Fellowship is an essential part of the Christian life. It is a joy to come together with other believers who love Jesus as much as we do. Recently, I found one such group on Facebook: Titus Women’s Gathering. It is a lovely group of women devoted to serving God and His people. In an effort to help each other read, understand, and be able to discuss the Bible better, group administrators facilitate the ministry “Revel in His Word.” In it, a few different bloggers talk through chapters of the Bible and then members can discuss in the comments, supporting each other in understanding and application. This is where I will place my contributions and links to other bloggers’ pieces.
Start at the bottom to read blogs starting with 1 Samuel 1. Feel free to comment here, visit other links, and share as you feel led. Thank you for joining us!
Blogging Through the Bible Esther 9-10
Some things in the Old Testament are hard to understand. As Christians, we are taught to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, and to pray for those who spitefully use us. But these Old Testament Jews were hard core eye for an eye sometimes.
Chapter 9 opens with the day that the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them. Because of Mordecai and Esther herself, the decree had gone out from King Ahasuerus that, instead, the Jews had free reign to take out anyone who opposed them. Fear of Mordecai fell on the people because he had become pretty powerful by this time, and everybody knew it.
The carnage was intense.
“Thus the Jews defeated all their enemies with the stroke of the sword, with slaughter and destruction, and did what they pleased with those who hated them.”Esther 9:5
On the first day, in Shushan the citadel, the Jews killed 500 men plus the ten sons of Hamon. They didn’t take any goods or money. It wasn’t about that, apparently. That day, the report came to the king about what the Jews had done. The king asked Esther if she had any other requests. She asked that the decree remain in effect one more day and that Haman’s ten sons be hanged on the gallows. So the next day, the Jews killed three hundred more men and hanged the sons.
The rest of the Jews in all the king’s provinces got together and had their days as well. Seventy five thousand enemies were killed, but no plunder was taken. This was the 13thof the month.
The Feast of Purim
On the 14thof Adar, they rested and made a feast. Mordecai decided that this should be a yearly thing to commemorate the occasion, and Queen Esther confirmed it with full authority by sending letters to all 127 provinces. They called it the Feast of Purim because Haman had cast Pur (that is, the lot) to destroy them, but when Esther came before the king, the decree was made to return the evil intent on his own head. It is a day in which the Jews rest from their enemies and spend the day feasting in joy, sending presents to each other and gifts to the poor. From generation to generation, it has been observed among Jews so that the memory of what happened here will never be forgotten.
King Ahasuerus was a powerful king, imposing tributes on the lands and islands of the sea. Mordecai was his second in command, and all of their exploits are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia. Mordecai was popular with the Jews and always looked out for his people and tried to keep peace with his countrymen.
Dear God, please help us to always remember to forgive our enemies. We know that vengeance is Yours and you will repay. Also, please let us always remember to give thanks to you when you fight our battles for us and give us the victory. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen!
Have you ever stopped to think about “an eye for an eye”? Why do you think God started with that before He changed it to “forgive your enemies”?
Can you think of a time when God fought a battle for you? Did you thank Him?
Join Stacey Lynn Wells at Words From the Wheel and Telling Hearts as she blogs through Esther 7-8
Join Tatiana Adurias at The Musings of Mum as she blogs through Esther 5-6.
Join Tammy SD at Telling Hearts and Grandma Mary Martha as she blogs through Esther 3-4.
Blogging Through the Bible Esther 1-2
A Big Party
When we open in Esther 1, we find King Ahasuerus in charge of 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia. He was rich. So rich, in fact, that when he had a party to show off for all his officials, servants, and princes of all the provinces, it took 180 days to show the splendor of it all. Showing off works up on appetite, apparently, so at the end, the king made a feast lasting for seven days. The décor was marvelous, the goblets unique, and the wine was flowing. But drinking wasn’t mandatory. Each person could choose to eat or drink what he liked.
Meanwhile in another part of the palace, Queen Vashti was having a similar soiree for the ladies.
On the seventh day of the feast when the king had plenty to drink, he gathered his Eunuchs and told them to bring Queen Vashti before the king. Now, eunuchs were men who had specific jobs that required to work with women. They were castrated, one would suppose, so there would be no danger of temptation for any funny business with the ladies. Anyway, the king commanded the eunuchs to bring the queen and to make sure she was wearing her royal crown. She was very beautiful, and he wanted to show her off to his friends.
She. Said. No.
A Big Insult
Now, in today’s modern world this might not mean the end of a marriage, but for this king at that time, this was a deal breaker. The king was so mad that he checked with all his top guys about what he should do. He was drunk, he was mad, and this chick was going to pay. And, just like often happens when guys get together (or girls for that matter), they started to get even more worked up the more they thought about it. Pretty soon, they had a national incident on their hands.
“And Memucan answered before the king and the princes: ‘Queen Vashti has not only wronged the king, but also all the princes, and all the people who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus.’”Esther 1:16
His reasoning went that as soon as the other women heard that Queen Vashti got away with this kind of thing with the king, pretty soon every wife in the kingdom would quit coming when their husbands called. So he advised King Ahasuerus to make a decree proclaiming that all wives must honor their husbands. Oh, and he should give Queen Vashti’s position to somebody else who deserved it more than she did.
“Good idea,” said the king. He sent letters to all the provinces to each man in his own language that every man would be the master in his own house, and Vashti was out.
A Big Lesson
Poor Queen Vashti had let the sumptuous surroundings, her position as queen, and the freedom within the kingdom go to her head. She realized, too late, that her privileges could be taken as quickly as they were given. This story makes me think of the times in my life when I have gotten a little too big for my britches, times when pride crept in and I thought things revolved around me. As children of God, pride is definitely a big one to watch out for. We must always remember that everything we have has been given to us by God. He gives, and He can take away. It’s all for His good pleasure. But unlike the king in this story, our King loves us and wants what is best for us.
Out With the Old: In With the New
The king’s servants had a new project: Operation Find a New Queen. Beautiful virgins were rounded up from all over the provinces and brought to the women’s quarters at Shushan the citadel. Beauty preparations were given to them, and they awaited their time to meet the king.
Now, in this city was a certain Jew named Mordecai from the tribe of Benjamin. His family had been carried away captive from Jerusalem, and he was the adopted father of his uncle’s daughter who had no parents. Esther was beautiful, so of course, she was rounded up too. She caught the eye of the head eunuch, so she was put into the queue to meet the king. She got an allowance, beauty preparations, and seven maidservants to attend to her. She and her maids were moved to the best place in the house of women.
Mordecai had told Esther not to reveal that she was from a Jewish family, so she didn’t. Each day, he would check on her, and this lasted for a year. She had gone through six months of oil of myrrh, six months with perfumes and other beautification procedures. When it was her turn to see the king, she got to pick whatever she wanted to go in with her. She chose to take the advice of the chief eunuch and take in only what he told her to take. Good move. The king loved her and made her queen instead of Vashti.
To celebrate, the king made a great feast called “the Feast of Esther” and invited all his officials and servants. He proclaimed the day a holiday and gave generous gifts.
One day while the virgins were gathered together, Mordecai sat within the king’s gate. While there, he happened to overhear two of the king’s eunuchs plotting against the king. Mordecai told Esther, and she told the king in his name. After an investigation, the two men were hung on the gallows, and the incident was recorded in the chronicles in the presence of the king. Meanwhile, Esther still kept her mouth shut about her family heritage.
Dear God, please help us to always remember that everything we have has been given to us by you. The world does not revolve around us. It does, however, revolve around YOU. Please also help us to honor our family commitments and stand fast in the position that God places us for His glory. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen!
Have you found yourself acting like Vashti in the past? How did you correct it?
We aren’t very far into the story, and already Esther’s obedience is plain (first to her guardian and then to her eunuch handler). Are there places in your life in which God is talking to you about obedience?
Join Stacey Lynn Wells at Words From the Wheel and Telling Hearts as she blogs through Nehemiah 13.
Join Tatiana Adurias at The Musings of Mum as she blogs through Nehemiah 11-12.
Join Tammy SD at Telling Hearts and Grandma Mary Martha as she blogs through Nehemiah 9-10
Blogging Through the Bible Nehemiah 7-8
With Nehemiah’s building project complete, he begins the real work of getting the city back up and running the way it should. He starts with a grand opening and appointing watchmen for the walls.
“And I said to them, ‘Do not let the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot; and while they stand guard, let them shut and bar the doors; and appoint guards from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, one at his watch station and another in front of his own house.’”Nehemiah 7:3
The Concept of the Watchmen
The concept of the watchmen is all through scripture. It’s mentioned in Isaiah 62:6-7 in the same way as here: men who physically watched for invaders trying to breach the walls of Jerusalem. But it’s also mentioned in Ezekiel 3 and Isaiah 56:10 in a more spiritual sense. Men (and women) are appointed by God to watch for spiritual danger for God’s people. When they sense it or hear it from the Lord, they are to sound the alarm, letting people know the danger. If the people turn from their wicked ways and repent, good. If not, the blood is on their own heads. But, if the watchmen get slack and do not warn the people and they do not turn away from their ways, the blood will be on the heads of the watchmen. It’s a pretty sobering concept, and it is one that is very much alive and active today. Just tapping into social media for a minute, you will find several people letting us know that the hour is late, the time to prepare and get right with God is at hand, and Jesus is coming very soon.
The People Return By Houses
Now, the city was all ready to go, the watchmen were on the wall, and the doors were about to be opened, but the houses had still not been rebuilt. It was going to take some administration to get everybody in and working on the NEW projects at hand. Nehemiah says, “Then my God put it into my heart…” I LOVE that! It shows that God was interacting with His people then just like He interacts with us today. Anyway, God tells him to gather up all the nobles, rulers, and people and register them by family.
See, Nebuchadnezzar the King of Babylon had carried away those people, but they were coming back, everyone to his/her own city. A big list follows with lots of numbers, but the list had some interesting characteristics that are worth mentioning.
First, some people were listed by name. How important those men must have been to be listed by name when the rest of the list are in thousands. Those men were Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamia, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum, and Baanah.
The Big List
Next there is a big list of the people who are returning, but the list is really strange. First, it starts off with a list of men and their sons – 18 to be exact. The format is “the sons of ____” where the blank is the name of a man, and then it gives the number. Now, “sons” here is obviously not in the literal sense. Nobody can have 2,172 sons, for example. But it does show that family lines were extremely important. A person’s family line could tell someone a lot in those days, and the honor in a family was not to be underestimated (as we will see when we get to the list of people who could not tell their lineage).
But here’s the weird thing. Right in the middle of this list, we switch from “the sons of ____” in which the blank is the name of a man to “the men of ____” where the blank here is the name of a city. There are eight of those, and then we go back to “the sons of ___” for five, and then we switch to priests. There are four “the sons of ____” listed under the heading of priests.
Then there is a paragraph break, and we sense that we have entered another type of list. These are people who are involved in the temple system. It starts with the Levites and lists two “sons of ___” with numbers. Then the singers with one “sons of ___” and a number, and then the gatekeepers. After the gatekeeper, there are 6 “sons of ___” with only one number at the end of that list. Then the Nethinim, or temple assistants, are listed with thirty-two “sons of ___” but no number after it. Then the sons of Solomon’s servants were listed with ten “the sons of ___” listed of those. The number for all of the Nethinim and the sons of Solomon’s servants comes at the end (392).
Then we switch to people who came from Tel Melah, Tel Harsha, Cherob, Addon, and Immer. They didn’t know their lineage. There were three “sons of ____” and then priests with 3 “sons of ___”
Interestingly enough, it was so important that the people know from which house they came that the priests who could not identify their lineage were excluded from being priests in Jerusalem. They counted them as “defiled,” and they were excluded from the most holy things until a priest could consult with the Urim and Thummin, objects worn by the high priest that could somehow tell God’s will in a situation.
“Altogether the whole assembly was forty-two thousand three hundred and sixty, besides their male and female servants, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred and thirty-seven; and they had two hundred and forty-five men and women singers. Their horses were seven hundred and thirty-six, their mules two hundred and forty-five, their camels four hundred and thirty-five, and donkeys six thousand seven hundred and twenty.”Nehemiah 7:66-69
There has to be a reason why this list seems so ADHD. It must have to do with the familial importance of the people listed. Somebody, somewhere, might get the significance. As for us, it is enough to understand that we may not always understand. The Bible is a big, beautiful project. We can learn and learn until our time to go Home, but we will likely never unlock all the mysteries inside.
Donations To the Treasury
The end of this chapter talks about the cash flow. Treasury donations came from some of the heads of houses, the governor (that was Nehemiah himself), and the people. They donated gold drachmas, basins, priestly garments, and silver minas.
Then everyone dwelt in their cities and Ezra (who must be at least 90 years old by this time) reads the law.
Day 1: They Gather At the Water Gate
When Ezra the priest and scribe reads the law, it is the seventh month. Everyone gathers in front of the water gate, and there is a feast for seven days. This is significant. Many archeologists put the water gate near the Gihon Spring, a distribution point for fresh water. Think about it. In Jesus’ time, He attended the feast and gave a Word about the Holy Spirit who would make His home with all who believe on Him. John 7:37-38 says, “ On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
Ezra reads from morning to midday. He’s standing on a platform of wood made just for this purpose, and a list of people are given to his right and left. The people stood to listen, “And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God.” And the people answered “Amen, Amen!” while lifting their hands, bowing their heads, and worshiping the Lord with their faces to the ground. Then others stood to help the people understand the Law, and the people stuck around to listen. Then the people wept. What a picture of revival!
Then Nehemiah said:
“Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”Nehemiah 8:10
The Levites comforted the people and sent them away to eat and drink and rejoice. That was day one.
Day 2: Feast of Tabernacles/Feast of Booths/Sukkoth
On the second day, the heads of the fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and Levites, were still at it with Ezra, searching the scriptures to understand the Law. Then they found the place in which God had commanded Moses to tell the children of Israel to dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month. They should announce and proclaim that in all cities of Jerusalem. They said:
“Go out to the mountain, and bring olive branches, branches of oil trees, myrtle branches, palm branches, and branches of leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.”Nehemiah 8:15
Then the people made booths on the roofs of their houses, in their own courtyards, in the courts of the house of God, in the open square of the Water Gate, and in the open square of the Gate of Ephraim. All those who came back from captivity made booths and sat in them. This was the first time that this had occurred since Joshua’s time, and there was great rejoicing. Ezra read every day for seven days, and they kept the feast for all seven. On the eighth day, there was a sacred assembly.
What’s the Deal With the Booths?
Like little huts, people made these temporary shelters that probably reminded them of the Israelites’ temporary life in Egypt and their journey through the wilderness, moving from place to place. Even more, it gave them a picture of our temporary pilgrimage on earth and the permanence of an eternity in heaven. They would spend hours and days relaxing, meditating on God, and considering their past, present, and future. Their prophets had given them so many revelations about the truth of the importance of waiting on God. They might have even thought about Jonah who made a booth while waiting on God to decide about Ninevah.
Here are a couple more pictures from my friend’s celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles:
Dear God, please help us to always listen when your watchmen speak. Even more so, let us always be attentive when You, Yourself, lay something on our hearts for us to do for you. We praise you and thank you for the rivers of living water You have given us through Your precious Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen!
What have you heard the watchmen saying lately?
Do you have an appointed time each day in which you, yourself, get shut in with God to meditate on Him?
Join Tammy SD at Telling Hearts and Grandma Mary Martha as she blogs through Nehemiah 1-2
Blogging Through the Bible Ezra 9 and 10
Temple rebuilt? Check. Levites and priests installed? Done. Families returned to Jerusalem. Yes! Wait. About those families…
Not Good News
Ezra was trying to get things running the way they were supposed to be. He worked so hard in seeking the Lord, doing God’s will, and teaching others what to do. So, when Ezra heard from the leaders that there was something amiss with the people, he took immediate steps to correct it. It seems that the people of Israel (even the priests and the Levites) had intermarried with the heathens while in captivity “so that the holy seed is mixed with the peoples of those lands.” Not good.
When Ezra gets the report, he tears his garment and his robe, plucks out some of the hair on his head and beard, and sits down, astonished. Have you ever been so frustrated that you pulled your own hair? I have. It’s an intense reaction here, but Ezra worked so hard to make things right, and they just…weren’t. These guys had just spent a long captivity because they hadn’t done things Lord’s way, and already the people were blowing it again. Those who fear the Lord gather around him, and they just sort of sit there, stunned, until evening.
Ezra Spills It All To God
At the evening sacrifice, Ezra falls down on his knees and spills everything to God. He basically says, “Wow, God. I can’t even look at your right now. I’m so ashamed. We have been so guilty of so many things, and for those crimes we were delivered to the kings of other lands, to the sword, to captivity, and to humiliation. And right when you show us a little grace, get us a rebuilt temple and even a wall in Judah, this is how we repay you? You TOLD us that we weren’t to mingle with the heathen or to want the things they want, and it would be well with us. After all this, you punish us less than we deserved, and we break your commandments by committing these abominations? You are righteous and we are guilty. ‘Nobody can stand before you because of this!’”
When You’re Wrong, You’re Wrong
Meanwhile, while Ezra is weeping and praying, a large assembly of people start to gather to do some weeping of their own. It’s starting to sink in that God wasn’t playing before. He gave them another chance, and they were already starting off on the wrong foot. There is a reason why it says in in Proverbs 9:10 that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Smart people fear God.
Then somebody comes up with an idea. Let’s just follow the law.
“And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, spoke up and said to Ezra, ‘We have trespassedagainst our God, and have taken pagan wives from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope in Israel in spite of this. Now therefore, let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and those who have been born to them, according to the advice of my master and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law.’”Ezra 10:2-3
Here, I’m kind of torn. On the one hand, I totally get that God rules, and when we screw up, sometimes we just have to abandon everything and just sort of shake the Etch a Sketch and start over from zero. Nothing we ever lose on earth can compare to what we can lose by not being obedient to God.
On the other hand, I can’t help thinking about those poor little babies losing their mommies and daddies. It wasn’t their faults that one of their parents was a pagan, and now they won’t even get the benefit of being raised by someone who followed the one true God. This reminds me of the story of Naomi. Her sons die, and she says to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back to your pagan gods.” Ruth doesn’t go, but Orpah is like…”Do-tee-do, going back to paganism now.” Hello? Pagans don’t go to heaven. They go to be with their gods in hell. But God knows people’s hearts. He knows who will repent and who won’t no matter what. Maybe that’s what this is here.
In any case, everybody swears that they will put away their pagan families. Ezra is fasting because he still feels bad about it, and a proclamation is issued that everybody gather at Jerusalem within three days. People who choose to stay with their heathen familes will get their property confiscated and be cut off from the remnant of God’s people.
After three days, everybody gathers, and Ezra addresses them, instructing them to repent and separate. The people agree to do both, but at this point, it’s pouring down rain, and they beg for a little time and order for the process, which they receive. Ezra and some elders start interviewing people, a man at a time, until they get through everybody.
The rest of the chapter is a list of people who had taken pagan wives, even those who were associated with the temple. Sons of priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and more promised to put away wives and even children to follow the Lord His way.
Dear God, please help us to always admit when we are wrong. You are God, and we are not. We may not understand everything, but we know that you have our best interest in mind. Thank you for helping us to be obedient. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen!
Can you think of other places in the Bible in which things looked unfair from the natural?
What might have been the consequences for keeping those wives and children around?
Join Tammy SD at Telling Hearts and Grandma Mary Martha as she blogs through Ezra 3-4
Ezra 1 and 2
People make their own choices for good or evil, but God can stir a heart like no other. Babylon had taken the Jewish people captive seventy years before, and as prophesied by the prophet Jeremiah, that time period was ending. King Cyrus of Persia was in charge then, and God stirred up his spirit to make a proclamation to free the people and get them back on the road to worshiping the one true God.
King Cyrus Makes a Proclamation
He basically acknowledges that all of his kingdoms have been given to him by God, and that God has commanded him to build a temple in Jerusalem. He tells anybody who names God as his own to go to Jerusalem and build the house of the Lord God (for He is God). Everybody should help by donating silver, goods, and livestock besides the freewill offerings for the house of God.
Then God moves some other spirits too. He touches the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, the priests, and the Levites, and they all head over to Jerusalem to start building. Everybody else gets all their goods and “precious things” together and makes a big offering.
Finally, King Cyrus digs out the articles which Nebuchadnezzer had taken from Jerusalem to put into the temples of his idols and gets the treasurer to hand them over to Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah. Items listed include: 39 gold platters, 1,000 silver platters, 20 knives, 30 gold basins, 410 silver basins, and 1,000 other articles. There were 5, 400 articles of silver and gold.
Then Sheshbazzar took all the loot plus the captives who were still in Babylon and delivers everything and everybody to Jersusalem.
This whole situation reminds me to keep hoping for salvation for my lost loved ones. God can and does stir hearts to do His will. He can change a situation in a heartbeat.
The Captives Return
Ezra 2 starts with the people’s return from captivity. Nebuchadnezzer had taken them away so many years before, but now they were returning, each to his/her own land. The Bible lists the people by the land and the number returned. Then it lists the number of priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, temple assistants, and sons of the priests as well as Solomon’s servants. In total, there were 42,360 besides the 7,337 male and female servants plus lots of horses, mules, camels, and donkeys.
When they got to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem everybody gives generously to support the work on the temple. The people gave 161,000 gold drachmas, 5,000 minas of silver, and 100 priestly garments. Then the people dwelt in their cities.
Dear God, thank you for being a God who still stirs hearts. Help us to know what to pray in accordance with Your will to accomplish Your purposes. Let us always remember that wherever we might wander, You are our true home. Help us to always give from our hearts to your house. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.
What are you asking God to stir for you?
The people gave from their hearts. Are you always a cheerful giver?