Saturday, March 19, 2011
Esther Chapter 1-2:4
- The following events occur during the rule of King Xerxes. Xerxes ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Ethiopia.
- The Persian Empire was a HUGE kingdom. Reading up on this kingdom... it was kind of a short-lived empire. Only about 250 years... I guess that's not abnormal... but I hadn't really thought about it before...
- The Persians had a policy... they would take over a nation, and they would continue to give that nation independence of rule etc. IF the people would pay taxes to the Persian empire.
- The Persian empire was the largest of the ancient world. It stretched from modern-day Turkey and Egypt through Iraq and Iran all the way to the border of modern-day India.
- Our king Xerxes ruled from the fortress of Susa. Susa was one of the capitols of the Persian Empire. It was in the province of former Babylon and was about 200 miles southeast of the city of Babylon.
- In this city, Xerxes decided to have a banquet for all his nobles and officials. All the military officers of Persia and Media and of all the provinces under his rule. A LOT of people.
- This banquet, was not a day thing. This was a celebration that lasted 180 days. Can you imagine? I mean this was 180 days of partying. Who has that kind of time on their hands? I mean, this guy is in charge of the largest kingdom in the world at this time... and he decides that all his officers and nobles can take 180 days off with him to party. Let the kingdom run itself for a half a year while we all get drunk and eat ourselves silly...
- Good grief! I mean can you imagine feeding that many people party food for that long? Or supplying the wine and entertainment for a bunch of drunk guys for 180 days? And for that matter, after a while, wouldn't you get bored with the same old thing?
- Now I have a footnote that says that this party was all a ploy. It was really to plan for the invasion of Greece and to show that the king had sufficient wealth to carry out the warfare... however... who plans strategic warfare while drunk?...
- Well anyway, so at the end of the 180 days, the king decided to give a banquet for ALL the people of Susa. Rich or poor, in the courtyard. This one lasted for 7 days.
- The courtyard of the garden was decorated to the max. White cotton curtains, blue hangings, purple ribbons, silver rings, couches of gold and silver, and mosaic pavement beneath the feet made of costly stones... once again... showing off his wealth...
- Drinks were served in gold goblets of all shapes and sizes and designs. More wine was provided. No limits were placed on the drinking... So... all the common people got just as much as they wanted of the kings wine... lol oh boy... FREE WINE! Only time you're gonna get it... drink up!
- At the same time this was going on for all the men, Queen Vashti gave a banquet for all the women in the royal palace. Probably all the wives and women that the men had brought with them...
- On the seventh day, Xerxes is pretty drunk... he's feeling pretty good... and so he decides to show off his wife. He's shown off his cooks, his decorators, his servants, his entertainment, his wealth... now it's time to show off his other possession... So he sends his seven eunuchs in to get Vashti and bring her out with the royal crown on her head.
- “See what kind of trophy wife I have? Isn't she more beautiful than YOUR wives?”
- But when the men went in to get Vashti... she refused to come...
- So now we have a very powerful king... who is very drunk and very angry... Who has just been refused a direct order... in front of literally everyone. (I wonder if the guys were secretly laughing hysterically at the king... wonder how many of them suddenly needed to go to the bathroom... or suddenly saw a gorgeous flower over in the corner that they wanted to go investigate...)
- If indeed he was planning to go to battle against Greece and this was all a show of how great and powerful he was... this just killed everything he had worked for... His status in the eyes of all these men, just went down a notch... He can't even control his WIFE... how's he going to control an army?
- footnote- “A Persian king was thought to be a god by many of the people.” So if god couldn't control his wife... what kind of fate did that spell for the empire's military conquests and the empire's life in general?
- Pride ever gotten in your way? Have you ever felt like you were doing pretty good with your faith or your walk and then all of a sudden, the ground fell in beneath you? Did you respond in anger? Did you get defensive and blame someone around you for all your sudden problems?
- Proverbs 8:12-16; 16:5, 18; 21:4
- Mark 7:20-23
- I John 2:15-17
- Romans 1:18-32
- James 4:6-7
- Obadiah 1:3-4
- Xerxes immediately gets his wise advisers together to consult with them... they know all the laws... so what does he do with Vashti now? What penalty can we lay on her? The queen who refuses an order though properly sent through the eunuchs...
- I mean this could very well spell death for this woman... I mean yeah... the king was being a jerk... he was drunk and not thinking... Vashti didn't want to be paraded around as a possession... she didn't want to have to stand up in front of who knows how many drunk men and hear the cat calls and whistles and comments... I can understand that... however... to refuse the king himself? Did she really think she had enough influence over him that he'd be ok with that? Or maybe she hated her life so much that it was better to die and she was hoping for death? Was life that bad with the king?
- Whatever the reason... She either had a lot of guts (or arrogance)... or a death wish...
- So one of the advisers says, well, “Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king but also every noble citizen throughout your empire. Women everywhere will begin to despise their husbands when they learn that Queen Vashti has refused to appear before the king. Before this day is out, the wives of all the king's nobles throughout Persia and Media will hear what the queen did and will start treating their husbands the same way. There will be no end to their contempt and anger.”
- This does not look good for Vashti. But instead of demanding her execution... as all this feels like it should lead to... they just want to banish her from the king's presence. That's not so bad right? She just couldn't ever see the king again...
- All this leads me to believe the following:
1. Vashti had some influence over the king.... and possibly that the advisers were getting a little afraid of the extent of that influence...
2. The advisers knew that the king liked, maybe even truly loved Vashti.
3. In the king's drunken anger, they could maybe get by with suggesting banishment... but they didn't want to push their luck in asking for outright execution... which in that day and age, they very well could've done...
- In addition, the advisers put this little side note in that the law for Vashti's banishment would be a permanent law... which meant that not even the king himself could take the law off the books... He could make another law sort of... balancing out the first... but he couldn't remove the law. So once he makes the decree... Vashti's not coming back...
- If Vashti had influence over the king, and if the advisers were already a little afraid of that influence... and they convinced the king to banish her, but only for a little while... man when she came back she was gonna come back with a vengeance... on them. So to slip that in there and make it a permanent thing... protected them from the anger of Vashti later. Because if the king truly did love her, he was going to eventually take her back...
- And not only will Vashti not be coming back... but they made sure to put in there that the king would be picking a new queen... one to replace Vashti... ouch... add salt to the wound much?
- So the king thought this sounded pretty good, so he sent out letters to every part of the Persian empire proclaiming that “every man should be the ruler of his own home and should say whatever he pleases.”
- I have to say... I know this is just a product of the time... but the way this is stated (in my mind anyway) completely does away with the whole point of the marriage relationship. Marriage was not meant to be a possessive relationship. It was meant to be a partnership... Yeah I agree that the man is supposed to be the head of the family and supposed to be in charge... but not... in charge in a mean and nasty way... just... he's supposed to be a stronger force in the family unit. He's supposed to be the leader. He may be the king... but the wife's not the lowest servant... she's the top general or lead adviser... lol. Queen of equal status and just as much influence...
- Have you ever lashed out in anger at someone? Someone close to you? Ever wished you could take it back? Even in the middle of saying the words, you wish you hadn't even started? Do you ever feel like you can't go back because of pride? Or because people were watching and you have to stick by your decision or your words?
- In Matthew 5:21-26, Jesus is talking about anger and He says that “if you call someone an idiot (or a fool), you are in danger of being brought before the court.” And also if you get down to pray and remember that someone has something against you, to leave the altar and go be reconciled to that person. Then come back to pray.
- Unlike Xerxes we have a way to change the decree so to speak. When we lash out in anger, we don't have to feel like we can't ask for forgiveness or come to a place of reconciliation. God is a just God... and we need to have the same attitude of forgiveness not only for others, but for ourselves, that He has for us.
- Exodus 34:5-7
- Psalm 30; 78:32-39
- Ephesians 4:26-27
- James 1:19-27
- Proverbs 22:24-25
- After Xerxes got over the anger of the moment... and probably after he sobered up a little... He started thinking about Vashti and his decree... He couldn't take it back. He couldn't recant his decision.
- How much sorrow must there have been if he really did love her? The Targum (which is like... the Aramaic commentary on the Jewish portion of the bible) says that the king was so angry with the advisers who had convinced him to banish Vashti, that he ordered them to be killed.
- The attendants to Xerxes wanted to cheer him up. They see that he's depressed and regretting that he can't go back on his decree... so they remind him of the other part of his decree...
- “Let us search the empire to find beautiful young virgins for the king. Let the king appoint agents in each province to bring these beautiful young women into the royal harem.”
- Now what you don't really get from this portion or what isn't really explained fully, is that these girls, were to be taken from their families never to return. They would become part of the king's harem... along with all his other wives. Later we see that... they may or may not ever see the king again after that first night. This was a lonely life... but their families couldn't exactly refuse the king right?
- The girls were to be brought to Susa and Hegai, the king's eunuch in charge of the harem, would see to their beauty treatments etc. Then the one that most pleased the king would be made queen in Vashti's place.
- Now why the king didn't just make one of the women already in the harem the new queen... I don't know. I don't know why he had to search out to find someone new. Other than God needed Esther in that position and worked it out...
- But maybe the women already in the harem had already been through the process and somewhere along the line had been found to be lacking in queen material... Whatever the reason... all across the empire, from Egypt to India, young girls were gathered up and brought to the palace for the king.
- When we find that we are feeling down about a decision we made or an action that has caused pain in someone else, or has caused us to sin, or something that has caused a bad situation... and we know it's our fault... What kinds of things does Satan stick in front of us to “make us feel better”? When we get in those low places, we have to be careful what kind of advice we listen to. Sometimes it's easier to give in and look to something new and different to ease the pain in our hearts than it is to go back to God.
- As hard as it is sometimes to look to God for our relief from our sin... knowing that we are returning as a prodigal... that's exactly what we need to do. We have to bow our hearts before God and ask Him to forgive us for our human impulses.
- Does that mean it'll never happen again and we'll never act on an impulse again? no... but it does mean that we'll be more conscious of the possible consequences and that we'll be less likely to lash out and more likely to ask for more immediate forgiveness...
- Psalm 78, 86
- Colossians 1:9-14
- Philippians 3:12-14
- II Peter 1:3-11
- Isaiah 55
- Hosea 14
- Matthew 6:12-15
- Proverbs 17:9
- Romans 4:7-8
The book of Esther is a story with many aspects... but the thing that always sticks out to me is God's sovereignty and ability to place willing people exactly where He needs them to be... for such a time as this...
Through uncommon circumstances, God placed Esther, a little Jewish girl, right in the king's palace... not as a maid, not as a worker... but as QUEEN.
When the very existence of her people was threatened... she was in a place to save them. Was it easy? no... she had to put her own life on the line... but was it worth it? Oh yes.
God knew that Esther would have the courage to step up and do what was needed... so He put her in that position. He placed her right where He knew she could be of use to her people.
What kind of position are you in? What kind of ways could God use you where you are? Are you prepared to take on the tasks at hand?
When the earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, there was a story of this woman... She was a nurse who was taking care of her niece who was handicapped and she had FINALLY bought a house... just this little one... but they had moved up a little.
When the earthquake hit, she lost everything... They had started moving everybody into one place... and when she walked in and saw everybody there... she thought... what am I doing? Why am I feeling sorry for myself?
So she looked around, and found an umbrella and a table or something... and set up and started seeing patients. She didn't sleep for like 3 days... When the red cross finally got there... they were totally shocked... They tried to get her to take a break and she was like... why? I'm needed here.
So they built her a hospital... lol
With all the recent tragedy in Japan and thinking about all the hard things people see in their lives that they didn't expect to happen...
When really horrible things happen around us or to us... we need to be ready to react and respond at all times... no matter what that means...
Are you prayerfully prepared to face whatever may come your way? Are you seeking God's wisdom when things come up that you're not sure how to handle? Do the people around you know that when they need someone to help, you'll be ready and willing?
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Ruth Chapter 4
- Boaz goes to the town gate. Now I don't know where you live or where you grew up... but have you ever seen a movie where all the old retired men are sitting in the same place hanging out? Like outside the barber shop, or outside the town store, or in the park?
- The town gate was kind of like that... if you needed to know anything or get caught up on anything... that's where you went... but it was also the place you went if you had any business to conduct with anybody, you met at the town gate so you had witnesses and so you were on even ground. If there were court cases or judgments to be made, you went to the town gate and the elders would make a decision. It was kind of like the courthouse. If you had anything major you needed to be public... that's where you went.
- So Boaz went to the gate. About the time he sits down, the man who is the closer relative of Naomi and Ruth walks by. Boaz calls out to him to come and sit for a while for a chat.
- Boaz calls ten leaders of the town together. He has his witnesses and he has a group of very wise counselors if either man needs them.
- Proverbs 12:5-6, 8, 26; 15:22; 11:14
- Then Boaz lays out his proposition... but he's a sly man...
- First, he just says that Naomi needs somebody to redeem the land. She needs somebody to buy the land from her... would he be willing? And if not, then since Boaz is next in line, he'll take it on... but he just wanted to check with the closer relative first.
- And the guy's like... well yeah! I'll take it! Remember... Naomi wasn't exactly poor before this... her husband had stature in the town... this was probably a pretty good piece of land...
- But then Boaz, sly man that he is, says “oh yeah... by the way... if you do redeem the land, it will require you to marry Ruth... the Moabitess... So she can have a child to carry on the name of Mahlon...”
- “What?!” This man, whoever he was automatically started panicking. “it might endanger my own estate!” He was afraid that whoever the child was of Ruth... that he either wouldn't have other children to carry on his own name... and therefore the child of Mahlon would inherit both properties... or that he'd end up having more children than he had land for....
- Whatever the reason, he balked and ran away from the idea. He tells Boaz that he cannot redeem it and if Boaz wants it, he can have it...
- How many times have we ran away from our own responsibilities? Everyone in Bethlehem knew that Noami was back in town... And this man hadn't even made inquiries about helping them in any way... He knew his duty... and he decided to ignore it... and when Ruth was added to the mix... he REALLY didn't want to take on the responsibility...
- Which I can kind of understand... he was going to have to be responsible for two women, he was supposed to provide a son for the family to carry on the name of Mahlon... add to that that Ruth was a Moabite... and intermarriage was sometimes looked on as bad luck... and to top it all off, Mahlon and Kilion had both died after marrying Moabites... not looking like a healthy decision...
- I can see running from that... I've been scared before... we're all human... However, this was a God-given and directed responsibility. This wasn't just his good heart coming in to play... this was God saying, hey, when this happens, you do this... always... and he didn't...
- I Timothy 5:8
- Ever tried to make a deal with God? “Well God, I'll give money to the church, and I'll even pick up payments for a World Vision kid, or I'll volunteer on Saturdays at a soup kitchen... just as long as I don't have to leave my comfort zone... or just as long as I don't have to leave my home church or my home town...” and so on and so forth... However... God doesn't just want that part of you... It's not good enough just to be mostly good... or almost in the will of God...
- A few years ago, we felt like we needed to change churches. Not necessarily anything bad going on or anything... it wasn't like a church split or anything... it just felt like God was starting to move us elsewhere...
- So we moved to a church plant in another town... and you know what? Our first church didn't suffer immensely because we left... it didn't fall apart... and the church we're in now... wow... what amazing things God has done there...
- But had we decided to stay in our first church... after knowing that we were feeling the call to move... man... it would not have been pretty. Just like the story of Jonah... When God wants you somewhere... He can use any means necessary to get the outcome He wants or needs to happen...
- I wonder what this man's life was like after this... I mean he missed out on the chance to become part of the lineage of King David... and Solomon... and Jesus Himself... oops...
- There are great possibilities for our lives... but we have to be willing to follow wherever He leads us...
- Psalm 32, 16, 23
- John 16:1-15
- Proverbs 29:18
- In Leviticus 25:23-55, the guidelines for redemption are laid out.
- Basically, God said that all the land belonged to Him and that no one person should permanently own anything. (Odd concept to us in this day and age...) When the children entered the promised land, all the land was divided up among the families according to tribes. Each Tribe had... a district or a state if you will, and each family in the tribe was given a portion of land within that district/state. Except the Levites. The Levites were given 48 towns within those various tribal lands to be their own. They had their own pasture and their own cities. Six of these cities were to be cities of refuge for those who have accidentally killed someone.
- So, each family had God-given land. If you had to sell the right to the land for any reason, whether bankruptcy or needed redemption... the sale was not permanent.
- Every 50 years, was a year of jubilee. This meant that if you had been sold into slavery, or your land had been sold, that you were free again. It was a year that brought grace. So if you sold the land to someone else, in the next year of jubilee, you got it back free of debt.
- So to redeem a piece of land, basically meant you were just keeping it up until the family could take it back over. I don't know how that would work if Elimelech's family died off with his sons... not sure how that worked... But the fact remains that if this relative took over the land, children or no children... it wasn't something he was going to get to keep for forever. If his kids moved in to take care of the land, they were just going to have to give it back to the family at the end of the 50 year time period.
- Custom was that if you transfer the right of purchase... which the relative did to Boaz, then the seller had to take off his sandal and hand it to the other man. Like a handshake... This was a public transfer that was witnessed by all around.
- Boaz officially bought Naomi's land and took on the task of redeeming the family name.
- “You are witnesses that today I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech, Kilion, and Mahlon. And with the land I have acquired Ruth, the Moabite widow of Mahlon, to be my wife. This way she can have a son to carry on the family name of her head husband and to inherit the family property here in his hometown. You are all witnesses today.”
- Wow. “Today, I have redeemed this family and I promise to do all in my power to help them carry on their name. I give up my right to claim the first born son of this woman so that Naomi's family name will not die. I will give of myself so that another can prosper. I don't care that Ruth is a foreigner. I don't care that it might be bad luck. I'm going to do what is right and take on the duty that god has asked me to as a close kinsman of this family.”
- That's a man of character... He wasn't worried about personal consequences. He was willing to take on the task at hand.
- God is always looking for willing vessels... There was honor and a whole lot of trust in Boaz taking all this on. He was truly a man of God.
- Are you a willing vessel? Are you ready to take on a new task? Or to continue a previous one? Do you trust God to provide for all your needs while you are working on His project or mission?
- Proverbs 3:5-7
- Matthew 7:21-27, 26:36-46
- John 5:19-30
- Hebrews 13:20-21
- I Peter 4:1-11
- “The elders and the people around replied to Boaz's statement with “We are witnesses! May the Lord make this woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, from whom all the nation of Israel descended! May you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. And may the Lord give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those of our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah.”
- That's a blessing and a half...
- But notice at the end there? Perez... son of Tamar and Judah... I think in chapter 2 we were talking about marriages with the brother or relative to carry on the name of the deceased and I mentioned Judah and Tamar...
- So quick recap. Tamar was Judah's daughter-in-law. Her first husband, Er, was evil in the sight of God... so God struck him down. So Judah, to carry on the line of his son, gave Tamar to his second son, Onan, for a wife. Except that Onan wouldn't get her pregnant... he refused to do his duty to his brother... so God struck him down as well... So Judah, for fear that his last son, Shelah, would also be killed, sent Tamar home to her father until Shelah would come of age... except... after Shelah was old enough... Judah still didn't send for Tamar.
- So Tamar took matters into her own hands... she dressed up like a prostitute and sat along the side of the road where Judah was going to have to pass by to get to the sheep shearing...
- So Judah was passing by and saw Tamar... but she had a veil on and so he just assumed she was a prostitute. So he propositioned her... and she said, well what will you pay me? And he said, well I'll send you a young goat from my flock when I get there... “well how do I know that you will send the goat back?... Leave me your identification seal and it's cord and your walking stick as a guarantee that you will follow through on your word.”
- So Judah did... And he slept with her, and she got pregnant.
- After Judah left, Tamar went home and put her normal clothes back on... and Judah sent the goat back with a friend... but they searched high and low and couldn't find any woman along the road... When the friend asked around wondering where the prostitute was... the people were like... “prostitute? What prostitute?”
- So Judah decided it was just better to let it go. If they kept trying to find her, they were going to be the town joke...
- A few months later, word comes to Judah that Tamar is pregnant... oh boy...
- Judah was ready to have her killed... “Bring her out, and let her be burned!”
- As they were taking her out to be killed, she sent message to Judah... “The man who owns these things made me pregnant. Look closely. Whose seal and cord and walking stick are these?” ouch...
- Judah's response? “She is more righteous than I am, because I didn't arrange for her to marry my son Shelah.”
- Tamar had twins. Their story is practically identical to Jacob and Esau... the first stuck his hand out, the midwife tied a string on him, and then he pulled back in and the other was born first.
- Perez, was the eldest of these twins.
- Genesis 38
- I find it a little funny to think back through this genealogy. We have Leah, who was the first wife, the true wife... but the unloved one...
- Three sons were born before Judah... any one of them should have taken the place as the eldest son... but Reuben slept with his father's concubine... so he was disinherited. And Levi and Simeon lost their places because they went in and killed all the men of the city where Shechem lived... Shechem had raped their sister Dinah... and in anger, they went in and killed the whole city.
- Genesis 34
- So Judah now has the birthright. And his eldest son was killed. So the woman who was supposed to carry on his son's lineage... has to be redeemed... but she ends up being redeemed by her father-in-law. Another redemption story... but... a strange twisted one...
- Genesis 43:1-14
- Then there's Rahab. The prostitute who saved the spies when they went in to check out Jericho.
- She promised to keep them safe in return for them saving her family when they took over the land. Which they did. So after the battle, Rahab and her family were spared and Rahab later married Salmon... who if I remember right was a general of a pretty high ranking.
- Joshua 2, 6
- So so far we have an unloved woman, a fourth son, a woman who prostituted herself in order to have children, and a Canaanite prostitute (who the Israelites weren't supposed to marry...), and now we have a Moabitess (Who they were also not supposed to marry...)
- So there goes God again... breaking down our idea of normal and what should be... I see a woman who was unloved... being shown great favor... a son who wasn't supposed to get the main inheritance... being blessed beyond belief... a woman who made one really big mistake, or should have been branded as an adulterer... being given the gift of twins, being given the gift of life and second chances... A woman who wasn't supposed to be accepted... who was supposed to be forever shunned... taken in, accepted, shown favor, and again... getting a second chance. And two gentile women who were greatly rewarded for their great faith and given a chance to be included in the chosen people... even before Christ came to include them all. The whole idea of being grafted in to the main tree.
- Who ever said God was a respecter of persons? God saw something great in these hearts. He saw faithful people who were ready to go to great lengths for Him. And these were the people that He decided to put directly in His blood line... even if they weren't necessarily who you and I would have thought of putting into a King's ancestry... especially not the King of Kings...
- Psalm 139
- I Corinthians 1:18-29
- So Boaz and Ruth got married. And she had a son. The son, was technically Naomi's son... so Naomi cared for him as if he were her own... and they named him Obed. Notice... that the writer doesn't call Naomi, Mara. Through this whole story, other than Naomi asking to be called Mara... they never once called her by that name. And now... she has reason NOT to be called by that name... She has gone back to being pleasant and has reason to be so.
- Psalm 73
- When Ruth and Boaz got married, the women of the town said “Praise the Lord, who has provided a redeemer for your family! May this child be famous in Israel. May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!”
- What praise for a foreigner! And for a woman!
- Yet again... we see Ruth's character from the eyes of those around her... what kind of character do you have?
- So Obed was the father of Jesse... and the grandfather of David. Ruth has entered into a King's lineage... both in David, and in Jesus Christ.
- (Some praises to end us... : ) Psalm 8, 9, 34, 47, 48, 65, 66, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 111, 112, 113, 115, 116, 117, 118, 121, 134, 135, 136, 138, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150