For Such a Time as This

12 When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13 he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

Esther 4:12-14 (NIV)

A great many Bible events involve persons who act at a propitious moment—not as a matter of sheer chance, but under the sovereignty of God, the Lord of history. A range of biblical examples comes readily to mind: the young shepherd David, who began the day bringing food to his soldier brothers, but found himself facing Goliath in battle (1 Samuel 17); the boy whose lunch fed 5,000 through a miracle of Christ (John 6:1-14); the Pharisee Gamaliel whose intervention saved the apostles from a Sanhedrin death sentence (Acts 5:33-40). Of course, the prime example is Jesus, of whom John the Baptist declared, “The time has come . . . The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15).

The Greek word for “time” in John’s declaration is kairos, denoting a season or moment pregnant with promise, laden with significance, prophetically charged—a day to be seized lest the choice opportunity is lost. It stands distinct from the other Greek word for time, chronos, the “tick-tock” time of your watch or of chronology. Of course, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, but thanks to a team of scholars who began their work in the third century BC, a Greek version, the Septuagint, emerged over the next hundred years.

And it employed the word kairos to capture the role of Esther in delivering her people from destruction.

Living among exiles under Babylonia captivity, Esther was chosen as queen to King Xerxes, who did not know she was Jewish. But that would change. A wicked official named Haman so despised her uncle Mordecai that he managed to elicit a royal decree that all the Jews would be slaughtered on a particular late-winter day. Distraught, Mordecai urged Esther to approach the king on behalf of her people, thereby risking her life by entering his throne room uninvited and by revealing her ethnicity. He reasoned that she may have gained her own high position so that she would be in place to act effectually “for such a time [kairos] as this.” She assented, and the Lord blessed her efforts.

The case of Esther is instructive for Christians of every era: 1) She was available when called, sufficiently attuned to the heart and work of God to say yes when the path opened up before her; 2) She was willing to move outside her safety zone, telling Mordecai, once she’d made her choice, “If I perish, I perish” (Indeed, some, like the disciple Stephen in Acts 7, lost their lives at their kairos moment); 3) She undergirded her action with fresh consecration, in her case through a three-day fast (v. 16).

Meanwhile, God was acting providentially to maximize the impact of Esther’s deed. He softened Xerxes’ heart so that he might not lash out at Esther’s “impertinence.” (As it says in Proverbs 21:1, “In the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him.”) And He gave the king a sleepless night, one in which he turned to old official records, where he discovered that Mordecai had once saved him from an assassination plot.

Of course, most Christians are not recognized for historic interventions, but the normal Christian life involves acts of eternal significance through, for instance, evangelism and discipleship. Indeed, a kairos moment may seem as negligible as a “chance” conversation or as momentous as a deciding vote in Congress. Both may prove crucial. For in God’s economy, great things may come from any and all who stand ready to serve Him sacrificially “for such a time as He may please.”

Christian Missionary & Explorer: David Livingstone (1813-1873)

Even though David Livingstone had spent extensive time exploring Africa during his lifetime, it was not normal and certainly worrying when no one heard from the famous missionary-doctor-explorer for several months in 1871. Henry Stanley, a journalist for the New York Herald and explorer, set out to find Livingstone. He finally found the old man in October 1871 near central Africa’s Lake Tanganyika. The wearied journalist greeted the aged doctor with the famous words, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” With new supplies provided by Stanley, Livingstone was able to continue his efforts to find the source of the Nile.[i] He died on May 1, 1873, a result of years of poor health.[ii]

Livingstone’s grit and determination were apparent even in his boyhood. The second son of a poor family living in Blantyre near Glasgow, he began working a 14-hour day in a local cotton factory when he was only 10 years old. Determined to educate himself, he learned Latin from a grammar book propped up on his spinning jenny, and by means of attending a company school after an arduous day’s work, he went on to acquire a knowledge of geography, science, and other subjects which eventually enabled him to enter Glasgow University at the age of 23 to study Greek, medicine, and theology. Accepted in 1837 as a probationer by the London Missionary Society, Livingstone dreamed of becoming a missionary in China but was prevented from doing so by the outbreak of the Opium War. Instead, he received his call to Africa while attending a meeting addressed by another great missionary, Dr. Robert Moffat, who was speaking about his mission station at Kuruman in South Africa. When he heard Moffat say, “On a clear morning, I can see from the hills near Kuruman, the smoke of a thousand villages where no missionary has ever been,” Livingstone knew what his life’s work would be.[iii]

From 1840 until his death in 1873, Livingstone traveled the length and breadth of Central Africa, penetrating and mapping its interior, preaching the gospel to tribesmen who had never been reached before, healing the sick, and showing the natives how to irrigate their fields and improve their agriculture. The London Missionary Society, then the British government, and finally private donors financed his travels.[iv] He explored over 11,000 miles of unknown country and was the first white man to cross Africa from west to east. During his many and varied journeys he recorded his observations of the geology, botany, and wildlife of the regions he visited, and most important of all, he discovered and exposed the dreadful cruelties of the Arab-dominated slave trade. As well as freeing slaves whenever he could, Livingstone’s published diaries and reports persuaded Britain to take action against the slave-trafficking Sultan of Zanzibar in the 1870s—though Livingstone himself did not live to see it.[v]

Perhaps his most telling legacy, however, is the untarnished memory of himself left in the minds and hearts of generations of ordinary Africans. Many towns, streets, and buildings were named after him, and although decolonization led to many name changes in Africa, most of those named after Livingstone have remained.[vi] Generations of missionaries and evangelists, white and black, have followed in his footsteps. To quote the testimony of an old African who saw Livingstone in his boyhood: “…there was love in his eyes, he was not fierce. He made a path through our land, and you his followers have come, God’s Light-bringers; and more come today.”[vii]

The Bible teaches that “perfect love casts out fear,” and surely this was the source of David Livingstone’s courage.

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Endnotes

[i] “David Livingstone (1817-1873),” BBC Online, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/livingstone_david.shtml (accessed June 15, 2017).

[ii] The inscription on his tomb in London’s Westminster Abbey read, “For 30 years his life was spent in an unwearied effort to evangelise the native races, to explore the undiscovered secrets, to abolish the desolating slave trade of Central Africa, where with his last words he wrote, ‘All I can add in my solitude, is, may Heaven’s rich blessing come down on every one, American, English, or Turk, who will help to heal this open sore of the world.’” See Rob Mackenzie, David Livingstone: The Truth behind the Legend (England: Kingsway, 1993), 377.

[iii] R. J. Unstead, People in History: From Caractacus to Alexander Fleming (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1957) 446-447; and John Canning, ed., 100 Great Lives (London: Century, 1975), 488-489.

[iv] Livingstone was an official missionary in Africa with the London Missionary Society from 1840 to 1856. From 1858 to 1864, he carried out official explorations for the British government. He returned to African again from 1864 until his death, funded by private support.

[v] See Unstead, 455-457; Canning, 489; and Mackenzie, chapters 13 and 19.

[vi] Like Blantyre in Malawi, for instance. See Mackenzie, 16.

[vii] Ibid., 374.

Marriage: Evangelistic Sustainer of Love

31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Ephesians 5:31-32 (ESV)

“Your love is your own private possession,” wrote Christian martyr Dietriech Bonhoeffer to a young couple from his prison cell in 1943. “But marriage is more than something personal—it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man. . . . It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.”[i] What a stark contrast to the contemporary, sentimentalized view of marriage!

One of God’s purposes for marriage is to illustrate the relationship of Christ and the Church. Just as in the old covenant, Israel was Yahweh’s bride (e.g., Jer. 2; Ezek. 16; Hos. 1-2), so in the new covenant, the Church is Christ’s bride (Eph. 5:22-33; Rev. 19:6-9). This divine marriage encompasses all of time, from eternity past to eternity future. It is not as if Paul is casting around for an illustration of what it means to live a godly married life and thinks of Christ and the Church. Quite the reverse: marriage is the illustration. Christ and the Church are the ultimate reality.

Furthermore, while marriage is a creation ordinance (Eph. 5:31, quoting Gen. 2:24), the relationship of Christ and the Church is prior to creation. We were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4); and this is the mystery now revealed in the gospel. While human marriage is merely lifelong (Mark 12:25), the marriage of Christ and the Church will last for all eternity.

Just as marriage is public (“a man shall leave his father and mother”), intimate (“the two shall become one flesh”), exclusive, and lifelong (“[he shall] hold fast to his wife”), Christ’s relationship with the Church is public, intimate, exclusive, and lasting. The Lord Jesus is a faithful husband. His commitment to His bride is seen in that He laid down His life for her in order that she might belong to Him (Eph. 5:25-27). He did this even while she was an idolatrous sinner. His promise is that He will lose none of those the Father gives Him (John 6:39). His commitment to His bride sustains His love for her, even when she sometimes strays.

By taking a bold stand for lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual marriage, pastors and their churches inoculate Christians against an overly sentimentalized view of marriage that pervades the culture. And by committing themselves to marriage as a covenantal institution, Christians reflect the commitment of Christ to His Church and, thereby, proclaim the gospel in their very unions—making marriage a blessed tool of evangelism.

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Endnote

[i] Dietriech Bonhoeffer, quoted in Richard John Neuhuas, “The Public Square,” First Things 113 (May 2001): 67-88, http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft0105/public.html (accessed March 8, 2006).

How Christianity Conquered Rome

Famine and war had recently afflicted Caesarea, so when the plague hit in the early fourth century, the populace was already weakened and unable to withstand this additional blow. The populace began fleeing the city, one of the larger ones of the Roman Empire, for safety in the countryside.[i] However, in the midst of the fleeing inhabitants, at least one group was staying behind, the Christians. Bishop of the city and historian of the early church, Eusebius, recorded that during the plague, “All day long some of them [the Christians] tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them. Others gathered together from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from famine and distributed bread to them all.”[ii]

Cities in the ancient world were even more overcrowded than the densest population centers today. With few sewers existing, cities were filthy beyond imagining and became a breeding ground for disease. Major catastrophes were not uncommon, including fires, plagues, conquests by armies, and frequent earthquakes.[iii] Even though the cities were unpleasant places to live, they were the population and intellectual centers of the empire, and they provided Christians with opportunities for numerical growth and cultural influence. Indeed, Christianity eventually dominated the empire by taking root in almost all the major cities of the ancient Mediterranean world, from Alexandria in North Africa to Cordova in Spain.[iv]

However, the Christian conquest of the Roman Empire came not by the sword, but by the preaching of the gospel joined with acts of compassion. Eusebius goes on to state that because of their compassion in the midst of the plague, the Christians’ “deeds were on everyone’s lips, and they glorified the God of the Christians. Such actions convinced them that they alone were pious and truly reverent to God.”[v] A few decades after Eusebius, the last pagan emperor, Julian the Apostate, recognized that the Christian practice of compassion was one cause behind the transformation of the faith from a small movement on the edge of the empire to cultural ascendancy. Writing to a pagan priest, he said, “[W]hen it came about that the poor were neglected and overlooked by the [pagan] priests, then I think the impious Galilaeans [i.e., Christians] observed this fact and devoted themselves to philanthropy.”[vi] To another, he wrote, “[They] support not only their poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.”[vii] In fact, Julian proposed that pagan priests imitate the Christians’ charity in order to bring about a revival of paganism in the empire.

Julian’s program failed because the polytheism of ancient Rome was unable to sustain the kind of self-sacrificial love and compassion that Eusebius observed in Caesarea. Christianity presented to the ancient world two theological truths that were not to be found in the pagan religions. The first is that the God of Jesus Christ is a God worth dying for, since He had first demonstrated His love for humanity by sending His Son. The second truth was a “new conception of humanity,” that is, the idea that all human beings have special dignity and should therefore be shown compassion.[viii] These two ideas slowly but surely transformed the culture of the Roman Empire. Today, as the West appears to be returning to paganism, the distinctiveness of the Christian doctrines of God and of man will once more stand in stark contrast to the surrounding culture by Christians demonstrating the love of Christ in acts of compassion.

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Endnotes

[i] Caesarea had a population of about 45,000. There were only thirty-one cities in the empire whose populations were greater than 30,000. See Rodney Stark, Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), 35-36, 60.

[ii] Eusebius, The Church History, trans. Paul L. Meier (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007), 293. In other editions, see IX.viii.13-15. Eusebius records that the famine was so severe that a single measure of wheat was sold for 2,500 drachmas, one drachma being the daily wage of a skilled worker (292). Eusebius interprets the tragic events as divine punishment upon the city for its zeal in carrying out the government-sponsored persecution of the Christians initiated by Caesar Maximin. Shortly after these events Maximin died, Constantine became emperor, and Christianity was legalized throughout the empire.

[iii] Stark, Cities of God, 26-29.

[iv] See Stark, Cities of God, 35-59, for a brief overview of the Christian presence in each of the thirty-one largest cities of the empire.

[v] Eusebius, 293. In other editions, see IX.viii.13-15.

[vi] Julian, “Fragment of a Letter to a Priest,” in The Works of the Emperor Julian, vol. 2, trans. Wilmer Cave Wright (New York: MacMillan, 1913), 337. Julian is not referring to the specific instance that Eusebius cites, but is referring to Christian charity more generally. Elsewhere, Julian stated regarding the Christians, “It is their benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism” (“To Arsacius, High-Priest of Galatia,” in The Works of the Emperor Julian, vol. 3, trans. Wilmer Cave Wright [New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1923], 69). He went on to say that “I believe that we [i.e., the pagans] ought really and truly to practise every one of these virtues.” Julian’s program of moral reform forbade priests from going to licentious theaters and to sacred games at which women were present. He also encouraged priests to demonstrate hospitality by establishing hostels for travelers and distributing money to the poor. As a former Christian, Julian knew the Christian ethic well. Echoing the words of Jesus about the greatest commandment, Julian summarized the requirements for appointment to the pagan priesthood as love for (the pagan) gods and love for man (“To Arsacius,” 69-71; cf. “Fragment of a Letter to a Priest,” 335-337).

[vii] Julian, “To Arsacius,” 71.

[viii] Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1997), 214.

The Date and Pharaoh of the Exodus?

Have you ever wondered how the details of the Exodus as described in the Bible line up with other historical accounts of the Pharaohs and the building of the pyramids?  When did the Exodus actually occur? These kinds of questions are often asked.  There has been much study and scholarship on early Egyptian history that help us to see how biblical accounts do indeed match up with other historical findings.

To give you an example, we provide you an article from BibleMesh’s The Biblical Story Course on “The Date of the Exodus.”

Synopsis
Because scholars disagree over the date of the Exodus and the identity of the pharaoh, some question the reliability of the story. But the leading theories concerning the Exodus are perfectly compatible with the biblical account.

Date of the Exodus
Virtually all study Bibles, biblical commentaries, and Bible encyclopedias discuss the question of when the Exodus occurred and who was Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus. Though some favor an “early date,” namely 1446 B.C., others suggest a later date, 1290 B.C. or 1260 B.C.[i] In the final analysis, none of the arguments on either side is decisive. Either theory could be true.

Those favoring the early date appeal to 1 Kings 6:1 and Judges 11:26, which name spans of time since Exodus-era events. These scholars also point to archaeological findings at Jericho in Palestine and Amarna and Thebes in southern Egypt.

Those who choose the later date think that reference to the Egyptian cities of Pithom and Raamses in Exodus 1:11 is crucial. They also treat a key number symbolically and argue that the earlier date would have put Israelites in conflict with Egyptians in Canaan, but Joshua and Judges make no mention of this.

Identifying Pharaoh
Since Exodus does not specify Pharaoh by any name other than his official title, identifying the ruler of Egypt at this critical juncture relies almost entirely on the dating issue. Those who hold to the earlier date (1446 B.C.) often argue for Amenhotep II. He was known for his military excursions, including campaigns into Canaan, but after 1446 B.C, his military activities in the area abruptly ceased, consistent with the Egyptian army’s Red Sea disaster. Also, his oldest son did not inherit the throne as would have been customary; he would have been a victim of the horrifying tenth plague.

The later date for the Exodus suggests Raamses II (Raamses the Great). He ruled Egypt from 1279-1213 B.C., gaining fame for his military excursions. But he is particularly renowned for his great building projects, which could easily have included the work mentioned in Exodus 1:11. While some argue that Pharaoh must have died in the Red Sea with his army, the Bible does not say this explicitly, so Raamses could have lived many more years, matching the dates attributed to his reign.

Influence on the Biblical Story
Though the Exodus account makes reference to two Egyptian cities, it does not go into much detail concerning this nation and its rulers. Instead, the work of God and His servant Moses is central – and not the work of Pharaoh. The same was true in Genesis, where Joseph was named, but not his Egyptian ruler.

Not surprisingly, no clear Egyptian record of the enslavement and Exodus can be found, for it was a matter of great national humiliation. In a land where the ruler enjoyed divine status, a story showing that he had feet of clay was not likely to endure.

BibleMesh
As Creator and Lord of the universe, God could have made His holy book, the Bible, a million pages long, for He knew every detail about everything. But He was quite selective. What He supplied in Exodus, in the Gospels – indeed, in all 66 books – was no more and no less than what the reader needs to know. Many questions remain open, but they are secondary. Everything in Exodus is essential; and everything in Exodus is true. It is God’s Word, and when He speaks, He does not mislead.

For Further Study
Ian Shaw, ed., The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); John D. Currid, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997); Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008); S. R. K. Glanville, ed., The Legacy of Egypt (Oxford: Clarendon, 1942).

 


[i] See, for example, The NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan); ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 33-34; The Apologetics Study Bible (Nashville: Holman, 2007), 83-85; R. Alan Cole, Exodus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), 40-43; W. H. Shea, “Date of the Exodus,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 230-238.

Honor, Live Long, and Prosper

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

Exodus 20:12 (NIV)

Americans are obsessed, or so it seems, with living a long and healthy life. It should come as no surprise then that products promising the same enjoy widespread popularity. For example, Kevin Trudeau’s Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About, a book that suggests herbal remedies can cure diabetes and cancer, sold five million copies by the close of 2005. Reflecting on the phenomenon one doctor has said, “Some people appear to be under the assumption that they’re going to be the very first person to cheat death.” Now certainly there is nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy. But for all of the time and effort spent on vitamins, whole foods, and Pilates instructors, relatively fewer folks seem to pay attention to a more traditional and time-honored path for long life: honoring one’s parents.

The Fifth Commandment holds a unique place within the Decalogue. As the first directive in the so-called “second table” of the commandments, the Lord prioritized this act of obedience as the foundation of all righteous human-to-human relationships. The Hebrew verb for honor (kabad) carries with it the connotation of “making something weighty.” In other words, in God’s eyes, it is a very serious thing to give your parents the respect—or gravitas—they deserve. This act of obedience is even to be done without reference to the quality of a parent’s parenting. The Fifth Commandment is to be followed at all times and all places and especially when a child becomes an adult. Even when a parent provokes his son to anger or asks him to do something wrong, God will always provide a way for the child to honor the parent, even if obedience, strictly defined, is not an option.

Honoring one’s father and mother provides the necessary support for creating a culture of life. For the parent, it secures the right not to be humiliated by his offspring in the prime of his life, nor to be abandoned or left destitute in his senior years. For the child, the rewards are even more compelling. The Apostle Paul calls the fifth injunction in the Decalogue “the first commandment with a promise” (Eph. 6:2); namely, that “you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” The text means exactly what it says. Vibrant life and spiritual prosperity characterize those who live in accordance with God’s word in this respect. Anyone who embraces this divine vision for reality should expect to experience the “good life” in its fullest and most satisfying sense.

In a culture that despises both the very old and the very young, citizens of the modern world need to hear the lessons of the Fifth Commandment afresh. Commitment to the family does not end when one leaves home. This means that children, particularly when they are grown, must diligently work to protect and care for their father and mother. Never should it be said that saints of God just wasted away in quiet desperation and loneliness, cut off from their children.

When the world looks upon the sons and daughters of the kingdom of God, they should be able to see a host of blessed and honored parents. There are certainly not many guarantees in this life, but the Bible promises a rich and fulfilling existence to those individuals who place the needs of their mothers and fathers above their own.