A Rereading of Woman in the Garden: With Fretheim

I’ve been reading a collection of Terence Fretheim’s essays over the last month that have been fantastic in offering his many insights into theology and Scripture. Fretheim is one of those OT scholars who can write in a way that is both accessible and constructively provocative. One of the essays, “Creator, Creature, and Co-Creation in Genesis 1-2” offers the following four points regarding a reading of Genesis 1-2 and certain “androcentric” (man centered) readings:

  1. For the woman to be created from the rib of the ‘adam entails no subordination, any more that the ‘adam‘s being created from the ground implies his subordination.

  2. For the woman to be called helper (‘ezer) carries no implications regarding the status of the one who helps; indeed, God is more often called the helper of human beings (Psalm 121). The suggestion that Eve’s helping in this text as to do with motherhood is insufficient. Helping for Eve cannot be collapsed into procreation, not least because the immediate outcome specified in vv. 24-25 does not focus on this concern.

  3. For the woman to be named by the ‘adam does not entail the authority of man over woman, any more than Hagar’s naming of God entails such authority in [Genesis] 16:13. Naming has to do with an act of discernment regarding the nature of relationships, as in the naming of the animals by ‘adam. Moreover, if the ‘adam is already ruler over the woman in chapter 2, then the sentence of 3:16 represents no judgment.

  4. Finally, contrary to some recent opinion, one ought not consider ‘adam as an “earth creature” without sexual identity before the creation of woman, so that the creation of man and woman is simultaneous. Without an explicit linguistic marker that the meaning of the word ‘adam changes from “earth creature” to “the man,” it will be read the same throughout this section…. In any case, being created first or last has nothing to do with priority or subordination. (Chan, Michael J. and Brent A. Strawn, eds., What Kind of God?: Collected Essays of Terence E. Fretheim [Siphrut 14; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2015], p.202)

Here Freitheim reminds readers that male centered readings of the creation account/s in Genesis 1-2 do not in fact support the subordination of women as part of the “creational order,” but that any subordinating which occurs is the result of fallen-ness.

The Life of Abraham Podcasts

GenesisThe final which I assigned for my Advanced Preaching students was to produce a devotional podcast on a preselected portion of Genesis concerning the life of Abraham (those doing the first two chapters did not submit so sadly I don’t have anything on Genesis 12-13). I am happy to post these ones here and welcome feedback.
Some are done with music. One as a video. And one in Spanish (by my request). Here is the total repository for all of the podcasts from my students for your listening pleasure:
Genesis 14.1-16 – Jay Crane (4:02)
Genesis 14.17-24 – Liz Gonzalez (3:54)
Genesis 15 – Ronnie Hern (5:30)
Genesis 16 – Janae Kjetland (3:10)
Genesis 17 – Paige Koch (4:10)
Genesis 18.1-15 – Daniel Lopez-Flores (en Español; 5:20)
Genesis 18.16-33 – Claudio Martinez (You-tube video; 4:16)
Genesis 19 – Thomas McComas (3:12)
Genesis 20 – Brandon Owens (3:02)
Genesis 21.1-21 – Katie Poling (5:04)
Genesis 21.22-34 – Abigail Townsend (4:36)
Genesis 22 – James Webster (4:29)

What Is In a Day? Genesis One

clocksI just realized I have never posted anything (other than my thesis) dealing with the range of meaning for the Hebrew  יוֹם (yom) which is often translated as something like “day”. With all of the kerfuffles (that is a specific theological term 😉 ) over the word “day” in Genesis 1, I thought I’d do a brief post on my own work on this on what has been taught to my students (and will be tomorrow morning as well).
So here is the semantic range (the range of meanings based upon usage of the Hebrew term) as I have worked it out from my reading of the text of Genesis 1 (which is a distinct literary unit from verse 1 to either chapter 2, verse 3 or possibly verse 4):

  1. Period of light (v.5)
  2. Period of alternating darkness/light (vv.5, 8, 13)
  3. Cultic festivals (v.14)
  4. A twenty-four hour period (v.14, 18, 19, 23, 31)
  5. The “day” of God’s resting (2.2-3)
  6. The week of creation (2.4)

This first usage is what God “calls” the period of “light” which he had just created.
The second is (to be precise) an alteration between darkness and light. While this could be (and arguably is) the same as #4 there are many who see the lack of the sun, moon and stars (interestingly enough remaining unnamed by this text) on days 1-3 as indicative that these “days” are in fact not to be precisely equated with those following the creation of sun, moon and stars. This is argued on the basis of our own calculations of time as we experience it presently. I simply offer this variant because it is a possible (though I think unlikely) usage different from #4.
The third is best translated by the context provided in the New Jerusalem Bible of Gen.1.14: ‘God said, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of heaven to divide day from night, and let them indicate festivals, days and years’. Many of the translations miss the sense of the festivals as unique “days” in the unfolding revelation of God’s plan for creation. The (second) usage in this passage is not so much simply referring to the passage of days and years, but of the sacred days and years (ie, the Day of Atonement, Sabbath Years, etc.). It is a sacred (the scholarly term being “cultic”) day.
The fourth is typically where folks get rankled with one another and debate as if heaven and hell were in the balance. This is a usage of “day” that refers to twenty four hour periods of time passing (clarified by “evening and morning”) after the sun, moon and stars are in their courses. Now whether one should understand this literalistically (with fullest historical intent) or as a theological construct (without historical intent beyond God’s creating) is another issue. Both can regard it as a “twenty-four hour period”. One never moves beyond that sense. The other understands it as something like metaphor or construct.
The fifth might also simply fall into the category of the fourth, but is differentiated in the text by no ascription of “evening and morning” and technically no movement beyond the “day” of God’s resting (sabbathing). Some (even from the second Temple period in Judaism) regarded this as a reference to the ongoing “day” of God’s “rest”.
The sixth usage of yom is obscured in many translations by the use of “When” or “In the time of”. It is literalistically translated “In the day of…”. And this usage is pointing to the week of creation just laid out. It is not saying it took only one “day”, but points simply to the time of creation.
So what do you make of this semantic range? Is it possible we are missing the forest for the trees?

Eating Your Theology (Gen.6-9)

In Sunday School this week we covered the account of Noah in Genesis 6-9. And I was struck once again by the contrast between the ancient Near Eastern (ANE) accounts that parallel the Biblical Deluge/Noah account.
In the ANE accounts the gods destroy mankind with a flood because of their “noise”* which the gods find bothersome, there is one who escapes the deluge and once they have committed this atrocity they are upset that there are no humans left to feed them. Alas, there is one who survives (Utnapishtim) by use of an ark and upon his exiting the ark he offers a sacrifice. The gods “gathered like flies” to the feast and consider themselves fortunate that a human survived to feed and serve them.
The Bible, on the other hand, declares that God, that is Yahweh, intentionally preserves humankind via righteous Noah. This God even provides specifically for the food for Noah on the ark. Once the ark is opened and Noah exits, he offers a sacrifice to the LORD who is pleased by this. Noah and his descendants are themselves given food to eat by the LORD.
“Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.” (Gen.9:3 NIV2011)
This is the God we serve…not a capricious god, but the LORD who preserves and provides for His creation.
* To be fair, it is possible the ‘noise’ of humans in these ANE accounts actually parallel the biblical account of the LORD noting the din of human violence and depravity.

Eating Your Theology (Gen.1)

AtrahasisIn Sunday School this week we covered Genesis 1. Something that struck me was verses 29-30:

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.
And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground–everything that has the breath of life in it–I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. (Gen 1:29-30 NIV)

Whereas some have taken this as some sort of Pre-fall diet plan to get healthy (it isn’t), I realized it is making a VERY significant claim theologically. In the ancient Near Eastern stories of the creation of humans (see Atrahasis Epic), people were made to feed the gods. They did feed themselves, but only as they would “sustain the gods”. And the gods (Igigi) were said to toil hard at making food and led (by their rebellion under the toil) to the creation of humans.
In the Genesis 1, however, it is the God of Israel who feeds people and creatures alike. There is not even a mention of God eating (to be fair God is described as eating later in the canon). Now THAT is a theological claim we should not miss. This God, the god of Israel, is the one who feeds all of creation and has created in order to care for creation. And the work was not toilsome to begin with, but simply attending to the garden of God (Gen.2-3). And it was God Himself who watered the dwelling of humans and gave them freely to eat. This is the God of Israel. This is the God of the Church.
Now that’ll preach!

The Theological Meaning and Significance of Yom in Genesis 1

I have just uploaded my Master’s thesis to Scribd for anyone interested in reading it.  Also, I’ve got a link to it on my “Writings” tab under “Theology” which can be found HERE (along with some of my other writing).  Any feedback is appreciated as I continue to reflect on this topic that I have spent the last number of years working through. 

I have been truly fortunate to study with a fine and godly OT scholar like Dr. August Konkel over these last years.  He was invaluable to the development and direction of my thesis and I pray that my work is representative of his tremendous investment into me.  I was greatly benefited also by the careful reading of all things SBL-standards related by Joel Banman (who cannot in any way be held accountable for any remaining mistakes which I may have additionally created) and the library staff of Providence Theological Seminary (thanks to Terry Kennedy and her wonderful staff).  And also I must thank Tremper Longman for his overly kind comments on my draft of this thesis and his recommendations for several key areas.

The short of it all is that it turns out “day” means and signifies far more than I had initially anticipated when I first set upon writing this thesis.  I truly do hope at some point to contribute further in a positive way to the ongoing discussion of this crucial text of Scripture and trust my thesis might serve as a launch toward that direction.

Esther 5-6 – The Tale Turns

5:1-8 – Esther’s Request.  After three days of fasting (by both the Jews of Susa and Esther and her entourage), Esther determined it was time to see the king.  The motif of three days of waiting for restoration/deliverance is found several times throughout the OT: Gen.22:4; 31:22; Jonah 1:17; Hosea 6:2.  It is important that she prepared herself in her regal garments and entered into the king’s presence where she did not know the outcome, but knew Xerxes must receive her if her life was to be spared immediately.  Though thirty days had passed since Esther had last been seen by the king she was welcomed and actually “pleased” with her.  Whatever the king’s motivation for being pleased, one can be certain that this was no coincidence.  According to the LXX and targums, the king was initially angry with Esther’s entrance, but when she fainted he was moved to receive her by the LORD.  All of such additions suggest far more than the text itself and attempts to explain the reception of the king.  The king apparently recognized that she would not have come unbidden and dressed as she was if not for some important matter.  He was so moved by her presence that he actually tells her (though this would be a euphemism for kingly generosity), “up to half the kingdom” could be asked for and he would give it to her.  Rather than explaining her reason for coming she invited the king and Haman to a banquet (which was ironically prepared for Haman).  Haman was brought immediately to join Xerxes at the private banquet and some time after the dinner, while drinking wine (which would then be the appropriate time for discussing business matters), the king again asked what Esther wanted and repeated the same generous offer.  Her reply was that she wished for the king and Haman to return the next day for another banquet.  Why would she not simply bring up the subject at hand?  What was to be gained in the invitation to another banquet?  It would appear that this gave a sense of ominous anticipation to the whole scene.  “Esther is shrewdly and subtly pursuing a well-designed plan, by which she has maneuvered the king into committing himself in advance” to give her what she would ask for (Bush 407).  As it would turn out, the events leading to the next banquet would change everything.

5:9-14 – Haman’s Plot against Mordecai.  The banquet seems to have pleased Haman in his own sight by suggesting to him that he was truly blessed to be privy to such a private and exclusive party.  His high spirits were quickly altered upon encountering the obstinate Mordecai at the king’s gate.  In fact, he became angry that not only would Mordecai not bow, but now he would not even rise in Haman’s presence or show fear.  Despite his anger, Haman kept outward control, but the author of Esther informs us that Haman was so upset that he discussed his angst with his wife and friends stating that all the honor, power and wealth he possessed meant nothing to him as long as Mordecai was around.  Haman could not wait for the assigned day for the killing of all the Jews, but wished to see Mordecai dead sooner.  He was counseled to build a “gallows” that was approximately 75 feet high for requesting the king in the morning to have Mordecai hung on.  Why should a gallows be erected that would be that tall since most of the important buildings of the era were rarely more than 30-40 feet high already?  This would seem to be in order to facilitate Mordecai’s exposure before everyone for what he had done to Haman.  So he built the gallows.
6:1-14 – The Day Everything Changed.  A string of “coincidences” are noted throughout this chapter that alters the direction of the story up to this point (Karen Jobes calls this literary technique “peripety” which is “an unexpected reversal of circumstances” and provides several helpful diagrams for visualizing the reversals – 155-158; cf. Waltke 765).  The king could not sleep and happened to have the chronicle read to him which contained the account of Mordecai’s foiling Xerxes assassination years before.  Why should he at this time have suddenly had this particular chronicle read to him?  Further, that he should think to ask if he had rewarded Mordecai for this.  The string of coincidences continued as Haman entered the court of the king earlier than he had been advised and just as the king asked who was in the court might give him advice about the reward.  Apparently Haman himself could not sleep with the thought of having Mordecai hung which would account for his early arrival to ask the king about this.
A conversation where the king and Haman fortuitously spoke past one another ensued.  The king wanted to receive advice on how to reward “the man the king delights to honor” which Haman automatically assumed was himself according to the author.  Haman’s advice was to essentially treat that man like the king by giving him the very clothes the king had worn, riding on the king’s horse and being publicly paraded about as the delight of the king.  Haman was attempting to present himself as a “surrogate king” by actually masquerading as the king (Berlin 59-61).  Haman’s pride could not allow him to think beyond himself as the “delight” of the king, but then the king commanded Haman to do all of these things for Mordecai “the Jew” (giving special emphasis to his ethnic identity).  Haman was overwhelmed with grief and shame at what he had to endure publicly honoring as a king the very man who would not honor him.  When Haman told his friends and wife what had transpired, their words in reply echoed the Jewishness of Mordecai as the very reason for this reversal and declared the destruction of Haman.  How should we understand such a statement in the mouths of Haman’s wife and friends?  Before Haman could even respond he was fetched for the next day’s banquet with Esther and the king.  Haman was hurdling towards destruction unaware of what awaited him and unable to change the course that was about to befall him.  Elsewhere the Scriptures declare, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov.16:18).  This would all pertain to the blinding pride of Haman and all who would fail to see things in the light of God’s covenant of grace.

Esther 3-4 – A Time for Action

3:1-6 – Haman…the Agagite.  Whereas the last we read would have suggested that Mordecai should have been rewarded by the king, we find only the mention of another man who instead receives honors and acclaim from the king…and this man will seek for the destruction not only of Mordecai, but of all the Jews.  Haman is introduced by stating that he was an “Agagite” which would suggest an immediate tension for the reader who has just recently discovered that Mordecai is not only a Jew, but even a descendant of Kish the father of King Saul.  This seems intended to bring to mind the age-old conflict between the Amalekites (which used “Agag” for their royal family name) and Israel (Exo.17:8-16; Num.24:7; Deut.25:17-19) and was exemplified in Saul’s nearly destroying all of the Amalekites with the exception of king Agag in 1 Sam.15.  According to Josephus and several of the targums “Amalek” is actually given in place of “Agagite” here (though the Greek versions completely alter the name destroying any connection to this historical conflict).  The term “Agagite” in Esther functions in a nearly synonymous way with “enemy of the Jews” (Esther 3:10; 8:1, 3, 5, 10, 24; Bush 384).  This may, in fact, answer why Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman despite the command of the king.  The text does not explain a reason and there was sufficient precedence for bowing to kings, rulers and others (Gen.27:29; 1 Sam.24:8; 1 Kings 1:16).  Certainly Mordecai had bowed to the king, so why not to Haman?  The only reason suggested by the text is that Mordecai was “a Jew” and this must be read then in light of Haman being “Agagite”.  The targums and the LXX versions add several different explanations about the worship of God alone for the reason that Mordecai would not bow down, but this goes well beyond what the text actually says and tries to spiritualize his reasoning.  It seems more likely it was the ethnic identity that was the factor involved.  The questioning of Mordecai about why he would not bow and pay homage may be more to force him to do this rather than to actually discover why.  Mordecai’s actions so enraged Haman that he actually determined to destroy not only Mordecai, but all of Mordecai’s people—the Jews.  “There is a parallel between the decree against all women because of the disrespect shown by one (Vashti) and the decree against all Jews because of the disrespect shown by Mordecai” (Berlin 37-38).

3:7-15 – The Lot Cast.  The time indicated in 3:7 places these events five years after Esther’s choice as queen, sixteen years after the return to Jerusalem of Ezra and the rebuilding of the Temple, and sixty-four years after Zerubbabel and the first return from exile (Breneman 328).  In the first month of that year Haman cast the pur (an Akkadian loanword from which the celebration takes the plural form for its name – Purim) that was explained as the “lot” (Heb. goral).  He did this to determine the best time to destroy the Jews.  This was a normal manner for determining certain matters of great importance and allowing for either the fates or divine direction to lead one (cf. Josh.18:6; Ps.16:5-6; Prov.16:33).  The date selected by the lot was to be exactly eleven months later.  So Haman then went to Xerxes to convince him to make the edict and used truth (“scattered”), half-truth (“different than all others”) and outright lies (“do not obey”) to convince the king to give his approval.  He never once mentioned the people he was referring to, but only referred to them obliquely as “a certain people”.  His appeal was made primarily to the empires and king’s self-interest and greed.  The amount offered of 10000 talents of silver (or about 333-375 tons) equaled nearly the entirety of tribute collected by the Persians in a single year (Herodotus 3.89)!  Perhaps Haman thought to collect this by pillaging the Jews, but the king seems not even to care about such matters.  He simply issues the decree.  “Haman is unmitigated evil, but the king is dangerous indifference personified” (Bush 387).
The exact date that Haman of the edict being issued was the thirteenth of Nissan which was the eve of Passover when the Jews would be celebrating Israel’s deliverance by the hand of God (Exo.12:18; Lev.23:5; Num.28:16).  Would God again deliver His people?  Would the LORD be faithful to His covenant?  None of this is appealed to, but all of it remains implicit.  The edict was made available in every language throughout the empire in order to encourage people everywhere to prepare to take action against the Jews on the 13th of the twelfth month.  According to Herodotus it took approximately three months for a message to be carried across the entire empire (5.52-53).  The chapter closes with the king and Haman drinking together while the rest of the city of Susa was “bewildered” as the edict went out.
4:1-5 – Sackcloth and Ashes.  Mordecai immediately tore his clothes in mourning and put on sackcloth and ashes, publicly wailing (cf. Num.14:6; 2 Sam.1:11; 3:31; 13:31; Ezra 9:3; Isa.36:22).  These were the normal ancient cultural ways of demonstrating ones sorrow.  He would not even change his clothes to approach Esther with the news, but instead stayed outside the city gate wailing.  The effect upon the Jews everywhere else was similar as they heard the news of their impending destruction.  When Esther heard the news she tried to get Mordecai to put on fresh clothes so she could speak to him, but was forced to speak to Mordecai through her eunuch-servant Hathach.
4:6-17 – A Call for Action.  Mordecai relayed everything to Hathach who in turn relayed it all to Esther including bringing a copy of the royal edict concerning the destruction of the Jews.  Further, Mordecai pleaded with Esther to go to the king on behalf of her people.  Esther relayed that she, though the queen, could not simply go to the king for fear of losing her life unless he should choose to receive her or call for her.  She had not, for whatever reason, been invited to the king’s presence for a month and did not know when this would next happen.  Herodotus records that a message could be sent to the king requesting an audience (3.118, 140), but apparently Esther must have had her reasons for not wishing to send a message to request an audience.
Mordecai’s reply to Esther suggests that she will die if she does nothing.  She must take action if there is to be hope for her and her family (which presumably would include Mordecai).  Bush reads the first part of 4:14 as a rhetorical question with an emphatic “No!” as the answer.  This reading would then suggest that there would be no deliverance for the Jews if Esther did not do something now (395-7; but see the contrary in Breneman 336fn4).  Mordecai also questions Esther that she may have come to her position for such an opportune moment despite whatever the previous circumstances may have suggested.  These are the usual verses that are used to point to God’s providential care, but why at this moment (above all others) didn’t the author of Esther choose to refer to God explicitly in any way whatsoever?  The LXX makes God’s action very explicit both here and at other specific points, but
the Hebrew text used in our canon does not.  How should we understand this?  “One logical conclusion from God’s absence is that human action is important.  Time and again, Esther and Mordecai’s initiatives are what make the difference for the Jews; we do not see them passively waiting for signs from God or for God to perform a dramatic miracle of some type….[T]he author is intentionally vague about God’s presence in events.  He affirms on the one hand, that God is indeed involved with his people, but, on the other hand, he admits that it is sometimes difficult to perceive God’s involvement” (NIDOTTE 4:583-4).  “These unfolding events begin to show the inscrutable interplay between circumstances thrust upon us, sometimes unjustly, and those the result of our own behavior, often flawed.  God’s providence marvelously moves through both in his own good time” (Jobes 124).
Esther called for a severe fast of three days whereas normally fasting seems to have only gone from sunrise to sunset (NIDOTTE 3:781; cf. Judges 20:26; 1 Sam.14:24) and that there would be nothing to drink for the time Esther spoke of.  Esther and her maids would also do this and then she would go to the king whatever the consequences to herself.  Here we note that Mordecai does as Esther has commanded.  Why is there no object for their fasting and no spiritual explanation?  Again, this is implied in the text, but is not in any way stated.  Fasting could be carried out for very secular reasons (as it is in our own day), but this would seem to be for an entreaty to the LORD despite His not being named.  The time for action would be prepared for by a call for solemnity and fasting.  When one realizes that the Jews only had one day a year for mandatory fasting (i.e., the Day of Atonement, though there were numerous other days later added – cf. Zech.7:5) this adds to the solemnity of the occasion.  Further, when one realizes that this fasting would be occurring during the Feast of Passover (much as Daniel’s did in Daniel 10:2-4) which was a commanded feast (Num.9:13).
There are often propitious moments where we must take action despite what may appear to be the consequences to ourselves.  The following is a relevant poem by Martin Niemöller who was a leading German pastor that realized all too late that action should have been taken by the true Church of Germany to oppose Nazism and its desire to exterminate certain people including particularly the Jews:
“First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Esther 1-2 – Parties That Bring Change

1:1-3 – The stage is set.  According to Adele Berlin, chapter one “portrays the Persian court in all its decadent lavishness” and “sets the tone of the book” which is a “tone of excess, buffoonery, and bawdiness” (3).  This would characterize Xerxes and Haman, but does not seem to accurately describe either Mordecai or Esther.  The author of Esther lays out the pomp and “glory” of Xerxes (derived from the Persian khsyay’rsha) in all of his supposed power by establishing the extent of his domain.  He apparently reigned in Susa (cf. Dan.8:2; Neh.1:1) during this account which normally served as a winter palace among the four capitals of the Persian rulers (Susa, Ecbatana, Babylon and Persepolis).  The 127 “provinces” (compare the 120 “satrapies” of Dan.6:1; cf. Ezra 2:1) give particular emphasis to the supposed greatness of the king who threw a banquet in his third year (483BC) for all his officials.  This may have been to determine the best course of action against the Greeks that Xerxes would carry out in the upcoming years before returning in defeat in approximately 480-479BC.

1:4-9 – A Party in Persia.  Perhaps the 180 days mentioned in verse 4 refers only to these meetings with the officials as well as the demonstration of Xerxes opulence.  At the end of that time, he threw a party for seven days by inviting everyone.  The descriptions of the location for the feast are unparalleled in Scripture except by the descriptions of the construction of both the Temple (1 Kings 6-7) and the Tabernacle (Exo.26, 36).  This creates an aura of greatness concerning the scene and also suggests that at the time of the writing of Esther the glory of that scene had passed, but the Temple had been rebuilt (though all of this remains completely unspoken).  The wine flowed freely (or “as befits a king” – Bush 348) at this party and it was, according to Herodotus, customary for the Persians preferred to make important decisions when drunk (1.133).  It is important to the narrative that Queen Vashti gave her own banquet as a separate affair from King Xerxes.
1:10-22 – The King and Queen at Play.  On the final day of the party, King Xerxes  called for his Queen to be brought before him and his whole party to show her off, but Vashti refused and so Xerxes was furious.  So Xerxes sought the advice of his counselors who proposed that in order to save face Xerxes should send out an unrepealable decree (cf. Dan.6:9,13, 16) against Vashti appearing ever again before the king, so that other women will not treat their husbands like Vashti has treated Xerxes.  This is exactly what Xerxes does, but instead of this saving face it ironically reveals the very thing he wished to hide…that Vashti had scorned him.  This is part of the satirical nature of this account (Bush 355).  Further, the lists of the Persian names of the seven eunuchs sent to fetch Vashti (1:10) and the seven nobles asked for advice (1:14) all may be intended to sound “ludicrous to Hebrew ears” (Bush 350).  Whether this edict was ever even enforceable does not even seem to enter into the equation for the advisors and Xerxes, however the Hebrew may suggest that the goal of the edict was assure of husbands of their wives’ respect (1:20) and of ruling their houses (1:22) than that this should be the actual edict (Berlin 20).  Why might Vashti (who after verse 19 is never again referred to with the title “Queen”) have not appeared before Xerxes?  Should we moralize this account to either vilify her for not honoring her husband or should we honor her for not appearing?  Or should we simply recognize that whatever her reason it ultimately did not matter to the author other than to set the stage for someone else to become Queen in her place without any comment as to the wrongness or rightness of any of these actions?
2:1-14 – The Search for a Queen.  Xerxes later seemed to wish he still had his Queen, but since he had decreed that she could never return to him, he sought the advice of his counselors again.  And they advised that he should issue a decree to find among the most beautiful young women of the empire one who “pleases” him to be made queen in place of Vashti.  These women would be put into the harem of the king and would have one night to impress the king after undergoing extensive (one year according to the text of which six months were aromatic in nature) “beauty treatments.”  Suddenly a man by the name of Mordecai is introduced and his lineage is signified as being from the tribe of Benjamin with Kish (the father of Saul[?] in his family tree; cf. 1 Sam.1:9).  He is further connected as either one of the exiles from the time of Jehoiachin (cf. 2 Kings 24:6-17) in 597BC (but this would make him about 120 years old) or as a descendant of one of the exiles.  It is very significant that Mordecai is called “a Jew” (Heb. yehudi) which refers to the ethno-religious origin rather than to the tribal origin (Judah) since he was from Benjamin.  “Mordecai’s most outstanding characteristic” is not his morality, but “his Jewishness” (Berlin 24).  He had adopted his orphaned cousin Hadassah (meaning “myrtle”), daughter of Abihail (2:15; 9:29), whose notable characteristics here are her beauty and body (2:7) and whose name is everywhere else called Esther (from either Babylonian “Ishtar” the goddess of love and war or from Persian stâra for “star”).  The women chosen for the harem were all appointed to Hegai the King’s eunuch who provided for their preparations and who favored Esther.  Mordecai would regularly check on her during all of this time and in the days to come as he had also tried to protect her (knowing what might lay ahead for them?) by telling her to keep her ethnicity a secret.  Can we appropriately accept the actions of either Mordecai or Esther in her allowing herself what will become of her in the life with a gentile King? (cf. Deut.7:3; Ezra 9:12; 10)  In what sense must each of us seek to obey the Lord in a world where it is not always easy to do so?   “Regardless of their character, their motives, or their fidelity to God’s law, the decisions Esther and Mordecai make move events in some inscrutable way to fulfill the covenant promises God made to his people long ago” (Jobes 103).
2:15-18 – A Queen is Found.  Esther chose to make herself appealing by doing what she was told.  This brought favor from those she was surrounded by (cf. Gen.39:4; Dan.1:9).  She was taken to Xerxes after three more years some time in either December of 479BC or January of 478BC.   The king was particularly please with Esther though we are not told exactly why.  Certainly something about her pleased him more than all the other women he had taken to “try out” as a potential queen.  So another banquet was held and this one was in honor of Esther as the new queen.
2:19-23 – A Plot is Foiled.  Mordecai served somehow in the administration (which is what it means to sit at “the king’s gate”) and overheard an assassination attempt was going to be made on Xerxes life.  Rather than use this as an opportunity for a new king he told Esther who told the king and this will prepare for the events in chapter 6 when Mordecai will ev
entually be rewarded for this deed according to the reading of the annals of that day.  The two potential assassins were “hanged” but this more than likely does not refer to either impalement or to crucifixion, but to exposure of their bodies post-mortem (Berlin 32; Bush 373; cf. Gen.40:19; Deut.21:22; Josh.8:29; 10:26).

Daniel 12 – The Vision of the End

11:36-39 – The king who exalts himself.  This king does have certain levels of overlap with Antiochus IV Epiphanes (and many commentators believe that this individual is one and the same), but the description does not fit as it did in the verses prior.  The best explanation seems to be that this king is some yet future king who also exalts himself and of which Antiochus IV was only a type.  He is none other than the “little horn” of Daniel 7 and the “ruler who would come” of Daniel 9:26 (cf. the “man of lawlessness” in 2 Thess.2:3-12; the “Antichrist” in 1 Jn.2:18; and the “beast” in Rev.11-20).  This king does “as he pleases” and exalts himself “above every god” and even speaks blasphemies against the one true God (cf. 2 Thess.2:4; Rev.13:12, 14-15).  Note that he will have a certain leeway to do what he plans until the “time of wrath” if fulfilled or “complete”.  What would it mean for him to “show no regard for the gods [the Hebrew could also read “God”, but “gods” is most likely] of his fathers”?  It means that he breaks with those before him and does what would have not been thinkable before.  He also shows no regard for the “desire of women” which some have taken as a reference to unnatural inclinations, others as a rejection of the messianic hope of the Jewish people and still others as the god Tammuz who was likened to such (cf. Eze.8:14).  This last is the most plausible given the context of “gods” before and after.  He regards himself and a god of his own strength as his god and even a “foreign god” as his own.  In the New Testament, this “god” is described as the dragon or Satan, but here we are left to wonder at who or what this might be.  He will give great rewards to those who support him.

11:40-45 – The end of that king.  “At the time of the end” points to the time that was to be completed for this king and thus in some sense to the end of all the kingdoms of this world.  The “king of the South” once again may be referring to Egypt though it may also refer to some alliance considered “south” of Israel while the “north” (rather than only to Syria) may refer to some alliance primarily to the north of Israel.  How these are to be conceived is less important than to consider that this is simply the continuing struggle between kings and kingdoms that fight for control over and in the “Beautiful Land” (the land of Israel; cf. Jer.3:19; Eze.20:6; Dan.8:9; 11:16; Mal.3:12).  Many nations and peoples will fall, but apparently the traditional enemies of Israel (Edom, Moab and the leaders of Ammon – these tribal groups would be in what is now modern Jordan) will not fall to him (contrast Isa.11:14; Mal.1:2-5).  Though he will succeed in his assault against the “king of the south” and many others he will be distraught by news of an impending attack from the east and north and he himself will be at “the beautiful holy mountain” (Jerusalem), but this does not exclude the notion of his forces making their final stand at the valley of Megiddo in what has come to be known as the battle of Armageddon (Rev.16:16).  The end of the king will come and he will not find any help from anywhere – whether his gods or otherwise.  Though he set out to destroy many, he will be destroyed.
12:1-4 – The time of the end.  “At that time” refers to the raging of the last portion of chapter 11 and the raging of the king of the north.  Michael (“Who is like God?”; cf. Dan.10:18, 21; Jude 9; Rev.12:7) the “great prince” is again named and here declared to defend against Israel’s complete annihilation, but not against many being martyred.  The promise of the “time of distress” (Heb. ‘ēt sārâ) is such that there will no other equal for Israel (cf. Matt.24:21 where it appears that Jesus uses the language of the LXX and thus speaks of thlipsis).  According to Zechariah 13:8, only one third of Israel will survive, but it will lead to the ultimate salvation of Israel (cf. Zech.12:10; Rom.11:25-27).  The “deliverance” is not from the first death, but the second death (Rev.2:11; 20:6; 21:8) though this is not at all laid out in Daniel with clarity.  It is notable that only those whose names are “found written in the book” are spared this.  What is this “book”?  According to Goldingay, it would be the citizenry of the “true Jerusalem” (306; cf. Ezra 2; Neh.7; Ps.87:6; Isa.4:3; Eze.13:9); though we might assume this to later be the “book of life” (Ps.69:28; Phil.4:3; Rev.3:5; 20:12, 15; 21:27).  The “multitudes” (Heb. rabbîm) can sometimes mean “all” (cf. Deut.7:1; Isa.2:2), but the typical all inclusive word in Hebrew is kol.  “The emphasis is not upon many as opposed to all, but rather on the numbers involved” (Baldwin 226).  Why are these many said to be sleeping?  The very notion of “sleep” for death implies the reality of the resurrection.  “The words…do not exclude the general resurrection, but rather imply it.  Their emphasis, however, is upon the resurrection of those who died during the period of great distress” (Young 256).  The state of those who “awake”, that is are raised to life, is to either everlasting life or “shame and everlasting contempt”.  Why should these be contrasted and in this manner?  Also, are we to think of a time difference between the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked mentioned here?  (cf. Rev.20:5, 12-13 where it is described in terms as separated by the millennium)
Note the blessing that is given to those who are “wise” (or see the footnote in the NIV “who impart wisdom” which may be the likelier reading).  They are described as shining “like the brightness of the heavens” and “like the stars forever and ever”.  How might this blessing be understood?  It was common to consider celestial beings with the notion of the “stars” (Jud.5:20; Job 38:7; Dan.8:10; 1 Enoch 104), but Paul would later take this up as the promise concerning those who were pure and blameless in a wicked and perverse world (Phil.2:15).  John Goldingay makes note that the angelic beings of Daniel have all been described in very human-like terms and as such he notes the contrast as follows: “As chapter 10 speaks of celestial figures who are the embodiments of earthly institutions, so chap. 11 speaks of earthly figures who are the embodiments of spiritual principles” (317).  What does it mean for Daniel to “close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end”?  It does not pertain to making it a secret since he has already written it down, but instead means that it was to be preserved and protected for the appointed time and the appropriate readership (i.e., the “wise”; see Young 257).  The idea is that only those who are fit to understand this message will do so.  “Many will go here and there to increase knowledge” but they will not discern the times nor the message which was to the wise and discerning (Amos 8:2).  It is notable that Daniel is not included among the prophets in the Hebrew canon, but among the writings and it may very likely be because of his emphasis upon wisdom.  As such this suggests Daniel as a form of wisdom literature, albeit unlike the traditional proverbs or the likes of Ecclesiastes and Job.  Yet, Daniel is intended as wisdom for the future generations who will grapple with hopelessness and despair, but must know that if they will remain faithful they will be raised
at the last day and receive their reward despite the terrorizing of the kings of this age and the ages to come.  The end will yet come and the wise know this and live accordingly.
12:5-13 – The end of all these things and of Daniel.  There were two beings, one on either side of the river and one other who hovered over the middle and wore linen and was likely the one from before (Dan.10:5).  Again, Daniel is meant to overhear the conversation.  The question of “How long?” was put to the one hovering over the water who raised both hands which gives special solemnity to the swearing by God (normally only one hand was raised – cf. Gen.14:22; Deut.32:40; Rev.10:5-6) and declares that it will be for “a time, times and half a time” (cf. Dan.7:25; that is for approximately three and a half years).  The time designated was to bring to an end the one who would be destroying the “holy people” (see the NET).  Daniel was still concerned about the outcome of this time that was yet future, but was assured and told that it would be accomplished and would have the effect that was necessary for the wise and the wicked (cf. Rev.22:11).  What should this tell us about applying ourselves to the wisdom of the book of Daniel? 
The final notes about the number of days from the time of the ceasing of daily sacrifices and the abomination of desolation offers a problem to the more simple approximate three and a half years of verse 7.  Instead, 1290 days are first mentioned which would give forty-three months of thirty days each which gives one extra month and also requires thirty day months for the three and half years.  Then the 1335 days for holding out to the end is given which makes for an extra forty-five more days on top of that.  According to John Walvoord, these numbers are necessary for adequate time to deal out judgment and for the establishment of Christ’s millennial kingdom (295-6).  However, it remains rather obscure as to why and without further elaboration elsewhere in Scripture one is left wondering just what was meant (whereas other such issues have had some clarity brought to bear on them by other Scripture).  The best explanation for the days beyond what would be expected seems to be that of Joyce Baldwin: “As in the teaching of Jesus, the emphasis is on endurance to the end (Mark 13:13).  A particular blessing awaits one who goes on expectantly even after the time for the fulfillment of the prophecy is apparently passed, as in the parable of Jesus there is a special blessing for the servant who continues to be faithful even when his master does not come home at the stated time (Matt.24:45-51)” (232).