Monday, October 1. Esther 1 – 3

    The next time we look at Ezra will be during the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia.  Between Darius, however, who rejuvinates the project of rebuilding the temple, and Artaxerxes (also known as Ahasruerus), who authorizes and finances the building of the city of Jerusalem, there is another king who ruled Persia for nearly twenty years.  His name was Xerxes, and he is the king mentioned in Esther.

    Mordecai is a distant relative of King Saul, being descended from Kish and Shimei (who cursed David in 2 Samuel 16:5). I wonder why Mordecai didn’t return to Jerusalem?  It was always God’s intent for His people – emphasized in Zechariah 2:7 (also Isaiah 48:20).  Whatever the reason, it becomes obvious that God used Mordecai to save them from extermination.  Mordecai had been Esther’s adoptive father since the death of her own parents and he supremely has her best interests at heart.  The text does not say that Mordecai encouraged Esther to “run” for Queen.  Indeed, considering what being “in the running” meant, Mordecai likely opposed it, but as a Jew in a foreign land, he must have realized how powerless he was to prevent it.  Better to “go with the flow” than be killed.

    The beauty treatments sound like a lengthy spa treatment.  What girl wouldn’t enjoy such pampering?  But consider the end result.  The girl would be brought to the king for a “one night stand.”  If she pleased him, she might be made queen.  But chances are, her life afterward would be relegated to little more than widowhood, for she might never see the king again, and never enjoy marriage to another man.

    Esther is careful not to reveal her nationality.  The ramphant anti-semitism of Persia will be disclosed shortly.  She is also careful to follow Mordecai’s advice – which she has done since her youth.  Were she a modern girl, she might well have questioned her cousin’s counsel.  But to Mordecai’s credit, he has been a parent who lived in a way to cause his child to trust and obey.  To Esther’s credit, she does both.

    I see a parallel here between Esther and Israel.  Both were captives.  Both had to adjust to captivity and make compromises.  Both were adopted (Israel, of course, was adopted by God – see Psalm 2:7-8).  The difference between them is that Esther was obedient to her father.  Israel, was not.

Sunday, September 30. Zechariah 12 – 14. Ezra 6.

    Remember: Zechariah is doing his work as a prophet in a very small window of time.  The temple has yet to be rebuilt.  The city of Jerusalem, twenty years after the first return of the exiles, still lies in runins.  The Jewish inhabitants of the land have some wealth – though even that seems to be slipping through their fingers – and pride, but nothing is turning out as it should.

    The reason things are not progressing as they hoped has to do with their own moral failings.  Idolatry is still a problem (12:2).  Prophets who claim to speak for God – but really don’t – are still trying to guide the people.  And the people are listening, filling the land with sin and impurity.

    God feels wounded (12:10).

    It doesn’t have to be this way.  Things can be better, if the Jewish people will but renew and persue a relationship with God.  They can be the leading nation of the world.  God will make it so.  But God isn’t going to just make it happen.  “Holy to the Lord” will not be inscribed on that which is not really holy, not really dedicated to God.

    There is much in chapters 12 – 14 that seems to Christians like the arrival of the glorious judgment of God – God’s reign over the whole earth for example, and His name being the only name (14:9).  But God’s reign cannot be over the lives of people who will not yield to Him.  Glory will not just appear.  The appearance of God will not automatically change the hearts of people.  Instead, we should understand that the blessing of God’s promise and coming will only apply to those whose hearts have already been made ready for it.  A heart will not exult over Christ’s return if it is not already exulting over beloning to God.

Saturday, September 29. Zechariah 8 – 11

What’s going on with God in Zechariah?

    One minute He is making the most marvelous promises to His people.  “Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth . . . Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with cane in hand because of his age.  The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there . . . The seed will grow well, the vine will yield its fruit, the ground will produce its crops, and the heavens will drop their dew” (from chapter 8).

    The next minute, He says “I will hand everyone over to his neighbor and his king.  They will oppress the land and I will not rescue them from their hands” (from chapter 11).

    It’s as if God has become bi-polar.

    But no.  There is a simple explanation.

    The promises of God are what the Lord wants for His people.  But it cannot come to pass as long as the people live outside God’s will.  How can Jerusalem ever be called the “City of Truth” when its inhabitants plot evil against their neighbor and “love to swear falsely?”

    It can’t.  And so the prophet speaks of two worlds: the one that is, and the one that could be.

    We too live between two worlds, and our eternal destiny is bound up with the one we cling to in this life.

Friday, September 28. Zechariah 5 – 7

    At some point, visitors from the Jewish colony in Babylon arrived with gifts for the Jews in Jerusalem.  God specified that part of this gift was to belong to Him, and that part was to be made a crown for Joshua, the High Priest.

    The passage takes us a bit by surprise.  We would expect Zerubbabel to be crowned king; after all, it is he who is of David’s line, not Joshua.

    But purpose of this “word of the Lord” (vs.  9) is not really to crown Joshua king.  After all, the crown does not stay with Joshua, but becomes a part of the artifacts in the temple.  Secondly, the oracle speaks of a time to come because God says “this will happen” if you dilligently obey the Lord.

    This word of the Lord looks forward to a day when the work of king and priest becomes united, and is the clearest text in the Old Testament of God’s intent.

    Jesus, of course, becomes the fulfillment of this promise as both king and priest.

    We are reminded as the chapter comes to a close that God’s promises are conditional: conditional on the Lord’s people being faithful to the leading of God.  God’s promises do not just take place.  They take place when God is ready, but also, when His people are ready.

Thursday, September 27. Zechariah 2 – 4

     Haggai is divided up by dates the author references for the messages given to him. Zechariah also has dates, but his book is arranged more by the different ways he presents his message.  It can be divided into seven parts as follows:

1)    Dated the 8th month of Darius’ second year, the prophet assures the people that God’s words have always come true.  Nothing has changed.  1:1-6.

2)    Eight “visions” emphasize

    a)    God knows what is going on in the world and with His people.  He is determined to bless His own (first vision – 1:7-17).

    b)    God intends to punish those who have made life so miserable for His people (second vision 1:18-21).

    c)    Jerusalem will be rebuilt and it will be glorious (third vision 2:1-10).

    d)    God’s forgiveness and cleansing is promised (fourth vision 3:1-10).

    e)    God Himself will accomplish this (fifth vision 4:1-14)

    f)    Sin is condemned (sixth vision 5:1-4).

    g)    Sin is banished (seventh vision 5:5-11).

    h)    Peace will come to the people of God (eighth vision 6:1-8).

3)    In 7:1-14, the prophet Zechariah is involved in an object lesson that unites the monarchy and priesthood if Judah.

4)     Dated the 4th day of the 9th month of Darius’ fourth year, God emphasizes his determination to bless his people (7:1 – 8:23).

5)    An “Oracle” (9:1 – 11:3) again promising blessing to the people of God.

6)    An object lesson calling all of God’s people, especially their leaders, to turn from sin (11:4-17).

    If you see a lot of the message of the New Testament here, then you can understand why this book is so crucial to understanding the goal of God in sending Jesus.  At the end of chapter 2, and repeated again in chapters 8 and 14, is a reference to bring together all nations.  This is not a global political system, but accomplished in Christ, it is the unity of mankind in a common faith, ethic, and hope.

Wednesday, September 26. Haggai 1-2. Zechariah 1

    Those who returned from Babylonian exile laid the foundation for the first temple in the second month of the second year after their return – about 534 B.C.  But opposition to the temple by Judah’s neighbors brought construction to an end for thirteen years.

    Clearly, God grew impatient, and so he sent the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to urge the people to get on with the reconstruction.

    The temple was completed four years later due to the faithful work of Zerubbabel (among others), the governor of Judah.  Zerubbabel was a descendant of David, specifically in the line of Jehoiachin (see the genealogy in Matthew 1).

    This is important for the point made at the end of Haggai 2.  Jehoiachin  was such a horrible king that God said: “As surely as I live,” declares the LORD, “even if you, Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, were a signet ring on my right hand, I would still pull you off. I will hand you over to those who seek your life, those you fear–to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and to the Babylonians. I will hurl you and the mother who gave you birth into another country, where neither of you was born, and there you both will die. You will never come back to the land you long to return to. . . . Record this man as if childless,  a man who will not prosper in his lifetime,  for none of his offspring will prosper,  none will sit on the throne of David  or rule anymore in Judah.”

    And yet, at the end of Haggai, God says to Jehoiachin’s descendant, “I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you.”

    Did God change his mind?

    It would appear so.  The judgments of God are often changeable.  When a condemned people repent and return to God, their predetermined future can be changed.  God doesn’t seek to destroy, He seeks to save.  As long as there is time and breath, our destiny can be changed.

Tuesday, September 25. Ezra 3 – 5

    The Persian king Cyrus was a shrewd politician.  He knew his Babylonian predecessors had displaced untold numbers of people.  He could keep them displaced, and unhappy, or he could win their abiding allegiance by allowing them to go home.

    He chose the latter.

    And if one god was good, hundreds would be better.

    So he decreed that all captives might return to their homeland and rebuild their temples.  God’s temple was among them.

    God had not failed to prosper Judah during her captivity.  Some of her number had found a home in Babylon, but they had an allegiance to their homeland.  Some returned.  Some supported those who did.  All contributed to the cause of rebuilding the temple.  The amount of their contributions is staggering: 1100 pounds of gold and three tons of silver – over thirty million dollars in today’s valuation.

    It was a great beginning, but it was not to last.

    That’s the way it is with us all most of the time.  Great ideas generate great excitement, but someone has to carry them out, and that’s where things usually fall apart.  Faithfulness to God is not found just in a moment, but in the day to day, mundane, often difficult, routine of life.

Monday, September 24. 2 Chronicles 35. Ezra 1-2

    After Josiah’s death, the Chronicler gives short shrift to the remaining kings of Judah and the kingdom’s last twenty-two years.  Josiah is Judah’s last good king, though the circumstances of his death lead us to call him “good king Josiah” with a bit of pause.

    As chapter twenty-five comes to an end, Josiah makes a tragic mistake.  The kingdom of Babylon is on the rise and Assyria is in decline.  Pharaoh Necho of Egypt decided to ally himself with Assyria in order to defeat Babylon.  Josiah evidently thought such an alliance was not in his best interest and set out to foil it by fighting Necho at Megiddo.

    Pharaoh was in no mood to play around.  He had already marched his men over 300 miles.  They still had over four hundred to go.  He was not threatening Judah and wanted no conflict, but Josiah persisted.  God sent word through Necho that Josiah was to stand down, but Josiah persisted, and lost his life.

    The attentive reader will note some similarities between Josiah’s death and that of Ahab years before (2 Chronicles 18).  Both went out in disobedience to the Lord’s command.  Both disguised themselves.  Both were wounded by archers.  Both were settled in their chariots until the fighting was over.

    A major difference is in their legacies.  Ahab was just wicked.  Josiah was a good king whose reputation lived past him.  But both died in disobedience.  Despite the fact that Josiah was a much beloved and respected king, his successors chose not to follow in his path and chose the way of disobedience to God.  The book of Chronicles ends with the return of Judah from captivity.

    It’s up to them.

    God loves His people and will be true to His promises – if His people will be true to Him.  This is the message of Chronicles.

Saturday, September 22. 2 Chronicles 30 – 32

    When I read 2 Chronicles 30 I am reminded of the little epigram by Edwin Markham: “”He drew a circle to shut me out, heretic rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win, we drew a circle that took him in.”

    One of Hezekiah’s great projects was to unite the northern and southern kingdoms: not so much politically, but spiritually.  The political unions had failed.  Rehoboam had, early in his reign, tried to force the reunification of God’s people.  Other kings, notably those from the north, had tried the same thing without success.  You cannot effect unity by conquering people.  Jehoshaphat had tried unity through an alliance (2 Chronicles 18).  Amaziah had tried it by hiring Israelite soldiers (2 Chronicles 25).

    None of it had worked.

    I don’t know if Hezekiah’s real goal was political union.  Instead, if he could just get all of Israel to worship together, and to worship the one true God, in the place God had caused His name to dwell, that would be enough.

    He could, rightly, exclude the northern kingdom.  After all, as idolators, they were certainly not purified to worship the Lord.  But Hezekiah, for a greater good, drew a circle to take them in.  Hezekiah made concessions.  The Passover was held at the wrong time (yes, such was permitted for those unprepared, but Hezekiah changed it for everyone).  It lasted twice as long as God specified.  Some of the participants were not qualified to participate.  Hezekiah knows all of this, but he does it anyway, and prays that God will find it acceptable.

    Is this an example of disobeying God and asking God to make it ok?

    Not really.  It is an example of people trying to do what God wants under impossible circumstances.  Hezekiah wasn’t changing the date of the Passover for all time.  He wasn’t saying it wasn’t important to prepare for it by purification.  He wasn’t saying they could disobey God’s will.  He wasn’t even saying these irregularities would be ok.  He was simply doing the best he could to bring God’s people together for worship, and he asked God to make it ok.

    And God did.

    It’s a testimony to God’s grace, and His desire for unity among His people.

Sunday, September 23. 2 Chronicles 33 – 35

    How can good people have bad children?

    It is a paradox I do not understand.

    I’ve known parents who were good, hard-working people, devoted to the Lord and wonderful disciples of Jesus.  Yet their children live far from the Lord, seeming to do all in their power to negate the good influence of their parents.  You can blame their rebellion on a failure of the parents to teach them the importance of being faithful, or you can say that the parents were so busy being faithful that they didn’t give their children the time they needed.  You can think the parents hypocrites – that their kids saw through their duplicity and rejected openly what their parents had rejected secretly.  You can blame it on the influence of the world.

    Perhaps, in some cases, these reasons will hold up, but none of them will stand before the Lord.  “Every tub sits on its own bottom,” my mother used to say.  She meant, you are responsible for you.

    Manasseh was one of those bad kids.  His father was a champion of faithfulness and a leader in the Lord’s way.  But his boy was just rotten.

    Chronicles, however, gives us insight that Kings does not.  Chronicles tells us Manasseh spent some time in jail (imprisoned in Babylon).  There, perhaps his upbringing and memories of his father came to mind, and Manasseh, like the prodigal son in Jesus’ story, came to his senses and repented.  He changed his life, and the Lord blessed him.

    Unfortunately however, his reputation was never fully expunged.  His son, Amon, chose to live as wickedly as his father had at first, and the  writer of Kings remembers only the bad things.  The writer of Chronicles wants his readers to know, however, that even the most wicked lives can change, if one is willing to seek the favor of the Lord, humble himself, and repent.  The world may always remember the bad, but God will never forget the action of a penitent heart.