Psalm 39:7–13; Esther 4,5; Romans 9:8–21

Psalm 39:7–13: The psalmist continues to explore the relationship between ephemeral man–“In but a shadow a man goes about./ Mere breath he murmurs” (7)–and God.  He knows he is in dire straits and “my hope is in You.” It is God alone who “From all my sins [can] save me.” (9) But it’s a conflicted relationship. While the psalmist’s hope rests in God, he also sees God as the source of punishment for his sins as he pleads, “Take away from me Your scourge,/ from the blow of Your hand I perish.” (11)

This is a beautiful description of how Jews related to God under the terms of the Old Covenant: God was at once the source of all hope, but also the source of punishment for wrongdoing. For those of us benefitting from the intercession of Jesus Christ, we can experience the grace daily for which the poet is so desperately seeking.

But even under the terms of grace, we can easily identify with the plea to “Hear my prayer, O Lord,/ to my cry hearken,/ to my tears be not deaf.” (13). And then, the line with which I identify so strongly—even after all these years: “For I am a sojourner with You,/ a new settler like all my fathers.” (13b) God remains mysterious and unknowable. We are mere sojourners–the creatures, who are here but a moment, not the creators.  This is humility in the face of greatness. “Look away from me that I may catch my breath / before I depart am am not.” (14) God is to great, too powerful, yet He is the source of all hope and love in this short time that we are alive on earth.

Esther 4,5: The Esther story rolls forward relentlessly as Mordecai tears his clothes at the news of Haman’s plan to kill all the Jews. Esther hears of this and “the queen was deeply distressed.” Mordecai arranges for the news of the king’s edict to be brought to Esther and for Esther to appeal to the king. But Esther demurs, explaining, ““All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—all alike are to be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden scepter to someone, may that person live.” (4: 11) Mordecai responds, ““Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.” (12). Esther steals her courage, asks Mordecai to have the Jews fast on her behalf and agrees to approach the king, and “if I perish, I perish.” (17).

Notice how Esther’s courage comes both from inside her, but also in the knowledge that she is supported by the entire community. I think to many would-be heroes skip the role of community and depend on their own resources. Esther knows that it is only through the the prayer and fasting of others that she will be able to come into the presence of the king.

Esther is not only brave, she is clever. She comes to the king not with her plea, but with an invitation to dinner: “If it pleases the king, let the king and Haman come today to a banquet that I have prepared for the king.” (5:4) Haman feels honored to be invited to dinner with the king and queen. But even this does not quench his hatred for the upstart Mordecai, “Yet all this does me no good so long as I see the Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate.” (5:13). At the advice of his wife, Haman prepares a gallows for Mordecai in order to hang him before the banquet.

Haman is the symbol of pride gone off the rails: a pride that becomes mindless hatred. And I have to believe that many Jews in the Middle East today can identify with Mordecai as they are surrounded by hatred. But do they possess the faith and humility, as well as the wisdom of Mordecai?

Romans 9:8–21: Paul points out that “the children of promise” are those whom God has chosen rather than by what good works they may have done. It all comes from him; we do not send our good works to God and receive grace in return. Instead, “So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy.” (16) This of course turns the entire Jewish system of sacrifice to propitiate God completely on its head. The terms of the New Covenant are radically different than those of the old. Jesus is the hinge point between the two. His death and resurrection have abrgated the terms of the Old and replaced sacrifice with mercy.

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