All of the explanations to the readings from the book of Job have been translated and uploaded; they can be found here. Just click on any reading in blue. That completes the explanations for all of the readings from Genesis 1 through Job 42. Next in line? Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. Please continue to pray for the completion of this entire project.
If you visit the calendar on the page "Start Today", you will find explanations to all of the Bible readings posted from Genesis through the book of Ruth, the first 12 weeks of Bible reading. Please continue to pray that this project march along until explanations of the entire Bible have been posted day by day.
In summary: Yahweh reveals the depths of His grace to His sinful people.
In more detail: Exodus 33 appears to begin with a mixture of good and bad news: “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people” (Exodus 33:1-3). But Yahweh’s people understand that even a blessing as great as the conquest of the Promised Land is of no value without Yahweh’s Presence among them: “When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments” (Exodus 33:4).
This delicate situation goes on. The Israelites wait in repentance; the tent where Yahweh meets with Moses is now far away, outside the camp… but Yahweh still meets face to face with
their intercessor, Moses. And that small opening of grace will grow into one of the most significant revelations of the entire Old Testament.
Moses intercedes for the people based on the grace that Yahweh already has shown: “Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people” (Exodus 33:13). Notice that he requests an extension of Yahweh’s grace to the people, not for them to receive the blessing of the Promised Land (that already has been confirmed) but for them to walk in the unique relationship offered to them when they first arrived at Mount Sinai: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples” (Exodus 19:5). They have not obeyed His voice nor kept His covenant, but Moses dares to request that Yahweh extend His unmerited love to them anyway.
Yahweh reconfirms His grace to Moses alone: “And he said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest’” (Exodus 33:14; note that “with you” and “I will give you” are singular, directed to Moses alone). Moses requests again that the grace he has found be extended to the people, too: “If your presence will not go with me [singular], do not bring us [plural] up from here” (Exodus 33:15). Again he identifies with the people: “For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:16) So that the splendor of Yahweh’s glory
may be seen by the nations, Moses pleads that this grace would be extended to the Israelites. And Yahweh approves Moses’request: “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name” (Exodus 33:17).
Moses breaks forth into joy in the request that follows: “Please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). His intercession is much more than a desire to complete a mission, much more than simply attaining an objective in a long list of petitions for his people – he longs to walk in communion with Yahweh; he longs to know Him and enjoy His Presence. Immediately Yahweh agrees with him: “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will
proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD’. And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy (Exodus 33:19). But at the same time, there are limits between the companionship between man and God, limits based not on any weakness in God but on the incapability of created beings to know His holiness:“You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).
And just like Yahweh’s revelation on Mount Sinai in Exodus 20, Moses does not see any form but hears His word: “The LORD
passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin’” (Exodus 34:6-7). Just as in Exodus 3, Yahweh’s glory is linked with His Name. He always was, always is and always will be strong, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. His glory, power and mercy – indeed, all of His attributes – are eternally stable. This is glorious news to His sinful
people – He keeps steadfast love toward thousands and forgives all kinds of wickedness: iniquity, rebellion and sin. And His mercy is not weak or permissive; in no way does it negate His justice: “…who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:7). Both of these verses declare Yahweh’s glory and will resound several times in the rest of the Bible (see for example Psalm 86:15-16; 103:8-12; 145:5-9).
Moses responds appropriately to such a glorious revelation: “And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped” (Exodus 34:8). He also expresses one of the foremost
desires of those who have experienced Yahweh’s glory – the desire to remain in His Presence and see others enjoy Him, too: “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance” (Exodus 34:9). Yahweh answers, yes: “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you” (Exodus 34:10). His grace surpasses the sin of His people without discarding His righteousness. And in response, His people will walk in repentance and righteousness. They will live by their Jealous God (Exodus 34:14); they will separate themselves from the inhabitants of Canaan and will destroy all evidence of their idolatry (Exodus 34:12-13, 15-16). They will jealously guard the rituals and calendar organized upon
Yahweh’s grace (Exodus 34:17-26). And once again Moses is in His Presence, similar to the times before the incident of the golden calf but now with an even deeper appreciation of His grace.
May you have a blessed new year of reading the Bible in 2013! Be sure to visit the page "Start Today!" and click on the blue daily readings for a link to their explanations. Lord willing, they will continue to be updated periodically through 2013.
For those who begin a new year of reading through the Bible on January 1, the Bible calendar now has the complete list of readings through 2016!
Remember, you can start your reading any day of the year by going to the page entitled "Start Today".
If you look at the calendar on the page "Start Today", you'll notice the readings for the first three weeks (and the first three units of the Bible) are in blue. This means that they are linked with another page giving the explanation of the reading. The goal is, over the next two and a half years, to have every reading linked with its explanation. Over time, quotes from other authors and answers to common questions about each reading will be included, too. Thank you for your prayers and patience as this work slowly marches forward!
If you have read the Bible along with the calendar on BibleCalendar.org, congratulations for having read the Pentateuch and the rest of the historical books of the Old Testament! You have finished reading all of the books from Genesis to Esther (that narrate the Biblical history of Israel twice), and you’ve also read 75 psalms (exactly half of the book of Psalms) and eight sections of Psalm 119. I hope you also have progressed significantly in your knowledge of the righteousness, just dominion, holiness and mercy of Yahweh and the testimony of His love through His covenant with His chosen people.
Now we enter a new unit, the reading of the books of wisdom. We will cover
this unit in a little less than four weeks, this year in the readings from May 27 through June 22. Notice that we pass over the book of Psalms in this section to continue reading it little by little with the rest of the Bible and to come back later and read all of the psalms consecutively at the end of the year. As we read the wisdom books from Job to the Song of Songs, keep in mind the following
1) The main events of the unit: The wise instruct the people of Israel.
2) Yahweh’s attributes that stand out: The fear He inspires, which is the beginning of wisdom
3) Yahweh’s main work: Teaching His people to fear Him and living daily life in accordance with the principles of the Law
4) The main participants: Job, Solomon and others who are instructing the people of Israel
5) The main reference to Jesus Christ and the gospel: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin
has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another (Job 19:25-27).
Key observations: For some of us, the change from reading historical narratives to reading the general principles and poetry of the wisdom books is rather difficult. It can help us if we remember:
1) The wisdom books are not divorced from the rest of the Bible. They teach how to apply the principles of the Law to daily life. Since they emphasize daily life, they teach with few references to the temple and its rituals, the covenant, the kings and the prophets. That does not mean these people and things have lost their importance, only that the wisdom books try to teach everyone, even those who aren’t Levites, who live outside Jerusalem and who don’t have regular contact with the royal house and prophets. If we remember their relationship with the Law, we can read the wisdom books in the context of the rest of the Bible.
It helps to see the structure of each book. The book of Job has little narrative; basically it is a conversation among three people followed by the discourse of a young man and of another by Yahweh. Proverbs has a structure at the level of individual verses and also across chapters. Ecclesiastes makes sense if we keep in mind the book as a whole. The Song of Songs is a love song between a husband and wife supported by a chorus. We won’t get lost in the details if we keep our bearings with the structure of each book as a whole.
In Luke 1:51-52, Mary, Jesus’ mother, celebrates God’s powerful justice: “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.”
We read a perfect example of this today in Esther 5 – 7.
First, notice Haman’s pride. Even though he has numerous privileges second only to the king, “Yet all this is worth nothing to me, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate” (Esther 5:13). What he doesn’t realize is that this limit in submission was decreed by Someone even greater than Ahasuerus – it was decreed by God. Yahweh said to Abraham, not to Agag, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Haman’s desire for so much attention, even in violation of Yahweh’s decree for His chosen people, reveals the pride in his heart. Therefore his friends and his wife prophecy his doom: “If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him” (Esther 6:13).
Second, notice that Mordecai’s salvation and exaltation occur in line with Ahasuerus’s egotistical and corrupt dominion. There is no miracle to save him, only
one night of insomnia for the king, a reading from the royal chronicles, a forgotten detail: “What honor or distinction has been bestowed on Mordecai for this?” (Esther 6:3) Remember our observations yesterday about Esther 1 – 4; the well-being of the non-privileged depends on how much they benefit the privileged and their avoidance of any action that displeases them. Mordecai has performed a great benefit for the king – it’s impossible to do any better! It is an injustice that it has not been rewarded; he must be honored immediately. Notice that in the midst of so much pride and self-centeredness, our holy and just God knows how to work to protect His own. Not even a ruler’s pride or unjust government can hinder His powerful arm.
Third, Haman’s fall occurs in the midst of this corrupt dominion – he simply displeases the king by threatening his queen. Ahasuerus is not angered by a grave injustice planned against one of the minorities under his reign. He doesn’t stop to consider the well-being and justice of the underprivileged residents in the capital. He’s upset by the treatment of his preferred wife, and that offense is worthy of death. Though His name is not mentioned here directly, we enjoy the irony of Yahweh’s justice: “So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai” (Esther 7:10).
Because of the salvation and justice rendered in the midst of Ahasuerus’s egotistical dominion with no mention of Yahweh’s name, Esther’s testimony of salvation is very different from any we have read so far in the Bible. But even though salvation came through Yahweh’s hidden hand in Esther 5 –7, we can testify alongside Mary: “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Luke 1:51-52).
In Ezra and Nehemiah, we read about Yahweh’s Presence with those who returned from the exile to rebuild Jerusalem. But what will Yahweh do with the many Jews who did not return? Will He abandon them? Will they still be considered Yahweh’s people when they live outside of the Promised Land for several generations? The book of Esther will answer for us.
Esther 1 and 2 tell us a lot about the Persian Empire in the reign of Ahasuerus (as we saw in the introduction to this unit of the Bible, he governed in the years between Ezra 6 and 7). How far we have fallen from the just reigns of David, Solomon, Hezekiah or Josiah! While these Jewish kings served as examples of just rule of the land in concert with Yahweh’s just dominion over all creation, the Persian court governs with a different mentality:
Abundant prosperity exists for the consumption and pleasure of the
privileged. Remember our reading about Solomon and the Queen of Sheba in 1 Kings 10 and 2 Chronicles 9. Solomon’s prosperity impressed her so that she gave glory to Yahweh for His anointed one. His prosperity was a reflection of God’s just dominion: “Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and set you on his throne as king for the LORD your God! Because your God loved Israel and would establish them forever, he has made you king over them, that you may execute justice and righteousness” (2 Chronicles 9:8). But in the description of the Persian court in Esther 1 – 2, there is no mention of Yahweh or of any god. Ahasuerus and his chosen ones are the center of rule. Whether we speak of banquets that last for days, or the incomparable beauty of the women, or ten thousand talents of silver that Haman offers for the destruction of the Jews, prosperity exists only to fulfill the desires of the privileged.
The law exists to protect the privileges of the wealthy. Remember one of the
reasons why Yahweh gave His Law to the Israelites: “Keep them and do them, for
that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? (Deuteronomy 4:6-8) But in Esther 1 – 4, the law is based on human intelligence (or more often, human whim), not on Yahweh’s revelation, and it is conceived and exercised to preserve privilege: “When the decree made by the king is proclaimed throughout all his kingdom, for it is vast, all women will give honor to their husbands, high and low alike” (Esther 1:20). “There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your
kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king’s laws, so that it is not to the king’s profit to tolerate them. If it please the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed” (Esther 3:8-9). “Good” is defined by what protects and benefits the privileged; “bad” is defined by what threatens their authority. Topics related to righteousness and just dominion do not even enter into the discussion. Therefore, Ahasuerus and Haman can decree the extermination of an entire ethnic group and immediately sit down and drink without remorse (Esther 3:15).
In this environment created by the pride and self-centeredness of the rulers, Jews like Mordecai and Esther try to survive. The well-being of the non-privileged depends on how much they benefit the privileged and their evasion of any action that displeases them. That’s one reason why Mordecai’s insistence in not bowing to Haman is so unusual. Why would he insist on something that will endanger him… and as we read, that will endanger his whole nation?
Mordecai answers that he is a Jew: “They told Haman, in order to see whether Mordecai’s words would stand, for he had told them that he was a Jew” (Esther 3:4). Therefore some think that perhaps there was a Biblical law that
prohibited Jews from bowing before others, or at least before Gentiles. But there is no such law in the Bible. Besides, Esther sees nothing wrong with throwing herself at Ahasuerus’s feet in submission to ask him a favor in 8:3. On the other hand, the text communicates that there is a more personal motive to Mordecai’s inaction – he is denounced before Haman, not before the king (Esther 3:4), even though it was the king’s order he was disobeying. It also says: Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him (Esther 3:5). And if we follow the personal thread of possible motives, we can see why Mordecai did not kneel before this man.
“King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, and advanced him and set his throne above all the officials who were with him” (Esther 3:1). As Esther 8:5 and 9:24 repeat, Haman is a descendant of Agag, from the royal house of the Amalekites. They had attacked Israel during their exodus from Egypt in Exodus 17:8-16. Moses said, “A hand upon the throne of the LORD! The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exodus 17:16). “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. Therefore when the
LORD your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget” (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). Agag is the king of Amalek whom Saul must destroy in 1 Samuel 15, but he disobeyed Yahweh and did not kill him (the prophet Samuel later on executed his death sentence). And now in Susa there is a descendant of Agag, someone with the royal blood of the Amalekites, placed high above all of the other princes of Persia. Meanwhile Mordecai is: “The son of Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish, a Benjamite” (Esther 2:5), that is, from the same house as King Saul, son of Kish. Haman, a descendant of the royal house of the Amalekites, is confronted by the insubordination of Mordecai, a descendant of the former ruling house of the Israelites. That’s how we can understand Mordecai’s refusal to bow or kneel before Haman and Haman’s desire to take vengeance not only on Mordecai but on all the
Haman has more authority and privilege than Mordecai. Meanwhile, Esther’s influence with the king is diminishing: “I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days” (Esther 4:11). Can rescue come from Someone more influential than Haman? “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my
behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law” (Esther 4:16). Is there Someone with more authority than the law of Persia?
Here in Nehemiah 1 we meet another man like Ezra, another who was prepared by the study of God’s word and whose deepest desire was poured out in devoted prayer to Yahweh.
Notice the news that inspired his prayer: “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire” (Nehemiah 1:3). It’s been more than a century since Cyrus decreed that the Jews could return and rebuild Jerusalem, and a large part of the city is still in ruins and without defense. Although the group that left with Zerubbabel finished the construction of the temple and the group that came with Ezra was confirmed in Moses’ Law, Jerusalem remained physically vulnerable to attack and in shameful ruins.
Part of the reason for this state of affairs is their enemies’ success in preventing the rebuilding of the city. We’ve read previously a letter written to Artaxerxes, the reigning king during the book of Nehemiah: “Be it known to the king that the Jews who came up from you to us have gone to Jerusalem. They are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations. Now be it known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and the walls
finished, they will not pay tribute, custom, or toll, and the royal revenue will be impaired” (Ezra 4:12-13). With Artaxerxes' response, the neighboring enemies forcibly stopped the construction of the walls, (Ezra 4:23).
Nehemiah was impacted by the news and presents his request, not to Artaxerxes like his enemies had done, but before the God who has authority even over Artaxerxes: “I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4). His description of Yahweh in Nehemiah 1:5 echoes His revelation to Moses in Exodus 34:5-7 when the latter pleaded for mercy after the idolatry of the golden calf at Mount Sinai. Through this reference and his reference to the covenant, Nehemiah places this new petition firmly in the tradition of Moses’ intercession, here asking Yahweh to forgive the people for their more recent
Just as in Ezra’s confession of sin in our previous reading, Nehemiah identifies himself with the sins of his people: “Hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses” (Nehemiah 1:6-7).
How does Nehemiah dare to seek forgiveness for his people when they deserve Yahweh’s just wrath for their sins? He quotes from Yahweh’s covenant, a
summary of Deuteronomy 30:1-5: “Remember the word that you commanded your
servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there’” (Nehemiah 1:8-9). He rests in the security of Yahweh’s past mercies, specifically in the redemption from slavery in Egypt, for the certainty that He will visit His people in mercy again: “They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand” (Nehemiah
He closes his prayer with his most immediate request: “Give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man” (Nehemiah 1:11).
“This man” is Artaxerxes, the most feared and powerful king in all the earth, a king with dominion over numerous cities and peoples; but before Yahweh, he is simply “this man”. In a few months, Yahweh responds to Nehemiah’s request through Artaxerxes, and after a century of ruin, the walls of Jerusalem will be rebuilt in a relatively short time.
The prayer of a righteous person has great power (James 5:16).
Ken Kytle serves as pastor of Iglesia bautista La fe en Cristo near Atlanta, Georgia.
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