A twist of fate

Haman the Agagite’s plan to have all the Jews in the Persian Empire killed was driven by his hatred for Esther’s uncle, Mordecai. After being personally invited to dine with the king and queen, Haman boasted to all of his friends and wife about what an important man he was becoming. It says in Esther 5:12-13. “Haman said moreover, Yea, Esther the queen did let no man come in with the king unto the banquet that she prepared but myself; and to morrow am I invited unto her also with the king. Yet it availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.” Haman’s wife and friends suggested that he get rid of Mordecai before the banquet so that he could have a good time and not be troubled by the reminder of his disrespectful behavior (Esther 5:14). Haman liked the idea and had a gallows made that night so he could have Mordecai hanged on it the next day.

That night, while the gallows was being prepared, the king was unable to sleep, so he requested to have some of his kingdom record books read to him (Esther 6:1). In a surprising twist of fate, it just so happened that one of the records that was read that night happened to contain an event that had occurred five years earlier in which Mordecai saved the king’s life. It says in Esther 6:3-4, “And the king said, What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this? Then said the king’s servants that ministered unto him, There is nothing done for him. And the king said, Who is in the court? Now Haman was come into the outward court of the king’s house, to speak unto the king to hang Mordecai on the gallows that he had prepared for him.” The timing of Haman’s visit was such that he ended up being selected by the king to show honour to Mordecai. Rather than obtaining permission to have Mordecai hanged, he was instructed to put the king’s robe on Mordecai and lead him through the city riding on the king’s horse while Haman shouted out “Thus shall it be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour” (Esther 6:11).

Haman’s humiliation was more than he could bare. He went home with his head covered so no one could see the distressed look on his face (Esther 6:12). Haman knew his plan had backfired and he would not be able to get rid of Mordecai, but what he didn’t know yet was that Mordecai was Esther’s uncle and the reason he had been invited to Esther’s banquet was so that she could tell the king it was her people Haman planned to have killed. Haman’s plot to have the Jews exterminated was the cause of not only his downfall, but ultimately his death. After King Ahasuerus was informed of Esther’s true identity and her relationship to Mordecai, Haman was condemned to be hanged on the gallows that he had built the previous night (Esther 7:10).

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A mixed reaction

The first wave of exiles from Judah left Jerusalem in 597 B.C. when “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came against the city, and his servants did besiege it” (2 Kings 24:11). At that time, Nebuchadnezzar “carried away all Jerusalem, and all the princes, and all the mighty men of valour, even ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths: none remained, save the poorest sort of the people of the land” (2 Kings 24:14). Even though Nebuchadnezzar took away what could be considered the heart and soul of Jerusalem in 597 B.C., the city remained in tact for another 11 years while king Zedekiah reigned. Zedekiah was what might be called a puppet king. Zedekiah was placed on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar and was expected to follow his commands, but eventually, Zedekiah rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar and was also taken into captivity (2 Kings 24:7) along with the remainder of his kingdom (2 Kings 25:11). It is believed that on August 14, 586 B.C., Judah’s 70 years of captivity officially began.

A final wave of exiles was taken from Jerusalem in 581 B.C. that consisted of people who had returned or migrated back to the city after Nebuchanezzar’s conquest in 586 B.C. After that, the city lay desolate, completely empty, until Ezra returned with 42,360 people in 538 B.C. to rebuild God’s temple (Ezra 2:65). Some of the people that came back with Ezra had actually been taken from Jerusalem, had survived their period of captivity, and were there to see the temple structure rebuilt. It says in Ezra 3:12, “but many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy.” Their mixed reaction to completing the laying of the foundation of the second temple may have been due to these older mens’ memory of their former life. No doubt some of them suffered from a type of post-traumatic stress syndrome that brought flashbacks to them of the violence they suffered when the temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s army.

“The people of Israel were accustomed to showing their emotions in visible and audible ways” (Note on Ezra 3:13). The psalms of David are filled with heartfelt pleas and agonizing cries for mercy that were sung to God for many generations after David died. While they were in exile, it appears that God’s people continued to praise him and were at times even forced to sing the songs that meant so much to them. Psalm 137 is believed to be “A plaintive song of the exile – of one who has recently returned from Babylon but in whose soul there lingers the bitter memory of the years in a foreign land and of the cruel events that led to that enforced stay” (Note on Psalm 137). Contained within Psalm 137’s nine verses are: the remembered sorrow and torment (vv. 1-3), an oath of total commitment to Jerusalem (vv. 4-6), and a call for retribution on Edom and Babylon (vv. 7-9). The notable first verse of the Psalm recalls, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.”

Among the men that returned to Jerusalem were descendants of the king of Judah, Jehoiachin, who was taken into captivity in 597 B.C. at the age of 18 (2 Kings 24:12). Jehoiachin, his son Shealtiel, and grandson Zerubbabel are listed in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:12). Although Zerubbabel never sat on the throne as king of Judah, he played a prominent role in the reestablishment of the city of Jerusalem and was present at the dedication of the altar. It says of Zerubbabel and his counterpart Jeshua, son of the high priest Jozadak in Ezra 3:2-3, “Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priest, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel, too offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God. And they set the altar upon his bases, for fear was upon them because of the people of those countries: and they offered burnt offerings thereon unto the LORD, even burnt offerings morning and evening.”

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.

Preferential treatment

Daniel was an extraordinary man for many reasons. His ability to interpret dreams and endurance over time in a kingdom that was hostile toward Jews made him not only unique, but also a living testimony to God’s preferential treatment of his people while they were in exile. Daniel was a part of a select group referred to by God as the remnant. Isaiah said of the remnant, “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). According to Isaiah, the remnant would survive when God’s people were subjected to punishment and would bring hope for their expected return to the Promised Land (7605).

After Darius conquered Babylon, Daniel was made the first or head of three presidents that presided over the Persian empire. It says in Daniel 6:3, “Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king thought to set him over the whole realm.” The Aramaic term yattiyr, which is translated excellent, is related to the Hebrew word for remnant (3493). To remain or be left meant that those who were members of the remnant would not or could not be killed by Israel’s enemies. The Aramaic term netsach, translated preferred, corresponds to the Hebrew word natsach, which means to glitter from afar (5329) or “the bright object at a distance travelled toward (5331). Daniel had an irresistible quality that caused Darius to be drawn toward him as a leader. Even though Daniel was advanced in age, more than 80 years old, he was highly respected and given significant responsibility considering he was a prisoner of war.

Due to Daniel’s popularity with the king, a conspiracy was formed against him to have him killed. The entire governing body decided to implement a law that would ensure Daniel would be found guilty of treason. They told king Darius, “All the presidents of the kingdom, the governors, and the princes, the counsellers, and the captains, have consulted together to establish a royal statute, and to make a firm decree, that whosoever shall ask a petition of any God or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions” (Daniel 6:7). Later, when it was discovered that Daniel had broken the law, it says in Daniel 6:16, “Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions. Now the king spake and said unto Daniel, Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee.” Darius believed Daniel would be saved from punishment because of his faith in God. After spending the night in the lion’s den, its says of Daniel, “no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God” (Daniel 6:23).

Disobedience

The disobedience of God’s people involved more than just breaking his commandments. At the heart of the Mosaic Law was an intent to establish a relationship between God and his people that involved ongoing communication. Many times, God’s people were encouraged to listen to the voice of the LORD and to pay attention to his instructions, but the people chose to ignore the God that had delivered them from bondage.

The final act of disobedience by the remnant of people left in Judah was leaving the Promised Land to live in Egypt, the place that they had been delivered from. It says in Jeremiah 43:7, “So they came into the land of Egypt: for they obeyed not the voice of the LORD: thus came they even to Tahpanhes.” The residence of Pharaoh was in Tahpanhes, so most likely this was a city that catered to his needs, a place where jobs as household servants were abundant.

After the last remnant of people left Jerusalem, Jeremiah received a message from the LORD. He said, “Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Ye have seen all the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, and upon all the cities of Judah; and behold, this day they are a desolation, and no man dwelleth therein” (Jeremiah 44:2). The lack of life in Jerusalem was a testament to the complete desolation that God had brought on his people. No one remained because there were none that had been faithful to his commandments.

In a final act of retaliation, God swore to destroy the remnant that had departed to Egypt (Jeremiah 44:14). If this weren’t bad enough, God’s people made it clear that their relationship with the LORD was over. They would worship the queen of heaven, Ishtar, instead. They said to Jeremiah, “As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the LORD, we will not hearken unto thee. But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil” (Jeremiah 44:16-17).

The remnant

Throughout the Old Testament of the Bible, the concept of a remnant was used to signify God’s intent to preserve mankind in spite of his sin nature or tendency to abandon God and seek after the pleasures of this world. The first example of a remnant was Noah and his family whom God saved from the flood that destroyed all life on earth. When God determined to destroy the nation of Judah, he said, “Yet will I leave a remnant, that ye may have some that shall escape the sword among the nations, when ye shall be scattered through the countries” (Ezekiel 6:8).

Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came against the city of Jerusalem in 597 B.C. For three years, king Jehoiakim had been paying tribute to Nebuchadnezzar, but “then he turned and rebelled against him” (2 Kings 24:1). As a result of Jehoiakim’s actions, God began to destroy the nation of Judah (2 Kings 24:2). Nebuchadnezzar’s attack on Judah in 597 B.C. resulted in the majority of people recognized as the remnant that God intended to preserve being taken into captivity in Babylon. Among the captives was king Jehoiachin, the son of Jehoiakim who “went out to the king of Babylon, he, and his mother, and his servants, and his princes, and his officers” (2 Kings 24:12).

The number of captives taken to Babylon was reported to be 10,000 in 2 Kings 24:14, but Jeremiah’s report suggested there were only about 3,000 survivors from the initial group taken into captivity (Jeremiah 52:28). The total number of persons in the remnant of the nation of Judah was reported to be 4,600 (Jeremiah 52:30). Regardless of the actual number, it could be said that the remnant of Judah was so small that it could easily have been absorbed into the Babylonian culture and disappeared as a separate people group. It was only because God intentionally chose to preserve them that the remnant of Judah remained independent and were faithful to their identity as God’s chosen people.

The remnant

After the Israelites  rebelled against Moses and Aaron and refused to enter the land God had promised to give them, they were forced to wander in the wilderness for forty years (Numbers 14:33). Eventually, the Israelites did enter the Promised Land, but their lack of faith continued to be a problem and they never completely overcame the enemies that surrounded them. As a result, the territory the descendants of Jacob occupied was in the end reduced to primarily just the city of Jerusalem.

In order to ensure that his promise to bless Abraham was fulfilled, God stipulated that a remnant of the people would be secured regardless of what happened to everyone else. He stated, “And ye shall be left few in number, whereas ye were as the stars of heaven for multitude; because thou wouldest not obey the voice of the LORD thy God” (Deuteronomy 28:62). Prior to the exile of Judah, God reminded his people several times that he intended to preserve a remnant of the people of Judah and enable them to return to their land after their captivity was completed. In fact, almost every one of the prophets from Isaiah on mentioned the remnant of God’s people in their message.

Jeremiah talked about the remnant that would be saved in the context of Babylon’s destruction. He said, “Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will punish the king of Babylon and his land, as I have punished the king of Assyria. And I will bring Israel again to his habitation, and he shall feed on Carmel and Bashan, and his soul shall be satisfied upon mount Ephraim and Gilead. In those days, and in that time, saith the LORD, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none;¬† and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found: for I will pardon them whom I reserve” (Jeremiah 50:18-20).

The release of the remnant from captivity was based on a special one-time act of God that enabled the people to be forgiven without any atonement sacrifice. The Hebrew word translated pardon in Jeremiah 50:20, calach indicated a divine restoration of an offender into favor (5545). The reason this was necessary was because God could not bless anyone that had not been forgiven of all his sins. In essence, everyone that returned to the Promised Land after they were released from captivity had their slates wiped clean. There was no record of them ever committing a sin. It was the same as if they had been born again.