Esther’s Strategy On the third day, Esther, dressed in her most beautiful royal robes, stood in the doorway of the inner sanctuary where Xerxes was sitting on his throne opposite the entrance. She must have been very frightened, knowing that in the next few seconds she would either be condemned to death, or invited into the royal presence of Xerxes, the mightiest monarch on earth.
Although the word God is never mentioned in the book of Esther,
the Holy Spirit has a marvelous way of presenting the story so that we
can see the sovereign hand of God in all these events. just as Ruth “happened” on the field of Boaz, and just as the king in the next chapter will happen to find a particular record describing the heroism of Mordecai, so now in 5:2 it happened that when the king saw Esther “she obtained favour in his sight.“ Once again we see how the king’s heart is in the hand of God. Xerxes extended the golden sceptre to Esther and she “drew near, and touched the top of the sceptre.”
Following this welcome by Xerxes, the Holy Spirit allows us to
hear the conversations that occurred between Haman, Xerxes, and
Esther, in the king’s inner chamber. Through this divinely inspired Book, we are allowed to witness events in the court of Xerxes, almost as silent participants in the scenarios which were played out.
When Esther touched the top of the sceptre, the king asked, “What
is thy request? it shall be even given thee to the half of the kingdom. “ Esther replied, “If it seem good unto the king, let the king and Haman come this day unto the banquet that I have prepared for him.
Notice that Esther did not speak out immediately against Haman.
We read earlier how the king and Haman sat down together to drink.
They were both friends and political allies. Esther, knowing the ways
of the court, did not make an overt accusation against Haman. She appealed to Haman’s ego and to the king’s love of parties, by inviting
them to a banquet.
As the banquet which Esther organized ended, and as they finished
their wine, the king again asked Esther what her request was,
and she replied (vs. 8):
If I have found favour in the sight of the king, and if it please
the king to grant my petition, and to Perform my request, let
the king and Haman come to the banquet that l shall prepare for
them, and I will do tomorrow as the king hath said.
Following this strategic move, she invited them to a second party.
Haman went home that evening glad and pleased in his heart.
He had banqueted with the king and queen, and he had been invited to another banquet scheduled for the next day. But as he walked out the gate, he saw Mordecai, who as always, was not standing up, trembling, or bowing before him. His anger burned again, but he controlled himself and continued his journey home. After arriving home, he began calling his friends together to brag about himself, his possessions, his promotions, and his second invitation to Esther’s banquet. Then he confessed that because of Mordecai the Jew, he could not really enjoy anything. His wife and friends suggested that he build a gallows fifty cubits high (75 feet) and ask the king to hang Mordecai on it. The suggestion pleased Haman and he ordered the gallows constructed.
Mordecai Honored The first few verses of chapter 6 take us into the king’s bedroom on the evening between the two banquets to which he and Haman had been invited. God once again intervened and afflicted Xerxes with insomnia.
He ordered that the book of records - the chronicles - be read to
him. Among all the records kept by the Persians, the man who selected the scroll (or tablets) just happened to take the one that contained the account of the assassination plot and Mordecai’s intervention which had occurred five years earlier. After hearing of Mordecai’s heroism, the king asked, “What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this?” He was told, “There is nothing done for him.”
By that time it was early morning and Haman had just arrived in
the court to petition the king for permission to hang Mordecai on the
gallows. Calling him in, Xerxes asked, “What shall be done unto the man
whom the king delighteth to honour? “ In his egotism, Haman was certain that Xerxes could only be referring to him. I can imagine him wrinkling his forehead and scratching his head in thought before saying (vss. 8-9):
Let the royal apparel be brought which the king useth to wear,
and the horse that the king rideth upon, and the crown royal
which is set upon his head: And let this apparel and horse be
delivered to the hand of one of the king’s most noble princes,
that they may array the man withal whom the king delighteth to
honour, and bring him on horseback through the street of the
city, and proclaim before him, Thus shall it be done to the man
whom the king delighteth to honour.
The king approved the idea and said to Haman, “Make haste ... and do
even so to Mordecai the Jew. “ Haman had no choice; no one could defy Xerxes and live. He did as the king demanded and proclaimed
Mordecai’s honor throughout the city. But he was so humiliated, that
when it was over, he returned home with his head covered, unrecognized, as if in mourning. When he described his disappointment to his wife and friends, they said (vs. 13): “If Mordecai be of the seed of the Jews, before whom thou hast begun to fall, thou shalt not prevail against him, but shalt surely fall before him. “ As this omen was uttered, the king’s servants arrived to escort him to Esther’s second banquet. It was to be Haman’s last meal.
Haman Exposed As they were enjoying the banquet and drinking their wine, the king again asked Esther (7:2): “What is thy petition, queen Esther? and it shall be granted thee: . . . even to the half of the kingdom. “ This time Esther answered (vss. 3-4):
If it please the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and
my people at my request: For we are sold, I and my people, to be
destroyed, to be slain, and to perish. But if we had been sold for
bondmen and bondwomen, I had held my tongue, although the
enemy could not countervail the king’s damage.
Then the king demanded, “Who is he, and where is he, that durst
presume in his heart to do so?” And Esther pointed her finger to “this
wicked Haman.” Haman, whom the king had trusted, was visibly shaken and terrified. Xerxes stood up in anger and walked into the cool palace garden to clear his head from the effects of the wine and contemplate the situation.
Esther remained on her couch when suddenly, Haman, sensing
his doom by the king’s demeanor, prostrated himself on the couch before Esther to beg for his life. At that moment, Xerxes returned, and
seeing Haman by Esther on the couch, exclaimed, “Will he force the queen also before me in the house?” As he spoke the words, the servants “covered Haman’s face.“ Haman was history. When a man was destined to die while in the presence of a Persian monarch, his face was immediately covered. It would never be seen again.
One of the eunuchs quickly spoke up and informed the king of
the gallows which Haman had made for Mordecai “who had spoken good for the king.“ Then the king said, “Hang him thereon.“ So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai.
The Jews Spared Chapter 8 informs us that even though, because of the law of the Medes and Persians, the date of annihilation could not be rescinded, a new decree was made which allowed the Jews to defend themselves.
When the Persians attacked the Jews on the 13th of Adar, the Jews fought back fiercely. Esther 9:16 says that the Jews killed 75,000 of those who hated them. But, it adds, they did not take any spoil.
Because the Jews were disobedient and had stayed behind in the
land, all these things came about and 75,000 people were slain because of the Jews’ disobedience.
I admit that God intervened and allowed Esther to perform in a
heroic manner; nevertheless, as we have seen before, innocent people often suffer when God’s people are disobedient.
Purim Established The remainder of chapter 9 tells how, as a result of the annihilation of the enemies of the Jews, the feast of Purim was established. Even today, it is celebrated as a remembrance and a memorial. It is an existing memorial, celebrated year by year, which validates the historical accuracy and reality of the narrative in the book of Esther.
LXVII TWO EARLY PROPHETS
Conservative scholars date the writing of Obadiah to approximately
840 B.C. Assuming this is correct, he is the first of the writing
prophets. His was a message of Judgment on the land of Edom. Obadiah is probably mentioned in II Chronicles 17:7, because the dating of the book and the dating of Jehoshaphat’s reign, would be in the same historical time-frame. Verses 11 to 14 of the book form the pivotal dating key, and probably refer to the invasion by the Philistines, which is recorded in II Chronicles 21:16ff. The name Obadiah means, worshiper of Yahweh. The book was addressed to the Edomites, who were the descendents of Esau.
In verse 3, God said, “The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee, thou
that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high; that saith in his heart, Who shall being me down to the ground.“ The root sin of pride is evident here. The Edomites lived in Petra, the cave city built high in the mountains. If can still be visited today by horseback. In those days, there was no way an invading army could bring them down from those highly elevated dwelling places. As a result, they felt very secure. Yet in verse 4, God said, “Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I being thee down, saith the Lord.” By contrast, he said, if thieves and robbers came they would ruin you. But they would only steal until they had enough. They could carry off only so much. If they went into your vineyards, they would leave you at least some gleanings. But when Edom is ransacked and his hidden treasures searched out, everything will be laid waste.
From I Samuel 14:47, we know that King Saul fought against the
Edormites. Later (11 Sam. 8:13-14) King David subdued them. In II Kings 8:20, we read that Edom revolted, and in fact at a later time, they encouraged Babylon, as reported in Psalm 137:7.
The Edomites continued in existence through the time of Christ.
They were tolerated and ruled by the Roman Caesars who called them Idumeans. Herod the Great, who became king of Judah in 37 B.C., was an Idumean. It was he who had the children of Bethlehem slaughtered shortly after the birth of the Lord Jesus. Finally, in 70 A.D., when the Romans invaded Jerusalem under Titus, Edom helped the inhabitants of the land and was annihilated.
Among the reasons for the prophesied destruction of Edom, and
among the reasons they were hated, is narrated in verse 10ff: “For thy violence against thy brother Jacob ... thou shalt be cut off forever.“ They stood aloof when strangers carried away Jacob’s wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots upon Jerusalem. Edom stood with the invaders. In God’s evaluation, they should not have gloated over their brother’s calamity.
Obadiah was probably describing the invasion by the Philistines
in 845 B.C. However, in the prophetic-perfect sense, Obadiah could also have been looking down to 586 B.C. We know from Psalm 137:7, that the Edomites were pleased when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem. They actually helped catch those who tried to escape and turned them over to the Babylonians. For these reasons, for the violence done to their brother Jacob, the Edomites were promised total destruction. Verse 15 begins the eschatological section. Assuming that Obadiah was the first of the writing prophets, this is the first mention in the Old Testament of the Day of the Lord. Your dealings, he said, “shall return upon thine own head.”
The final comparison is made in verse 18 where Obadiah says,
“The house of Jacob shall be afire, and the house of Joseph aflame.“ It would be a destructive fire and flame, because the house of Esau was going to be stubble. The allusion is that of a farmer going out to burn the stubble from his field. Verse 18 continues by prophesying total destruction: “there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau.”
The final result, as indicated in the concluding verses, was regarding
the descendents of Judah, “they of the south shall possess the mount
of Esau. “ Eventually, when all who oppose God are destroyed, the Jews will inhabit the lands of their enemies. They will prosper and dwell in them forever.
JOEL There are many suggested dates for the authorship of the book of Joel. The conservative date of 835 B.C., would place Joel in the time of the reign of Athahah. The occasion for the prophecy was a devastating locust plague and drought, as recorded in chapter one. Because of this natural calamity, and in view of the imminent coming of the Day of the Lord, of which the locusts, plague, and drought, were only forerunners, Joel called the people to national repentance. Conditional to their repentance, was immediate security and blessing; then a future outpouring of the spirit of prophecy. It would be poured out upon all the faithful, after which time a new era of righteousness and peace would begin. Joel’s prophecy can be divided into two sections. In the first (chapters 1 and 2) there is the national call to repentance on the basis of God’s judgment; and, the promise of deliverance and blessing in the Day of the Lord. The second (chapter 3) indicates judgment on the enemies of Israel.
Plague In the first division, the unprecedented plagues of locust
and drought are described while everyone is called to lament their effects. The priests were especially addressed because it was necessary to suspend the daily sacrifice. This calamity was only a forerunner of the great Day of the Lord which was to come. The army of locusts was a graphic demonstration of the future hosts of the Lord who would be sent in judgment. But, it could be averted by humble repentance after which would follow the promises of God.
Day of the Lord The central theme is the phrase “The Day of the Lord. “ It is a unique eschatological phrase first used in Obadiah and
now reiterated again and again by Joel (1:15; 2:1,11,31; 3:14,18). The spiritual significance can be found in the nature and purpose of the Day of the Lord. It would be a day of wrath, and a day of judgment upon the wicked, and a day of salvation for the righteous.
Assuming the early date for Joel, it would be just a little over one
hundred years later that the Assyrians would invade and destroy Israel. The locusts were forerunners of this event. It is interesting that
over and over again, Joel personified the locusts as if they were an army of invading Assyrians. Sometimes it is difficult to delineate between what is a real locust and what is a real Assyrian.
For example, in 2:3: “the land is as the garden of Eden before them,
and behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them.“
Certainly locusts can do that, but the Assyrians did it as well. Think
what Sherman did in his march to the sea, during the Civil War.
Like the noise of chariots on the tops of mountains shall they
leap, they shall climb the wall like men of war. . . . They shall
run to and fro in the city; they shall run upon the wall, they
shall climb up upon the houses; they shall enter in at the windows
like a thief... Who can abide it? (2:5ff)
The eschatological significance of the impending Assyrian invasion
is closely intertwined with the reality of the locust invasion be-cause,
as terrible as the locusts were, the invasion by the Assyrians
would be even worse.
However, there was still hope for deliverance from Assyria. In
verse 12ff, God said, “Also now. . . . turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments.“
In later centuries an individual could buy a garment
designed just for rending; because the Jews loved to rend
their garments so others could look and say, “That man must
be in deep mourning. “, Since many liked to do that so frequently, tailors designed garments that could easily be rent. They may not have had such garments in Joel’s time, nevertheless it had become a more or less mechanical act which did not mean anything. It was not from the heart, but only for outward show. In effect, God said, “I don’t care about your garment the outward show; rend your heart because you have disobeyed Me.”
Judgment The irony in the book of Joel is that the inhabitants of the
land were looking for the Day of the Lord as a day of deliverance. But Joel was of the saying, “You are all wicked and you should not be anticipating the Day of the Lord because for you it will be a day of darkness, gloom, sadness, and judgment. “
Chapter 3 continues when God says, “I will also gather all nations.“ He is going to bring them into the valley of Jehoshaphat and enter into judgment with them there on behalf of Israel, whom they scattered among the nations and then divided up His land.
Israel restored With this prophecy, the book of Joel begins to conclude as he reiterates again in 3:18: “It shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk.“ The parallel passage here is Isaiah 66:19-24, as the Old Testament prophet looks down through the corridors of time, beyond our present age, toward the time when Israel win be restored. This is a common theme throughout the minor prophets, because, even though it was necessary for them to prophesy God’s judgment on His chosen people, they did not lose hope. There was always a light at the end of the tunnel. They knew that one day God would restore the remnant to the land, and would bless them there.
LXVIII JONAH - SOME PRELIMINARY
As we switch from the ninth century prophets to the eighth century
prophets, we will begin with Jonah. We know from II Kings 14:25,
that Jonah prophesied during the time of Jeroboam II, who reigned
from 793 to 753 B.C. Based on some of the historical events which
occurred in the early years of Jeroboam II’s reign, we can safely date
Jonah’s experience at Nineveh to the early eighth century B. C.
Historicity of Jonah Without spending a great deal of time regarding the authenticity of the book and historicity of the person of Jonah, it is sad to say that some Christians, although very few, view the book as mythological. These skeptics believe that Jonah is no more historical than the books of Greek mythology.
The two prevailing views in Christendom are, the allegorical and
the literal. The literal view is synonymous with the historical one. On
the other hand, the allegorical says that Jonah symbolizes Israel. Israel was called to make God known to the world, both in message and by conduct. They failed in their responsibility and were destroyed. Judah was swallowed up into the Babylonian exile. This was symbolized by Jonah who was swallowed by the fish, and vomited back up three days later. In just this way, the exiles from Judah, who were swallowed up by Babylon, were later vomited back up and returned home.
Personally, I cannot accept the allegorical position because there
is no valid reason to believe that the book is anything but historical. It
presents its materials as historical, not as parables or allegories. Also, the ancient Jews believed it as historical. The book of Tobit 14:4 records this fact and so does Josephus in Antiquities 912.2. Furthermore, Jonah is mentioned in II Kings 14:25 as a historical person.
Finally, and in my opinion this is the greatest argument, the Lord
Jesus Christ Himself believed in and acknowledged Jonah as a historical character. He pointed to Jonah’s experience in the fish as a type of His death, burial, and resurrection. He also used the repentance of Nineveh as a sign of judgment on His generation (Matt. 12:39-41):
An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, and there
shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For
as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so
shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of
the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this
generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the
preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.
Those who would doubt the words of Christ, say that He knew
Jonah was not a real character, but, because the people did not know, He accommodated Himself to their ignorance and gave them illustrations which they believed to be true. I cannot accept any position which theorizes that Christ accommodated Himself to the ignorance of the people. If this is true, then we cannot believe anything the Lord Jesus Christ said, even regarding His divine origin, or the necessity of redemption.
There is also a fallacy creeping into doctrinal statements today
which says that the Bible is inerrant in “all matters of revelation.” This
is the very subtle leaven of heresy. This seemingly innocent statement asserts that the Bible is not necessarily accurate in matters that are not revelatory; for example, matters concerning creation, history, or science. This belief is an accommodation to skepticism and atheism. The Bible is the inspired Word of God and it is inerrant. Although it is not designed to be a scientific text or history book, where it does touch on these subjects it is without error. I must believe that Jonah was a historical person and that the events contained in the book actually occurred in the early part of the eighth century B.C. during the time of Jeroboam II in the northern kingdom, if I am to be true to the words of my Savior, the crucified, buried, and risen Son of God.
Purpose of Jonah The first questions one might ask are, “Why do we have the book of Jonah? What is its purpose?” In answer to these questions, I can say that until now, we have dealt primarily with the nations of Israel and Judah, mentioning the surrounding nations only when these two came in contact with them. We know that Jeroboam II was a strong king and that because of his power, the Assyrians were not in control of Israel in any official capacity other than receiving tribute. However, they were an ever present threat on the northern horizon.
The book of Jonah has as its main purpose to show us that God is
interested not only in the Israelites, but in the Gentile world as well. We know that Israel had a three-fold purpose in the program and plan of God. First, they were the recipients and custodians of the true revelation of God (Exod. 3; Psa. 47:19-20; Rom. 3:1-2). Second. Israel was to exhibit, to the world, the true religion and morality of Yahweh, through separation from other nations and by her obedience, righteousness, and holiness (Lev. 20:24-26; Deut. 7:6). Third, the major aspect of Israel’s ministry was to prepare the way for the Messiah.
A few of the Old Testament prophecies we have not considered
(Isa. 2; 45; 66; Micah 4; Zechariah 8 and 14) concerning the salvation of the Gentile nations, have regard not to the Old Testament dispensation but to a period in the future Messianic era. True missionary activity was possible only after the cross of Jesus Christ (John 12:20-24; Acts 1:4-8). Israel frequently did welcome proselytes, but there was no command in the Old Testament for Israel to act as a missionary nation actively recruiting.
We know there were always strangers and aliens - non-Israelites
- among them, but the burden was always on them. Foreigners had
to demonstrate the initiative to become proselytes, and they would do
so for a variety of reasons. It was only at a later time, when the Pharisees came into existence, that an aggressive outreach was begun to bring people into Judaism. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because their motives even in that kind of recruiting activity were not pure (Matt. 23:15).
What the book of Jonah demonstrates for us, is that God is interested
in the Gentile world and not just in His chosen people Israel.
Jonah’s place in the Old Testament canon allows us to see very graphically that God is willing to send His emissary, chosen by Him at His will, to the most wicked and violent nation on earth. If a current comparison could be made, it night be as if God called you to start a church in the very heart of the homosexual center of a major city where you would be surrounded by pornographic shops and S & M studios. Or, God might send you to the capital of Iran to start a work next to the Ayatolah Khomeni’s headquarters. This kind of comparison still falls short of what Jonah must have felt when, as chapter 1:1-2 says: “Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah ... saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.