The First Mortal Sin

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Mortal Sin

The Catholic Church defines Mortal Sin as having three characteristics:

  1. Grave (serious) matter
  2. Full knowledge
  3. Deliberate intent

The Tree of Premeditated Good and Evil

In Genesis 2:17, God gives a single prohibition to Adam. Of the tree in the center of the garden, with the mysterious name "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil" in the King James translation, Adam was not to eat. Would doing so be a mortal sin? Let's go through the definition.

  1. "In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." That is certainly a "grave" matter.
  2. God gives very clear and explicit instructions, and the tree is in a clearly marked location. There is no "accidentally" eating from the wrong tree. It could only be done with "full knowledge".
  3. The tree is named the Tree of Knowledge. The Hebrew word is da'ar, the same word used in Joshua 20, where God establishes "cities of refuge" for those who kill someone "without knowledge". This means not premeditated, but accidentally, in self defense, or in sudden passion.

In Genesis 3:4, every thing Satan tells Eve is a lie. The last claim is no exception: he tells her that the tree is called the Tree of Knowledge because "you will be like God, knowing good and evil". But as with everything else he says, Satan has twisted the name of the tree. The word translated "know" is a different Hebrew word, yada, which means "to be intimately familiar with", the same word used in "And Adam knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore a son."

When Eve ate the fruit, it was not a Mortal sin. Why? Eve was deceived. When Adam ate the fruit, it was with full knowledge and deliberate intent - a mortal sin.

The Death of Humanity

Adam's mortal sin was the death of not just Adam, but all his descendants. For in Adam all died. Adam could have chosen to ask God how to redeem the situation. Instead, he plunged us all into sin and death. But Christ, as the 2nd Adam, does what the 1st Adam refused to do, and redeems the situation - raising us to righteousness and eternal life.

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The Sceptre Shall Not Depart From Judah

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What is Fascism?

Are you wondering how this question is going to tie in to our Bible lesson?

Today, everyone of every political stripe has been called a "Nazi" by someone. This is not a new development. In 1944, at the height of World War II, George Orwell described this behavior in his essay, "What is a Fascist?". Youtube personality, "The Black Pigeon", argues that World War II has given the West an anti-ideal - Nazi Germany. Instead of aspiring to positive ideals, we aspire to be as unlike our anti-ideal as possible. Humans do not do well with negative role models. The man who strives to be unlike his alcoholic father, becomes him.

The Literal Meaning of Fascism

There are academic definitions of economic and cultural fascism - but nobody cares or uses them except academics. There is no consistent popular meaning, other than "people we don't like are fascists". No one uses or cares about the literal meaning either, but it is historically, and Biblically instructive.

What is a Scepter?

The dictionary defines "scepter" as "an ornamented staff carried by rulers on ceremonial occasions as a symbol of national sovereignty." Egypt used a "sekhem", Rome used a fasces. The Roman fasces was a bundle of rods with an axe in the middle. As a child of the Roman Empire, the United States depicts a bundle of arrows carried by a great eagle on its Seal, which resembles the Roman fasces.

In Genesis 9, God gives the authority and responsibility to every government since the flood to take the life of murderers. From Egypt to Rome, the power to carry out capital punishment was the practical mark of national sovereignty - and the sceptre was its symbol. From Noah to the present, the right of an individual to self defense is the mark of individual sovereignty. Throughout history, only slaves have been denied that right.

The Scepter shall not depart from Judah

In Genesis 49 Jacob prophesies on his deathbed that "The scepter shall not depart from Judah until Shiloh come." Shiloh is the Messiah, and the scepter did not depart from Judah until AD 9, when repeated massacres by a corrupt Herod Archelaeus (Wars of the Jews 2:8) led Rome to banish him to Gaul and remove the power of capital punishment from Judea, making Judeah a Roman province, appointing Caponius Procurator (around 7 A.D.):

“But in the tenth year of Archelaus’ government, both his brethren, and the principal men of Judea and Samaria, not being able to bear his barbarous and tyrannical usage of them, accused him … Caesar, upon hearing what certain accusers had to say… both banished him, and appointed Vienna, a city of Gaul, to be the place of his habitation, and took his money away from him…Caponius also, a man of the equestrian order, was sent…to have the supreme power over the Jews” (Josephus, Antiquities, Book 17; chapter 13 verse 2 and Book 18; chapter 1 verse 1).
By that decree, the Sanhedrin was restricted and adjudication of capital offenses was lost. The Jews went about mourning for they thought (but see Luke 2:42-52):
"Woe unto us for the scepter has departed from Judah and the Messiah has not come!" (Babylonian Talmud, chapter 4, folio 37).
The Word of God had apparently failed. But Messiah had certainly been born, and apparently (given current date of 4 BC for his birth) had also presented himself to the Jewish leaders in the temple.

Twenty some years later, when the Jewish leaders arrested Jesus and Pilate reviewed the case, Pilate tells them to judge him according to their own laws. "It is not lawful for us to put a man to death." they respond - for the scepter had departed from Judah, and they must kill their Messiah as the Lamb of God even as they killed the Passover lambs during the coming day.

The Scepter and National Sovereignty

Why was it such a disaster for the Jews when the Scepter departed from Judah? The scepter was a symbol of national sovereignty. Even when under the yoke of Babylon, Persia, or Greece, the Jews were self governing - as long as they paid their taxes and tribute. The departure of the scepter meant a loss of sovereignty.

Self Defense and Individual Sovereignty

Over that same 4000 years, there was one common feature of slavery: slaves could not carry a weapon for self defense. (They were of course often required to carry one for their masters as "cannon fodder".) This is why losing the right of self defense is a big deal.

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Esau Have I Hated

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Esau Have I hated

Genesis 25

When Rebecca becomes pregnant with twins, God gives her a prophesy. Birth and death seem to be occasions of prophecy - as described for instance in a previous blog post.

The Lord said to her,

“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” Genesis 25:23

Rachel takes this to heart. Isaac rebels, and you can see the resulting loss of communion with God in the next chapter. In the chapter 24, Isaac meditates regularly on the LORD.
In chapter 26, he dwells with the phillistines.

Genesis 27

Rebeccah has God's promise that Jacob will carry on the blessing, and Esau had sold him the birthright. But Isaac is determined to make it Esau instead. So just as Sarah decided God needed a little help in providing that heir from Abraham's loins, so Rebecca decided God needed a little help in making Isaac get with the program.

When Isaac discovers he was deceived, he remembers the prophecy and is stunned at first. But the rebellion has been broken, and he is able to speak prophetically.

Much later, God says, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

God did not hate Esau personally – he hated the future with Esau as the line of the Messiah. God blessed Esau personally, and gave him and his descendants an inheritance in Canaan (Deuteronomy 2). Think of it like “Back to the Future 2”, where the protagonist and audience hate the Biff future, but in the George future, Biff has a good life.

Why God hated the Esau future becomes apparent when Esau despised his birthright. Later when the descendants of Esau's grandson Amalek refuse to allow Israel passage, God declares war on them. 400 years later, King Saul is instructed to kill all the Amalekites – he kills all but King Agag and his family. Smart move! The survivors wouldn’t be expected to hold a generational grudge against Israel, would they? Samuel kills the king, but the sons escape.

Much later, Haman the Agagite nearly kills all the Israelites but is finally stopped by Saul's descendent, Mordecai.

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Liberty and Bureaucracy

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Liberty and Bureaucracy

Exodus 18

The lesson for adult Sunday School was on Jethro's advice, contrasting Calvin's rather Statist interpretation with most other commentators. But an astute member of the class had a further insight worthy of a blog post.

Moses Seat

Moses sat alone to judge 2 million people. He couldn't possibly arbitrate every dispute. The lines were long. People waited days, weeks, for their case to be heard. Jethro offers the obvious Statist solution - create a bureaucracy of lower and higher courts so that everyone's dispute can be handled. Moses followed Jethro's advice, and the implementation was still in effect when Jesus came. But did Moses do the right thing? What if he had not elaborated on God's instruction?

The Lone Judge - an alternate history

Moses sat alone to judge 2 million people. He couldn't possibly arbitrate every dispute. The lines were long. People waited days, weeks, for their case to be heard. So, in most cases they didn't. This was a strong motivation to work out their own disputes. There were harsh punishments for resorting to violence (as we'll see later in Exodus), so negotiation was the way to avoid the lines.


When the parties were at loggerheads, and negotiation was at a standstill, there was still an alternative to the interminable wait to see Moses. Both parties could agree to a neutral arbitrator acceptable to them both. They could even pay him for his time.

The lines got shorter, but were still long. More importantly, people were learning to get along, and work out their own disputes. People with the wisdom to settle disputes were in demand as arbitrators. And Moses was still available (eventually) when one or both parties refused to follow the arbitrators decision.

If Moses had followed Jethro's advice, there would be no incentive to learn to get along. There would be no freedom to choose an arbitrator - the lower courts were appointed by the central government.

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National Disaster

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Oh man. Esther in 45 minutes. At least give me 2 sessions! There are so many types of salvation in this story which we couldn't get into.

The Troublesome Greeks, Esther 1

The Persians appointed satraps (governors) over the many provinces of the empire. The Greeks were particularly troublesome, as they had numerous city states, sometimes at war with each other, sometimes rebelling against Medo-Persian rule. Some Greek cities accepted Persian rule, others sought independence.

As our story begins, Xerxes has spent the first 3 years of his rule finishing the preparations for a massive invasion of Greece begun by his father. Herodotus lists 2,641,610 soldiers, which with support personel would make an army of 5 million. (Other sources list as "few" as 2 million.) The final planning session lasts 6 months, and involves all the generals from at least 46 provinces of the empire. The book of Esther opens with this extended strategy session described as a 180 day "feast". At the end of the session, there is a 7 day celebration.

While Xerxes is in conference (or feasting) with his generals, Vashti his loyal queen has the wives of the governors and generals at the women's palace. In addition to having their own party, they are effectively hostages against any assasination attempts on Xerxes.

On the last day of the 7 day celebration, Xerxes has too much to drink, and orders Vashti to appear before the men wearing [only] her royal crown. For Vashti to obey, in addition to the personal humiliation, would put Xerxes life at risk. She refuses.

Having the queen refuse a direct order on the eve of battle is a very bad start for the invasion of Greece. His advisors have him banish Vashti (a permanent restraining order). Now the king is depressed - an even worse start for the invasion of Greece.

The invasion sets off for Greece with millions, and returns with 10,000, and only marginal success in putting the troublesome Greeks in their place. The expense of the invasion was enormous, the loss of life staggering, and this setback is a national disaster. The popular (and very violent) movie "300" depicts the battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans hold back tens of thousands of Persian troops (from every part of the empire), before finally succumbing to exhaustion on the 3rd day.

Introducing Esther, Esther 2

After losing his Queen, and only technically winning the war, Xerxes is really in a bad way. His advisors advise him to find new love in a beauty contest with involuntary contestants from all over the empire. He chooses Hadassah (hidden) as his new Queen, but he knows her as Esther (after the goddess Ishtar, the namesake of Easter), for her uncle Mordecai has instructed her to keep her heritage hidden.

Introducing Mordecai, Esther 2:21-23

When David flees the rebellion of his son Absalom, Shimei, descendent of Saul, throws stones at David and curses him. His men go to execute Shimei, but David commands that he be spared. Centuries later, Mordecai, a descendent of Shimei, is instrumental in saving all Israel. [2 Samuel 16]

Mordecai "sits in the kings gate", which means he was a government clerk or lawyer. The "gate" was the ancient version of the courthouse or DMV.

After nearly bankrupting the empire, Xerxes is hated by many citizens, and there are many assassination plots. In fact, he is eventually assassinated. In August 465 BC, Artabanus assassinated Xerxes with the help of a eunuch, Aspamitres. Greek historians give contradicting accounts of events. According to Ctesias (in Persica 20), Artabanus then accused the Crown Prince Darius, Xerxes's eldest son, of the murder and persuaded another of Xerxes's sons, Artaxerxes, to avenge the patricide by killing Darius. But according to Aristotle (in Politics 5.1311b), Artabanus killed Darius first and then killed Xerxes. After Artaxerxes discovered the murder, he killed Artabanus and his sons.

Mordecai overhears one such plot, and reports it to the king. The matter is investigated, and found to be true, and the conspirators executed. There is no reward for Mordecai - it will come at the perfect time.

Introducing Haman, Esther 3

In Exodus 17, Israel is attacked by the Amalekites. God says he will "wipe out their name". 1 Samuel 15, God tells Saul to wipe out the Amalekites. He mostly does so - except for king Agag and his family. Good thinking Saul - it's not like the survivors are going to carry a generational grudge against Israel or anything. Samuel executes Agag, but his sons escape. But the survivors are no longer called Amalekites in fulfillment of prophecy - they become the Agagites.

Centuries later, Haman, a descendent of Agag, is instrumental in nearly destroying all Israel.

Descendent of Saul versus descendent of Agag - the rematch!

Haman is promoted to prime minister. Everyone on the street bows to him - except that miserable clerk Mordecai. This is against the kings command, and Haman looks into the matter to see what punishment is in order for Mordecai. To his consternation, he discovers a 100 year old decree from Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3:29 - the Jewish Religious Freedom Protection Act. "Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed–nego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort." (We covered Daniel 3 on December 13 in sunday school - sadly, I forgot to make this connection in class today.)

Since the Jewish religion forbade bowing to anyone except their God (who didn't even have a statue to bow to), and decrees of the kings of the Babylonian and Persian (and even Greek until Antiochus IV) empires could not be repealed, and no one wanted to be cut in pieces, the commandent to bow before Haman had an exception clause for Jews. Clearly, the only way to remove this affront to Haman's dignity is to exterminate all the Jews, as their ancestors had done to his.

Haman makes his pitch to Xerxes by describing the Jews as a troublesome lot that did not keep his laws and should be exterminated. But the best part? It would be paid for by Haman personally, and by confiscating the property of the Jews killed. Still paying off the disastrous invasion of Greece, a self financed operation seems like a great feature, and getting rid of a troublesome people so cheaply would help people forget the Greek disaster. Xerxes issues the decree. The citizens are not so happy. This Jewish genocide seems senseless to most - especially after the Greek disaster.

If I Perish, I Perish!

We read Esther 4 aloud in class, as I guessed this was the part from the official lesson. Mordecai informs Esther of the decree and the gravity of the situation. Esther agrees to see the king uninvited at the risk of her life after 3 days prayer and fasting. Notably, Esther's male (eunuch) and female attendents pray along with Esther, Mordecai, and Mordecai's friends. What has Esther been doing in that harem?

Verse 4:14 is of special note: "Deliverance will arise from another place." God has prepared ahead of time a response to every possible human choice, and will always accomplish His will.

The Long Day: Esther 5-7

Everything in these chapters takes place over 24 hours, which I summarized in class. Esther is accepted by the king, and invites Xerxes and Haman to a private dinner. At the banquet, Xerxes, knowing full well that Esther did not risk her life to invite him to dinner, asks her what her request is. Esther asks him to a lunch, at which she will reveal her request.

On his way home, Haman sees Mordecai, and orders a gallows built for Modecai (Persian gallows were a high platform from which you fell onto a bed of sharpened wooden spikes). The king can't sleep - maybe he was still agonizing over the Greek war disaster, maybe he was wondering what Esther could possibly want. He has a clerk read court records to put him to sleep, he hears about Mordecai saving his life, and asks how he was rewarded. He wasn't.

Early in the morning Haman comes to ask permission to execute Mordecai, but the king interrupts, and excitedly asks what should be done for one the king delights to honor. Haman, thinking he is the one, describes an elaborate ceremony, and the king tells him to do so to Mordecai. Haman decides it's not a good time to ask about executing Modecai.

Haman runs home to his family in shame, and his advisors prophecy that "since Mordecai is a Jew, once you have begun to fall before him, you will surely fall." Then the eunuchs arrive (with a litter? chariot?) to take him to the luncheon. The king asks Esther what her request is. "Save me and my people from this wicked Haman, who has sold us for slaughter." The king steps onto the balcony to calm down, and Haman throws himself on Esther to beg for mercy. As the attendents pull him off, the king comes back in saying, "Will you even assault my Queen in my presence?" The attendents cover Haman's eyes (to show he is marked for execution) and helpfully inform the king of the gallows Haman had built for Mordecai. Haman gets to test drive his gallows.

One of the boys in the class pipes up, "Now that is irony!"

The Decree Which Cannot be Repealed, Estern 8-10

The decree to exterminate the Jews was still on the books, and could not be repealed. I asked the class what could be done. One of the boys piped up and says, "let them defend themselves!" Good job parents! The defense was successful, and Purim is celebrated to this day.

Esther completes the work of Saul, Esther 9:13,14

Then said Esther, If it please the king, let it be granted to the Jews which are in Shushan to do tomorrow also according unto this day’s decree, and let Haman’s ten sons be hanged upon the gallows. And the king commanded it so to be done: and the decree was given at Shushan; and they hanged Haman’s ten sons. Unlike the sons of Agag, they did not escape.

In a speech on January 30, 1944, Hitler declared that if the Nazis were defeated, the Jews could celebrate a second Purim. Hitler said in Mein Kampf, "I am embarked on a struggle to the death with the Jews for the hearts and minds of men. The Jews have inflicted two wounds on mankind. Circumcision for the body, and conscience for the soul. I am come to free mankind from their bondage." And again in Rauschning, Hitler Speaks, p. 234, "The struggle for world domination will be fought entirely between us, between Germans and Jews. All else is facade and illusion."

On October 16, 1946, 10 Germans were hanged to death (11 were to be hanged, but one committed suicide). The court specifically prescribed hanging, as in Esther's original request.

 "Only Julius Streicher went without dignity. He had to be pushed across
 the floor, wild eyed and screaming "heil hitler". Mounting the steps he
 cried out: "And now I go to God." He stared at the witnesses facing the
 gallows and shouted "Purimfest, 1946" Newsweek Oct 28, 1946.
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