“Should evil come upon us, whether sword, judgment, pestilence, or famine, we shall stand before this House and before You, for Your name is in this House, and we shall cry out to You from our distress, and You will hear and save (Chronicles II 20:9).” This verse resonates with the undertone of accountability and commitment. There’s a responsibility on both sides in the relationship between God and the people, and it plays out in these interactions. The people have to trust that despite the evil that may come before them, if they call out to God from a place of both physical and mental holiness, He will intervene on their behalf and save them. It’s a simple and complex relationship, partially transactional, and partially based on a deep-seated loyalty and confidence. That combination, of basic and multilevel, is a classic balance when it comes to human/divine interactions, and it plays out directly in this verse.
“And Asa suffered from a foot ailment in the thirty-ninth year of his reign until his ailment spread upward, and also in his illness, he did not seek the Lord, but the physicians (Chronicles II 16:12).” Asa lives with his illness for two years, dying in the forty-first year of his reign. And I have to say, while I know that in biblical times the qualifications of physicians were probably dubious at best, I’m totally Team Asa when it comes to his decision to be a bit more pragmatic in attempting to treat his ailments. I completely support and believe in the power of prayer, but when it comes to taking care of business, I also think it’s incumbent upon us to be proactive and to take charge of situations. This can mean relying on experts, doing our own research, or any number of other things that are not just hoping for the best and staying stagnate. Prayer, thoughts, and good wishes (or whatever else you want to call those inner pleas of the heart) are incredible, powerful things. But they’re at their best when combined with action. Asa seems to remove God from the situation entirely, but I’m advocating for an integration of the power of God and man for our success.
Asa is the latest King of Judah, and he’s apparently a good guy. He gets rid of idols, builds fortified cities, and brings peace to the land. “And he commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their forefathers and to perform the Law and the commandments (Chronicles II 14:3).” What I love about this verse is that Asa didn’t command the people to believe. Rather, his order was for them to search, to go on a journey towards a relationship with God. Perhaps I’m reading way too much into this, but it seems to me that this ancient king knew on some level that even he couldn’t command belief, and instead sought to create a community of seekers and doers. Jewish tradition teaches that study leads to action, but this takes it one step further in demonstrating that action can lead to belief.
“And when Solomon finished praying, and the fire descended from heaven and consumed the burnt offerings and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the House (Chronicles II 7:1).” God’s presence manifests itself through fire, and, not to sound like a pyromaniac or anything, that totally makes sense to me. Even the smallest flame on a Shabbat candle is mesmerizing and enchanting, yet dangerous if not cared for properly. We need fire to survive, and yet we can’t survive fire. It’s actually a perfect metaphor for God. When we kindle a flame, it takes on a life of its own and can continue to grow and thrive without us, something that I strive for as an educator when I’m trying to ‘spark’ the interest and passion of my learners. But ultimately it needs a starter, that initial inspiration to fan the flames and create the life of that fire to begin with. This metaphor is mixing God and education in my mind, and that’s a happy intersection because I see them as intertwined in the best possible way.
I actually loved this chapter, which is something that I haven’t said in a while…possibly since the start of the Chronicles portion of Tanakh. Solomon is narrating, and is talking to God about how, after all the effort of building the Temple, it’s not like He will actually be there all the time. The Temple, referred to as a House of God, was much less about actually providing God with a dwelling place and more about providing the people with a central location to focus their intentions and to feel close to Him.
“But will God indeed dwell with man on earth? Behold the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You; much less this House that I have built (Chronicles II 6:18).” This level of awareness is wonderful, particularly because it brings home the true mission of a holy site. It’s of course in God’s honor, but is ultimately about human beings, and is symbolic of the unfathomable wonder of divinity. It’s easy for us to become attached to these symbols, because we like tangible representatives, but we also need to remember the breadth and depth of what they actually represent, and the small roles that we play in bringing them forward.
I feel like I keep using this disclaimer in this book, but this chapter was heavy in words without being particularly deep in inspiring content. This was my best shot. “All these were sons of Heman, the king’s seer, in words of God to raise the horn, and God gave Heman fourteen sons and three daughters (Chronicles I 25:5).” This is different from the usual language of X begat Y and Z because it directly mentions God’s influence on Heman’s children. I’m taking this to mean that it indicates something important and out of the ordinary. Does it mean that God intervened in order for Heman to have these seventeen children? Or that He impacted them in some way, beyond the ‘usual?’ I don’t know the answer, but I always like stories of people who God has a direct relationship with, and influences in big and small ways.
“And I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you, and I made you a name, like the name of the great ones that are in the earth (Chronicles I 17:8).” This kind of descriptor of God’s role in our lives makes Him come off almost like a guardian angel, constantly with us as a protector and companion. Growing up, I loved the parts of Tanakh, especially in the psalms, that referenced God always being nearby. As someone who hates feeling lonely above almost all things, it really appealed to me that no matter who else was around or what I was doing, something or someone would always be there.
“Search for the Lord and His might; seek His presence constantly (Chronicles I 16:11).” I feel like I want to print this verse out and post it somewhere so I remember it all the time. It’s so easy to get complacent, and to not put really any active effort into my relationship with the divine. I’ll throw out a ‘bless you’ or a ‘thank God’ without even thinking about it, but when it comes to truly putting intention into that relationship and actively pursuing it, I’m basically not. So this admonition to search for God really appeals, because for me it means a few things:
- Providing openings to let wonder into my life
- Seeking out experiences and encounters that feel holy
- Acknowledge the awesomeness of different aspects of life
- Explore my own relationship with God, beyond the implict
In my experience, beyond little kids, people don’t really talk about God. And I’m definitely not someone who does, but that’s something I want to work on about myself moving forward.
In this chapter, the priests are performing a ritual on a day of mourning, and we hear a record of their words to God. Among the moments and events that they reflect on is the Exodus. “And You performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh and against all his servants and against all the people of his land, for You knew that they dealt wickedly with them, and You made for Yourself a name as of this day (Nehemia 9:10).” Considering that we’re well into the week of Pesach, it feels particularly relevant to see this reference pop up in today’s reading. I’m especially drawn to the end of the verse and the idea that God made a name for Himself based on the events of the Exodus. It’s statistically proven that the Passover seder is the ritual that the most Jews participate in each year – more than Shabbat, or Chanukah, or the High Holy Days, or a bar mitzvah, or tzedakah, or anything else. Since this is the most common denominator of Jewish life , it makes sense that this is the moment that is referenced as God making a name for Himself. Any knowledge that we as people have of God comes from the moments and rituals when we feel close to Him, so there’s a direct link between Pesach and this awareness. It’s particularly relevant for me, because I often feel more aware of my Judaism this week, when I shake up my routine and am mindful of my food on a different level than I normally am. This is my last post during the holiday this year, so I’m happy to have had the opportunity to reflect on it one last time.
So we’ve gone through two kings at this point in the book, and it’s time for a new one. “And Darius the Mede received the kingdom at the age of sixty-two (Daniel 6:1).” Darius seems to govern well, at first. He has three ‘satraps’ to carry out his wishes, and over them are viziers, one of whom is Daniel. It seems like a government bureaucracy, which hopefully will keep things from escalating out of control for this new ruler. But first, he has to deal with the issue of Daniel. Daniel is naturally superior to the other government officials, which upsets all of them, because Darius favors him over all of them. “Then the viziers and the satraps sought to find a pretext against Daniel regarding the kingdom, but they could find no pretext or fault because he was trustworthy, and no error or fault was found about him (Daniel 6:5).”
So they take another tactic – if nothing can be found wrong with the man, they go on a mission to delegitimize his faith. They coerce the king into issuing a decree saying that anyone who prays to either a god or a man other than the king for thirty days should be thrown into a pit of lions. Leaving aside that this is insane, it’s clearly a plot against Daniel, because we know that he will not go a month without praying to or consulting God. And he doesn’t – he prays publicly, just as before, three times a day, and the bureaucrats seek him out with the goal of catching him in the act. The king is upset when he hears the news, and tries to give Daniel a reprieve, but the men don’t let him, reminding him that his decrees cannot be altered. They’re just the absolute worst.
So the king carries through, much like in the book of Esther where the king wanted to change his mind and walk back his decision, but couldn’t. Daniel is thrown into a pit of lions overnight. The king is restless, and wants to see if he lived, and in the morning, it turns out that God protected Daniel. “My God sent His angel, and he closed the mouths of the lions and they did not hurt me because a merit was found for me before Him, and also before you, O king, I have done no harm (Daniel 6:23).” The king has him taken out of the pit, and now, all of the men who set Daniel up, and their families, women and children included, are thrown into the pit and are crushed to death by the lions. I realize this is meant to be some kind of poetic justice, but it just seems to me to be just like the story back in Esther where justice turns into revenge, which turns into excessive brutality. I’m all about justified retribution, but these kinds of escalations leave me with a bad taste.