Friday, November 30, 2012

Put Ezra Back on the Old Testament History Shelf

Ezra 9 & 10 - Purification Through Confession and Action

LINK: Ezra 9 & 10

BACKGROUND 


You might remember from our reading in the Old Testament that God told the Israelites NOT to marry with the foreign women from the pagan cultures in Canaan (Exodus 34:11-16; Deuteronomy 7:1-6). This was one of the major contributing factors to the downfall of God's people all the way back to Judges 3:5-7! Even Solomon was guilty of this gross disobedience to God's law (2 Kings 11:1-8).  


It was still occurring in Ezra's time among both the people and the priesthood and would happen even a generation later (Nehemiah 13:23-27). Ezra's first response was self-abasement and sorrow for sin (9:4). His second response was a heartfelt prayer of confession on behalf of his disobedient people (9:6-15). This led to repentance on the part of the people who followed up with their actions by sending away the foreign wives and children, restoring spiritual purity to the people of Israel.  


I know some of you are saying, "The poor wives and children!"  Here is what The Life Application Bible says about that:

Why were the men commanded to send away their wives and children? Although the measure was extreme, intermarriage to pagans was strictly forbidden (Deuteronomy 7:3, 4), and even the priests and Levites had intermarried. This could be compared today to a Christian marrying a devil worshiper. Although a severe solution, it only involved 113 of approximately 29,000 families.
Ezra's strong act, though very difficult for some, was necessary to preserve Israel as a nation committed to God. Some of the exiles of the northern kingdom of Israel had lost both their spiritual and physical identity through intermarriage. Their pagan spouses had caused the people to worship idols. Ezra did not want this to happen to the exiles of the southern kingdom of Judah.  (p. 790-91)
APPLICATION 

True repentance is followed by action. Do you need to go beyond lip service in your repentance?


Also, you can add much to your Ezra character study today! 


PRAYER

Lord, help us to be doers of the Word and not just hearers. Amen. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ezra 7 & 8 - Ezra Leads the Exiles

By Published by Guillaume Rouille (1518?-1589)
("Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum")
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
LINK: Ezra 7 & 8 (read over the next two days)

BACKGROUND 


There is quite a hiatus between Ezra 6 (516 B.C.) and Ezra 7. In the meantime, the activity in the book of Esther occurred (483-473 B.C.). 


The events in Ezra 7 began in 457 B.C. Esther's husband, King Xerxes (Ahasuerus) had died, and his son by Amestris, King Artaxerxes, reigned in Persia (465-424 B.C.). It had been 80 years since the first exiles returned with Zerubbabel. The temple had been standing 58 years. 


Even though the book is named after him, this is the first chapter in which Ezra emerges as a character! You will like him right away though because he "set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel" (7:10). Ezra was a godly leader!


A proclamation by Artaxerxes opened the door for Ezra, the priest, to return to Jerusalem with the second group of exiles which included 1,750 priests, Levites (who needed to be recruited, 8:15-20), and layman, with women and children, the total was closer to 5,000 people.


After prayer and fasting, they set out on the four month, 900 mile journey from Nippur, Babylon to Jerusalem weighed down with the temple treasures. He took the dangerous journey without any military escort but trust in God (8:21-23). God gave them a safe journey (8:31-36). And they worshiped Him when they arrived (8:35).


REFLECTION 

Ezra 7:10 is one of the key verses God has used in my life: 

For Ezra had set his heart  
1) to study the law of the Lord and  
2) to practice it and 
3) to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.
When I read this verse in my late teens, my heart was resolutely set on a lifetime of the study and application of God's Word and helping others do the same! That is why I do the Bible Book Club: to get others on this wonderful bandwagon with God!

I will make a bold statement and say that you will not get this walk with Jesus if you do not do the same. I have had more women than I can count on both hands who have finally "gotten it" when it comes to God's Word. They come back to me and say; "Now I get what you meant in Bible study (or when we met one-on-one or when you spoke at this event, etc.)!"  Their lives have catapulted into a whole new realm with God, and they wonder why they had not done it sooner.  It does not mean they are better, but when our hearts are set wholly on Him, things are bound to change. Not because of US but because of HIM. He gets all the glory. 

I do not know any other way to have a fulfilling, fruitful, (and fun) walk with Jesus otherwise!

So, I pray you, like Ezra, set your heart on this today!

APPLICATION 


Your application might be to set your heart to do a deeper study of Ezra 7-10 beyond just reading it. It is only four chapters and a good way to start deeper Bible study! I will be taking you through a character study of Nehemiah, but Ezra is an excellent person to do this for too. It is interesting to compare and contrast their characters also. 


Here are the character study questions:
1. List character qualities and actions that made Ezra an effective leader (note the chapter and verse). 
2. What can you summarize about his prayer life, obedience, suffering, attitudes, responses, and reactions that you can apply to your own life? 
3. What is one way you will personally apply what you have learned from your character study of Ezra (See the Bible Study Tool of APPLICATION in the "Basics of Inductive Study" download here).
(You can do the last step after you do a Nehemiah character study.)
4. Compare and contrast the lives and leadership styles of Ezra and Nehemiah based on your reading of both these books. How did they work as a team? Which of their two leadership styles can you relate to more and why?
PRAYER

Lord, Thank You for the spiritual leadership of Ezra. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

90 Days Thru the Bible: A Devotional Journey from Walk Thru the Bible by Chris Tiegreen

For those of you who have been through the long journey with the Bible Book Club, you KNOW the advantage of reading the Bible from cover to cover. I know it has been hard for some of you to encourage others who see it as TOO daunting of a task. Well, I think this book might be helpful as a good first step for those people. It might even be a great Christmas gift!!!!!

Disclaimer: Tyndale House Publishers has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for the purpose of my unbiased review.

The day before receiving this book from Tyndale House, I met with a group of believers who all lamented the fact that they had never read through the entire Bible and felt like they did not totally understand the overall story from Genesis to Revelation. This book could not have been more perfectly timed! I truly believe that this will be a helpful first step for this group and beyond.

I remember the Walk Thru the Bible Seminars that were very popular many years ago. Chris Tiegree has brought these seminars and more to book form. He really emphasizes the whole point of God's longing for relationship with us and brings out the Scarlet Thread of Redemption pointing to Jesus that is woven throughout all of the Hebrew Scriptures. His writing is beautiful and makes you want to draw near to God. Tiegree communicates the key to what life is all about. Bravo!

Here are a couple of quotes I liked so much that I sent them to friends:

"God's highest goal for us isn't our obedience, our service, our testimony for Him, or any other behavioral outcome. It's that we adore Him. Yes, love has implications in all other areas, but first and foremost, our relationship with God is a matter of the heart. If we don't love Him fully, we're missing our purpose." (90 Days Thru the Bible: A Devotional Journey, p. 33)

"We are not just travelers on a long, hard road to our destination. We carry evidence of that destination within us. Whenever God's presence fills us to overflowing, we bring glimpses of the destination into the journey itself. Wherever we see something that doesn't look like the Kingdom, we're to bring the Kingdom into that place. Though in one sense the Kingdom will come, in another sense it has already come and still comes--not just to us but through us. The builder of the city isn't waiting for 'someday.' He's working even now" (90 Days Thru the Bible: A Devotional Journey, Ezekiel, p.105).

The only drawback is that I wish it had an encouragement to actually read the Bible all the way through as a challenging yet rewarding next step (A good next step is this Bible Book Club or maybe The Bible in 90 Days: Cover to Cover in 12 Pages a Day). I also would have liked to have more application-oriented kinds of discussion questions at the end of each day. Other than this, it is a great contribution toward helping people toward biblical literacy and developing a vital, intimate relationship with God.

Esther 7-10: Haman Hanged and Purim Celebrated

LINK: Esther 7-10 (read over the next two days)

BACKGROUND


At the fifth banquet mentioned in this book (1:3,5,9,5:4,8), Esther gets right to the point and pleas with the king on behalf of her people. The king would have no doubt that she was a Jew at this point (2:10, 20). Esther took such a risk in asking on behalf of her people, but the king was open and wanted to know who had done this thing. The climax of the book occurs when Esther cries:



"A foe and an enemy is this wicked Haman!"

Haman's lust for power and fame is undone as he is hung on the gallows that he had originally made for Mordecai, and Mordecai is honored and given the signet ring to authorize the reversal of the king's edict (3:1; 8:10). This was dispatched throughout the king's vast empire, being written in several languages. For more on how the Jews carry out the reversal of the edict, see the REFLECTION section. 

Blue (violet) and white were the royal colors of Persia (1:6), and Mordecai is exalted to a high position wearing these colors. 


Purim is celebrated on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Adar (9:21). Traditionally, Jews fast on the thirteenth day as Esther had commanded in 4:15-16. It is called Purim because Haman had cast the "pur" for their ruin. Many people of that time cast lots for guidance. An Assyrian "cube-shaped dice" has been uncovered. It dates back to about 858-824 B.C. The word puru is inscribed within a sentence on it. 

Mordecai's acts were recorded in the Chronicles of the Kings of Media and Persia, but I could not find them. We do know that he only held this exalted position for eight years because secular history mentions another man in that place in 465 B.C. (Note for 10:3 in Ryrie Study Bible, p. 746).


REFLECTION

Now to the difficult question of "avenging"! 
Christians have often been uncomfortable with the book of Esther because it celebrates an event when the Jews were enabled “to avenge themselves on their enemies” (8:13) by killing “seventy-five thousand of them” (9:16). Vengeance is considered unchristian, for we must “not repay anyone evil for evil” but instead “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17, 20). We must love our enemies, turn the other cheek, and let the thief take our tunic along with our cloak (Luke 6:27-31). Does Esther reflect an Old Testament Jewish vindictiveness that nonviolent Christians must reject? 
First, consider the word vengeance itself. It comes from the Latin vindicare which also gives us vindicate and vindictive. To vindicate oneself is to attain justice; no one would call that undesirable. But to be vindictive is to desire justice with hatred and condemnation. Christians reject that spirit (Luke 6:37-38; Romans 12:19-20; Ephesians 4:26, 32). Also, should a Christian even forgo earthly vindication if attaining justice requires violence? 
The Hebrew word in Esther 8:13 can mean both vengeance and vindication. In the former sense, the Old Testament forbids individuals to take vengeance or harbor vengeful feelings (Genesis 4:15; Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 32:35-36; Proverbs 25:21-22), although Israelites often did take personal revenge against God’s will (Genesis 34). God insisted that He alone had the right to avenge wrongs, and He promised to avenge Himself impartially against Israel as well as its enemies (Leviticus 26:25; Isaiah 1:24-25; Jeremiah 5:9, 29). 
The author of Esther assumes we know that personal vengeance and vindictive feelings are forbidden. He stresses that the Jews killed only those who attacked them on one (two in Susa) prescribed day, and that they did not profit materially from the deaths (Esther 9:1-2, 5, 10, 16). “They did what they pleased to those who hated them” (Esther 9:5) does not suggest an orgy of cruelty, but only a free hand from the Persian authorities to defend themselves. The Jews acted to defend their nation against extinction; this was no private vendetta. The author implies that the edict allowing the Jews to fight was semi-miraculous, possible only by God’s intervention, and so was in effect His act of vengeance (Baldwin, Joyce G. Esther: an Introduction and Commentary, p.100-101). 
Where does this leave us as Christians? Both Old and New Testaments condemn private vengeance and vindictive desires, but the Old Testament seems to condone national defense.  Jesus, Paul, and the rest spoke to private persons, not nations, so Christians continue to disagree over whether nations and groups may use violence to defend themselves  
(Life Change Series: Ruth and Esther, p. 94-96)

APPLICATION - PURIM!

The Feast of Purim is usually in late February or early March. So, you have plenty of time to prepare! Since Jews were persecuted right up through to the 20th Century, this festival is very dear to them. 


After the first star appears in the sky after the day of fasting, candles are lit and Esther is read in the synagogue. When Haman's name is mentioned, the crowd boos and congregations stamp the floor saying, "Let his name be blotted out. The wicked shall rot!" (We followers of Jesus do not go that far and just boo and hiss. See below for the whole "vengeance" issue.) Every time the names of Esther and "Good Guy Mordecai" are mentioned, there are cheers!


The Feast of Purim is a GREAT celebration to do with children. Find a reader to read the story of Esther while other actors act out the story. I was Esther once, George was the king, and our friend, Bill Donaldson, was a great WICKED Haman (he is usually so mild-mannered in real life. What a contrast!). The kids bring noisemakers and can make all the noise they want in church!  It is GREAT FUN.

It is a way to recall how God has protected and saved you too! I heartily recommend gathering a group together and celebrating!

Here is a recipe for a fun dessert called "Haman's hats": Humentaschen


Go to www.chabad.org for everything you need and a fun explanation of Purim for kids called "Purim is Awesome." 

PRAYER

Lord, thank You that You are sovereign over evil, and You will triumph in the end. Help us to trust in You and be willing to take risks as You use us for Your glory. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Esther 5 & 6 - Haman's Humiliation

LINK: Esther 5 & 6

BACKGROUND


On the third day of fasting, Esther executed her plan. She took a risk when she went to see the king, and he accepted her by extending the royal scepter. He was so pleased he was willing to give up to half of his kingdom to her. This was an idiom that meant that she could request whatever she desired. (Half of his kingdom would have been quite a bit since it was an area of more than 600,000 square miles extending from Greece (west) to India (east) and from southern Russia (north) to Saudi Arabia (south)!)



Wisely, Esther asked only that the king and Haman join her for a banquet in their honor and then a second one. Apparently, it was an unusual honor to be invited to a banquet with a queen since Persian kings were very protective of their wives. This swelled Haman's pride!


Esther's next request was also very simple: a second banquet. We do not know why Esther did not expose Haman at the first banquet. The Bible Knowledge Commentary states:
From a literary standpoint, this delay raises the tension level as the story moves to its climax. A person reading Esther for the first time would be in a high state of agitation as the tension increased. (p. 708)
We also see God's sovereign hand in delaying Haman's exposure until the second banquet because of the things that happened in between the two.

We see Haman's pride and gloating because he was the guest of honor at a private banquet with the king and queen. His gloating was dampered by Mordecai's refusal to bow down to him. On the suggestion of his wife and friends, Haman built gallows in order to hang Mordecai (probably an impaling stake which was a common method of execution in the ancient world).


In the meantime, the king could not sleep and asked for chronicles to be read to him (that would certainly put me to sleep). Through this, the king discovered that Mordecai had been overlooked and gone unrewarded for saving his life when he uncovered the assassination plot against him! (By the way, extra-biblical sources confirm that the Persian kings were fastidious about keeping records.)


Haman went to the king that day thinking that he would be honored, but much to Haman's mortification, Mordecai was honored rather than impaled, and Haman was forced to watch Mordecai honored rather than himself! What a blow.


When Haman told his wife and friends about the turn of events, they told him he was DOOMED because Haman was a Jew. The ancient pagan world knew that no one could stand against the covenant keeping God.

REFLECTION


"Pride is the deification of self." 
Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest


"Pride goes before destruction" (Proverbs 16:18). One of the supreme examples of this truth in the entire Bible is Haman. His ego is on a feeding frenzy. He has power, wealth, position, family, friends, and honor. Yet all of this fails to satisfy his ego. 
Mordecai´s unwillingness to bow down to him sticks like a bone in Haman´s throat. Haman´s wife reveals her character by suggesting a flamboyant display of vengeance: "Let a gallows be made, fifty cubits high [75 feet], and in the morning suggest to the king that Mordecai be hanged on it," she counsels (5:14). The same shadow is darkening both hearts. When pride is taken to this extreme, we see how exceedingly ugly it is. Beware of pride! 
(Quiet Walk Daily E-Devotional, Walk Thru the Bible, July 17, 2008)

APPLICATION
Christ could afford to be humble as He served upon this earth. After all, He was the Son of God. He had nothing to prove. Yet does His Word not also say that we are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ?  
Do you know who you are?  
Then go ahead and wash a few feet. God's most liberated servants are those who also know they have nothing to prove. (Praying God's Word, p. 66)
It has been a while since we have had a "pride check up" in the Bible Book Club. How are you doing in this area? Search your heart and pray through a selection of Scripturally-based prayers below from the chapter "Overcoming Pride" in Praying God's Word by Beth Moore.

PRAYER



Lord God, Your Word clearly warns us that pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall (Prov. 16:18).
God, I know that a man's pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor (Prov. 29:23). Help me to understand what You mean by a lowly or humble spirit. I want to be a person who gains honor in Your sight. 
Father, it is not enough for me to humble myself for one day (Is. 58:5). You desire humility to be a lifestyle characteristic. 
My Father, how I thank You that the humble will rejoice in the Lord; the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 29:19). 
Father God, give me courage to admit when I've entered into an unwise alliance. Help me to go and humble myself before the person and press my plea (Proverbs 6:3). 
Sovereign Lord, Your hand has made heaven and earth, and through You they came into being. Your Word says, "This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word" (Isaiah 66:2). Father, I can hardly imagine being someone You esteem, but I sincerely want to be! Make me that kind of person through the power of Your Holy Spirit, Lord.
(Praying God's Word, p. 61, 65) 


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Esther 3 & 4 - "If I Perish, I Perish"

LINK: Esther 3 & 4

BACKGROUND 


Esther 1-4

The king was boastful. Eastern rulers often hosted elaborate banquets in order to impress their guests with their power and wealth. The Scriptures do not tell us the reason for this particular banquet. Herodotus in the Histories may be referring to it when he states that Ahasuerus was conferring with his leaders about a possible invasion of Greece. His father, Darius I, had invaded Greece but was defeated at Marathon in 490, and his son felt compelled to avenge his father and expand his kingdom. Herodotus speculates that Ahasuerus wanted to invade all of Europe and make "the whole earth into one empire." History tells us that his fleet did defeat the Greeks at Thermopylae but was defeated at the Battle of Alamis in 480 B.C. and Plataea in 479 B.C. He had to go home after this, and Esther came into the picture in 479 B.C. after these defeats.

It was important for Ahasuerus to impress his nobles and military leaders with these banquets that lasted 187 days! What a blow to his pride when his own Queen Vashti did not want to play the "impress game." By the seventh day of the celebration, the feast would have been a drunken party. Scripture does not tell us why Vashti refused, but there is some speculation that it may have been because she was pregnant with Artaxerxes, who was born in 483 B.C. Regardless, it was a tremendous insult to the king and his guests. Vashti was deposed in order to send a message to the whole kingdom that every man should be a ruler in his own household!


Enter Esther into the king's harem where she waited for at least 12 months. Mordecai (his Babylonian name is taken from the god Marduk) was a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin and hid the fact that he and his cousin, Esther, were Jews. Kish, Mordecai's great-grandfather, was deported by Nebuchadnezzar along with Jehoiachin in 597 B.C. The name Esther is a Persian name meaning "star." Her Hebrew name was Hadassah which means "myrtle."


According to the Mosaic Law, Esther was not to marry a pagan (Deuteronomy 7:1-4) or have sexual relations with a man who was not her husband (Exodus 20:14), and yet this was her purpose in the harem. She also ate the king's food (Esther 2:9). This is different from Daniel who refused to eat at the king's table (Daniel 1:5) because it was unclean according to Jewish Law.


Esther won the king's affection, but she was also being prepared for sexual relations with the king. Most of the king's concubines would go to the king only once and live the rest of their lives in the harem. Esther, however, pleased the king so much that she was made queen in place of Vashti in 478 B.C.


Mordecai was at the king's gate as a judiciary official and uncovered a plot to assassinate the king leading to the two men being hung on the gallows (the men were probably impaled on a stake or post - Ezra 6:11). Mordecai is not rewarded for his work.


Now, enter the antagonist in this great story: Haman. Haman was an Agagite. Agag was a province in the Persian Empire. He was elevated to the highest position by Xerxes and was due special respect by others kneeling down to him as an act of worship. Mordecai refused because he could not worship a man, and the climax is reached in the tension of this literary plot! Haman sets out to destroy ALL the Jews because of Mordecai's slight! This would mean the Jews of Palestine who had rebuilt the temple and were living according to the law (Ezra 1-6). Even though God is not mentioned in this book, God is present in this narrative!


In this part of the story, Haman used a "pur," a Babylonian word for the lot, to decide when to kill the Jews. Because of how the lot fell, the Jews had a year to prepare. "Pur" is the basis for the name of the Feast of Purim (9:26) that is celebrated every year by the Jews.


Following this, the king was persuaded by Haman to destroy the Jews, but he did not know that Esther was a Jew! The decree for their extermination was April 17, 474 B.C, and by this time, Esther had been queen for four years.


Mordecai mourned this news and Esther heard of it and inquired as to why he was mourning. Through her servants, she learned of the king's edict (Apparently, her position did not afford her access to the local news!). Mordecai urged her to go to the king on behalf of her people, but Esther reminded him that unless she was summoned, she could be put to death for coming to him unannounced. She had not been summoned by him for a month and did not know if his attitude was favorable.


Mordecai knew that if the entire nation were destroyed, God's promises to Abraham, Moses, and David would not be fulfilled, and this would break the Scarlet Thread of Redemption. Mordecai reminder her that she would also die if she did not act and perhaps she had attained royalty for "such a time as this." God is not mentioned, but His timing and control over events is so implied in this statement!


Esther replied with her courageous, classic statement: "If I perish, I perish." She acts by instructing all the Jews in Susa to fast for three days. Stay tuned!


REFLECTION


The key theme of this book is clearly expressed in 4:12-16, know them well! God often places us in position where we must act. God is always sovereign but He uses His people to accomplish His purposes, and we must exercise individual responsibility in responding to Him. 


Where have we seen another situation like this in our Bible Book Club reading? I'll give you some time to think. . .


JOSEPH! (Read Genesis 45:5-7 to refresh your memory.)


APPLICATION


Is God calling you to stand up and be courageous knowing that there might be personal costs involved? Let the courage of Esther encourage you, and STAND UP!


PRAYER


Lord, help us to stand up to those things that oppose Your purposes. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Esther 1 & 2 - Esther Becomes a Queen

LINK: Esther 1 & 2

I love this story! It is a very good narration, and it FLIES by. At the Feast of Purim (we'll talk more about that later), the book of Esther is read in one sitting. Try it!


BACKGROUND


Esther occurs at the time period between Ezra 6 and 7. In a standard Bible, it is included after Ezra and Nehemiah because those books were, at one time, one book. (They were later separated by Origin in the 3rd century A.D.) 


Esther covers a time period of ten year from 483-473 B.C. It was 103 years after Nebuchadnezzar had taken the Jews into captivity (2 Kings 25) and 54 years after Zerubbabel led the first group of exiles back to Jerusalem (Ezra 1-2), and 25 years before Ezra led the second group to Jerusalem in Ezra 7. This time line is important when you think about the fact that there would have been no second group and no Ezra, for that matter, had it not been for the intervention of Esther. In fact there would have been no Jews in Palestine either.


That is why Esther is such an important book in the Bible even though it is the only book that makes NO mention of GOD. We do not know who wrote it, but it was believed to be a Jew since the author knew Persian and Jewish culture. Some have suggested Ezra or Nehemiah, but there is no evidence to that fact.


Chronology of the Book of Esther (dates in B.C.):

  • Xerxes 1 (Ahasuerus) becomes king - 486
  • Xerxes holds his banquet, deposed Vashti (Esther 1:3) - 483
  • Persia fights Greece and is defeated - 482-479
  • Esther becomes queen (Esther 2:15-17) - December 479-January 478
  • Haman plots against the Jews (Esther 3:7) - April-May 474
  • Xerxes issues the edict against the Jews (Esther 3:12) - April 17, 474
  • Xerxes issues the edicts to protect the Jews (Esther 8:9) - June 25, 474
  • The day of destruction (Esther 3:13, 8:12) - March 7, 473
  • The first Purim celebration (Esther 9:17-19) - March 8-9, 473
(Adapted from Life Change Series: Ruth and Esther, p. 63)
Xerxes was Darius' son. There are different names for Xerxes across all the historical accounts. Here are the different language variations of his name:
  • Xerxes - Greek (pronounced "Zerk-ceez")
  • Khshayarshan - Persian
  • Ahasuerus - Hebrew (the Old Testament name) 

King Xerxes, called Ahasuerus, ruled the Persian Empire from 486-465 B.C. Persia was the dominant kingdom in the Middle East after the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C. Xerxes is mentioned in Ezra 4:6 and Daniel 9:1. Judah was one of the many provinces he ruled (Nehemiah 1:2). "India" is present-day West Pakistan; "Cush" was the upper Nile region that included present-day southern Egypt, Sudan, and northern Ethiopia. The Persian Kingdom stretched out over an area of more than 600,000 square miles from modern-day Greece (west) to India (east) and from southern Russia (north) to Saudi Arabia (south). The king was one of the richest men in the whole world!

This is the only biblical account of Jews who remained in Persia after the return led by Zerubbabel in 538 B.C. Even though many Israelites had returned from the Exile to the land of Palestine to rebuild the temple, MOST of the exiles remained behind and were assimilated into the Persian culture, The Jews had great freedom in Persia and were already very established there since it had been 103 years since the Exile. It would be similar to me having no desire to return to Sweden even though my ancestors immigrated from there in 1923. America has become my home, just as Persia had become their home. The major difference between me not returning to Sweden and the Israelites not returning to their land is that they had been urged to return by both Isaiah and Jeremiah (Isaiah 48:20; Jeremiah 50:8; 51:6) so that God could bless them under the covenantal promises (Deuteronomy 28).


I read Herodotus' Histories this year in hopes of seeing Esther's name! King Xerxes and Queen Vashti (Amestris) were mentioned, but there was no mention of Esther. This would not be unusual since women were not usually given much "press" unless they did something related to government and wars. Vashti is mentioned more because she is the Queen mother of the next king, Artaxerxes, who was born a year before Vashti was deposed in 482 B.C. 

Herodotus describes Xerxes as bold, ambitious, handsome, stately, and self-indulgent in every area. At one point, Xerxes was attracted to his brother Masistes' wife. When she rebuffed him, Xerxes married her daughter Artaynte to his son Darius, then seduced Artaynte himself. Xerxes allowed his wife to take revenge on Artaynte's mother, and when Masistes fought back, Xerxes had his own brother and nephews killed along with their army (Joyce Baldwin, Esther: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 19). 
This was the same king . . .
"Who ordered a bridge to be built over the Hellespont, and who, on learning that the bridge had been destroyed by a tempest, just after its completion, was so blindly enraged that he commanded three hundred strokes of the scourge to be inflicted on the sea, and a pair of fetters to be thrown into it at the Hellespont, and then had the unhappy builders of the bridge beheaded. This is the king who, on being offered a sum equivalent to five and a half millions sterling [about $11,000,000] by Pythius, the Lydian, towards the expenses of a military expedition, was so enraptured at such loyalty that he returned the money, accompanied by a handsome present: and then, on being requested by this same Pythius, shortly afterwards, to spare him just one of his sons -- eldest -- from the expedition, as the sole support of his declining years, furiously ordered the son to be cut in two pieces, and the army to march between them" (Baxter, Explore the Book, volume 2, pages 262-263. Baxter refers to Herodotus, book 7, chapters 27-39)
(Life Change Series: Ruth and Esther, p. 64-65)
This brief character study of Xerxes helps you understand, in historical context, what a risk Esther took in going to appeal to the king!

Since this was such a long background to the entire book, I will include background for chapters 1-4 tomorrow. Happy reading!


PRAYER


Lord, teach us from the life of Esther. Amen.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Psalm 148-150: Hallelujah!

LINK: Psalm 148-150

BACKGROUND


These are perfect Psalms of praise and thanksgiving for this time of year!


Psalm 146-160 all begin with "Praise the Lord" which is the English transliteration of the Hebrew word, halelû-yāh, which is derived from the Hebrew words, hālal, meaning "shine/praise," and yāh, which is a contracted form of Yahweh, the personal name of God and most frequent designation for Him in the Hebrew Scripture (5321 times). 


All creation and His people are exhorted to praise God! 


APPLICATION/PRAYER


Have a great time of praise through these psalms! The Americans among us could even read them as part of their Thanksgiving celebration!


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Psalm 118 - Thanksgiving and Trust

LINK: Psalm 118

BACKGROUND


This is part of a group of Hallel songs (Psalms 113-118). These songs were sung at the three "great" festivals of Israel, when every male was to come to Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:16). Those three festivals were Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. They were also sung at other holy days. Psalm 113-114 were sung before the Passover meal, and Psalm 115-118 were sung afterwards. 


Some speculate that it was written for the Feast of Tabernacles and maybe for the first celebration after the exiles had returned from their captivity. The fact that he talks about the "corner stone" may relate to the rebuilding of the temple that was going on at that time. Also, he talks of how God has reestablished His nation and triumphed over other nations.


It is a song of praise to God for his loyal, eternal love. It is a song of thanksgiving and confidence in our God. 


If you are following the Bible Book Club schedule, it is perfect for the American readers who are heading into the Thanksgiving holiday!


The Scarlet Thread of Redemption

Jesus referred to Psalm 118:22 when He spoke about being rejected by His own people (Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17). Jesus was rejected but he became the cornerstone of the church (Acts 4:11; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:6, 7). The cornerstone could be the foundation stone or a stone which crowns a building.  Jesus is both the foundation on which the church is built, and He is the capstone that crowns the church! 


The crowds shouted lines from Psalm 118:26 when Jesus entered Jerusalem at the beginning of the Passion Week, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord" (Matthew 21:9). 


Jesus is also the Light God has made to shine upon us (118:27).  


REFLECTION 


Did you know that the middle verse of the Bible is found in this Psalm!


Psalm 118:8 says, "It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man."


I remember having a terrible couple of years in college as I struggled to make Jesus my Lord. I had been trusting in someone who turned out to be very deceitful and unkind. I was devastated and depressed.


I went to babysit, and after I had tucked the kids in bed, I opened my Bible to the very center! 


God spoke directly to the center of my heart though this verse that He was the only one I could trust 100% for everything. I gave it all to Him, and He has not let me down. I cling to this verse to this day. 


What a great verse to be at the heart of the Bible!  Trusting in Him is the key to everything!


APPLICATION 


Who or what are you trusting in?


PRAYER


Lord, You are the better choice when it comes to trust. Help us to put our lives in Your hands. Amen. 


Also, could you pray for one of those kids I tucked in bed that night? She is a grown woman now and has cancer. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Ezra 5 & 6; Psalm 129 - Perseverance in Rebuilding the Temple

LINK: Ezra 5 & 6 and Psalm 129  (read over the next two days)

BACKGROUND 


Ezra 5 & 6


The prophets Haggai and Zechariah had emerged to encourage the people not to give up the goal of rebuilding the temple. Even though the non-Jews tried to stop the construction, the Jews continued to build and the new king, Darius, ended the 15 year delay in construction by exploring the archives and learning of the decree of Cyrus that stated that God's temple was to be rebuilt and anyone who got in the way was to be impaled (Ezra 6:11). OUCH!


Many clay and papyrus documents recording business transactions and historical data have been discovered in this area (near present-day Syria). A great library and archives with thousands of such records have been discovered at Ebla in Syria. 
(The Life Application Bible, p. 782)


The temple was completed in February/March 515 B.C. It took 21 years after the work had started in 536 B.C. and 4 1/2 years after Haggai's first prophecy. It is nice to see prophets who were actually listened to in their lifetime! The temple was finished 70 1/2 years after it had been destroyed August 12, 586 B.C. 


At its completion, the temple was dedicated, and the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread were celebrated in April 515 B.C. for the first time in 70 years (see Exodus 12:1-30 for background about the Passover). Darius was mentioned as the "king of Assyria."  He is a Persian king, but the former Kingdom of Assyria was also part of his vast empire. 



Psalm 129 

Psalm 129 is a "Song of Ascent."  Click on the link for background information on this group of psalms if you have not already done so. 

I have added this psalm to the Ezra reading because some commentators believe it could have been read at the dedication of the rebuilt temple. Others think it might have been written by Hezekiah. We do not know, but it speaks of confidence and perseverance in persecution and deliverance from the wicked. Zerubbabel persevered through everything to complete his task. So, I thought it fit well here! 


REFLECTION 

Zerubbabel is my hero! He led toward the completion of the task, despite delays and discouragement of over 20 years!


Do you have long-term, God-given goals like Zerubbabel's that require a long-range perspective and perseverance?  In the chapter about Psalm 129 entitled "Perseverance" written in the excellent book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson writes:

The reason my childhood was one enthusiasm after another was that I hadn't yet found an organizing center for my life and a goal that would demand my all and my best. The Christian faith is the discovery of that center in the God who sticks with us, the righteous God (129:4). Christian discipleship is a decision to walk in his ways, steadily and firmly, and then finding that the way integrates all our interests, passions and gifts, our human needs and our eternal aspirations. It is the way of life we were created for. There are endless challenges in it to keep us on the growing edge of faith; there is always the God who sticks with us to make it possible for us to persevere. (p. 134)
The Bible Book Club is the God-given, long-term goal given to me in December of 2007. During the first three year cycle, God gave me the ability to write 20-40 hours a week while homeschooling my two kids and despite job loss and transition, a severed big toe tendon, horrendous back pain (brought on by this injury) that made it difficult to sit and write, two trips overseas, and the tragic death of my brother and two friends. 

It took me 4 1/2 years to complete the posts for the Old Testament the first time. 
I am thankful for the encouragement from many of you to "keep going" and the help of others, especially Becky and Katrina, who helped by writing posts in the first cycle (2008-2010) so that I could take days off. I am especially thankful to God who has given me strength beyond my own ability!

I have learned lessons of perseverance through all of this and wonder what I will do with all my free time when I am done with all the writing and editing of this big "God-sized" task! I am sure He will give me another one that is just as fulfilling and rewarding. 


APPLICATION


We have many long-term endeavors: raising kids, growing spiritually, helping others grow.  


Do you have a long-range perspective on these long-term goals?  How are you persevering?  Are you discouraged?


Talk to God about that. Do not give up! Remember that "Slow and steady wins the race!"  Take heart from Zerubbabel! Find some encouragement from others too!


PRAYER


Lord, we commit ourselves to be faithful to Your long-term goals for us. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen. 


NOW, there will be a 58 year gap before the book of Ezra picks up again in Ezra 7. In the meantime, we will go through the book of Esther and many Psalms that are tagged chronologically to this time period!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Put Zechariah Back on the Prophets Shelf

BibleBookcase

You're done! Only 7 more days until Jesus!

Zechariah 14 - The Return of the King

LINK: Zechariah 14

BACKGROUND

This chapter anticipates the second coming of the Messiah as the divine King. It looks to the universal earthly reign of the Lord. It covers the initial plundering of Jerusalem, the judgment of the Gentile armies, the establishment of His millennial, 1000 year, reign, and concludes with a description of worship in Jerusalem. 

Zechariah refers to the "day of the LORD." Many prophets have referred to it (Isaiah 2:12; 13:6,9; Jeremiah 46:10; Ezekiel 13:5; 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14; Amos 5:18; Obadiah 15; Malachi 4:5). This is a day of universal judgment on the whole world (Isaiah 24).

On that day, The Mount of Olives will be split in two when the Messiah appears accompanied by His holy ones (14:4). This is the place from which He ascended (Acts 1:11-12). It is also the place where He taught His disciples what would happen in the end times (Matthew 24).

This time will also have a host of miraculous natural phenomena (see also Isaiah 13:10; 34:4; Joel 2:10, 30-31; 3:15; Matthew 24:29). Notice also the living water that will flow out of Jerusalem that was also mentioned in Ezekiel 47.

The key verse is 14:9: 


The LORD will be king over the whole earth. 
On that day there will be one LORD, 
and His name the only name.  

Enemies will be defeated. False gods will be cut off and no longer remembered (13:1-2). In Jerusalem, The LORD will be worshiped by the survivors from all the nations and the Feast of Tabernacles (14:18-19; Leviticus 23:33-43) will be celebrated as it is a feast of thanksgiving for God's gracious blessings!

Of the seven feasts, the Feast of Tabernacles will be the only one left to be celebrated since Passover was fulfilled in the death of Christ (1 Corinthians 5:7; John 1:29), Feast of Firstfruits was fulfilled in His resurrection (John 15:23), Day of Atonement in acceptance of His salvation, Pentecost with the arrival of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, Feast of Unleavened Bread in the life of believers today as they walk in holiness, and the Feast of Trumpets will be fulfilled when God gathers His people from the ends of the earth (Isaiah 18:3,7; Matthew 24:29-31). Those who do not come will be punished, but I cannot imagine nations will not come. In this time, holiness will be the order of the day!

REFLECTION/APPLICATION

The predictions of Jesus' first coming all came true. We can be assured that the predictions regarding His second coming will come true also.

Take some time to reflect upon the prophecies of His first coming as you prepare your heart for the coming Christmas Season!


PRAYER

Here is a link to a devotional on Handel's Messiah

You can also download a Messiah Meditations Word document if you prefer not to do it online. I do this every Christmas, and I am always so blessed:

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/469660/Messiah%20Meditations%20Devotional%202014.docx

Now that we have almost concluded this "POETRY AND PROPHETS" year in the Bible Book Club, you will be amazed at how much more you understand about the Scriptures in this masterpiece! Take some time to worship God as you read the rich words (or listen to it). I listen to this version that has a great price: Handel's Messiah: The Complete Work


Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O daughter of Jerusalem:
Behold the King cometh unto thee:
He is the righteous Savior,
and He shall speak peace unto the heathen.
(Zechariah 9:9, 10; Matthew 21:5)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Zechariah 12 & 13 - Redemption and Refining

LINK: Zechariah 12-13

BACKGROUND 


These chapters are about the destruction of the Gentile nations that opposed Israel (12:1-9) and Israel's spiritual deliverance that included the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (12:10a) and repentance as people put faith in Jesus, the Messiah (12:10-14)! 


The Scarlet Thread of Redemption


The one who is pierced in 12:10 is Jesus and foretells His rejection as God Incarnate and His Crucifixion. When Jesus comes again, He will be recognized as the Messiah, and people will turn to Him. Hadad Rimmon was a village near Jezreel and refers to the slaying of one of the few "good" kings of Judah, Josiah, at that place (2 Chronicles 35:20-27). 


There will be a cleansing fountain (13:1) and all idols and false prophets will be removed from the land (13:2-6). Then, the True Prophet/Shepherd (13:7-9) will come. This goes along nicely with previous prophecy in Zechariah:

  • Smitten Shepherd by sword and directed by God (13:7a) - piercing of the Messiah (12:10; 11:7-8; Isaiah 53:4, 7, 10)  
  • Scattered  sheep (13:7b-8) - abandoning of the sheep (11:9)  
  • Saved remnant (13:9) - restoration of covenant relationship (13:1-2)

Jesus quoted Zechariah 13:7 before His arrest in Matthew 26:31,32. The Roman "sword" put Christ to death, and His disciples (sheep) would be scattered when He was arrested (Matthew 26:56). The scattering also refers to the scattering of Jews all over the world at the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in A.D. 70 (Matthew 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21).  This scattering and trying has gone into modern history where the Jews of the Holocaust were "refined like silver." 


REFLECTION 


A little over a week ago, toward the end of our wonderful Washington, D.C. vacation, my family and I spent 6 hours in the Holocaust Memorial Museum. I was confused about having to wait in another long security line (my email from our congressional aide said we were to bypass all lines and go directly to our VIP passes). 


In the midst of this, a European woman in the security line nosed in on our private conversation to tell us we had to wait in line, and we needed tickets. No excuse, I bit her head off. "We have VIP tickets, and our instructions say not to wait in line. Do you know what 'VIP' is?  As I was saying this, I thought to myself, "She is probably even German!" (Bad, I know. At this point you are probably wondering why am writing about the Bible with that kind of response to a foreign visitor.)


Going through the museum, you learn of Jews being herded like cattle to their deaths (After emerging from the Holocaust experience, a volunteer told me they even made the exhibit very narrow at this point so that the visitors are literally on top of one another so they can experience this herded feeling.) There were no VIPs at Auschwitz, and I was convicted about my irritation with that women. This museum was so sobering. I emerged from the darkness of the concentration camp into the light of a warm Washington, D.C. day with a new appreciation for life. 


Petty inconveniences are nothing compared to their horrors. I felt bad for my irritated response to that lady. Even though she should not have been so nosy (She did not understand we already had tickets waiting for us AFTER the security line, and I was just confused and needed clarification from someone official.), I did not need to snap back at her, and I wished I could have apologized to her afterward, but she and her family went through the Museum very quickly compared to us. 


Gratefulness in everything, large and small, was my "take away" from this museum.  


I did not cry until I sat in the last area with film interviews of survivors. One of them was bitter toward God for what had happened. He felt God had turned His back on the Jews. When he noticed a fellow prisoner praising and thanking God, he had an interesting exchange that impacted me.  I could not remember the exact quote, but I found this excerpt of an article of another person who had a similar reaction to mine:

A man told the story about seeing a friend of his in the concentration camp praying in the middle of the day. Orthodox Jews pray at the beginning and at the end of the day but not usually in the middle of the day. So he asked his friend what he was doing. The friend said, "I'm being grateful to God." 
"Grateful to God?" the man said, "What could you be grateful to God for in the middle of hell?"   
His friend's response was profound. He said, "I'm thanking God that I am NOT LIKE THEM!"   
That's when tears came to my eyes.  
(http://lithyem.net/articles/power_8-19-02.php reprinted from http://boazpower.com/. The FULL article is well worth reading.) 

This is where I lost it emotionally too. 


When tragedy strikes, many people turn their back on God. Not so with this grateful man, and I hope it is not so with you or me. 

Continuing with Mr. Boaz' story: 

Some people have the ability to find something to appreciate, even in the middle of something horrible. It is truly a choice. now, whenever I get upset when something doesn't go my way, I have a little talk with me. I remind myself that, no matter how many challenges I have, there are many people in the world who would gladly change places with me. 
Somehow my disappointment at having to wait in line when we were "VIP's" seemed so trivial after all of this. 

God uses everything to refine us and try us so that we can come forth as silver and gold. God says through Zechariah:



And I will bring the third part through the fire,
Refine them as silver is refined,
And test them as gold is tested.
They will call on My name,
And I will answer them;
I will say, "They are My people,"
And they will say, "The Lord is my God.”
Zechariah 13:9


It is all a matter of perspective. 

APPLICATION

Is the Lord your God even in the midst of hard times? Can you be thankful and see the glass half full?  

Read the full article linked above (his application was my application long before I read his article). Look up the cross references I have included in the Scripture above and Psalm 66:10, Proverbs 17:3; Job 23:10.

Are you grateful today in spite of circumstances?

PRAYER

Lord, teach us to be grateful today. In Jesus name, Amen. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Zechariah 10 & 11 - Which Shepherd Do You Follow?

LINK: Zechariah 10 & 11

BACKGROUND 


These chapters continue with the Messianic theme. YAY! Jesus is coming!!! 


No more darkness and doom and judgment. The LIGHT will come!

Zechariah 10


The Scarlet Thread of Redemption

This chapter is full of promises:


Holy Spirit (10:1) - His Spirit is often described as rain in the Old Testament (Isaiah 32:15; 44:3; Hosea 6:3; Joel 2:23-32). 


Shepherd (10:2-3) - The shepherds led the flock of Israel into sin (Ezekiel 34; Matthew 9:36). God promises to care for His flock (Micah 5:4). Jesus said He was the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep (John 10:11).


Cornerstone (10:4) - Jesus came from Judah to be the Cornerstone of the church. (Acts 4:11; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:6,7). The cornerstone could be the foundation stone or a stone which crowns a building. Jesus is both the foundation on which the church is built, and He is the capstone that crowns the church! You will see this word again in Psalm 118 in a few days. 


Tent Peg (10:4) - "The large peg inside an Oriental tent, on which is hung most of it valuable furniture (Judges 4:21; Isaiah 22:20-24). On Messiah hang all the glory and hope of His people" (A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, (Zechariah 10:4)). 


Bow of Battle (10:4-5) - Jesus came to overcome the enemy of our souls, Satan (Genesis 3:15).  Death will be swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).


Ruler (10:4) - Jesus will reign as King just as God had promised (Genesis 49:10; Micah 5:2).


Reuniting and Restoration (10:6-12) - The "house of Joseph" represented the two northern tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, and the "house of Judah" were the remaining ten southern tribes. These tribes would be reunited and strengthened together (Jeremiah 31:10). 


Zechariah 11


While Zechariah 10 talks of the Messiah's reign. Zechariah is asked by God to act out the roles of two different kinds of shepherds. There is a delay for those blessings coming because of the rejection of this Shepherd Messiah. It is a lament and talks of the wrath to come and consequent devastation that will result from the people rejecting the Good Shepherd (10:2-3). 


REFLECTION 


Which shepherd do you follow? Hopefully, you follow the Good Shepherd. 


Recently, I had two weeks where I was on the road, living out of a suitcase, following a packed schedule in unfamiliar places, seeing new and exciting things, and sharing space in hotel rooms where it was very hard to get away to spend time with the Good Shepherd.


And it began to show! My sinful, selfish nature emerged more and more. I realized that I was not following the Good Shepherd but following the worldly shepherd that says "Get ahead. You are Number One!"  


Toward the end of the two weeks, I got up early and walked and prayed and repented, renewing my mind and my commitment to follow Him. (I also had to apologize to my husband and wish I could apologize to a lady I was not nice to while waiting in line!) We cannot disengage from following Him and expect to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit no matter how "mature" we are in the Lord!


Lesson learned. 


APPLICATION


Are you following the Good Shepherd today? 


PRAYER


Lord, help us to follow You, minute by minute of every day. Amen.