September 16 Ezra 1-3; 2 Chronicles 36:22-23
September 17 Ezra 4-6
September 18 Haggai 1-2
September 19 Zechariah 1-7
September 20 Zechariah 8-14
September 21 Esther 1-5
So they feared the Lord but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away. 2 Kings 17:33 (ESV)
It wasn’t a good idea to allow the Samaritans a part in the rebuilding because God wanted His people to be pure to Him, The Law of Moses prohibited intermarrying. Israel is a set apart nation (Numbers 23:9) who have a specific task to perform (Genesis 12:1-3). God wanted them to remain uncorrupted so they could minister properly.
Likewise, today’s Christians are to set themselves apart so that our testimony remains good and our work for God can continue unhampered.
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17 Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, 18 and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Cor 6:14-18 (ESV)
There’s a fine line between staying separated from the world and isolating ourselves from the world. If we completely ignore anyone who is not a Christian, how will God’s Word be spread?
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 1 Cor 5:9-10 (ESV)
The Samaritans wanted to stop the temple’s building program, so they appealed to the King in a way he could understand. They claimed that if the temple was rebuilt the Jews would stop paying taxes and reduce the government’s income. Now that got the King’s attention! He issued a decree to stop the building project. It seemed that God’s plan was foiled again.
I was struck, humbled and challenged by the little book of Haggai. It poses an important question – are we too busy for God’s work? God had fulfilled His promise to the Jews. They were allowed to come home and rebuild the temple. The king had given them money from the treasury to help rebuild. All the treasures had been restored. From the text, we can infer that they may have even used some of the wood which was earmarked for the Temple in their personal construction, but if they didn’t use the supplies from the temple, the “paneled houses” they built for themselves were typically built for kings and not commoners. They were interested in creature comforts.
I had to stop and think very seriously about the way I’m living my life. Am I too focused on stuff? Am I remembering to keep God first? Where have I made paneled walls suitable for an earthly king while forgetting all about my heavenly King? Am I listening to God, or am I saying “it’s not time to do that” because I am too comfortable, too lazy, or lack faith?
Haggai reminded the people that God gave them promises of protection and promises of chastisement. He told the people that they were living with a big, unclean, dead thing in their midst – the unfinished temple. The work that they were doing wasn’t pure – not from the wholehearted loving heart that God demands. The people needed to repent. The people had returned to the land but they didn’t think they had to do anything else – they were resting on their laurels.
Finally, the temple project was restarted. This caused King Darius, the current ruler, to question their authority to build. The people answered him with a history lesson. The King ordered the archives be searched to prove their claims, and they found the scroll showing that Cyrus had given permission exactly as the Jews had said. Work was finally completed on the new temple, and there was a joyous dedication ceremony.
In the midst of all this we see Zechariah’s writings. What visions he received! As with all prophets, his message contained themes of repentance along with God’s promises.
Thus declares the Lord of hosts: Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. 4 Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ Zech 1:3-4 (ESV)
An interesting aspect of Zechariah’s visions is the “interpreting angel” that he converses with on ten separate occasions. God wants us to listen, learn, and ask questions, and Zechariah wasn’t afraid to do just that.
Then I said, ‘What are these, my lord?’ The angel who talked with me said to me, ‘I will show you what they are.’ Zech 1:9 (ESV)
The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant. Psalms 25:14 (KJV)
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. James 1:5-6 (KJV)
Zechariah wrote during the time the temple was being rebuilt, and God gave a clear promise that the temple would be completed.
Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 9 “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. 10 For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. Zech 4:8-10 (ESV)
Our God is always faithful to keep His promises! Unfortunately, we only want Him to keep the “good” promises. We’d love to have Him forget the chastisement part. We’re not so different from the Jewish people of Zechariah’s day who thought that their release from captivity gave them license to sit back for awhile.
One of my favorite songs is For Such a Time as This, and that’s the theme of our final reading this week. The Book of Esther never mentions God by name, but it’s clear that His hand was on Esther, Mordecai and even Haman as He worked to protect His people. The Jews celebrate this story every year during the festival of Purim. It’s a story that would play on today’s television sets – intrigue, mystery, death, beautiful women, and at the end, the “good guys” win!
King Asasuerus threw a banquet, but not just any banquet. He was showing off his “stuff”, and one night after he’d had too much to drink, he wanted to show off his beautiful Queen Vashti. For whatever reason, the Queen refused him. This was a triple offense.
1. As an Eastern woman, she challenged a man’s authority;
2. As a wife, she disobeyed her husband’s authority ;
3. As the King’s subject, she defied the King’s command.
The King was not amused, and since he was probably quite tipsy (Esther 1:10), he wasn’t in a position to have good judgment. His counselors took advantage of the King’s state, plus his anger at Vashti’s refusal, and fueled his fire. They told the King that Vashti wronged the King and the whole empire. They probably told him that everyone would whisper about his inability to control his wife, a mere woman, and his empire would be held in contempt. If the King had just shrugged it off, the story would have ended here, but of course God had a plan.
The king went off to war for a few years. When he returned, he wanted to have a Queen again. Those loving counselors suggested the King enhance his harem by bringing the most beautiful young women into involuntary servitude. Esther was one of the young ladies captured and brought into the harem. She was Mordecai’s cousin and adopted daughter. No one knew that Esther and Mordecai were Jews. They were fully assimilated into the culture. If they had been practicing Jews, their dietary and worship style would have been noticed. Interesting that God can use even those who aren’t fully obeying Him – or even halfway obeying!
Esther was primped and prepared. She found favor with the harem keeper. She spent the night with the King, and he was so enamored of her that he made her Queen of Persia. Esther kept in touch with Mordecai, who was in a position of honor and authority himself. Mordecai overheard a plot to assassinate the King. Mordecai notified Esther; the plot was foiled. Mordecai’s deeds were written into the official palace chronicle.
Enter Haman. He is considered so evil that when the story is read in the synagogue at Purim, every mention of Haman’s name is met with the stamping of feet and the people shouting “May his name be blotted out!” However evil the man was, at one point he was appointed chief officer in the empire. It’s always interesting to see how God uses even evil and corrupt men to accomplish His purposes.
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. Esth 3:2 (ESV)
Do you think that Haman was well-liked if the only way he would receive homage was through the king’s command? Everyone obeyed – except Mordecai. He may have refused because he knew that Haman hated the Jews. (some think that Haman was descended from the Amalekites, who had been fighting with the Jews since the time of the Exodus). Haman took revenge and plotted to kill Mordecai and all the other Jews in the nation.
Haman consulted the court astrologers to select the perfect day to begin what would have been the first Holocaust. The astrologers cast puru, or lots, and that’s where the name Purim comes from. The Lord had His hand in this too, as the date they decided on was nearly a year away.
The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. Prov 16:33 (ESV)
Mordecai then went to the king and exaggerated the offense. The king heard what he wanted to hear, and just like he did with the Vashti situation, he listened to an advisor without doing any fact checking. Haman told the King that ALL the Jews were disobeying ALL the laws of the land. Then Haman came up with an irresistible offer: 10,000 talents of silver for the privilege of getting rid of the Jews. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, at that time the entire income of the Persian Empire was 15,000 talents a year. Haman was astronomically wealthy, and how could the King refuse such an offer?
The King gave his signet ring to Haman. Now Haman was free to write whatever he wanted, and once he had sealed it with the ring, it would be the law of the land. Did the King trust Haman that much, or was he distracted with other things – perhaps his harem? At any rate, the decree went out – KILLTHE JEWS!
Esther probably had no idea what was going on. She was Queen but since women didn’t rule, she had other duties to attend to. She had no idea that her death warrant was just signed. Mordecai made sure that she knew, and Esther agreed to help. At the end of the week, we see Haman pridefully eating at a banquet that Esther prepared for him and the King.
This week’s reading was full of intrigues, scandal, and God’s working through hearts of evil men. We see that God’s purpose will be accomplished whether or not man wants it.
Do you want to be a part of God’s problem or God’s solution? Are you so filled with creature comforts that you forget about serving God, or do you freely give of your time and talent to help those in need and further the kingdom? Which verses stood out to you this week? There were many for me!
Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. 6 You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. Hag 1:5-6 (ESV)
Thus declares the Lord of hosts: Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. Zech 1:3 (ESV)
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, 10 do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” 11 But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. Zech 7:9-11 (ESV)
Thus says the Lord: I have returned to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the Lord of hosts, the holy mountain. Zech 8:3 (ESV)
For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this? Esth 4:14 (ESV)
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Cor 10:31 (ESV)
Consider your ways. Do what’s right in God’s eyes, not in man’s eyes. Don’t be silent about God. You never know what your actions may have to do with God’s plan for the world. Do everything for God’s glory.
See you next week!