11 March 2016

Noadiah: Listen

"Remember [...], O my God, [...] also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to make me afraid." (Nehemiah 6:14)

Listen, listen,
hear my words.
Drink them up,
let them grip you within,
until they echo
round and round
inside your mind,
inside your heart.

Listen, listen -
it's only advice.
It's for your own good.
It's for everyone's best.
Listen, listen -
I'm only being honest.
This is God,
challenging you.
Listen, listen,
listen to me.

Listen, listen -
how do you know
that what you say is from God
and what I say is not?
Listen, listen -
you only reject
what you don't like,
what's uncomfortable.
Listen, listen,
listen to me.

Listen, listen,
drink my poison up.
Listen, listen,
let me fill you with doubt.
Listen, listen,
let me confuse you.
Listen, listen,
as I make you small,
as I bend you and break you
and make you fall.
Listen, listen,
listen to me.
Listen, listen,


[9. March 2016]

Noadiah was a false prophet who tried to discourage Nehemiah from rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem after the return from the Exile. I tried here to touch on the issue of false prophecy. Of course Noadiah would never admit to the last stanza, but that is what often happens (intentionally or not) in such a situation.

How do you recognise whether a message is truly from God or not? Are all the uncomfortable messages from God? No - even though God often does tell us challenging things. We need wisdom and discernment to differentiate between a real challenge from God (which it is important to respond to the right way) and discouragement that comes from people. And this is very hard! I believe the best way to be safe from this kind of attack is to know the Bible, to know what God is like, to have a general idea what His will is, so that we can measure the more specific messages to what we know of God from His word. Also, the question is what motives the "prophet" / messenger has. Is this person serving him/herself, or truly serving God? Jesus taught us that we can recognise a false prophet by his/her "fruits" (works / lifestyle). Do they live in a way that would please the God of love?

As for the snake: I discovered a few lines into this poem that "listen, listen" has a sibilance (an "s" sound) - and that the snake is a lovely metaphor for someone who lies, manipulates, and fills you with poison. That's why this ends with a hiss. ;)

Picture by Helena Forde.

09 March 2016

Esther: Just A Girl

Esther 4

"Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this." (Esther 4:14b)

Why me, God?
I'm just a girl,
longing to belong -
why let me be uprooted,
torn from those I love?
Why take me to this foreign place
where I know no one?

Why me, God?
I'm just a girl,
longing to be loved -
why place me in the power
of such a cruel man?
Why take away my freedom,
imprisoned in his hand?

Why me, God?
I'm just a girl,
longing for peace -
why this burden on my shoulders?
Why this responsibility?
Should I pay with my own life
to buy my people free?

It's me, God -
I am a queen
placed here by you
for just this purpose,
for such a time as this.
My life makes sense
in your perfect plan -
so give me strength to do
what you have called me to.


[9. March 2016]

We can look at Esther's story as a "rags-to-riches" story about a girl rising from orphaned nobody to queen of a huge empire (comprising 127 provinces) - or we can read it as the story of a girl who was forcefully taken from her family without any say in the matter, to marry a man who we found out in the first chapter has a rather volatile temper. Esther hardly speaks a word for much of the first part of the book. She has no say in what is happening to her. So despite her rise to queenship, I believe Esther is actually in a situation of suffering. She is practically imprisoned, unable to return to her family (though she is still able to communicate with Mordecai) and (on pain of death) forbidden from approaching her husband on her own initiative, bound into the rules and restrictions of palace life. So I can very well imagine her asking: "Why me?"

One of my favourite parts of the book of Esther is chapter 4, where Mordecai moves Esther to stand up for her people. The Jews are in danger: a day has been set on which they are all to be exterminated. Mordecai wants Esther to use her position with the king to save the Jews. And this is the point where all that has gone before, Esther's separation from her family and her marriage to the king, is given some sense: "Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this." (Esther 4:14)

Esther is a very interesting book in that it nowhere mentions God directly. However, God is hinted at in statements like this one. He is active in the background, behind all the occurrences and the actions of individuals, behind some of the things we don't understand. Mordecai explains what Esther has been going through: it has all had a purpose, it has led to this point in which Esther has a vital role to play for her people. She has become queen for a reason, she has been given this responsibility for a reason, and so she should not be afraid to act.

I suppose all this wasn't clear as it was occurring. Esther did not see God's purpose when she was taken away from her adoptive parents. She did not see God's purpose when she ended up married to the Persian king. But sometimes we come into a situation where God's leading hand becomes visible, where things become clear. Often we only see clearly in hindsight.

It's not always wise to tell someone, "Oh, your suffering has a purpose and God has a plan." They might not understand it at the moment. We need wisdom and discernment when it is right to help someone who is suffering to view their suffering in the larger context of God's guidance. But I do believe it can be comforting and helpful to recognise: what has happened to me has a purpose. And from experience I can say that being entrusted with a task is one of the greatest comforts one can be given.

Picture by Edwin Long.