Not only does the Bible contain the words of life, but it is a reliable historical document spanning the entire period from creation through much of the first century AD. The Bible is a very useful tool to compare with secular history – and its very accuracy is bolstered by harsh penalties to any who would falsify it (Rev. 22:18-19). And God’s Word contains predictive prophecy as well. One of the most referred to prophecies in the Bible is King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream found in Daniel 2 that is about a statue with a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, waist and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet and toes of iron and clay.
Daniel himself interpreted to King Nebuchadnezzar that his kingdom of Babylon was the head of gold, and we commonly recognize the other successive kingdoms to be those dominated by Media-Persia, Greece, Rome and an end-time kingdom. A topic that we will examine concerns the kingdom that followed Babylon – identified by the breast and arms of silver – which is widely recognized to be the Medo-Persian empire which spanned the period from approximately 539 – 331 BC. And the Biblical book to be analyzed is the book of Esther.
The Book of Esther
We should first observe that in the book of Esther, words for ‘God’ and ‘prayer’ are notably absent. There are many theories about this – including that the words are chosen carefully because of the power structure in place. Appendix 60 of the “The Companion Bible” based on the authorized King James Version Bible explains how God’s name is found five times in acrostic in the book and put there with such precision and symmetry that it could only be intentional.
The story of Esther is set in the city of Susa (or Shushan), the site of the throne of the Media-Persian Empire shortly following the Babylonian captivity. Cyrus the Great had conquered Babylon and had liberated the Jews and allowed many of them to return to their homeland, but only about one-third of the population had done so. (http://www.dangoor.com/74034.html) Even though the Jews had more freedom than before, the empire itself still wielded much power over all of the people within it.
The book of Esther begins this way:
“This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush: At that time King Xerxes reigned from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present.” —Esther 1:1-3 (NIV)
The Greek historian Herodotus corroborated this grand feast and conference held by Xerxes in the 3rd year of his reign preceding his military campaigns into mainland Greece. The banquet – featuring much wine and excess – celebrated the splendor of the kingdom and rallied the military leaders for a future campaign. The party lasted for a startling180 days – or about six months. (Esther 1:4)
The famous story of Esther continues with the Persian Queen Vashti refusing a request of King Xerxes [his name is interchangeable in different Bible versions as Ahasuerus and Xerxes] to appear in the great assembly mentioned above. This affront to the powerful Xerxes resulted in her being deposed as queen.
Chapter 2 begins with the words “After these things….” In the “Defender’s Study Bible” compiled by Dr. Henry M. Morris, he has a note about Esther 2:1 that the time passage referred to between the two chapters was after the military invasions into Greece including the military naval battles of Thermopylae and Salamis. While Xerxes had won some of the battles into Greece, he had been unsuccessful in trying to overthrow the nation because of the tactical resistance and fierce opposition that he found from the most powerful city-states of Athens and Sparta. The first attempt of Persia to subdue Greece had been about ten years prior in 490BC, in which Xerxes’ father Darius had his force defeated in the Battle of Marathon when the Athenians chose the moment to attack before the superior Persian cavalry could arrive. Chapter 2 of Esther is the aftermath of the mixed results of Xerxes’ land and naval engagements in 480 – 479BC.
The book of Esther centers on the Jewish family of Mordecai and Hadassah (Esther). As her cousin, Mordecai was the guardian of Esther, whose mother and father had died. When king Xerxes sought a wife and queen to replace the dismissive Vashti, Esther was one of those unmarried women in the contest for the king’s favor.
Mordecai is an interesting figure and may well have been the writer of the book. The book of Esther itself is considered to be very sophisticated in its language and literary value for the time period. Mordecai was someone with a leadership position – sitting in the king’s gate (Esther 2:19). We get the impression that he is not someone who just casually goes through life, but one who sees the wider picture and looks for true meaning and the hand of God. His listening ability (audibly, intuitively and spiritually) was probably the attribute that enabled him to foil a plot to assassinate the king (Esther 2:21-22).
When Esther was in the contest to be queen and wife to the king and emperor Xerxes, Mordecai did not want her to reveal her Jewish identity. Mordecai must have palpably felt the murderous hatred of the Jews from certain groups within the empire. His encouragement of Esther to aspire to such a position was not part of a social climbing agenda – the motivation to encourage her seemed to come more from his deep nature and ability to discern the will of God and his own place in it.
Mordecai and Esther – Discerning God’s Will When He is Silent
“The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD.” —Proverbs 16:33
Because of the encoded treasure of the book of Esther, this book is worth some extra time to study. In Old Testament writings, we typically expect overt pronunciations, direct commands and miraculous events like the parting of the Red Sea or God providing water out of a rock in the desert. Instead in Esther, we have to look for the hidden hand of God. There is no indication that God ever appeared to Mordecai or Esther, Old Testament style, telling them what to do like when he instructed and gave the specs for Noah and his sons to build an ark or when he appeared to Abraham, telling him to “walk before me, and be thou perfect” (Genesis 17:1). But this is the intriguing and beautiful aspect of the story.
It is hard for many Christians to grapple with the subjects in the book. A heathen king with a large harem. The possibility of compromised values on the part of the heroine. The distressing threat of genocide. A holiday to celebrate not only survival but getting back at your enemies. Lack of direct mention of the name of God in the entire book. Some even question if it should be a canonical book. But we really need to compare scripture with scripture and look at the whole book.
As a very beautiful young unmarried woman in the empire, Esther became one of the candidates to be queen and wife to the king after Vashti was deposed. Indeed it would seem that all of the women were “prepared” to become at least a concubine (essentially a wife of much lower status) to the king. It was only a matter of who would be selected queen out of the many women. In modern times we might find aspects of this very revolting and demeaning. However at the time and culture, the women in the harem were probably envied. Esther obeyed the word of her guardian cousin Mordecai, and did not reveal that she was Jewish. This probably enabled her to not face discrimination in the prospect to become queen.
Chapter 2 of the book concludes with Esther being celebrated as the new queen, while at the same time Mordecai found out and prevented a plot to kill King Xerxes. The conspirators were hanged and the event was recorded and forgotten about.
In similar fashion with verse one of chapter 2 in which there was a recognized elapse of time, chapter 3 of the book again begins with the phrase “After these things…” We get the sense of another passage of time. The man Haman “the Agagite” was promoted to be over all of the leaders in the empire except Xerxes himself. This is interesting, as Haman was recognized by this term as an Amalekite – historical enemies and attackers of the Jewish people. Together with the Midianites, the Amalekites are the ones who waged a resource siege on the people of Israel much earlier – eating up all of their increase. In the book of Judges, Gideon and his worthy 300 men had responded to this earlier threat to God’s people.
Part of Haman’s elevation in the kingdom was that he was given the right to receive worship. If Xerxes’ second in command was allowed such reverence, it lends credence to the common belief that Xerxes may have believed that he himself was a “God-King”. Haman was informed by others that Mordecai the Jew would not reverence him and this greatly angered Haman. Haman then conceived a plan, not only to kill Mordecai, but to wipe out all of the Jewish people. Since this is now referenced to be the twelfth year of Xerxes reign (Esther 3:7), Haman’s plot and the planned date to exterminate the Jews can be traced to 474/473 BC. This would have also been nine years after the drunken party in chapter 1. Haman’s devious plan affected upwards of 120,000 Jews within the empire – both the ones who had remained in Babylon, and the approximately one-third who had returned to Jerusalem.
In Haman’s plan, the lot was first cast to give the date for his desired sentence to be carried out. The lot returned a date far in advance – drawn in the first month, the sentence would be carried out in the twelfth month. Then Haman convinced King Xerxes to sign a law that the unnamed people whose “laws are diverse from all people” would be destroyed and Haman offered a contribution to the king’s treasures of a large sum of silver (Esther 3:9 and 4:7). The would-be attackers were only directly promised the spoils of their prey (Esther 3:13). We get the sense of Xerxes’ naiveté in giving a rubber stamp to an extreme law in which he did not know all of the critical details. We do know that Xerxes may have received such accusations before, and that a derogatory climate had been created to last generations (Ezra 4:-16).
The phrase in Esther 3:15 is interesting: “… And the king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city of Shushan was perplexed.” This would imply that most of the people in the city did not hate the Jews. Also, it would imply that this was out of the ordinary action for King Xerxes. In modern terms, he would have been thought of as a playboy and a party king, and he reportedly had intrigues with his harem – we don’t know how much of which can be substantiated. The prophecy in Daniel 11:1-2 showed that Xerxes, the “fourth” King, would enjoy riches much greater than his predecessors. He was one who had crushed revolts within the empire and engaged in war conflicts including a major part in the Greco-Persian wars. It would seem however, that an order of genocide within the empire would be a shocking turn of events in idyllic Shushan – which is translated “lily”.
Chapter 4 shows a time of mourning when all of the Jews learn of the evil law and death sentence from the Persians’ efficient message delivery system within the empire. Mordecai mourned in sackcloth, abandoning his seat at the gates. When contacted by a messenger from Esther he told her to make a supplication to the king to contravene the law. Esther responded that she could not and that it was a death sentence to appear before the king uninvited, unless he held out his golden scepter. Mordecai somewhat harshly sent a message back that it was her duty to do so, and that she may have been brought into the kingdom “for such a time as this”. Mordecai believed there was a providential hand at work. Esther then sent another message to Mordecai:
Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish. (Esther 4:16)
Mordecai, after laying down the law with her in an earlier message about her duty, readily agrees to accomplish Esther’s wishes. The scripture simply said: “So Mordecai went his way, and did according to all that Esther had commanded him.” (Esther 4:17)
In chapters 5-10, we see that Haman’s plan crumbles. Esther gains an audience with a king, and knowing his social nature, wisely invited him to a dinner event that also included Haman. When the king again asked Esther what she wished for, she invited him to dinner the following night with Haman as well. The night before the second meal, the king was sleepless and had the chronicles of events read to him, and the memory came again of how Mordecai had saved the king’s life. When he woke up, he caused a special honor to brought about to celebrate Mordecai, involving Haman parading him around in the royal robes. On the evening of the second dinner, when Esther reveals Haman’s character and intents, the king gives the order to have him hanged. Indeed he was hanged on the very gallows that he built especially for Mordecai.
Esther, and in turn Mordecai, were able to persuade the king to have a new law written, since the first could not be voided, with the following effect:
Wherein the king granted the Jews which were in every city to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish, all the power of the people and the province that would assault them… (Esther 8:11)
The message went throughout the kingdom giving the Jews a right to defend themselves. The fall of the lot gave them nearly a year to fortify and prepare themselves to receive the attack of their enemies. Ultimately, 75,000 attackers with hearts set upon murder and profit were killed, as the Jews “stood for their lives”, fighting in self-defense (Esther 9:16). The interesting thing is that no Jews are recorded as casualties. When Esther and Mordecai instituted a fast, they were engaging in spiritual warfare – humbling themselves and presumably praying to God – and this would set the course for the coming year. God allowed the Jewish people, through the actions of individuals like Esther and Mordecai, to escape completely unscathed from the attack.
The result prompted several affects. The Jews received converts as well as outside aid in the attack (Esther 8:17 and 9:3). The city of Susa, that was previously perplexed, now “held a joyous celebration” (Esther 8:15, NIV). The Jews had much joy and a great celebration. Mordecai became second to King Xerxes and was well accepted by the Jews. This was after he had basically caused the death sentence by his non-compliance which had provoked Haman’s wrath. Mordecai had helped achieve a greater peace – and freedom of worship. And the legacy holiday of Purim was instituted to celebrate the preservation of the Jews at this time – a holiday which has now lasted for over two millennia.
A Bible Mystery between the Exodus and the Promised Land
The Spartan culture has long been a fascination to modern societies. But the fascination goes even deeper. Where did the Spartans come from? At times they were at war with their Greek brethren, and at times they were allied with them. At about 650BC, Sparta – also known as Lacedaemon – had become the dominant military land force in Ancient Greece. “Sparta was unique in ancient Greece for its social system and constitution, which completely focused on military training and excellence.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sparta Along with Athens, Sparta was a dominant city-state in ancient Greece.
The Bible and other sources give some clues to who these Spartans might be. We have to turn our view elsewhere and to the context of the children of Israel – and the twelve tribes who are the descendants of Jacob’s twelve sons. In the period of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness because of their lack of faith in God’s promises, there were two notable rebellions in the ranks. The first came with the rebellion of Korah, who was of the tribe of Levi, along with Dathan and Abiram from the tribe of Reuben (Numbers 16). The second notable rebellion came in Numbers 25:
“And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods. And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.” (Numbers 25:1-3)
This second rebellion might have seemed the low point for the Israelites in their wilderness wandering. Many of the Israelites had begun to worship Baal, forgetting and flaunting the providence of God, who provided for them the entire time they were in the wilderness. God had brought a subsequent punishment and plague following this in which 24,000 died. (Numbers 25:9) At this time there was also a well-known member of the tribe of Simeon who had brought a pagan Midianite woman into the camp for illicit purposes “in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation” (Numbers 25:6). The Levite Phineas put an end to this brazen sin and outrage by spearing the man and the woman together, and he was lauded as having brought to an end the plague the sin had precipitated.
Although it seems members from most or all of the tribes had participated in the worship of Baal, the symbolism of one of their chief tribal members in connection to this low point may have precipitated a mini-exodus of a large part of the tribe of Simeon. Although the Bible doesn’t give explanations about it, an interesting thing occurs in the census figures of the tribes given in Numbers 1 & Numbers 26. The population of Simeon decreased from having 59,300 males ready for war to 22,200 males ready for war, a drop of 37,100 males, not including their wives and children.
While the plague following the sin of Baal worship (Numbers 25:9) would have had an impact, it would have been spread across the tribes and cannot explain the total decreases. Other than the huge drop of two-thirds of the tribe of Simeon, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, Ephraim and Naphtali also had net decreases in the number of males during the approximately forty years between the two censuses. Wherever the missing Simeonites went, they likely brought some from the other tribes with them. While it is understandable that this tribe known for their impulsive nature might have been tired of their sojourn in the wilderness, their defection during this time may have resulted in the tribe of Simeon being omitted from mention in the blessing of Moses prior to his death (Deuteronomy 33).
This Bible mystery of the missing Simeonites does not by itself connect Simeon with Sparta – but other sources and references do seem to tie the Spartans with the Israelite people.
In the book of I Maccabees14:16-23 also records this correspondence, which includes this statement: “And this is the copy of the letter which the Spartans sent: The Chief magistrates and the city of the Spartans send greeting to Simon, the chief priest, and to the elders and the priests and the rest of the Jewish people, our kinsmen.”(Emphasis added.). It is revealed by the Spartans themselves in their own writings that they are related to the Jews. In Ancient Mythology, Bryant relates that Stephanus Byzantium shows that Alexander Polyhistor and Claudius Jolaus also speak of a direct relationship or kinship between the Spartan Greeks and the people of Judaea (vol.5, p.51-52, 60). Are the Spartans these missing Simeonites? — http://www.british-israel.ca/Simeon.htm
The book of Maccabees referred to above was part of the ancient scripture versions discovered in the Quamran caves known as the Dead Sea scrolls. With some similarity to the Jews, the Spartans observed new moons, and the “seventh day” of the month, according to Herodotus. The Spartans greatly respected their legendary lawgiver Lycurgus, who had tremendous parallels to the Bible figure Moses.
As seen in several examples in the Bible, there is no disputing the militant warrior nature of the tribe of Simeon. Levi and Simeon had fallen out to a great extent with their father Jacob following a vengeful and bloody action taken on behalf of their sister Leah. When Jacob blessed his sons and the tribes they represented at the end of life, he said that the two tribes would be “scattered in Israel” (Gen 49:5-7).
As for the Simeonites that remained with Israel, they are closely associated with the tribe of Judah. Their land inheritance that was determined by lot was within the land area given to Judah (Joshua 19:1,9). It was almost as if God wanted the tribe with impulsive tendencies to be surrounded by the tribe named for Jacob’s (Israel’s) son Judah who showed great judgment and mercy. Judah made an impassioned speech before Joseph in Egypt that displayed these attributes (Genesis 44:16-34). In armed conflicts, the tribe of Judah preferred to have his brother tribe Simeon to be at their side (Judges 1:1-4, 1:16-17). In I Chronicles 12:25 the Simeonite warriors are described as a triple threat: “mighty men of valour for the war”.
The Spartan 300 – A Portrayal of Courage for the Ages
“Above all, taking the shield of faith, with which you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.” –Ephesians 6:16 (King James 2000 Bible)
The story of the events at the Battle of Thermopylae is an inspiring one. In 480 BC, the Spartans and their allies bravely took on a mission in which defeat was virtually assured. The legendary story takes place during the second Persian invasion of Greece in which Spartan King Leonidas and his trained elite bodyguard of 300 Spartans – along with approximately 700 Thespians and 400 Thebans who stayed through the whole battle – took on the vast Persian empire force sent by King Xerxes. According to Wikipedia, modern estimates of the Persian forces were between 70,000-300,000, while Herodotus claims the wildly large number of 2.5 million. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Thermopylae
As the third son of Spartan King Anaxandridas, Leonidas was not originally expected to be heir to the throne. Therefore unlike other Spartan kings, as a youth he had been subjected to the rigorous military training that young Spartan males received. This made him a formidable leader prepared for the threat imposed by Persia. The elite Spartan hoplite warriors who accompanied Leonidas were selected not only for their military skills, but also that they all had living sons back home.
The Spartans and Greeks successfully held off the Persian army for two days, their united phalanx formation effectively protecting the group. On the second day of battle, Xerxes put forth his 10,000 elite Persian soldiers known as The Immortals – but even these were cut down by the Spartans. On the second day of the battle, a man from Sparta named Ephialtes betrayed the Greeks and showed the Persians a path in which they could box the Spartan force from the back. During the third day, the Spartans and their companions were all killed, and King Leonidas was brought down by Persian arrows. Even in losing the battle, the relatively few Spartans and Greeks had dealt a devastating loss of about 20,000 to the Persians.
Hearing the defeat at Thermopylae, the remaining Greek forces strategically withdrew to the island of Salamis. The Persians were able to win the battles of Thermopylae and Artemisium, conquering also Thessaly, Boetia, Euboea and Attica. The Greeks achieved a critical victory in the naval battle of Salamis in late 480, devastating the Persian fleet and causing Xerxes to withdraw much of his army to Asia, under the threat of starvation and disease. In August of 479 – a year following Thermopylae – the Greeks won a decisive victory at the Battle of Plataea, exercising tactics to difuse the strengths of the Persian army and cavalry.
The story of Thermopylae involved the hubris of an empire. The below quote is from an article from Irene Brown from History Today http://www.historytoday.com/irene-brown/historian-philosopher-herodotus-and-strength-freedom
Greece was the only obstacle to the Persian conquest of the known world. If it were once permanently subjugated, no other city or nation would dare to oppose the might of Persia and ‘by this course then we shall bring all mankind under our yoke…’. Xerxes was assured that he was certain to be victorious and that he had nothing to fear from the Greeks as they had neither men nor money, and the other Persians were silent, as Herodotus points out, because in the Persian despotism they were all afraid to raise their voices against any plan of the Emperor.
Again, from the same article:
…the great Greek naval victory at Salamis on September 20th, 480, one month after Thermopylae, showed, said Herodotus, that the gods did not want one man to be the ruler of Asia and of Europe.
The last stand of the Spartans at Thermopylae most certainly had a lasting effect on human history. It would indeed seem that God did not want both Asia and Europe under the control of one man. It could have been fateful to build the pride of the one man Xerxes – what was needed was to lessen and temper his pride. Xerxes had to realize that he was just a man – a man who could make wrong decisions and judgments. We know that Xerxes was extremely disturbed and angry at several points regarding the results of Thermopylae – the victory he gained there being tremendously costly. When his notorious temper cooled however and his grudge died down over a few years time, he probably had become a different man than the one at the beginning of the book of Esther. Through their fighting zeal and their willingness to give their lives to protect each other and give a better life to their descendants, the Spartans unwittingly gave an assist to the Jews in peril in the Persian empire only about 6 years later. The spirit of the Spartans also undoubtedly inspired the Jews when it was their time to band together and defend each others’ lives.
A Biblical Understanding of Divine Intervention and Just War
It is interesting to analyze how war is regarded in the Bible and to take note of the occasions when divine intervention has seemed to occur. During most times, we humans are allowed to live out our earthly existence unhindered, but then there are other times when God seems to take special notice or even intervene in the course of events.A few examples where God has either personally intervened or has sanctioned war are shown below.
1. When a civilization had become so sinful it was antithetical to life. Examples are the condition of the earth’s inhabitants right before the flood and in Sodom and Gomorrah before those cities were destroyed. Jesus also promised there would be intervention in the end-time as he said “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.” (Matthew 24:22, NIV)
2. Self-defense. Jesus himself instructed his disciples to have swords in the group for self-defense. (Luke 22:36-38) There are many instances of this throughout the whole Bible, including the story of David taking on the giant Goliath, who threatened and mocked Israel.
3. God allowed the people of Israel, the stock from whom our Redeemer would come, to acquire territory in war when it was faithful and obedient to God, but then also he allowed people of Israel to lose blood, treasure, freedom and land when they strayed from him. (Deuteronomy 3:22, 7:18, 20:1, I Chronicles 9:1, II Chronicles 18, II Chronicles 20:15)
In the Bible we see instances of admiration for warriors. David and his mighty men are referred to in several passages. David seemed to inspire a great deal of loyalty with the men whose company he kept. During the time David was to become king for the first time, he had contingents from all of the tribes escorting and supporting him. This glorious time is described below:
All these men of war, that could keep rank, came with a perfect heart to Hebron, to make David king over all Israel: and all the rest also of Israel were of one heart to make David king. (I Chronicles 12:38)
The soldiers described above are said as being of “one heart” and men “that could keep rank”. It is said that no one can really understand the bond of those who have fought together and protected each other on the battlefield.
Another thing vital to being a good soldier is faith, just as the Spartans believed their sacrifice could provide something better as their families lived after them. Jesus himself called attention to the faith of a Roman Centurion in a short passage in the gospels:
And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour. (Matthew 8:5-13)
The book of Ecclesiastes gives us sound wisdom on there being a time for everything: “A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:8). Some people think of God being a harsh, Old Testament figure. Is that how we should view Him? God is a “consuming fire” in Hebrews 12:29, but “God is love” in I John 4:8. The “Lion of the tribe of Judah” in Revelation 5:5 is the same person as the “Prince of Peace” in Isaiah 9:6. Although David was a man after God’s own heart, the Lord chose to have his temple built by his son Solomon, who was a man of peace.
Comparative and Foreshadowing Aspects of These Stories in History and Prophecy
“Let the lost be found and the dead be raised – In the here and now, let love invade Let the church live loud, Our God we’ll say – We believe, we believe! And the gates of hell will not prevail – For the power of God has torn the veil Now we know your love will never fail – We believe, we believe!” (Newsboys – “We Believe”)
The battle of Thermopylae was three days of fierce fighting at the site translated as the Hot Gates. Esther, Mordecai and their friends fasted for three days after the lot had already been cast and the law had been sealed that allowed the genocide of her people. Three days of physical battle at Thermopylae. Three days of spiritual battle in Susa a few years later. The battle of Thermopylae was technically a loss for the Spartans and Greeks, but it would make a King and his subjects wonder and reinforce both the human rights of self-defense and freedom of worship. The result of the spiritual battle in Esther was undiluted victory.
Like many other stories in the Bible, the book of Esther especially shows us that God uses individuals. There are many times that God will not act unless he sees faith exhibited by individuals. Just like when Abraham asked God to save the cities of the plain if there were enough righteous individuals. Mordecai and Esther didn’t wait for a divine command or an invitation. They only did what they knew to be right.
We can draw some interesting parallels between the Spartans, their leader Leonidas and Christ. A few of them are: 1. Jesus, King of Kings, is known as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Rev.5:5) and the Spartan King’s name was Leonidas, meaning “Lion-like”. 2. Both Christ and the Spartans were on a sacrificial mission. 3. Both Christ and the Spartans were betrayed by one of their own. 4. Jesus Christ was crucified on a cross and history records that in his anger, Xerxes wanted King Leonidas’ dead body to be crucified. 5. Christ rose from the grave to immortal life and the Spartan hoplite warriors had a story that lived long after them and soldiers and sons who would carry on after them. In an interesting way, the descendants of the wayward tribe from the book of Numbers may have foreshadowed the coming of Christ.
Faith is fundamental in Christian thinking. Paul said in Hebrews 11:6 – “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). One of the Spartans named Dieneces heard that the Persian arrows would be so numerous that they would obscure the sun. This brave Spartan responded he wasn’t bothered as they would fight them in the shade. For a modern application, we do not need favorable conditions or even the light of day to oppose evil or tyranny. As is seen in these stories, this is done through faith.
The cast lot and the immutable law signed by the King would not doom the Jewish people, and the onslaught of tens of thousands at the hot gates of Thermopylae would not defeat the spirit of the Spartans. These stories weave together as instances where God took a direct interest in the affairs of men, and of His people Israel.
~While drawing from many sources, the views and opinions expressed in the discussion of historical events and related Biblical passages are solely those of the author.~
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. — II Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)
JOEL: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call.” —Joel 2:28-32
PETER: “But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. —Acts 2:14-21
PAUL: “But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” —Romans 10:8-14
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
—I John 1:1-3
“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.” —Ephesians 1:4 (NIV)
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. —Romans 5:8 (NASB)
“Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.” — I John 4:17 (KJV)
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“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;” —II Corinthians 4:7-8
“I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me” —Philippians 4:13
“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
—II Corinthians 12:9-10 (emphasis added)
“For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. —I Corinthians 1:26-29
“He gives strength to the weary, And to him who lacks might He increases power.” —Isaiah 40:29 (NASB)
“You, God, are awesome in your sanctuary; the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people. Praise be to God!” —Psalm 68:35 (NIV)
“For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” –Philippians 2:13
“For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.” —I Thessalonians 1:5
“For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.” —Isaiah 41:13
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” —I Corinthians 15:10 (NIV)
“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.”
“For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.” — I Corinthians 4:20
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” —Ephesians 6:12
“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” —II Kings 6:16 (NIV)
“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” —1 Corinthians 10:13
“Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” —Luke 18:1
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: —Ephesians 6:10-17
“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” —Ephesians 6:18-20
The Overcoming Bride of Christ
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth;
“I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.”
—Revelation 3:7-8 (emphasis added)
“Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” —I John 4:4
“What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” —Romans 8:31
“But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” —Matthew 24:13
“But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.” —Luke 8:15
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” —Isaiah 41:10
“Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” —Revelation 14:12
“Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy word.” —Psalm 119:114
“Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.” —I Timothy 6:12
“To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” —Revelation 3:21
“But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” —Isaiah 40:31
“Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.” —Proverbs 30:5
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” —II Timothy 4:7
“In your patience possess ye your souls.” —Luke 21:19
“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” —Psalm 91:1
“And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” —Revelation 12:11
There is a dangerous trap that Christians can susceptible to, that can destroy both our relationship to Christ and our witness to others. When we hold on to pride, we do not have a teachable and loving attitude. In one of his parables, Jesus described that it was not outside things that defiled a person, but what came out of one’s heart. He said:
“There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man.
“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:
“All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.”
—Mark 7:15, 21-23 (emphasis added)
So Jesus identifies pride as evil or at least leading to evil, and in the same category that we see things we regard as much more serious.
The beloved apostle John admonishes us:
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
“For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
“And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever”
—I John 2:15-17 (emphasis added)
So, what does this mean? Can we not do well in this world? I don’t believe it means that so much as it means we should not put stock in those things. It is a matter of priorities. We should be constantly reminded of this. In the Sermon on the Mount, there are many applicable verses that go along with having a humble, teachable attitude.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” Matt. 5:3
“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” Matt 5:5
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” Matt. 6:33
“Judge not, that ye be not judged” Matt.7:1
So Christians are to be different from the world. We are not to pursue our goals apart from God. If we were to describe the world, we could describe it as superficial, materialistic and prideful (I John 2:16). The opposite of these would to be deep in a genuine way, content and humble.
Scriptures on superficiality:
“For we commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, but not in heart” II Corinthians 5:12
“For there is no respect of persons with God.” Romans 2:11 (KJV) or — “For God does not show favoritism.” Romans 2:11 (NIV)
“Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” John 7:24
The promised Savior was not to be at all superficial, and he would emphasize both justice and mercy. He was teachable (Hebrews 5:8) and compassionate; and still in perfect submission to the Heavenly Father.
“The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and strength,
The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
“And He will delight in the fear of the LORD,
And He will not judge by what His eyes see,
Nor make a decision by what His ears hear;
“But with righteousness He will judge the poor,
And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth;”
There are so many great scriptures on topics about meekness and humility and how it relates to judgment and mercy. We can judge right and wrong from our knowledge of scripture, but it is not our job to condemn someone else. The most effective witness we can have is to be humble and demonstrate a loving, humble attitude.
“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” – II Timothy 42
“A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” – Proverbs 15:1
“With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.” – Proverbs 25:15 ESV
In closing, I would share a favorite scripture of many:
“He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” —Micah 6:8