Psalm 39:1–6; Esther 2:19–3:15;

Psalm 39:1–6: This reflection on the ephemerality of life begins with the psalmist’s resolution to remain quiet: “I thought: ‘Let me keep my ways from offending with my tongue. / Let me keep a muzzle on my mouth…'” (2) Once again, we see the critical role of the voice as being what separates the inner being from the person seen and heard by the rest of the world. Speech is what has set mankind apart from the rest of God’s creation.

But muteness only intensifies the poet’s already existing pain: “I was mute–in silence. / I kept still, deprived of good,/ and my pain was grievous.” (3) But as the poet reflects on his lot, his emotions begin to boil over: “My heart was hot within me./ In my thoughts a fire burned.” And he can remain silent no longer: “I spoke with my tongue.” (4)

Life’s brevity is the topic on which he has been reflecting and now he speaks aloud, questioning God: “Let me know, O Lord, my end / and what is the measure of my days.” (5). The third line of the verse intensifies this sense of ephemerality: “I would know how fleeting I am.” Not waiting for God’s response, the poet answers his own question: “Look, mere handspans You made my days.”  And then in a striking parallel (anticipation?) of Ecclesiastes, he realizes “Mere breath is each man standing.” (6)

As I grow older, this psalm increasingly reflects my own realization of life’s mere “breath.” We behave as if we are immortal, but the reality is that in the larger scheme of God’s creation, we flicker but a moment–and then our flame goes out. The question is, who are we and what have we done during that brief interval?

Esther 2:19–3:15: Esther is now queen, but no one knows her Jewish roots: “Esther had not revealed her kindred or her people, as Mordecai had charged her” (2:20), Mordecai overhears a plot to assassinate King Ahasuerus., which information he passes to Esther, who in turn tells the king. The conspirators are promptly hanged. This part of the story is crucial because it demonstrates that Esther has doubtless earned the king’s trust.

King Ahasuerus promotes Haman to the position of chief of staff, essentially the second most important man in the kingdom. This power goes to his head ad he demands obeisance from everyone in the kingdom. But Mordecai refuses to bow down. Haman decides to rid the kingdom of these obnoxious, irreverent Jews. Haman with essentially a 10,000 talent bribe talks the king into issuing an edict “giving orders to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.” (3:13) THe decree goes out, but with masterful understatement, our author notes that “The king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city of Susa was thrown into confusion.” (3:15).

We can only imagine this “confusion.” Why would the king issue an order to kill the people who had been living peacefully among them for so many years? From the perspective of the 21st century, this is racism taken to its logical, evil conclusion for a reason that is trivial. But Haman also reminds us that there is no limit to the evil of the human heart–especially when its pride is wounded and it possesses substantial power.

Romans 8:34–9:7: Paul’s words of encouragement suggest that the Romans lived in real fear of sin and subsequently, death eternally separating them from the saving power of Jesus Christ. Paul reminds them (us) that “it is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.” (8:34). Moreover this intercession is bathed in love, whose power is such that we can never be separated from Christ.

And then in one of the most powerful and encouraging verses in all of Paul’s writings, he tells us, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (8:38, 39) It is to this verse that we (I) can cling when we (I) are bathed in doubt as to the reality of our faith. Faith and love are intertwined through Christ. Even though we may feel separated, it is just that: a feeling. The reality is that we are intertwined in Christ’s love for us.

Paul then turns to the relationship of Israel to the intercessory power of Jesus Christ. He begins on an emotional note, remembering his own Jewishness: “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.” (3:3). And he reminds us that it is from Israel that their–and our–Messiah has arisen: “to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever.” (3:5).

And then, in a striking passage that suggests (to me, anyway) that Paul is not only arguing to convince his listeners, but himself as well, “It is not as though the word of God had failed.” (3:6), as he begins a disquisition on how Jews and Gentiles are related: “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.” (9:7) Paul is about to turn a couple thousand years of Jewish exclusivity on its head…

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