Monday, July 27, 2020

Knowing God Through Jesus

Truth means getting at who God really is, and God is most fully revealed in Jesus, who said "I am the truth".

R. C. Sproul

No one has ever seen God: the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known. 

John 1:18

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

Colossians 1:15

Sunday, July 26, 2020


Esther Gets The News

Mordecai went up to the king’s gate, but he could not go in dressed in sackcloth because of the king’s order. So, he sat out in the gate crying and grieving. His intent was to get Esther’s attention, believing that only she could save the Jews from genocide.

And it worked. The women who attended Esther and the eunuchs heard what Mordecai was doing and told Esther. She was deeply distressed since Mordecai was her relative and advisor and father figure. She sent him clothes so that he might change and come to her so they could talk face to face. She, evidently, could not leave the castle.

But Mordecai refused the clothes. Here again, we see that Mordecai has drawn a line. After a life of blending in and disguising his his Jewishness, he had decided to stand. 

So, Esther sent a trusted eunuch out to see Mordecai and find out what was going on. The eunuch reported back the story that led to the edict to annihilate the Jews. There is emphasis on the money Haman gave to the king to get the edict. Mordecai even had a written copy of the decree to show Esther. He basically told Esther she had to go the to the king and plead for the Jews.

That sounds easy enough: the queen could just go see the king and ask him to spare the Jews. But it was not that easy. No one could come to the king of Persia in the inner court of the palace without being called, not even the queen. If you did, you would be killed unless the king held out his golden scepter to them as a sign you could come in. It was a daily reminder to all of the king’s power and sovereignty. 

Esther pointed out that she had not been asked into the king’s presence for 30 days. That could have meant that the king’s affection for her had already began to lessen and she would be unlikely to succeed in approaching him. And that would mean her death.

Mordecai’s Reproach

Mordecai would not take “no” for an answer. He sent a message back to her that was life and death. He told her she should not think she would escape the fate of the Jews because she was the queen and living in the palace. The edict called for the death of all Jews.

Further, Mordecai believed that God would bring deliverance from another source if Esther refused, but that she would still perish. (14) The implication is that God would punish her and her family for family to act. 

But, even more importantly, Mordecai said she may have come to be queen just for this time! We should never assume that we have received a place of honor or responsibility simply because of our talents and good looks. The Bible is full of stories of men and women raised up by God to carry out his purposes. We see this in the stories of Joseph, Moses, and Daniel, among others. It is the case with us and it was the case with Esther. She finally realized that when she received Mordecai’s message. 

Esther Goes into Action

Upon hearing this last message from Mordecai, Esther made up her mind to act. But, she would not rush into it or in her own power. Instead, she told Mordecai to gather all of the Jews in Susa to fast for her. She and her attendants would do likewise. And, of course, they would fast for three days. 

Three days in the Bible often stands for a period of trial or darkness, after which God intervenes to redeem his people. God intervened to prevent Abraham for sacrificing Isaac on the third day of their journey, Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days, and God appeared to the Israelites on the mountain three days after they arrived. Saul was blinded for three days. And, of course, Jesus remained in the grave for three days before being resurrected. 

This again shows an acknowledgment of God and his sovereignty. Esther urges a fast by all of God’s people to get God to intervene on their behalf. At the end of that time, she promised to go to the king, even without an invitation, and she would accept her fate. If she perished, she perished. She surrendered to mission given to her even at the cost of her own life. 

Esther and Mordecai were not perfect. The certainly do not measure up well compared to Daniel, who was in a similar circumstance. But, God uses flawed people. 

We are all flawed. We struggle with sin. We are afraid of those who oppose the church. We doubt God at times and we certainly doubt ourselves. But the time may come for all of us when we must stand for Christ. It may be uncomfortable, maybe even painful. Yet we are called to follow him even to death. Therefore, we should prepare ourselves now to be strong in the faith and to serve Christ. 

Sunday, July 19, 2020


Esther 3
The War of the Seeds Rejoined

The Promotion of Haman

Although chapter 2 seems to portray things as nicely settled, with Esther being queen and Mordecai saving the king, trouble was coming.

The king promoted a man named Haman to be his number 1 advisor and official. This is an unexpected twist, since Mordecai has just saved the king’s life and has not been rewarded for it. 

The writer tells us that Haman was an “Agagite”. Since the writer makes a point of telling us this, we should determine if it means something. This, plus the identification of Mordecai as a descendant of Kish and of the tribe of Benjamin, points us in a specific direction. 

The Amalekites were enemies of the Israelites for centuries. The conflict began during the Exodus, when Israel crossed the wilderness. While Israel camped at Rephidim, the Amalekites came and attacked them. The Israelites fought back under the leadership of Joshua, as Moses stood on the hill and raised his raised his staff with the help of Aaron and Hur. 

Israel defeated the Amalekites and the Lord promised to blot out the memory of them and contest with them throughout the generations. You can read this story in Exodus 17.

Many years later, Israel got its first king, a man named Saul. Saul was of the tribe of Benjamin and the son of Kish. This is the same description given about Mordecai.

The Lord, through the prophet Samuel, commissioned Saul to carry out his word concerning the Amalekites. He told Saul to completely destroy them and their livestock, in other words to blot them out. (1 Samuel 15:1-3) 

Saul was victorious the battle, but kept some of the animals and spared the king, directly disobeying the command of God. The Amalekite king’s name was Agag. Haman is a descendant of Agag and, therefore, he was an Agagite. And so, the ancient enmity between Israel and Amalek will continue with the story of Esther.

It continued because of Haman’s promotion and the king’s command that all would bow to Haman as they bowed to the king. (3) And Mordecai refused to bow, even though he was a servant of the king and sat in the king’s gate.

When the other servants asked Mordecai why he would not bow, Mordecai said it was because he was a Jew. (4) Although he told Esther not to reveal that she was a Jew, Mordecai now does so. We do not get any further explanation in the text of why being a Jew motivates Mordecai to refuse to bow, but given the identification the author gives us of the two men, and Mordecai’s revelation that he is a Jew, it appears that Mordecai recognized this ancient enmity and could submit to an enemy of his people and his God. 

Further evidence of this being the reason is that, when Haman became angry at Mordecai’s refusal, he not only wanted to punish Mordecai, he wanted to annihilate all of the Jewish people in the kingdom, which would have been almost all of the Jewish people. Israel itself was a province of Persia and many Jews lived in Persia.

The question remains, why did Mordecai decide to draw the line here? He had previously hid his Jewishness and told Esther to do the same. He was one who tried to blend in. Where Daniel and his friends drew firm and early lines between themselves and the Babylonia culture, Mordecai did not. He became a government official. He had a non-Jewish name. His name actually means “worshipper of Marduck”. Marduck was the patron deity of Babylon. His statue had been brought to Susa by the Elamites. You certainly would not hear the name Mordecai and leap to the conclusion that he was a Jew. You would probably think he came from an old Babylonian family that had assimilated into Persia after Persia defeated Babylon. 

Mordecai also changed his cousin’s name from Hadassah to Esther. The meaning of Esther is disputed, but some believe it refers to Ishtar, the female goddess worshipped by the Babylonians and Assyrians. He did not object to Esther participating in the contest to become king, even her spending the night with the king. He only told her not to tell anyone she was Jewish. 

These facts show Mordecai more as one who adapted to his culture than one who resisted it. Yet, for some reason, he felt his Jewishness was at stake with Haman. He seemed to react more to a secondary issue than a primary issue. Regardless of Mordecai’s motives, God continued to act to preserve his people and to fulfill his word.

We also see here that sins often have repercussions that last a long time. Had Saul obeyed God and destroyed the Amalekites, there would have been no Haman wanting to destroy the Jews. 

Behind all this, I believe, is the “War of the Seeds”. This war began in the Garden of Eden recorded in Genesis 3. When the serpent led Adam and Eve into sin, God cursed him and said there would be enmity between the offspring of the serpent and the offspring of Eve. The offspring of Eve would bruise the head of the serpent’s offspring, but the offspring of the serpent would bruise the heal of Eve’s offspring. In other words, the children of God would continuously battle with the children of Satan. (Genesis 3:15) 

This war continues throughout the Old Testament as various nations tried to annihilate the Jewish people. It culminates in the battle between Satan and Christ as seen in the New Testament. The story of Esther is just one battle in the war. If Satan destroyed the Jews, he could prevent the coming of the Messiah, the Son of Man who would bruise the head of Satan, defeating him forever.

Haman Attacks

Having determined to wipe out all of the Jews, Haman needed to decide the best time to do it. He and his friends cast lots every day to determine when to move. “Lots” were stones with markings used to ascertain of obtaining divine guidance. The lots were called “Pur” which led to Esther’s feast being called “Purim”. 

We do not know what or whom Haman believed to be divine, but he cast lots daily for 12 months until he got an answer. Somehow the lots determined it was time to move forward with his plan.

Haman went to the king to get permission for this bloody undertaking. He began by maligning the Jews. He pointed out that they had their own laws. That part was true. The Jews had the law of the covenant God had given them through Moses. This tells us that at least some of the Jews in the kingdom observed the law and this was known among the Gentiles. 

They say the best lie is the one that contains some of the truth. That is what Haman does here, because he went on to say that the Jews did not keep the king’s laws. Other than Mordecai refusing to bow to Haman, there is no evidence the Jews were lawbreakers. But the king trusted Haman and believed him, especially when Haman said it was not to the king’s profit to tolerate them. (8) Haman then offered a way for the king to profit by eliminating them, offering to give the king 10,000 talents of silver. 

This was an incredible sum of money. Some believe it may have even been as much as $15 million. Since the king had lost an expensive war with Greece, plus remitted taxes in celebration of marrying Esther, he may well have needed the money. He certainly wanted it, and authorized Haman to act by giving him the royal signet ring and allowing him to use the funds to accomplish his purpose. 

The Edict Issues

Once the king gave permission for Haman to attack the Jews, scribes came and wrote up the edict. It was sealed with his signet ring to authenticate it. Then it was sent to all the provinces commanding the officials to destroy, kill and annihilate the Jews on a certain date and to plunder their goods. (13) The plunder would likely be sent back to the king to replenish his treasury. This is no less than an order of genocide, attempting to annihilate an entire race. 

Showing us how callous these men were with the lives of others, Haman and the king celebrated the edict by sitting down to have drinks. 

The capital city was not celebrating, however. Rather, it was in confusion. The people there did not understand why the Jews should be eliminated, especially since Mordecai had saved the king from assassination. 

Ultimately, Haman would learn that he did not have authority over the Jews, though the king decreed it. The king did not have authority over the Jews, either. God remained in control. Haman would have done well to remember the words of one of his predecessors in the land, King Nebuchadnezzar. After being humbled by the Lord, he said God does his will among the inhabitant of the earth and none can stay his hand or say to him what have you done? (Daniel 4:35)

Hamn also would find that the lots he cast did not control anyone’s destiny. As Proverbs 16:33 says: the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. 

In good times and bad, it is good for us to remember that God is sovereign and accomplishing his will. He knows us, he sees us, and he loves us. 

Sunday, July 12, 2020


Esther 2

Chapter 2 tells us how Esther became the queen and sets the stage for the next part of the drama.

The Search Begins

When the king finally got over being angry, it seems he may have had regrets over getting rid of Queen Vashti. His aids jumped in to help, suggesting a remedy. There would be a national search for a beautiful young virgin to be the next queen. 

The king would appoint officers in all 127 of the provinces he ruled. They were charged with finding beautify young virgins and sending them to the capital city, Susa, to participate in a beauty pageant. They would be housed in the king’s harem and tended by the king’s eunuch, who would supply them with cosmetics and groom them to be beautiful and charming. 

Introducing Mordecai and Esther

Mordecai, the second major character in the story, is introduced to us as a Jew living in the capital city whose ancestor was one of the survivors of the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. His ancestors had been carried into exile like Daniel and his friends. Mordecai was born in the empire and did not know his homeland of Israel. 

We are told of Mordecai’s lineage, ending with the fact that we was a son, or descendant, of Kish, a Benjamite (one who is of the tribe of Benjamin). You might wonder why we are told that. Well, Kish might have been named after another man named Kish, the father of Saul, the first king of Israel We will see why that is important later in the story.

Mordecai is portrayed to us as a good man, as he has taken in his cousin Hadassah, who was an orphan. He was older than her as seen by his treating her as his own daughter. (7)

Hadassah’s Persian name was Esther.   She is the third major character in the story, but, ultimately, the most important. She was young and beautiful. Because of that, she was taken to the palace under the charge of the king’s eunuch. She was now a contestant in the beauty contest. 

It appears at this point that it was not known that she was Jewish and Mordecai advises her to keep quiet about it. (10) From this we can ascertain that there was some anti-semitism among the Persians. 

Esther’s story resembles Daniel’s in some respects. She was part of a select groomed to be a possible queen. Daniel was groomed to serve the king as one of his officials. She was given special food and cosmetics. Daniel was offered special food, although he declined it. God gave Daniel favor in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs. (Daniel 1:9) Esther won the favor of Hegai, the king’s eunuch. He even provided her with seven women attendants and a special place to live in the harem. As a result of this favor, she is advanced to the next round, becoming one of women in competition to go before the king. 

The biggest difference between Daniel and Esther, however, is that Daniel maintained his Jewishness, separating himself from the culture of the Babylonians where it conflicted with his religion and culture. Esther, on the other hand, hid her ethnicity and compliant with the officials who told her what to do. 

Yet, God used both to accomplish his purposes. 

The Final Round 

The women finalists evidently spent 12 months being groomed with special oils and spices. After that time, each of the seven women would appear before the king and spend the night in the castle before returning to the harem, not the special place they had been kept previously, but to the regular harem for the concubines under the supervision Shaashgaz, another of the king’s eunuchs. She would not go back to the castle unless the king liked her and summoned her by name. 

Esther Wins

The time finally came for Esther to appear before the king. She received advice from Hegai and she took his advice. She continued to win favor with those around her. And, as you by now expect, she won favor with the king and was made queen of Persia. She wore the crown that Vashti refused to wear. The king gave a great feast in her honor with gifts and even tax relief. 

The Plot Thickens

The story now shifts back to Mordecai. He was sitting in the king’s gate, meaning he had some importance. He may have gained a position as a result of Esther’s actions.

The writer reminds us that Esther did not reveal her Jewishness on the instruction of Mordecai, which infers Mordecai had not revealed his nationality either. This is our second indication that there was some anti-semitism in Persia. 

So, while Mordecai was siting in the king’s gate, which was evidently the place where the guards punished those who had offended the king. He became aware that two of the king’s guards were angry at the king and sought to lay hands on him, meaning to kill him. 

Mordecai reported this plot to Esther, who reported it to the king, mentioning that the news came from Mordecai. The king investigated the matter and found it to be true. He had the men hung on the gallows and the matter recorded in the chronicles of the king. 

In this part of the story, we see God working behind the scenes. He has the orphan Esther placed in the care of a kind and wise cousin. He gives her beauty and winsomeness. He gives Esther the wisdom to accept advice from Mordecai and from Hegai. He gives her favor with Hegai and, ultimately with the king. He places her in a position that will allow her to protect her people, who are God’s people. 

We see that God then places Mordecai in a place where he can discover the plot against the king, and thus win favor for himself and more favor for Esther with the king. 

But we will also see that it becomes more difficult for Mordecai to navigate the politics of the citadel while trying to hold on to his beliefs.

Sunday, July 05, 2020


Esther is a hero story. The main hero of the story is a woman, Esther. Through her, God saved her people, the Jews, from distortion at the hands of a high official in the Persian government.

Esther could be subtitled “A Reversal of Fortunes”, as it shows a queen losing her crown, an unknown, minority woman becoming queen, and a powerful advisor executed for treason on a platform he built for the execution of his Hebrew rival.

Esther is also one of two books in the Bible that do not mention God. And, the people portrayed in the book seem to be only nominal Jews. They are ethnically Jewish, but do not seem to be very religious. The characters in the story never give credit or glory to God for their deliverance.

This has raised questions among some people as to why the book is in the Bible. However, although we do not see the name of God in the book, we see his providential care of his people. He may be hidden in the story, but he is there.

The Six Month Feast of Nobles

The book first tells us that the story happens during the reign of Ahasuerus. It was the Ahasuerus that reigned from India to Ethiopia, a vast kingdom of 127 provinces. He is better known by his Greek name, Xerxes 1. He was the son of Darius the Great (who was the son-in-law of Cyrus the Great) and ruled from 486-465 B.C. He ruled from his capital city of Susa. 

A little historical review will help us place the story of Esther in context with Biblical history. Remember that, 2nd Chronicles 36 tells us that the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and took the surviving Jews to Babylon. This is what we call the Exile. 

Daniel 5 tells us that Nebuchadnezzar’s son, Belshazzar, succeeded him on the throne. He is the one for whom there was the writing on the wall, where God revealed through Daniel that Belshazzar’s kingdom had come to an end. He was defeated by Darius I, King of the Medes and Persians, who made Daniel one of the top three men in the kingdom. Although he also allowed Daniel to be placed in the lion’s den.

After Darius I died, Cyrus the Great became king. Isaiah prophesied this many years before, quoting the Lord as saying that Cyrus was his shepherd to fulfill the Lord’s purpose to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. (Isaiah 44:28) We see here that, even as Isaiah prophesied in advance that Israel would go into captivity in Babylon, he revealed that God planned to redeem them from that captivity as he had redeemed them from captivity in Egypt. He had already chosen the man and the nation that would accomplish his purpose. 

Cyrus issued the decree that allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city and the temple. The decree of Cyrus recorded in Ezra 1 and 2 Chronicles 36. But, many Jews stayed in the Persia.

Cyrus’s son was Darius II, or Darius the Great. When he died, Darius’s son-in-law, Xerxes, became king. He is known for invading and conquering a large part of Greece, and is the Persian king known in the story of the 300, where the Spartans tried to hold the pass against against the Persian army of thousands. His religion was evidently Zoroastrianism, although he did not seem to live according to its standards. 

It is during the reign of this Xerxes that the story of Esther unfolds. It was around 482 B.C. It begins with a feast of six months where Xerxes showed off his wealth and power. Some think it was given to win over the nobles and the army to support Xerxes in his bid to conquer Greece. He showed them all his riches, the splendor of his palace, and his royal glory. (4)

Esther 1:5-8
The Second Feast

At the end of the six month feast for the nobles and governors, Xerxes\Ahasuerus gave a seven day feast for all of the male residents of Susa, the capital city. It was held in the court of the garden of the palace, maybe because he did not want commoners in the palace itself.  He again displayed his wealth in the decorations, food and drink. Evidently, there was lots of drinking. 

Esther 1:9
The Third Feast

The third feast was hosted for the women and also took place at the palace. 

Esther 1:10-22
The Crisis

After 7 days of drinking, the king was “merry”. (10) He decided to show off his wife, the queen, so that the men could admire her beauty. He ordered her to appear before all of these men with her crown on. (11) The Jewish commentators take this to mean she could only wear her crown. 

However, the queen refused to come. We are not told why, but she defied the king by refusing his summons. The king was enraged at her defiance and the embarrassment it caused him. (12) Here he was, king over the greatest empire on earth, and he could not get his own wife to obey him. Vashti created a crisis. 

Xerxes called on his wise men, the seven princes of the kingdom who had personal access to the king (“who saw the king’s face) and asked what he could do to Queen Vashti for refusing to obey his command. (17) 

At this point, the wise men get a little hysterical. One called Memucan said that Vashti had not only wronged the king, but all of the people in the whole empire. (16) He reasoned that all of the women in the kingdom, upon learning of Vashti’s defiance, would have contempt for their husbands and refuse to obey their husbands(18) So, they got the king to issue a royal order that could not be repealed, banning Vashti from the king’s presence and stripping her of her title. (19) This would make all women honor their husbands. 

So, Xerxes issued the order and included that every man be master in his own household. 

Certainly the Bible tells us that a woman should submit to her husband. (Ephesians 5:22) But we also know that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. (Ephesians 5:25) There was no discussion about that among these men. 

Vashti was not wise in her defiance. She lost her title and place in the kingdom. The decree that was made banned her from the king’s presence and set in motion the process to find her substitute. She may have been justified in refusing since the order was demeaning, but she is fortunate she was not executed. Herodotus, the Greek historian, wrote that Xerxes was cruel and petty. 

This result of all of this is a huge upheaval in the royal family and the stage set for major change.

This is the first place we see God at work. He used the pettiness of the king and the pride of the queen to set in motion a plan to protect and redeem his people. No one knew, at this point, that God was working toward this end, or even that he needed to. But he was. 

It is the same in our lives. We may not see what God is doing, or even think he needs to do something, but he is working. Later, however, as we think back, we see that God was indeed working and brought about good things for us As Romans 8:28 says, “…for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” 

Unlike the Jews in this book, we want to give God credit for what he has done and thank him for his work in our lives and in salvation history.