Old Testament

Job

We’ve been studying the people of the Old Testament for quite some time now. Abraham and Sarah. Isaac and Rebekkah. Jacob, Leah, and Rachel. Miriam, Aaron and Moses. Ruth. Saul. David. Abigail. Solomon.  Elijah. Elisha. Jonah. Josiah. Daniel. Jeremiah. Esther. These are all people we have studied, all people whose stories and lives we’ve examined and learned about. But at the heart of every single one of these stories there is one other character—one who is the same in every single story, present in every single story, shaping the story in every single story and that character is God.

God is the point of all of these stories. We don’t study Moses to know about this random guy who was a Hebrew raised as an Egyptian who later freed his own people. I mean it’s a nice story about a deliverance and freedom from oppression, but…that’s not why we study the story. We study the story all these stories to know more about God.

That is the purpose of the entire Bible, to tell us who God is. The Bible is not God, but it tells us about God. It is the book God has chosen to use to tell us about him.  So we study these stories to learn not about Moses or David or Esther, but to learn about God and what he’s like.

So we’ve been studying these stories for a while. Tell me guys: what is God like?

[Let them answer…write up God’s qualities on the board, read over them and see what it means]

Sometimes when we study certain stories we can get an impression that God is like some Santa Clause in the clouds, giving presents to the good children and coals to the bad children. The good get rewarded and the bad get punished. Some of the stories we’ve studied seem to uphold this theory. And I think it’s because that’s the way some of the writers of the Bible viewed God. But does that mean God is that way? Does the entire Bible uphold that God is like this? Some heavenly Santa Clause?

If that’s true it means God people should prosper and bad people should suffer, right? Well, there is one story in the Bible that deals with this particular question, and that is the story of Job.

It’s a story about a man named Job but its mostly a story about God and his policies.

So let’s open our Bibles to the book of Job. It’s going to be in the middle right before Psalms. Someone please read Job 1:1-5.

 There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold feasts in one another’s houses in turn; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the feast days had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” This is what Job always did.

There once as a man named Job. The Bible says he’s blameless and upright—in a word he’s righteous, always doing what is right in God’s eyes and not doing evil. The Bible describes him as insanely wealthy—both in family and money. He has children that he loves and who love each other, they get together, even inviting their sisters, which back then wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Boys tended to ignore the girls in their lives. This is a happy family that loves each other and tries to do what is right, but just in case they haven’t done what is right, Job offers sacrifices and prayers to God for each of his children, just in case they are sinning in their hearts.

Job is a good man, doing everything right. Everything.

By the rules of God being some Santa Clause he should just get more wealth and more reward, right?

Well let’s see. Read Job 1:6-12.

One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” Then Satan[f] answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

There is a lot we need to break down here. First off there is an implication here that God is at the head of a heavenly council, that there are other heavenly beings who come and report to God. Is this the case? Does God sit at the head of a heavenly council where other lesser gods or high angels report to him? Maybe but maybe not. There are a couple of other verses in the Old Testament that imply God sits at the head of a heavenly council, and I think that’s Israelite’s “monolatry” seeping into the pages—remember the ancient Israelites believed all gods were real, they just thought that their God was the biggest baddest God on the block. So some of them thought that the other gods had power and that the God of Israel was the head God.

And this is a good spot to bring up that there is a reason that the book of Job is set with the wisdom literature like Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. The book of Job is a work of literature. There may have actually been a man named Job that these events happened to. But this is a work of literature written to teach us about God. The writer of this book was not in heaven when these events unfolded—he was not sitting there like a court stenographer recording all the conversations between God and his minions. This is the writer supposing what heaven is like as he sets up the scenario for Job’s life. He’s setting up the question he wants to answer.

So this writer imagines that God has a heavenly bureaucracy where his minions—whether they be angels or lesser gods—come before him and report things and help him keep the business of heaven and earth running. And one of these heavenly bureaucrats your version of the text calls “Satan.”

The name “Satan” is very loaded, it carries a lot of connotation and meaning. Most of the time when we say “Satan” we mean an evil fallen angel who works in opposition to God. But that’s not what “Satan” means here and I would argue that translating it as the proper name “Satan” right here is not the best translation. Some have translated it the “adversary,” others as “the Challenger.” And really you should imagine this less as the evil Satan coming before God and more as a bureaucratic lawyer type in heaven. God’s not surprised to see his bureaucratic lawyer—that’s not what the phrase “where have you come form?” means—it’s not a surprise that this guy suddenly appeared. He’s instead asking his bureaucratic lawyer guy to report.

And this guy he’s been walking around the earth and God is like “Oh, did you see Job while you were on earth? He’s a cool guy is he not?”

And our lawyer guy here, he asks a question of motivation. He’s like “sure Job is righteous, but…that’s because he knows if he’s good he’ll get rewarded from you. So his motivation is just to keep his good and right life and continue to prosper, and maybe…maybe he doesn’t actually care about pleasing God but just keeping his good life.” The lawyer guy proposes a test for Job—that they take everything away from him. And the lawyer guy says if they do that, then without his prosperity, Job won’t be so righteous anymore.

Our lawyer guy is not an evil devil gleefully imagining a the destruction of Job’s life. He instead a philosophical guy posing a question—a question that really at its root is about God’s entire system. If the righteous get rewarded and the evil get punished, then are people only good for a reward? That’s not good for the sake of goodness then. That’s good for the sake a present.

And God in this story thinks this is a question worthy of answering, a question worthy of exploring. Will people continue to be righteous and love God if there is no reward at the end? God is confident in Job. He considers him good and blameless, but the lawyer wants to test the system, and God agrees to this test. He tells the lawyer that he can do whatever he wants to Job—as long as he doesn’t harm Job himself.

And thus the test of Job begins.

Someone please read Job 1:13-22.

13 One day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were feeding beside them, 15 and the Sabeans fell on them and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 16 While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 17 While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three columns, made a raid on the camels and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 18 While he was still speaking, another came and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, 19 and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you.”

20 Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.

Everything is taken from Job. He loses his wealth—his animals and servants. But worse, his children were all together at a party at the oldest brother’s house, and all his children died. All ten of them dead.

A parent losing a child is literally the worst pain a parent can go through. Most people would rather die than lose their child, they would rather die than see their child come to harm. Job doesn’t lose just one child. He loses them all. All ten of them.

If ever there would be a time where Job would curse and hate God, this would be it, but instead, Job mourns and says, “I came into this world with nothing, and I shall leave the world with nothing. God gave everything to me that I have, and he can take everything I have away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Despite this worst thing imaginable happening to Job, he still blesses God’s name and worships him, and does not sin or say God has done anything wrong.

Someone read Job 2:1-9.

One day the heavenly beings[a] came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan[b] also came among them to present himself before the Lord. The Lordsaid to Satan,[c] “Where have you come from?” Satan[d] answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” The Lordsaid to Satan,[e] “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.” Then Satan[f] answered the Lord, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives.[gBut stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan,[h] “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”

So Satan[i] went out from the presence of the Lord, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse[k] God, and die.” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Again the heavenly bureaucratic council convenes. And again God is like, “Isn’t Job still awesome? All this terrible stuff has happened to him and he still blesses me.” And the lawyer is like, “Well, ultimately people only really care about themselves, and you said I couldn’t touch him. So I couldn’t really hurt him. So Job still has his health.”

And God is like, “That’s a fair case, lawyer guy. Do what you must to his health, but don’t kill him.”

So lawyer guy inflicts sores on Job all over his skin. Which must be terribly painful. And his wife, who is the only person left to him, is like, “Why don’t you just curse God and die.” Now that seems like really harsh, but this is a woman who just lost all ten of her children. Cursing God and dying is probably how she feels.

But Job says, “We receive good and bad from God. This is the nature of life.” And Job still doesn’t sin.

Okay now someone read Job 2:11-13.

11 Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They met together to go and console and comfort him. 12 When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. 13 They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

Job has three friends. They’ve heard what happened to him. So they come with him to comfort him. He’s lost everything—his family and his health. So they sit with him in mourning for seven days and seven nights. And then…they start talking and it doesn’t go well. Because Job’s friends, they believe in the Santa Clause version of God.

Someone read Job 4:1-9.

Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered:

“If one ventures a word with you, will you be offended?
    But who can keep from speaking?
See, you have instructed many;
    you have strengthened the weak hands.
Your words have supported those who were stumbling,
    and you have made firm the feeble knees.
But now it has come to you, and you are impatient;
    it touches you, and you are dismayed.
Is not your fear of God your confidence,
    and the integrity of your ways your hope?

“Think now, who that was innocent ever perished?
    Or where were the upright cut off?
As I have seen, those who plow iniquity
    and sow trouble reap the same.
By the breath of God they perish,
    and by the blast of his anger they are consumed.

Eliphaz says that Job must have sinned. That it must be his fault. That he brought this destruction on himself by sinning. And there is a large section of Job that is like this. His friends telling him over and over again that he did something wrong and he must repent of his wrong doing.

But…did Job do anything wrong?

No! We know he didn’t! We know Job is blameless and all of this was a test—a test to see if the cosmic system worked. If people would still love God even in the midst of pain and suffering, even if they weren’t rewarded for it. But Job’s friends don’t know what we know about the divine council set up at the beginning of this book, so they try to find a theological reason why Job is suffering. They try to say it must be because of sin—because of Job’s sins.

Pages and pages of Job’s friends trying to convince him that he needs to repent for a sin he hasn’t committed. Job stands up for himself, he says he’s blameless that he did nothing but they don’t believe him. They tell him over and over again that it is Job’s fault his kids are dead. His sin. His fault. He has brought this suffering on himself.

But it’s not true. And Job is not able to make his friends see that. Their theology is bad and they stand by it. Bad things only happen to bad people, so therefore Job is bad.

In the end, God himself shows up again in the narrative. He comes to Job and they have a bit of a conversation. Someone read Job 38:1-7.

38 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
    I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
    Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
    and all the heavenly beings[a] shouted for joy?

God spends two chapters asking Job who exactly is it who runs the universe. His friends? Job? No. It’s God. God runs the entire universe.

God doesn’t really answer the question of why Job had to suffer—of why there is suffering. He just points out that its God who runs the universe. Because remember this was all about the adversary, that lawyer guy, basically questioning how God runs the universe, and how he was running Job’s life. It was never Job who was on trial in this story. It was the idea of what I’m going to call the Prosperity Gospel: the idea that God rewards the good and punishes the wicked and that’s how the universe works.

That’s not how the universe works, that’s not how God works. And if someone tells you that if you do the right thing you will be prosper, because God prospers the good, they have a misunderstanding, and Job’s story flies in the face of that. Suffering happens to everyone. Not often because God is talking things out with a lawyer in heaven. We don’t know why suffering happens, to be honest. Other than there is sin and evil in the world. We don’t understand why God lets the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper. And the writer of Job doesn’t know why either. What the writer of Job knows is what we know: that God made everything, controls everything, and he runs the universe in the way he sees fit.

And in Job’s case God restores him. Someone please read Job 42:10-16.

10 And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11 Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money[a] and a gold ring. 12 The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. 13 He also had seven sons and three daughters. 14 He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. 15 In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. 16 After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations.

God gives Job twice as much as he had before. The second half of Job’s life is blessed more than the first. And while having more children doesn’t replace the ones he lost, it does show his suffering wasn’t forever.

The story of Job is a hard story for us to study, because it doesn’t answer the questions we want answered about why suffering happens. It just affirms to us that if we suffer it’s not always because we sinned or because God is mad at us. I mean we can definitely suffer because we did bad things—we all have to suffer the consequences of our own actions. If you murder someone, you are going to jail. But sometimes bad things happen, and there is no reason for it—you didn’t bring it on yourself and you didn’t deserve it. That’s just the way life and the universe works.

God is not a cosmic Santa Clause. However, this book like much of the Bible can still be confusing about the nature of the God and what he’s like. In this book it makes it seem like God treated Job like a science experiment.

So who is God? What is he like? Which of the descriptors we discussed are the ones that are appropriate for God?

Well, we’re about to start studying the New Testament, and that is where we’re going to meet God incarnate, God who chose to take human form and come down and walk among us. We’ll study Jesus who is God, and discover him personally. And we’ll see the nature of the God we choose to follow.

The Restoration of Israel

For the past couple of years we’ve been studying the People of the Old Testament. We started with Abraham, and how God chose him and his family to be his people. God promised Abraham his descendents would become many nations and that came true: his descendants became the Ishmaelites, the Edomites, and many others but most importantly from our perspective the Israelites. The Israelites went through some tough times, enslaved in Egypt and such, but eventually they lived free in the Promised Land and even created their own nation of Israel ruled by kings.

But the sovereign rule of Israel by their own kings did not last, due to Israel’s own disobedience and the rise of mighty empires in the region. Northern Israel was conquered by the Assyrians and disappeared into the Assyrian empire. And then Judah was conquered by Babylon.

When Babylon conquered Judah they conquered the city of Israel—they sacked the city—meaning they destroyed it and took all its wealth. Jerusalem was once a great city, but its wall that had been built to protect it had been destroyed and more importantly, the Temple of God was destroyed. What was once the beautiful Temple built by Solomon and filled with gold and silver and precious woods, and most importantly where the Ark of the Covenant dwelled, was all gone. Taken by Babylon—the wealth taken for its own purposes.

It is presumed the Ark was taken by Babylon as well but we actually don’t know for sure what happened to it.

The people who considered themselves God’s Chosen People now lived as vassals of another land—many of them moved from the Promised Land itself and made to live in other parts of the Babylonian empire. And the Temple that symbolized God’s home on earth was gone.

But not forever.

We’re actually going to flip between a few books of the Bible today.

Let’s open up our Bibles to the book of Ezra. Can someone please read Ezra 1:1-10.

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom, and also in a written edict declared:

“Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of those among you who are of his people—may their God be with them!—are now permitted to go up to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem; and let all survivors, in whatever place they reside, be assisted by the people of their place with silver and gold, with goods and with animals, besides freewill offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem.”

The heads of the families of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites—everyone whose spirit God had stirred—got ready to go up and rebuild the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. All their neighbors aided them with silver vessels, with gold, with goods, with animals, and with valuable gifts, besides all that was freely offered. King Cyrus himself brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. King Cyrus of Persia had them released into the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. And this was the inventory: gold basins, thirty; silver basins, one thousand; knives,[a] twenty-nine; 10 gold bowls, thirty; other silver bowls, four hundred ten; other vessels, one thousand;

 This is actually a little further back in time than we’ve discussed before. When we studied Esther the Emperor of Babylon at the time was a guy that we called Xerxes or Ahasuerus. However, the emperor here is one we discussed before when we were talking about Daniel. And that’s Cyrus. There was also another Emperor mentioned in Daniel and that was Darius. Then in Esther we had Xerxes. So before Esther, during the time of Daniel, Emperor Cyrus made a proclamation. Basically it had been long enough since Judah had initially been conquered and he was allowing some of the people of Judah to return home if they could and rebuild the Temple. Why would he do this?

Well later in the Bible it will describe that the people who had been young men during the time of the invasion are now old men. Basically the people have been thoroughly subjugated. All the young people now are people who have always been part of the Babylonian empire and probably have no thoughts about overthrowing it. Also it would be looked upon as an act of benevolence—of being a good emperor—and might make the young people loyal to him. And of course, this also helps fulfill Jeremiah’s prophecy that the Temple would be restored in 70ish years.

Cyrus is also extra nice about it and returns some of the stuff the Babylonians had stolen from the Temple in the first place. You can kind of view this as a reward for good behavior in the Empire. And of course if the Jewish people don’t keep in line with the empire, Cyrus could always destroy the Temple again, so he’s not losing that much.

However, the ark of the covenant is not returned—where it is unknown. So when it says everything was returned it does not include that item.

Now they have everything back and its time to rebuild the Temple.

Someone please read Ezra 3:1-7.

When the seventh month came, and the Israelites were in the towns, the people gathered together in Jerusalem. Then Jeshua son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel with his kin set out to build the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as prescribed in the law of Moses the man of God. They set up the altar on its foundation, because they were in dread of the neighboring peoples, and they offered burnt offerings upon it to the Lord, morning and evening. And they kept the festival of booths,[a] as prescribed, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the ordinance, as required for each day, and after that the regular burnt offerings, the offerings at the new moon and at all the sacred festivals of the Lord, and the offerings of everyone who made a freewill offering to the Lord. From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord. But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid. So they gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had from King Cyrus of Persia.

The Temple is not built yet, and the first priority for rebuilding it is to reinstate worship—so the first thing they rebuild is the altar of God—which would was sort of in the front yard of the Temple. And basically before they start working on anything else they start worshipping God and offering him sacrifices. With the altar back they can now start having all the festivals again—where everyone comes and offers sacrifices and worship to God. They have their priorities right: the building doesn’t matter as much as the act of worshipping God so it’s better to enable the worship before focusing on the building.

Someone now read Ezra 3:8-13.

In the second year after their arrival at the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jozadak made a beginning, together with the rest of their people, the priests and the Levites and all who had come to Jerusalem from the captivity. They appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to have the oversight of the work on the house of the Lord. And Jeshua with his sons and his kin, and Kadmiel and his sons, Binnui and Hodaviah[a] along with the sons of Henadad, the Levites, their sons and kin, together took charge of the workers in the house of God.

10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel; 11 and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord,

“For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”

And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away.

First things first to rebuild a building first you have to law the foundation. This is actually a really big deal—and there are lots of rules about how to build the Temple that were outlined in the Torah. They need to lay the foundation in the exact same spot it was in the first time. And while the workers lay the foundation, the priests are singings and praising God.

And remember how we mentioned before that there were people who were very young when Judah was conquered and now they are old? Upon seeing the foundation re-laid those people weep with joy—they are so moved by emotion.

For so long the Temple was gone. They had no place to worship God, no place for their festivals, and it seemed a sign that God had turned his back on them. But that is no more. The Temple is being restored. Jerusalem is being restored. And to the Jewish people it would seem that their place as God’s chosen people is being restored.

Someone please read Ezra 6:13-22.

13 Then, according to the word sent by King Darius, Tattenai, the governor of the province Beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai, and their associates did with all diligence what King Darius had ordered. 14 So the elders of the Jews built and prospered, through the prophesying of the prophet Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo. They finished their building by command of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus, Darius, and King Artaxerxes of Persia; 15 and this house was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.

16 The people of Israel, the priests and the Levites, and the rest of the returned exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy. 17 They offered at the dedication of this house of God one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs, and as a sin offering for all Israel, twelve male goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. 18 Then they set the priests in their divisions and the Levites in their courses for the service of God at Jerusalem, as it is written in the book of Moses.

19 On the fourteenth day of the first month the returned exiles kept the passover. 20 For both the priests and the Levites had purified themselves; all of them were clean. So they killed the passover lamb for all the returned exiles, for their fellow priests, and for themselves. 21 It was eaten by the people of Israel who had returned from exile, and also by all who had joined them and separated themselves from the pollutions of the nations of the land to worship the Lord, the God of Israel. 22 With joy they celebrated the festival of unleavened bread seven days; for the Lord had made them joyful, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.

Rebuilding the Temple is a long long project. It takes longer than Cyrus is king. Darius becomes emperor, and then finally the building is done.

Everyone who is in Jerusalem celebrations and they have a big celebration when it’s done. And then basically they have Passover as soon as they can. Because during all this time they have not been able to have a proper Passover, and it’s one of the most important celebrations. To celebrate the day God saved them from Egypt, and passed over them with their plagues.

Meanwhile during this same time where the Temple is being restored, a guy named Nehemiah has also been given permission to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. Many cities back then were walled because the walls were what protected them from Invaders. Not having walls would be a constant and painful reminder that they had been conquered and subjugated and were now under foreign rule.

Of course rebuilding the walls doesn’t mean they are now free from Babylonian rule. It basically just means Babylon trusts them to know their place and not rebel.

So the Temple is rebuilt, the wall is rebuilt, you might think this would give people an inflated sense of ego—that they would have pride in themselves that they survived such a terrible time and that now they are regaining the city they once lost. But the Jewish people don’t lose cite that without God they would have none of this. Someone flip to Nehemiah 8:1-8.

all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. The scribe Ezra stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hash-baddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites,[a] helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

The people of Judah come together in the square and then Ezra, the prophet of the time, reads the Torah to them in the presence of both men and women—probably children too. And everyone listens quietly and riveted while he reads the law of Moses. Ezra reads and some other guys help people to understand what it means, so that after so long of being in Babylon and probably forgetting their own ways in favor of Babylonian ways they can remember what it means to be God’s chosen people, what it means to be Jewish, and what the law means.

The people are so moved by the law they weep. Someone read Nehemiah 8:9-12

And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lordyour God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 11 So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.

People are crying at hearing the law. Are they crying with joy? I don’t think so—because they are specifically told after they cry that they shouldn’t mourn. Why are they sad? Why are they crying? I think because so many of them probably didn’t know the law. They had forgotten or never heard it, and now finally hearing it, they realize they haven’t been living according to God’s ways, that they had been following Babylonian ways.

Remember people back then didn’t all have copies of the Bible in their homes for easy access. The only things they would have known would have been due to a priest or due to their families handing knowledge down. And while in Babylon its highly unlikely they had access to a priest. All they would know is what their family knew, and some of the families may not have known much—especially when young people were removed from their homes—like Daniel—and sent to Babylon without their families. They would only know what they remember and that would be all they would be able to hand down to their children. Their memories and knowledge would be incomplete or inaccurate, and so their children wouldn’t know the entirety of the Law.

But the priests tell them not to cry, to rejoice, because this is a good day. Israel is being rededicated. It is coming back to God. The Temple is being rebuilt. The wall has been rebuilt. And people are coming home. This is a day to celebrate, to remember that God loves them, and they are to rejoice because they are God’s chosen people.

For about four hundred years after this, the second Temple will stand tall. We’re going to see this Temple, the second Temple, when we study Jesus. This rebuilt Temple will be the Temple that Jesus worships in.

And Jesus’s time is both very different and very similar politically to this time—because Israel will still be a vassal of an empire. At the end of the Old Testament the Babylonians are in charge. Eventually they get conquered by Alexander the Great and Greeks—and Israel becomes part of that empire. For a brief hundred year period, Israel becomes independent again, only to become vassals to Rome.

And that’s where we are when Jesus comes in the scene, during the Golden Age of the Roman Empire, born during the reign of Caesar Augustus. Augustus was the first Emperor of Rome who are own month of August is named after. But Rome was a mighty empire even before it had an emperor. It was a mighty Republic which huge armies that the other countries could not stand up against.

The Old Testament ends with one mighty Empire allowing the Temple and Jerusalem to be rebuilt. The New Testament begins with another mighty Empire, eyeing Jerusalem’s unrest and wondering what should be done about it.

During all that time of Empires, the Jewish people retain their identity, their sense of who they are, even as they chomp at the bit hoping to get free.

Because that is ultimately what they want. The people of Judah expect for God to make good on his promise that a son of David will rule them forever, that they will be a free independent nation of God, God’s chosen people, and surely one day it will happen again.

That is what they want. That is what they are constantly looking forward to and fighting for.

And that is where we’re going to stop for now and where the story of Jesus is going to pick up.

Esther

When we last left the Jewish people, they were strangers in a strange land, living at the mercy of Babylonian emperors. With Daniel and his friends, we saw how the other advisors and people seemed to resent them, for having a different God and different ways and being blessed by God. We saw how God protected Daniel and his friends. Today we’re going to look at a story with a similar theme—a threat to the Jewish people, jealous advisors, and mercurial emperors. But instead of a story about four men, it’s a story about one young woman. Esther.

But before we dive into the story I want to touch on something else that we’re going to see relevant through this whole story. Obviously, the story is steeped in racism—with the Babylonians hating the Jewish people just because they’re Jewish. But unlike Daniel’s story this story has an extra element and that is misogyny—which is to say sexism against women. We’ve talked about before how society’s during this time were extremely patriarchal—that is not only were men the most important, but society was oriented towards father/master figures who were in charge of the entire family and the rest of the family was expected to fall in-line. In this sort of model of society women are viewed as no more than property. They were owned by their fathers and husbands, and because of that they were expected to do everything their fathers and husbands demanded—even when it was wrong and inappropriate.

And that’s how our story is going to start and we’re going to see this come back over and over again. So while Daniel and his friends had to deal with being viewed lesser because they were Jewish, we’re going to see Esther has an extra layer—not only is she Jewish but everyone would look down on her for the mere fact she is a woman.

Okay let’s open to the book of Esther and someone please read Esther 1:5-12.

When these days were completed, the king gave for all the people present in the citadel of Susa, both great and small, a banquet lasting for seven days, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace. There were white cotton curtains and blue hangings tied with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings[b] and marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and colored stones. Drinks were served in golden goblets, goblets of different kinds, and the royal wine was lavished according to the bounty of the king. Drinking was by flagons, without restraint; for the king had given orders to all the officials of his palace to do as each one desired.Furthermore, Queen Vashti gave a banquet for the women in the palace of King Ahasuerus.

10 On the seventh day, when the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha and Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who attended him, 11 to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing the royal crown, in order to show the peoples and the officials her beauty; for she was fair to behold. 12 But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command conveyed by the eunuchs. At this the king was enraged, and his anger burned within him.

The emperor of this time is a guy called Ahasuerus, sometimes translated as Xerxes. Fun fact, this is the same emperor in the movie 300 if you’ve ever seen that. The emperor gives a magnificent banquet for everyone and the Bible goes into some decription of how elaborate and opulent it is. The men are drinking without restraint, the king allows them to do whatever they want, and the implication here is that the men are very drunk. And when people are drunk they don’t make wise or good decisions. It also says Queen Vashti is throwing a banquet for the women at the same time. So that would mean there are no women at the king’s banquet.

Seven days of partying—seven days of hard drinking and everyone is drunk and raucous, and then the king demands the Queen be brought to him. Now it says “wearing the royal crown.” There is an implication here that many Biblical scholars believe it’s implying that she would wear *only* the royal crown. So the King was demanding that his queen come before this room full of drunk and out of control men, completely naked except for a crown on her heard, so that all the men can just ogle her and demean her.

Naturally, Vashti refuses.

You might think she is queen and therefore has equal power to him and refusing him is no big deal. That’s how we often think of kings and queens, right? That together they rule the country. That is not the case. Vashti is not the emperor’s equal. She is his property according to the laws of the land. And her refusal to demean and belittle herself in front of these men is an act not just of defiance but of bravery. She is asserting herself as a person, with her own agency and destiny, she is saying that she controls who sees her and she will not be demeaned in such a way, and by saying that she is taking her own life into her hands. The king can—and we’ll see does—have her killed for this.

This is important to remember. Vashti is not some villainess who should have obeyed her husband. She is a woman caught in a no-win situation. If she had obeyed and gone naked before that room of men, who knows what would have happened to her. By asserting her own autonomy, we know what happens to her. And it’s not good.

Because the king is livid, and his advisors tell him he needs to make an example of Vashti in front of the entire kingdom. Because—they argue—if the king’s own wife can defy him, then what is to stop every woman in the kingdom from suddenly thinking for herself and thinking she can make choices outside of her husband or father’s wants and needs.

The Bible is not condoning this sort of misogynistic behavior, in fact this entire book of the Bible subverts this idea we’ll see in the end. But very real women—like Vashti—paid the price for men’s dominance of women.

The Bible doesn’t say what happens to Vashti, not directly. She is just disappeared from the narrative. The implication is that she is killed. But she could have also been imprisoned for the rest of her life. Either is a likely outcome, but I think based on the fact that we never see Vashti again and that the king is driven to replace her—that is find a new queen—that she’s dead.

Dead because she protected her modesty and her bodily autonomy. It is a terrible thing that is done to Vashti.

Someone please read Esther 2:1-8.

After these things, when the anger of King Ahasuerus had abated, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her. Then the king’s servants who attended him said, “Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for the king. And let the king appoint commissioners in all the provinces of his kingdom to gather all the beautiful young virgins to the harem in the citadel of Susa under custody of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women; let their cosmetic treatments be given them. And let the girl who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” This pleased the king, and he did so.

Now there was a Jew in the citadel of Susa whose name was Mordecai son of Jair son of Shimei son of Kish, a Benjaminite. Kish[a] had been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives carried away with King Jeconiah of Judah, whom King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had carried away. Mordecai[b] had brought up Hadassah, that is Esther, his cousin, for she had neither father nor mother; the girl was fair and beautiful, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai adopted her as his own daughter. So when the king’s order and his edict were proclaimed, and when many young women were gathered in the citadel of Susa in custody of Hegai, Esther also was taken into the king’s palace and put in custody of Hegai, who had charge of the women.

Eventually the king is like, “Man, I miss having a wife.” Now does that mean the king doesn’t have women? No. Kings back then had harems—that is entire groups of women that were either their wives or concubines. Women they could turn to at any time. We saw this with David and Solomon who had hundreds of wives. Ahasuerus would have a similar set up. But likely Vashti was his head wife—and she is described as the queen, so the wife who probably supported him at political functions and appeared at political events where he might need a woman present. He has no head wife right now—and instead of just promoting one of his harem, his servants are like, “Let’s gather all the prettiest girls and you can pick the most beautiful girl to be your queen.”

And he’s like “Cool. That seems like a great idea.”

So all the beautiful young women are gathered. Probably like sixteen-year-old girls. And one of the girls chosen is a young girl named Hadassah. That’s her Hebrew name, and her Babylonian name is Esther. She lives with her cousin—sometimes referred to as her uncle, because I imagine he’s an older cousin—because her parents are dead. This literally makes Esther one of the most vulnerable people in the entire population. Not only is she Jewish and therefore looked down upon, not only is she a woman and therefore viewed as a second-class citizen, but she is an orphan. Orphans were one of the most vulnerable populations because they lived by the charity and mercy of the rest of their family, and it wouldn’t be unheard of for their family to turn them out when they became inconvenient. But it seems that Mordecai has raised Esther basically as his own.

But Esther is beautiful, so she is taken from Mordecai and brought to the royal palace to be in this competition to be queen. Did Esther have a choice? Probably not. I imagine if the palace turned its eye on you and declared you fit for this competition, you had no choice—they would take you one way or another. If someone was given a choice, the officials wouldn’t have given it to Esther. They would have given it to Mordecai. Maybe Mordecai felt there was no choice either or maybe he thought it was politically expedient to use his young orphaned cousin to secure some political leverage. We don’t know. But likely Esther would not have been asked or given a choice in the matter. She would be considered Mordecai’s property.

Esther quickly rises to the top. The guy in charge of the women takes a liking to her and decides to help her out. And in the end she is chosen to be queen. But the other girls they don’t get to go home. They become part of his harem either way. They become his secondary wives. So Esther being part of this competition—going home was never an end result that would actually happen. She would either become *the* queen or a secondary wife.

Someone please read Esther 2:17-18.

17 the king loved Esther more than all the other women; of all the virgins she won his favor and devotion, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. 18 Then the king gave a great banquet to all his officials and ministers—“Esther’s banquet.” He also granted a holiday[a] to the provinces, and gave gifts with royal liberality.

The king chooses Esther. It says he “loved” her more than any of the others, but I don’t want you to think of this as love. This is not a romance novel. The king was pleased with Esther more than any other of the girls. She won the competition. But did he like her as a person? Probably not. She was just the prettiest and most pleasant of this group of girls he now owned. Esther is now made queen and they have a banquet.

Something we skipped over in all of this. It’s verse 2:10. “Esther did not reveal her people or kindred, for Mordecai had charged her not to tell.” No one knows Esther is Jewish. She is playing the part of just another Babylonian girl. Esther is not brash like Daniel, making it clear who she is. Esther hides it. Why? Is she less devote than Daniel? I don’t know, but the world is a much more dangerous place for a girl back then. And if the men in charge of the harem had known her true identity, they may not have helped her.

Esther is walking uncertain ground. The queen before her was killed for defying an order of the king—a completely reasonable order to defy, an order that Esther would probably also defy if she was following God. People in Babylonian hated Jewish people for no other reason than they were Jewish, and Mordecai wanted Esther to have every opportunity to live through this process and come out on top. So she kept her ethnicity a secret.

Meanwhile, the villain of our story appears, a Babylonian guy named Haman who hates Mordecai with an undying passion. Someone read Esther 3:1-6.

 After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him and set his seat above all the officials who were with him. And all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and did obeisance to Haman; for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or do obeisance. Then the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate said to Mordecai, “Why do you disobey the king’s command?” When they spoke to him day after day and he would not listen to them, they told Haman, in order to see whether Mordecai’s words would avail; for he had told them that he was a Jew. When Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or do obeisance to him, Haman was infuriated. But he thought it beneath him to lay hands on Mordecai alone. So, having been told who Mordecai’s people were, Haman plotted to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus.

Haman is a high-ranking official under the king. Because he’s so high ranking, all the other guys boy before him as if he is the king. Except for one—except for Mordecai. This infuriates Haman. Everyone is supposed to bow before him and how dare this one guy defy him! Why doesn’t Mordecai bow? I don’t know. Mordecai seems to be a loyal citizen of Babylon. He works to help out the king at different points in the story and even gets honored by the king for his actions at one point. But regardless, he doesn’t bow before Haman. And then Haman decides that punishing Mordecai alone is not enough. He can’t just kill Mordecai. He has to kill all the Jewish people in the entire kingdom.

Haman goes to the king and gets him to sign off on this idea of killing all of the Jewish people in the kingdom. An edict is sent throughout the land that on a certain day all the Jewish people will be massacred. Needless to say the Jewish people freak out. They don’t want to die! But what can they do? They don’t have an army. They’re just subjects in this land.

There is only one person who could influence the king to do something else…maybe. And that person is Esther.

Someone please read Esther 4:9-14.

Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. 10 Then Esther spoke to Hathach and gave him a message for Mordecai, saying, 11 “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—all alike are to be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden scepter to someone, may that person live. I myself have not been called to come in to the king for thirty days.” 12 When they told Mordecai what Esther had said, 13 Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”

Mordecai’s only way to communicate with Esther is using a go-between. He’s not allowed in the harem—probably no one knows he’s Esther’s uncle, since everyone knows Mordecai is Jewish and no one knows Esther is. But even if they knew, he wouldn’t be allowed in there. So  they use one of the servantas a go-between—Hathach. Mordecai gives a copy of the decree to Hathach and explains it and asks Esther to petition the king to stop it.

When Esther hears this, she is scared for her own life. The queen can’t just appear before the king. She can only go before the queen if he asks for her. Esther is the king’s property and if she defies him or displeases him, he’ll disappear her just like he did to Vashti. And the king hasn’t asked for Esther for thirty days. She is terrified for her own life—that she will go before the king and be killed.

Mordecai reminds her that if all the Jewish people are killed, she will also be killed—and if she pretends and manages to not be outed as a Jewish person, her entire family will perish.

God will save the Jewish people either way, Mordecai is confident and faithful, that God will send deliverance one way or another to spare his chosen people, but then he says the most famous line in this entire book of the Bible. “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”

For such a time as this. Mordecai says that the reason she is queen, is probably because God has placed her there to protect the Jewish people, to save everyone. That God chose her—an orphan girl, the lowest of the low, a girl who was chosen to be queen not for her intelligence or bravery or faith, but for something as superficial as beauty—to be the deliverer of all of Israel.

Presuming the king doesn’t immediately have her killed for coming before him.

Someone please read Esther 4:15-17 and let’s see how Esther responds.

15 Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai, 16 “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.” 17 Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.

Esther asks Mordecai to lead a fast on her behalf—for all the Jewish people to gather and pray for three days. And she will go to the king, even though it’s illegal and she says something that I always find very powerful, “If I perish, I perish.”

Esther is willing to die to save her entire people. She is willing to stand up. And she knows that it may be for naught, and that the king may kill her before she can even get her petition out. Remember this is not just some vague threat. The king has already killed one king, and he could very easily do it to Esther too. This is a very real threat. But Esther is willing to die for her people.

Someone read Esther 5:1-8.

On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, opposite the king’s hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne inside the palace opposite the entrance to the palace. As soon as the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, she won his favor and he held out to her the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther approached and touched the top of the scepter. The king said to her, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given you, even to the half of my kingdom.” Then Esther said, “If it pleases the king, let the king and Haman come today to a banquet that I have prepared for the king.” Then the king said, “Bring Haman quickly, so that we may do as Esther desires.” So the king and Haman came to the banquet that Esther had prepared. While they were drinking wine, the king said to Esther, “What is your petition? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Esther said, “This is my petition and request: If I have won the king’s favor, and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet that I will prepare for them, and then I will do as the king has said.”

After three days of fasting and prayer, Esther positions herself just outside the king’s hall. She doesn’t go before, she just kind of stands in his line of sight. The king sees her, and instead of being angry or upset, he invites her in and asks her what she needs.

Esther doesn’t jump immediately to “save my people please.” Instead she invites him and Haman—the very guy who is asking for her people’s death to a banquet. At the banquet the king asks again, “what is your petition?” And she doesn’t say, “save my people.” She says “Please come again tomorrow night.”

And they do come again the next night. Someone please read Esther 7:2-6.

On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.”[aThen King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.

The second night the king asks again what Esther wants. This time she says that someone wants to annihilate her people. And the king is all like, “Whaaaat? Who could possibly be trying to do that.”

And Esther is like “Haman!” Who remember is sitting right there. Haman is terrified because he realizes his life is on the line. The king is furious. He’s so angry he walks out of the room—presumably to walk his anger off, and Haman tries to beg for his life. But he’s like throwing himself at her, begging her, and when the king walks back in he thinks Haman is assaulting his wife. And so the king has Haman hanged to death.

But killing Haman isn’t enough. Killing Haman doesn’t revoke the edict that has already been sent around the entire country, ready to be followed and annihilate the Jewish people. So Esther’s job is not done.

Someone please read Esther 8:5-8.

and Esther rose and stood before the king. She said, “If it pleases the king, and if I have won his favor, and if the thing seems right before the king, and I have his approval, let an order be written to revoke the letters devised by Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, which he wrote giving orders to destroy the Jews who are in all the provinces of the king. For how can I bear to see the calamity that is coming on my people? Or how can I bear to see the destruction of my kindred?” Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther and to the Jew Mordecai, “See, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and they have hanged him on the gallows, because he plotted to lay hands on the Jews. You may write as you please with regard to the Jews, in the name of the king, and seal it with the king’s ring; for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s ring cannot be revoked.”

She weeps at the king’s feet and asks for him to revoke the edict, to not let her people be killed, and the king he agrees. He tells her she may write whatever edict she wants in regard to her people in his name and seal it with his ring and then it cannot be revoked.

And so Esther, an orphan girl, saves her entire people.

There are many interesting things about the book of Esther. One is just that it shows that God uses unexpected people. An orphan girl—literally the lowest person in society outside of a slave, though often orphan girls became slaves. She is thrown into what is a scary situation—being the king’s wife right after he killed his last wife—and God uses this weird and precarious position to save all the Jewish people.

Another interesting thing about Esther is that God is never actually directly mentioned in it. However, even without seeing his name we see how Mordecai and Esther alude to him, and how clearly God’s hand is in the entire story. How God elevated Esther, for such a time as this.

It reminds us that sometimes the events in our lives that we don’t understand or get, that God can use those events for the greater good and for his glory. Even if we don’t directly see his hand, looking back, we’re like, “Wow, that was clearly God working to make this happen.” It also reminds us that no matter who we are, God will and can use us for his glory and purpose. And no matter our positions in society, we should stand up for what is right and good. Even if the result is that if we perish, we perish.

And that is the story of Esther.

Daniel Part 2

Last week we talked about four young men who at the beginning of the Exile were taken from Judah to the heart of Babylon, and there trained in literature and language to work in the king’s court. These young men were named Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, but they were also given Babylonian names: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

These four young men stayed faithful to God even in this far off land, amongst the pressure to conform to Babylonian ways, and this actually led to them distinguishing themselves amongst all their peers. So the king of Babylon—at this time a guy named Nebuchadnezzar elevated them above all the other wise-men of Babylon.

The wise-men of Babylon are not happy about this. From their perspective, these four guys are outsiders and nobodies. They’re from a brand-new region just conquered by the empire, the edge of the empire, from the Babylonians perspective, they’d probably view these four guys as crazy hicks. And here the king is, elevating them above everyone else. So these other Babylonian wise-men aren’t going to let this stand. They’re going to take every opportunity they can to knock Daniel and his friends down a peg, if not out-right kill them. But they can’t attack them directly, without getting the king’s wrath. They need the king to be behind them. So let’s see what happen.

Open your Bibles and flip to Daniel 3:1-7.

 King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue whose height was sixty cubits and whose width was six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent for the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, to assemble and come to the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. So the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, assembled for the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. When they were standing before the statue that Nebuchadnezzar had set up, the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, you are to fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire.” Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

Nebuchadnezzar, the king, makes a huge golden statue. A cubit is about the length of your elbow to your fingertips, about a foot and a half, so 90 feet tall.  So Nebuchadnezzar has this thing built and then calls for all his important people to come to its dedication to see its awesomeness. But you see—this isn’t just a statue. It’s not just like a king making a memorial. This is an idol, to be worshipped by all the people. And they are told that whenever they hear a certain sound they are to fall down and worship this status.

Someone please read Daniel 3:8-15.

Accordingly, at this time certain Chaldeans came forward and denounced the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! 10 You, O king, have made a decree, that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, shall fall down and worship the golden statue, 11 and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire. 12 There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These pay no heed to you, O king. They do not serve your gods and they do not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”

13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought in; so they brought those men before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods and you do not worship the golden statue that I have set up? 15 Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble to fall down and worship the statue that I have made, well and good.[a] But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire, and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?”

So this statue is made that people are supposed to worship, and amongst the crowd there to worship it are Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And the other wise-men see that those three guys—those three Jewish guys who have been raised above them and who they hate—aren’t going along with the kings decry. They don’t kneel when they hear the sound, they don’t worship the statue. They refuse.

Of course the king didn’t see this. He only knows it happened because these other jealous guys bring it to his attention, but as soon as he hears this he’s furious. How dare these guys not do as the king demanded! The king is the highest authority in the land! How dare they go against him!

So the king has these three guys brought before him. And the king? Well he’s willing to give them another chance. He reminds them what the rules are—that they’re supposed to worship this golden idol—and then gives them an ultimatum. If they don’t do this while the king is watching, then they will be thrown into a blazing furnace to be burned alive.

Let’s see what Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego do. Someone please read Daniel 3:16-23.

 16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. 17 If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us.[a18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”

19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was so filled with rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face was distorted. He ordered the furnace heated up seven times more than was customary, 20 and ordered some of the strongest guards in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to throw them into the furnace of blazing fire. 21 So the men were bound, still wearing their tunics,[b] their trousers,[c] their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the furnace of blazing fire. 22 Because the king’s command was urgent and the furnace was so overheated, the raging flames killed the men who lifted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 23 But the three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down, bound, into the furnace of blazing fire.

Faced with death, these three guys respond that they will not worship the idol. They say “Go ahead and throw us in the furnace. God will deliver us if he wants. But we will not worship the idol.”

Nebuchadnezzar is furious is at such defiance. He orders the furnace heated up as hot as it will go and then they bind the three men. They get thrown into the furnace—and the heat is so hot it kills the men who get close enough to even throw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego close. So those three guys just fall down bound into the furnace.

Someone please read Daniel 3:24-30.

24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counselors, “Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?” They answered the king, “True, O king.” 25 He replied, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god.”[a26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and said, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. 27 And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics[b] were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them. 28 Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that utters blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins; for there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.” 30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar is staring into the fire trying to watch these defiant rebels burn and he’s like, “Hey guys, how many men did we throw into the fire?” The answer is three, but as Nebuchadnezzar looks into the ire he sees four men. Not only does he see four men, but they are no longer bound and they’re walking around the fire unhurt. And the fourth guy? Well, he looks different from the other three guys, almost god-like.

So Nebuchadnezzar calls for them to come out of the fire, and the three guys walk out—no fourth guy in sight at this point. And Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are unharmed. Not even their clothes or hair is singed.

They were saved from the fiery furnace by God, and the fourth figure with them was an angel or representative of God. Nebuchadnezzar realizes their God saved them and that their God is mighty. And he makes it illegal for anyone to speak out against the God of Judah.

Then he promotes the three guys. So the plan of the other wise-people to have Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego killed totally backfired. Now the three of them are even more important.

While Nebuchadnezzar is king, Daniel and his friends don’t have to deal with much more faith based persecution. But no one remains king forever. Nebuchadnezzar dies and a new king comes onto the throne.

First there is Belshazzar, who becomes king after Nebuchadnezzar dies. We’re going to skip him but there is one famous passage that has to do with him—not famous because it’s a story we tell very often, but famous because there is a phrase or saying that comes from this section of the Bible: “The writing is on the wall.”

In this story, words are written on a wall as if magically, or by a divine hand and no one knows what it means. It’s in some other language. And Daniel is able to interpret it. And the writing basically means that this king Belshazzar is going to die soon and a new king will be put in his place.

If you ever hear someone say “The writing is on the wall,” it’s a phrase that usually means that the danger or inevitably bad consequences are apparent and there is no way to get out of it. That phrase comes from this story, where the writing was on the wall, and the writing did talk about inevitable bad consequences that came true, and no one could read it except Daniel. So that’s just a fun fact!

But there is one more really famous story about Daniel that we’re going to touch on—that perhaps you may have heard before. Belshazzar also dies—he gets killed—and a new person becomes king of Babylon. His name is Darius. And he’s an okay king as far as these sorts of things go. But once again the other wise-men and advisors are going to try to get rid of this trusted Jewish person that they hate. They want Daniel gone. So they’re going to create a set of circumstances to make it happen.

Someone please read Daniel 6:1-5.

It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom one hundred twenty satraps, stationed throughout the whole kingdom, and over them three presidents, including Daniel; to these the satraps gave account, so that the king might suffer no loss. Soon Daniel distinguished himself above all the other presidents and satraps because an excellent spirit was in him, and the king planned to appoint him over the whole kingdom. So the presidents and the satraps tried to find grounds for complaint against Daniel in connection with the kingdom. But they could find no grounds for complaint or any corruption, because he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption could be found in him. The men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”

So Darius has 120 “satraps.” A satrap is a provincial governor or local ruler. And he puts three “presidents” this version says over them. My other version says “commissioners.” So basically three guys that those 120 guys answer to, and then probably those three guys answer to the king. And Daniel is one of those three guys.

The king chose Daniel based on his merit, and the other governors are not okay with it. So they try to find dirt on Daniel, to try to find some way to show that he is not loyal to the king or doing something wrong. But they can find nothing. Daniel has served loyally. Except…they realize, Daniel will always obey the law of God above the law of the land. So if they can find a scenario where those two things contradict, Daniel will obey God and not the king, and then, maybe then they can get this Daniel guy out of there.

Someone please read Daniel 6:6-10.

So the presidents and satraps conspired and came to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an interdict, that whoever prays to anyone, divine or human, for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions. Now, O king, establish the interdict and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Therefore King Darius signed the document and interdict.

10 Although Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he continued to go to his house, which had windows in its upper room open toward Jerusalem, and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done previously.

They make a plan. They go to the king and appeal to his ego. They tell the king that he all the wise-men and rulers of the land under him agreed that the king should make a law saying that for thirty days no one should pray to anyone except the king. Remember, back then, kings were also viewed as minor gods. So that wouldn’t necessarily seem crazy to a Babylonian to pray to the king. But these guys say for 30 days no one should pray to any other god throughout the entire kingdom, and if they do and they’re caught, they should be thrown into a den of lions, to be eaten alive.

Clearly Daniel wasn’t there when the law was signed or for some reason was silent about it, but either way, he knows its signed. He knows this is the law of the land—and probably a trap for him—and that it is technically illegal for the next thirty day for him to pray to God. But Daniel continues to go home and pray—three times a day—just as he had always done.

He will not let a law of man stop him from following God.

Someone read Daniel 6:11-15.

11 The conspirators came and found Daniel praying and seeking mercy before his God. 12 Then they approached the king and said concerning the interdict, “O king! Did you not sign an interdict, that anyone who prays to anyone, divine or human, within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions?” The king answered, “The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked.” 13 Then they responded to the king, “Daniel, one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the interdict you have signed, but he is saying his prayers three times a day.”

14 When the king heard the charge, he was very much distressed. He was determined to save Daniel, and until the sun went down he made every effort to rescue him. 15 Then the conspirators came to the king and said to him, “Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no interdict or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed.”

The other guys—the conspirators this section calls them—they know Daniel prays to his God and probably knows how often he prays—they’ve probably noticed the times of day when he goes him. So they catch him in the act. And then they go to the king and they’re like, “Hey king, we found a guy, he’s not obeying your law, that you just made, remember? He’s praying to someone else. So we should throw him in the lion’s den and be done with him.” They’re very careful not to name Daniel at first.

The king is like, “What? Someone is breaking my law! Who and how dare they! Yes they should die.”

And the conspirators are like, “It was Daniel.”

This upsets the king. Because he likes Daniel. He doesn’t want to kill him. But he also made the law. He can’t back down on his own law without looking bad to all of this people. However, it says he makes every attempt to save Daniel. He’s probably trying to find some loophole in the law, some way he can say that “yeah even though that’s the law, Daniel is exempt because of this other law.” But he finds nothing.

And the other guys are like, “What are you doing king? It’s the law. The law cannot be changed. WE have to obey it.” There is no way for the king to go out of this and save Daniel. It’s not within his power.

Someone read Daniel 6:16-23.

16 Then the king gave the command, and Daniel was brought and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!” 17 A stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, so that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. 18 Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no food was brought to him, and sleep fled from him.

19 Then, at break of day, the king got up and hurried to the den of lions. 20 When he came near the den where Daniel was, he cried out anxiously to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God whom you faithfully serve been able to deliver you from the lions?” 21 Daniel then said to the king, “O king, live forever! 22 My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong.” 23 Then the king was exceedingly glad and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.

The king has no choice but to give the command. And Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den. The kings only parting word is that he hopes Daniel’s God will deliver him.

It says they lay a stone over the mouth of the den, so it’s probably some sort of cave where these lions live. And the king himself seals it with his own ring so that if the stone is disturbed they will know and see and answer to the king.

Then the king goes home and fasts and doesn’t sleep. He’s worried and distressed about Daniel.

As soon as the night is over—as soon as its dawn—the king runs to the lion’s den. He cries out as he nears, “Daniel, are you alive???” And Daniel responds, “Yep. God sent an angel who closed the lions mouths, because I am blameless before both him and you. I have done nothing wrong.”

The king is so happy Daniel isn’t dead and has him taken out of the den. He is unharmed, and he is placed back in his station as an important man in the kingdom of Babylon.

The king had no power to save Daniel, but God did.

In both of these stories—the one about the golden idol and this one with the lion’s den—we have stories of people standing up against the entire world when it sided against them, standing up for their god and their beliefs and refusing to just go along—even though obeying the laws of Babylon and the insane random decries of the king would be far easier to do. But they knew following God was more important, even in a world where they were hated and outnumbered.

This isn’t just peer pressure. This is life and death pressure. But they stayed strong, and followed God, and God spared them because of it. Not everyone gets spared for standing up for God—we’ve seen this before in the Bible and we’ll see it later. Stephen, the first Christian martyr is a good example. He stands up for God and he’s killed for it. But we shouldn’t just stand up because we think God will spare us from the consequences. Daniel didn’t know if God would save him. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego probably thought they might die. But they stood up for their beliefs because it was the right thing to do.

We should stand up for God and we should do the right thing, even in the face of awful consequences. We’ll see this again in the next story we’re going to study: the story of Esther.

Daniel Part 1

Last week we talked about the significance of the exile, how it caused a crisis of faith in the people of Israel that now their land was captive and they were ruled by foreign powers—particularly King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. However, it isn’t just called the exile because their land was conquered, but because this Babylonian king removed people from the land and sent them into Babylon, to live in a strange place among strangers who didn’t share their culture. Today we’re going to study one of these stories, of some young men suddenly in a strange and foreign land.

Grab your Bibles and turn to the book of Daniel. Someone please read Daniel 1:1-5.

 In the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 The Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into his power, as well as some of the vessels of the house of God. These he brought to the land of Shinar,[a] and placed the vessels in the treasury of his gods.

3 Then the king commanded his palace master Ashpenaz to bring some of the Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, 4 young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king’s palace; they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans. 5 The king assigned them a daily portion of the royal rations of food and wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that time they could be stationed in the king’s court. 6 Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, from the tribe of Judah. 7 The palace master gave them other names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.

Nebuchadnezzar takes over. He plunders the land and temple, taking the precious gold and silver and fine woods used to build the Temple, and destroying it. He takes it all back to Babylon. But it’s not just stuff he takes. He wants young people—particular healthy, handsome, and bright young men from the royal family. He takes them to Babylon, brings them into his own palace and teaches them about Babylon and it’s ways.

Why does he do this? This might seem strange to us. But remember, Nebuchadnezzar was the leader of an empire. Large empires need governors and leaders, because the king himself can’t oversee everything, just like the President can’t oversee the whole of the United States himself. We have governors and Senators and all sorts of people. Nebuchadnezzar was probably in general always looking for smart young people to grow up into leaders, but he particularly chose young people of the ruling class from Judah. Probably with the intent to train them up in the Babylonian way and then send them back to Judah to rule, so he could say, “Here is one of your own to rule you.” And while that person would be born of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar wanted that person to think like a Babylonian, to be his lieutenant as much as any Babylonian would. That’s why he’s training them in the language and books of Babylon.

There would also be another less kind political reason, which is by turning the royal family and nobles of Judah into his servants, Nebuchadnezzar is making a statement that even the highest in Judah is still lower than him, still serves him, and is nothing compared to him.

For three years it says they were to be trained, before entering the king’s service. During this time they were given the sort of food that the king himself ate. This would be luxurious, possibly even better than anything they had at home, because Babylon was so much larger than Judah and would have more resources.

Several young men were taken from Judah but this story is about four particular ones. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. But these are all names of Israel, names that reflect their God in how they’re constructed. The “el” ending and “iah” ending both point to names of God, El being a common name for God—the one Abraham used before the name of Yahweh is used, and the “iah” ending pointing directly to the name “Yahweh.” This wouldn’t be acceptable in the courts of Babylon, not when you’re trying to make these people Babylonians. So they were given new names, names that fit in better. Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Giving people names that fit in better with the local population is actually a really common assimilation practice, one that’s still done by many today. Many times immigrants to new countries choose names that fit in the local language better. That’s not wrong. Sometimes they don’t want to seem different, sometimes they want to be like everyone else. Sometimes they don’t want to hear their original name butchered daily by people who can’t pronounce it. However, this is not the case with these guys. They’re not choosing new names. These names are being forced upon them. And that is wrong. That has happened in American history too. Native Americans being forced to choose “Christian” names rather than keep the names their parents gave them. People who emigrated through Ellis Island being told their names were too hard and being changed randomly by whichever official was writing their name down in the books. These people are not given a choice about whether they want their long Polish last name shortened to two syllables. This is not okay. And it wasn’t okay with Daniel and his friends.

Let’s see what happens to these young men in the Babylonian court. Someone please read Daniel 1:8-14.

8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine; so he asked the palace master to allow him not to defile himself. 9 Now God allowed Daniel to receive favor and compassion from the palace master. 10 The palace master said to Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king; he has appointed your food and your drink. If he should see you in poorer condition than the other young men of your own age, you would endanger my head with the king.” 11 Then Daniel asked the guard whom the palace master had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: 12 “Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 You can then compare our appearance with the appearance of the young men who eat the royal rations, and deal with your servants according to what you observe.” 14 So he agreed to this proposal and tested them for ten days.

We already mentioned that the king was basically feeding them from his table, but we didn’t talk about what that meant. Here it says that Daniel did not want to “defile” himself with the food from the royal table. What does that mean? Does it mean the food from the royal table was spoiled or poisoned in some way? No. Was it super unhealthy food, like just cookies and cakes all the time? Maybe, but that wouldn’t have been Daniel’s concern. Our first clue is that word “defile.” Another way to translate it might be “unclean.” And if we translate that maybe that sounds familiar.

Because remember, Daniel is from Judah. He’s an Israealite. This is the first time period where we will start hearing the people of Israel referred to as Jewish or Jews, as basically a shorthand for the people of Judah and Jerusalem. Jewish people have to follow the law in order to be right with God, and part of that involves eating the right foods. In modern words we call this kosher.

There are many types of food that people who follow the kosher laws won’t eat like pig or shrimp. And here Daniel is in a foreign court, that basically wants him to forget he’s Jewish and become a Babylonian, and eat all the things that Babylonians eat.

It would have been really easy for Daniel to go along with this. After all, this is one of the worst kinds of pressure there is—not peer pressure but like boss pressure. Your boss is telling you to do something. And if you don’t do it? Well in Daniel’s case he wouldn’t be worried about being fired from a job, but maybe killed or imprisoned. The whole point of Nebudchanezzar bringing these young men to Babylon is to teach them to be Babylonian and here is Daniel refusing, determining to stay Jewish.

But it’s also more than that. Remember Daniel was just deported from the Promised Land. His entire reality and culture has been shattered. What he thought God meant about the Promised Land and the future of the Israelites seems not to be the case. It would be really easy for him to decide that maybe all those laws were stupid—after all God didn’t uphold his end of the bargain why should Daniel uphold his end? But instead Daniel is re-asserting his identity and relationship with God. Just because he has been Exiled, just because he is in a strange land, doesn’t mean he is not a child of God, and doesn’t mean he’s exempt from the laws God would like him to follow. Daniel will stay true, he will stay faithful, even through this season of uncertainty.

So Daniel goes to the guy in charge of them—the palace master, which is probably the guy who runs the whole palace, sort of like Carson in Downton Abbey if you’ve ever watched that—and asks if he can eat different food.

Now this palace master he has compassion for Daniel and his friends, but he’s afraid of his king. What will the king say? The palace master is particularly worried because the food of the kings table is considered the best food, so if Daniel is eating less than the best and because of that he gets unhealthy? The king will probably blame the palace master. So he basically says no.

So Daniel backs up and goes to his own guard, who is in charge of himself and his friends. HE says, “What if we do a test for ten days? For ten days let us eat our way and we’ll see if we get sick. If we get sick, we go back to your ways, if we don’t, well no harm no foul.” The guard thinks on this, thinks its reasonable, so they agree.

Someone please read Daniel 1:15-20.

15 At the end of ten days it was observed that they appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations. 16 So the guard continued to withdraw their royal rations and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. 17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom; Daniel also had insight into all visions and dreams.

18 At the end of the time that the king had set for them to be brought in, the palace master brought them into the presence of Nebuchadnezzar, 19 and the king spoke with them. And among them all, no one was found to compare with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they were stationed in the king’s court. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding concerning which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.

For ten days Daniel and his friend eat what kosher foods are available to them—which seems to be mostly vegetables. Why is that? It’s not like Jewish people are vegetarian. Well because kosher meat isn’t just about what kind of animal it is, it’s about how that animal is killed. So the Babylonians wouldn’t kill the animals and prepare the meat in a kosher manner, so the only things that Daniel could know is safe is going to be vegetables. So Daniel and his friends basically go vegetarian.

And lo and behold, they don’t end up any unhealthier than the other young men, in fact the Bible says they appear better and fatter. Remember in this case, fatter would be considered healthier. Because skinny back then usually meant you were starving. So it’s not really “fat” and “skinny” like we might think about it verses “starvation” and “you look like you actually get three square meals a day.”

It also says that God gave them knowledge and skill and wisdom, and that Daniel in particular had visions and dreams—Daniel we’re going to see is a prophet of God.

So after their three years of training, finally the palace master brings them before the king himself, Nebuchadnezzar. And the king talks to all of the young men who studied for those three years, but he finds that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah are the best and that no one else can compare. So while I’m sure the other young men got decent jobs, these four young men get the best jobs—working for the king himself, in his own court. And the king finds their wisdom and understanding better than everyone else in the kingdom. So it will be Daniel and his three friends that the king finds himself relying on and going to for advice. We see this played out in the very next chapter.

Someone please read Daniel 2:1-11.

In the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar dreamed such dreams that his spirit was troubled and his sleep left him. 2 So the king commanded that the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams. When they came in and stood before the king, 3 he said to them, “I have had such a dream that my spirit is troubled by the desire to understand it.” 4 The Chaldeans said to the king (in Aramaic),[a] “O king, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will reveal the interpretation.” 5 The king answered the Chaldeans, “This is a public decree: if you do not tell me both the dream and its interpretation, you shall be torn limb from limb, and your houses shall be laid in ruins. 6 But if you do tell me the dream and its interpretation, you shall receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. Therefore tell me the dream and its interpretation.” 7 They answered a second time, “Let the king first tell his servants the dream, then we can give its interpretation.” 8 The king answered, “I know with certainty that you are trying to gain time, because you see I have firmly decreed: 9 if you do not tell me the dream, there is but one verdict for you. You have agreed to speak lying and misleading words to me until things take a turn. Therefore, tell me the dream, and I shall know that you can give me its interpretation.” 10 The Chaldeans answered the king, “There is no one on earth who can reveal what the king demands! In fact no king, however great and powerful, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean. 11 The thing that the king is asking is too difficult, and no one can reveal it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with mortals.”

One night the king has a deeply troubling dream and he has no idea what it means. So he summons everyone who might interpret it—magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, everyone. And he tells them he had this terrible dream.

These men respond, “Oh my! Tell us what the dream is and we’ll interpret it for you.” But this is not a course of action that pleases the king. He doesn’t want to tell them the dream just for them to make up some possibly fake interpretation. If they’re so wise and who they say they are, then they should know what he dreamed without him telling them.

The men are like, “that’s impossible. You have to tell us the dream so we can interpret it.” But the king is incessant. He wants them to tell him what they think he dreamed, so he can know they are the real thing and will give him a real interpretation.

To the surprise of no one—except maybe the king—these men can’t do that. They say no one can do it, that what the king is asking is crazy. Needless to say this doesn’t make the king happy. In fact the king gets so angry, he decides every wise man in the land should be killed—and this includes Daniel and his friends, who it seems weren’t present for the initial discussion about the dream.

Let’s see what Daniel’s response to this will be. Someone please read Daniel 2:12-19.

12 Because of this the king flew into a violent rage and commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be destroyed. 13 The decree was issued, and the wise men were about to be executed; and they looked for Daniel and his companions, to execute them. 14 Then Daniel responded with prudence and discretion to Arioch, the king’s chief executioner, who had gone out to execute the wise men of Babylon; 15 he asked Arioch, the royal official, “Why is the decree of the king so urgent?” Arioch then explained the matter to Daniel. 16 So Daniel went in and requested that the king give him time and he would tell the king the interpretation.

17 Then Daniel went to his home and informed his companions, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 18 and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions with the rest of the wise men of Babylon might not perish. 19 Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night, and Daniel blessed the God of heaven.

 Daniel asks for time to consider the kings decree, and it seems its granted. So he goes home to his three friends, and the four them they pray. They pray hard. Because if God doesn’t help them out here, they’re dead. All the wise men in Babylon will be dead. So they pray with all their might.

And God answers. He reveals to Daniel what the dream is, and then Daniel spends the next several verses praising God for being so infinite and wise and choosing to share some of that knowledge with Daniel.

Someone please read Daniel 2:24-30.

24 Therefore Daniel went to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babylon, and said to him, “Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon; bring me in before the king, and I will give the king the interpretation.”

25 Then Arioch quickly brought Daniel before the king and said to him: “I have found among the exiles from Judah a man who can tell the king the interpretation.” 26 The king said to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, “Are you able to tell me the dream that I have seen and its interpretation?” 27 Daniel answered the king, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or diviners can show to the king the mystery that the king is asking, 28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has disclosed to King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen at the end of days. Your dream and the visions of your head as you lay in bed were these: 29 To you, O king, as you lay in bed, came thoughts of what would be hereafter, and the revealer of mysteries disclosed to you what is to be. 30 But as for me, this mystery has not been revealed to me because of any wisdom that I have more than any other living being, but in order that the interpretation may be known to the king and that you may understand the thoughts of your mind.

Daniel goes to the guy who is supposed to kill him and is like “STOP. Don’t kill anyone! I can give the king his interpretation.”

So they quickly bring Daniel before the king. And the king is like, “You sure you can do this kid?”

Now this would be a chance for Daniel to claim all the credit, to talk about how amazing he is, and how he knows all these mysteries. Instead, Daniel places the credit where it belongs, with God—who knows all and deemed to give Daniel a glimpse of that knowledge.

In the next section Daniel tells the king what his dream was. It’s about a mighty statue made of many materials being broken into pieces and disappearing. And then Daniel tells the king what it means. It’s about the kingdoms that shall rise and fall after Nebuchadnezzar’s own, and how in the end they shall all disappear until God decides to set up an everlasting kingdom.

Let’s see how Nebuchadnezzar reacts to this knowledge that eventually his own kingdom will fall and others replace it. Someone please read Daniel 2:46-49.

46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face, worshiped Daniel, and commanded that a grain offering and incense be offered to him. 47 The king said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery!” 48 Then the king promoted Daniel, gave him many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. 49 Daniel made a request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon. But Daniel remained at the king’s court.

Some kings would kill Daniel for such words, but this king falls on his face and worships Daniel. He offers him grains and incense, like Daniel is a god. But his words seem to say it’s for Daniel’s God—because his God revealed truly the King’s dream and revealed it’s mystery. Then in the end, Daniel is promoted,  made the head of all the wise-men and ruler of the province of Babylon—the home province, the most important one.

But Daniel doesn’t forget his friends who helped him pray to God. And he requests they be promoted to. And together these four Jewish boys, become four of the most important men in Babylon, even though they are strangers in a strange land.

We’ll pick up with more of their story next week.

Jeremiah Part 2

Last week we started talking about the prophet Jeremiah. He was a major prophet during the years before the Exile, and he went around telling all of Judah about the coming disaster and destruction if they did not turn back to God. But as we talked about last week, the people and especially the leadership of Judah were not receptive to his words. They wanted to kill Jeremiah for what he said, instead of listen and repent.

If they had repented, God would have stopped the coming disaster. Instead, they stayed stubborn in their ways of worshipping other gods and being unjust to each other.

If I was Jeremiah, after they threatened to kill me for my words, I probably would have given up, and been like “I can’t do this any more God. They don’t listen anyway, so what’s the point?” But Jeremiah didn’t stop. He didn’t give up. He continued to work hard and warn people.

Someone please read Jeremiah 36:1-10.

36 In the fourth year of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah until today. It may be that when the house of Judah hears of all the disasters that I intend to do to them, all of them may turn from their evil ways, so that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.

Then Jeremiah called Baruch son of Neriah, and Baruch wrote on a scroll at Jeremiah’s dictation all the words of the Lord that he had spoken to him. And Jeremiah ordered Baruch, saying, “I am prevented from entering the house of the Lord; so you go yourself, and on a fast day in the hearing of the people in the Lord’s house you shall read the words of the Lord from the scroll that you have written at my dictation. You shall read them also in the hearing of all the people of Judah who come up from their towns. It may be that their plea will come before the Lord, and that all of them will turn from their evil ways, for great is the anger and wrath that the Lord has pronounced against this people.” And Baruch son of Neriah did all that the prophet Jeremiah ordered him about reading from the scroll the words of the Lord in the Lord’s house.

In the fifth year of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, in the ninth month, all the people in Jerusalem and all the people who came from the towns of Judah to Jerusalem proclaimed a fast before the Lord. 10 Then, in the hearing of all the people, Baruch read the words of Jeremiah from the scroll, in the house of the Lord, in the chamber of Gemariah son of Shaphan the secretary, which was in the upper court, at the entry of the New Gate of the Lord’s house.

So it’s the fourth year that Jehoaikim is king, four years then since his father Josiah—the last good king of Judah ruled. And Jeremiah has already gotten in trouble with the current king and administration and is basically forbidden from every stepping foot in the Temple again—because that’s where he last addressed the people when we discussed him last week and everyone wanted to kill him. He’s not allowed there anymore to address the people, or for any other reason.

But God still has work for Jeremiah, so he tells him to write down everything he has told him, so the people can still hear it, even if Jeremiah himself can’t go to them. Some people think that this scroll would contain the first few chapters of Jeremiah, probably 1-15, so basically a lot of prophecy of what is to come, that they need to repent, and God will restore them.

So Jeremiah calls a guy named Baruch, who is Jeremiah’s faithful scribe. He dictates the words to Baruch, and Baruch writes it all down. It’s likely that Jeremiah may not know how to write or may not be very good at it, which is why he has a scribe, who is trained in reading and writing do this work for him. But Jeremiah doesn’t just ask Baruch to write down the words, he asks him to go out and read them. Which is asking a lot, since Baruch would be reading the words of a guy who is basically at this time an enemy of the crown. People might want to kill Baruch just like they wanted to kill Jeremiah.  But Baruch does in fact obey Jeremiah.

Baruch goes to the Temple during a time period where a special fast has been called by the king, so everyone is in Jerusalem, even the people who don’t normally live there. And during a fast, a lot of these people, especially the men, are going to be in the Temple, which is where Baruch is reading this scroll.

Alright flip back to Jeremiah 25:1-14, but keep a finger in chapter 36 because we’re coming back to it. This section is the sort of thing that Baruch would be saying and that Jeremiah had been saying for years at this point. Someone read it please.

 25 The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah, in the fourth year of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah (that was the first year of King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon), which the prophet Jeremiah spoke to all the people of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem: For twenty-three years, from the thirteenth year of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah, to this day, the word of the Lord has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened. And though the Lord persistently sent you all his servants the prophets, you have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear when they said, “Turn now, every one of you, from your evil way and wicked doings, and you will remain upon the land that the Lord has given to you and your ancestors from of old and forever; do not go after other gods to serve and worship them, and do not provoke me to anger with the work of your hands. Then I will do you no harm.” Yet you did not listen to me, says the Lord, and so you have provoked me to anger with the work of your hands to your own harm.

Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, I am going to send for all the tribes of the north, says the Lord, even for King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these nations around; I will utterly destroy them, and make them an object of horror and of hissing, and an everlasting disgrace.[a10 And I will banish from them the sound of mirth and the sound of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp. 11 This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. 12 Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, says the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste. 13 I will bring upon that land all the words that I have uttered against it, everything written in this book, which Jeremiah prophesied against all the nations. 14 For many nations and great kings shall make slaves of them also; and I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.

A lot of these are point we already studied last week. God—through Jeremiah and the prophets before him—has been pretty consistently telling people the same thing. To turn back to God, and not worship other gods. But the people haven’t listened.

So he tells them he will use the new emperor of Babylon, a guy named Nebudchadrezzar to conquer and punish Judah for seventy years. But he also says the Babylonians won’t get off scot-free either, that eventually they will be punished for their wrong-doings too. But for seventy years, the people of Judah, the remaining Israelites, will live under Babylonian rule. And it will be a very bad time for them.

Alright let’s flip back to Jeremiah 36. Someone please read Jeremiah 36:11-19. We are now back to Baruch reading Jeremiah’s words from the scroll in the temple.

11 When Micaiah son of Gemariah son of Shaphan heard all the words of the Lord from the scroll, 12 he went down to the king’s house, into the secretary’s chamber; and all the officials were sitting there: Elishama the secretary, Delaiah son of Shemaiah, Elnathan son of Achbor, Gemariah son of Shaphan, Zedekiah son of Hananiah, and all the officials. 13 And Micaiah told them all the words that he had heard, when Baruch read the scroll in the hearing of the people. 14 Then all the officials sent Jehudi son of Nethaniah son of Shelemiah son of Cushi to say to Baruch, “Bring the scroll that you read in the hearing of the people, and come.” So Baruch son of Neriah took the scroll in his hand and came to them. 15 And they said to him, “Sit down and read it to us.” So Baruch read it to them. 16 When they heard all the words, they turned to one another in alarm, and said to Baruch, “We certainly must report all these words to the king.” 17 Then they questioned Baruch, “Tell us now, how did you write all these words? Was it at his dictation?” 18 Baruch answered them, “He dictated all these words to me, and I wrote them with ink on the scroll.” 19 Then the officials said to Baruch, “Go and hide, you and Jeremiah, and let no one know where you are.”

A guy named Micaiah hears Baruch read from the scroll and he basically runs over to the king’s house and finds a bnch of officials. He tells them what Baruch is reading to everyone, and they’re like, “oh boy, we better hear this for ourselves.” So they send for Baruch and have him to come to them and read it—which Baruch does without complaint.

And the officials hear the words and are like “oh dear, we better tell the king.” But first they question to make sure where the words came from. Baruch confirms that it was Jeremiah who dictated and he just wrote them down.

And basically the officials are like, “dude, you better get out of here before we tell the king. Go hide with Jeremiah where no one knows where you are so when the king hears he doesn’t kill you.” Basically they know the king isn’t going to be happy about this.

Someone please read Jeremiah 36:20-26.

20 Leaving the scroll in the chamber of Elishama the secretary, they went to the court of the king; and they reported all the words to the king. 21 Then the king sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and he took it from the chamber of Elishama the secretary; and Jehudi read it to the king and all the officials who stood beside the king. 22 Now the king was sitting in his winter apartment (it was the ninth month), and there was a fire burning in the brazier before him. 23 As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king[a] would cut them off with a penknife and throw them into the fire in the brazier, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the brazier. 24 Yet neither the king, nor any of his servants who heard all these words, was alarmed, nor did they tear their garments. 25 Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them. 26 And the king commanded Jerahmeel the king’s son and Seraiah son of Azriel and Shelemiah son of Abdeel to arrest the secretary Baruch and the prophet Jeremiah. But the Lord hid them.

Baruch leaves the scroll with the officials. The officials then tell the king what the scroll said and at the king’s demand, bring the actual scroll before him.

The text says it was winter. The ninth month, is approximately December, so it’s cold. So there is a fire burning before the king. As the scribe reads, the king cuts the words out of the scroll and throws them into the fire until the entire thing is burned.

Some of his servants tell him not to burn it, but no one is really surprised when he does it. And then instead of listening, the king commands Baruch and Jeremiah both be arrested.

Once again this goes back to the idea of “killing the messenger.” That by somehow getting rid of the people saying the words you’ll stop what is going to happen. But on the other hand, maybe the king didn’t really believe the words at all, and thought that Jeremiah and Baruch were just sewing fear and discord amongst the people. Or maybe the king himself was afraid, and thought that if he pretended nothing bad could be happening, nothing bad would.

Denial is rarely the best method of dealing with anything.

Alright now we’re going to turn back to 2 Kings, because remember the Bible is not chronological. The events of Jeremiah take place during the events of Kings. Remember Kings is written more like a history, and Jeremiah is a book by a prophet about what he’s been told to communicate by God and maybe a little with his own life in it. So Kings can help ground us on where we are chronologically in the Bible.

Someone please read 2 Kings 24:1-4.

24 In his days King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came up; Jehoiakim became his servant for three years; then he turned and rebelled against him. The Lord sent against him bands of the Chaldeans, bands of the Arameans, bands of the Moabites, and bands of the Ammonites; he sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by his servants the prophets. Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the Lord, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, for all that he had committed, and also for the innocent blood that he had shed; for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord was not willing to pardon.

Earlier in Jeremiah it referred to the Babylonian king as Nebuchadrezzar and here as Nebuchadnezzar. Those are the same person just different spellings. It can be weird when you translate names between languages, and we’ll see this again with the king in the book of Esther. If you look at the way the Bible spells the name verses the way modern scholars spell it—it all has to do with who is translating and what.

So this guy, Nebudchanezzar, becomes emperor of Babylon. And for three years it says Jehoaikim is his servant, probably meaning Judah is a vassal state, allowed to stay in tact as long as it pays taxes and stays under the rule of Babylon. But then Jehoiakim rebels.

And for that, the Babylonians destroy Judah. It says Chaldeans, but in the Bible “Chaldeans” and “Babylonians” are generally used interchangeably. And those other tribes mentioned were all probably conquered by Babylon at this time, so basically it’s just saying Babylon comes in and conquers Judah completely.

It says in this text that it’s God that sends them to destroy Judah. But I think it’s more that God allows it to happen. The Babylonians had formed a massive empire that would eventually threaten all the smaller lands around them, but God could have kept Judah safe. But because of Judah’s actions, God chose not to, and allowed Babylon to conquer them.

Someone please read 2 Kings 24:5-9.

Now the rest of the deeds of Jehoiakim, and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah? So Jehoiakim slept with his ancestors; then his son Jehoiachin succeeded him. The king of Egypt did not come again out of his land, for the king of Babylon had taken over all that belonged to the king of Egypt from the Wadi of Egypt to the River Euphrates.

Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign; he reigned three months in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Nehushta daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, just as his father had done.

Now this section is important and I included it for two reasons. (1) It points out that not even Egypt was able to stand against Babylon. We’ve talked about how before Egypt was the super power of the world and no one could even compare to it. This is the time period where that is no longer beginning to be the case. Babylon has not conquered all of Egypt, but it has conquered some of what used to be Egypt’s lands, and Egypt was unable to defend and maintain those lands. That’s a big deal.

The second thing is that a new king is instated after Jehoiakim. We’re going to see that for a little while the Babylonians allow Judah to still have a king of the line of David, though this king would be less of a king and more of a governor supposed to rule for the Babylonians, a vassal. But this new king? It says he only rules for three months. That’s not very long at all.

And this is where we’re going to stop for this week. Next week we’ll pick up with the actual Exile itself, which we’ve been leading up to, and some of the more famous stories in the Bible in the book of Daniel.

Jeremiah Part 1

The last lesson we did was on Josiah. If you’ll remember he was a king of Judah—the Southern Kingdom, which at this point in the Bible is the only kingdom that remains. Israel, the Northern Kingdom, was conquered by the Assyrians and many of the people were removed to other lands. So Judah is all that is left of what was once the combined nation of Israel that once upon a time was ruled by David.

The conquering of Israel was allowed to happen because they had turned their backs on god, the kings and the people were all worshipping other gods like Ba’al and Asherah instead of the God of Israel. A similar thing was happening on Judah, but when Josiah became king he decided to renovate the Temple. And when he did so they found a book of torah, probably Deuteronomy, and when it was read to all the people they reformed their ways.

For a time. But they quickly slipped back into their old way, after Josiah died, of worshiping other gods.

Why was this so easy for them? Well remember we’ve talked about before in this class the idea of “monolatry.” What does that mean? Well in modern day, most of us believe that God is the only God and all other gods are false, or not real. But that’s not how the ancient world worked. In the ancient world they thought all the gods were real, but the idea was that only the God of Israel was worthy of worship. So even a good, God-following Israelite would believe Ba’al and Asherah and other Canaanite and Babylonian gods were real, they just knew that their God was better and the only one worthy of their attention.

We can actually see this idea pop up in a lot of placed in the Old Testament—the classic example being the opening of Job, where God is described as being the highest God at a council of many gods. That’s just how people in the ancient world thought. All the gods were real, but since the God of Israel told them not to worship other gods, they were just supposed to focus on him, only worship him, and just leave the other gods be.

In a society with monolatry like this, it’s easy to slip in to just worshiping every god, to cover all your bases. So people would worship Ba’al, Asherah, and the God of Israel. But is the God of Israel okay with that? Okay with being worshipped as just one of many gods? No! The first two commandments are literally about this. In Exodus 20:2-5, when God gives the ten commandments he says:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before[a] me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God

Do not have any other gods, he says. Do not have idols—that is objects that represent gods or things worthy of worship. Don’t worship any other god or idol, God says, because he is a jealous God. He wants to be the only God in their eyes. But that was something people in the ancient world really struggled with. Because isn’t it easier, they might think, if it hasn’t rained in a while, to cover all your bases and sacrifice to both the God of Israel and Ba’al? That way you’ve got two weather gods working for you! But the God of Israel doesn’t roll like that.

But the people keep slipping back into this thought process, and demoting God basically, as just another god in the ancient pantheon. And God is not happy about it.

And because of this judgement is still coming for Judah.

Today we’re flipping forward to the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah is not a history, like Samuel or Kings, though it does contain some history. It’s a book of prophecy, written in part by the prophet Jeremiah and in part by some ancient scribes and historians. Alright someone please read Jeremiah 1:1-3.

The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of King Zedekiah son of Josiah of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month.

These verses tell us who we’re talking about and when things are taking place. So Jeremiah is a priest from the lands of Benjamin, so in Judah. And God started talking to him in the 13th year of Josiah’s reign. Jeremiah is a prophet to Judah for a long time, starting when Josiah is king and going through the exile.

Just a bit of forewarning: the book of Jeremiah is not a happy book. It’s about a really dark time in the history of Judah. And Jeremiah is going to spend most of his career warning people it’s coming and then dealing with the repercussions when it actually happens. This is not a happy time.

Someone please read Jeremiah 1:4-10.

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.”

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lordsaid to me,

“Now I have put my words in your mouth.
10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.” 

This is actually a pretty famous section of text that I’ve heard quote a lot. So let’s break it down. This is basically Jeremiah’s first recorded encounter with God. God shows up and is like, “Hey Jeremiah, before you were even a twinkle in your parents’ eyes, and at that time—before you even existed—I planned for you and for you to be a prophet to the world!”

It seems that at the time of this interaction Jeremiah is very young, because his response is, “Umm, God? I’m like a kid. Soooo you probably don’t want me speaking to all the nations.”

But God is having none of that. God is like, “Psh, you may just be a kid, but I am God. And I’m never going to leave you hanging. So don’t be afraid and do what I say.”

God goes on to say, “I am giving you the words, and I appoint you over all nations, as my prophet, as a representative of me.”

It doesn’t matter if your only a kid, God can and does use you. Sometimes you may feel like you should do something or say something, but then you’re like, “I’m just a kid, maybe I shouldn’t say anything.” But here, even though Jeremiah is just a kid, God is giving him prophetic authority over all nations. It doesn’t matter if you’re a kid, or very old, or like Moses have trouble talking, God will and can use you to accomplish amazing things!

In Jeremiah’s case, God is going to use him to warn Judah that some pretty terrible things are coming. Someone read Jeremiah 1:14-16.

14 Then the Lord said to me: Out of the north disaster shall break out on all the inhabitants of the land. 15 For now I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, says the Lord; and they shall come and all of them shall set their thrones at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its surrounding walls and against all the cities of Judah. 16 And I will utter my judgments against them, for all their wickedness in forsaking me; they have made offerings to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands.

God tells Jeremiah what’s up, almost right away. He tells him that out of the North—i.e. the lands of Assyrian and Babylon—disaster is coming for Judah. And those kingdoms are going to take over even Jerusalem, because Judah has turned it’s back on God.

On the one hand, at least Jeremiah has no expectations that things are going to be nice and dandy while he’s prophet. On the other hand, this is a doom and gloom message. If I was Jeremiah I wouldn’t be excited that I was going to go around telling people about destruction coming. And I might be scared—what will people do to me when I tell them this is going to happen? But God anticipates that and follows up. Someone read Jeremiah 1:17-19.

17 But you, gird up your loins; stand up and tell them everything that I command you. Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them. 18 And I for my part have made you today a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall, against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land. 19 They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you.

God tells Jeremiah to put on his big boy pants, stand up, and tell the people of Judah everything God is telling him. He’s not to break down before them, even though the news he is going to tell them is terrible. But God doesn’t expect Jeremiah to rely on his own strength, God has fortified Jeremiah—he’s made him a fortress to stand against everyone in the land. Because when you’re the bearer of bad news, people have a tendency to shoot the messenger, but God will not let that happen. Because God has Jeremiah’s back, and he will keep him safe through everything.

I feel like this would be really tough news to take as a kid. God’s like, “Hey kid, people are going to hate you your entire life, but I have your back!” I mean it’s good that God has his back, there is no better person, but I don’t know about you, I’d feel pretty awful to know that for my entire life I would be the bearer of bad news that would turn people against me.

On the other hand, this is bad news that *doesn’t have to happen.* The whole point of having prophets warn of what is coming is that it gives people the opportunity to repent. God is warning Judah over and over, so that they will stop their wicked ways and turn back to him, and then God would avert the coming disaster. And warn them God does.

Most of the first half of the book of Jeremiah is that warning, over and over again. Someone read Jeremiah 7:1-7.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah, you that enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you[a] in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is[b] the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.”

For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.

God’s message isn’t just doom and gloom, that the destruction is inevitable. His message is “amend your ways,” “turn back to God,” and “repent” and none of this has to happen! He even gives them concrete tasks they can do.

Act justly to one another. Do not oppress the alien—meaning foreigner in the land. Don’t oppress orphans and widows, who were the most vulnerable in the land. Don’t shed innocent blood. And don’t worship other gods.

This is good advice to even us today. We still struggle to act justly to one another, to love each other, to not oppress each other. But this is so important. And it’s basically God telling them what Jesus tells the people in the Gospels. The most important thing is to love God and love each other. If we can do that, then everything else will work itself out.

But we fail over and over to do that. The Israelites fail over and over to do that. It’s hard. We live in an unjust world. But even that phrase, “we live in an unjust world” doesn’t give credit where it’s due. It’s not the earth that is somehow unjust. It’s us—people. We are unjust. We are unmerciful. We are unkind. We are not gentle with each other. We are not forgiving. The world is unjust because people aren’t just.

If you’ve tuned into the news at all this week, you can see it. People do harm to each other. We don’t want justice. We want to do things our own way and look out for ourselves.

And Judah has fallen into this exact same trap.

But they have a chance. God is warning them. They can turn back. So he sends Jeremiah out to warn them.

He’s not well received.

Someone turn to Jeremiah 26:7-11.

The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the Lord. And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.

10 When the officials of Judah heard these things, they came up from the king’s house to the house of the Lord and took their seat in the entry of the New Gate of the house of the Lord. 11 Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, “This man deserves the sentence of death because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.”

Jeremiah tells everyone God’s message but when they hear him they don’t repent, they aren’t convicted of their own wrong doing. Instead they want to kill him, as if he would be the one bringing this disaster on them and if they murder him that will avert disaster.

The priests and prophets of Jerusalem all say they want Jeremiah to die, because he has spoken ill of Jerusalem. They are in denial. They want to think Jeremiah is crazy and bringing down curses on Jerusalem and killing him will fix it. But it won’t.

Someone read Jeremiah 26:12-15.

12 Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and all the people, saying, “It is the Lord who sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. 13 Now therefore amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will change his mind about the disaster that he has pronounced against you. 14 But as for me, here I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. 15 Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will be bringing innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.”

Jeremiah knows God has his back, God has already told him that. And he has faith. So he’s not backing down from his words. He doubles down on his message, calling for them to repent. God has sent him to convict them of their wrong doing, so that they can repent, change their ways, and obey God. If they do so the disaster will be averted. If not, disaster is coming.

As for Jeremiah himself, he tells them to do what they will with him, but if they’re going to kill him for this bad news he has then they will have innocent blood on their hands.

Someone read Jeremiah 26:16-19.

16 Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.” 17 And some of the elders of the land arose and said to all the assembled people, 18 “Micah of Moresheth, who prophesied during the days of King Hezekiah of Judah, said to all the people of Judah: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts,

Zion shall be plowed as a field;
    Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
    and the mountain of the house a wooded height.’

19 Did King Hezekiah of Judah and all Judah actually put him to death? Did he not fear the Lord and entreat the favor of the Lord, and did not the Lord change his mind about the disaster that he had pronounced against them? But we are about to bring great disaster on ourselves!”

The people decide that Jeremiah does not deserve a death sentence for merely relaying God’s words. After all, they point out, his words are similar to that of a previous prophet, Micah, who was prophet during a previous king who said that Jerusalem would becoming a heap of ruins. And that king—Hezekiah—didn’t put Micah to death. Instead they listened and the disaster was averted!

This seems to be a good sign, the people seem to be listening to Jeremiah and understanding what is coming. They are acknowledging through harkening back to the story of Hezekiah and Micah what is happening now, and what could be done. They could just repent, and turn back to God, and everything would be fine.

Let’s see if that’s how this goes. Someone read Jeremiah 26:20-24.

20 There was another man prophesying in the name of the Lord, Uriah son of Shemaiah from Kiriath-jearim. He prophesied against this city and against this land in words exactly like those of Jeremiah. 21 And when King Jehoiakim, with all his warriors and all the officials, heard his words, the king sought to put him to death; but when Uriah heard of it, he was afraid and fled and escaped to Egypt. 22 Then King Jehoiakim sent[a] Elnathan son of Achbor and men with him to Egypt, 23 and they took Uriah from Egypt and brought him to King Jehoiakim, who struck him down with the sword and threw his dead body into the burial place of the common people.

24 But the hand of Ahikam son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah so that he was not given over into the hands of the people to be put to death.

The story shifts a little bit and tells us about another man, Uriah, who is also prophesying like Jeremiah, warning of what is to come. But when the king hears his words the king isn’t moved like the people were for Jeremiah, and he wants to put Uriah to death.

Uriah—unlike Jeremiah—doesn’t stand his ground. He feels to Egypt. But the king sends men after him into Egypt to capture him and bring him back. And then he is put to death.

So while Jeremiah seems to be having some success other prophets send to give the same message are not. Some people seem like they’re changing their mind but the entire kingdom has not, and certainly not the king. This isn’t a good sign. This isn’t the nationwide, communal repentance that God is looking for.

Things aren’t looking good for Judah.

And that’s where we’re going to stop for today. We’ll continue the story of Jeremiah next week.

 

Josiah, the Last Good King of Judah

Icebreaker: If you today—at the age you were now—you became President of the United States, what was something about the country you would change?

[Go around the room and answer the question]

So today’s icebreaker question applies to our lesson because we’re going to talk about a kid who does become king of Judah and enacts huge changes.

This is in the time period after the northern kingdom, Israel, has been overtaken by Assyria and all that’s left is Judah. Can someone please read 2 Kings 22:1-2.

Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign; he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jedidah daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath. He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right or to the left.

Josiah becomes king at eight years old. That means by the time he’s your age, he’s already been reigning three to five years! Now at his age, it’s likely that someone would have been regent—that is, he would have adult supervision until he became of age. But there is no record here of a regency, though it does mention his mother, Jedidah and possibly she could have been his regent. Or possibly he could have had no regent at all. It’s also likely that at 13 he might be considered no longer in need of a regent, if he had one, because that’s when in Jewish culture, young people come of age and are considered adults.

Despite being so incredibly young for his whole reign—starting at the age of 8 and ending at the age of 39—it says that Josiah did what was right in the eyes of God and walked in the way of David. It says “like his father David.” That doesn’t mean Josiah is directly a son of David, just that Josiah is descended from David as all the kings of Judah were. But unlike other kings of Judah, Josiah actually behaved like a son of David, following after God.

At a young age, Josiah could have been led astray by bad people, but Josiah stood strong and follow God.

Someone read 2 Kings 22:3-7.

In the eighteenth year of King Josiah, the king sent Shaphan son of Azaliah, son of Meshullam, the secretary, to the house of the Lord, saying, “Go up to the high priest Hilkiah, and have him count the entire sum of the money that has been brought into the house of the Lord, which the keepers of the threshold have collected from the people; let it be given into the hand of the workers who have the oversight of the house of the Lord; let them give it to the workers who are at the house of the Lord, repairing the house, that is, to the carpenters, to the builders, to the masons; and let them use it to buy timber and quarried stone to repair the house. But no accounting shall be asked from them for the money that is delivered into their hand, for they deal honestly.”

In the 18th year of his reign—which means he’s 26—Josiah decides to refurbish the Temple. So money is collected from people and taken in to the Temple and now it times to count all the money up and pay the workers so they can begin repairing everything.

Basically it’s a huge contracting project to bring the Temple back to its former glory, because at this point the Temple has been around for four hundred years and probably neglected a little bit by all those bad kings in the past.

Someone please read 2 Kings 22:8-10.

The high priest Hilkiah said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord.” When Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, he read it. Then Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, “Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of the workers who have oversight of the house of the Lord.” 10 Shaphan the secretary informed the king, “The priest Hilkiah has given me a book.” Shaphan then read it aloud to the king.

11 When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. 12 Then the king commanded the priest Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary, and the king’s servant Asaiah, saying, 13 “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our ancestors did not obey the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”

So they’re doing this huge remodel, and cleaning out the Temple, and the high priest finds something, a book. But it’s not just any book, it’s a book of the law. He gives it to the secretary who reads it and immediately takes it to the king. He’s like “We took all the money and paid the workers just like you said but then we found this scroll!” And he reads it to the king.

The king is shocked by what he hears, not just shocked but he tears his clothes, which is a sign of great distress and mourning. Why? What’s going on here?

Let’s back up a bit. There is something we all take for granted in our day and age that they didn’t have back then and that thing is this: books. Everywhere you look we have books. They’re easily printed, pretty cheap to buy, and you can even borrow them for free from either your school library or the public library. Literacy and access to books is one of the things that our country is founded on. That’s why we have a free public education and free libraries. Because we believe that democracy is not possible without an educated citizenry.

But have books always been so easily accessible?

No. Not at all. The printing press that made creating books cheap wasn’t even invented until the 1400s AD. That’s nearly 2000 years after Josiah’s time. So what did people do before then? Well it depends what time period we’re talking about and which area of the world.

Some areas of the world—like the Egyptians—had paper made from papyrus that they could copy things down onto. Others had vellum, which is basically animal skin. Some peoples put things in stone, but stone is expensive and hard to write in.

The fun fact one of the oldest stone documents is called the “complaint tablet to Ea-nasir” and is a clay tablet with cuneiform writing that is a guy complaining to another guy who sold him bad copper ingots. It was written in 1750 BC.  This guy was so angry he took the time to write a letter in stone to send to the copper seller and we still have it. That’s kind of amazing! And that’s the amazing thing about stone tablets, they last forever. But paper and vellum tend to degrade with time, and so that’s why we don’t have a lot of ancient paper scrolls and the ones we do have are missing parts or crumbling. It’s like how old books have yellow pages. Over time these things just degrade.

Because writing was so uncommon, most people, for most of human history couldn’t read. This is why certain religious practices have developed the way they have: this is why we memorize and have creeds like the Apostles Creed. For a long time in Christian history most people couldn’t read. They didn’t own a Bible, and even if they did they couldn’t read it. So Christians memorized creeds that summarized what being a Christian was all about, and they went to Church where a priest—who could read the Bible—would read it to them.

But that’s Christian history. With Josiah we’re talking about BC era history.

Josiah’s time period was actually a time of high literacy in Judah, but before Josiah’s time, before King David and the nation of Israel coming around, there wouldn’t have been a lot of reading. Most traditions and scripture would have been handed down orally. Tales of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, these would be stories that parents would tell their children.

Most of torah, that is the law would be handed down like that. Probably everything Josiah knew about the law he would know from it being told to him.

And then someone finds a scroll. In this time of high literacy in Judah, someone finds a scroll that has the law on it. Most people believe that the scroll found is the book of Deuteronomy. Josiah and the high priest find this scroll and they read it, and discover they have been doing everything wrong.

This is the problem with oral traditions. Over time things can get lost. But they find this ancient scroll, and it has the laws as described in Deuteronomy in it and they discover they’ve let things in Judah go off the rails. Josiah is like “No wonder God is so angry at us, we haven’t been obeying any of the laws that or words that he gave to us.” And Josiah doesn’t know what to do about this. So he sends his priest and his secretary and the others to figure out what they’re supposed to be doing about all of this new information.

Someone please read 2 Kings 22:14-20.

14 So the priest Hilkiah, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went to the prophetess Huldah the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe; she resided in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter, where they consulted her. 15 She declared to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Tell the man who sent you to me, 16 Thus says the Lord, I will indeed bring disaster on this place and on its inhabitants—all the words of the book that the king of Judah has read. 17 Because they have abandoned me and have made offerings to other gods, so that they have provoked me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched. 18 But as to the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, thus shall you say to him, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Regarding the words that you have heard, 19 because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the Lord, when you heard how I spoke against this place, and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and because you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, says the Lord. 20 Therefore, I will gather you to your ancestors, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring on this place.” They took the message back to the king.

So all of Josiah’s men go in search of a prophet and they find Huldah, who fun fact is one of the four names prophets of the lord who is a woman. (Those four women are Miriam—who was Moses’s sister, Deborah—the Judge of Israel, Huldah—who we meet here, and Noadiah—who we haven’t encountered yet in scripture). They ask her what they should do about this scroll and everything they have learned.

Huldah tells them that God is indeed mad about how all the people and Judah has gone off the rales, not following the laws. Primarily he’s upset that they have worshipped other gods, and because of that punishment is coming. But! Because Josiah heard the words and realized they had gone wrong and was repentant and humbled himself before God, that the punishment would not come now. Judah would be spared for another generation.

God always forgives those who repent.

Josiah’s men take this word back to him.

Someone please read 2 Kings 23:1-3.

 23 Then the king directed that all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem should be gathered to him. The king went up to the house of the Lord, and with him went all the people of Judah, all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests, the prophets, and all the people, both small and great; he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord, keeping his commandments, his decrees, and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. All the people joined in the covenant.

Josiah has all the elders of Judah and all the people of Jerusalem gather, and they all go to the temple—it says every person small and great, so probably children and women and the sickly, everyone goes to the Temple. And there Josiah reads to them the words of the scroll. Then after the reading, Josiah makes a covenant with God to follow him and keep his commandments with all of his heart and soul, which seems to be a reference to Deuteronomy 6:5: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

All the people there also joined in this covenant, promising to follow God. This is communal repentance of all of Judah to turn back to the ways of God.

But it’s not just enough to say you’ll follow God. Without actions, words are meaningless, so now it’s time for Josiah to do something about it.

Someone please read 2 Kings 23:4-6.

The king commanded the high priest Hilkiah, the priests of the second order, and the guardians of the threshold, to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron, and carried their ashes to Bethel. He deposed the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places at the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those also who made offerings to Baal, to the sun, the moon, the constellations, and all the host of the heavens. He brought out the image of[a] Asherah from the house of the Lord, outside Jerusalem, to the Wadi Kidron, burned it at the Wadi Kidron, beat it to dust and threw the dust of it upon the graves of the common people. 

Josiah takes action. He orders his priests and guardians to take everything idolatrous out of the temple of God. They burn the idols in the fields and even remove the ashes. He deposes the priests of those other gods. He destroys the shrines to these other gods. And it goes on and on. Josiah cleans up all of Judah in these like twenty verses and it just goes to show how fall Judah has fallen and how they’re not following the torah at all. They were idols in the Temple, in what is literally God’s house on this earth! That’s clearly not what God wanted, but it seems they didn’t even know that.

How were they supposed to know if they didn’t have a written description of the laws? Well there had been prophets up to this point, prophets who told multiple kings that what they were doing was wrong. God isn’t constrained to written words. He uses people, and he used multiple people to tell the kings they were astray, but before Josiah none of them listened.

And now Josiah has.

Following the law isn’t all just cleaning house! Someone read 2 Kings 23:21-23.

21 The king commanded all the people, “Keep the passover to the Lord your God as prescribed in this book of the covenant.” 22 No such passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, even during all the days of the kings of Israel and of the kings of Judah; 23 but in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this passover was kept to the Lord in Jerusalem.

Josiah commands the people to celebrate Passover. Who remembers what Passover is? [Let them answer.]

Passover is the celebration of God’s plagues passing over the Hebrews in Egypt, and the Hebrews being freed from their slavery in Egypt. Apparently they had even forgotten to celebrate Passover! And this is a Passover to end all Passovers. Unlike that has been seen in a long time. So after all that clean up they end with a big Passover party! Sounds like a nice way to end a lot of hard work.

Someone please read 2 Kings 23:26-27.

26 Still the Lord did not turn from the fierceness of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him. 27 The Lord said, “I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel; and I will reject this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.”

These verses underscore that something is still coming for Judah, that the punishment is still coming. It’s added as a tag here at the end of Josiah’s story, that despite everything he’s doing the wrath is still coming.

I want to comment briefly on this and the nature of God. It’s likely that 1st and 2nd Kings was compiled during or after the Exile—that is the after Judah gets conquered and the exile of the people of Judah begins. That means the author knows what’s coming, the author knows that despite everything Josiah has done, it’s not going to postpone the Exile, because the author—or compiler of these stories—lives after the start of the Exile.

From the perspective of the author there is only one reason why Judah would be allowed to undergo such a traumatic event, because God is punishing them. This is the author rationalizing why such a traumatic event as the Exile is allowed to happen.

And I don’t think that’s untrue per say. Nothing can happen without God allowing it.  I just think this can give us the impression that God is an angry God who only wants to punish and if he gets mad no amount of repentance is going to fix things. But I don’t think that’s true, and I don’t think that’s the impression of God we get from the Bible as a whole. I think if Judah had stayed true and stayed repentant, God would have preserved them.

But they didn’t. After Josiah some kings make bad decisions, especially in regards to how they handle these other empires around them. I also think that after generations of Judah not following God, the country as a whole has become weak, its borders picked away at, and no amount of repentance was going to fix its weakened state. Sometimes God allows us to suffer the consequence of our action. And it’s not a punishment per say. It’s just God allowing us to learn from the natural outcomes of our own actions.

Sometimes suffering our own consequences helps us grow as people. And I think that’s what God was letting happen here.

And Josiah’s reign doesn’t end pretty. There are politics and big movements at work in the land, the sort of movements that are going to lead to the inevitable Exile. Assyria—the country that that took over Northern Israel—has been conquered by Babylon. And Egypt is on the move. Someone please read 2 Kings 23:28-30.

28 Now the rest of the acts of Josiah, and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah? 29 In his days Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt went up to the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates. King Josiah went to meet him; but when Pharaoh Neco met him at Megiddo, he killed him. 30 His servants carried him dead in a chariot from Megiddo, brought him to Jerusalem, and buried him in his own tomb. The people of the land took Jehoahaz son of Josiah, anointed him, and made him king in place of his father.

Josiah tries to stop Egypt’s movements and it results in his death. And that’s the end of Josiah’s reign and probably the last good time for Judah.

Because Babylon is coming. And God is going to allow Babylon to win.