The Day of Killing

By Renée Zitzloff

When I was preparing the lesson on Ezekiel 32 I noticed again (I’m great with the obvious) the seeming redundancy of this ancient book. But reading the chapter anew, expecting to yawn profusely, I suddenly was jolted by the graphic nature of the violence being described. I was to study this with young children?

In class I had one of the girls read the first 10 verses, and then I asked the children to repeat just one thing she had read. No one could repeat one word. So much for listening. So I read aloud s l o w l y and with emphasis God’s message through Ezekiel to Pharaoh, tasking the children with repeating their “favorite” verse when I was done:

“You are like a lion among the nations; you are like a monster in the seas…I will cast my net over you…I will hurl you on the open field…and all the animals of the wild will gorge themselves on you…I will drench the land with your flowing blood…I will snuff you out….I will bring darkness over you…”

This time they each remembered a “favorite” verse. To reinforce the unpalatability of the passage I asked them to imagine how wild animals eat. Do they sit down politely at a table using silverware, sipping tea and wearing a pretty bonnet? No, they all agreed giggling at the image. So again, I emphasized graphically how wild animals rip muscles apart with their jagged teeth, how bones are cracked and gobbles, how blood smears over everything and how bad it all would smell to the human nose. I asked the children if their parents allow them to watch violent or graphic television or movies and most remembered something violent they’d seen on a screen. I asked them why such violence is depicted in the Bible, and why their parents would allow them to read such a thing. No one had an answer, so I suggested they ask their parents this question (I love fomenting rebellion).

In emphasizing what is written in the text (not by me!) I wanted to help them pay attention to what they may think is boring and useless (me?). So as we continued I told them I’d help paint a picture of Ezekial and the Pharaoh whom they’ve never met and whom supposedly lived so long ago. I asked them if they knew the names of any rap artists. There was discussion and we settled on Eminem. Then I asked them to picture President Obama speaking happily at a press conference and suddenly Eminem interrupting him with the words of Ezekial: “You are like a lion among the nations; you are like a monster in the seas…I will cast my net over you…I will hurl you on the open field…and all the animals of the wild will gorge themselves on you…I will drench the land with your flowing blood…I will snuff you out….I will bring darkness over you…declares the Sovereign Lord.” Hmm, I asked, would President Obama be pleased to hear these words? Would he be happy and invite Eminem to join him for cocktails in the Rose Garden? Or would he insist Eminem be hauled away by secret service personnel and perhaps be thrown in jail or even be put to death? (It’s never fun to be a prophet, I reminded them, because they all get killed for speaking truth).

At this point I could have guided the class in several directions (or gone home). And though it may be tangential to the chapter I decided to discuss how the world uses killing and death to destroy its enemies. I suggested that the job of the Christian is not to kill but to prepare ourselves to die for the truth. I alerted them that the rest of their lives people would try to involve them in killing as a solution. We talked about the military recruiters who will be present in their high schools (and possibly middle schools) encouraging them to join the army, navy, marines etc. “You can join the military if you choose, I said, but you are not allowed to kill.” I asked them if they knew of any record in the Bible (or outside) of Jesus killing or wounding anyone, or of Jesus advocating war or killing as a solution. Nothing came to mind. We spoke of how Christ could have called an army of men (or women or angels) to annihilate his enemies as he torturously limped towards the cross. Why do we use killing and war as a solution if Jesus didn’t?

As we talked about killing, one boy affirmed that the United States didn’t go to war often. Sad to relieve him of this notion, I cited the fact that in the last two hundred years the United States has been involved in over 150 wars, including the genocides of Native Americans and black slaves. He then proposed that the U.S. only goes to war when someone “picks on us because we are powerful and they are weak.” I invited him to rethink this idea by picturing himself choosing the biggest kid at school and taunting him into a fight. He wisely agreed that he wasn’t likely to do this, although one of the (little?) girls suggested using less of a full frontal confrontation and more of a guerrilla warfare (my phrase) strategy against bigger enemies. She had some good points.

This pretty much wrapped up our lesson for the day. I generally conclude by reminding the children to talk to their parents about what we discuss. I hope they do.

* * *

Bully on the Playground

bully Habakkuk draws its reader right in, questioning the Lord’s dominion over the enemies of war, famine, poverty, and injustice.  What kind of Lord won’t listen and won’t save?   Habakkuk doesn’t mess around with niceties, listing the Lord’s steadfast love, mercy, patience, justice, and strength.  He goes straight for the jugular.

And teaching Habakkuk to young children can be especially difficult in a land that strives to create a safe and fair world for its children.  Habakkuk is essentially asking the Lord,  “How could the playground bully be doing the work of the Lord?  The bully is mean and unfair and “bent on violence.” (1:9)

A boy named Peter studied the children at play.  From the park bench where Peter sat, he sized up the playground bully, and Peter watched him like a hawk.   The playground bully threw rocks at the spinning carousel, stood at the top of the slide and wouldn’t let anyone pass without a “leaf ticket,” and always beat his friends in a race to the best swing.   And Peter’s Mom didn’t even notice when the bully started kicking Peter’s ball that he left on the edge of the playground.

“Why doesn’t Mom do something??!   It’s my ball!  How can she let that bully do whatever he wants?”  fumed Peter.

“Peter,” Mom turned away from her conversation with the other ladies.  “You can get up from the bench now and come out of time-out.  Go apologize to the little girl you pulled off the see-saw.  Then why don’t you go play with that boy over there who’s kicking your ball around with the other kids?”

Will Peter ever learn?




The uncomfortable question of self-preservation: Nahum 3

The Lord immediately comes after Nineveh in this violent, chaotic final chapter of the book of Nahum.  The author justifies the attack and then brings the reader into the midst of battle.  The Lord lays Nineveh open to her enemies, just as her enemies were once open to Nineveh’s attacks. The great city thought that she could control her own destiny, but the Lord displays his ultimate power over her fate.  The chapter uses extensively the image of the city as a woman, as an unfaithful wife and as a victim of rape.  This chapter critiques the necessary means of establishing one’s power by reversing those means against the powerful, ultimately demonstrating the Lord’s supreme power.

The first verse of this chapter directs the brutal strength of this chapter on the dishonorable, thieving city, Nineveh.  “Chaos” is how one reader in the class described her impression of this chapter.  The chaos and violence are squarely aimed at the one who brings chaos and violence.  This scene recalls the beginning of the book, in 1:2, where the Lord is characterized an avenger, one who settles scores.

The poet brings us into the midst of the battle in vv. 2-3.  First come the noises: whips, wheels, horses, chariots.  Next come the sights: weapons, and bodies, bodies, bodies.  The horror comes alive here as we see the Lord’s whirlwind manifested in the vengeance against Nineveh.

Nineveh’s unfaithfulness is reversed back upon her because she tried to wrest control of her destiny from the Lord (vv. 4-6).  Before I explain these verses, I need to mention that ancient literature–including the Bible–often depicted cities as women.  (This correspondence is clear in the Orthodox Christian Paschal hymn to the Theotokos: “Rejoice, O Pure Virgin! . . . Shine, shine, O New Jerusalem!”)  So the invasion of a city is likened to rape.  Similarly, a city is like the wife of her protecting deity.  The diety provided for his city in the form of wealth and prosperity, as a husband provides for his wife.  When Nineveh looked for provision outside the Lord, she Nineveh became a “harlot.”  She did not count on her husband alone to provide, but on any man who was willing to offer something.  In addition, by her “sorceries” she tried to control nature–similarly bringing her prosperity.  As Nineveh sought help from her “lovers,” the Lord now exposes her nakedness to all.  As her sorcery made her unclean, so the Lord now makes her unclean.

In the end, no one will feel sorry for her because she brought misery on all the nations around her (v. 7); as Nineveh raped others, so she will be raped.  For a nation to become an empire, as Nineveh did, she had to take over cities.  She had to keep growing, and so took the resources of the cities she conquers.  Each time Nineveh entered another city, Nineveh committed another act of rape, which she did countless times.  Rape is an inherently masculine act.  In v. 5, though, the Lord shows that she is truly a woman as he exposes her to be raped by other invaders.  Ultimately, she acted like a man, raping the cities around her; now she will be raped; she committed adultery like a bad wife; now she will be given over to be ravished.

In vv. 8-10, the Lord compares the defeat of Egypt to that of Nineveh, contrasting Nineveh’s relative weakness to Egypt’s strong geographical position.  Egypt was impenetrable.  One could only invade Egypt from the sea through the Nile delta in the North (v. 8); to the East and West were desert and allies (v. 9).  Nevertheless, the Lord defeated her previously at the hands of Nineveh (v. 10).  I reminded everyone that any mention of a defeat of Egypt obliquely refers to the Exodus–the basic narrative of the entire Bible–where the Lord displays his “outstretched hand” for his glory.

Nineveh, the “great city” of Jonah 1:2 and 3:2, will be utterly helpless (Nahum 3:11-13) in spite of its attempts to defend itself (vv. 14-15).  The people will be senseless like drunkards (v. 11).  They will be “ripe for the picking” by the enemy (v. 12).  The citizens of the city, both individually (i.e, the troops are “like women”) and collectively (i.e., the city gates are “wide open”), will be defenseless like women to be ravished by the enemy (v. 13).  Preparations to defend the city will prove useless before the invasion initiated by the Lord (vv. 14-15).

As all those with power–the merchants, scribes, and princes–are scattered about, defenseless (vv. 16-17), Nahum reminds the city of its ignominy to end the chapter and the book (vv. 18-19). With the citizens already taken from the city, the leadership fled, unable to be found.  The Lord reminds Nineveh and the reader of the reason for the great city’s defeat: cruelty.  As the city did what it had to do to amass the resources to keep itself safe and flourishing, it treated others cruelly.  As Nineveh is raped now, so she raped the other cities; as she put others to shame, now she is being put to shame.  Nothing will be left of this superpower except its reputation as an evil empire.

In the beginning of this book I discussed the message that a book about the fall of the Ninevites that would be named at Israel, and we see that the book warns against the “natural” needs of a power.   The power fulfills its needs through exploitation, and the Lord turns back this exploitation back on the superpower in order to even the score.  As Israel no longer finds itself at the bottom of the heap, Nahum warns against trying to make itself strong and secure again.  Prosperity and safety come exclusively from the Lord, and those who seek the Lord will be safe from the whirlwind when it comes for vengeance and settling scores.

The response to Nineveh as she seeks growth and security seems cruel.  She does what she has to survive as an empire.  By extension, every reader who wants to keep him- or herself safe must doubt that the action is acceptable from the Lord’s point of view.  In light of Christ’s self-sacrifice, in which he did nothing to preserve himself, or of Paul’s willingness to suffer for the gospel, we must wonder whether our self-preservation is of the Lord or against the Lord.  Normally, providing for oneself or for one’s family is automatically considered good and even admirable.  In light of Nahum, however, we must consider that we are the ones exploiting others for our own safety, in which case our provision for ourselves and our families will be brought under judgement.  Nahum forces an uncomfortable question.

He who must not be named

This week, the youngest class completed the first chapter of Nahum. In addition to continuing our study of key terms like “vengeance,” and “whirlwind,” we took the opportunity to practice Hebrew vocabulary, using the words “Yahweh,” and “shalom” to help illustrate the “good news” at the end of chapter 1:

14 The Lord has issued a command concerning you: “Your name will no longer be perpetuated. I will cut off idol and image from the house of your gods. I will prepare your grave, for you are contemptible.” 15 Behold, on the mountains the feet of him who brings good news, Who announces peace! Celebrate your feasts, O Judah; Pay your vows. For never again will the wicked one pass through you; He is cut off completely. (Nahum 1:14-15)

Instructing the kids to trace the words יהוה (Yahweh) and שָׁלוֹם (peace) on the board, I explained that since ancient times, many of God’s people were afraid to say the word Yahweh out loud. Curious, not puzzled, the children wanted to know why. I asked two students to get up from their seats and stage a pretend fight. Everyone was delighted, and pleasant chaos ensued. Finally, a third child was informed that I would leave the room. “I will return,” I grinned ominously, “when you say my name.”

“What is your name?”


The first time the Lord’s name was called, I did not respond and the ruckus continued. Finally, after a few attempts, I returned proclaiming “shalom! peace!” in a booming fatherly tone. The noise and the mock fighting came to an abrupt halt. Everyone quickly jumped back into their seat. There was silence in the room.

“Good news brings peace and keeps us safe. Like children,” I explained, “who stop fighting when dad comes home.”

We then celebrated the good news with a light snack after class.

Ominous delight: Nahum 3

The second chapter of the book of Nahum continues on the theme of the Lord as the whole system: the good and the bad, the up and the down, the victory and the defeat.  As the whirlwind of the Lord becomes painfully concrete in war, the Israelites learn from their victory over Nineveh how easy a fall from grace is no matter what the height, as soon as she thinks that she controls and maintains her power.  The Lord alone stands atop the food chain.

Nahum begins with preparations for war.  Nineveh, the addressee of the prophecy, must get ready for an attack (v. 1).  The next verse, verse 2, is puzzling in the NKJV because it has parentheses around it.  One participant in today’s class asked, “Why are there parentheses?  It seems like this verse applies perfectly to the situation.”  Scholars believe that the second verse would make more sense if it switched places with the first; both sections would be more congruous, about lifting up Israel from the end of ch. 1 and about preparing for war in 2:3.  In its current place, though, 2:2 breaks the flow of preparations for war with a reminder that the war and the restoration of Israel depend on each other.  Raising up Israel comes at a cost of bringing Nineveh down.

Nahum depicts war with distinct poetic devices.  He describes war first in stark, concrete terms (vv. 3-5), and then in metaphor (6-9).  One participant noted that this chapter sees particularly poetic, with a clear meter.  The rhythm is staccato up to this point–short lines of only a few words.  While the words evoke chaos the style of the writing pulls us through like we’re riding a horse: da-da-DUM, da-da-DUM.  (The Hebrew of v. 10, moreover, offers wonderful alliteration: buqah u-mevuqah u-mevullaqah!  “Devastation, desolation, and destruction!”)  First, crimson and chaos characterize the war in stark, concrete terms.  Next, the author describes the defeat of Nineveh with metaphors.  The city floods out as the moaning women flee (vv. 6-7).  The flood continues as the city’s treasures are ransacked (vv. 8-9).  The starkness of war ends with the dissipation of the great city.

The images contrast sharply with the image of Nineveh previously in Jonah, where the “great city” was a three-day journey across (Jonah 3:3).  Now it is being drained of everything.  What was a vast lake is reduced to a puddle.  But rather than a slow, methodical drain, the loss comes through chaotic, bloody violence brought by the Lord.

Nineveh was amorally looking out for its own interests without any opposition, like a lion (vv. 10-12), but now is brought down in stature.  The lion is an image that would have resonated in the ancient Near East.  A Somali friend described to me the terror of night falling in the desert and the threat of lions in East Africa–this is the feeling Nineveh evoked.  Lions, though, are not evil, but amoral.  They eat to survive and to feed their young.  So Nineveh’s power operated amorally; for the strong to survive, they need to take the necessary resources.  The problem comes when Nineveh assumes that they are at the top of the “food chain,” which is the Lord’s position.  Pride is the downfall of Nineveh.  Nineveh will end with complete annihilation (v. 13).

The deliberate chaos of the Lord works against Nineveh but in Israel’s favor.  Nevertheless, as I mentioned early on, this invective against Nineveh is in Hebrew and thus aimed at an Israelite audience.  What purpose does it serve, then, other than propaganda?  On the one hand, the Lord reminds Israel that Nineveh–the overwhelming threat–is brought down so that Israel can be lifted up again.  On the other hand, pride of being at the top brought Nineveh down.  As we saw in Jonah, Nineveh is not always so proud; she is capable of profound repentance.  Nineveh became a constant threat to the weak, not out of malice, but out of the nature of its power.  Coming out from under oppression is good news for Israel, but rising to the top can be dangerous for Israel, as well.  As Israel rises in stature, she must cautiously and deliberately focus on her inability to gain or maintain her own power.

The One Who Creates the Trouble IS the Refuge in Times of Trouble

The older children and teens began the study of Nahum and were immediately struck by the wrath of the Lord–vengeance, punishment, whirlwind, storm, dried up sea and river, withering blossoms, earthquakes, indignation, anger, fire, shattering rock–this is the fury of the Lord.  In the midst of all these descriptions of wrath, the text barely mentions, “The Lord is slow to anger” (Nah. 1:3)  Let’s hope He is really slow to anger.

And then a word of hope in the midst of chaos: “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble.  He cares for those who trust in him.” (Nah 1:7)  Could it be the very one who creates the trouble serves as a refuge for those who trust Him?

I likened this tswimo the time my dad began teaching my sister and me to swim.  We were on the farm, and our swimming hole was a muddy pond.  We couldn’t see the bottom and creatures of moss floated everywhere.  We were young, probably ages 2 and 3.  Because I showed my fear, my younger sister was determined to express her confidence.  She jumped in first and squealed with delight as Dad swam with her on his back.  Dad bobbed in the middle of the water with his arms extended toward me, “Jump.  You can’t learn to swim if you don’t get in.  Don’t worry; you’ll be safe if you keep hold of me.”   Disobedience was never an option in dealing with my dad, but I remember two distinct feelings.  1) I was upset that he should cause so much trouble for me.  2) Once I was in the water, no matter how angry I was at my dad, there was no way I was going to let go of him.  While Dad was trying to peel my tight grip from his neck, I imagine my sister got a little cocky and swam out too far on her own.  We saw her arms flailing and a look of panic between facefuls of water.  My dad reached her quickly and reminded her of the boundary he had marked for her to swim safely.

Trouble will come and go for all people.  For those who think they can conquer it alone, it is an “overwhelming flood” of destruction (Nah. 1:8).  But for those who trust in the one who controls the chaos, they will be saved.

Matthew’s Question

I remember the first time I heard the gospel.  I don’t remember the sermon that followed. I remember the reading.  I can’t have been more than 9 or 10 years old. It was the Sunday before Nativity, probably the first Christmas after my mom’s parents had passed away. Taking my place in the gospel’s honor guard, I strained to hear the long list of Hebrew names as the priest rattled through Matthew’s genealogy. (Matthew 1:1-25) Against all odds, I had embraced my dad’s Near Eastern mindset, so I intuitively understood patriarchy and lineage, even at that age. It was never explained to me. I just picked it up from my dad. So I was puzzled–even shocked–by the genealogy’s ending. “How,” I thought, “could they call Jesus the son of David?”  It was Joseph who was David’s son and he was not the father of Jesus.  Even if Mary were a daughter of the same family, “Mary,” I puzzled, “cannot not carry the line.”  Ignoring the questions of the adults around me, I had stumbled upon the right question–Matthew’s question.  Posed to a child without adult intervention and weathered by time and study, this nagging question continues to drive my “asking” and “knocking” on Scripture’s door, as I “seek” the wisdom in its pages. (Matthew 7:7)  Taken from a personal example, this experience embodies the mission and purpose of the Ephesus School. It also explains why, with unbridled enthusiasm, I sat down this week to read Nahum to a room full of kindergartners.

This was not the first time I had read Scripture to little children in a classroom setting, and I know why adults in church resist doing so.  Adults today do not respect children, and modern education does not respect knowledge. C.S. Lewis famously anticipated this problem in his work, The Abolition of Man:

The difference between the old and the new education will be an important one. Where the old initiated, the new merely ‘conditions’. The old dealt with its pupils as grown birds deal with young birds when they teach them to fly; the new deals with them more as the poultry-keeper deals with young birds— making them thus or thus for purposes of which the birds know nothing. In a word, the old was a kind of propagation—men transmitting manhood to men; the new is merely propaganda.” 1

Instead of knowledge, we focus on method theory. Instead of grappling with wisdom, we embrace narrow synthesis. We speak of “learning how to think” as though a child can learn to swim without jumping into water. Why? Because synthesis is convenient, easy, and facilitates control. We tell our story in lieu of God’s story. We make ourselves a god. Reading Nahum to children does not require synthesis. On the contrary, it precludes it. When an adult simply reads, using examples to explain–not a contrived moral–but the actual meaning of written words, it may take an hour to get through Nahum 1:1-3, but in that precious hour, the children are given a fighting chance to become, not ours, but God’s children.

If someone tells you it is impossible to teach Nahum to children, or insists on a curriculum; or simplicity; or synthesis; or the need to make learning fun; or a children’s bible; or on anything outside of the text itself: Ask them if it is possible to explain the words “avenging” (1:2) or “whirlwind” (1:3) to a five year old. Ask them if a child can learn how to pronounce “Nahum” properly in Hebrew. If they persist in their denials, then they should not be allowed to teach. Mary cannot carry the line.



  1. Lewis, C.S., The Abolition of Man, Chapter 1:Men Without Chests

The Lord: The storm and the shelter from the storm…(Nahum 1)

The Lord is a paradox with a nasty edge in Nahum.  After everyone read through the first chapter of Nahum, I asked what struck everyone about this chapter.  One person noticed that the Lord seemed malevolent with the narrative’s emphasis on “vengeance”; another noticed that the Lord’s promise here in the text to keep the people safe hereafter would soon be broken, as we know from history.  Someone else remarked that this chapter spends the first part focusing on nature before moving on to discussing the people.  The Lord spans the spectrum from destruction to shelter, from chaos to deliberation, from bearer of bad news to bearer of good news, and this description positions him as a unique, paradoxical force in the world for humans to try to grasp.

As we worked through the book, we saw that the observation of a focus on vengeance is correct; in the second verse the Hebrew repeats the words, “the Lord takes vengeance (noqem),” three times in three phrases, even though the JPS and RSV translations employ different words (v. 2).  The Hebrew emphasizes the vengeance even more than the English.  We should recognize that vengeance is not necessarily an act of destruction, but a settling of scores.  Once the Lord has let a situation go long enough, he comes in to settle the matter.  Yet the Lord is patient (lit. “long of nose”–taking a deep breath?) in his decision.  He does not strike on a whim or in the heat of the moment; he deliberates, which emphasizes that the decision arises from wisdom, not impulsivity.  This trait may make the Lord appear more wise, or more cold-blooded, but the Lord certainly acts decisively.

When the Lord acts deliberately, his actions paradoxically resemble a whirlwind and a storm (v. 2b).  This image represents chaotic, irresistible forces of nature, in tension with a god who is careful and purposeful.  The reader sees a deity who looks chaotic, yet thoughtful.  He is the greatest force of nature, making the sea dry; the stable hills unstable; the lush mountains languish (vv. 3-4).  The mountains fall down, and the earth and its creatures are lifted up (v. 5).  Once the Lord comes, the earth practically turns upside-down.  In the end, every force of nature–the greatest forces known to humans–is under the Lord’s control and none can stand against him (v. 6).

In front of an intelligent force of nature above all forces of nature, humans can only remain safe if this force chooses to avoid them.  Thus the only force that can keep them safe is the force itself–the Lord is the hurricane, as well as its eye.  The evil is the storm, and the good is the protection from the storm (v. 7); he is the flood, and he is protection from the flood–and the one who leads into darkness (v. 8).  The Lord is the entire mechanism, as he takes vengeance and he protects from his vengeance.  No plan can work around this force.  The one planning is as wise as a drunkard and as powerful as dry thorns (vv. 9-11).  Note that this is the first mention of humans–and they are foolish and impotent.

The Lord needs to impress further on the people that he is the only refuge from his power.  He will just as easily wipe away the Israelites’ immediate problem, their Assyrian overlords.  He afflicted Israel through the Assyrians; he will stop afflicting them by crushing the Assyrians (vv. 12-13).  The end of Assyria is coming: their name will not be “sown” any more, that is, they will no longer bear fruit or offspring, and their gods will be cut off (v. 14).  Judah will ultimately be able to live in peace by being set free from Assyria (v. 15).

Good news and bad news: both come from the Lord.  Because he is the “irresistible force” of nature, overturning all of creation, he is also the “immovable object,” offering protection.  Humans often fall into the trap of thinking that good news is the status quo, the way things “ought” to be, not recognizing that good news comes from the Lord.  In the wilderness, the Israelites worried about water or getting sick of manna, complaining to the Lord, forgetting that the very ability to worry about this “bad news” came from the freedom that the Exodus offered them.  The “problem of evil” that came from the Lord arose because the people forgot that the good they received came from the same Lord.

Moreover, no group or individual is safe.  While in Jonah Nineveh hoped for the Lord’s grace, and Jonah complained, in Micah Israel wouldn’t count on the Lord’s grace, and so built an army and alliances by themselves.  Now Nineveh is to be destroyed and the people built up.  The Lord can and will bring everyone into the realization that only the Lord tears down and only the Lord builds up.


God Will Crush You Anytime . . . and He Might Just Pick Up the Pieces

200px-Micah_prophetThis was the title the children of Ephesus School named their Micah play performed last week.  Actually, if it were up to them and I hadn’t interfered, they would have kept the tidy title God Will Crush You Anytime.  It was a matter of adding cherry flavor to the medicine . . . it’s a hard pill to swallow . . . apparently harder for adults than it is for children.

One of the children wrote the first scene, carefully using the text from the Bible.  The students were intrigued with the Micah reference to Balaam, his donkey, and Balak, so they decided to add this as its second scene–a bit of comic relief.  The third scene was the Biblical passage the youngest children memorized and recited.  The fourth scene was a narrated pantomime.  This was the scene for which the audience was touched by the heap of sinners, burdened by signs of sins on their backs (greedy, deceitful, faithless, etc.).  The Lord “pardoned the sin” and crumpled the paper record of sins and  “hurled the iniquities into the depths of the sea” (Mic 7:18-19).

Below is a copy of the play, should other classes like to use one or more of the scenes.  Feel free to contact us for more clarification or your comments.

MICAH Play, Scene 1

Narrator – The children of St. Elizabeth present, The Micah Play, as we have renamed:

Everyone– God will crush you . . .  anytime.  And He might just pick up the pieces.

Narrator –  Micah was a prophet in the time of King Jotham, (steps out) King Ahaz, (steps out) and King Hezekiah.  (steps out)

Narrator:  God was mad at his people (the Israelites) because they had turned away from him.  Imagine that your own children decided they wanted to live in a different house because they could eat candy for dinner, play video games all day, and never finish their homework.  God knew how to care for his children and provide the best for them, but his children had turned from him.   They hated the good and loved the evil.  God had a lesson to teach them and bring them back under his care . . . . but it wasn’t going to be pretty.

Micah – Hear you people! The Lord is coming to judge you!  The mountains will melt under him, and the valleys will fill up, like wax before the fire.

Kings and youngest children– Where will we hide?!?

God – I will make Samaria a heap in the open country.

(Kings and youngest children pile into a heap)

Micah – There will be nowhere to hide!

God – I will wail and howl.  I will wail like the dragons, and mourn as the owls.  For her wound is incurable; right at the gate of my people.

Micah – Evil came down from the Lord, to the gates of Jerusalem.

God – Because of your transgressions I will hand you over to your enemies who will take you into captivity.

Narrator 2– It’s gonna be baaaaad! ! !

Micah– Hear, I pray you, is it not for you to know judgment,  who hate the good, and love the evil?

God– I will bring evil upon you to knock you to your senses.

Narrator 2– Now it’s gonna be real bad.

(everyone walks off stage)

MICAH Play, Scene 2

God– My people, what have I done to you?  How have I burdened you?  Answer me.  I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery.  My people, remember what Balak king of Moab counseled and what Balaam son of Beor answered.

Narrator-Balak and Balaam?  Do you remember this story?  Let me refresh your memory.

Balak –I am Balak, king of Moab.  I’m worried about these Israelites who have camped next to us.  I’ve heard their God easily defeats their enemies.  Quite frankly, I’m terrified.

Narrator-He’s shaking in his boots!

Balak to Messengers-Messengers and Princes, go to Balaam and ask him to put a curse on these Israelites because they are too powerful for me.

Messengers walk to Balaam and show him their money– Balaam, come with us and curse the Israelites.

Balaam turns away– What should I do, Lord?

God – Do not go with them.  You must not put a curse on my people because they are blessed.

Balaam turns to the messengers – Go back to your own country, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you.

Messenger 1-But King Balak will reward you handsomely and do whatever you say.

Messenger 2-Come on, pretty please with an olive on top.  Come curse the Israelites for Balak!

Balaam– Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold, I could not do anything to go beyond the command of the Lord my God.

God to Balaam-Since these messengers have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.

Narrator (while Balaam, messengers, donkey, and angel act out the scene) – Balaam saddled his donkey and went with the messengers of Moab.  But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him.  When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, the donkey turned off the road into a field.  Balaam beat her to get her back on the road.  Then the angel of the Lord moved on ahead.  When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat her.  Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth.

Donkey-  What have I done to deserve this?

Balaam– You have made a fool of me! If I had a sword, I would kill you! You are the donkey, not I!

Donkey– Open your eyes and see the angel of the Lord.

(Balaam bows down when he sees the angel)

Angel- Why have you beaten your donkey?  I have come to oppose you because your path is reckless.  The donkey saw me and turned away.  If she had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared her.

Donkey (thumbing to Balaam)- Who’s the donkey now?  Hee-haw!

God/Angel- Go with the men to Balak, but speak only what I tell you.

(Balak sees Balaam and runs to greet him) Balak – Why didn’t you come sooner?  You know I can reward you.

Balaam– Well, I have come now, but I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.  Build seven altars and prepare seven bulls and seven rams.  Perhaps the Lord will come to meet with me and I will tell you what he reveals.

Narrator– King Balak did exactly as Balaam told.  Three times Balak built seven altars and prepared a bull and ram for each.  But each time the Lord refused to curse Israel.

Balaam- God brought them out of Egypt; they have the strength of a wild ox.  They devour hostile nations and break their bones in pieces; with their arrows they pierce them.  Like a lion they crouch and lie down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse them?  May those who bless you be blessed and those who curse you be cursed!

Balak (stomping and slapping his fists in anger)– I told you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them!  Leave at once and go home!  The Lord has kept you from your reward.

Balaam-Did I not say even if you gave me your palace filled with silver and gold, I must say only what the Lord says?  I will warn you of what the Israelites will do to your people, the Moabites, in the days to come.  They will crush you!

Narrator pointing to Balak- He’s shaking in his boots!

Donkey– Who’s the donkey now?  Hee-haw!!!

MICAH Play, Scene 3

Stage clears and youngest children come to recite Micah 6:6-8

 “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? 

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?

Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you

But to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Scene 4

Narrator (speaking slowly so it may be acted in pantomime)- The voice of the Lord cries to the city, your rich men are full of violence;  (Rich person wearing paper sign of  “Greed and Violence” refuses and pushes aside beggar)

Your inhabitants speak lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth (one person wearing “Deceit” speaks to beggar with his fingers crossed behind his back.)

Therefore I have begun to smite you, making you desolate because of your sins.  You shall eat, but not be satisfied (the rich person tips an imaginary empty plate to his mouth and rubs his belly in hunger)

You shall put away, but not save (the deceitful person puts imaginary things in his pocket, then turns out empty pockets.)

You shall sow, but not reap (a person wearing “Faithless” takes an imaginary hoe to the ground, and wipes his brow)

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.  I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him.

(All the pantomime actors above fall to a heap while a group of “enemies” laugh and another covers the heap with a dark blanket. The “Lord” stands by the covered heap with hand on hip, tapping his foot. )

He will bring me forth to the light; I shall behold his deliverance.

(The Lord lifts the blanket off the heap.)

Then my enemy will see, and shame will cover her who said to me, “Where is the Lord your God?”  The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might; they shall lay their hands on their mouths; they shall come trembling and turn in dread to the Lord our God, and they shall fear because of thee.

(The “enemies,” wearing “arrogant” “gossip” “envious” on their backs look afraid, covering their mouths, and trembling.   They join the others in the heap on the floor.)

Who is a God like thee, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgressions?  He does not retain his anger for ever because he delights in steadfast love.  He will again have compassion upon us.  He will tread our iniquities under foot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

(Both “Israel” in the original heap and the “Enemies” who joined them remain bowed to the Lord while the Lord removes each of the “sins.”  He shows the paper sign with the ascribed sin to the audience, crumples  it up, and throws it far away.  He pulls up each “sinner” to stand aright and hugs each with a hand of blessing on their head. As each one is raised from the heap, join hands across the stage.  Bow together at the end.)

Nahum and the Minor Prophets

This week I spoke to our adults and presented the book of Nahum in light of the other books we have been reading.  I presented how reading Nahum in the context of the other Minor Prophets enhances the message of the opposing faithfulness of the Lord and the fickleness of Israel.

In our Bible the book of Nahum existed as part of a bigger whole, and the ancient evidence we possess also reflects this structure.  We call these books the “Minor Prophets” because they are shorter than the other prophetic books of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah.  Scholars also refer to the Minor Prophets as the Book of the 12, because of the number of minor prophetic books.  This number immediately sounds significant because the number of times the number 12 appears with significance in the Bible (eg, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 apostles).  The earliest copy we have of the Book of the 12 was found in the Judean desert.  We have never found any of these twelve books on their own.  As a result, I am choosing to read the Book of the 12 as a single narrative–twelve beads on a single string.

The Book of the 12 does not have meaning without the meaning of the individual prophetic books (chapters?), so a deep understanding of each book is important.  Often these books are boring: God gets angry, God smashes, people feel sorry.  It’s hard to see why this boring, sometimes depressing message has to be repeatedly told, let alone read.  This reaction makes sense; the story arcs of each of these books bear close resemblances to one another.  However, on deeper examination, one can ferret out the differences, which contain the overall movement of the Twelve.

So we quickly went through the book of Nahum.  (We’ll read it closely over the next few weeks.)  The Lord appears as a destructive force of nature, ready to destroy his enemies.  Nineveh, the capitol of the Assyrian empire, will be destroyed, but Israel will be restored (ch. 1).  Those who are righteous have a chance for salvation, though they will not avoid the catastrophe–an upcoming war (ch. 2).  The harlotries of Nineveh will become her shame, and as Nineveh defeated the world power of Egypt, so Nineveh will suffer humiliating defeat (ch. 3).  Nahum is a story of defeat, but instead of Israel being crushed by its enemies, Israel is lifted up as its enemies are crushed.

Because this book speaks in Israel’s favor and against Israel’s enemies, it resembles on the surface a propaganda piece for Israel.  While we have a typical story of God wreaking havoc, instead of against Israel, the Lord is working against Israel’s enemy.  The text creates an odd reality.  While it addresses the Ninevites, the text is in Hebrew; Assyrians couldn’t understand it.  This address speaks to Israelite ears in Hebrew.  This effect is as if Al Qaeda addressed the US for its rejection of God–but in Arabic.  Americans would not ever hear this invective against them; the message is for Arabic-speakers and no response from the US is expected.

The Lord is telling Israel that no kingdom is eternal.  As Israel was defeated, so is Nineveh, and for many of the same reasons.  The accusation of “harlotry” was used everywhere from the beginning of the Twelve, in Hosea 1, to the most recent, Micah.  No one is born safe; no one is born in danger.  Unfaithfulness is the unwavering criterion of righteousness, whether for the Lord’s chosen people or for the Gentiles.

In the broader context of what we have read, the Lord shows no favor, except on the faithful.  Jonah displayed a chosen prophet who could not live up to the faithful standard of the Ninevites, who were quickly and easily forgiven.  Micah described the consequences on Israel for their lack of faithfulness: Assyria, with the Lord’s help, would defeat Israel.  Now Nineveh must learn the same lesson.  Israel cannot complain about unfairness; Nineveh is seeing the same consequences as Israel.

To human beings, the Lord looks like a yo-yo.  Once he’s up, filling the cup of blessing; next he’s down, ready to crush his people.  Why does the Lord treat his people like this?  Habakkuk, the prophet following Nahum, begins with these very questions.  “How long?” the prophet asks in the beginning of the book, as the people have experienced defeat anew, this time at the hands of the Babylonians (Habakkuk 1:2).

Saving grace comes when one realizes that the Lord is constant, though humans may not be.  The Lord shows constant faithfulness to his people, offering blessings at times and correctives at others.  The people, though, might show their faithfulness, counting on the Lord for help; at other times, they count on their own armies or the armies of their allies–harlotry–rather than on the Lord’s help.  The Book of the 12 thus outlines the stalwart faithfulness of the Lord in opposition to the people’s mixed actions of faithfulness and treachery.