PETER

No set of eyes ever pierced another soul so deeply. Peter had just denied his Lord with words marred with cursing and swearing, saying, “I know not the man” (Matt. 26:74). Immediately, while he was still speaking, “the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter and Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny Me thrice. And Peter went out, and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:61-62). How alone the Lord must have been (Is. 53:3,11; Psalm 22:1) and how guilty Peter must have felt. One glance from those eyes, eyes that were sometimes like flames of fire, conveyed more than we can ever know (Rev. 1:14,17).

Peter was a fisherman by trade, along with his brother Andrew (Matt. 4:18). They probably followed in the occupation of their father, Jonas, though we know nothing about him directly (Matt. 16:18). Peter owned at least one ship, himself (Luke 5:4), and was in a business partnership with James and John (Luke 5:7,10). He was a married man (Mark 1:30; I Cor. 9:5), though we have no record of any children born to him. Again, along with his brother Andrew, Peter owned a home in Capernaum (Luke 4:38; Mark 1:29), though his hometown was apparently Bethsaida (John 1:44). It is believed that the ruins of Peter’s house can still be found in Capernaum. He and his wife, his mother-in-law and Andrew lived in this place and Jesus was there often.

The Barjona family must have been somewhat religiously inclined. Though a fisherman by trade, Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist (John 1:35, 37,40). When Andrew had heard John speak regarding Jesus as the Lamb of God, he, along with another disciple, probably John, followed Jesus and spent the rest of the day with Him (John 1:39). Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a full day of conversation with the Lord and wouldn’t it be nice to know what they discussed then? One cannot but help believe that Andrew and John spoke of this conversation with Jesus with their respective brothers, Simon and James.

Indeed, after his day with the Lord, the first task of Andrew was to find his brother, Simon, and bring Him to Jesus and introduce Jesus to him as the Messiah (John 1:38-40). When Jesus later saw Simon and Andrew working, He called them and they “straightway left their nets and followed Him” (Matt. 4:18,19). They not only left their nets but they left all and followed Him (Mark 10:28). Their previous encounter with Jesus no doubt prepared them for this call. After this time, nothing was ever the same for Simon.

After Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth, He came into Capernaum and Simon heard Him teach with power on the Sabbath days (Luke 4:31,32), and perform wondrous miracles (Luke 4:33-37), including healing his wife’s mother from a great fever (Luke 4:38-41). On one of those occasions when Jesus was teaching, He entered into Simon’s boat (Luke 5:3). When the teaching ended, Jesus instructed him to “Launch into the deep” and let down his nets. After protesting, Simon was then so astonished and overwhelmed by the great catch of fish miraculously produced, that he fell to his knees before Jesus and proclaimed his own sinfulness before the holy Son of God (Luke 5:4-8).

On another occasion, sometime between three and six in the morning, the waves of the Sea of Galilee were being whipped up by stormy winds, tossing around a small boat (Matt. 14:24). The apostles, at Jesus’ command, had taken this boat to get to the other side of the sea (Matt. 14:22). But during the darkness of the night Peter, in the ship with the other apostles, saw Jesus coming to them, walking on the sea (Matt. 14:24,25)! Walking on the sea! Peter impetuously requested to walk to Jesus on the storm-tossed sea and as long as he kept his eyes on the Lord, he, too, walked on the water (Matt. 14:29). But when the sea-water and the wind hit him in the face, and he took his eyes off of the Lord, he began to sink, only to be saved by the Lord and rebuked for his lack of faith (Matt. 14:30,31).

When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, and asked His apostles who people were saying that He was, they reported the popular views that He was John, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets come back to life (Matt. 16:13,14). But when Jesus asked the more personal question “But whom do ye say that I am?” only Peter responded. “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Not that the other apostles did not believe the same, but only Peter was bold enough to give it voice at that moment. His response showed the spiritual heights to which Peter could rise.

And yet, Peter could also wildly miss the mark. After bringing them to the point of acknowledging His deity, Jesus then began to reveal to them that He must suffer (Matt. 16:21). But Peter, in tempting the Lord not to go through these trials, was being used as a tool of satan and the Lord rebuked him for it just as He had praised him for his previous confession (Matt. 16:22,23). Then, shortly after this, during the Transfiguration, Peter would place on the same level as Jesus both Moses and Elijah only to be rebuked by the voice of God from Heaven commanding obedience to Christ alone (Matt. 17:1-5).

Peter was again greatly missing the mark. He had followed the Lord after His arrest and into His trial. Only shortly before he had confidently affirmed that, though all men should be offended, he would never be offended because of Jesus (Matt. 26:33). But now, under the real possibility of capital punishment, and when it seemed everything had gone wrong, he was cursing and swearing that he did not know “the Man,” and would not so much as mention His name (Matt. 26:72). Then, in one of the most powerful moments recorded in scripture, “the Lord turned and looked upon Peter” and Peter’s courage completely left him. He swiftly fled and found a place to weep bitterly (Luke 22:62).

A lesser, weaker man, might have taken the easy way out and taken his own life (Matt. 27:1-5). But Peter, though full of human imperfections, was not weak. He cried his heart out, he entertained doubts (Mark 16:14), he wanted to go back to his old trade, until the Lord proved His resurrection by His appearance (Luke 24:34; I Cor. 15:). He faced his mistakes.  Then a little over a month later, Peter stood in the public square in the very heart of Jerusalem, when it was full of more people than at any other time of the year, and unashamedly and unafraid proudly proclaimed the resurrected Lord (Acts 2).

The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good (Proverbs 15:3).

Eric L. Padgett

MARY

She saw the precious, little child to whom she gave birth, now a man full grown, suspended between heaven and earth, beaten, bloodied, mocked and nailed to a cruel, Roman cross. As she gazed, not just upon the God who condescended to man’s low estate (Phil. 2:5ff), but also upon the man who was her son, surely a sword pierced her to the very soul, just as old Simeon had prophesied thirty-three years earlier (Luke 2:35). What a blessed burden this woman bore throughout her life. It is no wonder that she, above all women, was chosen by the Lord to be the vessel which, after He had left the Glories of Heaven, carried Him to this mundane, mortal sphere.

No less than a personal call from the angel Gabriel would suffice to announce to her the glorious events which unfolded in her life and changed the world (Luke 1:26). She was highly favored by the Lord and blessed among women (1:28). Needless to say, she was “troubled at his saying” that she would bear the Son of God (Luke 1:29, 32, 35). Yet her words, “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” marked her meek acceptance of Gabriel’s shocking announcement and demonstrated her deep faith and humble spirit. This is the same humble attitude the Lord exhibited in the garden when He said, “Not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Luke 26:39).

Who better to understand and relate to what she was experiencing than Elizabeth? Gabriel had mentioned her cousin, Elizabeth, who was also blessed to “conceive a son in her old age” (1:36). She was already six months with child when Gabriel announced Mary’s conception and when the two met, the babe in her womb leaped for joy (1:44). Mary’s subsequent praise of the Lord demonstrated a great humility and a long and intimate acquaintance with Holy Scripture, especially Hannah’s song of thanksgiving (cf. I Sam. 2:1-10 and Luke 1:46-55). These two women spent the next three months communing with one another likely until just after John was born (Luke 1:56). Now she had to face Joseph.

How does a woman tell her betrothed that she is with child that is not his but that she has not been unfaithful to him? That this child is the promised Messiah and is a supernatural work of God? How would a man accept that? It was difficult enough for Joseph, himself a just and compassionate and holy man, for he thought it best to put her away privily to spare her the shame. Even in what he thought might be her sin, her character spoke for her until the Lord assured him that Mary was innocent. He would thenceforth share in any reproach brought upon the family by those assuming the child had been born out of wedlock (cf. John 8:41).

Mary’s composure throughout all the tumultuous events of her life testify to her faith and grace. Money was scarce for them (cf. Luke 2:22-24; Lev. 12:6-8). Traveling at this time for the census would be difficult (Luke 2:1), giving birth to Jesus in the manger because there was no room in the inn (2:7), dealing with the speculations of those who heard the shepherds’ report of the heavenly host’s announcement (Luke 2:8-20, see esp. v. 18), taking Jesus to the temple to present Him to the Lord forty days later (Luke 2:22; Lev. 12:2,4 – and where she received Simeon and Anna’s prophecies – vv. 25-39), receiving the magi (Matt. 2:10-12), fleeing the country to escape Herod’s cruelty (Matt. 2:13-15), returning to the lightly esteemed Nazareth (Matt. 2:23; John 1:46), running his business and rearing other sons and daughters (Matt. 13:55,56; Mark 6:3) would no doubt challenge this family.

When Jesus was twelve years old, when the family went to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover and returned back home, Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem unbeknownst to Mary and Joseph, arguing with the doctors of the law (Luke 2:41-45). When they discovered that He was not with them and went back to Jerusalem, Mary reproved Him having treated them thus. However, Mary was gently reproved by the words of the young Jesus when He told her: “How is it that ye sought Me? wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?” (2:49). And though she did not yet fully understand all these things, she kept them in her heart (Luke 2:50,51).

After his cousin John’s endorsement of Him (John 1:29-37; Matt. 3:7-15), particularly after the Father in Heaven’s announcement of His divinity (Matt. 3:16,17), and after His temptation in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13), Jesus publicly announced Himself as Messiah in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30). He had already gained fame as a teacher in the synagogues in the region (Luke 4:14,15). Though this is where Mary and Joseph had reared Jesus, no mention is made of her presence there or of her other children, when the multitudes attempted to kill Him (Luke 4:28-30). As is usually the case, Mary kept herself in the background.

Mary also bore the burden of a divided family. Her other children, James, Joseph, Simon, Judas and at least two daughters (Matt. 13:55,56; Mark 6:3), did not believe Jesus’ claim that He was the Messiah or that He could perform miracles. They urged Him to go to into Judea, which was unsafe for Him at that time, to show Himself to the disciples (John 7:3-5). While His brethren at first did not believe Him, it seems after some time they were converted (Acts 1:14). James and Judas, at least, became believers for they wrote the New Testament epistles which bear their names. What role Mary played in their conversion, if any, cannot be known.

In Cana of Galilee, Mary appealed to Jesus to remedy a mundane social oversight–there was a lack of wine at the wedding to which Jesus was invited. Perhaps Jesus’ own presence there had caused the problem, because many more people might have come knowing that He would be there. And perhaps this is why Mary wanted Jesus to do something which would prove His claims. And though she is gently rebuked by Jesus for assuming she could control His actions, she, nevertheless, informs the servants to do whatever He tells them. She acts the part of a loving mother who desires to see her child succeed.

It must have been excruciating for Mary to see her son treated as He was by the multitude, doubted, despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. She spent the greater part of His life with Him in Nazareth as He carried on Joseph’s trade until He began to publicly proclaim Himself as Messiah. If the Lord ever appeared to Mary after His resurrection, there is no Record of it. The last we see of Mary is when she continued with one accord with the apostles and disciples, the women that followed and supported Jesus, and her children. None of the New Testament epistles directly mention her again.

She was a sincere, humble and godly woman, devoted to the Lord and His Cause. She was a woman most worthy to be emulated, but not worthy of worship. She was, after all, a woman, a wife and a mother.

Eric L. Padgett

THE HERODS

Mothers and fathers could be heard weeping openly and loudly. There was no comforting these grieving parents and families at the loss of their children, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, and grandchildren. These innocents were cruelly and systematically murdered without hesitation, without remorse, all to fulfill the desires and political ambitions of one, evil man. This is not a mass murder scene in some modern metropolis, but the scene in a little, obscure village two thousand years ago.

The perpetrator of this heinous, unforgettable slaughter was king Herod the Great. Herod (meaning “hero” or “son of a hero”) was an Idumean by birth, though it was claimed, apparently falsely, that his family came from one of the more important Jewish families to come out of the Captivity. He is said to have been intelligent and capable but mercilessly conniving and cruel. He aligned himself with whatever political forces in Rome would best serve his fortunes. He would stop at nothing, not even blatant infanticide, to advance his political standing and power and he ruled firmly for the next thirty-three years (37 B.C. – 4 B.C.).

Much has been made by modernists over the fact that in all of contemporary, written history only Matthew records this gruesome event (Matt. 2:16-18). But it is well known that this slaughter was clearly within the moral capabilities of Herod. After Herod took Jerusalem by military force (37 B.C.), he summarily executed forty-five of his political enemies, including all of the Sanhedrin save two. He also had John Hyrcanus, his wife’s grandfather, strangled because he thought he was plotting to take the kingdom from him. Indeed, he “slew also all those of his own family” who believed “that Herod’s government should cease, and his posterity should be deprived of it” (Ant. 17:2:4), including his wife and sons.

It was during the last days of Herod the king that Jesus was born (Matt. 2:1, 19,20). Hearing that influential foreigners were looking for the one born king of the Jews not only troubled Herod but also all Jerusalem. The citizens of Jerusalem were no doubt troubled because they feared what this old despot would do. Their fears were justified for he slaughtered dozens of innocent children to kill just one whom he feared would depose him as king.

The Holy Spirit says that these events fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy (Jer. 31:15; Matt. 2:15). Some, including McGarvey, have said that Jeremiah did not intend this as a prophecy of these events but that Matthew merely adopted the wording as a fitting representation of the current situation. But the greater context of the passage in Jeremiah is clearly Messianic and other passages are used in the same way (i.e., Is. 7:14; II Sam. 7:12,13). If the author (in this case, the Holy Spirit) of a passage (Jer. 31:15) says that this is it’s fulfillment (Matt. 2:16-18), what right do we have to tell Him that He is wrong?

Josephus tells us that before Herod died, he realized no one would mourn his death. To make certain that there would be mourning on that occasion, Herod called to Jerusalem “all the principal men of the entire Jewish nation, wheresoever they lived” and locked them in the hippodrome and ordered his sister to have them all killed when he died so that there would be mourning in the land upon his death (Ant. 17:6:5). Fortunately, his sister did not carry out those wishes and set the men free. But so many are the cruel acts of Herod the great that the slaughter of dozens of innocent children is perfectly in keeping with his character.

The son of Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea (4 B. C. – 39 A. D.), is also involved in the life of Christ and the early church. This Herod, motivated solely by unbridled lust for his illegitimate wife’s daughter, was responsible for the beheading of John the Baptist (Matt. 14:1-12). Antipas is also the Herod mentioned in scripture who laboriously questioned Jesus, hoping to see some miracle (Luke 23:8) and when Jesus would not so much as speak, He, with his men of war, contemptuously mocked the Saviour (Luke 23:11). Interestingly, one of the early leaders in the church at Antioch had been brought up with this Antipas (Acts 13:1).

In Acts twelve we have recorded for us the acts of Herod Agrippa I, King of Judaea (41–44 ce), who “stretched forth his hand to vex certain of the church (12:1) and killed James, the brother of John (12:2) and imprisoned the apostle Peter, intending to kill him, as well. Because of his pride, however, the Lord smote him dead and he was eaten of worms (Acts 12:20-24). Agrippa II is seen in the trial of Paul and is notable because of his admission, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (Acts 25:13-26:32).

It is ironic that these descendants of “Esau tried still to get from Jacob the forfeited blessing (Gen. 27:29, 40), in vain setting up an earthly kingdom on a professed Jewish basis, to rival Messiah’s spiritual kingdom” (Fausset). While the Jews rejoiced over the death of Herod because they were set free from a mad tyrant, the world ever rejoices over the death and resurrection of Jesus because He sets us free the spiritual bondage of sin.

Eric L. Padgett

THE CAESARS

The Pharisees wanted to entangle Jesus in His talk (as He had done so often to them, e.g., Matt. 21:23-27) and what better way to do this than to ask a question about politics and religion (Matt. 22:15)? Their question centered on Caesar: “Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not” (Matthew 22:17)? If Jesus answered “Yes,” then the Jews would turn away from Him but if He answered “No,” then He would draw the ire of the Roman authorities (cf. John 19:12). Caesar was not to be challenged.

Caesar was the title of the Roman Emperor (just as Pharaoh was the title of the Egyptian ruler). Initially, that title was the name of the Roman general who defied the Roman senate and ultimately gained political and military control of Rome. His full name was Gaius Julius Caesar and he effectively managed to guide the Roman Republic to an end and inaugurate the Roman Empire.1 His military conquests not only brought under Rome’s control more territory than ever before but also brought him personal glory. He would claim, or imply, in his public orations, that he was descended from the gods and eventually an imperial cult grew up in which the emperor was worshiped as divine.

So when the Pharisees asked Jesus if it was lawful to give tribute to Caesar, they thought they were really forcing Jesus to either blaspheme Jehovah by implicitly affirming the deity of Caesar and thus break the law of Moses (Ex. 20:1-3) or else bring down the wrath of Rome upon His head for treason. But in Jesus’ answer, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s,” Jesus not only answered propitiously, but also showed by implication that Caesar was not God!

When Jesus was born (4 B.C.), Caesar Augustus (27 B.C -14 A.D) was emperor of Rome (Luke 2:1). Augustus’ birth name was Gaius Octavius Thurinus. He was Julius Caesar’s grandnephew but was adopted by him and succeeded him as emperor of Rome. It was Augustus’ decree that “all the world should be taxed” that brought into fulfillment the prophecy of Micah (5:2) concerning the location of the birth of Christ (Matt. 2:4-6).

Tiberius Claudius Nero succeeded Augustus as emperor of Rome. Tiberius was adopted by Augustus just as Augustus was adopted by Caesar. Tiberius’ father had been a fleet commander for Julius Caesar and was forced to give up his wife to Augustus. When Tiberius’s father died, he went to live with his mother and the emperor Augustus. He was trained in the ways of the state and distinguished himself in many ways. Though Augustus never really liked him, he was the least offensive choice to succeed Augustus as Emperor.

His reign was mild at first but he is reported to have become cruel and obscene. It was during his fifteenth year that the “word of God came unto John” (Luke 3:1). This is the only place he is mentioned by name in the New Testament but he is the emperor that is under consideration when the Pharisees attempt to ensnare Jesus with the question of paying tribute to Caesar.

The fourth emperor, Caligula, is not mentioned in the New Testament. It was in the days of the fifth emperor, Claudius, that Agabus prophesied of the famine that was to come (Acts 11:28). Suetonius independently records that there was “a scarcity of grain because of long-continued droughts” (Suetonius, The Life of Claudius, 18). In Acts 18:2, Luke records that Claudius had expelled all Jews from Rome. Suetonius also mentions that “since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome” (Suetonius, The Life of Claudius, 25). This “Chrestus” is very likely a reference to Christ.

The sixth emperor was the notorious Nero. He was born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus but upon his adoption by Claudius he became Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. He is especially noted for his wickedness. He was accused by contemporary historians of having started the A.D. 64 conflagration which resulted in destroying much of Rome in order to make way for his building projects. However, he quickly blamed the fire on Christians. He was the first emperor to persecute Christians and while his persecution was not as wide spread as Domitians, it was more vicious.

Tacitus recorded Nero’s persecutions of Christians: “Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed” (Tacitus, Annals, 15:44). He was truly the beast of Revelation (Rev. 13:18; 17:9,10).

It was in the days of these Julio-Claudian kings that the God of heaven set up a kingdom that would never be destroyed (Dan. 2:44). The gates of hell would not and will not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18). Christ now reigns, sitting on the throne of that kingdom (Acts 2:29,30), which is an everlasting kingdom (Luke 1:31-33). While we render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, we ought to obey God rather then men (Acts 5:29). We should know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to womsoever He will, and setteth up over it the basest of men” (Dan. 4:17).

 

Eric L. Padgett

 

1. Modern scholars usually begin the list of Roman emperors with Augustus. However, the position here is that Julius was the first emperor for at least these reasons: 1) Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, refers to him as such. He wrote that it was Julius “who first of all changed the popular government, and transferred it to himself” (Antiquities 19:1: 11). Second, Josephus numbers the emperors with Augustus as number two, Tiberius as three, etc. (Antiquities 18:2:2). Josephus lived during this period of time and would know how Julius and Augustus were perceived. 2. Suetonius, a contemporary Roman historian, also begins his enumeration of emperors with “the Divine Julius.” 3. Dio Cassius lists Julius as the first. 4. Moses Stuart observes “At most, only an occasional beginning of the count with Augustus can be shown, in classic authors. The almost universal usage is against it” (p. 277, link).

NEHEMIAH

Herodotus called it “the very honorable office” (III:34), referring to the office of cup-bearer. Nehemiah held such an office for Artaxerxes Longimanus (1:11; 2:1). The word translated “cupbearer” here is also elsewhere translated “butler” (i.e., Gen. 40:1). The person who held this office had to be imminently trustworthy for the life of the king was in his hands. Often the cupbearer would be required to taste the drink before it was served so no one could poison the king. Because he was in this trusted position, he had a close relationship to both the king and queen (2:6).

In 446 B. C., Nehemiah received word from Hanani, one of his brethren, about the horrid condition of those Jews still in Jerusalem (1:2,3). It so disturbed Nehemiah that it visibly saddened his countenance and this change was noticeable to the king, Artaxerxes, who permitted Nehemiah his request to go to Jerusalem and build it up (2:5). Nehemiah also gained a military escort and authority from the king to retrieve timber from the royal forests to use in the rebuilding of the gate and walls of Jerusalem (2:7-9).

Upon his arrival at Jerusalem, after just a full day of rest (2:11), Nehemiah and a few other men, perhaps attendants or guides, went out under cover of night and surveyed the ruins of the walls of Jerusalem. He saw the broken down walls and the gates which had been burned with fire. There he saw the gate of the valley on the south western side of Jerusalem, about fifteen hundred feet before the Dung Gate (3:13). King Uzziah had once built towers there and fortified this gate (II Chron. 26:9). From this gate at that time one could go toward the place later identified in the New Testament as Calvary (Luke 23:33).

At the southern tip, he saw the dung port or the rubbish gate, which led down to the valley of Hinnom, which was the trash dump of the city, right before Tophet, where unfaithful Jews and pagans would burn their children in the fire to false gods (cf., Jer. 7:31,32). Going on further, he saw the gate of the fountain, which was the conduit Hezekiah made which fed the pool of Siloam (II Kings 20:20), where later Jesus gave sight to the man born blind (John 9:6,7). He then, still under cover of the night, finished his survey with the king’s pool or the Pool of Siloam.

Up to this point, Nehemiah had remained silent about his mission. When he finally told the rulers, priests, nobles and people of his purpose, and told them how God had blessed him, he encouraged them, “Come, let us build up the wall of Jerusalem that we be no more a reproach” (2:17). Upon hearing this, they said “Let us rise up and build” and they strengthened their hand for this good work. However, there were forces at work to prevent the walls from being rebuilt.

Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem formed a triad of opposition against Nehemiah. It grieved them greatly that someone would come to Jerusalem seeking to restore it (2:10). Sanballat was a Moabite from the city of Horonaim. Besides being mentioned here, he is mentioned in extra-biblical literature as the governor of Samaria. He was, however, related by marriage to Eliashib the High Priest (13:28). His name means “Sin gives life.” The Sin mentioned here is an Assyrian moon god. Tobiah was probably Sanballat’s Ammonite slave and perhaps Nehemiah’s chief enemy (cf. 6:14). Eliashib had made room for Tobiah in the temple room that had held temple utensils and offerings. And Geshem was an Arabian, who, probably as a chief of a marauding tribe, had an interest in seeing the Jews and their city kept at bay.

These three intended on stopping the work of Nehemiah through whatever means was available to them. At first, they tried ridicule–“they laughed us to scorn” (2:19), hoping this would discourage the workers. But Nehemiah simply reminded them that God was behind his work and that they had “no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem” (2:19). Even through all their mocking, the work continued “for the people had a mind to work” (4:6). When these enemies plotted to attack, Nehemiah had them ready and “with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon” (4:17). They attempted to kill Nehemiah on he plains of Ono and halt the work by appeals to Artaxerxes, but to no avail.

Nehemiah had completed the monumental task of repairing the wall in a mere fifty-two days (6:15). After this work was completed, Ezra the scribe came forward and read the law unto the people from a pulpit of wood (8:1-8). Nehemiah instituted some other reforms among the people and with the conclusion of his work and the prophecies of Malachi the history of the Old Testament comes to a close.

Eric L. Padgett

EZRA

Ezra was a good servant of the Lord and he was also a brilliant scholar of God’s word. He was described as “a ready [or brilliant or diligent – ELP] scribe in the Law of Moses” (7:5), a “scribe of the law of the God of Heaven” (7:12,21), and “a scribe of the words of the Commandments of the Lord and of his statutes to Israel” (7:11). He was multi-lingual and able to translate Hebrew into  Aramaic so that the people, which had for decades been in captivity and had forgotten much of their native tongue, could clearly understand (Neh. 8:8).  His ability to expound upon the meaning is also suggested.

He traced his lineage back to Aaron, brother of Moses (7:1-5), and was the descendant of Hilkiah the priest which found the book of the law of Moses in the temple ruins during the days of King Josiah (7:1;II Kings 22:4-1). The name Ezra means “help,” though it probably is a shortened form of Azariah, which means “God has helped.” His skills as a scribe were undoubtedly derived from natural abilities he already possessed, and from gifts with which the Lord had blessed him, but they also resulted from the fact that he had “prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord” (7:10).

One hundred and forty-eight years prior to Ezra’s work, in 606 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, besieged Jerusalem and put king Jehoikim in chains (Dan. 1:1,2; II Chron. 36:6-8; II Kings 24). Seventy years later, in 536 B.C., Cyrus, king of Persia, allowed the Jews to return to their land to rebuild the temple (II Chron. 36:22,23; Ezra 1:1-4), just as Jeremiah had prophesied (Jer. 25:8-12; 29:10-12). Zerubbabel and Joshua, the high priest, led a group of captives back, laid the foundation of the temple and built the altar and then completed the temple around 515 B.C. (5:2). The prophets Haggai and Zechariah prophesied during this time (Hag. 1:1; Zech. 1:1) and the events of Esther took place (cir. 479 B.C.).

In 458 B.C., Ezra led a smaller group of captives back to Jerusalem. He assembled his contingency by the banks of the river Ahava for three day and fasted and sought of God the right way to proceed (8:21). As Ezra left to return back to Jerusalem, he put his trust in God for his protection. He felt ashamed to ask the king for protection, for he had boasted to him that God would deliver them and would protect them (8:22,23). It took four months for Ezra to make the journey and God did watch over them (7:9).

When Ezra made it back to Jerusalem, he found that the people had not separated themselves from the people of the land and were continuing their ways which led to the captivity in the beginning. He rent his clothes and plucked his hairs because of the sins of the people in marrying into the heathen culture and practicing their evil ways. Ashamed of their sins, he cried out in prayer to God. He observed that God had been merciful to them and that they had been punished less than their sins deserved (9:1-15).

As Ezra was praying and weeping before the house of God, he was pleasantly surprised by a large group of Jews who also come weeping and lamenting their sins (10:1). Then one of them, one Shechaniah, encouraged Ezra and desired the Jews to put away their strange wives and the children born to them. How difficult it must have been for these men to put away their wives, and in some cases their children which they had by these women. But this is what they did because they wanted to serve the Lord and be right with Him.

At this point the account of Ezra goes silent for a little over a decade. It is not until the wall is completed under Nehemaiah that Ezra makes another appearance (Neh. 8). He is called upon by the people to bring the book of the law of Moses and read it before the people (8:1). But because the people had been so long in captivity, they did not understand their own native tongue and as Ezra the scribe read from the law, standing on a pulpit of wood, he had to translate it for the people to understand (Neh. 8:1-8).

The time in which Ezra grew up saw an increased emphasis upon learning and scholarship. Ezra is a case in point. It was during his days that the synagogue was probably formed and, according to Jewish tradition, Ezra was responsible for helping to collect and edit the Old Testament canon as we know it.  Clearly, by the time of the Christ, the canon of the Old Testament was settled (Luke 24:44).

Eric L. Padgett

ESTHER

It was no ordinary beauty contest. Probably hundreds of young, beautiful virgins had been brought from all over the empire out of every province to king Ahasuerus, to the palace at Shushan, in order for him to select a replacement for fair Vashti, whom he had rejected as queen because of her refusal to obey his commands (2:8). A certain beautiful, young, Jewish woman was among those women brought there and her name was Hadassah, a name meaning “myrtle,” a fragrant evergreen shrub or small tree with star shaped flower.

Hadassah was an orphan, “for she had neither father or mother,” and her cousin Mordecai raised her as his own daughter when her parents died (2:7). Mordecai was from the tribe of Benjamin and of the family of Kish, which had been carried away into captivity in 597 B. C., about eight years after Daniel was taken into captivity (Dan. 1:1; II Kings 24:15). He apparently had some role “in Shushan the palace” (2:5) and in this capacity he could keep an eye on his adopted daughter Hadassah, who had been taken from him and given to the custody of one Hegai, keeper of the women (2:8,10).

While Hadassah was Jewish, under the counsel of Mordecai, she had concealed this fact to everyone. Her name had been changed from Hadassah to Esther, a Persian name which meant “star.” The keeper of the women was instantly taken with Esther and he carefully chose seven maidens to attend to her needs and gave her special and preferred treatment. Each of the other virgins which had been taken were allowed to go into the king and were provided with whatever they might need to make them desirable to him. Esther, however, required nothing but what Hegai had already provided (2:15).

All that laid eyes on Esther were immediately smitten with her beauty and character (2:15). Ahasuerus, or Xerxes, was no different. “And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti” (2:17). And so a Jewess was placed in a strategic position in the palace and she had the king’s ear.

Now Esther was always obedient to her adopted father Mordecai, even after she had been made queen (2:20). When Mordecai uncovered a plot to kill Ahasuerus, he was able to warn the king through Esther and save his life (2:21-23). These events and how they transpired were dutifully recorded in the chronicles of the Persian king (2:23). But while Mordecai was kind to the king, there were those in the kingdom who sought his destruction.

Haman’s particularly intense hatred for, not only Mordecai, who refused to bow down to Haman (3:1-4), but for all of the Jews, manifested itself in an attempt to exterminate the Jewish race (3:8). By moving the king to agree to this extermination, Haman was advancing his own interests, not the King’s. His own pride, however, would let him see neither the forces developing against him nor the God he would be fighting. In his blind arrogance, he also prepared a gallows upon which he intended to hang Mordecai.

The crux of this historical account of this part of Esther’s life is found in Mordecai’s reminder to Esther: You may well have been brought to this position for just this purpose–the salvation of God’s people (4:13,14). Esther takes these words to heart and delicately approaches the king and invites him and Haman to a banquet of her own making the next evening, intending to contravene Haman’s pernicious plot, even at the risk of her own life (4:16).

The night before the banquet, however, the king becomes curiously restless and reads from the royal chronicles, and reads of Mordecai’s actions in saving the king’s life. Ironically, and with justice poetic, just as Haman would speak to the king about hanging Mordecai, the king has Haman bestow upon Mordecai the blessing Haman thought he should receive (6:4-13).

The next evening, at the queen’s banquet, Haman is outed as the perpetrator of great crimes against Mordecai, Esther and the Jewish people. The Jews were given authority to defend themselves and Haman was hanged upon his own gallows (7:10). Through a series of Providential actions, God had used this young lady to save the Jews from extermination. “God works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform.” If God can use Esther (and Mordecai and Joseph and Moses, etc., etc.), then He can use you and me. Who knows if you were brought into the Kingdom for such a time as this? God does. Let Him use you.

Eric L. Padgett

EZEKIEL

Just as our Lord began His public mission at the age of thirty (Luke 3:23; 4:14-21, and consequently, John, as well (Luke 1:24-26)), Ezekiel’s prophetic call was also in his thirtieth year (Ez. 1:1). Born during the reign of the good king Josiah, who attempted with all of his power to reform Israel, Ezekiel was twenty-five years old when king Jehoiachin, himself and ten thousand others were carried away into captivity (II Kings 24:8-15). It was during his fifth year in captivity that the Lord called him with a vision of His glory (1:2,3, 26-28).

Ezekiel was first of all a priest (Ezek. 1:3). Several ages are given in scripture regarding when this service was to begin. In order to do the work of the tabernacle of the congregation, Moses wrote one had to be thirty years old and then continued in service till age fifty (Num. 4:3). So, just as Ezekiel would enter into the full work of the tabernacle, he also began his work as a prophet. Interestingly, like Jesus, he, too, spoke in parables (20:49).

In Numbers 8:25 the age of twenty-five is given as the age at which one began to work in the service of the tabernacle. Some have thought this meant one began in their service in a training capacity and then entered in full service at thirty, others that one could only serve in the priesthood and carry the furniture at thirty, while others think the age was changed when more people were needed. David, apparently, being a prophet, lowered the age to twenty, when the Lord had given them rest and they no longer needed to carry the furniture of the tabernacle (I Chron. 23:25; II Chron. 31:17).

If Ezekiel at first nurtured any intentions of returning to Jerusalem and serving the Lord in the temple, five years into the captivity, it probably soon became apparent to him that he would never return home. Though scripture tells us nothing of the end of Ezekiel’s life, tradition states he was martyred for condemning idolatry. Those same traditions also suggest he was buried near Baghdad.

Ezekiel was married and he must have loved his wife deeply for God says of her that she was “the desire” of his eyes (24:16). In one of the rare instances when he reveals something of a personal nature he records the death of his wife. Even this was to illustrate a point, for the Lord told him not to mourn over the loss of his wife which He would take away in an instant (24:15-17). And when Jerusalem was taken, then they would not mourn out loud for fear of their captors or in astonishment. Therefore, Ezekiel, himself, would be a sign to them (24:24).

Ezekiel’s visions were very visual and his prophesies were in many ways acted out as he often became the sign himself. The marvelous visions of Jehovah’s glory is just but one example of his visions (chaps. 1-3). He was told by God to use his hair to illustrate the future judgment upon them (5:1-4). God would cause him to be unable to speak until the Lord wanted him to prophesy (3:26). He was to remove his things from his house by a hole he created in the wall to teach a lesson of the future carrying away (12). He was to draw upon a tile to illustrate Jerusalem and lay upon his side to illustrate the siege (4).

While his earlier visions and prophesies were of God’s judgement, through his later visions God provided Israel with hope. One of the great visions which illustrate this is the vision of an immense valley full of very dry bones (37). The Lord asked him if these bones could live (37:3). God showed him that they could and as they were graphically reassembled, the Lord used this to illustrate that Israel would be resurrected from the grave of captivity and return back home (37:14). It also foreshadowed the resurrections of the New Covenant (e.g., Luke 8:49-54; I Cor. 15; etc.).

In his final prophecy, Ezekiel sees a magnificent temple (chaps 40-48). This vision finds it’s fulfillment not in any literal temple contemplated in the past nor in some alleged and fanciful future millennial kingdom but in the very real, but spiritual, temple of the church of Christ (I Cor. 3:17), both in its earthly manifestation (Eph. 2:21) and heavenly (Rev. 3:12; 21:22; cf. II Pet. 1:11). In this temple we serve as priests (I Pet. 2:5; Rev. 5:10), just as Ezekiel did in Jerusalem, but our Great High Priest is the One whom Ezekiel saw on the Throne (Heb. 4:14; 1:26-28).

Eric L. Padgett

JEREMIAH

JEREMIAH

It was as cold and wet outside as a late November and early December day (Hebrew month of Chislev), but the king sat in his enclosed, winter quarters, warming himself by the fire pit (36:22). The princes were all in the room as well as some of the king’s servants and Jehudi had just returned with the scroll that Baruch had written as Jeremiah dictated the words of the prophecies he had pronounced years earlier (36:4). When three or four leaves of the prophecy were read aloud in the king’s hearing, either Jehudi or Jehoiakim, the king, cut the papyrus scroll in pieces and brazenly cast it into the fire.

The one person not literally in the room but on everyone’s mind was Jeremiah the prophet. Jeremiah (“Jah will raise”) was initially reluctant in his role as prophet. When he was first called by the Lord he used Moses’ old excuse, “I cannot speak” but the Lord exploded that feeble argument (1:6-10; cf. Ex. 4:10). During his service as the Lord’s prophet he despaired when the people derided and mocked him daily (20:7). Like Job, he even cursed the day he was born (20:14-17). At one point he became so distraught that he attempted to refrain from speaking, but God’s word was as a fire shut up in his bones and he could not keep quiet (20:9).

But Jeremiah was young when the Lord called him to speak to His people, perhaps around twenty years of age (1:6). From the first, the Lord told him that his task would not be an easy one. He was warned not to be dismayed though he was going to be opposed by the people (1:17). The Lord told him that the people of the land, the priests, the princes, the kings, even the whole land would fight against him (1:18). Even his townsmen and family opposed him (11:21,12:6).

His message would not be a popular one. The Lord had established his covenant with His people and a curse was placed on all those that did not obey (11:1-7). And yet their history was one of rebellion and disobedience (11:8-10). Because they had continuously disobeyed, the Lord was going to bring evil upon them from which they would not be able to escape (11:11-17). The Lord would bring Babylon against them and they would serve them for seventy years (25:8-11). Because of this message, he suffered much at the hand of his enemies. He was thrown into stocks, cast in prison, he was thrown into a pit and his life was sought by his enemies (20:1-3; 33:1; 37:15-21; 38:6-13; 11:18-21).

This opposition came a little later in his work, however. Initially, as he prophesied under Josiah, he was relatively free from trouble. The young and good king Josiah had taken the throne and had begun drastic reforms in the land (II Kings 22,23). But though Josiah was sincere in his reforms and in his personal conduct, the hearts of the people in the land were not converted for immediately after Josiah’s death, the people began to revert back to their old ways. When Josiah died, Jeremiah lamented his death (II Chron. 35:25).

There were other prophets in the land beside Jeremiah. Many of them. But the vast majority of those prophets prophesied falsely (5:28). “From the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one [was] given to covetousness;” said Jeremiah, “and from the prophet even unto the priest every one [dealt] falsely” (Jer. 6:13). They all cried “Peace! Peace! When there was no peace” (6:14). Jeremiah warned them of the coming judgment and captivity. He implored them to “Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein” (Jeremiah 6:16).

After Jehoiakim had burned the scroll, the Lord spoke to Jeremiah again and had him write once more all the words that were on the first scroll with the addition of new judgments against Judah (36:28,32; cf. Rev. 22:18,19). It was shear folly to think that God’s word could be destroyed or that God’s judgment could be avoided by not paying heed to it (Matt. 24:36; Psalm 12:5-8). You can’t hide from God by ignoring His word. You just can’t hide from God (Heb. 4:13)! Period.

However, not everything that Jeremiah wrote promised judgement, destruction and death. The very judgements passed were immersed in divine love, enduring mercy and hope. “I have loved thee with an everlasting love” (31:3). “I will surely have mercy upon him” (31:20). “There is hope in thine end” (31:17). While His people had broken His covenant God was going to make a new covenant that would be planted in the heart and where the sins and iniquities would be remembered no more (31:31-34). The Righteous Branch would be raised up and in His days Judah and Israel would be saved (23:5,6).

Eric L. Padgett

ISAIAH

What an awe-inspiring vision it must have been, this vision of the Lord which Isaiah saw. He beheld the Lord “sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple” (6:1). He said “mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts” (6:5). The majesty of the scene, the splendor of His appearance, the grandeur and the radiance of His presence shook the very foundations of the temple and filled Isaiah with a sense of uncleanness and weakness (6:4,5). Even the seraphim were overcome with the glory of the sight and burst out in refrains of praise for the holiness of the Lord (6:3).

By his own accounting, Isaiah, the son of Amoz (“strong”), prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah (Is. 1:1). If, as tradition states (though not stated in scripture), he also continued during the reign of Manasseh, his tenure as a prophet of the Lord was anywhere from forty to over sixty years. Whether or not the vision above is a record of his first vision or a subsequent one is also not clear. This particular vision occurred during the year the king died (6:1), but he begins the prophecy by saying he saw these visions during the “days” of Uzziah, Jotham, etc (1:1).

Another tradition surrounding Isaiah says that he was the cousin of Uzziah, making him of royal blood. It seems as though he had easy access to the king and those in positions of authority (7:1-4; 8:2). He was married and he called his wife a prophetess (8:3), either because she was married to him or because she, herself, was given visions as other, faithful women had been (e.g., Jud. 4:4; II Kings 22:14). He had at least two sons, Mahershalalhashbaz meaning “swift (to the) prey,” and Shearjashub meaning “a remnant will return.” His sons helped him in his prophesying (8:18). If he was of royal blood, he nevertheless shunned the trappings, for he wore sackcloth (20:2). He also authored two other books, biographies of the kings, one of Uzziah and the other of Hezekiah (II Chron. 26:22; 32:32).

One final tradition that should be mentioned, though it has not the force of scripture, is that he is said to have suffered martyrdom under the reign of Manasseh by being sawn in half with a wooden saw. Justin Martyr mentions this tradition. Paul’s mention of those who were “sawn asunder” may be an allusion to this act (Heb. 11:37). Many commentators believe so.

The name Isaiah means “saved by Jehovah” or “the salvation of Jehovah.” Though not the same name, his name has the same meaning as the name of Jesus, which means “saviour” (Matt. 1:21). This is most fitting for many commentators have seen “salvation” as the theme of his writings. “Salvation” is mentioned twenty-eight times in the book of Isaiah, for example, whereas it is mentioned only once in the book of Jeremiah and not even once in Ezekiel. Isaiah is often referred to as the Messianic prophet and the book of Isaiah is indeed the most often quoted book in the New Testament in relation to the Messiah and His everlasting Kingdom.

In this vision, though Isaiah feels unworthy, unclean and weak, yet his sins are symbolically cleansed with a coal from the altar (6:7). Then, when the Lord asks for someone to go to His people, Isaiah immediately responds “Here am I; send me” (6:8). Isaiah was willing to go, to do the will of Jehovah. Someone has said that Isaiah is the evangelist of the Old Testament. Linguistic scholars also observe that he is distinguished from all other writing prophets for his literary and poetic talents. For instance, his portrayal of the Suffering Servant is both beautiful and unmistakably clear.

Isaiah’s commission is a difficult one. He is told to go tell this people, “Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed” (Is. 6:9-10). In effect, the more Isaiah preached the truth, the more the people rejected it. This is true for all ages and all men. Noah was rejected. So were Ezekiel and Jeremiah (Jer. 1:17-19). Zechariah was rejected (II Chron. 24:20,21). Paul was rejected (Gal. 4:16). The list could go on (Matt. 23:35-39).

The passage, however, finds it’s greatest fulfillment in Christ for He came unto His own and His own received Him not (John 1:11). John quotes from Isaiah six immediately after he observes that though Christ did “so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on Him” (John 12:37). He says that their unbelief happened that the saying of Esaias might be fulfilled and quotes Isaiah 6:9,10. Then, quite amazingly, as John speaks of Jesus rejection by the Jews, he says “these things said Esaias, when he saw His glory, and spake of Him” (John 12:41). When Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up, when he saw the King, Jehovah of Hosts, he saw the Christ! Will you believe Him or will your ears and eyes and heart be closed to the truth?

Eric L. Padgett