Jesus and John the Baptist, a New Beginning

John 1 and Luke 1

The first chapters in the Gospels all describe a new beginning. There had been some 400 years of silence, prophetically speaking, since the days of Malachi the last prophet of the Old Testament. The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has continuity with Old Testament sacred history (compare for instance Malachi 4:5-6 with Luke 1:17). Indeed, the Gospels claim that this new beginning is a fulfillment of Old Testament hopes (Matt. 5:17). All the Gospels culminate with the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah from the dead, who is the ultimate new beginning, the first born of God’s new creation (cf. Col. 1:15, 18; Rev. 1:5).

A main emphasis in the early chapters of all of the Gospels is the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptizer.

Luke described the amazing births of both John the Baptizer and Jesus.

Matthew described the birth of Jesus, and then skipped to the adult ministry of John the Baptizer.

Mark and John do not describe either birth, but start their Gospels with the adult ministries of John the Baptizer and Jesus.

Why would the relationship between the two men, John the Baptizer and Jesus, be such an important issue? Because John the Baptizer was a very significant individual at the time. Many Jews in 1st century Israel believed John to be a prophet sent by God (John 1:6, Matt. 21:6 “all held John to be a prophet”).  We know from the Gospels and also from the 1st century Jewish historian Josephus Flavius that John the Baptizer had thousands, probably tens of thousands of followers (see here for Josephus’ description of John). Some people thought John the Baptizer might even be the Messiah (John 1:20). The Gospels clarify John the Baptizer’s role and make it clear that Jesus is the Messiah, of higher rank than John the Baptist.

John’s Gospel’s specifically introduces the ministry of John the Baptizer already with three verses in 1:6-8, and then again in 1:15 and 1:19-35 (cf. 3:25-30). The appearance of John the Baptizer so early in John’s Gospel, the sixth verse of the Gospel, is evidence that “the beginning” of John 1:1, and all of these verses at the beginning of John’s Gospel refer not to the Genesis creation but to the same beginning that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke describe, “the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1, cf. Luke 1:1-2, Matt. 1:1, John 8:25, 16:4).

In other words, John the Baptizer is so quickly and prominently introduced at the beginning of all the Gospels, including John’s Gospel because the Baptizer has a key role in this new beginning. The Baptizer’s key role was to bear witness to the coming of the Messiah: “After me comes a man who ranks above me…behold the lamb of God…this one is the Son of God” (John 1:15, 29, 34).

One other aspect of the new beginning that the Gospel of Jesus Christ inaugurates was declared by Mary the mother of Jesus when she visited Elizabeth the mother of John. The coming of the Christ was to initiate a “reversal of fortune”. In language that echoes the prayer of Hannah (the first person in the Bible to mention the coming of God’s king messiah, 1 Sam. 2:10), Mary knew that the new beginning would turn the world upside down (Luke 1:47-56). Those of low estate would be exalted, the proud would be scattered, and the mighty brought down from their thrones. As Jesus promised, “the meek will inherit the earth”.

-Bill Schlegel

Bill Schlegel is the author of the Satellite Bible Atlas and general editor of the One God Report podcast.

Jordan River near Jericho

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Luke 1 and John 1:1-14

Tomorrow we will read Matthew 1 and Luke 2:1-38 as we continue seeking God, growing our faith and increasing our love. Come follow along and see what God as in store for you!

From Beginning to End

Malachi 1-4

            In the English Bible we’ve come to the last book of the Old Testament, but not for the Hebrew Bible. It’s the end of the Prophets and now the Writings start. In my Hebrew/English Bible the next page starts the Psalms then Proverbs…. The book of Malachi is filled with warnings and exhortations and many familiar and excellent verses for such a small book. He’s a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah.

            “The LORD is magnified beyond the border of Israel.” (1:5) Amen!  That’s for sure these days from those days.  Look how far from the borders of Israel He’s magnified. “If then I am the Father, where is my honor? And if I am Lord, where is my reverence?” (1:6) “For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, my name shall be great among the Gentiles.” (1:11) “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us?” (2:10) Amen.

            “The LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce. For it covers one’s garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts.” (2:16) “Behold I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” (3:1) “For I am the LORD, I do not change.” (3:6) Those are very simple and yet clear verses.

            “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed me. But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed you? In tithe and offerings.” (3:8) This is a good question to ask children. I’ve asked some of our older kids before, and now I’m going to ask our younger children and see what response I get. 

            “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble, and the day which is coming shall burn them up,” says the LORD of hosts.” (4:1) This is certainly true, and, in some ways, THIS is the ultimate climate change and global warming some are talking about now that will one day take place.  God will purify and purge, and it won’t be by a flood the next time like he promised.

            The last two verses of Malachi 4:5,6 are quoted in Luke 1:17, when the angel told Zacharias about his son, “He will also go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.” So even though it’s not the end of the Hebrew Bible it still fits going into the English New Testament.  So does the end 2 Chronicles in Hebrew that goes into the New Testament, when Cyrus king of Persia was stirred by the LORD which says, “May the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up!” (36:23) That also goes nicely with Matthew 1:23, which says, “the virgin will bear a son and call his name Immanuel, God is with us.” Same idea, God is with us and helping us (not God the flesh). “The LORD is magnified beyond the border of Israel.” (1:5) Amen! 

Stephanie Schlegel

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at Bible Gateway here – Malachi 1-4

Tomorrow we begin the NEW Testament, with Luke 1 and John 1:1-14. If you haven’t already, now would be a great time to commit to reading the New Testament before the New Year begins. Finish off 2020 strong in God’s Word. Below is the Bible reading plan we will be following with our daily devotions. Let’s seek God together!

With Great Joy

Nehemiah 11-13 & Psalm 126

Now that the wall’s been built, the city secured, and they’ve read from the Book of the Law to relearn God’s ways, it’s time to dwell in Jerusalem and the

cities.  The leaders were designated to live in Jerusalem and the people cast lots to see which one out of every 10 would dwell in Jerusalem.  The rest would dwell in cities surrounding Jerusalem.  I lived in Israel 25 years and for most of the time we lived in a little village 10 miles west of Jerusalem.  It’s a mountainy and rocky area forested with some trees.  Most villages and Jerusalem were built around a water source, perhaps some type of spring.  Pictured is a photo of ruins of a Nehemiah period fortress in the hills of Judah near Jerusalem. (This photo courtesy of Israel Department of Antiquities.)

            It was a time of rejoicing.  Singers had built themselves villages all around Jerusalem (12:29). Also, two large Thanksgiving choirs with specific names and place locations are listed.  It’s amazing the record we still have today of the detailed descriptions of their locations. Also, great sacrifices were offered for God had made them rejoice with great joy.  The joy of Jerusalem could be heard from afar.  It’s amazing on the quiet of a shabbat or holiday when places are closed the noise that can be heard from a greater distance.  Psalm 126 says with singing they returned from captivity.  There must have been a joy to be back in the land of Israel again after being exiled. Though they “sow in tears, they’ll reap in joy.” At our oldest daughter’s wedding I told this to people as I wept, that I sowed in tears (such hard work raising kids overseas) and now I was reaping and weeping in joy, not out of sorrow but gladness that we made it to that day!! 😊

    

        Nehemiah returned after some time to Jerusalem and like a good parent had three firm corrections to make.  First, Eliashib, the priest, allowed Tobiah (Ammonite official) to have a large storeroom for himself, where articles and supplies for the Levites, singers, gatekeepers, were to be kept.  Thus, he threw out Tobiah’s things and cleansed the storeroom for proper use.  Then he asked God to remember him. (13:14) Secondly, he contended with the people for buying and selling on Shabbat and commanded the gates be shut and not open until after the Shabbat.  In current the state of Israel, every Friday afternoon stores, including all the malls shut down all over the country and remain closed until after sundown on Shabbat (Saturday), once two stars are visible.  Some weeks with holidays, the malls are closed for THREE full days!… Nehemiah prayed that God remember him. (13:22) Lastly, he contended with some of them, cursed them, struck some of them, and pulled out their hair, and made them swear not to give their children to foreigners!  That’s quite aggressive and zealous. Imagine the uproar he’d receive from all kinds of people and media today for those actions! But he prayed and asked God remember him for good. (13:29,30)

-Stephanie Schlegel

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Nehemiah 11-13 & Psalm 126

Tomorrow’s reading will be our last book of the Old Testament – Malachi – as we continue on our 2020 Reading Plan. God has great things in store! Come follow along!

Feasting on His Word

Nehemiah 8-10

Now that the wall of Jerusalem was completed the people gathered together at the Water Gate to have Ezra read from the Book of the Law of Moses on the first day of the seventh month (which was actually last weekend on the Jewish calendar and the Feast of Trumpets. It’s not really the Jewish New Year, that was adapted from a later time in exile. The first month of the Jewish year is Passover). It states NINE times that “all the people” are included in the events happening in chapter 8.  The priests even helped the people to understand the readings, (8:8) and the people responded with WEEPING (8:9). Nehemiah encouraged them to go and “eat fat and drink sweet” for this day is holy to the Lord. They weren’t to be sad, for “the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (8:10) They knew the words were declared to them.

 The second day they gathered again to hear the Law and learned that in the seventh month they were to dwell in booths for a week.  They were to go to the mountains and gather olive branches, myrtle, palm, and leafy branches to make a booth.  The other day on my fast walk in the neighborhood I plucked various leafy bushes to add to the pop-up booth card I’m making to send to our grandson next week. 😊   I’m going to also include some fruit snacks he can enjoy by his “booth” as a celebration of the end of the harvest season. In Israel today, where we lived for many years, they still make and “dwell” in booths during this weeklong holiday.  They’re on rooftops, balconies, and yards.  They’re decorated with paper chains, lights, and pictures. Our kids liked to sleep in them some nights with their friends.  The people in Nehemiah’s time hadn’t celebrated the Feast of Booths/Tabernacles since the time of Joshua, so it was a time of “great gladness” (8:17), and still is to this day. Although, this year might be different as they’re on a full lockdown in Israel during these holiday times because of Covid.   

            They continued to read the Book of the Law for a ¼ of the day and for another ¼ of the day they confessed their sins and worshipped the LORD their God. (9:3) Some of the Levites stood up and recalled God’s work through Moses, Egypt, Wilderness, and how He brought them into a good land.  However, they “cast His Law behind their backs and killed prophets sent to them.” (9:26) So God “gave them saviors” when they cried out for help and many times delivered them. (9:27) “For many years You had patience with them and testified against them by Your Spirit in Your prophets, yet they would not listen.” (9:30)

Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and awesome God, who keeps covenants and mercy… (9:32) You are just in all that has befallen us.” (9:33) How patient God was and is with His peopleIt says not the kings, princes, priests, or fathers have kept God’s Law.( 9:34)  How important it was for all the people to gather together and recall God’s work over time and their own lack of commitment, and thus to refocus their love and service for the LORD their God for the future.  Now that the wall of Jerusalem had been rebuilt, they needed God’s protection over them. Instead of blaming God for failures, it’s good they acknowledged they were wrong and refocus on Him as they move forward.  We too, can learn from their example in our lives today.

Stephanie Schlegel

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Nehemiah 8-10

Tomorrow we will finish the book of Nehemiah and read Psalm 126 as we continue seeing God’s faithfulness in our

Overcoming the Opposition

Nehemiah 6-7

So much work had already been done – the walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt – now they just needed to finish the gates. Surely this project was God-ordained and he picked the right leader for the job – Nehemiah. He was able to get everyone motivated and working together, and despite the opposition they were able to finish their job on the 25th of Elul (which appears to correspond to somewhere between Sept 15 and October 2). So, this week is a super time to celebrate the work that is accomplished when working for God.

So much good had been done already – but the work did not end and neither did the opposition!

Nehemiah was under attack. Satan (along with Tobia, Sanballat, Geshem and the rest of those fighting against God) were using every weapon at their disposal to bring this righteous leader down: lies, fear, wolves in sheep’s clothing, attempting to distract him from his work with other business, spreading gossip and accusations of sedition to either silence him or get him in serious trouble with the authorities, even hiring a false “prophet” to scare him into sinning.

But Nehemiah stood strong. We continue to see him turn to God in prayer. Asking for strong hands and asking for God to take care of those getting in the way of the Lord’s work. He obviously had a strong knowledge of God’s law to not be tricked into sinning. This gave him wise discernment in knowing who to listen to and what to do, and not do. And, he knew to fear God not men.

We can learn a lot from Nehemiah today because Satan keeps using the same ploys. Adolf Hitler wrote, “Mental confusion, contradiction of feeling, indecisiveness, panic; these are our weapons.” Evil men seeking to destroy God’s work have come and gone and yet remain today. It is indeed a vivid reminder that, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV). They love nothing more than trying to interrupt God’s work and if they can bring down a godly leader at the same time they probably get bonus points.

We see so much of this evil and oppression today. But like Nehemiah, we must not give up! We must turn to God again and again when faced with the lies and fears and Satan’s strong man tactics that would love to have us throw in the towel and take the easy way instead. Pray, fast, seek His word and His way, don’t fear man, resist sin, use discernment in knowing who to trust, what to say and do. Pray, too, for our leaders that they will have the wisdom and strong hands of Nehemiah

Satan has been running rampant and the result is a broken world. Keep at God’s rebuilding work – one brick at a time.

Marcia Railton

Speaking of our opposition, mental confusion, lies, panic, and pleasing man not God, reminds me of the life and death fight for the most innocent of God’s creations. Tonight would be a great time to watch See Life 2020 and #LoveEveryHeartbeat. And pray for strong hands – and hearts – to do the work God wants you to do.

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Nehemiah 6-7

Tomorrow we will read Nehemiah 8-10 as we continue seeking God on our

Response to a Broken World

Nehemiah 1-5

I love the man Nehemiah! I love his passion, his prayers and his “get ‘er done” action. At the start of our story he holds the position of royal cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, so we can assume he is no slacker but is quite driven, reliable and trustworthy. He has spent his whole life in Babylon/Persia, and done very well in this “foreign” environment. But kudos to those who raised and influenced him, for his Jewish heart was still steadfast in serving the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and his ancestors.

It had been 90 years since the first group of Jewish exiles had returned to Jerusalem. And just 13 years ago Artaxerxes had allowed Ezra to return to rebuild the temple. Nehemiah learns some have just come from Judah and he asks them how his “homeland” is doing. And what he hears breaks his heart. It is natural to be heartbroken at bad news. But for a lot of people the heartbreak is soon replaced with other feelings – perhaps relief that it didn’t happen to you, perhaps just busy-ness with other daily activities. But Nehemiah mourned, fasted and prayed (with confession) for several days when he heard that the people of Judah were still in distress and the walls of Jerusalem were still torn down. Just as this was breaking God’s heart, Nehemiah allowed his heart to be broken, too. And as he prays and fasts he listens for God’s answer, and just like Esther he too uses the position God has placed him in to be a part of the solution. If you find yourself mourning what God mourns, and you don’t know what to do…follow Nehemiah’s example with prayer and fasting and watch for God’s plan to develop – and then do it!

I won’t retell the rest of the story that Nehemiah tells so well – but make sure you catch some of the neat details that we would do well to remember when we seek to do God’s work.

Nehemiah was scared to death going before the king – this was not an easy thing to do, and it could even cost him his life – but doing God’s work is always worth it.

Even as the king was asking Nehemiah what he wanted, Nehemiah was praying away! He knew he wasn’t doing this on his own – and he would continue to give God the credit for the king’s generosity and for the work that would be done.

Nehemiah didn’t try to build the wall on his own. There was something for everyone to do – and Nehemiah got them going. The city officials, the temple servants, the families, the daughters, even the goldsmiths and the perfumers were out there working. Certainly most of them would never have said their spiritual gift was rebuilding walls – but Nehemiah provided the leadership, the need was presented to them and, most of them, were ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work. What job is God calling you to do with your brothers and sisters?

I would have loved to see Baruch the son of Zabbai complete his section of the wall – Nehemiah reports he “zealously” did his work. This wasn’t a half-hearted effort for him. Will you be known as one who zealously does the work of the Lord?

The world didn’t stop to applaud God’s construction team – in fact, God’s people faced much opposition, ridicule, anger, threats and violence from many sides. It would have been easy to give in to their fears and give up. But instead, they responded FIRST with prayer and then they kept at it – with one hand to do the work and one hand to carry the weapon to defend themselves if needed. They meant business. They looked after one another and once again commited themselves to finishing the job God gave them.

Nehemiah also stood up for those who had been taken advantage of and he corrected those who had performed acts of injustice for their own selfish gain.

The world could sure use more leaders like Nehemiah. How will you step up? There is much broken in our world today. What is breaking your heart and God’s? Begin with prayer and fasting. And then continue with prayer as you attack God’s work with wisdom and action even in the face of opposition. His work is always worth it.

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Nehemiah 1-5

Tomorrow we will read the next two chapters in Nehemiah’s story as we continue on our journey through the

Can you believe next week we start the New Testament!

Love and Marriage

Ezra 7-10

Ezra, who was from the lineage of Aaron the high priest came up from Babylon. He was skilled in the Mosaic Law. King Artaxerxes gave the children of Israel the right to return to Jerusalem if they chose. In 7:10 it says, “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel”. A letter was given to the ones returning from the king. Interestingly enough, this would have been the stepson of Queen Esther. Maybe he had heard about God through her. He starts out “Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, a scribe of the Law of the God of heaven:” He allowed the Israelites who wanted to return to go back, they were given gold and silver from the royal treasury, and then they were urged that if they needed anymore, that they were to pay for it from the king’s treasury. Ezra said in 7:27 “Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem.” It sounds like Queen Esther must have talked about God to her family, and the king acknowledged that he was the God of heaven, and he did not want to have the wrath of God on him or his sons.

In chapter 8 they list those who returned, I love 8:21 “Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions.” They fasted and prayed to God before making any decisions, just like we read in Esther as well. It is important that we follow these guidelines in our lives before we make decisions, pray about it and ask God to lead us in the direction that He would have us take.

In Chapter 9, we see the beginning of some problems, the children of Israel had taken pagan wives for some of their sons and daughters, even the religious leaders were included in this sin. Ezra was very upset at this and he prayed and wept before God because of their sin. They had been forbidden in Deuteronomy 7:3, to take foreign wives. Now, this was not a matter of being racist, because the foreign people could convert to Judaism, but the ones they married were pagans, which meant that they continued to worship idols. In 1 Kings 11:2b “the Lord said to the children of Israel “You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your heart after their gods. Solomon clung to these in love.” V.4 “For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David.” This was when their idolatry began which eventually led to the kingdom being conquered by the Babylonians. It is a fact that if we marry outside our faith it makes it more difficult to love God with our heart, soul, and might. That’s why we are told in 1 Corinthians not to be “unequally yoked with an unbeliever.” I believe who we choose to marry is one of the most important decisions we can make in our lives. I have a friend who said that of her four children, only one remained in the faith. She said it was who they married that made the difference. One married someone who was an active participant in church, two would go on occasion, and one married an atheist. When we marry, we are to be one, and it works best to be in accord with one another, and to both be pulling in the same direction. You will not get very far if the two oxen are trying to go in opposite directions.

The assembly decided that they would put away the pagan wives and children that they had with them. They confessed their sin and repented of it. Ezra 10:2b “We have trespassed against our God and have taken pagan wives from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope in Israel in spite of this.” 10: 10b-11 “You have transgressed and have taken pagan wives, adding to the guilt of Israel. Now therefore, make confession to the Lord God of your fathers, and to do His will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land, and from the pagan wives.” There was hope when the people repented because God will always accept us back when we return to him.

That is what is so encouraging to us as we read the history of the Old Testament. None of our patriarchs were perfect but God is able to use imperfect people to accomplish His will. We all need to be willing to let God use us in our imperfections. When we sin and make mistakes, that isn’t the end, if we return to God, he will return to us as we read earlier this week.

-Sherry Alcumbrack

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ezra 7-10

Tomorrow we will begin the book of Nehemiah (chapters 1-5) as we continue on our

Haman’s Pride and Prejudice – Part 2 (The Rest of the Story)

Esther 6-10

When we left you yesterday, evil Haman was going to go in the next day and ask King Ahasuerus to hang Mordecai on the gallows that he had built in anticipation. Now we will find out the rest of the story. During that night the King was having trouble sleeping so he asked for his book of records to be brought to him and read out loud. In it they read the story of Mordecai saving his life. He asked how they had honored him, and they said that nothing had been done for him. And Mordecai had not ever tried to get any special recognition for this act of bravery.

When Haman shows up that morning to visit the king, he asks Haman, “What shall be done for the man whom the king delights to honor?” Haman, thinking he must be talking about him, says, dress him in a royal robe, put him on a royal horse with a crest, and then have a prince lead him through town, proclaiming before him. The King said, Quick, do everything you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew, who saved my life. Not quite what he envisioned.

The King and Haman go later that evening to the special banquet with Queen Esther. Once again, the King tells her she will receive anything she asks for, up to half of the kingdom. Chapter 7:3 “Then Queen Esther answered and said, “If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request.” Our enemy will have us destroyed, killed, and annihilated. He asks, “Who is this enemy?” she replies, “The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman!” Haman pleaded for his life, but the king sent him to the gallows that he had built for Mordecai to be hanged. King Ahasuerus gave Queen Esther Haman’s estate, and gave the signet ring that he took from Haman to Mordecai because the Queen appointed him to manage things. Then she begged the king to stop the decree that Haman had already sent out to kill the Jews. He had another decree sent out that allowed the Jews to protect themselves against anyone who would assault them. The Jews overpowered those who hated and wished to destroy them.  After two days of fighting, they enjoyed a day of rest, celebrating their victory with a feast. Mordecai made a decree that the Jewish people would celebrate this holiday every year as a time when, God through Esther, saved the lives of the Jewish people and the evil plot which Haman had devised failed and returned upon his head. His ten sons were also killed on the gallows. The days of Purim are still celebrated by the Jewish people today. King Ahasuerus advanced Mordecai in his kingdom until he was second only to the king. Chapter 10:3 says: “For Mordecai the Jew was second to King Ahasuerus and was great among the Jews and well received by the multitude of his brethren, seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all his countrymen.”

This story reminds me of how faithful God is to his children. I am reminded of Genesis 50:20 when Joseph told his brothers, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” The things Haman had devised were evil, but God was able to turn it around for the good of His people. God had orchestrated so many things to be in place to save them. We need to trust God, even when we are going through hard times. We need to realize that we are not going through them alone, because God has promised that he will be with us.  It also brought Ephesians 3:20 to mind, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” Queen Esther asked for her life and the life of her people. She was given that and more. The King gave her the estate of Haman and Mordecai was able to advance to the number 2 man in the kingdom, even though they were Jews. He became very powerful and influential, and it says in the last verse that even with all his power, “he was seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all of his countrymen.” Mordecai was a wise man and he used his life to lead people to seek God and live a life according to his will. What purpose have we been made for, let’s be courageous and trust God and let him use us as He wills, let’s seek good for others as we work for God’s glory.

-Sherry Alcumbrack

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on BibleGateway here – Esther 6-10

Tomorrow we will finish up the book of Ezra (7-10) and then just 2 more books to read in the Old Testament before we get to start the New Testament next Wednesday.

Haman’s Pride and Prejudice

Esther 1-5

When we read a good book, there are several things that we look for. A hero, a villain, a little romance, and some intrigue. We always enjoy a book with some plot twists to keep us guessing. The book of Esther has all that and more. Many scholars have mentioned that God is not mentioned in Esther, but the story is all about His faithfulness to His children.

Once upon a time in a land far away, King Ahasuerus, King of the Medes and Persians was throwing a banquet to show off his wealth and power. He wanted to show off his beautiful Queen Vashti, but she refused his summons. His advisors demanded he divorce her because the other wives in the kingdom would not honor their husbands. They decided to host a beauty pageant of all the young ladies in the land to choose the next Queen.

In the city of Sushan, lived a Jew named Mordecai, his father was one of the captives under Nebuchadnezzar. Mordecai was raising his first cousin, Esther, because she was orphaned. Esther was picked to be one of the candidates for Queen. Esther had not told anyone she was a Jew due to Mordecai’s advice. Some of the people looked down upon the Jews. Esther went before the King and found favor in the sight of all. 2:17a “The King loved Esther more than all the other women.” He made her his Queen.

Mordecai sat at the gate and heard Bigham and Teresh, the doorkeepers, plotting to kill King Ahasuerus.  Mordecai told Queen Esther, and she told King Ahasuerus in Mordecai’s name. It was checked out, found to be true, and both were hung on gallows and it was written down in the book of the chronicles, in the presence of the King. 

There was an evil prince named Haman whom King Ahasuerus promoted over the other princes. Everyone had to bow and pay homage to Haman. Mordecai would not bow to him, and it filled Haman with rage. He convinced the King that all the Jews were opposed to the King and that they should be destroyed. The King told him in 3:11 “to do with them as seems good to you.” Haman sent out a decree to kill, destroy, and annihilate all the Jews, both young and old on one day.  When the Jews heard of this, there was great mourning, with fasting, weeping, and wailing. Many wore sack cloth and ashes. Mordecai sent Esther a message and showed her the decree, and he suggested that she go to the King and plead before him for her people. She said she had not been called to visit the King in 30 days, and she would be killed if she went before him and he did not extend his gold scepter to her.” Esther promises to approach the King and asks all the Jewish people to fast and pray for the three days prior to the meeting. So, Mordecai did all that was asked of him.

On the 3rd day she went before the King in her royal robes and found favor. He held out his golden scepter. The King asked her request and in 5:3b “It shall be given to you, up to half of the kingdom.” She asked the King and Haman to come to a banquet that she would prepare. They went to the banquet, the King once again asked for her petition and said that it would be granted her. She asked for him to come back the next night along with Haman to another banquet. Haman went out joyful but when he saw Mordecai in the Kings gate, he was filled with hate in his heart. He told his wife that Queen Esther had invited him to a banquet with the King, and he was invited back for the next day. But he couldn’t enjoy it as long as Mordecai the Jew sat in the Kings gate. His wife suggested he build huge gallows and then suggest that Mordecai be hanged from it in the morning. This pleased him and gallows was built. You will need to come back tomorrow for the…. rest of the story.

When we read this story it’s easy for us to think we would do the same thing that Esther did because we know how it will end, but it took a lot of courage for her to even go before the King with her request because she knew that he could command to have her killed if he so chose. These are a couple of my favorite verses in this passage 4:13-14 “And Mordecai told them to answer Esther; ‘Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this.’” And Esther sends this reply to Mordecai 4:16b “And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!” Mordecai totally trusted God to save the Jewish people, somehow, someway. He reminds Esther that maybe God put her in the position she is in for just this reason.

We need to trust in God to know that if we can do the right thing and glorify God in the process that God has us right where He wants us, and He will use us if we allow Him to. Esther didn’t go into this blindly, and she did things in the correct order. She asks everyone to fast and pray to God for her to find favor with the King, after they did that, she courageously put her life on the line, she was willing to lay down her life for a just cause. We need to be looking for our “such a time as this”, when we allow God to use us to fulfill His purpose.

-Sherry Alcumbrack

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Esther 1-5

Tomorrow we will read the rest of Esther’s story as we continue on our

We’re Marching to Zion

Zechariah 8-14

My mother always loved to put together puzzles, the more pieces, the better. It always amazed me how patiently she would work at it, but in the end, when all the pieces were together you could quite clearly see the complete picture. As I read Zechariah, all the puzzle pieces haven’t been assembled yet, and we can’t see clearly the complete picture, but we can see the incredible love that God has for Israel, the land, and his children.

Chapters 1-6 is about the rebuilding of the physical temple, Chapters 7-8 are about them obeying the laws of God, and Chapters 9-14 tells that God will send a Messiah who will be Priest and King. This Messiah will take away our sin and he will rule over us.

He has promised to bless those who returned from exile to Jerusalem.  In 8:3, He says “I will return to Zion, And dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth, The Mountain of the Lord of hosts, The Holy Mountain.” Then we skip down to 8:8 “I will bring them back, And they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, They shall be My people And I will be their God, In truth and righteousness.” He wanted them to build His temple in Zion once again, and he encourages them to let their hands be strong, and not to worry about their enemies because He will protect them.  8:21 says “Let us continue to go and pray before the Lord And seek the Lord of hosts.”  It even says that people from other languages will grasp the sleeve of the Jews and say, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” He tells the people that He will take care of them. He will protect them from their enemies. He has promised them good things, but it always comes with a choice for the people. It has been a choice for them during this entire story, just as it is a choice for us today. They must obey his commands.

In 9:9, we have a prophecy about Jesus “Behold your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey. A colt, the foal of a donkey.”  This was fulfilled when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey in the New Testament. They were looking to their King to come like Thor in the Avengers with power and great glory. They imagined their Messiah coming in on a royal stallion as a warrior to save them. In verses 11-17, he asserts that He will save His people, His flock.  In Chapter 12 he writes about the coming deliverance of Jerusalem. In Chapter 13:9b “They will call on My name, And I will answer them, I will say, This is My people, And each one will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” Chapter 14 is a victorious chapter about the coming of Jesus. When Jesus comes back the Second time, he will be coming as a victorious warrior, who will save His people. 14:9 says “And the Lord shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be- The Lord is one, And His name one.” I may not understand everything that Zechariah is saying but I know the most important thing is that God loves us, one day Jesus will come back as our Messiah, and Savior and will set up the Kingdom of God, and God will dwell with us in Zion. As Zechariah’s name proclaims, “the Lord has remembered”; He has remembered His promise to his children and the promise will be fulfilled.

-Sherry Alcumbrack

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Zechariah 8-14

Tomorrow we begin the exciting book of Esther (chapters 1-5) as we continue on our