Esther: Introduction Part 2

Study the Times of Esther: Before and After

Studying Esther without the “how it got there” or what is its influence and application today. Let us take a moment and look at some interesting facts that lead up to and followed the time of Queen Esther.

To the right is a look at where Shushan is located. Here it is called SUSA. None-the-less it is just another name for Shushan. It I said that the tomb of Daniel is in this city. Other places claim his tomb but this one is the most likely because scriptures tell us Daniel spent time there as a government official under Darius (appointed ruler over Babylonian territory captured by the Persians and Medes. One may wish to examine the secular history around Daniel and Susa (Shushan). Go to http://www.biblesearchers.com/prophecy/daniel/daniel8-1.shtml for one good website for so doing.

Click on either  Shushan, the capital in the Province of Elam and the River U’lai or Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerses are the same King of the Medes and the Persians according to the Seder Olam Rabbah. One may also wish to click on The Palace at Shushan or The Tomb of Daniel.

We disagree with some of this website’s conclusions, but it is mind tickling and an educational moment or two to read. It began as the capital of Elam. Elam was in the line of Shem (Noah’s son). Esther is from a line of Benjamites taken captive along with Judah. The time of Esther is about 140 years after Nebuchadnezzar dispersed and took captive the Judeans of Judah. Judah was dominated by many Benjamites and a significant population Judeans [Tribe of Judah] with a smattering of members from the other Tribes of Israel.

(Jeremiah 49:34-39) I will shatter Elam before their foes, before those who want to kill them; I will bring disaster on them, even my fierce anger,” declares the Lord. “I will pursue them with the sword until I have made an end of them. I will set my throne in Elam and destroy her king and officials,” declares the Lord. Yet I will restore the fortunes of Elam in days to come,” declares the Lord. Remember that one of the capitals of Persia was Susa of Elam.

Alexander the Great died in Babylon “city”. The Babylonian Empire had a second capital in Susa/Shushan. This is the setting of the Book of Esther. The Israelis who were originally Babylonian captives from Judah, but did not return to Judah when released, by choice remained in Babylon and later Persia. This was a significant population of mostly Benjamites and Judeans with some Levites.

AHA MOMENT: The two main Benjamite characters of the Book of Esther are Esther and Mordecai. Their names are corruptions of the Babylonian gods Isthar and Marduk. Esther’s Hebrew name was Hadassah which interestingly means Myrtle as in the myrtle tree of Zechariah’s vision in his book, chapter 1:1-17.

A 2nd Aha: Go back just a few years, maybe 60 years when Cyrus the Great released the Judean captives in his conquered lands, this included multiple tens-of-thousands of dispersed Northern Kingdom Israelites originally exiled by the Assyrians and living within the other conquered lands of Cyrus.

Why is history before, during, and after the Book of Esther so significant. Why is it even included in the Old Testament? We borrow from Robert Mock’s MD article The Festival of Purim his insightful questions.

“What if Esther did not exist, or she did not respond to the calling of God and be willing to give up her life for her people.  Within eight years, Ahasuerus was assassinated by a courtier, Artabanus.  No doubt, Ezra, the lawyer and scribe, was alive at the time of Esther.  Fifteen years later, under the rule of Artaxerxes I, Ezra leads the second group of Jews back to the Holy Land in 458 BC.  Was Artaxerxes I, the son of Esther and Ahasueras (Xerxes I)?  Without Esther, would Ezra have been killed in the genocide? Without Ezra, would the compilation of the Tanach, the Old Testament, been completed?  Without Esther, would Nehemiah, the governor, have been killed? Would the third migration back to Israel have never occurred?  Maybe there would not have been enough Jews to migrate back to the Land”.

Esther and the Book of Esther may be the common denominator for each of the above scenarios offered by Dr. Robert Mock. There were many Persian kings but only a few have any role in God’s expressed interest in Israelites during the time up to and after Esther. It may be little more than a technicality in our review of whose who in this article but read on. This was a combined empire of the Medes and the Persians when it all began. Eventually the Persians conquered the Medes. When one runs across the name of Astyages, son of Cyaxares, he is NOT a king of the Medo-Persian Empire. He is the last king of the independent Medes in the Mede and Persian alliance. He ruled on his half of the empire 100 years after the time of Esther. This would be the far eastern borders of today’s Iran.

AHA MOMENT: The brother-in-law of Astyages was none other than Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and Daniel’s time. It was his sister who was the queen for which Nebuchadnezzar built the “Hanging Gardens” of Babylon. Talk about family in-fighting, Astyages was dethroned by Cyrus of Persia, his grandson. He lived out his life in Persia.

Another point of aha in the Book of Esther is the villain Haman. He is an Amalekite. He is in the line and Tribe of Amalec the grandson of Esau. A reading of the Book of Esther might leave one thinking that the dispute between Mordecai and Haman was simply personal. If that is so, then why would Haman seek the execution of all “Jews” in Persia even though there is doubt Haman knew Queen Esther was a Jewess? It goes much deeper. It goes all the way back to the feud between Isaac and Esau. They were then and remain today bitter enemies. It was the Amalekites of the Negev north of Egypt that refused Moses and the Israelites from Egyptian captivity of 400+years to pass through their lands in route to the lands of the Canaanites, Israel’s Promised Land.

The author of the Book of Esther is not identified. Most knowledgeable history buffs of the Bible conclude it must have been Mordecai who penned this Bible history. It is logical to conclude that one who was an eyewitness might be the author of greatest knowledge. Besides, Mordecai was significant to this book. His part was as important as was Esther if not a bit more so.

The events in the pages of Esther began around the 3rd year of Xerxes’ reign putting it around 583 B.C. They continued at least up to and after the twelfth year of Ahasuerus (Xerxes) most likely up to 573 B.C. Xerxes was assassinated assassination in 465 BC at the hands of Artabanus, the commander of the royal bodyguard. (Hmmm? Some bodyguard).

Let us close this part 2 of Esther with a quote from Charles Spurgeon.

Oh! That you studied your Bibles more! Oh! That we all did! How we could plead the promises! How often we should prevail with God when we could hold him to his word, and say, ‘Fulfill this word unto thy servant, whereon thou hast caused me to hope.’ Oh! It is grand praying when our mouth is full of God’s word, for there is no word that can prevail with him like his own.” (Spurgeon)

JIV: This includes seeking wisdom and understanding [Colossians 1:9; NASB]

“For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding”

Rev. Dr. Jstark
2021

Why Did Peter Take His Eyes Off of Jesus in Matthew 14?

Keep your eyes upon Jesus;
Look full in His wonderful face;
and the things on earth will grow strangely dim;
in the light of His glory and grace.

This song has been around for quite some time. People like the Oakridge Boys, Amy Grant, Blackwood Brothers, Alan Jackson, Dorothy Moore, Michael W. Smith and a theater of other singers have recorded this song or a close version to it. The facts behind the above lyrics may not be so well known as are these professional artists. If one goes to the website:http://yhoo.it/1bNYED9, s/he will find over 40 professional singers echoing out his or her version of this famous song.

Jesus Walks on WaterToday I want to bring the reader to a less known, but critical consideration. It will help those of us who struggle to stay the course of our daily Christian walk. Yes, there are thousands who can point out that this song, actually it is the chorus, is based upon when Peter walked on the water, took his eyes off of Jesus Christ and sank into the rough waves of the Sea of Galilee. The chorus of this song reflects this event in recorded history; i.e. Matthew 14:22-33. PS: Don’t confuse this event of history with the one Matthew records in chapter 8:23-27. BUT, there is a parallel for which I do not recall ever hearing it preached and perhaps the reader hasn’t either.

A parallel: In Matthew 8 Jesus is along with his disciples but is asleep in the boat. The storm appears to threaten or “sink the ship’ as one might state it today. In chapter 14, there are rough waves but no indication that the ship needs to be bailed or is in serious jeopardy of sinking or capsizing. The insight into these two separate events is that Jesus each time questions their faith but He hadn’t left them on their own. He is also with them both times. So even when we are in a group of fellow believers or on one’s own (i.e. Peter’), things happen, in our course of life on this earth that threaten us. Sometimes we think we are going down for the third time. Other times we simply seem to be in a battle with circumstances. The question one should ask in either situation, “where is Christ in our life, not “what is going on?”

If suddenly we don’t feel as close to God as we did just a few minutes or seconds ago, guess which one of us moved?

Back to Peter and his ‘walk on the water’. Walk on the Water is a song my gospel quartet often sang while in concert. An aside: I love the song, liveliness of the tune, and the great harmony of voices, but I do have a concern about a small part of the lyric (chorus). It goes “sweet Jesus as you walk on the water won’t you walk on out to me.” Why should we not simply walk on out to him? Staying in the boat (church pew) shows no commitment whatsoever. Reaching out to Him is faith in action (Book of James).

Asking Jesus to walk on out to us while we stay safe boat/pew demonstrates *no faith on our part. Just as in many religions of today, we try to make God fit our wants and needs instead of us unconditionally going to Him. *For by grace we are saved through FAITH (in action; emphasis mine)

Peter did venture out in a sea that was a bit rough, but not described as a storm as in chapter 8 when Christ calmed both the winds and the waters. Peter stepped out in faith knowing what he was doing was impossible on his own merits, but trusting Jesus, he did as he was told to do. Here is the metaphor so often if not usually missed when this historical event is preached from the pulpit, discussed in home bible studies, or read during personal bible studies. We should not only understand that Peter stepped out in faith then took his eyes off Jesus, but WHY did he take his eyes off of the object of his demonstrated faith in action? The answer: he became distracted or concerned about the*rough waves and seas around him; is environment, the world woes around him.Rough blue ocean under dark sky

*rough sea in this passage is not equal to the capsizing sea recorded in Matthew 8.

This is what happens to so many of us as Christians/believers during our time on earth. We step out in faith trying to move closer to Jesus then some rough seas as is recorded in Matthew 8 surrounds us. They aren’t life threatening but we panic or lose our vision and purpose, then compromise our intent or commitment. Yes, Peter took his eyes off of Jesus Christ, but it was because he put his eyes on the issues around him; his focus became one of concern for his safety. Even if by chance it was only that he was dazzled by the fact he was walking on the water, yet alone during rough sea, his focus had changed.

Charles Spurgeon once noted: Let your intellect be excited concerning the Lord Jesus. Meditate upon what you read. Don’t stop at the surface; dive into the deep waters! Be like a fish that swims and explores the farthest depths!

Joshua 1:8, Matthew 4:4, and Psalm 1:2 are additional quick Bible references that basically say the same thing…i.e. commitment.

James 4:8 ESV – Draw near to God, [in other words, don’t sit in the safe haven of the boat or the church pew waiting for God to come to you] and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts… (ESV)

Conclusion? Peter stepped out of the safety of the boat in faith and walked on the rough sea water. Then he got distracted by his environment or circumstances. This made the distraction a trump card over keeping his eyes peeled on Jesus; i.e. scripture. When this happened it wasn’t like he didn’t believe, or that he changed his mind and no longer wished to follow Jesus. Satan had temporarily refocused Peter on something other than Christ. This is why we are instructed to PONDER the scripture and PRAY continuously. If we do that, our environment will not take us out of our game.

This blog could easily be a solid sermon from which many could be set free from the distractions of this world’s news, calamities, threats, wars, climatic events, etc. However, it is why Peter shifted his thoughts off of Christ and what it was that caused this shift to happen that is the lesson today. As the words of the opening song goes: ….

“…and the things of earth will grow strangely dim” (no longer a distraction)

Murphy James