Purim begins at sunset on March 20th in 2019. If you have never celebrated Purim, here are some ideas!
1. Make trifold cookies that represent Haman’s hat. Google Hamentashen cookies for recipes. There are a few varieties. Date/ fruit centers are traditional, or you could go with a chocolate option!
2. You will need noise makers. Clackers are traditional. Read the book of Esther. (If you don’t want to be there all night you can read a children’s version.) Whenever Haman’s name is to be read, drown it out with noise from the noise makers.
3. Since there was a ‘beauty contest’ for the king to pick a wife, it is also customary to dress up in costumes. Trifold hats are popular, as are masks, since Esther’s true identity as a Jewess was hidden.
4. Fast during the day leading up to Purim (or from sunset to sunset) to remember Esther’s fast.
5. Feast to remember the feast Esther invited the king and Haman to. (Try some traditional Jewish foods such as challah, knishes, babka or latkes. Recipes can be found on the internet. You may want to abide by kosher rules on this night: very simplified-no pork and shellfish, and don’t mix dairy with meat.)
6. Wine is traditionally drunk on Purim. (Grape juice can be substituted. We like Welches Sparkling grape juice- making it a little more festive.) The story begins with drinking at a feast, though this is more of a cautionary tale about why one should not over-indulge….
Celebrating Biblical holidays is a great way to teach children the Bible. Have fun and enjoy yourself, and don’t stress. Start small- there is always next year!
Lessons from Joseph (Gen 37)
The account of Joseph’s life is the story about how a family became a nation. The lesson: any time the family ‘fights’ is a loss for the nation of Israel. Jealousy and favoritism have dire consequences.
There are many ‘doublets’:
-Joseph has 2 dreams.
-Joseph is flung into a pit, and later is flung into prison
-The brothers make 2 trips to Egypt
-The youngest brother is at risk (first Joseph, then Benjamin)
-Two coats cause trouble (first the coat of many colors, then the coat Potiphar’s wife grabs to ‘prove’ Joseph’s guilt)
-The merchants Joseph was sold to had similar items to what the brothers brought to buy food with
-The 2 dreams of the baker and the cupbearer
-Joseph has 2 sons
-Joseph is younger and is put over his older brothers; Jacob puts Joseph’s younger son over the older when he blesses them
-Joseph is given new clothes in jail, and then when he is to be brought before Pharaoh
-Jacob being deceived by his sons/ Jacob deceiving his father
-Joseph is a Christ-like figure who is ‘sacrificed’ into slavery to save the family, Judah’s story, which interrupt Joseph’s tells of Judah having only one son left, whom he does not wish to risk sacrificing for the sake of his family line by having him marry Tamar, whose marriage to the elder two sons resulted in their death (remember superstition is strong in this culture). Judah later offers to lay down his life to save Benjamin’s, showing he has changed.
-Tamar uses the same phrase ‘please examine’ when showing Judah the objects he left with her as the brothers use when showing Jacob Joseph’s bloody cloak
-Brothers killing brothers is reminiscent of Cain and Abel
-Adam is put in charge of the Garden of Eden except for one tree, which he may not eat of. He failed the test. Joseph is put in charge of all of Pharaoh’s household, except his food (and of course his wife). Joseph passes his ‘test’ and is put in charge of all the food in Egypt.
-Joseph is put in charge, dressed in splendor and led around the city with a herald telling people he is to be honored, same as Mordecai in the book of Esther.
The same phrase used to describe Joseph being ‘flung’ into the well is used to describe Hagar flinging (or ‘left’ in some translations) (Gen 21: 15) Ishmael under a bush when she believes they are to die, perhaps indicating that Hagar blames Ishmael for her current situation (which is somewhat his fault as he was the one making fun of Isaac at his weaning party, triggering Sarah’s wrath… Gen 21: 9-10)
A few lessons/ application/ things to think about:
The brothers eat while Joseph is in the cistern. They fellowship while one of their own is hurting… (Oh the sermons write themselves here!)
God is with us regardless of our status: He is with Joseph when he is a slave, a prisoner, and when he is second in command of a country.
God is with us regardless of where we are. He is with Jacob while he is traveling in the wilderness (stairway to heaven), with Joseph in Egypt etc.
Irony: Joseph is trusted with everything in Potiphar’s house EXCEPT his food; Joseph is later put in charge of all the food in Egypt.
Why does the cup bearer not immediately tell Pharaoh about Joseph? In Egypt there are people trained in ‘houses of light’ to interpret dreams etc. The cup bearer is already on shaky ground as he was put into jail due to questions concerning his loyalty. To recommend a Hebrew slave to pharaoh would be to say that a non-Egyptian may be better than an Egyptian, something that may be seen as disloyal/ treasonous. It is not until the Pharaoh is desperate, and those trained in Egypt have failed that the cup bearer is brave enough to speak.
Joseph’s Family: His wife is a priestess of On. It is likely she is given to Joseph by Pharaoh in the hope that their children will be even more powerful in dream interpretation etc. It is normal for this culture to have more than one god, and a wife would be primarily loyal to her husband’s god, so his wife’s conversion into Joseph’s faith is not unusual. Her giving up her other gods is. There are many non-Jewish wives in the Bible. (Moses’ wife, Ruth, Rahab, Bathsheba, Tamar) These are women who converted to Judaism. Marrying a convert is Biblically okay.
Their sons’ names:
Manasseh: God has made me forget the past. (Notice that Joseph does not actually ‘forget’ his past, or his brothers would have had an easier time when they arrived. Instead he is saying that the past hurts are behind him and are not currently a factor in his present life. He is relieved of the burden of his past memories.)
Ephraim: God has made me fertile. This can refer to both having a second son, and to the prosperity God has blessed him with.
Joseph in Jail: Potiphar likely doubts his wife’s account of what Joseph may or may not have done. If a man as highly ranked as Potiphar believed that a non-Egyptian slave had attempted to rape his wife, that man would be dead. Likely Joseph is in Pharaoh’s prison to protect him from the wife, and any further punishment, as well as to protect his wife’s reputation. Potiphar cannot fail to punish Joseph or his standing in the community will suffer, but it is likely he understands the failings of the woman he married.
Joseph’s dealings with his brothers: While Joseph names his oldest son ‘one who makes me forget the past,’ when he is faced with his brothers he does not immediately trust them. Instead he puts them through multiple tests over the course of a significant period of time. (Remember, they go back home and do not return until the food they were given has run out.) It is clear from Joseph’s weeping that he desperately wishes to be reconciled with his family, but he does not rush into the reunion filled with hope until he is sure that they have changed and a non-abusive relationship has a chance to be formed. (Remember, they were going to kill him/ leave him to die, and then they did sell him into slavery. They then lied to their father, eliminating all hope that their father would find and rescue him. This is an abusive relationship!) After the first encounter Joseph could have followed them home and revealed himself earlier. In relationships that are this strained it is important to be sure before reestablishing a connection with those who abused you.
Judah and Tamar: Judah too leaves the family and returns. During this time he has a family of his own. His oldest son marries Tamar, then dies without having a son. As is the custom (Levirate marriage) Tamar is married to his next oldest son, in order to produce a boy who will inherit the oldest, now deceased, son’s inheritance. The second son spills his seed on the floor rather than risking getting Tamar pregnant. Why? First, he pretends to sleep with her because the marriage custom of the time likely has them in a tent with the wedding party just outside ‘witnessing’ the consummation. While he consummates the marriage in part, he makes sure there is no chance of actual conception. God ends his life over this deception, showing us how much God cares for women. At this time, without a son, Tamar would be an outcast, reliant on charity in her old age, assuming she lived longer than her husband. Further, a man is not able to divorce a levirate wife, but must care for her and her son in his brother’s stead. The inheritance of the older brother will be cared for by the younger brother until the son is old enough to care for it himself. This places an additional burden on the second son, without reward, as that portion of the family land will soon not be his to control. The second son therefore has more responsibility for a short period of time (his brother’s land and wife), but less inheritance in the end if the widow conceives. This system keeps large portions of land from amassing under one person’s rule if there is a plague or famine, as well as ensures that women are taken care of despite being widowed. The second son is thinking of himself alone. He is greedy and does not care if Tamar suffers. A good father does not mind sacrificing for his son (even though technically this child would be considered his brother’s son…). The child however would eventually become a co-heir, an equal, to the father, which lesser men like this son also have difficulty handling….
Traditionally the parable of the four soils is taught as a cautionary tale, warning us not to let the cares of this world become so overwhelming that we lose our faith in God. But let’s look at this from a different perspective…
Let’s look at this from the perspective of a person who wants to see another person saved. Let us see this as a plan for helping others come to God. If the person is experiencing difficulties in life, it will be harder for them to care about eternity when their here and now appears overwhelming. It is therefore part of our responsibility to help others overcome the issues that are complicating their lives, so they have the peace of mind to be able to carefully consider the eternal as well.
This also means that we need to become the best we can be, so that we have the ability and the resources, including the time, to teach and aid others. One cannot help another out of their mess, if we are still wallowing in our own.
Mt 13: 1-23, Mk 4: 1-20, Lk 8: 4-15
Why Cannot Mary Touch Jesus, But 8 Days Later He invites the Disciples to Do So?
The explanation in scripture is that Jesus has not yet ascended to heaven. (John 20:17) For most of us, that does not really answer the question. Likely this has to due with Jesus fulfilling the role of the High Priest in the Heavenly Temple. When a high priest is ordained, the process takes eight days. The night before the high priest’s ordination, there are people assigned to make sure he does not fall asleep, so he does not accidentally make himself unclean. This is likely the timing and the symbolism which is being recreated. On another interesting note, it is obvious that Mary is comfortable touching Jesus, which is not a norm for non-family members of the opposite sex in this culture. She is not likely His wife, as Jesus only makes arrangements for the care of His mother as He is dying, even though Mary is there as well, indicating that her care is not His responsibility. (Jn 19:27)
Some Interesting Geography…
Genesis 13:14 ‘Raise your eyes and look out from where you are to the north, south, east and west…’
Genesis 13: 14 contains directional words which are currently translated as ‘north,’ ‘south,’ ‘east,’ and ‘west,’ as that is how they are currently used in modern Hebrew. These words however, are tied to the geography of Israel. North, tsefonah, refers to Mount Zaphon (which is now Jebel Agra). South, negbah, refers to the Negev, a desert, or wilderness area south of Israel. West, yamah, means to the sea. And east, kedmah, suggests going back to an earlier time and refers to the garden of eden. Gen 2: 8 tells us the garden of Eden is ‘in the east.’
There is also some interesting word play regarding direction in the New Testament.
When Jesus says, ‘You are from below, I am from above. You are of this world, I am not of this world.’ (Jn 8:23) Christians today hear that He is from heaven, and those He is talking to are not so godly…. This is, in my opinion, a valid interpretation, but it was likely heard differently by His audience, or at least the double meaning left them in doubt of whether, or not, He was insulting them. Jerusalem, where the religious leaders did most of their ‘business’ was on an elevated portion of Israel and it was common to say that one ascended to Jerusalem, or ‘went up’ to Jerusalem. Galilee, where Jesus and His disciples were from, was closer to sea level, and was therefore a place one ‘descended’ to. There are even psalms of ‘ascent’ to be sung when one is going to Jerusalem, and psalms of ‘descent,’ to be sung when one is traveling from Jerusalem. Jesus turns this on its head and is seemingly saying that Galilee is ‘above’ Jerusalem. (And the people in Jerusalem did believe they were better than those raised in the ‘countryside.’) So, for the people at the time, Jesus could merely be saying, likely tongue in cheek considering His other words to them, that they think they are ‘better’ than Him since they are ‘from above,’ referring to the wonderful, more educated area of Jerusalem, and that He is merely an unlearned person from the poor side of Israel, but that in actuality His ministry is ‘above’ those in Jerusalem (which is also true). This could obviously be taken many ways by the people at this time and was likely the source of much discussion in a ‘did He just say what I think He said’ way.
Things I have tried to live by:
Try to touch any to do item once only. If you can take care of it at the moment, do not put it aside, just do it.
You don’t have to be stressed, even if you are busy. Concentrate on doing what you are doing in the moment fully, then move on to the next. Worrying about the next task takes time and energy from the present.
Remember your priorities. Some things are not worth doing and take time from what is important. Sometimes we need to stop doing little things that others do because it gets in the way of doing the big things we are called to do. Making beds falls into this category for me, and I later discovered letting the sheets air out kills bed bugs!
One of my friends suggested putting a ‘mission statement’ on your refrigerator that outlines you top one or two priorities. If what you are doing does not line up with what you should be doing, change it!
Figure out what you are responsible for (and what you are not): This applies to work, but also to people who try to introduce drama into your life. (This does not mean you do not help at work, it just means you do not become a doormat and let people take advantage of you, there is a difference.) Regarding drama (because in my world, this is a bigger time waster than stuff to do as it sucks away all of my energy for other things as well): Look at what the person is getting upset about, and, if you can do nothing about it, move on. There is also never-ending drama that has no resolution, at least not one you can provide. When you have done all you can, stop letting it keep you from other things. But, some people create drama that you cannot avoid. Remember Paul and the slave girl? (Acts 16: 16-24) After ‘many days’ of enduring her nonsense, he ‘fixed’ the situation, but not in a way anyone enjoyed. This sometimes needs to happen to, and there will be consequences from the displeased, but enough is sometimes enough.
This also applies to not doing things I am paying other people to do, or children’s chores. If I have told a child to clean up a mess, it is no longer my responsibility to clean up the mess, but it is my responsibility to ensure that it gets done. This is sometimes harder, but in the end the children take more care of what I feel is important (notice I did not say what my neighbor feels is important) and the house runs smoother. Sometimes cleaning up after your kids is actually you being too lazy to do the hard work of teaching them responsibility….. (ouch!)
Do the little ‘extra’ things when you can. Take ownership when appropriate. This involves picking up trash that did not hit the waste basket at work or church etc. You didn’t miss the basket, but you know whoever did is not coming back and if you want the place to look nice, it needs to be done. If you know the person who does it repeatedly, this is different and there may be a teaching moment that has to occur. But typically no one knows who did it, and it could be an honest mistake. Don’t be a schmuck, just do it, and don’t spend all day complaining about ‘how some people…’ Let it go.
Discuss solutions, not problems. It is not wrong to talk about people, but how we talk about people is sometimes wrong. Discuss how we can help improve a situation, rather than complaining and putting others down. Sometimes we need to vent, but keep it focused and short with someone who is mature enough to understand and help you put things into perspective rather than gossiping and getting you even more riled up. Misery likes company, but it is often not productive. Solving the problem makes for a shorter time in the problem. Complaining about it usually accomplishes nothing long term.
Make lists re: what you believe to be right and wrong and then check yourself. Here’s an example. Make a list of what you would consider wrong to say about a person. (Don’t look further in this paragraph until you do!) Now compare that list to your favorite news source, TV shows, comedians, things you share on social media and how you speak especially about politicians or people who think differently than you do. (Remember, you are teaching your children by example.) Are you being fair to the other side? Or just name calling etc? One example of this was when a meme was going around of President Obama on a girl’s bike. It was passed around just to make fun of him. No matter what you think about the man, this is not nice. And the truth was they air brushed out the attachment for the child carrier. In the original picture it seems as if he was riding Michelle’s bike so that he did the hard work of pulling their children, so she would not have to. Much different story. (We can use an example of almost any president here. I merely chose this one because it had a twist and was so obviously in the ‘who cares’ category. We could have chosen people calling Trump ‘orange,’ or people mocking anyone just after their death, or publishing anything negative at that time- do you really think the family wants to read that crap when they are mourning? Not the right time people! This is the time to apply the phrase, ‘If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.’ While this is not always true, being respectful to those who are mourning is typically a good idea.) Now take this closer to home and examine how you talk about your neighbors, friends, co-workers, spouse etc. Sometimes we are convicted by what we think are our own convictions and find we are not living by them very well… (Another ouch!) Look through your social media (if you have one) and see if that is who you really want to be.
Don’t think you have to justify yourself to others. I just lived this by deleting my explanation as to why I did not prioritizing making the beds in an earlier example. (Busybodies often live in your head as well!) When someone puts you down for something, they are telling you that they are a busy-body and not a nice person. Explaining yourself often just opens up more of your story to their nit-picking. Occasionally someone is truly curious and just wants to learn how you look at life, but often, when it is none of their business, this is not the case. Save yourself some time and just politely answer, ‘That’s just how we decided our household should run.’ Or something to that effect, and walk away. This emphasizes that you have made a conscious decision with your spouse AND that it is none of their business. It’s not worth the emotional toll this conversation will require. And yes, they will likely project their issues onto you by thinking you are the ‘witch,’ because any proper response to this behavior will subtly point out that they were out of line, and they will not like that, but then we get into the ‘don’t be a doormat’ discussion… Not everyone will like you. In the Bible being ‘liked’ by the righteous is good; being disliked by those who are not behaving is sometimes par for the course. And those who are liked by everyone is someone we are told to be wary of. (Proverbs 18:24 NASB)
The Bible is filled with prophetic imagery. The gifts the Magi (Wise men, or Three Kings) bring to the baby Jesus is no different. Each of the gifts plays a role in Temple service and all are related to the Arc of the Covenant, where God speaks to man.
The Gifts of the Magi:
Gold– the covering of the ark of the covenant, the frame of the tabernacle, the lampstands and the interior of the Temple.
Tabernacle: frames overlaid with gold and gold rings and hooks to hold the crossbars. Ex 36:34 Ex 26: 29, 37
Covered the interior of the Temple- the holy place and the holy of holies. 1 Kings 6: 21
Lampstands of pure gold. 1 Kings 7: 49
The Arc of the Covenant was overlaid with gold. Ex 37: 2-4 2 Chron 3: 10
Gold nails 2 Chron 3: 9
Frankincense: part of the incense which was waved behind the curtain of the holy of holies. Ex 30:34
Sprinkled on the grain offerings Lev 2: 1-2, 15- 16, 6: 15, 24: 7, Neh 13: 9, 1 Chron 9: 29
Myrrh: used to anoint the arc of the covenant and the tent of meeting, the tabernacle and all the accessories. Ex: 30: 23-27
Healing at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5: 1-15)
The pool of Bethesda is located outside of the wall around the Temple, just beyond the sheep gate. This area was not considered to be part of Jerusalem proper by the Jewish people, but was part of the expansion of Jerusalem by Herod which puts the pool inside the ‘third wall’ of Jerusalem. This is where the Fortress of Antonia, built by the Romans to guard Jerusalem also resides. Both are very close to the Temple, but ‘technically,’ likely so as not to upset the Jewish people, they are ‘outside’ the walls.
Archeological evidence has discovered that the pool has indications that it is not a Jewish place, but a healing temple to the god, Asclepius, whose symbol is a rod with a snake wrapped around it. (The Roman equivalent is Serapis and there is evidence that the pool morphed into a temple to Serapis after the destruction of Jerusalem when the Romans rebuilt the city.
There is also evidence that verses 3-4 that speak about an angel of the Lord stirring the waters of the pool are a scribal addition to explain why the man was there as they are not found in earlier texts. Likely the explanation began as a messenger, or worker of the god stirred the water, which became an angel as the term angel literally means ‘messenger.’
Temples to Asclepius are common during this time as they are places of healing and medicine. They always have pools for emersion. This pool has two levels. It is believed that the priests of Asclepius would open the gates of the upper section to place water into the lower section which would ‘stir’ the water. The fresh water was believed to bring healing.
Further evidence that this pool is not Jewish, but pagan is that the priests do not use it as this time for water. In the past this pool was likely used to wash the sheep before the entered Jerusalem, hence the name ‘sheep gate.’ During Jesus’ time the priests gathered water for the Temple from the Pool of Siloam. This pool is within the older boundaries of Jerusalem, but it is further from the Temple and is downhill, meaning the priests must walk uphill with the water to the Temple. Why would they do this if there was water closer? The Pool of Siloam is also fed by Hezekiah’s underground tunnel system to ensure Jerusalem better withstands a siege- FYI.
The pool also has a Greek name, ‘Bethesda.’ The original Hebrew name is not known, but may be a word that is similar and means ‘house (bet) of mercy.’
Having Jesus heal a Jewish man who is seeking help at a pagan shrine is a perfect example of the shepherd gathering up the lost sheep. Jesus then tells the man to pick up his mat and walk- indicating that he should leave this place. Unfortunately the man runs into the religious leaders of the time who decide not to rejoice over an idolatrous man returning to the Temple, or even to rejoice over his healing, but instead they decide to nit pick over the fact that he is carrying something on the Sabbath. (I wish I could say that we do not behave this way in the church today, but…. ) Jesus then finds the man and warns him not to return to his sin, or worse will happen in his life. The question has always been, ‘What was the man’s sin?’ If the pool at Bethesda was indeed a pagan temple, then his sin is idolatry, and he is not to go back to the pool for help, but to look to Jesus/ God. This would also explain the timing of this statement, as it is after the man speaks to the priests and they give him a less than friendly reception. Jesus is telling the man not to leave God, just because His supposed people are acting like imbeciles at the moment. (So we have two teachings here: Do not nit pick like the Pharisees and run newly saved people out of the church, but also don’t be so thin skinned that you allow the ‘Pharisees’ to turn you away from God- or you will suffer more than before!)
It is recorded in the Talmud that various Jewish rabbis were asked why there were healings occurring at the temples of idols. Rabbi Akiva answers that God sets the time for an illness to be over and sometimes one is at a pagan temple at this time. Rabbi Nehemiah answers that Moses’ rod brought both the plagues in Egypt as well as water from the rock, therefore God sometimes uses the same instrument for both punishment and blessing. My answer is different. I believe that God has mercy on us even when we are in sin, and sometimes gives is blessings, and the desires of our hearts even when we are far from Him and do not deserve it. Jesus follows this example and, like His Father, answers the lame man’s deepest request even when the man is going about requesting it in all the wrong ways. The man is a lost sheep, who is injured and desperately needs the shepherd to bind his wounds before he is able to come home.
(Another fun Jewish story associated with this is about a Rabbi who goes to a Roman bathhouse dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite to bathe. When asked why he does this he refers to the ashes of the red heifer, which make the priest unclean, but cleanses an unclean man. He reminds the people that the statue has no power over him and that the pool existed before the statue. He finishes by stating that the pool is there and I am dirty! -summing up that there is a simple, practical reason for using the pool.)
This Ukrainian Rabbi’s prayer, based on Exodus 34, made me smile…
“Lord of the universe, I want to propose a deal. We have many sins. You have much forgiveness. Let us exchange our sins for your forgiveness. And if You should say that this is not a fair exchange, then my reply is: If we had no sins, what would you do with all Your forgiveness?”
-Rabbi Levi Yitzack of Berditchev
AKA: Why We Need a Savior
When King Solomon asked God for wisdom (1 Kings 3:9) he asked God to give him the ability to determine the difference between good and bad. (He assumed he would choose the good…. Ooops!) Ironically the knowledge of good and evil is what enticed Eve to eat the forbidden fruit in the garden. (At that point Adam and Eve only knew that one thing was bad- eating the forbidden fruit- and they choose to do it…) That knowledge led to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. While Solomon wanted the knowledge so he would not be deceived, and would assumedly choose good for him and the people he ruled, what we see is that when given a clear choice, without deception, humans, as a rule, are likely to choose to do what is bad at least some of the time….