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Esther Explained: Part 2


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(Based on my reading of The Queen You Though You Knew by Rabbi David Fohrman)

Esther arrives at the King’s chamber. He as locked himself away from his people and seemingly needs a break from the stress of ruling. He is pleased she has come. Likely he believes it is a sign that she cares for him and is risking her life to comfort him. This is not a time to dissuade him of this idea, so she invites him to a feast with only her and one other guy in attendance. A private dinner with your wife makes sense, but the king has to be thinking ‘Why is this other man being invited as well? What is my queen trying to tell me?’ Haman has no such thoughts and believes this is a sign he is highly favored. The invitation merely boosts his ego.
At the end of the dinner, Esther has still not revealed what is on her mind. Instead, she asks the king, and Haman, to another banquet. In the first request she tells the king the banquet is for ‘him,’ but which ‘him’ it is for is a little ambiguous. In the second request, Esther states that the banquet is for ‘them.’ This has to confuse the king, and may be why he cannot sleep that night. In ancient Jewish writings (before the Middle Ages) Rashi (a famous Jewish Rabbi) suggests that the king believes Esther is insinuating that something untoward has been happening between her and Haman. This makes sense. After all, at this time in history the queen has very little power so what else could she have to say to the king that she is so afraid of saying that it takes three audiences with the king to get her courage up? All he knows is that whatever she wants to tell him, it has to do with Haman.
This brings us to the fact the Esther has never told the king that she is Jewish. He must have asked; what husband would not want to know, especially if he was a king trying to unite a kingdom? The only logical reply Esther could have given was that she was Persian and that nothing else matters, which would have pleased the king immensely. Now Esther must reveal that she really does have some loyalty to one of the nationalities that reside in his kingdom, which may alter the king’s view of her, especially since the Jews have been accused of trying to overthrow the kingdom.
The king cannot sleep. He is likely thinking about why the queen would throw two banquets for him and another man. Haman on the other hand has passed Mordecai on his way home and is now really mad since, as usual, Mordecai did not given him the respect he believes he deserves. (There is a lesson here about not letting on person’s opinion ruin your whole day…) Haman’s wife advises Haman to just have Mordecai killed, since, after all, Haman is in charge. She also tells him to talk to the king about it in the morning. Haman however does not wait. He goes to the palace at night, after the king should be asleep. As luck would have it, the king is not asleep and asked Haman what he would do to honor someone who has pleased the king. As you well know Haman thinks the honor is for him and is crestfallen when he finds out he is to honor Mordecai for saving the king’s life. His disappointment was likely evident. At this point the king must have been thinking, ‘This man thought he would ride my horse and wear my clothes in front of all my subjects? And he has something to do with my wife?’ He must also be wondering what Haman is doing back at the palace at this time of night after he had clearly left for home hours ago. Doubts are increasing as to Haman’s motives….
The queen then reveals that Haman wishes to kill her and her people, and has tricked the king into signing a decree to make it legal. The king steps out to think and walks in the garden. Why would Haman wish to kill his queen unless he made advances that the queen spurned in an attempt to take the kingdom? (At this time, one of the ways to usurp power was to sleep with a king’s women, showing that the king was not powerful enough to protect them from others.) The king returns and Haman is on the queen’s couch (which can be translated as bed) with her begging for his life. This looks bad and confirms the king’s fears. The king asks the eunuch (the man charged with guarding Esther) what to do. The eunuch, likely a friend of Esther’s by this point, points out the Haman has built gallows to hang Mordecai, the man who saved the king’s life. This is the final straw, and it looks very much like Haman is upset that Mordecai foiled the plot on the king’s life. Haman has signed his death certificate.
Mordecai is made second in command, after all he has proved his loyalty, as has Esther by seemingly not going along with Haman to overthrow the king, and Mordecai has been given all of Haman’s belongings, a sizable amount of wealth. But the decree still stands. Esther must again approach the king, who tells her that she and Mordecai have the power to do what they think best. This is a huge promotion for Esther, and should be noted in any discussion regarding how God views women. In this kingdom, as seen by Vashti’s inability to refuse a request, the notion that a wife must obey her husband at all times, the beauty pageant where the king takes all the beautiful women for himself without causing civil war and the fear Esther, the king’s wife, has in approaching her husband without being sent for, show how little value women have. Now the king is giving his queen the power to make laws with his advisor. This is a huge leap forward. (We will also see in Nehemiah the queen mother being consulted, showing that the position of women in the kingdom as people valued for their wisdom has remained. And some believe that the queen mother in Nehemiah is actually Esther in her old age….)
So, not being able to revoke Haman’s order to kill the Jews, Mordecai and Esther devise a new order allowing the Jewish people to defend themselves and keep the spoils. This is a test devised to show that the Jewish citizens are loyal. This is now the perfect time for the Jews to rise up and take control, or at least increase their control, of the kingdom. But Mordecai knows a few things about the Jewish people that the rest of Persia does not. First, the Jewish people at this time believe the teachings in scripture about not taking the plunder are there to teach them that war is not about personal gain. Further, their land is Israel, not Persia, and that is the only land they are to have according to scripture. Lastly, their prophets have told them to work for the good of this kingdom while they are there. Mordecai is confident that his people will show their loyalty and that this will go well for them.
Mordecai then throws a parade to celebrate the decree before the date the decree goes into effect. This tells the other leaders in the kingdom that he is in charge, has the king’s backing and has confidence in the results. The leaders have two decrees: Haman’s which says that they may kill all the Jews and take their possessions, and Mordecai’s, which says that the Jews may kill those who come against them and take their possessions. Which one will they back? Since Haman is dead and Mordecai has the power, it is really not a question. When the day comes, only those who really hate the Jews come against them and are defeated. Esther asks the king for a second day for the Jews to finish conquering those who came against them, and it is granted, keeping the Jews who did not finish defeating their enemies in one day safe from repercussions and showing the nation that the king currently sides with the Jewish people, which impression one did not get from Haman’s decree. The Jews also do not take the plunder, showing that this was merely an act of self defense and not for personal gain, further proving themselves to be loyal. Esther also has Haman’s sons hung from the gallows. They are already dead. This is a further statement regarding how the king now views anyone who is against the Jews, as hanging is an insult.
Esther and Mordecai proclaim a yearly holiday and call it Purim (lots). This is Biblical sarcasm. There are a lot of seeming coincidences in the book of Esther, but the Jewish people do not believe in luck, but that God controls everything.




Zebedee, father of James and John, husband of Salome, fisherman.

In studying James and John I was struck by the account of their father, Zebedee. Zebedee was present when Jesus called his sons. He was in the boat that caught the surplus of fish and when it almost sank from the weight of the catch even though no fish were to be found prior to Jesus’ arrival. He heard Jesus preach from Simon’s boat…. yet he did not follow when Jesus called. His wife did, and was one of the women at the cross, one who supported Jesus, and was close enough to Jesus to ask favors for her sons, at her sons’ request, indicating that Jesus held her in such high esteem that his closest followers believed He would listen to her over them. So what happened to Zebedee?
Most scholars believe that Zebedee passed away at some time during Jesus’ ministry since his wife is known as the mother of James and John, and she has control of seemingly large sums of money. This may be true, but initially he is there. (There is indication that this is her money, and if you read Proverbs 31 you will see that she may have run her own business and had her own money as well.)
It is my belief that Zebedee is a good man who told his boys, and his business partners, and later his wife, to go, promising that he would stay behind and take care of the business, continuing to support the others. After Jesus dies we see Simon returning to his boat. Someone took care of it for him, and that someone was willing to relinquish it back to him when he returned. It is my belief that this was the faithful Zebedee, who loved his family enough to sacrifice an opportunity to follow the Messiah closely, so that those he loved could have the honor. His wife would not likely have been able to do so during this time in history had he not been a follower from afar and her closeness to our Lord suggests she was there for the majority of His ministry. Some are called to be close, in places of honor, while some serve from afar, supporting those whom God has called to a more public ministry. I believe Zebedee to be one of these faithful, humble supporters of Christ.

Immediately, In Scriptural Context


Photo by Matija Barrett

Don’t Worry, Immediately, In Scripture, Is Not As Fast As You May Think…

Undoubtably, if you have been a church goer for any length of time, you have heard a sermon referencing Matthew 4 telling you that James and John “immediately left the ship and their father” to follow Jesus. And then you would have heard the pastor go on about what that means for our walk with Christ. The problem with this line of thinking is that the Biblical writers’ sense of ‘immediately’ and our modern sense does not quite line up. And this is good news for those of us who feel guilty for our lack of an ‘immediate’ response to some matters of faith. For when you reconcile Matthew 4 with Luke chapter 5 you see a much different picture.
As you probably already know, Jesus came upon the group after a night when no fish, or at least very few fish, were caught. The lack of fish means the nets received very little wear. There were two ships present: Simon and Andrew’s and James, John and their father’s. And these men were partners in a fishing company of sorts. Jesus approaches and asks to borrow Simon and Andrew’s boat so He may preach from it. They put the boat out a little ways so everyone in the crowd can see Jesus, and He preaches. Andrew, Simon, James and John have thus just heard Jesus preach, and Jesus is not known for short sermons… (This is why feeding the crowd becomes important later on.)
Jesus then asks Simon to take the boat out and to let down the nets. Simon protests, but does it anyways. When the boat’s nets break, they call to James and John to join them, which they do, and both ships are filled with fish. They return to shore and begin to mend nets. It seems Jesus spoke to Simon and Andrew first at their boat, which would make sense as that was the boat he was in, and then moved on to speak to James and John. It was then, after hearing the preaching and after seeing the miracle, that James and John ‘immediately’ left their ship to follow Jesus. Additionally, scripture tells us in John 1 that Andrew had been a follower of John the Baptist and when he saw Jesus approaching went to Him, bringing Him to Simon and telling Simon that he believed Jesus to be the Messiah. This group of men already knew about Jesus prior to this meeting, and were already aware of the teachings of John the Baptist.
In many areas of scripture we are advised to consider our actions, to do our research and look into the scriptures and to seek wise counsel before making a decision. These men did just that. But when the evidence was there, they did not hesitate to do what is right. That is the Bible’s definition of ‘immediately.’

How to Celebrate Hanukah

How To Celebrate Hanukkah


Photo by Matija Barrett

Hanukkah, aka Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, the Feast of Dedication etc, is a fun holiday to celebrate, and it is an excellent opportunity to teach your children more about the miracles of God. (See my last post about why we celebrate…)

As Christmas and Hanukkah are close together, it is somewhat difficult for Christians to celebrate without getting holiday burn out. For this reason we typically have one larger celebratory night and then light the candles only, on other nights. For small children, without much of an attention span, celebrating with small gifts all eight nights sometimes takes the edge of the Christmas craziness…. your choice.

As the Jewish calendar does not line up with the calendar we currently use in the US you will need to google when Hanukkah occurs. You will also need a menorah, aka a Hanukiah, candles and a dreidel. Chocolate coins, known as ‘gelt,’ are also nice for small children. The chocolate is usually of a very cheap variety and will not impress your teens…

An 8 stem menorah is placed in a window. Each night at dusk it is lit from right to left (Hebrew is read from right to left, unlike English). The menorah actually has 9 candles. The extra candle, either in the middle or off to the side, is the slave or servant candle. This candle is lit first and is used to light the other candles. The first night only one candle is lit, the second two etc. The slave candle is also left lit. Hanukkah candles are made to last approximately one hour and burn completely down. Cleaning the menorah of wax is… interesting. (This is not the same menorah that sits in the Temple. The Temple menorah has seven flames and is filled with oil.) Typically the menorah is lit by the mother. A blessing over the candles is said. She then sits for at least 30 minutes while the husband serves the meal. This is to remind us that the victory over the enemy was delivered through the hands of a woman, Judith. The husband may make the entire meal, or merely serve it. This is to prompt the children to ask why mom sits, when she is busy every other night. Jewish traditions often set up situations to prompt the children to ask questions about godly things.

Food: Since this is a holiday which features a miracle of oil, fried foods are king. Potato latkes and jelly donuts are traditional. Feel free to make your own traditions. I like serving olives, from which the oil is made.

Games: The dreidel. A dreidel is a 4 sided top. If you are very creative you can make your own with your children. Otherwise you can buy one- they are relatively inexpensive. Each side has a Hebrew letter. As I do not have a Hebrew type setting, you will have to google this. In the US the 4 letters stand for ‘a miracle happened there.’ In Israel there is a slight difference and the letters stand for ‘a miracle happened here.’
To start everyone puts one piece into the center pot. This can be your gelt (chocolate coins), or pennies, or any other small item you wish to use.
Shin: it looks like a 3 pronged menorah, or w. When you land on shin you put a piece into the pot.
Hey: this looks like an n, a table or a house. If you land on this you take half of the pot. (If it is odd, take the extra.)
Gimmel: This looks like a boot. You take the entire pot. Everyone then places one piece into the pot.
Nun: This looks like a backwards c. You do nothing.
The dreidel game is not meant to be exciting. It was traditionally used to hide the fact that the Jewish people in captivity were teaching their children the Torah, which was against the law. When a stranger approached they resumed the game. The game was uninteresting enough that the foreigners did not want to join in. There are ancient texts with snippets mentioning the Jewish obsession with that boring game!

Music: There is a lot of Hanukkah music- google it and find your favorites. My favorite is The Hanukkah Song by the Bare Naked Ladies on their holiday album, Bare Naked for the Holidays, which contains a lot of interesting, unique Christmas songs as well. (I know, who would have thought a band called Bare Naked Ladies would be the one doing a great job here!)

The candle blessing: If you wish to do this in Hebrew google it and listen to the proper pronunciation, or listen to the Bare Naked Ladies song….. The blessings vary, depending on who you ask, and can vary by night. I do not use the blessings that imply that following the commandments makes us in relationship with God, though it is an important part of the relationship…
Here it is a blessing you can use in English:

Praised (blessed) are you, our God, ruler of the universe, who performed wonderful deeds for our ancestors in those ancient of days at this season.

You can add your own personal prayers as well, thanking God for the small ways He provides for you as well.





Photo by Matija Barrett

Chanukah is a holiday commemorating a miracle that occurred between the times recorded in the Old and the New Testament (erroneously mistaken as the ‘silent times’).
Chanukah, also known as the Feast of Dedication (of the Temple), is recorded as being celebrated by Jesus in the New Testament as well, making it a holiday Christians too may celebrate and enjoy. (John 10:22)

To understand Chanukah, which has many spelling options as it is transliterated from Hebrew (spelled as it sounds since the language has a different alphabet), one must go all the was back to Alexander the Great who conquered much of the area surrounding Israel, then died. The vast amounts of captured territory were given to 4 generals, then one was split to include a 5th general. These were ruled somewhat peacefully for a while, until an egomaniac, who named himself Antiochus Epiphenius (god on earth) decided to conquer the other four kingdoms.

Antiochus ruled the Seleucids to the north of Israel and had to travel through Israel to get to the other kingdoms. Now Israel was in an odd position… When Alexander approached Israel the religious leaders met him and showed him prophecies in the Old Testament that appeared to be about him. Alexander assumed this meant that the Israelites were surrendering to him and left. The Israelites assumed that God had saved them through this revelation and believed themselves to be free. Israel paid tribute occasionally after this and everyone was happy.

Antiochus comes through, desecrates the Temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar and destroying everything, including the jars of oil, and tells the Jewish people that they are to worship him. He then sends his troops throughout the countryside to desecrate the Jewish altars that exist in the remote regions. (I know there was only supposed to be one altar, but if you read the Old Testament carefully you will see that the people rarely fully obeyed this rule.) At one altar a priest, Matthias, either pretended he was going to sacrifice the pig and instead attacked the soldiers, or attacked the soldiers while the pig was going to be sacrificed (the accounts I have read differ). In either case, one old priest, who dies of natural causes within the next year, kills a group of trained soldiers. His sons lead the uprising. This is known as the Maccabean Revolt and his son, Judah, is credited as the leader. Maccabee, loosely translated, means ‘strong hammer’ as the Jewish people were short on swords and used whatever they had to fight.

The Jewish people did not have an easy time winning. The turning point of the war came when they were facing the bulk of the enemy army and a young widow, named Judith, snuck into the enemy camp as a camp prostitute with a basket of salted cheese and wine. She entered the enemy commander’s tent, got him well drunk, cut off his head, put it into her basket and returned to the Jewish camp. There she gave the head to the Jewish commander, who presented it to the enemy. This disheartened the troops, and the Jewish people were victorious.

After winning the war, the Jewish priests went to cleanse the Temple. When they entered the Temple, they discovered that there was only one jar of oil to light the menorah, enough for one day. The menorah is needed to light the Temple as the Temple has no windows, but rather the golden walls reflect the light of the menorah inside. It takes 8 days to purify more oil in the manner prescribed for Temple use. As they were motivated to clean the Temple, they began the work immediately. Miraculously the oil lasted all eight days until the new oil was ready and the Temple was cleansed.
Chanukah therefore commemorates not only the miracle of the oil that allowed the Temple to be properly cleansed, but also a victory from oppression.

Remember, the Jewish people could have tried to use oil not prepared properly, inciting God’s wrath. Or, they could have waited to cleanse the Temple. Instead they were fervent in their dedication to the things of God, and did not wish to wait one second more than necessary to begin to honor Him. God saw their commitment and honored them with a miracle that let them know that He was indeed with them. A very personal miracle, showing that God blesses the desires of our hearts in small ways, such as oil lasting longer than it should, as well as large ways, such as the parting of the Red Sea.

Money Changers


So today I was asked an interesting question at church, so I thought I would share the answer here as well.

What about the money changers upset Jesus so much that He overturned tables and whipped them with his cloak?

First you must understand the way the Temple was set up during the time of Jesus. This was NOT God’s design, but it was how it was when Jesus walked the earth.

First you had the Court of Gentiles. This was the only area the Gentiles were allow in and it was where the money changers were (remember this).

Next you had the Court of Women. This was as far as the women were allowed to go.

Then you had the outer courts of the Temple itself where only Jewish men were allowed.

The money changers, being in the Court of the Gentiles, were the only representatives of the Temple worship that the Gentiles would see. Their job was to change coins with pictures of idols on them for Temple coins. They also had tables where you could purchase animals for sacrifices. The problem was they were charging fees and basically ripping people off- not a good representation of the Jewish faith. AND, it was one of the only things the Gentiles could see regarding the Jewish worship of God.

Today this would be like the televangelists who use emotional methods to trick widows and others out of their life savings to support their greedy lifestyles. Do you see why Jesus was mad?

Romans: Defense of the Mega Church


In reading Romans I realized there was a similarity between what the church in Romans was experiencing, and our ‘mega-church’ problems.

In Romans we see Jewish believers who have grown up in the ‘church.’ They have been raised with rules and expectations regarding what it means to be ‘good.’ Some are saved, and others believe that they are believers even though they are merely rule followers. Both groups tend to believe the ‘rules’ are very important and their words and actions imply that the rules may even be more important than belief, even though they may deny this to be so.

We also see, in Romans, that there are a lot of Gentile believers. They did not grow up with the ‘rules’ and many of them have not bothered to study scripture. They have faith, but only a few know how to live as a believer. There are more ‘true Christians’ in this group, but their lives are often messier than those who have no faith, but live according to God’s law.

How to balance these groups is difficult. Those who grew up with the ‘rules’ and whose lives are a lot less messy will of course believe their ways are better, except the truth is that some of them are not saved- which is worse than having a messy life. Many with messy lives believe, but see the rule followers as judgmental. The lack of faith of some of the rule followers likely draws those who believe away from discovering the blessings associated with knowing and following God’s laws. It was a mess then, and is still a mess now. Combine that with the fact that those who really like the rules expect new believers to be completely perfect in actions upon salvation. These ‘old believers’ (who may not actually believe, but think faith is about works- like the Jews in Romans) will then criticize those who are actually trying to disciple people, which is a slow process (think about how resistant you are to change and conviction even though you are saved and then imagine if you had bigger hang ups such as addiction or family and/or close friends who were loved by you but not good influences). Paul was likely pulling his hair out when he wrote Romans (and every other letter…).

Mega-churches are getting people saved. They may not be doing it the way other churches are doing it, and not everyone may be truly ‘saved’ within the church, but the people are there worshipping God and praying. Mature believers need to figure out how to come along side to help these new believers with their messy lives and lack of Biblical knowledge rather than tearing down what their leaders are doing. They are introducing people to God. Small churches with few converts often resemble the Pharisees more than the early church, making them lovers of the ‘rules’ more than lovers of God. The early church was messy in many, many ways (hence the many different letters, all addressing different problems). Jump in, join the mess and welcome someone to life in Christ!


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