Wednesday, September 30, 2015
23 Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book! 24 That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever! 25 For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: 26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: 27 Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me. (Job 19:23-27)
There are many poetic passages in interspersed throughout Holy Scripture for, indeed, God is the inventor of poetry and music. God is the first recorded musician and poet. From the moment of Creation, music resounded across the expanse of the heavenly canopy: Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7) This is the question that God asked of Job. He also asks the same question of you and me. We only existed in the Mind and foreknowledge of God at that early moment in eternity past. We had no hand in Creation, or even in the molding of our own DNA - that is God's role! A few words about biblical poetry before we address Job.
There is some difference between biblical poetry and English poetry. Our English poetry is often composed in rhyming lines, though both biblical - and English - poetry are written in meter. It is the English metered method of writing that endears the King James Bible to Christians everywhere, and facilitates memorization. But Hebrew poetry does not usually employ rhyme, but emphasizes content through a process called 'parallelism' - or balancing ideas and concepts in lineal pairs. Its repetition of important truths brands the truth into our hearts and thence into our minds. One example of parallelism is 'synonomous parallel.' In this mode, the truth is stated in the first line, and repeated in the second in different words. Examples of synomous parallel are: He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. (Psalm 2:4); O LORD, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure. (Psalm 6:1) There are many more examples of this technique.
Another technique employed in biblical poetry is that of 'antithetic parallel' in which the first line presents a truth and the second a contrasting parallel. Examples include: A false balance is abomination to the LORD: but a just weight is his delight. (Prov 11:1) & A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger. (Prov 15:1)
A 'synthetic parallel' the last line of a stanza strengthens and expands the meaning of the first. Example: And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. (Psalm 1:3) & He that winketh with the eye causeth sorrow: but a prating fool shall fall. (Prov 10:10) The science of literature owes its livelihood to the Hebrew poetry of the Holy Bible!
The poetry of Job is a combination of beauty in poetry and exposition of truth. The effect of such poetry is obvious from the results. How many of us remember such lines as "For I know that my Redeemer liveth!" or, "When the morning stars sang together?" When poetic beauty is combined with immutable truth, its effects are eternal and memorable.
The whole Book of Job is a poetic drama. It explores the question of the justice of God in relation to the pain and suffering of his people. Why do the people of God suffer so? Does the justice of God prevail on their behalf? The ending of the Book demonstrates that the hidden hand of God was working throughout to bring a glorious finality to Job's sufferings. Does the suffering of Job help to enlighten our own view of suffering? It should do so!
Job's friends come to comfort Job, but wind up adding to Job's misery. In this case, a multitude of counselors was of no benefit to Job; but the dialogue between Job and his friends are very valuable counsel to us which reminds us that Job's suffering was vicarious to our own and, in this way, like that of our Lord. Job's suffering was for OUR benefit to reveal that, though God's people suffer the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" in this world, they are victorious in the Lord their Savior when the shadows lengthen at Sunset. God does not simply even the balance for Job at the end - he doubles EVERYTHING and shows the vindication of those who suffer in Christ!
So in our reading of Job, we are struck, first of all, by the beauty of expression. Once that beauty has found repose in our hearts, the glorious truth of those expressions of beauty find life expression in our souls so that we are nearly overcome with the joy of it all. I have written a comprehensive study of each chapter of Job which is available for the asking from our National Office. But the purpose of this devotion is simply to point to the beauty of Job as a work of art. When one beholds the Last supper by Da Vinci, he is struck by a strange and mysterious beauty that he may not at first be able to express. But once the beauty has been sown in the heart, the greater meaning and scriptural science of the painting comes to the light of one's understand - its employment of 'point perspective;' its detailed array of disciples with the personality of each revealed; of Peter with the reversed knife behind the back of Judas; the overturned salt shaker by Judas' hand grasping the money bag; and the dear Savior's left hand extended, palm up, as if to receive the Bread of Life (which He IS), and the right hand appearing to push at the Cup which He prayed His Father to take from Him. Job is a literary work of art that surpasses that greatest of all works of art by Da Vinci! But it is one which we must read, appreciate, digest, and meditate upon forever after.
Let us examine just a few passages for the sake of resting in the beauty of the lines of Job:
7 O remember that my life is wind: mine eye shall no more see good. 8 The eye of him that hath seen me shall see me no more: thine eyes are upon me, and I am not. 9 As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away: so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more. 10 He shall return no more to his house, neither shall his place know him any more. 11 Therefore I will not refrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. 12 Am I a sea, or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me? (Job 7:7-12)
12 With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding. 13 With him is wisdom and strength, he hath counsel and understanding. 14 Behold, he breaketh down, and it cannot be built again: he shutteth up a man, and there can be no opening. 15 Behold, he withholdeth the waters, and they dry up: also he sendeth them out, and they overturn the earth. 16 With him is strength and wisdom: the deceived and the deceiver are his. 17 He leadeth counsellors away spoiled, and maketh the judges fools. 18 He looseth the bond of kings, and girdeth their loins with a girdle. 19 He leadeth princes away spoiled, and overthroweth the mighty. 20 He removeth away the speech of the trusty, and taketh away the understanding of the aged. 21 He poureth contempt upon princes, and weakeneth the strength of the mighty. 22 He discovereth deep things out of darkness, and bringeth out to light the shadow of death. 23 He increaseth the nations, and destroyeth them: he enlargeth the nations, and straiteneth them again. 24 He taketh away the heart of the chief of the people of the earth, and causeth them to wander in a wilderness where there is no way. 25 They grope in the dark without light, and he maketh them to stagger like a drunken man. (Job 12:12-25)
God broods patiently the words of Job and his friends, then He fires a salvo across the bow of them all:
1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, 2 Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. 4 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. 5 Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? 6 Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; 7 When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? 8 Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb? 9 When I made the cloud the garment thereof, and thick darkness a swaddlingband for it, 10 And brake up for it my decreed place, and set bars and doors, 11 And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed? 12 Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days; and caused the dayspring to know his place; 13 That it might take hold of the ends of the earth, that the wicked might be shaken out of it? 14 It is turned as clay to the seal; and they stand as a garment. 15 And from the wicked their light is withholden, and the high arm shall be broken. 16 Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? or hast thou walked in the search of the depth? 17 Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death? 18 Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? declare if thou knowest it all. 19 Where is the way where light dwelleth? and as for darkness, where is the place thereof, 20 That thou shouldest take it to the bound thereof, and that thou shouldest know the paths to the house thereof? 21 Knowest thou it, because thou wast then born? or because the number of thy days is great? 22 Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail (Job 38:1-22) Poetry cannot be better than this!
Well, dear reader, I could simply reprint all of Job here for your good pleasure, but you have eyes to see, and a heart to feel, and an abundance of time enjoy a full study of Job. It beats every poetic work of any man, and edifies the soul in the process.
Please read this book for your comfort and soul's profit.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
"Whiter than Snow" was written by an Irish immigrant named James Nicholson, a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and was published in 1872. The primary tune for the piece was composed by William G. Fischer. The Psalm verse upon which its allusions are based is one of my favorites, and I never forego the opportunity to discuss the beauty of its meaning in detail; but I will do so in the course of the devotion.
Kind David wrote the Psalm following his grave sin with Bathsheba of murder and adultery. He was ordained and chosen by God, yet he sinned egregiously and could only appeal to the Throne of God's Grace for absolution. Christians can, and do, sin. The Laws of God were not nullified at the coming of Christ; but the penalty was paid by Christ for us. We are expected to love God, and our fellow man, enough that our inordinate desires to sin (disobey the commandments of God) will be restrained. My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2) I might add, where there is no guilt, there would be no need for an Advocate.
Whiter than Snow
Lord Jesus, I long to be perfectly whole;
I want Thee forever to live in my soul.
Break down every idol, cast out every foe;
Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Whiter than snow, yes, whiter than snow,
Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Lord Jesus, let nothing unholy remain,
Apply Thine own blood and extract ev’ry stain;
To get this blest cleansing, I all things forego—
Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Lord Jesus, look down from Thy throne in the skies,
And help me to make a complete sacrifice.
I give up myself, and whatever I know,
Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Lord Jesus, for this I most humbly entreat,
I wait, blessèd Lord, at Thy crucified feet.
By faith, for my cleansing, I see Thy blood flow,
Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Lord Jesus, Thou seest I patiently wait,
Come now, and within me a new heart create;
To those who have sought Thee, Thou never saidst No,
Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
The blessing by faith, I receive from above;
O glory! my soul is made perfect in love;
My prayer has prevailed, and this moment I know,
The blood is applied, I am whiter than snow.
It is one thing to be healed of a physical malady, but yet another to be healed in both body and soul. We may be in top physical condition, and an Olympic champion athlete, but if our spirit is diseased with sin, we are half dead already. When Jesus healed the ten lepers, one returned to express his humble and great gratitude. to this leper, and not the other nine, Jesus said, Go thy way. thy faith hath made thee whole. That meant - body AND soul were healed - the disease of leprosy and the disease of sin.
Lord Jesus, I long to be perfectly whole; I want Thee forever to live in my soul. Break down every idol, cast out every foe; Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. If Christ comes into our hearts, He will clean it of the accumulated filth of sin. He will ABIDE in our hearts, and there is no room for the devil where Jesus reigns. Snow is a blindingly white compound of frozen water crystals. Nothing seems whiter to our eyes; but there is something whiter! In order for ice crystals to coalesce in the in the upper atmosphere, a dust or pollen particle is essential around which the crystals can coalesce. So at the center of every snowflake, regardless its brilliant appearance, is a speck of impurity. But the blood of Christ washes away every speck and kernel of impurity so that the believer is made whiter than snow - not by his own good works, but by the imputed righteousness of Christ.
Lord Jesus, let nothing unholy remain, Apply Thine own blood and extract ev’ry stain; To get this blest cleansing, I all things forego— Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. The sinner must come to Christ without reservation. There is no time to first see about personal business, or to bury the dead (the dead sinners will bury themselves), but come to Christ without excuse. We are then to reject sin (disobedience to the Commandments of God) and live on the higher plane of faith and righteous endeavor. We must allow no earthly, or material, object to eclipse our relationship to Christ who is our Sun.
We may frequently lack sufficient faith to step out and serve God in the manner that the Holy Spirit leads us. We are frail and weak children, but we have a Father who is All Powerful. Lean upon Him and not upon our own understanding.
Lord Jesus, look down from Thy throne in the skies, And help me to make a complete sacrifice. I give up myself, and whatever I know, Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. All that we KNEW before we came to Christ was what sinners treasure, but now our likes and desires change in Him. Following the notable event on the mountain on which Jesus was transfigured, Jesus and His disciples were approached by a man whose son was possessed of a devil that constantly tore at the boy. He begged Christ to cast out the demon. Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. (Mark 9:23-24) Jesus cast out the demon. When our faith fails, we must appeal to God for a refreshing shower of it. We not only offer all that we possess to God when we are converted, but our very souls and bodies as well.
Lord Jesus, for this I most humbly entreat, I wait, blessèd Lord, at Thy crucified feet. By faith, for my cleansing, I see Thy blood flow, Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Love compels us to the foot of the cross - nothing else can do so! Those faithful and loving women had greater courage than all other of the disciples, except John who also stood watch there. John was the disciple of love, and he braved the power of Rome and of the Sanhedrin to remain at the cross throughout the passion of Christ. The women, too, would not leave until the body had been taken down and carried to the Garden Tomb. They were not half-way Christians.
Lord Jesus, Thou seest I patiently wait, Come now, and within me a new heart create; To those who have sought Thee, Thou never saidst No, Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Jesus never said No to any who come to Him believing: All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. (John 6:37) There is no safety in the world, but the Ark of Christ stands surety for every sinner who enters therein. Jesus makes all things new - even our hearts. And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: 20 That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezek 11:19-20) To the antinomians among us, this also means that we obey the Commandments of God!
The blessing by faith, I receive from above; O glory! my soul is made perfect in love; My prayer has prevailed, and this moment I know, The blood is applied, I am whiter than snow. Our righteousness as well is made perfect in love. Love is the whole thing put together. All who belong to Christ, KNOW that they belong to Christ without doubt! Even the faith that this verse makes reference to comes from above. It is given by grace.
So far, we have only discussed that washing by the blood of Christ that makes us 'whiter than snow,' but how do we come by that bath? Remember the David's Psalm wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. That was the way the verse ended, but look at the first part: Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.
Is our appearance of righteousness the most important thing? Not at all - it is what is on the INSIDE of our hearts! When we come to Christ confessing our sins and begging forgiveness, our repentance is a purge. Hyssop was a herb used by the ancients (and still so in the Far East) as a laxative to clean the alimentary canal. We are first granted forgiveness of our sins repented of, and then we are made whole in the outward washing. We are cleaned INSIDE first, and the outward appearance will reflect the inward grace.
Have you known this dual cleansing, reader?
Sunday, September 27, 2015
Sermon Notes - Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity - Saint Andrew’s Anglican Orthodox Church - 27 September2015, Anno Domini
|If you enjoy this, the entire AOC Sunday Report is RIGHT HERE!|
The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity.
ORD, we pray thee that thy grace may always prevent and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
1 And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched him. 2 And, behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy. 3 And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? 4 And they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go; 5 And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day? 6 And they could not answer him again to these things. 7 And he put forth a parable to those which were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief rooms; saying unto them, 8 When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; 9 And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room. 10 But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. 11 For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke 14:1-11)
It was the Sabbath Day.
“We have been thinking and speaking of a miracle done on the Sabbath. It is evident that our Saviour had a preference for theSabbath as a time for working miracles. How, then, is it with respect to ourselves — we who, many of us, would be glad to have a miracle wrought on our behalf, and yet have no right whatever to expect one? It is just thus — we are waiting for the Sabbath. In other words, it was intended, no doubt, to be taught us by our Saviour’s practice, that there is a special time of rest coming, when all the various troubles that hamper and injure us will be utterly removed — our burdens unbound; our fevers cooled for ever; our weakness changed to strength; all our heaviness lightened; our blind eyes made clear; our deaf ears unstopped; our feet filled with vigorous leaping blood; and all that is within us lighted up with joy, even as the house was lighted up, and music and dancing sounded in it, when the prodigal came home. There is a Sabbath coming; and as Christ wrought His cures upon the Sabbath, when He was upon earth, we are taught to look on to a day of cure that is coming — that Sabbath, namely, of rest, into which we hope to enter hereafter. It may be needful for our perfection, and the perfection of our friends, that we should still be burdened; but we are quite sure that, after the round of the six days, there will come the seventh; we are quite sure, when the time of trial has ended, the boon of health will be granted.”
(Rev T. T. Lynch)
Jesus has been invited to the house of a prominent Pharisee one of the chief of them, we are told. Other Pharisees have been invited as well for the purpose of trying to find some fault in Jesus whereby they might condemn Him.
“And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched him.”
Many other of the Pharisees were doubtless there for “they watched him.” How greatly would they have benefitted if they had watched Him to learn instead of to find fault.
Why was Jesus invited by one of those who hated Him and were constantly trying to destroy Him? They had invited Jesus to catch Him in an act of disobedience of the Sabbath – it was a ‘set up’ in the popular vernacular.
Why do you suppose Jesus accepted the invitation? Jesus was no recluse – He came to help all who would hear Him. He loved to be in social gatherings where men would listen – ALL men…even Pharisees.
“And, behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy.”
The cunning mind of the Pharisee bypassed no opportunity in providing a means of entrapment for Christ. Seemingly, just by coincidence, a man with a grave and serious malady is present – a man who probably had not been invited had it not fit comfortably in the plans of the Pharisees to present Jesus with a temptation.
These men are ruthless. They will use even the kindness and compassion of Jesus to try and condemn Him.
They have seated the man with the dropsy (congestive heart failure) in a place BEFORE Jesus. They know that He loves to heal and to do good regardless the occasion, but today is the Sabbath! They will use this as an occasion to condemn Christ of violating the Sabbath by doing healing works on this day.
But Jesus knows the heart of men, and He knows the evil thoughts of the hearts of those who sit watching Him.
“And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?”
Jesus sets the circumstances to turn the tables on these miscreants. The question restated might read: “Is it ever unlawful to do good?” Did God provide man with the day of rest for the purpose of omitting even deeds of kindness?
The Pharisees and priests of Jesus day had added so many cumbersome proscriptions to the Sabbath observance and every other aspect of the law, that men could not bear them without misery – just the opposite of what God had intended.
Jesus was continually tempted in every way that we are tempted, but Jesus never gave into temptation except in certain cases.
What were those cases? When tempted to do good, as in the present case, Christ could not resist the temptation to act out of His compassion to heal and to comfort. This was not a temptation to sin, but a temptation by sinful men of Christ to do good. He always did!
You and I are tempted, on the other hand, to do bad things not pleasing to God. But in every temptation to do evil is found an opportunity to, instead, do good. Jesus sets the example for us in every case.
Because they have set their trap, the Pharisees do not respond to the pointed question of Christ: “And they held their peace.” Men will most often speak out when they can condemn or hurt, but will less often speak out on the part of righteousness. Political correctness restrains them from speaking righteousness but tends always to wickedness.
So Jesus poses the simple question which they decline to answer so as not to give away their plot. How many clergy, as well as laity, remain silent on issues of great importance? I have observed the silence, even on discussion groups of the church, remain stony silent on matters on which they should have strong opinion. The silence of those is like a scream in the night.
Legalists often forget that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27)
The failure to accept the Sabbath in the manner and purpose for which it was given nullifies its benefits. The Christian Sabbath is not a once per week observance but a daily one. Christ has given us an Eternal Sabbath (Rest).
“And he took him, and healed him, and let him go.” The whole will of Christ was to heal the man and not to make a spectacle of him. So Jesus, instead of having the man remain standing by for show, releases him to go his way. How different from the Pharisees who heartlessly brought the man to tempt Christ.
“And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day?”
Had they forgotten the counsel of Proverbs 12:11 - “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.”
An ox or a donkey were precious to men who depended on them to produce income. If one of the Pharisees own precious animals fell into a ditch on the Sabbath, he would certainly have rescued the animal, if not out of kindness, then out of greed.
He thus shuts them. Up to this startling alternative: "Not to do good, when it is in the power of our hand to do it, is to do evil; not to save life, when we can, is to kill"
“And they could not answer him again to these things. 7 And he put forth a parable to those which were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief rooms; saying unto them,”
Righteous words will shut the mouth of the wicked.
Jesus is an observer of men and women. He watched as the poor widow cast her all into the Temple treasury, and He has observed here how the guests of the Pharisee came into the room and chose the best seats and provisions. They sought to have their seating lend them honor when they should have allowed their honor to determine their seating. They lacked humility and were filled with false pride.
So Jesus tells them a story (Parable) to which they can relate in common life:
“When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room. But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.”
All of the counsels of Christ are full of spiritual and uplifting truths. This short Parable is no exception.
Jesus begins the story with a delicate allusion to a type of gathering that would be different from that of his present host of whom He has been invited. The venue is a wedding feast, but still a feast so that the same principle will apply.
When we are invited to a special event, do not exalt your importance by finding the highest place, or most visible place, to stand or sit. We will inevitably to be embarrassed by our presumptive pride when we are told, curtly, to move and surrender your place to one having greater honor than you. The only place left at that time will be the place of least honor – the lowest room. “And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room.”
He has given an example of how not to behave, but He does not leave us in doubt as to how we should behave: “But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.”
Notice the host refers to the man who is humble and takes the very lowest place of honor as Friend. He did not refer to the man who took the highest place as Friend. Men despise false pride and arrogance in others. If we humble ourselves, men will always elevate us in esteem. But greater is the reward in Heaven!
A college professor once hosted a tea for his graduating students. When they all presented themselves at his home, the professor had all the cups, in the right number, assembled on the table. The cups were all of different kinds. One was of stone, one of crystal, one of clay, and some were shaped curiously different from any before seen. When the professor invited the students to take a cup, the first took the crystal, the next the glass, the next the stone, the next the clay, and so forth.
As the professor watched them drink their tea that he had poured for them, he observed that they had each chosen the best cup at the table; but the purpose of a tea was not the kind of cup one drank from, but the tea which the cup contained. The quality of the tea is not changed by the quality of the cup which contains it. So with our worthiness before God. it is not some superficial position or appearance that is important, but what is inside our hearts – the Temple of the Living God!
Saturday, September 26, 2015
Devotion on Firsts of the Bible - First Jewish Queen of a Gentile Nation – 26 September 2015, Anno Domini
7 And Mordecai told him of all that had happened unto him, and of the sum of the money that Haman had promised to pay to the king's treasuries for the Jews, to destroy them. 8 Also he gave him the copy of the writing of the decree that was given at Shushan to destroy them, to shew it unto Esther, and to declare it unto her, and to charge her that she should go in unto the king, to make supplication unto him, and to make request before him for her people. 9 And Hatach came and told Esther the words of Mordecai. 10 Again Esther spake unto Hatach, and gave him commandment unto Mordecai; 11 All the king's servants, and the people of the king's provinces, do know, that whosoever, whether man or woman, shall come unto the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is one law of his to put him to death, except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden sceptre, that he may live: but I have not been called to come in unto the king these thirty days. 12 And they told to Mordecai Esther's words. 13 Then Mordecai commanded to answer Esther, Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king's house, more than all the Jews. 14 For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this? 15 Then Esther bade them return Mordecai this answer, 16 Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish. 17 So Mordecai went his way, and did according to all that Esther had commanded him. (Esther 4:7-17)
Esther is a name of rare beauty owing, not only to the images evinced in the imagination, but also for character and sense of purpose. I love the name as well for the tenderness even its pronunciation evokes. Esther is a woman of great courage and of self-sacrificial disposition. She was the first Jewish woman to be named Queen of a Gentile Nation – Persia. Persia is a land noted for the beauty of its women and its oriental gardens.
Esther would become the wife of Xerxes (Ahasuerus). The kings of the east have a great problem at drinking parties. You will remember Belshazzar of Babylon held a drinking orgy in the King’s Court at Babylon and ordered the golden vessels taken by Nebuchadnezzar from the Temple at Jerusalem to be brought and used in drinking. That is was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and God sent forth His finger to write Belshazzar, and Babylon’s, ruin on the adjacent wall. Now, Xerxes has a similar problem. His throws a drinking party at Shushan (Suza in modern-day Iran). This is the same city from which Daniel later prophesied after the Fall of Babylon. It is a huge tippeh (mound) of miles in dimensions. One can see it as a low mountain when approaching from the east, and it is located on the plain of the ancient Persian province of Elam (ancient Semite descendant of Shem). One has a sense of awe in standing on the ruins of such a city of historic biblical import.
Before discussing how Esther became Queen of Persia, let us observe that Esther, and her cousin, Mordecai, are buried in Persia (Iran) and their gravesite may be seen in Ecbatana (modern day Hamadan, Iran). Ecbatana was the capital of the Medes, was defeated by the Persian King, Cyrus the Great, and therefore the empire became the Medo-Persian Empire of which the Bible speaks. Ecbatana is the site also of the discovery of the famous Behistun Inscription which describes the Persian’s, Darius the Great, defeat of a rebel;lion of Ecbatana against Persia. Cyrus was the progenitor of the Achaemenid Dynasty of Persia, and Ecbatan, according to the Greek historian, Xenophon (c.430-c.355 BC), became the summer residence of the Persian kings. Another Greek historian, Polybius, reports that Ecbatana was richer and more beautiful than any other city in the world. I relate these historical facts for the benefit of the readers faith in Holy Scripture. Xerxes himself is buried in modern day Iran at Persepolis. His tomb is carved from solid rock on the southern face of the Mountain of Mercy overlooking the ruins of Persepolis. All of these areas mentioned in the Bible are still extant, and may be examined today (given access).
But for now, let us return now to Xerxes’ drinking party. The reader may recall that the decree of a Persian King was considered immutable and unchangeable – even by the King himself. On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, and Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven chamberlains that served in the presence of Ahasuerus the king, To bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to shew the people and the princes her beauty: for she was fair to look on. But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king's commandment by his chamberlains: therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him. (Esth 1:10-12) It must be remembered Vashti was a virtuous woman and declined the invitation of Xerxes out of a sense of moral dignity to both herself and the king. The invitation was to have Vashti dance lewdly and immodestly before the king’s guests. This Vashti refused to do, so the king was angry and asked of his priests, the Magi, their advice. While the king was still drunk, he listened to his depraved counsellors and issued a decree that Vashti would no longer come before him. This was an irreversible decree of the realm. When he had sobered, Xerxes regretted his hasty and foolish act, but was powerless to reverse his own decree.
Esther (Hadasseh) was left orphaned as a child and her cousin, Mordecai, took her to raise as his own child. Esther became a blessed daughter to Mordecai, and she honored him all the days of her life. When procedures for selecting a new queen for the Xerxes were implemented, Esther was chosen as one of the possible candidates. She would be kept in the chambers of the king’s concubines until her purification (one year) and then be presented, along with the other candidates, to the king to see which he would select. When the time came for Esther to appear before the king, Xerxes was overtaken by her beauty and manners, and gave her the crown of Vashti to be Queen in Persia.
In the meantime, the king had been less discerning in matters of state and honored one, Haman, and appointed him as chief Prince in Persia above all others. All who saw Haman bowed before him – except Mordecai. Being a devout Jew, Mordecai bowed only to God and to no man. Being assessed of Mordecai’s behavior, Haman, a vengeful man, sought to put all Jews to death. He lobbied the king to have all of those disobedient people dispersed abroad in Persian called Jews put to death. The king was deceived by Haman and issued the decree. Mordecai related by the messenger, Hatach, the details of the king’s decree. Remember Xerxes did not know of Esther’s Jewish background. It was a dangerous circumstance for Esther to maneuver. When Esther informed Mordecai of the danger of approaching the king with the petition of the Jews, he answered her in these words: For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this? (Esth 4:14) What would you do, friends, if the lives of your friends, family, and neighbors hung upon your own courage to protect?
Esther’s response to Mordecai was succinct and full of brave resolution: Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish. (Esth 4:16) Though God is not mentioned directly in the Book of Esther, there are subtle references to man’s responsibility in the worship of fasting. In the meantime, Esther goes before the king holding her life by a single thread, setting a trap for Haman, but the king hears Esther’s request: 1 Now it came to pass on the third day, that Esther put on her royal apparel, and stood in the inner court of the king's house, over against the king's house: and the king sat upon his royal throne in the royal house, over against the gate of the house. 2 And it was so, when the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, that she obtained favour in his sight: and the king held out to Esther the golden sceptre that was in his hand. So Esther drew near, and touched the top of the sceptre. 3 Then said the king unto her, What wilt thou, queen Esther? and what is thy request? it shall be even given thee to the half of the kingdom. 4 And Esther answered, If it seem good unto the king, let the king and Haman come this day unto the banquet that I have prepared for him. (Esth 5:1-4)
Haman is delighted in the sudden advance in favor, and also to be invited by the queen only in company with Xerxes. He shares the news with Zeresh, his wife: 12 Yea, Esther the queen did let no man come in with the king unto the banquet that she had prepared but myself; and to morrow am I invited unto her also with the king. 13 Yet all this availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate. 14 Then said Zeresh his wife and all his friends unto him, Let a gallows be made of fifty cubits high, and to morrow speak thou unto the king that Mordecai may be hanged thereon: then go thou in merrily with the king unto the banquet. And the thing pleased Haman; and he caused the gallows to be made. (Esth 5:12-14) There is a grave lesson in this last passage: He who allows vengeance to rule his heart will build his own gallows!
Esther makes her request, and reveals her race, to the king before Haman at the banquet. The king asked who was the party who had contrived this evil against the Jews? Esther identified Haman. The king was furious and went out to the palace garden. On his return to the banquet room, Haman had fallen (out of fear) on Esther’s bed. That did the trick! Haman was hanged that night on the gallows he had made for Mordecai.
Mordecai, who had been the source of revealing an earlier plot to kill Xerxes, was advanced to the second place in the Persian Empire. The Jews in all provinces were provided, by order of the king, means and weapons with which to defend themselves. This they did having killed in battle all of the kin of Haman; and receiving their wealth as spoils. Thus, were the Jews of Persia saved from massacre by a brave and faithful queen of their own blood. We read in the final chapter of Esther: 1 And the king Ahasuerus laid a tribute upon the land, and upon the isles of the sea. 2 And all the acts of his power and of his might, and the declaration of the greatness of Mordecai, whereunto the king advanced him, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia? 3 For Mordecai the Jew was next unto king Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews, and accepted of the multitude of his brethren, seeking the wealth of his people, and speaking peace to all his seed. (Esth 10:1-3) The Jews of today still celebrate that event of their salvation on the fourteenth day of Adar as Purim. Pur (in Persian) referred to the lots cast for their destruction, so Purim derives from that Persian word. Therefore the Jews of the villages, that dwelt in the unwalled towns, made the fourteenth day of the month Adar a day of gladness and feasting, and a good day, and of sending portions one to another. (Esth 9:19)