4 volumes of Samuel/Kings,
Ezra & Nehemiah
Friday, May 25, 2018
There’s no “I” in Team, David!
Skimming your bible with your eyes glazing over, this pair of books may look like a repeat of the Samuels and the Kings. Slow down, and see the difference, like comparing the spin of newspapers or TV news channels on the issues of our day. Chronicles reframes the story from the beginning with Adam’s start, not just Abraham, or David. We need a longer critical memory.
David’s succession, from ruling in Hebron to ruling in Jerusalem, is less focused on the cult of the heroic leader. It is harder reading, but this account lists many other leaders, including the Levitical and Aaronic priests, and all the civil servants. This account recognizes the collective contributions of a wider leadership, not just the hero.
2 Chronicles takes 9 chapters to tell a story of the new temple, focused on the south, then 19 chapters of recitals of kings’ stories. Watch for the highlights of Hezekiah’s reforms in 29-31, and of Josiah in 24-25. We are being invited to ‘get with the program’ of the second temple, and recognize the competing orders of priests in the 5th century BCE.
As we retell our own stories, in abbreviated accounts, what will our ‘spin doctors’ tell us? Chronicles is harder work than the heroic epics of Samuel and Kings. It’s not all about the senior ministers, the ‘Rev Dr’ guys of Trinity’s glory days, the moderators of the denomination, the prime ministers of the nation, but about their leadership teams, and the populace supporting them.
Ezra & Nehemiah
Starting Over isn’t Easy
Ezra and Nehemiah continue the stories of Chronicles, the way Kings continue Samuels’ stories. If Samuel was the prequel, then Ezra and Nehemiah serialize a story of ‘return from exile’. Babylonia (Iraq) over-extended into Egypt, and Persia (Iran) beat them at home.
While the first empire exiled elites, the second liked to keep ethnic states intact but subordinated. After over a century, some of the elite returned to Palestine to mix with the ‘remnant’ who had stayed, and began a struggle to build a 2nd temple, with lot of resistance.
The style here, like the Chronicles, is a bit dry with lists of names. Look for Ezra 7 to find the guy assigned by Persia to govern the client state – not unlike those exiles returning to run former soviet states in our generation, after an exile to North America.
We will object to the ‘ethnic cleansing’ texts, prohibiting intermarriage. Ezra is against assimilation, popular among the remnant who stayed in the land, and demanding purity, like the ‘settlers’ in Israel today. The argument has to do with reclaiming a focus on the 2nd temple.
Nehemiah, the second volume, tells of rebuilding the walls physical and metaphorical, setting boundaries again between ‘us’ and ‘them’. There is a lot of affirmation of administrative heroism, distributing benefit and burden and control, which should make sense to many United Church laity in the world. We do reinforce ‘us’ and ‘them’.
This is not popular rhetoric in our subculture and generation. The setting of boundaries by a majority is exclusive and offensive. When will we recognize that we are a minority who need to name our boundaries from less power, to invite people to join a clear ‘us’?
How will we claim our specific identity as ‘Trinity on Church’, to justify our refusals to join other groups already doing the same thing better? How will we focus our gifts and roles, so that we can be good partners to other complementary groups bringing other gifts and roles?