The Book of Ruth & The Book of Esther—Old Testament Bible

As those of you following this blog know, one of the books listed in the Top Ten Books, was the Bible.  Now as many of you probably know, the Bible isn’t a short read.  It makes Les Miserables look like The Lorax.  So, I am covering the Bible in sections.

For who listed the Bible as their favorite book, see my original post here.

I read the two books in the Old Testament that are named after women and whose main characters are women.

The Book of Ruth comes first in the order of Old Testament books, so I’ll discuss that one first.

Ruth is about a woman (oddly enough, named Ruth) who marries an Israelite who is living in Moab (a neighboring country) with his mother, father and other brother.  Over the years, his father dies, then he and his brother die.  This leaves only Naomi, his mother.  She tells Ruth and the other daughter-in-law that they should return home to their families, that she is returning to hers.  When they protest (they have been with her for ten years after all) Naomi says;

“Turn back my daughters; why will you go with me?  Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands?  Tuyrn back my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband.  If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown?  Would you therefore refrain from marrying?  No my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord as gone out against me”.

Orpah leaves then to return to her Moabite family.

Ruth states;

“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you.  For where you go I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge.  Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.  Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.  May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you”.

Naomi accepts Ruth’s insistence and they return to Naomi’s people.  There they are reliant upon others for sustenance.  Naomi sends Ruth to the fields of a kinsman, Boaz.  Boaz views Ruth with kindness and allows her to do even more gleaning than is typical.  In these times, people could follow threshers and glean leftovers that had fallen for sustenance.  Naomi tells Ruth to go lay at Boaz’s feet.  She does.  Naomi has her husband’s property for sale.  Boaz goes to a man, who (even though not identified as such) is a relative of Naomi closer in genealogical terms than Boaz and offers the property to him first.  Then when the man says yes, craftily informs him that it includes Ruth, the widow.  The man demurs, not wanting to mess up his own inheritance line.  Boaz then agrees to buy it and take Ruth as wife.  The bargain concludes (as they did in this time) with the man handing Boaz his sandal.  (Yes, I know.  Next time you strike a bargain with someone, a sock might be a nice touch! 😀 ).

The literary standpoint:  This is actually a story that could easily be fleshed out into an entire novel.  There are all sorts of plot devices, and as evidenced by the fact that you still hear it in all sorts of literature etc, the whole “For where you go I will go” speech is obviously a very well written statement.

My Christian standpoint:  I believe that the book of Ruth gives us instruction on how we should be with our inlaws.  Many of us do not like them.  However, as our spouse’s family that raised him, they deserve respect.  We should treat them as Ruth treats Naomi, by refusing to leave her and like Boaz treats Ruth before he falls in love with her (I assume this is what happened after she laid at his feet).  I can’t articulate better what I mean, but all those petty things that make us want to slap our in-laws?  We have to stop that shite.

Interesting side note:  It just hit me how Ruth’s behavior also parallels Chinese culture.  A woman in historical China (I assume not today but I could be horribly wrong) would leave her ancestral home and when she did, she became a full part of her husband’s family, with her allegiance to her mother in law.

Second interesting side note:  Most of you that aren’t familiar with the Bible have heard of David (of David and Goliath fame).  David was part of the ancestral lineage of Christ.  Per the genealogical end of Ruth, Ruth & Boaz were David’s grandparents, making Ruth also an ancestor of Christ.

The Book of Esther:

The book of Esther never mentions God.  In fact, Esther is a story (however, one based in history) about a woman who was Jewish and living among exiles in Persia.  The Queen at that time, refuses to *cough* entertain the King.  And he is told by an advisor; “…let a royal order go out from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes so that it may not be repealed, that Vashti is never again to come before King Ahasuerus.  And let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she”.  This advice pleased the King.

The King’s young men who attend him let out a cry; “Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for the King!  And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom to gather all the beautiful young virgins to the harem in Susa the capital, under custody of Hegai, the King’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women”.

Well no wonder King Ahaseurus was so pleased with the idea of deposing Vashti, that upstart queen.

Anyway, Esther is one of the beautiful virgins.  She is an Israelite, whose cousin is a man named Mordecai, who is raising her.  He tells her to keep the fact that she is Hebrew a secret.  So she does.  Of course the King picks her (I doubt the book would be named for her or the story told if this didn’t happen).

Now the King had a bad  man serving as his very top right hand man, Haman.  Haman hates the Jews.  Mordecai won’t bow or pay homage to Haman.  So Haman vows to destroy all the Jews.

So Haman gets an edict sent out with instructions “…to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods”.

Mordecai contacts Esther in the palace when he finds out about this.  He asks her to intercede.  She replies.

“All the king’s servants and the people of the King’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law–to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live.  But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days”.

(My theory is that he was out enjoying the hundreds of other virgins that probably got shoved into his harem).

Esther finally sucks it up (sorry to those of you that find this blasphemous, but I’m just summarizing in my own words) and on the third day approaches the king in her royal robes.  He holds out the scepter to Esther.  Then asks her what is it, what is her request.  He tells her he will give her anything, even to the half of his kingdom.

“If it please the king, let the king and Haman come today to a feast that I have prepared for the king.”

So the King summons Haman, and they both are at the feast.  After, when they are drinking wine the king asks Esther what her wish is, and what’s her request?

“My wish and my request is:  If I have found favor in the sight of the King, and if it please the king to grant my wish and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come to the feast that I will prepare for them, and tomorrow I will do as the king has said”.

Haman leaves all full of joy thinking that Esther loves him (not in that way! yeesh folks!) and that he is making even more inroads with the King.  And as a reward, he decides he will hang Mordecai.  He builds a gallows even (apparently, hanging Mordecai will be a great stimulant for his appetite for the feast in the morning).

The king can’t sleep that night, so asks for the book of memorable deeds.  They were read to him.  (I always enjoy a good chronicle of memorable deeds before bed myself).  Well he discovered where Mordecai had told about two eunuchs who had plotted to kill the King.  The King asks what distinction had Mordecai been awarded.  He is told that nothing has.  The King asks Haman when he comes in what should be done to a man whom the King wants to honor.  Haman of course thinks the King is speaking of him.

“For the man whom the king delights to honor, let royal robes be brought, which the king has worn, and the horse that the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal crown is set.  And let the robes and the horse be handed over to one of the king’s most noble officials.  Let them dress the man whom the king delights to honor, and let them lead him on the horse through the square of the city proclaiming before him:  ‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor”.

So the King turns to Haman and gives him his robe and tells him to take it to Mordecai and to do all that he said should be done.  With nothing left out.

Mordecai goes to the King.  Haman goes home crying (well…”mourning and with his head covered”).  His wife Zeresh and his wise men state “If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him”.

He goes to the feast with Esther and the King.  On the second day of the feast, again while drinking wine, the King asks what is it that Esther wants.

“If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be granted me for my wish, and my people for my request.  For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated.  If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have been silent, for our affliction Is not to be compared with the loss to the king.”

The King asked who dared do such a thing and where are they.

“A foe and enemy! This wicked Haman!”.

The King angrily strides off (well…”the king arose in his wrath”) and Haman begs for his life to Esther.  The king returns and sees Haman falling to the couch where Esther is.  And the king thinks he is assaulting Esther.

A helpful eunuch, Harbona, in attendance on the king (I think maybe Haman was a bit rude to Harbona at some point)

“Moreover, the gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, is standing at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.”

Of course, we all know where this is going.  Haman is hanged on the very gallows that he built.  Then the King’s wrath was abated.

Esther still has to beg to the King to reverse the decree that went out, by writing a new order to revoke the letters devised by Haman.  The King basically gives Mordecai carte blanche;

“Behold, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and they have hanged him on the gallows, because he intended to lay hands on the Jews.  But you may write as you please with regard to the Jews, in the name of the king, and seal it with the king’s ring, for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s ring cannot be revoked”.

So, Mordecai sent out decrees stating that the king allowed the Jews to gather and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them…and to plunder their goods.

So in the 12th month, the month of Adar, on the 13th day when the king’s command and edict were about to be carried out, the Jews gained the upper hand over all the masters that had hoped and dreamed of their destruction.

And, so they did.  They took their own revenge, and plundered and annihilated etc. etc.

And so Purim was born (per the Biblical text of Esther).

Literary note:  If you can’t see how amazing a story this would make, or a movie or a play…well then I would assume you had no sense of imagination at all.  This has all the notes of a great drama.  Beaten down people, one man in power bent on revenge against another, beautiful virgins, the powerful man being hung on the gallows he himself built.  Wow.

Biblical note:  Even though God is never mentioned, due to the other books of the Old Testament, it is known that nothing happens to the Israelites that God doesn’t know about.  And that in the past God has given others the means to rescue his people (Moses.  David.).  So, I believe God is in fact all over the book of Esther.

The end.  Thanks for tuning in.  Sorry for the length.

 

 

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Bereshith! (Or as we like to call it in English…Genesis)

So.  One of the books in the Top Ten is the Bible.  Dave gladly gave me the opportunity to read it and blog about it.  Now all of you know, the Bible isn’t a short work by any means.   Which means, there will be multiple entries by me on parts of the Bible.  (which I know, might take us to like 12.5 years of books, but hey, the Bible is LONG.  I’ve been reading from it for most of my life and I can say I’ve probably only read about half of it and in piece meal).

A lot of the books of the Bible are shorter, so can be read multiple ones at once.  Genesis is not one of those books.  In fact Genesis has so much happening that I’m splitting it up into two (translation:  I got caught up in the footnotes and sidenotes in my study Bible, so ergo did not finish the entire book of Genesis) parts.  I’ll put up the 2nd blog about Genesis in the next couple of days, Dave will then be back next Thursday with another book.

I’m not sure if I will just keep with the Bible until done with it, or if I’ll read parts, then read something else to blog about and return.  Just letting you know that in advance.

The Bible has six authors that listed it in their top ten.  Andrew Hudgins, Haven Kimmel, Erin McGraw, Richard Powers, Robert Pinsky and James Salter all listed it in their top ten.

I know you’re probably wondering why the Bible is even important to you if you’re not Christian.  Why it’s something that as a book lover, you should even be interested in.  Andrew Hudgins wrote about this in The Top Ten.  He points out that the Bible is a great story itself, also “The Bible is also the source of great stories, by geniuses from Dante to Dostoevsky, Faulkner to Thomas Mann, and the poetry of the Psalms echoes through great poetry from William Blake to Walt Whitman to T.S. Eliot”.  He also says “”the greatest story ever told”, in the majesty of its telling and the power of its message, has taught an entire culture how to think about love, suffering, and transcendence, and it has fundamentally colored the language by which we talk about everything.”  And this is why it’s important, even if not a believer. 

My whole lead in above is also why I’ve split Genesis up into two blogs (I know, it sounds handy, like I’m just making sure that it sounds more planned, but I would have done it whether I had the entire thing ready to talk about or not.  None of y’all came here to read term papers).

Genesis has strongly been held throughout the centuries to have been written by Moses.  It is the first book of the five books that the Jewish religion called “the five fifths of the law (of Moses)”.  Genesis truly is about beginnings, starting with the story of creation, but also of sin and redemption, of blessing and cursing, of society, of marriage and family.  And really, Genesis also is instrumental in understanding the rest of the Bible.  The promise of Christ begins when God curses the serpent and his role in the downfall of Adam and Eve.  Genesis 3:15 “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel”.  ( Sin and the serpent were crushed by Christ’s death on the cross, but in the doing so, Jesus was mortally wounded).  And all through the book of Genesis and the Old Testament itself, the promise of Jesus’s coming and salvation go through it.

Genesis is a prose style book.  It’s divided up into ten “accounts”  (the sections start with the word account somewhere in there, Gen 2:4 “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created”.)  There are a few poetic moments in the book.  There is a lyricism to Genesis, and it is rich.  Read it aloud sometime or listen to it read aloud and you will see the lyricism.

First is the creation.  In the Bible it takes six days.  I do not have the interest nor the time to debate about each particular point as I go through here, I am reporting what the text says.  You are free to think the days were actually six 24 hour periods, that each day means a million years, that the story is merely a story.  Some of what I write will be directly related to my own faith, but please remember that mostly I am commenting on the content of the books, much like I would with Madame Bovary or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.   (Sorry.  After the election I just don’t have interest in debating anyone at the moment.  Check back with me in a month or two…or with the way the election was maybe even six.  I might feel more up to discussing potentially contentious items.)  If you have questions, let me know, that’s fine 🙂

Then God makes man.  He has man, named Adam, name all the animals while looking for a suitable helpmate/companion.  Surprisingly, Adam doesn’t find a suitable companion…or not so surprisingly.  Either the animals don’t interact well with humans or they fling poo like the monkeys…haha.  So God puts him into a deep sleep, removes his rib and forms woman from it.  Names her Eve.  They of course, are happy as larks running about.  Interesting note, God already starts talking about marriage in Genesis 2:24, after creation of woman “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother an be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh”.  The serpent comes along and tempts Eve to eat from the tree that God forbade Adam from eating.  Eve eats it.  Adam eats it.  They realize that they are naked and cover themselves.  God comes and finds them hiding.  Of course, beginning the history of people evading responsibility for their actions and blaming others; Gen 3:12 “The man said, “The woman you put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it.”  V. 13  “Then the Lord God said to the woman “What is this you have done?”  The woman said, “The serpent deceived me and I ate”.

They get cast out of the Garden of Eden.  Then comes along Cain and Abel, their sons.  Cain was a farmer, Abel a shepherd.  They brought offerings to God, Cain just “some fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord”.  But Abel brought “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock”.  Now, before you carnivores out there all start stating that this shows God wants us all to EAT MEAT URRGGHHH.  God wasn’t upset that Cain brought him some fruit and vegetables.  He was upset because Cain brought “some fruits of the soil”…doesn’t sound very special does it?  Compared to the fat portions from some firstborn of the flock (pretty high quality stuff there).  So Cain gets mad and jealous.  He kills Abel.  Buries him.   Genesis 4:10 “The Lord said, “What have you done?  Listen!   Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.  Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand”.  Abel’s voice crying from the ground where he was buried, sounds like plot twists and themes in many books I’ve read.

Cain is cast out to wander for all his days, he decides to build a city and has a few children of his own.  His family line doesn’t amount to much, and as you will soon see, eventually is drowned out.  Adam and Eve have another son, naming him Seth.

The second “account” begins.  Genesis 5:1  “This is the written account of Adam’s line”.  A genealogy follows, with the refrain of “and then he died” after each person.  Here’s another literary device.  There is an impact here, that makes the one different line stand out “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away”.  Basically, Enoch so pleased God that he was taken away without suffering death as the rest of his ancestors and heirs did.  The line ends with Noah.  Then chapter 6:9 “This is the account of Noah”.

Most people know about the flood, and the ark, and the two of each animal being crowded onto the ark.  Basically God is so displeased with the wickedness of all of mankind, except Noah that he decides to destroy his entire creation.  There is some debate amongst different theological groups as to whether angels had come down and began to mate with women Gen 6:4 “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days-and also afterward-when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them.  They were the heroes of old, men of renown”.  All of Noah’s family and all the animals get in the ark, and the flood waters take them afloat.  Months later, the waters finally start to recede and Gen 8:1 “But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark and he sent a wind over the earth and the waters receded”.  God then makes a covenant with Noah, where he blesses Noah and his sons.  He states that they need to get busy to repopulate the earth and from Genesis 9:11  “I establish my covenant with you:  Never again will all ife be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”  He then names the rainbow as the sign of that covenant  v16  “Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth”.

Then we have Ham observing his father in the throes of drunkeness (Noah’s youngest son).  Noah, upon waking, curses his son and states that his descendants will be slaves to his brothers.  (However, it can’t be used to justify the slavery of different skinned people since those cursed were Canaanites who were Caucasian).

And that’s where I leave you.  Join in next time for some good old incest, brothers attempting to murder other brothers, and potential sacrificial offerings of sons.