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The Joy of Christmas

nativityI was asked to give a message entitled The Joy of Christmas to a group of ladies in Chillicothe, Missouri, in 2014. As I was praying about how that should go, it occurred to me that this particular holiday we call Christmas was the beginning of the ultimate expression of God’s glory and majesty.

I’m going to start in Revelation because I think it’s important to get a picture in our mind’s eye of what literal glory and majesty looks like. I will be teaching from the New King James Version today.

11 Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. 12 His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had[e] a name written that no one knew except Himself. 13 He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean,[f] followed Him on white horses. 15 Now out of His mouth goes a sharp[g] sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. 16 And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. Revelation 19:11-16 nkjv

Who is this? He’s the One who calls us friend.

14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. John 15:14-15 nkjv

This is our Divine King and friend. That just bows me down every time I think about it. The King of Kings and the Lord of Lords left His place in heaven and made His dwelling among men (John 1:14), and then He called me friend.

And this is where our friend dwelled before He made His dwelling among us:

After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.”

Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.

Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying:

“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!”

Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying:

11 “You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.” Revelation 4 nkjv

And He calls us friend. I can hardly take it!

And one day, amidst the praise and glory, His love and concern made Him come to our sinful earth – in order that we could be assured of a place within His realm. We call it Christmas.

Luke wrote the account so beautifully:

26 …the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” Luke 1:26-28 nkjv

The angel, Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God (see Luke 1:19) came to see this virgin named Mary. Gabriel stands in that beautiful, awesome Throne Room described in Revelation 4. At the behest of the One on that Throne, Gabriel comes to visit with this young, engaged woman. Gabriel’s statements come directly from the mouth of God. The literal translation at verse 28 would read: Rejoice! The Lord will dress you with grace and accompany you.

29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Luke 1:29 nkjv

29 Mary was troubled – the Greek word there is diatarassō and it means alarmed – she considered is the Greek word dialogizomai and it means to reckon thoroughly. Keep this conversation in mind as we continue – Mary was alarmed at his words but she reckoned his greeting thoroughly.

30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Luke 1:30 nkjv

Mary found favor? (favor is actually grace, which is really important as we continue.) But if Mary found something I don’t think it’s a stretch to presume that she was seeking.

For example:

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.”

So when the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!”

And he said, “Here I am.” Exodus 3:1-4 nkjv

God called Moses when He saw that Moses had gone over to look…Moses was seeking when he found God in the burning bush.

Their conversation continued:

13 Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?”

14 And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” 15 Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.’   Exodus 3:13-15 nkjv

Moses and Mary gazed into the fire of God, and when God sees us doing that, with sincerity and purity of heart, He will call to us from the fire of His Word, for His perfect purpose.

The mother of our Lord Jesus was seeking, and she found God’s grace and He dressed her in it – not of her own choosing, but because God made the decision to give it. All the glory and majesty placed within Mary should have killed her. She very literally was touching a holy God, but He dressed her in grace and protected her.

31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” Luke 1:31-34 nkjv

There is not one ounce of guile in our precious Mary. She deals completely in truth – no manipulations. Look at all that Gabriel says to her: you are to call him Jesus; He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest; The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David; He will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; His kingdom will never end.

She obviously believes all of that because the only thing she questions is the conception – I do not know a man. She knows how pregnancies occur, and she knows that she hasn’t had those relations yet.

I think it’s just mere curiosity at this point for Mary. I think this young woman knows her Scriptures – because she’s been seeking. And I think she knows the prophetic words of Isaiah, Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14 nkjv

And she probably also knows about Isaiah’s prophecy,

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. Isaiah 9:6-7 nkjv

Mary was alarmed at Gabriel’s words because she knows exactly what Gabriel is talking about. She will carry within her the majesty and supremacy of a King.

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

I just have to pause here for a second and say: don’t confuse our delicate, girlish cherubs at the top of our Christmas trees with this angel and the heavenly host. This angel, along with the heavenly host, were mighty warriors of God. They were beautiful beyond description, strong and mighty, and they proclaimed the arrival of the Favored One of heaven in a collective voice that sounded like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder. (Revelation 19) No wonder the shepherds were greatly afraid.

15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2:1-19 nkjv

Mary pondered these things in her heart, because she knew how the thing was going to play out. Isaiah (53) prophesied how the Son of God comes to suffer for our sin. Make no mistake here, Mary knows that this new life will suffer and die.

When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered. And Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with His disciples. Then Judas, having received a detachment of troops, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons. John 18:1-3 nkjv

This detachment of troops is anywhere from 300 – 600 Roman soldiers, and they’re prepared for a fight. The account says: They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.

Torches and lanterns? Seriously? They’re looking for the Light of the World with torches and lanterns?

Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?”

They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

Jesus said to them, “I am He.” And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them. Now when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground. John 18:4-6 nkjv

He identifies Himself as I AM, the same as He identified Himself to Moses. And in their depravity these mortals fall prostrate before the glory of God Almighty. He could have saved Himself at that moment, but he went through with it all.

He was arrested and condemned to a death that he didn’t deserve – but he did it willingly.

John Chapter 19, verse 25a nkjv Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother…

When others fled, Mary stood her ground while they killed her Son. That baby of Divine blessing, whom she’d kissed thousands of times, now hung on a cross, and she stood near enough to Him to hear Him speak. She didn’t watch from afar, but up close to Him. And Christ was touched.

When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” John 19:26 nkjv

The Almighty had been mindful of Mary for a very long time. Even as He was dying He made sure to provide for her needs. She had been devoted to Him in body and spirit, and He was mindful of her.

I want the Lord to be mindful of me – I want Him to see me looking into the fire of His glory because it didn’t end there at the cross. It was just the beginning!

Peter, John and Mary Magdalene went down to Jesus’ tomb early in the morning, on the first day of the week, and found it empty – except for the burial cloths. The Scriptures report that:

10 Then the disciples went away again to their own homes.

11 But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. 13 Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”

14 Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”

She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!”  John 20:10-16 nkjv

The Greek word there is rhabboni—and it means Christ.

Mary Magdalene recognized at that moment that Jesus is the Christ – the Anointed One. The prophets Daniel and Isaiah called him Messiah the Prince.

Easton’s Illustrated Dictionary defines Christ this way:

 To believe that “Jesus is the Christ” is to believe that he is the Anointed, the Messiah of the prophets, the Saviour sent of God, that he was, in a word, what he claimed to be. This is to believe the gospel, by the faith of which alone men can be brought unto God. That Jesus is the Christ is the testimony of God, and the faith of this constitutes a Christian

—Easton’s Illustrated Dictionary

Let’s go to Him then, and recognize all He’s done for us. The confession of our sin, and our faith in Jesus the Christ will unleash the power of the resurrection and free us from the shackles of certain death.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1st John 1:9 niv 2011

Not just some unrighteousness…all of it! Now that’s an awesome truth to ponder.

Because of what we call Christmas, and because of the cross, we have the capacity to be powerful in mind and spirit – a holy force to be reckoned with. Our repentance before a holy King (the One who calls us friend) will bring us into that right relationship with a Savior who loves us so much that He died for us.

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16 nkjv

Amen!

Merry Christmas!

© 2016, Ta`Mara Hanscom

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Unit # 7 Return of the Exiles # 7 Nehemiah Part II

coverrzDuring the rebuilding of the city walls, a horrific situation within the small body comes to light. The wealthy few have been oppressing the poor, and quite significantly.

Persian taxes were fairly exorbitant, and as the Exiles’ money was taken out of circulation, inflation took its place. The price of food, for instance, skyrocketed to the point where the Jews had to start borrowing from their wealthy brethren in order to feed their families.

Unfortunately, the wealthy Jews had no conviction whatsoever on what God’s law demanded during such situations. There will always be the poor among us (Jesus said so Himself) but God put into place laws to make certain that the poor would be treated fairly.

35 “If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him[kjv says: thou shalt relieve him] as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. 36 Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. 37 You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. Leviticus 25:35-38 esv

The wealthy Jews were doing exactly that. When the poor came to them for food and money, they charged a hefty price, including some interest. People who were fortunate enough to own a little of their own land were forced to mortgage it (with an enormous rate of interest) for food and money so that they could support their families. And when they couldn’t make the payments, because they used the money to pay the Persian taxes, the property was confiscated, and sometimes even the children were taken as additional collateral and made slaves.

This is something that God has always forbidden, yet the wealthy Jews didn’t seem to want to honor God’s desire.

In contrast, Nehemiah’s family and some of his workers had actually paid off the debts of some of the exiles with their own money. He found it unbelievable that the wealthy Jews would try to profit in direct conflict with God’s law.

As a result, Nehemiah blows his stack. In the midst of rebuilding the city walls, he drops everything and calls an old fashioned come-to-Jesus meeting.

“What you’re doing is wrong. Is there no fear of God left in you? Don’t you care what the nations around here, our enemies, think of you?

10-11 “I and my brothers and the people working for me have also loaned them money. But this gouging them with interest has to stop. Give them back their foreclosed fields, vineyards, olive groves, and homes right now. And forgive your claims on their money, grain, new wine, and olive oil.”

12-13 They said, “We’ll give it all back. We won’t make any more demands on them. We’ll do everything you say.”

Then I called the priests together and made them promise to keep their word. Then I emptied my pockets, turning them inside out, and said, “So may God empty the pockets and house of everyone who doesn’t keep this promise—turned inside out and emptied.”

Everyone gave a wholehearted “Yes, we’ll do it!” and praised God. And the people did what they promised. Nehemiah 5:9-13 msg

George Williams notes:

The opening verses of this chapter illustrate the deep evil of the natural heart; the closing verses, the deeper love of the new heart. The one lesson humbles; the other cheers.

—George Williams, The Complete Bible Commentary

When confronted in their sin, the people repented. They abandoned their natural hearts, and sought after new hearts – the hearts that would have love and compassion for suffering brethren.

For us, we can take this principal in two ways:

  1. Literally. When we see our fellow man suffering because he/she doesn’t have enough to eat, or enough to pay the rent, or enough to cover a doctor’s bill, etc., we can loan/give them the money. Don’t expect it to be paid back, and don’t charge interest. Don’t hold their possessions as collateral. If they want to pay it back, great! Allow them that honor. Not everybody is in a position to loan money, but everybody can show compassion and at least pray for those who are down trodden
  2. Spiritual Application. The wealthy Jews in Nehemiah 5 obviously knew God’s law because they didn’t argue about what they’d done, they just repented and returned the foods and money to the people from whom they’d taken it. This had to have to been a powerful testimony to the Gentiles living nearby. Returning profits to the poor had to have looked pretty strange to the people living around the Jews, but I’d bet it got their attention.

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:17-24 esv

The wealthy Jews, before God and the Gentiles, put off their former manner of life and their old selves, and put on brand new selves in obedience to God’s law. And everybody in the region noticed.

The next thing you know, there are conspiracies planned against the man who urged the revival and obedience. Satan wants to put a stop to Nehemiah, and he sets about to lay three separate snares. Nehemiah is delivered from each snare by specific spiritual energies that we can employ as well.

Snare # 1. Treachery. 1-2 When Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall and that there were no more breaks in it—even though I hadn’t yet installed the gates— Sanballat and Geshem sent this message: “Come and meet with us at Kephirim in the valley of Ono.”

2-3 I knew they were scheming to hurt me so I sent messengers back with this: “I’m doing a great work; I can’t come down. Why should the work come to a standstill just so I can come down to see you?” Nehemiah 6:1-3 msg

Honestly, did Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab really think that Nehemiah was going to meet with them in some quiet little out-of-the-way valley for an afternoon of fellowship? Nehemiah’s intense connection with his God warned him of the danger afoot. The spiritual energy that saved Nehemiah from this snare was full engagement in God’s work. He knows that his enemies are planning to hurt him, so he just keeps his nose to the grindstone for God.

Snare # 2. Compromise. Four times they sent this message and four times I gave them my answer.

5-6 The fifth time—same messenger, same message—Sanballat sent an unsealed letter with this message:

6-7 “The word is out among the nations—and Geshem says it’s true—that you and the Jews are planning to rebel. That’s why you are rebuilding the wall. The word is that you want to be king and that you have appointed prophets to announce in Jerusalem, ‘There’s a king in Judah!’ The king is going to be told all this—don’t you think we should sit down and have a talk?”

I sent him back this: “There’s nothing to what you’re saying. You’ve made it all up.”

They were trying to intimidate us into quitting. They thought, “They’ll give up; they’ll never finish it.”

I prayed, “Give me strength.” Nehemiah 6:4-9 msg

The open letter was designed to insult Nehemiah. It was open for all to see, and it was filled with false accusations and slander. Though Sanballat pretended to be Nehemiah’s friend, Nehemiah saw through what was really going on. Sanballat sought to coax Nehemiah into compromising his work for God, abandon it for a time so that he could at last bring harm to Nehemiah.

The spiritual energy that saved Nehemiah from this snare was prayer –“Give me strength.” He stayed on the wall, and continued his work.

Snare # 3. Religious Falsehood. 10 Then I met secretly with Shemaiah son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, at his house. He said:

Let’s meet at the house of God,     inside The Temple; Let’s find safety behind locked doors     because they’re coming to kill you, Yes, coming by night to kill you.

11 I said, “Why would a man like me run for cover? And why would a man like me use The Temple as a hideout? I won’t do it.”

12-13 I sensed that God hadn’t sent this man. The so-called prophecy he spoke to me was the work of Tobiah and Sanballat; they had hired him. He had been hired to scare me off—trick me—a layman, into desecrating The Temple and ruining my good reputation so they could accuse me.

14 “O my God, don’t let Tobiah and Sanballat get by with all the mischief they’ve done. And the same goes for the prophetess Noadiah and the other prophets who have been trying to undermine my confidence.” Nehemiah 6:10-14 msg

This last snare was very subtle. It was very believable for Shemaiah to suggest that Nehemiah seek safe harborage in the temple area of the altar of asylum.

For instance, when King David was getting ready to die, and shortly before he named Solomon king, one of David’s other sons, Adonijah, decided that he should be king. When Adonijah realized that Solomon was king, he knew he was in big trouble. His actions would be regarded as treasonous. So, Adonijah took hold of the horns of the altar, hoping that he didn’t get executed. (1st Kings 1) The horns of the altar were the last stop in the road for someone who’d gotten themselves into legal trouble. (Exodus 21:13-14)

The problem here, however, was that Shemaiah had suggested that Nehemiah go inside The Temple. He didn’t say anything about the altar of asylum, and there’s a big difference. Only those of the tribe of Levi, and specifically the sons of Aaron, can go inside The Temple. (Numbers 18) Nehemiah was of the tribe of Judah.

King Uzziah tried to offer incense once inside The Temple and God struck him with leprosy. (2nd Chronicles 26) Had Nehemiah taken Shemaiah up on his offer, he would have either been stricken dead, or with some disease. At the very least, as he points out in Verse 13, the action alone would have ruined his good reputation as a godly man.

Shemaiah’s idea that Nehemiah do something against God’s Word exposed him as a false prophet – and apparently, according to Verse 14, there were other instances where false prophets and a prophetess had attempted to fool Nehemiah.

The spiritual energy that delivered Nehemiah was his knowledge of the Scriptures.

Our intimate knowledge of the Scriptures cannot be underscored enough. It’s gotten me out of countless jams. Never made me popular, but after the smoke had cleared I was the one without regrets.

15-16 The wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul. It had taken fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard the news and all the surrounding nations saw it, our enemies totally lost their nerve. They knew that God was behind this work.

17-19 All during this time letters were going back and forth constantly between the nobles of Judah and Tobiah. Many of the nobles had ties to him because he was son-in-law to Shecaniah son of Arah and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam son of Berekiah. They kept telling me all the good things he did and then would report back to him anything I would say. And then Tobiah would send letters to intimidate me. Nehemiah 6:15-19 msg

Nehemiah was verbally tortured the entire time he did God’s work. There was a “popular” crowd there in Jerusalem that threw in with Nehemiah’s enemies.

Tobiah was related to an influential family in Judah, since his son Jehohanan was married to the daughter of Meshullam, who had helped repair the wall of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3:4, 30).

NIV Study Bible © 1984 by Zondervon

And they took turns bragging about how wonderful Tobiah was, while Nehemiah worked on the walls of Jerusalem.

Now that the wall was finished, Nehemiah has to go back to the Persian court and he starts to make arrangements for his impending absence. He puts a close family member in charge, along with Hananiah.

I thought it was interesting that Nehemiah gave special instructions regarding the opening and closing of the city gates:

“Don’t open the gates of Jerusalem until the sun is up. And shut and bar the gates while the guards are still on duty. Appoint the guards from the citizens of Jerusalem and assign them to posts in front of their own homes.” Nehemiah 7:3 msg

I found a great explanation in my commentary:

In the East it is customary to open the gates of a city at sunrise, and to bar them at sunset… Nehemiah recommended that the gates of Jerusalem should not be opened so early; a precaution necessary at a time when the enemy was practising all sorts of dangerous stratagems, to ensure that the inhabitants were all astir and enjoyed the benefit of clear broad daylight for observing the suspicious movements of any enemy.

—Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

In other words: I’m a Christian, I’m not stupid. Deep faith and conviction compels us to always be on guard for attack.

Ezra then makes an appearance with the Law of Moses. This is a special day for the Israelites. It’s the Feast of Trumpets, and there is to be no work on this day. (Leviticus 23:23-25; Numbers 29:1-6). Ezra reads the Law and explains it to the people. And as they listen and understand and realize their sins, they start to weep. This is a spiritual revival that’s set off by the public reading of God’s Word.

Nehemiah the governor, along with Ezra the priest and scholar and the Levites who were teaching the people, said to all the people, “This day is holy to God, your God. Don’t weep and carry on.” They said this because all the people were weeping as they heard the words of The Revelation.

10 He continued, “Go home and prepare a feast, holiday food and drink; and share it with those who don’t have anything: This day is holy to God. Don’t feel bad. The joy of God is your strength!”

11 The Levites calmed the people, “Quiet now. This is a holy day. Don’t be upset.”

12 So the people went off to feast, eating and drinking and including the poor in a great celebration. Now they got it; they understood the reading that had been given to them. Nehemiah 8:9-12 msg

They repented, and they celebrated their forgiveness and healing.

35 As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” 42 And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” 43 And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God. Luke 18:35-43 esv

Ezra continued to read from the Law of Moses on the next day, and they learned that they had to celebrate what would have been called the Feast of Booths, or some translations render it the Feast of Tabernacles.

The more they learned from the reading of God’s Word, the more they obeyed what they found in it. They’d gotten so out of their Scriptures that they hadn’t celebrated the Feast of Booths since Joshua’s time. Or, to say it another way, they’d forgotten so much of God’s Word that they’d become complacent to the point of disobedience. Like the blind man near Jericho, their faith was making them well, and they had a lot to praise God about.

Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You. Psalm 119:11 nkjv

It’s a tried and true method. Study the Scriptures and meditate on them daily. Hide God’s word in your heart of hearts, and it will keep you from sinning.

We teach our Cubbies this song: Read your Bible, pray every day, and you’ll grow, grow, grow…forget your Bible, forget to pray, and you’ll shrink, shrink, shrink.

I don’t know what’s more clear than that!

© 2016, Ta`Mara Hanscom

There is no worksheet for this week’s lesson. Please read Nehemiah 9-13 for November 20.

This is part of our continuing series:


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Unit # 7 Return of the Exiles # 6 – Only One Can Make A Difference

coverrzEzra has been in Jerusalem about 13 years when the account written by Nehemiah takes place.

If Ezra was a spirit-filled teacher, Nehemiah was a spirit-filled builder. Jerusalem needed both of the unique gifts these two men possessed. As in the book of Ezra, parts of the book of Nehemiah are told in this champion’s own words.

Nehemiah is most probably of the tribe of Judah.

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. Nehemiah 1:1b-4 niv 1984

Nehemiah received the news that the walls at Jerusalem were in shambles and as a result the exiles who have returned were in great affliction and reproach… Nehemiah 1:3 KJV

I think the enemies of Israel (for instance, the Samaritan Mafia which was still very active) was coming and going in and out of Jerusalem, probably ransacking and robbing the exiles on a regular basis.

Nehemiah is sickened by this bad news – but in God’s economy, it takes only one person to make a difference in the lives of countless others.

Nehemiah decides to go to war with the Samaritan Mafia through prayer. And his prayer is so perfect to teach the acrostic: WARFor the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 2nd Corinthians 10:4 esv It was true for Nehemiah in his century, and the enemies who had a ransacking stronghold on Jerusalem, and it’s true for us and the enemies we battle in this century.

WORSHIP: 5 Then I said, “O Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, 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. Nehemiah 1:5-6a niv 1984

ADMIT: I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, 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. Nehemiah 6:b-7 niv 1984

REQUEST: “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.’

10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 O 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.” Nehemiah 1:8-11 niv 1984

And we get to the end of that awesome prayer and we’re suddenly wondering: what man?

Nehemiah adds the pertinent information: I was cupbearer to the king – so we know he’s been praying for 4 months about approaching the king of Persia.

And what’s not said in the narrative of the first chapter is that Nehemiah knows exactly what will give relief to his suffering countrymen. They need protection and defense. They need a wall around the city so that they can live and work unharassed.

I think Nehemiah wrote down his prayer and repeated it over and over again. And I think that as a result of his 4 months of fasting and praying in that particular way, the power of God working within him creates a holy and Divine vision of the wall within Nehemiah. Then he approaches the man whom he knows can make his vision a reality – the king of Persia.

Now, Nehemiah was a trusted man in the Persian Court. He was the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, Queen Esther’s stepson. Esther probably has transitioned into more of a queen mother role there in the court – perhaps if Artaxerxes hasn’t married yet, or perhaps if he hasn’t chosen a new queen. However, some commentaries speculate that the queen mentioned in Nehemiah 2:6 could be Artaxerxes’ wife, Damaspia. Like Esther, Damaspia would have had great influence over her husband, the king. Apparently (but not so with Vashti!) scholars report that the women of the Persian royal court were notorious for the great influence exercised [over their husbands]. —NIV Study Bible © 1984 by Zondervon

Now, if it is Queen Esther (and many scholars like George Williams believe that this queen is Esther) that is seated with her stepson the king in Nehemiah 2:6 (and I tend to think that it is as well), her presence would have emboldened Nehemiah to allow his emotions to show.

George Williams wrote about that decision:

To be sad in the presence of the Persian monarch was punishable with death; hence Nehemiah’s fear…Eastern Monarchs being in daily dread of poison, any appearance of agitation in the cupbearer would be regarded as especially suspicious.

—George Williams, The Complete Bible Commentary

But Nehemiah makes the decision to allow his depression to show, the king asks what’s wrong and Nehemiah tells him: Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire? 4The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven…Nehemiah 2:3-4 niv 1984

The king asks Nehemiah what he wants to do about that, and seizing and instant opportunity, Nehemiah prays, and then instantly asks the king for a leave of the court for a time in order to rebuild Jerusalem.

This small episode is so revealing of where Nehemiah is at in his relationship with God. He shoots up a quick prayer, and then spills his guts to the king – with confidence that he’s going to get what he needs in the Lord. And I think because Nehemiah has been in prayer for an extended period of time, his answer comes as quickly as his prayer was given in that moment.

And what I found interesting is that while Ezra had decided against asking for safe conduct, Nehemiah boldly requests it. Not only that, but he wants materials for the rebuilding. Artaxerxes grants all these things to Nehemiah because, as Nehemiah points out: the gracious hand of my God was upon me. Nehemiah 2:8b niv 1984

10 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. Nehemiah 2:10 niv 1984

Sanballat is the governor of Samaria and Tobiah, most likely, was a governor of the Transjordan (Amon region) under the Persians. Their people are the ones who have been sacking Judah and Jerusalem every chance they get. With a new governor over Jerusalem, and one with obvious power to build some protection around Jerusalem, Sanballat and Tobiah are greatly disturbed because they feel threatened. No doubt they like it the way it is. Zondervan adds:

Sanballat and Tobiah were greatly disturbed that Nehemiah had been appointed to restore Jerusalem from its degradation, for they felt that if Judah became strong, Samaria would be relatively weakened.

Zondervan Bible Commentary

Nehemiah continues his account: 11 I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days 12 I set out during the night with a few men. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on. Nehemiah 2:11-12 niv 1984

Nehemiah didn’t tell anybody what he was up to. He had a divine plan to rebuild the city walls, and yet he kept that plan between himself and God – for a time. So instead of provoking the opposition (because there’s going to be opposition), he set out to disarm it behind the scenes, keeping a holy secret as he ascertained the situation there in Jerusalem.

There is much to be said about keeping what God has laid on our hearts a secret until the most opportune time is upon us. Esther kept the secret of her family background and nationality (Esther 2:20) until the time was just right. In the end, it destroyed her greatest enemy.

So under the cover of darkness, Nehemiah and a few men inspect the walls of Jerusalem. At one point during their inspection, the rubble is so deep that his mount cannot pass.

15 so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate. 16The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews o the priests or the nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work. Nehemiah 2:15-16 niv 1984

And now I have to switch over The Message for the rest of the chapter:

17-18 Then I gave them my report: “Face it: we’re in a bad way here. Jerusalem is a wreck; its gates are burned up. Come—let’s build the wall of Jerusalem and not live with this disgrace any longer.” I told them how God was supporting me and how the king was backing me up.

Nehemiah is completely honest with his assessment. He doesn’t sugarcoat it, and he doesn’t pull any punches. I think this is an excellent example of how we should be handling corporate failures, whether in the Church or outside of the Church. Oftentimes we so get hung up on trying to be nice about the damages caused by complacency, neglect, or even downright disobedience that it winds up taking us even longer to reconstruct what’s been destructed. Nehemiah doesn’t insult the people, there’s no name-calling for instance, but he doesn’t mince words about their condition either: It’s a disgrace, plain and simple.

So how do the people of Jerusalem react:

They said, “We’re with you…

Finally a little strength and honesty here and makes the people respond in kind.

 Let’s get started.” They rolled up their sleeves, ready for the good work.

19 When Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they laughed at us, mocking, “Ha! What do you think you’re doing? Do you think you can cross the king?”

20 I shot back, “The God-of-Heaven will make sure we succeed. We’re his servants and we’re going to work, rebuilding. You can keep your nose out of it. You get no say in this—Jerusalem’s none of your business!” Nehemiah 2:17-20 msg

I love Nehemiah’s response here. He is a confident servant of The God-of-Heaven, he knows what his God has asked him to do, and he isn’t about to back down to a bunch of unbelievers who want to continue to walk all over him. That had to have been scary. Like it or not, we’ve all been there. We’ve been Nehemiah, and isn’t easy. However, if we are filled with God’s word, like Nehemiah, we will have a strength that we can’t explain. We will go through things we thought we could never go through. We will get over things that we thought we would never get over. We will take that leap of faith when we don’t know what’s on the other side. We will obey, even when we don’t want to.

Chapter 3 in Nehemiah lists the workers who jumped in and started rebuilding. There is only one exception, and that’s the Tekoa nobles. And as I looked a little deeper into that, I found myself laughing. How often have we experienced folks that think they are above certain labors? I experience it a lot in my line of work. Folks will sort of roll their eyes when they learn there’s a menial chore to be done. They’re horrified for instance if they have to scrub a wall or the bathroom, or even sweep a floor. Some people just won’t do it. These were the Tekoa nobels. Eugene Peterson translated it this way:

the Tekoites … nobles …wouldn’t work with their master and refused to get their hands dirty with such work. Nehemiah 3:5 msg

They thought they were too good, but the Holy Spirit by way of our Sacred Record makes certain to call them out for Eternity on their self-importance.

Paul gave this advice to the Romans: For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. Romans 12:3 esv

Sober judgment…which I think would be different than drunken judgment, perhaps believing our own hype?

The chapter begins and ends with the Sheep Gate, I think to make clear to us how completely the walls were repaired. They went all the way around not neglecting to close up a single breach.

Breaches…we all got ’em. They are these places in our lives where we’re letting the enemy in and we have to close them up! I’ve got a couple right now that I’m working on. I can tell you this: my actions sometimes don’t line up with what is supposed to be produced in the fruit of the Spirit. For instance, if I lose my temper, where’s my self-control? My enemy can easily worm his way into a situation if I lose my self-control. If that happens, the situation that causes me to lose my temper is going to be even worse. I have to close up that breach in my wall! And with God’s grace, I can do it. I know He’s behind me in this.

Here’s the problem: when we start to close up those breaches, our enemy gets ticked-off.

1-2 When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall he exploded in anger, vilifying the Jews. In the company of his Samaritan cronies and military he let loose: “What are these miserable Jews doing? Do they think they can get everything back to normal overnight? Make building stones out of make-believe?”

At his side, Tobiah the Ammonite jumped in and said, “That’s right! What do they think they’re building? Why, if a fox climbed that wall, it would fall to pieces under his weight.”

4-5 Nehemiah prayed, “Oh listen to us, dear God. We’re so despised: Boomerang their ridicule on their heads; have their enemies cart them off as war trophies to a land of no return; don’t forgive their iniquity, don’t wipe away their sin—they’ve insulted the builders!”

We kept at it, repairing and rebuilding the wall. The whole wall was soon joined together and halfway to its intended height because the people had a heart for the work. Nehemiah 4:1-6 msg

They had a heart for the work

We have to have a heart for God, because the enemy is coming after us and God is the only thing that strengthens us for the task at hand. Jesus warned us about where our hearts needed to be when He said:

30And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ Mark 12:30 esv

7-9 When Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the repairs of the walls of Jerusalem were going so well—that the breaks in the wall were being fixed—they were absolutely furious. They put their heads together and decided to fight against Jerusalem and create as much trouble as they could. We countered with prayer to our God and set a round-the-clock guard against them.

10 But soon word was going around in Judah,

The builders are pooped,     the rubbish piles up; We’re in over our heads,     we can’t build this wall. Nehemiah 4:7-10 msg

When our enemy figures out that we’re closing those breaches in our lives, he’s going to double down on his attack. He will discourage us and make us fearful. We’ll be led to believe that we’re in over our heads.

11-12 And all this time our enemies were saying, “They won’t know what hit them. Before they know it we’ll be at their throats, killing them right and left. That will put a stop to the work!” The Jews who were their neighbors kept reporting, “They have us surrounded; they’re going to attack!” If we heard it once, we heard it ten times.

13-14 So I stationed armed guards at the most vulnerable places of the wall and assigned people by families with their swords, lances, and bows. After looking things over I stood up and spoke to the nobles, officials, and everyone else: “Don’t be afraid of them. Put your minds on the Master, great and awesome, and then fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” Nehemiah 4:11-14 msg

Above all else, guard your heart…Proverb 4:23a niv 1984

Watch out for the weak places in your life because you never know what will wiggle in. Guard them with holy violence.

I want to show you two things that Jesus said:

12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. Matthew 11:12 esv

Put together with what Jesus said in the Gospel of Luke:

16 “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. Luke 16:16 esv

Violence and violent in Matthew 11:12, and forces from Luke 16:16 are all the same word, or come from the same Greek word that means:

to force, i.e. (reflex.) to crowd oneself (into), or (passive) to be seized :- press, suffer violence.

—Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary

Bob Sorge in his book Secrets of the Secret Place, which is how he refers to our prayer life, wrote:

Spiritual violence begins in the secret place. It all starts with how you apply yourself to the disciplines of prayer—adoration, gazing, fasting, reading, study, meditation, listening, absorption of truth…One of the most violent things you’ll ever do is wrestle down all the competing elements in your calendar and consistently carve out the time to shut yourself into the secret place.

—Bob Sorge, Secrets of the Secret Place

15-18 Our enemies learned that we knew all about their plan and that God had frustrated it. And we went back to the wall and went to work. From then on half of my young men worked while the other half stood guard with lances, shields, bows, and mail armor. Military officers served as backup for everyone in Judah who was at work rebuilding the wall. The common laborers held a tool in one hand and a spear in the other. Each of the builders had a sword strapped to his side as he worked. I kept the trumpeter at my side to sound the alert.

19-20 Then I spoke to the nobles and officials and everyone else: “There’s a lot of work going on and we are spread out all along the wall, separated from each other. When you hear the trumpet call, join us there; our God will fight for us.”

21 And so we kept working, from first light until the stars came out, half of us holding lances.

22 I also instructed the people, “Each person and his helper is to stay inside Jerusalem—guards by night and workmen by day.”

23 We all slept in our clothes—I, my brothers, my workmen, and the guards backing me up. And each one kept his spear in his hand, even when getting water. Nehemiah 4:15-18 msg

They came together as a holy Body and stayed ready to fight the enemy, with their weapons in their hands – even if they went to get a drink of water! They had a holy violence for the enormous task before them, yet they endured. We can too.

but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 2nd Corinthians 6:4-7 esv

At the end of the movie True Grit, Rooster Cogburn has to face his arch enemy, Ned

Copyright held by Paramount Pictures

Copyright held by Paramount Pictures

Pepper. In confidence and strength Rooster twirls his Winchester lever action rifle above his head and aims the cocked weapon at his foes. He yells, “Fill your hands!” and puts the reins of his horse between his teeth. Taking a revolver in his free hand he rides straight into the Ned Pepper gang, weapons ablaze.

That’s who we can be when we fill our hands with weapons of righteousness, and we’ll build a wall that will stop our enemy!

One man, Nehemiah, influenced a king, and an entire community. It only takes one of us to make a difference.

© 2016, Ta`Mara Hanscom

To prepare for Lesson # 7, please read Nehemiah chapters 5, 6, 7, 8

There will be no worksheet for Lesson # 7

This is part of our continuing series:


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Unit 7 Return of the Exiles # 5 – A Genuine Influence

coverrzIn keeping with what’s becoming typical of the Samaritan Mafia, they’re drafting letters like crazy to Artaxerxes in order to stop the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls.

Near as I can figure, the original exiles who returned to Jerusalem have been there nearly 80 years by now. They’ve rebuilt the altar – setting it into its original footprint; they’ve rebuilt and dedicated the temple; they’ve escaped complete and total annihilation by a satanic interloper; and, apparently, in the meantime, they’d started to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its walls as well.

In their letter to Artexerxes, the Samaritan Mafia accuses the Jews of desiring a rebellion, and they challenge Artexerxes to check into the sinful past of those rebellious Jews and see if it just isn’t so.

Well, Artexerxes checks the royal record and sure enough he digs up the necessary dirt on the Jews that he thinks justifies the stoppage of the building of the city walls. The Samaritan Mafia is so excited that they went immediately to the Jews in Jerusalem and compelled them by force to stop. Ezra 4:23b niv 1984

This force that they used to stop the building of the walls of Jerusalem will be better described when Nehemiah gets to town. According to his historical information, the Samaritans burned and destroyed whatever building and development had taken place thus far, though they didn’t touch the completed temple. But…

It was this occurrence that first gave rise to the strong religious antipathy between the Jews and the Samaritans, which was afterwards greatly aggravated by the erection of a rival temple on Mount Gerizim.

—Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

The Samaritan Mafia thought they knew best, and so they built their own temple in Samaria. And it’s this mountain that the woman at the well refers to when she says to Jesus, Our fathers worshiped on this mountain (John 4:20 esv)

And it’s after all these things have happened that Ezra – a direct descendant of Aaron – leaves Babylon with another group of exiles to resettle in the city of Jerusalem. By now Zerubbabel, Jeshua/Joshua and Haggai have all passed away, and the Jews who had left Babylon with them were starting to become unstable and chaotic. According to my Zondervon Bible Commentary, Ezra’s close association with the court of Artaxerxes points to an office perhaps that may have been equivalent to ‘secretary of state for Jewish affairs’.

And this secretary of state for Jewish affairs, the humble priest Ezra, has an inordinate amount of influence on the King of Persia.

The Scripture’s testimony of Ezra is found in Ezra 7:6, 10:

this Ezra … was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the Lord, the God of Israel, had given, Ezra 7:6 esv

10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel. Ezra 7:10 esv

Four realities about Ezra are listed in these two verses alone:

  1. He was skilled in the Law of Moses – Ezra knew his Bible forwards and backwards;
  2. He had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord – he was determined to understand God’s salvation and provision therein;
  3. He had set his heart to do it – to be obedient to God’s ways; and
  4. He had set his heart to teach his statutes and rules in Israel – he was resolute about teaching the things that he’d learned to his fellow countrymen.

This is such a cool parallel to our Gospel command!

Jesus, after teaching the Gospel to His disciples, commanded them: 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 esv

God still employs the same methods in order to win people into His kingdom. Ezra did these very same things. No wonder he had so much influence over the king!

The king’s testimony about Ezra is found in Ezra 7:14; 25 esv and it gives us additional insight into why Ezra had such a tremendous sway over the king.

14 For you are sent by the king and his seven counselors to make inquiries about Judah and Jerusalem according to the Law of your God, which is in your hand, Ezra 7:14 esv

25 “And you, Ezra, according to the wisdom of your God that is in your hand, Ezra 7:25 esv

Isn’t it interesting? Ezra stood before the Persian king with his Bible in his hand.  He was not ashamed to share his devotion in the heathen court, and that boldness left such an impact on Artaxexes that the king testifies to the authenticity of Ezra’s faith.

12 “Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven Ezra 7:12 esv

15 and also to carry the silver and gold that the king and his counselors have freely offered to the God of Israel Ezra 7:15 esv

25 “And you, Ezra, according to the wisdom of your God that is in your hand Ezra 7:25 esv

26 Whoever will not obey the law of your God Ezra 7:26 esv

With his own words, Artaxerxes admits that the Bible in Ezra’s hand is:

  1. the undisputable Law of the God of heaven (7:12, 26); and the
  2. wisdom of God (7:25).

Because of Ezra’s devotion to the knowledge of God’s Law, and his impeccable living testimony, the king grants him sweeping powers with which he is to travel back to Jerusalem and set up a government modeled after not the Persian laws, but the laws of the God of heaven and Israel.

25 “And you, Ezra, according to the wisdom of your God that is in your hand, appoint magistrates and judges who may judge all the people in the province Beyond the River, all such as know the laws of your God. And those who do not know them, you shall teach. 26 Whoever will not obey the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be strictly executed on him, whether for death or for banishment or for confiscation of his goods or for imprisonment.”  Ezra 7:25-26 esv

This idea of courts and judging was established by Moses:

21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. 23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”

24 Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. 25 He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 26 They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves. Exodus 18:21-26 esv

Ezra is commissioned here not only to set up a Judean government in Persian territory, but to put into place a method with which God’s laws would be enforced.

Ezra’s connection to God is so obvious even to a heathen king that Artaxexes basically gives the farm to Ezra – with blank checks to boot!

For the Jews living in a pagan culture, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

And so Ezra, along with the finest leadership he can lay hold of, sets off for Jerusalem in order to implement this new proclamation.

About four months after they’re settled, a horrific situation arises that requires immediate attention.

After these things had been done, the officials approached me and said, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations…

The Holman Christian Standard replaced abominations with detestable practices. And as we know from our previous studies, idol worship and all that it entailed was horrible.

, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands. And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost.” As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled. Ezra 9:1-3 esv

The NIV also says appalled. But instead of appalled, the KJV says astonied, and I had no idea what that word meant so I looked it up on my Webster’s Desktop, and learned that it means deprived briefly of the power to act; dazed.

Then I looked in another couple of translations:

The New Century Version says shock.

The New Life Version says filled with much trouble and fear.

The Holman Christian Standard says devastated.

Ezra is extremely upset and at a loss for what has happened in Jerusalem. Here they are, recovering by way of the grace of a good and faithful God from the punishment of their sins, and now the leadership, with much ungratefulness, has gone right back into what led them into judgment and captivity in the first place!

Ezra is astonied.

The prophet Malachi was preaching in Jerusalem at about this same time, and his message suggests that some of the returnees had divorced their Jewish wives in order to marry the indigenous women of the land. The Jews, as usual were up in the air as to why God no longer accepted their sacrifices with favor – they were even weeping at the altar over the current events. They knew that God was upset with them, and yet they didn’t have a clue. Malachi said, 14 Yet you ask, Why does He reject it? Because the Lord was witness [to the covenant made at your marriage] between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously and to whom you were faithless. Yet she is your companion and the wife of your covenant [made by your marriage vows]. Malachi 2:14 Amplified Bible, Classic Addition

One of my commentaries hypothesized that perhaps these Jewish men who’d divorced their Jewish wives and had taken the women of the land for their new wives was because they were the daughters of wealthy landowners and/or other men of influence in the area.

What happened to a Jewish community that was lax concerning intermarriage can be seen in the example of the Elephantine settlement in Egypt, which was contemporary with Ezra and Nehemiah. There the Jews who married pagan spouses expressed their devotion to pagan gods in addition to the Lord. The Elephantine community was gradually assimilated and disappeared.

NIV Study Bible © 1984 by Zondervon

Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of the returned exiles, gathered around me while I sat appalled until the evening sacrifice. And at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garment and my cloak torn, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the Lord my God, Ezra 9:4-5 esv

And Ezra makes confession for the entire community. He admits that God had blessed the captive Jews by softening the hearts of their captors, and providing a way for them to return to their Promised Land in order to maintain a sacred, holy people – a people who would produce the Messiah. But they couldn’t get away from their friendship with the world and they started to intermarry as soon as it benefited them – though it broke God’s commandments to do so! (Deuteronomy 7:3-4)

While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly. And Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, of the sons of Elam, addressed Ezra: “We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. Therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God, and let it be done according to the Law. Arise, for it is your task, and we are with you; be strong and do it.” Then Ezra arose and made the leading priests and Levites and all Israel take an oath that they would do as had been said. So they took the oath. Ezra 10:1-5 esv

This has been the most difficult passage of Scripture for me to come to terms with. I have studied and prayed for quite some time, and cannot honestly admit that I’ve been able to wrap my head around it. I did find this writing by John MacArthur that helped bring some understanding:

…how does divorce in Ezra 10 correlate with the fact that God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16)? Ezra does not establish the norm, but rather deals with a special case in history. It seems to have been decided (Ezra 10:3) on the principle that the lesser wrong (divorce) would be preferable to the greater wrong of the Jewish race being polluted by intermarriage, so that the nation and the messianic line of David would not be ended by being mingled with Gentiles.

—John F. MacArthur for gty.org

God had given the Jews that holy second chance, and they couldn’t blow it again. They had to remain pure; they had to remain a people wholly devoted to God and His purposes, which ultimately was to produce our Messiah and eternal King.

In Ezra’s confession in Chapter 9:8 in the KJV he says: And now for a little space grace hath been shewed from the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in his holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage.

God, thank you for this grace that you gave in taking our pure (though very fragile and small residuum) race; you’ve given us another chance at being a nail in your holy place, or a chance at repopulating the Promised Land for good.

The reference to the “nail” is doubtless a recognition of Isaiah’s prophecy of the “nail in a sure place,” upon which Jehovah’s glory was to hang, which is in the full sense, Christ Himself (Isaiah 22:21-25).

—H.A. Ironside, Notes on Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther

And so they sent their pagan wives and children back to from where they came. And though it’s not articulated in our Scriptures, many scholars and theologians believe that adequate provision was made for the future care of these families.

Our New Testament reverses this covenant at 1st Corinthians 7:12, 13, wherein a newly converted believer bound to an unbeliever is not required to divorce or give up their children. However, it was the death and resurrection of the promised Messiah in Isaiah that inverted that command.

On the other hand, the unequal yoke is still forbidden (2nd Corinthians 6:14-18). Whether it’s an unholy business partner, or that unbeliever that we think we just have to get married to, we are warned to steer clear of interlinking with them.

And now Jerusalem, seemingly, has its faith back to where it ought to be – but that city wall is still in ruins. Never fear! Because God has a plan for that!

© 2016, Ta`Mara Hanscom

To prepare for Lesson 6, please read Nehemiah, Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4

There will be no worksheets with this lesson.

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Unit # 7 The Return of the Exiles – # 4 – A Satanic Interloper: The Story of Haman the Agagite

coverrzThe laws of the Medes and the Persians were fixed and immutable – and God used them for His own purpose. He used them to continue the building of the temple, and He used them to display His glory and salvation when Daniel was cast into the den of lions. God works in the royal court of the heathen, and He does so for His glory and our benefit.

King Darius had seen the glory of God work out before him, and as a result he ordered his kingdom to worship Daniel’s God.

Apparently his son had no recollection of that decree, because as the story in the book of Esther unfolds, we see a temperamental Little Lord Fauntleroy type of a character in the person of King Ahasuerus.

He that had rule over 127 provinces, had no rule over his own spirit.

—Matthew Henry Concise

But God not only used this weak and temperamental young monarch to settle an old score, but he used his fixed and immutable laws as well.

The Jews have accomplished rebuilding their temple, so naturally Satan was diligently planning to put a stop to the revelation of the glory of God, and perhaps even wipe out the Divine lineage.

George Williams wrote:

He [Jehovah] secretly watched over them [the Jewish people] and, without displaying Himself, shaped public affairs in their interest.

—George Williams, The Complete Bible Commentary

This story actually begins in 1st Samuel 15. Turn with me there, and I’ll give you some background.

And Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” 1st Samuel 15:1-3 esv

God had wanted to wipe out the Amalekites, and He sent His anointed king to take care of the job. King Saul was of the tribe of Benjamin, his father’s name was Kish.

Wiping out the Amalekites was crucial to the survival of the Israelites. The Amalekites were bloodthirsty murderers and robbers, and they sought to devour the Israelites. Before he departed, Moses reminded the Israelites:

17 “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, 18 how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. Deuteronomy 25:17-18 esv

The Amalekites had ambushed and slaughtered the weakest and the smallest of the Exodus – those who were lagging behind you – those who were too small or too old to keep up and could not fight them off.

The Amalekites were still around in the time of the Judges, and so when God finally puts a king over His people He commands him to put an end to the destructive Amalekites. And by far and large, Saul does this. But skip down to verse 7:

And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction. 1st Samuel 15:7-9 esv

So, King Saul keeps everything good – but that was not the command of the Lord! The king of the Amalekites, Agag, is still alive! And though the prophet, Samuel, puts Agag to the sword, other Amalekites survived the attack. Some of those who’d escaped the attack were alive during the days of King Hezekiah, because the Simeonites went after them:

42 … the Simeonites, went to Mount Seir, … and … 43 … defeated the remnant of the Amalekites who had escaped…1st Chronicles 4:42, 43 esv

And as the character of Haman is introduced in the Book of Esther, we realize that he is a descendant of the king of the Amalekites, Agag.

After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite…Esther 3:1a esv

There’s now an Amalekite ruling the Jews in Persia…which is interesting, considering that the current queen is a Jew, but nobody knows this, not even her own husband.

After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, and advanced him and set his throne above all the officials who were with him. And all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage. Esther 3:1-2 esv

And this is where the Book of Esther gets really interesting. Look with me back in Chapter 2…

Now there was a Jew in Susa the citadel whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish, a Benjaminite, who had been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had carried away. Esther 2:5-6 esv

Mordecai explains his reasons for not bowing to Haman. Mordecai is a Jew, and he isn’t about to bow to or worship anything else but the Lord God Almighty.

This series of scenes between Mordecai and Haman remind me so much of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and recently even Daniel. Each time a human being wanted the reverence and worship worthy of the Lord God Almighty, they were met with the adamant refusal of their subjects. And the same thing happens between Mordecai and Haman.

But what makes this so engaging for me is the fact that Mordecai is a descendant of the first Israelite king and Haman descends from Israel’s arch enemy, the Amalekites! I cannot help but wonder if that’s part of the reason Mordecai will not bow.

Haman’s ego is so injured that he decides to get rid of all of the Jews in the kingdom. Satan had this man’s mind under full control. For to wipe out the Jews at this point, would have certainly wiped out any chance of a Redeemer. And if an Amalekite could do it, all the better!

So they sit down to cast lots to decide when the Jewish slaughter will take place, and the lot falls for a date that is nearly a year away. McDonald notes that:

As someone has said, “Even superstition was chained to the divine chariot-wheels.” God overruled to allow sufficient time to thwart Haman’s plan. The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD. Proverbs 16:33

—William McDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary

Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king’s laws, so that it is not to the king’s profit to tolerate them. If it please the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed, and I will pay 10,000 talents of silver into the hands of those who have charge of the king’s business, that they may put it into the king’s treasuries.” 10 So the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews. Esther 3:8-10 esv

So Haman is going to have all the Jews slaughtered in a single day, and then he’s going to pay the king from whatever plunder he receives from them. And why this was so appealing, perhaps, to Ahasureus, is that, the king had recently (according to historical records) tried to invade Greece. Unfortunately for Persia, the Greeks could not be conquered. They handed the Persians their collective rear-end, and sent them home humiliated and broke. Ahasureus may have needed Haman’s promised tribute to reestablish his coffers.

Haman and the king think their troubles are over, and they sit down to drink. But when the rest of the kingdom gets wind of this new edict, they are thrown into confusion. For many years they’ve lived side by side with the Jews. The Jews have prospered among them, and have even risen into ranks of authority. For them it had to have been a nightmare scenario. Friends and loved ones would have less than a year amongst them.

During all of this, the queen is having some kind of a romantic crisis with her king. It appears that the king is extremely distracted from her, and I think just a part of it was that his treasury had been depleted. I also think there’s a little clue in Ezra 4:6 In the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. I think the incoming salvos written against the Jews who’d returned to Jerusalem took a toll on the young king. He would have had to search and research his records to verify what was going on in Jerusalem. This had to have been time consuming for him, and worrisome. Because, at the same time, he faced rebellions in some of his other provinces. This is a king with a lot on his mind.

Esther and Ahasureus hit it off from the very beginning, and now it appears as if they are not even speaking. She is the most favored of his wives, and the queen. Yet he hasn’t sent for her in 30 days.

As a woman, I can relate. I’d be miserable.

And it’s during this time of what has to be great personal and emotional turmoil for Esther that she gets news of the death sentence that’s been imposed on her people – by her seemingly estranged husband no less – and if it was me, I’d be thinking: he must have found out that I’m a Jew, he wants me dead! After all, Vashti hasn’t been around for years. Who knows what happened to her. That’s why he’s ignoring me! He hates me, he wants me dead, and he wants a new queen.

The queen’s uncle (Mordecai) encourages her to confront the king and intercede for her people. But here’s the thing, it’s a capital offense even for the queen to appear before the king without an invite – unless he extends to her the golden scepter.

But Mordecai reasons that she’s a goner either way – whether she awaits the Jewish executions, or whether she breaks the law and appears before her husband, the king.

So Esther gives this order, 16 “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” 17 Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him. Esther 4:16-17 esv

After three solid days of prayer and fasting, both inside and outside of the palace, the queen decides to make her move. If only we utilized the power of a living God like Esther did. Imagine, not speaking with your husband for 30 days, then turning to prayer and fasting before you approach him. Make no mistake, God hears and He listens when we call out to Him.

Psalm 6:9 The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer.

Psalm 17:1 Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry! Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit!

On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, in front of the king’s quarters, while the king was sitting on his royal throne inside the throne room opposite the entrance to the palace. And when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, she won favor in his sight, and he held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter. And the king said to her, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given you, even to the half of my kingdom.” Esther 5:1-3 esv

Matthew Henry wrote:

Let us from this be encouraged to pray always to our God, and not to faint. Esther came to a proud, imperious man; but we come to the God of love and grace. She was not called, but we are; the Spirit says, Come, and the Bride says, Come. She had a law against her, we have a promise, many a promise, in favour of us; Ask, and it shall be given you. She had no friend to go with her, or to plead for her; on the contrary, he that was then the king’s favourite, was her enemy; but we have an Advocate with the Father, in whom he is well pleased. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace.

—Matthew Henry Concise

And Esther said, “If it please the king, let the king and Haman come today to a feast that I have prepared for the king.” Then the king said, “Bring Haman quickly, so that we may do as Esther has asked.” So the king and Haman came to the feast that Esther had prepared. And as they were drinking wine after the feast, the king said to Esther, “What is your wish? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Esther answered, “My wish and my request is: If I have found favor in the sight of the king, and if it please the king to grant my wish and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come to the feast that I will prepare for them, and tomorrow I will do as the king has said.”

And Haman went out that day joyful and glad of heart…Esther 5:4-9a esv

So Esther simply invites the king and his favored employee to a feast that she has prepared – and I can’t help it, but I have to say it: the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach! And let’s face it, that’s how this story started. The king was having a grand banquet. He likes banquets. What better way to reach this guy?

So Haman and the king feast, and while they are sipping wine the king asks her again: What is your wish?

I can just see Esther batting her beautiful eyes at her husband, maybe dishing him up some glorious dessert while she’s filling his wine glass, and then she asks him and Haman to attend one more banquet.

Haman exits immediately, and the queen is left alone with her king to further soften his heart.

Dr. Laura Schlessinger would have been proud. In her book The Proper Care and Feeding of a Husband she said that “men are simple: if they [don’t want to make love] give them a sandwich.”

I think Queen Esther did both.

And while the queen is reviving the affections of the king, Haman has yet another subpar moment with Mordecai. And so ensues the greatest misunderstanding of all times.

And Haman went out that day joyful and glad of heart. But when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate, that he neither rose nor trembled before him, he was filled with wrath against Mordecai. 10 Nevertheless, Haman restrained himself and went home, and he sent and brought his friends and his wife Zeresh. 11 And Haman recounted to them the splendor of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the servants of the king. 12 Then Haman said, “Even Queen Esther let no one but me come with the king to the feast she prepared. And tomorrow also I am invited by her together with the king. 13 Yet all this is worth nothing to me, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.” 14 Then his wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, “Let a gallows fifty cubits high be made, and in the morning tell the king to have Mordecai hanged upon it. Then go joyfully with the king to the feast.” This idea pleased Haman, and he had the gallows made. Esther 5:9-14 esv

Incidentally, the original language that’s been translated into gallows indicates that it will be a place to impale someone. Persian capital punishment was impaling, not hanging.

It’s this night then that the king cannot sleep. You’d think after his delicious banquet, and beautiful wife he would have been ready to hit the sack – but he cannot sleep. So he has someone read him the chronicles of his reign, and it’s realized that this Jew named Mordecai foiled an assassination plot. Furthermore, the king realizes that no reward was ever given to Mordecai for this good deed of his. So as soon as Haman comes into work that morning, the king asks him what he would do to honor the man with whom the king is delighted.

Haman, being exceptionally full of himself, thinks that this is about him…but pride cometh before a great fall. The king, surprisingly, sends Haman after Mordecai in order to bestow upon him the royal honors. That had to have been awful for Haman.

When he got home from work that night, his wife and his wise friends warned him that things weren’t looking good for him, but he had to hurry off to the queen’s banquet. Keep in mind that Esther has now had ample opportunity to reconcile with her husband – and Haman has no idea that she’s a Jew.

It’s at this second banquet that Esther reveals her nationality, and that she, too, has been sentenced to death.

Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has dared to do this?” And Esther said, “A foe and enemy! This wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.

And the king arose in his wrath from the wine-drinking and went into the palace garden…Esther 7:5-7a esv

The king is thunderstruck I think as he must realize that he had a part in this demonic scheme – and his actions, brought about by his bestie, are going to cost him big time.

…but Haman stayed to beg for his life from Queen Esther, for he saw that harm was determined against him by the king. And the king returned from the palace garden to the place where they were drinking wine, as Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was. And the king said, “Will he even assault the queen in my presence, in my own house?” As the word left the mouth of the king, they covered Haman’s face. Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Moreover, the gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, is standing at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” 10 And the king said, “Hang him on that.” So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the wrath of the king abated. Esther 7:7b-10 esv

George Williams wrote:

Thus Haman, the last of the Amalekite Royal family, perished as a result of the faith, courage and wisdom of Mordecai [and I would add Esther as well], a descendant of the Benjamite Royal family.

—George Williams, The Complete Bible Commentary

The Amalekites were bloodthirsty murderers. Their DNA was steeped in wickedness. They would always have a bent toward killing and destruction, as evidenced in Haman’s actions.

God had sought to rid the world of their evil since Moses’ time. It took about 900 years to wipe them out, but God is faithful and just and He will complete each and every work that He begins. He will let nothing go.

Mordecai then becomes the Prime Minister and he and Queen Esther draft a brand new law that allows the Jews to defend themselves when their enemies rise up against them. The king sends the new law on his fastest horses, into all of his provinces so that everyone will know that the Jews are allowed to defend themselves.

And just like Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel, Mordecai is promoted to a place of prestige and authority in the Persian government.

Mordecai and Esther sought the good of the people – excellent examples for the modern Christian to follow. They were both true patriots, looking out for the good of their nation. They looked to God to effect the change they needed within their government, instead of looking to men, and they saved the lives of a multitude of their people.

I fear that we often look to those in positions of power to make a change for us – but their hearts are in the hand of God, and change will not come unless we seek our God and ask for a miracle.

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16 kjv

Amen!

© 2016, Ta`Mara Hanscom

Worksheet to prepare for Lesson # 5 5-a-genuine-influence-worksheet

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Unit # 7 – Return of the Exiles – # 3 Back to Work Part II – Zechariah’s Night Visions

I apologize for being so late with our Sunday school notes for the past two lessons. Both lessons # 3 and # 4 will be posted today.

coverrz# 3 Back to Work Part II – Zechariah’s Night Visions

Zechariah experienced eight visions in one night.

The first two we studied last week: # 1. The Man on the Red Horse – the Angel of the Lord with His angels; and # 2. The vision of the four horns and the four craftsman/artificers – which pertains to the judgment of the Gentile nations and the Divine Counterforce  which will be sent to deal with the nations that abused Israel.

This next vision (Zechariah 2) gives us a glimpse into what it will be like once Jerusalem is restored. First of all, the city will be without walls because of the great number of men and livestock in it. Zechariah 2:4b niv 1984 # 3. There will no limits on the people and animals that can come into the New Jerusalem. And once they are there, they will be protected by God Almighty Himself.

The pertinent message to Zerubabbel and the rest of the exiles is: though this place is desolate now, it will be inhabited by a great multitude! In a futuristic sense, the message for us is that God isn’t going to refuse a single believer when it comes to setting up His eternal city here on earth.

And so the next command for the exiles that haven’t yet departed Babylon is to get out of there! (verse 6) Their chains of captivity have been loosed; therefore, they need to leave. But the captives have prospered while in Babylon. They’re pretty comfortable in their captive rut, and they have no desire to seek out a better life with their God. Why would they? Things are going just fine right where we are. Why on earth would we ever poke the hornet’s nest of adversity when we can stay right here in our comfortable rut?

Honestly, I can relate. Once we take on rebuilding our relationship with God (for the Israelites it was the temple and the city), there comes against us a lot of adversity, and it comes at us from every direction.  And while our captivity in a sinful state can be very comfortable (no Satanic attack for instance) the forfeiture of tremendous blessing in refusing the call of Christ will, in the long run, eternally pierce us.

For the one who sows to his own flesh, will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Galatians 6:8 esv

And at the end of Chapter 2, a command is given to Be still before the LORD, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling. Zechariah 2:13 niv 1984

I am getting ready to do a mighty work among the people of the earth so give reverence to Me and My ways. Focus and contemplate what I will accomplish.

The 4th vision given to Zechariah is one of how it will look when the Messiah (the Sent) deals with our sin. It’s going to be a beautiful thing, despite the ugliness that Satan attempts to draw to attention. But the LORD shuts up our accuser right there at the throne:  The LORD rebuke you Satan! The LORD who has chosen…Zechariah 3:2 niv 1984 And not a word is recorded here coming from Satan. Instead, the Angel of the LORD, our preincarnate Messiah Jesus Christ, demands clean clothing for the high priest, Joshua, and a clean turban on his head of which the frontal plate reads: HOLY TO THE LORD (Exodus 28:36; Exodus 39:30). God has chosen, and this filthy man becomes HOLY TO THE LORD.

That same thing happens to us. Despite our filthiness, when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, we  21 …who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, Colossians 1:21, 22 esv We are thus chosen in Him, and accusations against us are futile. God will deal with sin in a single day* (Zechariah 3:9) and we’ll live in peace and harmony with one another when it’s accomplished.

*in a single day—more than likely this reference is to Good Friday, however, there are some who believe the verses also refer to Christ’s second coming.

The 5th vision is of the lampstand and the olive trees.

The lampstand is solid gold, and it symbolizes the congregation of Zechariah’s time. The use of solid gold indicates that God wants that congregation to be pure in their doctrine and worship – and eventually, for our present day church, this should be our true ideal as well.

13 The king’s daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold. Psalm 45:13 kjv The king’s daughter being us, the church.

And though the project has proven extremely difficult, the vision is sent to Zechariah in order to assure the people that through their leader, Zerubbabel, they will level mountains with their pure faith. God will be the energy behind them (the oil coming from the olives He created.)

# 6. And what’s interesting is that the vision of the flying scroll follows next. On one side of the scroll it says that every thief will be banished, and on the other side it says that everyone who swears falsely will be banished, and their houses destroyed.

Now, I couldn’t find any commentaries to back me up on this theory so don’t quote me on this, but when God is talking about destroying their houses, I think He’s talking about false religions and idol worship – phony houses of worship and highplaces – which the Jews had had a real problem with in their past.

And the reason I think that is because of where the vision falls – between talking about a pure church (the golden lampstand) and then the flight of wickedness to Babylon. In between those two visions is the vision of the scroll that condemns and destroys the thieves and the liars. First the church is purified then the Pretenders are dealt with and cast out. Then # 7. wickedness is confined, and though it tries to get it out again this heavy lid is pressed back upon it. Perhaps as if to say, we’re stronger than those temptations now and we’re not going to allow them to remain.

9Then I looked up—and there before me were two women, with the wind in their wings! They had wings like those of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between heaven and earth. Zechariah 5:9 niv 1984

The juxtaposition of the scroll and the woman in the basket is remarkable. The scroll, for instance, is wide open for all the world to see. Conversely, the basket is closed. The scroll moves on its own, obviously given power from on High, but the basket has to be carried by two other women, who had wings like those of a stork…

13 “And these you shall detest among the birds; they shall not be eaten; they are detestable… 19 the stork…Leviticus 11:13-19 esv

The stork was an unclean bird and those two women were demons. Zechariah asks about where they are taking the basket, and the angel replies, “To the country of Babylonia to build a house for it. When it is ready, the basket will be set there in its place.” Zechariah 5:11 niv 1984

The Ark of the Covenant was placed in the Tabernacle – within it were the tables of God’s Law, the manna and Aaron’s rod. All symbols of righteousness and purity. At either end of the Ark, on a solid gold mercy seat was a cherub with wings. The whole thing was made of gold and fine wood, and it was placed in its own house.

In complete contradiction, the basket had wickedness within, it was covered with a lead lid, and uncleanness was on either side, and this thing is on its way to Babylonia to wait for its own house to be built.

Babylonia, a land of idolatry, was an appropriate locale for wickedness—but not Israel, where God chose to dwell with his people. Only after purging it of its evil would the promised land truly be the “holy land.”

NIV Study Bible © 1984 by Zondervon

And that brings us to Zechariah’s eighth and final vision of that night – which really draws them all together in the fulfillment of the very first vision.

If you’ll recall in the first vision, the Angel of the Lord sends out His messengers on a recon mission, and they come back to Him reporting that the whole world is at rest and in peace.

And at this point the Advocate speaks for Israel, interceding before His Father, and He receives a Divine reply. And with that, our holy Messiah sets his jaw and says, “I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they added to the calamity.” Zechariah 1:15 niv 1984

They took My judgment way too far, and now justice is coming and I’m coming with it.

And while the recon team awaits holy dispatch, Zechariah is given the game plan of how the whole thing is going to go down:

There will be a divine counterforce to deal with the nations who abused Israel. (Zechariah 1:18-21)

God Himself will keep them safe while they rebuild and reproduce beyond measure. (Zechariah2)

He will remove their sin and malefaction, and accusation will no longer dog them. (Zechariah 3)

He will do it all with His power and purity, glory and might. (Zechariah 4)

He will remove all pretenders from the land. (Zechariah 5:1-4)

He will remove all wickedness, false religion and temptation, and then cast it back from where it came. (Zechariah 5:5-11)

And finally, the recon team gets the holy nod.

1I looked up again—and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountains—mountains of bronze! 2The first chariot had red horses, the second black, 3the third white, and the fourth dappled—all of them powerful. 4I asked the angel who was speaking to me, “What are these, my lord?”

5The angel answered me, “These are the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world… Zechariah 6:1-5 niv 1984

…the Lord of the whole world…

# 8. The King of kings and the Lord of lords – He’s now sent out His holy judgment, and it’s come directly from His presence.

The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south.”

When the powerful horses went out, they were straining to go throughout the earth. And he said, “Go throughout the earth!” So they went throughout the earth.

Then he called to me, “Look, those going toward the north country have given my Spirit rest in the land of the north.” Zechariah 6:6-8 niv 1984

…it is the land of the north, or Babylon, that is at the center of the world’s opposition to God. The speaker is the Angel of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth. The judgment on Babylon, the land of the north, has given rest to God’s Spirit.

—Hermann J. Austell, The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary © 2012 by Baker Publishing Group

And then Zechariah is instructed by the Lord to make a crown for Joshua, the high priest.

Normally, a priest would not rule, however, this is a futuristic prophecy of when Jesus Christ comes to rule. He will hold both offices of High priest and King.

14 The crown will be given to Heldai, Tobijah, Jedaiah and Hen son of Zephaniah as a memorial in the temple of the Lord. 15 Those who are far away will come and help to build the temple of the Lord, and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you. This will happen if you diligently obey the Lord your God.” Zechariah 6:14-15

And as was pointed out in your homework, the names Joshua and Jeshua are interchangeable, and we see the name of Jeshua in Ezra. The Greek equivalent of that name is Jesus, and all three forms of the name mean: the LORD saves.

George Williams points out:

It was necessary that a Temple should be built in which the Messiah at His First Advent was to appear.

—George Williams, The Complete Bible Commentary

And I want to add, more importantly, that His crown (as if it is just waiting there for Him!) is kept there in memory of all that has been revealed to Zechariah, who relayed the messages to Joshua.

Now, in order to see and experience all these things that Zechariah has related to Joshua, the people have to diligently obey – and they had a big problem that, as well so do we!

In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, the month of Kislev. The people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-Melek, together with their men, to entreat the Lord by asking the priests of the house of the Lord Almighty and the prophets, “Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?”

Then the word of the Lord Almighty came to me: “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves? Are these not the words the Lord proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem and its surrounding towns were at rest and prosperous, and the Negev and the western foothills were settled?’” Zechariah 7:1-7 niv 1984

Okay…here’s where we are in this drama—the work on the temple has been restarted for about two years, or almost two years after the 8 night visions. A small gaggle of Jews go the priests, hoping that through them they can bring this question before God: Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?” TRANSLATION: God, we can see that this new temple is underway and we’ve got a good feeling about its completion, BUT we are so sick and tired of this depressing fasting and mourning we do every year around the anniversary of the fall of Jerusalem, we were just wondering if we could stop now?

You see, the people didn’t know what was in their law. They had no idea that God only required one ritual fast in His Law (Chapter 16 of Leviticus) Lev 16:34 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.”

The Israelites thought they could devise a better scheme to get the attention of the Lord God Almighty, hence all these additional fast days. The two that are being referred to in Zechariah 7 more than likely are the fast days dreamed up by the Jewish leadership at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, and the ensuing captivity. The fast of the 5th month was for the Destruction of Jerusalem, and the fast of the 7th month was for the murder of Gadaliah, the governor whom Nebuchednezzer put in place in Jerusalem once he’d removed their leadership.

This is so incredibly illustrative of what happens to us when we listen to preachers and teachers, but we don’t look into the Word of God for ourselves! And God rebuked them for their nonsense. He knows that they’re filled with gross false humility! All their fasting, feasting and worship has been for show—for the benefit of themselves. And when we do that it becomes a heavy burden. If only they’d listened to their God when they had peace all around their nation – things would have been a lot easier for them.

And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.’

11 “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and stopped up their ears. 12 They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry.

13 “‘When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,’ says the Lord Almighty. 14 ‘I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land was left so desolate behind them that no one could come or go. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.’” Zechariah 7:8-14 niv 1984

The Israelites had made up the extra fasts in order to impress their God, and He wasn’t even listening. He wanted them to treat each other better: 9btrue justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil…

And they were still doing the same thing! They were listening to themselves, but they’d stopped up their ears to the living God.

Fortunately for the Israelites (and us!) our God is loving and full of grace.

The word of the Lord Almighty came to me.

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “I am very jealous for Zion; I am burning with jealousy for her.” Zechariah 8:1-2 niv 1984

That word jealous, especially when it’s used about the way that the Lord feels about us, has always interested me – so I finally decided to look it up.

1 a : intolerant of rivalry or unfaithfulness

b : disposed to suspect rivalry or unfaithfulness

2 : hostile toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage

3 : vigilant in guarding a possession <new colonies were jealous of their new independence —Scott Buchanan>

Merriam Webster’s Desktop Dictionary Application

In using the word jealous God was describing his feelings about the rivalry of the false idols Israel had chased after and were unfaithful with. Their actions had made Him disposed to suspect their continuing unfaithfulness. He had holy hostility toward the nations from where these idols had come from, and then later abused His peculiar treasure. And, He was going to be vigilant in guarding His treasured possession, His peculiar treasure.

This is what the Lord says: “I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the Faithful City, and the mountain of the Lord Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain.” This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.”

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “It may seem marvelous to the remnant of this people at that time, but will it seem marvelous to me?” declares the Lord Almighty.

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “I will save my people from the countries of the east and the west. I will bring them back to live in Jerusalem; they will be my people, and I will be faithful and righteous to them as their God.”  Zechariah 8:3-8 niv 1984

God is returning to their midst, and He promises that everyone will notice – so much so that Jerusalem will be called the Faithful City. And it won’t be for a short time either. People will be living to such a ripe old age that they have to walk with a cane. More than that, it will be so safe that the children will be able to play in the streets!

And he realizes that this scenario is hard to believe for the small amount of exiles who’ve returned to a broken city. However, He declares Himself faithful and righteous – and it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18).

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Now hear these words, ‘Let your hands be strong so that the temple may be built.’ This is also what the prophets said who were present when the foundation was laid for the house of the Lord Almighty. 10 Before that time there were no wages for people or hire for animals. No one could go about their business safely because of their enemies, since I had turned everyone against their neighbor. 11 But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as I did in the past,” declares the Lord Almighty.

12 “The seed will grow well, the vine will yield its fruit, the ground will produce its crops, and the heavens will drop their dew. I will give all these things as an inheritance to the remnant of this people. 13 Just as you, Judah and Israel, have been a curse among the nations, so I will save you, and you will be a blessing. Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong.” Zechariah 8:9-13 niv 1984

God encouraged the people who’d returned to Jerusalem to continue the work on their temple. He readily admits that before they’d started the work, conditions had been dire: unemployment and violence in the streets. However, God now promises that they will do so well they will become a blessing even unto the Gentiles.

14 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Just as I had determined to bring disaster on you and showed no pity when your ancestors angered me,” says the Lord Almighty, 15 “so now I have determined to do good again to Jerusalem and Judah. Do not be afraid. 16 These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts; 17 do not plot evil against each other, and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all this,” declares the Lord. Zechariah 8:14-17 niv 1984

That’s pretty self-explanatory.

18 The word of the Lord Almighty came to me.

19 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months… Zechariah 8:18-19a niv 1984

So there were four mournful fasts that they’d created: The fast of the 10th month mourned the siege of Jerusalem; The 4th month marked it’s capture; The fast of the 5th month was for the Destruction of Jerusalem; and the fast of the 7th month was for the murder of Gadaliah.

“The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah. Therefore love truth and peace.”

20 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come, 21 and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the Lord and seek the Lord Almighty. I myself am going.’ 22 And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord Almighty and to entreat him.”

23 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’” Zechariah 8:19-23 niv 1984

Everybody is going to flock to Jerusalem to seek the Lord God Almighty. The Jews will have such a renewed and steadfast relationship with their God that all nations will recognize it. The Jews will be known as such a blessing to the rest of the world that ten men will take hold of the hem of one Jew’s robe. And I think that’s such an articulate prophecy of Jesus Christ and how by taking hold of His robe (His covering) and being cloaked in His righteousness we are blessed with salvation. It also brings to mind (for me) the woman who just touched His hem and was healed (see Luke 8:42b-48).

I sought the Lord, and he answered me     and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant,     and their faces shall never be ashamed. Psalm 34:4-5 esv

The Jews were promised a radiance that will lead the world to seek the Lord God Almighty – and so are we!

Let us be strong as we rebuild our own temples (corporately and individually), let us love the truth, let us be kind and compassionate toward one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave us. Ephesians 4:32 niv 1984

And let us NOT repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 1st Peter 3:9 esv

I don’t know about you, but I want to obtain that blessing!

© 2016, Ta`Mara Hanscom

Worksheet to prepare for Lesson # 4 4-a-satanic-interloper-worksheet

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