Day 274: Perseverance in opposition
Nehemiah 4:1-23 Some of the enemies of Judah learned of the rebuilding project and opposed it since the wall would block their access to the city and would allow the Jews to once again develop regional power. The rumors were that these enemies would attack from all sides to prevent the reconstruction from continuing. Therefore, the workers now carried arms and took turns keeping watch at night in order to warn of any possible invasion.
Ch 5:1-19 Nehemiah, who was eventually made governor, needed to rebuild not only the structures of Jerusalem but also the civil society. During the Babylonian Exile, many of the poorer families had mortgaged their land to richer families in order to feed themselves and pay taxes, and now their children were slaves to the wealthy. Nehemiah convinced the rich households to forgive these debts and return the properties to the poorer families. Such a magnanimous gesture was in keeping with the spirit of the Law, which called for a more equitable sharing of goods and a regular jubilee for debt remission. (CCC 2449)
The Book of Esther
Author and Date:
It is believed that Esther was originally written in Hebrew as a story to be read on the Jewish feast of Purim, which commemorates the day that Esther and Mordecai foiled a plot that would have annihilated the Jews in the Persian Empire.
The sources for this original version were likely oral traditions.
A reworked and expanded Greek version appeared around the late first century BC or early first century AD.
In modern translations, some of these Greek additions are inserted into the Hebrew version using a separate numeration of chapter and verse.
The likely audience was all of the Jewish faithful for the purpose of explaining the origins of the feast of Purim.
[Set in the Persian capital Susa, this story relates how God saved his people from the hands of an enemy, this time in a foreign country. As in the book of Judith, the deliverance is brought about through the instrumentality of a woman. The book gives details for the keeping of the feast of Purim in memory of this deliverance. (*The Great Adventure Catholic Bible RSV-2CE, 2018)]
As we have seen in a number of books of the Old Testament, the key themes are the need to remain faithful to God and to their Jewish identity, to trust in God’s Providence and protection, and to recognize that God remains present and at work among his people in subtle, often unseen ways.
Esther also calls the faithful to resist the cultural forces of paganism.
The Greek text includes references to the prayers of the people and God’s attentiveness to those prayers.
The wise and heroic acts of Esther and Mordecai demonstrate fidelity to God and also present a lesson that trust in Divine Providence is not a passive disposition but also often requires our cooperation-and sometimes incredible courage-in order to advance God’s will.
Prayer and mortification are also great tools in discerning God’s will and summoning the strength to act accordingly.
(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)
Esther 1-16 This translation combines elements of both the Hebrew and Greek versions of this book and places the excerpts in chronological order; the italicized sections indicate the text from the Greek version, retaining the widely used chapter-verse numbering from the Vulgate. In doing so, it retains the original chapter-verse structure of each, resulting in a somewhat haphazard order to the chapters and fragmentation. This book is the story of a Jewish woman who found favor with the king of Persia and was made a queen. She used that position to intercede on behalf of her own people in opposition to a corrupt member of the king’s court.
*Ch 11:2 The disarrangement of the chapter and verse order is due to the insertion of the deuterocanonical portions in their logical place in the story of Esther, as narrated in the Greek version from which they are taken. They are printed in italics to enable the reader to recognize them at once. In the old Vulgate these portions were placed by St. Jerome immediately after the Hebrew text of Esther, regardless of their logical position, because he himself did not regard them as canonical. Hence they came to be numbered 10:4-16:24. It has been thought best to leave the chapter and verse numbering unchanged in the present edition. (*The Great Adventure Catholic Bible RSV-2CE, 2018)
Ch 11:2-12 [Greek] Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, was a servant in the court of King Ahasuerus; his dream provides a metaphorical image for the entire book. Visions and dreams filled with symbolic imagery often occur in Scripture as a way of fostering hope for justice and liberation to the oppressed. Since the Incarnation is the culmination of Divine Revelation, no further revelation can surpass the inexhaustible riches of Christ’s life and teaching. (CCC 65)
Ch 12:1-6 [Greek] Reporting the eunuch’s plot for a rebellion won Mordecai the favor of the king but also ignited the jealousy of Haman, an important nobleman of the court.
(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)
Just as Zerubbabel faced opposition from the neighboring peoples, Nehemiah too must reckon with them.
The adversaries of Nehemiah’s project, led by a Samaritan named Sanballat, resort to taunts, ambush, and physical violence against the builders, including attempts to kill them.
As a result, Nehemiah equips the workers with spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail to defend themselves and stations guard posts around the periphery of Jerusalem.
In the course of the building, Nehemiah faces various plots and threats against his life.
Despite these odds, the people do not draw back in fear but press forward.
The walls and the gates of the city go up day after day and are completed after fifty-two days of work.
(*Walking With God: A Journey Through The Bible by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins)
Key Event 51: Esther Saves Her People (Ester)
The book of Esther takes place in Susa (modern-day Iran) during the reign of the Persian king Ahasuerus (Xerxes I, 486-465 BC) and shows a young Jewish girl's unlikely rise to prominence. In God's providence, she becomes queen at a time of persecution against the Jews, and through her intervention, her people are saved from genocide.
So in case you haven’t noticed yet, The Book of Esther is complicated
There is the story of Esther that is widely accepted by ALL Christians
And there are some chapters in Esther that are NOT ACCEPTED BY ALL CHRISTIANS
Just like when Martin Luther took out the seven Deuterocanonical books, he also took out some chapters in Esther
There is some precedent for having some hesitation because even someone like St. Jerome had some hesitation about the Deuterocanonical books and some chapters in Esther and Daniel
Remember Bel and the Dragon? (No? Then go read Day 245: The Faithfulness of Daniel in The Bible in a Year Study Guide for a refresher 😁)
The Orthodox and Catholic churches discerned that these chapters ARE part of the canon
So in order to understand the story FULLY, we start with Chs 11 and 12 to get the CHRONOLOGICAL STORY
Hopefully that helps a little bit and makes more sense than not
Those of you old men who might have hair that is not its original color, you can take some solace and encouragement in Proverbs 20:29, “The glory of young men is their strength, but the beauty of old men is their gray hair.”
THERE YOU GO!!
That sounds like someone who is just being nice to us old guys
Anyway, God’s Word is GOOD and TRUE!!
Onward to Nehemiah Ch 4 and 5
What have we seen so far?
Nehemiah has gotten back to Judah and Jerusalem and is rebuilding this wall
We have a team of people who are working on their own portion of the wall or on other portions of the wall
The work is happening
The Lord’s hand has been on Nehemiah’s project this entire time
It is REMARKABLE how much God has blessed this
Think about Nehemiah in the presence of Artaxerxes and the king notices he’s sad
The king asks, “What’s up?”
Nehemiah prays and tells him
The king asks, “What do you want to do?”
Nehemiah prays and asks for letters from the king and resources to rebuild the wall
HE IS BLESSED
So the necessary thing that happens next is that HE IS OPPOSED
You can have a mission from God that has God’s hands ALL OVER IT
AND STILL MEET OPPOSITION
In so many ways, EVERY MISSION OF GOD is going to experience OPPOSITION (I mean, just look at all the Blues Brothers had to go through to save that orphanage 😉)
YOU KNOW THIS
We see this played out in Nehemiah Chs 4 and 5
We meet Sanballat and his pal Tobiah
They ridicule the Jews saying, “What are you doing? You think you’re going to build this wall?”
Tobiah has one of the weakest burns in the entire Bible, “Yeah they’re building this wall. If a fox goes up on it, he’ll break down their stone wall.”
He was saying it was a pretty lame, pathetic, and weak wall
His insult was pretty lame, pathetic and weak as well
These opposers rally against the Jews
They actually go to attack and kill those who are building the walls
Nehemiah 4:8, “And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it.”
The people responded in Nehemiah 4:9, “And we prayed to our God, and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.”
Nehemiah is the man!!
We are only five chapters in but every single chapter Nehemiah demonstrates that he is a MAN OF GOD
THIS IS INCREDIBLE!!
He is doing the WORK OF GOD
He has opposition from the ENEMIES OF GOD
What is his first move?
PRAY TO GOD!!
How often do we FORGET to do this?
How often do we NEGLECT to do this?
“Here is a work of God, he’s blessed it, but wait a second there’s opposition. So now I have to fix it myself. Or I’m gonna bail. I’m gonna run away.”
Nehemiah does two things: WE PRAY TO OUR GOD
HE SETS GUARDS TO PROTECT THEM DAY AND NIGHT
Nehemiah is trusting FULLY in the strength of the Lord
HE IS ALSO BEING PRACTICAL
He turns to the Lord in prayer with TRUST
He sets a guard as protection day and night
THIS IS ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL FOR EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US
WE PRAY TRUSTING IN THE LORD
WE WORK TRUSTING IN THE LORD
EVERYTHING WE DO!!
Whether we pray, work, sleep, get up, eat or drink
WE DO IT ALL TRUSTING IN THE LORD
So what do the people do?
Half of the people are building the wall and the other half is keeping watch and guarding
Not only that, but in some places people were building with shovels in one hand and a sword in the other hand
They didn’t even go back to the field to sleep
They slept inside those walls they were building that a fox could knock down
Because DOING THE WORK OF GOD means that you will experience OPPOSITION FROM THE ENEMIES OF GOD
Now Nehemiah is being blessed but he is also very cautious and careful because he is very conscientious
Ok this next sentence is VERY STREAM-OF-CONSCIOUSNESS so please bear with me…
He realizes that the governors before him...he’s serving as governor...right?...says 12 years here...20th year to the 32nd year of Artaxerxes the king, twelve years, neither I nor my brethren ate the food allowance of the governor
Nehemiah 5:15, “The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens upon the people, and took from them food and wine, besides forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God.”
Let’s go back to Solomon
Remember Solomon and his son Rehoboam?
Solomon had worked the people pretty hard
Rehoboam had the counsel of the older men who told him to lay off the people because his father had worked them really hard
So they asked him to give the people a break and they would love him
But his friends from high school told him to be even tougher than Solomon on the people
So Rehoboam takes the advice of the high school friends over the older wiser men and he is really hard on the people (Does all this sound familiar to you? Go read Day 162: Rehoboam Seeks Counsel in The Bible in a Year Study Guide if not 😁)
The kingdom splits
Nehemiah is much wiser than Rehoboam
Nehemiah says, “Former governors lorded it over them. Even their servants lorded it over them. They demanded huge taxation and payments from the people. So what am I going to do? I’m not going to use any of that. I’m not going to tax the people. I’m not going to stress the people. I am going to invite them to build the wall, because that is what I’m doing here. But for them to provide me with comforts, that is not what I’m doing here. They don’t exist to serve ME. I am only here to SERVE THE LORD.”
THAT IS SO INCREDIBLE!!
Nehemiah is an INCREDIBLE LEADER
Nehemiah is an INCREDIBLE MAN OF GOD
We don’t get a lot of consistently virtuous people in Scripture
Tobit was a little bit, but he complained a bit...he had a rough life
Nehemiah is going to have some internal opposition as well, so he’s not perfect
At the same time, he is CONSISTENT
He is CONSISTENTLY GENEROUS
He is CONSISTENTLY ON MISSION
He is CONSISTENTLY TURNING BACK TO THE LORD AND DOING THE PRACTICAL THING
There is so much to learn about what it is to be a person after God’s own heart by reading The Book of Nehemiah
IT’S BEEN GREAT
Now onward to Esther
The first two chapters are Ch 11 and 12
If you don’t have The Great Adventure Bible, there is this note: *Ch 11:2 The disarrangement of the chapter and verse order is due to the insertion of the deuterocanonical portions in their logical place in the story of Esther, as narrated in the Greek version from which they are taken. They are printed in italics to enable the reader to recognize them at once. In the old Vulgate these portions were placed by St. Jerome immediately after the Hebrew text of Esther, regardless of their logical position, because he himself did not regard them as canonical. Hence they came to be numbered 10:4-16:24. It has been thought best to leave the chapter and verse numbering unchanged in the present edition. (*The Great Adventure Catholic Bible RSV-2CE, 2018)
Because that way, you can tell these italicized chapters are the ones St. Jerome had placed AFTER Ch 10
There are SIX EXTRA CHAPTERS in The Book of Esther in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles
Pope Damasus had commissioned St. Jerome to translate the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures into the Latin Bible, which is known as the VULGATE
St. Jerome said, “I don’t necessarily consider these six chapters of Esther canonical.”
Pope Damasus said, “Yes, but the Greek version is the version used by the New Testament writers 80% of the time. So if the Greek version of Esther has these six chapters, we are going to include these six chapters because they are part of the SEPTUAGINT.”
So they were included
To his eternal credit, St. Jerome listened to Pope Damasus and included them
St. Jerome said, “Here is my scholarly opinion.”
Pope Damasus said, “Great. Here is the historical and saintly Tradition of the Church. So keep them in.”
St. Jerome kept them in
And here we are
The Bible without missing a SINGLE WORD
So those of you who have read The Book of Esther before, you may not have read the story of Mordecai
We will read about how the king takes pity on Mordecai and this story is referenced
We have the story of how Mordecai saves the life of King Artaxerxes
Now you know the REST of the story
WHAT A GIFT!!
Fr. Mike wants to let you in on a little secret: FR. MIKE PRAYS FOR YOU EVERY DAY!!
PRAY FOR FR. MIKE
PRAY FOR EACH OTHER
Prayer by Fr. Mike: “Father in Heaven we give you praise and glory. Thank you. Thank you for this day. Thank you for this Word, your Word to us. Help us to receive your Word with grace, with love, and help it makes us wise, that we can see everything in light of you, your truth, your will, and your Word. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”