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Mark Rathel

Mark RathelMark Rathel is professor of theology and philosophy at The Baptist College of Florida.  Archives


God’s Comfort in Trials

2 Corinthians 1:3-14

April 29

I learned a difficult lesson early in ministry. Despite my desire to serve the Lord, at times, the response of God’s people to my ministry was less than enthusiastic. During this time, I received comfort in the fact that Paul himself experienced challenges to his integrity and ministry. The major theme of 2 Corinthians is Paul’s defense of his ministry against charges of a lack of integrity, vacillation, allowing others to intimidate him.

Paul’s relationship with the church at Corinth is difficult to reconstruct. After our present 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote a harsh letter, made a painful visit, and sent Titus and Timothy to deal with the situation. Paul did not give up on his relationship with this troubled church. The apostle continually went the extra-mile in the hopes of restored fellowship.

What principles may we derive from Paul’s life during a difficult time in his ministry to believers?

First, every believer should praise God as the source of his or her comfort (2 Cor. 1:3). Rather than his normal prayer, Paul blessed God. “Blessed” translates the Greek word eulogy – to speak well. We limit a eulogy to good words spoken about the dead; Paul spoke well of the living God. Paul praised God as the source of mercies and comfort. Comfort, the same root as paraclete in Jesus’s reference to the Holy Spirit in the Fourth Gospel, refers to God’s encouragement and strength through divine intervention in the midst of every trial we encounter.

Second, God calls every believer receives a ministry of comfort/encouragement to others (2 Cor. 1:4). Through His ministry of comfort, God purposes to equip a believer for a ministry of comfort to others. God intends that every blessing He grants to you become a resource through which you can help other people. Ask yourself the following question, “Under what difficult circumstances did God dramatically intervene in your life?” Based on your testimony, God may call you to reach out to others experiencing grief, financial challenges, or problem marriages. David Garland reminds us, “God does not comfort us to make us comfortable but to make us comforters.”

Third, every believer should derive comfort from the truth that our Lord suffered (2 Cor. 1:5). Some so-called preachers today proclaim a “health and wealth” gospel that claims that God wants every believer to be wealthy and healthy – a life without problems. This errant theology confuses the gospel of Christ with the American dream. Christian commitment, indeed, may increase our affliction. I know Christians passed over for promotion because of a refusal to participate in drunken office parties. Christians face persecution in many parts of the world. Remember believer that our suffering pales in comparison to the suffering of Christ.

Treasurers in Jars of Clay

2 Corinthians 4.1-18

May 6

During twenty years of serving as an interim pastor, I discovered that congregations need to understand biblical teachings about the role of the pastor. In the context of Paul’s problematic relationship with the church at Corinth, Paul detailed the role of a spiritual leader. While not every reader of this lesson will not be a pastor, every believer needs to understand the unique responsibility of the spiritual leader. Therefore, while the principles of this passage apply to all believers, I will focus on Paul’s direct teaching regarding the biblical nature of ministry. I am convinced that a large percentage of church conflict arises from a misunderstanding of the biblical roles of the minister and congregation.

What did Paul teach about the role of the minister?

First, Paul lifted up the sole motive for ministry (2 Cor. 4.1). No one enters the ministry with a sense of personal adequacy. “Who is adequate for these things?” (2 Cor. 2.16 CSB). “It is not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God (2 Cor. 3.5). The motive for ministry is the undeserved mercy of God (2 Cor. 4.1). Ministry derives from a calling of God. Every minister (and layperson) is saved by grace, gifted by grace, and serves by grace. There is nothing more pathetic than a preacher of the gospel that has given up (CBS) or loses heart (ESV). The merciful call of God in the life of the man of God provides preserving grace.

Second, Paul set forth the method of ministry (2 Cor. 4.2-5). While ministers by calling and necessity are involved in various types of ministry service such as counseling or leadership, the primary method of ministry is the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord (2 Cor. 4.5). The Lordship of Christ in the life of the proclaimer requires integrity of life and faithfulness in communicating the Word of God. Ministry flows out of integrity; therefore, a minister renounces behaviors contrary to the proclamation of Jesus as Lord. Moreover, a minister can preach the Word employing deceit or distortion of the message. A minister can distort the Word of God by adding to God’s Word (Judaizers) or distorting God’s Word (easy believe-ism).

Third, Paul described the proper role of ministry (2 Cor. 4.5). A ministerial leader is neither a CEO or a hireling passively driven by others. A minister is a bondservant or slave on behalf of the Lord Jesus for the sake of others. A bondservant serves at someone else’s house; serves at someone else’s convenience, and serves without an expectation of thanks.

Fourth, Paul highlighted two aspects of the preaching of a minister (2 Cor. 4.5-7). First, the minister must not seek to preach, build up, or exalt himself. The doctrine of a biblical minister centers on the preaching of Jesus Christ as Lord. The glory of the ministry is seen in the nature of the minister as a jar of clay. The treasure is the light of the gospel. The container for the gospel is a jar of clay. Most likely a “jar of clay” has reference to common, cheap, easily broken, earthenware vessels. Judges 7 may illustrate Paul’s message. The lesson shared by Paul in 2 Corinthians and Gideon is the inadequacy of humans in kingdom work. Gideon surrounded the much larger Midianite army with 300 men equipped with trumpets and jars containing small lights. The Israelite soldiers broke the jars, revealing the lights within the jars, and blinding the enemy. Ministers are common, cheap, expendable servants. When broken, the light of the light of the gospel shines out brightly into the darkness of sin and lostness. Remember God alone has the role of breaking the servant of God for the gospel to shine brightly.

How to Live for Jesus

2 Corinthians 5.16-21; 6.1-2

May 13

In 2 Corinthians 5.15 Paul affirmed that by the death of Christ, believers should then live “for the one who died for them and was raised” (CSB). What does it mean for a believer to live for Christ? Paul describes living for Christ utilizing the adjective “new.” The emphasis is upon a life that is “new” in kind – a new kind of life.

How did Paul describe the “new kind” of life that a believer is to live for Christ?

First, living for Jesus means possessing a new outlook regarding evaluating people (2 Cor. 5.16). The broader context of 2 Corinthians 5 is helpful in understanding Paul’s meaning. Outsiders have infiltrated the church of Corinth. These self-proclaimed Christian leaders have bragged on their ministry and attempted to downgrade Paul’s ministry. These interlopers made two accusations against Paul. First, they examined his outward appearance – a literal translation for appearance is “face” (v. 12) rather than looking on his heart (v. 13). Second, they accused Paul of being “out of his mind (v. 13).

In response, Paul provided a theological rationale rather than a physical or behavioral basis for evaluating people. Paul ministered to all because Christ loved all and died for all (2 Cor. 5.14-15). Because of Christ’s love for all and death for all, Paul refused to evaluate people from a “worldly perspective.” As a Jewish rabbi living in Jerusalem, it is historically probable that Paul observed Jesus in the flesh during one of Jesus’ trips to Jerusalem. Paul evaluated Jesus as a failed, deceptive Messianic claimant from a worldly perspective. Because of Jesus, Paul can never see people the same way. He has a new outlook regarding how he understood people.

Second, living for Jesus means an individual is a new creation (2 Cor. 5.17). Paul proclaimed, “The New has come”! (2 Cor. 5.17). Paul has described aspects of this “newness” in the preceding verses. Because of Christ, Paul has a New view of self (v. 15), a New view of other people (v. 16), and a New view of Christ (v. 16). In Christ, a New day has arrived. The New Covenant has been instituted. Every believer is a New Creation. Christ created a New Community of people united in Christ. The New age promised by God in the Old Testament has arrived. The Greek term translated “new” has the connotation of “freshness.” “Freshness” characterized each day for a believer.

Third, living for Jesus means the responsibility of all Christians to proclaim a new message (2 Cor. 5.18-21). Because of the new creation, God has given every believer a ministry of reconciliation (v. 18) and a message of reconciliation (v. 19). The concept of “reconciliation” derives from the realm of personal relationships. Everything is from God – the new outlook on people, new view of self, new view of Christ, new age of salvation, new covenant, new creation, and the new community of faith. The Newness has come because God has reconciled sinful humans unto Himself.

Paul’s vibrant theology of reconciliation can be summarized as follows.

First, the necessity of reconciliation lies in the reality of human sin and rebellion against God. Human sin results in a rupture or enmity in the relationship between an individual and God.  (Rom. 5:10). A state of reconciliation between God and humanity involves God “not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19). As a result, believers are delivered from the wrath of God (Rom. 5:9).

Second, God is the initiator of reconciliation rather than humans. In Paul’s usage of the verb, God is the subject – the one doing the action. Reconciliation flows from the love of God (Rom. 5:8). Humans, therefore, cannot create peace with God. Paul used a past tense form of verbs (called an aorist) to describe the reality of reconciliation.

Third, Christ is the agent of reconciliation. Paul stated that reconciliation between God and humans is through Christ (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18). 2 Corinthians 5:21 explain the how of reconciliation: “He [God] made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that [purpose] we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” The phrase made “to be sin for us” is interpreted in two major ways. First, since the Greek term “sin” in the Greek Old Testament can describe “sin offering” (Lev. 4:24; 5:12), some understand the phrase regarding Isaiah 53:10 – You make Him a sin offering. Second, the statement likely means Christ bore the consequences of sin, an idea expressed in Gal. 3:13. The major point is that Christ identified with humanity and died as our substitute (for us). The purpose of His substitutionary death was that we might receive God’s righteousness by union with Him.

Fourth, believers are ambassadors of the message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20. Although Christ accomplished reconciliation through His death on the cross, believers must serve as ambassadors beseeching sinner on half of God “Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20). Christ died in our place to reconcile humans with God; believers proclaim the message of reconciliation in Christ’s place.

Graceful, Hilarious Kingdom Giving

2 Corinthians 9.1-15

May 20

Hilarity and grace characterize Christian kingdom giving. “For God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9.7 CSB). The Greek term translated “cheerful” is “hilaros” or hilarious giver. Furthermore, in his discussion of a benevolent offering in 1 Corinthians 8-9, Paul used the term “grace” six times (1 Cor. 8.1, 6, 7, 9; 9.8, 14). Paul challenged the Corinthians to be graceful, hilarious givers.

In 1 Corinthians 8-9, Paul invited the Corinthians to join with other gentile churches in an offering for the poor saints in Jerusalem. The economy of the Jerusalem suffered from famine. Because Christians Jews were no longer supported by the Jewish relief system, they no longer had a support system. In Paul’s mind, the offering served as more than mere benevolence. For Paul, the offering of the Gentiles to the Jerusalem saints visibly demonstrated the unity of Jews and Gentiles into the one people of God. The offering expressed profound theological truths. New Testament scholar David Garland brought together a helpful list of theological terms Paul used in discussing the offering in chapters 8-9: grace /privilege (8:4,6,7,19; 9.8,14), fellowship/partnership (8:4), ministry (8:4; 9:1,12,13), love (8:7, 8,24), liberality, (8:20) blessing (9:5), harvest of righteousness (9:10), and priestly service (9:12).

What principles and life lessons may the twenty-first century Christians learn about graceful, hilarious giving?

First, Paul described three principal attitudes of eager enthusiasm, contagiousness, and integrity required for graceful, hilarious giving (1 Cor. 9.1-5). Other than one occasion in the New Testament, the Greek term translated “eagerness” only occurs in Paul’s discussion of giving in 2 Corinthians 8-9 (2 Cor. 8.11, 12, 19; 9.2). Paul highlighted the contagiousness nature of mutual encouragement in kingdom giving. In 1 Corinthians 8.1-5, Paul used the example of the financially poor Macedonians to encourage the believers at Corinth to participate in the kingdom offering. Further, Paul boasted of the Corinthians eagerness to participate in the offering. As a result of the Corinthians giving, the Macedonians became more zealous in supporting the offering (2 Cor. 9.2). Furthermore, Paul challenged believers to handle kingdom finances with absolute integrity. Paul created a system of accountability to ensure integrity. First, Paul entrusted Titus (2 Cor. 8.6, 16,23), one of his most trustworthy ministry associates, as well as other brothers (2 Cor. 9.3) to watch over the collection. When Paul traveled to Jerusalem to deliver the offering, he was accompanied on his journey to Jerusalem by representatives from the churches that participated in the offering (Acts 20.4). While the church at Corinth did not have a representative, Titus probably represented the church at Corinth. In his discussion of the offering, Paul describes Titus as “As for Titus, he is my partner and coworker for you (2 Cor. 8.23).

Second, Paul provided four guidelines for kingdom giving. First, kingdom giving is a matter of the heart rather than compulsion (2 Cor. 8.7). As a heart issue, kingdom giving requires a resolve to give and a plan to give. A believer demonstrates resolve by the doing – “each person should do” (2 Cor. 9.7). Paul detailed the plan in 1 Corinthians 16 as one of regular, systematic kingdom giving. “On the first day of the week, each of you is to set something aside and save in keeping with how he is prospering…” (1 Cor. 16.2). Third, Christians should give generously (2 Cor. 9.5-6). Fourth, God gives grace to enable Christians to give; thus, kingdom giving is grace giving. Paul utilized an analogy from farming of sowing and reaping. The point of the analogy is God’s grace to provide for the needs of a believer faithful in giving. God is the provider that gives us our resources, but He is also able to meet the needs of believers that practice faithful kingdom giving (2 Cor. 9.8).

Third, Paul emphasized four types of blessing resulting from kingdom giving (2 Cor. 9.8-14). First, God blesses the faithful kingdom giver as God enriches the believer – so that in every way, always having everything you need (2 Cor. 9.8). Second, the recipients of kingdom ministry are blessed as God supplies their needs are (2 Cor. 9.12). Third, God is blessed as faithful giving results in thanksgiving and glory being given to God (2 Cor. 9.11-13). Fourth, the church is blessed through kingdom giving. Faithful giving produces faithful prayer, deep affection, and unity within the church.

Finding Strength

2 Corinthians 12.7b-10; 13.2-8

May 27

We hear a great deal about church conflict in churches today and surmise that this is a new phenomenon. The first-century church experienced numerous disputes from false teachers, personality conflicts. A dramatic transition occurs in 2 Corinthians 10 as Paul shifted from a message of conflict to address the infiltration of “so-called apostles” into the Corinthian church that opposed Paul. The apostle inferred that these infiltrators followed “another” Jesus, received a “different” spirit, and preached a “different” gospel (2 Cor. 11.4).

These leaders regarded themselves as “super-apostles” (2 Cor. 11.5,11) charged Paul with “behaving according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 10.2), claimed Paul was “weighty in his letters” but unimpressive in his physical appearance and speech (2 Cor. 10.10), and boasters. In response, Paul boasted of his weakness and gave a long catalog of humiliating, painful experiences from his apostolic career (2 Cor. 11.22-33).

How did Paul find strength in light of personal attacks and a church attracted to false leaders?

First, Paul boasted in his weaknesses rather than his strengths (2 Cor. 12.1-10). “If boasting is necessary, I will boast about my weaknesses” (2 Cor. 11.30). Evidently, Paul’s opponents must have boasted of visionary experiences. In response, Paul described a vision he received probably during the time he returned to his home province of Cilicia before he engaged in his first mission trip as suggested by the time reference “fourteen years ago.” Since Paul would only boast of his weaknesses, he described his personal experience regarding “I know a man.” Paul was snatched up either bodily or through a vision into the “third heaven” or “paradise (2 Cor.12.2-3). Both “third heaven” and “paradise” describe the abode of God.

As a result of his vision or transportation to heaven, God gave Paul a “thorn in the flesh” to keep Paul humble. We do not know the exact nature of this “thorn,” although the description seems so point to a physical ailment. Two verses in Galatians seem to imply that Paul suffered from an eye ailment (Gal. 4.14; 6.11). Satan attempted to use Paul’s ailment for negative purposes; Paul understood his “thorn” as serving the positive purpose of humbling him. Paul prayed three times (reminiscent of Jesus’ prayer in the garden) for the removal of the thorn. God did not remove the thorn; God gave Paul grace to endure the thorn.

Second, Paul warned that he had the strength of Christ to discipline the trouble-makers (2 Cor. 13.1-4). In 2 Corinthians 12.20-21, Paul highlighted two types of sins that tarnished the reputation of the church and the reputation of Jesus, namely, relational sins (2 Cor. 12.20) and sensual sins (2 Cor. 12.21). Paul cited the principle from Deuteronomy 19.15 of the necessity of two or three witnesses to an accusation to rule out of the legal preceding any personal grudges. It appears that the three witnesses comprise Paul’s personal observations on three trips to Corinth. Paul warned the Corinthians not to think that Paul was too weak to deal with the situation. Paul is united with Christ (“in him”) in the weakness of Christ, but the apostle lives in the strength of the resurrection. Paul, therefore, will deal with the Corinthians in the strength Christ provided.

Third, Paul challenged the Corinthians to examine their relationship with the Lord (2 Cor. 13.5-8). Paul commanded the Corinthians to examine and test themselves. The verbs describe continual process; that is, continually examine and continually test. “Test” means to seek the determine the validity of something. Is this real? Paul did not provide a spiritual test or checklist for the Corinthians. Throughout his letters to the Corinthians, he uplifted the importance of right doctrine, right behavior, and right relationships within the church. Right doctrine, right behavior, and right relationships, therefore, comprise the core means by which the Corinthians may examine and test themselves. Paul wants his readers to pass the examination and test (2 Cor. 13.8). Paul reminded his readers that he prayed for their “full maturity” (2 Cor. 13.9).

Bible Studies For Life

Richard Elligson

Richard ElligsonRichard Elligson is associate professor of missions and chair of the theology division at The Baptist College of Florida.  Archives


Session 2

April 29, 2018


Esther 2:21-3:6

Somewhere in my ministerial training, I was taught that beliefs are those ideals that you are willing to live for, while convictions are those ideals that you are willing to die for. The story of Esther demonstrates what happens when someone of conviction stands his ground.

In this week’s lesson, the story shifts from the beauty of Queen Esther to the character of her cousin Mordecai who raised her. As a member of the king’s court, Mordecai was “at the king’s gate,” where he was easily accessible to those for whom he worked. It is here that his character is displayed.

Character is displayed in loyalty to those we serve (2:21-23). We don’t yet know much about the relationship between Mordecai and the king, but it’s an interesting dynamic. Mordecai is a faithful Jew. Ahasuerus is a pagan king, but he is still the king. That alone makes him worthy of respect (see Rom. 13:1-7). And now that Esther is a part of the royal family, Mordecai has even more reason to keep an eye on things. The details of the conspiracy against the king by two of his attendants is unclear but is likely related to the departure and replacement of Queen Vashti. As guards at the door of the royal bedroom, these two men held an esteemed position and had certainly earned the king’s trust. While history tells us that King Ahasuerus was ultimately killed in a similar plot some years later, on this occasion he was saved by the swift intervention of Mordecai the Jew. In this case, God’s providence is seen in putting Mordecai in the right place at the right time; in the placement of Esther in the King’s favor; and in providing the opportunity to inform Queen Esther of the plot. But further, while Mordecai received no reward for his loyalty at the time, the entire incident was recorded in the daily court records with King Ahasuerus present. This record would prove valuable as the story unfolds (see chapter 6). While God’s hand is clearly guiding these events, we must remember that Mordecai’s loyalty to the king is pivotal.

Character is displayed in faithfulness to the God we worship (3:1-6). There’s a difference between showing honor to someone and worshipping someone. Apparently, Haman was unaware of that fact. His rise to prominence by the hand of King Ahasuerus went beyond the honor due to his position and played to his unfettered arrogance. The terms “bowing down” and “paying homage” do not in themselves mean worship. In fact, the Bible contains many instances of believers bowing in honor before men of prominence. But something in this scenario so offended Mordecai that this normally compliant Jew refused to participate, even though the king himself had ordered it (v. 2). While Haman would view this as Mordecai’s pride (likely for being a Jew; see v. 4), just the opposite is true. Mordecai was loyal to the king—and no doubt respectful to Haman, as the king’s appointee. But he also understood the First Commandment: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. Do not have other gods besides Me. Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. You must not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…” (Ex. 20:1-5). The extent of Haman’s fury (v. 5) demonstrates his emotional instability: he loves himself supremely and he hates the Jews intensely.

It also demonstrates the differences between these two men. One is willing to kill a nation for love of self. One is willing to die for love of God.

Session 3

May 6, 2018


Esther 4:1-3, 10-16

Blatant and obvious injustice calls for a response. From the Boston Tea Party to the Civil Rights Movement, much of our nation’s history has been marked by grassroots movements voicing opposition to unwanted public policy. But along with appropriate public protests, the Bible reminds us to focus our attentions upward, as well as outward.

In this week’s lesson, God’s people learn of the pending persecution headed their way by the hand of wicked Haman and respond not only with protest, but with prayer. In the text, Mordecai and Esther provide an example of how to apply wisdom from God while depending on God.

Godly wisdom requires humility (vv. 1-3). When Mordecai heard of Haman’s devilish scheme to annihilate the Jews, he demonstrated his shock and grief in the classic ancient Eastern way, by tearing his garments, putting on a cloak of coarse hair (sackcloth) and pouring ashes upon his head. These were well-known signs of the most pitiful misery and deepest grief. Bearing these signs, and accompanied by loud and bitter cries, Mordecai displayed his despair in the middle of the city. Yet in deference to the king (the only one who could put a stop to the scheme), he stopped himself from entering the palace grounds. Verse 3 explains that as word of Haman’s plan got out, God’s people “fasted, wept, and lamented, and many lay on sackcloth and ashes.” While the word “prayer” is not in the text, the context clearly demonstrates utter humility and dependence upon God. Somehow, in the midst of the crisis, Mordecai was able to humble himself, express his grief, demonstrate his dependence on God, and honor the authority of the king…all at the same time.

Godly wisdom responds to fear (vv. 10-14). Verses 4-10 describe a series of messages passed from Mordecai to Queen Esther and back, informing her of the details of the plot against her countrymen, and seeking her intervention with the king (v. 8). In these verses, Esther is appalled at the plan hatched against her people, but clearly uncertain of what to do about it. The hint of fear is expressed in her reference to the “one law” that everyone knew about and obviously everyone obeyed: no one could approach the king without being invited (v. 11). Her fears were deepened by the fact that she—the king’s favorite—had not been invited to see him for an entire month. Had his favor toward her suddenly waned? Now the queen suffered from both the external fear of the law, and the internal fear of personal failure. Mordecai’s wisdom brings Esther back to reality. He reasoned with her on three levels. First, he reminded her that her position in the pagan palace would not save her from the same fate (v. 13). Second, he assured her that one way or another, God would deliver His people (v. 14a). Finally, he suggested that she herself might be God’s solution to the crisis (v. 14b).

Godly wisdom requires faith (vv. 15-16). Mordecai’s words made sense, and Esther was spurred into action. Now we see her wisdom applied. Rather than hastily approaching the throne of the king, she boldly approaches the throne of God (see Hebrews 4:16). Understanding the gravity of the situation, she calls for a city-wide fast on her own behalf. She then calls together her closest circle of confidants and joins them in praying and fasting, no doubt asking God to soften the heart of the king. After all, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Prov. 21:1). Thus prepared spiritually, Esther can approach the king with confidence. Her final statement, “If I perish, I perish” should not be taken as a sign of defeat, but rather a statement of her renewed faith.

Session 4

May 13, 2018


Esther 5:1-14

By chapter 5, the story gets really interesting. All of the key players in the drama of God’s providence are present, and each brings to the scene a distinct characteristic. Yet in every case, God’s hand can be seen moving and directing both the action and the actors.

In Esther, we see faith (v. 1). Once Esther gets over her fears and doubts, she moves forward with confident intention. If she acts, she may die. If she fails to act, she will most certainly die (4: 16). But far from a depressed resignation to fate, Esther demonstrates clear thinking and decisive action. After three days of fasting and prayer, she dressed up in her best gown and solemnly stepped into the king’s courtyard. From far across the courtyard, she caught the king’s eye as he sat perched on his throne. No doubt, the servants to the king were astonished at her boldness, but they were powerless to stop her. After all, she was the queen.

In King Ahasuerus, we see favor (vv. 2-8). “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Prov. 21:1). In this case, God turned the king’s heart toward his beautiful queen. Three phrases indicate the king’s pleasure. First, verse 2 indicates that as soon as the king saw her, “she won his approval.” Second, according to the ancient tradition, the king extended his royal scepter toward her. This served as an official invitation to present herself to the king. Third, without yet being asked, King Ahasuerus offered to his queen whatever she wanted, “even to half the kingdom” (v. 3).

With her audience granted, Esther proceeded with her plan. Haman and the king would be treated to a banquet. During the wine service, the king once again presented his offer to the queen. But her initial request was as simple and humble as it was honorable, and another banquet was requested for the following day.

In Mordecai, we see commitment (v. 9). The only thing that could spoil Haman’s delight as he departed the royal banquet Esther had prepared, was the glaring insult of Mordecai the Jew who “didn’t rise or tremble in fear at his presence.” Perhaps the entire episode would have been avoided if Mordecai had given in to Haman’s request. But doing so would have betrayed his God, and ultimately led the Jews to compromise the faith of their fathers; a faith that God had reestablished by the very exile that had placed the Jews in Persia to begin with!

In Haman, we see pride (vv. 10-13). Verses 10-12 describe the pitiful arrogance of a selfish, self-absorbed man. First, he gathered his family and friends to hear his brag-fest. Then he boasted of his wealth and prominence. Then he bragged about his promoted position. Finally, he let them all know about the royal banquet that only he was invited to attend. Haman had it all, but it still wasn’t enough! He was honored by an entire city of people. But he would not rest until he was honored by a humble Jew named Mordecai (v. 13).

In Zeresh, we see disdain (v. 14). Behind every awful man stands an equally hideous woman. In response to Haman her husband, Zeresh essentially declared, “If you can’t beat ‘em, then kill ‘em!” Notice the pride they took in planning the execution of their enemy. Not only was the gallows to stand an astounding 75 feet high, but the arrogant assumption was that a simple request to King Ahasuerus would be granted without question by one so close to the king and so influential in his decisions. No doubt Haman went to sleep that night looking forward to a perfect day. Mordecai would die on the gallows…and he would dine with the king.

Session 5

May 20, 2018


Esther 7:1-10

By God’s “providence,” we mean that God is actively directing His creation (and all that is in it) to accomplish His ultimate purpose. So when we talk about God “moving” in a situation, we are acknowledging that God is at work in that situation to accomplish His will. As the colorful commentator J. Vernon McGee once stated, “Providence means that the hand of God is in the glove of human events.”

The entire story of Esther demonstrates God’s providence as He puts all the pieces in place and then uses them to vanquish Hs enemies, save His people, and glorify Himself. In this text, each person plays a part, but it is God who makes it all happen.

God’s providence and the king’s promise (vv. 1-2). God’s providence can be seen clearly in the life of this pagan king. Everything from the contempt King Ahasuerus felt toward Vashti his queen that created a vacancy in the king’s household (1:12); to the beauty of Esther that caught his eye (2:17); to the recording of Mordecai’s intervention in the plot against the king (2:23); to the king’s welcome of Esther in the palace courtyard (5:2); to the promise King Ahasuerus made to honor Esther’s request (5:3; 7:2); all of it demonstrates God’s control, even over the lost to assure the fulfillment of His plan. Where we see the incredible, God sees the intentional. What we call coincidence, God calls part of His plan.

God’s providence and the queen’s boldness (vv. 3-6). Back in chapter 4, Mordecai got Esther thinking with his suggestion, “Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this” (4:13). Now the time had come to act. While God put the provisions in place, it was up to Esther to do her part. Three key ingredients are evident in Esther’s plea. First, the queen was passionate. The lives of her people were at stake. The worst thing the king could have done was to deny her request, so it made sense to lay it on the line. “For my people and I have been sold out to destruction, death, and extermination.” Not only was her plea passionate, but it was humble. “If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept silent,” she said. “Indeed, the trouble wouldn’t be worth burdening the king.” This perfect mix of sincerity and humility moved the king to respond. His demand to know who was behind the evil scheme allowed Esther to add boldness to her mix. With so much at stake, the queen turned a fierce gaze toward their honored guest, stretched out a pointed finger and declared, “The adversary and enemy is this evil Haman.”

God’s providence and Haman’s destruction (vv. 6-10). Regarding the corrupt who rule with injustice, the psalmist declared, the Lord “will pay them back for their sins and destroy them for their evil. The Lord our God will destroy them” (Ps 94:23). Haman, the evil Persian who had never read those Hebrew words was about to feel their effect. In an act of self-control, King Ahasuerus got up from his couch and stalked to the garden, no doubt to process the ordeal that Haman had devised and the king himself had signed into law. He returned sometime later to find Haman clutching at his queen while begging for his life. How ironic that Haman—who had so little regard for the lives of others—would so value his own! This proved to be the final straw with the king. The attendants present covered Haman’s head and pointed out the gallows that stood beside his house. In a final act of irony, King Ahasuerus ordered that this evil man be hung from the gallows that he himself had constructed to hang Mordecai. But again, where we see irony, God sees justice.

Session 6

May 27, 2018


Esther 8:1-8; 9:20-22

The final chapters of the book tie up the loose ends of this magnificent story of God’s providential care of His people. Even though the Jews were living in a foreign land, God was faithful in protecting them. Because of this, the focus at the end of the story moves from the providence of God to the faithfulness of God. Psalm 119 reminds us that His faithfulness “is for all generations,” and the story of Esther proves it.

God is faithful to those who honor Him (vv. 1-2). Finally, Queen Esther was able to reveal her relationship to Mordecai and all the details of what had happened were no doubt shared. There is no shame here or need to apologize as all the connections were made. In yet another ironic twist, the estate of Haman—who was once the king’s most honored official—was awarded to the very people that Haman schemed to destroy. The scene is all about honor. Mordecai honored God by refusing to bow down before Haman. Esther honored her people, her cousin Mordecai, and her God by standing up for them all when it could have cost her her life. Esther was honored by King Ahasuerus for exposing the evil plan and selfish pride of Haman. And in the end, Mordecai was honored by the very God whom he honored from the start!

God is faithful to those who honor His people (vv. 3-8). All the way back in Genesis 12, God promised Abraham: “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; And you shall be a blessing.” Then God spoke beyond Abraham regarding that nation (Israel): “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” In contrast to Haman, whose cursed attempt to destroy God’s people led to his own destruction, Esther’s plea to the king led to their preservation and God’s blessing. Ahasuerus honored Esther and her people with the king’s signet ring. This was equal to giving Mordecai the king’s authority. Beyond that, the king granted blanket permission to write whatever decrees pleased them regarding the Jews! (v. 8). In chapter 9, those who sought to destroy the Jews were instead slaughtered by the Jews, ridding the kingdom of the treacherous people who aligned with Haman. This was all done in full sight of the king, and with his permission (9:13-15). While King Ahasuerus would one day be assassinated, for the time being all was at peace. Those who honor God’s people receive His blessing…even if they are pagan kings!

God is faithful to those who remember (9:20-22). Throughout the Old Testament, God’s great deeds and marvelous works were written down. Special events were also marked by feasts and festivals, all to insure that the lessons and warnings God had provided were preserved for the next generation. These verses mark the inauguration of the feast known as Purim. The word comes from the local language of Persia, and means “lots” (as in the casting of lots). This commemorates the fact that Haman cast lots (a game of luck) to decide which day to implement his evil plan to destroy God’s people (Est. 3:7). Ironically, it should remind us that there is no such thing as luck when it comes to God’s providential care! While often overshadowed by Passover (celebrated the following month), Purim was instituted as a particularly festive two-day celebration, because during those days the Jews got rid of their enemies…their sorrow was turned into rejoicing and their mourning into a holiday.”  These were to be days of “feasting, rejoicing, and of sending gifts to one another and the poor” (9:22). While the story of Esther and its subsequent feast is particularly Jewish, the great theme of God’s ongoing care and divine deliverance applies to us all.

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