Nothing to Catch Us

March 30, 2020

This article caught my eye several months ago, before the current world-wide panic over COVID-19.  It caught my eye in January because of the memorable line early in the story – There was nothing to catch us.

The whole point of the story is decades and decades of failure in terms of public policy on homelessness.  The entire story is geared around the idea that homelessness is essentially a public policy issue best solved by all levels of government in a combined effort to save these people from their situations.  Yes, yes, the article will grudgingly concede, mental illness and addiction are often contributing factors.  But since those are different arenas, let’s essentially just focus on the economics of it and how government should pump more money into systems already proven to not work to fix the problem.

Here in California, where homelessness is often a matter of ‘enlightened’ live and let live, resulting in pervasive homeless camps both communal and solitary, lawmakers want to throw an additional $2 billion dollars per year at solutions for homelessness.  These solutions will undoubtedly emphasize state and local programs, social workers, case workers, low-rent housing options, and a variety of other factors.

Even should such massive appropriations be approved (raising taxes on other people and thereby putting more people at risk of homelessness, perhaps?), it won’t solve the problem.  Experts have already said as much.  But it’s better than nothing, right?  And to be fair, something is better than nothing.  But some things are better than other somethings.

And it fascinates me (but doesn’t surprise me) that so much emphasis is placed on state-provided solutions towards these issues and no attention is given to the importance of strong families as a means of protecting the most vulnerable in our society.  Of the people who approach me for help, it’s literally universal that they have no other support lines in terms of family, nuclear or extended.  There are undoubtedly myriad reasons for this, but it is a consistent factor.

I wonder what it would look like if our society finally admitted that families are actually more important than the State, in terms of providing stable environments for children to be born and raised and continuing to function as safety nets even into adulthood, both for the grown children as well as their aging parents?  I wonder what it would look like if the State invested in these directions rather than in trying to create alternative systems which repeatedly prove inadequate to the challenge despite good intentions?

The first and best line of defense against the unexpected and catastrophic in people’s lives is family.  We can’t prevent tragedies from happening, but families are naturally the first line of defense and solidarity when they do strike.  It’s a shame this sort of common sense eludes elected officials when they discuss strategies to help people, and journalists when they report on the disadvantaged.

 

Reading Ramblings – April 5, 2020

March 29, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020

Texts: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 118:19-29; Philippians 2:5-11; John 12:12-19

Context: Normally I prefer the longer reading for Palm Sunday, that takes us all the way from the night before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem all the way through the crucifixion. But this year seems like we ought to do something different. In the year of COVID-19 and shelter-in-place and social distancing, perhaps the shorter reading just of the triumphal entry that John provides will work. A different approach, but then this day has been observed in a variety of ways based on different times and places so it’s hardly inappropriate. Jesus enters Jerusalem not for the first time but the last time, fulfilling prophecy and signaling He is about to accomplish what He was sent ultimately to do – to offer himself as a sacrifice. It’s a day full of promise, a day we ought to relish for what it is without rushing too far ahead to what is coming. The King is entering his city! Acknowledged by his people! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Isaiah 50:4-9a – These verses look ahead to the full scope of Holy Week, but they are also appropriate here and now. Jesus allows himself to be carried by the praise of the crowd into Jerusalem. Allows prophecy to be fulfilled. Allows himself to be who and what He has come for. He remains perfectly obedient. Not passive, but actively obedient to the words poured into his ear by God the Holy Spirit. Knowing what lies ahead, how the shouts of joy will be replaced with demands for his death. But through all of this, He trusts in his heavenly Father’s will and plan which will include his vindication. His enemies will be defeated not by his divine power but through divine love. A defeat which has the power to transform them in that defeat from enemies to sons and daughters. God is not satisfied with simply defeating his enemies, but rather in converting them, saving them from the death and defeat that is the rightful fate of our one true enemy, Satan.

Psalm 118:19-29 – This psalm is a beautiful responsive psalm of praise to God who delivers his people. It can be divided into two major sections – vs. 1-18 and vs. 19-29, with calls to worship and praise both starting and ending the psalm. The psalm specifically deals with he who comes in the name of the Lord (v.26). It is this person who rightly speaks in this psalm and to whom the people of God ascribe praise and blessing. The irony is that the one who comes in the name of the Lord is also a sacrifice to God (v.27). Yet this one can proclaim that he shall not die but live (v.17). He is the righteous one who can enter the gates of righteousness (vs.19-20) and proclaim the salvation of the Lord (v.21) despite he himself being despised and rejected (v.22). Only the Lord God could choose to work his salvation in such an unlikely way, and for that He alone deserves all glory and honor (vs.23-24). The congregation responds in blessing upon the one sent in the name of the Lord (vs.26-27) who is the answer to their prayer for deliverance (v.25). He is the embodiment God’s steadfast and faithful love (v.29). Definitely words appropriate to Jesus on Palm Sunday, and definitely words of blessing and praise appropriate to we his people by faith, who He has saved and delivered!

Philippians 2:5-11 – All this praise and glory might go to your head. It would mine, and I doubt there are many people who could resist the temptation to lord their supremity over others, or flaunt their blessedness in the face of those despising and persecuting them. Yet even here Jesus is obedient, refusing to indulge in the temptation of vanity or self-glory or pride. The very Son of God who refuses to use this identity as a means of glorifying himself, when his duty is to glorify his heavenly Father. He didn’t simply avoid self-glory He obediently emptied himself and became the most base and lowly of us. He stooped to do things – like washing his disciples’ feet – nobody else would consider appropriate for themselves, let alone the Messiah! And He was obedient to being branded a criminal and executed as such, publicly humiliated and shamed and seemingly thoroughly discredited. Even then, He trusted in his heavenly Father as the source of his vindication rather than seeking to vindicate himself. These are all wonderful things to recite and proclaim about the Son of God, and ignore Paul’s admonition at the beginning – we are to seek to be just this humble, just this desirous not of personal glory and gain but only of obedience to God that He might receive the glory!

John 12:12-19 – Lazarus has been raised from the dead but Jesus withdraws from Bethany to a nearby town to avoid the Jewish authorities plotting to kill him (John 11:54). Ephraim was not far from Bethany, apparently, and so as the Passover grew closer, Jesus returned to Bethany and the house of Mary and Martha and Lazarus and is the guest of honor of a dinner there, probably on Saturday night after the Sabbath ended at sundown. It is the next day, Sunday, when Jesus begins his final entry to Jerusalem. However he was not alone! There were many people at the dinner party the night before, a celebration of Jesus and what He had done so recently for that small family. These people had returned to Jerusalem that night after the dinner. Now they hear Jesus is on his way and they go out to meet him. The words of Psalm 118 seem very appropriate for a man who can raise the dead. While they may not understand him fully as Messiah or the divine Son of God, they can affirm that He is someone who obviously comes in the name of the Lord, else how could He perform such an amazing miracle? They acclaim him King of Israel, which further indicates their faith that He is a holy man at the very least, and perhaps much more than that – the promised Messiah and son of David who would be king. His manner of arrival would further contribute to this idea, so that John draws the connection with Zechariah’s prophecy in chapter 9. John further admits the disciples – himself included – didn’t understand the full significance of these events until after the resurrection. Until after the Holy Spirit had enlightened them and opened their eyes to the Scriptures as Jesus had promised them (John 13, 16; Luke 24).

We see in this scene excitement to be sure, but we should be cautious in seeing here full faith in Jesus as the Son of God and promised Messiah. But that faith was growing in the crowd, particularly given the witness of Lazarus being raised from the dead. Faith and joy and trust are the only reasonable responses to seeing the clear work of God. The work of the Pharisees to compromise or discredit Jesus has failed. The power of God is stronger than their plans, and their misunderstandings and misperceptions cannot and will not stop the truth of God from playing out. It is not our faith and understanding that determine what God can and cannot do. God does what He will, and we are called in faith to recognize it for what it is and respond in the appropriate obedience and praise.

Highly Illogical

March 27, 2020

Sometimes it’s the little things that are inspiring and surprising.

As a casual Trekkie and somewhat more than casual admirer of J.R.R. Tolkien, I found a curious blending of the two a few years ago after the Star Trek movie reboot.  Namely, a very delightful if slightly corny Audi commercial starring the original Spock, Leonard Nimoy, and his reboot alter-ego, Zachary Quinto.  It’s a cute commercial but I never understood the song Nimoy was singing.  I thought it was just a nonsensical sort of thing to compare his outdatedness with Quinto’s more with-it persona and car.

Now I find out  there’s a history to what Nimoy is singing about Bilbo Baggins.  A history that goes all the way back to 1967 when Nimoy, in addition to starring in a new series called Star Trek, was releasing musical albums.  Two at this point.  And he sang this original song called The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins on one of his albums, and then lip-synced it for a campy TV show during the summer of 1967.

Mind blown.  I respect the Audi commercial even more now for their attention to detail – even a detail many would miss!

 

Is the State Closing Churches?

March 26, 2020

As I was scanning through news articles today I found two blog posts by a pastor in Mississippi.  Both strongly oppose the notion that the State can cancel worship services for any reason.  Both are defiant in insisting that churches not only should and can but must remain open and providing worship services to their people.

The first post is here, dated March 16.  He insists the Church is not subject in any respect to the State.  I would first be interested in whether his church is filed with the State of Mississippi as a non-profit organization in order to receive tax benefits for himself and for his members.  If  his church is, he has acknowledged a special relationship and subjection of his church to the State.  He might want to argue this is voluntary, but it at the very least would be a glaring contradiction of what he states in this blog entry.

I also find it interesting he nowhere mentions Romans 13 in terms of the relationship of Church and State.  He might find this irrelevant, arguing Romans 13 applies to individuals rather than a corporate congregation.  But a congregation is nothing more than the assembling of individual Christians, so the point seems to be a very fine one at best.

Finally, has the State of Mississippi actually ordered churches not to hold worship services?  Here in California the language of our Governor’s Executive Order of a week ago was very vague. The implication is clear – people should not be gathering for any reason.  But he specifically does not mention religious groups.  Nor does the Department of Public Health document he refers to in the Executive Order.  By implication Christians are to stay home and not gather for worship.  But I’m sure legal counsel would say explicitly banning religious gatherings would be a nightmare, opening the governor and the state to all sorts of legal challenges.  While larger congregations that continue to gather are facing public backlash and social shaming, I haven’t seen accounts yet of them being faced with criminal charges.

The second post, dated March 20th, is here.  Again, although he makes exceptions for personal conscience it’s clear he sees suspending worship services as a violation of God’s commands.  The difficulty  is in finding said command.  Hebrews 10:19-25 is perhaps the closest the New Testament gets to a command concerning worship.  Of course the understanding of God’s people is that corporate worship is part of the life of faith, and Christians received this from the Jews and continued it – and rightly so.  But there is a legalistic tone here I find difficult to resonate with.

He asks at one point  if we want to be the first generation in 2000 years to cancel all the worship services?

First, what he’s specifically addressing is American Christian congregations, in which case our timeline is considerably shorter – only the past 250 years or so.  Even if every congregation in America refused to allow members to gather (something I doubt is actually happening), worship would be continuing in other places in the world where the outbreak is not as advanced as yet.  Secondly, there have been other situations where Christians have voluntarily opted not to meet for worship, such as the Spanish Flu outbreak in 1918.  For  short periods of time in particular places in our country and around the world, the people of God have opted not to gather for corporate worship.

I understand his concerns and I share them.  Under the guise of civil law or the good of society governments in the past have curtailed religious freedoms and instituted religious persecutions.  This is a very real thing and a very real concern, and the Church must always be on the guard against any such infringements.  And if restrictions on gatherings continue in place for a prolonged period of time the people of God will need to determine, on a congregation by congregation basis, whether or not to allow corporate worship with some appropriate guidelines and safeguards in place.  After all, people are still out and about for shopping.  So long as social distancing is observed and reasonable care given to cleaning and disinfecting, there is no reason why people couldn’t gather at least in smaller groups to worship together.  A mega-church might have difficulties offering enough services for thousands of people to gather in smaller numbers, but it could reasonably be done.  The vast majority of American congregations are a few hundred members or smaller, and therefore scaled-down worshiping cohorts wouldn’t be too difficult to accommodate.

It might also be instructive to remember that God’s Old Testament people were unable to properly worship for 50-some years when they were exiled in Babylon.  They found other ways to gather, but they understood it to be not the same thing as worship in the Promised Land, in Jerusalem, in the Temple.

The focus of God’s people must always be on God and not on intermediate things – no matter how good and helpful those things might be at times or in general.  The Christian faith is communal, but it is also flexible when necessary.  It is, however, a constant dialogue in terms of trying to discern when flexibility is unfaithfulness – a very real possibility whether it is engaged in by command or voluntarily.

Again, I’m empathetic.  I wasn’t going to cancel worship until it became clear this was a necessity.  And I plan to begin corporate worship again as soon as seems reasonable to do so, Executive Order notwithstanding.  But in the meantime I am willing to rest in the freedom we have in Christ to say, for the time being, we can continue to pray and worship privately for a short period of time.

There haven’t been any further posts from this site on this subject, but it would be interesting to know if they’ve had any changes of stance in the last week or so.

Contributing in the Time of COVID-19

March 26, 2020

I’ve been struggling with what I have to contribute during this time of COVID-19, social distancing, and the temporary  suspension of public worship.  A lot of churches are recording or streaming worship services.  Many of them seem to be larger congregations with a fair amount of technical resources, staff, and worship resources.  I’m sure you can find pretty much any style of worship from highly liturgical to very contemporary.

In light of this, the idea of recording a full worship service which quite easily could just be me and perhaps a musician seems superfluous.  Are people going to sing solo at home?

My particular gifts – such as they are – lie in preaching and teaching.  So thus far I’ve focused my energies on how to provide these gifts to my people (or at least most of my people) via the Internet.  While worship is comforting, it seems somewhat odd to simply broadcast it being done without anyone participating.  Corporate worship is just that – corporate.  It is the gathering of God’s people together to receive the gifts of God in Word and Sacrament and respond in prayer and praise.  Trying to replicate or imitate a gathering for people quarantined at home is complicated at best, and perhaps misguided at worst?  I’m struggling to figure my way through it.

Teaching can be done through the Internet, asynchronously.  I did that professionally for many years, and a Bible study is not much different in that respect than an online lecture.  Likewise a sermon can be streamed as a sermon – while delivered to a group of people – is listened to individually.  It is crafted with a group of people in mind (and sometimes with specific individuals within that group in mind!), but it is listened to by each individual person separately.  Not necessarily physically separate, but it is heard by individuals.  So it can be recorded and listened to at home as well.  Opportunities for interaction can’t be duplicated unless you have some sort of interactive medium for that, and I’m going to experiment with Zoom to that end tomorrow hopefully.

I suppose it’s major events like a pandemic that force the Church as a whole to grapple with these questions as doing what we’re used to doing becomes impossible or problematic.  God’s people need to be reminded of his grace and mercy even in a time of fear and sickness.  We need to be encouraged to not let our fear overwhelm our opportunities to love our neighbors.  We need to have our focus continually refocused on what our hope is, the return of our Lord.  Worship is one means of doing this, but it seems weird to ‘pretend’ to worship together when we really aren’t.

That’s not meant to be an indictment of those who are recording or live-streaming their worship services.  It’s just me thinking out loud about all of this and trying to figure out how  I respond as a shepherd during this time of isolation.  I’d love to hear other thoughts on the subject, if you’re willing to share!

On Considering Death

March 25, 2020

Thanks to Jo Anne for sharing the following C.S. Lewis quote:

“How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

— “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays

As I began verifying the quote it was quickly apparent it has received a lot of Internet attention in the past several weeks.  Many people are rushing to caution against interpreting C.S. Lewis incorrectly and thinking he would encourage us to not take precautions against COVID-19.  How quickly we want to interpret things to support our point of view or discourage competing views!

Rather than go this direction, I’ll offer this observation.  Lewis lived in a time when mortality was a much more real thing.  Not that people have ceased dying since the mind-20th century, but certainly our familiarity with death has continued that drastic decrease already underway in Lewis’ day.  As he points out aptly from history, death has long been an all-too-familiar companion to vast majorities of people.  Glancing through history books where the sweep of empires roils back and forth through the pages should give ample evidence death was more common and more brutal than we are accustomed to thinking of it these days.  Lewis himself served in World War I and lived through World War II.  He understood firsthand what it looks like when millions of people suddenly encounter death.

Now, death is an anomaly in the West.  At least death before a certain age.  Now we presume death is something primarily for the unfortunate few with pre-existing conditions or for the elderly.  We hide death away in sanitized rooms with strict visiting hours and palliative care to mask the reality of death for those who would prefer not to face it head on.  The ever-increasing average life span in the last century has lulled many people into a false confidence that death may – for now – be an unfortunate eventuality, but  we need pay it little mind until we are of a certain age.

Frankly our secular culture demands this.  If there is nothing more to life and existence than a random assemblage of atoms for an infinitesimally small period of time and then nothing but a rather swift dissipation, then this life becomes extraordinarily important.  Ironic, as we insist life is random and without meaning that we should cling to it all the more tightly!  Yet this is who we are.  Enlightened materialists unable to cope with the cold reality of the meaninglessness we have clothed our lives in, yet scoffing at the foolish theists who insist on the nobility and meaning and purpose of our bare, unadorned nakedness.  It is not what we accomplish that gives our lives meaning, they dare to say, but simply that we are.  Silliness, of course.  And our culture returns to ignoring death as long as possible, studiously occupying ourselves with any number of equally unimportant and random details.

Lewis holds a far more realistic point of view, which is that life is desperately unpredictable despite our attempts to make it predictable.  None of our advances have changed this reality but, given a broader range of alleged understanding we pretend our information is somehow power.  And it isn’t that we don’t have some power.  Anti-biotics and better understandings of hygiene have greatly improved both quality and length of life, as have advances in dentistry, surgery, and a host of other -ies.  But it only takes another global conflict of the micro-biological (COVID-19) or macro-biological sort (warfare) to remind us how easily our routines and control is upended.

Another important thing to bear in mind when reading Lewis’ quote is that he is speaking to Christians.  His words make no sense (or have no basis for making sense) to a non-theist.  Only the Christian can truly live this life in confidence and hope and joy, knowing that death is an unpleasant passage to something much grander and larger and better.  The Christian should not despise this life, but they should hold it in the proper relationship to the scope of eternity – if that is possible.  So we exhort the living continually and mourn the dead in Christ for a time.  We acknowledge our mortality with an even eye and a steady hand, neither rushing towards it prematurely nor fleeing from it inordinately.

This allows the Christian to be brave and courageous, and to take risks for the sake of loving our neighbor that may be admirable to non-theists but must ultimately  be (in their eyes) the height of folly.  So it is that Christians have always laid their lives down in service to those in need when nobody else was willing to take the risk.  Christians have died with the victims of plague and casualties of war they tended to, just as their patients died.  Their courage and love has been often noted, and hopefully will be emulated today and for as long as we wait for our Lord’s return.

So don’t be too quick to co-opt Lewis’ words to either disparage precautions against contagion or to summon Christians to adherence to social distancing.  Rather, in Christ may his followers live this day in joy, loving God and neighbor as we are given opportunity to do so and without too much over-calculating of the possible costs.  All of the costs have ultimately already been paid for us by Christ.  Let us love our neighbors who insist on safe distances between us and them, but let us be the first to show love and care for those who do not have that luxury.  We are all of us in the Father’s hands.  What more could we ask for?

 

 

Apocrypha – 4 Maccabees

March 25, 2020

This is the last of the apocryphal writings, at least so far as they are put together in The Apocrypha: The Lutheran Edition with Notes.

This final entry seems one of the most easiest to dismiss as non-canonical.  The primary theme in this writing is the supremacy of reason over emotions, a thought prevalent in Greek philosophy.  It may have been authored as late as the first century AD but it is difficult to determine.  The author utilizes both Biblical stories as well as extra-biblical historical events to demonstrate how reason rules over the emotions rather than the reverse.

He draws on King David as well as inter-testamental events, most particularly the martyrdom of Eleazar and seven brothers who were martyred under Antiochus Epiphanes as part of his effort to force the Jews first into apostasy and eventually into full Hellenization.  4 Maccabees expands upon the account in 2 Maccabees 7 about these seven brothers, providing quite gory details about each one of the seven, and providing them with lengthy admonitions as they were brought forward for torture and execution, proclaiming eloquently how it was better to die faithfully than to live a lie.  4 Maccabees ends with the final words of the mother to her children.  The author seems to lose his original focus, so caught up is he in the graphic depictions of torture and death he has provided.

Reason as an attribute or quality in and of itself is not a dominant theme in Scripture, unlike wisdom.   I see reason as such subsumed into the larger and far more Biblical category of Wisdom.  For wisdom recognizes and sets the boundaries on what we can reasonably deduce or ascertain, recognizing first and foremost that even our reason is no longer trustworthy since the Fall.

I’m glad I took the time to finally read these works.  They aren’t writings I’m going to spend further time and effort except as necessary for clarification or to answer specific questions.  But it’s good to have a general idea of what they say and to recognize how they differ rather markedly, usually, from canonical Biblical writings.

 

Apocrypha – 3 Maccabees (Ptolemaika)

March 25, 2020

Likely authored towards the  end of the third century BC or early second century BC by an Egyptian Jew, 3 Maccabees deals primarily with the efforts of Ptolemy IV to overthrow the Jewish people and God’s defense of his people.  Thus the traditional title is confusing because it deals with events which occurred well  before the rise of the Maccabees. The more ancient title of Ptolemaika makes more sense since the main character described is Ptolemy IV Philopator.  Because it does not appear to have been authored in Hebrew or by a recognized prophet it has remained outside the Biblical canon despite the Roman Catholic decision to include it based on the Apostolic Canons.  These  were believed to have apostolic authority although that is no longer believed to be the case by many scholars.

The book begins in mid-thought, as though it were originally part of a larger work or the introduction to this work has been lost.  The historical events in the broad sense are true and accurate though this writing attributes divine and angelic elements to those events which sound as though they are exaggeration or embellishment, though of course it is possible they are true as well.

Again, this seems an unreliable text even as it deals with actual events.

You Can’t Outlaw Stupid

March 25, 2020

Though we seem determined to try.

Does a tactless and rude comment and action merit a felony rap sheet along with potentially seven years of prison time and over $25,000 in fines?  That’s what one man faces for acting like a jerk.  He intentionally coughed on another person at a grocery store and claimed to have COVID-19.

What he did was unkind, rude, and dumb, without a doubt.  But to charge him with terrorism?  This is one of the ugly side-effects of Homeland Security changes implemented nearly 20 years ago after the 9/11 attacks.  Now all  sorts of other crimes – with pre-existing definitions and sentencing structures – can also be deemed terroristic in nature.

Some people are scared, and they are making their fear very well-known as they venture out into public spaces to obtain the necessities of life.  Some of these folks are undoubtedly excessive and none-too-kind themselves in how they warn people to stay away from them.  And some people are going to respond equally unkindly.  Paranoia does strange things to people.  A certain modicum of grace seems wisest under these circumstances, a grace that hopefully people will pick up on and emulate.

But even if they don’t,  a charge of domestic terrorism seems grossly out of proportion in responding to this kind of behavior.

Apocrypha – 2 Esdras

March 24, 2020

Another apocryphal writing claiming authorship by the Old Testament figure Ezra.  This, like 1 Esdras, contains historical errors which make this almost impossible, such as claiming (in 1:40) the advent of the Biblical prophet Malachi (who dates to roughly 430 BC) even though the book claims to be written by Ezra in the neighborhood of 574 BC.  The Jewish people did not view this book as canonical, and I think we are right to treat it similarly.  Many scholars argue this book was likely written in the late first century AD, after the destruction of the Jewish Temple by the Romans.  If this is the case, the author is projecting back to the first destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in light of the second destruction by the Romans.

The book itself is primarily a recounting of a series of visions and angelic visitations attributed to Ezra.  As such, the genre of the book is most accurately apocalyptic, having to do with end times and seeking in large measure to answer the question of why so many people apparently will not be saved.  It affirms the bodily resurrection of the dead (1:23, 31) and also seems to refer to the Messiah (2:41).

An angel by the name of Uriel is the primary messenger to Ezra, providing him with a series of seven visions designed to grant Ezra comfort and a modicum of understanding as to how and why God does things they way he does.  Those who reject God are condemned and those who suffer as God’s people are encouraged to maintain strength and hope as their trust will be vindicated.