Psalm 40:9–18; Esther 8:1–9:17; Romans 10:1–13

Psalm 40:9–18: Our psalmist, speaking as David, reminds God how he has been a great witness and testimony for God’s justice and faithfulness by speaking to all who would listen:
I heralded justice in a great assembly.
Look, I will not seal my lips.
Lord, you Yourself know.
Your justice I concealed not in my heart.
Your faithfulness and Your rescue I spoke.
I withheld not form the great assembly Your steadfast truth.” (10, 11)

These verses are a good personal reminder about my reticence to speak of God (and Jesus) aloud, and how he has made my life far better than it could have been. I need to be bold in the way that David has been bold.

Our psalmist is on a roll as he recounts to all who will listen the great things God has done—and will continue to do— for him:
You, Lord, will not hold back
Your mercies from me.
Your steadfast truth
shall always guard me.” (12)

He recalls how that under the influence of evil companions, he abandoned God for a time:
For evils drew round me
beyond count.
My crimes overtook me
and I could not see—
more numerous than the hairs of my head—
and my heart forsook me.” (13)

This verse is an excellent reminder that we are all subject to—and so often acquiesce to—temptation. Which is why we pray “lead us not into temptation” in the Lord’s prayer.

So far, so good. I can relate to all these verses of God’s faithfulness and his protection in times of trouble. But now he launches into a request that God deal harshly with those who hurt him:
Lord, to my help hasten.
May they be shamed and abased one and all,
who seek my life to destroy it,
may they fall back and be disgraced,
those who desire my harm.” (14, 15)

Of course, as Jesus reminds us, we are not to pray for the destruction of our enemies, but rather to turn the other cheek. On the other hand, who among us—including myself—have not wished harm on those who have hurt us, probably in ways far more trivial than how David was pursued by his enemies?

But at the end of this psalm, there’s no question that we can pray with the psalmist, speaking as David, as earnestly as he:
As for me, I am lowly and needy.
May the Master account it for me.
My help, he who frees me You are.
My God, do not delay.” (18)

We are indeed lowly and needy. But until we admit that our prayers are empty and to no avail.

Esther 8:1–9:17: While Haman himself has met his grisly and justified end, and Mordecai now rules in Haman’s stead, the decree to annihilate the Jews that he tricked the king into signing still stands. Esther once again approaches the king and pleads to have the king revoke the orders.King Ahasuerus not only agrees, but delegates the task to Esther herself: “You may write as you please with regard to the Jews, in the name of the king, and seal it with the king’s ring; for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s ring cannot be revoked.” (8:8)

There is not a moment to lose since Haman’s evil decree could already be being enforced in parts of the kingdom. Mordecai insures that the word goes out expeditiously. Not only are the Jews saved, but “by these letters the king allowed the Jews who were in every city to assemble and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, with their children and women, and to plunder their goods.” (8:13)

The Jews are saved and “there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a festival and a holiday.” (8:17a) As with all decrees and laws, there are always unintended consequences and “many of the peoples of the country professed to be Jews, because the fear of the Jews had fallen upon them.” (8:17b) Ironically, in the centuries of Jewish persecution, many Jews professed to being Christian in order to escape oppression—or worse.

These people have good reason to fear the Jews, because the king’s decree has allowed the Jews to avenge their injustice as they see fit, including “to lay hands on those who had sought their ruin; and no one could withstand them, because the fear of them had fallen upon all peoples.” (9:2) And vengeance is taken as “the Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, slaughtering, and destroying them, and did as they pleased to those who hated them.” (5). However, “they did not touch the plunder.” (9:9)

Of course, in this movie-like scenario, the king gives permission for the sons of Haman to be hanged on the gallows their father built for Mordecai. The Jews throughout the empire “killed seventy-five thousand of those who hated them; but they laid no hands on the plunder.” (9:16)

We may recoil at the thought of the rescued Jews killing off their enemies, especially given that we operate under Jesus’ command to love our enemies. But these were cruel days and it was eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth all the way. And the Jews did not take the plunder.

Romans 10:1–13: Paul addresses the issue of who will be saved and how they can be saved. He notes that while it may be a necessary condition to “have a zeal for God,” it is not sufficient: “being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness.” (3) Righteousness (or salvation) is imparted only to those who believe on Christ.

These are uncomfortable words for me, but here they are. We would much rather think that every human has the opportunity to be saved. Paul’s words certainly have been the animating force of missionary efforts for the last couple of centuries. But I think may of these missionary efforts have been culturally misguided, even to the extent of forcing people to become Christians more or less against their will.

This happens because people ignore what Paul goes on to say in this passage: that “righteousness comes through faith.” (6) As the Evangelicals remind us always, quoting Paul’s famous verse, “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (9) Paul goes on to describe the process that involves both heart and voice: “For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.” (10)

While I certainly agree with the Lutheran doctrine that it is Christ who seeks us out and comes to us via baptism, there is still the responsibility on our part to confess that Christ is Lord. This, to my mind, was the great value of confirmation as a formal process that led to that confession.

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