Some time ago, The Times posted the following inquiry: “What’s wrong with the world?” A prominent author, G. K. Chesterton, responded to the question with two short words.
Yours, G.K. Chesterton.
After reading the story of Esther, you could reduce it to a simple “moral of the story.” Without trivializing the biblical record, how would you summarize the story? What if the story summarized itself. “Seeking the wealth of his people” (Esther 10:3). Ponder this for a moment. Mordecai was promoted and well-favored because he was “seeking the wealth of his people.” The adversary, Haman, sought personal promotion. He would go home and brag about “A Day in the Life of Haman” to his wife and friends. Before he realized the king wished to honor Mordecai, Haman blindly imagined himself astride the king’s horse parading through the street.
Be careful of what you seek. Paul tells us to seek “every man another’s wealth” (1 Corinthians 10:24). Do you seek opportunities to enrich the lives of others? Is your focus, today, on making someone’s day? The motive for seeking to enrich others is primarily salvation or fellowship. Paul explains, “Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:33). Once we remember this world will pass away and there is a place in heaven reserved for those who have received Christ as their Savior, we will find it easier to seek another’s profit.
What you seek boils down to what you love. In the great “Love Chapter,” love is described as that which “seeketh not her own” (1 Corinthians 13:5). The world is full of “Hamans” who “mind earthly things” and “seek their own” (Philippians 3:19; 2:21). What is wrong with the world? Humbly admit, “I am.” The world could use another Mordecai who seeks “the things which are Jesus Christ’s” (Philippians 2:21).
For what do you seek?
There we sat in the middle of the hot wilderness. Barrel cactuses surrounded us in this foreign land. Civilization was nowhere in sight. Our thirty-plus passenger shuttle bus had coughed its last mile in the desert of Mexico. The “promised land” we called home was so far away. Would we ever make it? It did turn into the trip that never seemed to end, and as a teenager, it was an adventure. Now that I am a pastor, it would have been a terror. How we survived when we only had a sleeve of Oreos, a gallon of water, and a football, I cannot recall. I remember our angry tirade against the barrel cactus that popped our football more than I do the details of our rescue. However, on that missions trip in Mexico, we knew God was watching out for us. I don’t think our tow truck driver’s name was Immanuel, but I do know God was with us because it was more than coincidence the way God rescued us.
It’s when you are in the middle of the desert, secluded from everything, you begin to feel alone. You may feel God has abandoned you. The Jews certainly could have felt God was distant. Esther and her people had lived in captivity for 70 years. Some of the Jews had returned to Jerusalem, but they were struggling to get the colony established. Where was God?
God did not show up personally, through His messengers the angels, nor really through the prophets in Esther’s story, but you sense God’s unseen hand working to deliver His people. Yes, the enemy plotted to erase the Jews from this world, but God was with them. It was more than coincidence the way God works to rescue them.
Can you sense God’s unseen hand in your life? Just the other day, the Lord brought a name to mind. It was someone I have prayed for intermittently for over a year now. As I saw the name, I again prayed God would intervene and encourage this person. Two days later, my phone rings. As I glance at the name of the caller, I nearly gasp in disbelief. It was the very person God brought to mind earlier. It was one of those moments where you can sense God’s unseen hand working.
Your life is not a string of coincidences. It is the carefully calculated plan of God. He never wastes a moment or an experience. Look today for the way God is moving in your life.
I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. (Hebrews 13:5)
“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
— Theodore Roosevelt
Everything had been going better than planned. The Jews were given permission to return to their homeland and build the Temple of God. Cyrus opened the king’s treasury and the people carried armfuls of precious vessels back to Jerusalem. In Ezra 3, the people start with the right priorities and begin to worship God. They dug into the work and began to lay the foundation. Those who were born in the captivity celebrated what God had done in their midst.
Then the party-crashers came. Discouragement came from within and from without. Some of the ancient men wept on the day of celebration because they remembered the “good ole days.” It is good to remember the past, but when the past becomes a wet blanket on the present it becomes a liability. Paul’s wisdom is essential, “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before” (Philippians 3:13).
With their morale already eroded by the disappointed, they were an easy target for the compromisers. These were Samaritans who had not experienced the captivity. In fact, their life had been compromised completely. They had intermarried with pagans and began to worship false idols. These guys know a good thing when they see it, so they asked to partner with the Jews and help them build the Temple. Zerubbabel and Joshua rejected their offer. They would not compromise the work and join in the efforts with those who were insincere in their life. These Samaritans tattle to king Artaxerxes. They hindered the work of God. Their hands were weakened, their resolve was troubled, and their dream was frustrated (Ezra 4:4). Disenchanted, the people began to pursue earthly securities and pleasures. They continued in the motions of worship, but without the heart. They were only a shell of devotion.
God sent the encouragers, Haggai and Zechariah. They preached the word of the Lord and challenged the people. The work would be accomplished because God had promised to be with them. It would not be accomplished by their meager strength, but by the Spirit of God working on their behalf. Eventually, Darius, the current king, sent a response to the Samaritans instructing them to not only allow the work of God to continue but also to sponsor the project!
Nehemiah gives us the phrase, “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). They found their joy in the Lord, saw God turn the hearts of the opposition, and strengthened their hands to do the work of God. If you are discouraged, ask God to restore your joy, turn the hearts of those who are opposing you, and allow the Spirit to strengthen your hands to do the work.
“And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the Lord had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.” (Ezra 6:22)
Have you heard the retort, “Getting blood from a stone”? Typically it describes a tight-wad or derelict, someone who may owe you something but will not or cannot repay. Try as you might. Put the squeeze on them, but you will not get anything out of them.
Throughout Jeremiah’s prophecy, he foretold of the people’s return from captivity. There were two major predictions Jeremiah made. First, he predicted the timing of seventy years (Jeremiah 25:11; 29:10). Ezra 1:1 tells us, “The word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah” was fulfilled following the proclamation of Cyrus the Great. Secondly, the type of return was to be like the release from Egypt (Jeremiah 16:14-15; 23:7-8). In what way? When the people were set free from slavery in Egypt, God promised they would receive the riches of the land. The slaves of Egypt left with the treasures of Egypt! The Egyptians gave their treasures to Israel in hopes of appeasing God’s wrath. As the Jews leave Babylon, the treasury of the empire is opened and they leave with the riches of Babylon.
God richly blessed the people when they left Egypt and hundreds of years later as they were leaving Babylon. Notice, believer, when God sends you on a mission, He will send you with His blessing. This is a needed reminder! Whether slaves or the low caste in Babylon, God’s people left according to God’s Word to do God’s Work. Hudson Taylor, a faithful missionary in China, left Great Britain for his mission field often “under-supported” by today’s standards. His motto explains his intensity: “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.” He spent 51 years on the mission field depending on God’s supply by faith.
The second application every believer must notice is God’s purpose in blessing. Whether in Exodus or in Ezra, the people were blessed so they could contribute to the work of God. They give back to the Lord so they can have a part in God’s work. Whether it is your treasures, time, or talent, God has blessed you with the resources to accomplish His mission through you. How often we are tempted to staunch the flow of God’s blessing in our life because of our insecurity or indulgence. This ought not to be! God’s blessings have been given to accomplish His purpose. The wealth of the western world may very likely be brought against them at the Judgment Seat of Christ and many will lose much of their reward because they were cul-de-sacs instead of avenues of God’s blessing.
Maybe you fret, “I don’t have much to give.” Ezra 2:69 is a beautiful testimony of God’s expectation, “They gave after their ability.” God expects only what He has given you to steward. He will not squeeze blood out of a stone.
The visions of Daniel are spectacular. Your imagination can run wild as you envision the kingdoms of the earth figuratively represented by the animals. The first creature Daniel sees is a lion with wings. The wings are plucked off and the beast is given the heart of a man. This represents the kingdom of Babylon in which Daniel lived. The second creature was a bear which was noticeably dominant on one side. This creature represented the Medeo-Persian kingdom. The third creature was a leopard with wings. This was a fast moving creature. In fact, in another prophecy, Daniel sees this same kingdom represented by an angry goat with one enormous horn which moves so quickly it never touches the ground. This third major kingdom is the Grecian empire lead by Alexander the Great.
Throughout the descriptions of these kingdoms, there is one central theme—aggressive domination. These kings will rule the world at the expense of conquest and slaughter. You are then introduced to a new King who is different in so many ways from the previously mentioned kings. This King would be “cut off” (Daniel 9:26). Instead of leading a rebellion, he would sacrifice himself for a greater kingdom. A kingdom which he would share with the “people of the saints of the most High” (Daniel 7:27). This sacrificial King does not overthrow kings through rebellion. He merely lays claim to what was His from the beginning of time. As the Ancient of Days, He is the obvious ruler of this world. His infinite power will only be revealed against those who rebel and seek to overthrow His rule, but his kingdom is an “everlasting kingdom” which will “make an end of sins…and bring in everlasting righteousness” (Daniel 7:27; 9:24).
We are subjects of another King, and we should live according to the character of such a citizenship. As a follower of the Messiah, the Prince of princes, you can live according to His example and know the secret to greatness. “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Whoever humbles himself as a little child, “the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:1, 4). Our Savior’s example is our pattern: “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:11).