I firstly thought that Nehemiah should be read in conjunction with Ezra but as with other areas of the Bible already covered there are inconsistencies between the two. Nehemiah also annoyingly flips from the first person into the third and back to the first again however The Prayer of Confession and Agreement do give a nice little summary of the key points from the time of the Lord rescuing his people from slavery in Egypt.
We are also again reminded of the commands and laws issued through Moses. I am particularly reminded of all debts being cancelled every seventh year and how this is also still a feature today in some areas, and also the giving over of a tenth of all produce and again how a vague notion of that still lives on in the experience I have had of religion to date.
I also want to comment on the Sabbath. From reading Nehemiah comes the first indication of which day of the week it actually is. Like some other notable celebrated days throughout the year, such as New Year’s Day or Mothers Day, it has always struck me as arbitrary but here we have our first indication that it is actually Saturday as we know it today. And while some faiths may use this as their holy day, I am more familiar in my upbringing with it meaning Sunday – so how did this come about?
I’m not sure I ‘get’ the purpose of Ezra. Yes, it tells the story of the return from exile of some of the Israelites in two waves but beyond that … I do notice that it is the first time I can recall that in the version of the Bible I am reading the Israelites are referred to as Jews. It is also the first time that we have switched to the narrative being in the first person which I found slightly odd to read especially when it switched back again mid-chapter – something any writing tutor or instructor would advocate against most strongly.
The only real thing to comment on is the divorcing and sending away of foreign wives and children from these marriages. I understand that for some people keeping blood lines pure is important although for what purpose and how they have reached this conclusion is completely incomprehensible. In a week when I have felt the need to defend tarring all people of a particular race, nationality or religion with the same brush, it seems especially short-sighted to me. Diversity has been proved time and time again to be beneficial in developing ideas and practices. And whilst I might not yet be at the point where I necessarily agree with the words of John Lennon’s song Imagine in regard to imagining a world with no religion, I can completely understand the sentiment.
Part 2 in summarising (and occasionally embellishing) what has come before. Did it make any difference to the way I felt about it before being told from a different viewpoint? I’m not sure that it did. I’m also not sure that I could say which was the easier to read – 1 and 2 Kings for some parts, 2 Chronicles for others. If I was the author of this part I would probably be looking to cut and paste from both while adding my own take on it.
I don’t know if ‘troubles’ is the right word but it troubles me still that the ‘moral’ seems to be that the Lord rewards faith and obedience to him, and punishes non-belief and worship of him. It really cannot be so simple: disease and death for those who do not worship him, wealth and a healthy long life for those that do. Plenty of people who do have faith and worship the Lord get ill and die too young, and plenty of people live long fulfilling lives who have no faith at all.
And there is the contradiction: the Lord stated that children would not be punished for the crimes of their parents and parents would be not be punished for the crimes of their children but yet what does the Lord do but exactly this by punishing future generations for the sins of the current generation, although to be fair this happens time and time again and on the whole the current generation are also sinning against him, or at least not worshiping him. Any other ‘sins’ they may be committing are not always stipulated. Do as I say rather than as I do? – not if respect is required.
A summary of what has come before and not more interesting for it to be honest. It’s like the summary notes when you are studying for an exam, and playing spotting the difference – some names are different, embellishments made on events already described and other subtle differences but essentially the same story told in summary. To me, it reads more like a campaign log glorifying in battles won and as we have already established if you have read any of this blog previously I am very much a pacifist and abhor violence and war.
Again I am struck by how so many people in the world follow a God who seems to perpetuate so much violence and mistreatment of other people. It leads me to also wonder about the accident of the place of our birth pretty much determining our religion and faith, or lack of. I have commented in the past that I consider myself lucky to be born and live in a country where I am free to think and voice these opinions but what if I had been born and raised elsewhere – would I have different thoughts or similar, whether I was free to voice them or not?
Finally some exceptions in the Kings not following the commands of the Lord. Firstly Hezekiah, and then more notably Josiah although there is no reward as such from the Lord for his acts even though the Lord is pleased with him. Instead we end up back where we started with all the Israelites back in Egypt. So what have all the events to this point been for? It is easy to see how the Lord would lose heart if people continued to disobey his commands but you could then argue what is the point in following his commands if the end result is the same.
That then leads back to the question of how you can actually make anyone believe in anything, or follow certain practices, and whether it is right to try to do so in the first place. And what makes us believe certain things as ‘true’ but dismiss others? Just because someone believes something else does not mean it is not correct even if we do not have the same point of view. And why this need for a majority of people in the world to worship some form of God at all? What is it that this worship adds to our lives and wellbeing that make ourselves feel more fulfilled or improves our feeling of self-worth?
Kings seem to come and go over centuries and make the same mistakes time and time again, never learning from their predecessors, and then there is a prophet, Elisha, who I will admit I can not recall hearing of before, who is altogether someone more worthy of admiration and shows more dedication to following the Lord. ‘Miracles’ he performs seem similar in many ways to those attributed to Jesus: feeding many from little food; bringing the dead back to life. Also, his foretelling of the future, and the fact that some choose to listen to his words while others doubt. And yet, he to my experience of faith, does not get the same acclaim or notoriety as others.
Perhaps this is an illustration that a leader of people appears to also not be capable of being a leader of faith too and vice versa – the separation of state and religion which has been an ongoing battle throughout time and countries. Religion obviously serves a purpose in our world whether an individual has faith and follows a particular religion, or not, but I cannot see how a particular religion can also be so defined as to lie within a particular country’s boundaries without diffusion. That just does not seem a very natural state to me but then neither in many ways do borders anyway.
I’m hoping that I will not forget Elisha as I journey on.
What makes a leader that others will follow? All of us have our views on life and the way it should be lived. And I doubt I am alone in that while I celebrate and champion the right for everyone to have their own views and be individuals, I also think that just maybe the world would be a better place if a few more people thought and acted as I do. However, I seem to lack the necessary motivation, and ability to convince others or beat them into submission, to do anything about it. And if you have read any of my previous posts you will know that I could never turn to violence.
We are not all born free. Wherever we are born, we have certain obligations to the state imposed upon us and certain rules we must follow which are decreed by its leader: all of us are constricted in this way. I consider myself lucky to be living in a democracy in which I can have a small say in who my leader is – whether the majority of my fellow citizens end up agreeing with me is another matter.
We are all to a degree influenced by our upbringings, some believing unquestionably all they are taught, or plain just too frightened of the consequences of breaking away from the mould. I know I am fortunate to have been born in a country where my thoughts can take me anywhere I want them to; where I can question and explore; where I can find the different point of view from that of which I am being told I should believe as if the majority is always ‘right’.