Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What Goes Around Comes Around

Esther 6:12b-8:2

"But Haman hasted to his house mourning, and having his head covered.  And Haman told Zeresh his wife and all his friends every thing that had befallen him. 

Then said his wise men and Zeresh his wife unto him, If Mordecai be of the seed of the Jews, before whom thou hast begun to fall, thou shalt not prevail against him, but shalt surely fall before him.” (Esther 6:12b-13)

Frustrated and depressed over having his plan to have Mordecai killed for not showing him the respect he wanted, Haman returned home to talk to his wife and advisors to see what he could do.  They were not very encouraging.   Though they were nearly six hundred miles away, they were familiar with numerous times in history when god had protected the Jews from vastly superior forces.  If God was protecting Mordecai, Haman could not win and would surely be destroyed.  It wasn’t what Haman wanted to hear!

“And while they were yet talking with him, came the king's chamberlains, and hasted to bring Haman unto the banquet that Esther had prepared.” (Esther 6:14)

Even before they could devise a new strategy to protect their own interests, the messengers came to inform Haman that the dinner was now ready.   Although his ego had suffered a major blow, Being the only guest at the queen’s dinner was still a high honor, and Haman went eagerly.

“So the king and Haman came to banquet with Esther the queen. 

And the king said again unto Esther on the second day at the banquet of wine, What is thy petition, queen Esther? and it shall be granted thee: and what is thy request? and it shall be performed, even to the half of the kingdom. 

Then Esther the queen answered and said, If I have found favour in thy sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request: For we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish. But if we had been sold for bondmen and bondwomen, I had held my tongue, although the enemy could not countervail the king's damage.” (Esther 7:1-4) 

At the dinner, Ahasuerus repeated his offer to give Esther whatever she wanted.  Her response was that she was asking that she and her people not be killed as the decree had been given.  As she said, if it had been just a matter of making slaves m she would not have said anything, even though it would seriously hurt the empire.  Unfortunately, the decree called for their execution, not just slavery.

“Then the king Ahasuerus answered and said unto Esther the queen, Who is he, and where is he, that durst presume in his heart to do so? 

And Esther said, The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman. Then Haman was afraid before the king and the queen.

And the king arising from the banquet of wine in his wrath went into the palace garden: and Haman stood up to make request for his life to Esther the queen; for he saw that there was evil determined against him by the king.” (Esther 7:5-7) 

Haman had told Ahasuerus that there was a group plotting to destroy the empire, and Ahasuerus had taken his word and given him permission to destroy them without seeking any details.  Haman had not brought a copy of the command to him,  and since it was marked with his official seal, everybody assumed he knew what it said and didn’t question it.

Ahasuerus was quite upset at the abuse of his trust and went into the garden privately to sort out and reorganize his thoughts to avoid making things even worse.  Haman realized he was in trouble and approached Esther in an effort to play on her sympathy.

“Then the king returned out of the palace garden into the place of the banquet of wine; and Haman was fallen upon the bed whereon Esther was. 

Then said the king, Will he force the queen also before me in the house? 

As the word went out of the king's mouth, they covered Haman's face.” (Esther 7:8)

A banquet was a time of relaxation and like the Greeks and later Romans, wealthy hosts provided a couch or bed where a guest could sit or lie to eat while they relaxed.  When Ahasuerus came in from the garden, Haman had prostrated himself on Esther’s couch.  To Ahasureus, it looked as though he were threatening her.  Ahasuerus was offended that he would openly attack her, and especially in such a disrespectful manner.   The servants covered Haman’s face so the king would no longer have to see his face while he decided what to do.

“And Harbonah, one of the chamberlains, said before the king, Behold also, the gallows fifty cubits high, which Haman had made for Mordecai, who had spoken good for the king, standeth in the house of Haman. 

Then the king said, Hang him thereon. 

So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai.  Then was the king's wrath pacified.” (Esther 7:9-10)

One of the servants pointed out the huge gallows Haman had built to execute Mordecai despite Mordecai’s having saved the king’s life.  Ahasuerus ordered that Haman be hanged on that very gallows.

“On that day did the king Ahasuerus give the house of Haman the Jews' enemy unto Esther the queen. And Mordecai came before the king; for Esther had told what he was unto her.

 And the king took off his ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it unto Mordecai. And Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman.” (Esther 8:1-2)

After Haman’s execution, the king gave Esther all Haman’s belongings, exactly the opposite of what Haman had intended to do.  Esther explained her relationship to Mordecai, and Ahasuerus gave him the official seal ring, giving him the same authority he had originally given Haman.  Esther gave Mordecai responsibility over Haman’s belongings.  Haman got exactly what he tried to do to Mordecai.

By having Haman present when she made the accusation, Esther ensured that he would have a chance to face his accuser and address the charges.  It was a deliberate effort to be fair to him.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Haman’s Plot Unravels

Esther 5:1-6:12

“Now it came to pass on the third day, that Esther put on her royal apparel, and stood in the inner court of the king's house, over against the king's house: and the king sat upon his royal throne in the royal house, over against the gate of the house.  And it was so, when the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, that she obtained favour in his sight: and the king held out to Esther the golden sceptre that was in his hand. 

 So Esther drew near, and touched the top of the sceptre.  And Esther answered, If it seem good unto the king, let the king and Haman come this day unto the banquet that I have prepared for him. 

Then the king said, Cause Haman to make haste, that he may do as Esther hath said. So the king and Haman came to the banquet that Esther had prepared.” (Esther 5:1-5) 

Under Persian law, even the queen could be executed for interrupting the king.   Ahasuerus had not spoken to her for a month, so Esther did not know if she was welcome or not, and had asked th eeople to oray for three days before she went in, that he would be receptive to her request.

When she went in, he was glad to see her and welcomed her.  Esther did not simply blurt out her request but invited him to a dinner she would hold for him and Haman.  She was displaying great wisdom in moving him to a more private setting.

Police officers say that a man in more than five times as likely to fight if he is afraid of being embarrassed in front of other men, and almost certain to fight rather than being embarrassed in front of a woman.  By just getting the person off in private place, they can avoid about ninety percent of the fights by taking pride off the table.  Had she confronted him publicly, pride might well cause him to reject her request  out of hand since she was challenging one of his decisions.  By including Haman, it was clear she had something important to discus and was not just going to play on her position as queen.
“And the king said unto Esther at the banquet of wine, What is thy petition? and it shall be granted thee: and what is thy request? even to the half of the kingdom it shall be performed. 

Then answered Esther, and said, My petition and my request is; If I have found favour in the sight of the king, and if it please the king to grant my petition, and to perform my request, let the king and Haman come to the banquet that I shall prepare for them, and I will do to morrow as the king hath said.” (Esther 5:6-8) 

At the dinner, the king asked her what she wanted, offering to give her anything including half his kingdom.  While she could have told him immediately, she refused, asking him to come for dinner the next night, along with Haman.  In doing so, she indicated an interest in him, rather than just in getting what she wanted.  It was an inspired request, although she probably didn’t realize it at the moment.

"Then went Haman forth that day joyful and with a glad heart: but when Haman saw Mordecai in the king's gate, that he stood not up, nor moved for him, he was full of indignation against Mordecai. 

Nevertheless Haman refrained himself: and when he came home, he sent and called for his friends, and Zeresh his wife.  And Haman told them of the glory of his riches, and the multitude of his children, and all the things wherein the king had promoted him, and how he had advanced him above the princes and servants of the king. 

Haman said moreover, Yea, Esther the queen did let no man come in with the king unto the banquet that she had prepared but myself; and to morrow am I invited unto her also with the king.  Yet all this availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate.” (Esther 5:9-13) 

It was a real boost to Haman’s already inflated ego to be the only guest at a private dinner with the king and queen.  He couldn’t wait to get home and brag about it to his wife and friends.  He was really enraged when Mordecai refused to show him the respect he felt he deserved.

“Then said Zeresh his wife and all his friends unto him, Let a gallows be made of fifty cubits high, and to morrow speak thou unto the king that Mordecai may be hanged thereon: then go thou in merrily with the king unto the banquet. And the thing pleased Haman; and he caused the gallows to be made.” (Esther 5:14)

Haman’s wife and friends told him to build an extra tall gallows for hanging Mordecai so everyone could see what was happening, and to ask Ahasuerus for permission to hang him the next day, rather than waiting until the attack on the Jews.  Haman was thrilled with the idea and got busy right away.

“On that night could not the king sleep, and he commanded to bring the book of records of the chronicles; and they were read before the king.  And it was found written, that Mordecai had told of Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king's chamberlains, the keepers of the door, who sought to lay hand on the king Ahasuerus. 

 And the king said, What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this? 

Then said the king's servants that ministered unto him, There is nothing done for him.” (Esther 6:1-3) 

That same night, Ahasuerus couldn’t sleep and so he had the scribes read the record of things that had happened under his administration so he could glory in them.  In the process they read the story about Mordecai discovering and warning about the plot to kill him.  Ahasuerus had forgotten about it but felt Mordecai deserved a reward.  When he inquired he learned nothing had been done.  He got to thinking what kind of reward he ought to give a person who saved his life.

“And the king said, Who is in the court? 

Now Haman was come into the outward court of the king's house, to speak unto the king to hang Mordecai on the gallows that he had prepared for him. 

And the king's servants said unto him, Behold, Haman standeth in the court. 

And the king said, Let him come in.” (Esther 6:4-5)

Ahasuerus decided to ask whoever was there what they thought he should do.  Haman had just arrived to ask for permission to execute Mordecai, and when they mentioned him, the king said to bring him in.  

“So Haman came in. And the king said unto him, What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour? 

Now Haman thought in his heart, To whom would the king delight to do honour more than to myself? 

“And Haman answered the king, For the man whom the king delighteth to honour, Let the royal apparel be brought which the king useth to wear, and the horse that the king rideth upon, and the crown royal which is set upon his head: And let this apparel and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king's most noble princes, that they may array the man withal whom the king delighteth to honour, and bring him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaim before him, Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honour.” (Esther 6:6-9)

In his pride, Haman could imagine no one more deserving of honor than himself, and he decided to take advantage of the opportunity to make himself important.  He described what he thought would most impress people, even that he should wear the kings crown and ride the king’s horse with a herald going before to announce what it meant.

"Then the king said to Haman, Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as thou hast said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew, that sitteth at the king's gate: let nothing fail of all that thou hast spoken. 

Then took Haman the apparel and the horse, and arrayed Mordecai, and brought him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaimed before him, Thus shall it be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour.” (Esther 6:10-12) 

One can only imagine the horror Haman must have felt at having to bestow the honors he wanted for himself on the man he most hated.  Clearly Ahasuerus would not grant him permission to hang Mordecai after promoting him in such a fashion.

And Mordecai came again to the king's gate.  But Haman hasted to his house mourning, and having his head covered.” (Esther 6:10-12) 

Mordecai returned to his picket line, appealing for repeal of the law to execute the Jews.  Haman went home heartbroken at the thought of Mordecai receiving the honors he wanted.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Esther Agrees To Intercede

Esther 4:1-17

“When Mordecai perceived all that was done, Mordecai rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and cried with a loud and a bitter cry; And came even before the king's gate: for none might enter into the king's gate clothed with sackcloth.

And in every province, whithersoever the king's commandment and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, and fasting, and weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes. ” (Esther 4:1-2)

Haman had been authorized to do whatever he wanted, much like congress passed the Affordable Care Act before it was written.  When the provisions were published, the people most affected by it were horrified to discover what the law entailed.

It authorized anyone to kill Jews and take their property without question, much as Hitler did in 1938, and even the non Jews were concerned about it’s provisions.  The Jews were upset, doing everything they could to call attention to the unfairness of the Law by wearing sackcloth and weeping and wailing as they went about their business much as modern protestors would carry signs or wear t-shirts to get attention to their cause.

Mordecai positioned himself by the palace gates although no one who was dressed in  poor clothing like sackcloth was permitted inside to palace gates.  Rich rulers don’t like to be reminded how poor their people may be.

“So Esther's maids and her chamberlains came and told it her. Then was the queen exceedingly grieved; and she sent raiment to clothe Mordecai, and to take away his sackcloth from him: but he received it not.” (Esther 4:4) 

When Esther learned about Mordecai’s protest, she sent clothes for him to change into so he could come and tell her what was going on.  Mordecai refused to stop his protest even to meet with the queen.

“Then called Esther for Hatach, one of the king's chamberlains, whom he had appointed to attend upon her, and gave him a commandment to Mordecai, to know what it was, and why it was.  So Hatach went forth to Mordecai unto the street of the city, which was before the king's gate. 

And Mordecai told him of all that had happened unto him, and of the sum of the money that Haman had promised to pay to the king's treasuries for the Jews, to destroy them.  Also he gave him the copy of the writing of the decree that was given at Shushan to destroy them, to show it unto Esther, and to declare it unto her, and to charge her that she should go in unto the king, to make supplication unto him, and to make request before him for her people.” (Esther 4:5-8)

Because Mordecai refused to come in, Esther sent Hatach to talk to him and find out what was going on.  Living in the palace, surrounded by government bureaucracy, she was insulated from what was going outside the gates and was totally unaware.  Sadly, many who are in a position to make changes are similarly insulated from the situation today.

Mordecai explained the law and the arrangements to implement it to Hatach, and sent a copy of the law and tohe instructions to implement it to Esther.  He requested that she intercede with the king on behalf of the Jews.

“And Hatach came and told Esther the words of Mordecai. 

Again Esther spake unto Hatach, and gave him commandment unto Mordecai; All the king's servants, and the people of the king's provinces, do know, that whosoever, whether man or woman, shall come unto the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is one law of his to put him to death, except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden sceptre, that he may live: but I have not been called to come in unto the king these thirty days.” (Esther 4:9-11)

Understanding what was at stake, Esther reminded Mordecai that anyone who approached the king without being called for would be killed by his bodyguards unless the king stopped them, just as people today are arrested for approaching the president without permission.  It had been more than a month since she had been called, and even she might be viewed as a threat.

“And they told to Mordecai Esther's words.

 Then Mordecai commanded to answer Esther, Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king's house, more than all the Jews.  For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:12-14)

Though God is never mentioned by name in the book of Esther, it is obvious that Mordecai believed that God would protect Israel whether Esther herself acted or not.  He warned her that if she refused to act to protect herself, God would destroy her and the rest of her family would be destroyed for her lack of faith.  As he asked, how did she know that God had not caused her to be chosen as Queen for the sole purpose of saving the Jews?  God knows the future and can put the necessary laws and people in place long before they are needed.

“Then Esther bade them return Mordecai this answer, Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:15-16) 

If Haman’s law was something Ahaseurus was fully committed to or he was upset with her about something, she would be putting her life at risk, and she didn’t know why he hadn’t wanted to see her for a month.  Obviously, they didn’t have a very close relationship.  She asked Mordecai to assemble a prayer group and pray for three days before she approached the king.  Failure could make things a lot worse.

“So Mordecai went his way, and did according to all that Esther had commanded him.” (Esther 4:17)

Mordecai was aware this might be their only chance and he got the people to praying for her success as she had asked.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Haman’s Plot To Destroy The Jews

Esther 2:20-3:15

“Esther had not yet showed her kindred nor her people; as Mordecai had charged her: for Esther did the commandment of Mordecai, like as when she was brought up with him.” (Esther 2:20) 

Because of a growing anti-Semitism, Mordecai had advised Esther not to tell anyone that she was Jewish.  Because of her respect for him she did what he said just like she had dons as a child.

“In those days, while Mordecai sat in the king's gate, two of the king's chamberlains, Bigthan and Teresh, of those which kept the door, were wroth, and sought to lay hand on the king Ahasuerus. 

And the thing was known to Mordecai, who told it unto Esther the queen; and Esther certified the king thereof in Mordecai's name.  And when inquisition was made of the matter, it was found out; therefore they were both hanged on a tree: and it was written in the book of the chronicles before the king.” (Esther 2:21-22)

Thanks to his relationship to Esther not being widely known and his being accorded a position of respect allowing him access to the gates of the city where the influential people gathered, Mordecai learned of a plot by two of the gatekeepers to murder Ahasuerus.  He secretly passed the information to her, and she informed the king.  The conspirators were hanged and the events were recorded in the daily record.

“After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him.  And all the king's servants, that were in the king's gate, bowed, and reverenced Haman: for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence.” (Esther 3:1-2) 

Sometime later, Ahasuerus decided to promote an Agagite man named Haman to be Prime Minister.  He ordered that the people bow and treat Haman as a very important personage, almost like a god.  Mordecai refused to bow or give him such reverence, recalling the command in Exodus 34:14, “For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”   James 2:9 warns, “But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.”  

“Then the king's servants, which were in the king's gate, said unto Mordecai, Why transgressest thou the king's commandment?  Now it came to pass, when they spake daily unto him, and he hearkened not unto them, that they told Haman, to see whether Mordecai's matters would stand: for he had told them that he was a Jew.” (Esther 3:3-4) 

By refusing to bow, Mordecai was disobeying the king’s command and the servants warned him thinking he might just not know.  When they realized it was deliberate they reported him to Haman to see whether he would get by with it.

“ And when Haman saw that Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence, then was Haman full of wrath.  And he thought scorn to lay hands on Mordecai alone; for they had showed him the people of Mordecai: wherefore Haman sought to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus, even the people of Mordecai.” (Esther 3:5-6)

Like a lot of others Haman wanted to be considered important, and he was angered by Mordecai’s refusal to treat him as he felt he should be treated.  He decided to punish him for his “disrespect.”  Realizing Mordecai was a Jew, Haman decided to kill all the Jews while he was at it.  That seems an excessive reaction until you consider who Haman was.

Haman was an Agagite, a descendant of the Amalekite king, Agag.  Because of the treacherous attack by the Amalekites on Israel when they came out of Egypt, God had pronounced judgment against them and sent Saul to destroy them, killing every person.  Saul had disobeyed God, saving Agag alive and letting some escape.  Agag’s descendants had never forgiven Israel for their destruction, repeatedly trying to kill the Jews.   Haman saw this as an opportunity to even that old score, four hundred years later.  People who hang onto grudges lose all sense of justice and proportion.

“In the first month, that is, the month Nisan, in the twelfth year of king Ahasuerus, they cast Pur, that is, the lot, before Haman from day to day, and from month to month, to the twelfth month, that is, the month Adar. 

And Haman said unto king Ahasuerus, There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king's laws: therefore it is not for the king's profit to suffer them.  If it please the king, let it be written that they may be destroyed: and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to the hands of those that have the charge of the business, to bring it into the king's treasuries.” (Esther 3:7-9)

Seven or eight years after Esther became queen, Haman set his plot to destroy the Jews in motion.  He started by seeking the most auspicious day, casting lots for each day of the year to see what his gods would say.  

When he approached Ahasuerus, he didn’t reveal who he was trying to kill or why, but accused them of being a disruptive influence who refused to obey the laws of Persia and fomenting rebellion.  He offered to personally give ten thousand talents of silver to help pay for getting rid of them.  Of course a politician like Ahasuerus could not pass up the offer of money.

“And the king took his ring from his hand, and gave it unto Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the Jews' enemy.  And the king said unto Haman, The silver is given to thee, the people also, to do with them as it seemeth good to thee.” (Esther 3:10-11) 

Like many other leaders, Ahasuerus authorized Haman to do what he wanted without asking enough questions or maintaining adequate control.  He waved off Haman’s offer to pay, stating he would pay for it himself.

“Then were the king's scribes called on the thirteenth day of the first month, and there was written according to all that Haman had commanded unto the king's lieutenants, and to the governors that were over every province, and to the rulers of every people of every province according to the writing thereof, and to every people after their language; in the name of king Ahasuerus was it written, and sealed with the king's ring. 

And the letters were sent by posts into all the king's provinces, to destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish, all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, even upon the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to take the spoil of them for a prey.  The copy of the writing for a commandment to be given in every province was published unto all people, that they should be ready against that day.  The posts went out, being hastened by the king's commandment, and the decree was given in Shushan the palace. And the king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city Shushan was perplexed.” (Esther 3:12-15)

With the authorization in hand, Haman went to the scribes and had a letter written and sent to every province in the Persian empire ordering that every Jew was to be killed on the thirteenth day of the last month of the year.  The contents were to be published or publicly proclaimed so that everyone would have time to prepare for the slaughter.  The letters were sent as an urgent matter in the king’s name.

When the message was declared in the palace, Haman met with the king to let him know everything was going according to plan.  While the king and Haman were celebrating their progress, the people who knew what was going on were quite upset, much like what happened with the passage of the various bailouts and the healthcare act.  The king had no clue as to what the consequences would be, but the people were aware of the potential dangers.  Unfortunately political leaders frequently are unaware of the consequences of their actions. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Esther Becomes Queen

Ezra 2:1-19

“After these things, when the wrath of king Ahasuerus was appeased, he remembered Vashti, and what she had done, and what was decreed against her.” (Ezra 2:1)

Like most people who are used to getting their own way, Ahasuerus had been very angry when Vashti didn’t respond immediately to his demand.  After consulting with legal and political advisors, he had decided to divorce her and strip her of her position rather than working things out.  Satisfied she had learned her lesson, he stopped to think about what their marriage had been like and what he had done.   By making his decree he’d burned his bridges behind him under Persian law.  What should he do now?

“Then said the king's servants that ministered unto him, Let there be fair young virgins sought for the king: And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, that they may gather together all the fair young virgins unto Shushan the palace, to the house of the women, unto the custody of Hege the king's chamberlain, keeper of the women; and let their things for purification be given them: And let the maiden which pleaseth the king be queen instead of Vashti. And the thing pleased the king; and he did so.” (Ezra 2:2-4)

His servants recommended that a system something like Who Wants To Marry A Millionaire or The Bachelor be followed.  The winner would be crowned queen.  Unlike the shows, the losers would become part of his harem.

“Now in Shushan the palace there was a certain Jew, whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite; Who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captivity which had been carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away. 

And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle's daughter: for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid was fair and beautiful; whom Mordecai, when her father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter.” (Ezra 2:5-7)

Mordecai had been taken captive when Jerusalem was destroyed, about fifteen years after Daniel was taken.  He had also been one of the leaders when the Jews returned to Jerusalem.  After her parents death, he had take the responsibility for raising his cousin, Esther.   Since he was around seventy, he was concerned what would happen to Esther and encouraged her to take part to ensure her future..

“So it came to pass, when the king's commandment and his decree was heard, and when many maidens were gathered together unto Shushan the palace, to the custody of Hegai, that Esther was brought also unto the king's house, to the custody of Hegai, keeper of the women. 

And the maiden pleased him, and she obtained kindness of him; and he speedily gave her her things for purification, with such things as belonged to her, and seven maidens, which were meet to be given her, out of the king's house: and he preferred her and her maids unto the best place of the house of the women.  Esther had not showed her people nor her kindred: for Mordecai had charged her that she should not show it.  And Mordecai walked every day before the court of the women's house, to know how Esther did, and what should become of her.” (Ezra 2:8-11) 

Many young women applied for the contest and were entered into the competition, with the keeper of the women responsible to ensure that they were properly provided and cared for.   Esther quickly became a favorite of Hegai, the man in charge and he provided her with seven makeup and costume assistants to help her, giving her every advantage he could.

Due to rising anti-Jewish sentiment, Mordecai had advised Esther not to tell anyone she was Jewish.   Mordecai checked on her every day.

“Now when every maid's turn was come to go in to king Ahasuerus, after that she had been twelve months, according to the manner of the women, (for so were the days of their purifications accomplished, to wit, six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with sweet odours, and with other things for the purifying of the women;) Then thus came every maiden unto the king; whatsoever she desired was given her to go with her out of the house of the women unto the king's house. 

In the evening she went, and on the morrow she returned into the second house of the women, to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king's chamberlain, which kept the concubines: she came in unto the king no more, except the king delighted in her, and that she were called by name.” (Ezra 2:12-14) 

The young women were observed for a full year for observation to be sure they were healthy and not sexually involved with anyone else.  At the end of the time, each girl was given whatever she wanted to help her win the king’s heart and spent a night with him.   After that night she was sent to the harem as a concubine, and unofficial wife to await the kings decision.  Unless he called her back that would be her last contact with him.

“Now when the turn of Esther, the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her for his daughter, was come to go in unto the king, she required nothing but what Hegai the king's chamberlain, the keeper of the women, appointed. And Esther obtained favour in the sight of all them that looked upon her. 

So Esther was taken unto king Ahasuerus into his house royal in the tenth month, which is the month Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.  And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti.” (Ezra 2:15-17)

When it was Esther’s turn, she didn’t demand any special treatment or spend a lot of time fixing herself up to make the king fall for her, just going as her natural self.  Everyone who saw her found her quite attractive just as she was.  The king preferred her above all the other women, making her his wife and queen, giving her Vashti’s crown.

“Then the king made a great feast unto all his princes and his servants, even Esther's feast; and he made a release to the provinces, and gave gifts, according to the state of the king.  And when the virgins were gathered together the second time, then Mordecai sat in the king's gate.” (Ezra 2:18-19)

Ahaseurus held a huge reception for the rulers of the various provinces, donating a lot of gifts commensurate with his power and prestige.  After the gala was over, Mordecai was accorded a place of respect among the leaders of Persia.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Making A Mountain Out Of A Molehill

Esther 1:1-22

“Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus, (this is Ahasuerus which reigned, from India even unto Ethiopia, over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces:) That in those days, when the king Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan the palace, In the third year of his reign, he made a feast unto all his princes and his servants; the power of Persia and Media, the nobles and princes of the provinces, being before him: When he showed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the honour of his excellent majesty many days, even and hundred and fourscore days.” (Esther 1:1-4)

About 528 BC., Ahaseurus ascended the throne of the Persian Empire.  He seized Egypt in early 525 BC, giving him control of everything from the boundary of India to the boundary of Ethiopia according to Ethiopian and Persian records.  He held a six month celebration of his victory over Egypt to impress the rulers of his various provinces with his power.

“And when these days were expired, the king made a feast unto all the people that were present in Shushan the palace, both unto great and small, seven days, in the court of the garden of the king's palace; Where were white, green, and blue, hangings, fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and pillars of marble: the beds were of gold and silver, upon a pavement of red, and blue, and white, and black, marble. 

And they gave them drink in vessels of gold, (the vessels being diverse one from another,) and royal wine in abundance, according to the state of the king.  And the drinking was according to the law; none did compel: for so the king had appointed to all the officers of his house, that they should do according to every man's pleasure.  Also Vashti the queen made a feast for the women in the royal house which belonged to king Ahasuerus.” (Esther 1:5-9)

To show his appreciation for their work, after the huge celebration, Ahaseurus had a seven day feast for the men who had done all the work in the richly appointed palace courtyard.  His wife, Vashti was holding a similar event for the women.

“On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, and Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven chamberlains that served in the presence of Ahasuerus the king, To bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to show the people and the princes her beauty: for she was fair to look on.  But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king's commandment by his chamberlains: therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him.” (Esther 1:10-12)

Wanting to show off his trophy wife, Ahaseurus sent some of the waiters to bring her to the men’s party.  She was busy overseeing the party ofr the ladies and resented the implication that what she was doing was less important than what he was doing.  Almost no one enjoys being ordered around, and especially not by their servants, and she found it embarrassing to be on display where she would be the only woman present, so she refused to go.

“Then the king said to the wise men, which knew the times, (for so was the king's manner toward all that knew law and judgment: And the next unto him was Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, which saw the king's face, and which sat the first in the kingdom;) What shall we do unto the queen Vashti according to law, because she hath not performed the commandment of the king Ahasuerus by the chamberlains?” (Esther 1:13-15)

Accustomed to having people respond immediately to his commands, Ahaseurus saw her refusal as rebellion against his authority, completely ignoring her feelings.  Embarassed that she ignored his demands in front of other men he became angry and asked the legal experts what could be done about her refusal.

“And Memucan answered before the king and the princes, Vashti the queen hath not done wrong to the king only, but also to all the princes, and to all the people that are in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus.  For this deed of the queen shall come abroad unto all women, so that they shall despise their husbands in their eyes, when it shall be reported, The king Ahasuerus commanded Vashti the queen to be brought in before him, but she came not.  Likewise shall the ladies of Persia and Media say this day unto all the king's princes, which have heard of the deed of the queen. Thus shall there arise too much contempt and wrath. 

If it please the king, let there go a royal commandment from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes, that it be not altered, That Vashti come no more before king Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal estate unto another that is better than she.  And when the king's decree which he shall make shall be published throughout all his empire, (for it is great,) all the wives shall give to their husbands honour, both to great and small.” (Esther 1:16-20) 

As so often happens, the lawyers forgot this was a minor dispute between a husband and wife and made a federal case out of it.  They said that her refusal to obey Ahaseurus would set a precedent for women not to obey their husbands and result in the collapse of their system.

They recommended that he divorce her and find someone who would be more compliant to take her place, so that the women would be afraid to oppose their husbands. and that a law be made enabling a husband to divorce any wife who wouldn‘t obey.

“And the saying pleased the king and the princes; and the king did according to the word of Memucan: For he sent letters into all the king's provinces, into every province according to the writing thereof, and to every people after their language, that every man should bear rule in his own house, and that it should be published according to the language of every people.” (Esther 1:21-22)

 The lawyers solution appealed to Ahasuerus because he didn’t have to accept any of the blame for the conflict, and he would be doing a great thing for the people.   Unfortunately, we tend to focus on our desired outcome and ignore what our actions may cause.  Under Persian law, once a law had been passed, it could not be changed, so that principle would be enforced for a hundred years, producing an attitude toward women that persists to the present day in the region.

What started because a husband failed to consider his wife’s feelings turned into a major problem that has lasted over two thousand and five hundred years.  Lawyers and politicians turned a molehill into a mountain because they didn't consider all the ramifications of their decision.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Refusing To Compromise Their Beliefs

Ezra 4:1-6

“Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of Israel; Then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither.” (Ezra 4:1-2)

The Assyrians had systematically relocated people they conquered, mixing various groups in order to weaken them and prevent uprisings, much as the United States did witht eh various Indian tribes.  In the ensuing two hundred years, they had intermarried and their cultures had become closely entwined.

God had designated the land of Israel for a place to worship him.  When Israel was taken the Assyrians had relocated other groups into the area around the capital, Samaria.  II Kings 17:25 declares,  “And so it was at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they feared not the LORD: therefore the LORD sent lions among them, which slew some of them.  Wherefore they spake to the king of Assyria, saying, The nations which thou hast removed, and placed in the cities of Samaria, know not the manner of the God of the land: therefore he hath sent lions among them, and, behold, they slay them, because they know not the manner of the God of the land.

Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying, Carry thither one of the priests whom ye brought from thence; and let them go and dwell there, and let him teach them the manner of the God of the land.  Then one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the LORD.  Howbeit every nation made gods of their own, and put them in the houses of the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in their cities wherein they dwelt.”

Their religion was a mixture of Jewish and traditional beliefs, although they saw themselves as serving God, and wanted to be involved in restoring the temple and the Jewish religion.  The captives returning from Babylon knew that the collapse of Judah and their captivity was the result of mixing in other beliefs.  

“But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us.” (Ezra 4:3) 

Though their goals appeared the same, the Jews feared that an effort to collaborate would lead to adopting other beliefs again, and refused to unite with the other groups.  They decided they would rather not take the chance, but would build the temple themselves, acting on Cyrus’ authorization, and trusting God to enable them to do what was needed.  Sadly, history is replete with Christian groups who thought they could collaborate in such cases.  

Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon,” in Matthew 6:24.  Though these other groups considered themselves as serving God, they were in reality placing their other gods ahead of God.

 In II Corinthians 6:14-18, Paul warned Christians, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?  And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?  And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,  And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” 

While compromise in other things is often good or necessary, God's word is not negotiable, and must not be compromised.

“Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, And hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.” (Ezra 4:4-5)

For two hundred years the resentments about being relocated had festered, even though it was not the Jews who had relocated them.  The Jews refusal to accept their offer infuriated the other groups, who would try to block construction of the temple throughout the reigns of Cyrus, his son Ahaseurus(the Cambyses, of secular history), Artaxerxes, and into the reign of Darius II, of Persia, a forty nine year or seven week period prophesied in Daniel 9:25.  Had the Jews accepted the help, construction would undoubtedly proceeded more rapidly, but God would not have been pleased.

Since Cyrus had given the order to rebuild, their enemies were limited to raids, interference, and obstruction until his death.

“And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they unto him an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.” (Ezra 4:6) 

When Cambyses ascended the throne, taking the title Ahaseurus, about 528 BC, an official complaint was filed to try to block construction of the temple, but he took no action to stop them.  About 525 BC, Cambyses conquered Egypt, fulfilling the prophecy in Ezekiel 29:12-16.

Friday, December 20, 2013

They Resume the Sacrifices

Ezra 3:1-13

“And when the seventh month was come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem.” (Ezra 3:1) 

For seventy years, Judah had not kept most of the feasts or holy feasts or sacrifices because there was no temple available.  Shortly after they had returned to Judah, in the seventh month of the Jewish calendar they assembled in Jerusalem to celebrate the day of atonement even though there was no temple as yet.  Leviticus 23:27 specified, “Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD.”

“Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God.  And they set the altar upon his bases; for fear was upon them because of the people of those countries: and they offered burnt offerings thereon unto the LORD, even burnt offerings morning and evening.” (Ezra 3:2-3) 

Knowing that they were outnumbered by all the countries around them, the Jews were desperate to ensure God’s protection.  They built the altar and began to offer sacrifices to God immediately, according to the Mosaic law, although they could not offer the atonement since they had no place prepared for it.

“They kept also the feast of tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number, according to the custom, as the duty of every day required; And afterward offered the continual burnt offering, both of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of the LORD that were consecrated, and of every one that willingly offered a freewill offering unto the LORD.” (Ezra 3:4-5) 

They kept the feast of tabernacles as they were commanded since it did not require the temple.  Leviticus 23:34 commanded, “Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the LORD.”  The feast of tabernacles was essentially a national campout, with the entire nation camping in tents and brush shelters for seven days to commemorate how God had blessed during the forty years in the wilderness and remind them of God’s care for them.

They began offering the daily sacrifices morning and evening as specified in Numbers 28:3-5.  “And thou shalt say unto them, This is the offering made by fire which ye shall offer unto the LORD; two lambs of the first year without spot day by day, for a continual burnt offering.  The one lamb shalt thou offer in the morning, and the other lamb shalt thou offer at even; And a tenth part of an ephah of flour for a meat offering, mingled with the fourth part of an hin of beaten oil.”

On the Sabbath they were to offer twice as much, as Numbers 28:9-10 advises.  “And on the sabbath day two lambs of the first year without spot, and two tenth deals of flour for a meat offering, mingled with oil, and the drink offering thereof: This is the burnt offering of every Sabbath, beside the continual burnt offering, and his drink offering." 

The Jewish calendar was based on the lunar cycle.  On the first day of each month, they were to offer a special sacrifice as described in Numbers 28:11-13.  "And in the beginnings of your months ye shall offer a burnt offering unto the LORD; two young bullocks, and one ram, seven lambs of the first year without spot; And three tenth deals of flour for a meat offering, mingled with oil, for one bullock; and two tenth deals of flour for a meat offering, mingled with oil, for one ram; And a several tenth deal of flour mingled with oil for a meat offering unto one lamb; for a burnt offering of a sweet savour, a sacrifice made by fire unto the LORD.”  None of these sacrifices had been offered since the destruction of the temple, nor had they kept any of the feasts.

“From the first day of the seventh month began they to offer burnt offerings unto the LORD. But the foundation of the temple of the LORD was not yet laid.  They gave money also unto the masons, and to the carpenters; and meat, and drink, and oil, unto them of Zidon, and to them of Tyre, to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea of Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia.” (Ezra 3:6-7) 

Although construction on the temple had not begun, the people were excited about the offering of the sacrifices and began to make arrangements for it’s construction, hiring contractors and ordering materials with the money Cyrus and the people around them had donated.

“Now in the second year of their coming unto the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the remnant of their brethren the priests and the Levites, and all they that were come out of the captivity unto Jerusalem; and appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to set forward the work of the house of the LORD. 

Then stood Jeshua with his sons and his brethren, Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together, to set forward the workmen in the house of God: the sons of Henadad, with their sons and their brethren the Levites.” (Ezra 3:8-9)

Actual construction began on the templs about a year after Cyrus gave them permission to return to Judah.  The Levites were assigned by the others to do the actual construction, following their calling from God to care for the physical plant.  Jessua and Kadmiel, of the tribe of Judah were designated to oversee the construction.

“And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the LORD, after the ordinance of David king of Israel. And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the LORD; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.” (Ezra 3:10-11) 

The ground breaking and laying of the cornerstone for the foundation were great events, with the band playing and speeches and songs by the choir and the congregation, thanking God for taking care of them and bringing them back so they could rebuild.  The people were shouting and cheering in excitement.

“But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy: So that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people: for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off.” (Ezra 3:12-13)

Many of the people who were past eighty remembered the despair they had felt seeing Jerusalem destroyed and believing it would never be rebuilt, despite Jeremiah’s prophecies.  They suddenly realized it was really going to happen and were overcome and broke down crying when they saw the construction begin.  Between the crying and cheering it was hard to tell what was going on, but it was loud enough to be heard from considerable distance.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Jews Return to Judah

Ezra 2:1-70

“Now these are the children of the province that went up out of the captivity, of those which had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away unto Babylon, and came again unto Jerusalem and Judah, every one unto his city; Which came with Zerubbabel: Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mizpar, Bigvai, Rehum, Baanah.” (Ezra 2:1-2)

Seventy years after they were taken into captivity to Babylon, the Jewish people were allowed to return to Jerusalem.  While Zerubabbel was the one in charge, there were several other leaders who went along, including Esther’s uncle, Moredcai, and Nehemiah, both of whom held important positions in Cyrus’ administration and would return to Babylon after helping get the others settled in Jerusalem.  We are given a list of the various family groups that returned to Jerusalem.

"The number of the men of the people of Israel: The children of Parosh, two thousand an hundred seventy and two.  The children of Shephatiah, three hundred seventy and two.  The children of Arah, seven hundred seventy and five.  The children of Pahathmoab, of the children of Jeshua and Joab, two thousand eight hundred and twelve.  The children of Elam, a thousand two hundred fifty and four.  The children of Zattu, nine hundred forty and five.  The children of Zaccai, seven hundred and threescore. 

The children of Bani, six hundred forty and two.  The children of Bebai, six hundred twenty and three.  The children of Azgad, a thousand two hundred twenty and two.  The children of Adonikam, six hundred sixty and six.  The children of Bigvai, two thousand fifty and six.  The children of Adin, four hundred fifty and four.  The children of Ater of Hezekiah, ninety and eight.  The children of Bezai, three hundred twenty and three.  The children of Jorah, an hundred and twelve.  The children of Hashum, two hundred twenty and three. 

The children of Gibbar, ninety and five.  The children of Bethlehem, an hundred twenty and three.  The men of Netophah, fifty and six.  The men of Anathoth, an hundred twenty and eight.  The children of Azmaveth, forty and two.  The children of Kirjatharim, Chephirah, and Beeroth, seven hundred and forty and three.  The children of Ramah and Gaba, six hundred twenty and one.  The men of Michmas, an hundred twenty and two.  The men of Bethel and Ai, two hundred twenty and three.  The children of Nebo, fifty and two.  The children of Magbish, an hundred fifty and six.  The children of the other Elam, a thousand two hundred fifty and four. 

 The children of Harim, three hundred and twenty.  The children of Lod, Hadid, and Ono, seven hundred twenty and five.  The children of Jericho, three hundred forty and five.  The children of Senaah, three thousand and six hundred and thirty.” (Ezra 2:3-35) 

While they were in Babylon the priests and Levites had served little function since their was no temple, except to preserve the memory of the old Jewish law and customs much like the present day Rabbi’s do.  When Judah returned to Jerusalem most of them returned to help rebuild the temple and assume their traditional roles as priests and Levites.

"The priests: the children of Jedaiah, of the house of Jeshua, nine hundred seventy and three.  The children of Immer, a thousand fifty and two.  The children of Pashur, a thousand two hundred forty and seven.  The children of Harim, a thousand and seventeen.

The Levites: the children of Jeshua and Kadmiel, of the children of Hodaviah, seventy and four.  The singers: the children of Asaph, an hundred twenty and eight.  The children of the porters: the children of Shallum, the children of Ater, the children of Talmon, the children of Akkub, the children of Hatita, the children of Shobai, in all an hundred thirty and nine. 

The Nethinims: the children of Ziha, the children of Hasupha, the children of Tabbaoth, The children of Keros, the children of Siaha, the children of Padon, The children of Lebanah, the children of Hagabah, the children of Akkub, The children of Hagab, the children of Shalmai, the children of Hanan, The children of Giddel, the children of Gahar, the children of Reaiah, The children of Rezin, the children of Nekoda, the children of Gazzam, The children of Uzza, the children of Paseah, the children of Besai, The children of Asnah, the children of Mehunim, the children of Nephusim, The children of Bakbuk, the children of Hakupha, the children of Harhur, The children of Bazluth, the children of Mehida, the children of Harsha, The children of Barkos, the children of Sisera, the children of Thamah, The children of Neziah, the children of Hatipha. 

The children of Solomon's servants: the children of Sotai, the children of Sophereth, the children of Peruda, The children of Jaalah, the children of Darkon, the children of Giddel, The children of Shephatiah, the children of Hattil, the children of Pochereth of Zebaim, the children of Ami.  All the Nethinims, and the children of Solomon's servants, were three hundred ninety and two.” (Ezra 2:36-58) 

During the captivity, the Jews had not been as careful to keep accurate records since it didn‘nt seem as important.  As a result there were a few who could not prove they were Jews, and some of the Levites could not prove they were actually descendants of Aaron and qualified to be priests.

“And these were they which went up from Telmelah, Telharsa, Cherub, Addan, and Immer: but they could not show their father's house, and their seed, whether they were of Israel: The children of Delaiah, the children of Tobiah, the children of Nekoda, six hundred fifty and two. 

And of the children of the priests: the children of Habaiah, the children of Koz, the children of Barzillai; which took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called after their name: These sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but they were not found: therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood).  And the Tirshatha said unto them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, till there stood up a priest with Urim and with Thummim.” (Ezra 2:59-63)

As governor of the colony, Zerubabbel decided those who could not be proven to be of proper lineage should not be allowed to function as priests until they could annoint a high priest to take full responsibility as the spokesperson for God.

“The whole congregation together was forty and two thousand three hundred and threescore, Beside their servants and their maids, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred thirty and seven: and there were among them two hundred singing men and singing women. 

Their horses were seven hundred thirty and six; their mules, two hundred forty and five; Their camels, four hundred thirty and five; their asses, six thousand seven hundred and twenty.” (Ezra 2:64-67)

The total number of Jews returning to Jerusalem was only about fifty thousand people men, a very small number for a country that at one time had fielded armies of more than six hundred thousand men, and Solomon himself had owned more horses than the entire population did at this time. I Kings 4:26 says, “And Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen.”  Their refusal to obey God had cost them a lot.

“And some of the chief of the fathers, when they came to the house of the LORD which is at Jerusalem, offered freely for the house of God to set it up in his place: They gave after their ability unto the treasure of the work threescore and one thousand drams of gold, and five thousand pound of silver, and one hundred priests' garments.” (Ezra 2:68-69)

When they got to Jerusalem, and saw the temple site, some of the Jewish leaders personally donated as much as they could to help rebuild the temple, realizing that the donations they had brought from Babylon were not nearly enough.

“So the priests, and the Levites, and some of the people, and the singers, and the porters, and the Nethinims, dwelt in their cities, and all Israel in their cities.” (Ezra 2:70)

Most of the people had never seen the places their families came from, only knowing the stories.  When they arrived in Judah, they went back to their family properties to plant crops and establish homes.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cyrus Authorizes Rebuilding Jerusalem

Ezra 1:1-11

“Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying,  Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.” (Ezra 1:1-2) 

Jeremiah had prophesied of Jeerusalem and Judah being captives in Babylon more than forty years before, During the reign of Josiah, Judah’s last good king.  Jeremiah 25:11 states it would be for a period of seventy years.  “And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.”  According to historians, Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem about 605 BC.  Cyrus the Great took Babylon in about 539 BC, and gave his decree in 538 BC.  There is considerable debate about all these dates, as no single group kept complete records and they don’t always match exactly.

In allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem, Cyrus was fulfilling Jeremiah’s prophecy in Jeremiah 27:22, “They shall be carried to Babylon, and there shall they be until the day that I visit them, saith the LORD; then will I bring them up, and restore them to this place.”  Jeremiah 30:3 made a similar prophecy.  "For, lo, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel and Judah, saith the LORD: and I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it".

Daniel had been taken to Babylon with the first group of captives and had advanced to a very high position, retaining it through various administrations, until Cyrus became king.   About ten years before Cyrus conquered Babylon,  Daniel had read and understood Jeremiah’s prophecies, according to Daniel 9:1-2.  “In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, which was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans; In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.”

Undoubtedly, Daniel had a part in Cyrus’ understanding of God’s plan, since his last recorded prophecy was made during Cyrus’ third year in power.    Cyrus clearly recognized it was God’s plan as II Chronicles 36:23 makes clear.  “Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath the LORD God of heaven given me; and he hath charged me to build him an house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah…”

“Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem.  And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:3-4) 

Like Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus recognized God as the God of gods, the real God.  He authorized any Jew who wished to return to Jerusalem go back and rebuild the temple, instructing that neighbors donate money and supplies to be used in the project, as well as animals for the sacrifices.  He clearly understood that the sacrifices were to be voluntary.

“Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem.  And all they that were about them strengthened their hands with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, and with beasts, and with precious things, beside all that was willingly offered.” (Ezra 1:5-6) 

While many of the Jews were content to remain in Babylon, God had caused some of the leaders and the Levites and priests to want to go back and restore the worship of God as they were supposed to.  Their neighbors, whether Jewish or other groups willingly donated money, provisions and anything they thought would be useful for the project.

“Also Cyrus the king brought forth the vessels of the house of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth out of Jerusalem, and had put them in the house of his gods; Even those did Cyrus king of Persia bring forth by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and numbered them unto Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah.” (Ezra 1:7-8)

Nebuchadnezzar had carried off some of the vessels of the temple after his first attack on Jerusalem, in II Chronicles 36:7.  “Nebuchadnezzar also carried of the vessels of the house of the LORD to Babylon, and put them in his temple at Babylon.”  When they razed the temple eleven years later, in Zedekiah’s reign, the other vessels and service objects had been taken to Babylon as well.  Cyrus ordered that all the things from the temple be returned, and they were retrieved from storage in the Babylonian temples.  As leader of the expedition, Sheshbazzar was given responsibility for all those objects.

“And this is the number of them: thirty chargers of gold, a thousand chargers of silver, nine and twenty knives, Thirty basins of gold, silver basins of a second sort four hundred and ten, and other vessels a thousand.  All the vessels of gold and of silver were five thousand and four hundred. All these did Sheshbazzar bring up with them of the captivity that were brought up from Babylon unto Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:9-11)

Just to safely transport the items that had been taken from the temple would be a major responsibility, involving five thousand four hundred separate objects of gold or silver.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Purpose of the Prophecies

Daniel 12:1-13

“And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.  And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:1-2)

When the Antichrist’s kingdom begins to unravel, he will blame Israel for the problems for continuing to worship God rather than his state religion, in an effort to distract people from the failure of his leadership.  It is a tactic that has been used throughout history.  As a result almost the entire world will turn on Israel.  They will go through a period of trouble like they have never experienced, as Jeremiah 30:7 describes it.  “Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble; but he shall be saved out of it.”

Throughout history the two archangels, Michael and Gabriel have stood against Satan’s power, keeping evil from completely taking over the world, with Michael being especially responsible for protecting God’s people.  For a time he will be restrained from protecting them allowing the Antichrist to come to power and force people to choose between trusting God or just following tradition, as we find in II Thessalonians 2:7-10.

“For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.  And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.”

A post on Facebook asked how 6 million Jews can be a threat to 1.2 billion Moslems, yet they are viewed as such a threat.  When the Antichrist turns the entire world against them Michael will stand up to preserve them for three and a half years, using the earth itself as we see in Revelation 12:6-8.  “And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.  And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.”

The human powers will be destroyed completely, and Satan himself imprisoned for a thousand years according to Revelation 20:1-3.  “And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.  And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.”

For a thousand years, Christ will reign and from the description it seems that the world will function as God originally designed it to function.  At the end of the time, Satan will be released, giving mankind one last chance to choose whether to serve God.  After that the judgment will come, with some being eternally condemned and others to everlasting life.  Revelation 20:11-15 describes this judgment.

“And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.  And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.  And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.  And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.  And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

“And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3)

While those who have never had their names written in the book of life are cast into the lake of fire, those who have will be richly rewarded, standing out like stars in the night sky.

“But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.” (Daniel 12:4)

Daniel was to close up the prophecy until the times came, although over time they would know more about it as things happened.  In Acts 1:7 Jesus told his disciples, “… It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.”  He repeatedly told us that he was going to come secretly, when he was not expected.  He will not tell us in advance when these things will happen.  That we see so many that have been fulfilled does not enable us to set a time table, but it does provide reassurance that God is still keeping his promises, and knows what is going on, and I believe that is the purpose for the prophecies.

“Then I Daniel looked, and, behold, there stood other two, the one on this side of the bank of the river, and the other on that side of the bank of the river.  And one said to the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, How long shall it be to the end of these wonders?  And I heard the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever that it shall be for a time, times, and an half; and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished.” (Daniel 12:5-7)

Once again it was stressed that the extreme persecution will only last three and a half years, “for a time, times, and an half.”  It will be very reassuring to those who are alive when that day comes to know that it will be such a short time.

“And I heard, but I understood not: then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things? 

And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.  Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand.” (Daniel 12:8-10) 

Daniel asked for more detail but God told him it was not to be known until the end.  In the mean time people would decide whether they would serve God or not.  The message was primarily for those who are alive at the time., and Daniel was not to get so caught up in prophecy that he neglected other subjects as many prophetic speakers have done.

“And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days.  Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days. 

But go thou thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days.” (Daniel 12:11-13)

The details would have no impact on Daniel, or others who lived before all these things happened, other than providing some encouragement.  They would all die, and later stand for judgment at the end, whether they understood the prophecy or not.  For those who would go through it, the knowledge that they only had to survive about three and a half years might give them the courage to go on.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Reign Of The King Of The North

Daniel 11:36-45

“And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done.  Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god: for he shall magnify himself above all.  But in his estate shall he honour the God of forces: and a god whom his fathers knew not shall he honour with gold, and silver, and with precious stones, and pleasant things.” (Daniel 11:36-38)

When that northern king we know as the Antichrist comes to power, he takes over by trickery.  Once he is in power he will ignore any constitutional limitations using something like our executive orders to bypass the legislature so he just does as he pleases.  He promotes himself as greater and more powerful than any god, the most powerful man on earth, and regularly takes actions to destroy faith in God, completely ignoring the traditional religion of his land.

He will consider himself so much superior to anyone else that desires of God, of other powers or even of his lovers mean nothing to him.  If they disagree or want something else he will just replace them with someone else.  The only thing he will respect is power, the God of force and will set up a god of his own to be worshipped.

Revelation 13:1-8 describes the antichrist in a figurative sense.  “And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.  And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority. 

And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast.  And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him? And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.  And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven.  And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.  And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”

In order to consolidate his power, he will set up a new religion worshiping himself, and the Devil who empowers him.  Fortunately his power will be limited to forty two months, or three and a half years.

“Thus shall he do in the most strong holds with a strange god, whom he shall acknowledge and increase with glory: and he shall cause them to rule over many, and shall divide the land for gain.” (Daniel 11:39)

Revelation 13:11-16 describes how he will use a false teacher who poses as being from God, but whose doctrine is from Satan, the Dragon.   While he will claim to be acting for the people, his real focus will be on making a profit by giving others control of different areas.  “And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.  And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.

And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live.  And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.  And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:”

Everything about his administration will be  built on fraud and deceit,  even using fake miracles to convince people that he has real power according to II Thessalonians 2:9-10.  “Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.”  The fraud will begin to break down when he is unable to do what he promised.

“And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over.  He shall enter also into the glorious land, and many countries shall be overthrown: but these shall escape out of his hand, even Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon.” (Daniel 11:40-41) 

When they realize his apparent power is only a sham, the southern kingdom will rebel, leading to powerful effort to quash the rebellion.  In the fighting many countries will be defeated, and Israel will be occupied, but the region south and east of the Dead Sea will be ignored as having little significance.  Matthew 24:15-22 and Revelation 13:13-14 describe Israel as having been forced to flee to the region for protection, where they stay for three and a half years after the Antichrist broke the treaty the previous administration wade with them.

“And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.  And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.” (Revelation 13:13-14)”

“He shall stretch forth his hand also upon the countries: and the land of Egypt shall not escape.  But he shall have power over the treasures of gold and of silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt: and the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall be at his steps.” (Daniel 11:42-43 

The Anti-christ’s primary target is the rebellious southern kingdom and he will wipe out Egypt.  Ethiopia and Libya will join forces with him to avoid destruction themselves.  Since the Jews will never embrace his false religion, he will then proceed to try to destroy them completely.  Ezekiel 38:1-6 describes the forces marshaled against Israel.

“And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him, And say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal: And I will turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth, and all thine army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed with all sorts of armour, even a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords: Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya with them; all of them with shield and helmet: Gomer, and all his bands; the house of Togarmah of the north quarters, and all his bands: and many people with thee.”

“But tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him: therefore he shall go forth with great fury to destroy, and utterly to make away many.  And he shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him.” (Daniel 11:44-45)

The unrest will not be limited to the southern kingdom, and as he learns about the problems in the north and east, he will declare war on Israel in an attempt to distract the people from the problems in his administration by focusing them on the destruction of Israel, much like Hitler did to retain control of Germany.

In Ezekiel 39:1-5, God describes the results of the attack on Israel,  “Therefore, thou son of man, prophesy against Gog, and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal: And I will turn thee back, and leave but the sixth part of thee, and will cause thee to come up from the north parts, and will bring thee upon the mountains of Israel: And I will smite thy bow out of thy left hand, and will cause thine arrows to fall out of thy right hand. Thou shalt fall upon the mountains of Israel, thou, and all thy bands, and the people that is with thee: I will give thee unto the ravenous birds of every sort, and to the beasts of the field to be devoured.  Thou shalt fall upon the open field: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord GOD." 

Revelation 19:17-21 describes the same event.  “And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great.

And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army.  And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.  And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.”

Despite all his power and efforts to destroy everything relating to God, the Antichrist, his false religion, and his empire will be destroyed, and Satan himself imprisoned.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Little Horn Seizes Power

Daniel 11:21-35

“And in his estate shall stand up a vile person, to whom they shall not give the honour of the kingdom: but he shall come in peaceably, and obtain the kingdom by flatteries.  And with the arms of a flood shall they be overflown from before him, and shall be broken; yea, also the prince of the covenant.” (Daniel 11:21-22)

As we saw in the previous post, repeated efforts by the southern kingdom to take over the northern kingdom will lead to the northern kingdom attacking and occupying the territory in a “peace keeping“ move.  The northern kingdom will then turn and try to occupy some islands and be stopped by another world power.  They will be forced to return home where the entire coalition  collapses and is replaced by a raiser of taxes.

My guess is that the king of the north refers to some group like NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which has conducted many such “peace keeping” operations.  That does not mean that it will be NATO, but only that it is a group with similar intentions.  When their efforts are stymied, leading to their collapse, an economic union similat to the European Economic Union or the United Nations, the “raiser of taxes”, takes power for a brief time.

According to these verses, that organization will then be taken over by an evil person who uses deceptive means to gain power even though people would not normally place him such a position.  His accession to power will be like an unstoppable flood, sweeping everything before him.  Revelation 6 describes him as a fake Messiah riding a white horse during this period, promising peace and prosperity to everyone.

“And after the league made with him he shall work deceitfully: for he shall come up, and shall become strong with a small people.  He shall enter peaceably even upon the fattest places of the province; and he shall do that which his fathers have not done, nor his fathers' fathers; he shall scatter among them the prey, and spoil, and riches: yea, and he shall forecast his devices against the strong holds, even for a time.” (Daniel 11:23-24)

In both Daniel 7 and 8 we read about a little horn that destroys three other kingdoms.   Here this ruler is described as having only a relatively small people behind him who breaks his treaty once he is in power, peaceably gaining entrance into the richest parts of the empire, using government support programs and policies to gain control while maintaining a strong threat of military action against any opposition.

Daniel 2, 7, and 8 make it clear that the little horn will come from remains of the old Roman and Greek empires.  Ezekiel 38 narrows his source down to the area of northern Europe including southern Russia and Hungary.  That the verse here describes him as leading a small people implies that he comes from one of the smaller countries in the region, and probably not from Russia itself.  

“And he shall stir up his power and his courage against the king of the south with a great army; and the king of the south shall be stirred up to battle with a very great and mighty army; but he shall not stand: for they shall forecast devices against him.  Yea, they that feed of the portion of his meat shall destroy him, and his army shall overflow: and many shall fall down slain.” (Daniel 11:25-26)

Though the southern empire had been conquered by his predecessors, this ruler decides to again attack them, and the southern kingdom assembles a great force to repel them.  The southern kingdom will be defeated as a result of betrayal by some of the southern forces as a result of negotiations with the north.  There will be great losses and the once again the defeat will be unstoppable.  This is the period described by the red horse of Revelation 6.

“And both these kings' hearts shall be to do mischief, and they shall speak lies at one table; but it shall not prosper: for yet the end shall be at the time appointed.  Then shall he return into his land with great riches; and his heart shall be against the holy covenant; and he shall do exploits, and return to his own land.” (Daniel 11:27-28)

While a treaty will be signed, neither will have any intention of keeping it.  It just provides a brief respite from the fighting, a lull before God’s judgment begins.  There is a brief period of prosperity, but the northern king will become very resentful of the covenant between God and Israel and the blessings they incur as a result, much like what happened in Germany just before World War II.

“At the time appointed he shall return, and come toward the south; but it shall not be as the former, or as the latter.  For the ships of Chittim shall come against him: therefore he shall be grieved, and return, and have indignation against the holy covenant: so shall he do; he shall even return, and have intelligence with them that forsake the holy covenant.” (Daniel 11:29-30) 

Angered by their failure to keep treaty, the northern kingdom will launch an unsuccessful attack on the southern kingdom.  They will blame the traditional Jews for their failure and begin to negotiate with the non traditional Jews.

“And arms shall stand on his part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate.  And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he corrupt by flatteries: but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits. 

And they that understand among the people shall instruct many: yet they shall fall by the sword, and by flame, by captivity, and by spoil, many days.  Now when they shall fall, they shall be holpen with a little help: but many shall cleave to them with flatteries.  And some of them of understanding shall fall, to try them, and to purge, and to make them white, even to the time of the end: because it is yet for a time appointed.” (Daniel 11:31-35)

There will be a concerted effort to destroy the traditional Jewish faith in God.  They will deliberately make a mockery of the sacrifices using military and police forces to prevent believers from interfering and rewarding those who give up their religion.  Teachers and religious leaders who stand up for the traditional beliefs, and their followers will be killed, although there will be small efforts to protect them.  There will be a lot of pressure for them to just give in and some will, as a test to separate out those who are only following tradition and don’t really believe.

According to Revelation 12:13-17 this is actually a Satanic effort to destroy faith in god using human forces.  “And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.  And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.  And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.  And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth.  And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”

Angered by their failure to destroy the Jewish faith, their attention will be turned to those whose faith is based on the old Jewish faith, the Christians.  Every effort will be made to destroy them.  Again we have what happened in Nazi Germany as an example, when Christians were killed for suspicion of supporting the Jews..

Revelation 6:9-11 gives only a little detail.  “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?  And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.”