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We rarely receive the moment of our lives on our terms.

Almost always, the line in the sand is drawn a beach or two away from where we would have preferred. The defining issue is seldom of our choosing.

After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, and advanced him and set his throne above all the officials who were with him. And all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage. Then the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate said to Mordecai, “Why do you transgress the king’s command?”And when they spoke to him day after day and he would not listen to them, they told Haman, in order to see whether Mordecai’s words would stand, for he had told them that he was a Jew. And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury. (Esther 3:1–5 ESV)

The biblical Book of Esther is full of fools. Yet none of them outdoes the legendary Haman the Agagite, who figures in the book’s troublesome narrative as a kind of Fool of All Fools. He is an idiot prince, this Haman, a man whose self-absorbed banality is surpassed only by the arrogance that fuels his rise.

Mordecai does not have much, as these things go, to say for himself. Pretensions of grandeur are absent from his story. His dual concern reduces to his niece and his people. Apart from that, things may roll on as they will. He is not large enough to care very much about such things.

Yet Haman the Great—as the man sees himself—presents Mordecai with a battle which the latter would rather not have joined. All Mordecai need do in order to save his skin is join the puerile throngs in bowing down to this empty suit each time his chariots rush by.

Mordecai will not.

He is not very strategic, this Jewish uncle, this wrench in the spokes of empire, this churlish rebel.

Mordecai did not choose the moment. Yet the whole Book of Esther and the unnamed God who will preserve his people are nothing in this moment if not for one small man’s principled rebellion. ‘I will not bow down before this imperial idiot’, Mordecai might have mouthed to himself, yet probably not to others. ‘There are limits.’

It is nearly always so.

We don’t get to crow about the elevated principles which undergird our moment of virtued glory.

Instead, we get a Haman. A fool. An idiot, presented in full regalia as a royal fait accompli.

It would be perfectly excusable to look way. To go along with the crowds. To bow down.

Mordecai will not.

Somewhere in the watching heavens, the unnamed God’s habit of saving his people from peril is activated, aroused. Somewhere here below, sleeping Jews in provincial towns, unaware that their doom will otherwise fall upon them, dream of other things, not of a perturbed uncle keeping lonely vigil among the gates of empire because his niece is in there, somewhere.

Almost nobody knows. Yet this is it.

 

 

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Before all things, we protect our children.

The park just outside my window is frequented by parents and small children, these defenseless little tykes who would not know a leaf from a wasp. Nor do we expect them to know. So, we cradle them in our arms against all threat unseen. We swoop them low to greet the neighbor’s little doggy, though we would not have them crawl beside the four-legger, for who knows what strange ferocity might kick in suddenly in a world like ours.

We expose them gradually to our little park, one that is in the main benign but might harbor here or there a sting, a bite, a lecher too kind.

Yet the book of Isaiah knows a day when such things will be unthinkable, so will wisdom and understanding and justice and fidelity have taken root in this world’s blighted soil, erstwhile a poison but now a garden.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. (Isaiah 11:8 ESV)

This is not a tale of parental neglect. Rather, a ‘shoot from the stump of Jesse’, a fruitful ‘branch from his roots’ shall have come first among us, the passage announces at its outset. This one (for the arboreal metaphor soon departs and he is simply ‘he’) will stand as a figure so drenched in YHWH’s wisdom, understanding, and knowledge that everything will be new and all will be peace.

This book called Isaiah, seldom given to baseless utopia, speaks of such a day with profuse confidence once the spell of ugly injustice has been broken. The passage before us becomes one of the Isaiah scroll’s earliest contributions to ‘Jewish messianism’, which can here be abbreviated as the expectation of an agent of YHWH who shall set things gorgeously to rights. The chapter presents this figure in the judging and reproving and straight-setting language of YHWH’s own work in the book’s Vision of Visions back in chapter two. What YHWH will accomplish among the suddenly submissive peoples there, this scion of Jesse’s chopped-down stump will enact here, becoming the kind of judge who is not swayed by appearances but rather sees through them to the real heart of the matter and decides accordingly.

Here, as in that Vision of Visions, the result is what we somewhat misleadingly call paradisiacal.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. (Isaiah 11:6–7 ESV)

Soon enough, the text will de-metaphorize itself long enough to signal that the promise is not chiefly about animals. Rather, wolf, lamb, and the rest of them are nations who have quite quickly become the becalmed peoples of whom YHWH can (again) say that ‘they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.’

But that declaration and the explanation that is given for it still await our glimpse of the nursing child and the weaned child who are left to crawl and giggle about the hidings of cobra and adder, not negligently but with understanding of what has become transformed.

The poetry invites its reader to ask with the astonishment that has not been dulled by too much disappointment, has not reduced to cynical disillusion, ‘How could this be?’

Only then does the text give up its reason. It seems that this Figure, this Jesse’s son, this one who perceives, decides, and straightens as YHWH himself does, has not hoarded his understanding. Indeed, he has been globally—cosmically, we are to imagine—generous with it.

For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:9 ESV)

Everywhere, people shall know YHWH.

No wonder, then, that ‘snakes’ don’t bite and ‘wolves’ snooze amid spring lambs, that infants drool un-dangered, that the whole world is new.

 

 

51Fqa6xp4SLBecause of the highly politicized swirl around ‘what happened in Benghazi’, I expected that a good portion of Mitchell Zuckoff’s narrative would be rooted in Washington.

It is not. Instead, the author works with the surviving members of the Annex Security Team to provide a blow-by-blow account of how the events went down, along with significant and what appears to this reader to be highly responsible interpretation of their meaning in the moment.

Although one can discern a certain casual lethargy ‘back home’, the only person who comes in for consistent derision is ‘Bob’, the on-location CIA base chief who for reasons highly related to his ongoing cellphone conversations would not allow the Annex Security Team to do its belligerent job as soon as the lightly secured U.S. Diplomatic Base in Benghazi—within earshot just a short distance away—was breached with lethal intent.

Continue Reading »

Chinua Achebe’s terse, unromantic narrative of one man, one-and-a-half clans, and two 61spl57YceL._SS300_moments (precolonial and incipient colonial), set in an African village, scrupulously avoids moralistic evaluation. Instead, the strong but flawed gait of a too proud man carries the reader along though the ambiguities of tribal life and the arrival of a Western-led Christian church.

The reader surmises quite early that hope hangs on an unlikely scenario where reconciliation of the protagonist with himself, with his clan, and with the newcomers could somehow take place in the alternately shadowed and sunlit landscape that gathers all of these into an unsought encounter.

In the end, hope itself hangs, too sadly, too finally, too inexplicably for this reader’s heart to re-settle as quickly as it would like.

Superb.

One of the most finely crafted and resonant chapters of the biblical corpus achieves its quiet doxology via a horticultural simile, which catches this reader’s eye on the morning after hauling yet another load of subtropical greenery to our Colombian patio.

For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations. (Isaiah 61:11 ESV)

The author has in the preceding verses gone a bit crazy in the search for metaphors that capture the extravaganza of YHWH’s turning towards his people after the ‘brief moment’ of their affliction. Now, they are walls called ‘salvation’, rebellious citizens will have become ‘the righteous’, the oil of gladness will have displaced mourning, Zion’s children will have become famous throughout the world. Continue Reading »

YHWH’s blessing comes not as a single product, well-worn branding splashed across familiar package.

Rather, it sneaks into life variegated, diverse, subtle, nuanced, its hues settling in across the broadest range.

Instead of bronze I will bring gold, and instead of iron I will bring silver; instead of wood, bronze, instead of stones, iron. I will make your overseers peace and your taskmasters righteousness. (Isaiah 60:17 ESV)

The prophet reaches for a poet’s pallet to explain to a weary people why return to all that once was and has been snatched away beyond repair will be more glorious than a captive nation can just now imagine. The cadence of his Hebraic persuasion does indeed speak of shining extremity, for example in the ‘wealth of nations’ that will flow to resplendent Zion, in the transmutation of empty abandon into urban majesty. Continue Reading »

Insondable

Servicio religioso FUSBC, 26 julio, 2018

 

¡Qué profundas son las riquezas de la sabiduría y del conocimiento de Dios! ¡Qué indescifrables sus juicios e impenetrables sus caminos! (Nuestra amiga la Reina Valera ofrece una alternativa a esta última exclamación del apóstol: ‘¡Cuán insondables son sus juicios e inescrutables sus caminos!’) «¿Quién ha conocido la mente del Señor, o quién ha sido su consejero?» «¿Quién le ha dado primero a Dios, para que luego Dios le pague?» Porque todas las cosas proceden de él, y existen por él y para él. ¡A él sea la gloria por siempre! Amén.

(Romanos 11:33–36 NVI)

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Pareciera que la realidad y el dialecto de la Biblia Hebrea cobran mucha fuerza en la vida del apóstol Pablo. Lo digo porque, a la luz de su experiencia de Cristo, él apóstol no puede sino replicar la cadencia poética de tantos brotes de alabanza que él conoce a partir de esos rollos antiguos.

¡Qué indescifrables sus juicios e impenetrables sus caminos! … dice con paralelismo hebreo a pesar de estar escribiendo en griego … ¡Cuán insondables—sabroso el vocablo … ¡Cuán insondables son sus juicios e inescrutables sus caminos!

Y, sin embargo, aquí estamos … estudiantes, profesores, administradores de un seminario bíblico, donde semana en semana … asignatura en asignatura … a lo largo de nueve semestres (o diez … u once …) sudamos precisamente para sondar sus juicios y sujetar sus caminos a nuestro escrutinio. Continue Reading »