When the Persians defeated the Babylonians in 539 BCE things began to change. The Persians maintained a benevolent dictatorship. They were happy to allow deported populations to return to their homes and rebuild their places of worship. King Cyrus wanted to sustain tranquility in his empire by respecting local populations and encouraging them to worship as they saw fit.
Those who did return were from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. They were primarily property owning families who were in control of the first temple. Those who were returning felt that they were in charge of a divine task.
Not everyone decided to return home though. Some decided to offer their monetary support instead. After all, this had been their home for the last 60 years, many had been born there. They had intermarried with the local population. They had roots there and decided not to make the long journey home. Instead they maintained their Jewish culture and beliefs and stayed in Babylon.
Job had a great life, and then he lost it all. He became terribly sick. It finally became too much for him. He questioned God. Why was all of this happening to him?
God answered from within a whirlwind. Imagine how scary that must have been! He asked Job where he was when he was creating all the world and all the animals in it. Many people have felt that this was the divine putting down Job. However, Professor David Dorsey sees this differently. He found that over thirty of the nouns and verbs that were used in Job's complaint were used in God's response over 140 times. He sees this as God taking Job's complaints seriously, and giving a serious, well-thought-out answer. Job is humbled before God's answer. God, from within the whirlwind, asks Job where he was when God created all the world and the heavens. God asks Job where he was when God created all the animals, some of which humans cannot even approach. Job realizes that he has always talked with God, but that he can also see God in the nature that is around him. Job takes comfort in this and cannot go on complaining.
Job's friends had assumed that Job's suffering came from some sin he had committed. But the fact of the matter is, both good and bad things happen to God's children. Job suffered misfortunes and questioned God on it. God answered Job, and Job realizes that even in the midst of tragedy, the world is not bereft of God's creative presence.
Get out this week and enjoy
This week we are meeting Job as he suffers. This may raise a lot of questions of concerns in children. Why do bad things happen to people? This is an issue in my house. I listen to the news on the radio and my children hear about wars, fires, famine, flooding. Sometimes I must turn it off for all the sadness. What can I tell them when they ask why these happen to people? The truth, I don't know. But what I can remind them is the lesson we learned last week: God is always with us. In good times and bad. That is what Job knew. He praised God when he was a wealthy man. He continued to praise Him when all his worldly goods were taken away.
The story of Job does not fit into any particular time or location. In fact, early Jewish interpreters viewed it as a parable on suffering of the righteous. Suffering has always existed in this world, and many times those that suffer have done nothing to deserve it. This book explores how to respond to suffering, on an individual level.
We leave Job this week when he has be struck fatally ill. We do not understand why he is suffering all this misfortune. We only know that he is not turning against God. Having learned the story of Job as a child, I thought this a curious place to leave off. My young students may be saddened. They won't understand. But I suppose there is never an easy way to explain away suffering. There is a saying, misfortunes come in threes. I clung to this last fall when I suffered two misfortunes pretty close together. I joked that I just needed a third and I was done. When that third came, I said I was done for the rest of the year. Unfortunately, that is not how life works. By the end of the year we suffered two more misfortunes. Could I blame God for my old oil burner? What would be the point. That seems like a silly thing for God to be concentrating on. But I could know that he was with us as we tried to figure out how to pay for the new one.
Daniel was a Jewish man who was taken into captivity when Jerusalem fell. He was an intelligent man and was given a position of authority in the palace. He continues to follow his Jewish faith and does not compromise his values. He shows that he is proficient in literature and wisdom, and as such becomes ten times better than the other advisers.
The king in this story, King Darius, was very tolerant of the religious beliefs of those under his rule. He encouraged the Jews to rebuild their sanctuaries and to continue to follow the faith of their ancestors. This is also evident in his willingness to raise Daniel to a position of importance and power.
King Darius recognized Daniel's good work and wanted to raise him to an even higher level of responsibility, a position over the other presidents. You can imagine how the other leaders would feel, he was a foreigner after all! They knew they could not discredit him on professional grounds, so they decided to attack him because of his faith. They appealed to the king's sense of vanity, flattering him with wishes of his eternal life. They told him he should make it illegal for anyone to pray to anyone else but him. And this he did.
You can imagine how glad the other leaders were. They knew Daniel would continue to pray to his God and as soon as he did they told the king. He did not want to throw Daniel in the lion's den but they told him the law was written so that it could not be changed. When Daniel was placed in the den he told him he hoped his God could save him. And save him He did. Daniel was unharmed the next morning when they opened the den! The king decreed that all would must now recognize Daniel's God as the Living God.
It is often seen in a restrictive government that there are officials who behave the ways these presidents did. Think of the communist regimes that encouraged neighbors to report on each other. Or even more recently, when China strong armed Yahoo! into telling them the names of dissidents or lose their ability to do business in China. King Darius proclaims God's indestructibility in his statement: For He is the Living God, enduring forever. His Kingdom shall never be destroyed. God will outlast repressive regimes and be there with us at all times.
There is a LOT of information that we will be giving our students about what is going on in the world at the time of our stories. We will be telling them what has happened in between stories. We even have a map that we will look at each week so they can see where in the world we are. In this blog, I will be including some of this information for you. Hopefully it will help you as you talk with your children about these stories.
Also, we will be dealing with lots of different issues each week. We will include here some of the strategies our curriculum offers around speaking to children about these things, and the message we tried to convey. For example: Daniel must have been scared in the Lion's Den. Have you ever been scared? But Daniel knew that God is always with him. So, if you are ever feeling scared, remember that God is with you. Something scary is easier if you are not alone.
Check back weekly for updates!