Psalm 40:1–8; Esther 6,7; Romans 9:22–33

Psalm 40:1–8: Unlike the dark musings of the previous psalm, this psalm opens on a bright note of thanksgiving: God has heard and answered. “I urgently hoped for the Lord./ He bent down toward me and heard my voice.” (2) But even more important is that God rescued him: “He brought me up from the roiling pit,/ from the thickest mire.” (3)

There is an image of complete renewal following rescue: “He set my feet on a crag,/ and made my steps firm./ And he put in my mouth a new song–/praise to our God.” (4) God listens, answers, and then in a gesture of grace, renews. God does more to us and for us than we can ever expect or hope for.

Now rescued, the psalmist sings his new song. “Many things You have done–You,/ O Lord our God–Your wonders!/ And Your plans for us–/ none can match You.” (6). So, what are God’s plans for us? Does he carefully map out or lives, as some believe, choosing our spouse, our career, our offspring, the time of our demise? I do not believe so. Instead, I think God’s plans are that he has given us the freedom of will, knowing that his plans for us to lead a joyous life–deep joy being suffused with love, happiness, and sorrow–will be fulfilled as long as we follow in his ways.

I’m pretty sure God is not looking to have a relationship with automatons, but with humans in all their joy, their flaws and their seeking after God, knowing we are loved.

Esther 6,7: In a bout of insomnia, the king orders the book of records to be read. (Nothing like a boring record book to be lulled back to sleep!). The records describes Mordecai’s successful efforts in foiling the plot to assassinate the king. The king wonders, “What honor or distinction has been bestowed on Mordecai for this?”(6:3) and orders that robes, a horse and other honors be bestowed on Mordecai. In a wonderful cinematic twist–the very definition of irony, it happens to be Haman, just arriving to announce his intention to hang Mordecai, who is given the duty instead to honor the Jew whom he plans to kill.

Haman is depressed, to say the least, about this dreadful turn of events. As he is commiserating with his wife and friends, “the king’s eunuchs arrived and hurried Haman off to the banquet that Esther had prepared.” (6:14)

Our author has prepared a brilliant setup, and Haman is flung headlong into the trap. On the second day of Esther’s party, the king asks, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” (7:2). Notice that Esther approach the king. She clearly understands how men think!

Esther doubtless surprises the king with the answer to his request: “if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people.” We can be sure the king was not expecting this!

In a brilliantly clever and insightful move that appeals directly to the king’s ego, Esther frames the wrong being done to her people as an insult to the king himself: “If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” (7:4) Esther does not have to accuse Haman herself because the king asks, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” (7:5). Esther names Haman.

An ordinary author would have ended the story there, but this author adds one final twist to seal Haman’s fate. The king leaves the banquet hall in wrath and Haman throws himself literally on Esther’s couch, begging for mercy. The king returns, sees Haman effectively on top of Esther and shouts, “Will he even assault the queen in my presence, in my own house?” Haman’s fate is completely sealed and in another nice irony is hung on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai.

Again, we need to be careful not to read a lot of theology into this marvelous story of courage and cleverness. It’s just a cracking good story–and it’s no wonder it has been preserved. One never tires of reading it and seeing how good triumphs over evil.

Romans 9:22–33: Paul concludes his essay on the relationship between Israel and Gentiles under the terms of the New Covenant with a simple comparison: “Gentiles, who did not strive for righteousness, have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but Israel, who did strive for the righteousness that is based on the law, did not succeed in fulfilling that law.” (30) He immediately gives the reason for Israel’s failure: “Because they did not strive for it on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone,” (32). In short, the works became the end unto themselves, not the expression of a deeper faith in God. 

It’s easy for us to condemn Israel for its obsession with works. yet, we do exactly the same thing when we think faith is about what we do–go to church, do good works, give money–not who we are before God–as expressed by our faith in God. It’s far too easy for our works to become the end not the means as we reflect on how “good” we are and how we have somehow made God happy by dint of our efforts, when it’s completely the other way round. Without faith, works are dead. Something I think that finally became quite clear to Martin Luther. Would that it would become as clear to me.

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