“Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.” – Philippians 2:16
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” – Matthew 11:29
“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” –Philippians 2:12-13
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” –I Corinthians 13:13 (NIV)
Principles of Christian living are good principles for living in general. The Lord Jesus Christ does not promise a life of ease, prosperity or indulgence to his followers, but He does promise to be there for those who sincerely apply his principles and seek him with their whole heart.
There are some simple principles found throughout the Bible that can help us in our walk through life.
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 1:2
In the limited concordance of the Defender’s Study Bible compiled by Dr. Henry Morris, the term “run” is defined as “move with swift pace”. The term implies intensity, passion, inspiration and hope. When asked by a Pharisee what was the greatest commandment, “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” –Matthew 22:37
The term run also implies pursuit. We don’t usually pursue simple things, we pursue the more complex. Doing one daily task is simple; it is a chore; it is something we know very well how to do. For instance, it is easy to wash the dishes but it is more complex to pursue cleanliness in general. For the more complex goals, we must pursue with intensity. It is easy to draw a simple picture, but we must pursue a career in graphic design. A job is one thing, but we must pursue vocations and degrees. These are things we have to run after, and not give up until they are attained.
It is not enough to identify as a Christian but to follow our own path. God must be our primary and only hope and goal. We must pursue him and leave everything else behind. Luke 9:57-62 talks about a way of following Christ that does not look back. We run after what our hope is tied up in. We also run after what we worship.
Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
“The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness.” –Matthew 6:22-23
Although there certainly have been wealthy people who have loved God, for instance – Abraham, Job and Joseph of Arimathea – those who actually love money cannot love God. Scripture confirms that such an obsession can lead to great evil because some choose to love money to the extent that they worship it (Matthew 6:24). Secular and religious people alike have goals – but the goal of Christians should be to glorify Christ with their lives.
To pursue Christ is to have hope in Christ. This intense pursuit of a primary goal is what enables us to advance, despite our sinful natures, and despite the very laws of nature such as gravity and the 2nd law of thermodynamics.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.” – I Corinthians 9:24 – 26
Running exemplifies the passion for reading His word. Running is something that is good to do in our youth, but also when we are older. We should learn from those to teach, but also to use the discernment that God gives through His spirt.
“Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.” –Psalm 119:9
“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” II Timothy 3:15
“But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” –Luke 18:16
“The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.” –Lamentations 3:25-27
“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” –Acts 17:11
To pursue Christ we must also run away from bad things and run to good things.
“Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” – II Timothy 2:22
Fulfilling the Great Commission of Matthew 28:16-20 is to run after Christ.
“Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.” – I Corinthians 9:10
In running we sometimes become unbalanced, we sometimes make mistakes, and we sometimes stumble. But we keep our eyes on the goal.
“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” –Titus 2:11-14
Running is learning God’s ways and learning His word. Running is focus. Running is passion and intensity. Running is the hoping.
“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.” – Hebrews 11:8-12 (NIV)
“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
David knew that he would die and be in a grave until the Lord resurrected him.
David said about him:
“ ‘I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest in hope,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
you will not let your holy one see decay.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.’ –Acts 2:25-28 (NIV)
Resting is letting God be God and letting him work through us. Resting in God takes faith.
“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.” – II Corinthians 12:9
“Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” –Hebrews 4:1
“For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.” –Hebrews 4:8-10
Resting is obeying. Resting is believing in God’s goodness and greatness. Resting is having joy in the journey. Resting is believing in a better future. Resting is delayed gratification. Resting is having faith.
“But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” –Matthew 6:6
“Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.” –Matthew 26:36
“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” –Colossians 4:12
We understand work in general and Christian works to be many things. But fundamental to all of Christian works is prayer. It is something any Christian can do. It does not require a babysitter. It does not require a large bank account. It does not require a lot of spare time or energy. It does not require status or position. It is a work of submission any can be done anywhere and anytime.
Prayer preceded the giving of God’s spirit at Pentecost and allows us the refreshing of God’s spirit in our lives. It is not about getting God to do our bidding. Like Christ showed at Gethsemane, prayer is a work of submission.
“Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me;” –Romans 15:30
“For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,” –Philippians 1:19
“And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;” –Luke 18:1
“These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.” –Acts 1:14
“Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day. But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth. And these things give in charge, that they may be blameless. But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.
“Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work. But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry; Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith. And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.” –I Timothy 5:5-13
In the above passage, it shows that the widows that were taken in by the church were full of good works, but the first works mentioned are spiritual. The widows were ones depended on God and prayed around the clock. These spiritual works are what made the physical works that they did effectual.
“And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” –James 5:15
“And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.” –Mark 9:29
“Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds:” –Colossians 4:2
Without God’s righteousness as a covering, we have nothing to commend ourselves, and our works of righteousness fall far short.
“We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.” –Isaiah 64:6 (New Living Bible)
“For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.” –Titus 3:3
Spiritual works are about mortifying the flesh, that is, submitting our spirits to God.
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” –Romans 7:18
It is interesting in the following passage, that all of the “works” mentioned, are those that are public ones. They are not the spiritual works of prayer, fasting and giving talked about in Matthew 6:1-8 which are primarily to be performed in private. Spiritual works are designed to change us within, not to show off to others. If we do these to show off to others, we may as well not do them at all.
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. –Matthew 7:21-23
Spiritual work is a personal thing. It is a heart thing. It is doing the things we do not out of obligation or compulsion, but now out of love.
“By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.” –Hebrews 13:15
Working is submitting our spirit. Work is accepting and being part of God’s order of things. Work is the daily submission of prayer. Work is the sacrifice of praise. Work is a labor of love.
Learning. Obeying. Submitting. These are important elements of a Christian life.
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.~