Saturday, September 24

Does The Bible Contain Intentional Humor?

Certainly skeptics of the Bible may reply with a resounding "yes," with a claim that the very thought of expressing belief in God's Word is humorous. Yet a worldview is not a laughing matter, and is indeed a very serious thing. Belief in God, whether or not the Bible is true, and whether or not Jesus rose from the dead are important conclusions any individual must make. These decisions are detrimental in life regardless of personal opinions, and as such, The Truth Ministries and other apologetics ministries tend to be serious in tone. However, we are told in Proverbs 17:22 that "A cheerful heart is good medicine..." Recent studies confirm what Solomon wrote nearly 3000 years ago. Laughter reduces certain levels of stress hormones, bringing balance to the immune system, which also allows your body to help fight off disease. As such, would we not expect to find humor somewhere in the Bible? (Photo credit: After Eden by Dan Lietha and Answers In Genesis, no copyright infringement intended.)

Our Creator designed us with marvelous capabilities. The average human body can see, taste, touch, smell, and hear. We may utilize one sense at a time, or we may use all five senses at once. Psychologists continue to learn more and more about the human brain, which is part of the central nervous system, and other parts of the nervous system. Other scientists continue to discover more and more complexities in the human body, in nature, in outer space, and in our everyday lives. This same Creator made us, and it goes without saying that we generally have a sense of humor. Many of the readers have probably heard the old saying, "Laughter is the best medicine," which is derived from the Proverbs 17:22 previously mentioned. Perhaps the question that should first be asked is not whether or not the Bible contains humor, but whether or not God has a sense of humor. 

It is important to determine which type of humor we speak of. There is a type of humor which the world laughs at, which involves laughing at crude humor, and there is a type of humor which involves bringing others down or picking on others - all of which is contrary to Christian ethic (Colossians 3:8, 4:6; Ephesians 4:29; James 1:26). God demonstrates his sense of humor in such instances as when the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant. In 1st Samuel 5:1-5, we read, "After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then they carried the ark into Dagon's temple and set it beside Dagon. When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained. That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon's temple at Ashdod step on the threshold."

Psalm 59:7-9 and Psalm 2:4 also record God laughing, indicating that He does indeed laugh - and the fact that He made us with a sense of humor indicates that He also has a sense of humor. With the knowledge that God has a sense of humor, could it be that He included humor in the Bible, apart from the instance in 1st Samuel? It is important to recognize that God's Word was given to us for a myriad of reasons, the main reason being that it describes God's plan of redemption for mankind from the very beginning, the salvation we can have through God manifested in the flesh as Jesus Christ. There are many historical references, scientific references, along with a plethora of other such things, it would not be unlikely to also find references to humor. The Bible does not hold back - it describes the lives of people who once lived, such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, King David, King Solomon, Jonah, St. Peter, St. Paul, and many others. Looking at mistakes made by those who lived in Bible times enables us to not make similar mistakes, which is another reason there are a great many accounts found in Scripture, along with a great many other uses and reasons which God gave us His Word.

Having listened to his friends, who were accusing Job of being punished for sin, but indeed was actually being tested (Job 1-2), we read in Job 13:5, "If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom!" Reading on, after a back and forth between Job and his friends for many chapters, God Himself speaks "out of the storm" and proceeds to ask Job a series of questions which Job could not possibly answer. God retorts, "Surely you know, for your were already born! You have lived so many years!" (Job 38:21). When God was manifested in the flesh, He often spoke in parables, which we find recorded in the Gospels. Though it is often missed, Jesus inserted humor into His parables, which probably had his audience roaring with laughter in some cases. Take the parable found in Luke 11:5-7, for example:

"Then Jesus said to them, 'Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.' And suppose the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.'" In this parable, Jesus' first century audience likely understood that the man's dog, sheep, goats, and the like would be kept inside the house with him. As such, His audience can imagine the back-and-forth between the two people waking the entire household, including the animals and the children - a scene of hilarity. Yet another example involves Genesis 6-9. Noah was commissioned by God to build the Ark - a lifeboat - to save the human race and the animal population (the sea creatures did not need to be on the Ark, as it was a flood). In this instance, we recall, Noah must have been a brave man, living on a ship for several months - built out of wood - which probably contained two termites and woodpeckers.

After Eden (Credit: Dan Lietha & AiG)
In Acts 12, we read that King Herod had Peter arrested for his continual preaching of Christianity. The church was praying to God concerning Peter (v.5), and while Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, "Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. 'Quick, get up!' he said, and the chains fell off Peter's wrists" (v.7). At first, Peter believed it to be a vision, and followed the angel out of the prison, when the angel then left him. He then realized he was not in a vision, but that a miracle had occurred. "When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter's voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, 'Peter is at the door!' 'You're out of your mind,' they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, 'It must be his angel.' But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished." Peter, having escaped prison, went to Mark's household (who wrote the third gospel, Mark), where a servant answered the door, and much like in a sitcom, a scene ensues wherein Peter is left waiting while the occupants discuss who it could be - until they finally realize that the solution to see who it is, is simply to open the door.

Two examples are found in Matthew 28. After the angel appears to roll away the tombstone of where Jesus lay, "The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men" (they fainted, v.4). However, when the women come upon the empty tomb, women who had been weeping and were in low spirits, Matthew 28:5 records, "The angel said to the women..." and the women listened to what the angel had to say. It is interesting that the guards, who had been battle-trained, and were "tough" men, fainted... yet the women did not. Another point to ponder involves what happened after the soldiers awoke. Some of the guards went into the city and told the chief priests what had happened. The priests "devised a plan, [and] they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, 'You are to say, 'His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we are asleep'" (v.12-13). Aside from obvious issues with this theory, explored in the April entry, "Did The Disciples Steal The Body of Jesus?", a thought then comes to mind: if the soldiers were sleeping, how could they have known who stole the body?

The Bible is replete with humorous references, especially in the Hebrew and Greek. The witticism, idioms and hyperboles come across more when read in their original language then in some English translations. As aforementioned, while Jesus taught many serious things, His teachings were not without humor. According to Reverend Peter Weatherby, "Jesus has a particular eye for the ironical and paradoxical. He gave His disciples nicknames: Peter the Rock who was big on words, but a coward when it mattered; James and John, hotheads, were 'Sons of Thunder'. He told stories about judges who gave justice only after being pestered repeatedly, businessmen who amassed riches only to die the next day, and about priests too precious to help a man who had been beaten up. He talked about people who gave stones in the place of bread, and saw the speck in the eye of another but ignored the log in their own eye. He talked about the blind leading the blind. He called the holy men of his day whitewashed walls." Consider Matthew 23:24, for example, in which Jesus says, "You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel." Here, Jesus essentially says, "you are like someone who has strained a fly from his cup but has swallowed a camel!" Jesus, no doubt, "told them how he really feels." 

There is also a reference in Matthew 7:3 which says, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?" Other examples are found all throughout Scripture. For instance, in Genesis 17:17, after God tells Abraham that he will have a son with Sarah, we read that "Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself: 'Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?'" God, who knows the thoughts of our mind (Psalm 94:11), evidently was not the happiest with Abraham for his unbelief that through Him this would be impossible, and told Abraham to name his son, "Isaac," which means "he laughs," because Abraham found it funny that he, at the age of 100, would have a son.

We can imagine the smiles and laughs within the actual event found in John 1:45-51, "Philip found Nathanael and said unto him, 'We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote - Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.' 'Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?' Nathanael asked. 'Come and see," said Philip. When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, 'Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.' 'How do you know me?' Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, 'I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.' Then Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.' Jesus said, 'You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.' He then added, 'Very truly I tell you, you will see 'heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on' the Son of Man.'" 

1st Kings 18:20-39 records the "battle of the gods," if you will. The prophets of Baal and Elijah compete to determine which god is the true God. In 1st Kings 18:27 we read, "It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, 'Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened.'" (NASB) The phrase translated as "gone aside" is the Hebrew word סיג (ciyg), which comes from the root word סוג (cuwg) meaning "refuse." Essentially, Elijah was saying, "Call out for your god; either he is going to the bathroom, is taking a walk, or maybe he is asleep!" The wit of Elijah, along with many others, can sometimes be "lost in translation." The Bible has been accurately preserved, but it helps to own a Hebrew and Greek lexicon to determine what certain words can be translated as to get an overall better understanding of a passage. 

Surely, the Bible contains many humorous references, and certainly studies have been done of the various witticism, hyperbole, and idioms present in the Greek and Hebrew, along with more in-depth looks at the many instances which can be called humorous. Although our God has a sense of humor, we must remember that life must not be merely "fun and games," not mere laughter all the time. Laughter is good, as a "cheerful heart is good medicine..." (Proverbs 17:22), but we must carry out or task as Christians, and at the same time, be able to "contend for the faith" (Jude 3) and be prepared for the "defense of the gospel" (Philippians 1:16). There is more to God's Word than meets the eye. Upon further studies, we discover a great many things - from history to law, to science and humor, but most importantly, as noted earlier, it contains God's redemption plan for mankind through God the Son, Jesus Christ (see Romans 10:9). Does the Bible contain humor? It certainly does, and indeed God has a sense of humor, one of the traits which he gave to mankind.

The Truth Ministries would like to thank you for taking the time to read this article of "The Truth." Feel free to email us at vexx801@yahoo.com or thetruth.ministryweb@gmail.com, visit our facebook page, or visit our ministry website.  It is the mission of this ministry to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2nd Corinthians 10:5). Take care, and God bless you reader. Troy Hillman

Tuesday, September 13

Can God Create A Rock He Could Not Lift?

One of the many objections to the existence of the God of Christianity that skeptics often raise is, "Can God create a rock so heavy that He could not lift it?" Generally, the Christian who is asked this question responds with a quick "no," to which the skeptic objects, "If God cannot create a rock so heavy that he could not lift it, then is he logically not omnipotent?" Often leaving the one who is asked the question without a valid answer, the skeptic appears to have shown that such a God could not exist, and is essentially satisfied in his or her own mind. Similar objections involve whether or not God can lie, or whether or not God can sin - both arguments used to allegedly demonstrate that God cannot exist. But is the question itself a valid question, or a misunderstanding of the divine attributes of God? (Photo credit: Garden Classics)

The first question assumes the premise that God is bound by His creation, by gravity. However, this premise is fallacious from the start. God is the Creator of "the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1), having create the Natural Laws by which the universe holds together - chemical laws, physical laws, mathematical laws, the like. God also created gravity and linear time by which those who live in this universe are bound. However, as Creator, God is outside of linear time, gravity, and the natural laws. Only an infinite God could create a finite universe - He could not create something more infinite than Himself, because there cannot be two infinites. This can be likened unto saying that Plato can be found on a certain page of his works. The question is illogical, because the creator is not bound by his creation. Consider also a man who creates a computer program: he is not bound by the limits of his program, but nevertheless he created - and maintains - his program.

But does this mean that it could not be the God of the Bible, since Genesis 18:14 says, "Is anything too hard for the LORD?" Judges 1:19 reveals, "The LORD was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had chariots fitted with iron." It is often claimed that this verse conveys that God could not stop the iron chariots. But the text does not convey this, it states that the people could not. A few verses later, it is explained that it is not that the Israelites "could not," but that they "did not" based on choice. We then consider Matthew 13:58 (paralleled to Mark 6:5), which says, "And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith." When Matthew says that Jesus did not do many miracles there, we must note two things: 1) Jesus performed at least a few miracles in Nazareth, 2) it was not for lack of ability on God's part, but because of the "lack of faith" of the people living there. This is evident in several other passages of the Gospels as well.

But could God create a rock so heavy he could not lift? Aside from the fallacy of assuming that God is bound by gravity, and indeed He is not bound by His creation, we must elaborate that the very question is based upon a false understanding of words such as "almighty" and "omnipotent." These terms do not mean that God can do anything. God cannot do what is contrary to His nature, or contrary to logic. Power is the ability to effect change, to make something happen. God, who in very nature has unlimited power, (Job 11:7-11, 37:23; 2nd Corinthians 6:18; Revelation 4:8), can do whatever is possible to be done. However, God cannot do that which is actually impossible. This is because true impossibility is not based on the amount of power someone has, but it is based on what is truly  possible. The truly impossible is not made possible by adding more power, it still remains impossible. Impossibility means the same thing whether or not God is involved, unless the context notes otherwise.

Concerning Almighty, in Hebrew the phrase is shadday, meaning almighty, most powerful (BLB Lexicon). The Hebrew for powerful is 'astam, meaning to be vast, be numerous, be mighty. Evidently then, God can do things which are possible - parting the Red Sea, raising Himself from the dead, healing parts of His creation, walking on water, calming a storm, the like. But God cannot do what is actually impossible, as God cannot contradict Himself. This is not evidence against God, on the contrary, we ought to be glad God cannot do certain things - He cannot lie or deny Himself (Hebrews 6:18; 2nd Timothy 2:13; Titus 1:2). This is because of the nature of reality and the nature of God. God cannot created a two-sided triangle, a square circle, a married bachelor, nor could A = non-A, any more than 2+2=5. For God to create a rock so heavy even He could not lift is illogical itself - the rock would have to be infinitely large to defeat an infinite amount of lifting ability. Only God is infinite.

Credit: Garden Classics
God is holy (Isaiah 6:3; 1st Peter 1:16), and therefore He cannot sin. James 1:13 also reveals that "God cannot by tempted by evil." Simply because nothing is too hard for the Lord does not mean He will do it. While in earth, God had the capability to sin, but He did not sin - He never gave into temptation, nor did He lie. If God cannot sin, is He truly omnipotent? God's divine attributes include: eternal (Psalm 90:2); immutability, or unchanging quality (James 1:17); love (1 John 4:8); omnipotent, or all powerful, the Almighty One (Revelation 1:8); omnipresent, (being everywhere present at all times, Psalm 139:7-11); holy - absolute purity and separation from evil (Habakkuk 1:13); righteous, just (Psalm 11:7); and truth (Titus 1:2). 

While God can do anything He wishes to do, God will not act or do things in such a way that are contrary to His will. To create rock that is so heavy that even He could not lift it is, at the core, dealing with this issue: God denying Himself. God would not deny Himself. A common objection about God incarnate deals with walking on water. Often the objection is raised, "If God will not do what is impossible, then how could He break the laws of nature, against science, and walk on water?" Some have tried to come up with a naturalistic explanation, yet none have truly succeeded. How then do we deal with this apparent paradox? If God will not do the truly impossible, how could He walk on water? The answer is rather simple, actually. As humans, we do not walk on water because it is not humanly possible. But God is not human, nor is He bound by the limits of His creation. God has mastery over His creation, and is not bound by the natural laws. It is true that Peter briefly walked on water to go out and meet Jesus, but we must remember that this was through faith - supernatural circumstance.

It is not natural for a man to walk on water, but it is supernatural. Likewise, a man cannot merely call to the skies during a storm, "be calm," and it would be calm. However, while on earth, Jesus calmed a storm, because He has control over His creation. It is possible for God to do such things, and God is not equal or surpassed by anything. It is possible for God to allow us to walk on water, to calm seas, to cross on dry land where mere hours before a river was, to raise the dead, or multiply food, but simply because is possible for God does not mean He is obligated to do so. For this reason, it is beneficial to be familiar with God's Word, so that we may better understanding His will, His plan for mankind, our eternal destinies, and our current purpose on this earth, as well as a better understanding of the nature of God. 

God's power is evident from the very beginning. As mankind, we require materials, tools, programs, chemicals, to create things. We require pre-existing material, we cannot actually create something out of nothing. However, God spoke, "Let there be..." and it came into existence. By the mere Word of God, things came into existence. How much greater is He than us! Just as it is described in Psalm 33:6, "By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth." God is the preserver of the earth (Psalm 36:6), and just as Job 38:8-11 conveys, "Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said,'This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt'?" God had set a limit for the oceans, which would overwhelm us if He had not.

Colossians 1:17 and Hebrew 1:3 that Jesus, who is God, holds all things together. Physicists cannot understand what binds the atom's nucleus together, but as with everything else in Creation, God holds it together. If God was not actively involved in His creation, we would not be able to hold the universe together. It is because of this that we understand there is no reason for God to create something infinite, because He is infinite. Since God is infinite, logic cannot reveal how an infinite producing an infinite somehow greater than itself is possible. It is illogical, to postulate that something can be greater than infinity. God, who is outside of time, space, and the natural laws, and therefore not bound by them, logically would not create something greater than Himself, because it would go against His very nature.

The Truth Ministries would like to thank you for taking the time to read this article of "The Truth." Feel free to email us at vexx801@yahoo.com or thetruth.ministryweb@gmail.com, visit our facebook page, or visit our ministry website.  It is the mission of this ministry to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2nd Corinthians 10:5). We also understand that many will disagree with our position, our claims and our ministry, and we recognize the individual's right to believe what he or she wills, and that some will disagree on our position regarding this particular topic. However, we stand firm upon the Bible as God's Word and hold to our conviction that the conclusion was arrived at based on what His Word tells us. Take care, and God bless you reader. Troy Hillman

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Sunday, September 11

Book Overview: Esther

The Book of Esther. The book itself is ten chapters long. It relays the account of Esther, a Persian Israelite who became the Queen of Persia, and proceeded to protect and save the Jewish people living in the Persian empire. One of the two books bearing the title of a female name, Esther is, unlike books prior to it in Scripture, not necessarily theological. God's name is not mentioned in the book of Esther, though His hand and work is clearly seen throughout, particularly with Esther being in the "right place at the right time." As such, some secular historians have been less hesitant to approach this record, as God's name is absent from the book. However, this book explains the origin of the Jewish festival of Purim (February-March). (Photo credit: [1] Philippe Chavin, [2] Bjørn Christian Tørrissen)

This is the seventeenth Book Overview in a series of 66 Books. These overviews are written so that it may provide readers with details about the book, things that they may have missed, and will hopefully peak your interest so that you will read the book, the entire Bible in fact, as God wants us to do. If we do not stand on Biblical truth, our starting point for all areas of life. Now, onto the Book of Esther.

Title: Book of Esther (English), אֶסְתֵּר, (Hebrew), 'Estēr (Tiberian)
 
Authorship/Written: The book itself notes that the reign of King Ahasuerus (likely Xerxes) had ended, or rather when he died, in 465 BC. This, among other historical allusions, leads us to conclude that Esther was written ca.465-455. Esther also shows a detailed knowledge of the inner workings of the Persian court as well as its customs. It appears to written by a Persian Jew. When considering the authorship of this account, we must consider the following:
  • Ezra and Nehemiah have been suggested as the author, but the style and vocabulary are not similar nor do they bear a resemblance to the style and vocabulary of Ezra and Nehemiah.
  • Some have suggested that Mordecai, Esther's cousin, is the author. Esther 9:20 notes that Mordecai kept a record of these events, but others point out Esther 10:2-3 which appears to indicate that Mordecai's career had ended. This does not, however, preclude Mordecai from continuing a record. 
  • Whoever wrote Esther appeared to have behind-the-scenes knowledge as well as a detailed witness of the Persian records and the events describe within. We can reasonably conclude that, given the pro-Jewish attitude of this work along with the demonstration of details concerning Jewish customs, that this writer was a Jew.
Tomb of Esther and Mordecai [1]
It is held by many that Esther was written by Mordecai. There is nothing biblically, historically or spiritually wrong with Mordecai being the author. It is possible that Esther was compiled by a group of Persian historians, but it is more likely that Mordecai was the author. 

Summary: "Esther is a book that never mentions God by name, but overwhelmingly shows that his spirit is ever present and that his will shall always be done regardless of human plans. Esther is an intriguing story of faith, courage, obedience, drama and romance." (Source: NIV)

Overview
Esther 1 - Ahasuerus dethrones Queen Vashti
Esther 2 - Esther becomes Queen; Mordecai uncovers a conspiracy  
Esther 3 - Haman's Nefarious Anti-Semitic Plot 
Esther 4 - Esther discovers Haman's plot; Mordecai persuades Esther to help 
Esther 5 - Haman and the King invited to dinner 
Esther 6 - Ahasuerus rewards Mordecai 
Esther 7 - Haman's deception revealed to the King; Haman's hanging 
Esther 8 - Mordecai's promotion; The King's Edict and Jewis Vindication 
Esther 9 - The Jewish victory; The Origin of Purim 
Esther 10 - Historical Notes; Mordecai's Greatness


Breakdown: 
In the third year of his reign, Ahasuerus (Greek, Xerxes), the Persian emperor who reigned from 486-465 BC, had thrown a banquet which his wife Queen Vashti did not show at. Instead, Vashti had thrown her own banquet for women. On the seventh day of the banquet, the king, who was "in high spirits with wine" (1:10), requested the presence of his wife, who subsequently refused. As proposed by one of his wise men, Memukan, Xerxes declared that Vashti was never again to enter into his presence, and issued an edict "proclaiming that every man should be ruler over his own household." After the Greek War, the king remembered what he had decreed about Vashti, and at the recommendation of his attendants, issued an edict that ordered many young women to be brought to the citadel of Susa and put under the care of Hegai. Mordecai, a Persian Jew, had taken in his younger cousin Hadas'sah after father, Abihail, and mother died. Hadas'sah (which means "myrtle") went under the name of Esther. "Esther had not revealed her nationality and her background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so" (2:10). 

After twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for women, Esther was taken to the king in the seventh year of his reign. "Now the king was attracted to Esther more than any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. And the king gave a great banquet, Esther's banquet, for all his nobles and officials. He proclaimed a holiday throughout the provinces and distributed gifts with royal liberality" (2:17-18). Esther kept quiet about her nationality, and in the meantime, her cousin Mordecai uncovered and foiled a conspiracy against Xerxes. Haman the Agagite was honored by the king and given a high position, but Mordecai would not bow to him. After finding out he was a Jew, Haman grew more and more hateful toward Mordecai.

Through persuasive speech and wit, Haman convinced the king to give Haman the power to exterminate all of "a certain people [who]... do not obey the king's laws" (3:8) - Jews. Through a chain of events, Queen Esther averted this catastrophe and exposed Haman for who he truly was, along with revealing her nationality to the king. Haman was hanged on the gallows which he built to hang Mordecai, and the Jews established the annual feast of Purim in memory of this deliverance and protection. The king wrote an edict on behalf of the Jews, retracting Haman's issue, giving the Jews the right to "destroy, kill and annihilate the armed men of any nationality of province who might attack them and their women and children" (8:11). Mordecai was given a position of authority and made a scribe, faithfully recording these events (9:20), and we find that Mordecai used his power for good, and through the hand of God in the life of Esther, the Persian Jews were saved. 

Points: According to Norman L. Giesler, "Several suggestions have been offered in effort to explain the absence of God's name in Esther. (1) Some have suggested that because the Persian Jews were not directly associated with the theocracy, God's name was not associated with them. But this seems unlikely; God's name was associated with the exiles in Daniel and it is promised even to Gentiles who trust Him (Isa. 60-61). (2) There is no doubt some basis for the fear of using God's name in a document written in a foreign country - the name might be profaned or the story changed by the simple substitution of a pagan god's name. (3) It is also plausible that the book was compiled from the Persian royal records (9:20; 10:2); surely the name of the Jewish God would not be found in the Persian records. (4) It should be pointed out, however, that although the name of God is absent, yet God Himself is everywhere present in the book. (a) The providence of God is clearly evident (4:14). (b) Prayer is offered to God (4:16). (c) A religious festival is instituted (9:31). (d) Many people of the land become proselytes to the Jewish religion (8:17). (5) Finally, it seems to more than accidental that at four crucial junctures in the book (1:20; 5:4; 5:13; 7:7) the name of God is found in acrostic form in Hebrew (see William Scroggie, Unfolding Drama of Redemption, Vol. 1, p.470)."


Inscription of Xerxes the Great near the Van Citadel [2]
King Ahasuerus ruled over 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia over the Persian, Median, and Babylonian empires. He reigned for twenty-one years. Ahasuerus (Xerxes) invaded Greece with his army, allegedly of over 2,000,000 soldiers, only 5,000 of whom returned with him. With his infamous 300, King Leonidas of Sparta, arrested his progress at the Pass of Thermopylae, and he was then defeated by Themistocles at Salamis. It was after his return to Persia from this invasion into Greece that Esther was chosen as the next queen.

The name of Purim is explained in Esther 9:24 and 26, "For Haman the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them and had cast the pur (that is, the lot) for their ruin and destruction... Therefore these days were called Purim, from the word pur." Archaeologists have further investigated the ancient games played during these times, and many believe that this was probably the Royal Game of Ur from which Haman cast lots. Esther 3:7 reveals, "In the twelfth year of King Xerxes, in the first month, the month of Nisan, the pur (that is, the lot) was cast in the presence of Haman to select a day and month. And the lot fell on the twelfth month, the month of Adar." The word pur is the Assyrian word for "lot," or "fate." Without originally intending to, by casting lots, Haman determined the day of the Jew's deliverance, the opposite of what he had planned.

Concerning Esther and historicity, "Some Jews remained in Babylon, as shown in the Book of Esther. The type of 'unchanging' laws of the Medes and the Persians shown therein (Esther 1:9) is endorsed from Aramaic documents recovered from Egypt." As noted in the Zondervan Handbook to the Bible, "For the Jews, Esther is a book of instruction (law) and history (narrative). Some Christians regard it as purely fiction. Others see it as a historical novel or short story based on genuine history. Others again think that the knowledge we have of Persian affairs in the 5th century BC - the writings of the Greek historian Herodotus, Persian inscriptions and tablets from Persepolis - give good grounds for treating Esther essentially as history. Certainly many background details - court customs, the use of couriers, the forbidding of mourning, execution by hanging - accurately convey the Persian world at that time. Quite recently the word puru has been found inscribed on a dice, confirming what the writer says about the origin of Purim." It is the contention of this ministry that Esther is accurate history, contrary to the claims of some. 

Esther 2:5-6 says, "Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shmei, the son of Kish, who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, among those taken captive with Jehoiachin king of Judah." It has been claimed by skeptics of Esther that these two verses contain a historical contradiction. Mordecai would have been around 120 years old if he was personally taken captive in 597 BC. However, by re-reading the text, we find that Mordecai is not specifically stated as the one who had been carried into exile, but the name of his great-grandfather Kish is mentioned, followed by a reference to the exile. This is likely intended to mean that his family was among the captives. No contradiction is present, simply a misreading of the text.

There are three main reasons why this book was written. The more obvious reason is that Esther explains to the Jew and Gentile alike the origin of the Feast of Purim, celebrated by Jews between the 13th and 15th Adar (February-March). The book also demonstrates the hand of God in control of events which transpire, showing that He cares for His chosen people even when all hope seems lost. The third reason is a clear warning against anti-Semitism. Seen in the Exodus, the Exile, the Return, the Holocaust, among other events, the Jews possess a unique place in history and an incredible ability to survive the odds. Esther is one such event in the Jewish history that demonstrates God's protection and preservation of His people. This can be seen all throughout Esther - He even made Xerxes have a restless night when it was necessary (Esther 6:1). Also note Esther 4:14

Apocryphal material, "additions to Esther," was not finalized until ca.114 BC. These additions did not stabilize until relatively late, several centuries after the actual events occurred, and scholarly research indicates that these additions were composed at different times and by different people, as opposed to the actual book of Esther found in the Bible. There are several differences between Esther and the non-canonical additions. According to the Oxford Companion to the Bible, "Whereas the book of Esther does not mention God, the additions constantly refer to the deity, to prayer, and to the sacred traditions and practices of Judaism... The authors of the additions must have been offended by all the story's pomp and circumstance, for they present Esther belittling her royal position and apologizing for her royal garb. In the additions, one finds a significantly different understanding of history. In the first place, the story is now set between Mordecai almost apocalyptic dream and its interpretation. This framework tells the reader that... Ahasuerus issued his second proclamation because 'God changed the spirit of the king to gentleness' (15.8)."

By considering a timeline of relevant dates, the historical context of the book of Esther becomes clearer: (derived from the AXIS NKJV)
  • 538 BC - The return of the Jews to Judea begins under Cyrus.
  • 530-522 BC - Persia builds a naval fleet with Ionians and Phoenicians.
  • 521-486 BC - Darius I reigns in Persia.
  • 494-406 BC - Greek tragedian Sophocles lived and worked in Athens.
  • 486-465 BC - Ahasuerus (Xerxes I) reigns in Persia; events of Esther.
  • 464-424 BC - Artaxerxes Longimanus reigns in Persia.
  • 428-347 BC - Greek philosopher Plato lived and taught in Athens, Italy, Sicily, and northern Africa.
  • 459 BC - Ezra leads a group of returnees to Jerusalem.
In Esther 4:3 we read, "In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes." Fasting (Hebrew tsum) was a common practice in the ancient world, generally associated with mourning for the deceased, times of distress, repentance of sin, intercessory prayer, and the like. The Hebrew root word means "to abstain from food." There were times when fasting meant not only fasting from food, but also refraining from drinking, bathing, marriage relations, or anointing with oil. The length of fasts varied, with strict fasts lasting from sunset to sunset, with some going from sunrise to sunset, although some fasts went on for seven days and on some occasions could last up to forty days.

As noted by Got Questions Ministries, "In Esther, we are given a behind-the-scenes look at the ongoing struggle of Satan against the purposes of God and especially against His promised Messiah. The entrance of Christ into the human race was predicated upon the existence of the Jewish race. Just as Haman plotted against the Jews in order to destroy them, so has Satan set himself against Christ and God’s people. Just as Haman is defeated on the gallows he built for Mordecai, so does Christ use the very weapon that his enemy devised to destroy Him and His spiritual seed. For the cross, by which Satan planned to destroy the Messiah, was the very means through which Christ “having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:14-15). Just as Haman was hanged on the gallows he built for Mordecai, so the devil was crushed by the cross he erected to destroy Christ."

The book of Esther teaches us to have confidence and trust in God, to do what is morally right and leave the remainder to Him, to be brave regardless of the cost, to resort to prayer in times of crisis, to care for minority racial groups, and to remember God's special care for the Jewish people.

Next Book Overview: Book of Job
Previous Book Overview: Book of Nehemiah

Sources:
Geisler, Norman L. A Popular Survey of the Old Testament. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1978. 171-176. Print. 

Various. Zondervan Handbook To The Bible. Zondervan, 1999. 3rd ed. 340-343. Print.

Wilson, Clifford and Ham, Ken. The New Answers Book 1. 12 ed. Master Books Books, 2006. 315. Print. 

Hughes, Gerald, and Stephen Travis. Introducing the Bible. 1st ed. New York: Lion Publishing, 1981. 77. Print.

"Ahasuerus." WebBible Encyclopedia. Christian Answers Network, n.d. Web. 10 Sep 2011. http://www.christiananswers.net/dictionary/ahasuerus.html.

Balchin, John. Opening Up God's Word: The Compact Survey of the Bible. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1985. 83-85. Print.

Metzger, Bruce M., and Michael D. Coogan. The Oxford Companion to the Bible. 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. 201. Print.

"Book of Esther - Bible Survey." Got Questions.org. Got Questions Network, n.d. Web. 10 Sep 2011. http://www.gotquestions.org/Book-of-Esther.html.

Monday, September 5

Is God Sexist?

Collin's English Dictionary defines sexist as, "discrimination on the basis of sex, esp the oppression of women by men."[1] From a cursory reading of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, it may seem as if God and the Bible are sexist. Particular passages seem to favor males over females, especially in marriage, and it seems as if the heroes in the Bible are all male. But is this an accurate depiction of what God's Word actually teaches, or is it a mere representation? History demonstrates that many women had to strive to bring about equal voting rights, the right to run for a government official, the right to work, among many other things - not only in the United States, but elsewhere. Hence the question is asked - are God and the Bible sexist? (Photo credit: Edwin Long - 1878 painting of Esther; Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld - "Ruth in Boaz's Field", 1828)

It is apparent that at a glance, God's Word contains many references which we may find sound discriminatory in nature. However, simply because something sounds a certain way does not mean we ought to read into the passage that way. In like manner, we must bear in mind that when the Bible describes a particular action, it does not necessarily mean that it condones it. For example, when Rahab lies to protect the Hebrew spies, the Bible records her lying to the authorities at Jericho, but merely because it records it does not mean it condones it. We find recorded in Scripture that David, in his lust, had Bathsheba's husband Uriah sent to the front lines of battle to be killed and proceeded to make her his wife. We find recorded the prophet Jonah, who, after receiving a direct command from God to preach to those at Nineveh, disobeyed and ran the other way.

In each instance, sin was present - God did not condone the actions, but these historical events were recorded for our sake, that we may learn from them so that history would not "repeat itself," so that we would be able to archaeologically and historically verify Scripture, among other reasons. Likewise, when the Bible records men treating women as if they were nothing more than property, it does not mean that God approved or condoned this. The patriarchal structure was prevalent during the Hebrew Bible era, and from a modern view of values and society, this may appear to be sexist. So while God's Word may record an event such as a murder, a lie, or a sexist attitude toward someone, it does not necessarily mean that merely because it was recorded that it was condoned.

Painting by Edwin Long (1878) of Esther
In Genesis 1:27 we read, "So God created human beings in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them." Genesis 2 provides a more detailed account of the creation of man and woman - and contrary to popular belief, is one creation account, not two separate accounts. Genesis 1 gives a basic overview of creation week, whereas Genesis 2 goes more in depth on what transpired during day 6. Woman, the first female created from the rib of Adam, is then named Eve (Genesis 3:20), and was the first woman to give birth (Genesis 4:1-2). Other mothers are mentioned throughout Scripture, such as Hannah the mother of Samuel (1st Samuel 1:22, 28), Sarah wife of Abraham and mother of Isaac (Genesis 17:15-17), Rebekeh wife of Isaac and mother of Jacob and Esau (Genesis 27:6-19), Hagar the mother of Ishmael (Genesis 21:17, 21), Jochebed mother of Moses, Aaron and Miriam (Exodus 2:1-9, 6:20), as well as Mary mother of Jesus, God manifested in the flesh (Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2), among many other mothers.

Under Christ, both men and women are equal. John 3:16 teaches that "whoever believes" in Jesus will not be condemned but have eternal life - not just men. Interestingly, the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, which the likes of the Jesus Seminar among other skeptics claim should be in the Bible, says something different about women. The Gospel of Thomas was unknown aside from name before 1945, when peasants digging around to find fertilizer happened upon a jar containing thirteen leather-bound manuscripts which were buried in the late fourth century, in Nag Hammadi, Egypt.[2] It is a collection of 114 sayings, unlike the four Gospels, and is not a narrative. It was likely written in the second century, after the disciples - including Thomas - had died. The point of interest in question is the final saying, saying 114, "Simon Peter said to them, 'Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.' Jesus said, 'I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every women who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.'"[3] Evidently, this statement was clearly sexist in nature. It essentially states that if a female does not make herself male, she cannot be saved. This, among other reasons, is why this work is not in the Bible. John 3:16 is an all-inclusive statement that leaves no gender, race, or creed - but that "whoever believes" would be saved. In Galatians 3:26-28, St. Paul is speaking about salvation and says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (emphasis mine). This does not mean that Jews, Greeks, males and females, slaves and frees do not exist, simply that at the cross, no sexism, racism, or prejudice exists.

The Bible does make it clear that men are in a position of authority, that in marriage, men take the leadership role, but giving different roles to males and females does not necessitate sexism. This does not make women less intelligent, it does not make them inferior to men, nor does it make women any less capable. God has given males and females specific positions for our good, because there has to be structure as well as leadership and authority in this sin-cursed world on which we live. Consider, "...it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve" (1st Timothy 2:13). Adam's role as the first created being was one of authority. Also, Adam named the animals and the woman (Genesis 2:19-20, 3:20), which nineteenth-century Hebrew scholars C. F. Keil and Franz Delitzsch point out, " Adam is to become acquainted with the creatures, to learn their relation to him, and by giving them names to prove himself their lord."[4]

It is often objected that God must be sexist because the Bible states, "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:22). However, the Bible also conveys, "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it" (Ephesians 5:28). "A man who under-stands that Jesus Christ sacrificed His life’s blood for the Church will likewise love his wife sacrificially and passionately. He will honor her, respect her, protect, love, and cherish her as much as he does his own body, as he is instructed to do (Ephesians 5:28). He will never say or do anything to harm or demean her. It is in this atmosphere of love and security that a godly wife willingly submits herself to the protective arms of her husband. She does this not because he is better than she is, but simply because this is God’s order for His creation."[5] Proverbs 31:10-31 describes "the wife of noble character."

Verses 10-12 say, "A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life." Verse 28 conveys, "Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her," with verse 31 concluding, "Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate." Along with the infamous Song of Songs, we find wives placed in the Wisdom books placed in high regard. In Proverbs 31, the husband of the wife praised her and honored her - certainly not sexist. In the New Testament, St. Paul spoke highly of the women who "labored" with him. He utilized two different concepts to recognize their work. He first describes them as sunathleo those who are "engaged in the contest" with St. Paul, like "a man [who] also [strives] for masteries" (2 Timothy 2:5). 

The second phrase Paul uses is sunergos, describing those who have accomplished meaningful work with him. In 2nd Corinthians 8:23, Titus is described as St. Paul's "partner and fellow helper," and by being placed alongside Titus, it is clear that these women had earned Paul's respect for their commitment to Christ.  Something to consider would be as follows, also found in the New Testament: if God was sexist, when God manifested in the flesh and redeemed mankind through dying on the cross (John 1, 8:58, 10:30-32, 20:28; Philippians 2:6-8; Colossians 2:9; 1st Timothy 2:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:1-9; 2nd Peter 1:1; 1st John 5:20), when He rose from the dead, why is it that He appeared first to women? If God was sexist, would he not have appeared first to men? It has been claimed before that God is sexist when it comes to prophets. But is this claim valid?

Although all the prophets in the Hebrew Bible who wrote books were males, this does not make God sexist, nor does it mean that women were not and could not be prophets. In Isaiah 8:3, Isaiah describes his wife as the "prophetess," and it is possible that he is describing her as such in an honorary fashion. Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2nd Kings 22:14) and Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14) were prophets, and given the context, appeared to be in active ministry. Though there were very few female prophets, there was not a sexist bias in Biblical prophecy. It is worth noting that King Josiah, a good king, sent government leaders to retrieve the advice of the prophetess Huldah concerning the finding of the "book of the law" (2nd Kings 22:8-10), one of the most pivotal events of his reign as king. There were false prophets who were women, just as there were men, but sexism was still not prevalent - and certainly not condoned by God.

Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld: "Ruth in Boaz's Field" (1828)
One must also bear in mind that two books of the Hebrew Bible in particular focused on females: the book of Ruth and the book of Esther. Ruth, written ca.1000 BC presumably by Samuel, is the account of a foreign woman whose husband died, and in her courage and devotion, stayed with her mother-in-law Naomi, moving with her to Bethlehem (the future birthplace of Christ). Ruth fell in love with Boaz, Naomi's relative. After a while, Boaz went to the family guardian and asked if he wished to marry Ruth, and Boaz was then given the right to marry her. Like Rachel and Leah who helped build up the house of Israel, Ruth also contributed. "Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the LORD enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son" (Ruth 4:13). Interestingly, Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David, through whom Jesus was born a millennium later. 

Esther, written ca.465 BC presumably by Mordecai or a group of officials, is the record of a Jewish girl named Hadassah, who then went under the name Esther to protect her lineage. Through a string of events, Esther became the Queen of Persia, replacing Vashti, and married King Ahasuerus (probably Xerxes). Mordecai, Esther's cousin, had uncovered a plot, and after later discovering that Haman, an official, was planning to eradicate the Jewish people, Esther set up a series of events which led to the King discovering Haman's intention, who had Haman put to death, and proceeded to (ca.478 BC) send out an edict on behalf of the Jews. The Jewish celebration of Purim was then established, during which the days are observed :as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor" (Esther 9:22). Through Esther, God saved the Jewish people who lived in the Persian empire. Evidently, is God was sexist, He would have used a male, not a female.

Though men are in a leadership position in marriage, and there were more men than women prophets of the days of the Hebrew Bible, neither fact makes God - or the Bible - sexist. As St. Paul so eloquently put it in Galatians 3:28, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Though aspects of society remain sexist today, God - nor the Bible - are sexist or were sexist. God is unchanging (see Psalm 90:2 and Hebrews 13:8, for example), and does not favor male or female. He placed males as the authority in marriage, but this does not make the woman any less capable, intelligent, or honored - passages such as Proverbs 31 demonstrate this. Is God sexist? Having examined several texts, it can rightly be determined that God is not sexist, and while "God is no respecter of persons," (Acts 10:34) God loves us with the love He has had from eternity.

Troy Hillman


Sources
[1] "sexist." Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. 04 Sep. 2011.
[2] Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Scriptures. 2003. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. 19. Print.
[3] Ibid, pp.28
[4] C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, 10 vols., Volume 1, The Pentateuch, 3 vols. in 1, trans. James Martin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976 rpt.), 1:88.
[5] "Claim: "Christianity oppresses women by making them submit to their husbands!"." The Evidence Bible. The Way of the Master and Living Waters, n.d. Web. Sep 2011. http://www.livingwaters.com/witnessingtool/Christianityoppresseswomen.shtml.