  Who tests us — God, the devil or both?

A. Let me start by saying that you have asked a complicated question that does not have a single concrete answer.  In James 1:13, James tells us that God does not tempt anyone to evil, at least directly.  But it is quite clear in the information you have assembled that God DOES allow testing of our hearts, in the examples that you cite, and even in the life of Jesus who was led by the Spirit into the wilderness specifically to BE TESTED by Satan (in Matthew 4).  So scripture does show that God is willing to put us to the test in order to prove (to ourselves and those around us) that our faith is genuine and not easily cast aside.  We will see more examples of the temptation God allows in Job (our next reading) and Exodus.

O. (42:21): Joseph’s brothers feeling that they are suffering the consequences of mistreating their brother reminds me of “an eye for an eye …” Exodus 21:24.

O. (42:32): This verse shows the class inferiority between the Egyptians and Joseph’s brothers.  It’s interesting whom God chooses to carry out his work, not the most famous or rich, but more often the humble.

Q. (43:37): Jacob’s sons from Leah are not his favored sons.  We know that this troubles the brothers.  But, yet, here they have changed their attitude and promise to protect the one known surviving favored son.  Can you give us some insight on why they changed?

A. I think that they are changed men, but their resolve to protect Benjamin comes down to their love for their father.  The story seems to imply that the brothers feel that if they return to Jacob without Benjamin, Jacob will die of a broken heart, having lost both of the sons he cares most about.  It would appear that, besides Reuben who obviously thought the whole idea was a bad one, the other brothers came to regret their decision, and they probably DID assume that Joseph was dead- in that regard they told the truth as they understood it.

Q. Also, we talked in an earlier day’s readings about how Joseph was sold as a slave because of his bragging about his dreams.  Potiphar noticed God’s presence in Joseph, so when was his turning point to follow God?

A. It appears being sold into slavery was Joseph’s turning point as well.  While the text does not state it, it appears that slavery humbles him and helps him to focus on God.  Since he is a slave, Joseph is “stuck” in his service to Potiphar (and later the jailer), but rather than be bitter about his downfall, Joseph trusts that God will restore him.

Q. (44:15) Was Joseph a prophet?

A. In the sense of being able to see the future?  Sort of.  Don’t forget, the story told us that the only vision that was actually Joseph’s was the one of his family bowing down to him.  The rest of the visions and dreams have been from other people (the baker, cupbearer, and Pharaoh).  So I would be hard pressed to declare Joseph a prophet.  In the particular verse in question, it almost appears that Joseph is just using bluster to intimidate his brothers.  He can’t really see how things are in the future, he’s just bragging to them.

The other thing that is worth mentioning is our understanding of the word “prophet”.  The word has a very particular meaning to Jewish readership in particular.  The Prophets (capital P) were a particular group of individuals whose were give a particular vision by God: to call His people back into right relationship with Him.  Prophecy is not just about predicting the future, but rather about calling for people to repent and return to the ways they know to be true but are not following.  The “future” aspect of prophecy works in two ways: the prophet will warn about what happens if the people fail to repent (Jeremiah is the poster boy of this), and the other way prophecy works is in more the sense we are used to seeing.  A prophet such as Isaiah will talk about a day in the future when God will act in a particular way to restore things that have gone wrong (the result of the people failing to repent).  Basically, prophesies such as those about Jesus are about the way that God will restore things to rights, and not abandon His people.  So in this definition, I would say we can clearly see that Joseph is not a prophet in the sense that the Bible defines it.

Q.  (37:7) I’m backing up here to address something I forgot in Day 14.  I have never appreciated egotism.  I don’t think it’s a pretty quality.    Personally, I would have sided with the brothers.  This conflict seems to work in God’s favor in the long run, but he hasn’t purposely set it up like this, right?  He just knows how it will turn out.  I’m trying to accept that God doesn’t control people, he just knows what they are going to do.  In this story of Joseph and his brothers, it’s hard not to think God is making conflict for his own purposes, especially when Joseph said that God made it all happen to save their lives (45:5).

A. This is a pretty complicated story, and it can be hard to sort out exactly what God is doing with these men.  As I mentioned a couple of days ago, it is important to understand that without Joseph in Egypt, the family probably starves.  Now having said that, you are touching upon one of the most important issues that the Bible wrestles with: what role does God play in our destiny (if any)?  I can tell you honestly that its not going to get any easier, as both Exodus and Job both discuss this issue in complicated ways.  So buckle up, we’ve got a ways to go.

My response to the issue of God “setting up” the situation for the brothers is one where I would disagree.  The mindset that I bring to complicated scriptures like this one (and others such as the crucifixion, by the way) is to say God did not cause people to do evil things.  God did gift Joseph with visions of the future, but He did NOT make Joseph arrogant and desire to brag about his visions to his father and brothers.  God certainly did not make Joseph’s brothers desire to kill him, and then settle on selling him into slavery.  But God may have provided a way of protecting Joseph: He may have made it so that the caravan that Joseph was sold to pass at just the right moment to keep his brothers from killing him (since slavery is vastly preferable to being dead).  In the end, Joseph being in Egypt allows his brothers the chance to find forgiveness, after everyone (including Joseph) has been punished for their sins.  So basically, did God cause the situations in this story?  I would say no (though I think there would be some who would disagree with me).  But God did bring salvation to the family THROUGH the terrible actions of Joseph and his brothers.

This is foreshadowing of the cross itself and the sacrifice of Christ (Joseph being the Christ figure).  Did God make Judas betray, Caiaphas accuse, and Pilate condemn?  No.   The crucifixion was the darkest moment in human history: the one man in the entire world who was truly innocent of sin was tortured and brutally killed in our place.  Yet that moment was necessary for the restoration of God and man.  Out of that moment of darkness, God brought light three days later.  The darkness of the crucifixion changed everything.  God took the worst of who we are, our jealousy, our fear, and our willingness to kill, and used it to bring about the salvation of the entire world.  That is the true power of God’s grace: not to cause evil, but to bring goodness through it.