July 11, 2015
Scripture and Commentary, July 12-18
Esther 4, Mt. 8:18-34
Esther 5, 1 Thess. 4
A fearful time of mourning has overcome the Jews. In their distress they forsake their food for fasting, and give up their beds to lie in sack cloth and ashes. The reason for their sorrow is the decree of the king, passed at the urging of Haman, and sent into all the provinces of Persia. The decree orders to destroy, kill, and cause to perish, all Jews, “both young and old, little children and women.” (3:13). Every Jew is to die. All of their property is to be confiscated. Even the date of this mass execution is set, “the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar.”
We often read Scripture too quickly and without involvement. The more familiar we are with a passage, the more likely we are to read its words, yet be unmoved by the needs, suffering, or faith it expresses. But let the decree of Ahasureus sink into your being for a moment. Understand that it orders the execution of every single Jew in the empire, including those in Israel. Understand this requires gathering the Jews into concentration camps, where, in one day, they will all be killed. Imagine the fear and the suffering; the blood, screaming children, and weeping mothers.
Understand also, that had these Jews returned to Jerusalem when they had the chance, they would not be facing this tragedy. They would be safe in Judea. They would be the strongest military force in the area. And they would be allies of the king of Persia, not his enemies. Think, for a moment, about those who did return to Jerusalem. Think of those who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, who rebuilt the temple, and faced the dangers and hardships of life in Israel. What would it have meant to them to have the help and the presence of those who stayed behind in Babylon? But those who stayed behind chose to remain where life is easier and more peaceful. They had learned to love their new homes and lands instead of Jerusalem. Their loyalties lay with their new country, not with Israel; until now. Now they find it not a land of rest and peace, but a land of sorrow, suffering, and death. If only they had returned to Jerusalem when they had the chance. The Reverend Matthew Henry wrote a telling comment on this passage: “Those who for want of confidence in God, and affection to their own land, had staid in the land of their captivity, when Cyrus had given them liberty to be gone, now perhaps repented of their folly, and wished, when it was too late, that they had complied with the call of God.” Many “Christians” today knowingly live in opposition to the clear teaching of Scripture. Let us pray that they may repent of their folly, rather than wish, when it is too late, that they had complied with the call of God.
Esther has not been living as a Jew. She has been assimilated into the Persian culture, and enjoy ing her status as a queen. Unlike Vashti, who did not go to the king’s pagan festival, Esther must be fully participating in them, for she retains her queenly position.
Mordecai has openly declared himself a Jew, and urges Esther to do the same. Chapter 4 contains what are probably the two best known verses in the book of Esther. Verse 14 is Mordecai's plea for Esther to intercede for the Jews: “who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Verse 16 is Esther’s decision to act on behalf of the Jews: “if I perish, I perish.”
Many commentators have suggested that merely to go to the inner court of the kings house, without invitation, is to risk execution. Yet Esther does so boldly. Thankfully she is received by the king, who accepts her invitation, with Haman, to a banquet she will prepare for them on the following evening.
The king knows she wants something, and encourages to voice her petition. She wisely does not, but does invite the king to another banquet on the next evening.
Meanwhile, Haman is boasting to his friends and wife, that he is so favoured by the king and Queen, that he was invited to the first banquet and it is also invited to a second. He alone has been given this honour. Yet his anger against Mordecai continues to burn. He orders a gallows built specifically for the purpose of hanging Mordecai.
Esther 6, Mt. 9:1-17
Esther 7, 1 Thess. 5
Unable to sleep, the king orders the book of the records of the chronicles brought and read to him. This is not one of the Biblical books of Chronicles. It is a book of recent Persian history and events in which he learns of Mordecai’s action which saved the king’s life. He determines to honour Mordecai.
The next morning, Haman comes to the king to seek permission to hang Mordecai on the gallows he has built. When the king asks, “What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour?” Haman thinks the king intends to honour him. Verses 7-9 describe what Haman wants the king to do for him. But the king is not talking about Haman; he is talking about Mordecai, the man Haman wants to hang. “Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as thou hast said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew, that sitteth at the kings gate.” Haman must be shocked and angry, yet he has no choice but to do as the king commands. Later that day he complains to his friends but his complaining is interrupted by the call to come to Esther’s banquet.
At the banquet Esther pours out her heart to the king. She tells him that her people are to be slain until they all perish, and begs, “let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request.”
Hearing this, the king is angry. He demands to know who “durst in his heart to presume to do so?” The queen responds, “The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman.” The fire of hate and conceit that burned in Haman’s heart, now turns to fear as cold as ice. The king leaves the palace, and returns to find Haman begging Esther for his life. The king, already angry, thinks Haman is trying to “force the queen.” Within a few minutes, Haman stands on the gallows he had built for Mordecai. On that very gallows, “they hanged Haman.”
Again and we see the mighty hand of God protecting His people and working His will in human history. It is not chance or fate that saves the Jews. It is not even the courage of Esther or Mordecai, great as their courage is. It is the hand of God working in grace to accomplish His will on earth.
Esther 8, Mt. 9:18-38
Esther 9:1-19, 2 Thess. 1
The danger to the Jewish people does not end with the death of Haman. He and his people have aroused animosity against the Jews throughout the Persian Empire. No doubt the Jews themselves cause part of the animosity. They have continuing complex of believing their calling to know and serve the Living and True God is due to their moral and spiritual superiority to other people, whom they call “unclean.” Rather than having compassion on the Gentiles, they are conceited, and even hateful towards them. This is odd, because, at the same time, many, perhaps even most of the Jews are happily adopting Gentile ideas and life-styles. Most of their animosity toward Gentiles, then, is due to ethnic conceit, not fidelity to God.
If they were faithful to God, they would still engender animosity from the Gentiles, because they would live very different lives. They would not participate in pagan festivals, eat their foods, intermarry with them, or even socialise with them on a large scale. They would live separate and secluded lives in their own towns or neighbourhoods. If they were really faithful to God, they would leave their Persian homes and return to the land God gave them and in which He called them to dwell and worship Him. So, while many Jews have become Persians in every detail, they still feel superior to Persians. Others, like Mordecai, refuse to bow to men like Haman or acknowledge the Persian idols. This combination engenders a strong dislike of the Jews, and thousands of people are determined to fulfil Haman’s decree to annihilate the Jewish people.
It must be remembered that a Persian king’s decrees could not be reversed. Thus, when Ahasureus takes Haman’s advice, and orders the Jews to be annihilated on a certain day, he is powerless to annul that decree. So he issues another decree which allows the Jews to resist the annihilation efforts by force. The vast majority of people in the Empire, knowing the king’s regrets over the first decree, and that he desires to preserve the Jewish people, make no effort to harm the Jews. But thousands of people in many places do. So when the day arrives, the Persian Empire is thrown into a bloody war of ethnic cleansing. We do not know how many Jews suffered or died in this war, but the book of Esther records seventy-five thousand of their enemies killed throughout the Empire, plus 500 in the capitol city. The sons of Haman are also executed by hanging. This preserves the Jewish people as an ethnic identity, leaving hope that they will return to their true identity soon.
Esther 9:20-32, 10:1-3, Mt. 10
Job 1, 2 Thess. 2
Esther 9:20-32, 10:1-3
A time of feasting and thanksgiving is decreed for all the Jews by Esther and Mordecai, which becomes known as the feast of Purim. It is interesting that the feast originates with people without ecclesiastical authority who live outside of the land of Judah. The Judeans must feel some animosity toward the Jews who remain in Persia rather than joining and helping them in their very difficult situation in Jerusalem and Judea. At the same time, they rejoice that God has preserved their brethren. So the feast is adopted by the Judean people, and becomes a standard in the Jewish annual calendar. Thus the book of Esther ends with the Jewish people safe and rejoicing in the providence of God.
Job 2, Mt. 11
Job 3, 2 Thess. 3
Job is thought to be a very ancient book. The events it describes do not occur in Israel, and probably happen long before the time of Abraham. They are so tragic and so puzzling that they have been recorded and preserved in poetry and in a format that is almost like a theatrical play. Job’s situation casts him into deep despair, and causes him to question the very foundations and elemental principles of life. Three questions underlie the entire book. First, if good and bad things happen to all people, why should anyone try to be good? Second, if good and bad things happen to those who try to love and obey God, why should anyone try to love and obey Him? Third, if this is what life is like, why not just die and get out of it? These are not simply topics for philosophical discussion in the safety of the halls of academia. They are the deep, existential questions of the heart of a man caught in sorrows that threaten his views of life, his faith in God, and his desire to live at all. These are life and death, and Heaven and Hell, time and eternity questions asked by a man who, like all of us, exists in the midst of these very real issues, and cannot escape their very real consequences.
Chapter 1 shows Job as a righteous man who lives in obedience to God. Job’s righteousness is not sinless perfection. It is a life lived in faith and love of God instead of in opposition and rebellion against God. It is a life that is lived trusting God to to accept and bless him because God is merciful and good. But Job’s faith is shaken when the disasters strike him. The devil, one of the angelic beings, or, sons of God, says Job only loves God because God has protected Job from sorrow (put a protective hedge around Job), and has made him rich and happy. If God takes away Job’s worldly treasures, his faith will die and he will curse God to His face. Will we only trust God in good times? Will we trust Him when everything else is gone? These questions clearly confront us as we read the book of Job.
Chapter 2 finds Job in deep grief yet still holding on to his faith in God. Verse 9 is a statement of faith. It says he will trust God in bad times as much as in good times.
Job’s faith is much weaker now. He is beginning to wish he had never been conceived (1-10). In verse 11 he wishes he had died in the womb, or that his mother had never fed or cared for him after birth. Why didn’t she just let him die? As you read these verses let yourself feel a little of the depth of Job’s grief and confusion. Why is Job saying it is better to be dead than to live under the power of God, who causes such sorrow and suffering?
Job thinks of death as either the end of existence, or as existing in a form and place that is barren of both joy and sorrow. To him is is a kind of existence in which a person is conscious, but immune to the things of life. It is something like a shadow of life. A shadow resembles a person and moves with a person, but does not feel the pain or care about the questions of life. That is why Job says if he were dead he would be at peace.
Job 4, Mt.12:1-21
Job 5, 1 Timothy 1
Now the friends of Job begin to speak. These friends have often been criticised as unfeeling moralists who thunder on about the wrath of God on a sinful Job. But Eliphaz is actually tender and compassionate at first. His faith, too, is tried by Job’s sorrows, and he wants to know how these things could happen to a man like Job. He begins by asking permission to speak. He has no wish to humiliate Job, or to haughtily pronounce judgment upon what he may perceive as Job’s sins. His desire is to understand and comfort Job.
He gently points out that Job has often comforted others in their suffering. Therefore, Job knows the “answers” to all the theological, moral, and practical issues he is facing. The implication is that if Job was able to help others, he should be able to help himself. He knows both the cause of his troubles, and the way out of them.
Eliphaz makes one dynamic point, which he will repeat many times in the course of the book: “whoever perished being innocent? Or where were the righteous cut off?” He is stating an idea that is still popular today, that the innocent do not suffer. Only the wicked perish, and they perish by the blast of God. They are like lions who kill and devour their prey, but, in the end, it is they who perish.
Verses 12-21 tell of a dream of a visitation by God in which Eliphaz learns of the justice of God. He is so convinced of the reality of this visitation that, on its basis, he essentially accuses Job of sin. A mortal man, Job, is not more just than God or more pure than his Maker. In other words, sinners suffer, the innocent do not. Therefore, Job is guilty of sin, and his suffering is in exact proportion to the degree of his sin.
Eliphaz continues. His point is that Job’s suffering is a gracious correction from God (17). If Job will repent of his sin God will restore his former happiness, and keep him in it all the days of his life. He is absolutely convinced that this is so. Thus, in verse 27 he concludes his remarks, saying, “Lo this, we have searched it, so it is; hear it and know thou it for thy good.” He is saying, Job, I know this to be true. I have received it in a visitation from God, and I have pondered it in my heart often. Listen to it, and believe it, and all will be well with you.
We must be careful about religious experiences. It is possible to have experiences that we think are given by God, but are not. Eliphaz’s vision was not from God, though he was convinced it was. This brings us to a very important point: Scripture is not judged or interpreted by experiences. Experiences are judged and interpreted by Scripture.
Job 6, Mt. 12:22-50
Job 7, 1 Tim. 2, 3
It is Job’s turn to speak, but he does not confess sin and repent, as Eliphaz expects. Instead he says that, just as an animal only complain when it is not fed or cared for, he is not complaining without reason. And the reason is not that God is making him suffer, though he is innocent of wrong and is suffering unjustly. Furthermore, his suffering is so terrible, and his anger and mistrust of God is now so consuming, he no longer desires to serve God, or even to live. “Oh that I might have my request; and that God would grant me the thing that I long for! Even that it would please God to destroy me; that He would let loose His hand, and cut me off.”
Job continues to express his sorrows. Life has become a burden for him, and God will not release him from it. He is forced “to possess months of vanity,” and “wearisome nights” are appointed to him. Life is empty and meaningless. Nights are spent in mourning and tears rather than peaceful sleep and rest. He is “full of tossings to and fro until the dawning of the day,” He begins to address God, and, in very disrespectful ways, tells Him He is unfair and cruel. If indeed Job has sinned (and he maintains that he has not) God should pardon his transgression and take away his iniquity. Instead, for no reason, God sends unbearable sorrows to him. His only relief can be death, and his soul chooseth it rather than life (vs. 15).
Job’s grief is so terrible he plans to take his own life (vs. 21). He seems to say he will kill himself, and when God looks for him again, to afflict him again, He will not find him because he will be dead. This is deep and gripping sorrow, and Job sees no way out of it. Normally he would cast himself upon the mercies of God. Normally he would trust God to be kind and generous. But it seems God has turned against him. It seems God is capricious, and delights in tormenting him. Therefore, Job has no hope. He does not believe life will ever be anything better for him. He believes God will keep him in this state of torment as long as he lives, so he decides to end his life. He thinks that is his only escape.
Fortunately there is much more to the book of Job. Though it challenges many common ideas about the ways of God and His dealings with humanity, yet it also affirms His grace and kindness. Let Job only continue on, and he will find peace, not only peace with God, but peace in God.