Daily Bible Readings – Sunday, September 23, 2012

Prayer Psalm: 34

Prayer Point:  David writes a prayer of worship after God saved him from Abimelech, his enemy.  The psalm lists a number of reasons why God is worthy of worship.  Which ones resonate with you?  Use those to offer God your own prayer of worship.

Matthew 6:1-16, 16-18

Why is it important to God that we give to the poor, pray, and fast in secret? What reward can we expect if we do them publicly? What is the proper motive for doing a good deed?

You will see this a lot with Jesus’ teaching. It is not so much what you do, but why you do what you do that matters to God.

James 1:19-27

James was written by James the brother of Jesus. He was not one of the original apostles, but later rose to become one of the prominent leaders of the church in Jerusalem (see Acts 15). It is a practical book, emphasizing what it means to live in response to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Why should followers of Jesus be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry? What is the great barrier to living a righteous life?

What does James call those who receive the word of God but don’t do what is says? What is promised to those who do what the word of God commands?

What failure will cause our religion to become worthless (see verse 26)? What two things makes our religion “pure and faultless” (see verse 27)?

Esther 3:1-4:3 – Enter Haman; the Story takes an ugly turn

In this chapter we are introduced to Mordecai son of Jair … the son of Kish. From what tribe does Mordecai come? (Mordecai is of the tribe of Benjamin.)
Mordecai is also related to a fellow named Kish. This is important because Kish was the father of Saul who was the first king chosen to rule Israel so many years before. It also means that Mordecai would have been considered as royalty had not Saul taken himself out of the running as king. Let’s just say that Mordecai might have been considered as someone of some influence. Who is Hadassah? (Hadassah is also known as Esther.))
What is Esther’s relationship to Mordecai? (Esther is Mordecai’s cousin but because she was orphaned at a young age he treated her as his own daughter.)
Who is Hegai? (The answer to this question is actually in verse 2:3. He is the king’s eunuch and in charge of the king’s harem – a wise choice for the king.)
What brought Hegai and Esther together? (An edict from the king ordered all the beautiful girls (read virgins) of the kingdom to Susa to be placed in the care of Hegai. From this harem the next queen would be chosen. The bible tells us that Esther was “taken”. When I see “taken” I think that there was an element of force attached. The bible does not tell us that Esther was “willing”.)

What similarities can you see between Esther and Joseph (Jacob’s son)? (Like Joseph, Esther found favor in the eyes of the king’s eunuch. She, like Joseph, was treated well. In her case, she was given special food and beauty treatments. Of course, the aim was to make her most pleasing to the king.)
What bit of information had Esther withheld from the court officials? (Esther did not tell the court officials that she was a Jew.)
Why would Esther withhold this information? (Esther was instructed by Mordecai not to reveal that she was a Jew. This will become important as the story unfolds.)

What kinds of rigors was Esther subjected to in this process of elimination? (“Before a girl’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six months with perfumes and cosmetics.” (Esther 2:12 NIV) [A year’s beauty spa! – j.t.])

How did the king manage to choose one among so many? (The “candidate” would go to the king in the evening and in the morning she would go to another part of the palace where the previous “candidates” were kept (by another eunuch). This eunuch was, in fact, in charge of the concubines. From that one may assume that the “interview” with the king was probably of an intimate nature.)

How was one of the “candidates” to win a “second interview”? (No one could return to the king unless he had asked for her specifically by name.)
Esther, like Joseph, manages to win favor from everyone she comes in contact with. What of the king? Was he impressed? (“Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins.” (Esther 2:17 NIV))
Esther was the fairest of all the virgins in the empire and thus King Xerxes crowned her as his queen. [Almost sounds like a fairy tale. – j.t.]
We know that King Xerxes like to throw a party, what does he do for Esther? (“And the king gave a great banquet, for all his noble and officials. He proclaimed a holiday throughout the provinces and distributed gifts with royal liberality.” (Esther 2:18 NIV)

Meanwhile, Mordecai was not twiddling his thumbs. What does Mordecai happen to overhear? (“During the time Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway became angry and conspired to assassinate King Xerxes.” (Esther 2:21 NIV))

What does Mordecai do with this information? (Mordecai brings this information of the plot to Queen Esther who, in turn, brings it to the king giving credit to Mordecai. When the investigation of the charges is complete the sentence of the king is to send the traitors to the gallows. (Esther 2:22-23))

While Esther may be the queen, she shows significant deference to Mordecai, as one would show to a parent. This submissive attitude will be displayed throughout the whole book.

The manner in which Haman is introduced leaves open to speculation just how he got there. “After these events, King Xerxes [aka Ahasuerus] honored Haman son of Hamedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles.” (Esther 3:1 NIV) There are a few things to keep in mind about Haman. Much of what I am about to write is my own opinion and is probably worth as much as a bag of sand. The bible does not tell us just why King Xerxes [aka Ahasuerus] is showering so much honor on Haman, but “After these events, King Xerxes [aka Ahasuerus] honored Haman…” (Esther 3:1 NIV) I suspect that somehow Haman managed to wrestle the credit for the discovery of the plot to kill the king from Mordecai.

There is also a subtle connection between Haman and Mordecai. Remember that Haman was an Agagite. So what? Agag was the progenitor [forefather] of the Agagites (from which they derive their name) was at the time of King Saul, king of the Amalekites. Saul had defeated the Amalekites but, contrary to the LORD’s will, had spared the king’s life. In very short order Samuel (the last of the judges) executed Agag. This disobedience of Saul’s marked the beginning of his downfall. So here in Persia we have another encounter between the Amalekites (Agag in the person of Haman) and Israel (in the person of Mordecai).

Because of this honor that King Xerxes [aka Ahasuerus] had conferred on him, what were people expected to do when they encountered Haman? (“All the royal officials at the king” (Esther 3:2 NIV))

What seems to be the problem? (“But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor.” (Esther 3:2b NIV))

Why would Mordecai not kneel to Haman? Unfortunately the scripture does not reveal that answer to us. It was the custom in the Middle East at that time, and perhaps even today, that bowing was a show of respect. Mordecai must have known that Haman was of the sons of Agag. Mordecai would also have known of the unfortunate encounter between King Saul and King Agag. Perhaps this was his reason. The ESV Study Bible suggests that maybe Haman had claimed some divine status and thus Mordecai could not, as a Jew, bow to him. That seems absurd to me because for a subject of the king to assume any type of divine status would put the kingdom in jeopardy. It is unlikely that the king would countenance such behavior.

What do the royal officials at the king’s gate threaten to do to Mordecai because he will not submit? (The officials bring the matter to Haman to see what he would do – whether he would tolerate this snub.)

What shifty plot does Haman hatch in order to get to Mordecai? (The plot amounts to: if you get them all (the Jews) you’ll get the one. “Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes [aka Ahasuerus].” (Esther 3:6 NIV) “…for he [Mordecai] had told them he was a Jew.” (Esther 3:4 NIV) [The stage is now set to re-enact the encounter between Saul and Agag! – j.t.])

“In the twelfth year of King Xerxes [aka Ahasuerus], in the first month, the month of Nisan, they cast the pur (that is, the lot) in the presence of Haman to select a day and month. And the lot fell on the twelfth month, the month of Adar.” (Esther 3:7 NIV) This verse will prove crucial as this story draws to a close.

How does Haman carry out his plan to eliminate the Jews? (Haman uses an innate distrust of “foreigners” and of their customs. He used this to suggest that they [the Jews] pose a threat to the king. The people keep to themselves, they have different customs and they do not obey the king’s laws. Haman urges the king to issue a decree that all of the Jews be eliminated. “…it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them.” (Esther 3: 8 NIV) Haman even goes so far as to offer to underwrite this policy himself. The king literally puts his stamp of approval on the plan: “So the king took the signet ring off his finger and gave it to Haman son of Hamedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews.” (Esther 3:10 NIV) Nothing vague about that!)

When was the king’s decree sent out? (“Then on the thirteenth day of the first month the royal secretaries were summoned.” (Esther 3:12 NIV) So it appears that the day of reckoning will be in about a year; in the twelfth month.)

What was the substance of the king’s decree? (“Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews – the young and old, women and little children – on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the moth of Adar, and to plunder their goods.” (Esther 3:13 NIV))

“The king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was bewildered.” (Esther 3:15b NIV) I wondered, and still do, why it was that Susa was bewildered. I think (or speculate) that the people of Susa were bewildered because of the intensity of the decree leveled against just one segment of the population. I suppose the question in the recesses of their minds might be: if it can happen to them can it happen to me?

What attitude does Mordecai adopt when he hears of the king’s decree? (Mordecai goes into mourning as though for someone who had died. He put on sackcloth and ashes and went about wailing loudly and bitterly. Perhaps he felt partly responsible for what had happened. Who knows?)

“But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it.” (Esther 4:2 NIV) Why do you suppose he could not enter the king’s gate? P.S. The answer is not in the text. (I think it has everything to do with death. No king wants the subject of death mentioned in his hearing. To talk of death in the presence of the king would be tantamount to treason because it may portend the demise of the king himself. Every king wants to believe he will live forever, after all are they not all divine in some way?)

Notice the universal nature of Mordecai’s response to the king’s edict. “In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay on sackcloth and ashes.” (Esther 4:3 NIV)

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