Rest

God designed the world to operate in a state of perpetual motion. The fact that the earth rotates at an approximate speed of 1000 miles per hour on a continual basis demonstrates that humans are wired for activity, but there is also an innate need for us to rest. The example God gave us in his work of creation was six days of activity followed by one day of rest. It says in Genesis 2:3, “And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” The Hebrew word translated rest, shabath (shaw – bath´) is where the word Sabbath or the concept of a day of rest comes from (7673). God intended rest to be a part of our lives, but very few people understand why it is important.

God did not need to rest after he created the world. The purpose of his rest was to acknowledge the completion of his work, to see that it was finished. The process of ending is important because it shows us that it is possible to complete something from a standpoint of perfection. In fact, the Hebrew word translated perfect, tamiym means complete (8589). When Abraham was 99 years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect” (Genesis 17:1). In other words, God was saying he wanted to bring Abraham to a place of rest or his life to a point of completion. Closely related to the idea of completion is purpose or destiny. When we walk before the LORD, we arrive at the destination he has predetermined to be our place of rest, our perfect ending.

When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, God wanted them to enter into his rest, which means he wanted them to end up at the same place he was. You could say that God’s temple was his house or his place of residence, but it was really just a marker for the entrance of his Messiah into the world. In order to ensure that his birth would occur and not be overlooked by his chosen people, God designated a specific location for his Messiah to be born. In a sense, you could say that location was God’s place of rest,  but technically it was Jesus birth, and subsequent death, that marked completion of God’s work of salvation. When Jesus died on the cross, he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

There was really only one requirement for the Israelites’ Messiah to be born. God’s people had to occupy the territory he had designated for an inheritance to Abraham and his descendants. The problem was that the Promised Land was inhabited by other people and the Israelites couldn’t get rid of them. The ongoing battle between Israel and its surrounding neighbors continued until the Israelites were taken into captivity by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. After they were released from captivity, the Israelites were reluctant to return to their homeland because they feared being overtaken again. The Jews were dispersed throughout the Persian Empire when Esther became queen. After Haman the Agagite’s plot to kill all of God’s people was uncovered and stopped, it says in Esther 9:16 that the Jews had rest from their enemies.

The defeat of Haman brought rest or completion to the Jews because his death fulfilled the last Old Testament commandment as well as prophecy related to the Israelites’ occupation of the Promised Land before the Messiah’s birth. It says in Deuteronomy 25:17-19, “Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; how he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God. Therefore it shall be, when the LORD thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it, that thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget it.”

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Revenge

Esther’s marriage to the king of Persia placed her in a position of influence during a time when God’s plan of salvation for his people was at a critical juncture. Several thousand Jews had already returned to the Promised Land after their seventy years of captivity was completed, but there was little accomplished in the way of rebuilding and strengthening the infrastructure of God’s kingdom. Many Jews were still scattered throughout the Persian Empire and had been integrated into the culture of the Gentiles. The fact that a Jew ended up married to the king of Persia was actually not that surprising considering the degree to which the two cultures were blended. The Jews no longer spoke their native language and were forced to respect the authority of kings that had no allegiance to God. When Esther was taken along with all the other beautiful, young virgins into Ahasuerus’ palace, there was nothing anyone could do to stop it.

Four years after Esther became queen, a plot of revenge began to unfold, beginning with the promotion of a man referred to as Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite. It says in Esther 3:1, “After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him.” In other words, Haman was given a position similar to a Vice President. Whereas, previously Haman had been a member of the kings cabinet or counsel, he took on a new role in which he would oversee the activities of all the princes of the Persian Empire. As a result of his promotion, Haman was treated with dignity and perceived to be of equal status with the king. It says in Esther 3:2, “And all the king’s servants, that were in the king’s gate, bowed and reverenced Haman: for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence.”

Esther’s uncle Mordecai came from the family of Saul, the first king of Israel. During Saul’s reign, God commanded him to destroy the Amalekites. It says in 1 Samuel 15:7-8, “And Saul smote the Amalekites from Havilah until thou cometh to Shur, that is over against Egypt. And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword.” Agag the king of the Amalekites was later killed by the prophet Samuel, but most likely, the rest of his household was spared from death. It appears that Haman was a descendant of this king, due to his identification as an Agagite. Because Mordecai refused to bow before him, Haman planned to have him, and all the other Jews in the Persian Empire, killed (Esther 3:6). Haman used his promotion as a means of access to Ahasuerus and his influence to convince the king that the Jews should be eliminated (Esther 3:8-9). The king’s response is recorded in Esther 3:10-11:

And the king took his ring from his hand, and gave it to Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the Jews’ enemy. And the king said unto Haman, The silver is given to thee, the people also, to do with them as it seemeth good to thee.

Providence

The book of Esther is so much like a fairy tale that it might be hard for some people to take it seriously. The events recorded in the book occurred at a time in history that was actually very well documented, so there is little doubt that it is a true and correct account of what happened to Esther, but how the story may be interpreted varies greatly. In order to understand the details, a context has to be established, and I believe the best way to do that is to look at the accomplishments of the first Persian Empire. It was the first kingdom to establish a centralized bureaucratic administration system that included people of different origins and faith. The Persian Empire had an official language that was used across all its territories which spanned 5.5 million square kilometers, approximately the size of the United States. After its conquest of the Babylonian Empire, a series of kings, beginning with Cyrus the Great, identified themselves as world leaders and attempted to unite all people into a single culture. Ahasuerus reigned “from India to Ethiopia, over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces” (Esther 1:1).

It could be said that the first Persian Empire was similar to the United States during the 1950’s after its victory in World War II. The economy was booming and expansion was taking place throughout the country. A key characteristic that I think is similar between these two cultures is male dominance in the home and sexual pleasure being considered a necessary requirement for a successful marriage. Queen Vashti, Ahasuerus’ first wife, was deposed, which means she was removed from her office suddenly and forcefully, because she refused to appear immediately in his court at his command during a festival the king was hosting. It says in Esther 1:12, “But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s commandment by his chamberlains: therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him.” It is likely Vashti was pregnant with her third child at the time this incident took place. Using Vashti’s disobedience as justification for her dismissal, Ahasuerus launched a search for a suitable replacement that included all the good looking virgins in his kingdom (Esther 2:2).

It is clear from the description of what happened that every virgin that was selected was expected to have sex with the king. It says in Esther 2:14, “In the evening she went, and on the morrow she returned into a second house of the women, to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s chamberlain, which kept the concubines: she came into the king no more, except the king delighted in her, and that she were called by name.” A concubine or paramour in today’s language is a lover, especially the illicit partner of a married person. When it was Esther’s turn to sleep with the king, he fell in love with her. It says in Esther 2:17, “And the king loved Esther above all the other women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti.” The king’s emotional decision to marry Esther was most likely a result of God’s providence over her life. Even though Esther was out of the will of God, he did not allow her life to be ruined by her circumstances.

His arrival

In preparation for their Messiah’s arrival, God cleared the way for his people to experience a different kind of life in the Promised Land. For centuries, the Jews had lived in fear of being overtaken by their enemies. God intended to remove the threats to his people’s existence in one fell swoop. The agent of His judgment was Alexander the Great who not only turned the Jews world upside down, but also transformed the world into a single united kingdom through a series of military campaigns that lasted ten years. Alexander was able to overthrown the Persian Empire in its entirety and established a Hellenistic civilization that was still evident in the world until the mid-15th century A.D. God told his people, “And I will encamp about mine house because of the army, because of him that passeth by, and because of him that returneth: and no oppressor shall pass through them anymore; for now have I seen with mine eyes.

Zechariah’s announcement of the Messiah’s arrival was quoted in the New Testament as Messianic and as referring ultimately to the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (note on Zechariah 9:9). He said, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (Zechariah 9:9). This picture of Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem just before his crucifixion shows that his arrival as the Jews Messiah was linked more so to his death on the cross than to his birth in Bethlehem. The  purpose of the Messiah’s arrival was to make a way for God’s people to live in peace and prosperity. Clearly, the only way that could happen was for Satan to be defeated and the kingdoms of this world to be overtaken by Jesus, the King of the Jews.

Speaking of Jesus’ authority on earth, God said, “And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth” (Zechariah 9:10). In other words, the Jews would no longer have to engage in military battles to conquer their enemies. Jesus’ authority would be their key to overcoming the world. The picture of deliverance God gave his people was one of hope. He said, “As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water. Turn ye to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope: even to day do I declare that I will render double unto thee” (Zechariah 9:11-12). The Hebrew word translated hope, tiqvah is derived from the word qavah which means to bind together. “This word stresses the straining of the mind in a certain direction with an expectant attitude…a forward look with assurance” (6960). God wanted his people to once again expect him to do a miracle on their behalf, which would be the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Expectations

In a series of ten promises, God revealed his intent to restore Jerusalem to its former state of glory. Referring to the capital of Israel as if it were his wife, God said, “I was jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I was jealous for her with great fury” (Zechariah 8:2). The name Zion is associated with the Messiah’s kingdom on earth. It is mentioned 37 times in the Psalms, primarily by King David, who said, “Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! when the LORD bringeth back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad” (Psalm 14:7). In another psalm written for the Levitical choir, it says, “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King” (Psalm 48:1-2). The mention of the great King in this psalm is a reference to the Messiah, Jesus Christ who is expected to one day rule the world from this centralized location known as Zion.

Even though the remnant of people that returned to Jerusalem were living in harsh conditions, God expected them to believe things would change radically after their Messiah was born. The LORD depicted a scene quite different from anything his people had experienced while they were living in captivity. He said, “There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof” (Zechariah 8:4-5). What might seem like ordinary life, was probably beyond the imagination of those living in the rubble of the once great city of Jerusalem. Zechariah proclaimed, “Thus saith the LORD of hosts; If it be marvelous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in these days, should it also be marvellous in my eyes? saith the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 8:6). In other words, God wanted his people to expect a miraculous transformation of their city because he was the one that had created the earth and everything in it.

Rather than keeping the Ten Commandments and observing all the statutes and ordinances that he had laid out for them when they were delivered from bondage in Egypt, God had a short list of expectations for the remnant of people that returned to Jerusalem. He said, “These are the things that ye shall do; speak ye every man truth to his neighbor; execute judgment of truth and peace in your gates: and let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbor; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the LORD” (Zechariah 8:16-17). God expected his people to be different than the rest of the world. One of the reasons God chose the descendants of Abraham to be his people was because he wanted the world to see the positive difference he made in their lives. After concluding his ten promises, God let his people know that they should expect to be recognized as his children. Speaking of the time period known as the millennial reign of Christ, God said, “In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you” (Zechariah 8:23).

 

A picture of salvation

Zechariah’s eight night visions gave him an intense insight into what lay ahead for God’s people. His first three visions focused on God’s relationship with the remnant of Jews that had returned to the Promised Land. Zechariah’s next four visions focused on God’s relationship with the rest of the world. In particularly, Zechariah was given access to God’s heavenly throne room, in order to show him how the intercessory process of salvation worked. It says in Zechariah 3:1-2:

And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. And the LORD said unto Satan, the LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: Is not this a brand pluckt out of the fire?

The Hebrew term translated resist in Zechariah 3:1 is satan (saw – tan´). Satan means to attack and figuratively refers to an accusation (7853). One of the ways the word satan is translated is adversary and the person Satan is sometimes referred to as our adversary, also known as the devil. The interesting thing about God’s response is that he merely states, “the LORD rebuke thee” (Zechariah 3:2) and that’s the end of Satan’s argument. To rebuke someone means that you chide or scold him. Basically, what the LORD did was tell Satan to shut up.

The picture of a brand being pluckt out of the fire indicated that Joshua was not selected randomly, but was intentionally chosen as an instrument of God. Joshua’s selection by God meant that Satan no longer had any power over him, he couldn’t damage his reputation or say anything bad about him in the presence of the LORD. It says in Zechariah 3:3-4, “Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel. And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will cloth thee with change of raiment.” The association of sin with dirty clothes makes is seem as though the damage done by sin is only superficial, but in reality, Joshua’s garments were ruined, they had become rags that were useless to him. The change of raiment that Jesus gave him was in essence, the shirt off his own back. Joshua was temporarily covered with the LORD’s righteousness because Jesus had not yet died on the cross.

The LORD referred to Joshua as a “stone that I have laid” (Zechariah 3:9), one that he would use to engrave or open up a pathway to salvation for everyone. One way to look at what happened to Joshua was the initial establishment of Jesus’ ministry to save the world. The remnant of Jews that returned to the Promised Land were like seeds that were planted, and expected to take root, and eventually when the Messiah was born, they would bear fruit and be the first to become disciples of Jesus Christ.

Zechariah’s fifth vision contained a personal message for Zerubbabel, the grandson of King Jehoiachin who was taken into captivity in Babylon. Zechariah said, “This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). Essentially, what he was being told was that God’s people would not succeed without spiritual assistance from God. Zerubbabel was asked, “For who hath despised the day of small things?” (Zechariah 4:10). This question referred back to the rebuilding of God’s temple. “Some thought the work on the temple was insignificant (Ezra 3:12; Hag 2:3), but God was in the rebuilding program and, by His Spirit (v.6), would enable Zerubbabel to finish it” (note on Zechariah 4:10).

Zechariah’s sixth and seventh vision began to tie in the larger objective within God’s plan of salvation to the rebuilding of the temple. At the end of Jesus’ parable of the husbandmen (Matthew 21:33-40), he said to the religious leaders that were listening, “Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder” (Matthew 21:42-44). Jesus’ comment was most likely a reference to his ability to take away Joshua’s sin(Zechariah 3:9) and yet his gift of salvation, full pardon, was being rejected by the men that had benefitted from the rebuilding of God’s temple. The Jews thought they were the only ones God intended to save, but Zechariah’s visions made it clear that God was concerned with the salvation of the entire world.

Zechariah was told concerning a flying roll or giant banner that stretched across the sky, “This is the curse that goeth forth over the face of the whole earth” (Zechariah 5:3). Although God’s commandments were given to the Israelites, there was no exclusion of the rest of the world with respect to their validity or enforcement. By making the Jews aware of the laws that governed his universe, God was allowing his people to avoid punishment by obeying them, rather than violating his commandments through ignorance. According to Zechariah’s vision, “every one that stealeth shall be cut off as on this side according to it; and every one that sweareth shall be cut off as on that side according to it” (Zechariah 5:3).

Zechariah’s seventh vision showed that not only must flagrant, persistent sinners be removed from the land, but the whole sinful system must be removed and would be centralized or contained temporarily within the boundaries of a place known as Babylonia, a land of idolatry (note on Zechariah 5:5-11). Revelation 17-18 depicts the final judgment of Babylonia or Babylon. It says in Revelation 18:2-3,21:

Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies…Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more.

The remnant

The history of a group of God’s people referred to as “the remnant” began around the time of the prophet Isaiah. In his account of Israel’s rebellion, Isaiah declared, “Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like Gomorrah” (Isaiah 1:9). Isaiah went on to talk about the birth of a messianic king, God’s anger against Israel, and the destruction of Assyria (Isaiah 9-10:19). Then he said, “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon him that smote them; but shall stay upon the LORD, The Holy One of Israel in truth. The remnant shall return, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God” (Isaiah 10:20-21).

Isaiah sent a message to the king of Judah at the time that Hezekiah prayed to God for deliverance from Assyria (2 Kings 19:14-19). Isaiah told king Hezekiah, “Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, That which thou hast prayed to me against Sennecherib of Assyria I have heard” (2 Kings 19:20). The Hebrew word translated heard, shama means to hear intelligently or to give undivided attention (8085). Another way of interpreting what God said to Hezekiah would be to say, I know what you’re going through. It could be that the remnant that God saved from his destruction of Judah and Jerusalem was a direct result of king Hezekiah’s prayer. Hezekiah was told, “And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall yet again take root downward, and bear fruit upward. For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and they that escape out of mount Zion: the zeal of the LORD of hosts shall do this” (2 Kings 19:30-31).

According to Ezra, the small remnant that God caused to return to Jerusalem was 42,360 people (Ezra 2:64). Ezra said this was “the whole congregation.” In other words, it was the sum total of the entire population that returned from Babylon: men, women, children, and slaves. My guess is that this was about one-tenth of the population that resided in Jerusalem at the time of their deportation to Babylon. The purpose of their return was to rebuild God’s temple (Ezra 1:2). In order to establish a resource of building materials, it says in Ezra 2:69, “They gave after their ability unto the treasure of the work threescore and one thousand drams of gold, and five thousand pound of silver, and one hundred priests’ garments.” Just to give you an idea of what these metals were worth, a pound of silver was the equivalent of five years wages, so the five thousand pounds of silver was the equivalent of a year of wages for 25,000 men. It is very likely that the 25,000 pounds of silver was the previous year’s wages of every man in the congregation, which may have been given to them as a type of severance pay when they left their jobs in Babylon.