The book itself was written between 470 and 430 B.C. making it one of the last Old Testament books written. It was written either at the end of Xerxes reign or during the reign of his son Artaxerxes who ruled from 465 to 424 B.C. It documents the only other festival given in Old Testament outside the books of Moses, the Festival of Purim. It had been 1000 years since God gave the original seven festivals to the Israelites. The record of Hanukkah is not found in the Old Testament although we do see it referred to in the New Testament as a festival that Jesus attended, called the feast of Dedication in John 10:22.
All we know about the life of Xerxes from the Greek Persian War on comes from two primary sources: 1) Heroddutus, the Greek historian, who wrote his histories between 431 and 425 B.C. These writings included accounts of Xerxes part in the Greek Persian War, his affairs before he met Esther, the fact he allowed others to rule for him (in other words, he had Prime Ministers), and that after returning from the war he became involved in the intrigues of the harem; 2) The book of Esther. We do not have any Persian sources from this time period of Xerxes life largely because his son Artaxerxes took power in a cue, a cue largely instigated by his mother and the religious leaders in the kingdom.
In the study of Esther by Beth Moore she says, “Biblical narratives commonly begin with ‘it happened’ but omit ‘in the days of’. On the other hand, prophetic writings are often introduced as having occurred ‘in the days of King…’. The Book of Esther unfolds, however, with the two intertwining.” I firmly believe this is a historical account of this part of Esther and Xerxes’ life, but I also believe it is a book of prophecy. Due to this we will approach the book from both perspectives.
We will begin with the historical background of the book. I feel fairly confident in saying that most of us know the history and background of Esther and her people and how they came to be in Persia. To sum it up quickly the people of Judah rebelled against God and God sent the Babylonians under Nebechanezar to defeat them and send them into exile. After being in exile in the Babylonian lands for 70 years the Persian King, Cyrus, conquered Babylon. He then gives the peoples who were taken in captivity by the Babylonians an opportunity to go home, this included the Jews. However, many did not return to their homeland and stayed in the places where they had been carried off to. This was the case for Esther’s family and her cousin Mordecai.
With that said, have you ever wondered about the other half of the story of Esther, Xerxes’ past. His past is full on intrigue itself and one would be well served by knowing it. The first readers of the book of Esther would have known the past of both Esther and her family and Xerxes and his family. I would like to unfold his past for you today because I am confident that it will make this man’s life with Esther so much more clear and we will refer back to it time and time again in our study.
The history of Xerxes is the history of the Persian Empire. Please excuse the chart, but is the easiest way for you to see the connections.
History of the Persian Empire
Kings of Persia
Achaemenes of Anshan @700 B.C.
Teispes of Anshan
Cyrus I of AnshanAriaramnes of Persia
Cyrus the GreatHystraspes
Darius the Great
Kings of Media
Darius the MedeMandane
Persia and Media Come Together
Cambyses I marries Mandane
Cyrus the Great
Becomes king in 559 B.C.
Becomes king of Media in 550 B.C. when he is crowned by his cousin Cassandane and then marries her.
Conquered Babylon in 539 B.C.
Cyrus the Great marries his First Cousin Cassandane
Cambyses II marries his sister Atossa – They have no children
Cambyses II is king from 530 B.C. to 522 B.C. – He dies on his way back from a campaign in Egypt. Before he left for that campaign in Egypt he secretly killed his brother, Smerdis. Since it was done in secret a usurper who looked a great deal like his brother, Gaumata, is able to take the throne when Cambyses dies. To solidify his position as Smerdis, Gaumata marries Atossa (daughter of Cyrus and wife/sister of Cambyses), he also married another widow of Cambyses, Phaedymia (daughter of Otanes, Cambyses first cousin). Gaumata feared Atossa and kept her prisoner in the harem, but Phaedymia was able to get word out to her father that Gaumata was a fake Smerdis.
Seven conspirators decide to take things into their own hands and reclaim the throne of the kingdom. The two most powerful men of these seven were Darius, son of Hystraspes, and Otanes, son of Darius the Mede (you may recognize his name from the book of Daniel). Darius was 28 at the time a general in the military, as well as a distant cousin of Cambyses II in the Achaemenid Dynasty line. Otanes, being a Mede, allowed Darius to take the throne, but did get some concessions in exchange.
Darius killed Gaumata in 522 B.C. and took the throne. Upon coming to the throne he solidifies his right to it through a series of marriages. He was already married and a father at the time.
1. Atossa – Daughter of Cyrus the Great, widow/sister of Cambyses, widow of Gaumata. She agrees to the marriage and is the most powerful woman in the kingdom.
2. Artystone – younger daughter of Cyrus the Great
3. Parmys – daughter of real Smerdis
4. Phaedymia – Daughter of Otanes, widow of Cambyses II and Gaumata
5. Daughter of Gobryas – Daughter of another co-conspirator
Therefore, Darius ends up with six wives, but only one is given the title of Queen, Atossa.
The other concession that Otanes received was not only the marriage of his daughter to Darius, but he also gets a wife. Otanes receives in marriage a sister of Darius. Therefore, Otanes becomes Darius’ father-in-law and brother-in-law.
Otanes marries Darius’ Sister
Darius marries Atossa – Queen
Their Eldest Son
Xerxes and Vashti are first cousins through his father and second cousins through his mother (in other words, his mother, Atossa, and Vashti are also first cousins). When Xerxes becomes king in 486 B.C. at the age of 35 he is already married to Vashti and a father.
Xerxes marries Vashti
Like I said we will be referring back to this family tree of Xerxes as we go along. I hope it is already making some bells ring for you, but if not don’t worry we will talk about where all this fits in as we go.
Today I want to talk about the armor of God in Ephesians 6. Everything up to this point in Ephesians has been about unity and what that is, what that looks like and to some extent how do we do this, but beginning in the passage we are going to discuss today Paul gets down to the brass tax so to speak on how to administrate the unity of the body. Here is the passage:
Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil. 12 For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. 13 This is why you must take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand. 14 Stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, 15 and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace. 16 In every situation take the shield of faith, and with it you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word. 18 Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, that the message may be given to me when I open my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel. 20 For this I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I might be bold enough in Him to speak as I should.(HCSB)
We are to be empowered by the Lord and by His awesome power, the two words here for “vast strength” are two different words that could both be translated “power”. Paul is trying to remind us of the power he described to us earlier in the letter when he referred to the resurrection power. In fact, the two Greek words used here are the exact same words. This is power power, awesome power, resurrection power, from God Himself. This is the only power in the universe that is capable of changing and transforming lives. Only the resurrection power can resurrect in us what is dead in sin, yet created, created in His image, to be alive in Him.
Not only does God equip us with His power for the task, but He also gives us the tools we need to wield that power. To be sure this task will take the full armor of God, not just a part of it. We are in a battle against the realm of darkness itself, not mere flesh and blood men and women, but the original liar himself and his demons. They are crafty and we must be alert and on guard every moment so that in the end we will be left standing.
So, what is this armor? Obviously, Paul is using the Roman armor as a template, but is that all? If we look closely at this armor we will find its pieces referred to in the Old Testament as well. Remember, this gospel is about the mystery that makes us one with God and each other. The Old and New Testament are not two disconnected pieces, but two parts of a whole. One will always refer and define the other. The Old Testament, will define the New Testament for us and the New Testament explains much about the Old Testament that was hidden, yet right there. God is the God and author of both. Both of them together tell His story. So let’s look at what the Old Testament has to say about this awesome armor.
The first part of the armor is the belt of truth. We see that the Messiah is clothed in the belt of righteousness in Isaiah 11 where He is judging for the poor and needy and slaying the wicked. He will do that in righteousness, but notice the section before that when the Spirit rests on Him — the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, power, knowledge and the fear of the Lord — in fact the fear of the Lord would be His delight. In following the Messiah we can only do what is right and properly discern when we are listen to the Spirit of the Lord and the fear of the Lord is our delight. This belt holds the inner garments in place. For us only the truth can hold our inner being in place. He, the Messiah, is the truth. As we follow Him and strive to live righteous lives He and His truth holds us in place to continue the fight. We cannot fight the good fight in ignorance or falsehood.
Next, we put on the breastplate of righteousness. You see after knowing and believing the truth and in the Truth we must put on the breastplate of righteousness to protect our hearts from deception that leads us in the paths of death, not life. We are to strive in the fruit of the Spirit, part of which is self-control, to do the right that God calls us to do. In addition, the Messiah not only wore a belt of righteousness that held His inner part in place (remember He is the truth – John 14:6). He was always alert and clear minded, never distracted by His own thoughts or thoughts from the enemy. Can you imagine your prayer life like this and how awesome that would be?
The Messiah also wore a breastplate of righteousness. He covered His heart with doing what pleases God. Never did He waver. In Isaiah 59 15a-18a it says, “The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him. He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak. According to what they have done, so will he repay wrath to his enemies and retribution to his foes.”(NIV) In this passage we see that His own righteousness sustained Him and was His breastplate as He did the work of salvation and He will be wearing that same breastplate when He repays wrath to His enemies.
In Psalm 132:9 we read the statement about Israel, “May your priests be clothed in righteousness..”(NIV) You see He is the High Priest with His breastplate in place, remember the High Priest of Israel wore a breastplate with all the jewels of the tribes of Israel on it, and we are called a royal priesthood in I Peter 2:9. Our breastplate reflects His – our righteousness reflects His righteousness. We will never win the battles in life without it. We cannot do our own thing and expect Him to bless it. We cannot follow the deceptions of our heart and expect to win the battle against the enemy, at that point we are following darkness and not the light and we will fall.
Thirdly, we put on the sandals of “readiness that comes from the gospel of peace”(NIV). Remember the gospel of peace is the good news of oneness with God, the mystery. We get to proclaim that to others, which is what Jesus called us to in the Great Commission. We are to take His message to the ends of the earth. In Isaiah 52:7(NIV) it says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”" That is the awesome blessing He allows us to be a part of and at the same time being a part of that is also a protection for us in the fight. The more we proclaim it and live it the more we come to understand what He did for us and grow closer and closer to Him and farther and farther from the arrows of the enemy.
Then we see the shield of faith with which we can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the enemy that do come our way. We must hold it up, hold it up high. It does us no good by our side. We can be holding the shield and still get hit if we keep it down. We must use His strength, the strength that we spoke of earlier. It is only with His strength that we can hold up the shield and keep it up.
It reminds me of when Aaron and Hur held up Moses arms while Joshua and the Israelites were fighting the Amalekites. As long as Moses’ arms were up the Israelites were winning and when they were down they were being defeated. That is why Hur, from the tribe of Judah, and Aaron, the High Priest, held them up for him. He did not have the strength on his own and neither do we.
Yeshua, the lion of Judah and our High Priest, is the one who holds our arms up, He is our faith, our strength and our shield. It is when we humble ourselves that in due time He lifts us up. Let Him lift you up with His strength and power. We cannot be defeated if we use His strength to hold up that shield of faith. Hold it up, hold it up high.
After all of this is in place we can put on the helmet of salvation. This helmet not only protects the head, but keeps the head attached to the body. He is the head, we are the body. Just as in our discussion of the Bridegroom and the Bride we must stay with Him and do what is best for Him and He does what is best for us. As we have a helmet so does He. Back to Isaiah 59 we not only see the Messiah in a breastplate of righteousness as He works salvation, but also the helmet of salvation itself. He wants to stay connected to us and so we should want to stay connected to Him. So make sure that helmet is on. How can we fight the battle if we are cut off from the head. Protect your connection to Him. That is why the helmet and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, are spoken of together.
The word of God is one of the main things that protects that connection. Just as the body receives its instructions from the head so the body of Christ receives our instructions from His word. It is our offensive weapon as it was His when He met Satan in the wilderness. We must take this weapon and defend what He has given us, what He has entrusted to us.
The enemy wants to make us believe we are not secure, but if we know our weapon and we are attached to the head, if we hold up the shield of faith and wear the breastplate of righteousness, the sandals of readiness, and the belt of truth, then this lie cannot enter into our hearts and deceive us. We are His and He is ours. Just as the master promised the slave to never leave him or forsake him, to abandon him, to pay his own debt on his own, our Master has promised to never leave or forsake us either.
With all of this equipment on we are to pray in the Spirit on all occasions. Remember the passage we mentioned in speaking about Yeshua wearing the belt of righteousness. He had the Spirit of God on Him and so must we. We must pray in the Spirit for the saints to be able to fight the good fight along side of us. We are in this together. We are not alone. He took those who were far and those who were near and made us one nation in Jesus the Messiah. We must stay alert to this fact and the fact that the enemy will also stay alert for any weakness in our armor. We must not let Him find one.
Finally, Paul asked for prayer for himself. Not to be released from his chains, but for boldness to proclaim the mystery for which he is in chains. Would you, would I, be willing to be in chains to proclaim the mystery, nonetheless, desiring to proclaim that mystery while in those chains. No matter our circumstances we must put on His armor in His resurrection power and pray in the Spirit. If we do we will be more than conquerors.
I want to first apologize for it being so long since I have written. We have been getting used to the new school year and then on top of it all we began to have computer issues. However, it did give me time to really think about this post. I am going to be discussing things in ways I have never really thought of them before and so for the extra time I am thankful.
Ephesians 6:1 Children, obey your parents as you would the Lord, because this is right. 2 Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise, 3 so that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life in the land. 4 Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
5Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ. 6 Don’t work only while being watched, in order to please men, but as slaves of Christ, do God’s will from your heart. 7 Serve with a good attitude, as to the Lord and not to men, 8 knowing that whatever good each one does, slave or free, he will receive this back from the Lord. 9 And masters, treat your slaves the same way, without threatening them, because you know that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him.(HCSB)
Let’s begin with the children. This command to the children is really a repeat of the fifth commandment that tells children to honor their father and their mother. That is what it is referring back to when it talks about being the first commandment with promise. In honoring them they are to obey, paying careful attention to them as they would the Lord and in doing so they are honoring the Lord who gave the command.
Then the fathers are to be careful in how they treat their children. Notice they are not given permission to do as they please to their children. They too are given instructions on how to bring up their children. They are to bring them up to love and obey the Lord, training them and instructing them in the ways of the Lord. This is a heavy task and one that bears total responsibility and purposefulness. Fathers cannot do this half-heartedly, it must be with the whole heart and with precise direction – toward the Lord.
Remember we are talking about unity in the home. If the Father or the children do not get their parts correct their is a break down in that unity. A father needs his children to obey him and to honor him and their mother. The children need to be loved and understood. They are not yet adults and do not do things the way an adult would. They also do not have the understanding of an adult yet long to be understood by their fathers. This is to be done with compassion and joy as they watch their children grow in the love and instruction of the Lord.
Here is where the mystery hits this passage. Scripture talks about us being the adopted children of God. As His children we are to obey Him without question, He is our Father. The Father looks on us with compassion as Jesus did the crowds. He understands us and knows how hard it is to avoid sin. As Hebrews 2 tells us, Jesus was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. You see He also knows the way to avoid the sin and if we are close to the Father, listening and obeying the Father, He will guide us through the temptation so that we can escape its grasp. This relationship is all important if we even hope to say no to sin. It works in unity, perfect unity. We are the children listening, obeying and thinking the world of our Father, standing in awe of Him and He is the loving Father beaming down in love and delight in His children.
As for the slaves and the masters I have often heard this passage preached from the perspective of employee and employer. I do not think this is accurate and here is why. This is not an example of an interpersonal relationship outside the home, but one within it. The home is the entire focus of these three examples in Ephesians. In Paul’s day slaves in the home were a reality and one that contributed to the unity of the home. Therefore it had to be dealt with as part of his conversation. He was not attempting to address the rightness or wrongness of slavery, but the behavior of both masters and slaves who have become voluntary slaves of Christ, knowing that how they act reflected on their Savior. Paul was effective in reaching both slaves and masters with the Good News of Freedom in Christ.
Slaves were to obey their masters as if they were serving the Lord. They were to do this in love for their master, not resentment. The Lord sees the heart and holds even the servant responsible for his own motives and attitude in his work. Slaves were an important part of many homes. If they did not do their work in a timely manner and well the home was not a good place to be. It reminds me of Joseph when he was the slave of Potipher in Egypt. God blessed the household of Potipher because of the efforts of Joseph who loved Him.
Likewise, masters are to deal with their slaves with respect as another human being. They are to treat them fair, knowing that they too have a Master in Heaven who is watching them. Yes, watching even the way they treat their slaves. Masters are not to leave or desert their slaves, they are part of their family, and thus, the masters are responsible for their care (keeping in mind the status of a slave was often the result of debts). This is the true meaning when it says, “without threatening them”, the threat is the threat to leave them alone. God holds each of us responsible for how we treat each other no matter our station in life. In Christ we are all brothers and sisters called to love and serve one another.
Now for the mystery within this example. We are the servants of God called to follow His commands. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands.” You see He is the Master. He is our Lord. He has every right to give the commands and we have no right to disobey them. As for His part, in love He has promised never to leave us or forsake us as a good master, our good shepherd, would.
Yes, Jesus does calls us His friends as well, but that does not negate our role as servants. Paul calls himself a bond-servant of the Lord, a servant by choice, following the commands of His Master. Let us never forget that Lord means Master. So when we call God our Lord and Savior we are really calling Him our Master and Savior and declaring ourselves His bond-servant bound to obey His commands.
God desires unity in every part of the relationship He has with us. Unity between the Bridegroom and Bride, between the Father and His Children, between the Master and His Bond-Servants. Is not our God awesome in what He desires with us? Truly His ways are above our ways and His thoughts above our thoughts.
Let us obey our Bridegroom, Father and Master as we love one another.