Monday, August 8, 2022

A Repentant Man

David was a man after God's own heart, but that doesn't mean he had an easy path through the world of men. As you may remember, his life was filled with grief and strife - much of it, of his own making! Sure, he started out getting the short end of Saul's spear because of God's favor on him, but he made his own mistakes, too, and wrecked his life in almost every way imaginable. 

David brought sin upon his house when he slept with Bathsheba, the wife of another man. He brought more sin upon his house when he then had Bathsheba's husband killed. The whole time, mind you, he was supposed to be out leading his men to battle like kings in those days did, but he was at the palace living the sinful life. He conducted a census against the Lord's wishes and brought grief on the men. 

He had all the makings of a great king, but all the failures of a mortal man. He had a heart after the Lord, but even his heart was wicked in the same ways that ours are. 

As a result, David lived his life with a number of enemies. And we see this documented for us nowhere better than in the Psalms, when David cries out quite a bit from under the pursuit or the trap of those who don't particularly love him. 

There's an interesting little quip in one of the Psalms, though, that ought to make us pause for a moment. It ought to give us a little turn of the head like, "Whoa - what's that?" When we read it, the contrast is stark and the switch between emphases so abrupt that we can't help but notice. 

We're talking about Psalm 41:4-5. 

I say, "Have mercy on me, O Lord! Heal me; for I have sinned against thee!" 

My foes say evil of me, "How long till he die, and his name perish?"

But as the psalm continues, we get the sense that when David is talking about his foes, he's not talking about some foreign enemy or oppressor; he's talking about those close to him. The next few verses are going to talk about those who come close to him, as confidants would. They're going to talk about friends who abandon him and turn away. Even my friend in whom I trusted, verse 9 says.

So when we're reading this verse, it's important that we know that we're not talking about something like David vs. the Amalekites here; we're talking about David and his inner circle. Or, who he thought was his inner circle. Or, who he wanted to be his inner circle. 

Those to whom he is most vulnerable are mumbling and grumbling out loud and asking themselves when they're going to be rid of him already, when this sinful man (which he confessed himself in the previous verse) is finally going to die and stop being a burden. 

When I read these verses recently, the note that I wrote myself was this: 

"Did not his foes know that he repented?"

 And I think that's something very important that we should talk about. So...let's do it. 

Friday, August 5, 2022

A Hostile World

Truthfully, it doesn't make any sense for us to live at odds with the world the way that we do. When we go in like we don't live here and try to deal with our world the way that Israel dealt with most of her foes, we end up just destroying ourselves.

Because we're at home, if we take any plunder from this world at all, it becomes established in the place where we already live. It becomes an addition to our home, not an offering we make on our journey there. 

This is how so many of us have gotten ourselves in trouble. We have built our houses and set them up for the kind of faith that we want to live, then we have dwelt in a plunderous relationship with the world and ended up "finding space" in our settled homes for all of these other things that we've wanted to take from the world. Things that have no place on our shelves. 

Things like...politics. And language. And striving for success. And the world's definitions of "good" and "wealthy" and "well." And whatever else we want to put here. And all of a sudden, we find ourselves sabotaging our own existence because we took so much from the world, and it has crowded out our home. We no longer have the space for living in faith because we've pushed it around and moved it aside and tucked it away to make room for all of the things that we've brought in from the world. 

We don't have to do this. This is why when you're already at home, already settled, you don't just start bringing in plunder.

Worse yet, too many Christians seem intent on just burning the world down around them. They have taken such an antagonistic stance toward the places where we already live that they spend their whole life of "faith" trying to tear it all down. 

But when you burn down the place where you live, you burn down the place where you live! (Yes, it really is that simple.) When you burn down the city square, you burn down the courthouse that offers you justice in this place. When you burn down the marketplace, where do you think you're going to get your groceries? When you burn down the schools, where is community education supposed to come from?

We burn down the structures of the places where we live, and then we complain that where we live is a barren and desolate place that doesn't offer us a meaningful chance at life. Well, duh! We burned that down because it was "sinful" or whatever Christian-ese we want to use about it. It doesn't make any sense, and it's not the way God wants us to live with the world. 

We are Jews in Persia, sojourners in a land far from home, but God has settled us here for now. And He has given us the story of Esther to tell us how, then, we should live. The only option for Christians is the Purim option - it's living here and taking only our lives. It's leaving everything else alone.  

Thursday, August 4, 2022

A Place Called Home

Why does this matter? Why are we talking about Israel's refusal to take spoils from the battle at Purim?

Because we are a people like the Jews in Persia.

We are a people of God at home in an exile, living in a place where He has told us to put down our roots and to make our homes, while also praying for the peace and prosperity of the place where we live. (Yes, He said this about Babylon, but it holds true for Persia, too.) We are a people who are settled here, who have established our own households and our own rhythms. We are a people for whom the only thing truly at stake is whether we live here or die here. 

And yet, we are a people living like we are on a war path with the culture.

We are a people living like we're still in Exodus, living like we're still on our way toward the Promised Land and like we have to be tearing a new path through this world, kicking butt and taking name. We are at odds with so much of the stuff around us, and our natural inclination is to go through and start burning everything. It's all too impure, we cry! It will never glorify God. It will lead us only down the paths to corruption. And on and on and on we go. 

But that's not who we are as a people in this world. Not after Calvary. Not after the empty tomb. 

Nor are we a people for whom God has not abundantly provided. We aren't a people who have to claim a bunch of stuff so that our empty houses have something to offer to God. We aren't a people who need all these things that we think we can pass through the fire. We aren't building our houses any more. We aren't purifying the land. 

We are a settled people. We are a people for whom God has provided. We are a people living in relative security all while knowing that this is not our home. We don't belong here. This isn't what God planned for us. So, like Jews in Persia who always had one eye on Jerusalem, we've always got one eye on Eternity, but that doesn't change the nature of who we are right here and right now. 

And we have got to stop living like we're on a war path with this world. 

We have got to stop living like we're a people of Exodus, like we're just wandering. We have got to stop living like God is still building our house. We have got to stop living like it's our job to destroy all of the impure things around us. 

God has called us to take care of our house in a place like this. To build our home. To establish our own purity/cleanliness. To draw our own lines. He has called us to live in peace with those around us and to celebrate the blessing He's poured out in our lives that enables us to live here the way that we do. He has called us to keep one eye on heaven, yes, but to be a settled people, as well. 

We're at home here. Temporary home, but still home. So our relationship to the spoils here must be like that of the Jews in Persia - take nothing but your life itself, if God so grants it to you. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Plundering Purim

So what we've been setting up is that Purim was unlike any other encounter that Israel had with her enemies because not only did she take no plunder, but she neither burned everything up. Israel walked away from that encounter with the Persians with only her life.

Why?

To put it simply, she was already at home. 

Israel was settled in the land of Persia; she had been in exile for quite a while, certainly long enough to be well-established. They were so integrated into the land that no one seemed to know that Esther was a Jew until she told them. They lived there, worked there, loved there, prayed there. Yes, in some ways, they maintained their own community apart from the Persians, but for all intents and purposes, this was home for them.

When you're established in a place, you don't have much of an interest in bringing in a whole bunch of new stuff to try to establish yourself. You don't need to. You've got your own stuff, and this is your own place, so your own place is full of your own stuff. 

That also means you have plenty to offer to God. You don't need a bunch of other stuff as sacrifice or offering. You don't need extra rams; you have plenty of your own. You don't need extra wheat; you've got that, or at least, you've got access to it. You're already set up to have plenty of stuff of your own, especially when God is blessing you in a place like this, so you don't need Persia's stuff. 

And you're already established here, which means you've already adopted as much of the culture as you're willing to. When you've been a people in exile this long and have set up your households so firmly in this place, you've established your rhythms and routines and priorities, so the temptations of Persia aren't so tempting to you any more. You don't need to burn everything because you're not going to fall into those traps. 

Not to mention, burning everything will make you detestable to the people who have been fairly gracious to you in your captivity thus far. And God has made clear to His exiled people that they're supposed to settle themselves in this place and be gracious toward their captors and these cities. To pray for their peace and prosperity. There's no reason to be starting fires. 

The situation that Israel found herself in in Persia was totally different than the other situations in which she had to fight for her life against her enemies. She fought this time as a settled people - an exiled people, yes, but a settled people in their own home. Not a Promised people moving through enemy territory. So the way that she encounters this fight is different.

The only thing Israel stands to gain or lose on Purim is her life. So at the end of the day, that's all she needs to walk away with. 

Thus, she does.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Plunder

If we're going to talk about what's going on when Israel doesn't take any spoils from their defeat of the Persians at Purim (the book of Esther), then we should start by looking at Israel's relationship to plunder throughout her history. 

And essentially, there are two narratives here. 

The first narrative is that sometimes, we take no plunder. We take no plunder because the peoples we are coming up against are simply too wicked and their practices and possessions are so corrupt that we could not possibly bring them into our own culture without corrupting ourselves. 

When this is the case, God's people have been instructed to simply burn everything. Burn it all. Destroy it thoroughly. Make sure that there is not one recognizable atom left on top of another so that absolutely nothing impure can possibly make its way into Israel's camp. 

This was the sin of Achan. It's not just that he took something when God had instructed them not to take anything. It's that what he took was so thoroughly impure that he brought an uncleanness into Israel's camp by the very item itself, not to mention his own sin of disobedience. 

This was not some kind of test that God was running of His people. "Will they, or won't they, destroy what I tell them to destroy?" We have to get out of that kind of mindset of God because that's not the kind of God that He is. This was an act of kindness from God, in that He knew how corrupt the spoils were from these towns and these peoples, and He knew He had to keep them away from His own people, lest their hearts start to wander toward impure things. 

So sometimes, we take no spoil, and when we don't, we burn everything. 

The second narrative that we have with the spoil is that sometimes, we take what is pure or what can be purified. This is where we are when God talks about keeping the livestock, for example, and the jewels and any woman who has not been with a man.

Here, we're looking at things that can be passed through fire...or don't have to be. We're looking at things that will not be burned up easily, but will be purified by heat. We're looking at things like livestock that can be an aroma pleasing to the Lord, that are not defiled, per se, by their peoples' living and thus are well to become a sacrifice. And, of course, we're talking about virgins - young girls who have not been corrupted by their culture yet, who have not been defiled, who have not been responsible for impure rituals of cultic worship. 

In these cases, God lets His people take what is clean or what can be clean. These things become, then, reclaimed in a sense. They are an example of the resurrection, of the kind of redemption that can happen when God's promises are being fulfilled. These spoils are a reminder of what God is doing in all of us. 

Imagine the jewelry from Egypt that becomes tarnished over the years by wandering in the wilderness for so long, but then one day, is purified and cleansed and becomes bright again and it no longer tells the story of Egypt, but of Exodus. That's what we're talking about. That's what God does with the spoils when He lets us take them.

So sometimes, we take spoil, and when we do, we tell a story of reformation. 

These are the two primary relationships that Israel had with the plunder of the nations she came up against. But...it is not the story of Purim. Purim was entirely different. How? And...why?