Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Esther 9 & 10 - Feast of Purim

LINK: Esther 9 & 10

The Jews had been given nine months to prepare for the attack of the Gentiles against them. They used that time to get themselves organized and armed, so when they were attacked on the specified date they were ready to defend themselves and their families. God had also been at work so that "the dread of them (the Jews) had fallen on all the peoples." God had done that before, when Israel prepared to enter the promised land (Deut 2:25). The people also feared Mordecai (Esther 9:3), because he was in a position of authority and would use that authority righteously.

So when the appointed day came, there were attacks against Jews all over the empire. But the Jews were able to defend themselves successfully against these attacks. Although they had been given permission to take the spoils of their attackers, they did not do it. They weren't out to gain wealth; they were only protecting themselves, their families, and their own property.

When the fighting ended, there was great rejoicing! Then Mordecai proclaimed an annual feast to celebrate the victory. The date was set for the 14th and 15th of Adar each year, and the feast was named Purim, which means lots, because Haman had cast lots to determine the date of the original attack against the Jews.

Today, the Jews begin their celebration on the 13th with a day of fasting to commemorate Haman's evil decree. They go to the synagogue where the entire book of Esther is read aloud. Whenever Haman's name is mentioned, they cry out, "May he be accursed!" or "May his name perish!" and children rattle their noisemakers.

Then on the 14th, they go to the synagogue again, and the entire book of Esther is read aloud again. The story of Moses and the Amalekites (Exodus 17:8-16) is also read on this day, and there is also a time of prayer.

After this time at the synagogue, families go home to celebrate the festive holiday meal with special foods and give gifts to each other. They send gifts and food to the poor as well (as Mordecai commanded), so they may also participate in the celebration.


Mordecai and Esther saw God's hand in the events of their time, and they did not want the Jews to forget what happened. So they established the annual celebration of Purim for the Jewish people in all places, through all generations. We do tend to have short memories and can greatly benefit from reminders such as these. We celebrated Christmas last week, and although this celebration is never commanded by God, it serves as a good reminder to us of what Jesus did in order to obtain our salvation. We also commemorate specific events each year at Easter, as well as other holidays. These days of corporate celebration serve as great reminders of what God has done for us.


We can also have personal or family celebrations to commemorate specific events in our lives. Some celebrate a second birthday each year, remembering the day they recognized Jesus as their personal savior. We can establish our own celebrations to remind us of how God brought us through difficult times or surprised us with some kind of provision for our physical or spiritual lives. What events in your life do/could you celebrate? Take some time to reflect and give honor and praise to God for what he has done at various points in your life or the life of your family.

Lord, you are worthy of much praise! You give us the strength to stand against our enemies. You provide for us and lead us in this life. We honor and praise you for what you have done. Amen.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Esther 7 & 8 - "This Wicked Haman!"

LINK: Esther 7 & 8

In chapter 7, Esther makes her request to the king. She reveals to him that someone has set out to destroy her and her people. This statement grabs the king's attention and probably puzzles him. He immediately wants to know who would presume to do such a thing. Esther identifies the enemy as Haman -- the king is enraged and Haman is terrified.

In his great anger, the king leaves the room to try to collect himself. While he is gone, Haman proceeds to beg for mercy from the queen -- his only chance for escape. While begging, he falls on the couch where Esther is reclined just in time for the king to reenter the room and accuse him of trying to molest the queen. Haman is doomed! The king orders him killed on the very gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai.

In chapter 8, the king gives all of Haman's land and possessions to Esther, and she turns the management of the property over to Mordecai. Then the king also gives Haman's position, similar to prime minister, to Mordecai. He becomes second in command over the entire empire.

But the Jewish people are all still at risk of annihilation. Esther falls at the king's feet and weeps and implores him to avert the evil plot against the Jews. The king can't change the edict he gave earlier, but he allows Mordecai to write a new one allowing the Jews to defend themselves. Mordecai takes action immediately and writes a new edict, has it translated into all the languages of the empire and dispatched to every province by couriers on the royal steeds.

When the new decree reaches the Jews scattered throughout the empire, there is much rejoicing and celebration. Many observers are stricken with fear of the Jews, and many pagans apparently converted to Judaism or at least sided with the Jews.


Galatians 6:7 says, "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. Haman is an excellent picture of the principle "you reap what you sow" in life. Haman sowed hatred and violence and reaped the wrath of the king and a violent death for himself. Haman's pride led to his destruction, as Carol discussed yesterday. Haman is such a great example of what NOT to be in life.

We can look at the responses and actions of Mordecai and Esther and see the flip side of "you reap what you sow." They demonstrated humility and were thereby raised to positions of honor. They responded to Haman's edict with prayer and fasting before God, seeking His guidance and direction. Esther approached the king carefully, with great wisdom and perfect timing. I believe that was a direct answer to their prayers.


The Galatians 6 passage goes on to say, "For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith." Let's meditate on that thought today.

Lord, you promise vengeance on your enemies, but you also promise blessing to those who love you. Teach us to trust your timing and to allow you to be God. Show us ways we can "sow to the Spirit" so we may reap the blessings of the Spirit. Let us see ways we can do good to others, not from impure motives but out of our love for you. Remind us to be humble before you and before men, so that all that we do may bring honor and glory to your holy name. In the name of Jesus, amen.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Ezra Character Study Summary

EZRA CHARACTER STUDYHere are my observations and thoughts. Please feel free to continue sharing yours.

The man Ezra
Ezra was a direct descendant of Aaron, through the line of Eleazar and Phineas. While living in exile in Babylon, he took his role as priest very seriously and studied God's word and became "skilled in the law of Moses" (7:6). He lived a life that gained favor with King Artaxerxes (7:21). Artaxerxes trusted Ezra and gave him authority to appoint civil leaders (7:25).

Character Traits
Trustworthy - Artaxerxes transfered a considerable amount of authority to Ezra and trusted him not to use that authority against him.

Passion - Ezra had a passion for God's Word - knowing it, keeping it, teaching it. He states his passion in 7:10, and demonstrates it through his actions in chapters 9-10.

Trust God rather than man - He chose not to ask for troops and horsemen to protect them while they traveled (8:22), rather, he trusted God to provide safety.

Humility - Ezra was totally humbled before God. He gave God the credit for everything (7:27-28), and demonstrated his humility when he tore his garments, pulled out some of his hair, and prostrated himself before the temple (9:3-5). He was focused entirely on God, not what others would think.

Sensitive to sin - Ezra truly mourned the sin of the people even though he himself had not committed the sin and continued to mourn even after the decision to put away the foreign wives had been made (10:6).

Leadership Style
Ezra gathered people around himself to whom he could teach God's law (7:10). He also gathered people to volunteer to return to Jerusalem to establish worship of God there (7:13).

He led the people mostly by example. He led the people to fast and pray when confronted with safety issues (8:22). When he was informed about the sin among the people, he responded to the sin himself (9:3). He didn't tell everyone else how they should respond; he simply acted. The people followed his lead and wept bitterly over their sin (10:1).

When it came time to execute a plan, Ezra relied on the advice of Shecaniah. Shecaniah encouraged Ezra to tell the people what they must do (10:2-4). Ezra took the responsibility to require the men to put away their foreign wives, but when it came time to actually carry that out, he delegated the task to capable leaders (10:16). Ezra was not an administrator, but was wise enough to assign those administrative tasks to trustworthy men so they would still get done.

This is my own personal reflection. Yours may be different, and you are welcome to share.

Ezra is a kind of leader I can relate to. I, like him, have a passion to study and know God's word, to practice it, and to teach it to others. I tend to gather small groups around me to teach. Although I can do administrative type work, I'd rather not. The more I spend time with God and his word, the more I come to detest sin, but I think I'm more desensitized than Ezra to the sin around me. I have sometimes wept bitterly over my sin, though. I tend to be reserved, so I've thought a lot about Ezra's public display of emotion over the sin of the people. I think his outward example was very valuable to the people, so I wonder if a little more outward expression of my heart would be beneficial to others.

Father, thank you for your word. Thank you that you are a personal God who is involved in our lives. Thank you for the opportunities to teach others about you and your word. Teach me to see sin more like you see it and not to take it lightly. Keep teaching my heart to conform to you and always point people to Jesus. Amen.

Ezra 10 - Character Study

LINK: Ezra 10
How does Ezra's behavior demonstrate his heart attitudes?

How does Ezra act on what he believes to be true?


I have enjoyed doing a character study. I hope you have, too. Summarize what you have observed about the man Ezra in these four chapters. Please post a comment sharing your observations. What have you learned from Ezra about prayer, obedience, view of God, response to sin, actions, reactions, etc.? What character qualities did Ezra demonstrate? How can you apply what you've learned to your own life?

I will post my summary later today in a separate post.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Ezra 9 - Character Study

LINK: Ezra 9

A few months after his arrival in Jerusalem, Ezra met with some of the leaders and was informed of the many mixed marriages among the priests, Levites, civil leaders, and the people in general in the land. It's possible that this occurred after the reading of the law described in Nehemiah 8. This was likely an official report, in accordance with the decree of Artaxerxes to "keep the law of your God and the law of your king" (Ezra 7:25-26). The law was given in Exodus 34 and Deuteronomy 7 that they were not to marry the pagan Canaanites when they entered the land. The sin is not mixed racial or ethnic marriages, rather it is an issue of religious holiness.


What kind of attitudes, actions, reactions, etc. do you see in Ezra in this chapter?

How does Ezra view God?

What is his view of himself and the other Israelites before God?

How does Ezra respond to sin?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Ezra 8 - Character Study

LINK: Ezra 8


What do you learn about Ezra's prayer life in this chapter?

How did he respond to fear?

What is his view of himself in relation to God?

Add any other observations you might have about Ezra and his leadership.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Ezra 7 - Character Study

LINK: Ezra 7

We are going to switch gears a bit here and do a character study on Ezra. Later, Carol will lead a character study on Nehemiah and then a comparison between the two men. As we read these four chapters about Ezra, I will pose questions each day to help us consider who Ezra was and what he did. My main purpose is to get us thinking along the lines of a character study. Please feel free to go beyond these questions as you consider the man Ezra and what you can learn from his character. On Friday, when we finish this book, I'd like to invite you to share your observations summarizing the character of Ezra.

Ezra chapter six ends in 516 B.C. with the completion of the temple in Jerusalem. Priests and Levites were performing their duties and the spiritual rituals were being observed. Now we fast-forward 58 years to chapter seven. (The story of Esther took place in Persia during that 58 year gap.)

Chapters 7-10 of Ezra describe Ezra's return to Jerusalem during the reign of Artaxerxes. Ezra led a group of people from Babylon to Jerusalem in 458 B.C. Artaxerxes provided Ezra with a decree that allowed any and all Israelites in the kingdom of Persia to join Ezra if they so chose. This decree also provided financing and gave Ezra authority to institute God's law in Jerusalem.


What is the purpose and significance of Ezra's genealogy?

Who is Ezra? What kind of work did he do in Babylon?

What do you learn about Ezra's heart in this chapter?

What can you learn about Ezra's relationship with God from the final two verses?

Based on his decree, what do you think Artaxerxes thought of Ezra?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Ezra 6 - Completion of the Temple

LINK: Ezra 6

Darius received Tattenai's letter and investigated the decree that Zerubbabel claimed was issued by Cyrus. He found the decree that Cyrus had issued and sent word to Tattenai to leave the Jews alone and let them rebuild the temple. He also ordered Tattenai to pay building expenses out of the royal treasury.

Four years later, the temple was completed in the spring of 515 B.C. There was a joyous dedication of the temple followed by the celebration of Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread. They were very anxious to do everything just as it had been commanded in the Law.

Once again, God used pagan rulers to accomplish his plan. He uses our secular government to accomplish his will as well. But regardless of what the government does, we are still responsible to live our lives according to God's word.


The first year of this Bible Book Club is coming to a close, and I am learning and understanding more and more about God and my relationship to him as I study each day. I am very thankful for this opportunity and accountability to dig into God's word. If you are "behind" I want to encourage you to keep pressing on. And as we read and study, we need to keep adjusting our thinking to line up with God.

Lord, you are the creator who formed the earth. You set the boundaries of nations. You determine each person's length of life. You give each of us work to do in this life. Teach us to submit to your wise rule over us, to know you and your word, and to trust you enough to obey you regardless of what the people around us think. In the name of Jesus, Amen.