Category Archives: bible

The Journey To Bethlehem

The Christmas Story

His beloved had just lain down to rest and he had walked a few feet away looking into the skies as the darkness overwhelmed them. Joseph pounded the air and shouted into the night, frustration and anger overwhelming his being. Where was God when he needed Him? Had He forgotten that they were doing this as a favor to Him? Had He turned His back on them?  He had obeyed God hadn’t he? But the heavens stayed silent as they suffered day and night. And yet, he was afraid for even having questioned God, for who was he before God! Mary heard her beloved’s frustration and sorrow in the silent night, and she wept deeply. There had been so many times over the past nine months when she had felt like she could not go on…..why her? It was such an excruciatingly hard journey and she often felt like she didn’t have the faith to take another step. Weren’t there many other more religious women in Israel who already understood motherhood who would’ve done better than her in bringing forth the promised Messiah? Her heart cried that God didn’t seem to be very wise; yet, who was she to question Him? Her anguished soul felt like it was shattering into a million pieces. Darkness prevailed and their screams and sobs soon became a part of the harshness of the night. God held them through the darkness in the silence of the night! 

The long, hard journey on a donkey, food and water sparse along the way, pregnant and exhausted, on the verge of giving birth. They had had to travel for days to take the census in the city of David because of the unreasonable Roman government’s decree. Joseph and Mary had been asked, no, told by God that they would be caring for a very special child, His Son! And, did God do anything the normal way? No! She, the virgin girl Mary, had miraculously conceived a child by the Holy Spirit and he, her betrothed Joseph, had been called to trust God against the scandal that broke and quickly marry her. They became the laughing stock of the town with people whispering and sneering at them all the time, everywhere. Their families were furious at the shame that enveloped them after the scandal. They no longer fit into the good, moral, religious box that had been created by Jewish society in accordance with Scripture which was considered pleasing to God. Both Mary and Joseph had tried really hard their entire lives to be that way but somehow, the angel’s words had turned their worlds upside down and they found themselves as spiritual and moral outcasts. The past nine months had been nothing but a test of faith for someone so young. Society had laughed at them any time they tried to tell their story or explain their situation. People had already formed their opinions – Joseph and Mary had sinned! Nothing could possibly change these people’s minds, not an explanation, not even pointing out Scripture seemed to make a dent of a difference to the religious ones around them!

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Joseph knew this was not his child for he did not know (as in having sex with) Mary even today for he had been told by God to wait until she had given birth to make her his wife. He could easily have cast Mary aside and built a new, care-free life for himself, avoiding the shame and scandal she had caused. This was well within his rights as a Jewish man. He could even have had her stoned to death. But instead, he had made a choice to surrender and implicitly obey God, stepping into the most foolish of situations by the world’s standards and boy, had this rocked his world. He wished their friends and family could at least try and understand and support their life choices (or rather God’s choices for them for they really didn’t have a choice did they?). They knew in their hearts they were not sinners, yet who around them cared? God had pushed them into this, and they were trying really hard to trust and obey Him in faith. But the gossiping, the back stabbing, the judgments, the loneliness and the isolation were sometimes more than they could handle. There had been days when they had just wept in the privacy of their little home when people rejected them or hurt them wondering what their son’s future would be if they stayed on here in Nazareth. Everyone knew everyone, and gossip would follow them all their life. Jesus wasn’t going to be like other “good” children and would be rejected. So far, God seemed to be doing a pretty bad job of providing for their needs of love and acceptance while they seemed to be obediently served Him at a high cost!

Mary, was sad and afraid as her fully pregnant body moved to and fro in abject discomfort on the little beast. What should have been one of the most beautiful times of her life, birthing her firstborn was fast turning into a nightmare. As they plodded along in the darkness, her thoughts were running a mile a minute. Her muffled sobs and dirty, tear streaked face said it all. Already she had lost the privilege of the beautiful wedding she had planned and dreamed of…..she could even now hear the giggles of her girlfriends as they whispered over the impending first night….no, she wasn’t going to let her thoughts go there and get even more discouraged. She needed to be strong in her faith for the baby for this was a mission from the very heart of God! Yet, doubts assailed her tired mind. She was just a child herself, yet God had seen fit to choose her to do something even grown women would struggle with. Why her? Why now? It had cost her her reputation, her family and friends, her wedding, and almost cost her her beloved husband too. The sneering looks or pitiful faces flashed before her eyes and she could even now hear their harsh words of judgement and condemnation which ultimately turned to cold shoulders and rejection. Tears poured down again. She had done nothing wrong and God knew that, then why? Why did they have to treat her this way? She took comfort in the fact that Joseph was a good, godly man who implicitly obeyed God. But, as she travelled on towards Bethlehem, she overwhelmingly felt the need for her mother and the comfort of home…..but sadness filled her heart for her parents had not been supportive either, they were just glad to get her off their hands when Joseph married her. And now, here she was, so far from home, with very meager resources, afraid of giving birth alone in a strange place, afraid of the pain of childbirth….and her tears continued to pour down in the darkness as she felt small, weak and alone in this big, huge world. “Lord help me” her heart cried, “help me in my unbelief, help me to trust, give me fresh faith to trust Your promises for my heart desperately fails me. I can do this only in Your supernatural power and strength but You seem far and distant from me.” Yet, she knew in her heart that she was plumb in the center of God’s will. And, God held her.

They slowly and heavily they traveled on with just a mustard seed of faith. That’s all they seemed to have, trusting God, assuming that tomorrow would be a better day and that He would miraculously come through to provide a way to take care of His Son. Humanly, they were scared and struggling beyond imagination with just words from an angel to spur them on. In that bleak mid-winter, none of what they were going through was befitting a king, leave alone the Son of God! Joseph had been crying out to God for help all through this journey. He recited many a psalm begging God for help. Psalm 23, Psalm 46, Psalm 91… But his prayers seemed to be going unanswered, God seemed ever so silent, so far away on that particular dark night. Was he doing something wrong? He quickly recited Psalm 51 as maybe God would see his heartfelt repentance and relent. But except for their footsteps in the night, he only heard silence. Was God angry at him? He was called by God to be the provider of his family and he was failing. He knew, for he had heard Mary’s sobs each night and there was nothing he could do to ease her pain. He felt like a failure. He looked like a failure. His thoughts were those of a failure and sadly, he knew that Mary was there right beside him. Despair overtook him.

When they finally reached Bethlehem, they needed practical help. They needed a place to stay. But looking at the crowds and at their meager savings, his broken spirit over ruled and he wondered if anyone would help them at all? He knocked on every door in the town, begging and pleading, but every single one of them had the same answer, “Sorry, no room!” Fear and worry assailed Joseph. Mary was going into labor. Her water had just broken and she could give birth any time. What was he to do? What did he know of these things? Less than a year ago, he had been a care-free young man dreaming and planning his future and now, because of his chosen obedience to God, he felt like he was drowning. Really God?

Panic was setting in. His knocking took on a new urgency as he saw Mary groan and cringe in pain. Hurling one last desperate prayer heavenward, he summoned the courage to knock one last time. “Please,” he begged, “please give us a room. We have traveled for many days and my wife is in labor. We need a midwife and we need a place to stay. “ This inn keeper gave him the same negative answer, “but wait”, he said, “there is a barn where the animals lived, maybe that could serve as a temporary shelter for the night?” A glimmer of hope in a desperate situation, but Joseph had no time to think. He rushed Mary to the shelter, set her down and hurriedly went about cleaning it and preparing it to give her small comfort as she labored to bring forth the Son of God into the world. Her cries were increasing, he had to hurry. The inn keeper told him that there were no midwives available at this unearthly hour but that he would give them a few blankets and some hot water. That had to do for now. He, Joseph, the impoverished, uneducated, young carpenter from Nazareth was single-handedly, going to deliver the very Son of God tonight. He laid Mary down and sent up another prayer, a cry of help. He could see the fear on her face, she was afraid and in pain, and she needed the reassurance even more than he did in her physically weakened state right now. He knelt beside his beloved wife, held her hand and prayed. A tender, worshipful moment in the trenches of despair. God was wanted, He was desperately needed and they were calling out to Him to help. And  as God always does, He held on to them in the midst of their weakness and pain!

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A few hours later, the Son of God was born. He came into the world on a dark night, to exhausted parents, in a stinky stable filled with animals. No fanfare, no pomp, no circumstance – just darkness, loneliness and stench. Yet, once Jesus was born, as Mary and Joseph gazed into His precious little face in the light of that little lantern, they felt inexplicable peace and joy. They named Him “Emmanuel” which means “God with us” in obedience to His Heavenly Father’s will, for He had come, giving up the glory of heaven, to enter the sin stained darkness of this world for our sake. God in that precious moment, gently reminded Joseph of the angel’s visit, ”an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the One conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you shall give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:…” Matthew 1:20-22  God was reminding them that there was far more to the story than just meets the eye. Jesus had a special reason to be on earth and the suffering surrounding His birth was just a small reflection of that lifelong mission.

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Jesus was born to die! His goal in this life was never comfort, beauty, ease or happiness but it was sacrificial love, forgiveness and grace. Life was not easy for Jesus on earth. A prophet, hundreds of years earlier had predicted that He would be “a man of sorrows, aquanted with grief”. He was born in discomfort and hardship, lived as an ordinary, poor carpenter’s son. He had rumors and snide remarks follow Him all the days of His life, casting aspersions on His reputation (see John 9:34). He didn’t have a place to call home when He started teaching. And, at one point, even His mother Mary and his brothers thought He was crazy. He was despised, shamed, hated and rejected, and then ultimately put to death in the most horrific Roman way – crucifixion on a cross. At the time of His death, there was no tangible proof of His life having been worth living at all. Everyone turned on Him, and his best friends deserted Him. He did not leave any monument of His life behind. There was nothing beautiful or attractive about His reputation or life.

Yet, history shows that in three short years He had begun turning the world upside down. After His resurrection and ascension, His church began and grew in leaps and bounds under much suffering and persecution. And 2000 years later, His beloved church still stands strong and He is still quietly redeeming and transforming lives one person at a time. He has always promised many tribulations and trials in this life for that is the only way to know Him but He has also promised peace and joy when we choose to gaze into the beauty of His face in the darkness.

So, though we may be screaming into the darkness when God seems silent despite our obedience or we may be sobbing on our pillows shattered into a million pieces this Christmas, but God reminds us that Mary and Joseph’s story of obedience and surrender was not pretty or beautiful like the ornamental nativity sets we like to display in our homes or cute like the kids’ nativity plays in our churches instead it was a road marked with unbelievable suffering and sorrow. But, it was also a road which ended in unbelievable joy and peace and most of all the glory of heaven as they gazed into the Son of God’s face. We too can follow in His footsteps, persevering in our faith and enduring the sufferings of this life because of the glory that He promises that is to come! 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2

The beauty of the Christian faith is that we don’t need to deify any other human being even if they were specially chosen by God. As we have seen time and time again in the Bible, there are absolutely no human heroes – just one heroic Lord and Savior and innumerable, sinners redeemed by His grace. Every Christian will sin and fall until their last breath. That’s why every one of us desperately needs a Savior – just as Mary and Joseph did. They were human beings assaulted by every human emotion and overwhelmed by trials – but they were held! Jesus saved them and He alone can save you and me from our sins including our refusal to obey His call, our pride and failure to trust Him, our grumbling and complaining, our judging and condemning others, our spiritual pride, our selfishness, and our unbelief. We desperately need our newborn Savior! 

May Jesus, the greatest gift ever given to mankind, be the only reason to celebrate with great joy this holiday season! He was born to die! Good News for all mankind! Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!

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Mom’s Address to Her Adopted Son on His Wedding Day

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Babies are eagerly awaited and treasured and parental love grows from the very beginning. But what do you do when God chooses to start your family by giving you a broken, hurting, traumatized 6 year old to love and care for as your own son? Well, Dad and I thought that love and fresh air would do the trick and that we would all live happily ever after just like any “normal” family! And so, we naively decided to step into parenthood bringing you, our son,  into our home in July 1998. We had prayed much and felt led by God when we heard your tragic story but we had absolutely no clue of the roller coaster ride we were in for.

You came into our home knowing very little English – you were from an entirely different background, religion and family than us. You would just sit for hours staring outside your window in our home in NJ. You were angry, frustrated and lied incessantly. When I tried to hug you, you would stiffen and push me away. Our hearts broke as we heard your tragic story of losing your birth-mother, watching her as she had been pushed to die by setting herself on fire, being asked to step into the fire with her, as well as feeling the horror as you could do nothing to help her be okay at the tender age of 5! You were heartbroken and devastated and nobody had understood your pain. You hated me as I was replacing your birth-mother. You would stubbornly refuse to obey anything that I asked you to do. You were failing in school and unable to logically think or function. Our family was held hostage to your anger and failure. We looked like fools to our family and friends and we felt like we must be horrible parents to have a child as broken as you. We put very strict boundaries around you but it didn’t seem to make a difference . You just kept getting worse with each passing year.

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I knew that Jesus was our only hope and often reminded you of verses like Romans 8:28 that “All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purposes” – yet, even to me it felt empty and hopeless. You hated God because in your mind, how could a loving God that we talked to you about, allow your mother to die so tragically without her knowing Him? We were hitting many walls and Dad and I often felt weary, angry and hopeless – even ready to give up.

I remember checking on you several times each night. I would kneel by your bedside and sob asking God why? Why would He allow a little child to be hurt like this? Why was He not stepping in and helping us? Why? Why? Why? God was our only hope and He needed to act soon.

I would cling to the cross and sob singing this song by Mark Schultz.

I’m down on my knees again tonight,
I’m hoping this prayer will turn out right.
See, there is a boy that needs Your help.
I’ve done all that I can do myself
His mother is tired,
I’m sure You can understand.
Each night as he sleeps
She goes in to hold his hand,
And she tries
Not to cry
As the tears fill her eyes.

Often late at night I watch him sleep,
I dream of the boy he’d like to be.
I try to be strong and see him through,
But Jesus, whom he needs right now is You.
Let him grow old,
Live life without this fear.
What would I be
Living without him here?
He’s so tired,
And he’s scared
Let him know that You’re there.

Can You hear me?
Am I getting through tonight?
Can You see him?
Can You make him feel all right?
If You can hear me
Let me take his place some how.
See, he’s not just anyone, he’s my son.

But, God appeared to be silent. No answers, no explanations, no comfort. The only answer I got was a promise from Him on May 12th, 2002 from Isaiah 54O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted, behold……All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children. In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear! I needed faith to believe! Eleven long years went by before we saw God fulfilling this promise to me. In August 2009, God in a miraculous act of grace broke through to you my son, and let His light shine through. He even wiped away your anger and healed your broken mind, spirit and soul!

You are now twice adopted – once into our family and adopted a second time into God’s family. You now have eternal hope, peace and joy with Jesus!

Life has not been easy my son – I grieve deeply for I did not have you physically with me the first six tender years of your life and then I did not have you emotionally and spiritually the next eleven years because of your trauma. You have been learning to love and care for us step by step, in just the last few years. You know that Dad and I love you dearly through the bad times and the good times, and we are extremely grateful to God for you. Your sisters love you so much too. You have loved your family well! Dad and I have loved you deeply but we’ve also failed you much. Our hope has only been Jesus – that in our weakness, He shines strong. We hope that you will forgive us of our mistakes and sins against you but that you will take the good and carry on the godly heritage that you have received.

 

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And now God is calling you to fly and build your own home with this lovely young lady whom He chose and brought into your life. We rejoice at the good gift that your loving Heavenly Father has gifted you with in your wife, our precious daughter-in-love. Our constant prayer for you both is that you will fully surrender your lives to Jesus and live honoring and loving Him with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. Nothing on earth is worth more than Jesus!

Dad and I send you with our family blessingMay the Lord bless you and keep you, may His face shine upon you and may He be gracious to you, may the Lord lift up His countenance and give you peace!

Love,

~ Mom

Success, God’s Way!

IMG_1513Our world seems to glorify success … something deep in the psyche of the human mind runs a deep desire to associate with power, control, and success. I am sure many of you will identify with me as I often find myself really wanting to be successful by the world’s standards and struggling when I am not. We praise and desire or boast about beauty, intelligence, academic achievements or career success, being talented, family/lineage, heritage, power, wealth, etc. We always talk about climbing UP the ladder of success in life. We feel “blessed” or favored by God when we get or achieve many of these things. Have you seen the #blessed on twitter or Facebook? It is claimed when someone has gained one of these desires and it usually comes slathered with pride! The flip side is that we often tend to feel like God has turned His face away from us when we walk through darker valleys and seasons of pain, suffering or loneliness especially when they occur for prolonged periods of our lives.

I have been trying to understand who Jesus really is through the depth of His life and sacrifice for us in just thirty-three years of His life on earth. I was reading Isaiah 53 and it hit me afresh that Jesus ran counter to everything we would consider successful. Listen to the prophecy about Him:

He had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
And no beauty that we should desire him
… He was despised and rejected by men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And as one from whom men hide their faces
He was despised, and we esteemed him not.
… We esteemed him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
He was pierced for our transgressions;
He was crushed for our iniquities;
… The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and He was afflicted,
… Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter
… By oppression and judgment he was taken away
… Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
He has put him to grief;

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Not a pretty picture of success there at all. Why? Why did the King of kings and Lord of Lords choose to come to earth this way when our human wisdom tells us that we need to desire and be “successful”? He was born to a poor family, in a manger because there was no room for Him at the inn. His life was in danger as Herod sought to kill him. He lived an obscure life for thirty years as a carpenter. He had no home and depended on the kindness of others as He served God in obedience during His three years of ministry. He was despised to the point of death, and was buried in a borrowed tomb. Why in the world would a God who has the power and glory of heaven and earth, the Creator of the universe, the One whom angels bowed down to as described in Isaiah 6, come to this earth and become sin and suffering?

Just imagine that! I honestly cannot fathom why God chose to do that! God chose to step into the brokenness of our world and of our lives, and humble Himself to the point of death, due to His great love for us (Phil 2:5-11). And this passage says that we are to “have this mind” among ourselves.

Thus it comes as no surprise that God called my husband and me eighteen years ago to step into the life of two very broken, hurt, rejected children. We were called to adopt our traumatized six year old son and baby daughter against the tide of culture, family and popular opinion. It required us, and me in particular as their adoptive mom, to lay down my life and my plans that I had worked so hard for, to enter their brokenness, pain and suffering. This long journey has been very costly to me – I lost myself in the process as I needed to immerse myself in helping them find their footing in life. However, even though my sacrifices were made willingly in love in the beginning, as the years passed the pain often became more than I could bear. God called me to trust in His goodness without seeing any tangible results, and often my weary heart began  questioning Him, even rebelling. And, in the midst of millions of tears, I prayed and begged God to give me parenting success. This passage shows me even now, how far from Jesus I truly am. He had the power to be in control and to ease His pain, yet, He chose to empty Himself to enter our world, with one purpose – to die on that cross for you and me, to enter our brokenness and to take it willingly on Himself so that we can have eternal hope, peace and joy! God lovingly through His Word showed me my foolishness and sinfulness for so desperately desiring success the world’s way instead of God’s way. May God forgive my faithlessness, for although I call myself His follower, I do not want to carry my cross and follow Him instead I want comfort, ease, praise and glory. He joyfully and purposefully chose to go counter to the world and climbed down the ladder from heaven to earth, from everything to nothing, from perfect peace, love and comfort to horrible brokenness and suffering. True success is imitating Jesus!

So, the next time we are tempted to be proud of our worldly successes under the guise of #blessed, let’s remember that we are on the dangerous grounds of idolatry for this is NOT success God’s way. Let us ask Jesus to show us how we can joyfully follow in His footsteps to willingly and sacrificially step down to love and care for those around us who are suffering and sorrowful, going counter to our intuition and to the world around us for that IS success God’s way!

Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).

So too may Jesus’ name be exalted through our lives!

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Historicity of Queen Esther

I had some troubling questions about how the biblical book of Esther fits with secular history, and so I spent a few hours researching this in the public library as well as online, and gleaned a wealth of information, which strengthened my confidence in the inerrancy of the Bible. I would like to share some of these discoveries, in case there is anyone else who would like more information on the historicity of Queen Esther.

The Problems

There is no mention of Esther at all in secular history (Herodotus is our primary, if not only source), even though according to the Biblical record, she was Queen for at least 6 years. The only Queen of Xerxes mentioned by Herodotus is Amestris, and she is not Jewish so she cannot be identified with the Biblical Esther. This queen is recorded to have had at least 6 children, and had considerable power when Xerxes son Ataxerxes I took over the throne after Xerxes. To add to the confusion, there are writings about Vashti and Esther in Jewish tradition, according to which Vashti was beheaded after her deposition (which if true would imply that Amestris cannot be Vashti). These lead to serious questions, which are quite alarming, because if history proves the biblical record wrong, then the Bible is not inspired and innerrant, and we will never know what we can really trust in the Bible. So I dug a little deeper, and am sharing my findings on this matter.

In order to resolve these difficulties, I used the following guidelines.

  1. Assume that the biblical record is 100% accurate, since the Bible is inspired by God. Given the Bible’s claims and its track record in amazing historical accuracy, the Bible should always get the “benefit of the doubt” when there is a difficulty.
  2. Assume that the main facts recorded in secular history are accurate, but allow for names to be different, and for facts to possibly be biased.
  3. Give low credence to Jewish historical records from non-biblical sources whenever anything contradicts conclusions from the above two considerations.

Working Hypothesis

With this, here is a working hypothesis:

  • It is likely that Amestris is the same as the Bible’s Vashti. Apparently this can also be justified on linguistic grounds.
  • Ataxerxes I – the king who succeeded Xerxes is the son of Xerxes and Amestris. We don’t know when he was born, but if he was over 13 years old when he took over the throne of Persia, then he could not have been born of Esther, and thus it is consistent if he was Vashti’s son. That Vashti had at least 6 children of Xerxes is possible even though she was queen only for 3 years, because according to secular history Amestris was Xerxes’ wife even before he became king in 586 BC.
  • If Esther and Xerxes had any children, they would have been less than 13 years old when Xerxes died. Secular history records at least 5 children of Xerxes whose mother is unknown.
  • We don’t know when Herodotus wrote about King Xerxes, but he would have been only 18 years old when Xerxes died, and his writings about Xerxes are in books VII, VIII and IX. Thus the earliest he could have written about Xerxes was during the rule of Xerxes’ son Ataxerxes I. Since Ataxerxes I is really the son of Vashti, it is entirely reasonable to expect that he would not have encouraged any record of Vashti’s humiliation or of Esther being queen (add to the embarrassing fact that Esther was of Jewish origin), which would explain the silence about Esther in Herodotus’s writings.
  • Although Jewish history says Vashti was beheaded, the only statement in the Bible is that Vashti was “to come no more before” Xerxes. Vashti may not have been banished from the kingdom, but just demoted from Queen to a place in Xerxes’ harem. She could have easily returned to a significant position of influence after the death of Xerxes and the rise of her son Artaxerxes I as Persia’s new ruler.

Historical Reconstruction and Harmony with the Biblical Narrative

With the above in mind, the following is a reconstruction of Xerxes’ life, harmonized with Herodotus’s account. Not having access to Herodotus’ writings, I have taken a lot of the material that follows, from an informative article by Professor William Shea.

While at his winter quarters in Sardis in 480-479 B.C, Xerxes turned his attention from making war to affairs of the heart. Herodotus reports that during that time the Persian king fell in love with the wife of Masistes, his brother, and endeavored unsuccessfully to carry on an affair with her. Out of unusual respect for his brother, Xerxes did not force himself on her, but instead arranged for his son to marry her daughter Artaynte, hoping this would make the seduction of her mother easier.  In connection with this incident, we should note that Greek sources indicate that Amestris was not with him in Sardis during the winter of 480-479 B.C, which is consistent with the biblical record of Vashti’s deposition in 483 BC.

Upon returning to Susa from his Greek campaign after his historic defeat at Thermopylae, Xerxes unexpectedly finds himself getting attracted to his daughter-in-law Artaynte, and the seduction of her is successful. This matter came to a crisis when he promised Artaynte the desire of her heart. She chose Xerxes’ coat of many colors, which Amestris herself had woven for him. Heroditus tells us that Xerxes tried to distract her by offering her cities or unlimited gold, or even and army, for one reason alone – that he feared lest Amestris previously suspecting what was going on might find out this way and react violantly. However, Artaynte insisted on getting the robe, which Xerxes gave her. Amestris was furious when she found out, and felt that the real blame lay with Artaynte’s mother, and got revenge when the time came to celebrate the king’s birthday. On that occasion she, like Salome, asked Xerxes to give her Masistes’ wife, and according to the custom of the day he was obliged to comply with her request, and Amestris promptly had her killed. We don’t know exactly what happened to Artaynte, but Heroditus mentions that “she and her whole household were fated to die”. In this incident, we here see two occasions where Xerxes made sweeping promises to women he loved, just as he did in Esther 5:6 and 7:2.

If Amestris is the same person as Vashti, and the verdict on Vashti was that she was “to come no more before” Xerxes (Esther 1:19), then what was Vashti  doing at the birthday banquet described by Herodotus three years later? It appears that Xerxes’ advisers recommended not divorce in the modem sense of the word, but rather demotion from being the chief royal wife and bestowal of that position upon someone else. Connected with this demotion was the prohibition upon her coming before Xerxes, which probably exiled her to a considerably less important position in the royal harem. To interpret this phrase too literally—to mean that Vashti never could come within eyesight of Xerxes again—probably is pushing its significance too far. As an idiom, it probably could be paraphrased to mean that she could not appear again with Xerxes in her official capacity as queen. The reverse of this occurs in the case of the seven princes who “saw the king’s face” (verse 14), which may be interpreted to mean that they could converse personally with the king, i.e., they could minister to him personally in matters of state.

In essence, Herodotus breaks off his account of Xerxes’ reign after describing these events of the king’s seventh year following his return from the Greek campaign. We have no further information about Amestris until the time her son Artaxerxes I occupied the Persian throne. In view of this silence, we have no specific evidence to indicate whether or not Amestris was Xerxes’ chief wife from his seventh year to the end of his reign. This silence at least allows a place in Persian history for Esther, and in harmony with the Bible. We can go further, and say that the fact that there is this gap in the secular record of Xerxes life that begins exactly at the time of Esther in the Bible – and that there is no random event recorded in secular history that could contradict the biblical record – actually points toward the accuracy of the biblical record, though it falls short of actually verifying it. About this time, Xerxes’ advisers must have suggested that the most beautiful girls of the land be brought before him, and the biblical story of Esther picks up again.

Conclusion

Although there is no direct reliable external evidence about the existence of Queen Esther, it is possible to completely harmonize what we know of ancient Persian history, with the biblical record of Esther.

Timeline of Events in the Babylonian and Persian Empires within Biblical History

This is not a complete timeline, but attempts to cover the major events that are relevant to our study of the book of Esther. I have also sprinkled this with some informative comments.

  1. 609 BC: Babylon becomes a world power: 609 BC
  2. 605 BC: Nebuchadnezzar becomes king of Babylon, and Daniel is deported to Babylon. The rise of Nebuchadnezzar was prophesied in Ezekiel 26:7
  3. 587 BC. The fall of Jerusalem and Judah, the Southern Kingdom is taken into Babylonian captivity.
  4. 562 BC:  Death of Nebuchadnezzar. His son Amel Marduk takes throne of Babylon.
  5. 560 BC: Amel Marduk was assasinated by Nebuchadnezzar’s son-in-law Nergal-shar-usur (Nergal-sharezer/Neriglissar), who takes throne
  6. 555 BC: Nergal-shar-usur was assassinated by Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson Nabonidus who takes throne
  7. 550 BC: Cyrus becomes King of Persia. Thus begins a rule that eventually made Persia into a world empire. Also, Belshazzar, son of Nabonidus becomes co-regent and becomes the effective king of Babylon. During this period, Nabonidus was an absentee ruler, and there were rumors that he was mad. Daniel refers to Nebuchadnezzar as Belshazzar’s “father” (Daniel 5:18, 22) which can also mean ancestor. He is in fact Belshazzer’s great grandfather.
  8. 539 BC: Cyrus captures Babylon. This marked the end of Babylonian supremacy. The eventual destruction of Babylon was prophesied several times in Scripture, e.g. Isa 43:14. This also marked the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy of Babylon having only 70 years of glory (609 BC to 539 BC), before being subdued by other nations (Jer 25:9-12, Jer 29:10, 2 Chron 36:20-23). This event spurs Daniel to pray for the restoration of the Jews to Jerusalem in Daniel 9:2, to complete God’s promise..Apparently at this time, “Darius the Mede” is made king of Babylon. There is no secular historical reference to this man. But Daniel says he “received the kingdom” (Daniel 5:30) was “made” king of Babylon (Daniel 9:1), which is consistent with Cyrus appointing him as ruler of Babylon. He is described by Daniel as the “son of Ahasuerus” (though clearly having nothing to do with the to the king of Persia in Esther’s time), and that he was 62 years old.
  9. 538 BC; Cyrus issues a decree that the Jews can return to Jerusalem (Ezra 1.1). This was in fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy that after the 70 years the Jews would return from exile. This is less than a year after Daniel’s passionate prayer in Daniel 9:3-19.
  10. 537/6 BC: The last vision of Daniel recorded in Daniel 10-12, during the third year of Cyrus’ reign (Daniel 10:1).
  11. 530 BC: Cambysis I becomes king of Persia after the death of Cyrus
  12. 522 BC: Darius I becomes King of Persia (Note: The study notes in the ESV Study Bible correctly observes that this Darius is different to the “Darius the Mede” of Daniel chapters 5 and 9, but mistakingly references this king in one of its tables).
  13. 486 BC: Xerxes I becomes King of Persia. He was spoken about in prophecy by Daniel over 50 years earlier. “Behold, three more kings shall arise in Persia, and a fourth shall be far richer than all of them. And when he has become strong through his riches, he shall stir up all against the kingdom of Greece”. (Daniel 11:2).
  14. 484 BC: Birth of Historian Heroditus
  15. 483 BC: Queen Vashti is deposed on the third year of Xerxes reign (Esther 1:3). Heroditus mentons only one queen of Xerxes called Amestris. This is probably Queen Vashti. This incident is mentioned in Esther chapter 1.
  16. 480 BC: Historic defeat of Xerxes against Greece at Thermopylae. This was a “battle that changed the world”, in that without this defeat the overall outcome of the conflict between Persia and Greece could have ended differently – and Greece may never have had the same impact on Western civilization. This was the first of a series of battles over the next several decades that Persia lost to Greece, eventually losing its superpower status a little over 150 years later, to Alexander the Great in 322 BC. After this defeat, Xerxes handed over command of the army to his cousin Mardonius so that he could return to Susa. Mardonius continued his campaign against Greece until he was killed in the decisive battle of Plataea, a year later.Meanwhile back home, Xerxes had a secret affair with his daughter-in-law which led to Amestris destroying her entire family in revenge. After this, the secular historical record is silent for the rest of Xerxes reign, but the biblical record picks up again (Esther 2:1).
  17. 479/8 BC: Esther is crowned Queen. This was in the seventh year of Xerxes reign (Esther 2:16)
  18. 474 BC: Haman plots against the Jews. This was on the first month, of the twelfth year of Xerxes reign (Esther 3:7, 3:12). Two months later, Mordecai was able to neutralize that decree by issuing a new decree that the Jews could defend themselves (this was on the third day of the third month according to Esther 8:9)
  19. 473 BC: The Jews destroy their attackers on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month (Esther 3:12, 8:12, 9:1). The event is celebrated during the Jewish feast of Purim.
  20. 466/5 BC: Xerxes is killed, and his son Ataxerxes I becomes king. Ataxerxes I cannot be Esther’s son because he was 13 years old, so he must have been Vashti’s son. Since the secular record says that his mother was Amestris, this is probably another name for Vashti.
  21. 458 BC: Ataxerxes I issues a decree to rebuild the Temple. Ezra and a contingent journey back to Jerusalem.
  22. 445/4 BC: Ataxerxes I commissions Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls

My Concerns with Young Earth Creationism

I believe in the divine plenary verbal inspiration of the Bible and also have a doctorate in Theoretical Physics. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the question of the origin of life and the age of the earth. To be honest, I have to say that I find overwhelming scientific evidence for a universe that is 13.8 odd billion years old, and an earth that is about 4.5 billion years old. I also have to admit that I do not have a detailed way to reconcile the Bible and science regarding this matter to my complete satisfaction. On the other hand, neither do I find any blatant contradictions between the Bible and science. So I am at present content with not having all the answers. It is not a stretch for me to believe that there does exist a perfect reconciliation between the Bible and true science, even if I do not fully understand it right now. However, I do have a concern with the dogmatism expressed by “young-earth creationists” (by this term, I mean those who believe that our earth is just a few thousand years old and that God created the universe in 6 literal days). I also find a disturbing dishonesty in some of the things that they say and write, which I believe is doing much damage, by reducing the credibility that Christians have in the world today. Let me clarify what I mean.

The Scientific Method

All of Science is strictly speaking, “theory” and not “fact”. There is a level of humility in submission to observable experimental evidence that says that if a new observation does not fit existing scientific theory, then the scientific theory needs to be modified or recognized as incomplete, until the new evidence has a satisfactory explanation. So for example, early astronomers were able to explain the motion of stars and planets in the night sky by using a complicated model where the sun, stars and planets revolved around the earth. However with Kepler’s more accurate measurements, the theory had to be modified to one where the sun lies at the center of our solar system. Then Isaac Newton formulated his brilliant mathematical laws of motion and gravity that explained planetary motion and all the other known phenomena. Newton’s theory, known as Classical Physics, held sway until the end of the 19th century. However in the late 1800’s some new experiments were performed that defied explanation. This is what led to the revolutionary new theories of Quantum Physics, Relativity and Einstein’s Theory of Gravity, which not only explained everything that Classical Physics could explain, but also all the new experimental data, with remarkable mathematical precision. These theories also made new testable predictions, some of which were extremely non-intuitive. The predictions were soon tested and verified. So currently we have excellent working theories that can explain all known phenomena. However, there do exist some perplexing logical paradoxes without good solutions. There are also theoretical inconsistencies between Quantum Physics and Einstein’s Theory of Gravity at the tiniest length scales. Thus scientists believe that our current understanding of the fundamental laws of the nature is still incomplete, and research in this area is still very active.

The young earth creationist Ken Ham writes about “Operational (Observational) Theory” and “Historical (Origins) Theory“. This is a very artificial distinction. For example, we find this statement in the Answers In Genesis website: “All interpretations (theories) of the past [i.e. Historical Theory] are based on assumptions and cannot be equated with facts that are observable in the present [that is, Operational Theory]”. Ham is saying that if something cannot be observed, then we cannot be sure that it is true. Therefore our knowledge regarding past events cannot be made very confidently by science, simply because those events happened in the past. This statement is not true. By Ham’s argument, since no one has ever seen an electron our confidence in its existence should be tenuous at best. However no scientist would say that there is even a remote possibility that electrons do not exist. The fact is that even if something is not directly observable, its effects can be. The theory of electron existence is the best theory that explains all the phenomena that we now attribute to the effects of electrons, so we accept the theory without claiming that we need to actually see electrons to believe in them. It doesn’t even seem to bother anyone that according to the theory they are so tiny that we will never be able to see them. Science is a structured attempt to rigorously solve the complicated jig-saw puzzle of everything we observe in nature today – and we have tools that can probe the furthest reaches of the universe, and the innermost structure of atoms. Scientists believe that everything we observe is a consequence of simple so-called “fundamental laws of nature”. The remarkable fact is that with the large amount of data we have collected, the fundamental laws of nature as we understand them today, have a deep intrinsic mathematical elegance and simplicity. (Side note: personally, this leads me to worship God for His tremendous wisdom, because God created these laws as well. Science gives me new insights into the awesome majesty of God).

Thus for example, to simply dismiss the theory of evolution saying “No one has observed it” is a dishonest play on words and is not consistent with what true science is.

Order cannot come out of Disorder. Really?

A common argument is that life has a lot of structure, and that the “Second Law of Thermodynamics” says that everything tends towards decay, so evolution fundamentally contradicts this well established law of Physics, because the order we see today could not have come from disorder all by itself.

Well, this is not true. Consider a snowflake. Anyone who has seen one under a microscope (or seen a picture of one) sees amazing symmetry and structure in it. This structure arose out of many molecules of water that evaporated from earth’s lakes and oceans, and then condensed in the clouds above. Similarly, if we plant a seed on the ground, it grows into a plant with beautiful flowers and fruit. This plant exists because the seed we planted was able to absorb water, air and nutrients from the soil and the atmosphere, and the resulting growth that ensued could process sunlight through photosynthesis. Both of these are examples of how tremendous order can arise out of total initial disorder. The truth is, that the Second Law of Thermodynamics only applies to a “Closed System”, and our earth is not a Closed System, because it gets a lot of heat and light energy from the sun. So the theory of evolution in itself does not violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

What about Evidence Indicating an Old Universe and an Old Earth?

There are galaxies and other objects in the universe that we believe to be billions of light years away from us. This means that the light that reaches us from them had originally left them billions of years ago. In other words, those galaxies we see today are in fact what they looked like billions of years ago, which in turn implies that they existed billions of years ago. Similarly we can look at stalactites and stalagmites in many caves, the relative composition of radioactive elements in a rock sample, the tectonic plate structure of the earth’s crust, extensive fossil deposits, and the list goes on. There is a mountain of evidence that points to a universe that is about 13.8 billion years old, and an earth that is about 4.5 billion years old.

When young earth creationists are confronted with this kind of evidence that indicates an old universe or an old earth, there are usually one of two kinds of responses:

  • God could have miraculously made the universe and the earth appear old. For example, He could have accelerated the speed of light so that these distant objects appear to be much older than they actually are. After all, didn’t God create Adam as a grown man appearing to be perhaps in his twenties when he was only a day old? The Bible says that nothing is impossible with God.

Regarding this argument, my response would be: “Yes, nothing is impossible with God. However, since God is the God of truth, does it seem consistent with His nature that He would make a young universe appear to be so incredibly old?”. This would then lead me to a more serious charge. “Please stop saying that your young-earth hypothesis is scientific. You have explained away observed evidence that does not fit your theories, by saying God could have done a miracle. So you have gone outside the realm of science and your position is therefore not scientific.”

A second argument that is pretty common goes along the following lines:

  • There are assumptions made for the age calculation that may not be true.

Regarding this, we need remind ourselves regarding what the scientific method really is. Anyone who makes the argument about possible false assumptions has the “burden of proof” to come up with a theory that would provide a different age calculation for every disparate source of evidence that appears to indicate otherwise, yet should also continue to explain every other known fact. Such a theory would be radically different from the fundamental scientific laws of nature as we understand them today, so that is an extremely tall order. Yes – the evidence for an old universe and an old earth are so overwhelming that to overturn all of it would require a complete rewrite of all of modern Physics.

There have been papers published by young-earth creationists that attempt to deal with some isolated phenomena, not recognizing (or ignoring) the cumulative and consistent support from multiple scientific disciplines that would need to be explained if their theses are true. These kinds of papers usually have such blatantly inaccurate statements and/or false claims that they do not make it into any well-established peer-reviewed scientific journal. In fact, most scientists consider it a waste of time to even engage these people in debate.

Old Earth, Evolution and the Bible

Many young-earth creationists claim that if one does not believe in a young earth and a literal 6 day creation,one cannot believe the things the Bible has to say about Jesus and salvation? Thus they make their interpretation of Genesis a critical requirement of true faith. There are a couple comments I would like to make regarding this:

  • Usually when the word ‘evolution” is used in science, it describes the details of a certain process. Strictly speaking this has no bearing on the existence of God because the scientific method by definition does not deal with the issue of God’s existence. This is why there are many scientists who are believing Christians who do not find any conflict between their faith in a Creator God, and evolution. The following statement is often made by young earth creationists: “Darwin’s theory has been rejected by most modern scientists today”. It is true that the details of the mechanism in Darwin’s initial theory has changed with our increased understanding of genetic structure. However, the core concepts are still currently almost universally accepted. So here, the statement causes the general reader to understand it with a much broader brush stroke – which makes it a falsehood. Incidentally, evolution has actually been observed in the lab, consistent with modern genetic theory. For example, when a cold virus resists our antibiotic medication, it is because the virus has literally evolved into a different strain that is resistant to those antibiotics. The new strain could be one that has never existed before. This has led young earth creationists to make a distinction between “micro” and “macro” evolution, and they argue that “macro” evolution (i.e., evolution that changes one species into another) has never been observed. It is true that evolution from one species to another has not been observed, but this can be explained by the same mechanisms that have successfully predicted and verified micro-evolution. The predicted time-frames this mechanism would require for macro-evolution is longer than the few thousand years of known world history, and is therefore consistent with the fact that it has not been observed. Incidentally, the words the Bible uses about the origins of life on earth: “Let the earth sprout” (Gen 1:11) . “Let the waters swarm” (Gen 1:20) and “Let the earth bring forth” (Gen 1:24) is not inconsistent with God using some evolutionary process to make it happen.
  • There are several alternate interpretations of Genesis 1 and 2 that allow for an old earth and a longer creation period. Some of these views are held by conservative Christian scholars and pastors. To go into more detail would be beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say that I myself do not see the creation story as an open-and-shut case for a young earth and a literal 6 day creation. For more information, I would recommend reading the study notes on Genesis in the ESV Study Bible. These represent a balanced and accurate summary of various conservative evangelical views on these issues.

Conclusion

Science is our ally and not our enemy. Scientists desire to know truth about how the universe runs. Christians also desire to know a different aspect of truth that deals more with the “why” questions of our existence, and we believe that the Bible is the inerrant revelation of God. Ultimately truth by definition is consistent, so true science will never contradict the correctly interpreted truth of the Bible. What is fundamental to our faith is that God is the Creator of the universe and that God created mankind “in His image” starting with our first human parents Adam and Eve. This puts us in a different category to every other living creature on earth. Details regarding the age of the earth or the time-frames for the origin-of-life are secondary. Our unique status before God is outside the realm of science but does not contradict it. Evolution does not irrefutably imply that God does not exist, or that He did not direct the process in some way. Christians can be enriched by learning about our universe and the wisdom of God who created it, whether or not our universe is old, and whether or not God somehow used the process of evolution to bring about life as we know it.

So isn’t it time for us to stop wasting our energy on useless debates, or preposterously claiming that there is a giant conspiracy by scientists to expel God? In reality there are believing Christians in every scientific discipline (albeit a minority). While science cannot answer questions about God one way or another, the Bible does, because God has chosen to reveal Himself there. Yes there is a God who is the Creator of the entire universe. This God wants us to know that He created us “in His image” because He desires us to have a loving relationship with Him. Although we followed our first parents in rebellion against God, in His mercy He sent Jesus His only Son to die on the cross in our place and for our sins. Jesus rose again victorious on the third day, and freely offers us forgiveness for our sins and a restored relationship with God that can begin now, and will continue into all eternity. What an extraordinary gift this is! Let us not get distracted from sharing this amazing news. Let us allow scientists to do what they are eminently well qualified to do, and let us Christians not make naive statements in our ignorance, that undermine our own credibility. Rather, let us have a laser focus on doing what Jesus has commissioned us to do – to spread the stupendous good news about Jesus to a world that desperately needs Him but does not realize it.

The Glory and the Grace: Reflections from Isaiah 6:1-10

… I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he coveredhis face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongsfrom the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”

And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not  perceive. Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.'”

God is holy and exceedingly glorious

Isaiah records a dramatic day in his life, when he saw God in His glory. He was sitting on a throne, that was high and lifted up. The train of His robe filled the temple. He was surrounded by angels whose name means “flame” – perfect and pure beings, who shielded their eyes and covered their feet in God’s presence, and constantly cried out: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

Try to imagine this scene. The Bible says that God “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see”. (1 Tim 6:16). But Isaiah gets a glimpse of God in His glory! He sees God lifted up. He sees Him as the sovereign ruler of the universe. He suddenly realizes that in fact the whole earth is full of his glory.

The sight of God’s glory makes Isaiah’s own uncleanness obvious

What was Isaiah’s reaction to this vision? He thought his life was over – that he was done for! He feared that he would be consumed by God’s judgment. When Isaiah came face to face with God’s holiness, he suddenly realized how unholy he himself was. He realized that he had no business standing there in the presence of God. He knew that he was not fit to see what he was seeing. He shuddered because he knew that he deserved to die immediately. He felt vulnerable.

Is Isaiah’s God our God? Do we realize that God is awesome in His Holiness? Our culture caricatures God like a soft sentimental “Santa Clause”-like figure. But that is not the God of the Bible. We sometimes think that the God of the Old Testament is different to Jesus. However, the apostle John, who lived and ate with Jesus for 3 years, says that the person Isaiah saw in this vision was none other than Jesus Himself (John 12:41). God the Father has exactly the same nature as revealed through God the Son, Jesus. The Bible also says that He is the same yesterday, today and forever. This means that the God Isaiah saw is the God who is ruling the universe today. Every single time anyone saw a glimpse of God’s glory, they all reacted in a similar way to Isaiah. For example, think of what happened to Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Job, Ezekiel, Paul, John, and many others. Why? The Bible says that God’s eyes “are too pure to approve evil”, And that He cannot look on wickedness with favor. (Hab. 1:13). When we come in contact with God in His absolute perfection, our own sinfulness and wickedness stands in stark contrast. Isaiah confessed: “I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips”. The Bible says that the mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart. So the unclean lips that Isaiah is so conscious of, was evidence of his unclean heart.

At the time of Isaiah the nation of Judah was in a state of unprecedented prosperity. However because of this, they had turned away from God. We get a pretty good idea of how they were from the earlier chapters of Isaiah. Isaiah described them as those who “draw sin as with cart ropes (5: 18). Let us see how God describes the culture in Isaiah’s day, because it has an uncanny resemblance to the America we live in today.

  • Materialistic (5:8)
  • The women dress very seductively: “craning her elegant neck, flirting with her eyes, walking with dainty steps” (3:15).
  • Arrogance in their military might (2:7)
  • Moral relativism: they “call evil good and good evil. (5:20)
  • They worshiped other gods (2:8)
  • They were drunkards. (5: 11, 22)
  • Theirs was a culture of bribery and corruption (1:23, 5:23).
  • They did not care about orphans and widows, or about moral justice (1:17,23, 5:23)
  • They were religious but in their hearts they had spurned God. (1:15-17)
  • They rationalized their behavior: they were “shrewd in their own sight and wise in their own eyes”. (5:21)

 Does this not sound very much like our culture today? Like them, we too are so busy in the stresses of everyday life, that we have spurned the God of the universe. We don’t care about the millions of orphans dying in the world. We don’t care about the sex-trade industry in third world countries. We put our confidence in our beauty or smartness, and we accumulate wealth. If you think about it, we are not much different to the people among whom Isaiah lived. But when Isaiah saw God, he could not face him. Until this point in his life, he had been proclaiming what was wrong with all the people around him. But when he saw God, he directed the condemnation to himself. “Woe is me! For I am lost”.

Recognition of his sins enables them to be covered by God’s grace.

Immediately when Isaiah recognized his guilt, a flaming angel took burning coal from the altar and touched his lips with it, and proclaimed that his sins had been atoned for, and his guilt had been taken away. Confession enabled his sin to be covered by God’s grace.

The seraph proclaimed to Isaiah that when God looked at Isaiah, He would not punish Isaiah’s guilt and sin, because it had been covered – it had been atoned for. The sacrifice on the altar from which the burning coal had been taken, would serve as an atonement for Isaiah’s sins. He was cleansed and made holy. He was now fit to stand in God’s presence, and he could do so without fear

After this, Isaiah’s life was changed forever.

Isaiah saw this vision “In the year that king Uzziah died”. That was way back in 740BC. Today, we are living 2,750 years after this event. So how does this passage apply to us today? Does it have any relevance at all, or is this just a historical curiosity? Our first thought may go along these lines: “If God were to reveal Himself to me like this, then my life too would be transformed”. Then we can dismiss the thought and continue with our daily lives. But to do this is to miss something really significant. There is a key that links this passage directly to us, and it is this:

God’s glory is fully revealed in Jesus Christ.

Fast-forward to now: God’s glory has been fully revealed through Jesus Christ. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We have seen His glory – glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Jesus “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb 1:3). God’s glory has been revealed in Jesus Christ, in a way that is far superior to what Isaiah saw. Jesus once told His disciples: “blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matt 13:16-17). God’s glory as revealed in Jesus Christ is vastly superior because we see the heart of God in a way Isaiah never did, through the cross of Christ. The Bible says: “We all, with unveiled faces, are beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18). This experience is available to each one of us. We can see God’s glory personally, in Jesus Christ.

I now want to say something very very serious. It comes directly from this passage – the very Word of God. After he was cleansed, Isaiah was sent by God to communicate to the people a certain message:

Keep on hearing, but do not understand.
Keep on seeing, but do not  perceive.
Make the heart of this people dull,
And their ears heavy,
And blind their eyes;
Lest they see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their hearts,
And turn and be healed.

There is a state of hardness that can prevent us from seeing God’s glory.

The above passage suggests that there is a state of hardness that can blind us from seeing God’s glory. These words have been quoted multiple times in the New Testament – even by Jesus – to explain why people do not believe in Jesus. Remember that it was only after Isaiah saw God’s glory that he was able to fully see his own sinfulness, which enabled him to confess it and get cleansed. This passage says that those people whose hearts are hardened will continue living in their sin, and will not turn and be healed. They will be “wise in our own eyes” (Isa 5:21), and will not realize their need for a Savior.

This is a very serious situation, because this “blindness” makes them incapable of seeing God in His glory. So let me ask you a very important question. Have you seen God’s glory in Jesus Christ? If you have seen Him in His glory, you will revel in the gospel. You will want to read more and more about what Jesus has done for you when He died on the cross for your sins. It is only His death that can cover your guilt, and enable you to stand boldly in God’s presence, just like Isaiah was enabled to do – because He bore the punishment of your sins on Himself. When He becomes your Savior, you will have the Holy Spirit residing permanently inside of you, teaching you more and more about Him. The Bible will come alive, and when you read it your spirit will leap within you for joy. This is a very personal thing. Do you look at Him as the Fountain of living water? Are you sustained by Him? Are you satisfied in Him? Do you love to be with Him? Do you yearn to be with Him after you die, and spend eternity with Him in heaven? Ask yourself these questions seriously. If you have not experienced this deep desire for Him, then according to this passage it is because your heart is hardened, and that hardness will prevent you from seeing the glory of God in Christ, thereby getting the spiritual healing that you desperately need from your sins, through the death of Jesus.

God needs to soften our hard hearts, so that we can turn and be healed.

I have given a simple though critical self test. You can only fall into one of two groups – either you have seen God’s glory in Jesus Christ, or you have not – which would further indicate whether your heart is in a state of hardness or it is not. You know which group you fall into. This is between you and God.

Perhaps hearing this, you realize that it has not been your experience to see God’s glory in Christ? If so, it can only mean that you heart has been hardened. According to the Bible, those who die with such hardened hearts will experience the rest of eternity in hell, suffering the just punishment for their sins – so this is a very serious matter. The Bible says that the god of this world (i.e. Satan) has blinded the hearts of those who do not believe, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel and the glory of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4). If you are in this situation, you need your eyes opened, and your heart softened. God promises that he can soften your heart, and is willing to do so. He says in Ezek 36:26 “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone … and give you a heart of flesh, and I will put My Spirit within you”. He also says He is willing to give “salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.” (Rev 3:18).

So ask God to do this miracle for you. Ask Him to open your eyes and soften your heart. Ask Him to let you see with your eyes, and hear with your ears, and understand with your heart, so that you can turn and be healed. He has promised that He will not turn away anyone who comes to Him. Ernestly entreat Him to soften your heart – He will do it, because He is a God of grace. And then your eyes will be opened to the vistas of God’s glory in Jesus Christ that will enthrall you thoughout eternity.

And to those of you who have seen God’s glory, let me just encourage you – keep gazing at Him. Drink of Him. Spend time with Him. Savor Him. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Revel in His presence. Tell others about Him. And even as you do this, you yourself will gradually become more and more like Him, “from one degree of glory to another”.