Thursday, April 28, 2011

Esther 1-2 - Parties That Bring Change

1:1-3 – The stage is set.  According to Adele Berlin, chapter one “portrays the Persian court in all its decadent lavishness” and “sets the tone of the book” which is a “tone of excess, buffoonery, and bawdiness” (3).  This would characterize Xerxes and Haman, but does not seem to accurately describe either Mordecai or Esther.  The author of Esther lays out the pomp and “glory” of Xerxes (derived from the Persian khsyay’rsha) in all of his supposed power by establishing the extent of his domain.  He apparently reigned in Susa (cf. Dan.8:2; Neh.1:1) during this account which normally served as a winter palace among the four capitals of the Persian rulers (Susa, Ecbatana, Babylon and Persepolis).  The 127 “provinces” (compare the 120 “satrapies” of Dan.6:1; cf. Ezra 2:1) give particular emphasis to the supposed greatness of the king who threw a banquet in his third year (483BC) for all his officials.  This may have been to determine the best course of action against the Greeks that Xerxes would carry out in the upcoming years before returning in defeat in approximately 480-479BC.
1:4-9 – A Party in Persia.  Perhaps the 180 days mentioned in verse 4 refers only to these meetings with the officials as well as the demonstration of Xerxes opulence.  At the end of that time, he threw a party for seven days by inviting everyone.  The descriptions of the location for the feast are unparalleled in Scripture except by the descriptions of the construction of both the Temple (1 Kings 6-7) and the Tabernacle (Exo.26, 36).  This creates an aura of greatness concerning the scene and also suggests that at the time of the writing of Esther the glory of that scene had passed, but the Temple had been rebuilt (though all of this remains completely unspoken).  The wine flowed freely (or “as befits a king” – Bush 348) at this party and it was, according to Herodotus, customary for the Persians preferred to make important decisions when drunk (1.133).  It is important to the narrative that Queen Vashti gave her own banquet as a separate affair from King Xerxes.
1:10-22 – The King and Queen at Play.  On the final day of the party, King Xerxes  called for his Queen to be brought before him and his whole party to show her off, but Vashti refused and so Xerxes was furious.  So Xerxes sought the advice of his counselors who proposed that in order to save face Xerxes should send out an unrepealable decree (cf. Dan.6:9,13, 16) against Vashti appearing ever again before the king, so that other women will not treat their husbands like Vashti has treated Xerxes.  This is exactly what Xerxes does, but instead of this saving face it ironically reveals the very thing he wished to hide…that Vashti had scorned him.  This is part of the satirical nature of this account (Bush 355).  Further, the lists of the Persian names of the seven eunuchs sent to fetch Vashti (1:10) and the seven nobles asked for advice (1:14) all may be intended to sound “ludicrous to Hebrew ears” (Bush 350).  Whether this edict was ever even enforceable does not even seem to enter into the equation for the advisors and Xerxes, however the Hebrew may suggest that the goal of the edict was assure of husbands of their wives’ respect (1:20) and of ruling their houses (1:22) than that this should be the actual edict (Berlin 20).  Why might Vashti (who after verse 19 is never again referred to with the title “Queen”) have not appeared before Xerxes?  Should we moralize this account to either vilify her for not honoring her husband or should we honor her for not appearing?  Or should we simply recognize that whatever her reason it ultimately did not matter to the author other than to set the stage for someone else to become Queen in her place without any comment as to the wrongness or rightness of any of these actions?
2:1-14 – The Search for a Queen.  Xerxes later seemed to wish he still had his Queen, but since he had decreed that she could never return to him, he sought the advice of his counselors again.  And they advised that he should issue a decree to find among the most beautiful young women of the empire one who “pleases” him to be made queen in place of Vashti.  These women would be put into the harem of the king and would have one night to impress the king after undergoing extensive (one year according to the text of which six months were aromatic in nature) “beauty treatments.”  Suddenly a man by the name of Mordecai is introduced and his lineage is signified as being from the tribe of Benjamin with Kish (the father of Saul[?] in his family tree; cf. 1 Sam.1:9).  He is further connected as either one of the exiles from the time of Jehoiachin (cf. 2 Kings 24:6-17) in 597BC (but this would make him about 120 years old) or as a descendant of one of the exiles.  It is very significant that Mordecai is called “a Jew” (Heb. yehudi) which refers to the ethno-religious origin rather than to the tribal origin (Judah) since he was from Benjamin.  “Mordecai’s most outstanding characteristic” is not his morality, but “his Jewishness” (Berlin 24).  He had adopted his orphaned cousin Hadassah (meaning “myrtle”), daughter of Abihail (2:15; 9:29), whose notable characteristics here are her beauty and body (2:7) and whose name is everywhere else called Esther (from either Babylonian “Ishtar” the goddess of love and war or from Persian stâra for “star”).  The women chosen for the harem were all appointed to Hegai the King’s eunuch who provided for their preparations and who favored Esther.  Mordecai would regularly check on her during all of this time and in the days to come as he had also tried to protect her (knowing what might lay ahead for them?) by telling her to keep her ethnicity a secret.  Can we appropriately accept the actions of either Mordecai or Esther in her allowing herself what will become of her in the life with a gentile King? (cf. Deut.7:3; Ezra 9:12; 10)  In what sense must each of us seek to obey the Lord in a world where it is not always easy to do so?   “Regardless of their character, their motives, or their fidelity to God’s law, the decisions Esther and Mordecai make move events in some inscrutable way to fulfill the covenant promises God made to his people long ago” (Jobes 103).
2:15-18 – A Queen is Found.  Esther chose to make herself appealing by doing what she was told.  This brought favor from those she was surrounded by (cf. Gen.39:4; Dan.1:9).  She was taken to Xerxes after three more years some time in either December of 479BC or January of 478BC.   The king was particularly please with Esther though we are not told exactly why.  Certainly something about her pleased him more than all the other women he had taken to “try out” as a potential queen.  So another banquet was held and this one was in honor of Esther as the new queen.
2:19-23 – A Plot is Foiled.  Mordecai served somehow in the administration (which is what it means to sit at “the king’s gate”) and overheard an assassination attempt was going to be made on Xerxes life.  Rather than use this as an opportunity for a new king he told Esther who told the king and this will prepare for the events in chapter 6 when Mordecai will eventually be rewarded for this deed according to the reading of the annals of that day.  The two potential assassins were “hanged” but this more than likely does not refer to either impalement or to crucifixion, but to exposure of their bodies post-mortem (Berlin 32; Bush 373; cf. Gen.40:19; Deut.21:22; Josh.8:29; 10:26).

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Brief Introduction to the Book of Esther

This is a story of feasts or banquets (Esther 1:3, 5, 9; 2:18; 5:2-5; 5:8; 8:17; 9:17-19) and thus “the major purpose of the book of Esther is to provide the historical grounds for the celebration of the feast of Purim” (599).  This festival was to be “binding” (the Piel of the Heb. qûm Esther 9:21, 27, 29, 31-32) for every following generation.  In relation to this festival re-enactment, the book is filled with “intrigue, brutality, nationalism, and secularity” (Childs 604).  Purim may perhaps be regarded as “a carnival performance of misrepresentation” which finds its characterizations in the account of Esther (Brueggemann 347).  “All Israel shares in the joy of rest and relief….It is a time to remember by hearing again the story of Purim.  The effect of the reshaping of the festival is not to make a secular festival into a religious one, but to interpret the meaning of Purim in all its secularity in the context of Israel’s existence, which is religious” (Childs 605).  We should say that Esther gives emphasis to the particularity of Jewishness and through the annual celebration of Purim this Jewishness is again renewed and the Jewish question must always again be raised, just as Paul has done so in Rom.9-11 (cf. Brueggemann 344, 347-8). 
As a part of this festival intention for the book, the implicit intent seems to be to show the preservation God’s people through the actions (and at times despite the actions) of His people.  God is at work even when God is not explicitly ever mentioned as being at work.  At least this is the manner in which the text is presented in the Hebrew version.  The Greek LXX versions record a spiritualized text that includes many elements not found in the Hebrew account.  The LXX versions include 105 additional verses beyond the Hebrew version.  When Jerome was translating Esther into the Latin in the fourth century AD, he removed the additional verses to the end of the book because he felt they did not belong to the original text and so in the Latin Vulgate they are numbered 10:4-16:24 even though these various additions make little sense removed from their particular contexts.  The additions are as follows: Addition A—Mordecai’s dream (inserted before Esther 1:1); Addition B & C—The edict of Artaxerxes (the name of according to the LXX) against the Jews & Prayers of Mordecai and Esther (inserted after Esther 3:13); Addition D—Esther appears before the king (inserted after Esther 4:17); Addition E—The decree of Artaxerxes on behalf of the Jews (inserted after Esther 8:12); Addition F—Interpretation of Mordecai’s dream (inserted after Esther 10:3).  The LXX text represents a very “free and paraphrastic” translation of its Hebrew original.  Josephus also includes some additional material as well and there are more Targums (Aramaic texts expounding on a Biblical book) on Esther than any other besides the Torah.  This demonstrates “that surrounding the Esther story there was, from early times, a body of interpretive lore that found its way into the Greek versions and Josephus, and…into rabbinic exegesis” (Berlin lii).
The author is unknown, though the first century Jewish historian Josephus thought that Mordecai was the author (Ant.11.6.1).  Ibn Ezra, later Jewish rabbi, also believed Mordecai wrote Esther and he further explained that the reason the names for God are omitted from the text were because there would have been a copy made for the Persian court and thus Mordecai feared that the Persians would have replaced the name of the LORD with the name of one of their own Gods (Young 345).  This, however, is all conjecture, but it certainly demonstrates an early tradition.  Whoever the author was, they wrote as if they were familiar with the Persian names and customs and thus it seems most likely they were writing in the Persian period and not later (Archer 403-4; Bush 295-7).
Most probably it was not written before 465BC, which is the generally accepted date for the death of Xerxes though it seems even more likely to have been written some time later, perhaps even into the fourth century (Harrison 1088).  The feast is mentioned (though there called Mordecai’s) in 2 Macc.15:36 which records events occurring about the year 161BC.  The events that are recorded in Esther cover approximately the years 483BC (Esther 1:3) to early 478BC (Esther 2:16) and over this time period Xerxes was known to have waged an unsuccessful campaign against the Greeks.  Upon returning from this campaign he apparently chose Esther, even though normally the Persian king would have been expected to choose a queen from among the seven noble families (Herodotus 3.8).  However, it was not unheard of for a Persian king to just take any woman he wanted for a queen (Plutarch’s Lives: Artaxerxes 23.3).  It is actually recorded that the king took for himself 400 women when he took Esther (Jos.Ant.11.200) and that he also had 500 young men annually castrated and made into eunuchs to serve him (Herodotus 3.92).  The Greek historian Herodotus records that at the end of his life Xerxes was actually assassinated in his own bedroom because of his sexual overindulgences that led to liaisons with several of his officers wives (9.109-113).  In other words, Xerxes had lived a lascivious self-serving life that used people for self-pleasure and in the end this cost him his life.  This would not be unlike the self-seeking of Haman whose end would be brought about by his own plans for self-gratification.
The genre of Esther has been variously described.  Several commentators view it as a sort of satirical “comedy” not in the modern sense of the word, but in the classical sense.  It is considered “comedic” in the way in which the story develops and is resolved (Berlin xvi-xxii; Birch, 444).  Mervin Breneman argues that the genre of Esther should be regarded as “historical narrative” because (in his words) it is composed of the three elements of ideology, historiography, and aesthetic appeal (287).  Certainly the author’s introduction to the book (Esther 1:1 “This is what happened”; cf. the similar formula in Joshua, Judges and Samuel) “suggests he intends for his readers to understand the ensuing story as events that actually happened,” despite how one might judge the historicity of such events (Jobes 57).  Concerning the numerous objections to the historicity of Esther note the fairly convincing (though dated) arguments presented by Archer (404-6), Harrison (1090-8) and Young (346-8).  Perhaps we might best consider Esther to be a satirical historical narrative and thus should allow the story to speak for itself (on such satirical issues see the commentary proper).

Archer, Gleason.  “Esther,” A Survey of Old Testament Introduction.  Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1994.  pp.401-406. Berlin, Edele.  Esther.  The JPS Bible Commentary. Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society, 2001.  Birch, Bruce C., Walter Brueggemann, Terence Fretheim, and David L. Peterson.  A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament.  Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1999.  Breneman, Mervin.  Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther.  The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, Vol. 10. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 1993.  Brueggemann, Walter.  An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination.  Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003. pp. 343-349.  Bush, Frederic.  Ruth/Esther.  Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 9.  Dallas, TX: Thomas Nelson, 1996.  Childs, Brevard S.  “Esther,” An Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture. Philadelphia, PA: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1979.  pp. 598-607.  Harrison, Ronald K.  “The Book of Esther,” Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1969. pp. 1085-1102.  Jobes, Karen H.  Esther.  The NIV Application Commentary.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999.  Young, Edward J.  “Esther,” An Introduction to the Old Testament.  London: The Tyndale Press, 1956.  pp. 345-350.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Test on Daniel

So I decided a couple of years ago that I would provide a "test" on the books of the Bible that we covered in Bible study on Wednesdays.  I determined to do this for the pedagogical reason that we learn best when we are held accountable for what we learn and too often no one holds us accountable for what we learn in the congregational I try to hold my folks accountable.  I hand it out and we go over it the following week.  It is a simply multiple-choice test that I never actually collect up and don't see their answers so they don't actually receive a "grade" of any sort from me, but I've found it to be somewhat effective in helping to think about the major characters, themes and theological motifs of a book as well as to discuss the things they've learned or still wonder about.  I'd be interested to know what others think of this idea used in a congregational setting.... (Below is the "Test")

1) What were the Hebrew names of Daniel’s three friends?

a) Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego
b) Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael
c) Larry, Moe and Curly
d) Nebuchadnezzar, Belteshazzar and Darius

2) Where were Daniel and his three friends taken into captivity?

a) Jerusalem
b) Susa
c) Ninevah
d) Babylon

3) Who was the king that was humbled for seven “times” because of his pride?

a) Nebuchadnezzar
b) Darius
c) Xerxes
d) Cyrus

4) What was the meaning of “mene mene tekel upharsin” written on the wall as Belshazzar was in a drunken party?

a) His days were numbered, he was measured and found wanting, and his kingdom was divided.
b) He would be given over to madness for seven “times”, repent, and be restored to his kingdom.
c) There would be four kingdoms to follow his own each represented by another beast, but the final one would be more terrible than any other.
d) An image with a head of gold, chest of silver, legs of bronze and feet with toes of iron mixed with clay would be completely destroyed by an uncut stone that would grow into a great mountain.

5) What doctrine/s does Daniel give particular emphasis to that most of the other books of the Old Testament do not do as clearly? (Choose as many as apply)

a) The Messiah
b) The Resurrection
c) The Last Things
d) The Angels

6) What are the names of the two angels specifically named in Daniel? (more than one)

a) Raphael
b) Gabriel
c) Azrael
d) Michael

7) What king wrote a chapter of Daniel and why?
a) Darius – to give glory to Daniel’s God.
b) Belshazzar – to denounce the gods of Babylon.
c) Cyrus – to show God’s sovereignty to the end.
d) Nebuchadnezzar – to give the glory to the Most High.

8) What was the name of the “little horn” in Daniel 8 and the “contemptible person” who becomes the king of the North in Daniel 11 (he ends the daily sacrifices, causes the abomination that causes desolation and breaks covenant with Israel)?

a) Antiochus IV Epiphanes
b) Ptolemy I Soter
c) Xerxes (Ahasuerus)
d) Alexander the Great

9) What was Daniel known for that separated him from others? (Choose as many as apply)

a) Wisdom
b) Ability to interpret dreams
c) Faithfulness
d) Prayers that received answers

10) What seems to be the point of Daniel?

a) That God’s people will never suffer for doing what is right.
b) That God is Lord over the entire world – every king and kingdom.
c) That God allows anyone to do whatever they want whenever they want.
d) That God speaks only to his own people.

What was your favorite portion of Daniel? Why?

What was something you learned for the first time in our study of Daniel?

What questions do you still have about Daniel?

Susanna and Bel and the Dragon

Neither of these two additions to the Book of Daniel has come down in a Hebrew text, but instead in the Theodotion, LXX and Latin Vulgate recensions.  They were thus never included as part of the accepted text by the wider community of Israel, but were used regularly by the early Church which used the Greek translations as their Scripture and found much in these tales that they could use for their own purposes.  They were, however, not regarded as part of the received “canon” of Scripture by all of the churches, but as that which was early on beneficial to be read in the churches.  Even in the KJV these additions were originally included (although they were found not attached to Daniel but in a section labeled “Apocrypha” meaning “hidden” with the notion that these were not considered a part of the received canon of Scripture but were still read in the churches) up until as late as 1826.  While these tales do not add anything essential to the story of Daniel, they do offer examples of wisdom in persistent faithfulness to the LORD in the face of wickedness and false worship…something which the Book of Daniel spells out again and again, and something we would do well to pay heed to in our own day.
Susanna 1:1 There was a man living in Babylon whose name was Joakim. 2 He married the daughter of Hilkiah, named Susanna, a very beautiful woman and one who feared the Lord. 3 Her parents were righteous, and had trained their daughter according to the law of Moses.
            4 Joakim was very rich, and had a fine garden adjoining his house; the Jews used to come to him because he was the most honored of them all. 5 That year two elders from the people were appointed as judges. Concerning them the Lord had said: "Wickedness came forth from Babylon, from elders who were judges, who were supposed to govern the people." 6 These men were frequently at Joakim's house, and all who had a case to be tried came to them there. 7 When the people left at noon, Susanna would go into her husband's garden to walk. 8 Every day the two elders used to see her, going in and walking about, and they began to lust for her. 9 They suppressed their consciences and turned away their eyes from looking to Heaven or remembering their duty to administer justice. 10 Both were overwhelmed with passion for her, but they did not tell each other of their distress, 11 for they were ashamed to disclose their lustful desire to seduce her. 12 Day after day they watched eagerly to see her.
 13 One day they said to each other, "Let us go home, for it is time for lunch." So they both left and parted from each other. 14 But turning back, they met again; and when each pressed the other for the reason, they confessed their lust. Then together they arranged for a time when they could find her alone.
 15 Once, while they were watching for an opportune day, she went in as before with only two maids, and wished to bathe in the garden, for it was a hot day. 16 No one was there except the two elders, who had hidden themselves and were watching her. 17 She said to her maids, "Bring me olive oil and ointments, and shut the garden doors so that I can bathe." 18 They did as she told them: they shut the doors of the garden and went out by the side doors to bring what they had been commanded; they did not see the elders, because they were hiding. 19 When the maids had gone out, the two elders got up and ran to her. 20 They said, "Look, the garden doors are shut, and no one can see us. We are burning with desire for you; so give your consent, and lie with us. 21 If you refuse, we will testify against you that a young man was with you, and this was why you sent your maids away." 22 Susanna groaned and said, "I am completely trapped. For if I do this, it will mean death for me; if I do not, I cannot escape your hands. 23 I choose not to do it; I will fall into your hands, rather than sin in the sight of the Lord."
 24 Then Susanna cried out with a loud voice, and the two elders shouted against her. 25 And one of them ran and opened the garden doors. 26 When the people in the house heard the shouting in the garden, they rushed in at the side door to see what had happened to her. 27 And when the elders told their story, the servants felt very much ashamed, for nothing like this had ever been said about Susanna.
 28 The next day, when the people gathered at the house of her husband Joakim, the two elders came, full of their wicked plot to have Susanna put to death. In the presence of the people they said, 29 "Send for Susanna daughter of Hilkiah, the wife of Joakim." 30 So they sent for her. And she came with her parents, her children, and all her relatives. 31 Now Susanna was a woman of great refinement and beautiful in appearance. 32 As she was veiled, the scoundrels ordered her to be unveiled, so that they might feast their eyes on her beauty. 33 Those who were with her and all who saw her were weeping.
 34 Then the two elders stood up before the people and laid their hands on her head. 35 Through her tears she looked up toward Heaven, for her heart trusted in the Lord. 36 The elders said, "While we were walking in the garden alone, this woman came in with two maids, shut the garden doors, and dismissed the maids. 37 Then a young man, who was hiding there, came to her and lay with her. 38 We were in a corner of the garden, and when we saw this wickedness we ran to them. 39 Although we saw them embracing, we could not hold the man, because he was stronger than we, and he opened the doors and got away. 40 We did, however, seize this woman and asked who the young man was, 41 but she would not tell us. These things we testify." Because they were elders of the people and judges, the assembly believed them and condemned her to death.
 42 Then Susanna cried out with a loud voice, and said, "O eternal God, you know what is secret and are aware of all things before they come to be; 43 you know that these men have given false evidence against me. And now I am to die, though I have done none of the wicked things that they have charged against me!" 44 The Lord heard her cry.
 45 Just as she was being led off to execution, God stirred up the holy spirit of a young lad named Daniel, 46 and he shouted with a loud voice, "I want no part in shedding this woman's blood!" 47 All the people turned to him and asked, "What is this you are saying?" 48 Taking his stand among them he said, "Are you such fools, O Israelites, as to condemn a daughter of Israel without examination and without learning the facts? 49 Return to court, for these men have given false evidence against her."
 50 So all the people hurried back. And the rest of the elders said to him, "Come, sit among us and inform us, for God has given you the standing of an elder." 51 Daniel said to them, "Separate them far from each other, and I will examine them." 52 When they were separated from each other, he summoned one of them and said to him, "You old relic of wicked days, your sins have now come home, which you have committed in the past, 53 pronouncing unjust judgments, condemning the innocent and acquitting the guilty, though the Lord said, 'You shall not put an innocent and righteous person to death.' 54 Now then, if you really saw this woman, tell me this: Under what tree did you see them being intimate with each other?" He answered, "Under a mastic tree." 55 And Daniel said, "Very well! This lie has cost you your head, for the angel of God has received the sentence from God and will immediately cut you in two."
 56 Then, putting him to one side, he ordered them to bring the other. And he said to him, "You offspring of Canaan and not of Judah, beauty has beguiled you and lust has perverted your heart. 57 This is how you have been treating the daughters of Israel, and they were intimate with you through fear; but a daughter of Judah would not tolerate your wickedness. 58 Now then, tell me: Under what tree did you catch them being intimate with each other?" He answered, "Under an evergreen oak." 59 Daniel said to him, "Very well! This lie has cost you also your head, for the angel of God is waiting with his sword to split you in two, so as to destroy you both."
 60 Then the whole assembly raised a great shout and blessed God, who saves those who hope in him. 61 And they took action against the two elders, because out of their own mouths Daniel had convicted them of bearing false witness; they did to them as they had wickedly planned to do to their neighbor. 62 Acting in accordance with the law of Moses, they put them to death. Thus innocent blood was spared that day. 63 Hilkiah and his wife praised God for their daughter Susanna, and so did her husband Joakim and all her relatives, because she was found innocent of a shameful deed. 64 And from that day onward Daniel had a great reputation among the people. (Susanna 1:1-64 – NRS)
Discussion of Susanna
This particular story is usually numbered as chapter thirteen of the Book of Daniel; however, in some Greek texts it was put as the very first chapter which would be awkward as well.  This was written to account for Daniel’s standing among his own people, but nowhere else in the book of Daniel is this at issue.  The book of Daniel is presented simply as an account of Daniel’s rise among the Gentiles as one possessed of wisdom and understanding to demonstrate the sovereignty of the Lord over all the other nations.  So this particular addition becomes rather difficult to include in light of the overall scheme of Daniel.  The text included above (translated by the NRS) is largely taken from the much longer recension of Theodotion as opposed to the much briefer LXX recension.  The account notes false judges who attempt to abuse a righteous woman trying to use the Law against her by offering false testimony in order to put her to death (Lev.24:14), but instead they are put to death as false witnesses  when proven to be false by the wisdom of Daniel (Deut.19:18ff).  “Against the background of accepted theism the narrative showed that the divine will was given normative expression in the Torah of Moses, and that injustice was unequivocally condemned by the written Word.  Her experience of God led Susanna to choose death rather than sin, but in making this decision she was actually placing her entire confidence in the divine ability to answer prayer and vindicate the innocent suppliant.  By contrast, however, the deceitful wicked were unmasked and exposed, despite their hypocritical pretensions to justice and religion” (Harrison 1251).
Bel and the Dragon 1:1 When King Astyages was laid to rest with his ancestors, Cyrus the Persian succeeded to his kingdom. 2 Daniel was a companion of the king, and was the most honored of all his friends.
 3 Now the Babylonians had an idol called Bel, and every day they provided for it twelve bushels of choice flour and forty sheep and six measures of wine. 4 The king revered it and went every day to worship it. But Daniel worshiped his own God. So the king said to him, "Why do you not worship Bel?" 5 He answered, "Because I do not revere idols made with hands, but the living God, who created heaven and earth and has dominion over all living creatures." 6 The king said to him, "Do you not think that Bel is a living god? Do you not see how much he eats and drinks every day?" 7 And Daniel laughed, and said, "Do not be deceived, O king, for this thing is only clay inside and bronze outside, and it never ate or drank anything."
 8 Then the king was angry and called the priests of Bel and said to them, "If you do not tell me who is eating these provisions, you shall die. 9 But if you prove that Bel is eating them, Daniel shall die, because he has spoken blasphemy against Bel." Daniel said to the king, "Let it be done as you have said." 10 Now there were seventy priests of Bel, besides their wives and children. So the king went with Daniel into the temple of Bel. 11 The priests of Bel said, "See, we are now going outside; you yourself, O king, set out the food and prepare the wine, and shut the door and seal it with your signet. 12 When you return in the morning, if you do not find that Bel has eaten it all, we will die; otherwise Daniel will, who is telling lies about us." 13 They were unconcerned, for beneath the table they had made a hidden entrance, through which they used to go in regularly and consume the provisions.
 14 After they had gone out, the king set out the food for Bel. Then Daniel ordered his servants to bring ashes, and they scattered them throughout the whole temple in the presence of the king alone. Then they went out, shut the door and sealed it with the king's signet, and departed. 15 During the night the priests came as usual, with their wives and children, and they ate and drank everything.
 16 Early in the morning the king rose and came, and Daniel with him. 17 The king said, "Are the seals unbroken, Daniel?" He answered, "They are unbroken, O king." 18 As soon as the doors were opened, the king looked at the table, and shouted in a loud voice, "You are great, O Bel, and in you there is no deceit at all!" 19 But Daniel laughed and restrained the king from going in. "Look at the floor," he said, "and notice whose footprints these are." 20 The king said, "I see the footprints of men and women and children." 21 Then the king was enraged, and he arrested the priests and their wives and children. They showed him the secret doors through which they used to enter to consume what was on the table. 22 Therefore the king put them to death, and gave Bel over to Daniel, who destroyed it and its temple.
 23 Now in that place there was a great dragon, which the Babylonians revered. 24 The king said to Daniel, "You cannot deny that this is a living god; so worship him." 25 Daniel said, "I worship the Lord my God, for he is the living God. 26 But give me permission, O king, and I will kill the dragon without sword or club." The king said, "I give you permission." 27 Then Daniel took pitch, fat, and hair, and boiled them together and made cakes, which he fed to the dragon. The dragon ate them, and burst open. Then Daniel said, "See what you have been worshiping!"
 28 When the Babylonians heard about it, they were very indignant and conspired against the king, saying, "The king has become a Jew; he has destroyed Bel, and killed the dragon, and slaughtered the priests." 29 Going to the king, they said, "Hand Daniel over to us, or else we will kill you and your household."
 30 The king saw that they were pressing him hard, and under compulsion he handed Daniel over to them. 31 They threw Daniel into the lions' den, and he was there for six days. 32 There were seven lions in the den, and every day they had been given two human bodies and two sheep; but now they were given nothing, so that they would devour Daniel.
 33 Now the prophet Habakkuk was in Judea; he had made a stew and had broken bread into a bowl, and was going into the field to take it to the reapers. 34 But the angel of the Lord said to Habakkuk, "Take the food that you have to Babylon, to Daniel, in the lions' den." 35 Habakkuk said, "Sir, I have never seen Babylon, and I know nothing about the den." 36 Then the angel of the Lord took him by the crown of his head and carried him by his hair; with the speed of the wind he set him down in Babylon, right over the den. 37 Then Habakkuk shouted, "Daniel, Daniel! Take the food that God has sent you." 38 Daniel said, "You have remembered me, O God, and have not forsaken those who love you." 39 So Daniel got up and ate. And the angel of God immediately returned Habakkuk to his own place.
 40 On the seventh day the king came to mourn for Daniel. When he came to the den he looked in, and there sat Daniel! 41 The king shouted with a loud voice, "You are great, O Lord, the God of Daniel, and there is no other besides you!" 42 Then he pulled Daniel out, and threw into the den those who had attempted his destruction, and they were instantly eaten before his eyes.
 (Bel and the Dragon 1:1-42 – NRS)
(NRS = New Revised Standard Version. Copyright © 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America)
Discussion of Bel and the Dragon
These two accounts were placed at the conclusion of the Book of Daniel in the Greek recensions and were numbered as the fourteenth chapter in the Latin Vulgate (even though Jerome called them “fables” [Latin fabulas] in his preface to Daniel).  The first of the accounts concerns the chief deity of Babylon from about 2275BC onward known as Bel (otherwise known as Marduk).  In the neo-Babylonian period (626-538BC) his worship was particularly emphasized under the auspices of Nebuchadnezzar II with his building of the great temple known as Esagila.  Apparently after the Medo-Persian conquest of Babylon (according to the tale), Cyrus of Persia also worshipped Bel there and believed Bel to consume considerable amounts of food and wine every day.  Daniel, however, knew better and sets out to demonstrate to the king that it was not Bel who consumed it all, but the priests and their families which he succeeds in proving and thereby leads to the destruction of this temple of Bel and the deaths of the priests and their families.
It seems possible that the account of the “dragon” (Greek δράκων can be read as “serpent”) was added to the one of Bel because they both deal with the theme of Daniel demonstrating the falsity of worshipping gods that are not the true God (Harrison 1253).  This dragon was apparently kept as a god and worshipped, but Daniel wanted to demonstrate that it was not a god so he devised a plan to kill it by convincing it to eat tar.  When it died, the people of Babylon were distraught at all that had happened and feared that Daniel had gained influence over the king so they demanded the death of Daniel by having him kept for a week in a hungry den of lions.  However, the prophet Habakkuk was taken by the angel of the LORD (by the “hair of his head” cf. Eze.8:3) from Judah to Daniel in Babylon to feed him in the lion’s den.  When the week had ended and Daniel was shown to have been preserved (cf. Dan.6) those who had Daniel cast in were themselves thrown in and the king confessed the God of Daniel to be God.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Teaching the NT in Two Weeks (for 7th Graders)

The New Covenant: The Life of Christ (Matthew-John)
The One Who Comes – The path of the LORD was prepared by the coming of John the Baptizer.  Jesus of Nazareth was born to fulfill the word of the LORD and as such was actually the Word himself.  When John baptized Jesus the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus and the Father spoke His blessing from heaven.  (Luke 2:67-79; 3:21-22) DOVE   
The Message – Jesus message was that the kingdom of God was near: the sick were healed, people bothered by demons were set free and those who knew they were sinners could be forgiven.  He not only preached this message, but had lived in the power of the message by his victories over the temptations of the devil.  The message required that anyone who was going to be a part of God’s kingdom must obey God’s word and therefore trust in Jesus.  (Mark 1:12-15; John 5:24)  BROKEN-CHAIN
The Messengers – Jesus specifically chose twelve men to deliver his message to Israel (and later to the world).  One of them he knew would betray him and the others he knew would abandon him at his final hour, but he still chose all of them.  They were to pass on all that Jesus did and said, and to do this in the power of the Spirit.  Others would also share this message as they had received it.  (Matthew 10:1-8; Luke 24:47-49) TWELVE
The Final Week – Jesus was hated for his message because it meant that Jesus is Lord and must be trusted.  This led to him being beaten and crucified by the end of the week of the Jewish Passover.  In Jesus crucifixion, he became the sacrifice for sin for all who would trust in him.  (John 19:16-37; 20:30-31) CROSS
The Resurrection – Jesus truly was dead and remained so for three days in a new tomb.  However, on the third day, just as he had told his disciples, he rose from the dead and taught them over forty days.  He finally ascended to heaven in order to send the Spirit to them ten days later.  (Matthew 16:21; 28:1-10; Luke 24:46-53) EMPTY-TOMB
The New Covenant Community (Acts-Revelation)
Alive with the Spirit (Acts) – Those Jesus sent out received the Spirit for the power necessary to be witnesses about him just as he had promised.  Everywhere they went there were signs and wonders and many people who trusted in Jesus (though many others did not).  Others also joined in the special work of sharing the good news about Jesus in distant places (to the whole world) by the power of the Holy Spirit.  (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4, 37-47) FIRE  
Paul and the Churches (Romans-Hebrews) – A man named Saul who had first tried to destroy the Church became a follower of Jesus (changed his name to Paul) and gave his life even while suffering and being imprisoned, to establishing the Church throughout the world because Jesus told him to do so.  As he did this, he would write many letters to the churches, pastors and people he knew to encourage them and to remind them of the things they needed to know and do in following Jesus faithfully as Jesus’ community.  (Titus 1:1-3)  ENVELOPE
James, Peter and Jude – Others also wrote letters to different to remind them of the truth about Jesus and how they were to live because of this.  Two of these are considered brothers of Jesus (James and Jude) and one was among Jesus’ closest disciples.  The call was for right living, but also against false teaching and as a result – sinful living (something which Paul and John also mention regularly).  (James 2:14-24; 2 Peter 1:3-15) ENVELOPES
John (1-3 John, Revelation) – John, the last surviving apostle of Jesus, wrote numerous letters concerning the need for faithfulness to the new covenant in Jesus.  He also received a special revelation of Jesus concerning Jesus coming again in victory and the need to be faithful to the end no matter what comes.  (1 John 2:12-14; Revelation 1:1-8) ‘V’ - (FOR ‘VICTORY’)

The CAPITAL ITALICS are for picture representations of the respective section.  Each section also has a selective Scripture portion as representative. I taught this over two weeks to our youth following the four weeks through the OT for Seventh Graders HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Daniel 12 - The Vision of the End

11:36-39 – The king who exalts himself.  This king does have certain levels of overlap with Antiochus IV Epiphanes (and many commentators believe that this individual is one and the same), but the description does not fit as it did in the verses prior.  The best explanation seems to be that this king is some yet future king who also exalts himself and of which Antiochus IV was only a type.  He is none other than the “little horn” of Daniel 7 and the “ruler who would come” of Daniel 9:26 (cf. the “man of lawlessness” in 2 Thess.2:3-12; the “Antichrist” in 1 Jn.2:18; and the “beast” in Rev.11-20).  This king does “as he pleases” and exalts himself “above every god” and even speaks blasphemies against the one true God (cf. 2 Thess.2:4; Rev.13:12, 14-15).  Note that he will have a certain leeway to do what he plans until the “time of wrath” if fulfilled or “complete”.  What would it mean for him to “show no regard for the gods [the Hebrew could also read “God”, but “gods” is most likely] of his fathers”?  It means that he breaks with those before him and does what would have not been thinkable before.  He also shows no regard for the “desire of women” which some have taken as a reference to unnatural inclinations, others as a rejection of the messianic hope of the Jewish people and still others as the god Tammuz who was likened to such (cf. Eze.8:14).  This last is the most plausible given the context of “gods” before and after.  He regards himself and a god of his own strength as his god and even a “foreign god” as his own.  In the New Testament, this “god” is described as the dragon or Satan, but here we are left to wonder at who or what this might be.  He will give great rewards to those who support him.
11:40-45 – The end of that king.  “At the time of the end” points to the time that was to be completed for this king and thus in some sense to the end of all the kingdoms of this world.  The “king of the South” once again may be referring to Egypt though it may also refer to some alliance considered “south” of Israel while the “north” (rather than only to Syria) may refer to some alliance primarily to the north of Israel.  How these are to be conceived is less important than to consider that this is simply the continuing struggle between kings and kingdoms that fight for control over and in the “Beautiful Land” (the land of Israel; cf. Jer.3:19; Eze.20:6; Dan.8:9; 11:16; Mal.3:12).  Many nations and peoples will fall, but apparently the traditional enemies of Israel (Edom, Moab and the leaders of Ammon – these tribal groups would be in what is now modern Jordan) will not fall to him (contrast Isa.11:14; Mal.1:2-5).  Though he will succeed in his assault against the “king of the south” and many others he will be distraught by news of an impending attack from the east and north and he himself will be at “the beautiful holy mountain” (Jerusalem), but this does not exclude the notion of his forces making their final stand at the valley of Megiddo in what has come to be known as the battle of Armageddon (Rev.16:16).  The end of the king will come and he will not find any help from anywhere – whether his gods or otherwise.  Though he set out to destroy many, he will be destroyed.
12:1-4 – The time of the end.  “At that time” refers to the raging of the last portion of chapter 11 and the raging of the king of the north.  Michael (“Who is like God?”; cf. Dan.10:18, 21; Jude 9; Rev.12:7) the “great prince” is again named and here declared to defend against Israel’s complete annihilation, but not against many being martyred.  The promise of the “time of distress” (Heb. ‘ēt sārâ) is such that there will no other equal for Israel (cf. Matt.24:21 where it appears that Jesus uses the language of the LXX and thus speaks of thlipsis).  According to Zechariah 13:8, only one third of Israel will survive, but it will lead to the ultimate salvation of Israel (cf. Zech.12:10; Rom.11:25-27).  The “deliverance” is not from the first death, but the second death (Rev.2:11; 20:6; 21:8) though this is not at all laid out in Daniel with clarity.  It is notable that only those whose names are “found written in the book” are spared this.  What is this “book”?  According to Goldingay, it would be the citizenry of the “true Jerusalem” (306; cf. Ezra 2; Neh.7; Ps.87:6; Isa.4:3; Eze.13:9); though we might assume this to later be the “book of life” (Ps.69:28; Phil.4:3; Rev.3:5; 20:12, 15; 21:27).  The “multitudes” (Heb. rabbîm) can sometimes mean “all” (cf. Deut.7:1; Isa.2:2), but the typical all inclusive word in Hebrew is kol.  “The emphasis is not upon many as opposed to all, but rather on the numbers involved” (Baldwin 226).  Why are these many said to be sleeping?  The very notion of “sleep” for death implies the reality of the resurrection.  “The words…do not exclude the general resurrection, but rather imply it.  Their emphasis, however, is upon the resurrection of those who died during the period of great distress” (Young 256).  The state of those who “awake”, that is are raised to life, is to either everlasting life or “shame and everlasting contempt”.  Why should these be contrasted and in this manner?  Also, are we to think of a time difference between the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked mentioned here?  (cf. Rev.20:5, 12-13 where it is described in terms as separated by the millennium)
Note the blessing that is given to those who are “wise” (or see the footnote in the NIV “who impart wisdom” which may be the likelier reading).  They are described as shining “like the brightness of the heavens” and “like the stars forever and ever”.  How might this blessing be understood?  It was common to consider celestial beings with the notion of the “stars” (Jud.5:20; Job 38:7; Dan.8:10; 1 Enoch 104), but Paul would later take this up as the promise concerning those who were pure and blameless in a wicked and perverse world (Phil.2:15).  John Goldingay makes note that the angelic beings of Daniel have all been described in very human-like terms and as such he notes the contrast as follows: “As chapter 10 speaks of celestial figures who are the embodiments of earthly institutions, so chap. 11 speaks of earthly figures who are the embodiments of spiritual principles” (317).  What does it mean for Daniel to “close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end”?  It does not pertain to making it a secret since he has already written it down, but instead means that it was to be preserved and protected for the appointed time and the appropriate readership (i.e., the “wise”; see Young 257).  The idea is that only those who are fit to understand this message will do so.  “Many will go here and there to increase knowledge” but they will not discern the times nor the message which was to the wise and discerning (Amos 8:2).  It is notable that Daniel is not included among the prophets in the Hebrew canon, but among the writings and it may very likely be because of his emphasis upon wisdom.  As such this suggests Daniel as a form of wisdom literature, albeit unlike the traditional proverbs or the likes of Ecclesiastes and Job.  Yet, Daniel is intended as wisdom for the future generations who will grapple with hopelessness and despair, but must know that if they will remain faithful they will be raised at the last day and receive their reward despite the terrorizing of the kings of this age and the ages to come.  The end will yet come and the wise know this and live accordingly.
12:5-13 – The end of all these things and of Daniel.  There were two beings, one on either side of the river and one other who hovered over the middle and wore linen and was likely the one from before (Dan.10:5).  Again, Daniel is meant to overhear the conversation.  The question of “How long?” was put to the one hovering over the water who raised both hands which gives special solemnity to the swearing by God (normally only one hand was raised – cf. Gen.14:22; Deut.32:40; Rev.10:5-6) and declares that it will be for “a time, times and half a time” (cf. Dan.7:25; that is for approximately three and a half years).  The time designated was to bring to an end the one who would be destroying the “holy people” (see the NET).  Daniel was still concerned about the outcome of this time that was yet future, but was assured and told that it would be accomplished and would have the effect that was necessary for the wise and the wicked (cf. Rev.22:11).  What should this tell us about applying ourselves to the wisdom of the book of Daniel? 
The final notes about the number of days from the time of the ceasing of daily sacrifices and the abomination of desolation offers a problem to the more simple approximate three and a half years of verse 7.  Instead, 1290 days are first mentioned which would give forty-three months of thirty days each which gives one extra month and also requires thirty day months for the three and half years.  Then the 1335 days for holding out to the end is given which makes for an extra forty-five more days on top of that.  According to John Walvoord, these numbers are necessary for adequate time to deal out judgment and for the establishment of Christ’s millennial kingdom (295-6).  However, it remains rather obscure as to why and without further elaboration elsewhere in Scripture one is left wondering just what was meant (whereas other such issues have had some clarity brought to bear on them by other Scripture).  The best explanation for the days beyond what would be expected seems to be that of Joyce Baldwin: “As in the teaching of Jesus, the emphasis is on endurance to the end (Mark 13:13).  A particular blessing awaits one who goes on expectantly even after the time for the fulfillment of the prophecy is apparently passed, as in the parable of Jesus there is a special blessing for the servant who continues to be faithful even when his master does not come home at the stated time (Matt.24:45-51)” (232).