Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Queen Esther: A Destiny Fulfilled. Day 5, Esther Wins The Crown

Queen Esther:
A Destiny Fulfilled
Day 5
Esther Wins The Crown

Esther has been brought to the citadel of Susa and the Lord gives her a special grace in the eyes of Hegai, the eunuch in charge of the virgins recently brought into the harem. "She pleased him and won his favor. Immediately he provided her with beauty treatments and special food. He assigned to her seven female attendants selected from the king's palace and moved her and her attendants into the best place in the harem." (Esther 2:9) 

We don't know what it was specifically about Esther's character that endeared her to the eunuch. She may have had a humility of spirit because of her relationship to the Lord. She might have been kinder and more respectful to him than the other young ladies were. Or it could be that the Lord had spoken to Hegai's spirit, letting him know this was the one destined to be chosen Queen of Persia.

"Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so. Every day he walked back and forth near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her." (Esther 2:10-11) Perhaps the Lord had spoken to Mordecai's heart too, and he had an inkling Esther would be chosen as the next queen, but he feared she would be disqualified if the king realized she was a Jew. The land of Babylon was filled with people of various cultures because of all the nations Nebuchadnezzar had conquered, so the men commissioned by Xerxes to round up the beautiful young women would have known the group contained women of various backgrounds. But Mordecai didn't want anything to prejudice the women of the harem, the eunuchs, or the king against Esther. He wanted her to have the best shot possible at winning the crown.

We don't know whether the fathers and guardians of the other young ladies were concerned enough about them to lurk outside the courtyard, but no one questions Mordecai about his behavior. Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra, an ancient Jewish writer and philosopher, suggests that Mordecai's high position in the king's court allowed him to hang around the palace grounds without appearing suspicious. Mordecai's care and concern for Esther are displayed in his daily trips to the courtyard. I think she was on his mind and in his prayers every hour of the day and night. 

"Before a young woman's turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatment prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics." (Esther 2:12) The women of ancient Persia wore makeup, used dyes and stains, and adorned themselves with scented oils and perfumes. The young ladies brought into the harem were trained in the application of these cosmetics so that, whether chosen as queen or simply appearing in the king's entourage as part of the harem, all of them would look their best. They were trained to enhance all their best features. Some scholars suggest that twelve months had to be fulfilled before any of the girls went to the king in case any of them had been unchaste and was pregnant when brought into the harem. This would relieve the king of the risk of providing for a child that was not his.

"And this is how she would go to the king: Anything she wanted was given her to take with her from the harem to the king's palace. In the evening she would go there and in the morning return to another part of the harem to the care of Shaashgaz, the king's eunuch who was in charge of the concubines. She would not return to the king unless he was pleased with her and summoned her by name." (Esther 2:13-14) A Persian harem was divided into three sections. The most exclusive section was for the queen and her attendants. The second section was for concubines, who were legal wives but of lesser status than the queen. (Generally, the son of a concubine could not be heir to the throne unless the queen was unable to bear a son.) The third section was for virgins brought into the harem who had not yet been with the king. This is where Esther and her companions were housed and, after each one has been called to spend a night with the king, she was then sent to the second section where the concubines lived. Some commentators have criticized Esther for spending her night with the king, as if she was a loose and immoral woman, but we have to keep in mind that a concubine was a legal wife and she would have been considered married to the king. She was not having relations with him outside of marriage. Polygamy is not God's pattern for marriage but it was widely practiced by wealthy men in the ancient world, and Esther was not living in sin when she went to the king. She was a victim of the society she lived in and if anyone was guilty of sinful living, it was Xerxes, not Esther.

"When the turn came for Esther (the young woman Mordecai had adopted, the daughter of his uncle Abihail) to go to the king, she asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king's eunuch who was in charge of the harem, suggested. And Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her." (Esther 2:15) The Bible doesn't tell us what Esther asked for. Presumably she was free to choose any finery and jewels she wanted, but maybe Hegai advised her to keep it simple. It would have been natural for these ladies to want to stand out as much as possible and to adorn themselves with all the costly clothing and jewels they could, but Hegai may have had an idea that Esther would stand out more if she did the opposite. Then her own natural beauty could shine through.

"She was taken to King Xerxes in the royal residence in the tenth month, the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign. Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. And the king gave a great banquet, Esther's banquet, for all his nobles and officials. He proclaimed a holiday throughout the provinces and distributed gifts with royal liberality." (Esther 2:16-18) Each girl who went to the king had to hope she impressed him enough that he would either choose her as queen or at least remember her name and call for her again at sometime in the future. Xerxes had no trouble remembering Esther's name. There was something about her that impressed him right away, and it could be because she had an inner beauty of the spirit, the type the Apostle Peter praised, "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight." (1 Peter 3:3-4) I don't think there's anything sinful about taking care of ourselves and looking nice, but outward beauty is of little worth if there is no inner beauty. Outward beauty fades as time marches on. If we are not of good character on the inside, what are we left with? 

God says there is a beauty that never fades. There is a beauty that will never need the nip and tuck of a plastic surgeon. There is a beauty that is invaluable in the eyes of God (and in the eyes of every godly husband). This is the beauty of good character, of a gentle spirit that ministers to others, of a quiet and calming personality that comes from trusting fully in the Lord. This type of beauty only grows as time passes. The world places value only on young, beautiful, and sexually alluring women. The world says that as we age we become less useful. But the world couldn't be more wrong. In the eyes of God there is nothing more beautiful than a godly woman who is mature in the faith and confident of who she is in Christ. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Queen Esther: A Destiny Fulfilled. Day 4, The Bachelor

Queen Esther:
A Destiny Fulfilled
Day 4
The Bachelor

King Xerxes is single again, or as single as a man with a harem but no queen can be. If historians and Bible scholars are correct, he spent the time between Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 waging unsuccessful war against Greece, and now he is back home and has time to think about the mistake he made in deposing the beautiful and brave Queen Vashti.

"Later when King Xerxes' fury had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what he had decreed about her." (Esther 2:1) He's moping about the palace missing his queen. Now that his anger has worn off he realizes he made a mistake, but he signed her banishment into law and it cannot be revoked. Even if he could call her back, it would make him look weak to the people, and that's the last thing he needs after putting the country through a very expensive war.

His attendants come up with an idea they think will lift his spirits. "Then the king's personal attendants proposed, 'Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king. Let the king appoint commissioners in every province of his realm to bring all these beautiful young women into the harem at the citadel of Susa. Let them be placed under the care of Hegai, the king's eunuch, who is in charge of the women; and let beauty treatments be given to them. Then let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.' This advice appealed to the king, and he followed it." (Esther 2:2-4) The ancient historian Josephus states that a total of 400 women were brought into the harem in this contest for the title of Queen of Persia. 

"Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shemei, the son of Kish, who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, among those taken captive with Jehoiachin king of Judah." (Esther 2:5-6) Mordecai's great-grandfather had been among those carried off to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. This particular family of the tribe of Benjamin has been there ever since, although King Cyrus of Persia in his first year as king over Babylon gave permission for the Jews to return and rebuild the temple at Jerusalem. A successor, Darius I Hystaspes, gave quite a bit of help to the Jews in their rebuilding efforts. So why was Mordecai still there? And why were so many other Jews still there? The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah both foresaw the downfall of Babylon and the return of the people to Jerusalem and their message, on the authority of the Lord, was, "Come out, come out! Come out of her, my people!" But life back in Judah was difficult and the rebuilding was hard work. In Babylon (now part of the Medo-Persian Empire) the Jews had jobs and homes of their own. Their children received educations. Life was easy and comfortable in Babylon in comparison to life in Judah, especially for those who assimilated into the Persian culture. As we will learn later on in the book of Esther, they had assimilated so well into the culture that King Xerxes was barely aware of the Jews as a separate people. 

We don't know whether the women gathered into Xerxes' harem had any say-so in the matter. In the movie based on the book of Esther, One Night With The King, the commissioners appointed to gather the women simply grab them off the streets. It may have happened this way. It's also possible that fathers of beautiful girls in the nation volunteered their daughters to enter this contest. Marriages were arranged in those days and young women had very little control, if any, in the choice of marriage partners. Fathers may have willingly entered daughters into the contest in the hopes of becoming father-in-law to the king. The women who would not be chosen as queen would remain in the harem for life, being richly provided for by the king even if he never interacted with them again, and there may have been fathers in the land who found this arrangement acceptable for their daughters. 

One young woman in particular is taken into the harem. "Mardecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This young woman, who was also known as Esther, had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died. When the king's order and edict had been proclaimed, many young women were brought to the citadel of Susa and put under the care of Hegai. Esther was also taken to the king's palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem." (Esther 2:7-8) Esther, like Daniel, was known by two names. Her Hebrew name of Hadassah meant "myrtle" and her Persian name of Esther meant "star" or "morning star". It's possible this name is a derivative of that of the pagan goddess Ishtar. 

You may have heard the expression of keeping one foot in the church and one foot in the world. This is the condition of the Jews in Babylon in Esther's day. They have managed to retain some of their religion and heritage and customs, but they have blended these with the worldly ways of the Persians. They have largely remained a separate people as far as marriage goes, but they look and speak and behave much like everyone around them. This is a great danger to us in our own times. When we, as Christians, become indistinguishable from unbelievers, we have compromised our faith. We have stopped swimming against the stream and are going with the flow, which makes us weak. Daniel stood out in Babylon because he never compromised his faith. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood out in Babylon because they never compromised their faith. They purposed in their hearts to be true to the one true God and that is why we know their names today. Esther will be faced with the same choice they were faced with: does she integrate herself into the culture and remain silent? Or does she step out in faith and be used for a great purpose by a great God? 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Queen Esther: A Destiny Fulfilled. Day 3, Queen Vashti Deposed

Queen Esther:
A Destiny Fulfilled
Day 3
Queen Vashti Deposed

Yesterday King Xerxes asked his wife, Queen Vashti, to appear before the drunken men at his party so they could see how beautiful she was. She refused and now he is angry and embarrassed. 

Xerxes is not an especially nice man but still managed to find himself a queen of good character, although he doesn't appreciate her. Any man ought to be thankful for a modest wife who isn't interested in dressing or behaving in ways that provoke sexual responses from other men. A woman who dresses provocatively in public is likely not doing so to attract the attention of her own husband, but to cause other men to stare at her. Vashti is not that kind of girl.

Because he's so embarrassed in front of his party guests, Xerxes decides to punish the queen. "Since it was customary for the king to consult experts in matters of law and justice, he spoke with the wise men who understood the times and were closest to the king---Karshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena and Memukan, the seven nobles of Persia and Media who had special access to the king and were highest in the kingdom." (Esther 1:13-14) He speaks with the men who "understood the times"; in other words, they are current on all the laws of the land. He wants to know his legal rights in this matter. What exactly can he do to the queen in return for what he considers disrespect and treachery? 

"'According to the law, what must be done to Queen Vashti?' he asked. 'She has not obeyed the command of King Xerxes that the eunuchs have taken to her.'" (Esther 1:15) Though the Bible places the husband as head of the household, we must assume a wife is excepted from obedience when to obey her husband would be to sin against God. Vashti's gods would have been pagan gods, but the same principle remains. She felt her husband was asking her to do something that violated her morals and her sense of self-worth and self-respect. The Scriptures command the husband to love his wife in the way that the Lord loves the church, but we do not find Xerxes loving Vashti in this way. To him she's nothing but a trophy wife. She's just one more accomplishment he can brag about. She means no more to him than the rich food and the wine he's been serving to his guests. Vashti may not be able to prevent her husband viewing her with disrespect, but she can prevent doing something that will make her disrespect herself, so she remains in the women's quarters with her friends. Xerxes can't see the situation from her perspective and probably doesn't even try; his pride won't allow him to stop and consider the matter from other angles. All he knows is that men of the nation are laughing at him behind his back for not being able to control his own household, so he is going to make a public example of Vashti to salve his pride and gain back the admiration of his men.

"Then Memukan replied in the presence of the king and the nobles, 'Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes. For the queen's conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands and say, 'King Xerxes commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come.' This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen's conduct will respond to all the king's nobles in the same way. There will be no end of disrespect and discord.'" (Esther 1:16-18) I have a sneaking suspicion that Memukan is not nearly as worried about all the wives of the land as he is about his own wife. In his mind he pictures giving his wife an order only to have her reply, "If Queen Vashti doesn't have to obey King Xerxes, I don't have to obey you!" So Memukan interprets the problem of Queen Vashti as one of national security. He makes Xerxes feel he will be doing a disservice to all men if he does not punish the queen appropriately.

Memukan continues, "Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also let the king give her royal position to someone else who is better than she. Then when the king's edict is proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest." (Esther 1:19-20) 

The Jewish Midrash states Xerxes had Vashti executed, although the original text suggests only banishment. I think Xerxes may have done something similar to that which David did when he realized he and his first wife Michal would never have a meeting of the minds or have anything in common spiritually. We find the story in 2 Samuel 6, when the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem and David danced in praise before the Lord. The Bible tells us, "Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart." (2 Samuel 6:16) She verbally attacked him when he returned to the house, accusing him of displaying himself in a vulgar manner, having no understanding of the joy David felt in the Holy Spirit when the ark came into the city. She despised David, she despised his faith, and she quite possibly despised the Lord. Verse 23 concludes the matter between Michal and David by saying, "And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death." Some scholars interpret this as "she lived as a widow til the day of her death". This would mean that, although David didn't divorce her, he didn't maintain a husband/wife relationship with her. He would have provided for her just as he provided for all his other wives and concubines, but would have had no further contact with her. She lost her position as his first wife and queen, suffering what to Jewish women of her day was the greatest humiliation of all: never becoming a mother of children. This may be the way Xerxes dealt with Vashti. I certainly hope so. I like to think she lived out the rest of her days in the women's quarters in peace, never having to deal with Xerxes and his bad temper again. 

Xerxes thinks Memukan's advice is good. "The king and his nobles were pleased with his advice, so the king did as Memukan proposed. He sent dispatches to all parts of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in their own language, proclaiming that every man should be ruler over his own household, using his own native tongue." (Esther 1:21-22) Xerxes extended this right not only to the men of Media and Persia, but to all the other men dwelling in the territories the Medo-Persian Empire controlled. He says something like, "Don't let your women get out of hand! You are the king of your castle. I didn't let the queen get away with her behavior; don't let your wives get away with it either. If they disobey you, just remind them what happened to Vashti and that your authority over your household is now the law of the land."

Xerxes is a man luckier in love than he ever deserved to be. The Lord provided him with a queen of good character and high morals, but he didn't appreciate her. He could have learned some valuable things from Vashti's example. He could have looked at the situation from her perspective and realized he was wrong, going to her with an apology and then apologizing to his guests for setting such a poor example of how a husband should behave toward his wife. We've all heard the saying, "Behind every successful man there is a woman," and Vashti could have helped Xerxes be a better man and a better king if only he had allowed her to be more of an equal partner and helpmate in their marriage. 

Xerxes may never have appreciated the noble character of his wife, but the Lord appreciated it. Vashti was a woman the Lord could use as a part of His plan to save the Jewish people from a terrible time of trouble soon to come. If Vashti had been the type of woman who enjoyed flaunting herself in front of other men, she could have remained Queen of Persia for the rest of her life. Instead, the Lord used her modesty to create a vacancy in the role of queen, a vacancy that Esther will later fill. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Queen Esther: A Destiny Fulfilled. Day 2, Queen Vashti Disobeys The King

Queen Esther:
A Destiny Fulfilled
Day 2
Queen Vashti Disobeys The King

Today we learn who the first wife of Xerxes I was and how she fell out of favor with her husband.

"This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush: At that time King Xerxes ruled from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present." (Esther 1:1-3) By the time of Xerxes, the capital of Babylon had been moved from the city of Babylon to the city of Susa. Xerxes' palace was there and like many ancient kings, he was eager to demonstrate his power and wealth by supplying his top officials with rich foods and free-flowing wine for an extended period of time.

"For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty." (Esther 1:4) If his war against Greece takes place between Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, one of the motives for the feast may have been to prop up the men's morale, secure their support, and encourage them to fight for the glory of their kingdom.

"When these days were over, the king gave a banquet, lasting seven days, in the enclosed garden of the king's palace, for all the people from the least to the greatest who were in the citadel of Susa." (Esther 1:5) It was important to secure the allegiance of the common people as well, for he would spend four years recruiting and conscripting men into his army.

No expense was spared in the courtyard of the palace. "The garden had hangings of white and blue linen, fastened with cords of white linen and purple material to silver rings on marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and other costly stones. Wine was served in goblets of gold, each one different from the other, and the royal wine was abundant, in keeping with the king's liberality. By the king's command each guest was allowed to drink with no restrictions, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished." (Esther 1:6-8) With seven days of continual drinking, we can see why so many couches were necessary at this feast! 

"Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the royal palace of King Xerxes." (Esther 1:9) The wives and concubines of the king were housed in a separate section of the palace where each woman was provided with her own private quarters. According to historians, Persian women were allowed to hold money and property in their own names and were at times even involved in the political careers of their husbands. While not granted equal rights with men, Persian women enjoyed more freedom than that of many other women of ancient times. They were supplied with a high level of education and training in the arts, and they traveled in the entourage of the king wherever he went and enjoyed various cultural experiences. Vashti would have had the freedom to throw lavish parties anytime she chose and would have been able to spend money at her own discretion without asking the permission of her husband the king. 

Xerxes has been feasting and drinking for a total of 187 days now and does not have his wits about him, so he makes a poor decision. "On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him---Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Karkas---to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at." (Esther 1:10-11) The king is sloppily drunk by now and gets the bright idea of parading his queen before all these men. He sends the eunuchs (the only type of men allowed into the women's quarters) to fetch his wife. It's not enough for him that he has made an obscene display of his wealth before all the nation for over six months in order to prove he is the greatest king on earth. He now feels compelled to prove to everyone he has the most beautiful wife on earth. 

An ancient Jewish legend states that the men were arguing over which nation produced the most beautiful women, at which point Xerxes decides to settle the matter by showing them the most beautiful woman he has ever laid eyes on. I picture him lying on his couch with his eyes narrowed to slits in that common expression of inebriation, red-faced with wine, slurring his words and saying, "You don't think Persian women are the most gorgeous girls on the face of the earth? I'll prove it to you! Yeah, I'll prove it to you...Hey, eunuchs! Go and get the queen and tell her to put on her prettiest crown and come out here so I can show these guys who is the most beautiful woman in the world!"

Some scholars have proposed the idea that the king ordered Vashti to appear wearing only her crown, but most of the reputable commentaries and study guides I consulted say this is not indicated by the original text. I tend to believe Vashti was expected to appear before the king and his guests in the finery she was already wearing, but with the addition of the royal crown, which she was likely not wearing at her private party in the women's quarters. I think Xerxes wanted her to make an impression that would take the men's breath away, and he felt the addition of the crown would add to her already majestic appearance.

Things do not go according to plan. "But when the attendants delivered the king's command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger." (Esther 1:12) Wives of high officials in Persia were expected to be intelligent and educated and capable of making decisions regarding their own money and property. They were not expected to be mere sex symbols. Vashti was not brought up to be the kind of woman to flaunt herself in a lascivious manner. She knows she is worthy of honor in her own right and she respects herself too much to be objectified in this way. She will not allow herself to be exposed to the whistles and catcalls of a courtyard full of drunken men who will be undressing her with their eyes and lusting for her in their hearts. No man who respects and loves his wife would ask such a thing, so she refuses her husband's request. 

Xerxes' rage is so great because his embarrassment is so great. He has spent an untold amount of money and a great deal of time proving to his people that he is the greatest king on earth and now his own wife humiliates him in the presence of all these men. How will he ever live it down? How will he lead soldiers into war if he can't even lead his wife to the garden? In their intoxicated state, some of the men may have dared to laugh at this turn of events. The lavish party which was intended to be the talk of Persia for many years to come is going to be the talk of Persia for an entirely different reason, a reason which puts the king in a bad light. If he can't control his household, how is he expected to control the nation? If his wife disobeys him, why should men obey his orders on the battlefield? He knows he must come up with some way to soothe his wounded pride and salvage his reputation. In tomorrow's study his wise men will propose a solution which sets the stage for a young orphan girl named Hadassah to become Esther, Queen of Persia.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Queen Esther: A Destiny Fulfilled. Day 1, Introduction

Queen Esther:
A Destiny Fulfilled
Day 1

The book of Esther is about a woman who is at the right place at the right time. It is about a young Jewish girl who rises from obscurity to a position of power as queen of the Persian Empire in order to fulfill her destiny: the saving of many Jewish lives. Near the beginning of this book we find the young Esther somewhat weak in the faith, reluctant to assume the heavy mantle of responsibility and unwilling to risk her life for the lives of her people. But by the end of the book she will have grown into a woman who is mature in the faith, prepared to surrender her will to God's will even if it means her own death. 

The dating for the book of Esther is likely somewhere between 486 BC and 465 BC because the best candidate for the king whom Esther marries is the Persian king Xerxes I. In the Persian language his name would have been Khshayarsha or Xsayarsa, but was rendered as Xerxes in Greek and Ahaseurus in Hebrew. The name meant something like "king of kings" or "ruler of heroes". Xerxes ruled when Persia was still at the height of her power and he was regarded as a great king, but although the name of God is never mentioned in the book of Esther, we will see that the true "king of kings" is God, not Xerxes. And the real hero of this book is not King Xerxes, but Queen Esther.

We first learned a bit about Xerxes I while still in the book of Daniel. The angel who provided Daniel with prophecies for the future said this about the kingdom of Persia, "Now then, I tell you the truth: Three more kings will arise in Persia, and then a fourth, who will be far richer than all the others. When he has gained power by his wealth, he will stir up everyone against the kingdom of Greece." (Daniel 11:2) Xerxes I is the fourth king. Due to very heavy pressure from his family, his advisers, and his top officials, Xerxes spent four years amassing a huge army so he could attack Greece in revenge for the defeat his father (Darius 1 Hystaspes, also known as Darius the Great) suffered at the hands of Greece in the battle at Marathon. 

Xerxes' war began with two victories for Persia at Artemisium and Thermopylae, after which Xerxes marched on to Athens where he burned the city in a fit of rage when the people resisted him instead of surrendering. The Greeks fled Athens and most of the countryside under the Persian onslaught but assembled their army off the mainland at Aegina and gathered their navy at Salamis. Upon advice of his council, Xerxes engaged the Greek navy at the battle of Salamis and suffered a crushing defeat. Xerxes headed home to his capitol at Susa, leaving his brother-in-law and general of the army (Mardonius) in the Greek territories to continue the assault without him. But Mardonius was defeated the next year in the Battle of Plataea while another detachment of the army was decisively vanquished the same day in the Battle of Mycale, effectively ending Xerxes' war with Greece. For the rest of his life he contented himself with massive building projects and the construction of roads, further depleting the economy and ushering in the decline of the Persian Empire. 

It is believed by many scholars and historians that Xerxes' war took place between Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of the book of Esther. In Chapter 1 we find Xerxes married to Queen Vashti, whom he deposes from her position as queen when she refuses to appear at a banquet to be displayed as a trophy wife to all the drunken men assembled there. It is thought that several years pass between Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, during which time Xerxes is busy with his war. Chapter 2 will begin by telling us that "later" Xerxes regrets the decision he made in anger to depose Vashti. Seeing how depressed he is by his military losses and how lonely he is without Queen Vashti, his advisers seek to cheer him up by proposing a contest in which young ladies will be gathered from all over the kingdom so he may select his next queen from among them. This is how a young Jewish orphan named Hadassah is brought into the citadel of Susa where she will be chosen as the next queen of Persia. 

God has a great destiny in store for Hadassah if she is willing to be used for His kingdom. If she can find it within herself to take a leap of faith, she is the instrument God will use to save the lives of thousands of Jews. The Lord didn't call Hadassah from her humble beginnings to crown her "Esther, Queen of Persia" for nothing. He invites her to take part in His awesome plan for His covenant people. But if she refuses, God's plan for His people will not be thwarted, for He will point out to her through her uncle Mordecai, "If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place." (Esther 4:14a) If Esther had refused God's calling on her life, Esther would have been refusing the opportunity to grow in her faith and, according to a dire warning from Mordecai, she would lose her life in the genocide that is proposed in this book by an enemy of the Jews. There would be no book of Esther for us to study if she had turned her back on her destiny. Her name would have perished with her.

Esther is presented with a choice, as we all are. Do we surrender our lives to the Lord and submit to His will and thereby fulfill our destinies? Or do we refuse Him and live lives of mediocrity and weak faith? The heroes of the Bible are the men and women who were willing to say "yes" to God. If they had refused Him, we wouldn't even know their names. What might God have in store for us if we decide, as Esther does, to follow Him no matter what the cost? God has placed us exactly where we are on the timeline of history, in our specific families, with our own individual personalities and talents, in order to fulfill our destinies. He is calling us to do kingdom work. He has chosen us for such a time as this. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Psalm 91

Psalm 91

Tomorrow we begin our new Bible study on the book of Esther. I ran short of free time this week to finish collecting all my study materials, so yesterday and today we are looking at a couple of my favorite Psalms before we begin the book of Esther on Saturday morning. I apologize for the delay, but maybe someone needs the comforting words of Psalm 91 today. I've needed them many times myself.

No author is ascribed to Psalm 91. Some scholars believe Moses wrote it, on account of the tradition of attributing authorship of untitled psalms to the person who wrote the previous one. It cannot be dated with any certainty and this leaves its authorship in question. That's fine with me, because I think Psalm 91 is a psalm for everyone, and we can pray it with the same positive and unwavering faith as its author. It doesn't matter who wrote it because this psalm is for anyone who wants to abide in the shelter of the Most High.

I want us first to take a look at the meaning of the word "abide" (or "dwell" as some translations put it). It means to "reside, inhabit, continue, nest, occupy, remain, rest, settle, stay, tarry, establish oneself, make one's home, to live or continue in a given condition or state, to linger over or ponder in thought, to keep the attention directed upon." We are promised great and mighty things in today's psalm if we commit to abiding in the shelter of the Most High. The psalmist doesn't have just a casual relationship with God but a continual and ongoing communion with the Lord. Like the psalmist, when we abide in the Lord we are living in a constant state of connection with God, with our hearts and minds unwaveringly fixed on Him. It involves living with the sense of His presence at all times, living in a way that honors Him, and putting Him at the forefront of all things.

When we abide in the shelter of the Most High, spiritually speaking it's as if we are living full time in His temple. We are established in Him. We make our perpetual home in His presence. We keep Him in our thoughts and we meditate on His holy word.

This psalm doesn't promise us freedom from all the troubles of this life but it does promise us God's care and provision. It would be easy to misinterpret the writer's words and think that if we live a righteous life no harm will ever fall upon us. But the Lord Jesus Christ, perfect Son of God, suffered in this life and we too will will be confronted with hardship. I think the psalmist is promising us freedom from the fear of trouble. I think he assures us of victory over our trials and over our enemy the devil. He professes peace during the storm, just as baby chicks have peace during the storm while they sleep snugly under theirs mother's wings.

Have any of you ever suffered from panic attacks? Has worry ever attacked you during the midnight hour? Don't our problems and fears seem so much worse in the long dark hours of night? I have read this psalm out loud during long nights of distress. In verse 5 the author will say, "You will not fear the terror of night." This is a beautiful verse to speak out loud to our fears in the night. No lie can stand before the word of God! Fear is a lie, the product of our own mortal minds and an assault from our enemy the devil. But fears are like cockroaches: when we turn the light of truth on them they run away. When we resist Satan he has to flee. (James 4:7) When we hear our own voice speak the word of the living God we can't help but feel strengthened in our hearts. We find the strength to keep fighting the battle. As verse 13 encourages us, "You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent".

Our true enemy is a fallen angel who who hates us, but the scripture promises us, "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." (Romans 16:20a) In the Bible we find the devil called both a lion and a serpent. Peter says about him, "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour". (1 Peter 5:8b) And we see Satan taking the form of a serpent in the garden of Eden, where he fired the first battle shot at mankind. But this doesn't mean we have to live in fear of our enemy. We have victory over him in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord! We aren't resisting him in our own power but by the blood of Christ and the glory and holiness of His name. Jesus said to the disciples in Luke 10:19, "I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you." The Lord isn't promising that no bodily harm will ever come upon the disciples, for we know many of them were martyred for their faith. But He promises no enemy can overcome their faith, their courage, their peace, their confidence or assurance. Jesus purchased us with the immeasurable worth of His blood and we are precious to Him. No enemy can have the final victory over the children of the Most High.

If fear finds you in those dark hours of the night, take your Bible and read Psalm 91 out loud. Speak these words of your loving Father to your weary soul. Darkness has to flee before the light. Lies have to flee before the truth. Tell your anxiety that in the name of Jesus Christ and through the power of His blood you will not fear the terror of night. Abide in the shelter of the Most High. Fix your heart and mind on Him.

Let's nest underneath the wings of Almighty God. Baby birds sleep through thunderstorms and lightning underneath their mother's wings, without a care in the world, held close to her heart. The feathers dampen the sound of the wind so it isn't so loud. The warmth of her feathers soothes the baby chicks to sleep. This is how God wants to hold us. He dearly desires to enfold us in His wings and comfort us. Outside the shelter of His wings, the storm may continue to rage. He may not completely still the sound of the thunder or the rain. But our Lord will shield us with His feathers the whole time. Protected and secure as He holds us close to His heart, we can say with assurance, "I will not fear the terror of night, nor the danger during the day, nor the threat that comes against me at noon. I will tread the roaring lion and the deceiving serpent under my feet. I will grind my enemy into the dust, for the Lord Jesus Christ has won the victory over him. Through Christ I have victory over all my fears. I will abide in the shelter of the Most High and find my rest in the shadow of the Almighty."

This is all our Lord asks of us in troubled times: to abide and rest. He is going to take care of everything else.

Psalm 91

The one who abides in the shelter of the Most High
Will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of my Lord, "He is my refuge and fortress,
My God, and I trust in Him."
He will surely save you
From the hidden snare
And from the deadly plague.
He will shield you under His feathers,
And you will find refuge under His wings;
His trustworthiness will be your shield and defense.
You will not fear the terror in the night,
Nor the arrow shot during the day,
Nor the the threat that stalks at noontime.
A thousand may fall all around you,
Ten thousand even,
But it will not come near you.
You will witness with your eyes
As it takes down the wicked.
If you confess, "The Lord alone is my refuge,"
And you make the Most High your habitation,
No misfortune can overcome you,
No adversity will bring down your confidence.
For God will command His angels regarding you
To guard every step you take;
They will lift you in their hands,

So that no calamity overpowers you.
You will tread underfoot the devourer and the deceiver;
You will trample them underfoot like dust.
"Because this one loves me," says the Lord, "I will come to the rescue;
I will be the Protector, for this one acknowledges My name.
I will answer when My children call;
I will be right there beside them in troubled times,
I will be the Deliverer.
I will grant an abundant and satisfying life
And show salvation to My children.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Psalm 27

Psalm 27

Psalm 27 is one of my favorites. It's a good one to read whenever we start to feel anxious and worried. David was the author of Psalm 27 and it displays the confidence he felt in the Lord no matter what came against him. David had learned from experience that he could trust God.

We know the word of God is true and that He encourages us to trust Him, but until we have walked through the fire we haven't experienced the truth of His word. Many of you know exactly what I mean. Before difficult times ever came into our lives, we may have believed the word of God was true, but it hadn't been tested by our circumstances. But once we have experienced the faithfulness of God in our times of trouble, we can say along with David, "The Lord is my light and my salvation---whom shall I fear?"

Many hundreds of years later the Apostle Paul said a similar thing about the Lord in Romans 8:31, "What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" Paul was another man who, like David, had walked through fiery trials but had found the Lord faithful.

These two men came from very different circumstances and had very different lives but they served the same Lord. David was a young man tending the sheep when Samuel came along and anointed him the future king of Israel. David was so humble that he went back to tending the sheep until he was called to play music for King Saul. For a while there it looked like he was going to inherit the throne because he became a mighty general in Saul's army and even married Saul's daughter. But jealousy entered Saul's heart and he persecuted David for about fifteen years, seeking to kill him. Yet during all that time David was kept safe by the Lord, because God was for him. Eventually the Lord took King Saul out of the picture and placed David on the throne just like He had promised. Though David failed miserably several times in his personal life, we find him repenting and coming back to God. Even then he still had several trials left to face. His little baby with Bathsheba died. Some of his own children turned against him. He had battles to fight against the enemies of Israel. But til the end of his life I believe David had a heart for God and he ended up dying peacefully in bed at the age of seventy. I don't doubt that his final thoughts in life were about God and what God had done for him.

The Apostle Paul was born into an upper-class family and studied under one of the best tutors. He was part of the very elite sect of the Pharisees and was moving up through the ranks, even faster than most men his age. Paul thought he was doing great things for the Lord when he persecuted the Christians. He was fairly prideful and self-righteous and believed his observance of the Mosaic law and his zealous persecution of Christians would gain him high favor with the Lord. But then one day he came face to face with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus and he was humbled and overwhelmed. In spite of all the sins he had committed against the Lord's people, God wanted to offer him a better way of living. So for the rest of his life we find the Apostle Paul giving up everything from his former life to serve the living Lord. He trusted that no matter what came against him, God was for him. Ancient tradition tells us that the Apostle Paul ended up being martyred for the gospel but, just like David, I feel certain his final thoughts were about the Lord and about how faithful the Lord had been.

I doubt any of us will ever have to face being on the run fifteen years from a vengeful king, and most of us will never be called to gives up our lives for the gospel. But we do come face to face with troubles in this life. If we don't face them with the attitude of a King David or an Apostle Paul, our troubles might lead us to believe that God isn't for us. But He is for us! A God who didn't withhold His own precious Son from us has to be for us! If ever we have moments of doubt, all we have to do is look at the cross and what our Lord accomplished for us there. Who can come against the children of a God like that? Even when we walk through the fire, and even if we lose our lives, God will be with us. His grace is going to be be sufficient. He is going to provide exactly what we need every step of the way. I know many of my readers have faced terrible things in life, but wasn't God faithful? If you're still breathing, He's still being faithful. He's not finished with you.

We can't judge all our tomorrows by the way we feel today. We mustn't believe the lie that things will never get better. We can't judge the goodness of God by how dark the road looks right now. In this dark and fallen world, we must stand on the one thing we know to be true: the word of God. The word of God promises us that He loves us and is for us.

Psalm 27

The Lord lights my way and saves me---
Why should I fear anyone?
The Lord is the One who protects my life---
Why should I be afraid?
When wicked ones come against me
To do me harm,
They are the ones who
Will come to harm.
Even if an army comes against me,
I won't be afraid;
Even if war breaks out all around me,
My trust will be in the Lord.
I only want one thing of God,
This is all that I care about;
That I can dwell in His house
Every day of my life,
That I can enjoy His beauty
And kneel before Him in His temple.
When days of trouble come
He will Hide me under His wings;
He will protect me from the wicked ones
And lift me up above the enemy.
Then I will rule over
Those who tried to hurt me;
I will shout for joy in victory;
I will sing and praise the Lord.
Hear my prayer, Lord;
Have mercy on me and answer me.
My heart tells me to seek You
And that is what I will do.
Don't ever close Your eyes,
Or turn from me in anger;
You are the One who helps me.
Do not leave me or forsake me,
For You are my Savior.
Even if my own parents reject me,
The Lord will be my Father.
Teach me to do Your will, Lord;
Lead me in the right direction
Because my enemies would love to see me fall.
Please don't let my enemy have the victory,
Because they do nothing but lie,
And they accuse me of things I didn't do.
My confidence is in this:
The Lord will give me good things in the future
And will bless me in this life.
Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and brave
And wait for the Lord.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel, Day 39. Conclusion

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 39

The angel has been telling Daniel of the wicked king of the end times known as the Antichrist. This person will establish a one-world government, which will be a dictatorship. He will be the leader of the government and also the general of the war machine, into which he will pour all the resources he can muster. He will also set up a one-world religion and demand that all worship be directed to him. But before the angel informs Daniel that it will be a time of trouble for the Jews like never before, he paused at the end of Chapter 11 to assure Daniel that the wicked king will come to his end. The time of trouble won't last forever.

Now we move on to Chapter 12, the conclusion of the book of Daniel. The angel says, "At that time Michael, the prince who protects your people, will arise." (Daniel 12:1a) The phrase "at that time" picks up where Chapter 11 left off, when we found the Antichrist waging war on every front. 

Michael is the archangel assigned to the nation of Israel. Earlier in Daniel we found the angel Gabriel referring to him as "one of the chief princes" (Daniel 10:13) and calling him "your prince" to Daniel (Daniel 10:21) In Chapter 10 we found Michael fighting on the side of the people of Israel. He is also mentioned in the book of Jude, "But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of  Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, 'The Lord rebuke you!'" (Jude 1:9) Moses died on a mountaintop after viewing the promised land from a distance, then the Lord buried him there. No man knows the location of Moses' grave. Evidently two of the Lord's angels (the fallen angel Satan and the faithful archangel Michael) argued over the interment of Moses' body. Satan may have wanted Moses' resting place made known, perhaps to entice the children of Israel into idolatry. The devil may have hoped the people would revere Moses as a type of God, worshiping him and praying to him, building a shrine or temple to him at the location of his burial. Michael, acting on behalf of God and in God's power, won the dispute and to this day no human being knows where Moses is buried. Satan knew idolatry lurked in the hearts of the people who had been brought out of Egypt, where idolatry was in their face twenty-four hours a day. He intended that the grave of Moses be a snare to them, but God's will prevailed as it always does. The book of Revelation tells us that Michael and his angels fought against Satan and his rebellious angels, overcoming them and throwing them out of heaven. (Revelation 12:7-9) The world often tries to present Satan to us as God's counterpart, His arch enemy, as if they are equals. But Satan isn't even the equal of the archangel Michael, much less the equal of God. 

In the time of the fiercest persecution, Michael the archangel will stand and fight for Israel in the most heated battle of all. "There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people---everyone whose name is found written in the book---will be delivered." (Daniel 12:1b) The prophet Jeremiah foresaw the Great Tribulation and said of it, "How awful that day will be! No other will be like it. It will be a time of trouble for Jacob, but he will be saved out of it." (Jeremiah 30:7) If we thought leaders like Antiochus IV Epiphanes and Adolf Hitler hated the Jews, their rage will pale in comparison to that of the Antichrist. Satan hates God's covenant people because Satan hates God. The only way he can strike back at God is through God's people. But he will not prevail over them anymore than he prevailed over the body of Moses. In that day, "They will serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them." (Jeremiah 30:9) "David their king" here is the Lord Jesus Christ, the king from the line of David, the Messiah and Risen One. The last thing Satan wants is for Israel to accept Jesus Christ as Messiah and King, but he will not be able to prevent this.

Next we find one of many Old Testament references to the resurrection of the dead, "Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever." (Daniel 12:2-3) There will be people still alive on the earth when Christ returns to rule the world, so the angel does not say all will rise but that multitudes will rise. If we ever needed any more proof that there is no such thing as a universal salvation, this is it. All of mankind will not be saved, but in the end each person receives the fate he or she chose for themselves. Those who were faithful to the Lord rise to everlasting life, receiving rewards for what they have accomplished in His name, such as sharing the gospel and leading others to the Lord. These bear no shame or contempt because they accepted Christ who bore the shame and contempt for them. Those who rejected Him rise from the dead to spend eternity in exile from His presence, condemned by their sins, forever bearing their burden of shame. 

"But you, Daniel, roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge." (Daniel 12:4) It was customary to place important documents inside jars and to seal the lids with wax to protect and preserve the documents. Daniel is not told to keep the prophecy from the people, but to preserve it. It was also sealed in the sense that it could not really be understood until the things contained in the prophecy began to come to pass. 

"Then I, Daniel, looked, and there before me stood two others, one on this bank of the river and one on the opposite bank. One of them said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, 'How long will it be before these astonishing things are fulfilled?' The man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, lifted his right hand and his left hand toward heaven, and I heard him swear by Him who lives forever, saying, 'It will be for a time, times and half a time. When the power of the holy people has been finally broken, all these things will be completed.'" (Daniel 12:5-7) The man clothed in linen is the one who has been giving Daniel the prophecy and he says that the worst part of the Great Tribulation, the time of Jacob's trouble, will last for three and a half years. As we recall, the Antichrist will broker a peace deal in the Middle East, a seven-year cease fire, but halfway through the seven years he will stop all sacrifice and offering to God and will set himself up in the temple and demand to be worshiped. The final three and a half years of the Great Tribulation will be the worst trouble the Jews have ever experienced. The Lord Jesus predicted this day and gave the people a sign to watch for, "So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation,' spoken of through the prophet Daniel---let the reader understand---then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains." (Matthew 24:15-16) In Jesus' day the desecration of the temple by Antiochus IV Epiphanes was in the past, and the people understood that Daniel's prediction of this had already been fulfilled. They could, therefore, also trust that Daniel's prediction of the wicked king of the end times would come to pass. The Antichrist will desecrate the third temple in a manner similar to that of Antiochus, and when the people of Israel see it they are to flee Jerusalem while they still can. 

From his standpoint on the timeline of history, Daniel could not make sense of all the kings and kingdoms that have been involved in this prophecy, or how all these things would come about. "I heard, but I did not understand. So I asked, 'My lord, what will the outcome of all this be?'" (Daniel 12:8) 

"He replied, 'Go your way, Daniel, because the words are rolled up and sealed until the time of the end. Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.'" (Daniel 12:9-10) Looking back through time, we can now see that much of Daniel's prophecy has already been fulfilled. The kings and kingdoms described in it have risen and fallen. All that remains to be fulfilled is the final portion regarding the times of the end. Daniel lived before Christ and since Daniel's day many have been purified and made spotless by the blood of the Lamb. Many more will be purified and made spotless as they come to faith in Him. But there are those who will never want to know Him, who wouldn't choose Him under any circumstances. These are those of whom the Lord said, "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead." (Luke 16:31) So the angel says that the wicked will continue to be wicked, they will never be convinced, they will never surrender their lives to the One who surrendered His life for them. They will not understand, not because they are incapable, but because they choose not to understand. If the inability to understand was something they could not help, there would be no punishment for it. But since the reward of the wicked is exile from the presence of God and the presence of His saints, along with eternal shame and contempt, we know that the failure to understand is voluntary.

"From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. Blessed is the one who waits for and reaches the end of the 1,335 days." (Daniel 12:11-12) We find another reference to three and a half years in the 1,290 days. There is also the addition of forty-five days, at the end of which there is a blessing for the ones who wait for it. There is so much debate and confusion and disagreement about the meaning of the extra forty-five days that I can't offer a firm conclusion about it. Christ returns at the end of the three and a half years, so some scholars believe it takes forty-five days to judge the people of the earth, and blessed are the ones who reach the end because this means they have made it through the judgment and have been found not guilty through the blood of Christ. Another, and quite good, theory is that it may take forty-five days to cleanse the temple of the desecration perpetrated upon it by the Antichrist. This is probably one of those prophecies we will not understand until the appointed time comes.

Like anyone else would in his situation, Daniel wants to know more. Like any other child of God, he eagerly desires to understand all the details about the Lord's coming kingdom. But the angel says, "As for you, go your way until the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance." (Daniel 12:13)

When we read the beautiful and precious promises of Scripture, we look around at this old fallen world and long for Christ's appearing. We pray not only "Your kingdom come" but "Your kingdom come today". We want to be done with troubles and trials. We long to see Christ seated on David's throne ruling the world in peace and righteousness. There are days when we receive unpleasant news or turn the TV on only to hear horrific stories of inhumanity, and our hearts cry out, "My Lord, what will the outcome of all this be?" And our Lord says to us the same thing the angel said to Daniel, "Go your way. Keep being an example of the faith. Keep sharing the gospel and leading others to righteousness. The end is not yet and there is work still to be done."

I've had a hard time saying goodbye to several of the Bible characters we've studied, and Daniel is one of them. But it isn't really "goodbye". It's "see you later", because we know where Daniel is today: he is resting in the Lord. We also know where Daniel will be when Christ reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords: in His presence with us. Someday Daniel can tell us in person all the things that happened in his life and about all the awesome revelations he received. And we will be able to tell him what an example he has been to us in the faith and how his life encouraged us to live lives of purpose.

Rest well, Daniel. See you later.

We close our study of the book of Daniel with this beautiful worship song.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel. Day 38, The Antichrist

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 38
The Antichrist

This week we've been studying the wicked king known as Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a man who hated the Jewish way of life and persecuted the Jews when they would not forfeit their God and their culture for his god Zeus and the Greek culture. It's not clear exactly how Antiochus met his end. Some accounts say he died of a sudden illness, others that he went mad and succumbed to a progressive psychosis, and others that he perished in battle. What we do know is that his time on earth came and went. And what we do know is that his life did not fulfill the predictions of the king depicted in the remainder of the book of Daniel. Antiochus IV was the "little Antichrist" of the Old Testament, but now Daniel's revelation moves very far into the future to another king: the Antichrist of the end times.

There's nothing unusual about the way Daniel's prophecy moves so seamlessly from the time before Christ to the time of the end. The Lord Jesus Christ presented a revelation in this same manner when prophesying the signs of the coming fall of Jerusalem and the signs of the end times in Matthew 24. Jesus wove this prophecy together as a whole, though two separate events were involved. Only half His prophecy has been fulfilled with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The rest remains to be fulfilled: wars and rumors of wars, kingdoms rising and falling, earthquakes and famines, false Messiahs, the persecution of the Jews and the church as never before. There remains to be fulfilled the "abomination of desolation" in the temple, which cannot possibly refer to Antiochus placing a statue of Zeus in the temple and defiling the altar by sacrificing a pig on it, because in Jesus' day that was in the past. He was speaking of the wicked king of the end times, of a third temple, and of a desecration of the temple that would be the sign that people should flee Jerusalem while they still can. 

These things still remain unfulfilled in our own day, but a leader will rise or is already on the earth who will broker a seven-year peace deal in the Middle East that allows the Jews to rebuild the temple. In the middle of the seven years he will do something Antiochus Epiphanes did: he will cut off all sacrifice and offering in the temple and will demand the worship of only one god. In Antiochus' case, that god was Zeus. But in Antichrist's case, that god will be himself. He will set "himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God". (2 Thessalonians 2:4) Antiochus Ephiphanes was a prideful and arrogant man who claimed to be Zeus' representative on earth, but even he acknowledged the gods of Greece. He didn't proclaim himself the one and only god but recognized higher powers, pagan though his ideas were. Antichrist is going to go much farther. He is going to outlaw the practice of every religion on earth except the religion he presents to world, and that is the worship of himself.

"The king will do as he pleases. He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods. He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been determined must take place. He will show no regard for the gods of his ancestors or for the one desired by women, nor will he regard any god, but will exalt himself above all." (Daniel 11:36-37) This man will show no regard for the gods (the Hebrew elohim) of his ancestors. This gives us no clue as to the man's ancient heritage, but the Hebrew elohim is plural except when it refers to Almighty God in the person of the Trinity, and that does not clearly appear to be the case here. Some scholars have used this to suggest the Antichrist will be a Jew, but the Apostle John's revelation indicates Antichrist will be a Gentile, for he comes out of the sea. Since "the sea" or "the waters" or "the nations" are used in the Bible as symbols of the Gentiles, I tend to believe the Antichrist will be a Gentile world leader. The use of the word elohim suggests to me that his ancestry is of a nation that had many gods. And since in the book of Daniel we found the kingdom of the Antichrist rising from the remains of the ancient kingdom of Rome, I believe this indicates he will be a Gentile whose original heritage was Roman, though his forebears may have been living in another country for generations or even centuries.

There is a great deal of confusion over who the god "desired by women" is. Some suggest it was the Adonis cult of the Greek Empire or the Osiris cult of Egypt, in which women were heavily involved. In some translations this verse is rendered in a different way, that Antichrist will have no regard for the desire of women. This could mean he will be unmarried and will have no interest in establishing family relationships. Another, and more likely interpretation, is that the god "desired by women" is the Lord Jesus Christ, because it was the hope of all young godly women of Judea that they might be the one chosen to be the mother of the Messiah. 

Antichrist will care nothing for pagan gods of this world or for the one true God. "Instead of them, he will honor a god of fortresses; a god unknown to his ancestors he will honor with gold and silver, with precious stones and costly gifts. He will attack the mightiest fortresses with the help of a foreign god and will greatly honor those who acknowledge him. He will make them rulers over many people and will distribute the land at a price." (Daniel 11:38-39) Antiochus Epiphanes did not worship a god of fortresses or a god unknown to his ancestors, nor did he dole out riches or lands to his subjects. Since we know Antichrist will allow no worship of anyone or anything but himself, the "god of fortresses" is probably not a god in the traditional sense but the worship of power, military might, and control. This fits well with the Antichrist's one-world government, a dictatorship in which subjects must obey him or die. It also suggest an enormous war machine, a one-world military into which Antichrist will pour all the resources he can get. It's interesting that the word "fortress" is synonymous with "stronghold" which is what Satan has always wanted. Since he made his first attack on mankind in the Garden of Eden, Satan has sought to gain a stronghold in people's minds and hearts. If he could not get mankind to worship him outright, he was willing to settle for giving mankind something to worship in place of God. These strongholds have taken many forms such as various types of addictions, idolatry, and even atheism which elevates man to the status of a god, because if there is no God then man is the most superior being. 

Antichrist will not rule without opposition. "At the time of the end the king of the South will engage him in battle, and the king of the North will storm out against him with chariots and cavalry and a great fleet of ships." (Daniel 11:40a) For several days in Daniel 11 we looked at kings of the North and South, but in that case they represented the Seleucid Empire (Syria) and the Ptolemaic Empire (Egypt). These cannot be the same kingdoms in view in the end times prophecy. Rome conquered the Seleucids in 65 BC and the Ptolemies in 30 BC. These dynasties are no more and the kingdoms, as they existed in ancient times, are no more. But the geography is probably the same in that the directions of north and south mean north and south of Jerusalem. Antichrist will be engaged in battle by an army coming in from south of Jerusalem. He will also be attacked by an army coming in from north of Jerusalem. Daniel uses battle images he would have been familiar with, such as warhorses and chariots, but we don't need to assume the battles of the end times will be fought with such primitive equipment. Like the Apostle John in his revelation, Daniel must resort to describing his visions with his limited knowledge of what the world would look like in the future. John could not explain to us how all the people of the whole world would be able to view two dead men lying on the streets of Jerusalem. But in our times this is no mystery to us, when we can view the news twenty-four hours a day by television or internet. With the push of a button or the click of a mouse we immediately open a window to the world and watch breaking news as it unfolds. The main thing to take away from Daniel's vision is that he foresaw both ground forces and naval forces coming against the Antichrist.

This probably occurs because, "He will invade many countries and sweep through them like a flood. He will also invade the Beautiful Land. Many countries will fall, but Edom, Moab and the leaders of Ammon will be delivered from his hand. He will extend his power over many countries; Egypt will not escape. He will gain control of the treasures of gold and silver and all the riches of Egypt, with the Libyans and Cushites in submission." (Daniel 11:40b-43) It's not clear why Edom, Moab, and Ammon will escape him except that these are age-old enemies of Israel. And since this man will be an enemy of Israel, maybe he ascribes to the adage "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". It could be he doesn't conquer these particular peoples because he doesn't have to: they are already on his side.

"But reports from the east and the north will alarm him, and he will set out in a great rage to destroy and annihilate many." (Daniel 11:44) Those of you who studied Isaiah with me will recall that at one time King Sennacherib of Assyria was threatening siege on Jerusalem. He sent his field commander to stand outside the gates and speak blasphemous words against the God of Israel. Sennacherib wanted the people to surrender, and if they did not, his field commander promised they would soon run out of food and water and end up eating and drinking their own waste. But God said to King Hezekiah of Judah through the prophet Isaiah, "Listen! When he hears a certain report, I will make him want to return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword." (Isaiah 37:7) Sennacherib got word that the king of Cush was marching out to fight against him, so he had to abandon his planned siege on Jerusalem to return home and defend his own territory. He threatened Hezekiah that he would be back, but he never conquered Jerusalem. He was assassinated by his own sons while worshiping at a temple in his own land. Something similar will happen to the Antichrist. While he marches victoriously through other nations, laying waste to them and perhaps being on the verge of annihilating the Jews, a disturbing report will come to him, causing him to have to concentrate only on defending himself.

But like Sennacherib, his end is coming. "He will pitch his royal tents between the seas at the beautiful holy mountain. Yet he will come to his end, and no one will help him." (Daniel 11:45) The angel inserts this information out of order, before he tells Daniel in Chapter 12 of the terrible persecution to come upon the Jewish people. It's important for Daniel to know beforehand that God's people win in the end. He needs to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that as the Apostle Paul would later say, the Lord Jesus will overthrow this lawless one with the brightness and splendor of His appearing. (2 Thessalonians 2:8) Daniel needs to remember that when he interpreted the vision of King Nebuchadnezzar there was a rock, not cut out by human hands, that would destroy all the other kingdoms of the world. (Daniel 2:34-35, 44-45) This Rock is Christ and His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. Just as the night is darkest right before the dawn, the world will be at its darkest right before the arrival of the King of kings and Lord of lords. "Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory." (Luke 21:27) 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel, Day 37. Daniel's Revelation, Part Eight

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 37
Daniel's Revelation
Part Eight

When we concluded yesterday Antiochus had put down what he believed was a full revolt in Jerusalem and had returned to his own country. He is about to make his fourth assault on Egypt. The last time he made a foray into Egypt he was humiliated by Rome, but he at least returned to Syria with some spoils of war. This time he will return home bitterly disappointed. "At the appointed time he will invade the South again, but this time the outcome will be different from what it was before. Ships of the western coastlands will oppose him, and he will lose heart. Then he will turn back and vent his fury against the holy covenant. He will return and show favor to those who forsake the holy covenant." (Daniel 11:29-30) Rome sent naval assistance to Egypt from the direction of Cyprus. Deprived of his victory, Antiochus takes out his wrath on the Jews.

Antiochus was obsessed with the project of "Hellenizing" all the territories around him. The origin of this word comes from the ancient name of Greece which was "Hellas". (The English word "Greece" is derived from the Latin "Graecia".) Hellenization involved thoroughly indoctrinating and assimilating other cultures into the Greek culture. Antiochus intended that this Hellenization should take place in Judah as well, permeating every area of the people's lives, including their religion. The purpose of the idea of Hellenization was to create a common and universal culture, just as the Antichrist will seek to do in the last days. The Antichrist will impose a one-world government and a one-world religion. Above in verse 30 we find the same spirit in Antiochus, who is against the "holy covenant" and supports those "who forsake the holy covenant". He was offering the Jews something in place of their laws and prophets, their temple, their culture, and their God. This is the way of Satan, always offering us something in place of righteous living, God's holy word, and salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. Satan says, "Assimilate into the culture of the world. Be like everybody else. Enjoy the same things as everybody else. The Bible is an outdated book filled with rules that don't apply in modern times. A man who died for your sins? What sins? Who has the right to call you a sinner? How dare anyone judge the way you live your life? You're not a sinner and you don't need a savior! Look how much more you can have of the world if you would just cast aside all the rules in that dusty old book!"

The one whom Jesus called "the prince of this world" makes an offer to mankind similar to that which he made to Jesus in the wilderness, "If you worship me, all will be yours." (Luke 4:7) Jesus said no. Many, to their own doom, have said yes. Satan keeps dragging out the same old lie because it keeps working. Antiochus fell for it. A number of wicked despots and dictators have fallen for it. Many ordinary men and women have fallen for it. But in the end, everything Satan promises is nothing but an illusion, the smoke and mirrors of a master magician. When he has used a person up, he casts him aside. 

In the meantime, Antiochus is still very much alive and ready to take advantage of the growing division among the Jews. Some broke from tradition and eagerly desired Hellenization. They wanted to be worldly and sophisticated and to join what they considered the mainstream. Others purposed in their hearts (much like Daniel) not to allow themselves to be defiled. They stood firmly on the word of God. They were swimming against the stream but determined to keep on swimming. Antiochus continued to antagonize the Jews and disrespect their traditions. A high priest under Antiochus installed a gymnasium in Jerusalem where men engaged in wrestling contests in the Greek style. This meant they wrestled unclothed, an abominable thing to the Jews. The faithful Jews considered the gymnasium a shame and disgrace and a blight on Jerusalem, just as godly people in our day would feel about a strip club or house of ill repute coming into the neighborhood. Greek learning centers were put in place to educate the youth of Jerusalem in Greek culture and religion, a thing which reminds me of the "Hitler Youth Movement". How better to control a nation than for Antiochus to absorb it into his own culture? He sought to make one people out of all: one government, one ruler, one god...and that god was Zeus. 

The ancient historian Josephus alleges that Antiochus commanded the Jews to cease reading the Torah and making sacrifice to the God of Israel in the temple. He also forbade the Jews to circumcise their sons. The refusal to comply brought about various punishments, including death. The chasm between the Hellenistic Jews and the faithful Jews continued to grow wider. The priesthood was corrupt under Jason and then Menelaus, with temple funds being diverted to pay for Greek cultural centers and stadiums for Greek games and competitions. Moneys were also being diverted to pay for Antiochus' many wars. Still there were those who remained faithful to God, observing their religion as always, until eventually Antiochus defiled the temple by setting up an image of Zeus in it, demanding that all sacrifices be brought to the god of Greece. When the people refused, he desecrated the altar by sacrificing a pig on it, rendering the altar unfit for use. This fulfills Daniel 11:31-32, "His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation. With flattery he will corrupt those who have violated the covenant, but the people who know their God will firmly resist him." The actions of Antiochus eventually led to the Maccabean revolt, which resulted in a liberated Jewish state for about a century.

I want to stop here and point out that there is a lot of conflicting information regarding the dates of Antiochus' various wars and his atrocities against the Jews. No Bible scholar or historian (as far as I can tell) doubts that Antiochus did all these things; it's merely the dating they disagree on. I've purposely avoided providing any specific dates for fear of passing on erroneous information. Some scholars believe Antiochus led two racially motivated campaigns against the Jews, as Daniel 11 appears to indicate, while others believe it was all part of one long ongoing process. There is no doubt he did these things, but there is some dispute about the order in which he did them. 

"Those who are wise will instruct many, though for a time they will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered. When they fall, they will receive a little help, and many who are not sincere will join them. Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time." (Daniel 11:33-35) No matter how scary and out of control the world looks, there is an appointed time for these things to end. The eternal plans of God are not threatened in any way by the schemes of man. Many kings and leaders have thought of themselves as gods, even greater than the Most High God, but where are they now? Where is Antiochus Epiphanes? Where is Nero? Where is Herod the Great? Where is Adolf Hitler? They are no more and their kingdoms have fallen. They were subject to death like any other mortal man. Their kingdoms have crumbled into dust. But the King of kings sits enthroned forever and His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel, Day 36. Daniel's Revelation, Part Seven

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 36
Daniel's Revelation
Part Seven

Yesterday we learned that Antiochus IV defeated Egypt in several battles and declared himself the guardian of the young Ptolemy VI Philopater of Egypt. Ptolemy VI was actually the nephew of Antiochus; as we recall his father sent Cleopatra I Syra to Egypt to be wife to Ptolemy V. Antiochus IV at this time held control over all Egypt with the exception of Alexandria, the city that now appealed to Ptolemy VIII Euergetes (the brother of the young king) and to Cleopatra II (the young king's sister) to rebel and form a rival government. Antiochus IV was needed back at home but he left a large army garrison at Pelusium in Egypt. He supported the true king, Ptolemy VI, over whom he held influence, but pretended privately to each of the brothers that he was on their side. The prophecy in verse 23 may be a bit obscure but could relate to his dealings with one of these brothers, "After coming to an agreement with him, he will act deceitfully, and with only a few people he will rise to power." (Daniel 11:23) 

"When the richest provinces feel secure, he will invade them and will achieve what neither his fathers nor his forefathers did. He will distribute plunder, loot and wealth among his followers. He will plot the overthrow of fortresses---but only for a time." (Daniel 11:24) Antiochus was in the process of nation-building and he attacked and annexed everything around him worth taking. Unlike the kings before him, he distributed this wealth to the cities under his control to ensure their support, even sharing his booty with the Jews to court their favor. But his goodwill toward these subjects will only continue "for a time" as the angel said.

The people of Egypt evidently blamed Ptolemy VI for their defeat. When Antiochus won a victory there and claimed Ptolemy VI as his ward, the people dethroned their king and placed his brother in charge. They did not want this puppet king to rule over them but wanted his brother to reign in his place. "With a large army he will stir up his strength and courage against the king of the South. The king of the South will wage war with a large and very powerful army, but he will not be able to stand because of the plots devised against him. Those who eat from the king's provisions will try to destroy him; his army will be swept away, and many will fall in battle. The two kings, with their hearts bent on evil, will sit at the same table and lie to each other, but to no avail, because an end will still come at the appointed time." (Daniel 11:25-27) Antiochus sat at the table with Ptolemy VI and promised his help and professed his loyalty. He claimed he was going to avenge him against those who had dethroned him and place him back in charge of the nation, but Ptolemy VI knew he would never be anything but a pawn in Antiochus' game. Antiochus wanted to rule over all Egypt and over every nation around him. He was playing a game of politics. Nothing that came out of his mouth could be trusted. He went to Ptolemy VIII and made the same promises he made to his brother, I suppose to establish a bond with whichever brother eventually came out on top. The two Egyptian brothers finally ended up, without Antiochus' help, making a truce with each other and deciding to co-reign together. None of Antiochus' lies to these men will end up profiting him. Egypt is about to appeal to a nation that has become much stronger than Greece, and that nation will put the fortunes of Greece on the downswing. 

Antiochus returns to Syria only to learn that a rumor had been spreading throughout Judea that he was killed in battle. You will recall from yesterday's study that Jason, the brother of the now-dead high priest Onias, had been offered the priesthood by Antiochus for the sum of 440 talents. However, Jason's official Menelaus went to secure the deal for him and instead betrayed him, offering Antiochus 740 talents and gaining the priesthood for himself. The Jewish people were prepared to accept Jason as high priest, because although he wanted the Jews to submit to the Greek culture he was still one of their own and of the tribe of Aaron, but Menelaus was not of the priestly tribe. Menelaus had robbed the temple of some gold vessels to pay his price to Antiochus, plus another priest he appointed robbed the temple of even more vessels. This caused the Jews to hate their Greek-appointed high priest. So as soon as the people of Judea heard the rumor that Antiochus was dead, Jason gathered 1,000 men and attacked Jerusalem in an attempt to take the temple back, causing Menelaus to flee. Antiochus, very much still alive, believed the Jews were in full revolt. He was enraged and slaughtered about 40,000 men, women, and children of Jerusalem, selling another 40,000 into slavery. He then re-installed Menelaus as high priest. This fulfills verse 28, "The king of the North will return to his own country with great wealth, but his heart will be set against the holy covenant. He will take action against it and then return to his own country." 

Antiochus returns to Syria but learns Egypt has appealed to Rome for help against him. Rome was sympathetic to Egypt, not Greece, and so, "At the appointed time he will invade the South again, but this time the outcome will be different than it was before. Ships of the western coastlands will oppose him, and he will lose heart." (Daniel 11:29-30a) The Roman navy defeated Antiochus' navy. A Roman ambassador, Gaius Popillius Laenas, came to where Antiochus was camped with his troops and ordered him to evacuate Egypt immediately. If he did not cease his occupation of the country, he could consider himself at war with Rome. Antiochus wanted to buy himself time and replied he needed to discuss the matter with his council first. The elderly ambassador then took his walking stick and drew a circle in the sand around Antiochus and insisted he give his answer to Rome before stepping across that line. If he chose to step across the line without surrendering and agreeing to pay tribute with Rome, Rome would immediately declare war against Greece. Antiochus surrendered in humiliation and was allowed to return home to Syria under Roman domination. This incident is where we get the expression "drawing a line in the sand". 

Tomorrow we will spend one more day studying the fulfilled prophecies of Daniel's revelation. We will learn exactly why Antiochus IV is the "little Antichrist" of the Old Testament. Up til now he has only done the type of things many ancient kings did in their process of nation-building. He has been cruel and violent, but not in ways unlike that of any other pagan king we find in the Bible or in history. He has not yet formed a very personal and racially discriminatory hatred for the Jews. He did put down what he believed was a full-scale rebellion, but it was not racially motivated. Tomorrow we will study the atrocities this madman perpetrated against the Jews and then in the days to follow we will move on into Daniel's prophecies which remain unfulfilled. One worse than Antiochus IV Epiphanes is coming. He will hate the Jews more than anyone before him, more than any "little Antichrist" of the Bible, more than any "little Antichrist" of history such as Adolf Hitler. From verse 36 of Chapter 11 through the end of Chapter 12 (the end of the book) everything that remains of Daniel's revelation is for the future.