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Mark Hitchcock: Bible Study in Esther

July 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Recently I’ve listened to a Bible Study series through the book of Esther, one done by Mark Hitchcock two years ago.  This was done as a ten-part Wednesday night series, a straightforward book study series of this interesting narrative account.  As I listened to this series, I often recalled some of the content of the biblical fiction book “One Night with the King,” which I read several years ago (and was later made into a movie) — a very fictional account that portrayed Esther in a much more positive light than the reality indicates.
Like any good Bible study series, this one provides a great deal of background information, concerning the time period, the culture and the characters.  The story took place, I learned, during a ten year period from 483 to 473 B.C.  In Bible chronology the story comes after Ezra chapter 6, but before Ezra 7.  Esther 3 – 10 take place during 11 months, from 474 to 473 B.C., about 5 years after chapter 2.  In between chapters 1 and 2, King Ahaseurus left to a great battle against the Greeks — and suffered great defeat.  Mordecai likely refused to bow to Haman out of his own personal pride, reflecting the age-old enmity between the Amelekites  / Agagites, and the Jews.  The book of Esther continually refers to the two characters as “Haman the Agagite” and “Mordecai the Jew” to bring out the contrast.  The Persians were one group of rulers, interestingly enough, who did not claim divinity for themselves.  Haman’s decree (chapter 3) was issued by the scribes on the day before Passover.  Chapter 4 takes place shortly afterwards, and so Esther’s request for all the Jews of Susa to fast actually meant that they would have to skip Passover and fast when they should have been feasting.  Yet Esther and the other Jews in Susa seem unaware even of the fact of Passover on their calendar.

Among some of the interesting points made early in this series:  Hitchcock believes that Mordecai and Esther were unregenerate Jews — certainly good citizens, patriotic type Jews, but nevertheless unbelievers.  He suggests this as one of the reasons why God’s name is never mentioned in the book, and points to the obvious contrasts of Mordecai and Esther, with the behavior of other well-known Jews such as Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah.  Unlike Daniel, Esther ate ceremonially unclean food; she also willingly joined a pagan king’s harem, had unlawful relations with a man not her husband, and later married this non-Israelite.  Not only does the book of Esther never mention God, the book also never mentions prayer or repentance.

When I looked up the book of Esther in an online commentary — Thomas Constable — I noted great similarity in content.  It’s possible that this particular commentary was among Hitchcock’s source material.  The MacArthur Bible Commentary (MBC) gives a somewhat different stance, leaving some of the story details to the benefit of the doubt.  For instance, the note for Esther 2:8 simply says that it is impossible to tell if Esther was forced or joined the harem voluntarily.  From my reading of Esther 2:8, “was taken,” and subsequent verses that describe Mordecai coming near to check on her as much as possible, it seems at least possible that she was taken by force — a story version developed to great extent in the fictional tale, “One Night With the King.”  Regardless of how it  happened, of course, Esther and Mordecai certainly continued a very secular life afterwards — and yet the events were a part of God’s great providence in bringing about deliverance for the Jews at that time.  In the overall summary, MacArthur notes the differences in Esther’s conduct as compared to Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah, yet allows the possibility that we may not have the complete story concerning their lives afterward.  The MBC also gives more explanation concerning why Mordecai wanted Esther to hide her identity, due to a letter against the Jews, from the time of Ezra.

The book of Esther nevertheless stands as a great example of God’s providence and His determination to save His people, even using unregenerate people to play their part in preserving the Jewish nation.  This series from Mark Hitchcock is also valuable as one that makes the connection between what God did for His people Israel at that time, and the great future plans that God yet has for national Israel.  Haman is a type of the antiChrist, to be compared both with Hitler and the future antiChrist.  Hitchcock even mentions Barry Horner’s Future Israel and its basic message concerning God’s (future) election of Israel, and relates the story of Esther to great texts including Jeremiah 31 and Romans 11.

David’s Great Sin

July 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Going through  S. Lewis Johnson’s “Lessons from the Life of David,” I now reach 2 Samuel 11, the account of David’s great sin, the one that he never recovered from, with consequences that affected him the rest of his life.  As always, S. Lewis Johnson points to several other relevant biblical passages, for which we can see this incident as an illustration and a warning for our own lives.  1 Corinthians 10:12 is especially appropriate here: let him who thinks he stands, take heed, lest he fall.

Other New Testament passages that speak to the situation, David at this time, include James 1:14-15 and Romans 7:13-25.  David now at the height of his kingdom — apparently about 12 years after he became king of all Israel — has some spiritual gray hairs that he has not noticed: rot and decay setting in.  The polygamy in the palace clearly had taken its toll, and with the first step mentioned in 2 Samuel 11 (staying home, abdicating his royal functions, and idle), David is left susceptible to sensual passion.

Proverbs 11:22 describes the woman Bathsheba, as opposite of the godly woman who fears the Lord and shall be praised.  It is clear from the text that she was a willing accomplice in the adultery, and that she was more interested in the formal, outward ceremonial part of God’s law, as opposed to the moral part — as indicated in the narrative accounts of her ceremonial purification and her ceremonial mourning.  I recall a radio lesson years ago, from Chuck Swindoll, in which he laid further blame upon Bathsheba — that she should have known not to bathe in a place that could be observed from the king’s palace.  I’ve not heard that view anywhere else; but certainly, as S. Lewis Johnson observes, she had her guilt in the matter.

Uriah the Hittite is the most surprising character in the story, the one truly righteous man.  Johnson quotes someone else as having observed that “Uriah drunk was more pious than David sober.”

David followed the steps of the impenitent man:  clings to his sin, then searches for a means of escape, and finally completes the cover-up. Throughout the events, David broke three of the Ten commandments (adultery, murder, and coveting).  Yet God has the final say, and brings the greatest irony — like other ironic events in the Bible.  What David most wanted was to cover-up and hide his sin — and yet when he completed the cover-up, God made sure that everyone in the world would know about it, by having it recorded in holy scripture.  Today, even those with only a passing knowledge of the Bible, when they think of King David, associate David with Bathsheba.

In the follow-up text, 2 Samuel 12, S. Lewis Johnson has a few more interesting observations:

  • Families in the Near-East did sometimes have pet lambs, much as people today have pet dogs.
  • The fact that the story describes a little ewe lamb suggests that Bathsheba was very young, with an older, mature Uriah.  We do know that both Uriah and Eliab, Bathsheba’s father, were among David’s 30 mighty men, and this too suggests an age difference.
  • Even in his sinful state David still had a heart for justice, and knew very well the Mosaic law.  His remark about paying back four-fold agreed with the actual prescribed Mosaic law regarding the theft and slaughter of a sheep.  (see Exodus 22:1)

In the end, David did pay back “four-fold,” though certainly not in a way that Moses would have realized:

  • the death of the infant son
  • the death of Amnon
  • the death of Absalom
  • the death of Adonijah

Practical Sermons, Spurgeon, and Reading Good Sermons

July 26, 2010 Leave a comment

In a recent post over at Pyromaniacs, Dan Phillips discussed different types of sermons, and noted a weakness in C.H. Spurgeon, that Spurgeon always preached on the doctrinal portions but never on the practical Christian living texts (such as in Ephesians 5, etc.).  I can certainly see that point:  even when Spurgeon chose such texts he would turn the subject away from the part dealing with, say, a husband’s duty, and focus instead on Christ.  Yet in my own reading through Spurgeon’s sermons, I have found many great treasures of wisdom for practical life:  the exhortations and practical advice included within the context of an overall doctrinal sermon, much as the New Testament epistles often begin with chapters of doctrine, followed by chapters of practical application.

Grace Gems well points out the great benefits from reading good sermons, benefits I have only begun to appreciate in my reading through the early Spurgeon sermon volumes:

The reading of good sermons is the most underrated kind of Christian literature on the market today. In former centuries, the reading of sermons was the bulk of the mature Christian’s reading diet. Most Puritan books, for example, are sermons edited for print. Sermon reading keeps believers in the Word, matures the soul, and whets the appetite for good preaching. It promotes Christ-centered thinking, healthy self-examination, and godly piety in every sphere of life.

Consider the following practical words from Spurgeon:

  • continuous exhortations to study the Bible for oneself
  • advice to pray for those who do not understand some of the Bible’s teachings as we do, instead of trying to win them by mere words

Says one, “How can I do God’s business? I have no talent, I have no money. All I earn in the week I have to spend and I have scarce money enough to pay my rent. I have no talent. I could not teach in a Sunday-School.” Brother, have you a child? Well, there is one door of usefulness for you. Sister, you are very poor. No one knows you. You have a husband and however drunk he may be, there is a door of usefulness for you. Bear up under all his insults, be patient under all his taunts and jeers and you can serve God and do God’s business so.

“But, Sir I am sick, it is only today I am able to get out at all. I am always on my bed.” You can do your Master’s business, by lying on a bed of suffering for Him, if you do it patiently. The soldier who is ordered to lie in the trenches, is just as obedient as the man who is ordered to storm the breach. In everything you do you can serve your God. Oh, when the heart is rightly tuned in this matter we shall never make excuses and say, “I cannot be about my Father’s business.”

“How, then,” says one, “am I to make my calling and election sure?” Why, thus—if you would get out of a doubting state—get out of an idle state. If you would get out of a trembling state, get out of an indifferent lukewarm state. …Wherein shall you be diligent? Note how the Scripture has given us a list. Be diligent in your faith. … And when you have given diligence about that, give diligence next to your courage. Labor to get virtue. Plead with God that He would give you the face of a lion, that you may never be afraid of any enemy—however much he may jeer or threaten you but that you may with a consciousness of right, go on, boldly trusting in God. And having, by the help of the Holy Spirit, obtained that, study well the Scriptures and get knowledge. For a knowledge of doctrine will tend very much to confirm your faith. Try to understand God’s Word. Get a sensible, spiritual idea of it.  Get, if you can, a system of divinity out of God’s Bible. Put the doctrines together. Get real, theological knowledge, founded upon the infallible Word. … And when you have done this, “Add to your knowledge temperance.” Take heed to your body—be temperate there. Take heed to your soul—be temperate there. Be not drunken with pride. Be not lifted up with self-confidence. Be temperate. Be not harsh towards your friends, nor bitter to your enemies. Get temperance of lip, temperance of life, temperance of heart, temperance of thought. … Array yourself with patience, that you may not murmur in your sicknesses.  That you may not curse God in your losses, nor be depressed in your afflictions.

Doing What Pleases God — and the Consequences

July 22, 2010 Leave a comment

A recent post over at Pyromaniacs includes an insightful list, from scripture, of the types of things that may result from doing what pleases God:

  • Getting murdered by your brother for honoring God in faith  (Genesis 4:1-8)
  • Being hated by the most powerful in the land for telling God’s truth (1 Kings 18:17, 22:8)
  • Having people run away from your preaching (i.e. a small congregation) because you preach the truth straight (2 Tim. 4:2-4)
  • Being out of sync with your spouse for remaining faithful to God  (Job 2:9)
  • Being framed, slandered, and killed for remaining loyal to your family  (1 Kings 21)
  • Seeing your good name destroyed because of your love for Christ  (Matt. 5:11)
  • Having co-workers start a vicious slander-and-ouster campaign because of your godly excellence  (Daniel 6:4-5)
  • Being abused, even physically, for doing right in God’s eyes  (1 Peter 2:20, 3:14, 3:17, 4:19)
  • Enduring a life of persecution, deprivation, and temporal misery  (Hebrews 11:36-38)

As Dan Phillips said, these are only a sampling.  A few more scriptures I would add to the above:

These are great reminders, that doing what’s right and following God does not always mean great material blessings in this world.  Yet the Christian has the true happiness that goes beyond our circumstances in this world, as J.C. Ryle also describes (Practical Religion, chapter 10: Happiness):

Give a man a sensible interest in Christ, and he will be happy “in spite of abounding public calamities.” The government of his country may be thrown into confusion, rebellion and disorder may turn everything upside down, laws may be trampled underfoot; justice and equity may be outraged; liberty may be cast down to the ground; might may prevail over right: but still his heart will not fail. He will remember that the kingdom of Christ will one day be set up. He will say, like the old minister who lived throughout the turmoil of the French revolution: “It is all right: it will be well with the righteous.”

The “Mark Dever attitude”: Confusing Revealed Biblical Doctrine with Food and Drink

July 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Recently the local preacher, in a message supposed to be an exposition of 3 John, expressed a Mark Dever kind of attitude (and see further discussion at this post also) in his inability to distinguish between true lesser matters such as eating and drinking, and the oft-classified “second-order” and “third-order” biblical doctrines.  Specifically, he lumped one’s view of eschatology into the same category as the disputable matters of eating meat sacrificed to idols and one’s view of food and drink, as something that people should not divide over or even break fellowship over — and he even laid the charge that those who would divide over something so unimportant are really the divisive ones.

Not surprisingly, he did not put forth as an example the difference between Calvinist and Arminian doctrine — something of which Christians do have different understandings, and do separate over.  Believers also separate over ideas concerning spiritual gifts — cessationists and continuists.  They also divide over modes of baptism and the Lord’s Supper — all matters which the Bible reveals far less information about than it does concerning Christ’s Second Coming.  Regarding creation, another supposedly “less important” doctrine, the Grace to You and Pyromaniacs blogs have done an excellent job of pointing out the importance of that doctrine and overall biblical inerrancy and authority.

God has given us a vast amount of revelation and teaching concerning the Second Coming — far more than the New Testament has to say concerning these other doctrines over which, as we all know, Christians have “divided” into differing fellowships.  See, for instance, S. Lewis Johnson’s statement concerning the number of times baptism and the Lord’s Supper are mentioned in scripture, as compared to mentions of the Second Coming.  Eschatology is not something obscure or hidden from us and thus to be equated with food and drink.  Eschatology is not a minor thing that begins in Revelation or even Daniel — it begins in Genesis (with the Abrahamic covenant).

To quote Matt Weymeyer again:

many Christians are self-proclaimed, sometimes even proud, agnostics when it comes to their view of the end times, and unfortunately, many of them seem to be content to remain in the dark when it comes to what God has revealed about the future… God has revealed too much about this issue for us to be content with being agnostic.

I’ll also add here my agreement with Expository Thoughts’ latest blog:   “I told my students to believe that the text was written by God – if you can’t understand something written in the text, it’s your fault, not the author’s.”

The person who classifies eschatology as something on the level of food and drink (and charges those who think differently with sin and divisiveness) only reveals his own lack of understanding, his own neglect of the study of scripture, and arrogance in presuming to stand over God’s word and decide which doctrines are and are not important.  As Caleb Kolstad pointed out in reference to this similar attitude from Mark Dever:

“I also don’t think he takes into account the point that not everyone agrees on what second-level matters are and what third-level matters are.  For Pastor Dever’s church family, eschatology is a “Third-order issue” …  Fine, but if another pastor or local assembly decides this is a second-level matter for their particular church body don’t call it “sin” brother.”

And now to what the Bible does have to say regarding the specific doctrine of eschatology.  The same apostle Paul who emphasized getting along and doing no harm to the less mature brother regarding meat sacrificed to idols, also went to great lengths to warn the Gentiles against arrogance regarding the natural branches (Romans 11:18-20) and to teach the truth concerning the status of Israel now and in the future (Romans 9 through 11) — and throughout his teaching in Acts and the epistles continually affirmed the future hope for his people Israel.  The same apostle John who spoke out against Diotrephes in 3 John, also delivered the clear premillennial teaching, a Revelation from God, in his final contribution to the New Testament canon — a teaching so well understood in the early church that it was affirmed by John’s successors in the second century, and Justin Martyr in the late 2nd century would also affirm that all who were right-minded (true believers) also held to this truth, the future thousand year millennial reign of Christ.

In closing, I turn to much more edifying words, the great wisdom of C.H. Spurgeon.  From sermon #123, “Particular Election” — on the matter of making one’s calling and election sure:

do what the Scripture tells you—“Give diligence to make your calling and election sure.” … study well the Scriptures and get knowledge. For a knowledge of doctrine will tend very much to confirm your faith. Try to understand God’s Word. Get a sensible, spiritual idea of it.  Get, if you can, a system of divinity out of God’s Bible. Put the doctrines together. Get real, theological knowledge, founded upon the infallible Word. … And when you have done this, “Add to your knowledge temperance.” Take heed to your body—be temperate there. Take heed to your soul—be temperate there. Be not drunken with pride. Be not lifted up with self-confidence. Be temperate. Be not harsh towards your friends, nor bitter to your enemies. Get temperance of lip, temperance of life, temperance of heart, temperance of thought… Get temperance and then add to it by God’s Holy Spirit patience. Ask Him to give you that patience which endures affliction, which, when it is tried, shall come forth as gold. Array yourself with patience, that you may not murmur in your sicknesses.  That you may not curse God in your losses, nor be depressed in your afflictions. Pray, without ceasing, until the Holy Spirit has nerved you with patience to endure unto the end.  And when you have that, get godliness.

Biblical Covenants, Typology, and S. Lewis Johnson

July 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Through my study of the biblical covenants — the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New — I now increasingly notice biblical references to these covenants, with greater appreciation for our covenant-keeping God, the One who will deliver us in keeping with His word.  Understanding the great, divine purpose of God, and His faithfulness to these covenants, helps me to bear up under personal struggles, realizing again God’s wonderful sovereign grace, trusting that He will yet deliver on these wonderful promises — though for now (for a short time, this life) we have our light and momentary afflictions.

Returning to the biblical references, I note something S. Lewis Johnson has pointed out, that the term covenant appears over 300 times in the Old Testament, yet only 33 times in the New Testament — and over half of these are quotations from the Old Testament.  Yet recently I noticed one of the “covenant” references, in Ephesians 2:12 — we (Gentiles) were once excluded, foreigners to “the covenants of the promise” — an excellent New Testament reminder of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants.

2 Samuel 7, the main passage dealing with the Davidic covenant, includes David’s wonderful praise (verses 18 – 29), in which David prays “O Lord God” — Adonai Yahweh in the Hebrew, and the same words used in Genesis, in reference to the original covenant with Abraham.

Exodus includes a few references to covenants, including an interesting one in 29:9, a promise to give the priesthood to Aaron’s descendants forever.  This one I can see as having ultimate fulfillment at the Second Coming, with the millennial temple and priestly service described in Ezekiel 40-48 and mentioned by other prophets such as Zechariah.

Exodus 31:17 is another strong covenant statement that mentions the covenant with Israel — and a statement of fact that God created  heaven and earth in six days:  “It (the sabbath) is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.”  Something so simple and straightforward, yet how many profess the name of Christ yet want to reject the very beginning of God’s word and argue that Genesis 1 is poetry.  In reading Exodus 31, it also strikes me as interesting that often the same people who scoff at the Genesis creation are the very ones who write off Israel and declare that God is finished with them.  Yet here the two ideas are inextricably linked:  the fact of God’s creation in six ordinary days, as a sign “forever” between God and “the people of Israel.”  Again, how obvious can something be and so many professed believers just don’t get it?  Israel still exists as a distinct, separate ethnic race, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies such as Baalam’s prophecy (Numbers 23:9: behold, a people dwelling alone, and not counting itself among the nations!), and (from my recent reading) Ezekiel 20:32 (“What is in your mind shall never happen-the thought, ‘Let us be like the nations…’).  For as Psalm 89 assures us, the promise to David is sure — Like the moon it shall be established forever, a faithful witness in the skies.

Another interesting Old Testament covenant is the one between David and Jonathan, begun in 1 Samuel and fulfilled in 2 Samuel 9 with Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth.  S. Lewis Johnson again teaches good typology, pointing out the requirements of such types — historical, and with correspondences between the historical object and the New Testament equivalent.   Here, the parallels include:

  • David’s covenant purpose –> God’s eternal purposes — David as a type for God the Father
  • Jonathan (which means, “the Lord has given”) as God the Son
  • Mephibosheth — a name which means shame; one in shame, and crippled, representing us.
  • Delayed fulfillment of the covenant:  many years had gone by since David and Jonathan made the original covenant, yet just as surely as this covenant was later fulfilled, so will God’s covenant reach its fulfillment in the future
  • David’s search for those who are the object of the promises –> the Divine Initiative, that God is the one seeking us out.

The Davidic Covenant in the New Testament

July 16, 2010 1 comment

I’ve now completed the mini-series (within Lessons from the Life of David) on the Davidic covenant, so here are some more study notes and observations concerning this great covenant, itself an expansion of the Abrahamic covenant:

The New Testament has many references to the Davidic covenant, including:

  • Luke 1:31-33
  • Matt. 4:17, 21:43, 22:41-46, 26:29
  • Acts 13:29-37, and 15:15-16
  • Romans 1:3-4 and 15:7-13
  • Revelation 3:7, 5:5, and 22:16

Revelation 3:7 makes a reference to Isaiah 22:22, the “key of David.”  Revelation 22:16, the end of the New Testament, sums up the truth of the Davidic promises with Jesus’ sure words, “I am the root and the offspring of David.”

To those who would re-interpret references to David as meaning the church (as with the Acts 15 text:  David is mentioned 54 times in the New Testament, and always the word refers to David, not the church.  Furthermore, the Amos text cited in Acts 15 talks about “rebuilding” the tabernacle of David.  When is the Church ever referred to as something to be RE-built?  (No, Christ told Peter He would “build” His church.)  Or as something to be rebuilt from ruins, “as in the days of old”?  What does one do with the beginning phrase “after this”?  As always, we look at the context, which is talking about Gentiles being saved, and understand that the prophecy is talking about the future restoration, what will happen “after this,” the Gentile church age.

S. Lewis Johnson describes the difference between the Jews of Jesus’ day and the present-day Church in an interesting way:  The Jews received the promises, but rejected the seed (Jesus Christ, the seed of David).  We (the visible Church) receive the seed (Jesus), but reject the promises.

As for the common question, “what about the land promises? They’re not mentioned in the New Testament,” the obvious and clear answer is that both the Old and New Testaments are equal in importance.  We must follow the example given by the apostles, for who the Scriptures were the scriptures of the Old Testament, as pointed out in 2 Peter 3:2, “That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour.”  Peter’s statement is a strong answer to those who give the New Testament priority and would discard anything from the Old Testament unless it is explicitly mentioned in the New Testament.  Rather, we interpret the Old Testament on its own terms, and only discard something from the Old Testament if the New Testament specifically says to do so.

To think otherwise is to disparage the scriptures, and to lose a lot of the joy of understanding the purpose of God.