No turning back

The Persian Empire stretched from Ethiopia to India and consisted of one hundred twenty seven provinces with varied languages and customs. One of the ways the king of Persia managed communication in his kingdom was to make his laws irrevocable. Once a decree was sent out, there was no turning back. In order to avoid any confusion or mistrust among his magistrates, the king could not repeal a law once it was established. This meant that Haman the Agagites’s order to kill all the Jews would still be carried out even though he had been hanged on the gallows he had built for Esther’s uncle, Mordecai.

King Ahasuerus’ remedy for the situation was to allow the Jews to defend themselves.  It says in Esther 8:11, “Whereas the king granted the Jews which were in every city to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish, all the power of the people and providence that would assault them, both the little ones and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey.” It might seem like self-defense was a natural solution to their problem, but the Jews status (exiled) in the kingdom of Persia prevented them from fighting against their captors.

An unintended, but advantageous outcome of the Jews obtaining permission to fight against the people that wanted to kill them was the destruction of the Amalekites. God had commanded Israel’s king, Saul to utterly destroy the people of Amalek hundreds of years earlier (1 Samuel 15:3), but Saul disobeyed and let some of the household of Agag, the king of Amalek, escape. Due to his mistake, Haman the Agagite was able to threaten the Jews existence. But, after the tables were turned, the Jews finally accomplished a long overdue objective, the elimination of their fiercest enemy.

 

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Gabriel’s explanation

Daniel’s second vision provided further details about the difficulties God’s people would experience before their Messiah was born. The location of his vision was significant. Daniel said, “And I saw in a vision; and it came to pass, when I saw, that I was at Shushan in the palace, which is in the province of Elam; and I saw in a vision, and I was by the river of Ulai” (Daniel 8:2). Shushan was the capital of Persia and it was noted several times in the book of Esther as the place where the Jews would face extermination. It could be that God chose to show Daniel the future of his people at this location because it marked a critical turning point in their deliverance from their enemies.

In his vision, Daniel saw a ram “pushing westward, and northward, and southward; so that no beasts might stand before him, neither was there any that could deliver out of his hand; but he did according to his will, and became great” (Daniel 8:4). Then, Daniel saw a goat with a notable horn between his eyes come against the ram and defeat him (Daniel 8:5-7). As a result of his victory, the goat became stronger, but eventually, his great horn was broken and out of it came up four notable horns “and out of one of them came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land” (Daniel 8:8-9).

Daniel’s vision concluded with a picture of God’s temple being desecrated by the little horn. At the time of Daniel’s vision, about 551 B.C., God’s temple lay in ruins. It had already been destroyed by king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Daniel was confused and  needed God to help him understand what was going on in his vision. It says in Daniel 8:15-16, “And it came to pass, when I, even I Daniel, had seen the vision, and sought for the meaning, then behold, there stood before me as the appearance of a man. And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, which called, and said, Gabriel, make this man to understand the vision.”

The angel Gabriel is believed to be one of only three archangels identified in the Bible. The fact that he was specifically directed to explain the vision to Daniel indicated that the information was probably only available to this high ranking official in God’s kingdom. Gabriel said of himself in Luke 1:19, “I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee.” Unto Daniel, Gabriel said, “Understand, O son of man: for at the time of the end shall be the vision” (Daniel 8:17). What Daniel was expected to understand was that there would be a conclusion to the Israelites’ story. God would one day bring to an end the earthly kingdom that he had once inhabited.

Complete devastation

The prophet Joel is probably the most mysterious and intriguing of all the Old Testament prophets. Little is known about the time period or background of his message, but it clearly fits in with others like Isaiah’s and Jeremiah’s that speak about the end times. Joel uses the phrase “day of the LORD” (Joel 1:15) to refer to the warning he has been commanded to give. What seems clear from the overall content of Joel’s message is that he was given a glimpse into the horrible scene that is portrayed in the book of Revelation. A key indicator of the connection between the two messages is that Joel uses language that fits with the complete devastation that will take place when God judges  the human race.

Joel opens his book with a description of the plague of insects that is similar to the one described in Revelation 9. Joel says:

Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation. That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpillar eaten. Awake ye drunkards, and weep; and howl, all ye drinkers of wine, because of the new wine, for it is cut off from your mouth. For a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number, whose teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he hath the cheek-teeth of a great lion. (Joel 1:3-6)

Revelation 9:1-3 introduces the plague of locusts with the suggestion that spiritual warfare is taking place. It says, “And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit. And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power.”

The Greek word translated power in Revelation 9:3 is exousia. Exousia as a noun, denotes authority which is drawn from the meaning of “leave or permission” (1849). To a certain extent, the power that is being referred to is power that one has the right to exercise, the power of rule or government. Another way of looking at this type of power is freedom or mastery, the ability to take control. I believe Joel’s prophecy was meant to convey the idea of a total loss of control. All of the Israelites’ freedom would be taken away and they would become subject to another form of government, a satanic one that would prohibit their worship of God.

The good news hidden within Joel’s message was that God would not allow his people to become a part of Satan’s kingdom. Joel declared, “Alas for the day! for the day of the LORD is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come” (Joel 1:15). The Hebrew term Almighty or Shadday (shad – dah´ – ee) is a title that signifies ultimate power and authority, but in actuality, “the title Shadday really indicates the fullness and riches of God’s grace, and would remind the Hebrew reader that from God comes every good and perfect gift – that He is never weary of pouring forth His mercies on His people, and that He is more ready to give than they are to receive” (7706).

Captivity

The nations of Israel and Judah were not the only ones God sent into captivity. Their exile was merely an example of God’s sovereign right to control the rise and fall of kingdoms on earth. The first mention of captivity in the Bible was in Numbers 21:29 where it says, “Woe to thee, Moab! Thou art undone, O people of Chemosh: he hath given his sons that escaped, and his daughters into captivity unto Sihon king of the Amorites.” As early as the book of Deuteronomy, even before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, it was declared that God intended to send his people into captivity. Regarding the rewards of repentance, it states, “That then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee” (Deuteronomy 30:3).

The goal of captivity was repentance and an acknowledgment of God’s ultimate authority over mankind. The primary reason God sent his and other people into captivity was they would not obey him. A stubborn refusal to submit to God’s sovereign will caused the people of Egypt to be singled out and punished numerous times. Ezekiel identified pride as the root cause of the Egyptians’ problem and was told, “Speak, and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of the rivers, which hath said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself” (Ezekiel 29:3). In order to extend Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom beyond the borders of Palestine and to show that God could take any kingdom he wished to for his own, Egypt was given into the hands of the king of Babylon. Ezekiel was told:

Son of man, Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon caused his army to serve a great service against Tyrus: every head was made bald, and every shoulder was peeled: yet had he no wages, nor his army, for Tyrus, for the service that he had served against it: therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will give the land of Egypt unto Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon: and he shall take her multitude, and take her spoil, and take her prey; and it shall be the wages for his army. (Ezekiel 29:18-19).

God’s ability to speak things into existence and to destroy his enemies through a prophetic word was demonstrated in his overthrow of Egypt. Ezekiel recorded this command, “And I will make the rivers dry, and sell the land into the hand of the wicked: and I will make the land waste, and all that is therein, by the hand of strangers: I the LORD have spoken it” (Ezekiel 30:12). Even though the Egyptians did not present a military threat to the Israelites, God decided to remove them from their land and send them into captivity so that they would no longer draw God’s people away from him. The kings of Israel and Judah had a history of calling on the Egyptians for help and would not relinquish their dependence on a nation that worshipped idols. Ezekiel was told regarding Eygpt, “It shall be the basest of the kingdoms; neither shall it exalt itself any more above the nations: for I will diminish them, that they shall no more rule over the nations. And it shall be no more the confidence of the house of Israel, which bringeth their iniquity to remembrance, when they shall look after them: but they shall know that I am the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 29:15-16).

A model of success

The lives of the Israelites were meant to be an example of what dependence on God could do for a nation of people. Their prosperity and peaceful existence was not only unusual, it was a stark contrast to a world in which power and influence reigned supreme. In particular, the city of Tyre or Tyrus appeared to be a model of success. Tyre was the island capital of Phoenicia (present day Lebanon). “Because of its geographical location, its political importance and the central role it played in international trade,” it was thought to be a gateway to the world (Ezekiel 26:2 and note). In many ways, Tyrus was the opposite of Jerusalem and could be considered an evil empire led by Satan himself.

Regarding the kingdom of Tyrus, Ezekiel was told, “Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; behold, I am against thee, O Tyrus, and will cause many nations to come up against thee, as the sea causeth his waves to come up. And they shall destroy the walls of Tyrus, and break down her towers: I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock” (Ezekiel 26:3-4). Tyrus’ attitude of invincibility made it an easy target for God to shoot down. As he had sent Nebuchadnezzar against Jerusalem, so the Lord would bring down this coastal stronghold with the crushing blow of the Babylonian army.

Ezekiel was told, “For  thus saith the Lord GOD: Behold, I will bring upon Tyrus Nebuchadnezzar king of kings, from the north, with horses, and with chariots, and with horsemen, and companies, and much people” (Ezekiel 26:7). The term king of kings was first used by God in reference to Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom, but it was frequently associated with God’s kingdom and the Messiah. It is possible that Nebuchadnezzar was used by God to set the stage for a worldwide ruler who would as the Messiah, conquer every kingdom that stood against him.

Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Tyrus opened up a vast well of resources that would eventually cause him to follow in the footsteps of Tyrus’ leaders, becoming arrogant and blinded by pride. Nebuchadnezzar’s 15-year siege of Tyrus began shortly after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar’s reign began in 605 B.C. and ended in 562 B.C., so he had about nine years to enjoy the fruits of his labor. No doubt, the king of Babylon was revered and hated by many, but his success in bringing down two of the most invincible cities in the world, Jerusalem and Tyrus, gained him a reputation for being a model of success.

Enemies

The enemies of the Israelites were primarily neighbors that lived in close proximity to the Promised Land. Initially, when the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they were instructed to drive out the inhabitants of the land that had no right to possess territory God had given to Abraham and his descendants. Due to disobedience and a lack of faith, the area where the Israelites dwelt was cohabitated by other relatives of Abraham, specifically, Lot’s sons Ammon and Moab and the descendants of Jacob’s brother Esau. Over time, wars between Israel and the surrounding nations became an ongoing pattern. Eventually, the Israelites stopped trying to separate themselves from the people that hated them.

Ezekiel received four prophetic messages concerning enemies of Israel that God intended to deal with in his judgment of the land. His first message was directed at Ammon to whom God said, “Because thou sadist, Aha, against my sanctuary, when it was profaned; and against the land of Israel, when it was desolate; and against the house of Judah, when they went into captivity…Behold therefore, I will stretch out mine hand upon thee, and will deliver thee for a spoil to the heathen; and I will cut thee off from the people, and I will cause thee to perish out of the countries: I will destroy thee; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 25:3,7). The term “aha” can express surprise or grief, but in this instance, it most likely was meant as an expression of delight that the Israelites had gotten what they deserved.

Among Israel’s enemies was a group of people known as the Philistines. The Philistines occupied territory on the western coast of Israel and were notorious for allowing other conquering nations to access Jerusalem and Judah through their strongholds in the mountains. In particular, when the Assyrians came against Jerusalem, they came through the Philistine cities of Ashdod and Gath, straight toward the capital of Judah (Sennacherib’s Campaign Against Judah, 701 B.C.). In his prophecy against Philistia, Ezekiel foretold, “Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because the Philistines have dealt by revenge, and have taken vengeance with a despiteful heart, to destroy it for the old hatred;  therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will stretch out mine hand upon the Philistines, and I will cut off the Cherethims, and destroy the remnant of the sea coast” (Ezekiel 25:15-16).

As Judah’s destruction approached, it was evident that God intended to wipe out not only the areas of the nation that were occupied by his people, but also all the territory that had originally been given them as an inheritance. In the prophet Micah’s counsel of despair, the people were told the situation was hopeless. He said, “The good man is perished out of the earth: and there is none upright among man…Trust ye not a friend, put ye not confidence in a guide: keep the doors of thy mouth from her that lieth in thy bosom. For son dishonoureth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother, the daughter in law against her mother in law: a man’s enemies are the men of his own house” (Micah 7:2, 5-6).

Jerusalem

Jerusalem was more than just a city. As the capital of Israel, it represented the ideal of what God’s kingdom was supposed to be like and was symbolic of a way of life that was consistent with God’s character. When God decided to destroy the city of Jerusalem, it must have been as a last resort. There was so much of Israel’s history linked to Jerusalem that its destruction would have been perceived as the end of much more than just a 50 mi² piece of land.

Ezekiel was instructed to deliver an indictment of Jerusalem as if the city were responsible for all the failures that had taken place within her walls (Ezekiel 22:2). Among the many crimes that were listed was oppressing strangers, as well as, violence against the fatherless and widows. Particular attention was paid to sexual crimes including incest and rape. God said of Jerusalem, “In thee have they discovered their father’s nakedness; in thee have they humbled her that was set apart for pollution. And one hath committed abomination with his neighbor’s wife; and another hath lewdly defiled his daughter in law; and another in thee hath humbled his sister, his father’s daughter” (Ezekiel 22:10-11).

Although the term culture is not used in the Bible, the idea of a collective mindset or way of life was evident in God’s judgment of Jerusalem and other cities such as Sodom and Nineveh. What appears to have been the problem with Jerusalem was it had become so corrupt there was no hope of reform. God said, “And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found none” (Ezekiel 22:30). When God sought to destroy Sodom, Abraham interceded on behalf of his nephew Lot. God agreed that if there were but ten righteous men in the city of Sodom, he would not destroy it for their sake (Genesis 18:32).

The lack of an intercessor for Jerusalem meant that it would be left to God to determine the city’s fate. The grievous crimes that had been committed within Jerusalem made it impossible for God to look the other way. God’s displeasure with sin was just as much evident in his condemnation of Jerusalem as it was with other wicked cities, if not more so. God told Ezekiel, “Therefore have I poured out mine indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath: their own way have I recompensed upon their heads, saith the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 22:31).