King of the Darkest Night

I. Introduction

We are nearly finished with the Old Testament studies for this year. The Chronological Bible has brought us from the Garden of Eden to our study of Esther today. Through it all, God’s people have continually rebelled against the Lord, but the Lord remains faithful to His people.

But the Lord has continually warned Israel that disobedience leads to captivity, and the people of Jerusalem have been in captivity, primarily in Babylon, but Chris taught us last week about Daniel’s prophecy that the Persian empire is rising. Not to free Israel, but to defeat Babylon in accordance with Daniel’s prophecy. And now the people are in captivity under Persia. But through all this, God has not forgotten His people.

II. Background History

We going to need more than our thirty minutes together to recap the book of Esther. The history, the life lessons, the imagery, the symbology in Esther is amazing. I encourage you to read this story in its entirety to see God’s faithfulness.

We have a movie today to review, full of twist and turns, love and betrayal, good versus evil. There’s a large cast of characters with many conflicting motives. Let’s talk about the book itself. The book of Esther is a historical novella, intended to teach the Jewish people of the history and significance of the feast of Purim. The book is interesting for what it does not mention. It doesn’t mention God, or the Law, or the Torah, or Jerusalem. It’s a story. A story of a simple Jewish girl and her uncle and how they live by faith in a hostile land.

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Both lived in the ancient kingdom of Persia under the king Ahasuerus, probably from 486-465 BC. Persia at this time was huge; the book of Esther, chapter 1:1, says it included 127 provinces. Modern countries which were once part of the Persian Empire include northern Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, Jordan, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Abkhazia, Chechnya, Ossetia regions, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Egypt, parts of Libya and Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, parts of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of Kyrgyzstan.

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That’s a huge swath of civilization. And somehow a simple Jewish girl in exile become the Queen of Persia and saved her people from genocide.

Well, you can’t have a soap opera without a cast of characters.
The good:

Mordecai the Jew. He’s the son of Jair, tribe of Benjamin. He lives in Susa in the center of Persia. The Talmud records his name as Mordechai Bilshan, and he’s also mentioned in Ezra 2:2 and Nehemiah 7:7 as one of the exiles who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple under the Persian king Cyrus. We know that was in approximately 537 BC, which means Mordecai is about 64 years old. Interestingly, the Talmud also lists Mordecai as a prophet who prophesied in the second year of King Darius, and also lists Mordecai as a direct descendant of Kish who is the father of the 1st king of Israel, Saul.

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In Esther 2:7,

“And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter: for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid was fair and beautiful; whom Mordecai, when her father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter.”

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So, Esther is actually Mordecai’s cousin, though Mordecai is the much older of the two, and since he adopted Esther as his own daughter, he’s also her uncle.

We also have Esther who is called Hadassah. She’s a Jewish orphan girl. Esther is her Persian name, Hadassah is her Hebrew name. Mordecai forbids Esther to reveal her nationality and family background, so when she’s around Persians, she’s Esther. She’s described as beautiful and having a lovely figure.

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The king of Persia is Ahasuerus, which is a weird name. Ahasuerus is a Latin word which is derived from a Hebrew word. Other translations begin with a Greek word and is translated Xerxes. Both are right, but since Ahasuerus is so hard to spell and pronounce, I’m going to call him Xerxes.

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Queen Vashti. Traditional Jewish teachings about Vashti describe her as wicked and vain, the great-granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. She’s married to Xerxes.

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Attendant-guy. He doesn’t actually have a name, unless it’s Harbona from Esther 7:9. But we need him to be an extra in our movie, but he doesn’t get his name listed when the credits roll at the end.

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III. Scene 1, Esther 1. The Old Queen is Vanquished.

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As our story of Esther opens in Esther 1:1, Ahasuerus, I mean Xerxes, is holding a massive celebration. And I mean massive. It is a celebration that last 6 months long. The sole purpose of the celebration was to demonstrate that Xerxes had a lot of money and could party for 6 months. And at the end of the 6 months of partying, Xerxes isn’t done. Xerxes then throws a banquet in an enclosed garden of his palace for his closest friends and advisors. There are wall hangings of the finest linen, couches made of gold and silver, on floors made with marble and mother-of-pearl. And it says in verse 8,

“By the king’s command each guest was allowed to drink with no restrictions, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.”

So at the end of this week long binge, Xerxes is completely drunk. He nudges his friends, “Man, my wife is hot. You guys want to see her? Hey, attendant-guy, whatever your name is, fetch my wife Vashti. Tell her to wear her crown.”

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Vashti is in the palace. She’s been holding her own banquet next door at the same time. The attendant-guy shows up and says to Vashti, “The Great and Powerful Xerxes summons you to the enclosed garden of drunk men. PS. Wear your crown.” Vashti says, “I don’t think so.”

So attendant-guy goes back to Xerxes and says, “Vashti says no.” And the king is mad. He’s furious that Queen Vashti won’t come parade before his drunk buddies wearing her crown. He asks his drunk friends what they think he should do, and they say, She can’t tell you ‘no,’ you’re the king. If this gets out, no wife will ever appear before their husband. On demand. Wearing a crown.”

I’m thinking that week-long drinking binge isn’t the best environment for making serious decisions. It’s clear from the context that Xerxes wasn’t trying to complement his wife, but to show her off as a trophy to his drunken friends. After she refuses, king Xerxes doesn’t lash out at her but instead looks for a way to manipulate the law of the land to punish her and redeem his pride.

Pretending he’s helping all husbands in the kingdom, Xerxes banished Vashti from ever seeing Xerxes again, and her position as Queen will be given to somebody else.

Exit Vashti, stage left. End Scene I.

IV. Scene 2, Esther 2. The New Queen is Appointed.

Slide12.JPGAs we move into chapter 2, Xerxes recovering from his hangover. One his advisors suggests that Xerxes should hold the world’s first Ms. Persia contest and then Xerxes can select whoever he wants. All of the beautiful young virgins throughout the kingdom are to be brought to the palace and given spa treatments until they’re ready to see the king.
Enter Mordecai and Esther. Esther’s taken to the palace and she placed in the trust of the king’s eunuch who takes special care of her. She’s provided with beauty treatments and special food and 7 girlfriends to take care of her, while Mordecai checks on her daily. He cautions her not to reveal that she’s a Jewish orphan. After a full year of beauty treatments, she’s taken to King Xerxes, who likes what he sees. Xerxes says, “Hey, attendant-guy, whatever your name is. Get this girl a crown.”

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Esther is made Queen of Persia. A simple Jewish orphan, now in the palace with a crown on her head. An incredible turn of events for her.
You know, we’ve been talking about how God equips us today for today, and the story of the faithful Jewish orphan girl demonstrates God’s gifts. Through a series of “coincidences,” Esther was elevated to a very high status, the Queen of Persia. How did she arrive here? Through submission to her faith, submission to her cousin who was her acting father, and because of her inner and external beauty. Her beauty was a gift from God, and like all gifts, we are entrusted by God to use it wisely, for His glory alone, in obedience to Him. The old Queen Vashti, we’re told, was very beautiful on the outside. But she was not going to use her God-given beauty to further God’s purposes, so she was removed, and Esther became queen. Esther has both external and internal beauty.

And Mordecai? He’s exactly where God wants him, too. During his daily visits to see Esther, he overhears a plot to assassinate the king. He passes the news to Esther who in turn reports it to the king. Mordecai’s courageous actions are recorded in the king’s diary in the presence of the king, Mordecai is given credit for thwarting an assassination, and he’s a hero. We’re supposed to be good citizens, for all governments serve at Gods command, and Mordecai is faithful to God. But by doing the right thing, Mordecai gains some unwanted attention. Up to now he’s been happy as just a simple Jew living in exile.

V. Scene 3, Esther 3. The Dark Side.

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In Chapter 3 of Esther, the plot thickens, mwahaha. Enter the villain of our lesson, Haman. In Esther 3:1-2,

After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles.

I’ve always wondered about this. Chapter 2 ends with Mordecai foiling the assassination, and Chapter 3 begins with “After these events,” and Haman is honored. Is it because Mordecai was a Jew? Was it because Haman took credit?

This is ominous. Haman’s father was Hammedatha the Agagite, which means he was a descendant of Agag the king of the Amalekites. The Amalekites were a tribe from Canaan who have constantly been harassing the Israelites throughout history, from the Exodus out of Egypt throughout the reign of David. In Exodus 17:8-16, around 1440 B.C, just after Moses struck the rock and the water flowed, the Amalekites attacked the Israelites. Joshua led the battle against the Amalekites, and Moses stood on top of a hill with his arms raised in glory to the Lord while Aaron and Hur held his arms up. When the Amalekite army fled, Exodus 17:14-16 says,

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”

 

Slide15.JPGThese are the Amalekites from whom Haman is descended. Then, 400 years later around 1040 B.C, the book of 1 Samuel chapter 15, Saul is commanded by the Lord. This is the same Saul from whom Mordecai is related. 1 Samuel 15:1-3, it says,

Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ “

God commanded Saul to put all of the Amalekites to death, but Saul gets this idea to spare King Agag of the Amalekites and keep the sheep and cattle and fat calves and lambs. The Lord was trying to protect Israel by ordering Israel to destroy the Amalekites, and the Amalekites kept coming back and attacking Israel.

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Now, another 500 years pass, and now we find Haman, an Amalekite and descendent of Agag, has been elevated to a position of power in the kingdom of Persia where the Israelites live. This is really bad news for the Jews like Mordecai and Esther living there.

King Xerxes orders all the royal officials to bow down and pay honor to Haman. Mordecai refuses to bow down. Now, it’s not against Jewish law to bow down and give respect. The Jews bowed down before their own kings in other books of the bible, like 1st and 2nd Samuel and in 1st Kings. And Mordecai also almost certainly bowed down to King Xerxes or he wouldn’t be alive.

Some scholars believe that one reason Mordecai would not bow may be that as a descendent of Agag, Haman would believe he was divine or semi-divine, a god. Mordecai would certainly not bow down before another god. Other scholars believe it was simply because Mordecai would not bow down before an enemy of God, an Amalekite who hated Jews.

Haman was enraged that this one man would not pay homage to him, and when Haman found out Mordecai was a Jew, he wasn’t satisfied with just killing Mordecai. No, Haman decided this would be his chance to destroy all the Jews. A religious, ethnic cleansing.  Verse 8-9,

Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will put ten thousand talents of silver into the royal treasury for the men who carry out this business.”

Haman could not come right out and tell King Xerxes he wanted to kill all the Jews. Xerxes would know that the Jews were loyal subjects; Mordecai had himself saved King Xerxes life. So Haman mixes in half-truths… a “certain” people. They’re… “different.” They don’t… “obey.” You shouldn’t have to “tolerate” them. By laying out an incomplete picture with half-truths, Haman was able to convince the King that these “certain people” should be killed, and King signs the death warrant.

Persia was a big empire, and this ethnic cleansing could not happen immediately. Haman decided the annihilation would occur in the twelfth month of Adar, about a year away. All the royal secretaries were summoned, and the decree was written in every language of Persia and then distributed to all the governors in all the provinces. The Jews have a year to live.

VI. Scene 4, Esther 4. If I Perish, I Perish.

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Mordecai is troubled. By refusing to bow down before Haman, he had set in motion the destruction of all of his people within the year. Esther 4:1 –

When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.

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Part of this was a public display against the orders of the king, but most of it was probably genuine grief. He’s going to die. All of his loved ones are going to die. All of the people of his faith are going to die. Verse 2,

But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it.

Apparently they had some sort of dress code and Mordecai was not allowed inside. Verse 3,

In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

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All of the Jewish people are scared, mourning, praying, crying. Mordecai sends a message to Esther, who’s protected inside the palace. Mordecai tells Esther to go to the king and beg for mercy for the Jews.
This is a terrifying request to Esther. As queen, Esther did not have a husband/wife relationship like we understand it today. Esther was a servant of the king, and she could only appear to him when summoned. The law was strict – if you crash the king’s party, you die. There was a possibility that the king could hold out his golden scepter and your life would be spared. But whatever relationship Esther and the king had, it was not currently in the best of conditions. Esther had not been summoned by the king for 30 days. She was certain that to appear before the king would mean her death.

How do we understand God, who created us and everything we see? Do we decide who He is, and then assume God will do our will? Or do we decide to be obedient and try to understand what God wants? Do we stay safe, keep silent, avoid taking risks? Or do we try to be obedient?

Fear not. God’s got this. God’s will be done, whether we obey or not. We can choose to participate, be a spectator, or deny Him altogether, but we cannot thwart God’s will. God sees history all at once, past, present and future. God creates us for a purpose and plants us right where we are. Your job, your family, your pretty face, your intelligent brain, your feelings, your money, your talents have all come together for this one instant, this one instant that will never occur again. In another minute, in another hour, this moment will have passed.

Mordecai knows all this. Esther is exactly where God put her. God removed Vashti and placed Esther as queen. She had every resource she needed to do God’s will. But will she do it? Will she risk everything given to her to do what God wants her to do? God had given Esther so much. God gave her external beauty, and it was her beauty that gave her and her alone access to the king. Would she put her beauty on the line and risk death? God gave her position – she was queen and had access like nobody else. Would she put her position as queen on the line and risk death? Esther also had her inner beauty and love for her people. Most important, Esther had the entire kingdom of heaven behind her. She had everything she needed, but would she risk it, or would fear hold her back?

Mordecai delivers at this point one of the most memorable lines of the bible. He tells Esther that God will accomplish His purpose, nothing she does or does not do will change that fact. If Esther will not do it, the God will save His chosen people another way. Esther’s choice is whether she is going to participate in God’s plan and realize that her entire being, her beauty and position, was orchestrated by God, and God will accomplish His will through His obedient people. Mordecai also tells her that if she’s trying to save her own skin, she’s probably going to lose that, too. She’s a Jew – if the Jews are eliminated, that includes her. She cannot save her own life. All she can do is choose to be obedient, or not.

Mordecai says in verse 13-14,

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

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The entire purpose of Esther’s life had come to a point of decision. Her entire existence had a purpose. What was more important, being queen, or being the liberator of the Jews? God will not fail to keep His promises or fall short of His purposes, therefore, the deliverance of the Jews was certain. God had made Esther queen so that she could deliver His people. God places people exactly where they can serve Him.
And here’s how to be faithful, Esther’s response to Mordecai is equally as famous as his question in verses 15-16 –

Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

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“If I perish, I perish.” Jesus says that his follower should not store up for ourselves treasure on earth, and that includes our very lives. And Jesus also says not to fear the ones who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Jesus holds our soul in the very palm of His hand, and nobody can snatch us away. As Christians, we are free of death so that we may live, and Esther’s response to the fear of losing her life is perfect. If I perish, I perish.

VII. Scene 5, Esther 5. Rise of the Queen

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Despite the decrees of the land and the fear of death, Esther dresses in her finest royal robes and enters the inner court of the palace in front of the king’s hall. And much to Esther’s surprise, the king is glad to see her. King Xerxes holds out his golden scepter, and Queen Esther approaches. And the king says, “Are you wearing a crown? That is so cool.”

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No seriously, he is so pleased to see her, the King tells Esther to ask for anything, and the king will give it to her.

Queen Esther bats her long lashes at Xerxes – actually, that part isn’t in scripture, but it’s easy to imagine it being true. She bats her eyes at Xerxes and says, “Would you like to come over to dinner tonight? I’d like to ask my favor of you over a nice candlelight dinner. Just you and me…. And Haman?”

And the king I’m sure is like, what? Haman? Sure. Why not. Let’s have dinner tonight. Somebody fetch Haman.

Haman’s should be having a good day. Scripture says in the latter half of Esther 5 that as soon as Haman sees Mordecai at the King’s gate, still sitting in sackcloth and ashes because of that dress code, Mordecai doesn’t rise for Haman, doesn’t bow to Haman, isn’t afraid of Haman. And Haman is filled with rage. And he is still filled with rage when he gets home.

Haman’s family and friends are there and Haman gets the invitation to the queen’s banquet. And Haman starts bragging. Look at all my wealth. Look at all my power. And I am the only person invited to have dinner with the King and Queen. But while Mordecai defies me, I will never be happy.

Haman’s wife says, just ask the king to hang him. You’re buddies, he’ll do that for you, right? And Haman smiles a wicked smile.

Haman erects a huge pole outside his house. Verse 14 days it’s 75 feet tall, and that’s like twice the size of a Texas pine tree and even bigger than the egos of most politicians! I mean, it’s huuuge. And when the king tells Haman it’s ok to hang Mordecai, he’s going to hang Mordecai high on this pole outside of his own house.

VIII. Scene 6, Esther 6. A Sleepless Night.

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Scene 6 opens with the King unable to sleep. I like to think the King is excited about his upcoming dinner date with his queen, Esther. And Haman. Apparently attendant-guy or somebody like him writes down everything that happens in the king’s life. Kind of like keeping a diary, but somebody else fills in the pages for you.

Do you remember all the way back to Scene 2 where Mordecai overheard about the plot to assassinate the king? The king is reading his own diary like it’s some sort of murder mystery novel and reads about this guy who saved his life. And the king says, did we give this guy a gold medal or something for saving my life? And attendant-guy says, nope. We didn’t do diddly squat for him. Diddly squat is the ancient Hebrew.

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So the king says, I need some ideas on how to honor this guy Mordecai. Who’s hanging around in the lobby? Haman, bring him in. Hey Haman, if I wanted to give somebody some special recognition, what do you think I should do?

And Haman thinks, “Wow, the king is thinking about me.” And Haman says, “A parade! A parade with horses and a special robe and trumpets and stuff!” And the king says, “Great idea! Haman, go get a fancy robe and throw a parade for Mordecai!”

And Haman does what the king says, but you know it just rotted his socks to put a fancy robe on Mordecai and parade him around the city. And after the parade, Haman rushes home and cries, I think. But he doesn’t get to cry long, the king’s eunuchs arrive to take Haman to that fancy schmancy dinner with the King and Esther.

End Scene 6.

IX. Scene 7, Esther 7. The Dark Side Destroyed.

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Scene 7, the banquet. The king is there. The queen is there, batting her eyes. Haman is there, grumpy from the parade he had to throw for Mordecai.

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The king and queen gaze longingly into each other’s eyes. And the king says, have you thought about what sort of present you would like?
Esther says, “There is a decree that all my people will be killed. Every one of us! Please spare me!”

Then verses 5&6, I think the King had no idea that there was a decree that would kill all the Jews,

King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is he—the man who has dared to do such a thing?”
Esther said, “An adversary and enemy! This vile Haman!”

The king immediately has Haman arrested, and then attendant-guy says, you know, there’s this huge pole, taller than two Texas pine trees, just outside of Haman’s house. Verse 9b-10,

The king said, “Impale him on it!” So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai. Then the king’s fury subsided.

X. Scene 8, Esther 8-10. They All Lived Happily Ever After. The End.

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Scene 8, they all lived happily ever after. The king gave Esther everything that Haman owned, Mordecai was given a place in the palace, and Haman’s order to destroy the Jews was revoked. The feast of Purim was established to memorialize the Jews rescued from certain death and destruction.

Even though God was not mentioned in the book of Esther, God’s hand was evident in the saving of His people. Even in captivity in a foreign land, God protected His people.

We, too, are protected, though we live in a foreign land. 1 Peter 2:11 calls Christians “foreigners and exiles” as we live in our pagan society. But God has not abandoned us here. His protection surrounds us, and God asks us to trust in Him for that protection.

And there’s still a huge pole that’s been erected, taller than two Texas pine trees, that saves us and destroys the enemy. Christ hangs upon that tree, defeating death and taking on our sins so that one day we too, live in eternity, happily ever after.

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The End. Or should I say, It is Finished.

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To God be the glory.

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A King Experiences Revival

Introduction

Fifty years ago seems like a very long time ago. Probably because fifty years ago is a long time ago.

Fifty years ago, I was 8 years old and had hobbies like eating green apples from our tree in the back yard in Wheaton Illinois, and collecting frogs from the nearby pond to keep in our bathroom tub because hey, I was an eight year old boy and the bathroom tub is one of the few places inside where one can start a frog farm.

I remember my father calling to me on one day to come watch television with him for a news special. Eight year old boys detest news specials, but my dad told me this one would be important and that I should remember where I was when I watched it. And I saw Neil Armstrong step on the moon.   Absolutely historical, and I do remember it. And then I remember going back to my frog farm because those frogs were quite the escape artists.

I’m certain there’s some sort of connection to our scripture today, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it is. Oh wait, here it is, 2 Chronicles 34:1-2 –

Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem.   And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the ways of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. (Chronological Bible, pg. 960, July 29th)

No mention of frog farms in the family bathtub. So far.   At eight years old, Josiah was king of Judah.

We are nearing the end of the Divided Kingdom Era in our Chronological study of the bible, and Josiah is one of the few good kings that reigned in Judah.

Josiah became King of Judah at eight years old. He was not elected to be King, he was merely born into the bloodline of David, the bloodline of the Kingdom.

Israel had become a monarchy like all the other nations with the first three kings being Saul, David, and Solomon. Israel was united under these three kings, though with the death of Solomon, everything changed. The kingdom that was once united, became divided into the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom.

The northern kingdom retained the name Israel and had 10 of the 12 tribes of Abraham. The capital was Samaria. The southern kingdom was had the remaining 2 tribes and was called Judah, and the capital was Jerusalem.

Josiah was the King of Judah (the southern kingdom) at the age of eight years old. Judah had 20 different rulers, only eight of which were considered to be “good”. Josiah was the last of the eight “good” kings.

In looking at the summary of his life we see that Josiah was not just good, he was very special.

If you think about an eight-year-old boy becoming king and being known for doing “what was right in the sight of the Lord,” you might guess that he came from a great family background. That is not the case at all.

Josiah’s father and grandfather were some of the worst kings Judah had. Both were involved in child sacrifice as well as turning God’s people against God. His grandfather Manasseh who served as king for 55 years, did have a change of heart, but as it pertained to his influence as a king; it was too little, too late. His father, Amon served only two years before he was killed and never did have a change of heart. 2 Chronicles 33:23 –

And he (Amon) did not humble himself before the LORD, as his father Manasseh had humbled himself; but Amon trespassed more and more. Then his servants conspired against him and killed him in his own house.   (Chronological Bible, pg. 959-960, July 29th)

There was nothing about the leadership of Josiah’s father or grandfather that would have prepared Josiah to be a “good” king. Neither his father or grandfather were obedient to God; neither were humble in their role as king; neither embraced the Word and truth of God; neither led the people in worship or prayer towards God. Both were described as “evil in the sight of the Lord” in Scripture. And yet, Josiah somehow broke the cycle, even as a young boy king.

The scripture tells us of Josiah’s goodness, and his goodness came as a result of a desire to know God at a young age and by hearing the Word of God. There is power in the Word of God that should be embraced.   And one life, like yours or mine, committed to God can change a family, a neighborhood, a city and even a nation.

 

Realizing the Responsibility

The story of Josiah is a story of hope for all people of all ages. Even at a young age, Josiah realized the responsibility of being king. There was an opportunity to be different from those who had gone before him.   Even an 8-year-old boy knows the difference between right and wrong.

I’m certain that several in this this room could give testimony of what it is like to be brought up in a family that is not good or healthy or happy. Others may not have grown up in a Christ-centered family or home. And I can say almost positively without exception that each and every one of us, even well beyond the age of eight, made choices that were not in line with God’s Word and truth.

The hope of this story today is that our past does not define who we are in the present or who we will be in the future. If Josiah had let his past define him, he would have followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. If Josiah had let his past define him, he would have continued the sad tradition of leading God’s people away from God.   If Josiah had let his past define him, he would have settled for sad tradition rather than realizing the responsibility of change.

But Josiah realized the responsibility of being king. He wanted to be different from past generations. Though we don’t know much about his first several years of being king, we do know that at the age of 16 there was a radical change of direction.   2 Chronicles 34:3 –

For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his father David; and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the wooden images, the carved images, and the molded images. (Chronological Bible, pg. 960, July 29th)

The first part of verse 3 tells us that in his eighth year of being a king at the age of 16, Josiah did something that his father and grandfather never did.   Josiah began to seek the God of his father David. Of course, David was his great, great, great, multiple generations past grandfather.

But Josiah knew two things about David.   One, that David was a blood relative; two, David sought Yahweh, the one true God. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God of the Covenant.

Josiah realized the responsibility as a descendant of David; the responsibility that he had as King of Judah and he broke the cycle of rebellion against God on a personal level. As a teenager, he sought God and began the process, as evidenced in the phrasing, “began to seek the God of his father David.”

Breaking the cycle did not happen overnight. Even though he was young, there was a stronghold in his family of radical rebellion against God to the point of sacrificing children and actively building altars to idols. Josiah wanted something different. He obviously had heard stories about David as King. But more importantly, he had heard stories about David’s relationship with God.

Josiah wanted a personal relationship with God, and it started with him choosing to seek God.   We do not know exactly how long that discovery process lasted or what he did in the process. More than likely the time was spent in prayer, seeking counsel from priests and from prophets of the day. We do know that four years later his relationship with God was so strong he acted very differently from his father and grandfather. He made choices as King that the people had not seen for generations.

 

Removing the Evil

2 Chronicles 34:3b –

“….and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the wooden images, the carved images, and the molded images. (Chronological Bible, pg. 960, July 29th)

At the age of 20, Josiah had been king for 12 years and his relationship with God was so strong and personal that he could no longer accept the false idols that his father and grandfather had built. He wanted to remove that which led the people away from God.

Purging Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the wooden images, the carved images, and the molded images are the first acts recorded of his kingship. Over this 12-year period there were certainly other things as well, but what is significant is that his desire to seek God at the age of 16 and the relationship that ensued led to this first true act as king. This was no easy task. The following verses go on to tell us he traveled as far north as Naphtali (North of Galilee) and as far south as Simeon and everywhere in between.     2 Chronicles 34:6-7 –

And so he did in the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, as far as Naphtali and all around, with axes. When he had broken down the altars and the wooden images, had beaten the carved images into powder, and cut down all the incense altars throughout all the land of Israel, he returned to Jerusalem. (Chronological Bible, pg. 960, July 29th)

Removing the evil of his heritage was not easy, fast or popular. If you just take the leadership of his father and grandfather, you are looking at 57 years of evil in the sight of the Lord. 57 years of God’s people being led astray. Josiah felt so strongly about his relationship with God that he was willing to do whatever it took to “clean house”.

This process was intense and purposeful, going step by step to destroy each and every kind of altar regardless of what it was made of or how it was crafted.   2 Chronicles 34:4b –

“….he broke in pieces, and made dust of them and scattered it on the graves of those who had sacrificed to them.”

He broke them down to powder, making it completely impossible for anyone to put them back together. Josiah did not want to compromise at all. In modern-day terms, we would say he was “all in” with his relationship with God.

Josiah was not concerned about popularity as king, rather he was first and foremost concerned with his personal relationship with God and doing what would bring honor and glory to God. For Josiah that meant removing all evil from the land which God had entrusted to him.

Destroying the altars to the point of powder dust was a visual way of cleaning house and not leaving any sort of visual temptation to go back to the false gods and compromised leadership of his father and grandfather.   Josiah broke the chains of his past to set forth hope for his future and for the future of Israel.

His journey led him to rediscover the truth.

 

Rediscovering the Truth

2 Chronicles 34:8 –

In the eighteenth year of his reign (Josiah was 26 years old), when he had purged the land and the temple, he sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, Maaseiah the governor of the city, and Joah the son of Joahaz the recorder, to repair the house of the LORD his God. (Chronological Bible pg. 976, July 31st)

It had been 57 years since God’s people had been led by a godly leader. King Hezekiah was the last good King the southern kingdom of Judah had. The house of the Lord was in shambles. The feasts and festivals were ignored. The offerings and sacrifices were neglected. Josiah knew that it wasn’t enough to just remove the evil of the land, he knew that he had the responsibility to direct people to the Lord.   And that began with rediscovering the truth.

In the process of repairing the house of the Lord, they discovered the Book of the Law written by Moses. 2 Chronicles 34:15 –

Then Hilkiah answered and said to Shaphan the scribe, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan.   (Chronological Bible pg. 977, July 31st)

This was probably the Torah; the first five books of the Bible. This discovery of God’s Word was, in fact, the discovery of life-changing truth. The “book” had been completely and utterly buried beneath that which was intended to be a place of worship.

This discovery not only changed Josiah on a personal level, but it also changed a nation.   Notice what happened when Josiah heard the Word of God, 2 Chronicles 34:18 –

Then Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king. Thus it happened, when the king heard the words of the Law, that he tore his clothes. (Chronological Bible pg. 977, July 31st)

The Word of God has always been a revelation of God. When King Josiah at the age of 26 heard the words of the Law he tore his clothes. In that culture tearing your clothes was a sign of humility and grieving. The King was the most powerful individual in all of Judah, but he was showing the ultimate humility by tearing his clothes.

Josiah realized what he had been missing. Josiah realized what the people of the nation had been missing. Josiah realized that in finding the Law, he had rediscovered the truth. Josiah realized that God was not only a God of mercy but also a God of justice. 2 Chronicles 34:21 –

“Go, inquire of the LORD for me, and for those who are left in Israel and Judah, concerning the words of the book that is found; for great is the wrath of the LORD that is poured out on us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the LORD, to do according to all that is written in this book.” (Chronological Bible pg. 977, July 31st)

God’s Word brings comfort but also conviction because there are consequences to choices. Josiah realized how far the nation had been led away from God’s Word. He was in a position to change what had been handed down to him. He had already broken the chains on a personal level, now it was time to break the chains of a nation, and it all began when he heard the Word of God.   Hebrews 4:12 –

For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

The Word of God is the truth that penetrates the heart, even the heart of a king. Josiah would never be the same. This is a reminder of why we, as a church, have been challenged this year to read through the Bible chronologically; to rediscover God’s truth.

In no other time in history has the Word of God been more accessible than today, and yet we have buried it in our busyness. Biblical literacy in America is dwindling. People now prefer soundbites and snippets that can be absorbed in 10 seconds or less, but the bible cannot be understood in soundbites.

It may be hard for us to understand how the people in Josiah’s time could have lost the Law of Moses and then forgotten it in just two generations. However, written copies were scarce. Parents and the Levites conducted most biblical instruction orally. Only one generation separated the people from ignorance of God’s will. This has been true throughout history, and we see it becoming true again today.

The reading of God’s Word humbled Josiah to the point of repentance and revival. This discovery of God’s Word changed Josiah on a personal level, but it also changed a nation.

 

Reviving the People

Josiah did not want to keep the truth of God’s Word to himself.   He had a responsibility as King to share this truth with the nation.   2 Chronicles 34:29-33 –

Then the king sent and gathered all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. The king went up to the house of the LORD, with all the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem – the priests and the Levites, and all the people, great and small. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant which had been found in the house of the LORD.   Then the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the LORD, to follow the LORD, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book.   And he made all who were present in Jerusalem and Benjamin take a stand. So the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers. Thus Josiah removed all the abominations from all the country that belonged to the children of Israel and made all who were present in Israel diligently serve the LORD their God. All his days they did not depart from following the LORD God of their fathers. (Chronological Bible pg. 980, August 1st)

Josiah led by example. Notice they were not merely following the words of an earthly king.   They were to follow the Word of God.   They were not ultimately following an earthly king. They were to “diligently serve” the LORD their God.

This revival both personally for Josiah and for the nation was not going to “just happen.”   There had to be purpose and determination. There was going to have to be sacrifices made both literally and figuratively. When Josiah became King, it had been 57 years since anyone had been challenged and led to observe a feast such as the Passover.   It had been 57 years since the Word of God had been read aloud. It had been 57 years since the people worshiped God publicly.

One man changed all of that. Josiah had been revived in his spirit by the reading of God’s Word to the point of action.   In 2 Chronicles 35:18-19 we are told of Josiah leading the nation to observe the Passover beyond what the people had ever experienced before.

There had been no Passover kept in Israel like that since the days of Samuel the prophet; and none of the kings of Israel had kept such a Passover as Josiah kept, with the priests and the Levites, all Judah and Israel who were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. In the eighteenth year of the reign of Josiah this Passover was kept. (Chronological Bible pg. 981, August 1st)

The Passover was to be kept each year by each generation. In the Book of the Law that Josiah had read, it says in Exodus 12:14 –

So this day shall be to you a memorial, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance.

The Passover had been neglected as had the Word of God, as had the temple, as had worship, prayer, offerings, and sacrifices. But Josiah reinstituted all of these things in accordance with Scripture.

Josiah led the nation of Israel into revival, starting with the reading of Scripture and continuing with putting into action what they had read, diligently serving the LORD God.

It all started when an eight-year-old boy became King. You never know how God is going to work in someone’s life.

 

Conclusion

This summer our church has seen young people make decisions to follow Christ at Beach Retreats and Vacation Bible School.

The benchmarks of Josiah’s life happened when he was 8 years old, 16 years old, 20 years old and 26 years old.

The benchmarks in the life of Moses and Abraham happened when they were 80 years old, 90 years old and 100 years old.   At any point in our life, we can either turn to God and make Him known to others, or we can spend our days doing the equivalent of wasting our time putting our metaphorical frogs in the bathtub.

Turn to God.   We are never too young or too old to trust in God, follow God, make a difference for God and lead others in doing the same.

Because of the leadership of Josiah, a nation was challenged to put God first without compromise. A nation was challenged to worship God unapologetically. A nation was challenged to diligently serve God regardless of circumstances.

God speaks through the written Word and communicates His character, man’s sin and the message of redemption and judgment. God acts to preserve the Word of God so that it is found by those who seek Him. God reveals the power of His Word to revive His People.

Whatever is in your past, whatever is in my past, don’t let it define our future. God’s Word is life-changing if we take the time to read, listen and apply the truth that is revealed. Every morning, put on the whole armor of God, and be a warrior for the Word and Truth.

To God be the glory.

Sword of the Spirit

              I.      Introduction

The wall is built around Jerusalem.  Chris taught us last week that we are all on the winning Superbowl team, even though not all of us are recognized.  We have a great quarterback, great coaches, and one awesome owner.

So… we’re done, right?  The wall is built.  What’s left to do?

How about an after-party celebration in honor of the Owner?

            II.      Nehemiah 8. The People Rejoice

Let’s open our bibles to Nehemiah chapter 8:1-10 –

All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.

 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.  He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.

Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up.  Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there.  They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Ah, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”  That phrase was with me all weekend.

In verse 9, the people were weeping as they listened to the words.  Why do you think they were weeping?

          III.      A Bad Word

The bible is full of interesting, life-changing information.  For instance, we know that Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree.   This is found in the book of Guinness, where beer was first mentioned.

After the book of Guinness comes the book of Exodus.  The Israelites became upset with the Egyptians because the Pharaoh made them make their beds without straw.  Then Moses led the Israelites into the Red Sea where they made unleavened bread, which is bread made without any ingredients.  Later, Moses went up Mount Cyanide to get the Ten Amendments which were also known as manners from heaven.  Sadly, Moses died before ever reaching Canada, which Joshua conquered during the battle of Geritol.

After the book of Exodus is the book of Laxatives which tells us what we can and cannot eat.

I know this was silly but the reason it’s silly is because, at least in these examples, we know what the bible really says.  But the bible is a big book.  Do you know what it really says?  God shows his glory in many ways, through the wonders of the heavens to the tiny miracle in a simple leaf of grass.  The wonders we see tell us there is a God – but a leaf of grass cannot tell us, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” or “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  God speaks to us through his Word.

If we don’t know the Word, then we can be misled.  Let’s take a little quiz –

Question 1: House and wealth are inherited from parents, but a good wife comes from a) patience, b) God, c) man’s labor.  (Answer: Proverbs 19:14, Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a good wife comes from the Lord.)

Question 2: In 2 Corinthians 4:9, Christians are persecuted but not a) depressed, b) suffering, c) abandoned.  (Answer: Persecuted but not abandoned).

Question 3: Which phrase originated in the bible?  A)  Make hay while the sun shines, b) Eat, drink, and be merry, c) In the nick of time.  (Answer: Luke 12:19, Eat drink and be merry.)

Question 4: Which expression originated in the bible?  A) fly in the ointment, b) rule of thumb, c) dyed in the wool.  (Answer: Ecclesiastes 10:1, fly in the ointment.)

Question 5: Which expression is *not* in the bible?  A) Money is the root of all evil, b) God helps those who help themselves, c) without rhyme or reason. (Answer: Actually none of those are in the bible.)

Let’s try something more recent, a quiz on Nehemiah.  (Hint:  It’s the book we’ve been reading for the last 6 weeks).

  1. Under which Persian king did Nehemiah return to rebuild Jerusalem? A) Artaxerxes, king of Persia, B) Cyrus, king of Persia, C) Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, D) Sennacherib, king of Assyria?  (Answer: C, Nebuchadnezzar)
  2. Nehemiah was concerned by the news he received from the land of Judah for what reason? A) Jerusalem’s walls and gates were in disrepair, B) Drought had destroyed all the crops, C) Romans had invaded the land, D) The temple was in shambles.   (Answer: a), the walls were in disrepair)
  3. Which of the following was not the name of a gate in ancient Jerusalem? A) Sheep, B) Fish, C) Pearl, D) Dung (Answer: C, Pearl)
  4. How long did it take to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah’s leadership? A) 70 weeks, B) 52 days, C) 40 days and nights, D) 13 months (Answer: b, 52 days)
  5. Who stood and read the Law after the walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt by Nehemiah? A) Nehemiah, B) King David, C) Ezra, D) Moses (Answer: c, Ezra)

If you don’t know what’s in the bible, how do you know what God is saying to you?  How do you know if a preacher is telling the truth?  If a preacher tells you to turn to Matthew 27:5, “Judas went and hanged himself,” then tells you to turn to Luke 10:37, “Jesus says, “Go and do likewise,” will you follow the scripture as told to you by man?

When I first became a Christian, I read a lot of Max Lucado books.  I found his books inspiring and comforting, easy to understand.  I still Like Max Lucado’s books.  But I realized I wasn’t relying on God’s Word – I was relying on what somebody else said was God’s Word.   Why would I think Max Lucado is a better source of truth than the Source of Truth itself?  The only way to discern between truth and lies is to go directly to God through His Word for the answers.

Now, the Old Testament was not yet complete in Nehemiah’s time.  The first 5 books – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were the only books recognized at the time as divine revelation.  To the Israelites, the heart of the events in these 5 books were God’s description of Himself, such as Exodus 34:6-7 –

“And [God] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

God’s judgment, wrath, redemption, and laws all flow naturally from God’s own character.  The Hebrew word for “law” is torah, and it comes from a verb that means “to throw or shoot.”  The idea is that the torah comes from a higher authority, a memo from the boss like “Please note our business hours are from 8am to 5pm.  Be at your desk and ready to work by 8:00am or you’re fired.”  That sort of torah.  The torah can be used for teaching, for instruction, or decisions, from raising children to how to get along with your neighbor.  Some of these legal codes were very general in nature, like the Ten Commandments.  They are very broad, apply to everyone, and no specific penalty or consequence is attached.  Some are very specific, like jaywalking, and applied the Ten Commandments to a specific case and the penalty that goes with it.

In the eight chapter of Nehemiah, Israelites were concerned they would repeat the mistakes of their ancestors, and consequently God’s written Word had become quite important.  Without knowing God’s word, they were doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over.  In our time, the bible is the bestselling book ever, every year.  At least 20 million bibles are sold every year in the US alone.  Worldwide sales of the top 8 bestselling bibles sell well over 100 million bibles a year.  Then add the bible distributed freely and for missions – the Gideons distribute 70 million bibles every year, and the Bible Society, biblesociety.org, distributes nearly 400 million bibles or portions of the bible every year.

But in Nehemiah’s time, there was no way to mass produce the torah.  No neighborhood OfficeMax.  Scripture was copied by hand onto expensive parchment scrolls and took years to produce a single copy.  So how do you get the word out to all of God’s people?

Ezra brought the Law of Moses out to the people and conducted a great reading of God’s Word from sunup to noon, at least 5 hours straight, and all the people, those who were able to understand, listened attentively.

Can you imagine standing and listening to the bible for 5 hours straight?  I could teach for 5 hours straight, I think, and the miracle is that all of you will live forever.  Or at least it’ll seem that way to you.

The value of reading or listening to the Word of God for 5 hours straight is enormous.  Scripture can be taken out of context to prove almost any point, but when the scripture is read continuously in a long session, the biblical context is clear.  We are untainted by somebody else’s vision, we hear God’s word directly, we can get a better understanding of why a particular sentence exists, and we have a better understanding of how to apply it to our lives.  The Word of God is powerful.

The people, upon hearing the Word, realize that they have been disobedient to God.  The light of the Word does that, it shines on our sin, revealing it.  Once it is revealed, we can repent.  Too often we try to do it the other way around – we try to repent first, and then come to God.  But we need to see our sin as God sees our sin, not as we would like to see our own sin.  We sort of scrub ourselves up a little and think we’re clean, but we can still grow potatoes behind our ears.  The Word of God shines into places in our soul we can’t reach on our own.

You know that song they sing at 11:11, “Come Just As You Are?”  That’s the way God wants us to come, dirty sins and all.  We can’t clean ourselves up good enough to get to heaven.  We bring our messy, filthy sins to God, confess them, and God will give us the strength and wisdom to get clean.  God does a much better job of cleaning my soul than I can do on my own.

            IV.      A Sharp Word

How does the bible do this?  It’s because the bible is not just a book.  Let’s see what the bible says about the bible –

Let’s turn to the book of John, book 1, verse 1-5, 14 –

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Right away we can see that the Word of God is more than just words in a book.  The Word of God is holy, the very words of God, the very words of Jesus, who gave His very life to live among us and to freely give His life for us that we may live.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 –

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

God speaks these words, every one of them.  Not taken out of context, but all of the words.  It is useful, it corrects us, it trains us, it prepares us.  The word of God in its entirety is meant to be applied to our everyday lives.

2 Peter 1:20-21

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.  For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

The bible is not a man’s interpretation of God; the bible is directly from God through the Holy Spirit.  Holy Spirit inspired the men to write the books of the Bible.   Each book may have an individual’s flair or spiritual gift influencing him – certainly the book of John is very different than the book of Luke – but the words themselves come directly from God.

Hebrews 4:12-14 –

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

The word is relevant to our lives, and we discover through the word what pleases and displeases the Lord, and we are compelled to repent from sin.  But that sin is embedded into our very fabric, and giving it up isn’t easy.  The Word of God cuts like a knife, surgically removing sin from our lives.

John 8:31-32 –

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Often we don’t even know we are a slave to sin.  We can be very sincere about our beliefs, but sincerity is not enough.  Religious people can be wrong.  But following the teachings of Jesus, becoming a follower of Jesus, is the only way to eternal freedom.

Acts 17:10-12,

As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue.  Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

Don’t believe what you are told.  If I teach you something, read the bible for yourself to see if what I said is true.  If Theresa or Libby or especially Chris teach you something, read the bible for yourself to see if it’s true.  If Dr. Young teaches you something, read the bible for yourself to see if it’s true.  If the Apostle Paul himself appears before you in a great flash of light and teaches you something, read the bible for yourself to see if it’s true.  God doesn’t mind if you question what you’re told.  In fact, he will consider you noble if you read the bible for yourself.

And finally, our class anthem, Ephesians 6:17,

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

The Word of God does more than protect us; it allows us to go on the offense against the powers of darkness.  It is a double-edged sword of the Spirit.  We are well equipped with the Word of God.

              V.      A Good Word

At the end of Nehemiah 8, in verse 9, the people have heard the word of God, they have been cut by the double-edged sword of God, their thoughts and attitudes of the heart have been judged.  And the people are weeping.

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

They realize how far short of God’s will they had fallen.  But let’s look back at Nehemiah verse 2 for a second.  What day is this?  It’s the first day of the seventh month.  Let’s hop over to Leviticus 23:23-25, which describes the Feast of Trumpets:

The LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts.  Do no regular work, but present an offering made to the LORD by fire.’ “

First they were weeping because they were convicted of their sin; now they find out even the weeping on this particular day is a sin.  Talk about opening the floodgates.  This is a holy day, a Sabbath day.  A day made for rest, a day made for feasting.  It’s a day for celebration.  Sort of like crying on Christmas, it’s just not right.

            VI.      Conclusion

Celebrate that we have read the Word, that we are on a path to understand God’s unique will for us.  Nehemiah 8:10-12,

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.”

Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.

I think this is reflective of how we should live as Christians.  We should read the bible to be convicted of our sin – but why should this conviction lead to misery?  Why should it be a bad thing to discover something in ourselves that doesn’t meet God’s standards?  We know already that we are not perfect, so why should imperfection make us weep?

Instead, it should be an opportunity.  Celebrate!  With the Lord’s guidance, our sin has been revealed to us.  If we repent of our sin, that is great news!  That’s a step towards righteousness, a better person for the Lord.  The angels rejoice at the news of our repentance.  Luke 15:10, Jesus says,

there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

Instead of being upset that we’re not perfect, praise the Lord that He has revealed our iniquities.  That’s just what the Israelites did – they celebrated.  They went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.”  So rejoice at the Word of God that shows us our imperfections.  Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice.”  1 John 1:4, “And these things we write unto you, that your joy may be full.”  God doesn’t want you to have a little fun, He wants you to have a whole lot of fun reading and studying His word.  If you’re not experiencing joy when you read the bible, something isn’t quite right.  Ask the Lord to help.  Go to Him in prayer and ask Him.  Say, “Lord, I want your Word to bring joy to my life.  Show me why I am not joyful, remove whatever keeps me from joy when I study your word.”  God will answer that prayer when you are honestly praying to God for His will in your life.  And let us sing the praises of Christ our Savior for His Word and His beautiful mercy and grace, for the joy of the Lord is our strength.

To God be the glory.

Rebuilding the Walls

              I.      Introduction

Nehemiah 1 Rebuilding the Walls

We covered Esther in two weeks and Ezra in two weeks, like we were in a hurry.  But we’re going to slow down and spend the next several weeks in Nehemiah.  Let’s dive right in with an introduction to Nehemiah, who he is and what he’s doing.

            II.      Background History

The Jewish people had sinned and God had judged them; it was approximately 605 years before Christ.  God used Nebuchadnezzar II, King of Babylon, to invade Judah and lay siege to Jerusalem.  In 597 BC, the prophet Ezekiel (who we studied just 2 months ago), documented the pillaging of Jerusalem and the deportation of Jews to Babylon.  Nebuchadnezzar installed Zedekiah as the tributary king of Judah.  However, despite Ezekiel’s warning, Zedekiah entered into an alliance with Pharoah Hophra of Egypt.  Nebuchadnezzar II responded by sacking Jerusalem a second time in 587 BC and destroying Solomon’s temple. The Jewish king Zedekiah was forced to watch his two sons executed, then the king’s eyes were put out and the king was imprisoned until his death.  The remaining healthy Jews still in the city were taken to Babylon, leaving behind only the weak, the poor, the sick.  The city of Jerusalem was raised to the ground.

Thus began the Diaspora of the Jews which continues to this day.  The Diaspora refers to Jews that live outside of the Kingdom of Judah.  Today, about 44% of the world’s Jewish population lives in Israel, the rest are the Diaspora, Jews scattered mostly in the US and Western European countries.

The Jewish people lived as servants in Babylon, and many, like Daniel, Mordecai and Esther, and Nehemiah proved themselves trustworthy and faithful.  They understood the exile as a consequence for their sins.

Nehemiah 1 Diaspora and Aliyah

Fifty years go by, and the king of Babylon is now Cyrus the great.  In 538 BC, Cyrus’s Declaration was issued which permitted Jews to return to the land of Israel.  Then began the return to Zion, called Aliyah by the Jews, which continues to this day.

In Nehemiah’s time, there were 4 waves of Aliyah, returning to Zion, after Cyrus’s Declaration.  The prophet Ezra tell us the first Aliyah was small, approximately 1000 young Jews led by Sheshbazzar to rebuild the holy temple on the temple mount in 538 BC.  The second Aliyah was larger, later that same year, and led by Zerubbabel, and totaled nearly 50,000 people.

A third Aliyah was led by Ezra himself when Ezra was an old man, years later in 458 BC, and 5000 additional Jews returned to Zion.  Ezra strengthened religious laws and the use of the Hebrew alphabet which was critical to the identity of the Jewish people as separate and holy.

Nehemiah 1 Diaspora and Aliyah 2

The book of Nehemiah chronicles the life of Nehemiah and the fourth wave of Aliyah.  In the book of Nehemiah, chapter 1, Nehemiah identifies a mission, a service to the Lord, and we can learn much about how he learns of his mission, how he prepares for his mission, and how he executes his mission.  Let’s look at Chapter 1, and I love the way this book begins.  It identifies Nehemiah’s mission and right away how he approaches God.

The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah:

 In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.

 They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”

 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.  Then I said:

 “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you.  We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.

 “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’

 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand.  Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”

 I was cupbearer to the king.

Nehemiah learns that the place of his ancestors is in poor condition and in need of help, and it moves Nehemiah to tears.  Nehemiah cried and fasted and prayed to God, and his prayer is a study on how to pray.  There is praise and worship, there is confession, there is adoration and supplication and application of scripture.  Nehemiah was a man of prayer which is also why I believe he was also a man of action.  God was with Nehemiah because Nehemiah was constantly with God.  Nehemiah did not act without praying first, and did not pray without acting.

Nehemiah is the king’s cupbearer, a position of no small importance.  Wine presented to the king would first pass through Nehemiah, who would taste the wine for signs of poison.  Nehemiah, as cupbearer, would be in nearly constant presence of the king, and so would also be an unofficial advisor with the king’s ear.

Nehemiah Hebrew Calendar

Months go by without an answer from God.  Chapter 1 says Nehemiah starts praying in the month of Kislev.  He prays throughout the month of Tevet, the month of Shvat, the month of Adar, the month of Nisan.  And in the month of Nisan, Nehemiah is in the presence of King Artaxerxes, looking sad.  The king must have been very familiar with Nehemiah’s presence, notices Nehemiah’s sad face and asks why.  Nehemiah explains that he is sad because the city of Jerusalem is in ruins.  Chapter 2, verse 4, the king said, “What is it you want?”

And again Nehemiah shows us why he is such a man of God.  He’s been praying for 4 straight months, but when he is finally in the right place, right time, in front of the king, verse 4 says Nehemiah first prayed to the God of heaven, and then answered the king.  We don’t know the content of this prayer, but by necessity it had to be a short prayer.  Maybe it was “Lord have mercy” or “Thank you O Lord” or “Lord be with me” or “Your will be done, O Lord.”  It shows that Nehemiah knows this meeting with the king is the answer to his prayer in Chapter 1, and Nehemiah is going to go to the Lord before he says or does anything.

          III.      Power of Prayer and Patience

Prayer is powerful, and I confess I do not fully understand why.  I am a flawed man, full of sin and selfish pride.  God’s judgment and wrath rightfully belongs on me for my sin, but instead, God has extended His grace to me, given me mercy by sacrificing His own son for me.  It is only because of the blood of Jesus that I can approach God and His holiness at all, and when I do approach God, God listens to me.  He cares for me.  He loves me.  And He loves it that I pray to Him.  I have nothing to offer God except me, and I only exist because God willed it. And yet, God loves prayer.  Proverbs 15:29 says,

“The Lord is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous.”

And James 5:13-16 says,

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.  Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.  Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

We are only righteous because of our faith and obedience to Christ Jesus, not of our own doing.  But it pleases the Lord to answer the prayers of the righteous.

Nehemiah prayed for months.  Sometimes he prayed aloud, other times he prayed silently.  Nehemiah prayed patiently for 4 months.

How long is patience?  Is being patient waiting for 4 months?  While 4 months is a long time, you and I may have prayers that last longer than that.  I know I do, and I have unanswered prayers that go on for years.  How long is patience?  I think it’s always 1 more month.  Or 1 more year.  Or 1 more whatever.  Just keep praying.

God always answers prayer.  Sometimes the answer is “no” or maybe the answer is “not yet,” and it’s not the answer we were looking for.  But we go to God in prayer, in faith that the Creator God of the Universe can answer it.

That’s how Nehemiah prayed.  And the Lord God moved the heart of King Artaxerxes to provide all the materials necessary for Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem.  But not all were pleased to see the Lord answering prayers; Nehemiah 2:10 says,

“When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.”

Even when the Lord is answering prayer, obstacles may still exist.  Often those obstacles are people, naysayers, they tell you it cannot be done or that it’s not worth doing.  Or that your God is a little god and isn’t really on your side.

But our God is an all-consuming fire.  We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.  And when God is for us, who can be against it?  Nehemiah led the fourth Aliyah to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls, knowing God was answering prayers.

            IV.      Twelve Gates of Jerusalem

Let’s take some time out to examine the work before Nehemiah.  He’s rebuilding the city walls for two reasons.  One is to protect the small Jewish community that returned to Jerusalem from attack; the walls had collapsed or been torn down, leaving little or no defense.  The other reason is to bring glory to God; this was city of the temple of the Lord.

You might think Nehemiah chapter 3 looks boring with its list of gates and builders.  And if you read Nehemiah 3 by itself, I might agree with you.  I’d rather watch old reruns of “home Improvement” with Tim Allen that read this old boring list of people building gates.  But you may have heard that every word of the bible is important, so let’s dig a little further and see if twelve gates of Jerusalem are described anywhere else in the bible.  If we read all the way to the end of the bible, we find the twelve gates of Jerusalem are described in Revelation 21.

Revelation 21:9-14

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”  And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.  It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.  It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.  There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west.  The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

The twelve gates of the New Jerusalem have their origins in the twelve gates of the Old City of Jerusalem, and suddenly we realize that we’re not just studying Nehemiah restoring Jerusalem, but it is also a prophetic picture of God restoring His church, the spiritual City of God.  Revelation goes on to describe each door as a single pearl, but we also know that Jesus is the pearl of great price.

Revelation is written with some amazing imagery and symbolism, and the one of the keys to understanding Revelation is to understand the Old Testament picture first.   Each gate had specific meaning to Jews in their daily life, and each gate has a spiritual meaning for Christians.

Nehemiah Twelve Gates

The Sheep Gate, rebuilt by Eliashab the high priest.  The Sheep gate led to the sheep markets where lambs were sold for sacrifice in the Temple.  The gate also led to Golgotha, the path Jesus walked to His crucifixion.  For Christians, the Sheep Gate is the first gate into our lives, where we accept Jesus as the perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Jesus is the door by which everyone must enter to be saved.  And if we read all the way to the end of Nehemiah 3, the last gate mentioned is the Sheep Gate.  We’ve come full circle around the walls of Jerusalem, and realize that everything starts and ends with Jesus’ death on the cross.  Jesus is our high priest that restores our relationship with the Lord.

It’s interesting to me that when Eliashab rebuilt the Sheep Gate, Nehemiah 3 says they “dedicated it and set its doors in place.”  Every other door we’re going to study says they rebuilt their gate and set the doors and bolts and bars in place.  The Sheep Gate has no locks on it.  The sacrifice of Jesus is always open to every sinner, and access to the other gates is impossible without first accepting Jesus.

Also, look how much work Eliashab did rebuilding the Sheep Gate.  They went as far as the Tower of the Me’ah or the Tower of the One Hundred and to the Tower of Hananel which means “God’s mercy.”  Remember when Jesus said if a shepherd loses a sheep, he’ll leave the other 99 and go look for it?  Between the Tower of God’s Mercy and Jesus looking for His lost sheep, God is calling to us.  And we’re 3 verses into this list of gates and builders and we realize there is great meaning in this list of gates and builders.  The Sheep Gate is the Gate of Salvation.

Next to the Sheep Gate is the Fish Gate where merchants brought fish to the fish market.  Jesus told Peter, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  After receiving the Lamb of God through the Sheep Gate, God begins to use us to reach other unbelievers.  The Fish Gate represents the Gate of Witnessing, of spreading the message.  And if you look at verse 5, the fish gate was “repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work. “  Jesus didn’t come to spread the good news to the rich, but was born in a manger, among the common people.  During the ministry of Jesus, He gave us many warnings how wealth can hinder our walk with Him.  Whether rich or poor, the message is for everybody.

The third gate is the Jeshanah Gate which means the Old Gate.   This is where elders of the city would meet to discuss important matters and issue judgments on disputes.  God’s truth never changes, it’s as old as time itself.  Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  And the wisdom of our elders should be respected.  Let’s call this gate a Gate of Foundation.  I started thinking of it as the Gate of the Old Testament.

The Valley Gate led out to two main valleys that divided Jerusalem.   To the west was the Hinnom Valley.  The Ammonites had built an altar here to Molek and sacrificed children by fire.  Josiah rendered the valley ceremonially unclean by spreading human bones over it in 2 Kings 23.  The name itself “Ge Hinnom” is also used for hell itself, the Lake of Fire.  The other valley is Kidron that Jesus crossed to go to the Garden of Gethsemane.  In 1st and 2nd Kings, this valley was used to burn pagan altars and images during the cleansings of Jerusalem.  The Valley Gate is a Gate of Suffering for Spiritual Growth, as Jesus showed us the night before his crucifixion.  But though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.  Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

The Dung Gate.  Yuck.  The garbage of the city was taken out of this gate.  Notice it also leads to the unclean Hinnom valley.  It represents the sin in our lives.  But the blood of Jesus cleanses us of all sin if we just accept Him.  Then we can place all of our sin and shame at the feet of Jesus, whose blood cleanses us of all sin.

The Fountain Gate, primary access to the Gihon Spring, the sole source of water to Jerusalem.  All of the fountains like the Pool of Shiloah were fed from this spring.  What do you think this represents to us?  Jesus is the Fountain of Living Water.  If anyone is thirsty, let them come to Him and drink.

The Water Gate is the 7th gate, and 7 is the Bible number for perfection.  This gate needed no repair.  The water symbolizes the washing by the Holy Spirit.  Later, in Nehemiah 8, Ezra will stand in front of the Water Gate and read from the Book of the Law to the people.

The Horse Gate, where the King’s chariot passed through.  In the bible, the horse represents both discipline (James 3:3) and warfare (Zechariah 10:3).  Make no mistake, we are in a spiritual battle, for which we must put on the full Armor of God.

The East Gate is also called the Golden or Beautiful Gate and it symbolizes the return of our Messiah and waiting on the Lord.  In Zechariah 14:4 it says, “On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.”  The week before His crucifixion, Jesus spent each night on the Mount of Olives . Each morning he would enter through the East Gate.  He later ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives and will return the same way He left. At that time He will again pass through the East Gate into the city of Jerusalem.

The Miphkad Gate.  Miphkad apparently is a difficult word to translate, it means meeting place, muster point, appointment, numbering in a census, or inspection.   Appointed Place or Inspection seems the best translation, and this is the final gate before the entrance to the Temple.  It is the place where God calls his people together at the final judgment.

The other two gates are mentioned later in Nehemiah.  The Ephraim Gate is described in Nehemiah 12 and was associated with the Feast of Tabernacles which is God’s feast for the harvest of the last days.  It means “Doubly Fruitful” and could refer to “Jew and Gentile” or “Earthly and Heavenly”.

Prison Gate, in Act 12 Peter is led by an angel through this gate.  All wickedness will be judged, and only those who have accepted Christ Jesus as their advocate escape punishment.

The order of the twelve gates represents our spiritual growth. We begin at the Sheep Gate by the forgiveness of our sins by the sacrifice of our Savior.  We become fishers of men at the Fish Gate and tell everybody about the Christ Jesus.  The Old Gate is our foundation of our faith, the Valley Gate is our purification.  The Dung gate is the rejection of our old life and sinful ways.  The Fountain Gate as we drink from the Living Water of Christ Jesus, the washing of our sins by the Holy Spirit at the Water Gate.  We put on the full Armor of God at the Horse gate to stand ready to fight the spiritual battles.  We await the return of our Messiah at the East Gate.  The final Miphkad Gate is a gathering of God’s people at the final judgment for eternal life, paid for by the blood of Jesus at the Sheep Gate.

              V.      Conclusion

The diaspora of God’s people.  We have been separated from God by our sins.  The Aliyah of God’s people.  We return to the Lord, our sins paid for by the blood of the Christ.  We are patient and prayerful until His final return, we gather for an eternity with Him inside the Twelve Gates of the New Jerusalem.

Revelation 21 again, verse 1:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

When will this day come, the day of our resurrection and dwelling in New Jerusalem forever?  We must continue to pray and be patient, for however long “patient” lasts.  The day will come when I will stand with you, my brothers and sisters, inside the walls of the New Jerusalem and sing the praises of Christ our Savior.

Nehemiah New Jerusalem

To God be the glory.

Esther 1-3, Deliverance is Needed

              I.      Introduction

Chris wrapped up the book of Hebrews last week admirably with his statement that the husband always makes the coffee.  That’s why it is called, “He brews.”

2014-12-07 Esther 1-3 Deliverance is Needed

No, seriously, he wrapped up with, “How shall we live.”  Hebrews taught us that Jesus is sufficient for everything we need, and that He equips us today for today.  We have everything we need in Him to love, to worship, to serve, to study, to do everything and anything God asks us to do.

Now we’re going to spend two weeks on the book of Esther and see God’s people under a time of difficulty, and see how God calls His people to do His will at the time He calls them.

            II.      Background History

Two weeks is really too short to do the book of Esther justice.  The history, the life lessons, the imagery, the symbology in Esther is amazing.

We have a soap opera to review here, there are a lot of people involved right up front.  Let’s talk about the book itself.  The book of Esther is a historical novella, intended to teach the Jewish people of the history and significance of the feast of Purim.  The book is interesting for what it does not mention.  It doesn’t mention God, or the Law, or the Torah, or Jerusalem.  It’s a story.  A story of a simple Jewish girl and her uncle and how they live by faith in a hostile land.

          III.      Esther 1

Slide2

Both lived in the ancient kingdom of Persia under the king Ahasuerus, probably from 486-465 BC.  Persia at this time was huge; the book of Esther, chapter 1:1, says it included 127 provinces.  Modern countries which were once part of the Persian Empire include northern Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, Jordan, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Abkhazia, Chechnya, Ossetia regions, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Egypt, parts of Libya and Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, parts of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of Kyrgyzstan.

That’s a huge swath of civilization.  So how did a simple Jewish girl in exile become Queen of Persia?

Well, you can’t have a soap opera without a cast of characters.

The good:

Mordecai the Jew.  He’s the son of Jair, tribe of Benjamin.  He lives in Susa in the center of Persia.  The Talmud records his name as Mordechai Bilshan, and he’s also mentioned in Ezra 2:2 and Nehemiah 7:7 as one of the exiles who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple under the Persian king Cyrus.  We know that was in approximately 537 BC, which means Mordecai is about 64 years old.  Interestingly, the Talmud also lists Mordecai as a prophet who prophesied in the second year of King Darius, and also lists Mordecai as a direct descendant of Kish who is the father of the 1st king of Israel, Saul.

In Esther 2:7,

“And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter: for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid was fair and beautiful; whom Mordecai, when her father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter.”

So, Esther is actually Mordecai’s cousin, though Mordecai is the much older of the two, and since he adopted Esther as his own daughter, sometimes he’s Uncle Mordecai.

We also have Esther who is called Hadassah.  She’s a Jewish orphan girl.  Esther is her Persian name, Hadassah is her Hebrew name.  Mordecai forbids Esther to reveal her nationality and family background, so when she’s around Persians, she’s Esther.  She’s described as beautiful and having a lovely figure.

The king of Persia is Ahasuerus, which is a weird name.  Ahasuerus is a Latin word which is derived from a Hebrew word.  Other translations begin with a Greek word and is translated Xerxes.  Since Ahasuerus is so hard to spell and pronounce, I’m going to call him Xerxes.

Queen Vashti.  Traditional Jewish teachings about Vashti describe her as wicked and vain, the great-granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon.  She’s married to Xerxes.
Slide7
As our story of Esther opens in Esther 1:1, Ahasuerus, I mean Xerxes, is holding a massive celebration.  And I mean massive.  It is a celebration that last 6 months long.  The sole purpose of the celebration was to demonstrate that Xerxes had a lot of money and could party for 6 months.  And at the end of the 6 months of partying, Xerxes isn’t done.  Xerxes then throws a banquet in an enclosed garden of his palace for his closest friends and advisors.  There are wall hangings of the finest linen, couches made of gold and silver, on floors made with marble and mother-of-pearl.  And it says in verse 8, “By the king’s command each guest was allowed to drink with no restrictions, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.”

So at the end of this week long binge, Xerxes is completely drunk.  He nudges his friends, “Man, my wife is hot.  You guys want to see her?  Hey, attendant-guy, whatever your name is, fetch my wife Vashti.  Tell her to wear her crown.”
Slide8
Vashti is in the palace.  She’s been holding her own banquet next door at the same time.  The attendant-guy shows up and says to Vashti, “The Great and Powerful Xerxes summons you to the enclosed garden of drunk men.  PS.  Wear your crown.”  Vashti says, “I don’t think so.”

So attendant-guy goes back to Xerxes and says, “Vashti says no.”  And the king is mad.  He’s furious that Queen Vashti won’t come parade before his drunk buddies wearing her crown.  He asks his drunk friends what they think he should do, and they say, She can’t tell you ‘no,’ you’re the king.  If this gets out, no wife will ever appear before their husband.  Wearing a crown.”

I’m thinking that week-long drinking binge isn’t the best environment for making serious decisions.  It’s clear from the context that Xerxes wasn’t trying to complement his wife, but to show her off as a trophy to his drunken friends.  After she refuses, king Xerxes doesn’t lash out at her but instead looks for a way to manipulate the law of the land to punish her and redeem his pride.

Pretending he’s helping all husbands in the kingdom, Xerxes banished Vashti from ever seeing Xerxes again, and her position as Queen will be given to somebody else.

Exit Vashti, stage left.  End Act I.

            IV.      Esther 2

As we move into chapter 2, Xerxes recovering with his hangover.  One his advisors suggests that Xerxes should hold the world’s first Ms. Persia contest and then Xerxes can select whoever he wants.  All of the beautiful young virgins throughout the kingdom are to be brought to the palace and given spa treatments until they’re ready to see the king.
Slide9
Enter Mordecai and Esther.  Esther’s taken to the palace and she placed in the trust of the king’s eunuch who takes special care of her.  She’s provided with beauty treatments and special food and 7 girlfriends to take care of her, while Mordecai checks on her daily.  He cautions her not to reveal that she’s a Jewish orphan.  After a full year of beauty treatments, she’s taken to King Xerxes, who likes what he sees.  Xerxes says, “Hey, attendant-guy, whatever your name is.  Get a crown.”

Esther is made Queen of Persia.  A simple Jewish orphan, now in the palace with a crown on her head.  An incredible turn of events for her.

You know, we’ve been talking about how God equips us today for today, and the story of the faithful Jewish orphan girl demonstrates God’s gifts.  Through a series of “coincidences,” Esther was elevated to a very high status, the Queen of Persia.  How did she arrive here?  Through submission to her faith, submission to her cousin who was her acting father, and because of her inner and external beauty.  Her beauty was a gift from God, and like all gifts, we are entrusted by God to use it wisely, for His glory alone, in obedience to Him.  The old Queen Kardashian, er, I mean Queen Vashti, we’re told, was very beautiful on the outside.  But she was not going to use her God-given beauty to further God’s purposes, so she was removed, and Esther became queen.  Esther also has both external and internal beauty which we will be seeing soon.

And Mordecai?  He’s exactly where God wants him, too.  During his daily visits to see Esther, he overhears a plot to assassinate the king.  He passes the news to Esther who in turn reports it to the king.  Mordecai’s courageous actions are recorded in the king’s annals in the presence of the king, Mordecai is given credit for thwarting an assassination, and he’s a hero.  We’re supposed to be good citizens, for all governments serve at Gods command, and Mordecai is faithful to God.  But by doing the right thing, Mordecai gains some unwanted attention.  Up to now he’s been happy as just a simple Jew living in exile.

              V.      Esther 3

In Chapter 3 of Esther, the plot thickens, mwahaha.  Enter the villain of our lesson, Haman.  In Esther 3:1-2,

After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles. 

I’ve always wondered about this.  Chapter 2 ends with Mordecai foiling the assassination, and Chapter 3 begins with “After these events,” and Haman is honored.  Is it because Mordecai was a Jew?  Was it because Haman took credit?

This is ominous.  Haman’s father was Hammedatha the Agagite, which means he was a descendant of Agag the king of the Amalekites.  The Amalekites were a tribe from Canaan who have constantly been harassing the Israelites throughout history, from the Exodus out of Egypt throughout the reign of David.  In Exodus 17:8-16, around 1440 B.C, just after Moses struck the rock and the water flowed, the Amalekites attacked the Israelites.  Joshua led the battle against the Amalekites, and Moses stood on top of a hill with his arms raised in glory to the Lord while Aaron and Hur held his arms up.  When the Amalekite army fled, Exodus 17:14-16 says,

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”  Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner.  He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”

These are the Amalekites from whom Haman is descended. Then, 400 years later around 1040 B.C, the book of 1 Samuel chapter 15, Saul is commanded by the Lord.  This is the same Saul from whom Mordecai is related.  1 Samuel 15:1-3, it says,

Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt.  Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ “

And of course the Israelites were obedient, right?  But nooooo… You may remember this story, God has commanded Saul to put all of the Amalekites to death, but Saul gets this idea to spare King Agag of the Amalekites and keep the sheep and cattle and fat calves and lambs.  The next morning, Saul tells Samuel, “I did it, I followed the Lord’s instructions!”  And Samuel is like, “Do I hear sheep?”  And Saul says, “Ah, the sheep.  Well, um, well we saved Agag and the sheep and cattle, but, um, other than that we followed the Lord’s instructions.”  The Lord was trying to protect Israel by ordering Israel to destroy the Amalekites, and the Amalekites kept coming back and attacking Israel.

Now, another 500 years pass, and now we find Haman, an Amalekite and descendent of Agag, has been elevated to a position of power in the kingdom of Persia where the Israelites live.  This is really bad news for the Jews like Mordecai and Esther living there.

King Xerxes orders all the royal officials to bow down and pay honor to Haman.  Mordecai refuses to bow down.  Now, it’s not against Jewish law to bow down and give respect.  The Jews bowed down before their own kings in other books of the bible, like 1st and 2nd Samuel and in 1st Kings.  And Mordecai also almost certainly bowed down to King Xerxes or he wouldn’t be alive.

Some scholars believe that one reason Mordecai would not bow may be that as a descendent of Agag, Haman would believe he was devine or semi-devine, a god.  Mordecai would certainly not bow down before another god.  Other scholars believe it was simply because Mordecai would not bow down before an enemy of God, an Amalekite who hated Jews.

Whichever one it was, Haman certainly noticed the one man standing while everybody else at the king’s gate bowed down to him.  The other royal officials tried to pressure Mordecai to comply, but Mordecai refused, obeying his faith.  The others in the kingdom must have been distressed, verse 3 says the other spoke to him every day, asking Mordecai why he’s disobeying the king’s command.

Haman was enraged that this one man would not pay homage to him, and when Haman found out Mordecai was a Jew, he wasn’t satisfied with just killing Mordecai.  No, Haman decided this would be his chance to destroy all the Jews.  A religious, ethnic cleansing.

Before we leave this passage, let’s look at Esther 3:7.   As Pagans, it was common at the time to consult astrologers for serious decision, and Haman consults the “stars” to pick the right time to approach the king. Lots would be cast, most likely a colored or dark pebble would be drawn from others to determine the right month, day and time for the extermination of the Jewish people. This process is known as “Pur” or to “cast pur,” from the Persian language and practice.  Hence, the Feas of Purim that the Jewish people celebrate, a feast of deliverance.

Verse 8-9,

Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them.  If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will put ten thousand talents of silver into the royal treasury for the men who carry out this business.”

Haman could not come right out and tell King Xerxes he wanted to kill all the Jews.  Xerxes would know that the Jews were loyal subjects; Mordecai had himself saved King Xerxes life.  So Haman mixes in half-truths… a “certain” people.  They’re… “different.”  They don’t… “obey.”  You shouldn’t have to “tolerate” them.  By laying out an incomplete picture with half-truths, Haman was able to convince the King that these “certain people” should be killed.

As Christians, we’re still at war with the Amalekites.  Dagnabbit Saul, why didn’t you do as you were told?  The Amalekites in positions of power today still sit at the king’s gate, and we’re still not bowing down.  The Amalekites sit at the gate of information.  They taint Christians with half-truths:

  • control freaks. Instead of focusing on attempts to save the lives of unborn children, they paint us as trying to control what women do with their own bodies.
  • Hate-mongerers because we encourage people to turn from sinful ways.
  • Uptight people that do not want to have fun, or let anybody else have fun.

The Amalekites sit at the gate of entertainment:

  • Movies and television that portray Christians as uptight people, like Ned Flanders of the Simpsons
  • The NBC show “The Book of Daniel” that portrayed Christians as hallucinogenic, influenced by drugs and dysfunctional.

The Amalekites sit at the gate of Academia:

  • No recognition of God in our schools. No Christmas, no Easter.
  • We control our own destiny, evolution happens all by itself without any influence by our grand designer.

The Amalekites sit at the gate of the political establishment:

  • People believe the U.S. Constitution mandates a “separation of church and state.”
  • “Under God” removed from Pledge of Allegiance (which is still being fought in the courts).

So with half-truths and innuendos, Haman convinced Xerxes to sign the death warrant for the Jews.

Persia was a big empire, and this ethnic cleansing could not happen immediately.  Haman cast lots (v7) and decided the annihilation would occur in the twelfth month of Adar, about a year away.  All the royal secretaries were summoned (v12), and the decree was written in every language of Persia and then distributed to all the satraps, governors, in all the provinces.  This took a lot of time since they didn’t have email or FoxNews.  In verse 13,

Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews — young and old, women and little children—on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.  A copy of the text of the edict was to be issued as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality so they would be ready for that day.

The Jews would have an entire year to fear their fate.  Apparently this was met with a lot of confusion in the city of Susa.  In verse 15, King Xerxes and Haman sit down to drink a toast to the destruction of the Jews, but the city itself was bewildered.  The Jews had been loyal subjects.  Why had the king ordered them destroyed?

Mordecai is a little troubled by all of this, if you can understand this.  By refusing to bow down before Haman, he had set in motion the destruction of all of his people within the year.  Esther 4:1 –

When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.

Part of this was a public display against the orders of the king, but most of it was probably genuine grief.  He’s going to die.  All of his loved ones are going to die.  All of the people of his faith are going to die.  Verse 2,

But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it. 

Apparently they had some sort of dress code and Mordecai was not allowed inside.  Verse 3,

In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

All of the Jewish people are scared, mourning, praying, crying.  Mordecai sends a message to Esther, who’s protected inside the palace.  Mordecai tells Esther to go to the king and beg for mercy for the Jews.

This is a terrifying request to Esther.  As queen, Esther did not have a husband/wife relationship like we understand it today.  Esther was a servant of the king, and she could only appear to him when summoned.  The law was strict – if you crash the king’s party, you die.  There was a possibility that the king could hold out his golden scepter and your life would be spared.  But whatever relationship Esther and the king had, it was not currently in the best of conditions.  Esther had not been summoned by the king for 30 days.  She was certain that to appear before the king would mean her death.

How do we understand God, who created us and everything we see?  Do we decide who He is, and then assume God will do our will?  Or do we decide to be obedient and try to understand what God wants?  Do we stay safe, keep silent, avoid taking risks?  Or do we try to be obedient?

Fear not.  God’s got this.  God’s will will be done, whether we obey or not.  We can choose to participate, be a spectator, or deny Him altogether, but we cannot thwart God’s will.  God sees history all at once, past, present and future.  God creates us for a purpose and plants us right where we are.  Your job, your family, your pretty face, your intelligent brain, your feelings, your money, your talents have all come together for this one instant, this one instant that will never occur again.  In another minute, in another hour, this moment will have passed.

In 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, Paul explains this concept to new Christians.  It says,

Nevertheless, each of you should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to you, just as God has called you. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.  Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised.  Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts.  Each of you should remain in the situation you were in when God called you. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so.  For those who were slaves when called to faith in the Lord are the Lord’s freed people; similarly, those who were free when called are Christ’s slaves.  You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings.  Brothers and sisters, all of you, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation in which God called you.

In other words, Paul tells us as Christians we are to bloom where we are planted.  How?  It says, right in the middle of those verses, “keeping God’s commands is what counts.”  Not the legalistic old testament stuff, but the attitude and love of Christ Jesus, with all your words and all your actions.
Slide18
Sometimes we feel stuck in a rut and can’t bloom.  I read a story about a woman who was complaining about working with heathens.  The boss was mean, her coworkers poked fun at her faith, and out of a hundred employees, she was the only Christian.  Her pastor complimented her and told her God must think a lot of her to trust her with 100 people.  If she quit, the only light these people have would be gone.  Maybe she wasn’t stuck.  Maybe she was just planted.

And don’t fall for that “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” philosophy.  The only reason grass is green is because it’s watered and cared for.  If you want your grass to be green, bloom where you are planted.

Mordecai knows all this.  Esther is exactly where God put her.  God removed Vashti and placed Esther as queen.  She had every resource she needed to do God’s will.  But will she do it?  Will she risk everything given to her to do what God wants her to do?  God had given Esther so much.  God gave her external beauty, and it was her beauty that gave her and her alone access to the king.  Would she put her beauty on the line and risk death?  God gave her position – she was queen and had access like nobody else.  Would she put her position as queen on the line and risk death?  Esther also had her inner beauty and love for her people.  Most important, Esther had the entire kingdom of heaven behind her.  She had everything she needed, but would she risk it, or would fear hold her back?

Mordecai delivers at this point one of the most memorable lines of the bible.  He tells Esther that God will accomplish His purpose, nothing she does or does not do will change that fact.  If Esther will not do it, the God will save His chosen people another way.  Esther’s choice is whether she is going to participate in God’s plan and realize that her entire being, her beauty and position, was orchestrated by God, and God will accomplish His will through His obedient people.  Mordecai also tells her that if she’s trying to save her own skin, she’s probably going to lose that, too.  She’s a Jew – if the Jews are eliminated, that includes her.  She cannot save her own life.  All she can do is choose to be obedient, or not.

Mordecai says in verse 13-14,

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape.  For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

The entire purpose of Esther’s life had come to a point of decision.  Her entire existence had a purpose.  What was more important, being queen, or being the liberator of the Jews?  God will not fail to keep His promises or fall short of His purposes, therefore, the deliverance of the Jews was certain.  God had made Esther queen so that she could deliver His people.  God places people exactly where they can serve Him.

            VI.      Conclusion

Examine yourself and where you are in this world.  God placed you right here for a reason.  Our talents, our money, our selves should be used for God’s purposes, every minute of the day.  Take a risk at being uncomfortable for God.  Bloom where you are planted.

What did Esther do?  Come back next week, and Libby will tell you.

To God be the glory.

Faith in Action

I. Introduction

Living by faith is difficult. It’s very easy to have either an over-dependence or under-dependence on God. Does living by faith mean living by a certain moral or ethical code, or adhering to a certain set of religious beliefs? Well… on one hand, living by faith means putting your trust in Jesus, following His footsteps, demonstrating your love for Him the way He did for you. And if you live by faith, then yes, you live in a way that pleases Him. And that means living by certain rules and behaviors.

On the other hand, living by faith and trusting in Jesus means we are not bound by rules that cannot save us, for we know that Jesus saved some of his harshest words for the Pharisees who applied rules for other people to live by. We learned that living by these rules cannot save us; it is solely by God’s grace that we are saved. So in that sense, we are bound by no rules at all. Following the rules cannot save us.

Living by faith can mean that we put our sole trust in God. We can do nothing without Him, but through Christ, we can do everything. God does indeed perform miracles every day… but should living by faith mean we do nothing at all? Do we sit idle while our family is sick, waiting for God’s miracle? Some people feel that when we take matters into our own hands, we do not allow God to work His miracles.

The alternative is that we confess with our mouth that we have faith in the Lord, but we never wait on Him. Do we take our sick friends to a doctor, and let God work His miracles through people? Some people feel God works His miracles through people. Or does this mean we’re taking matters into our own hands? It’s as if we are saying, “This is what God would do, so I’ll do it for him.” We want to be in control so bad and we are so confident in our abilities, we allow no room for God to work His miracles.

Living by faith is difficult, and if we fear living by faith, it paralyzes us into doing nothing. Perhaps we feel inadequate somehow – we either need to prove our faith by declaring that we will wait on God’s miracles, or we feel unworthy to rely on a miracle we are not sure will ever come.

I don’t think God intended for living by faith to be so difficult. Do what you can, say why you did it, give the glory to God. In Romans 10:9, Paul says that “one believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation.” Living by faith, then, is both expressing your faith in words and in actions.

It’s fear that keeps us from expressing this faith. Fear that others will make fun of us. Fear that our faith isn’t strong enough to withstand scrutiny by others. Fear that God will let us down. Fear that our God just isn’t big enough. Our problems are too great for Him to handle.

We’re studying the book of Joshua today, chapters 2 through 6, and there are so many good and familiar stories. The priests crossing with River Jordan with the Arc of the Covenant, the walls coming tumbling down at Jericho, but we’ll focus on the story of Rahab and the spies and see what faith looks like in action, faith expressed without any fear of consequences, a total trust in the Living God we worship.

Let’s talk a little background here before we get to Rahab. The year is approximately 1400 B.C., maybe 1370 B.C. Moses has led the Israelites for 40 years in the desert, and has just passed away at the ripe old age of 120 years old and buried at the top of Mount Nebo in Moab, having seen but never entered the Promised Land. Joshua, with the blessing of Moses, has assumed the leadership of the Israelites and will fulfill the Lord’s promise to bring them into the Promised Land. The Promised Land is occupied, though, and in Chapter 1 of the Book of Joshua, Joshua readies the army to take the land that has been given to them. As part of his preparations for war, Joshua sends two spies to the city of Jericho.

II. Faith Expressed in Words, Joshua 2:1, 8-13

So let’s see what our spies are told to do and what they have to report, and look at Joshua 2:1 –

Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.

Well, there’s not a lot of details here. It looks to me that they got lost. Two men are sent to Jericho and immediately go to the house of Rahab. It’s straightforward with no explanation, reminiscent of the way Jesus never explained his association with tax collectors. Outcasts, like prostitutes, tax collectors, drug users, people in jail – they often respond better to the mercy of God than people who already think they’re righteous enough. The book of Joshua doesn’t provide any explanation why they went to the house of a prostitute.

The Hebrew word used here to describe Rahab has several meanings. The most benign can be translated as “innkeeper.” So entering the house of Rahab sounds straightforward. A second translation can be as the modern definition of prostitute, a woman who sells herself for money. The third translation is a temple prostitute, a woman who provided sex to cult worshipers at a pagan temple. The text here is unclear, but the Greek word used to describe Rahab in the New Testament is very clear it is not the innkeeper description.

Let’s drop down to verse 8 –

Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.

“Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them —and that you will save us from death.”

Rahab expresses a remarkable expression of faith in Israel’s God. She knows it’s the Lord who parted the Red Sea, destroyed the Pharaoh’s chariots, and defeated Sihon and Og, two kingdoms on the east side of the River Jordan. And she knows she is living in a land that has been promised to the Israelites. And the people of Jericho were terrified.

It’s interesting how people react to hearing of God’s miracles. Sometimes they respond in disbelief, sometimes they respond in hostility. The people of Jericho knew of these miracles – the two defeated kingdoms of Sihon and Og were just over the river – yet instead of responding to God in awe and respect, they felt fear. They bolted the doors and decided to fight.

Is this something you’ve experienced? Somebody hears about a miracle of God, and they’re hostile to the message? What are some examples of hostility that you’ve seen or read about?

And if they react with hostility, how do we react? If we react in fear of their hostility, where is our faith in a mighty God that He may be able to part the Red Sea but not protect us from somebody angry at hearing the Word?

Rahab didn’t respond in fear. She realized that if the God of the Israelites could do these mighty works, then their God must be the one true God. If God is for us, who can be against us? If their God was the one true God, Rahab was going to put her trust in Him, not in the army guarding the city of Jericho, not in the walls protecting the city. Rahab heard the good news of the one true God, turned from hostility and disbelief, the sought mercy and deliverance for herself and her family. It’s a message of salvation, of hope and of promise.

III. Faith Expressed in Action, Joshua 2:6,14-15

As a believer in the God of Israel, Rahab immediately put her faith into action. The king of Jericho found out there were spies in his city and also believed the spies were in Rahab’s house. Rahab hid the spies up on the roof of her house, and told the king’s men that the spies had left the city. The king’s men went out of the city in pursuit. Let’s look at verse 2-7 –

The king of Jericho was told, “Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.”

But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.

And drop down to verse 14-15 –

“Our lives for your lives!” the men assured her. “If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land.”

So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall.

Rahab saved the two spies, and in so doing, became an enemy of those opposed to God. She is now one of God’s people, under persecution from those who opposed Him. If the king’s men had found the spies at her house, there’s no doubt they would have put Rahab and the spies to death.

She not only trusted God, but she trusted God’s men, putting her life in their hands. But Rahab put her trust fully in the Lord and all He had provided.

Could she have said, “Your God is mighty, but I am afraid and cannot help you?” Would that have been true faith? I don’t think so. Rahab’s faith demanded action, or else it isn’t true faith. In the book of James, chapter 2, James says faith requires action. Turn to James 2:14-17 –

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

And then verse 25-26 –

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

James is telling us we must do work on behalf of the Lord if our faith is to be alive. How much work should we do? How much work is enough to save us?

It’s a difficult question that I cannot answer for you, and you cannot answer for me. There is no way to earn your way into heaven, and you cannot do enough good works. The answer then, is that no works at all is a correct answer. Works cannot save us. We do not enter heaven based on our good deeds. The only reason we enter heaven is because we put our faith in Christ Jesus and trust in the sacrifice He made for us.

But, at the same time, if we truly have faith, then having no deeds at all cannot be the right answer. No deeds means a dead faith, a worthless faith. So the right amount of works is between you and God, between me and God. I should be constantly compelled to do more for His kingdom, and also recognizing that what I am compelled to do for Him does not save me. I learn, then, that I do it freely out of love for my Lord, not in obligation or to earn my way into heaven. So then, a true faith is expressed in both word and actions, but words and actions alone are not enough.

IV. Faith Rewarded, Joshua 6:22-23

Let’s go back to the book of Joshua. Rahab sent the spies into the hills to hide for three days. The king’s men then gave up and returned to the city, and the spies were able to return to Joshua and give a report about the city, that the land was indeed given to them by the Lord and the people in Jericho were afraid of their God.

Time passed, and many historical events took place. There are so many excellent lessons here-

• The Israelites crossed the River Jordan and camped at Gilgal where they erected a stone memorial to commemorate God’s deliverance of the Promised Land. Joshua had instructed the Levite priests to pick up the ark of the covenant and step into the River Jordan. When they did, like the parting of the Red Sea, the water stopped and allowed the people to cross. An important observation is that the water didn’t first stop, and then the people crossed. Oh no, they had to step into the water first, then the water stopped. God is capable of every miracle imaginable, but he wants us to trust Him. Step into the water, and trust God that He will act.
• Another lesson, all the Israelite males were circumcised to comply with the covenant, and then Passover was celebrated for the first time in years. In order to cross into the promised land, the people had to be prepared in accordance with God’s instruction. Today, Christ prepares us for the eternal life with God. Romans 2:27-29 tells us that with Jesus, the circumcision is of the heart, and accepting Jesus prepares us for eternal life with Him. Our life in faith and service and words and trust prepares us for eternal life with Christ.
• The army of Joshua then marched to Jericho, and under the Lord’s instruction, marched around the city for 6 days, and on the 7th day blew the trumpets and the walls of the city collapsed. Joshua and the Israelites then stormed the city. Joshua had the bigger army and Joshua had determination, but none of that was necessary to bring down the walls of Jericho. Patience, obedience to God’s commands, and living a life with the presence of God allowed God to demonstrate that He and He alone is necessary to bring down the walls that are in front of you.

I chose not to study these in detail for today. I studied instead about the life of a prostitute. Something must be seriously wrong with my priorities. What happened to Rahab? Let’s turn to chapter 6, verse 22-23 –

Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring her out and all who belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her.” So the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother, her brothers and sisters and all who belonged to her. They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel.

So, just how bad of a person are you? Are you too bad to be accepted in heaven? Have you done bad things that will keep you from heaven? You show up at the pearly gates, and they say, sorry, you didn’t quite qualify for our daily special. Do you think you’re a horrible person that can’t be forgiven? That’s fear talking. Fear of not measuring up. Fear that it’s too late. Fear that your misdeeds are so incredibly big. Fear that you have a small god that cannot forgive you.

Rahab was a horrible person. I mean, who really likes innkeepers? But Rahab was rewarded for exercising her faith. Her preservation during Jericho’s destruction surely was a blessing from God. Her whole family was saved. Later, she married Salmon (Salma), the son of the wilderness chieftain Nahshon of the tribe of Judah. They had a godly child named Boaz, who had a son Obed, and then Jesse, who had a son David. Yes, that David. Rahab is an important link in the line of descent that led to King David of Israel and ultimately to the birth of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

More significantly, the former prostitute Rahab is one of only four women named in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 1:5,6). Of the four, Rahab was a prostitute, Ruth seduced her cousin, Tamar posed as a prostitute to seduce the father of her late husband, and Bathsheba was an adulteress.

There is nothing you can do that is bigger than God. Your sins are not too big for God to forgive. God can take a prostitute from the Old Testament and use her and her family to bring forth our redeemer, our savior, our descendant from David. God can use you, too. You just have to get over your fear and put your faith in action.

V. Conclusion

Faith in action is faith that is not stalled by fear. Faith leads to joy in the Lord. Fear steals our joy and diminishes or faith. They cannot exist together. Can one be happy and afraid at the same time?

We tend to think that being a follower of Christ should be filled with days of rainbows and ponies. Life should be easy if God is on our side. But God is preparing us for an eternal life with him, circumcising our heart in preparation of tearing down those walls of fear that keep us from knowing Him. Rahab didn’t have rainbows and ponies. I don’t know of any Old Testament person who had rainbows and ponies. And rainbows and ponies do not teach us about fear and how fear can debilitate us, prevent us from practicing our faith. Perhaps instead of rainbows, we should expect storms. Storms would let us practice putting our faith in action.

In Matthew 8, Jesus and His disciples get into a boat to sail across the lake. Jesus promptly lays down and goes to sleep. While he’s sleeping, a furious storm blew in. Waves started washing over the side of the boat. The boat looks like it’s going to sink. The disciples cry out, “Lord, save us!”

Jesus wakes up, rubs the sleepies out of His eyes, and in asks, “Why are you afraid?”

Why are you afraid? As a Christ follower, expect storms, not rainbows. Expect walls in front of you. You have a big God, bigger than walls or storms. Bigger than any sin you could have committed. Bigger than any hostility you may face when telling people how miraculous your God is. Put aside your fear. Put your faith in action.

And to God be the glory. Amen

Blind to Sin

David and Bathsheba
David and Bathsheba
Today we’re going to study a familiar story of David and Bathsheba. One of the questions I’ve had is “Why is David considered a man after God’s own heart,” especially after reading this story of David’s adultery. Why is David held in so much esteem, yet Saul is not? I think we’ll get a better picture of God’s perspective after we see the way David approaches the sin in his life.

First, though, we need to ask ourselves what sin is. I have an article from USA Today Religion section from earlier this year. According to a poll by Ellison Research, 87% of US adults believe in the existence of sin, which is defined as “something that is almost always wrong, particularly from a religious or moral perspective.” I’m a little disturbed that 13% don’t believe in sin, but let’s focus on the 87% that do. Given a list of sins, 81% believe adultery is a sin. 74% believe racism is a sin. But premarital sex? Only 45%. The story goes on to explain that people have a situational view of sin, and that the secular world has taught us to redefine the word “sin” to fit whatever we believe.

But that’s not what God says sin is. Sin is “missing the mark” for God’s will in our lives. Sometimes sin is an evil thing we think or do. Sometimes it’s a sin of omission – God has a plan for us, but we’re not following it. It’s not that we’re doing evil, it’s just we’re not doing the good that God wants.

It is true that we are forgiven for our sins. Praise the Lord, Halleluiah. But that doesn’t mean God doesn’t see the sin, and it doesn’t mean there aren’t repercussions from sin. The bible is clear; God hates sin. As Christians, we should hate sin, too. But too often we justify that a certain amount of sin is ok, and we use secular reasoning to do it. Too often we rationalize a certain amount of sin as ok, as we are all sinners and God will forgive us. And too often the sin is so deeply embedded that we don’t even notice it anymore. We become blind to the sin in our lives that God hates.

What’s amazing is that if you have become blind to your own sin, you don’t even know you are blind. Let’s try an experiment to see if you have a blind spot. Here’s a figure from a website called “Idle Theory.”

Hold the sheet of paper (or the screen) about 3 to 4 times as far as the red line. Close your left eye, and look at the black dot with your right eye. Keep your head motionless, look at each character, one at a time, until the black circle vanishes. At about a 20° angle, the dot should disappear. And the older we get, the bigger this blind spot becomes.

What’s totally amazing about our blind spot is that our brain fills in the missing information so we don’t even know something is missing. Look at this second figure:

Do the same exercise; close the left eye, hold your head still, and look at each character until the black dot disappears. But when the dot disappears, the line appears solid. There’s no gap. And green background is solid. Your brain has simply filled in what it thinks is there.

Now you’re probably wondering, just like I am, how this relates to David and Bathsheba. Let’s turn to 2 Samuel 11.

David has so far been a great king for Israel. He has consolidated Israel and Judah into a single kingdom; he’s made Jerusalem the capital. The Amorites and other enemies have been pushed back. And now, while David’s men are fighting a war, David is home, sleeping late. In 2 Samuel 11:2, David goes for a walk. And we see a cascading series of little decisions that lead to big sins. Would somebody like to read 2 Samuel 11:2-5?

One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “Isn’t this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (She had purified herself from her uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”

It appears that, at least at first, that both David and Bathsheba are innocent. David is simply going for a walk on his roof, and Bathsheba is taking a ceremonial bath. But both are already on the slippery slope. Why is Bathsheba bathing in a place seen by the palace roof? If David knows he can see into the bath from the roof, why is he taking a stroll up there?

EXPOSED TO SIN

The first step to committing sin is placing ourselves in a position where we have the opportunity to sin. If David was following the Lord’s will, he should have been with his men fighting for Israel. Instead, he’s lollygagging around the palace doing the peeping tom thing over the women’s bathroom.

You know what they say about idle hands? That idle hands are the devil’s workshop? One sure way to resist the temptation to sin is to keep busy with the Lord’s business. Since David isn’t doing anything for the Lord, Satan finds something for him to do. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 6:18 that we are to flee from sexual immorality. David’s not fleeing. He’s probably even justifying it with, “Well, I was just going for a walk. I’m innocent.” Just like we Christians are innocent when we watch “Desperate Housewives” or “Sex and the City.” We think we’re innocent, but we’re not. We’ve simply turned our head so that the sin is in our blind spot.

SIN COMMITTED

Remember last week when Fred taught us the ABC’s? Attitude first, leads to behavior, and then consequences? David’s attitude is that he doesn’t treat sin with the same contempt that God does. He’s tolerated a little peek into the women’s bathroom. Since his attitude isn’t right, neither is his behavior. After spying on Bathsheba, next David asks about her. Then David invites her to the palace. Then David seduces her.

Now come the consequences. Bathsheba is pregnant. Because of David’s position, this is an inconvenience. The average man may panic that he’s having a child out of wedlock that will expose his adultery, but because David is king, he’s able to maintain the blind spot of sin. In verse 6-8, he calls Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, back from the battle. David makes small talk about the battle, then sends Uriah home to spend the night with his wife. Nobody will know that the child is David’s; Uriah will think the child is his.

Except Uriah’s sense of duty won’t let him go home. Since Uriah’s men are in battle, Uriah decides to sleep at the entrance to the palace with other servants of the king. Then in verse 10, David asks “What is WRONG with you? Go HOME you fool!”

Uriah says he can’t in good conscience go home when his men are camped in open fields. David tries again, this time by getting Uriah drunk, but again, Uriah didn’t go home.

What do you think is going through David’s mind? I believe he’s worried he’s about to get caught in his sin. He’s not worried about sinning against God; he’s worried about getting caught. 2 Corinthians 7:10-11a says,

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.

David has worldly sorrow. He knows he’s messed up big time, but instead of concern to right the wrong, David is trying to cover it up. As so often with a single sin, a multiple of sins are committed trying to hide the first sin. David sends Uriah back into battle and directs him to go where the fiercest fighting is, and worse, writes a letter to the commanding officer that when the fighting was at its peak, he is to withdraw and let Uriah die.

Christians tend to think that it’s non-believers that are entangled in sin, but it’s not true. We may no longer be slaves to sin, but it doesn’t mean we are not tempted nor fall into sin. California recently voted to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Christians believe that, and further say that homosexual marriage is an affront to God. We vote this way, we say, to maintain the sanctity of marriage. We say this with a monumental amount of hypocrisy, as though the sanctity of marriage was intact. The divorce rate among Christians make as much of a mockery of the sanctity of marriage as homosexual marriage does. Premarital sex makes a mockery of Christian marriage. Adultery makes a mockery of Christian marriage. We watch R-rated movies where actors have sex right in front of us, all the while claiming that sex should only be between a husband and a wife. We’re hypocrites. We have a blind spot, and we don’t even know we’re blind.

Where has God been during all this? God’s letting man exercise his free will. Max Lucado said, “If there are a thousand steps between us and God, he will take all but one. He will leave the final one for us. The choice is ours.” But there will come a time when God’s mercy must be balanced with God’s justice. Let us remember that God hates sin, and if we have a blind spot, God will eventually expose it in order to eradicate it. God isn’t interested in our worldly sorrow. God doesn’t care if we get caught. God wants us to live righteous, holy lives. When we are in darkness, God wants us to walk in the light. And so God sends word to David in order to bring godly sorrow and repentance.

SIN CONFRONTED

2 Samuel 12:1-4,

The LORD sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

Jesus used parables frequently to tell the truth. Parables are earthly stories with heavenly meanings. When we hear the parable, we make a judgment, and the judgment condemns us. It opens our eyes to that blind spot we have. David has progressively committed sins, first lust, then adultery, then murder. The prophet Nathan delivers the truth to David.

How does God communicate the truth to us today?

How did Nathan’s visit reveal God’s grace?

SIN PERSONALIZED

2 Samuel 12:5-6,

David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

How did David respond to the story? Parables judge the listener, and David correctly judges the sin. Did you notice how quickly and harshly David judges the sin of others? Exodus 22:1 requires 4 sheep in compensation for the rich man’s greed, but David thinks the man should also die for his sins.

And then Nathan brings the point of the story home. David has judged himself. Nathan says in verses 7 that David is the rich man in the story. “You’re the man!” he says. Nathan tells David that God has made David king, delivered him from Saul, given him a wife and given him the houses of Israel and Judah, if this was too little, God would have given him even more.

David essentially condemns himself. Why is it important to personalize our sins? It’s because in the abstract, we condemn sin. When it comes to our own sin, we rationalize it. Jesus gave us a list of sins that come from the heart in Mark 7:21-22; evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, malice, and more. In the abstract, we condemn these sins and we know they’re wrong. Personalized, we turn a blind eye. Theft? Of course we know to steal is wrong. Ever taken a pencil from the office that didn’t belong to you? It’s ok, though, because pencils are cheap, right? Ever steal some time from your company to work on personal business? Debauchery is wrong in the abstract, but have you ever sent an improper email to a friend? Hatred and discord are wrong in the abstract, but our own road rage is ok, isn’t it? After all, they’re probably a jerk, right?

We turn a blind eye to our own sins at our own peril. Yes, we are indeed forgiven, but our sins still displease God. It is our obedience that pleases God. Paul gives us a similar list of sins Galatians 5:19-21; “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft,” and more. The very next sentence, Paul writes, “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Paul is not writing these words to heathens and the secular world. Paul is writing these words to the church of Galatia, Christians who have a blind eye to their own sins.

SIN JUDGED

There are indeed consequences for our sin. If our hearts are not right, then it leads to behavior that has consequences. In 2 Samuel 12:9-12, the judgment of the Lord comes to David –

Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’
“This is what the LORD says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’ “

1. How did David’s punishment fit his crime?
2. What is the significance of the contrast between secret and daylight?
3. How might David had acted differently if he had seen the consequences of his sin ahead of time?

Sometimes the sin affects the innocent. It is David and Bathsheba that sin, but David’s family that suffers the consequence. It’s one of sin’s most terrifying realities. David’s sinful behavior toward Bathsheba and Uriah has long lasting repercussions and sadness within David’s own family. David’s newborn son conceived in sin will die, and as a result of David’s negative example, his other children suffer violent tragedies, death, and rebellion.

SIN CONFESSED AND FORGIVEN

In 2 Samuel 12:13-14,

Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”
Nathan replied, “The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the LORD show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.”

A few weeks ago, when we studied 1 Samuel 15, Saul was told to wait 7 days for Samuel to arrive, then to destroy the Amalekites completely. Saul instead spared the king and the cattle and livestock. God didn’t want the sacrifice nearly as much as He wanted Saul’s obedience. What Saul did seemed harmless enough, to save the life of the king and livestock. But when we do not completely obey, we miss the mark, we sin.

When Samuel arrived, he asked, “What is this bleating of sheep and this lowing of cattle that I hear?” He exposed the sin of Saul, just as Nathan exposed the sin of David. Saul responded with a good excuse – Saul claimed he saved the cattle to sacrifice to the Lord.

I think we get a glimpse into why David was a man after God’s own heart. What was David’s reaction to his judgment? David repented. David offered no excuse, no justification, no rationalization. He simply said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” In Hebrew, David said just two words, “chata’ Y?hovah.” David wrote Psalm 51 in response to Nathan’s message; your homework, should you choose to accept it, is to read Psalm 51, a beautiful tribute to God for His mercy in the face of David’s disobedience. David begins “Have Mercy on me, O God,” continues with “surely you desire truth in the inner parts, you teach me wisdom in the inmost place” and “Create in me a pure heart, O God.”

God wants us to see our sins as He sees them. Hebrews 6:6 says that the unrepentant sin of a Christian is like crucifying the Son of God all over again. Our sins give God’s enemies opportunities to blaspheme God. It turns us into poor witnesses for Him. It spoils the fruit we are to have for Him. God wants us to confess our sins to Him, He wants us to repent and turn from our sins and turn towards obedience. Instead of confession, though, we deny our sin. We leave the sin in our blind spot because then we don’t have to personalize it, confess it, or turn from it. Because we don’t believe it exists.

How do we overcome this blind spot? Again, we can learn from David. In Psalm 139:23-24, David writes,

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Like practically everything else God tries to teach us, we are not to lean on our own understanding. If there is sin in our blind spot, ask God to search you. How do we ask God to search us? Romans 3:20b says that through the law, we become conscious of sin. Hebrews 4:12 tells us the Word of God is a double-edge sword that judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. As you search the scriptures, ask God to search you. Once God reveals our character to us, then we can confess that we are missing the mark. Then we can turn to the life that God would have us lead. Eventually, God will confront us about the hidden sins we cling to. Ask God to search you for hidden sin. Recognize it, confess it, and despite forgiveness, expect consequences.

1 John 1:8-10 –

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

God held that David was a man after God’s own heart. Not because David was perfect or righteous or never sinned. Rather, when David finally took off his blinders and saw the sin in his own life, he hated the sin as God hated the sin. We all sin. If you can’t see your own sin, ask yourself if you’re in denial. Pray to God to show your sin to you. And once you identify the sin, don’t pretend it isn’t there. Confess it, and then turn away from it. If you don’t, God will eventually show it to you anyway, and possibly with painful consequences. God hates the sin. God will offer forgiveness for the sins you confess.

Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I’m found
Was blind, now I can see

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