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Continuing on from Job 35 to the end of Job…
Elihu has just entered the picture. Again, where did he come from? He is not mentioned anywhere in the set-up of this story, but suddenly appears in chapter 32. His name means, “He is my God”. When introducing him it says that, “He burned with anger at Job because he justified himself rather than God.” However, it also says that he, “He burned with anger also at Job’s three friends because they had found no answer, although they had declared Job to be in the wrong.” (Job 32:2b-3)
Elihu had waited patiently, because he was younger than these men, but when he saw that Job’s friends had no answer for Job’s challenge to them, he decided it was now his time to speak. He first rebukes Job for challenging God. He defends God’s justice and reminds us that all things hold together through God saying, “If he should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.” (Job 34:14-15 ESV)
Through chapters 35, 36 and 37 Elihu condemns Job and exalts God. Finally in Job 38… God speaks!!
Job has longed to hear from God and now he will. Will he be proud of himself as a result?
Have you ever wanted to demand an answer from God?
If we were granted our desire to hear from Him directly, would it go well for us?
Let’s see how it goes for Job…
God begins with…
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:2-7)
God continues to set Job straight. Through two chapters God continues to remind Job that HE is God and that Job is but a man. Listen to the wisdom and humility of Job’s answer…
“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth.” (Job 40:4)
With Job’s silence, God continues to make His case through chapter 41. Finally Job gives an answer to God, concluding with, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore, I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6) This is the type of subjection we see in anyone in the Bible who encounters God. Isaiah trembled before Him in Isaiah 6 when we read of his encounter with the living God, and Job is no different.
God then turns His rebuke to Job’s friends while also commending Job in the process. Listen to his rebuke of Eliphaz the Temanite (probably the oldest of the 3), “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, AS MY SERVANT JOB HAS.” (Job 42:7)
So, God praises Job. He has not spoken ill of God, but God’s rebuke of Him has to do with the fact that he would even question God in the first place. In all that Job has spoken he has not spoken ill of God, but only what is right! Job maintained his integrity.
But God knew that Job would speak what is right; that he would maintain his integrity. Remember God’s description of Job in chapter 1? He said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Job is blameless, not perfect! Job practices the sacrifices of a righteous man. He also sacrificed for his children in case they had spoken ill of God. Job recognized that he was a man who would fail from time to time, sin from time to time, and that repentance and humility were required. He did not fail to confess, repent, and sacrifice to the Lord, counting on Him to restore and confirm their relationship.
The conclusion of this story shows us that God not only restores all of Job’s fortunes, but He doubles them from what they were before. He gives him more children and a long life and legacy. It says that after this Job lived for 140 years and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, four generations. This length of age seems to suggest that Job lived during the times of the patriarchs, during the days prior to Moses. In fact, some believe that the book of Job may actually be the earliest book written in the Old Testament.
This week’s reading also takes us up through Psalm 25, but before jumping right into different selections from the book of Psalms we should talk about the structure and purpose of the book itself. Psalms, while being the longest book in the Bible, is actually broken up into 5 separate books.
BOOK 1: Psalms 1-41
BOOK 2: Psalms 42-72
BOOK 3: Psalms 73-89
BOOK 4: Psalms 90-106
BOOK 5: Psalms 107-150
The word ‘psalm’ is a Greek word, which means ‘song’. The book of Psalms was the Hymnal for the ancient Hebrews. Some believe the whole book of Psalms to have taken over 800 years to compose! This is partially based upon the superscripts and postscripts contained in many of the psalms indicating authorship to David (73 psalms), Asaph (12), the Korahites (11), Solomon (2), Moses (1), Ethan (1) and Heman (1). Not all the Psalms have superscripts, but as you can see many do.
If these superscripts are accurate in indicating authorship then at least one was written very early, Psalm 90, which is attributed to Moses. However there is debate about these superscripts and postscript as to when they were added to each psalm or if they were in fact original to the text itself. Even when I was in seminary there was polite disagreement with regards to the superscripts within the Old Testament department.
The separate books are also a little confusing. I’ve listed several superscripts, above, but there was only one postscript. It is at the end of Psalm 72, a psalm attributed to Solomon in the superscript. The postscript reads, “The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.” (Psalm 72:20) This is the last psalm in BOOK 2 of the book of Psalms. Some believe this shows an early development of the psalms where these were the concluding volumes at that time. Others point to the fact that David is attributed credit in the superscript of later psalms that this can’t be the case. You see why there is some debate about these superscripts?
So why the division into 5 books?
The ‘why’ might be difficult to explain, but the ‘way’ to recognize the division is quite easy to see (and not just because we write the subtitle “BOOK …” above each division). There are 4 concluding doxologies in the whole book of Psalms that stand out to theologians.
Doxologies, by the way, are specific praise compositions. The most famous perhaps being, “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow… Praise Him all creatures here below… Praise Him above ye Heavenly hosts… Praise Father, Son & Holy Ghost!” Not all doxologies are songs. Paul concluded many of his letters or portions of his letters with doxologies as well. They are simply focused praise compositions.
These somewhat similarly structured and worded doxologies appear at the conclusion of Psalms 41, 72, 89, and 106 and have long been thought to mark the divisions of each of these five BOOKS in the whole book of Psalms. (The book of Psalms is sometimes referred to as The Psalter in case you ever run into that term.)
You may have noticed that there is no indicated closing doxology at the end of BOOK 5. The solution to this seeming omission is the generally accepted observation that the final five books (Psalms 146-150) stand at the conclusion of the whole Psalter collection and admirably fulfill the role of concluding praise to Yahweh.
[I am indebted to Gerald H. Wilson for much of the material in this post, taken from his Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 1 (Introduction) in the NIV Application Commentary series by Zondervan. © 2002]
So here we are…
Three full pages into this blog entry and we haven’t really spoken about any of the psalms themselves. Moving forward we’re going to find it difficult to walk through each of the psalms, unless we want this blog to become a 1,000 page commentary! So I’m going to point out a few verses that have stood out to me and try to focus on at least one specific psalm in each section. Let us know in the comment section below what observations you made that were not mentioned in this blog!
In this section of the Psalms (1-25) there are two psalms in particular that significantly point to Jesus; Psalm 2 and Psalm 22. We’ll focus on Psalm 22 in this blog entry today, but I wanted to point out a few verses from others before we get there…
Ps 4:4 Be angry, and do not sin; …
Anger is not a sin, however, it is easier to sin while angry, so guard your heart especially when agitated or angry.
Ps 5:3 O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.
Some take this (and other passages) as an indication that beginning our day with the Lord is a good a time-honored practice. What’s your daily habit?
Ps 10:4 In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek Him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”
Ps 14:1,3 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good…They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
While we may run to these kinds of passages when we encounter atheists today, we are reminded by Paul in Romans that none is righteous, no, not one. He’s quoting from here and reminding us that this was our condition before entering a relationship with Jesus as well.
All right, too much to quote, too much to quote… on to Psalm 22!
I remember when I first read Psalm 22 how shocked I was by its contents. Many of the verses of this psalm are a literal play-by-play of Jesus’ crucifixion, beginning with the very first verse!
Ps 22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Jesus cries out from the cross this very verse when His Father turned His back on the Son in order to pour out His wrath on Him for all that I have ever done wrong! This is the only time in history, eternity past or eternity future, that Jesus’ relationship with His Father was broken. Notice He doesn’t call Him, “Father,” but instead says, “My God, my God!”
Ps 22:8 He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!
The Pharisees and leaders of Israel quoted this to Jesus from the foot of the cross while they were mocking Him! Didn’t they realize Who He was?!?
Ps 22:14 …all my bones are out of joint.
Ps 22:16 …a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet.
Ps 22:18 they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.
These are descriptions not only of Jesus at the crucifixion, but of the guards who divided His garments among them! See Matthew 27:35 and Mark 15:24. Almost literally a play-by-play of what actually happened!
By the way, when Psalm 22 as written, crucifixion had not even been invented yet! Crucifixion was an invention of torture and death concocted by the Roman Empire, which didn’t begin until the 1st Century BC. It was so heinous they wouldn’t even subject their own citizens to it, only foreigners. Yet here we have in verse 16 a perfect description of crucifixion, “they have pierced my hands and feet.”
Wow! We’ve gone long… again, but there is so much to point out. I’ll have to stop here this week, but let us know what you have seen in your reading from Job 35 through Psalm 25.
Welcome Back to the Bible Blog!
So we were supposed to be jumping in at Job 11 this week, but I got long-winded last week and didn’t even start into Job! So today we start at Job 1 and go all the way through Job 34. What a great story! Let’s go…
Job is one of the most intriguing books in the Bible. For many it is the ‘go-to’ book when you’re suffering from circumstances that you just can’t understand. You’re not suffering a broken leg because you’re 46 years old, but thought you were still 20 and could do that flip on the ski jump. That’s suffering we can understand. You’re not suffering lung cancer after a 2-pack a day habit for 30 years. That’s suffering we can understand. You’re not suffering a 2nd degree burn on your back because you laid out in the sun for 6 hours and fell asleep. That’s suffering we can understand. (Even in Wisconsin, that can happen!)
No, Job is a book about suffering that is NOT understandable. A child is born with spina bifida. A wife and mother of two suffers a ruptured cerebral aneurism in her early 40’s and is discovered dead on the kitchen floor (happened to a friend of mine in high school). A couple experience numerous pregnancies and miscarriages while friends all around them have normal healthy babies. Job is a patron saint, so to speak, of people who suffer for no understandable reason.
For those who are not directly impacted by these unexplainable situations Job provides an explanation in which we can say, “See there’s always a reason, even if we don’t know it. Phew! Now I have a comforting message for my friends who are suffering.” Hmm… How does Job’s story resonate with those of you who are suffering unexplainable conditions; an incurable disease, the loss of a loved one, the suffering of a child or the tragedy of bareness?
There is a temptation we can have regarding Job’s story with which I think we need to be very careful. My guess is when we attempt to comfort someone who is suffering an unexplainable loss or situation by reminding them that Job was blameless and upright yet he suffered many things that he didn’t deserve or understand, that is small comfort. I’ll readily admit that I am not the expert on how this feels, as by God’s grace I haven’t suffered much in the way of unexplainable suffering. I’m embarrassed to even write that sentence, because I don’t mean to say that God’s grace is poured out more abundantly on my life than someone who suffers for no apparent reason. That’s not the case. In fact, I fear that the more I attempt to clarify myself, the deeper the hole I dig. Do you understand? The point is, not all suffering is because of something we’ve done or deserve!
Before moving on, I have to point out that while God is in control He takes no pleasure in our suffering. God is not cruel or vindictive. This is not how He created the world originally. We messed it up! God created a paradise in which we were to live forever in perfect harmony with Him. He gave us everything and gave us dominion over everything. He created everything and kept calling it “good”, but when He created us, man and especially woman, He said it was “very good” and then He rested from all His work. Death was not intended to be a part of the picture.
Death entered, because of our sin. All of His creation is under a curse, because of what we did in our rebellion against Him. From that moment on everything began to degrade; our DNA, our hearts and attitudes, the world, everything. Not only did sin introduce death, but the degradation of all things means that disease entered the picture as well.
God has an ultimate solution for all of this and it’s not to simply address the symptoms of our sin-disease so that we can be comfortable. His plan was to send His Son to eradicate our sin problem and to offer us eternal life with Him in the New Creation that He will inaugurate one day, just as He is already inaugurating a New Creation in each and every one of us when we confess and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. In the ultimate New Creation we will hear a loud voice from the throne saying, “ He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 ESV)
We are still living in the times of the ‘former things’, but there are new things coming…
‘And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” ’ (Revelation 21:5-6 ESV)
Now back to Job…
While Job never is told the reason behind his suffering, we do get a privileged look ‘behind the scenes’ to understand what and why Job went through what he did. However therein lies another caution to us: Do not assume that the unexplainable suffering you may be going through is because Satan is challenging God and God is saying, “Sure! Afflict my beloved creature and see how they respond!” This is, as far as we know, a one-time occurrence.
However, what Job’s story does tell us is that we can’t always know the reason behind suffering. After all, Job never knew. However, we see the reason and purpose behind Job’s suffering as we get to ‘peek behind the curtain’. But there is soooo much more this book has to teach us than just the fact that there can be a reason behind our suffering. The book of Job tells us some important things about (1) our adversary, Satan, about (2) the proper response to suffering, Job’s, and about (3) the best way to comfort a friend in inconsolable suffering, shut-up!! Let’s jump in…
Job is introduced the way most people would want to eulogized, I think. He was a great man; ‘blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.’ He had a large family and was very wealthy. The concluding statement at the end of verse 3 is that, “this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.” He would even sacrifice and pray for his children after they had gathered for a feast in each others houses, just in case any of them had ‘cursed God’ in their hearts.
Soon into the story we see the ‘sons of God’ gathering before the Lord and Satan (הַשָּׂטָן – ‘ha satan’ or the satan – meaning, accuser or adversary) came with them. While this is an unusual circumstance, pay close attent ion to the dialogue. The Lord asks Satan, “From where have you come?” (Job 1:7a)
Why do you think God asks this question?
Do you think it’s because He doesn’t actually know?!
If not, then why did He ask?
(1) I think God wants us to learn something about Satan. Let’s listen to his answer…
Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” (Job 1:7b)
Hmm… God is omnipresent, meaning He is everywhere at all times. What does Satan’s answer indicate about him? He’s not omnipresent. He is not everywhere at all times. He is confined to a small space and has to travel back and forth, to and fro to be other places. Satan is not what God is. He is less than.
God asks Satan if he has considered His faithful servant, Job. God says there is no one like him on earth, a blameless and upright man. Now Satan throws down a challenge. He claims that Job is only faithful to God because God has blessed him tremendously. Satan predicts that Job’s heart will sour if God takes away all he possesses. What does this tell us about Satan? About God?
By the end of the book of Job we’ll see God praising Job for never speaking falsely about Him even in his suffering.
- God knows the hearts of all men. He knew Job would not curse Him, as Satan predicted.
- Satan does not know our hearts. He can only see us on the outside and hope to predict where a ‘sinful’ heart may go if pushed hard enough.
- God is in control of all things! He is sovereign over His creation.
- Satan has to ask for permission from God. He cannot go beyond what God permits.
- God does not inflict evil upon people, even though Satan tells Him to.
- Satan is the one who actually strikes Job, but only within the limits that God allows. ‘[God speaking] “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” ’ (Job 1:12)
We then see the tragedy strike Job as messenger after messenger comes to tell him of the destruction of all that he has and all that he loves, except his wife, in complete destruction. What is Job’s reaction? (2) He humbles himself by tearing his robe, shaving his and falling to the ground… to worship! He says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” And what do we read? “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” (Job 1:20-22)
Worship?! If we’re honest, can we truthfully say that would be our reaction? I’d like to think so, but can I really say that I wouldn’t pout and whine and cry and… blame?! I hope I never have to find out.
Now Satan comes back to God again and God asks him a second time from where did he come. I think God wants to make sure we recognize the limitations of our adversary. He is not omnipresent!
God again asks Satan if he’s considered Job and once again praises him, only this time adding, “He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” (Job 2:3b) Would God be justified in say, “I told you so!”? 😉
Satan decides to ‘double-down’ insisting the if God afflicts Job himself, that he will curse Him to his face. Again we see that Satan is not ultimately in charge. He must ask for permission for what he wants to do. He tells God to do it, but God is incapable of evil and reminds Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.” (Job 2:6b) God again sets the limits.
Seeing his misery Job’s wife says to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” (Hmm… sounds like what Satan was hoping would happen.) But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” And we read, ‘In all this Job did not sin with his lips.’ (Job 2:9-10) Yessss!!!! He’s a man of integrity!!
The end of Job 2 introduces us to three of Job’s friends around whom the rest of the story unfolds. Job’s friends were Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They came to show him sympathy and comfort. When they saw him they didn’t even recognize him (he looked that bad from the physical suffering) and wept, tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads in an act of humility. They sat with him day and night for a week, (3) “and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.”
Unfortunately this marks the end of the “comfort” that Job’s friends provide him for starting in chapter 3 they begin to speak. Listen to Job’s comments on their words of comfort, “As for you, you whitewash with lies; worthless physicians are you all. Oh that you would keep silent, and it would be your wisdom!” (Job 13:4-5) “…miserable comforters are you all.” (Job 16:2b)
At this point… for the sake of length (too late) I’ll quit commenting with a play-by-play, but I do want to point out a few things as we approach chapter 34:
There is a cycle of 3 rounds of questioning by Job’s “friends”. His friends make a case that I think I would probably be tempted to make if I, like they, were not aware of the back story going on between God and Satan. It makes sense that evil would be punished and righteousness rewarded, doesn’t it? Isn’t that how we would like the world to work?
I don’t think Job’s friends are heartless, condemning guys. I think they mean well and sincerely are convinced that there must be something wrong in Job’s life. They are pleading with him to repent so they can see their friend’s suffering end. They love Job. They are just very wrong about their theology. Have you ever misjudged God (or a situation) thinking that you must be correct? Some things seem obvious to us, especially when we don’t know what’s going on in the background.
Job makes some comments on the brevity of life that we would do well to pay attention to:
Job 7:6 – “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle”
Job 7:7 – “Remember that my life is a breath”
Job 8:9b – “our days on earth are a shadow”
Job 9:25 – “My days are swifter than a runner; they flee away; they see no good.”
Job 10:20a – “Are not my days few?”
and he asks a great question of God, “What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him?” (Job 7:17) Indeed! Who are we that God would love and care for us so much?
Job demonstrates his theology in some great statements about God…
“For He is not a man, as I am, that I might answer Him, that we should come to trial together.” (Job 9:32)
“From where, then, does wisdom come? And where is the place of understanding?… And He said to the man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’ ” (Job 28:20,28)
Then Elihu… who is Elihu and where did HE come from? (Elihu – means “He is my God”)…
Elihu says of God… “it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand” (Job 32:8)
“The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” (Job 33:4)
“If He should set His heart to it and gather to Himself His Spirit and His breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.” (Job 34:14-15)
Even though we just got up through chapter 34, I want to go back to one of Job’s statements, which may be one of his most brilliant and hopeful statements in the whole book; from Job 19:25-27…
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!
I know that my redeemer lives… Could there be a more hopeful statement? Yes, He lives! He is Risen indeed!
[ouch… this Blog entry is even longer than last week’s! I promise to keep in shorter next week. See you then, and don’t forget to comment below…]
Welcome Back to the Bible Blog!
So here we are in Nehemiah 10 already. Last week we talked about how the people continued to sin against God by marrying foreign wives and having children with them, even though God was restoring them to their capital city. Ezra ended with the repentance of the people. In Nehemiah 8 we see that Ezra (the priest) is reading the Law to the people again and in chapter 9 he gives a great summary of their history. Chapter 9 ends with the people making a covenant in writing, committing to follow God and his Laws and Commandments, and specifically naming the Levites and priests (among others) as signers of this written covenant.
Failure doesn’t take long. In chapter 12 we read about the priests and Levites coming for the dedication of the walls (and gates), which have just been completed. They hold a service at the newly constructed temple to dedicate the wall and in chapter 13 we already see a lack of concern for the Law. Nehemiah, to his horror, discovered that the people were not resting from work on the Sabbath, but were instead continuing as ‘business as usual’. He chastised them and even had to shut the gates of the city just before nightfall the day before the Sabbath to convince them not to engage in trade (Neh 13:15-21).
We read in Nehemiah 13:28-29 that not even the priests are spared, but Nehemiah was counting on God to remember how he defended God and His honor by doing good in His name (Neh 13:31b). Will we ever learn?
Now to Esther!
Did you notice while reading Esther that God is never mentioned? This is one of two books in the Bible where you don’t find God directly referenced (we’ll talk about the other one in coming weeks). Some believe this is because there is no direct utterance from God and no miracle performed by God that would typically demand the direct reference to Him. However, Mordecai and Esther are clearly identified as Jews and the intervention of the Lord cannot by mistaken. This is a fascinating story of intrigue, good prevailing over evil, unexpected plot twists, etc. that would make any Hollywood movie pale in comparison.
The story takes place in Susa, the capital of the Persian Empire, where Mordecai and Ester live. It begins with a feast where King Ahasuerus has been entertaining many guests and has been drinking lots of wine (he is described as being ‘merry with wine’). He commands his servants to bring his wife, Queen Vashti, before them, because he wants to show off her beauty. Isn’t that nice? (“What a pig!” you might be thinking.) She, understandably, refuses to come. This angers the (drunk?) king and he has her banished and vows to give her crown to another, more worthy, young woman.
So the king demands a search for a beautiful, young virgin to be his new bride. It is a one-year search where many young women are chosen and paraded past the king, until Esther is finally brought to the king. The king “falls in love” with Esther and makes her his new Queen.
One day Mordecai overhears two of the king’s servants plotting to kill the king and he brings it to Esther’s attention. Esther tells the king and, once proven, the king has the servants executed. Shortly after this, Haman the Agagite is promoted to the king’s right hand. Haman essentially becomes second in command of the Persian Empire.
A couple times we’re reminded that Haman is an Agagite. Does that name sound familiar? Agag was king of the Amalekites in 1Samuel 15 when Saul was ordered by God to devote them to destruction; all the people, the cattle and sheep, all the animals, because they treated Israel despicably when they made their way out of Egypt. Instead of obeying God, Saul decided to spare the king and to take the spoils of the best of the cattle and sheep, apparently to sacrifice to God as a victory.
Here Samuel is so ‘hacked off’ that he tells Saul, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1Samuel 15:22) Samuel tells Saul that God is removing him from being king over Israel and will give that office to one who is better than he is. Samuel then has Agag, the king of the Amalekites, brought before him and, “Samuel hacked Agag to pieces before the Lord” (1Samuel 15:33b – ESV).
The Agagites were bitter enemies of Israel, as were Israel to the Agagites. This explains why when Haman the Agagite was looking for people to bow down to him, Mordecai refused. This really ‘hacked off’ Haman, who later plotted to kill, not only Mordecai, but all of the Jews. Haman planned a ‘holocaust’ so-to-speak to take place all in one day (which required about a year’s preparation).
In the meantime, Mordecai learned of the plot and informed Esther asking her to intervene with the king. Esther’s ethnicity was unknown to the king (and to Haman), because Mordecai had instructed her not to tell of her lineage. Haman, burning with hatred for Mordecai, commanded that a 75’ gallows be constructed behind his home upon which to hang Mordecai.
Esther is nervous about approaching the king, because to do so without invitation could cost her her life! However, Mordecai convinces her by saying, “who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14b)
Has God placed you exactly where you are for such a time as this? A time to listen, a time to comfort, a time to give, a time to witness to someone who may never hear the Gospel from anyone else?
When the king asks Haman what he should do to honor the one he has chosen to honor, Haman’s own arrogance convinces him that the king is speaking of him, so he describes an elaborate celebration for this chosen man. Unwittingly, Haman has prescribed that method in which the king will honor Mordecai for foiling that plot against the king’s life! Talk about a dramatic plot twist! Haman is distraught to find out that the man he intended to hang on the gallows is the one the king plans to honor. To make matters worse, Haman has to lead Mordecai out to be praised by all the people as the one whom the king honors. (I love God’s sense of humor!)
Later at a banquet being thrown by Esther, to which only Haman and the king are invited, Esther pleads with the king to spare the life of her people and her. When she informs the king that it was Haman’s idea to slaughter all the Jews the king becomes enraged. Before announcing his sentence on Haman the text tells us, “And the king arose in his wrath from the wine-drinking and went into the palace garden…and the king returned from the palace garden to the place where they were drinking wine…” I don’t think it is mere coincidence that the two moments of the king’s rage include much wine drinking.
The Bible doesn’t condemn drinking wine, in fact wine is often mentioned as a blessing to Israel, but over indulgence is condemned. Paul gives us clear instructions about wine when he tells us, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18 – ESV). He uses this example as a means to connect with people of experience. Just as they have experienced (or seen others experience) over-indulgence and how they seem to be carried along to do things they wouldn’t normally do, because “the liquor made me do it”, in a similar fashion if they allow themselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit, it is the Spirit of God who will carry them along to do things they wouldn’t normally do, to the Glory of God!
Paul doesn’t condemn consumption of alcohol completely, as he explains in Romans 14 while also describing eating of meat and honoring the Sabbath, but he does indicate that we should be respectful of those don’t believe they can rightly do so and honor God. Whether we consume at moderate levels or not at all should always be in our control, as one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control.
I mention this here because it stands out to me that in the two moments of the king’s anger the author seems intent on pointing out that the king was ‘merry with wine’. Have you ever known someone who got angry easily when they had too much to drink?
Where does self-control come into play?
Have you ever been condemned by another “Christian” because you drink?
Have you ever looked down on a Christian who drinks?
Can or should a Christian drink?
Read Romans 14 carefully and give us your thoughts. For some this is a non-issue and for others it is a very critical issue.
Wow! That was a big diversion from the story… Sorry for the rabbit trail… back to Esther…
So the king has Haman hanged on the very gallows Haman was constructing behind his house for Mordecai and Mordecai is raised to Haman’s position in the palace, second to the king!
To this day the Jews remember the story of Esther each year with the Festival of Purim, which reminds them that Haman cast Pur (or cast lots) for their destruction, but God rescued them through Mordecai and Esther. (Purim is simply the plural for Pur. In Hebrew the –im ending often indicates ‘plural’.)
I know we began Job this week, but this blog is long enough. We’ll catch up and cover most of Job in next week’s blog. Thanks for hanging in this week for 1,670 words!
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I think I mentioned in an earlier blog that the Hebrew Bible, what we refer to as the Old Testament, arranges the books in a different order than we are accustomed to seeing them when we open our Bibles. However I don’t think I ever explained why ours are in a different order.
Another name for the Hebrew Bible is the Tanakh. The name is an acronym of the Hebrew words Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim, which stands for “Law, Prophets and Writings”. With these books (or scrolls originally) grouped this way, Chronicles (or our 2Chronicles) was the last book of the Hebrew Bible. Other than this difference in order the content of the Hebrew Bible and our Old Testament is the same.
So why do we have a different order? Our Old Testament books are in the same order as those in the Septuagint (sometimes referred to as the LXX). The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible written by 70 (or 72) scholars as early as the late 2nd Century BC. Septuagint is a Latin word meaning “seventy” and LXX is the Roman numeral for 70. The LXX was written for Hellenistic Jews (or Greek Jews, if you will) who were spread all over the known world, but were losing their knowledge of the Hebrew language. By the time of the Disciples the LXX was the commonly accepted version of the Old Testament.
So now to Ezra…
Did you notice that Ezra 1:1-3a is literally identical to the ending verses in 2Chronicles 36:22-23? Obviously these two books should be ordered together as we have them. The transition to Ezra and Nehemiah signals the end of the captivity of the Southern Kingdom and the beginning of the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Ezra and Nehemiah were contemporaries of each other. Ezra led the rebuilding of the temple of the Lord and Nehemiah the rebuilding of the walls and gates around Jerusalem.
In Ezra 3 we read that as the foundation was laid for the temple that there was great rejoicing among the workers, but among those old enough to have seen the first temple, they wept with a loud voice. These knew that this “new” temple wouldn’t come close to measuring up to the glory of the former temple. This mixed celebration is symbolic of the return itself, which was a triumph of sorts, but fell way short of the great hopes the people may have had as they returned.
Shortly into the rebuilding project opposition raised its ugly head. Jews from the North wanted in on the rebuilding efforts, but they were turned away. In anger they approached King Artaxerxes and got him to issue a decree calling a halt to the rebuilding project. When the news reached the workers the rebuilding ceased, at least for a while.
However he was lied to in order to convince him to issue the decree and he was unaware that a previous king, King Cyrus of Persia, had ordered that the rebuilding should take place. When King Darius came to the throne of Persia the workers resumed their construction. When the agitators complained to the king that this work was ordered to be stopped, the workers appealed to King Darius asking him to search the archives, for King Cyrus had issued a written decree that it should be built. After a careful search was made they found the written record and the construction continued as planned.
You think your father was the one who came up with the idea to, “Get it in writing”? The wisdom of a written record goes way back beyond that! Speaking of getting things in writing, God put things in writing for them (and us) way back when. He can always take us back to His “archives” and remind us of His written decrees…
That’s exactly what he does at the end of Ezra. The people have continued to marry foreign wives and have children by them and in chapter 10 they confess their sins before God. They were ordered to put away their foreign wives and children and make the appropriate guilt offerings before God.
So then who took care of these foreign women and their children?
Nehemiah, the cupbearer to the king, hears that the walls of Jerusalem are broken down and the gates have been burned and not repaired. He is heart-broken as he looks for a way to ask the king for permission to return and rebuild the walls of the city.
In Nehemiah 2 we see a great principle that we all should follow. When the king asks Nehemiah, “What are you requesting?” we read…
‘So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.” ’ Nehemiah 2:4b – 5
Did you catch that?! Nehemiah prayed before answering! How many times in your life have you wished you had done that? Particularly with very difficult things it is important to pray before speaking. The result of this encounter was that the king sent Nehemiah with his full blessing to return and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem!
Of course this endeavor, like the rebuilding of the temple, was not without opposition. These scoundrels threw every play in the book at Nehemiah. However Nehemiah, their governor, was an inspiring leader who rallied the citizens of Jerusalem to complete the work. One way in which he inspired them was to follow the advice of our Savior (advice that wouldn’t be spoken of for several hundred more years) when he said…
The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God. Nehemiah 5:15
Soon the wall is completed and Ezra the priest (remember Ezra?) reads the Law to the people and they resume the Festival of Booths, which hasn’t been observed since Joshua son of Nun. Since Joshua son of Nun?!?! Are you kidding me?
How appropriate that their entire history should be summarized and read to them in chapter 9. We all need a reminder from time to time! Don’t we?
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This week’s passage begins with Abijah (of Judah) heading out to war against Jeroboam (of Israel). Notice how Israel has twice as large an army as Judah (800,000 versus 400,000 – all valiant men). This reminded me of Jesus telling the large crowd in Luke 14 that when a king is heading out to war he must determine if he is able with an army of 10,000 to defeat his opponent who has an army of 20,000. Again, twice as many. This is a calculation any wise king should make before heading out to war when outnumbered.
In this case, Jeroboam was an evil king who set up false gods in the Northern Kingdom for the people to worship. The Lord God was with the Southern Kingdom and would fight on the side of Abijah and his 400,000 valiant men. Abijah even warned them that God was on their side and that they were worshiping false idols, which were not real gods at all. Nonetheless Jeroboam engages Judah in war and we read…
“Thus the men of Israel were subdued at that time, and the men of Judah prevailed, because they relied on the Lord, the God of their fathers… Jeroboam did not recover his power in the days of Abijah. And the Lord struck him down, and he died. But Abijah grew mighty.” (2Chron 13:18-21a)
We’ll see this theme carry on through this week’s readings, the theme of God providing, fighting, and prospering,… continuing with Asa, son of Abijah. In chapter 14 Asa, who is described as doing, “what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God…,” is being threatened by a mighty and powerful Ethiopian army.
Asa has an army of 580,000 total mighty men. The king of Ethiopia comes at him with an army of 1,000,000 men and 300 chariots!! Asa cries out to God saying, “Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O Lord, you are our God; let not man prevail against you.” What a great prayer, when coming from the heart! So God does! He defeats the Ethiopians and they flee!
God sent His Spirit into Azariah and he spoke to Asa and all of Benjamin and Judah saying, “The Lord is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you, but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you.” (2Chron 15:2b) Uh, oh… It always seems like a little foreshadowing when we see the “but” in these kinds of statements. Let’s see…
In Asa’s later years we see him make a covenant with the King of Syria to break their covenant with Israel and then attack them on Judah’s behalf! (2Chron 16) As a result God sends a ‘seer’ to Asa and tells him this…
“Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. Were not the Ethiopians… a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the Lord, He gave them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.”
It seems we’ll never learn…
When Moabites and Ammonites came against Jehoshaphat, Judah’s armies were once again seemingly outnumbered. However, when they cried out to the Lord, God raised up a Levite to speak for Him. He said,
“Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s… You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.” (2Chron 20:15-17a)
In the morning Jehoshaphat said to them, “Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe His prophets, and you will succeed.” Hmm… Sounds to me like, “Trust God and believe His Word (the Bible).” So they did…
“And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed.” (2Chron 20:22)
Did you catch that?! When they began to worship… God went to battle! God fought for them! This battle (that they didn’t actually fight in) reminds me of Revelation 19 where Jesus (the rider on the white horse) is gathered against the enemy with all the armies of heaven behind Him on horses. The enemy is defeated, it says, “by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse”.
God (Jesus) spoke all creation into existence. John in his Gospel and here in Revelation 19 calls Jesus the Word of God. The Word of God is referred to as a sword in Hebrews 4:12 as well as in Ephesians 6 where Paul describes the armor of God. When the temple guard came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane they asked Him if He was Jesus of Nazareth. He said, “I am.” When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.’ (John 18:6)
It is God Who fights. The battle is His and He’s not all about making sure we all follow the letter of the Law. It isn’t primarily about what we do. It is first and foremost about the condition of our hearts!
When Hezekiah reinstituted the observance of the Passover he realized that many had not taken the time to ritually purify themselves. They were unclean. Hezekiah, counting on God’s grace and mercy, prayed this…
“May the good Lord pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God, the Lord, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.” And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people. (2 Chronicles 30:18-20)
You see? Again (and again and again) God makes clear to us that it is all about the heart! He wants our hearts, not just our outward behaviors. It’s a matter of the heart… and it’s the heart that matters!