The Method to God’s Madness.

The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah (that was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon), which Jeremiah the prophet spoke to all the people of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem: “For twenty-three years, from the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, to this day, the word of the Lord has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened. You have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear, although the Lord persistently sent to you all his servants the prophets, saying, ‘Turn now, every one of you, from his evil way and evil deeds, and dwell upon the land that the Lord has given to you and your fathers from of old and forever. Do not go after other gods to serve and worship them, or provoke me to anger with the work of your hands. Then I will do you no harm.’ Yet you have not listened to me, declares the Lord, that you might provoke me to anger with the work of your hands to your own harm.

“Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the Lord, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation. Moreover, I will banish from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the grinding of the millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste. I will bring upon that land all the words that I have uttered against it, everything written in this book, which Jeremiah prophesied against all the nations. For many nations and great kings shall make slaves even of them, and I will recompense them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.” Jeremiah 25:1-14 ESV

According to the opening verse of this book, Jeremiah began his prophetic ministry in the 13th year of the reign of King Josiah. That would have been 627 B.C. Now, 23 years later, Jeremiah was still hard at it, having spent almost a quarter of a century calling the people of God to repentance. But his efforts had proved fruitless. He was well into the fourth year of Jehoiakim’s reign over Judah, which happened to be the same year that Nebuchadnezzar became king of Babylon. It would prove to be an eventful year, because not long after taking the throne, Nebuchadnezzar would lead his troops to defeat the Egyptians at Carchemish, shifting the balance of power in the Near East. Up until that time, Assyria had been the playground bully, but that was all about to change. And it was all part of God’s sovereign plan. In 605 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar and his forces would make their way into Palestine, laying siege to Jerusalem, and ultimately destroying the city, deporting a large portion of the people of Judah to Babylon. This would be the beginning of the end, and Jeremiah couldn’t help but take a well-timed opportunity to get in a jab at the people for their stubbornness and refusal to listen to him.

“For the past twenty-three years—from the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon, king of Judah, until now—the Lord has been giving me his messages. I have faithfully passed them on to you, but you have not listened.” – Jeremiahs 25:3 NLT

This almost comes across as an I-told-you-so from Jeremiah. He had faithfully done his job, for 23 years, and not a single individual had responded favorably to his words. But he had not been alone in his efforts to reach the people of Judah with his messages of repentance. There had been other prophets over the years who had tried to communicate God’s call to return to Him, but they too had been ignored. Some had even been killed for their efforts. So, now Jeremiah gives them yet one more word from the Lord to let them know what was going to happen.

“Because you have not listened to me, I will gather together all the armies of the north under King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, whom I have appointed as my deputy. I will bring them all against this land and its people and against the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy you and make you an object of horror and contempt and a ruin forever. I will take away your happy singing and laughter. The joyful voices of bridegrooms and brides will no longer be heard. Your millstones will fall silent, and the lights in your homes will go out. This entire land will become a desolate wasteland. Israel and her neighboring lands will serve the king of Babylon for seventy years.” – Jeremiah 25:8-11 NLT

Nebuchadnezzar didn’t just happen to appear on the scene at this particular period of time. This was not a case of happenstance or blind luck. He was appointed by God for the role he would play in the divine judgment against Judah. God refers to Nebuchadnezzar as His`ebed, a Hebrew word that refers to a slave or servant. Whether the Babylonian king realized it or not, He was operating according to a much higher power: God. And God was using this pagan king to punish the people of Judah for their centuries worth of rebellion against Him. What is interesting to note is that both Jeremiah and Nebuchadnezzar had been appointed by God for their various roles in the fate of Judah. When God had called the prophet, He had told Him:

“Know for certain that I hereby give you the authority to announce to nations and kingdoms that they will be uprooted and torn down, destroyed and demolished, rebuilt and firmly planted.” – Jeremiah 1:10 NLT

God had given Jeremiah power and authority to speak truth into the lives of the people. He was to warn them of the destruction to come. But then God had appointed Nebuchadnezzar to accomplish all that Jeremiah had pronounced. In a sense, Jeremiah had played the role of John the Baptist, heralding the coming of one greater than himself. Except that Nebuchadnezzar would prove to be anything but a savior. He would be God’s hand of discipline, His rod of punishment.

Not long after Jesus began His earthly ministry, he visited Nazareth, His hometown, and entered into the synagogue. He was invited to read from the Scriptures, and opened up the scroll to the book of Isaiah, where he read the following words:

“The spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has chosen me.
He has commissioned me to encourage the poor,
to help the brokenhearted,
to decree the release of captives,
and the freeing of prisoners,
to announce the year when the Lord will show his favor…” – Isaiah 61:1-2 NLT

Jesus was claiming to be the fulfillment of that prophetic passage. He was the one who bring restoration to the people of God. He was promising to accomplish all that that Isaiah 61 had predicted would happen, including…

“to console all who mourn,
to strengthen those who mourn in Zion,
by giving them a turban, instead of ashes,
oil symbolizing joy, instead of mourning,
a garment symbolizing praise, instead of discouragement.” – Isaiah 61-2-3 NLT

But there would be sadness before the rejoicing. There would be mourning before any joy could be felt. There would be sackcloth long before any garments symbolizing praise would be worn. And Nebuchadnezzar would be the one to fulfill God’s divine will regarding Judah’s destruction. But there is good news in the midst of all this sadness. God lets the people of Judah know that His wrath has a time frame attached to it.

“Then, after the seventy years of captivity are over, I will punish the king of Babylon and his people for their sins…” – Jeremiah 25:12 NLT

God had a plan in place. He was not winging it or flying by the seat of His pants. He had already decreed a timeline for the length of Judah’s captivity and had plotted a plan for the fate of the Babylonians. Their day in the sun would come to an end. Their fifteen minutes of fame would abruptly cease and someone else would take their place at the top of the food chain. Habakkuk, a prophet of God and a contemporary of Jeremiah’s, wrote these words from God:

Be sure of this! The Lord who commands armies has decreed:
The nations’ efforts will go up in smoke;
their exhausting work will be for nothing.
For recognition of the Lord’s sovereign majesty will fill the earth
just as the waters fill up the sea. – Habakkuk 2:13-14 NLT

Egyptians, Persians, Babylonians, Assyrians – they are all blips on the radar screen of history. Nations rise and fall. Dynasties begin and end. Kings reign and then their kingdoms come to an abrupt halt. It is God who is in control. It is God who directs the affairs of men. He places kings on their thrones, presidents in their offices, dictators in their palaces, and the Savior on a cross. God has a plan for mankind. We can’t always see it. When we do, we don’t always understand it. And very rarely do we like it. What appears to us as out of control and chaotic is all part of God’s divine plan for the future of mankind. The disciples couldn’t understand why Jesus had to die. But His suffering was an integral part of our salvation. Had Jesus not died, we would not have eternal life. The people of Judah could see no rhyme or reason behind God’s plan for their demise. His decision to allow the Babylonians to destroy their city, dismantle the temple and take them captive made no sense. But God knew exactly what He was doing.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On.

Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind. – Genesis 37:5-11 ESV

In Act 4 of his play, The Tempest, Shakespeare penned the phrase, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.” In the play, Prospero, the prince of Naples, has staged a short entertainment, which he is forced to cut short. He attempts to comfort his guests by telling them that it was, like life, all just an illusion that would have to end at some point. Even the reality of life is illusory and short-lived. People, it seems, are the “stuff” that dreams are made on, whether in a fictional play or in real life.

Early on in the story of Joseph, dreams and real life interweave themselves in a remarkable way. The young Joseph has two vivid dreams that he eagerly and, perhaps, rather boastfully recounts to his family. They are visions that seem to reveal his coming prominence and their subservience to him. The cast of characters in his dreams – the “stuff” – are inanimate objects: sheaves, the sun, the moon and eleven stars. But his brothers are not stupid. They see what is going on immediately and understand full well that his dreams involve them. They are such stuff as Joseph’s dreams are made on. And they are not happy. They find his dreams offensive and cause for their jealousy and hatred for him to intensify. Little do they realize that they will become key players in the affairs surrounding Joseph’s life and unwittingly turn his dreams into reality.

There is no indication that Joseph understood the meaning behind his dreams. Whether he recounted them to his brothers in a prideful manner, bragging about his superiority, is not clear. It would seem that he is simply sharing exactly what he saw. There was no real benefit to Joseph in sharing his dreams with his brothers. After he told them the first dream, the text tells us, “they hated him even more” (Genesis 37:5 ESV). So what good could come out of telling them his second dream? Joseph seems to be intrigued, even confused, by his dreams. He is looking for explanations. He is anxious to know what they mean. But the only thing he gets from his brothers is their animosity. Even his father rebukes him.

But at the same time, Jacob seems to know that there is something going on behind the scenes that is inexplicable and supernatural in nature. Moses, the author of Genesis, tells us, “his father kept the saying in mind” (Genesis 37:11 ESV). The hand of God was at work. The dreams were His doing and they were prophetic foreshadows of things to come. The meaning behind the dreams, the bowing sheaths, sun, moon and stars, would soon become clear. And each of the individuals in the story would play a significant role in the fulfillment of the dreams. The hatred of the brothers would reach a boiling point. The blind favoritism of Jacob would prevent him from seeing the growing resentment and rancor in his own home. Joseph would remain blissfully ignorant of the danger his favored position was creating. The line between dream and reality would become increasingly blurred as time passed. God’s will, as revealed in the dream, would come face to face with the collective will of the brothers. Their growing hatred would soon boil over in an attempt to rid themselves of their annoying sibling once and for all. But their actions would accomplish far more than their liberation from his pestering presence. They would become such stuff as dreams are made of. They would become the very instruments God would use to accomplish His divine will, not only for Joseph, but the people of Israel. Their prerogatives would give way to God’s providence. Their human wills would become tools in the hands of God as He accomplished His divine will. Their self-determined actions would end up bringing about the very outcomes God had already ordained to happen. The mystery between man’s free will and God’s providence was about to be displayed in surprising fashion.

A Day Worth Celebrating.

Now the rest of the Jews who were in the king’s provinces also gathered to defend their lives, and got relief from their enemies and killed 75,000 of those who hated them, but they laid no hands on the plunder. This was on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and on the fourteenth day they rested and made that a day of feasting and gladness. But the Jews who were in Susa gathered on the thirteenth day and on the fourteenth, and rested on the fifteenth day, making that a day of feasting and gladness. Therefore the Jews of the villages, who live in the rural towns, hold the fourteenth day of the month of Adar as a day for gladness and feasting, as a holiday, and as a day on which they send gifts of food to one another.

So the Jews accepted what they had started to do, and what Mordecai had written to them. For Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them, and had cast Pur (that is, cast lots), to crush and to destroy them.  But when it came before the king, he gave orders in writing that his evil plan that he had devised against the Jews should return on his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows. Therefore they called these days Purim, after the term Pur. Therefore, because of all that was written in this letter, and of what they had faced in this matter, and of what had happened to them, the Jews firmly obligated themselves and their offspring and all who joined them, that without fail they would keep these two days according to what was written and at the time appointed every year, that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every clan, province, and city, and that these days of Purim should never fall into disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants.

Then Queen Esther, the daughter of Abihail, and Mordecai the Jew gave full written authority, confirming this second letter about Purim. Letters were sent to all the Jews, to the 127 provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, in words of peace and truth, that these days of Purim should be observed at their appointed seasons, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther obligated them, and as they had obligated themselves and their offspring, with regard to their fasts and their lamenting. The command of Esther confirmed these practices of Purim, and it was recorded in writing. – Esther 9:16-32 ESV

It seems a bit strange that the Jews would set aside the day when they killed 75,000 of their Persian neighbors as an annual day of celebration, feasting and gladness. From that day forward, they would commemorate the thirteenth day of the month of Adar by giving one another gifts of food. It became a holiday. Again, this seems a bit odd to us, but it is important to remember that this letter is an historical document that chronicles the events surrounding the decree of Haman to wipe out the Jews. But it also explains to its Jewish audience how they came to celebrate the feast of Purim, the name by which this day would be called.

“Purim” is the plural form of the Persian word pur, meaning the “lot” (cf. 3:7). The name “Purim” became a symbolic reminder to the Jews of how God used circumstances, specifically casting the lot (cf. 3:7), to deliver them in 473 B.C. – Thomas L. Constable, Notes  on Esther, 2009 Edition

Haman had plotted to wipe out the Jews and had chosen the day to do so by the casting of lots. What would appear to have been a random act of chance turned out to be divinely decreed. Haman was casting lots in a misguided attempt to seek astrological assistance. To him, casting lots was not an act of chance, but was a common practice among the people of the ancient Near East. It was believed that there were outside, unseen forces that acted upon the lots, providing mere mortals with a form of spiritual guidance in making difficult or weighty decisions. Little did Haman realize that the unseen force behind the lots was the God of the very people he was attempting to wipe out. And the date chosen would become a day of celebration, not for Haman and the Persians, but for the people of Israel.

Mordecai and Esther made the feast of Purim an official holiday by sending out yet another edict, in the form of a letter to the Jews living throughout the land of Persia. They were commanded to observe the thirteenth and fourteenth days of Adar throughout the land in perpetuity, from generation to generation. And the people gladly obliged. They had cause for celebration, because they had escaped annihilation. Their God had intervened and the plans of the wicked had been overturned. Even living as exiles in the land of Persia, far from their homeland, they had witnessed the sovereign hand of God rescuing them from the evil intentions of their enemies. While they had forsaken God, He had not forsaken them. These were not people who were known for their faithfulness to God. They were the descendants of those who had been sent into exile by God because of their disobedience and refusal to repent. Now, generations later, they had acclimated themselves to life in Persia, even refusing the opportunity to return to the land of Judah with those who went to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple of God. They had chosen to stay. Life in Persia was preferable to the risky proposition of returning to their homeland and trying to rebuild a dilapidated and defenseless city.

Yet, they would discover that life in Persia was not as safe and serene as they had hoped. The enemies of God and His people are everywhere. The forces of evil are ever-present and present everywhere. Haman, a descendant of their ancient foes, the Amalakites, would make their lives a living hell. He would disrupt their peaceful existence with a plan to destroy each and every one of them, down to the last woman and child. But little did they Haman know that the God of the Jews was watching. Little did the Jews know that their God was working behind the scenes. But God knew all that was going on and He also knew what was going to happen. It was God who had arranged the adoption of Esther by her uncle Mordecai.  It was God who had been behind the refusal of Queen Vashti to appear before the king. And her removal from the throne was God’s doing. Just as her replacement as queen by Esther was God’s decision. It was He who had elevated Mordecai and given him access to the king’s palace. It was He who had allowed Mordecai to discover the plot against the king’s life and expose it. It was He who gave Esther the wisdom and insight to overturn the edict of Haman and save her people from destruction. The celebration of Purim was to be a celebration of God’s deliverance. God had protected and preserved His people. Why? Because one day He is going to restore them. His full plan for them is not yet fulfilled. He is far from done with the people of Israel. His faithfulness to them extends well beyond the centuries and far past any boundaries of geography or distance. He knows where each and every one of His children are. And His sovereignty over them is not limited by time or space.

The Almighty Is Never AWOL.

That very day the number of those killed in Susa the citadel was reported to the king. And the king said to Queen Esther, “In Susa the citadel the Jews have killed and destroyed 500 men and also the ten sons of Haman. What then have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces! Now what is your wish? It shall be granted you. And what further is your request? It shall be fulfilled.” And Esther said, “If it please the king, let the Jews who are in Susa be allowed tomorrow also to do according to this day’s edict. And let the ten sons of Haman be hanged on the gallows.” So the king commanded this to be done. A decree was issued in Susa, and the ten sons of Haman were hanged. The Jews who were in Susa gathered also on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and they killed 300 men in Susa, but they laid no hands on the plunder. – Esther 9:11-15 ESV

In reading this particular passage, it would be easy to conclude that Esther was a cruel and vindictive individual. After all, the second edict had been a success and the ten sons of Haman had been executed. But now, when the king asks her if there is anything else she wants, she requests that the edict be extended for a second day in the capital of Susa and for permission to hang the bodies of the tens sons of Haman on spikes for all to see. In other words, she wants to put them on public display. Were the 500 men killed that day not enough? Was the elimination of Haman’s sons as viable threats against the Jews not sufficient payback? Did she really need to publicly humiliate them? Was Esther simply bloodthirsty and out for revenge?

Obviously, there are things going on in the story to which we are not made aware. Esther knows something we don’t know. The first day of the edict it seems that the 500 individuals who died were all in the royal section of the city, known as the citadel (9:6). The majority of the threats the Jews were coming from the powerful and influential. They were the ones who felt the most threatened by Esther, Mordecai and the Jews. But Esther knew that there were still others who had either fled the citadel into other parts of the capital or there were pockets of resistance that needed to be eradicated. So she asked for a second day. The king gave his permission and the second day resulted in an additional 300 individuals losing their lives. But once again, the Jews refused to take their land and goods as plunder. They were not doing this for material reward. This was solely an attempt to prevent Haman’s original intention to eradicate the Jews from taking place. For Esther and the rest of the Jews, it was about self-preservation, not financial remuneration.

The public display of the bodies of Haman’s sons was intended to send a message. The very means by which he had planned to murder Mordecai was used to reveal to the citizens of Susa that his efforts had failed miserably. His hatred for the Jews had resulted in his own death and that of his ten sons. All the way back in chapter five of this story, Haman had returned from the first banquet thrown by Esther, and had been beside himself with joy. He arrived at home, bragging about his unprecedented good fortune.  “And Haman recounted to them the splendor of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the servants of the king” (Esther 5:11 ESV). But now, Haman was dead. His ten sons were as well. His riches belonged to Esther. His former position and the king’s signet ring, symbol of his power, had been given to Mordecai. Haman, the prideful, arrogant, conniving, ruthless, power-hungry enemy of God’s people was gone. His decree had been an abject failure. And all traces of his ever having existed had been eliminated.

Esther’s actions, while somewhat mysterious to us, were not based on a whim. She knew what she was doing. She recognized that the threat to the Jews was not yet over. Susa was still harboring dangerous individuals who were on a mission to destroy Jews and take their possessions and property. The very fact that an additional 300 individuals were killed the next day reveals that this was true. For Esther, this was a matter of eliminating any threat against the Jews once and for all. She wisely used her position as queen and her influence over the king to arrange for a more-than-satisfactory end to this story. But none of this would have been possible without the sovereign, providential hand of God. This story is not about the cunning of Esther or the wisdom of Mordecai. It is not about the bravery of a young girl facing insurmountable odds and an all-powerful enemy. It is a story of the unseen, imperceptible, yet invincible power of God. It is a reminder to all who read it that God may not always be observable, but that doesn’t mean He’s AWOL. He is always there, whether we see Him or not. He is always in control, whether we believe it or not. He is always working His plan, whether we sense it or not.

Learning to Lean.

Then Mordecai returned to the king’s gate. But Haman hurried to his house, mourning and with his head covered. And Haman told his wife Zeresh and all his friends everything that had happened to him. Then his wise men and his wife Zeresh said to him, “If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him.”

While they were yet talking with him, the king’s eunuchs arrived and hurried to bring Haman to the feast that Esther had prepared. So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. – Esther 6:12-7:1 ESV

It is fascinating to note the reactions of the two men in this story. After having been dressed in the king’s royal robes and paraded through the city streets on a royal steed, Mordecai returned to his place at the king’s gate, continuing his state of mourning over the fate of the Jews. He did not let his temporary flirtation with fame and good fortune distract him from his mission to mourn and fast for the salvation of his people. There were more important things for Mordecai to consider than his own prominence or personal well-being.

As for Haman, he went from bragging about his wealth, power and position to a state of mourning. The man who once held his head high in pride and arrogance made his way home with his head covered in shame. And when he arrived home, rather than receiving comfort and encouragement from his wife and friends, he was told that his case against Mordecai was hopeless. He would be the one to fall. Even Haman’s wife, Zeresh, gave him the bad news that if Mordecai was a Jew, then Haman would be the one to fall.

Even within the realm of King Xerxes, in the nation of Persia, within the capital of Susa, the Hebrew people had a reputation. Their stories were well-known. The tales of their God’s power and miracles were well-known. And while the Jews were in Persia because they had been defeated by the Babylonians, it must be remembered that both Cyrus and Artaxerses, predecessors to King Xerxes, had passed edicts to allow the Jews to return to their land to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and reconstruct the temple. These two kings had even funded the return and the restoration projects out of the royal treasury. For Haman to attempt to stand against Mordecai would be ill-advised and ill-fated. It was as if Zeresh sensed that there were greater forces at work here than Haman or anyone else could see. The events of the last 24 hours were not a case of bad luck. They were the result of the intentional intervention of the Hebrew god.

But Haman would have little time to consider that thoughts of his wife and friends. Before he knew it, the king’s eunuchs arrived to accompany Haman to the second feast being thrown in his honor by Queen Esther. Haman had to uncover his head, hide his sorrow and put on a happy face before he walked into the presence of the king. But his head was spinning. His emotional world was in turmoil. He had just been forced to honor the man he had intended to execute. And when the king caught wind of the fact that the edict he had been coerced to sign by Haman was going to result in the death of Mordecai, the man he had just rewarded, his reaction to Haman would probably be less than ideal.

Haman was probably thinking things couldn’t get any worse. But he was in for a rude surprise. His selfish, pride-filled plan was running headlong into God’s sovereign will. He would prove no match for God. He thought his beef was with Mordecai, a common, nondescript Jew. But he was about to discover that he was doing battle with God Almighty. He would learn the truth behind the statement made by the prophet Balaam hundreds of years before:

No curse can touch Jacob;
    no magic has any power against Israel.
For now it will be said of Jacob,
    “What wonders God has done for Israel!” – Numbers 23:23 NLT

Haman was no match for God. His wisdom was nothing compared to God’s. His wealth paled in comparison to the vast resources at God’s disposal. His influence over the king was insignificant when contrasted with God’s sovereign control over the entire universe, including kings and kingdoms. If he found any comfort in the fact that the king’s edict was irreversible, he was in for a rude surprise.

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. – Proverbs 21:1 ESV

For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. – Psalm 135:5-6 ESV

…his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” – Daniel 4:34-35 ESV

O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. – 2 Chronicles 20:6 ESV

From eternity to eternity I am God. No one can snatch anyone out of my hand. No one can undo what I have done. – Isaiah 43:13 NLT

He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. – Luke 1:51-53 ESV

Back in 1887, Elisha Hoffman penned the words to the great old hymn, Leaning On The Everlasting Arms. They certainly apply to the story found in the book of Esther.

What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms?
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning,
Safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

There comes a time when we must learn to lean on the everlasting, all-powerful arms of God. Just when we think all is lost and the enemy is winning the battle, we must remember that our God is on His throne and His might has not diminished, His will has not weakened, His love has not faded and His sovereign plan has not been derailed or deterred in any way. Even when all looks lost, we must continue to lean on God. What we can see with our eyes is never a reliable barometer of what God is doing behind the scenes. God replaced Mordecai’s sackcloth with royal robes, just a glimpse of what was to come. God took Haman’s pride and arrogance, and replaced it with humiliation. And that would be just the beginning of Haman’s fall from grace. God was not done yet.

A Case of Providence, Not Coincidence.

When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and he cried out with a loud and bitter cry. He went up to the entrance of the king’s gate, for no one was allowed to enter the king’s gate clothed in sackcloth. And in every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.

When Esther’s young women and her eunuchs came and told her, the queen was deeply distressed. She sent garments to clothe Mordecai, so that he might take off his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. Then Esther called for Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs, who had been appointed to attend her, and ordered him to go to Mordecai to learn what this was and why it was. Hathach went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate, and Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the exact sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasuries for the destruction of the Jews. Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her and command her to go to the king to beg his favor and plead with him on behalf of her people. And Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said.. – Esther 4:1-9 ESV

Chapter three ended with the words, “And the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was thrown into confusion.” As news of the king’s edict declaring an official day set aside for the slaughter of all Jews living in the kingdom of Persia, the reaction among the citizens of the kingdom was mixed. There was confusion among many. Others were probably excited about the prospect of being able to take the lives of the Jews and their property and possessions as well. But for the Jews, the news was shocking. They were in Persia because of the destruction of their own homeland, and now they were facing destruction once again. Where was their God? How could this be happening to them? And Mordecai, the uncle of Queen Esther, upon hearing the news, goes into a state of mourning. He tears his clothes, covers himself in sackcloth and ashes and proceeds to wander the streets of the capital city, offering a visible illustration to all who could see of just how devastating this news was to the Jews. And he was not alone. Jews all over the kingdom were reacting in the same way – “as news of the king’s decree reached all the provinces, there was great mourning among the Jews. They fasted, wept, and wailed, and many people lay in burlap and ashes” (Esther 4:3 NLT).

Mordecai’s trek through the city took him all the way to the gates of the palace, but he is refused entrance. The king’s sumptuous lifestyle and celebratory mood was not to be disrupted by some despondent and disheveled Hebrew. It is interesting to note the contrast between the opening of this book and the current state of Mordecai’s demeanor. The story began with a royal party, a festival that lasted more than 180 days and was marked by wine, food, fine linens and an overall mood of celebration. Now we have Mordecai and his fellow Jews fasting, mourning and covering themselves in soot and coarse garments. The original party was a result of the king’s command. His word produced a festive occasion and a non-stop celebration where the food and wine flowed non-stop for nearly six months. Now, by his decree, an entire population of people found themselves in deep and bitter mourning, because their lives had been declared worthless and their future, hopeless.

The news of Mordecai’s presence outside the city gates was taken to Esther. She seems to have had no idea as to what was going on. In her isolated and insulated world within the palace, she had not yet heard about the decree. She offered Mordecai a change of clothes, but he refused. She sent a trusted confidant to Mordecai in order to ascertain the cause of his distress. What she would learn would rock her world. Her fairy tale-like rise from obscurity to wealth, power and royal prestige was about to come to an abrupt halt. Mordecai told her everything. He withheld none of the sordid details. She may have been safe in her cocoon of comfort and ease within the palace, but Mordecai wanted her to know just how dangerous her position really was. But he also wanted her to realize how vital and obviously God-ordained her newfound role was going to be. He told her of Haman’s plan, even sending her a copy of the king’s edict.

But his real motive for appearing at the gates of the king’s palace was to get Esther to use her position as queen to appeal to the king on behalf of her people. It was time for her to reveal her true identity to the king. Mordecai had been the one to counsel her to keep her Hebrew heritage a secret. And to this point in the story, Esther had done just that. King Xerxes had no idea that his new queen was actually a Jew. But given the dire change in circumstances, Mordecai has changed his tune and begs his niece to drop the charade and use her access to the king to make an appeal. Mordecai believes that she is where she is for a reason. She has been put in this place of royal influence for a divine purpose that is far greater than either one of them could have ever imagined. All the pieces of the story are starting to come together. All the characters in the story have had their parts to play. From King Xerxes to his recalcitrant queen, Vashti; Mordecai and his adopted niece, Esther, and the two plotting assassins to the pride-filled, and revenge-obsessed Haman. Nothing has happened by chance. And while God has yet to be mentioned, He has been there all along. And Mordecai seems to sense that there is a divine agenda at work in this seemingly hopeless scenario. His niece is the queen of Persia. Who could have ever imagined something so far-fetched and unlikely? You see, we read this story and automatically wonder why God would allow someone like Haman to rise to power and have the power to demand the destruction of the people of God. But what we should be wondering is why God would allow Esther, an inconsequential, orphaned Hebrew girl to ascend to the queen’s throne. Mordecai didn’t waste his time worrying about Haman and his need for vengeance. He saw a God-given opportunity in Esther and wasted no time in begging her to see her role as a godsend.

Threads In God’s Tapestry.

Now when the virgins were gathered together the second time, Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate. Esther had not made known her kindred or her people, as Mordecai had commanded her, for Esther obeyed Mordecai just as when she was brought up by him. In those days, as Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, became angry and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. And this came to the knowledge of Mordecai, and he told it to Queen Esther, and Esther told the king in the name of Mordecai. When the affair was investigated and found to be so, the men were both hanged on the gallows. And it was recorded in the book of the chronicles in the presence of the king. – Esther 2:19-23 ESV

Esther has been crowned the new queen. Her lot in life has changed dramatically. But she has a potentially dangerous secret she is hiding from the king. She is a Hebrew. She is part of the remnant of Jews taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon when defeated Judah and destroyed the city of Jerusalem. When the Persians overthrew the Babylonians, the Jews remained in their captive state, slowly acclimating to the foreign culture around them and being assimilated into the ethnically diverse society of Persia. As they had in Egypt during their captivity there, the Jews continued to marry and have children, and as a result, their numbers increased. But for some undisclosed reason, Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, had counseled her to keep her Hebrew identity hidden from the king. We are not told the motivation behind Mordecai’s advice to his young ward, but he consistently warned her to keep her identity hidden, even after being crowned the new queen. Perhaps Mordecai was well-acquainted with the king’s reputation for fickleness and feared he might reject Esther as unfit for her role as queen. It almost seems that Mordecai had a sort of sixth-sense that led him to believe there was something greater going on here than met the eye. Throughout the story, Mordecai appears to know that this is not a case of good fortune, but the sovereign hand of God.

We are told in verse 19 that there was a second wave of virgins gathered into the king’s palace. The most logical explanation seems to be that the king so enjoyed the original beauty competition that had resulted in the discovery of Esther, that he decided to do it again. Keep in mind that the young women who didn’t win the queen’s crown were still permanent occupants of the king’s harem. And from all we have seen of King Xerxe’s behavior so far, he was used to have the best and the most of everything. So, just because he had a new queen didn’t mean he was going to stop adding more virgins to his collection. But the real reason this verse is included is to let us know that some time has passed. Some commentators believe that as much as five years may have transpired since Esther was crowned queen. We are also told that Mordecai was “sitting at the king’s gate” (Esther 2:19 ESV). This is usually a reference to a position of authority. Since the time that Esther had become queen. Mordecai had evidently received a commission as a government official. He was on the government payroll, perhaps as a representative of the Hebrew population. At this point in the story, the Jews were no longer being treated as slaves, but had become a part of the multi-ethnic makeup of the culture of Susa. There would have been people from all of the various nations that were now under Persian rule, from Ethiopia all the way to Egypt. So Mordecai was most likely a representative of some kind, acting on behalf of the crown.

And it just so happens, that as a part of his official capacity, Mordecai was at the king’s gate, when he overheard a plot to assassinate the king. It seems that Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs, who had confidential access to the king, had become upset with him and were planning to do him in. But when Mordecai heard their plans, he relayed them to Esther, who then informed the king. This incredible case of good timing will prove to be fortuitous, not just for the king, but for Mordecai and the people of God. Bigthan and Teresh are executed and Mordecai’s role in exposing the plot is recorded in the official historical chronicles of the king. No reward is given. No recognition for a job well done is forthcoming. Mordecai just happened to be in the right place at the right time and heard what was being planned. His relationship with Esther, the queen, afforded him the opportunity to get this news to the king in a timely fashion. And the result was that the king’s life was spared. But all Mordecai got for his troubles was a line in chronicles of the king.

But God is not done. The story is far from over. This seemingly disparate events are all part of an intricate tapestry that God is weaving. Esther has become queen of Persia. Mordecai has become an official in the king’s government. These two obscure, seemingly insignificant individuals are being used by God to prepare for an even greater, untold story. What we are witnessing is the butterfly effect lived out in real life. Esther’s selection to join the king’s harem has had a far greater impact than anyone, herself included, could have ever imagined. We are not told how Mordecai came to his position in the king’s government, but the inference is that his relatively unimportant role was going to have a dramatic influence on future events. It is so easy for us to discount what is happening in our lives and dismiss our importance in the grand scheme of things. As Christians, we can convince ourselves that we are insignificant and lacking in the ability to influence the larger culture around us. And yet, the story of Esther is meant to remind us that no one is insignificant or unimportant when they are being used by God. The disciples of Jesus were all relative nobodies. They were not movers and shakers or members of the religious elite. They were simple, common men who had spent their lives as common laborers and fishermen. And when Jesus chose them, they each had to have wondered, “Why me?” They had no idea just how significant their lives were going to be in the history of the world. And we have no idea how God is going to use us to accomplish His divine will in the world. Esther was just a young, orphaned Jewish girl living in a pagan country with her uncle Mordecai. And Mordecai was just another Jewish man, trying to care for his family and make ends meet in a society that was opposed to his religious beliefs. But God was going to use these two individuals in ways they could have never imagined. The events of their lives were being directed by God Almighty. The thing we must always remember is that the story is not yet done. God is not yet finished. We cannot see the finished tapestry that God is weaving or how the particular colors of our life’s events fit into the overall results. But God knows. And we can trust Him.

 

 

Less Than We Deserve.

And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, seeing that you, our God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved and have given us such a remnant as this, shall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations? Would you not be angry with us until you consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape? O Lord, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this. – Ezra 9:13-15 ESV

Ezra 9:6-15

God had mercifully and miraculously returned a remnant of the people of Judah to the land He had given their ancestors. After 70 years in captivity in Babyon, where they had been sent by God because of their rebellion against Him, they had been allowed to return. But when Ezra had arrived he had found things in a less-than-satisfactory state. The people had violated the command of God to refrain from intermarrying with the people of the land. Even after having experienced the mercy of God and having witnessed first-hand His power, they had disobeyed Him again. And Ezra was saddened and shocked. He was also amazed that God had not simply wiped them off the face of the earth. They fully deserved it. And God would have been fully in His right to do it. But instead, He had punished them far less than they had deserved. He had returned another remnant to the land. He had specifically sent Ezra, a scribe and an expert in the law of God to help the people reestablish their understanding of and obedience to God’s holy commands. God had allowed an earlier group of returning exiles to rebuild the temple. Now He was sending Ezra in order to help restore the faithfulness of the people. And while they stood before God as guilty and condemned, He was extending mercy and administering His grace.

Ezra knew that they were guilty and deserved nothing but the full extent of God’s wrath. But He also knew that God had determined to send back a remnant for a reason. It was all part of His divine plan. It was in full keeping with His original covenant with Abraham. God was going to bless them in spite of them. He was accomplishing something that was going to have far greater implications than they yet realized. God had originally told Abraham, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (Genesis 22:18 NASB). The apostle Paul would later explain the true implications of this promise when he wrote, “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as referring to many, but rather to one, ‘And to your seed,’ that is, Christ” (Galatians 3:16 NASB). God’s promise to bless the nations through Abraham was to be fulfilled through a specific individual, a future descendant whom Paul identified as Jesus, the Christ or Messiah. God was restoring the people to the land, not because they deserved it, but because He was divinely orchestrating human history in order to arrange for the birth of His Son in the land of promise. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene the people of Judah would have been living back in the land for some time. Jerusalem would have been restored and reoccupied. The land of Judah would once again be occupied by the people of God. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV). God’s grace and mercy on the people of Judah had a point. His restoration of the people to the land had far greater implications than they could even comprehend. It was about far more than just the restoration of the people to the land. It was about the ultimate restoration of sinful people to Himself. Paul explains the unbelievable nature of this good news. “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation” (Romans 5:6-9 NLT).

God has given us less than we deserve. We all stand before Him as guilty and condemned. But rather than judge us as we deserve and sentence us to death as His law requires, He sent His Son to die in our place. Not because we were righteous and deserved it, but because God loved us, even as we willingly sinned against Him. Ezra knew that they did not deserve to be back in the land. They had done nothing to earn that kind of favor from God. And even once they had been returned, they had continued to sin. God’s grace was amazing to him. And the grace of God extended to us as believers in Christ should never cease to amaze us. Each of us has received far less than what we deserve. We were sinners against a righteous and holy God, and yet He showered us with His love, grace and mercy. We have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ. “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NLT). The incredible reality of that news should never escape our notice or fail to illicit our gratitude and obedience. We deserve wrath, but have been given redemption. We had earned God’s rejection, but have enjoyed restoration. Far, far less than what we deserved.

Daniel 1-2, Revelation 17

God of gods.

Daniel 1-2, Revelation 17

Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery. Daniel 2:47 ESV

When studying a book like Daniel, there is a real temptation to make it all about the one whose name it bears. Many of us know the stories found in Daniel. We probably heard them as little children in Sunday School. We know about Daniel and the lion’s den. We’ve heard about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace. And it would be easy to make this story all about Daniel and his friends. But to do so would be to miss the whole point of the book of Daniel. It was written, not to deify Daniel, but to reveal the power and glory of God in the midst of what was a very difficult and hard to understand circumstance for the people of God. Everything Isaiah the prophet had warned would happen had taken place. The Babylonians had come into the territory of Judah, besieged the city of Jerusalem, and in 605 B.C., had taken captive the first group of the city’s occupants. Daniel was included in this first wave of exiles. The book of Daniel was written for Jews who were living long after this events occurred. It was a history lesson, revealing not just the details of past events concerning the Israelites, but the reminding them of the sovereign hand of God over their lives. Ultimately, this book is about God. His influence can been seen on virtually every page. He is the one who is orchestrating every circumstance, from the fall of Jerusalem into the hands of the Babylonians to the captivity of Daniel and his subsequent promotion into the king’s favor and service. God was behind Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniel’s ability to interpret it. God is not only the star of the story, but its author.  

What does this passage reveal about God?

For the Jews who had to live through the fall of Jerusalem and the deportation of its citizens into captivity in Babylon, there would have been ample reasons to wonder whether their God was either impotent or indifferent. Had He lost His power or had He simply lost interest in the people of God. It would have been easy for them to feel abandoned by God and left to fend for themselves. Even though God had warned them repeatedly that judgment was coming, they still would have found their circumstances hard to understand and difficult to endure. But the book of Daniel was intended to remind the people of Israel that their God was in control. Throughout the first two chapters, His hand is revealed and His involvement behind the scenes can be clearly seen. “And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs” (Daniel 1:9 ESV). “As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams” (Daniel 1:17 ESV). Why would God give Daniel favor? Why would He give Daniel the ability to understand dreams and visions? Better yet, why had God allowed Daniel and his companions to be taken captive in the first place? There is much that happens in life that we question. There are circumstances that occur that cause us to doubt God’s goodness, power, wisdom or presence. But the story of Daniel reminds us that God is always there. He is the ever-present God of the present and also the God of the future. What happens today, while difficult to understand, has implications for tomorrow. God’s plan is far greater than our current conditions. Daniel’s captivity, while difficult, was a necessary part of God’s divine plan. 

What does this passage reveal about man?

The book of Daniel juxtaposes the weakness of man with the power of God. While Babylon was the most powerful nation in the world at the time, and King Nebuchadnezzar was feared and revered; they were no match for God. Daniel would even tell the great king, “You, O king, the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory, and into whose hand he has given, wherever they dwell, the children of man, the beasts of the field, and the birds of the heavens, making you rule over them all…” (Daniel 2:37-38 ESV). God had given Nebuchadnezzar his power. In his prayer of thanksgiving to God, recorded in chapter two, Daniel says, “He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding” (Daniel 2:21 ESV). Man is no match for God. Even the magicians, wise men and enchanters of Babylon are exposed as weak, ineffective, and unable to tell the king the meaning of his dream. They confess, “There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand, for no great and powerful king has asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean. The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh” (Daniel 2:10-11 ESV). They were right. Not a man alive could do what the king was asking. Not even Daniel. Even he would admit that. “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries…” (Daniel 2:27-28 ESV). 

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

In reading through these opening chapters of Daniel, it would be so easy to concentrate all our time and energies at trying to understand the vision that Daniel interpreted for the king. The same is true when reading chapter 17 of Revelation. We could spend countless hours trying to determine just what all the imagery means and what each portion of the vision represents. And while there would be inherently wrong in doing so, we could miss out on the most significant point behind it all. God is in control. Even in the book of Revelation, amongst all the imagery of beasts, harlots, heads, and horns, there is a strong and indisputable reminder of God’s sovereignty. “For God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled” (Revelation 17:17 ESV). Scholars and theologians have spent their lifetimes trying to determine the meaning behind all the imagery of this passage. There has been much debate and little consensus on just what all the imagery means. But we CAN know this. God is behind it all. He is in charge of all that happens – both now and into the future. Daniel knew that God had not abandoned him, in spite of his circumstances. So he prayed to God and was answered by Him. God revealed to Daniel the details of events that had yet to happen. He gave Daniel insights into the future and never fully explained to him what they all meant. God doesn’t tell us everything. He doesn’t reveal all the details behind His plans. God is not obligated to explain Himself or defend His actions. But I should know that he is God of gods and Lord of kings. He is a revealer of mysteries and the author of the entire story of mankind. He is in complete control and I can have confidence in Him, “until the words of God are fulfilled” (Revelation 17:17b ESV).

Father, it is so easy to miss the point of the Bible and make it all about man. I can spend so much time focusing on the people of the Bible that I miss out on the God of the Bible. Help me to recognize that the Bible is Your personal revelation of Yourself to man. It is not about us. It is about You. We are bit players in the great redemptive story. We are the beneficiaries of Your goodness and the spectators who get to witness Your greatness. Never let me lose sight of the fact that, regardless of what I see or experience, You are in control and Your words and Your will are going to be fulfilled. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Isaiah 37-38, Revelation 2

He Knows.

Isaiah 37-38, Revelation 2

…but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back. Isaiah 38:17 ESV

The Assyrians had Judah surrounded. The fate of the people of God seemed assured. There appeared to be no way that they could withstand the coming onslaught of one of the most powerful armies on earth. But God knew something they didn’t know. He knew the outcome. And He had known it from before the foundations of the world. He had known it before Assyrian was even a nation or Sennacharib the king had even been born. Even as Sennacharib boasted and bragged about his power and the invincibility of his army, God had his fate predetermined. God warned him, “Have you not heard  that I determined it long ago? I planned from days of old what now I bring to pass” (Isaiah 37:26 ESV). Sennacharib’s success had been God’s doing. This pagan king and his powerful army had been pawns in the hand of God to accomplish His will. God made it clear to Sennacharib, “I know you sitting down and your going out and coming in, and your raging against me” (Isaiah 37:28 ESV). Nothing escaped God’s notice. Nothing happened without God’s sovereign consent. And it was God’s predetermined will that Sennacharib would not conquer Jerusalem. For all his boasting and bluster, Sennacharib would find himself unsuccessful, losing 185,000 soldiers by the hand of God and losing his life at the hands of his own sons. God told Isaiah, “By the way he came, by the same way he shall return, and he shall not come into this city” (Isaiah 37:34 ESV). God knew something Sennacharib, Hezekiah, and even Isaiah didn’t know. He knew the plan.

What does this passage reveal about God?

There is never a moment when God is up in heaven, wringing His hands in worry or disbelief. He is never caught off guard, surprised by circumstances, or left scratching His head and wondering how something happened. God is always fully aware and completely in control at all times. It is only from our limited perspective that things sometimes appear to be out of His control. When Hezekiah became ill, God was not surprised. In fact, He told Hezekiah, “Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover” (Isaiah 38:1 ESV). But Hezekiah’s response to God’s announcement was to call out to Him in prayer. He asked God to remember his faithfulness and his effort to serve Him with a whole heart. And God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and answered. He gave him 15 more years of life. But even that miraculous answer to prayer was part of God’s sovereign plan. He knew what He was going to do all along. And while that thought might give us cause for concern and raise the question of whether it is even necessary or worthwhile to pray; the truth is, we should find comfort in the fact that God is always in control. Hezekiah didn’t ask for 15 more years of life. He simply asked God to “remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight” (Isaiah 38:3 ESV). He was simply trusting God to treat him with kindness, grace and mercy as he faced his death. But God had something in store that Hezekiah didn’t know. God had planned to extend his life an additional 15 years. But God also had a plan to get Hezekiah’s undivided attention so that those last years of his life might be better focused that the years that had preceded them.

What does this passage reveal about man?

There is so much we don’t know. There is so much we don’t understand. We look around us and see what we believe to be good, only to find out that it ends in trouble. We experience what we believe to be evil, only to learn that it somehow brought us good. Our sorrows end up producing joy. Our successes sometimes bring heartache. We tend to run from trouble and pursue peace and prosperity. But when we do so, we fail to remember that God knows something we don’t know. He sees what we can’t see. He is in control at all times and His sovereignty extends to all areas of our lives. How presumptuous for us to think that we can know what is best for us? How arrogant for us to believe that we can tell God what He needs to do for us? I am reminded of the words of Isaiah found later in his book: “What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’” (Isaiah 45:9 NLT). The immediate context of this verse is God’s announcement that He will use King Cyrus as His chosen instrument to accomplish His divine plan. He would use this pagan king to restore the people of God to the land of promise after 70 years in exile. And while God’s decision to use a godless king would seem to make no sense to us, God knew best. “I will raise up Cyrus to fulfill my righteous purpose, and I will guide his actions. He will restore my city and free my captive people—without seeking a reward! I, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken!” (Isaiah 45:13 ESV). No one would prayed for that to happen. No man alive at that time would have dreamed that the king of Persia would allow the people of God to return to their own land and pay for the entire trip out of his royal treasury. But God knew.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Over in the book of Revelation, Jesus speaks to the seven churches. He has words of exhortation and warning. He repeatedly says, “I know.” He is fully aware of their circumstances, the nature of their faith, the struggles and trials with which they are dealing, and the ultimate outcome of their situation. Jesus told the church at Ephesus, “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance” (Revelation 2:2 ESV). He assured them that He knew they were “enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake” (Revelation 2:3 ESV). But He also knew they had abandoned their first love. They had turned their relationship with Him into religion, going through the motions without the proper motivation of love for Him. Jesus told the church in Smyrna, “I know your tribulation and your poverty” (Revelation 2:9 ESV). He knew their circumstances and the difficulties that surrounded them daily. He also knew they were going to face increasing persecution, but it would be followed by the crown of life. Jesus knew the outcome of their faith as well as their fate. To the church at Pergamum, Jesus said, “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is” (Revelation 2:13 ESV). He knew how bad things were in their city. He knew how influential Satan was in their home town. He also knew that while many had remained faithful in spite of their difficult circumstances, some had compromised their faith and convictions. In all of this, Jesus does not act surprised, caught off guard, or left shaking His head in disbelief. He knows how hard it is for us to live Christ-like lives on this earth. He knows we face a real enemy who hates us and is out to destroy us. He knows that we will falter and sometimes fail. But He also knows the outcome of our perseverance and persistent faith in Him. “I will grant you to eat of the tree of life” (Revelation 2:7 ESV). “I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10 ESV). “I will give him some of the hidden manna” (Revelation 2:17 ESV). “I will give authority over the nations” (Revelation 2:26 ESV). “I will give him the morning star” (Revelation 2:28 ESV). He knows. He understands. He has a plan. He can be trusted. He is in complete control and we can trust our lives into His fully capable hands.

Father, I want to trust You more. I want to rest in the reality of Your sovereignty – even when I don’t fully understand it. I want to learn to see my circumstances through the lens of Your sovereign will. You are always in control. You always know what is going and exactly why it is happening. You always have a plan for each and every circumstance in life. I may not get it. I probably won’t like it. But I need to learn to trust You with it. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org