The Faith of an Athlete

Author: Jacob P. Massine

Paul wrote his letter to the church at Philippi while in prison. Philippians is a genuinely encouraging letter intended to build the faith of the local church by urging sincerity and humility. Paul’s confidence in the direction and ultimate goal of this faith is evident even in his diction.

Paul frames his dreary situation with rejoicing: “Most of the brethren have been made confident in the Lord because of my imprisonment” (Phil 1:14). Roman prisoners were not provided room and board. Locked up, and sometimes chained to a guard for constant supervision, they had to rely on a close-knit network of friends and family to supply their food. Paul’s food would likely have come from other Christians. His faith in Christ and the Christian community was thus grounded in each meal he ate within the prison walls.

Paul tells the Philippians:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. (Phil 1:27–28)

“Striving side by side” is one word in Greek—sunathlountes (συναθλοντες). Sunathlountes means “to contend along with, to assist.” It is formed by attaching the word sun (συν), meaning “in company with,” or “together,” to athleo (αθλέω), which means “to contend for a prize, to struggle.” Athleo is related to the noun athlon (αθλον), meaning “contest, combat, labor” or “prize.” We derive athlete and athletic from this word.

Athleo is used in classical Greek literature to describe athletic contests. These vibrant contests involved nearly unendurable tasks that required years of personal training. The victor won statues, effigies and laudatory poems written in their honor. For Paul, the prize is full residence in the Kingdom of God, as well as a well-developed spiritual constitution, which is athletic in nature. Confinement in prison is a crucial component in Paul’s spiritual development.

Following this passage, Paul writes, “It has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Phil 1:29). The Greek for “suffer” is paskhein (πασχειν), which connotes not only to suffer, but also “to feel emotion.” For Paul, empathy is part of suffering.

We don’t usually consider suffering a gift, but the serious athlete welcomes any opportunity to build his or her self through exertion. Paul, writing from a prison where starvation was a very real possibility, considered his imprisonment one more element of the training he must endure to receive the final “prize” (athlon, αθλον) of the Christian life: “For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). Given Paul’s complete assurance in those circumstances, we can safely infer that the final athlon was, “The peace of God, which passes all understanding” (Phil 4:7). Attained in a community through shared difficulties, this prize transcends the classical meanings of athlon, by integrating it into a Christian framework.

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Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 5.

Jesus Never Laughed?

Author Dr. Samuel Lamerson

Jesus Never Laughed, or so the pamphlet said. An adolescent boy at the time, I found myself laughing at every little thing—too often during church services. Reading that pamphlet I wondered, So he never laughed? What was wrong with him?

Perhaps we’re accustomed to only thinking of Jesus as “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isa 53:3). His crucifixion is certainly no laughing matter. Or maybe the image of a laughing Jesus offends simply because it makes Him too human. Yet Heb 4:15 tells us that Jesus is able to sympathize with us because He is exactly like us (minus the sinning). God has gifted us with a sense of humor; it stands to reason that Jesus had one too.

Now, every culture has its own idea of what is funny: Watch a random selection of German, Spanish or Japanese comedy shows and sometimes you’ll be rolling on the floor, and other times scratching your head. Why is that funny? First century Palestine would be no different: It had its own comedic tradition, steeped in the cutting irony of the Old Testament (Job, Jonah or Ezekiel) and the over-the-top parodies of classical Greece (Aristophanes).

Aristotle famously wrote that comedies end with a wedding. That may be so, but the gas that really fuels the fire of Greek comedy is exaggeration: Take a simple gag and blow it out of all proportion. Re-read some of Jesus’ sayings with this in mind and you might find a chuckle or two yourself: Your neighbor may have a speck in his eye, but you’ve got a log. The blind are leading the blind—right into a hole in the ground. A priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan are walking down the road …

Not Exactly the “A”-List

In the parable of the wedding feast (Matt 22:1–10), the king throws a wedding feast in his son’s honor. It’s the social event of the year. Servants are dispatched carrying invitations to all the VIPS. The powerful. The socially connected. The “in” crowd. The kind of people who know how to dress and how to act at a royal banquet.

But the glitterati—the Pharisees with their clean robes and punctilious manners, the scribes with their jots and tittles all in a row—simply can’t be bothered to attend.

What’s a king to do? Fed up with those who think they’re too good to come, he decides to invite those who know they aren’t. He sends his servants out to round up the the religiously and politically incorrect. The powerless. The socially disenfranchised. The “out” crowd. The kind of people who hang out on the street late at night.

Imagine a royal wedding feast filled with homeless people. Scandalous! This is a comedic break in expectation, exaggerated to drive the punchline home: The outsiders have become the insiders. If you’re one of the insiders, the joke’s on you.

I’ll Gladly Pay You Tuesday …

The parable of the unforgiving debtor (Matt 18:23–35) makes use of what comics today call the topper or call-back. While the audience is still laughing at the last line, you hit them again.

Imagine a slave who owes the king some money. Make that a lot of money. Ten thousand talents, even. We may not get the joke, but Jesus’ listeners would have: That’s more money than the Roman Government had! It’s as if your freshman daughter had called up to say she’d run a little money up on the credit card you gave her. How much? The national debt.

Better yet, when the man is called to pay, he says, “Give me a little more time and I will pay all” (18:26). This is like the girl telling her father that she “plans to get a job at Christmas” to pay off that maxed-out credit card. What’s a king to do? Instead of laughing the slave out of his court (or into prison), he simply forgives the debt. She calls the credit card company and whines a little, so they let her off the hook. Just like that.

“Jesus lays one exaggeration on top of another.”

Then the topper: The slave leaves and finds someone who owes him a hundred denarii—a few months’ wages. Not only does he demand the money, he chokes the poor guy. That goes beyond merely uncharitable; it’s downright cruel. One might even say comically so. In the end, the unjust slave gets his comeuppance, tossed in jail until he can pay in full, which he never can.

Here, Jesus lays one exaggeration on top of another until the audience can’t help but see how utterly ridiculous it is to hold a ten-dollar grudge against a neighbor when God, the gracious king, has wiped clean a fortune’s worth of sin.

The Divine Comedy

By Aristotle’s rule of thumb, God’s plan for the ages is a comedy, because no matter how tragic this world may seem, it ends with a wedding (Rev 19:6–10). He has chosen for himself a bride made of people who don’t dress or act properly—drug dealers, prostitutes, and even a few recovering Pharisees—former sinners all. Snubbed by the people the world counts as important, God spends His incredible riches on the unwashed masses instead, inviting them to join Him in an exquisite meal. And, one would like to think, more than a few good laughs.

 Bible Study Magazine delivers tools and methods for Bible study, as well as insights from respected Bible teachers, professors, historians, and archaeologists. Take over 30% off the cover price—subscribe now!

 Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 4.

Interpretation the Inductive Way

Author Pete De Lacy

The Bible often says exactly what it means, but that is not true all the time. When interpreting the Bible, we must seek the author’s intended meaning, not our own, imposed on the text. To do this, we need to remember that context rules. What is context, and how do we determine it? Everything is said in an immediate context, the verses preceding and following. Then there is a broader context. For the Bible, the broader context is the rest of the book we are interpreting, then other writings by the same author, followed by the New or Old Testament, and finally the whole Bible.

Let’s turn to 1 John 4:8 (NASB) and apply this principle: “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

Immediate Context

First John 4:8 says “God is love.” The immediate context of this phrase includes verses 7–9. (Read these verses.) The immediate context of the passage also leads us to 1 John 4:10 (NASB): “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

Now we see what “love” is, but we are still left with the question: How is “love” connected to the “propitiation for our sins?”

Broader Context

To examine the broader context of 1 John 4:8, read 1 John chapter 4, then the entire book of 1 John. Now turn to John’s other writings, such as the Gospel of John, to see what else he says about “God is love” or what he says about “God” and “love.” As you do, ask the five “W” questions and the one “H” question: who, what, when, where, why and how.

When we expand the context to the Gospel of John, we see that John 3:16 (NASB) helps explain 1 John 4:10: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” The propitiation for our sins was so that those who believe will have eternal life.

Check Commentaries

Research what other Bible students have understood about the passage by checking commentaries. This will help you to see if you’re on track or not. If your interpretation has never been presented by a biblical scholar before, it’s likely that you’ve misinterpreted the text. God spoke to us that we might know truth. Take the Word of God at face value—in its natural, normal sense, letting the passage speak for itself.

1John_Gospel of John

Even though commentaries are very helpful, Scripture is our best commentary on Scripture because it can’t be “broken” (John 10:35). Commentaries should be used to inform our interpretation, not define it.

When John says “let us love one another” (John 4:9 NASB) it’s pretty plain and easy to understand. This is not always the case. When figures of speech such as metaphors are used, they must be handled accordingly. It’s important not to take one difficult to understand verse and use it to define others. Let the clear, repeated teaching of Scripture inform the obscure. “Let us love one another” and “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” are clear enough to inform our interpretation of the rest of Scripture.

To better understand the word love, we can do a word study using Bible software, but we must be sure that context determines how we apply the definitions in dictionaries and lexicons to the text. Likewise, we can run a search for the phrase “God is love,” or search for every time “God” and “love” occur together.

Propitiation 

We all have sinned (done wrong) by God and other people. Sin puts us out of right relationship with God, making us subject to his wrath. Propitiation is the act that appeases God’s wrath and enables us to be brought back into right relationship with Him. In the ancient world, the sacrificial death of an animal brought people temporarily back into right relationship with their God—it was a temporary propitiation for their sins. Jesus’ death brings us permanently back into right relationship with God—it is the eternal propitiation of our sins. See the different ways “propitiation” is used by reading: Rom 3:25, Heb 2:17, 1 John 2:2; 4:10.

To learn more about the Inductive Bible Study Method, go to Precept.org

Bible Study Magazine delivers tools and methods for Bible study, as well as insights from respected Bible teachers, professors, historians, and archaeologists. Take over 30% off the cover price—subscribe now!

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 4.

David & Goliath

Author John D. Barry

Life is an opportunity to show ourselves durable or frail. We rise or fall. We want to be heroes, but more often than not we are our own worst enemy. Many of us see ourselves somewhere in the story of David—a young underdog who quickly rose to the top, but repeatedly hit rock bottom (2 Sam 12).

DavidGoliath.png

Jealousy, envy and lust often proved to be too tempting for David (2 Sam 11). Long after he had slain Goliath and become king, David was still embroiled in a life-and-death struggle, sometimes brought on by his own flaws. Despite his struggles—or perhaps because he never gave up trying to be what God wanted him to be—David remains a beloved heroic figure, blemishes and all.

God chose David because the young shepherd’s heart was focused on Him (1 Sam 16:7). His first question when he sees Goliath (1 Sam 17:26) illustrates his zeal for God’s reputation and his own success: “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away this reproach from Israel?”

This is followed by his famous challenge, “For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

Just a teenager at the time, David’s words would have seemed brash and arrogant, particularly to the Israelite soldiers who lacked the courage to meet Goliath’s challenge. Zeal for God and a drive for success were just what God wanted in a king for Israel.

When David comes out with no armor and a mere sling, the warrior Goliath sneers, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” (1 Sam 17:43).

Not wanting to play fetch, he then curses David by his gods and threatens, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field” (1 Sam 17:44). But David knows this is no street fight. It is a holy war (1 Sam 17:45–47), pitting the gods of Philistia and their champion against the God of Israel and His weapon of choice. It’s the perfect mismatch to the human eye, one that will leave no doubt about who is God.

We all have opportunities to triumph like David or fall like Goliath. We must decide in whose army of the spiritual war of life we want to serve—the gods of this world, who convince us that victory is achieved by relying on and satisfying ourselves, or the God of eternity, who is the only permanent refuge and source of fulfillment. Rise or fall, the choice is clear.

Read the story of David and Goliath like never before.

Bible Study Magazine delivers tools and methods for Bible study, as well as insights from respected Bible teachers, professors, historians, and archaeologists. Take over 30% off the cover price—subscribe now!

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 4.

An Entry-Level King

Author Jeannine Seery

Entry-Level King

Do you remember your first job? Chances are, it was low paying, low prestige, and if anything like mine, you counted the minutes until quitting time. The best thing about my first job was that I knew it was temporary—I had no doubt that it was not part of my career path and I’d move on to bigger and better things.

David was a young man with what was viewed by some as a low-level first job—a shepherd. There was no career advancement for a shepherd, no “golden staff” after 20 years of service. But this does not mean he didn’t enjoy it, or at least grow through his experience.

David’s labor was not in vain. God used it to refine him and draw him close. In the silence, David became intimately acquainted with God. His life circumstances transformed him into “a man after [God’s] own heart” (Acts 13:22 NLT). They prepared him to fear nothing, not even Goliath. As a boy, David said to King Saul, “The Lord who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear [while tending my father’s sheep] will rescue me from this Philistine [Goliath]!” (1 Sam 17:37 NLT)

David’s occupation gave him a window into God’s nature. As he cared for his sheep, he came to recognize God’s providence. Later, when facing a different wilderness experience, David drew on his knowledge that his Good Shepherd would “let him rest in green meadows and lead him beside peaceful streams” (Psa 23:2 NLT). (God’s role as shepherd shows that He views no occupation as low-level.) When Saul pursued David in an effort to kill him, David recalled that the “rod and staff” of the Almighty would “comfort and protect him” (Psa 23:4 NLT).

As he emerged victorious, he marveled in the knowledge that “surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever” (Psa 23:6 NLT). Finally, when almost done in by his own sin, David recalled the vision of a lost sheep being led back to the flock by a merciful Shepherd, allowing God to “renew his strength” (Psa 23:3 NLT). Invaluable life lessons learned by a mere boy watching over his father’s flock.

Many of us are called to vocations that some would deem insignificant. Could it be that in this monotony, God is trying to refine our character and teach us more about His own? None of our jobs are trivial in God’s eyes—everything has a purpose. Perhaps the experiences that seem the most futile give us opportunities to bear the most valuable fruit, “fruit that will last” (John 15:16 NLT).

When we refrain from filling silence in our day with empty noise, we more clearly hear the voice of God. In stillness, standing before Almighty God, our defenses are stripped away; suddenly there is nothing to hide behind. Exposed and vulnerable before our own Good Shepherd, we are rightfully humbled and have the chance to meet Him heart to heart.

Bible Study Magazine delivers tools and methods for Bible study, as well as insights from respected Bible teachers, professors, historians, and archaeologists. Take over 30% off the cover price—subscribe now!

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 4.

A Messiah, A Giant & God’s Favor

Bible Handbooks on David's LifeAuthor James D. Elgin

Bible handbooks are like a roadmap to reading the Bible. Passage summaries, detailed maps, and character sketches provide context for each biblical account. Using Bible handbooks we find that David was called mashiach (“anointed”; “messiah”) and found favor with God before his victory over Goliath.

The Bible Guide

Andrew Knowles, The Bible Guide (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 2001) pg. 138.

A Messiah, A Giant & God’s Favor

In the Valley of Elah, Goliath taunted David’s small stature and feeble weaponry. David’s bravery was unimpeded by Goliath’s words and fierce appearance. He knew Goliath’s defeat would prove to the nations “that there is a God in Israel” (1 Sam 17:46 ESV). David’s pronouncement seems trite to us, but for David and the young nation of Israel, Goliath’s defeat demonstrated the power of the God of Israel over every nation and its god. When David announced these words, he proclaimed the favor and presence of Yahweh, the supreme God of Israel.

Halley’s Bible Handbook

Henry H. Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), pg. 209.

Samuel anointed David in secret so that Saul would not know about the young shepherd-king from Bethlehem. God was committed to training David to be Israel’s king. David’s fame as a musician earned him the position of armor-bearer to King Saul. David’s close association with the king’s counselors and his friendship with Saul’s son, Jonathan, prepared him to be King of Israel; but his tangle with the Philistine giant would earn him the people’s favor and support.

This 2007 revision of Halley’s adds a substantial number of archaeological notes (e.g., The Tel Dan Inscription is mentioned in reference to 2 Sam 7 on pg. 125).

Willmington’s Bible Handbook

H. L. Willmington’s Bible Handbook (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1997), pg. 154. In 1 Sam 16:13, the prophet Samuel publicly anointed Israel’s newest messiah, David. Willmington explores the usage of the Hebrew word for “anointed one” or “christ” (mashiach, משׁיח; English, “messiah”). The word is used to describe Old Testament figures chosen to do God’s work (e.g., Saul in 1 Sam 24:10; David in 2 Sam 19:21; and even the Persian King Cyrus in Isa 45:1). God overlooked seven of Jesse’s sons and selected David to be Saul’s successor. God was not concerned with David’s physical stature, but with his spiritual stability.

Zondervan Handbook to the Bible

David Barton, Zondervan Handbook to the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), pgs. 269–71.

A Messiah, A Giant & God's Favor

David Barton’s character sketch illustrates our connection to David. From his battle with Goliath, to his flight from Saul, to the deterioration of his family, David is portrayed as the underdog. Whether he is mourning the loss of Saul and Jonathan or weeping over adulterous sin, we find humanity at the helm of a nation. Each event in David’s life points to his dependence on God and God’s sovereignty over the young nation of Israel.

The story of David is not a fairy tale or a bedtime story. David’s life reminds us of God’s faithfulness to His cause and His people. Through David’s struggles and victories, we learn how to mourn in the presence of our Heavenly Father and praise Him for His providence.

Bible Study Magazine delivers tools and methods for Bible study, as well as insights from respected Bible teachers, professors, historians, and archaeologists. Take over 30% off the cover price—subscribe now!

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 4.

Does the Author of Ecclesiastes Need Prozac?

The author of Ecclesiastes is often labeled a depressed pessimist.[1] But a careful study reveals the author to be an honest—and hopeful!—realist about life, not a candidate for Prozac.

Author Miles Custis

UnfairMeaninglessAbsurd

It’s easy to understand why people think Ecclesiastes is depressing, or think that the conclusion of the book is that life is meaningless. Verses like “And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive” (Eccl 4:2 NIV) make the book seem less than hopeful. Even its famous phrase “vanity of vanities”—found at the beginning and the end of the book (Eccl 1:2; 12:8) makes the author sound like a complete pessimist. I’ve found, though, that if you give the book enough serious attention, Ecclesiastes reveals that the author is actually hopeful, and his message can easily be applied to each of us.

The refrain “vanity of vanities” (Eccl 1:2 and 12:8) is where we find our first clue to the author’s optimism. The translations “meaningless” (NIV) or “vanity” (NASB) come from the Hebrew word hebel. This word occurs in Ecclesiastes far more frequently than in any other book of the Old Testament (38 of 73 occurrences). Neither “meaningless” nor “vanity” quite fits the way it is used in Ecclesiastes. Sometimes hebel emphasizes the brevity of life; at other times it speaks to the futility of life. Most often, however, the author uses hebel to judge situations as senseless, absurd, unreasonable, or unfair. For example, in Eccl 2:21 the fact that the author must leave his fortune to someone who did not earn it seems “unfair” to him (not just “worthless” or “vain”). Likewise, in Eccl 8:14 it seems “senseless” to the author that the outcomes of a righteous or a wicked life are reversed.

The author’s main point in using hebel is to show that life often does not make sense and that neither he (being extremely wise; see Eccl 1:16 and 12:9) nor anyone else can explain the senseless situations that life can bring. Life is contradictory, and human ability to understand life in all of its contradictions is limited.

The limitation of human wisdom is an important theme in Ecclesiastes. The author’s goal was to understand life (Eccl 1:13), but it is a goal he was unable to reach. In fact, it is a goal which no one can reach (Eccl 8:16–17).

But doesn’t this make the author a pessimist? The answer can be found in Eccl 3:10–17. This passage affirms that God is the One who controls “the times.” He has made everything “beautiful” or “good” in its time (Eccl 3:11a). We are not able to fully understand everything He has done (Eccl 3:11b; 8:17). It is clear that He is the One in control (Eccl 3:14a). “God does [all this in mystery] so that man will fear him” (Eccl 3:14). The proper response to living in a chaotic world, with situations that are often beyond our control, is to put our trust in the One who is in control—God.

Rather than a message of gloom, Ecclesiastes gives us hope: while life might be full of injustice and absurdity (Eccl 3:16), we can trust that God is in control and ultimately justice will prevail (Eccl 3:17).[2] Ecclesiastes points out life’s difficulties, but does not call for despair. The book’s conclusion drives the point home (Eccl 12:13): “This is end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this applies to everyone.”

Prozac® is a registered trademark of Eli Lilly and Company.

Notes:

[1] James L Crenshaw, Ecclesiastes. (Old Testament Library. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1987), pgs. 23–28.

[2] See Eccl 2:24–25; 3:12–13; 3:22; 5:18; 8:15; 9:7–9; 11:9–12:1.

Bible Study Magazine delivers tools and methods for Bible study, as well as insights from respected Bible teachers, professors, historians, and archaeologists. Take over 30% off the cover price—subscribe now!

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 3.

Insomnia, Gallows & Rescuing the Jews

Author Leonard Greenspoon

Insomnia, Gallows & Rescuing the Jews
What do they share in common? They are all in a story about a beautiful woman named Esther.

Every year in the spring, Jews gather in synagogues to hear the biblical book of Esther chanted with a special melody. Each time the name of Haman, the story’s villain, is mentioned, the entire congregation stomps their feet and makes noise to blot out the very sound of this infamous individual.

InsomniaGallowsRescuingtheJews

All Jews, young and old, participate in this joyous holiday. Whether they are hearing the Megillah (as the “scroll” of Esther is known) for the first or hundredth time, there is great satisfaction in discovering, just before the book’s characters do, the fate that fittingly awaits Haman.

The tale contained in the book of Esther narrates the marriage of Esther, a Jew, to Ahasuerus, king of Persia. This monarch learns of Esther’s religion only after Haman plots to annihilate the Jews, including Esther and her guardian Mordecai, who (like Haman) serves the king. Among the numerous subplots is the personal hatred that Haman bears for Mordecai, whom he conspires to hang on “a gallows fifty cubits high” (Esth 5:9–14 NIV).

Those familiar with the account know that everything Haman plans against his enemies will ultimately be done to him. Midway through the story (Esth 6:1–11), the king, suffering from insomnia, has his officials read some official state documents to him. (Was he hoping that they would be so boring that he would immediately fall asleep?)

As it happens, the very passage they read told how Mordecai had saved the king from an assassination attempt (compare Esth 2:21–23). It just so happened that Haman was walking by at that very minute and so the king queried him: “What shall be done for the man whom the king wishes to honor?” (Esth 6:6 NIV). The biblical text notes that Haman presumptuously assumes it is he whom the king has in mind when he replies:

“For the man the king delights to honor, have them bring a royal robe the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, one with a royal crest placed on its head. Then let the robe and horse be entrusted to one of the king’s most noble princes. Let them robe the man the king delights to honor, and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!’” (Esth 6:7–9 NIV).

Readers of this biblical book, of course, are already laughing as Haman goes into vivid detail to describe what he is sure is in store for him. “‘Go at once,’ the king commanded Haman. ‘Get the robe and the horse and do just as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate. Do not neglect anything you have recommended’ ” (Esth 6:10 NIV).

This reversal of fortune is not lost on at least one of the characters in the story itself. Zeresh, Haman’s wife, declares: “[If] Mordecai, before whom your downfall has started, is of Jewish origin, you cannot stand against him—you will surely come to ruin!” (Esth 6:12 NIV). This is the same Zeresh who only a little while earlier was urging Haman to construct the gallows for Mordecai. We are then not surprised, and even enjoy more than a moment of pleasure, when we learn that it was not Mordecai, but Haman himself, who was hanged on the gallows (Esth 7:9–10). Standing fifty cubits high (approximately 75 feet; the height of a six-story building), this would have constituted a very public execution of the once powerful villain—how the mighty have fallen!

But there is more. King Ahasuerus is portrayed as indifferent and indolent more than as treacherous and tyrannical. His previous wife Vashti was banished because she refused her husband’s demand that she dance before him and his carousing drinking buddies (Esth 1:10–12).

Thus it is supremely ironic that what actually brought Haman down was a misperception on the king’s part: after Esther reveals that she would be a victim of Haman’s plot, along with all the rest of her people, the king momentarily left the room. (To take in the just revealed fact that Esther was Jewish? To consider how to conceal from Esther how deeply he himself was implicated in the plot?) In a last-ditch attempt to beg for his life from Queen Esther, Haman as supplicant threw himself “on the couch where Esther was reclining”—which Ahasuerus took as an effort at sexual assault on the part of Haman (Esth 7:8).

In short, Haman was judged worthy of execution by the king for the one crime he didn’t commit. As for the Jews, they were saved. Mordecai was promoted, and, we suppose, Esther and Ahasuerus lived happily ever after.

Two thoughts immediately come to mind, and they can both aptly be applied to Haman and also to the more laudatory characters in the Book of Esther. First are the words of Hannah in 1 Samuel chapter 2 to: “The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts” (NIV). Second, the familiar adage, undoubtedly based on the words and thoughts of the Book of Proverbs: “Man proposes, God disposes.” Such messages, serious ones to be sure, nonetheless can bring a knowing chuckle to those who fully comprehend that there is nothing capricious in such reversals of fortune.

Bible Study Magazine delivers tools and methods for Bible study, as well as insights from respected Bible teachers, professors, historians, and archaeologists. Take over 30% off the cover price—subscribe now!

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 3.

A Woman Who Fears the Lord

See the beauty of Proverbs 31 displayed through the Bible-art video below. Share this video with a woman you admire today.

Author Katie Monsma

“An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” –Proverbs 31:10

The word “excellent” in Proverbs 31:10 is derived from the Hebrew lemma hayil.  The root of this word defines this woman as strong and confident—a woman of substance.

Hayil is a masculine term used 242 times in the Old Testament to reference strong men and armies. There are only two other references that link the Hebrew lemma hayil to a woman. A woman that is “the crown of her husband” in Proverbs 11:24, and when Boaz assures Ruth that she is a woman who exhibits hayil in Ruth 3:11. Hayil was an extremely uncommon way to describe a woman in the Old Testament. Proverbs 31 dives headfirst into the worth of a virtuous woman—this woman is a rare jewel, a gift from God.

The next set of verses continues to dig into the characteristics of this woman with hayil. She is trustworthy, hardworking, nurturing, and has enough resources to give readily to those who are in need. Proverbs 31 paints this woman line by line, creating a picture of a strength, confidence, and wisdom.

“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised” –Proverbs 31:30

Finally, the chapter ends by praising her as a truly virtuous woman (Prov. 31:28). Everyone treats her fairly and gives her credit for her work, yet she humbly receives such praise because of her fear for the Lord.  She is strong and fearless—truly a woman with hayil.

Take a moment to reflect on the beautiful passage of Proverbs 31 with this video. It seamlessly brings Scripture to life through color, sound, and animation. Share this video today!

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Why the Dove?

Author John D. Barry

Ambrose of Milan on Jesus’ Baptism

Ambrose (ca. 333–397 AD) was the bishop of Milan, as well as St. Augustine’s teacher. He is most well known for his defense of the Holy Spirit as a divine part of the Trinity.

WhytheDove

“ ‘[H]eaven was opened, the Holy Spirit descended in bodily shape like a dove’ [Luke 3:21–22]. Why like a dove? For the grace of the washing requires simplicity, so that we may be ‘innocent like doves’ [Matt 10:16]. The grace of the washing requires peace, as in an earlier image the dove brought to the ark that which alone was inviolable by the flood [Gen 8:10–11]. … In that branch, in that ark, was the image of peace and of the church. In the midst of the floods of the world the Holy Spirit brings its fruitful peace to its church. David too taught [about] the sacrament of baptism … with the Spirit of prophecy, [saying,] ‘Who will give me wings like a dove?’ …

Because the Father did not wear a body, … the Father wished to prove to us that he is present in the Son, saying, ‘You are my beloved Son. In you I am well pleased’ [Luke 3:22]. If you wish to learn that the Son is always present with the Father, read the voice of the Son saying, ‘If I go up into heaven, you are there. If I go down into the grave, you are present there’ [Psa 139:8].”[1]

[1] St. Ambrose of Milan, Exposition of the Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke with Fragments on the Prophecy of Isaias. Translation by T. Tomkinson (Etna: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1998), pgs. 76–77. Translation amended by A. A. Just, Luke. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament  Vol 3. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005), pgs. 66–67.

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Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 3.