Tag Archives: Love

God’s People, part 119: The Silent Years

Read 1 Maccabees

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When Mattathias saw it, he burned with zeal and his heart was stirred. He gave vent to righteous anger; he ran and killed him on the altar.”  (1 Maccabees 2:24 NRSV)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Supermassive_black_holePart 119: The Silent Years. And like that we have reached the end of the Old Testament. Having journeyed from Creation in Genesis to the final prophet Malachi, we have gotten to see the people God claimed as his own and how they did, and often times did not, live up to God’s call to faithfulness. The reality is that each of the people we have learned about were just that people. They were mortal, fallible, sinful, and sometimes they did downright evil things.

What’s more, they were no greater than you or I. They were not the ones who did great things, any more than you or I could do the great things that they are seen in Scripture as having done. Rather, it was the power of the Holy Spirit within them that did great things in, through, and often times in spite of those people. The truth be told, the Holy Spirit can do those great things, and even greater things, through us if we open our hearts to God.

In between the books of Malachi (in the Old Testament) and Matthew (in the New Testament) is a time period known as “the Silent Years” because the Bible is silent on what happened in those periods. Well, the Bible was not really silent at all, rather it was silenced. Many books were written during this time period and those have become known as the “apocrypha”. These are the books that Rev. Martin Luther mistakenly believed the Roman Catholic Church was responsible for placing them in the Bible to begin with.

While there is a whole history behind the compiling of the Bible, and I do not have time to go into it here, the books of the Apocrypha (a word that originally referred to esoteric writings meant to be kept a secret but has since come to mean writings that are questionable) were books were originally among the scrolls considered to be Scripture. They were included in the first Hebrew Bible compilation known as the Septuagint; however, because that first compilation was in Greek and there were some translation disputes between the Greek translation and the original Hebrew, the apocryphal texts ended up getting removed by Jewish scribes looking to compile a Bible in Hebrew.

Regardless, much happened between Malachi and Matthew. The Greeks ended up defeating the Persians and, with Alexander the Great leading them, conquered the known world. Those Greek rulers, over time, ended up becoming tyrannical and defiled the Second Temple. This led to a revolt by Judah Maccabee and his brothers. The Maccabees, upon kicking out the Greeks, established the Hasmonean Dynasty, which lasted only a short while before the Romans came in, conquered them, and put in place a puppet king known as Herod the Great.

There’s more, where that came from too. The point is that though there is nothing between the books of Malachi and Matthew, there were people who lived, who suffered under the oppressive reigns of multiple tyrannical empires and/or dynasties, and who were hoping that the LORD would once and for all deliver them from outside rulers.

We, of course, never truly have silent years either. Even when we appear to be silent, we are often struggling in the silence. We are being oppressed by our fears, our failures, other people, our governments, our hatred, our bitterness, and plenty of other things. We, too, are longing for the day when the LORD will send the Messiah to us, to liberate us from the chains of bondage. The challenge for us, as it was for the people in those not-so-silent years, is to be willing to embrace the truth of the One who comes to deliver us and to follow him, forsaking all other things but Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  – St. Paul (Philippians 2:9-11)

PRAYER
Lord, draw me close to you so that I may never wander and always praise you with both my lips and my heart. Amen.

God’s People, part 118: Malachi

Read Malachi 2:1-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I have always loved you,” says the LORD. But you retort, “Really? How have you loved us?” And the LORD replies, “This is how I showed my love for you: I loved your ancestor Jacob,” (Malachi 1:2)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Prophet-MalachiPart 118: Malachi. It is hard to believe but we have arrived at the final prophet in the Old Testament. We know very little about Malachi, as is the case of most of the minor prophets. For instance, scholars are not really sure who wrote the book attributed to Malachi, or if Malachi was the prophet’s name or a sort of alias for someone else.

Most scholars recognize that whoever wrote the book of Malachi, it was written by a prophet who was living during the time of the Persian Restoration period following the return from exile. The text seems to be consistent with the time period following the rebuilding and rededication of the second Temple, and the rebuilding of the wall. In fact, it seems that it may have been written around the time of, or shortly after, Nehemiah’s second return from Persia to Jerusalem (See the devotion on Nehemiah to refresh your memory on him).

Malachi’s prophetic book focuses on the lackadaisical religious and social behavior of the Israelites, especially the priests, in Jerusalem following the return from the exile. For instance, Malachi calls the priests out for making less than desirable sacrifices, as if performing their priestly duties is a chore or a bother for them. Evidently the priests were sacrificing any old animal rather than making sure the animal was without any blemish. In fact, they were sacrificing lame and sick animals. When you think of it, sacrificing a lame or sick animal, which will most likely die anyway, is not much of a sacrifice. If the priesthood cannot lead faithfully, how can the people they lead grow in their faith?

Another issue raised by Malachi was the issue of divorce. Malachi saw this both as a religious and a social issue. In fact, the two really could not be separated. The Israelite men were evidently divorcing their wives (of which the priests were allowing) in order to marry foreign women. Socially, divorcing one’s wife brings shame upon her and her family. Often times, divorced women were shunned by their families and left to fend for themselves in a man’s world. This, often times, led women destitute and prostitution was often the only means available for survival.

The religious end of this is that the men were then marrying women who worshipped a foreign god. Thus, they were not only being unfaithful to their Jewish wives, but they were being unfaithful to their God as well. In fact, divorcing their wives for such a ridiculous reason is not being faithful to God either.

What Malachi shows us, as God’s people, is that it is not hard for us to fall into laziness, complacency and unfaithfulness. Whether we are leaders, or we are laity, we all have the tendency to fall away and to lead others to plummet with us. The challenge for us is to remain loyal (aka faithful) to God and to Jesus Christ. In order to do that we must maintain our spiritual disciplines such as reading and studying scripture, attending worship, participating in the Sacramental life of the Church, serving, praying, giving and witnessing to others. Those things keep us in connection to, and knowledgeable of, our Lord God. May you ever grow in your love of God and your desire to seek God out through daily spiritual discipline.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Those who do not see the mandate to be socially just, and to seek out social justice, in the Bible are simply not reading the Bible.

PRAYER
Lord, make me a vessel of your love, your peace, your hope, and your justice. Amen.

God’s People, part 117: Artaxerxes

Read Nehemiah 2:1-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The Temple was finally finished, as had been commanded by the God of Israel and decreed by Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes, the kings of Persia.” (Ezra 6:14b)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, becrmause we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

ArtaxerxesPart 117: Artaxerxes. I am sure at least some of you who are reading this may be wondering, “Arta-who??” One of the challenging parts of reading the Bible is the fact that we end up reading transliterated names that are often confusing and hard to pronounce. With that said, people two-thousand years from now will have trouble pronouncing our names.

Artaxerxes (pronounced Art-a-zerk’zees) was the son of the Persian king Xerxes (pronounced Zerk’zees), who was the king that married the Jewish girl Esther and made her queen. Xerxes, if you remember, was also the same king who fought against the 300 Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae. In 465 BCE, Xerxes was assassinated by the commander of the royal bodyguard, along with his eldest son Darius. As a result, Artaxerxes killed the commander along with his family and ascended to the throne.

As king, he is known for several different things. One of those things, since his father’s military campaign in Greece was discussed, is Artaxerxes handling of the relations between Persia and Greece. Following his ultimate defeat against the Greeks, Xerxes was forced to retreat to Asia and eventually give up trying to conquer Greece. As king, his son Artaxerxes introduced a new strategy of weakening the Athenians by providing financial support to their enemies in other parts of Greece, as Greece was not unified nation but a collection of city-states. This eventually escalated to further skirmishes and led to a peace treaty between Athens, Argos and Persia.

Where Artaxerxes comes in for us is that he is another Persian king who was favorably looked upon by the Jews. He is mentioned by name in both Ezra and Nehemiah and credited with commissioning Ezra, by a letter of decree, to take charge of the religious and civil matters of the Jewish people in the reestablished Jewish nation. Ezra, with the authority of the Persian king, did just that. He ordered the religious life, read the Torah allowed to the Jewish people, and laid the foundation for the second Temple.

In his twentieth year as King, Artaxerxes gave his cup-bearer Nehemiah permission to go to Jerusalem with letters of safe-passage to the governors in the Trans-Euphrates region and to the keeper of the royal forests to build beams for the citadel by the Temple and to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. Thus, as can be seen, Artaxerxes followed in the footsteps of Kings Cyrus in terms of supporting the Jewish campaign to rebuild Jerusalem.

All of this points to one fact that can be seen throughout the Bible and, if we look with open eyes and hearts, throughout our own lives. Here is that fact: God works through all people and all circumstances to build God’s Kingdom in our hearts and, eventually, as the ultimate reality of all creation. Nothing can, nor ever will, stand in the way of our awesome God! The challenge for us is to recognize God’s work in us as well as in others. Even when people seem to be working against God, it is important for us to realize that God’s love ALWAYS wins in the end. Let us, God’s people, embrace that truth and work toward its inevitable and eternal conclusion.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Problems are not stop signs, but are guidelines.” – Rev. Dr. Robert H. Schuller

PRAYER
Lord, pour your love in my heart and your guide me with your Holy Spirit. Grow me into being a part of your “Love Wins” mission in the world. Amen.

God’s People, part 116: Ahasuerus

Read Esther 1

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Years later when Xerxes began his reign, the enemies of Judah wrote a letter of accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem.” (Ezra‬ ‭4:6‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 116: Ahasuerus. “Eat well because this night we’re gonna dine in hades,” King Leonidas of Sparta shouted to his men. The time to defend all of Greece from Persian invasion had come, and the fate of Leonidas’ men had been sealed. They were to meet the Persian army at the pass of Thermopylae and hopefully block them from entering Greece. There was just one problem, they only had 300 men, 300 Spartans, and the Persian army had anywhere between 120,000 and 300,000 men, including an elite group of fighters known to the Greeks as the Immortals.

Well, there were only 300 Spartans, that is for sure; however, modern historians estimate that there were about 7,000 Greeks there that day, inlcuding 900 Helots, 700 Thespians, and 400 Thebans. Still, an army of 7,000 against an army of hundreds of thousands is doomed to lose, right? For sure. They did lose.

Prior to the invasion, the Spartan known as Ephialtes of Trachis, betrayed the Spartans and let Xerxes know about this pass and it’s strategic advantages in terms of invading Greece. The Greeks fought valiantly. When inevitable loss was before them, Leonidas with his 300 Spartans formed a rear guard to allow for the rest of the army to retreat and successfully held the Persians off long enought for that retreat to happen. By the time that Leonidas’ dead body was discovered by the Persians and brought back to King Xerxes, he was so enraged he had Leonidas’ corpse decapitated and crucified. This was out of character for the Persians, who typically showed respect to brave warriors they had defeated.

All of that aside, you may be wondering, “why on God’s green earth is Todd writing about the 300 Spartans’ valiant fight against King Xerxes of Persia? What does this have to do with Scripture, since that battle was not mentioned anywhere in the Bible? The truth is, I write of this battle as a way of pointing to how history and the Bible so often intersect. Like a giddy schoolboy, I am ever amazed and excited by the historicity of the Bible. That’s not to say that everything in the Bible is historical, but certainly it is exciting when history and the Bible intersect.

Esther is such an example. In the book we learn of Esther (aka Hadassah), Mordecai, Haman, and other characters. One of the main characters is King Ahasuerus, who exiled his wife, gathered young women throughout the land, and made one of them (Esther) queen of all of Persia. It is believed by most scholars and Biblical translators that Ahasuerus was, in actuality, King Xerxes. That’s right, the same King Xerxes who fought against King Leonidas at Thermopylae was the same King that took Esther to be his queen.

As it turns out, Xerxes is the Greek rendering of the Persian name Xšayārša. This actually makes sense, when one pauses to think about it. What we know of Leonidas and his last stand against Xerxes at Thermopylae all comes from Greek sources who later recorded it down. Thus, they were referring to the ruler as Xerxes in their native language, which was Greek. The Babylonian name for Xšayārša was Aḥšiyaršu. Transliterated into Hebrew, Aḥšiyaršu became ʼĂḥašəwērôš. When the Bible was translated much later on into Latin, it became Ahasuerus.

Thus, the Bible actually records the Hebrew translitertation of the Babylonian name for the PERSIAN King Xšayārša. This was the same king, known by the Greeks as Xerxes, that King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans defended Greece against. Crazy awesome, right?!?! It’s kind of ironic how people will read Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300 (about the 300 Spartans) and be captivated by it, and yet many of those same people think the Bible is boring and are ignorant that some of the characters they are reading about are actually written about in the Bible.

To conclude, here’s the point in all of this. The Bible is a book that is filled with such a wealth of information. In it one finds poetry, history, law, narrative mythology, theology, prophecy, and the overarching plan of God to redeem this broken world. What we also find is that in some of the world’s most powerful rulers, God worked that plan of salvation into the world. For instance, the same king who brutally crushed the 300 Spartans and had Leonidas’ dead body decapitated and crucified, is the same king who fell in love with a Jewish woman named Esther and made her his queen. This same king who crushed the Greeks, God worked through to save the Jews from genocidal annihilation.

It is always amazing to me how, despite us, God works salvation into the world. Whether someone appears to be one of “God’s people” or not, we are truly ALL God’s people, for God created us all. Thus, unbeknownst to the person, God can and often does work through people to bring about hope, healing and wholeness. This could be seen in Nebudchanezzar, in Darius the Mede, in Cyrus, in Darius the Great, and in Xerxes. Each of these men were polytheists who did not worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, yet God worked through them to bring about redemption for God’s people and for the world. This should, and hopefully it does, challenge you to remove your trust in human leaders and place all of your trust in whom it properly belongs: God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” —Jesus of Nazareth

PRAYER

Lord, I surrender my life to you and place all my trust in you as opposed to humans. Amen.

God’s People, part 115: Haman

Read Esther 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Then Harbona, one of the king’s eunuchs, said, ‘Haman has set up a sharpened pole that stands seventy-five feet tall in his own courtyard. He intended to use it to impale Mordecai, the man who saved the king from assassination.’ ‘Then impale Haman on it!’ the king ordered. So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai, and the king’s anger subsided.” (Esther‬ ‭7:9-10‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 115: Haman. By now, I am sure, you are aware that Haman is the bad guy of the story in Esther. He was the one who plotted to have all the Jews killed and to have a special gallows built to hang Mordecai on. We also know, ultimately, that Haman’s plot backfired in the worst possible way, thanks to the faithfulness of Queen Esther to her people. She braved the possibility of being executed in order to do what was just and righteous.

With that said, let us take a look at Haman anyway. It is easy to demonize someone as the “bad guy”, because it makes them something different than “us”. It allows us to place all of the blame on the evil “straw man”, as it were, and to avoid reflecting on ourselves and how we too fall prey to such tendencies.

Haman, according to the Bible, was a descendent of Agag, who was king of the Amalekites. If you remember, the Amalekites were the people that King Saul and King David wiped out in certain areas. So, even in his family history, there is bad blood there. The Jews were the enemies of Haman’s ancestors.

What’s more, it is also important to note that being an Agagite (a descendant of Agag) meant that Haman was NOT a Persian. He was yet a person who belonged to a land that had been conquered by Babylon and were now being ruled by Persia. Thus, Haman is a foreigner too. He, like Mordecai, had been promoted up the ranks to become an official in Persia. Not only was he an official, but he was the kings top official. He was the King’s right-hand man.

So, given the history between the Jewish and the Amalekites, it is no wonder that Haman has a resentment against Mordecai and the other Jews. What’s more, when you add in the fact that Haman and Mordecai were both foreigners competing against each other for political positions, we get to understand the conflict.

Piecing it together that way, makes sense of why Mordecai refused to bow and why Haman took such offense to it. Pride and tribalism seem to be at the heart of this conflict. There are other possible extra-biblical reasons as to why Mordecai refused to bow to Haman; however, given what we have to go on in Scripture, the obstinance that Mordecai showed Haman and the hatred that Haman had for Mordecai and his people, really begin to make sense.

In our country today, we see such tribalism taking route in the form of hyper-nationalism. Dare I say this, the kind of nationalistic rhetoric I have heard thrown out there as of late sets America up as almost an idol to be worshiped. Beyond the national level, I have seen tribalism grow among the peoples within this nations. Republicans vs. Democrats, whites vs. blacks, citizens vs. undocumented immigrants, heterosexuals vs. LGTBQ, etc.

Let us reflecton that. These divisions, these dichotomies are false in the eyes of God and they all lead us down the road toward destruction. Haman is a great and stark example of the destructive path that pride and tribalism lead us down. Let us begin to repent of the ways in which we have been falsely proud and tribalistic. Let us turn from our sins and run back into the arms of the One who created us all in the divine image.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“They will know we are Christian by our love, by our love. They will know we are Christian by our love.” — Fr. Peter Scholtes

PRAYER

Lord, help me to steer clear of immoral and unholy tribalism and pride. Amen.

God’s People, part 114: Mordecai

Read Esther 2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Mordecai sent this reply to Esther: “Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” (Esther‬ ‭4:13-14‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 114: Mordecai. Continuing on from the last devotion, we are going to explore some of the key characters in the book of Esther. To quickly refresh you, you will remember that Esther was a Jewish girl who was taken out of the custody of her cousin, Mordecai, and placed into the king of persia’s harem. A harem was a separate living quarter for three groups of women in the royal palace: legal wives, royal princesses, and concubines.

The first two are pretty obvious, but people today might not necessarily understand what concubines are. Some people view concubines as promiscuous women who are of low moral character because they sleep around with married men; however, this is a false understanding of the concubine’s situation. In Perisa, along with other Middle Eastern cultures, a concubine was a person who was legally bound to the king for sexual purposes, but had lower status than wives. They were not merely mistresses who threw themselves before the king; rather, they had no choice for they were chosen to be in sexual service to the king. They were, in essence, sex slaves.

Mordecai was Esther’s cousin; however, he was much older than her and he adopted her as his own daughter after her parents died. Anyone with a heart can imagine how hard it was for Mordecai to see his loved ones pass and how his heart must have broken for Esther. At the same time, we should not over-romanticize it either. Extended family members were obligated, as pure their cultural and religious customs, to take care of the children of their deceased family members.

With that said, the Scripture implies that the relationship between Mordecai was a close one. In Esther 2:7, it says he raised her as his own daughter. Mordecai was clearly someone Esther had a great deal of respect toward and someone she listened to. It was, after all, Mordecai who convinced Esther to risk her life and go before the king uninvited to petition for the lives of her people. It was Mordecai who bluntly laid the reality of the situation before her in Esther‬ ‭4:13-14‬.

Mordecai was no doubt petrified and in a panicked state his words, no doubt, came off forcefully. What he was asking her to do was to go on a possible suicide mission by breaking the courtly codes of conduct for a queen. The queen was not permitted to come uninvited before the king when he was conducting royal business in the court. To do so meant death unless the king favored his wife and accepted her reasoning. Esther believed that she had fallen out of favor with the king, that he was bored with her, and so to go before him most certainly meant death.

Mordecai, on the other hand, had just been informed of a royal decree, sent out under the authority of the king, permitting Persians to kill any and all Jews. This happened as a result of the King being tricked by his evil advisor, Haman. So, Mordecai didn’t have time to mince words and he let the queen know that saving her own life in this moment would most certainly mean death for them all in the next.

With that said, it is also important to note that Mordecai was directly responsible for egging on Haman and causing him to lash out in such a wretched and evil way. Haman worked in the king’s court as an official and all the officials were expected to bow and show respect to Haman, who was the king’s chief official. Mordecai refused to do so. Not just once, or twice, but time and time again, day after day. His reasoning for not bowing in respect to the chief official, evidently, was that he was Jewish. Of course, there’s no law against showing respect to a king or an official, so long as you are not “worshiping” the official as a god, but Mordecai refused to budge and, consequently, so did Haman who was as proud as he was arrogant. The end result was that Haman, who was evil, plotted to have all Jews killed in spite of Mordecai’s defiance.

Perhaps Mordecai had good reason for not bowing, or perhaps he simply did it pridefully because he wasn’t going to be seen as inferior to Haman. It’s hard to say because the author leaves the explicit reason out. Mordecai’s defiance, however, begs us to question our own motivations when we are being defiant. Not all defiance is good, not all defiance is bad; however, defiance does lead to unintended consequences and because of Mordecai’s unwillingness to compromise and follow protocol, the very lives of his people were put into unnecessary jeopardy. Thankfully, Esther was able to expose Haman’s evil and justice one out in the end; still, let us reflect on our own pride (whether Mordecai was prideful or not) and how our unwillingness to budge can be harmful to others.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Anger is the enemy of non-violence and pride is a monster that swallows it up.” —Mahatma Gandhi

PRAYER

Lord, help me to evaluate myself honestly and humble myself sincerely so as to not bring harm, if possible, to those around me. In Christ, all things are possible. Amen.

God’s People, part 113: Esther

Read Esther 1-2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Mordecai sent this reply to Esther: “Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” (Esther‬ ‭4:13-14‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 113: Esther. We have, up to this point, spent quite a bit of time looking at the Jewish people, their leadership, their priests and their prophets who returned to Jerusalem following Cyrus’ decree that they were no longer exiled and could return home. While many certainly did return, in waves as has been stated in previous installments of this series, the reality is that many also chose NOT to leave.

Think about this for a minute. How many of you have had to move? Following moving, following settling in and creating a new home for yourselves, did you feel like uprooting once again? What’s more, many of the Jews living at the time of Cyrus had been born in Babylon/Persia and that was the only home they had ever known. Persia WAS their home, why would they wish to return?

This is the reality that we come upon in the Book of Esther, which is a narrative centered on a diaspora Jewish girl who became Queen of Persia. Before we get into the nitty gritty of this story, it is important to note that this is the ONLY book in the entire Bible that does not explicitly mention God. There is, in fact, no mention of God at all, but it can be presumed a belief of God is implicit in the story and the actions of Esther and Mordecai.

Esther was born in Persia as Hadassahm, a Jewish girl in a fairly well-off family. As a young woman, perhaps as young as 14 years old, she was taken from her home and from her cousin Mordecai (who had adopted as his own daughter when her parents died) and brought to King Ahasuerus’ palace to live in his harem as a sex slave with benefits. What were the “benefits”, you might be asking? Simply put, if she was found to be super “pleasing” to the king, she could get picked to be his queen. Yay, right?

Hold your horses, for this is not as “awesome” as it might sound. First off, a Jewish girl losing her virginity pre-marriage would have been shameful to her and her family. That act would have defiled her and forced her to break the covenant between her and God. Secondly, if she were to be picked as queen, she would not rule equally with the king. The queen’s job was to be the king’s plaything and to be an appendage of his at public functions whenever he demanded. That’s about it. Oh, wait, of course there was one other function: to bare the king a male heir.

She would be taken care of and could have whatever the king afforded her; however, it would come a very steep cost, one that Hadassah would have wished she didn’t have to pay. But she wasn’t so lucky and she went to live with the king, taking on the Persian name Esther so that the king would not know she was Jewish. She hoped that would give her a better chance to be married, which would at least give her back some of her honor.

I recently heard podcast hosts criticize Esther saying that she should not be looked up to as a role modely because of her “immoral” character. In fact, they likened her to Stormy Daniels. This, of course, has to do with the fact that she lived in a harem and had premarital sex with another man. Let me just say that this is horrendous theology. She was no more immoral than Daniel was for serving the Babylonian king. Neither of them had a choice. What’s more, implicit to the story is the fact that God (again, not explicitly mentioned in the narrative) gave her the strength and the courage to overcome her terrible circumstance and become the savior of her people.

So, back to the narrative. Esther did find favor with the king and was picked to be his king. Overtime, however, he bored with her and didn’t call her to be in his presence very frequently. During this period of isolation, her uncle contacted her and informed her of a plot by Haman, the King’s advisor, to commit genocide against the Jews. He wanted to kill them all. Though hesitant at first, Mordecai convinced Esther to do the right thing and go before the king unannounced, an act that could have gotten her killed as it was illegal to be in the king’s presence without being invited. Esther did just that and, to sum it up quickly, she was able to inform the king of the plot.

Esther, like the rest of us, was afraid to act and hesitated. Even if it was momentary, it was a moment that showed her humanity and her fear of the unknown. That makes her relateable to us as we fear to do the right thing. How many of us stay silent against wrongdoing, for fear that we might get caught up in a conflict? How many of us fear “stirring the pot” and calling the status quo into question because it could backfire in our faces? Let Esther be a reminder that we can AND SHOULD overcome such fear and trust that God is calling us for such a time as this.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Remember, “for such a time as this” we are where we are, being asked by God to do what is right.

PRAYER

Holy Lord, while you don’t put bad circumstances upon us, you do ask us and strengthen us to do what is right when those circumstances arise. Give me the strength to rise up to righteousness. Amen.

God’s People, part 112: Yeshua

Read Zechariah 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then Jeshua son of Jehozadak joined his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel with his family in rebuilding the altar of the God of Israel.” (Ezra 3:2a NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

YeshuaPart 112: Yeshua. At the outset of writing the God’s People devotion series, which I started back on May 27, 2017, I have been eagerly awaiting reaching this point in the series. This is where we begin to see the Old Testament and the New Testament beginning to meet together. How so, you might wonder? I will attempt to answer that very question in this devotion.

Yeshua, as I am sure you realize by this point if you have been reading the series as of late, was the person who was chosen by God to be the high priest of the people who returned back to Jerusalem from exile. There is little that is known about him but for a few short and obscure passages in Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah. With that said, his significance cannot, nor should not, be underwritten.

Here is what we do know. Yeshua was of a priestly lineage and served as high priest circa 515-490 BCE, which means he served for about 25 years upon his return from exile. Yeshua was also one of the catalysts, along with Haggai, that pushed for the rebuilding of the Jewish temple (Haggai 1:1, 14) after 16 years of the project having been delayed by endless negotiations and bickering between the Jews and “the people of the land” (aka the Samaritans).

As such, it seems that Zerubbabel, Yeshua, and Haggai upset the order and ruffled the feathers who were seeking to hold the project off even longer. Once Haggai delivered the message of God to Yeshua and Zerubbabel, they sprung into action with the people and began to rebuild the Temple. As such, a divisive conflict rose up against them.

Before I continue, there are two basic schools of thought on the timing of Yeshua in relation to Zechariah’s prophecy. The first being that Yeshua was alive at the time of his great-great-grandson’s marriage to a Gentile woman (see Nehemiah 13:28), and subsequent expulsion from his priestly duties and from Jerusalem. If that was the case, then Yeshua would have been 90 years old at that time and Zechariah’s prophecy (Zechariah 3) would have been directed toward Yeshua.

The second school of thought is that, perhaps, Yeshua was dead by that point and Zechariah’s prophecy was directed toward his grandson, Eliashib, who succeeded him as high priest, using Yeshua’s scenario with Satan as an allegory. While this is certainly possible, I am of the belief that Zechariah’s prophecy was directed toward Yeshua and that what we have in Zechariah’s prophecy is evidence of the tension that the high priest was dealing with.

In today’s Scripture, we see that Yeshua the High Priest is standing before the Lord and Satan, who is throwing accusations out at him. In other words, Satan is trying to convince God that Yeshua is not worthy. It is generally understood here that Satan is seen as the force behind the divisive opposition that rose up against Yeshua’s leadership as high priest during his push to rebuild the Temple. Zechariah went on to state that God rejected Satan’s accusations and proclaimed the following to Yeshua and the priests who were to follow him: “Listen to Me, O [Yeshua] the high priest, and all you other priests. You are symbols of things to come. Soon I am going to bring My servant, the Branch” (Zechariah 3:8).

This, in and of itself, is an amazing Testament to what was about to happen. Clearly, Zechariah was prophesying about the coming Messiah. Still, what’s more amazing, is the high priest’s name itself. Yeshua (often spelled in the Bible as Jeshua…but I spell it phonetically as it sounds) is the name יְהוֹשֻׁוּעַ, or Joshua, which means “The LORD saves”. The Greek equivalent for Joshua is Ἰησοῦς, or Jesus. That is right, Yeshua in Greek is Jesus. Thus, in Zechariah we have Jesus the High Priest, being deemed the symbol of the Messiah Jesus who was to come and bring salvation not only to the Jews but to all the world!

This Messiah Jesus to come would also establish himself, and all who believe in him, as the true temple where people worship God (regardless of where they are) in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:21-23). How amazing is it that? Seriously. Here we have explicit Biblical evidence, written at least 3 – 4  centuries before Christ, that God was clueing people into the fact that there was an overarching plan to redeem this world through the Messiah. What’s more, there is explicit Biblical evidence that God not only revealed the plan, but even hinted at the Messiah’s name!

The question for us is, do we trust God’s plan or do we get mired in our own. Don’t get me wrong, not everything happens for a reason. Sometimes the only reason that things happen is that they do. People are not raped, beaten, abused, hurt, impoverished, homeless and/or are suffering for any reasons other than the fact that we live in a broken world, mired in sin and less-than-ideal circumstances. With that said, God has an overarching plan, despite the sin and circumstances that beset us, to redeem all of the world, us included. Do we trust that? Do we trust enough to step out of the way and to join God’s ranks in transforming this world from what it is into the Kingdom of God? Let us reflect honestly and open ourselves to the convicting of the Holy Spirit.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The Bible is very resonant. It has everything: creation, betrayal, lust, poetry, prophecy, sacrifice. All great things are in the Bible, and all great writers have drawn from it and more than people realise, whether Shakespeare, Herman Melville or Bob Dylan.” – Patti Smith

PRAYER
Lord, I place my trust in you and your Word. Amen.

God’s People, part 111: Zerubbabel

Read Ezra 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But when this happens, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, I will honor you, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, My servant. I will make you like a signet ring on My finger, says the LORD, for I have chosen you. I, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken!” (Haggai 2:23 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

ZerubbabelPart 111: Zerubbabel. By now, you are probably wondering who this “Zerubbabel” was, right? His name has come up here and there over the past several devotions, with little to no explanation as to who he was. Zerubbabel was a Jew born in Babylon during the Babylonian captivity. If the name has its origin in Hebrew, perhaps a contraction of the Hebrew word זְרוּעַ בָּבֶל (pronounced Zərua‘ Bāvel), it means “The one sown in Babylon”. Similarly, if it is Assyrian-Babylonian in origin, it means “seed of Babylon”. It could also come from the Hebrew זְרוּי בָּבֶל (pronounced Zərûy Bāvel), meaning “the winnowed of Babylon”. The latter would refer to the fact that, under the leadership of Zerubbabel, the Jews were sifted through from exile in Babylon to freedom in their homeland.

Whatever the origin of his name might be, Zerubbabel was clearly born in exile in Babylon. Beyond that fact, he was also the grandson of the second to last king of Judah, Jehoiachin. This is the king, if you remember,  who was eighteen when he took the throne and who only reigned for a total three months and ten days before being dethroned and exiled to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar II. He was succeeded by his uncle, Zedekiah, who rebuffed Jeremiah’s warnings and  ultimately led all of Jerusalem down a path of destruction and exile.

Zerubbabel, quite ironically, was appointed to return lead the first wave of Jews back to their homeland by the Persian king Cyrus in the first year of his reign over Babylon. He was also appointed of governor of the Persian province of Judah. Thus, the grandson of the first king to be exiled to Babylon was appointed to be the governor of his people and to lead the first wave of his people home.

Zerubbabel was also the governor under whom the foundation for the second temple was laid. He was, if you remember, given the charge of rebuilding the Temple. With that said, he was also not successful in rebuilding that temple due to the opposition that he and the High Priest Jeshua (pronounced Yesh-oo-ah) faced. Instead of sticking with the plan, Zerubbabel became mired in endless diplomatic measures to get everyone involved on the same page. The result: NOTHING, NADA, ZILCH. The Temple was not rebuilt under his leadership and would not be rebuilt until Nehemiah, who did not make the same mistakes, took his place.

The challenge for us here is to realize how often we let the circumstances around us to pull us away from what God is asking us to do. For example, in churches we often weigh the “liability” of a ministry over and above the need for it. Are we supposed to NOT do something just because we could find ourselves liable? Is that how Jesus operated? Is that how the prophets operated? Then why do operate that way?

What’s more, we do the same thing individually. “Well,” one might muse, “I would be more involved in this or that ministry if I had more time…or money…or personal connection with those who are apart of it.” Another might allow politics or personal views to step in the way of their faithfulness to Christ. Let us be challeneged to resist such diversions and to be faithful to God’s plan to impact the world through RE-CREATION, rather than allowing the world to impact and recreate us in its own image.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Diversions from Christ’s mission are the devil’s playground, turf from which we should steer clear.

PRAYER
Lord, help us to remain focused on and faithful to you through Jesus Christ. Amen.

God’s People, part 110: Nehemiah

Read Nehemiah 2:1-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“I was not in Jerusalem at that time, for I had returned to King Artaxerxes of Babylon in the thirty-second year of his reign, though I later asked his permission to return.” (Nehemiah 13:6 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

img_1170Part 110: Nehemiah. Sitting beside me I have a book by Joseph W. Daniels Jr. entitled, Walking with Nehemiah. In it, the author focuses on the different stages in Nehemiah’s work as governor. The author walks us through Nehemiah’s leadership style and the success that was a result of his ability to hold onto the vision. For those who are not familiar with the story of Nehemiah, he was a cup-bearer to the Persian King Artaxerxes. Upon hearing how the walls of Jerusalem were crumbling and the city was disarray, he petitioned the king to allow him to return to Jerusalem to rebuild its walls.

Indeed, the king not only gave him permission, but sent him back to Jerusalem as governor with the charge to see this project through. Thus, Nehemah arrived back in Jerusalem with the full blessing of the Persian King to rebuild the walls and refortify Jerusalem. Still, such a blessing did not go unopposed by those who did not want to see such a project happen. The same bad actors who opposed Zechariah and Zerubbabel in the rebuilding of the Temple. As has been discussed in past deovtions, the Samaritans (aka “the people of the land”) were among those who had wanted envovlement in the rebuilding of the temple and, when they weren’t given what they wanted, had undermined and stalled the rebuilding efforts.

These same opponents also tried to undermine Nehemiah in his quest to fortify and rebuild Jerusalem. Anticipating this, Nehemiah ignored them. Instead of wasting his efforts on those whe would never outmaneuver, Nehemiah focused his efforts on building up grassroots support for the rebuilding campaign. Once he did that, there was no stopping him from accomplishing it and the city was refortified.

Years following the success of the campaign, Nehemiah stepped down from his governorship and returned back to Persia. During that time away from Jerusalem, God’s people fell back into sin, and were turning away from the reforms that had led them back to being a people of God. Thus, Nehemiah returned once again to straighten things up and set God’s people back on the path to righteousness.

Nehemiah’s push for Jewish purity, which included the exclusion of intermingling with non-Jewish people (in marriage, in business, and certainly religiously), may seem odd to those of us in the 21st century who embrace diversity and multiculturalism; however, the reality is that the Jews were fighting to remain God’s people, distinct from the rest of the world. It was not about the “race” or “ethnicity” of non-Jewish people; rather, it was about the gods they worshiped and would, ultimately, invite the Jews to worship as well.

For us, there are two things we can pull from Nehemiah and the people he led. First, in terms of Nehemiah, the work of God’s people is NEVER, EVER, finished. Nehemiah went back to Susa thinking his job was done, only to have to return and continue the work on. Second, the push toward purity in order to avoid sin can lead us back into sin. Nehemiah’s push to keep the Jews within Jerusalem separate from non-Jews, eventually went on to counter God’s ultimate plan for the Jews to be a witness to the nations of the one true God. In Nehemiah’s circumstances, separation was needed as people were purchasing all sorts of items (idols included, no doubt) and they were doing so on the Sabbath, the day that Jews were supposed to rest and worship God.

Thus, the push for a return to purity was needed; however, out of this push for purity, a couple of centuries later, rose a group of Jews known as the Pharisees. This group’s very name means “separate” and they called on Jews to adhere strictly to the Torah in order to not further provoke God’s wrath. It is this group that would later go on to be challenged by Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, whose teachings reminded people of their call to be witnesses fo God to the nations. The confrontation between Jesus, the Pharisees, and other religious leaders would lead to Jesus’ death and resurrection, the ultimate catalyst in God’s redemption plan.

Let us be challenged by this. With the world becoming more divided, with our leaders and culture pushing toward more isolation and separation, we are called to be witnesses of God’s redemption plan. With countries flexing their political muscles to show superiority, we are called to witness to the radical equality we share with all humanity. Let us be challegned to never see our job as witnesses as being over. The job will never be over until that day when all humans join hand-in-hand as brothers and sisters in the divine family of our Lord Jesus Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dreams shall never die.” —Ted Kennedy

PRAYER

Lord, let me never lose sight of my role as a witness to your love and your kingdom. Amen.