David & Goliath

Author John D. Barry

We Rise or We Fall

Life is an opportunity to show ourselves durable or frail. We rise or fall. We want to be heroes, but more often than not we are our own worst enemy. Many of us see ourselves somewhere in the story of David—a young underdog who quickly rose to the top, but repeatedly hit rock bottom (2 Sam 12).

David&GoliathJealousy, envy and lust often proved to be too tempting for David (2 Sam 11). Long after he had slain Goliath and become king, David was still embroiled in a life-and-death struggle, sometimes brought on by his own flaws. Despite his struggles—or perhaps because he never gave up trying to be what God wanted him to be—David remains a beloved heroic figure, blemishes and all.

God chose David because the young shepherd’s heart was focused on Him (1 Sam 16:7). His first question when he sees Goliath (1 Sam 17:26) illustrates his zeal for God’s reputation and his own success: “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away this reproach from Israel?”

This is followed by his famous challenge, “For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

Just a teenager at the time, David’s words would have seemed brash and arrogant, particularly to the Israelite soldiers who lacked the courage to meet Goliath’s challenge. Zeal for God and a drive for success were just what God wanted in a king for Israel.

When David comes out with no armor and a mere sling, the warrior Goliath sneers, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” (1 Sam 17:43).

Not wanting to play fetch, he then curses David by his gods and threatens, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field” (1 Sam 17:44). But David knows this is no street fight. It is a holy war (1 Sam 17:45–47), pitting the gods of Philistia and their champion against the God of Israel and His weapon of choice. It’s the perfect mismatch to the human eye, one that will leave no doubt about who is God.

We all have opportunities to triumph like David or fall like Goliath. We must decide in whose army of the spiritual war of life we want to serve—the gods of this world, who convince us that victory is achieved by relying on and satisfying ourselves, or the God of eternity, who is the only permanent refuge and source of fulfillment. Rise or fall, the choice is clear.

Read the story of David and Goliath like never before.

 

Bible Study Magazine delivers tools and methods for Bible study, as well as insights from respected Bible teachers, professors, historians, and archaeologists. Take over 30% off the cover price—subscribe now!

 

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 4.

Finding the Trinity in the OT

Author Ryan Rotz

When studying the Trinity, it makes sense to start with the New Testament and the words of Jesus in passages like Matthew 28:19 and John 15:26. But what about the Old Testament? Was the idea of a Trinity or Godhead ever mentioned? Was it heretical, as it is in Judaism today?

These questions get more interesting when you consider Judaism’s monotheistic beliefs. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4; JPS Tanakh) is the first line of the Shema, a prayer recited by Jews every day. This brings up another question. How could Jews in the early church believe Jesus was God if they grew up with monotheism—being taught there was only one God in heaven?

In this video segment, Hebrew Bible and Semitic language scholar Dr. Michael Heiser explains that before Jesus came, Jews did believe in the idea of a Godhead.

Dr. Heiser continues this lesson in the rest of his Mobile Ed course OT291 The Jewish Trinity: How the Old Testament Reveals the Christian Godhead. It’s the ideal course for those teaching or studying the doctrine of the Trinity and provides excellent content for conversations with Jewish friends.

Watch additional clips and learn more at Logos.com.

An Entry-Level King

Author Jeannine Seery

Do you remember your first job? Chances are, it was low paying, low prestige, and if anything like mine, you counted the minutes until quitting time. The best thing about my first job was that I knew it was temporary—I had no doubt that it was not part of my career path and I’d move on to bigger and better things.

Entry-Level KingDavid was a young man with what was viewed by some as a low-level first job—a shepherd. There was no career advancement for a shepherd, no “golden staff” after 20 years of service. But this does not mean he didn’t enjoy it, or at least grow through his experience.

David’s labor was not in vain. God used it to refine him and draw him close. In the silence, David became intimately acquainted with God. His life circumstances transformed him into “a man after [God’s] own heart” (Acts 13:22 NLT). They prepared him to fear nothing, not even Goliath. As a boy, David said to King Saul, “The Lord who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear [while tending my father’s sheep] will rescue me from this Philistine [Goliath]!” (1 Sam 17:37 NLT)

David’s occupation gave him a window into God’s nature. As he cared for his sheep, he came to recognize God’s providence. Later, when facing a different wilderness experience, David drew on his knowledge that his Good Shepherd would “let him rest in green meadows and lead him beside peaceful streams” (Psa 23:2 NLT). (God’s role as shepherd shows that He views no occupation as low-level.) When Saul pursued David in an effort to kill him, David recalled that the “rod and staff” of the Almighty would “comfort and protect him” (Psa 23:4 NLT).

As he emerged victorious, he marveled in the knowledge that “surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever” (Psa 23:6 NLT). Finally, when almost done in by his own sin, David recalled the vision of a lost sheep being led back to the flock by a merciful Shepherd, allowing God to “renew his strength” (Psa 23:3 NLT). Invaluable life lessons learned by a mere boy watching over his father’s flock.

Many of us are called to vocations that some would deem insignificant. Could it be that in this monotony, God is trying to refine our character and teach us more about His own? None of our jobs are trivial in God’s eyes—everything has a purpose. Perhaps the experiences that seem the most futile give us opportunities to bear the most valuable fruit, “fruit that will last” (John 15:16 NLT).

When we refrain from filling silence in our day with empty noise, we more clearly hear the voice of God. In stillness, standing before Almighty God, our defenses are stripped away; suddenly there is nothing to hide behind. Exposed and vulnerable before our own Good Shepherd, we are rightfully humbled and have the chance to meet Him heart to heart.

 

Bible Study Magazine delivers tools and methods for Bible study, as well as insights from respected Bible teachers, professors, historians, and archaeologists. Take over 30% off the cover price—subscribe now!

 

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 4.

“Truly Love, Dangerously” and Announcing Our New Editor-in-Chief

 

My dear friends,

john_barryNo generation is exactly like the one before it. We share the difficulties and rewards of being citizens of this earth—and being able to experience God—but everything else is different. Technology advances, the pace of life changes, and the ways we engage our world evolve. For better or worse, this generation is different from all others before it.

When I look at our world, I see a place that’s more interconnected than ever before. I see the opportunity to leverage these connections to transform lives. I see that, for the first time in all of history, we could very well bring the news of God’s freedom, in Jesus, to the ends of the earth.

Peter tells us that Jesus has not returned yet because of God’s great patience, because “he does not want any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). Nearly 3 billion people—42 percent of the world’s population—have not heard the name of Jesus. And over 1 million neighborhoods do not have a church.1

The type of freedom that God’s people experienced during the exodus is the freedom we can present to others today. Jesus is ready to set people free from the burdens of pain, anguish, and sin. He’s ready to transform and renew our world. Justice and mercy can reign in our world—but it starts with you; it starts with me.

The freedom of Jesus is rooted in what we say and do to reveal him to others every day. It’s rooted in our care of the impoverished and our hospitality for all people. It’s based on our love for those around us. It’s all about truly caring for people and showing them that there is hope in Christ our Lord.

Christ offers us freedom—a freedom that’s meant to reach our entire world. From the cries of Israel in exile to the longings of the enslaved today, God hears us. He is ready to act. Are we ready to act with him?

Get into the Word, but also do what the Word asks. Love and serve Jesus. Live your beliefs. Practice self-sacrifice. Truly love, dangerously. Alleviate poverty. Bring the gospel to your neighborhood and world. Offer the freedom of Jesus, all the way to the ends of the earth.

— John D. Barry

 

P.S. This letter will also appear in Bible Study Magazine Nov–Dec 2014, which is my last issue as editor-in-chief of Bible Study Magazine. Rebecca Van Noord is the new editor-in-chief. She loves Jesus and is passionate about Bible study. Rebecca has been managing editor of Bible Study Magazine since April 2011 and has been with the publication since April 2010. She is a fantastic editor and an accomplished author. Rebecca coauthored Connect the Testaments: A Daily Devotional and co-edited 40 Days to the Cross: Reflections from Great Thinkers. I look forward to you experiencing even more of her creativity. It’s been an honor to serve Jesus as Bible Study Magazine’s editor-in-chief.

1 Statistics taken from the Joshua Project and the Issachar Initiative (respectively).

A Messiah, A Giant & God’s Favor

A Messiah, A Giant & God’s FavorBible Handbooks on David’s Life

Author James D. Elgin

Bible handbooks are like a roadmap to reading the Bible. Passage summaries, detailed maps, and character sketches provide context for each biblical account. Using Bible handbooks we find that David was called mashiach (“anointed”; “messiah”) and found favor with God before his victory over Goliath.

The Bible Guide

Andrew Knowles, The Bible Guide (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 2001) pg. 138.

In the Valley of Elah, Goliath taunted David’s small stature and feeble weaponry. David’s bravery was unimpeded by Goliath’s words and fierce appearance. He knew Goliath’s defeat would prove to the nations “that there is a God in Israel” (1 Sam 17:46 ESV). David’s pronouncement seems trite to us, but for David and the young nation of Israel, Goliath’s defeat demonstrated the power of the God of Israel over every nation and its god. When David announced these words, he proclaimed the favor and presence of Yahweh, the supreme God of Israel.

Halley’s Bible Handbook

Henry H. Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), pg. 209.

Samuel anointed David in secret so that Saul would not know about the young shepherd-king from Bethlehem. God was committed to training David to be Israel’s king. David’s fame as a musician earned him the position of armor-bearer to King Saul. David’s close association with the king’s counselors and his friendship with Saul’s son, Jonathan, prepared him to be King of Israel; but his tangle with the Philistine giant would earn him the people’s favor and support.

This 2007 revision of Halley’s adds a substantial number of archaeological notes (e.g., The Tel Dan Inscription is mentioned in reference to 2 Sam 7 on pg. 125).

Willmington’s Bible Handbook

H. L. Willmington’s Bible Handbook (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1997), pg. 154.
In 1 Sam 16:13, the prophet Samuel publicly anointed Israel’s newest messiah, David. Willmington explores the usage of the Hebrew word for “anointed one” or “christ” (mashiach, משׁיח; English, “messiah”). The word is used to describe Old Testament figures chosen to do God’s work (e.g., Saul in 1 Sam 24:10; David in 2 Sam 19:21; and even the Persian King Cyrus in Isa 45:1). God overlooked seven of Jesse’s sons and selected David to be Saul’s successor. God was not concerned with David’s physical stature, but with his spiritual stability.

Zondervan Handbook to the Bible

David Barton, Zondervan Handbook to the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), pgs. 269–71.

David Barton’s character sketch illustrates our connection to David. From his battle with Goliath, to his flight from Saul, to the deterioration of his family, David is portrayed as the underdog. Whether he is mourning the loss of Saul and Jonathan or weeping over adulterous sin, we find humanity at the helm of a nation. Each event in David’s life points to his dependence on God and God’s sovereignty over the young nation of Israel.

A Messiah, A Giant & God's FavorThe story of David is not a fairy tale or a bedtime story. David’s life reminds us of God’s faithfulness to His cause and His people. Through David’s struggles and victories, we learn how to mourn in the presence of our Heavenly Father and praise Him for His providence.

 

Bible Study Magazine delivers tools and methods for Bible study, as well as insights from respected Bible teachers, professors, historians, and archaeologists. Take over 30% off the cover price—subscribe now!

 

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 4.

Does the Author of Ecclesiastes Need Prozac?

The author of Ecclesiastes is often labeled a depressed pessimist.[1] But a careful study reveals the author to be an honest—and hopeful!—realist about life, not a candidate for Prozac.

Author Miles Custis

It’s easy to understand why people think Ecclesiastes is depressing, or think that the conclusion of the book is that life is meaningless. Verses like “And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive” (Eccl 4:2 NIV) make the book seem less than hopeful. Even its famous phrase “vanity of vanities”—found at the beginning and the end of the book (Eccl 1:2; 12:8) makes the author sound like a complete pessimist. I’ve found, though, that if you give the book enough serious attention, Ecclesiastes reveals that the author is actually hopeful, and his message can easily be applied to each of us.

UnfairMeaninglessAbsurdThe refrain “vanity of vanities” (Eccl 1:2 and 12:8) is where we find our first clue to the author’s optimism. The translations “meaningless” (NIV) or “vanity” (NASB) come from the Hebrew word hebel. This word occurs in Ecclesiastes far more frequently than in any other book of the Old Testament (38 of 73 occurrences). Neither “meaningless” nor “vanity” quite fits the way it is used in Ecclesiastes. Sometimes hebel emphasizes the brevity of life; at other times it speaks to the futility of life. Most often, however, the author uses hebel to judge situations as senseless, absurd, unreasonable, or unfair. For example, in Eccl 2:21 the fact that the author must leave his fortune to someone who did not earn it seems “unfair” to him (not just “worthless” or “vain”). Likewise, in Eccl 8:14 it seems “senseless” to the author that the outcomes of a righteous or a wicked life are reversed.

The author’s main point in using hebel is to show that life often does not make sense and that neither he (being extremely wise; see Eccl 1:16 and 12:9) nor anyone else can explain the senseless situations that life can bring. Life is contradictory, and human ability to understand life in all of its contradictions is limited.

The limitation of human wisdom is an important theme in Ecclesiastes. The author’s goal was to understand life (Eccl 1:13), but it is a goal he was unable to reach. In fact, it is a goal which no one can reach (Eccl 8:16–17).

But doesn’t this make the author a pessimist? The answer can be found in Eccl 3:10–17. This passage affirms that God is the One who controls “the times.” He has made everything “beautiful” or “good” in its time (Eccl 3:11a). We are not able to fully understand everything He has done (Eccl 3:11b; 8:17). It is clear that He is the One in control (Eccl 3:14a). “God does [all this in mystery] so that man will fear him” (Eccl 3:14). The proper response to living in a chaotic world, with situations that are often beyond our control, is to put our trust in the One who is in control—God.

Rather than a message of gloom, Ecclesiastes gives us hope: while life might be full of injustice and absurdity (Eccl 3:16), we can trust that God is in control and ultimately justice will prevail (Eccl 3:17).[2] Ecclesiastes points out life’s difficulties, but does not call for despair. The book’s conclusion drives the point home (Eccl 12:13): “This is end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this applies to everyone.”

 

Prozac® is a registered trademark of Eli Lilly and Company.

Notes:

[1] James L Crenshaw, Ecclesiastes. (Old Testament Library. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1987), pgs. 23–28.

[2] See Eccl 2:24–25; 3:12–13; 3:22; 5:18; 8:15; 9:7–9; 11:9–12:1.

 

Bible Study Magazine delivers tools and methods for Bible study, as well as insights from respected Bible teachers, professors, historians, and archaeologists. Take over 30% off the cover price—subscribe now!

 

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 3.

When I Open the Gospels

An Interview with Dr. Mark Goodacre

Author John D. Barry

WhenIOpenTheGospelsThe Gospel writers often record a particular event in Jesus’ life differently. These differences have resulted in long quests to find the historical Jesus, who is supposedly “behind” the Gospel accounts, as well as many scholars devoting their entire lives to understanding the particular theological message behind each Gospel writer’s account. Since grasping the complexities of the Gospels is often a difficult task, Bible Study Magazine posed a set of questions to a world-renowned expert on the Gospels as synoptic (parallel) accounts, Dr. Mark Goodacre, professor of New Testament studies at Duke University.

BSM: Can you provide an example in the gospels that illustrates the importance of reading each gospel on its own merits?

GOODACRE: The most obvious example is the depiction of Mary Magdalene, who today has become a composite of a variety of figures from the four Gospels: a fictional, harmonized creation of the prostitute who repented and followed Jesus. She is variously thought of as three or four different women in the Gospels: the anonymous sinner of Luke 7:36–50, the Samaritan Woman of John 4, and the Woman Caught in Adultery in John 8. None of these women are ever called Mary Magdalene. What we actually know about Mary Magdalene is rather limited, but we do know she is never called a prostitute. It’s a good case of Christian tradition warping the way that we read the Gospels—for a long time no one really noticed that interpreters were doing this.

Right up to the present, Mary Magdalene is depicted this way in films and fiction (e.g., most recently in Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ). I was delighted that in the recent BBC/HBO production The Passion, Mary Magdalene, for the first time in a major production, was not depicted as a prostitute!

BSM: Generally speaking, what are the theological slants each Gospel writer puts on their work?

GOODACRE: This is not a quick and easy question to answer, and I am always a bit wary of attempts to try and put the Gospel writers’ agendas into a nutshell.  Such attempts are rarely satisfactory and tend to draw wedges between the Gospel writers while oversimplifying their Gospels.  In spite of the importance of looking at each of the Gospels as a text in its own right, I think it is actually easier to describe what they have in common.  All four share the same basic plot and structure and agree that Jesus is the Messiah, that he taught about the kingdom of God, healed people, died and rose again on the third day, and will come again. The theme of the suffering Messiah in fact dominates all four Gospels, even if it is manifested in different ways in each.

BSM: If someone is speaking to their church, Sunday School class, or small group, how should they go about teaching on a passage that is recorded in parallel accounts in the gospels?

GOODACRE: I am not a minister or a church leader of any kind, nor have I been trained as one, so I would not presume to make suggestions about how church leaders do their work.  Nevertheless, when I am asked to speak to church groups about such things, I like to explore the world of parallel accounts a little by showing people the richness of understanding the way that different evangelists tell the same or similar stories.  Let’s take an obvious example, the annunciation of Jesus’ birth in Matthew 1:18–25 and Luke 1:26–38.

Both have clear features in common, not least the announcement that Mary will give birth to a son who will be called Jesus. Nonetheless, there are substantial differences: Matthew’s Gospel has an announcement to Joseph and Luke’s Gospel has an announcement to Mary, each giving reflections on Jesus’ future that are characteristic of the way each Gospel writer portrays the narrative of Jesus’ life.

BSM: Should readers be distraught about accounts in the gospels that appear to disagree with one another?

GOODACRE: It depends on your perspective.  Since I am not, nor have I ever been, a kind of biblical literalist, I have always been a bit puzzled by those who struggle with places where the Gospels disagree with one another or, for that matter, other places in the Bible where there are disagreements.  Ignoring the disagreements does not make them go away.  What is enjoyable about studying the Gospels as a historian is that one is trained to take disagreements seriously, rather than harmonizing them. I tend to feel that taking the Gospels seriously shows a respect for their integrity as texts.  If one is interested in texts that many regard as sacred, then it is important to take those texts seriously, and that includes taking seriously places where they disagree with one another.

To learn more about Dr. Goodacre, or read more written by him, go to NTGateway.com.

For more tips on reading the Gospels, see Mark Goodacre’s The Synoptic Problem: A Way through the Maze. Go to Logos.com/Goodacre.

 

Bible Study Magazine delivers tools and methods for Bible study, as well as insights from respected Bible teachers, professors, historians, and archaeologists. Take over 30% off the cover price—subscribe now!

 

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 3.

Sanctified Dirt

Author Michael S. Heiser

Elisha’s healing of Naaman the leper, commander of the army of the king of Syria, is a familiar story to many (2 Kgs 5:1–27). Naaman hears that Elisha, the prophet of Israel, can heal him, so he makes the trip. When the two meet, Elisha tells him rather dismissively that he needs to take a bath in the Jordan River. Naaman doesn’t take this well and prepares to go home. At the behest of some servants, he consents to dip himself in the Jordan. He is miraculously healed by the simple act. The display of power, so transparently without sacrifice or incantation, awakens Naaman to the fact that Yahweh of Israel is the true God. Here’s where the story usually ends in our telling, but that would result in the omission of one very odd detail—what Naaman asks to take back home.

SanctifiedDirtIn 2 Kgs 5:15–19 the elated Naaman returns to Elisha and begs him to take payment for healing him. Elisha repeatedly refuses. Finally, before embarking for Syria, Naaman makes a strange request: to load two mules with dirt to take back with him.

Dirt? I can think of a few favors I would ask of a prophet in a receptive mood, but dirt certainly isn’t one of them. The request is so odd that it’s hard to avoid wondering if Naaman needed some other kind of therapy. Why would he ask for dirt?

But Naaman was completely in his right mind. In 2 Kgs 5:17, Naaman follows the request with an explanation: “for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord” (ESV). The dirt and Naaman’s new allegiance to the God of Israel are related. Naaman was a man with significant duties in his home country. He couldn’t stay in Israel, but he could take Israel with him. Why would he want to?

Naaman’s unusual request stems from the ancient—and biblical—conception that the earth is the locale for a cosmic turf war. Naaman wanted dirt from Israel because Israel was Yahweh’s territory. The dirt which is Yahweh’s domain is holy ground.

The idea of “holy ground” is an important element of Israelite theology. This phrase is used when Moses is in the presence of the Angel of the Lord and the God of Israel at the burning bush (Exod 3:1–5), and when Joshua meets the Angel of the Lord (Josh 5:15).[1] More broadly, the idea derives from Deut 32:8–9 (compare, Deut 4:19–20) where we learn that when God divided up the nations at the Tower of Babel, they were allotted to “the sons of God.”[2] The nations of the world were, in effect, disinherited by Yahweh as His own earthly family. Immediately after Babel, Yahweh called Abraham and the nation of Israel was created. Israel was therefore “Yahweh’s portion” (Deut 32:9), whereas all the other nations belong to the sons of God whom Israel was forbidden to worship. As a result, Israel was holy ground; the territory of every other nation was not. The rest of the Old Testament is the story of God’s intention to reclaim every nation on earth.

Elisha understood Naaman’s request and granted it without hesitation. He knew the request came from a sincere theological change of heart. Naaman believed that “There [was] no God in all the earth but in Israel” (5:15) and wanted to return to his homeland with holy ground. Even though he would still have to help his aged king bow before Rimmon, Naaman wanted Elisha to know his heart belonged only to the God of Elisha.

Notes:

[1] The “captain of the Lord’s army” in Josh 5:13–15 can be identified with the Angel of the LORD on the basis of two observations: (1) The parallel with Exod 3:1–5; and (2) The description of the Captain standing before Joshua “with his sword drawn in his hand.” The Hebrew phrase behind this description is found in only two other places in the Old Testament: Num 22:23 and 1 Chr 21:16, both of which explicitly apply the phrase to the Angel of the LORD.

[2] This translation is based upon a correction of the Hebrew text in Deut 32:8 with material from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Most English bibles read “sons of Israel” in Deut 32:8, a reading that makes no sense, since Israel did not exist at the time of the tower of Babel, nor is Israel listed in the Table of Nations that resulted from the judgment at Babel. The ESV correctly incorporates the Dead Sea Scroll reading into Deut 32:8. For more information, see MichaelSHeiser.com/DT32.pdf

 

Bible Study Magazine delivers tools and methods for Bible study, as well as insights from respected Bible teachers, professors, historians, and archaeologists. Take over 30% off the cover price—subscribe now!

 

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 3.

Insomnia, Gallows & Rescuing the Jews

Author Leonard Greenspoon

Insomnia, Gallows & Rescuing the Jews

What do they share in common? They are all in a story about a beautiful woman named Esther.

Every year in the spring, Jews gather in synagogues to hear the biblical book of Esther chanted with a special melody. Each time the name of Haman, the story’s villain, is mentioned, the entire congregation stomps their feet and makes noise to blot out the very sound of this infamous individual.

All Jews, young and old, participate in this joyous holiday. Whether they are hearing the Megillah (as the “scroll” of Esther is known) for the first or hundredth time, there is great satisfaction in discovering, just before the book’s characters do, the fate that fittingly awaits Haman.

InsomniaGallowsRescuingtheJewsThe tale contained in the book of Esther narrates the marriage of Esther, a Jew, to Ahasuerus, king of Persia. This monarch learns of Esther’s religion only after Haman plots to annihilate the Jews, including Esther and her guardian Mordecai, who (like Haman) serves the king. Among the numerous subplots is the personal hatred that Haman bears for Mordecai, whom he conspires to hang on “a gallows fifty cubits high” (Esth 5:9–14 NIV).

Those familiar with the account know that everything Haman plans against his enemies will ultimately be done to him. Midway through the story (Esth 6:1–11), the king, suffering from insomnia, has his officials read some official state documents to him. (Was he hoping that they would be so boring that he would immediately fall asleep?)

As it happens, the very passage they read told how Mordecai had saved the king from an assassination attempt (compare Esth 2:21–23). It just so happened that Haman was walking by at that very minute and so the king queried him: “What shall be done for the man whom the king wishes to honor?” (Esth 6:6 NIV). The biblical text notes that Haman presumptuously assumes it is he whom the king has in mind when he replies:

“For the man the king delights to honor, have them bring a royal robe the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, one with a royal crest placed on its head. Then let the robe and horse be entrusted to one of the king’s most noble princes. Let them robe the man the king delights to honor, and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!’” (Esth 6:7–9 NIV).

Readers of this biblical book, of course, are already laughing as Haman goes into vivid detail to describe what he is sure is in store for him. “‘Go at once,’ the king commanded Haman. ‘Get the robe and the horse and do just as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate. Do not neglect anything you have recommended’ ” (Esth 6:10 NIV).

This reversal of fortune is not lost on at least one of the characters in the story itself. Zeresh, Haman’s wife, declares: “[If] Mordecai, before whom your downfall has started, is of Jewish origin, you cannot stand against him—you will surely come to ruin!” (Esth 6:12 NIV). This is the same Zeresh who only a little while earlier was urging Haman to construct the gallows for Mordecai. We are then not surprised, and even enjoy more than a moment of pleasure, when we learn that it was not Mordecai, but Haman himself, who was hanged on the gallows (Esth 7:9–10). Standing fifty cubits high (approximately 75 feet; the height of a six-story building), this would have constituted a very public execution of the once powerful villain—how the mighty have fallen!

But there is more. King Ahasuerus is portrayed as indifferent and indolent more than as treacherous and tyrannical. His previous wife Vashti was banished because she refused her husband’s demand that she dance before him and his carousing drinking buddies (Esth 1:10–12).

Thus it is supremely ironic that what actually brought Haman down was a misperception on the king’s part: after Esther reveals that she would be a victim of Haman’s plot, along with all the rest of her people, the king momentarily left the room. (To take in the just revealed fact that Esther was Jewish? To consider how to conceal from Esther how deeply he himself was implicated in the plot?) In a last-ditch attempt to beg for his life from Queen Esther, Haman as supplicant threw himself “on the couch where Esther was reclining”—which Ahasuerus took as an effort at sexual assault on the part of Haman (Esth 7:8).

In short, Haman was judged worthy of execution by the king for the one crime he didn’t commit. As for the Jews, they were saved. Mordecai was promoted, and, we suppose, Esther and Ahasuerus lived happily ever after.

Two thoughts immediately come to mind, and they can both aptly be applied to Haman and also to the more laudatory characters in the Book of Esther. First are the words of Hannah in 1 Samuel chapter 2 to: “The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts” (NIV). Second, the familiar adage, undoubtedly based on the words and thoughts of the Book of Proverbs: “Man proposes, God disposes.” Such messages, serious ones to be sure, nonetheless can bring a knowing chuckle to those who fully comprehend that there is nothing capricious in such reversals of fortune.

 

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Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 3.

Born Again … and Again and Again?

Author Michael S. Heiser

Was Jesus open to the idea of reincarnation? The question may seem odd, but it’s one that many people, even biblical scholars, contend has a positive answer.[1] The idea comes from a passage you’ve likely read dozens of times.

John 9:1–4 ESV

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but in order that the works of God might be made manifest in him (he was born blind). We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.”

BornAgainNotice the disciples’ question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Many presume the question indicates that the disciples believed the man born blind really could have sinned before he was born, and that his pre-birth sins caused his congenital blindness. This presumption is followed by another: that Jesus’ answer wasn’t a categorical denial. Since Jesus doesn’t come out and say, “What a silly idea, don’t be ridiculous!” Some have argued that his response means that in this case the man born blind didn’t sin in a previous life, but perhaps that could have happened in another case. Could this interpretation be correct?

Reincarnation is the belief that the soul migrates from one body to another, different body, in a long (possibly endless) succession. The idea of the “migration of the soul” cannot be found in the Bible, or in other Jewish writers of antiquity,[2] which indicates the disciples were likely presuming something different: People can do good and evil while still in the womb. Paul addresses this misconception in Rom 9:9–13, when dealing with the case of Jacob and Esau. Even if a pre-born person could sin in the womb, this does not involve the migration of a soul.

Romans 9:9–13 ESV

“For this is what the promise said: ‘About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.’ And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’”

Matthew 16:13, where some people suggest that Jesus was John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the Old Testament prophets, is also no help to those who want to see reincarnation in John 9:3–4. Jesus and John were contemporaries, born six months apart (Luke 1:8–36), thus John’s soul could not have migrated into Jesus’ body. Elijah never died (2 Kgs 2:1–17), and so the migration of his soul is also not possible. If Jesus were one of the prophets, who had come back to life, then the prophet would be resurrected, not the prophet’s soul in another body. There are other, more technical flaws in this interpretation of John 9,[2] but from this examination alone, it should be apparent that the idea of Jesus approving of one being born again into another physical body,  is dead . . . again.

Notes:

[1] The notion that Jesus embraced reincarnation is usually associated with New Age writers such as Elizabeth Clare Prophet and Dolores Cannon. However, J. D. M. Derrett, a highly-respected Greek New Testament scholar, recently promoted this view in a scholarly journal article, “The True Meaning of Jn 9, 3–4” (Filología Neotestamentaria xvi 2003), pgs. 103–106.

[2] See “Did Jesus Allow for Reincarnation? Assessing the Syntax of John 9:3–4” at MichaelSHeiser.com/John9.pdf

 

Bible Study Magazine delivers tools and methods for Bible study, as well as insights from respected Bible teachers, professors, historians, and archaeologists. Take over 30% off the cover price—subscribe now!

 

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 3.

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