His-Story

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Archive for the tag “Old Testament”

God is Faithful to His Promise

Esther, Chapter 9

I recently delivered a message from the book of Esther about the faithfulness of God, who is sovereignly at work in our lives, sometimes in ways that are obvious, and sometimes from behind the scenes. If you know the story of Esther and Mordechai (see Esther Part 1and Esther Part 2), you will remember that it is an example of God at work from behind the scenes. It did not just happen that, when the king of Persia made an impulsive decision to divorce his wife, he selected a Jewish girl as his Queen. It did not just happen that Mordechai, Esther’s uncle, overheard a plot to assassinate the king and was able to get word to him through Esther to save his life. It did not just happen that the king was favorably disposed to Esther and welcomed her, uninvited, into his presence and granted her wish for two banquets. It did not just happen that the king couldn’t sleep one night – and it did not just happen that he turned to the account of Mordechai’s loyalty when he read the official records to make him drowsy. It did not just happen that there was a grand reversal of the future of Haman, the enemy of the Jews, and Mordechai, the advocate for the Jews. And, it did not just happen that the king was favorably disposed to Esther and Mordechai in granting a reprieve to the edict that encouraged people to massacre the Jews. In all of these events, God was at work behind the scenes.

There is one more act of God’s sovereignty from behind the scenes that brings final resolution to the story of Mordechai and Esther, and that drives home the truth of the faithfulness of God. In Chapter 9 of Esther, the King of Persia grants Mordechai and Esther the ability to make an edict that counters another edict that gave the citizens of Persia permission to attack and potentially annihilate the Jews who lived anywhere in the empire. This new edict gave the Jews permission to defend themselves, and even take the offensive against their enemies.

Now in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day of the same, when the king’s command and edict were about to be carried out, on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred: the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them. The Jews gathered in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus to lay hands on those who sought their harm. And no one could stand against them, for the fear of them had fallen on all peoples. (Est 9:1-2 ESV)

As the story unfolds, the Jews killed over 75,000 of their enemies over a two-day period. Now, this action has often been criticized by those who suggest that it was a heinous act of the Jews that was carried out at the command of the powerful Mordechai and his niece, the Queen. But I would like to suggest that it was really an act of God from behind the scenes to demonstrate his faithfulness to his word. Let me set this up for you.

This circumstance grew out of the conflict between Mordechai and Haman. Mordechai was a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin, a distant relative of Kish, whose son was Saul, first King of Israel (2:5). Haman was an Agagite – a descendent of Agag, an ancient king of the Amalekites (3:1). Saul and Agag  had a history of unfinished business. The first army to attack the new Hebrew nation after the Exodus was the Amalekites. They became the arch enemy of the Jews. As a result, Israel was instructed to blot out their name from under the sun.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” (Exo 17:14 ESV) – Ex 17:16.

To utterly blot out the memory of a nation is called holy war, when God’s judgment on a people who were so vile and godless that his sentence was total annihilation. God decreed that the Amalekites were under that sentence. In 1 Sam 15, Saul was given the opportunity to accomplish this sentence, but he failed. You will remember that instead of total annihilation, Saul spared the Amalekite king, Agag, and he took some of the spoils of war. He even spared some of the people (1 Chron 4:43). That failure cost Saul the throne, and the tribe of Benjamin the honor of the throne. Generations later – Mordechai and Haman – descendants of Saul and Agag, continue the ancient conflict. But this time, there is no failure. When the day of the conflict arrives, the Jews accomplish a great victory.

The Jews struck all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them, and did as they pleased to those who hated them.  In Susa the citadel itself the Jews killed and destroyed 500 men, and also killed Parshandatha and Dalphon and Aspatha and Poratha and Adalia and Aridatha and Parmashta and Arisai and Aridai and Vaizatha, the ten sons of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews, but they laid no hand on the plunder.(Est 9:5-10 ESV)

This last phrase is very important. Later in the story, this same phrase is repeated in vs. 15 and again in vs. 16. Here is the suggestion.  The terms of holy war specifically state that there is to be no plundering of the victims. You will remember this is the reason Achin and his family were judged following the annihilation of the people of Jericho (Jos 6). Even though the king gave them permission to plunder their enemies (8:11) when the day came, the Jews did not plunder their enemies. The suggestion is that Mordechai instructed the Jews that this was holy war. It is possible that those that the Jews killed were descendents of the Amalekites and that with this action, God’s declaration of holy war against the Amalekites in Ex 17:14-16 is fulfilled.

How faithful God is to his promises!!!

But lest we conclude that God is a tyrant, let’s reflect on the grand truth of the Bible. God provided for our welfare by carrying out holy war – not on us who are his enemies (Eph 2:1-3), but on himself through the sacrifice of his Son.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2Co 5:21 ESV)

Instead of wiping out his enemies, he made them his friends.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Eph 2:13-16 ESV)

The grand His-Story of the Bible is a marvelous unfolding of the truth of God’s faithfulness to his word.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (Joh 3:16 ESV)

If you have not already, won’t you bow and receive the gift of God’s grace extended to you? When you do, He will be faithful to his word. You will not perish but you will have eternal life.

Praying for the Healing of America

2 Chronicles 7:11-14

national-day-of-prayerA casual observation of America reveals a severely broken culture. When Madonna declares that the Super Bowl is a worship service and she is the sermon, we know things are not the way they are supposed to be. Close to home we see our brightest and best fall in a war that many doubt is just, High School employees have sexual relations with students, people drive drunk, repeatedly, some with fatal consequences. Longtime employees embezzle from the restaurant that provided them opportunity, state politics turns into mud wrestling, national politics turns into – well, wrestling in worse than mud. Families are disintegrating, teens drop out of church, depression, anxiety and other emotional disorders are at an all-time high. Our land is sick and in need of a doctor.

As we consider from whence we have come, this state of affairs seems incongruent. Only two hundred years ago French culture analyst, Alexis de Tocqueville, declared that America was the most spiritual nation on earth. What happened to the hand of God that birthed a nation out of the quest for religious freedom and submission to Almighty God? Perhaps we can find some answers from the history of Israel.

The apex of the history of God’s people was the construction and dedication of the Temple, the place God chose to manifest his presence among his people. God filled it with his glory, precipitating a prayer from Solomon that stands as a model of humility and worship. During that prayer, Solomon prayed:

“When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you, and when they pray toward this place and give praise to your name and turn from their sin because you have afflicted them, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel. Teach them the right way to live, and send rain on the land you gave your people for an inheritance. (2 Ch 6:26-27 NIV)

Solomon’s prayer was, in one sense, prophetic. Israel did sin and God did shut up the heavens, withholding his blessings from them. Solomon’s prayer was also intercessory. He prayed that when this happened, God in his mercy would forgive the people and restore his blessing – when they would pray and confess their sins. Direct hit!!! God must have been leading his king in this prayer because God affirms it in what has become the most beloved prayer promise found in 2 Chronicles.

When Solomon had finished the temple of the LORD and the royal palace, and had succeeded in carrying out all he had in mind to do in the temple of the LORD and in his own palace,the LORD appeared to him at night and said: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices. “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  (2Ch 7:11-14 NIV)

Notice verse 13. God told Solomon that if (when) the people of God sinned against him, God would shut up the heavens so that there would be no blessing on the land. Isn’t that what America has done? And isn’t that what God has done? We have neglected the sanctity of life. We have abandoned the nuclear family, men have abdicated leadership, and, generally speaking, what God intended for good, we have turned into evil. As a consequence, God has shut up the heavens. There hasn’t been a significant wind of spiritual revival since the early ‘70’s when students on campuses all across this nation experienced a new Breath of spiritual renewal. Yet, in verse 14, God gave Solomon an answer to his prayer of 6:26-27. God promised Israel, and us, that if we humble ourselves, and pray and seek his face and turn from our wicked ways, God will hear from heaven, open heaven’s door of blessing, and heal our land.

Today is the National Day of Prayer. May I encourage you to take a few moments – more if you are able – and enter into prayer that God would hear from heaven and heal our land. God made a promise. Maybe the fulfillment will begin in your community.

  • Read 1 John 1:8-10. What sins are in our lives that need to be confessed? We must have some. If we claim we don’t, we deceive ourselves. Ask God to search our hearts and then confess our sins, thanking God for the promise of his forgiveness.
  • Read Daniel 9:4-19. Make this prayer your prayer for America. Realize that even though Daniel mentions the judgment of God on Jerusalem for their idolatry, the principles of acknowledging God’s rule and the consequences for rebelling against Him are universal truths and still apply to America, or any country.
  • Notice this same type of model prayer in Nehemiah 1:1-11.

The Book of Malachi

choices

A very concise phrase encapsulates the history of the Old Testament. I have used it earlier in this series but it is fitting that we end with it. “Choices are optional, consequences are not.” As we survey the book of Malachi, I think you will see why I want to remind us of this simple truth.

The final element of the Old Testament bible story is the book of Malachi. But it is important to set the context for this final book of prophecy. During the twelfth year of Nehemiah’s governorship in Jerusalem, he made a trip back to Persia (see Nehemiah 13:6-7). The length of his stay is not indicated, but after some time Artexerxes grants him permission to return to Jerusalem. What he finds is appalling. Religious discipline was all but lost. Foreign leaders were given residences in the Temple court. Support for Levites and Temple activities waned. The people neglected their daily offerings and their obligations of tithing. As a consequence, the people were not experiencing the blessings that the prophets promised upon their return to Jerusalem. Instead, there was economic hardship, prolonged drought and crop failure and pestilence, limited self-rule, and constant oppression from the neighboring nations. The people were disillusioned, frequently complaining to God about their hardships. But they were only experiencing the consequences of their own sinfulness. The prophecy of Malachi the prophet details the dialogue between the people and God in hopes that they will finally understand.

Malachi confronts the people of Israel in three areas. (I am grateful to Mark Dever in The Message of The Old Testament for this outline.) The first is how they were failing in the way they were treating one another. In 2:10-16 he reminded them that their first responsibility was to their families, specifically, to their marriages.

Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth. “The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the LORD Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful. (Mal 2:15-16 NIV)

Then there is instruction that addressed their failure in how they were relating to their neighbors.

So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty. (Mal 3:5 NIV)

The second challenge from God concerned their worship. The people were going through the motions rather than giving of their best.

A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty. “It is you priests who show contempt for my name. “But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’ “By offering defiled food on my altar. “But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?'”By saying that the LORD’s table is contemptible. When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty. (Mal 1:6-8 NIV)

In fact, God considered their neglect of the tithe as robbing him.

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse–your whole nation–because you are robbing me.” (Mal 3:8-9 NIV)

The third challenge from God concerned how they approached God. Apparently they were very cynical in addressing God with little fear of him.

You have spoken arrogantly against me,” says the LORD. “Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’ “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.’” Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name. (Mal 3:13-16 NIV)

A modern reader of Malachi, indeed of the entire Old Testament, might shake his/her head in amazement that the Jews were so slow to understand that consequences are not optional. But are we just as blind? How is your marriage? Do you treat others with justice? Do you give God the first and the best in your worship? Are you cynical as you observe the apparent ease of others? And do you fear the Lord in your heart? May God grant us the humility to look deep inside and bow before God at the wonder of his never-ceasing love for us. He will never cease saying to us:

“I have loved you,” says the LORD. (Mal 1:2 NIV)

But if you are not experiencing this love, perhaps you, like Malachi’s readers, are making choices that are reaping a consequence.

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Listen to my 2-part sermon series on stewardship, it might by helpful as you are reading Malachi.

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