Wednesday, October 30, 2013

CXCIX - Job Chapters 8-14

Job’s friends had come from great distances to comfort their old friend in his time of misfortune and grief.  In the last post we saw that Eliphaz was the first to speak and, although well meaning, his speech to Job did nothing to show sympathy or to encourage Job, as was made clear in Job’s response.  In this post we will look at the speeches of Bildad and Zophar, then Job’s response to each.  We must be careful as we look at what these men have to say.  There is much truth in their speeches, but it is often misapplied.  As we minister to others, merely stating Biblical truth is often inadequate.  We must apply it with compassion when dealing with the grieving, and must be careful not to take it out of context.

Chapter 8  -  Bildad’s Speech

Bildad was a hard liner, who applied a non-bending set of doctrines to every situation in life.  He is too abrasive to possibly be comforting.  Look at verse 4.  He indicates that Job’s children died because they did something to deserve it.  {What a terrible thing to say to a man in Job’s position!}  He goes on to suggest that if Job repents his sins, God will heal and restore.  Bildad insists that God would not never punish the blameless (vs 20)

Chapters 9-10  -  Job’s Reply to Bildad

Job, although somewhat angry with Bildad’s words, was careful not to dispute the basic truths contained in Bildad’s speech.  Job praises God and His unlimited power, but goes on to voice frustration at his own limited ability to present his case to God.  In verse 14 he says, “How then can I dispute which Him?  How can I find words to argue with Him?”  Then Job insists that he is innocent of the wrong-doing that would bring forth such punishment he has had to endure.  Job then begins speak as in prayer, knowing God is listening to all of this conversation.  In chapter 10 Job again expresses loathing for his life, and wants to die.  He insists upon his innocence, pleads for mercy, and by the end of his speech he seems to more directly blame God.  {This is not quite as disrespectful as it sounds.  If you carefully read Job’s words, you will realize that along with that blame goes the recognition of God’s omnipotence.}

Chapter – Zophar’s Speech

Zophar was the least diplomatic of the three.  He started out strong and actually said less than the other two.  His speech had three parts.  First, he wished God would reveal to Job the truths about himself, and suggested that Job was suffering less than he deserved.  {I'm certain this did not sit well with Job.}  Secondly, he described God’s wisdom as opposed to the foolishness of man.  God knew who was good and who was sinful and needed punishment.  Thirdly, Zophar called on Job to repent.  If Job sincerely repents, everything will go back to normal.

Chapters 12-14  -  Job Replies to Zophar
Job was insulted and hurt by Zophar’s words.  But Job did not lash out at Zophar only.  He addressed all three.  He does not see the point of exercising any tact with these three men, as he has run out of patience for their empty words.  He says in the second verse of chapter 12 (sarcastically) “wisdom will die with you”.  In other words when you three die, there will be no more wisdom on the earth.  This was letting them know early in his response that he had not respect for them.  He goes on to say that he is not inferior to them.  They have told him nothing that he did not already know.  In the beginning verses of chapter 13 Job repeats the phrase, “I am not inferior to you”.  He tells them in vs 4 that they are worthless physicians, meaning they are no help to him at all.  He told them in verse 13 to “be quiet and let me speak”.  This was telling them to yield to someone who is smarter than them.  Job continues to plead for the opportunity to present his case to God, confident that if God would hear him, He would vindicate him.  Then in verses 20-22, he asks God for only two things.  First, he wants God to take a break from punishing him.  Secondly, he begged God to stop scaring him.  {Evidently Job was frightened constantly and it had taken a heavy toll on his mind.}  Verse 22 shows that Job is desperate to plead his case, as he tells God that he is willing to be the plaintiff or the defendant.  He just wants his day in court.  Verses 23-24 he again pleads with God to tell him what he did that was so wrong.  In chapter 14 Job again expounds on the omnipotence of God, and how powerless we are.  I found it interesting that Job comments on the finality and irrevocability of death, saying that if a tree is cut down, its roots can still sprout and the tree will live again, but man is not designed to ever regain life (vs 10).  As Job is voicing frustration, he becomes even more desperate to have a direct audience with God Himself.  As we read these words of Job we realize the depth of wisdom and insight this man has.

Next post  -  Job’s Conversation With His Three Friends Continues

Monday, October 28, 2013

CXCVIII - Job 3-7 - Silence is Broken

Job 3 – Job Speaks

In just a matter of a few short days, Job has suffered more misfortune than any one man in recorded History.  Not many days ago he was one of the wealthiest men in the world with all the status attached.  He had ten healthy and happy children, having given him many grandchildren.  But he is now without any possessions, and all of his children and grandchildren have been killed.  As if that wasn’t enough, he has now been afflicted with a tormenting disease.  He has gone to sit at the city trash dump, as he feels unfit to join society.  Three of his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar have traveled great distances to visit Job in his misfortune.  As I stated before these were good friends to do what they have done, although somewhat misguided in their efforts to help Job.  At the end of chapter 2, these three friends have been sitting with Job for seven days, not saying a word.

Chapter 3  -  Job’s Opening Speech

Job began to speak.  Job seemed to just want someone to listen and have compassion on him, then perhaps encourage him.  He was in such pitiful shape.  He goes on to say that his life seemed to have no value, and he was just waiting to die.  He goes on in this chapter to express the wish that he had never been born, and questions why it happened in the first place.  He repeatedly curses the very day he had been born, wishing he had not been allowed to live.  Then in the latter verses he actually is envious of the dead because they could sleep and have rest from their troubles and pain.  {As I stated in the last post, these sores on his body itched and hurt constantly, not allowing Job to get any comfortable sleep.  The absence of sleep made him even further desperate for relief of some kind.}

Chapter 4-5  -  Eliphaz’ First Speech

As you read these speeches by these men, you will find that they speak eloquently, even poetic in style at times.  But their messages are clear.  Eliphaz begins his speech softly and compassionately, complimenting Job on having lived his life in an honorable manner.  But he then seems to turn insensitive.  Early in his speech he insists that the righteous prosper and the sinful suffer.  By this he inferred that Job must have committed some horrible sin.  {No wonder Job gets defensive.}  Eliphaz says in 5:8, “If I were you, I would appeal to God”.  {Imagine what goes through Job’s mind right now.  I can relate.  There have been times in my life that I have been on my knees in prayer many times for weeks.  I then begin to explain my plight to someone and he says, “You just need to pray about it”.  Although the person is well-meaning, it is frustrating to hear.}  Then in verse 17, Eliphaz’ sense of piety exposes itself when he says “Blessed is the one whom God corrects”.  Job doesn’t need to hear things like this right now.  {It's like he is saying, "You are the lucky one, getting all this attention from God.}  Eliphaz is basically giving the advice:  Repent and you will be rewarded.

Chapters 6-7  -  Job Replies to Eliphaz

These two chapters are a bit sad to read as we try to understand how Job feels, especially chapter 7.  Job’s opening comment (I paraphrase) says he wishes he could accurately describe his anguish.  {Ever feel like that?  Do you ever wish you could come up with the words to convince someone of the seriousness of something?  Very frustrating.}  Job seems to ramble somewhat, but his comments accurately reveal his state of mind.  He was miserable, confused, and disappointed that his friend Eliphaz had taken a scolding tone toward him.  He wanted to defend himself.  He acknowledged that God was in control of everything, and was confused that God had afflicted him so.  He does not apologize for complaining, as he says that “even animals do not complain without a reason”.  He again reveals his thought that he wanted God to kill him rather than punish him with continuing to live the life he now has.  Beginning in 6:14 Job expresses disappointment in his friends.  He had hoped they would comfort and encourage him.  Instead they cast shame on him.  He challenged them to refute his claims of unfair afflictions.  {Remember this was a desperate man, sick and sleep-deprived.  He was in no mood to mince his words for the sake of sparing someone’s feelings.}  In chapter 7 Job concluded his speech with a prayer to God.  He begged God for relief, and suggested that God had been cruel to him.  He added that soon he would be in his grave, beyond God’s reach.  (There were spiritual truths Job was not yet aware of.)

Next Post  -  Bildad Speaks

Sunday, October 27, 2013

CXCVII - Job Chapter 2 - Job Further Afflicted

In the last post we saw what a righteous man Job was.  He was very wealthy and had a loving family.  His reputation among men was impeccable.  God acknowledged Job as a Godly man.  Satan enters the scene and says that Job would curse God if all of those blessings were taken from him, so God allows Satan to deal with Job as he saw fit, but he was not allowed to take Job’s life.  Satan simply wanted Job to curse or insult God.  Satan would have gotten much pleasure and a sense of victory from that.  After Job had lost all of his possessions, including his family (except his wife) he still praised God.  This brings us to chapter 2.  {The book of Job contains forty-two chapters.  The last post covered only one chapter and this one will cover only one also.  But then the study of this book will speed up considerably, as there is much conversation among Job and friends.}

Chapter 2

This chapter’s first three verses are identical to those in the first chapter.  God is holding council with His angels and Satan interrupts.  God inquires once again about Job.  Satan responds “Skin for skin!”  I’ve never quite understood that phrase, although I can picture him saying it in a snide and disrespectful tone.   He went on to say to God that Job wasn’t put to a real test by merely taking his possessions away, but if his health was threatened, he would surely “curse You to Your face”.  God responds in verse 6, telling Satan that he could go ahead and afflict Job physically but he could not kill him.  {It is my contention that Satan would still have been displeased with this limitation placed on him.  Satan is cruel.  He wants people to forsake God and His goodness.  If he cannot persuade people to forsake God, he wants to kill them, taking their influence away from others around them.  That is Satan’s purpose for roaming the earth.  He wants God’s greatest creation to be a failure.  Satan is alive and well, powerful and determined.  He is a formidable enemy.  One of the things that makes him most dangerous is the fact that he is desperate.  He is desperate because he knows his fate, which is defeat.  He has read the Holy Scripture and knows it better we do.  He realizes that Jesus will personally and permanently defeat him, but Satan will go down swinging, causing as much grief and destruction as he can up to the very moment he is destroyed.}

Verse 7 suggests that Satan wastes no time.  He afflicts Job with painful sores from head to toe.  {I think this is the last mentioning of Satan in the entire book of Job.}  In various verses in the remainder of the book it suggests that this physical affliction is much like an extreme case of leprosy.  It indicates that his body and even his breath had an unpleasant odor.  His sores were painful and itched constantly, making him suffer every minute and preventing any comfortable sleep.  There were no medicines that could cure or relieve the painful symptoms of this disease.  Job was in a pitiful state.  Verse 8 tells us that Job removed himself from society when it says he sat among the ashes.  Research tells us that this could have been a quarantined area where lepers went.  Or perhaps it was outside the city in a trash dump that they burned.  (The trash dump reference makes more sense because his friends would not have been allowed in a quarantined area.)  He took a broken piece of pottery and scraped his skin.  This tells me that he itched so badly that it took something like this to scratch his skin enough to relieve the itch.  Others suggest that this was a further sign of mourning.  Perhaps also, Job may have placed himself in the trash dump as a sign that he accepts the status of garbage to be discarded.  {Although he is mistaken in his thoughts about himself, he is sinking into a state of self-loathing.}

In verse 9 his wife approaches him.  She tells him to curse God and die.  {Let’s not be too hard on her.  She has lost all of her riches.  All of her children and grandchildren are dead.  She is poor, full of grief, and confused as to why this has happened to her and her husband.}  His response to her was one that could only come from a Godly man like Job.  He said, “Should we accept the good from God and not the bad?”  He did not call her a wicked woman, but rather a foolish one, indicating one who is without understanding.  In verse 10 it says Job never once said anything disrespectful to or about God.

Verses 11-13  -  Job’s Friends Arrive

Verse 11 starts with the arrival of Job’s friends.  The timing is not given but it is reasonable to assume that there has probably been weeks passed since Job’s physical affliction.  Back in those times news traveled slowly and physical travel itself even more slowly.  His friends are Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.  Research tells us that these three friends are from far away.  Most scholars identify Eliphaz as being from Edom in the southwest of Job’s home.  Bildad was considered to have come from the far-east.  Zophar was from northwestern Arabia.  {It is safe to assume that these three men were men of prominence, on the same socio-economic level that Job had been before Satan attacked him so severely.}   These three had heard about what had happened to Job.  They met together and decided to go to Job and sympathize and try to comfort their friend.  They are to be commended for such a show of friendship.  Verse 12 tells us that when they saw Job from a distance they could hardly recognize him.  As they got closer and saw his pain and affliction, they wept for him.  They tore their clothes and poured dirt on their heads as an outward show of grief in Job’s behalf.  Then in verse 13 (I am soooo impressed with these three men.)  They sat down with their friend and didn’t say a word for seven days.  They sat in silence out of respect for their friend’s suffering.  {Picture this if you can.  We can learn some lessons here.  Only the very luckiest of us could be blessed with friends like these.}

Next post  -  Job Breaks His Silence

Friday, October 25, 2013

CXCVI - The Book of Job

The Book of Job

Author:  Unknown
Place:  Land of Uz, which is somewhere in Mesopotamia located southeast of Syria and northwest of Saudi Arabia.

We’ve completed the books traditionally categorized as the History books of the Bible.  In the next five books, Job through Song of Solomon, are books categorized as “Poetry and Wisdom”.  Job is considered by many scholars to be the oldest book in the Bible.  I’m not sure I understand that reasoning.  Job is a very righteous man who endures suffering brought on him directly from Satan himself.  This book looks deeply into the soul of Job.  We will see much conversation between Job and some friends of his who I believe are sincerely trying to help Job, although most of their comments are anything but helpful as Job finds himself in a defensive mode.  This book is lengthier than Esther and not quite so entertaining, but you may find this to be an interesting read, although frustrating at times if you are the type of individual who is able to place your mind into that of Job.

Chapter 1

Verses 1-5  -  These first five verses describe this man Job.  He was “blameless and upright”.  He feared God and shunned evil, which means he tried to live a perfect life in the sight of God and man, and he had sense enough to steer clear of anything that might tempt him to sin.  He was successful in everything he did.  He had a large family, seven sons and three daughters.  And he was extremely wealthy.  His wealth was listed in verse 3, and goes on to say he was the richest man among all people in the east.  His family was strong and united.  They celebrated each other’s birthdays with feasts.  Job loved his family and would make daily sacrifices for his children “just in case they might have sinned”.  Job was a shining example of a Godly man.

Verse 6 – The scene abruptly changes.  I would describe this scene as something of a council assembly where God has gathered angels to give account of themselves.  And lo and behold, in comes Satan himself, hoping to disrupt.  {This is the first mention of Satan by name in the Bible.  Some interpretations call him “the adversary”, but the meaning is the same.  It is the devil as we know him.  The devil is not to be underestimated.  He was a very powerful angel who fell from grace because he wanted to be like God.}  The Lord asks him where he has been, and Satan tells Him that he has been on earth, roaming back and forth.  {He was on the earth because this is where he can cause the most trouble.  It indicates in Genesis that man is God’s most precious creation, therefore Satan’s favorite target.  We generally do not like to picture Satan in the presence of other angels, but this book of Job proves that it happens.  There is a whole lot going on up there all of the time.}  I think Satan is in a boastful mood, proud to accuse man as being a disappointment to God, but God says in verse 8 “Have you considered Job?”  He goes on to compliment Job as an example of good in man.  In verses 9-11 Satan responds and says (I paraphrase) “sure Job acts perfectly.  Why not?  You have blessed him with family and riches.  And You have protected him against all of the evil that exists on earth.  But destroy everything he has, and he’ll curse You”.  But God has confidence in Job.  He gives Satan permission to afflict Job, but forbids him to take his life.  So Satan can do anything to Job except kill him.  Satan departs, anxious to inflict evil and unhappiness on this righteous and Godly man.

Verses 13-22  -  The scene changes again.  It says “one day”, which could be the very next day.  All members of Job’s family were enjoying a feast at his oldest son’s house.  Job was not in attendance.  Suddenly, four messengers, one right after another, came to report events to Job, all four being the soul survivors of these four tragedies:

     1)    Southern Arabians raided Job’s oxen and donkeys, stealing them and killing Job’s
          servants who were tending them.
     2)    Then a fire came down from the sky and burned up all the sheep and Job’s shepherds.
     3)    The Chaldeans stole all of Job’s camels and killed his servants who were with them.
     4)    And finally, a wind blew down his oldest son’s house, killing his entire family, except
          Job and his wife.

This account does not take a breather to describe how Job responded to each individual tragedy as it was reported to him.  I don’t think Job had a chance to reflect on any of them before another report came to him.  But in verse 20 we see how he responded to them all collectively:  He tore his clothes, shaved his head, (both are signs of mourning) then fell to the ground and worshiped God.  The words Job spoke in verse 21b have been echoed throughout the generations:  “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.”  And he goes on to say, “may the name of the Lord be praised”.  {Although it is difficult, try to imagine what is going through Job's mind.  Are any of us capable of such a Godly response to a series of overwhelming tragedies like Job just suffered?}  Verse 22 says that in all of this, Job did not sin by placing blame on God.

Next post  -  More Affliction on Job

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

CXCV - Finishing Esther

I hope you have enjoyed reading this book.  It is a short and interesting story.  The story line is easy to follow and the main characters are easy to relate to, even the evil Haman.   A brief character study of Queen Esther would reveal her wisdom, courage, and patience.  We are to conclude also that she was a Godly woman, as she must have been attuned to God and His guidance as she carried out the difficult task of having the king of Persia override his own decree in behalf of the Jews.  Our last post ended chapter 7 with Haman being hanged on the gallows he had specially made for Mordecai the Jew.

Chapter 8

Verses 1-2  -  The king gave all of Haman’s property to Esther (it was a substantial estate, as we know Haman was very good at gathering valuable possessions for himself).  Esther appointed Mordecai as proprietor of the estate.  Also, the king gave to Mordecai the position of authority that Haman had, making him second in command in the entire Persian Empire.  He also gave him his signet ring.  In a matter of hours, Mordecai went from a man sentenced to death, to a man of wealth and prominence.  Verses 3-8 address a problem that still existed:  The decree from the king that on an appointed day, all Jews were to be killed throughout the empire which included 127 provinces.  Esther pleaded with Xerxes to resend the order, which by law, could not be done.  However, he gave Esther and Mordecai the authority to make and post another decree, which would override the first one.  In verses 9-14 tells how the new decree was issued with desperate speed.  Royal horses (the fastest) were used by the couriers to post this new decree throughout the empire.  This decree allowed the Jews to defend themselves.  It also gave them permission to kill their enemies and plunder their possessions.  This law was effective the same day that Haman appointed for the Jews to be killed, which was the fourteenth day of the Jewish month of Adar.  {Adar is the last month on the Jewish calendar.  It falls during our traditional months of February and March.  It is still known as the month of celebration, dating back to Esther and Mordecai.}  In the last three verses of chapter 8 we see Mordecai dressed in royal colors, showing his position in the empire, which was second only to the king himself.  It restates the celebrating that took place both because of Mordecai’s vindication and that the Jews were freed from their fate of death caused by Haman.

Chapter 9

This chapter opens with the Jews acting on their new-found freedom to engage their enemies.  Verses 5-10 tell of the Jews killing many people on that day.  {I believe they counter-attacked all of those who were acting in response to Haman’s original decree.  Remember, the new decree did not indicate the Jews were to be aggressors, but rather gave them permission to defend themselves.}  It is interesting to note in this passage that, although the king gave them permission to plunder the possessions of their enemies, the Jews did not do that.  That was a decision which turned out to be a good investment, as all the people of the land gained much respect for the Jews because of this, thus treating them with more respect from that time forward.  {If these Jewish leaders were students of Israel’s History, they might have made this decision because of the disobedience of Israel’s first king, Saul.  This comes from I Samuel 15.  Saul’s battle was with the Amalekites, Haman’s ancestors.  Saul disobeyed God two ways:  He took some of the plunder for himself and his troops, and he allowed king Agag to live.  Haman was a direct descendant of Agag.}  This passage states specifically that they killed all ten of Haman’s sons, which leads us to the next passage in which the king asks Esther what more she would ask of the king.   She told him that she wanted him to hang the bodies of Haman’s ten sons on gallows for the citizenry to see, thus suppressing any further aggression against the Jews.  In the next four verses we see that the king granted an additional day that the Jews were allowed to attack and kill their enemies in the province of Susa only.  After these two days, the Jews rested, then celebrated their freedom and military victories.  Also note in verse 19 that this would be a time every year marked as a date for celebrating and giving gifts to each other.  {I believe the purpose of this was that people would give gifts to the poor:  Gifts mainly being food, so the poor could celebrate along with those more well off.

Verse 20-32  -  Purim

{Note the word Purim was used because Haman used Purim stones (like rolling dice) to determine the day for killing Jews.}

Mordecai was aware of the importance of all that had taken place, and the celebration of the Jews was appropriate; so much so that he and Esther decided this should be an event to be remembered throughout future generations.  So they sent out an official announcement that this celebration would take place every year on the fourteenth day of Adar, to commemorate God’s deliverance from their enemies.  And the celebration would include the giving of gifts.  {Although it might be considered one of the “lesser” of the Jewish holidays, it is still celebrated to this day during the month of Adar.  On the 13th, Jews fast, calling it the “Fast of Esther”.  The 14th and 15th are considered happy days of celebration.  The book of Esther is read aloud to the children, gifts are exchanged among friends, generous gifts of food are presented to the poor, and everyone enjoys a feast.  This holiday is considered a “favorite” among Jews, especially the Jewish children, as there are costumes worn and many children-like plays performed, making fun of the evil Haman.}

Chapter 10

The final chapter of this wonderful book of Esther consists of only three verses.  It’s telling us that things in the empire somewhat returned to normal.  The king continues to levy taxes on the citizens.  But there is one thing different than in the recent past:  The Jews were no longer persecuted by the government or its citizenry.  Mordecai remained as second in command in the Persian Empire, and he continued to honor his calling to serve and protect his people within the empire.  It mentions in the second verse that Mordecai’s whole story was to be placed in the annuls of the kings of Media and Persia, sealing it in its proper place for generations to come.

Next Post  -   The book of Job

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

CXCIV - Esther 5-7

Haman the Amalekite, having a generations-old hatred for the Jews, has used his powerful position to trick the king of Persia into having all Jews throughout the Persian Empire to be put to death.  Mordecai has persuaded Esther to appeal to the king to withdraw this decree.  Esther realizes such an appeal to the king could risk not only her standing as queen, but also her very life.  She appeals to Mordecai to have the whole Israelite population to fast and pray for her as she plans to approach the king, which brings us to chapter 5.

Chapter 5

After three days of fasting Esther put on her royal dress and prepared to address the king.  Let’s remember why she was chosen to be queen:  She was beautiful and had a sweet demeanor.  The king had not seen Esther for a month.  When he saw her and her beauty, he immediately granted her audience with him.  In verse 3 he asked her what she wanted and that he would give her anything, up to half of the kingdom.  But Esther was careful not to rush into the subject of the Jews quite yet.  {To ask a king to withdraw a decree was risking the interpretation of suggesting the king was wrong.  These kings, including Xerxes, had large egos.  Such a suggestion could ignite anger, and Esther was frighteningly aware of this.}  So her request was that the king attend a banquet she had specially prepared for him and Haman.  The king responded immediately (vs 5).  At the banquet the king had much wine and again asked Esther what she wanted the king to do for her.  Her response in verse 8 was that both the king and Haman would join her for yet another banquet on the following day, at which she would reveal to the king her special request.

Note in verse 9 that Haman was elated when he left the banquet for only him and the king, with an invitation to yet another one the next day.  He just couldn’t wait to hear what Esther wanted and knowing Haman’s egotistic character, he probably thought there was going to be something really great in store for him.  But this positive feeling was suddenly replaced by feelings of hatred.  As he was on his way home from the banquet he saw Mordecai, and again Mordecai did not bow down to Haman.  {Haman probably would have taken the time to punish Mordecai but he was too anxious to get home and brag about the events of the day, as evidenced in the following verses.}  But he goes on and tells his wife Zeresh how Mordecai cast a dark shadow on Haman’s glorious day.  Zeresh tells him to go ahead and kill Mordecai now instead of waiting for the king’s appointed day.  She tells him to “have a pole set up”, which means to build gallows on which Mordecai would be hanged or beheaded, whichever was the Persians favored method of execution.  She even stresses to have the gallows built higher than normal so as to make an example of Mordecai, yet enhancing Haman’s position of power throughout Persia.

Verse 6

{Quick note:  In the first blog posting on the book of Esther (CXCII) was the story of Mordecai saving the life of the king by reporting to him an assassination plot, and I ended the post with the comment that the Scripture did not indicate that Mordecai was rewarded for saving the king’s life (which was the custom of the day), but God would see to it that Mordecai would be rewarded.  This chapter will reveal that God never forgot Mordecai.}

During the night before the second banquet, the king had trouble sleeping so he ordered in a reading of the chronicles of his reign thus far.  {We do not know why the king could not sleep. We do not know why he chose to read the books of official records.  Maybe he thought that they were very dull and would make him sleepy.   But one thing we do know:  All of this was part of God’s plan.} The reading told of Mordecai saving the king’s life, but revealed that Mordecai was not properly rewarded.  The king thought perhaps the reward was overlooked in the chronicles and asked his officers the following morning what reward was given Mordecai, at which they responded, “Nothing”.  At this particular time the king noticed Haman approaching the palace and in verse 6 he asked Haman, “What should be done for the man who the king wants to give special honor?”  Although the king was talking about Mordecai, Haman of course thought it was himself who the king wanted to give special honor.  As you read Haman’s response in vss 8-9 you see that Haman is describing a parade through the city with Haman dressed in royal regalia riding the king’s horse.  Haman must have been shocked beyond description when (vs 10) the king instructs him to do for Mordecai exactly as Haman had described.  Haman obeyed the kings orders (hating every minute of it) then went home to grieve to Zeresh and others close to him.  Haman sought council from Zeresh and his family plus other confidants.  He was frustrated and desperate to do something to reverse this terrible trend of events.  But before he had much time to discuss this, the king’s eunuchs arrived to escort Haman to the banquet Esther had prepared for him and the king.

Chapter 7  -  Haman’s Final Reward

God gave Esther wisdom.  By her actions of holding not one, but two special banquets, while withholding from the king her request until “just the right time”, made the king more and more curious.  At this second banquet the king drank much wine and had enjoyed a delicious meal, both of which made him in a good mood.  He then (vs 2) asked Esther what is was that she wanted.  She finally told him.  She requested that he spare her people.  She went on to say that if he had simply enslaved her people into servitude, she would have kept silent, but he had called for the annihilation of all of the Jews.  King Xerxes realized he would not have imposed such a dreadful thing, and asked who was responsible for this travesty.  In verse 6 Esther answered, “This vile Haman”.  The term “vile” indicated deceitful and cunning.  The king got up in a rage and went out of the room to think.  He needed time to reflect on this.  He felt he had been duped (which he had been) and felt foolish.  {Kings don’t like to feel foolish.}  Haman realized things were rapidly turning against him and he suddenly feared for his life.  He knew the king had discovered that Haman’s actions were little more than a plot in which he used the king for his own hateful purposes.  He also recognized the powerful influence that Esther had with the king, so he begged Esther to spare his life.  Unfortunately for Haman, Xerxes re-entered the room just as Haman was kneeling at the seat of Esther, at which time Haman stumbled and it appeared as though he was disrespecting her (vs 8).  The king was infuriated even more.  The remaining verses tell that Haman was immediately taken away and hanged on the very gallows he had built for Mordecai.

Next post  -  Finishing Esther

Sunday, October 20, 2013

CXCIII - Esther 3-4 - The Evil Haman

In the last post we have seen three of the main characters of this book:  Xerxes, king of Persia, Esther who is now his chosen queen, and Mordecai, Esther's father by adoption.  In this post we will be introduced to the fourth main character, Haman.  {Haman was a descendant of Amalek, the grandson of Esau, born of a concubine.  The Amalekites were enemies of the Israelites dating back to the early years of Moses leading the Israelites through the wilderness.  It was the first battle that Moses fought as leader of Israel after the Exodus.  The Amalekites would not allow the Israelites to pass through their land, forcing Moses to go way south out of their way on the Sinai Peninsula.  Later, when the Amalekites attacked Israel, Moses sent Joshua to lead Israel into battle, and when Moses held up his staff, Joshua was victorious.  Aaron and Hur actually helped Moses hold up his staff until victory was achieved.  The Amalekites' hatred of Israel had be passed down through the generations, and landed on Haman.}  To keep a perspective a time, Esther was made queen four years after Vashti was deposed.  The events in chapter 3 happened five years later.  So in this chapter we will have covered nine years.

Chapter 3 - Haman puts his hatred into action

Haman the Amalekite had found much favor in the eyes of the king.  So much so, that the king appoints him to the position of "Prime Minister", making him the second most powerful man in the empire.  {But Haman must have been a huge egotist.  He issued a command in the king's name that all citizens, including royal officials, to kneel down to him when they came into his presence.  What kind of personality would it take to make such a command?}  But Mordecai, being a loyal Jew refuses to bow down before Haman.  {The Midrash informs us that Haman wore a necklace with a large idol, which probably was one of the main reasons Mordecai refused to bow down before him.  The Midrash is an old Hebrew set of commentaries about the History of Israel.}  Verse 5-->  Mordicai's refusal to bow down angered Haman, firing up an age-old hatred for the Jews.  Haman would not be satisfied with killing only Mordecai, but would seek to have all Jews killed.  So Haman takes a large sum of money to King Xerxes and somehow persuades the king to issue a death sentence for all Jews in the entire empire of Persia, which meant the entire Jewish population.  But notice in verse 8 that Haman did not name the Jews as the people that should be killed.  He told Xerxes that "a certain people" were separating themselves from the assimilation to Persia, poisoning minds throughout the kingdom.  So the king was persuaded to eliminate this group of people who were causing  dissension and disrespect to the empire.  Verse 13 tells us that he was specific, even mentioning that "all Jews - young and old, women and children" were to be killed.  And he specified the date this was to take place.  {I wonder why he would state the date that it was to take place.  Perhaps to give time for all of the executioners to prepare.  Perhaps for gallows to be built.  Perhaps Haman wanted it to happen all at the same time so he could celebrate the occasion.}  Haman directed the decree to make certain it was carried out, even mentioning that all of the languages were covered so as not to allow any miscommunication.  {These people have faced annihilation so many times, most recent of which was Hitler's attempt in WWII.}  In the last verse of this chapter we see that all of the palace officials and those close to the king were confused as to why such a command was issued, but Xerxes and Haman sat down and drank, very happy with what has just transpired.  Haman was proving himself to be a dangerous man and the officers of the court were beginning to realize it.

Chapter 4  -  Mordecai Seeks Help From Esther

When Mordecai heard of this he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth, poured dust over his head, and wept loudly and bitterly, which was the traditional actions to show extreme mourning.  There was mourning among the Jews throughout the empire, as the date that this would happen was written on the announcements.  In verse 4, Esther learns of Mordecai's mourning and sends Hathak her eunuch to find out what was troubling him.  Mordecai explains to Hathak in detail and even hands him a copy of the decree that has been posted throughout the kingdom.  Mordecai told Hathak to tell Esther to plead with the king for mercy.  Esther sent Hathak back to Mordecai with her response, which disappointed Mordecai.  She explained the king's rule about being approached by someone he did not summon.  Someone approaching the king without the king sending for him/her was a crime, punishable by death.  {Xerxes was no Cyrus.  Cyrus set an excellent example of leadership.  Xerxes was simply drunk with power, changing his mind constantly, giving no direction for his kingdom and promoting fear throughout.  With a leader like this, if one should so happen to be on the wrong side of politics, at the wrong time, he could find his life in danger.}  (Vs 13) Mordecai's response to this bad news was quick and scathing.  He told Esther not to be fooled into thinking that she would escape death as this wave of death was about to begin.  Also he told her in verse 14 that perhaps this was the purpose of God making her queen to begin with:  To save her people.  Then in the final verses of this chapter 4, Esther realizes that she must approach the king and try to persuade him to withdraw his decree, but she was afraid for her life.  She asked Mordecai and all of Israel, "to fast and pray for her, after which she will go to the king, even though it is against the law".  Then she adds, "And if I perish, I perish".

Next post  -  Esther Appeals to the King

Saturday, October 19, 2013

CXCII - The Book of Esther

Author:  Unknown - Many believe it to be Ezra or Mordecai (I lean toward Mordecai)
Date:  About 465 BC, after Zerubbabel's return to Jerusalem but prior to Ezra's return

As mentioned before, this book breaks the chronological order of the Bible.  This goes back in time about seventy years before the time at the end of the book of Nehemiah.

I must mention a few things about this book of Esther before we proceed.  A student of the Bible should be aware of these things.  It has been greatly disputed that this book should even be included in the Holy Bible.  Although it is of course considered a true story, many ancient scholars considered it nothing more than a that:  A story.  They had legitimate concerns.  God is not mentioned in the entire book.  The king of Persia is mentioned over a hundred times.  The book of Esther is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible.  I understand these concerns, but it is not my place to question anything about such matters.  The Bible as it currently stands, which includes the book of Ester, has passed the test of time.  I shall give it the respect I give all of the books of this magnificent work of God we call the Holy Bible.  Besides, this story is interesting to read.  Also, it tells of good triumphing over evil, and how God continued to watch over His people, even when they were in a foreign country far from the Promised Land.  {It's a slippery slope to place anything like this into question.  I've observed over the years that those who allow doubt to enter their minds concerning anything in the Bible seldom leave it at one particular item.  It always seems to spread to other things in the Bible.  As this happens, people are inclined to "pick and chose" parts they embrace according to their own understanding (or desires).  I would caution against giving these things a foothold.  I mention only them because I promised you I would leave nothing out.}

Chapter 1  -  Queen Vashti Punished

I like the way this book begins:  Verse 1a says, "This is what happened during the time of Xerxes".  The timing was the third year of King Xerxes's reign.  The Persian Empire was well established as the "world power', ruling over 125 provinces (or territories).  Xerxes decided to give an elaborate banquet for his military leaders, nobles, and officers of his court.  This banquet (party) would last 180 days (WOW).  Verse 4 indicates to me the purpose of this, which was to display (show off) his wealth, power, and majesty.  Upon the completion of the 180 days, he then throws another party that lasted 7 days.  This would have been for a smaller group and was held in his royal garden.  Verses 6-8 describe the extravagance of this party.  Verse 9 mentions Queen Vashti for the fist time, telling that she also gave a banquet for the women.  (I guess there were no women invited to the king's private banquet.)

Verses 10-22 The Queen's Disobedience

On the seventh day of the king's party, he had a lot of wine to drink and was in "high spirits".  He calls for his eunuchs to bring Queen Vashti out to his party so he could "show her off", as she was very beautiful.  {It mentions that he specified her to wear her royal crown (vs 11).  There are some scholars who suggest that he wanted her to wear ONLY her crown.  I am inclined to believe this because of her immediate refusal to do what otherwise seemed to be a reasonable request from her husband the king.}  She refused.  This made Xerxes extremely angry.  {Kings were not accustomed to even the smallest hint of disobedience.  The power of the Persian kings was immeasurable.  Such power is intoxicating.  Very few people can handle such power without abusing it.}  To add to the king's displeasure, this disobedience was witnessed by the men who were most important to the king.  Also, this story of disobedience would quickly spread throughout the empire.  This would have caused embarrassment to the the king and to the throne of Persia.  The king knew that something must be done.  So he turned to wise council for guidance as to what he could do (damage control).  His councilors' assessment of the results of what the queen did was not favorable.  They concluded that this would cause all of the women in the empire to rebel against their husbands, which could cause a collapse in the "proper order" of the society.  They went on to suggest a plan of action.  They advised the king to issue a royal decree that would punish the queen for her actions.  The queen would no longer be
allowed in the presence of the king, and she would be stripped of all authority and benefits attached to the position of queen.  In fact she would be replaced as soon as it could be arranged.  They were careful also that this decree was to cover the entirety of the empire, and even making certain that it was issued in every language so as to eliminate the possibility of misunderstanding.

Chapter 2  -  Esther

As time passed, it seems that the king missed having a queen, and his countenance showed he was troubled by it.  His councilors once again gathered to work on this problem.  They suggested that all of the provinces would place forth their virgins from which a queen could be selected.  Hegai, one of the higher ranking eunuchs, would be placed in charge of the whole selection process.  This would be quite an undertaking, involving hundreds, if not thousands of women.

In verse five the subject shifts, and Mordecai is mentioned for the first time.  Mordecai was among the Israelites brought from Babylon to Persia after Cyrus defeated the Babylonian empire.  It mentions in verse 7 that Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah whose parents had died.  Mordecai adopted here as his own child.  Hadassah was also known by the name of "Esther".  The Scripture says Esther "had a lovely figure and was beautiful".  Esther, being a beautiful virgin was taken into the presence of Hegai, who immediately chose her to be among those presented to the king.  For those chosen as "finalists", much was done in preparation.  They were given seven attendants to assist them and for a whole year they were given beauty treatments and special food (vs 12).  Per Mordecai's instructions, Esther was not to reveal her family History as he was certain that a Jewess would never have been selected, as they were all slaves rather than free citizens of the empire.  After the year of beauty treatments, she was taken into the king's harem.  (vs 14b) She would not return to the king unless he was pleased with her and summoned her by name.  But the king was attracted to Esther more than any of the other women.  He made her queen.  So please with her was the king that he threw a banquet to celebrate.  {It mentions that this took place in the seventh year of king Xerxes, which would be four years after queen Vashti had been deposed.}

Verses 19-23  -  Mordecai Spoils Conspiracy

In the remaining verses of this chapter 2, the subject shifts back to Mordecai.  He raised Esther from her early childhood.  He considered himself to be her father.  And, like fathers do, he kept close track of her.  This passage has him right outside the palace during this banquet, apparently hoping to catch a glimpse of Esther and her happiness.  {Fathers do that.  I've always gotten indescribable joy out of seeing my daughter and my son being happy.  That now includes my precious grandchildren.}  During this time when Mordecai was "hanging around" right outside the king's gate, he overheard two of the king's officers plotting to kill the king.  Mordecai somehow got this information to Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, being careful to make sure the king knew it was Mordecai who deserved all the credit.  An investigation revealed that what
Mordecai had reported was true.  The conspirators were put to death.  {It does not indicated that Mordecai was rewarded for his actions that might have actually saved the king's life, but God will see to it that Mordecai is justly rewarded later.}

Next post  -  The Evil Haman Enters the Scene

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

CXCI - Old Testament Timeline

We have just completed the book of Nehemiah in the last post.  Nehemiah was the last of the History books of the Bible.  I'm going to list a timeline below to show a brief chronology of events from creation to the end of the Old Testament, which is where we are right now in our study.  {Please bear in mind that EXACT dates have been under debate for centuries, but the dates below are chronologically accurate, therefore serving our purpose in this Bible study.}  The sixteen books of the Bible we've studied thus far are placed in basic chronological order.  They covered a period of approximately 3600 years.  The times of the remaining twenty-three books of the Old Testament fall within these 3600 years.  As we go through each of these remaining twenty-three books, I will try to remember to state where the book falls within these 3600 years so as to maintain a perspective of time.  For example, the next book we study will be Esther.  The events in Esther take place approximately 470 BC which is between the time of the first group of exiles returning to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel, and the second group returning with Ezra.


>  Approx. 4000 BC - Creation
>  Approx. 2300 BC - The Flood
>  Approx. 2000 BC - Abraham
>  Approx. 1900 BC - Israel settles in Egypt
>  1800 BC - Death of Joseph
>  1780-1380 - Egyptian Bondage/Slavery
>  1380 BC - Moses - The Exodus
>  1380-1340 BC - Wandering in the Wilderness
>  1340-1300 BC - Joshua Enters and Conquers the Promised Land
>  1300 BC - Twelve tribes allotted land
>  1300-1050 BC - The Judges
>  1050 BC - The Israelites insisted on having a king like other nations
>  1050 BC - Saul is made king of all twelve tribes of Israel
>  1010 BC - David conquers the land for the kingdom
>  970-930 BC - Solomon is the last king of the united Israel
>  930 BC - The nation Israel is divided
>  930 BC - Jeroboam becomes king of ten tribes (Israel)
>  930 BC - Rehoboam becomes king of two tribes (Judah)
>  722 BC - Israel falls and is taken captive by Assyrians
>  586 BC - Judah falls and is taken captive by Babylonians
>  537 BC - First exiles return from 70 years Captivity with Zerubbabel
>  522 BC - Temple construction stopped by opposition
>  520 BC - Rebuilding of Temple Resumed
>  516 BC - Temple Finished and Dedicated
>  458 BC - Second exile group returns to Jerusalem with Ezra
>  445 BC - Third exile group returns with Nehemiah, City of Jerusalem re-established
>  430 BC - Books of Nehemiah and Malachi written
>  *** 400 years of silence ***
>  2 BC - Birth of John the Baptist

Next post  -  The Book of Esther

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

CXC - Wrapping Up Nehemiah

In the previous post we saw how the Israelites observed the "Feast of the Tabernacles" with as much celebration and festivity as they could, even extending the time of the celebration beyond that which was stated in the Law.  We saw that upon the conclusion of this celebration that a group of Levites lead the people in an audible prayer.  They "called out with loud voices to the Lord their God".  The prayer was a brief History of the Israelite people since the time of Abraham.  They went on to seal their re-dedication to God with an official binding agreement.  The entirety of chapter 10 was to tell of the sincerity of these people toward God after Ezra had taught them the Scriptures.  Chapter 11 told us how Nehemiah took steps to re-populate the city of Jerusalem with Israelites from the territories of Judah and Benjamin.

As we finish our study of Nehemiah, we'll see in these last two chapters (12-13) that a whole lot is going to happen and a lot of time will have elapsed.  At the risk of being redundant with this phrase, we're going to see once again how much "LEADERSHIP MATTERS".

Chapter 12:1-9

After the wall has been rebuilt and Nehemiah has taken steps to return Jerusalem to its previous glory, he takes this opportunity of relative quiet to update records.  He recorded the names of the first priests and Levites to return from exile with Zerubbabel ninety-three years before Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem.  Note the name Jeshua as the chief priest at that time.

Then in verses 10-11 Nehemiah recorded the family of the chief priest. As I've mentioned before, it was important for Jews to know about their ancestors, especially the priests.  These family records had to be accurately maintained because according to the Mosaic Law, a man could only become a priest if he was genuinely documented as a descendant of Aaron, the brother of Moses. Therefore, the chief priests came from one family.  Then he goes on in verses 12-21 and records the names of the priests during his own time.  Verses 22-26 lists some of the Levites of prominence.  Important to note is that the only people who could serve as Levites must be documented to be descendants of Levi, the third son of Jacob by his first wife Leah.  (Aaron and Moses were of course descendants of Levi.)

Verses 31-37  -  The Dedication of the Wall

Try to picture in your mind the scene described in verses 31-37.  Nehemiah wants to have a dedication ceremony for the wall everyone had worked so hard to rebuild.  Nehemiah took the leaders of the people onto the top of the wall. He divided them into two groups. One group led by Nehemiah himself marched clockwise around the wall.  The other group led by Ezra marched counter-clockwise.  {Remember, the wall was 2.5 miles long.}  As they marched, they thanked and praised God.  The priests played musical instruments.  The entire population cheered them the whole way.  It says the celebration could be heard from far away (vs 43).  {Before the people had started to rebuild the wall, their enemies had laughed at them.  Tobiah had even said that a fox running on the wall would make it collapse.  Now the wall was so large and strong that large groups of people could march on it.}

Verses 40-43 - Both groups, having completed the march around the entire wall, met again at the Temple where they began.  I can only imagine the scene when both groups arrived at the Temple, one led by Nehemiah and the other led by Ezra.  Verses 44-47 tells of the people recommitting themselves to keeping the Temple, as they did in chapter 10:32-39.  They also made arrangements for the giving and collecting of tithes.  The poeple were in such a festive spirit, they gave additional gifts to other Levites such as the gatekeepers and musicians.

Chapter 13

Twelve years after the wall of Jerusalem was completed, Nehemiah returned to Persia.  I'm uncertain of the exact timing, but at some time later (vs 6), he asked the king to allow him to return to Judah. Upon his arrival, Nehemiah discovered that the people had gone astray.  That quickly.  {The proper leadership must be in place for a group of people, small or large, to conduct themselves properly and responsibly.  More on this down the road.}  In this chapter, we'll see just a few of the problems that had come about and how Nehemiah dealt with them.  This chapter opens with some ambiguous timing.  This seems to mean a particular day after Nehemiah returned to Judah. It seems that, until then, the people had neglected to read the law of God.  But on that particular day, they were confronted with the reading of the Law.  Then they knew that they had not obeyed God’s commands.  For example, God’s law said that they must never intermarry with the Ammonites and Moabites.  {The Ammonites and Moabites were descendants of Moab and Benammi, the sons of Lot (Abraham's nephew.  Remember Sodom?).  Moab and Benammi were born after Lot’s daughters made him sin (Genesis 19:10-38). The Ammonites and Moabites were always the enemies of the Jews, and when intermarriage with them took place, the respective Israelite families would always follow the pagan ungodly practices, leading them to dishonor God by committing the very practice God repeatedly warned them against.}  So, upon learning how wrong this was, the people obeyed God and
once again separated out all of those who intermarried.  {Back in previous posts on Nehemiah, we saw that they did not expel the families that had intermarried and accomplished assimilation from the foreigners that had entered into their families.  God still cared about the people from other nations.  In fact, God’s plan was to use the Israelites to bring all nations to a saving knowledge of God (Genesis 12:3).  So people from other nations could still serve the real God.  For example, Ruth was a Moabitess, but she became an ancestor of Jesus.  So God even allowed Moabites to join his chosen people if they believed, worshiped, and obeyed His commands.  (Ruth 1:16-22; 4:13-17; Luke 3:23-32.)}

Verses 4-9 tell of an irresponsible priest, Eliashib.  While Nehemiah was in Persia this priest allowed Tobiah (remember him?) to use a large room in the temple. It doesn't say exactly what Tobiah was using the room for, but all of the Temple rooms were to be used for the work of the Lord.  {Allow me a moment on this.  A member of Eliashib's family married into Tobiah's family  Tobiah was an Ammonite.  This is another great example of the how strong pagan influence can be.  Eiashib was the HIGH PRIEST!  The very one who should have been setting an example for the citizens of Judah and Benjamin.  Shortly before, all of the Israelites promised not to marry foreigners (Nehemiah 10:30)  Even the High Priest was behaving in an ungodly manner.}  Nehemiah must have been livid when he saw what was happening to the Temple.  Verse 8 tells me that Nehemiah actually acted out with his anger, which I would consider "righteous indignation".  He threw all Tobiah’s things out of the room, then had the Levites purify it.

Verses 10-13 tells of another problem Nehemiah discovered:  The people were not paying their tithes, which was in direct disobedience to God, plus the Levites were suffering shortages of provender as a result.  {The people should maintain the Law, but I place a lot of this blame on Eliashib the High Priest.  The people probably did not trust their tithes would be dealt with properly.  And along the same line, perhaps the room  that was given to Tobiah was a room that was supposed to be used for storing some of the tithes, making a shortage of space.  People notice and/or hear about things like this.  People in leadership positions MUST hold themselves to the highest of standards.}  I believe we see in verse 14 Nehemiah uttering a prayer out of frustration.  To paraphrase, He asks God not to let all his work go in vain.  He must be discouraged at this point.  Agree?

Verses 15-22  -  Another problem.  The people were not observing the Sabbath.  Business was being conducted on the Sabbath as though it was just another day.  Nehemiah ordered all marketing people and their wares to be removed from Jerusalem at the beginning of each Sabbath.  He then set guards at the gates.  The gates were to be closed and locked during the entirety of each Sabbath Day.  In the remaining verses of this book we see how out-of-control intermarriage had become and the destruction it was causing.  Nehemiah scolded these people who had allowed foreigners to influence them so much that half of the children (vs 24) spoke foreign languages instead of Hebrew.  Nehemiah was so disgusted he actually "beat some of the men and pulled out their hair".  In his frustration he spoke of the great Solomon.  To paraphrase, he told them that a man as great and Godly as Solomon wasn't immune from the evil influences of wives who were reared in a pagan family.  In verse 28 he mentions that the son of the High Priest was the son-in-law of Sanballat.  How saddened the beloved Nehemiah must have been.

Nehemiah ends this great book with a short and simple prayer, "Remember me with favor, my God".

Next Post  -  Esther

Sunday, October 13, 2013

CLXXXIX - Nehemiah 9-11

In the last post we saw that the wall and the gates were finished.  Nehemiah had organized the teaching of the Law to all of the Israelites in the region, using Ezra as the main teacher.  So, Nehemiah's work as originally planned was basically finished.  He could have returned to Persia where he would have enjoyed his former lifestyle which was one of status and luxury in the king's palace.  But he decided to stay in Jerusalem for a total of twelve years, knowing there was much to be done.

Chapter 9  -  A Review of the History of the Israelites

After they had celebrated the "Feast of Tabernacles" for even a longer period of time that allotted, the people then gathered together again.  But this time not for celebration, but rather for a sobering awareness of their sins and the sins of their ancestors.  They were sad. They fasted (did not eat), wore sackcloth (very scratchy burlap-type of material). and poured dust on their heads.  This was show of mourning and regret.  They were ready to pray and confess their sins to God.  It mentions in verse 2 that they also separated themselves from all people of foreign descent.  {The Israelites were big on "purity of blood".  They thought (for good reason) that this was extremely important.  They considered God to be the God of the Israelites only.  Not so.  Their God was the ONLY God.  He was the Creator.  The only thing exclusive about the Israelites was that they, as the descendants of Abraham, were God's chosen people.  Remember, God "chose" Israel to lead the lost world to the Living God.  But this thought about "exclusiveness" was ingrained in these people.  Four hundred years later the Apostle Peter had to be shocked into the reality that God was the God of the Heavens, the Earth, and the Universe, and everything therein, including Gentiles.  More about this later.}  A group of Levites (actually listed by name in verse 5) lead them in a prayer of confession and praise.  As you read this prayer in verses 5b-36 you will see how the Israelites throughout the generations had let down God, and God had always exercised compassion, forgiveness, and deliverance for His chosen people.  This was a good, howbeit brief, overview of their History dating back to their bondage in Egypt.  In the very last verse (38), the people proposed to the Levites that they make an official binding agreement with God.  They were serious with this, which is evidenced by the fact that they wanted the Levite priests to affix their seals onto it.

Chapter 10

This binding agreement was important to these people.  They meant business in the re-dedication of their lives to God and His Law.  The first 27 verses of this chapter actually gives a list of names of those who participated in sealing the agreement, the first of which was Nehemiah himself.  At this time in the NIV, Nehemiah had been referred to as the governor.  {I hadn't planned on spending much time on this chapter, but the steps these people took to prove their sincerity is noteworthy.  I believe there will be a revival such as this yet again, perhaps in my lifetime.}  After the binding agreement was made and officially sealed in the presence of all of Judah's leaders and the Levite priests as listed, they then made certain that ALL of the people shared in this promise.  In verses 28-29 it says that they then went to the priests, Levites, guards singers, servants in the Temple, Israelites who did not intermarry with pagan worshipers, and their families.  Then in remaining verses of the chapter they went over what they were promising in more specific terms than obeying the Law in general.

The promised :

>  We will not allow our daughters to marry the people who belong to the nations near us.
>  We will not allow their daughters to marry our sons.
>  The 7th day of the week will be a special holy day for us.
>  Every 7th year we will not farm the land and we will cancel all debts.
>  We will pay money every year to maintain the Temple
>  We will bring the best of their crops, their fruit and their animals to God.
>  We promise to pay tithes (one tenth of our crops and livestock)
>  We will provide for the Levites so they could perform their duties as stated in the Law.
>  We will never again neglect the Temple

I must note that there were many more specifics within the Law that could have been mentioned also, but I think this chapter sufficiently shows the sincere intent of these contrite people.

Chapter 11

As stated earlier the city of Jerusalem was sparsely populated.  Many Israelites came from the land of Judah and Benjamin to help rebuild the wall, but now it was time for them to return to their homes.  This would leave Jerusalem almost barren of Israelites again.  For a city to thrive and grow, it must have enough residents to create and maintain a local government and create an economy which would perpetuate growth.  Under the leadership of Nehemiah, they devised a plan to re-populate the "City of David".  They decided that one out of every ten families needed to relocate to Jerusalem.  Those families were selected through casting lots.  The Scripture makes of point of mentioning that the other ninety percent of the people expressed appreciation for these people willingly doing their part by giving up their homes in order to populate Jerusalem.  In verses 4b-24, Nehemiah lists people who were inhabitants of Jerusalem, including the descendants of Judah and Benjamin, the priests and Levites, the gatekeepers, the Temple servants, and the musicians.  {I'm glad these people were mentioned in these verses.  These were very important people who made personal sacrifices and even placed their own lives and the lives of their families in danger.  It's fitting that they are mentioned in the Holy Bible.  What bigger honor could be bestowed on them?}  In the remaining verses of this chapter Nehemiah records the names of towns and villages in Judah and Benjamin, which I believe was an effort to honor the people of those places who contributed so much.

Next post:  Wrapping Up the Book of Nehemiah

Saturday, October 12, 2013

CLXXXIII - Nehemiah 7-8

Nehemiah has accomplished so much since he arrived in Jerusalem, and under difficult circumstances.  He has dealt with problems both within and without Jerusalem and its inhabitants.  He has established himself as a more than competent leader.  He has gained confidence and respect among the Israelite people and the reigning Persian government.  But Nehemiah's work was not done.

Chapter 7

The Scripture has given us insight to what Jerusalem had become:  A city in shambles, reduced to a sparsely populated city that resembled a ghost town, dominated by bullying gangs of non-Israelites.  God had sent Zerubbabel to rebuild the Temple.  He sent Ezra to teach the Israelite citizens how they should be living and the Levites their responsibilities.  And He sent Nehemiah to rebuild the wall and the city itself.  It had taken fifty-two days to complete the wall (an amazing feat) and then they had completed the work of placing the doors on the ten gates, as it states in the first verse of this chapter 7.  Nehemiah proceeded to organize the
Levites and the other citizens of Jerusalem to establish and maintain order within the completed wall.  Nehemiah had a vision for what Jerusalem was to become, and that was simply for it to return to its former glory, as in the days of Solomon.  

So, all of the basic physical structure was in place, but there was still so much work to be done, and Nehemiah was just the man needed to continue the task of rebuilding not only the city of Jerusalem, but the nation of Israel.  In verse 4 it tells us the city was large and contained many buildings, but had few people as inhabitants.  Nehemiah says that God had placed on his heart to make a registry of all of the Israelites who were now in Jerusalem.  The remainder of this chapter documents those people and their lineage.

Chapter 8  -  One of my favorite chapters

Nehemiah wanted to make Israel into a proper nation of God’s people again.  So, back to basics.  And the basics (as always) was to reestablish the Law in the minds and hearts of the people of Israel.  The people needed to learn again about God’s commands.  Nehemiah was an excellent organizer and he knew that it would take much organization to see to it that all of the people would gain a working knowledge of God's Law.  No surprise that he chose the great teacher Ezra to read and expound on the Law to the entire population.  They built a high wooden platform for Ezra.  He stood on the platform while he read the law.  He was way above the people to give him the physical position needed to teach.  He read and taught for about 5 or 6 hours each day and the people listened.  Ezra had 13 Levites with him on the platform.  Every time Ezra opened the scrolls, all of the people stood up out of respect.  As they were learning the Law, they worshiped.  {As you read this chapter, it is easy to picture in your mind exactly what this was like.}  Look at verse 8.  As Ezra read the Scripture, he "made it clear and gave it meaning".  {That is what should happen in our Sunday School classes and our worship services.}  As the people were learning the Law and realizing the error of their ways, they were inclined to mourn for their past in a spirit of repentance, but Ezra and Nehemiah encouraged them to celebrate instead.  Celebrate the new beginning of their lives as knowledgeable and practicing citizens of the kingdom of God.  Through Ezra's teaching the people learned of the special holiday of the tabernacles (Leviticus 23:33-36) which lasted seven days and they were anxious to obey, as it was the perfect time to observe it.  {The purpose for this special day of observance was to keep the people in remembrance of their ancestors being released from bondage in Egypt, at which time they had to live in tents on their journey to the Promised Land.  This was particularly appropriate because, like their ancestors, these modern-day Israelites had been delivered from their bondage in Babylon.}  Continue to
envision what was happening.  These people were excited about learning about God and obeying Him once again.  They all went out to gather materials for building tents.  They built them and put them any place they could (vs 16), on roof tops, in courtyards, near the gates, any place they could find.  This holiday lasted seven days, all of which they continued to listen to Ezra teach the Scriptures.  Every day they listened and learned the Law and celebrated every time understanding took place.  What a scene.  {As I mentioned earlier, this always made me proud to be a Sunday School teacher like Ezra.}  As I envision this holiday being observed, I see great joy and relief on the faces of these people.  Nehemiah and Ezra must now begin to realize their efforts had not been in vane.  Jerusalem was well on its way to its former glory.

Next Post  -  Nehemiah's Work Continues

Friday, October 11, 2013

CLXXXII - Nehemiah 5-6

We've seen how Nehemiah has united all Israelites to the cause of rebuilding the wall around the city of Jerusalem.  His organizational skills were excellent.  He even scheduled the rotation of workers to stand guard at all sections of the wall and gates to protect against vandalism and violence brought on by Sanballat, Geshem,and Tobiah.  But chapter 5 introduces yet another problem that Nehemiah must address.

Chapter 5

Verses 1-5 speaks of some complaints from the Israelites who were working on the wall.  These complaints were legitimate.  There was greed among the more wealthy Israelites, trying to take unfair advantage of an opportunity to squeeze money out of the less fortunate.  There was a famine in the country at this time.  Whenever there was famine there was economic hard times on the middle and lower classes, much like it is today during economic downturns.  If their crops and vineyards were not producing, there was no money coming in to the families who worked this land.  (Very few people owned land, so most of the Israelites were like "tenant farmers".)  They had no money to buy food, pay rent, or pay taxes.  They had to borrow money from the wealthier Israelites, often their landlords.  Some of the poorer people who owned land were forced to sell their property in such times of famine.  When this happened, they would generally become tenant farmers on the land they once owned.  As we learned in the Law as stated in Deuteronomy, many paid their debts by offering themselves and/or their family members into slavery.  This was a bad situation and the people complained to Nehemiah.

Verses 6-13  -  When Nehemiah heard these complaints and realized what was going on he became angry.  But he handled the problem, not in anger, but rather with reasoning.  These verses tell how he gathered all the wealthy Israelites for a meeting.  Although diplomatic, he was matter-of-fact.  He stated the situation to them, then he declared in verse 9, "What you are doing is not right".  He preached a mini-sermon to them and they felt not only shame, but also the fear of reprisal from God Himself.  As the nobles agreed to cease these acts of greed, Nehemiah called in priests to stand witness to the oath taken by the nobles, yet further invoking a seal of legitimacy to their declarations.  Note in verse 14 that  King Artexerxes had made Nehemiah governor over the territory of Judah.  {If this was mentioned earlier, I didn't catch it.  I'm still not certain of the timing of this.  I suspect that the king had done this as a result of Sanballat's efforts to discredit Nehemiah.  Remember, Artexerxes was a wise and powerful king.}  In the remaining verses in this chapter 5 we learn more of the character of Nehemiah.  As you read these verses you will see that one more characteristic he had that made him a good leader was that he set the right example by the way he lived.  Although he was the governor, which in itself made Nehemiah an important man, he displayed a humble attitude.  {Again, he makes me think of Joseph, whom God rewarded for his humility, as Joseph became the most powerful human being in the History of civilization to date.  We as Christians should learn from these almost perfect examples, as many of us are called to leadership positions of varying magnitude.}  As governor, Nehemiah received food and provender from the king.  He also had the authority to tax the citizens as he saw fit.  Nehemiah did not tax his people as the previous governors had.  He did not even accept ownership of any land.  He shared his food with the citizens, as it states that as many as a hundred and fifty people shared his table during his twelve years as governor.  {The more I learn about this man, the more respect I have for him.}

Chapter 6  -  Stubborn Opposition

One thing to note early in this chapter that in fifty two days these people rebuilt that wall that was 8 feet thick, 40 feet high, and 2.5 miles long.  However, the gates were still being built and assembled at this time.  Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem are nothing if not persistent.  Keep in mind what was at stake for these gang leaders.  If Nehemiah is successful in reestablishing Judah as an Israelite territory, these bullies would no longer "rule the roost".  And they were smart enough to realize that the completion of the wall would be the most significant step in solidifying Israelite control.  Remember, Sanballat was careful not to engage Nehemiah in battle because he knew Artexerxes would send Persian troops which would annihilate these raiders.  So, Sanballat tried something else.  They sent Nehemiah four different letters asking him to meet with them.  Nehemiah refused as he knew they would probably do him harm.  Then, they sent him a fifth letter (vss 5-7), which said they were going to tell the Persian king that Nehemiah planned to make himself king of Judah, thus seceding from the Empire.  It was all lies, but Nehemiah prayed for God to strengthen him.  {Nehemiah never forgot where his strength came from.}  However there was a renewed sense of threat felt among the Israelite leaders, so they wanted to hide Nehemiah inside the Temple for safety.  But he
knew that if he hid, that would further embolden Sanballat and perhaps discredit Nehemiah's faith in God.  Verses 14-15 he prays to God, naming not only Sanballat and Tobiah, but also some of the prophets who were trying to intimidate him.  The remaining verses tell how the all of the opposition had become discouraged and all but gave up trying to stop Nehemiah.

Next Post  -  Wall and Gates Completed

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

CLXXXI - Nehemiah 3, 4

Nehemiah has proven himself to be a gifted leader as he has organized people, equipment, and materials for the task of rebuilding the wall around the city of Jerusalem.  He and a few chosen men had secretly inspected the entire wall at night, at which point I'm sure they then realized just what an overwhelming task this would be.  But Nehemiah knew his mission and went about it strategically and with resolve.  A bit about this wall:  It was about 8 feet thick, 40 feet high, and 2.5 miles long.  Imagine the enormity of such a project. And remember:  Nehemiah was a cup-bearer.  Not an engineer.  But God always chose the right people for His projects.  The leaders of such projects were seldom qualified other than faithfulness.

Chapter 3  -  Building Assignments

This chapter tells of how the project work was distributed.  The wall itself was in complete shambles to the point of being mostly just piles of rubble, and its gates were all burned away.  In this wall there were ten gates, all of which served a specific purpose, most of which is indicated by their names.  These ten gates by name were:

Sheep Gate (Ch 3 vs 1,32)
Fish Gate (vs 3)
Old Gate (vs 6)
Valley Gate (vs 13)
Dung (Refuse) Gate (vs 14)
Fountain Gate (vs 15)
Water Gate (vs 26)
Horse Gate (vs 28)
East Gate (vs 29)
Inspection Gate (vs 31)

 As you read this chapter, it is easy to see that Nehemiah would have been an encourager of people, having built a high level of enthusiasm among all of the Israelites in Jerusalem and all of Judah.  The project involved almost all Israelite citizens.  And, as we will see, he must continue to encourage these people as the task does not get any easier as the project progresses.  Note in these verses some of the people who were assigned the work.  Verse 8 indicates gold smiths and perfume-makers worked on sections.  Verse 12 says that young women did some of the work.  In verse 22 we see that priests and Levites came to Jerusalem from all of Judah to assist in this project.  Bear in mind that this was entirely voluntary.  I don't believe anyone got paid or were coerced in any way.  {If you take on a project that involves work for God and His kingdom, and find yourself coercing people to help, you have either chosen the wrong people or you are not the leader God has chosen.}

Chapter 4  -  More Opposition

So the project was under way.  Everyone had his/her assignments.  Nehemiah was making certain all supplies, materials, and equipment were where they needed to be.  As one gate or wall section was finished, he relocated the workers to assist in other sections.  And his most important duty was to give encouragement and keep all the workers focused.  But in this chapter we hear from Sanballat again.  {As mentioned in the last post, Sanballat knew he must be careful not to allow the king to know he is being an obstructionist to the royal order.}  In the first verses Sanballat and Tobiah ridiculed the quality of the work, saying in verse 3 that their work was so shabby that the wall would collapse if a fox ran onto it.  Nehemiah fought back with prayer.  Verse 6 tells how hard the people worked and at that point the wall was half way done.  But Sanballat and his cohorts would not give up so easily.  They continued to taunt and make threats.  In verses 10-12 we see that fatigue and fear started to have a negative impact on the workers.  {Fatigue has its affects on us.  We need rest as we proceed in our efforts to do God's work.  Also, fatigue casts a wide net, as in this case, it contributed in making the workers afraid.}  Nehemiah dealt with this by structuring protection into the work schedule as we see in the remaining verses of this chapter.

Next post - The Work Continues

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

CLXXX - Nehemiah

{Note:  I'm going to try to make these posts a bit shorter, so as to hopefully enhance effectiveness.}

Nehemiah was one of the very last History books of the Old Testament, which is why a clear understanding of the timeline up to this point is helpful.  The author of this book of the Bible is not known for certain.  Some scholars believe it to be Ezra.  Some believe Nehemiah himself wrote this book.  I am inclined to think it was Nehemiah, mainly because much of the text is written in the first person.  As mentioned before, Ezra and Nehemiah were originally one book.  Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah were three individuals God used for a number of things, not the least of which was initiating a revival among the Israelites in learning the Scriptures.  I happen to think this was their biggest impact on the History of civilization.  Remember, it had been almost a century since Israel had lived under Mosaic Law, and over five centuries since it had been done properly, nation-wide.  To bring the timing into perspective, let's examine the pertinent events and their timing as follows:

>  722 BC - Israel falls and is taken captive by Assyrians
>  607 Babylon destroys Assyrian Empire for a brief dominance of the region
>  586 Judah falls and is taken captive by Babylonians
>  539 Persia destroys Babylonian Empire and begins world dominance
>  537 First exiles return from 70 years captivity under the leadership of Zerubbabel, authorized by Persia's Cyrus the Great
>  516 Temple in Jerusalem rebuilt and dedicated    
>  458 Second exile group returns to Jerusalem under the leadership of Ezra
>  Now in the book of Nehemiah, we are at the year of 445 BC, approaching the 400 years of silence preceding the birth of Christ.

Nehemiah was the Persian king's cup-bearer.  This itself speaks highly of Nehemiah.  Nehemiah was not a Persian, but rather an Israelite.  A foreigner occupying such a position was indeed rare.  The principle duty of the king's cup-bearer was to personally taste of everything before the king consumed it.  This was done not only to approve of the flavor, but more importantly, to make certain the food or drink was not poison.  For centuries prior to this and for centuries ever since, Kings had personal cup-bearers.  Being the king's cup-
bearer was not only a position of importance,  it also offered a life of ease and honor.  Thus Nehemiah holding this position of cup-bearer makes me think he possessed many favorable characteristics, much like his ancestor Joseph.

Chapter 1  -  Nehemiah's Prayer

Although Nehemiah lived in ease, he was often discomfitted by his inquiries about Jerusalem.  He was most bothered by the fact that the walls of Jerusalem were in shambles.  {Back in those times, walls were protection against violent intruders, thus Nehemiah feared for their safety more than anything.}  He actually wept for those residents, as well as fasting for them, which brings us to his prayer in verse 5.  This man knows the Scripture and the Mosaic Law.  He references it in his prayer.  He confesses to God his own sins plus the sins of the people Israel.  Carefully read vss 8 and 9.  Nehemiah is calling on God to honor His own words.  {We find this often in both the Old and New Testaments.  Let's remember this.  Quoting Scripture to God in prayer is a powerful thing.}  

Chapter 2  -  The Opposition

A lot happens in this chapter.  In the very first verse we see how highly the king (Artexerxes) thought of Nehemiah.  The king notices that Nehemiah was sad and preoccupied about something.  The king asks him about it.  {Quick lesson to be learned here:  When we notice someone is "down", we should inquire, in a non-intrusive way, as an expression of concern.}  Nehemiah very briefly shares his concerns with the king (although he was fearful of doing so).  Artexerxes felt compassion for Nehemiah and simply asked in verse 4, "What is it you want?"  Nehemiah then mustered the courage to make a large request:  Allow him to go to his homeland and rebuild the walls and serve his people.  Not only did Artexerxes honor his request, but provided him timber and other materials with which to rebuild the wall.  Also the king provided him soldiers for protection during his journey back to Jerusalem.  In verse 10 we see an old evil name many of us are familiar with:  Sanballat.  Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem leaders of non-Israelites who did not want Nehemiah to succeed.  The Israelites at this time were weak and without leadership, thus represented no serious threat to Sanballat, who was nothing more than a bully in this region.  Sanballat wanted nothing to change.  He saw Nehemiah and his organized group as something that could disturb his self-proclaimed kingdom.  Evidently, Sanballat has been instrumental in Israel's failure to organize itself into the nation God had originally intended it to be.  Zerubbabel and Ezra are no longer on the scene.  Adding to Sanballat's concerns was the fact that Nehemiah had the king's blessings.  In verses 11--> Nehemiah chose a few trustworthy men and secretly at night inspected the entire wall surrounding Jerusalem.  His findings were as he suspected:  The walls lay in ruins; the gates had been burned to the ground.  Nehemiah proceeds to fire up and embolden all of the Israelites to begin rebuilding the walls.  {Nehemiah must have been a charismatic leader to have been able to encourage these people to such an undertaking.}  This chapter ends with Sanballat and his partners making threats and mocking the work of rebuilding the walls, but in the last verse (20) Nehemiah told them that "God will give us success".  He also told Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem
that they were no longer in charge of Jerusalem.  It was going to return to its proper Owner:  God.

Next post  -  Rebuilding the Wall