Daily Bible Readings – Sunday, September 30, 2012

Prayer Psalm: 136

Prayer Point:  Psalm 136 retells the story of creation and  God’s story with Israel to demonstrate that God’s love endures forever.  Make this psalm your own by listing out the ways God’s enduring love has impacted your life and thank the God whose love is truly forever.

Matthew 13:44-52

Jesus’ mission is to preach the good news of the kingdom of God. But what exactly is the kingdom of God? In today’s reading, Jesus will tell four short stories or parables to show us what “the kingdom of God is like.”

What does the parable of the treasure in the field tell us about the value of Jesus’ message and the kingdom he came to establish? Notice that in the parable of the “pearl of great price” the kingdom is compared not to the pearl, but to the merchant seeking the pearl. What does this tell us about the kingdom of God and the way of life Jesus gave us?

Who gets caught up in the ‘nets’ of the kingdom of God? Do you think it is possible for someone to be involved in a church, serve even, and never be a true follower of Jesus? When and how will the true followers of Jesus be separated from the false ones?

In Jesus’ day, teachers of the law were a professional class whose job it was to study the Law of Moses and instruct the people in Israel as to the proper way to follow it. How is the kingdom of God consistent with the Old Testament Law? In what way is it something new?

James 3:1-13

What should give Christians pause before they take on the role of teacher in the church?

What part of the body does James see as the key for keeping our whole body in check? Why should we fear our tongues? In what ways can the tongue be a destructive force? In what way can the tongue be used for good?

James warns us that curses and praises should not come out of the same mouth, just as fresh water and salt water can not flow out of the same spring. The tongue is important because it is the expression of what is buried in our hearts. A fig tree can only bear figs. A grapevine can only produce grapes. A corrupt heart will yield a poisoned tongue. The solution? We need our hearts to be transformed by the Holy Spirit.

Hosea 2:2-14

The remainder of the book of Hosea is in Hebrew poetry. Poetry is my weakest suit so here goes!

What is the imagery in the Hosea 2:2-3? (Hosea, speaking for the LORD, is describing the current relationship between the LORD and his people. The people of God are being adulterous – unfaithful to him. This is the same hue and cry prophets have been proclaiming for centuries. How emphatic can the message be? What will it take for the people to understand? Hosea is acting out the God-Israel relationship. He married a whore which would have been completely reprehensible. But this is how the LORD sees the covenant between him and his people.)
Let us consider verses Hosea 2:4-7. What new relationship is identified in these verses? (Here Hosea reminds us that even the children of this marriage will be forsaken because “Their mother has been unfaithful and has conceived them in disgrace.” (Hosea 2:5 NIV))

What do these verses say about the attitude of the “mother”? (The wife’s attitude is that she will continue on her errant path regardless of what the LORD puts in her way to inhibit her. It looks like Israel has an obstinate heart or what used to be called “stiff-necked”.)

What is the LORD’s complaint in verses Hosea 2:7b-8? (These people have not been thankful for what has been done for them by God – the very gifts of God were used to worship Baal. If the LORD’s wife returns to him it will be with an attitude of lip service. For some reason they thought that the LORD could not read their thoughts. I think this is still true today – and we, of all people, should know better.)

What is the LORD’s solution to this attitude? (Here the LORD is promising to strip Israel of all that she has and to leave her to her ruin. (“‘I will punish her for the days she burned incense to the Baals; she decked herself with rings and jewelry, and went after her lovers, but me she forgot,’ declares the Lord.” (Hosea 2:13 NIV))

What is the promise in Hosea 2:14? (The promise is the same promise the LORD makes every time we turn from him: he will take us back. There is one string attached to this promise: repentance. Turning from rebellion will be a requirement. Remember, the LORD knows your [empty] thoughts.)

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Daily Bible Readings – Friday, September 28, 2012

Prayer Psalm: 92

Prayer Point:  The writer of Psalm 92 worships God because he has both destroyed evil and caused his people, the righteous, “to flourish like a palm tree.”  Here is what we know this side of the cross.  God has destroyed the evil within us, without destroying us, by nailing our sins to the cross of Jesus Christ.  In Jesus, God will rid the world of evil without getting rid of us.  Praise God for his grace this morning in your prayers.

Luke 4:31-37

Jesus continues his pattern of teaching in the local synagogues. What words are used to describe  Jesus’ teaching? Who, ironically, is the only one to recognize Jesus for who he is?  How is the Jesus’ authority demonstrated beyond what he taught? 

Acts 19:21-41

The gospel has spread throughout the city of Ephesus through the work of Paul, Apollos, Aquilla and Priscilla, but suddenly the church’s existence is now threatened. How did the message of Jesus come to be viewed as a threat by the Ephesians? Who two Ephesian gods have been challenged? How does God protect his young church in Ephesus?

The Roman Empire stretched from Britain to the Middle East. Stability was valued above all else. The Emperor gave great latitude to local governments provided they could keep order. If you failed, the Roman army showed up in force.

Esther 8:1-8; 15-17 – Mordecai and Esther receive favor from the king

What does the king do for Esther and Mordecai? (To Esther he gives the late Haman’s estate. To Mordecai he gives his signet ring, which by now he had retrieved from the late Haman. Esther then appointed Mordecai steward of her new estate.)

Again Esther approaches the king to ask a favor. What is the favor Esther requests? (“Esther again pleaded with the king, falling at his feet and weeping. She begged him to put an end to the evil plan of Haman the Agagite, which he had devised against the Jews.” (Esther 8:3 NIV))

How does the king try to rectify the evil generated by Haman? (The king gave the late Haman’s estate to Esther and then instructed Mordecai to issue another decree to the Jews of the empire “as seems best to you” and then to seal it with the king’s signet ring.)

What is the principal problem to overcome? (“…for no document written in the king’s name and sealed with his ring can be revoked.” (Esther 8:8 NIV) This law would still apply to the edict originally issued by Haman calling for the annihilation of the Jews. The new edict of the king [prepared by Mordecai] “…granted the Jews in every city the right to assemble and protect themselves; to destroy, kill and annihilate any armed force of any nationality or province that might attack them and their women and children; and to plunder the property of their enemies. The day appointed for the Jews to do this in all the provinces of king Xerxes [aka Ahasuerus] was the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar.” (Esther 8:11-12) That, of course, was the same day Haman had slated for the destruction of the Jews.)

You may remember that when the original decree was issued, the Jews throughout the empire decked themselves in sackcloth and ashes and they fasted and mourned. How did they receive this news? (“In every province and in every city, wherever the edict of the king went, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating.” (Esther 8:17 NIV))

The reading for last Sunday included Esther 3:7 “In the twelfth year of King Xerxes [aka Ahasuerus], in the first month, the month of Nisan, they cast the pur (that is, the lot) in the presence of Haman to select a day and month.” It is from this word pur that the feast of Purim comes. “So the Jews agreed to continue the celebration they had begun, doing what Mordecai had written to them. For Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them and had cast the pur (that is, the lot) for their ruin and destruction. But when the plot came to the king’s attention, he issued written orders that the evil scheme Haman had devised against the Jews should come back onto his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows.” (Esther 9:23-25 NIV) Thus the origins of the Jewish celebration of Purim. Everyone loves a happy ending.

Daily Bible Readings – Thursday, September 27, 2012

Prayer Psalm: 86

Prayer Point:  How do you pray when your back is against the wall?  Psalm 86 points the way and shows us how to worship and plead with God in the darkest of times.  Pray this psalm on behalf of someone you know that is struggling.  If you are in a difficult place, pray it on your own behalf.

Luke 4:14-30

Jesus returns victoriously from the desert, having overcome the devil’s temptations, to begin his public ministry in Israel. The people of Nazareth are startled to see Jesus, the son of a local carpenter, suddenly in the role of a religious teacher or rabbi. When he enters the synagogue he is recognized as such and is invited to read from the Old Testament scroll and to explain what he has read. Jesus is handed the scroll of Isaiah the prophet and he reads Isaiah 61:1-2. He sits down to begin his teaching, with all eyes fastened on him with anticipation. What will the carpenter’s son say? Imagine sitting in the crowd that day and your astonishment when Jesus says, “today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” The national dreams of the prophet Isaiah, uttered hundreds of years ago are coming true, right now.

Is Jesus’ vision a far off dream, or does it have meaning right now? What do you think Jesus means by good news to the poor? Compare Jesus’ message to the words of John the Baptist who prepared Israel for Jesus’ coming – see Luke 3:10-14.

Jesus’ teaching is initially received by the home crowd. What does Jesus say that turns them against him? Notice that the widow of Zarephath and Naaman were both Gentiles (non-Jews). Why are the crowds unable to kill Jesus? Jesus public ministry begins and ends with rejection.

Acts 19:11-20

Paul’s preaching, like Jesus’, was accompanied by miracles.  Where did Paul get the power to heal and cast out demons? What happens to the sons of Sceva when they attempted to perform miracles in Jesus’ name without a relationship with him? What did this event do for the message of Jesus?

Esther 7:1-10 – The irony is completed.

Yesterday we left Haman on his way to Esther’s for the banquet with the king and queen. Again the king wants to know Esther’s request. You may remember that she had promised that she would tell him what she wanted at this banquet. What is Esther’s request? Remember the king had offered up to half of his kingdom to his queen. (“Then Queen Esther answered, ‘If I have found favor with you, O king, and if it pleases your majesty, grant me my life – this is my petition. For I and my people – this is my request. For I and my people have been sold for destruction and slaughter and annihilation. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king.’” (Esther 7:3-4 NIV) This was Esther’s subtle way of informing the king she was a Jew.)

Can you see Haman squirming in his seat? The king probes Esther to tell him who was responsible for this empire-wide policy. Haman can see his end now. What does Esther tell the king? (“Esther said, ‘The adversary and enemy is this vile Haman.’” (Esther 7:6 NIV))

“Then Haman was terrified before the king and queen.” (Esther 7:7 NIV) That about covers it. The king storms off into the garden to mull things over. Haman knew his days were numbered so what does he do? (Haman then turns and begs Queen Esther to plead for his life. Haman was perilously close to the queen’s person.)

What was the king’s reaction when he sees Haman begging at Esther’s couch? (“The king exclaimed, ‘Will he even molest the queen while she is with me in the house?’” (Esther 7:8b))

The irony is now complete. What happened? (As soon as the word left the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face. Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs attending the king said, ‘A gallows seventy-five feet high stands by Haman’s house. He had it made for Mordecai who spoke up to help the king.’ The king said, ‘Hang him on it!’ So they hanged Haman on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the king’s fury subsided.” (Esther 7:8b-10 NIV))

Daily Bible Readings – Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Prayer Psalm: 119:97-120

Prayer Point:  The author of Psalm 119 is so in love with God’s ways that he is willing to hang on to them despite real suffering.  Pray that God will give us that same passion for following Jesus; to love God and our neighbor as he loved us.

Luke 4:1-13

Numbers are very important in the Bible. Many believe that Jesus was tempted for 40 days to connect his temptation to the 40 years of Israels’ wandering in the desert (see Exodus 15-40). Israel’s wandering years were one of testing, temptation and repeated failure. Now Jesus retraces their steps and enters their place of testing.

Deuteronomy 8:3 He humbled you (Israel), causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

How is Jesus tempted? What do you notice about the devil’s approach? How does Jesus succeed where Israel failed? How has Jesus succeeded where you have failed?

Think about this. Jesus not only died the death you should have died, he also lived the life you failed to live. We have earned God’s blessings only through the obedience of his Son.

Acts 19:1-10

Paul arrives in Ephesus and discovers a group of disciples. What had this group received? What were they missing? What happened to the community of disciples once they were baptized and Paul laid his hands on them? How was this similar to what happened to the original disciples in Acts 2:1-4?

Following his usual strategy, Paul entered the synagogue to preach Jesus and the message of his kingdom. Where does Paul go once his message is rejected in the synagogue? Notice that the church was called “the Way” in verse 9. What does that tell you about how the early church viewed Christianity? What it a set of beliefs or something more?

The Hall of Tyrannus was a lecture hall in the city of Ephesus. Lectures were given daily between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM during the hottest part of the day when Greeks customarily took time off from work. The Hall was a center of cultural and intellectual life not only for Ephesus but for the entire region. People from the outlying villages stopped to hear the lectures and brought the gospel message back with them. How do you think Paul’s strategic move to the Hall of Tyrannus caused the entire region of Asia to be evangelized?

Esther 6:1-14  – Finally the truth manages to get out

What we did not discuss were verses 41:12-34 which outline in majestic detail all of God’s wonderful (and unforgettable) attributes. It is these attributes which drove Job to his knees (which is where I suspect he was) to repentance. How does Job describe his humility in this encounter? (“Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” (Job 42:3 NIV))

How does Job speak of his repentance? (“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6 NIV) Do you feel the same way about your need for repentance as Job does?)

What happens when the Lord turns his attention to Eliphaz and his two friends? [What about Elihu?] (It doesn’t look too good. “After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7 NIV))

What does the LORD expect Eliphaz to do? (The LORD expects Eliphaz to have Job make a sacrifice to the LORD for him. This may bear the stamp of humiliation for Eliphaz and his two friends because of the tirades they brought upon Job. Eliphaz is to ask Job to sacrifice seven (!) bulls and seven (!) rams for him and his two friends. Job will be acting as a mediator in this matter before the LORD. (verse 42:8))

What promise does the LORD make to Eliphaz? (“My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:8b NIV))

What does the Lord do for Job as a reward for his “patience”? (“…the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before.” (Job 42:10b NIV) The bible goes on to tell us that he gave to Job seven sons and three daughters [exactly what he had before this disaster] The interesting thing to note here about Job’s daughters: “…their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers. This would have been most unusual at that time in the Middle East. “And so he died, old and full of years.” (Job 42:17 NIV))

That night the king could not sleep. What does he do to remedy his insomnia? (Oddly, he asks for the recent history of the kingdom to be read to him.)

How revealing are the chronicles – of what do they remind the king? (They remind King Xerxes [aka Ahasuerus] that it was Mordecai who uncovered the plot of Bigthana and Teresh to assassinate him.)

What does the king ask about Mordecai? (“What honor and recognition has Mordecai received for this?” (Esther 6:3 NIV))

Many comedies today (and perhaps always) are based on misunderstandings or miscommunications. A miscommunication is about to happen now which is would cause all mirth to cease. The king has been told that nothing has been done for Mordecai in recognition of his foiling the plot against him. The king then asks who is in the court. It must, by now, be morning because Haman happens to be there. What question does the king pose to Haman and what are Haman’s thoughts regarding it? (Innocently enough, the king asks Haman a question without giving him the details: “What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?” Here the confusion begins.)

What is Haman’s take on the question? (With no point of reference, Haman believes that the king wants to honor him.)

What is Haman’s suggestion? (Haman tells the king everything he (Haman) would like done to him to recognize his indispensable counsel. “So he answered the king, ‘For the man the king delights to honor, have them bring a royal robe the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, one with a royal crest placed on its head. Then let the robe and horse be entrusted to one of the king’s most noble princes. Let them robe the man the king delights to honor, and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, “This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor”’” (Esther 6:7-9 NIV) I doubt Haman is a fan of irony but things are about to become quite ironic.)

How does the king “lower the boom” on Haman? (“…do just as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate.” (Esther 6:10b NIV))

This is truly a busy day for Haman. Haman sets out to complete this humiliating task before him. He clothes Mordecai in the royal robe and conducts him through the city streets proclaiming: “This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor.” (Esther 6:11) But what does he do once he gets home? (Haman rushes home with his head hung in grief (shame?) and reports all of the gory details to his family and friends. Zeresh then advises Haman that his days may now be numbered since Mordecai is a Jew. I think she’s telling him to get his house in order. Unfortunately his day is not yet over.)

What is next on Haman’s agenda after the parade honoring Mordecai? (Almost as if Haman had forgotten, “…the king’s eunuchs arrived and hurried Haman away to the banquet Esther had prepared.” (Esther 6:14 NIV))

Daily Bible Readings – Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Prayer Psalm: 78

Prayer Point: “… He commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.” Pray today for parents who are entrusted with the task of passing on the gospel to their children.  Pray that our children will believe and pass on the good news of Jesus to their children.

Luke 3:15-22

The word ‘Christ’ is Greek for ‘Messiah’, the anointed king that Israel was waiting to come to save them and establish God’s peace and justice on the earth. Whom do the people believe may be the Christ? How will Christ be greater than John?  How does John’s ministry comes to an end?  What do we learn about Jesus at his baptism?

Acts 18:12-28

The Jews who rejected the gospel, mount an effort to stop Paul. Who does God use to protect Paul and why is this surprising? Emboldened by the vision he receives in verse 9 and favorable treatment by the Roman proconsul, Paul stays on in Corinth. But Paul’s mission is to travel around the Roman world, preach the message of Jesus and establish churches with those who believe. The time comes for Paul to move on to Syria. Who joins Paul’s mission team?

The Apostle Paul always brought a team with him as he planted churches throughout the Roman world. In this case, he brought a couple Aquila and Priscilla to work with him and to learn from him. At a certain stage in their development, Paul released Aquila and Priscilla into their own ministry, by leaving them in Ephesus. In Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla encounter a powerful, but inadequately trained preacher named Apollos. (He knew of John the Baptist’s baptism, but he had yet to learn of Jesus’ baptism.) How do Aquila and Priscilla come alongside Apollos and support him in his ministry? What impact did Apollos have on the church in Achaia (a region in Greece)?

Esther 5:1-14 – Esther’s Still Got It (Favor, that Is)

It is now three days later. What does Esther do? (Esther positions herself in the inner court of the palace yet not in the king’s hall. The king gets a glimpse of her and extends to her the gold scepter. So far so good. It looks like Esther will not die. “When he saw Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased with her and held out to her the gold scepter that was in his hand.” (Esther 5:2 NIV))

How does the king greet Esther? (“Then the king asked, ‘What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom it will be given you.’” (Esther 5:3 NIV) This expression “Even up to half the kingdom it will be given you…” must not have been all that uncommon. Herod Antipas used the very same expression centuries later to Herodias’ daughter to express his delight at her “birthday” present to him. (See Mark 6:21-29))

What is Esther’s request of the king? (Esther’s request is innocuous (harmless) – she wants the king and Haman to come to her place for a banquet. Seems innocent enough.)
How does the banquet go? (Esther still had not revealed her request to the king. Again he reminded her that he was so pleased with her that he was willing to grant her up to half of his kingdom. Haman was thrilled to be invited to dine with the king and queen that it made him proud. Bear in mind that Esther has yet to reveal that she is a Jew. That might have tainted Haman’s view of the queen’s notice of him.)

Again the king asks Esther her request. What is her reply? (“Esther replied, ‘My petition and my request is this: If the king regards me with favor and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet I will prepare for them. Then I will answer the king’s question.’” (Esther 5:7-8 NIV))

What about Haman? What is his reaction to this notice of the queen? What happens to dampen his spirits? (“Haman went out that day happy and in high spirits. But when he saw Mordecai at the king’s gate and observed that he neither rose nor showed fear in his presence, he was filled with rage against Mordecai.” (Esther 5:9 NIV))

How does Haman describe the queen’s banquet to his family and friends? (“Calling together his friends and Zeresh his wife, Haman boasted to them about his wealth, his many sons, and all the ways the king had honored him and how he had elevated him above the other nobles and officials. ‘And that’s not all,’ Haman added, ‘I’m the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the king to the banquet she gave. And she has invited me along with the king tomorrow. But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate.” (Esther 5:10b-13 NIV) Here we have an example of why it is pointless to carry a grudge or to harbor resentment against someone. I doubt Mordecai even gave Haman a second thought and yet he apparently had such a tremendous effect on Haman’s life. [Don’t hold a grudge or be resentful. It is truly a waste of time and energy. – j.t.])

What happens which would make you think that these people don’t waste time? (“His wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, ‘Have a gallows built, seventy-five feet high, and ask the king in the morning to have Mordecai hanged on it. Then go with the king to the dinner and be happy.’ This suggestion delighted Haman, and he had the gallows built.” (Esther 5:14) Imagine, he had gallows (75 feet high) built overnight!)

Daily Bible Readings – Monday September 24, 2012

Prayer Psalm: 79

Prayer Point:  Asaph stood among the ruins of what was Jerusalem, the capitol of Israel, and cried out, “How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever?” You probably know someone, who, like Asaph, is mourning the ruins of their live and wondering if God has abandoned them.  Pray this psalm on their behalf.

Luke 3:1-14

How does John the Baptist fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy which is quoted in verses 4-6?

The Jews in John’s day were waiting with anticipation for the Lord (God) to return to Israel. They believed that his coming meant their salvation. What is striking about John’s message is that the coming of the LORD is equated to the “coming wrath” (verse 7). Israel believed that God was coming to rescue them by punishing their oppressors, in this case the Romans. They are right to say that God’s wrath is coming, but it is coming for them unless they radically change.

How were the people called to prepare for the coming of the Lord? How does John the Baptist explain ‘produce fruit in keeping with repentance’? Can you think of examples of what ‘producing fruit in keeping with repentance’ might look like in your life?

Acts 18:1-11

Paul brings the message of Jesus to the city of Corinth after preaching the gospel in Athens and establishing a small church from those who believed his message.

How did Paul support himself financially in Corinth? How did Paul use his business to train Aquilla and Priscilla? How did Paul’s role change once his assistants Silas and Timothy arrived in Corinth?

Where did Paul spend much of his time preaching when he first came to Corinth? Why? (See Romans 1:16.) What is his message to them (see verse 5)? Christ was not Jesus’ last name, but the Greek word for Messiah or the Anointed One, the King the Old Testament promised would be sent by God to save his people.

What causes Paul to leave the synagogue and preach to the Gentiles? (See Mark 6:8-11.) Where does he go and who goes with him? A synagogue ruler was the moderator or president of the local synagogue.

What causes Paul to stay in Corinth for a year and a half?

Esther 4:4-17 – Mordecai persuades Esther to help

What does Esther do when she hears of Mordecai’s actions? What does Mordecai do? (“When Esther’s maids and eunuchs came and told her about Mordecai, she was in great distress. She sent clothes for him to put on instead of his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. (Esther 4:4 NIV))

What does Esther do to find out what is troubling Mordecai? (Esther sent a eunuch, Hathach by name, to find out what was troubling Mordecai.)

What does Mordecai do for Esther? (Mordecai fills in the details of Haman’s plan and how much he was willing to pay for it (ten thousand talents of silver or about 375 tons according to the NIV footnote). He also sends a copy of the edict to Esther to apprise her of the goings-on. It is clear that Esther had been insulated from all of the political intrigues of the court.)

What does Mordecai ask of Esther? (Mordecai, through Hathach, to appeal to the king on behalf of the Jews.)

What happens to be Esther’s dilemma? (“All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that he be put to death. The only exception to this is for the king to extend the gold scepter to him and spare his life.” (Esther 4:11 NIV) Oh, by the way, it has been thirty days since she last saw the king.)

What was Mordecai’s response to Esther? (Mordecai warned Esther that if she thought that being queen would spare her the same fate of all the other Jews she was sadly mistaken. Here Mordecai tells Esther: “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for just such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14 NIV) This also harkens to similarities to Joseph in Egypt.)

Notice, again, Esther’s deference to Mordecai. Here, even as queen, she defers to the older and wiser parent figure. Esther agrees to approach the king but before she does, what does she ask of Mordecai? (Esther asks Mordecai to gather all the Jews of Susa together to fast for her for three days. She will do the same with her household staff. “When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16 NIV) This is the mark of a courageous and faith-filled woman.)

Daily Bible Readings – Sunday, September 23, 2012

Prayer Psalm: 34

Prayer Point:  David writes a prayer of worship after God saved him from Abimelech, his enemy.  The psalm lists a number of reasons why God is worthy of worship.  Which ones resonate with you?  Use those to offer God your own prayer of worship.

Matthew 6:1-16, 16-18

Why is it important to God that we give to the poor, pray, and fast in secret? What reward can we expect if we do them publicly? What is the proper motive for doing a good deed?

You will see this a lot with Jesus’ teaching. It is not so much what you do, but why you do what you do that matters to God.

James 1:19-27

James was written by James the brother of Jesus. He was not one of the original apostles, but later rose to become one of the prominent leaders of the church in Jerusalem (see Acts 15). It is a practical book, emphasizing what it means to live in response to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Why should followers of Jesus be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry? What is the great barrier to living a righteous life?

What does James call those who receive the word of God but don’t do what is says? What is promised to those who do what the word of God commands?

What failure will cause our religion to become worthless (see verse 26)? What two things makes our religion “pure and faultless” (see verse 27)?

Esther 3:1-4:3 – Enter Haman; the Story takes an ugly turn

In this chapter we are introduced to Mordecai son of Jair … the son of Kish. From what tribe does Mordecai come? (Mordecai is of the tribe of Benjamin.)
Mordecai is also related to a fellow named Kish. This is important because Kish was the father of Saul who was the first king chosen to rule Israel so many years before. It also means that Mordecai would have been considered as royalty had not Saul taken himself out of the running as king. Let’s just say that Mordecai might have been considered as someone of some influence. Who is Hadassah? (Hadassah is also known as Esther.))
What is Esther’s relationship to Mordecai? (Esther is Mordecai’s cousin but because she was orphaned at a young age he treated her as his own daughter.)
Who is Hegai? (The answer to this question is actually in verse 2:3. He is the king’s eunuch and in charge of the king’s harem – a wise choice for the king.)
What brought Hegai and Esther together? (An edict from the king ordered all the beautiful girls (read virgins) of the kingdom to Susa to be placed in the care of Hegai. From this harem the next queen would be chosen. The bible tells us that Esther was “taken”. When I see “taken” I think that there was an element of force attached. The bible does not tell us that Esther was “willing”.)

What similarities can you see between Esther and Joseph (Jacob’s son)? (Like Joseph, Esther found favor in the eyes of the king’s eunuch. She, like Joseph, was treated well. In her case, she was given special food and beauty treatments. Of course, the aim was to make her most pleasing to the king.)
What bit of information had Esther withheld from the court officials? (Esther did not tell the court officials that she was a Jew.)
Why would Esther withhold this information? (Esther was instructed by Mordecai not to reveal that she was a Jew. This will become important as the story unfolds.)

What kinds of rigors was Esther subjected to in this process of elimination? (“Before a girl’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six months with perfumes and cosmetics.” (Esther 2:12 NIV) [A year’s beauty spa! – j.t.])

How did the king manage to choose one among so many? (The “candidate” would go to the king in the evening and in the morning she would go to another part of the palace where the previous “candidates” were kept (by another eunuch). This eunuch was, in fact, in charge of the concubines. From that one may assume that the “interview” with the king was probably of an intimate nature.)

How was one of the “candidates” to win a “second interview”? (No one could return to the king unless he had asked for her specifically by name.)
Esther, like Joseph, manages to win favor from everyone she comes in contact with. What of the king? Was he impressed? (“Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins.” (Esther 2:17 NIV))
Esther was the fairest of all the virgins in the empire and thus King Xerxes crowned her as his queen. [Almost sounds like a fairy tale. – j.t.]
We know that King Xerxes like to throw a party, what does he do for Esther? (“And the king gave a great banquet, for all his noble and officials. He proclaimed a holiday throughout the provinces and distributed gifts with royal liberality.” (Esther 2:18 NIV)

Meanwhile, Mordecai was not twiddling his thumbs. What does Mordecai happen to overhear? (“During the time Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway became angry and conspired to assassinate King Xerxes.” (Esther 2:21 NIV))

What does Mordecai do with this information? (Mordecai brings this information of the plot to Queen Esther who, in turn, brings it to the king giving credit to Mordecai. When the investigation of the charges is complete the sentence of the king is to send the traitors to the gallows. (Esther 2:22-23))

While Esther may be the queen, she shows significant deference to Mordecai, as one would show to a parent. This submissive attitude will be displayed throughout the whole book.

The manner in which Haman is introduced leaves open to speculation just how he got there. “After these events, King Xerxes [aka Ahasuerus] honored Haman son of Hamedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles.” (Esther 3:1 NIV) There are a few things to keep in mind about Haman. Much of what I am about to write is my own opinion and is probably worth as much as a bag of sand. The bible does not tell us just why King Xerxes [aka Ahasuerus] is showering so much honor on Haman, but “After these events, King Xerxes [aka Ahasuerus] honored Haman…” (Esther 3:1 NIV) I suspect that somehow Haman managed to wrestle the credit for the discovery of the plot to kill the king from Mordecai.

There is also a subtle connection between Haman and Mordecai. Remember that Haman was an Agagite. So what? Agag was the progenitor [forefather] of the Agagites (from which they derive their name) was at the time of King Saul, king of the Amalekites. Saul had defeated the Amalekites but, contrary to the LORD’s will, had spared the king’s life. In very short order Samuel (the last of the judges) executed Agag. This disobedience of Saul’s marked the beginning of his downfall. So here in Persia we have another encounter between the Amalekites (Agag in the person of Haman) and Israel (in the person of Mordecai).

Because of this honor that King Xerxes [aka Ahasuerus] had conferred on him, what were people expected to do when they encountered Haman? (“All the royal officials at the king” (Esther 3:2 NIV))

What seems to be the problem? (“But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor.” (Esther 3:2b NIV))

Why would Mordecai not kneel to Haman? Unfortunately the scripture does not reveal that answer to us. It was the custom in the Middle East at that time, and perhaps even today, that bowing was a show of respect. Mordecai must have known that Haman was of the sons of Agag. Mordecai would also have known of the unfortunate encounter between King Saul and King Agag. Perhaps this was his reason. The ESV Study Bible suggests that maybe Haman had claimed some divine status and thus Mordecai could not, as a Jew, bow to him. That seems absurd to me because for a subject of the king to assume any type of divine status would put the kingdom in jeopardy. It is unlikely that the king would countenance such behavior.

What do the royal officials at the king’s gate threaten to do to Mordecai because he will not submit? (The officials bring the matter to Haman to see what he would do – whether he would tolerate this snub.)

What shifty plot does Haman hatch in order to get to Mordecai? (The plot amounts to: if you get them all (the Jews) you’ll get the one. “Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes [aka Ahasuerus].” (Esther 3:6 NIV) “…for he [Mordecai] had told them he was a Jew.” (Esther 3:4 NIV) [The stage is now set to re-enact the encounter between Saul and Agag! – j.t.])

“In the twelfth year of King Xerxes [aka Ahasuerus], in the first month, the month of Nisan, they cast the pur (that is, the lot) in the presence of Haman to select a day and month. And the lot fell on the twelfth month, the month of Adar.” (Esther 3:7 NIV) This verse will prove crucial as this story draws to a close.

How does Haman carry out his plan to eliminate the Jews? (Haman uses an innate distrust of “foreigners” and of their customs. He used this to suggest that they [the Jews] pose a threat to the king. The people keep to themselves, they have different customs and they do not obey the king’s laws. Haman urges the king to issue a decree that all of the Jews be eliminated. “…it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them.” (Esther 3: 8 NIV) Haman even goes so far as to offer to underwrite this policy himself. The king literally puts his stamp of approval on the plan: “So the king took the signet ring off his finger and gave it to Haman son of Hamedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews.” (Esther 3:10 NIV) Nothing vague about that!)

When was the king’s decree sent out? (“Then on the thirteenth day of the first month the royal secretaries were summoned.” (Esther 3:12 NIV) So it appears that the day of reckoning will be in about a year; in the twelfth month.)

What was the substance of the king’s decree? (“Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews – the young and old, women and little children – on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the moth of Adar, and to plunder their goods.” (Esther 3:13 NIV))

“The king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was bewildered.” (Esther 3:15b NIV) I wondered, and still do, why it was that Susa was bewildered. I think (or speculate) that the people of Susa were bewildered because of the intensity of the decree leveled against just one segment of the population. I suppose the question in the recesses of their minds might be: if it can happen to them can it happen to me?

What attitude does Mordecai adopt when he hears of the king’s decree? (Mordecai goes into mourning as though for someone who had died. He put on sackcloth and ashes and went about wailing loudly and bitterly. Perhaps he felt partly responsible for what had happened. Who knows?)

“But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it.” (Esther 4:2 NIV) Why do you suppose he could not enter the king’s gate? P.S. The answer is not in the text. (I think it has everything to do with death. No king wants the subject of death mentioned in his hearing. To talk of death in the presence of the king would be tantamount to treason because it may portend the demise of the king himself. Every king wants to believe he will live forever, after all are they not all divine in some way?)

Notice the universal nature of Mordecai’s response to the king’s edict. “In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay on sackcloth and ashes.” (Esther 4:3 NIV)