Thursday, August 20, 2015

Half As Much

I am back on track with my daily Bible reading after falling behind while on my mission trip to Vietnam. I, as I have often done in past years, am fulfilling my yearly quest to read The Book cover to cover by using Tyndale's One Year Bible. The year is divided into 365 sections with each day laid out with an Old Testament passage, a New Testament passage, a Psalm, and a verse from Proverbs. Yesterday morning's OT reading covered Esther chapters 4-7. As I read, I was struck by something I knew but had never connected. There is a link between King Xerxes and Herod who put John the Baptist to death many years later. Want to take a guess? Well, let me the set the stage. In Esther, the new queen approaches the king, not a sure thing if you haven't been summoned. If his majesty was cranky that day, the penalty was death. But Xerxes was delighted to see his wife/queen who had been out of sight and told her so. In the scenario concerning Herod, he was the star attraction of his own birthday party with many important men in attendance who likely were heavily drinking. A young lady, his step daughter who happened to also be his biological niece, came in to dance for the gentlemen, and undoubtedly not a traditional folk dance. Assuredly, many of you are ahead of me and made the connection long ago, that Xerxes and Herod both promised these young ladies up to half of their kingdoms.  There is no indication either ruler had an inkling of what would be requested. Esther, prompted by her cousin/guardian Mordecai asked for relief for the Jewish people from an an order which would have annihilated the Jews. Herod's step daughter, whose name was Salome according to history, was goaded by her mother to ask for the head of John the Baptist immediately. Both wishes were hastily granted and in both cases, history was redirected. John died but the remnant of Israel survived and even flourished due to Xerxes' consent. 

It seems evident that both men were swayed by the attractiveness of the two young ladies but only one had a legitimate right in that arena. One request had to do with the welfare of an entire race while the other was simple revenge, Herodias being angered by John's public pronouncements against her marriage to her former brother in law. Herod instantly regretted his brash oath but Xerxes expanded on his, giving wealth and power to Mordecai in the process. I tell my students I have no idea why God did not rescue His prophet, John, but that's not mine to know. I do know that the kingdom announced by John continued to grow after his death and his standing among the people was not diminished by his beheading. The Esther scenario is much easier for me to interpret, especially in light of Mordecai's admonishment to his relative that she might have come to "royalty for such a time as this?" It's easy to be a Monday Morning quarterback thousands of years later!

What would you ask for if offered half a kingdom? Riches or fame? Security or position? These were calculated requests by the women, Esther's even coming after a period of prayer and fasting! But as modern day believers, we are not left out in the cold. Jesus twice in the Sermon on the Mount taught that the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who fall into not one but two categories; poor in spirit and persecuted because of righteousness. Notice He did not promise HALF of the kingdom but the whole thing and not an earthly kingdom with shifting borders but one whose boundary markers are intact forever! What an offer, the best in history! What do we have to lose? Only our souls if we refuse His most gracious invitation. What a price to pay. John the Baptist tragically, from our perspective, simply lost his head. We have so  much more at stake.

Applicable quote of the day:
God bless,
Luke 18:1
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