Monday, May 20, 2019

Bible Character Studies: Luke

           Luke is the author of the gospel of Luke, and the book of Acts, which is the history of the early church from Jesus' ascension to Paul's house arrest. The gospel of Luke is one of the four gospels (good news) of Jesus Christ, his book is named for its author. Because of their similarities, Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the synoptic gospels. This comes from the word, synopsis, which means, “seeing together”, because they report Jesus’ life in the same pattern. John’s gospel is completely different.

            According to tradition, Luke was a Gentile (non-Jew) (Col. 4:11,14) Very little is known about him, as he includes very few details about himself. We know nothing of his background or his conversion, or whether he was a Jewish proselyte first. Early church fathers believe he was from Antioch, since so much of the book of Acts is centred there. 
            Luke was a physician (Col. 4:14) which explains his evident interest in Jesus’ healing ministry. He later joined the Apostle Paul on his missionary journey (2 Tim. 4:11, Philemon 1:24) and recorded those events and other things that happened beginning at the ascension of Jesus. Those are recorded in the book of The Acts. Parts of the book where he joined Paul are written in first person, using the pronoun, we. Those two books are the only two books of sixty-six in the Bible written by a Gentile.
He was not one of Jesus’ apostles, but used sources and research to write his “orderly account”. However, it is not necessarily in strict chronological order. Since he states his knowledge of the events he records came from eyewitnesses, it strongly implies that he himself was not an eyewitness (Acts 1:1.2). It is believed Mary, Jesus’ mother was one of his sources for His birth narrative and the details about John the Baptist. 

Both Luke and Acts were written about the same time, with Luke being written first (Acts 1:1) This two-volume work was addressed to Theophilus. The name “Theophilus” literally means “loved by God” or “friend of God, so that has led some to believe it is just a generic title that applies to all Christians. However, it seems more likely that Luke is writing to a specific individual, even though it has application to all believers. Others think Theophilus was a wealthy relative of Caesar, an influential government official (based on the honorific term, most excellent, which is used elsewhere of Roman officials), a wealthy benefactor who supported Paul’s missionary journeys, or even Paul’s lawyer. We cannot know for sure, since Scripture doesn’t tell us.

The dedications at the beginning of both books are much like formal dedications in modern books, suggesting he intended them for a larger audience. The books of Luke and Acts together are a sweeping history from the birth of Christ to Paul’s imprisonment under house arrest in Rome (Acts 21:20-24).
Luke’s writing style is that of a scholarly, well-read author. He is a meticulous historian, often giving details to help identify the historical context of the events he described (1:5, 2:1.2, 3:1.2, 13:1-4). Of all the gospels, his has the fullest account of the nativity. He also includes the praise psalms. He is the only gospel writer to include the unusual circumstances surrounding the birth of John the Baptist, the annunciation of Mary, the manger, the shepherds, and Simeon and Anna. His gospel has the most parables recorded (28) and he includes the famous parables of the good Samaritan, the prodigal son and the rich fool.
A theme of Luke’s gospel is Jesus’ compassion for Gentiles, Samaritans, women, children, tax collectors, and sinners, who were often regarded as outcasts and pariahs in Israel. Every mention of a tax collector is in a positive sense. i.e. Zacchaeus. By telling about Mary, Elizabeth, Anna, to the women at the tomb on resurrection morning, Luke emphasized the central role of women in Jesus’ ministry.
By use of a travelogue of Jesus, we see the theme Luke stressed throughout his gospel: Jesus’ relentless progress toward the cross. This was the very reason Jesus came to earth. Luke also highlights the universal scope of the gospel invitation more than the other gospel writers. He portrays Jesus as the Son of Man, rejected by Israel and then offered to the world. It is not surprising, since he was a close companion to Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles.
Like the other three gospels, Luke’s focus is on the final week of Jesus’ life. This was the climax of the Old Testament types and shadows. Even though it was based on fabricated charges, false witnesses, a kangaroo court, and many miscarriages of justice along the way, it’s important to remember the cross didn’t “happen” to Jesus. It was the plan of God the Father, and Jesus was in control of the timeline all along. But that doesn’t absolve those involved of their responsibility or guilt.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Bible Character Studies: King Artaxerxes

Artaxerxes was the fifth king of Persia and reigned from 464-423 B.C. (41 years). He died in Susa in 424 B.C. He was the third son of Xerxes. His queen was Damaspia. They had five children. His son Xerxes 2nd succeeded him.

From the book of Nehemiah, we see that the man is perceptive, noticing his cupbearer’s sad demeanor; he is caring, asking the reason for his servant’s sadness; and he is intuitive, recognizing that behind Nehemiah’s assessment of the situation, is a request. He doesn’t seem to be bothered by the length of time Nehemiah will be away; the trip would take 3-5 months, and even with a return to Susa between terms, he will be gone over 12 years. He is generous. He also not only grants Nehemiah’s further bold request for letters of safe passage, but goes further and sends an armed guard with him, and supplies of timber (a precious commodity) from the royal forest for building.

He is favourable to the Jews, possibly because of the influence of his step-mother, Esther, as he was growing up. His kind letter addressed to Ezra in Ezra chapter 7 demonstrates his generosity to the rebuilding project.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Bible Character Studies: Mary, the mother of Jesus


Contrary to Roman Catholic teaching, Mary doesn’t have a prominent place in the ministry of Jesus. She plays an important role in bearing the Messiah, and she is definitely blessed, but she is not in every scene in Jesus’ life, like the movie, The Passion seemed to portray. But then it was made by Roman Catholics. It’s hard not to talk about her without drawing attention to some of the errors of Rome and contrasting them with the Protestant view throughout history as we look at this interesting woman.

It’s noteworthy that since Jesus hands the care of His mother over to John (John 19:26-28) Mary has likely told John much about Jesus’ early life. Yet he chooses to leave that out of his gospel. For one who knew the most about Mary, compared to the other gospel writers, he mentions her the least. That is significant. For all we know, she even asked him to make it so.

Also, any time John mentions her, he doesn’t even use her name, but just calls her the mother of Jesus, or His mother. (John 2:1,3,5,12,19:25,26)

Her last recorded comment in this gospel is, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” (John 2:5) Then she fades from the scene until the crucifixion. We would do well to heed her words and focus on obedience to Jesus.

Also, contrary to Roman Catholic teaching that Jesus was her only child, in order to bolster their teaching on the perpetual virginity of Mary, she and Joseph had children together after Jesus was born. He is called her “firstborn Son” in Matthew 1:25 and Luke 2:7). It also says that Joseph did not “know her” as in sexually, UNTIL she brought forth her firstborn Son. (Matt. 1:25) This implies that they had a normal marital relationship after Jesus’ birth.

The term firstborn can be in reference to birth order or rank (importance). Either way it would imply He is not Mary’s only child. For birth order; He’s the firstborn, if rank; He would have to be compared with another. For further proof, John 2:12 mentions “His brothers” distinct from “His disciples”. Acts 1:14 also mentions His brothers in a sentence separate from the disciples and in connection with His mother.

Mark 3:31-35 tells of a time when His mother and His brothers came to see Him. He distanced Himself from them because they had no special favours as His family; unlike the Roman Catholic idea that Mary is somehow able to influence Him because she’s His mother, as justification to pray to her. As if He needed any prodding to be compassionate! Consider His compassion to the thief on the cross, even with no encouragement from Mary, although she was standing there.

Both Mark and Matthew name Jesus’ brothers (four of them) and also mention “sisters”, so that implies at least two. So at least seven children in the family, seven to Mary, six to Joseph.

“Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?” Matt. 13:55,56

This James is the one believed to have written the book of James, so he did eventually come to faith. Yet in his book he just refers to Jesus as his Lord and doesn’t claim any special status because of the familial connection. In fact, in his book, he condemns favouritism very harshly. Another brother of note is Jude (called Judas in the gospels, he no doubt shortened it because of Judas Iscariot). He wrote the epistle that bears his name.

Even during Jesus’ own intense suffering on the cross, He is concerned for others. As Joseph is no doubt dead by the time of Jesus’ public ministry, Jesus as the eldest son, looks to plan for the future care of His mother. His own half-brothers were at this point unbelievers, so He put her in the care of His beloved disciple John, whom He knew would be living the longest. It shows us we are to care for our elderly parents.

Mary is not sinless, but refers to “God, my Savior” (Luke 1:47). She wouldn’t need a Savior if she was sinless. Finally, she is mentioned among the worshippers in the Upper Room after the Resurrection. (Jesus’ brothers are also there. Perhaps at that point they were all believers.) She is not being worshipped or prayed to, but is just one of the followers of Christ awaiting the promised Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:14)

But Mary had a difficult life, in spite of the great blessing of being the mother of the Messiah. She went through the scandal of a pregnancy that many thought was the result of an illicit affair. She knew what it was like to have unbelieving children, to be a widow, and to have a Son cruelly treated and killed in front of her. The words of Simeon to her when Jesus was an infant were true; “…a sword will pierce through your own soul also…” (Luke 2:35)

As with most things, we need to have balance and not make too much of her, like the Roman Catholics, or too little of her as a backlash against their errors, as many Protestants do. When someone in a crowd shouted to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” Jesus answered, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27,28)

Bible Character Studies: The Disciples (as a group)

The Disciples (as a group)

They were called individually, even if they were brothers. They each had a spiritual encounter with Jesus and chose to believe in Him (or not; Judas Iscariot). They were eyewitnesses to all of the miracles and teachings of Jesus. They were given power to preach the gospel and perform miracles as well. They lived with and travelled with Jesus for three years, so they knew Him better than anyone else. They were with Him as His popularity was at its peak, and most deserted Him when the tide turned against Him. (John 12:12, 16:32, Mark 14:50) They were slow to learn and often didn’t understand the significance of an event at the time, but the Holy Spirit reminded them of everything Jesus said and did and how it fulfilled Scripture or was clear in light of His redemptive work in order for the Scriptures to be completed. (John 4:33, 6:6-9, 60-61, 66-69, 13:7, 12:16) At the end of Jesus’ ministry, they finally confessed their faith (John 16:30) “Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe?’” (John 16:31) Don’t be too hard on them. We have the benefit of two thousand years of church history and many study Bibles and commentaries to help us to understand what we’re reading. They were living in the moment and at the time that Jesus died, they really had lost all hope that He was the Messiah promised to Israel. (John 20:9) Other than Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him, as the Scriptures prophesied, (John 13:18-19) all but John were martyred for their faith in the risen Saviour.

Bible Character Studies: Nicodemus

Nicodemus is known for his late night meeting with Jesus which led to the famous discourse on the new birth.

Everything in Scripture is there for a reason. First the fact that he is named is significant. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea are the only members of the Sanhedrin named, other than Caiaphas and Annas but that is because they were the High Priest and his father-in-law, and their names needed to be recorded as a matter of historical record.

“There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him,” John 3:1, 2a

It is generally understood that the reason for this clandestine meeting was that he was afraid or cautious about being associated with Jesus or interested in His teaching. But the further mentions of Nicodemus in John’s gospel always say that this was he who (at first) came to Jesus by night.

Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, ‘Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?’” John 7:50, 51

“After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.  Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.” John 19:38-40

I think it is written this way to show the contrast with him at the beginning and end of Jesus’ ministry. Also, even if he was fearful at first, later he is bolder, appealing for Jesus to be treated fairly, and then after the crucifixion, he isn’t ashamed to be associated with Him, and does the great kindness of caring for His body in burial. I think this shows a change in Nicodemus and I believe he was a true follower of Jesus in the end.

Bible Character Studies: The Apostle Peter (Cephas)

Peter is introduced to Jesus by his brother Andrew, who tells him, “We have found the Messiah!” (John 1:41-42) Jesus’ first words to him after sizing him up are, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas (a stone).” What must Peter have thought of that? How could Jesus know anything about his character, either now or in the future?

Peter also witnessed all the same things as John, and even performed miracles himself during the time that Jesus sent them off through the countryside two by two. He must have been offended when Jesus was speaking to the Samaritan woman as he was a very devout Jew. Even after Jesus’ ascension, Peter would still have trouble making the transition to the new covenant. Even when he is given the vision of the picnic blanket full of unclean animals let down from heaven and told to eat, he dares to refuse, repulsed by doing anything contrary to the ceremonial law he had always followed. (Acts 10:9-16)

But even though he is slow to learn lessons, and often has to be confronted over his return to his old ways, (Galatians 2:7-21) he does eventually learn. In Acts 15:1-12 Peter says, “So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them (the Gentiles) by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?”

John mentions Peter seven more times in his gospel;

1.     During the washing of the disciples’ feet, when he is embarrassed by it and tells Jesus He can never wash his feet. When Jesus explains its’ importance, he goes to the other extreme, asking for a whole bath. (John 13:3-17)

2.     During Jesus’ arrest when Peter impetuously tries to ‘protect’ Jesus. (John 18:10,11)

3.     During Jesus’ trial when Peter denies Jesus three times, as predicted. (John 18:15-27)

4.     On Resurrection morning, at the empty tomb, when he barrels past John into the empty tomb.(John 20:2-10)

5.     That evening in the upper room, when Jesus reveals Himself to the disciples in His glorified body. (John 20:19-23)

6.     A week later, on Sunday with the disciples, including Thomas. (John 20:24-29)

7.     After the great catch of fish, when Peter is restored.

Peter was undoubtedly dejected and depressed after his denials of Jesus, after he had promised to die with Him (John 13:37) Even after seeing the empty tomb, and seeing Jesus in person twice, he couldn’t seem to get past it to be effective for the kingdom. So he went back to what was familiar to him, commercial fishing. After all, how do you begin to turn the world upside down? (Acts 17:6)

However, when he goes fishing with his other professional fishermen, God chose not to bless their old way of life, beginning the transition to a new calling. When Jesus calls to them from shore, their one word answer to the question of success says it all. “No.” But with Jesus word, there’s a blessing on their endeavours. The large catch of fish would’ve reminded them of Jesus words, “I will make you fishers of men,” and the parable of the dragnet (Matthew 13:47-49).The success of the church is guaranteed.

The breakfast Jesus prepared for them of bread and fish would have reminded them of the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus will provide for His people. And standing around the coal fire (John 21:9) would have called to mind the night of Peter’s denial of Jesus (John 18:18).

But in order for Peter to move forward, Jesus knew he not only needed a personal touch, but a public vindication before the others. So the Lord restores him by asking him to affirm his love for Him three times, almost as if he is undoing the three denials. He is commissioned to care for Jesus’ sheep (the church). (John 21:1-23)

Bible Character studies: The Apostle John


John was the author of the gospel that bears his name, as well as the books of 1st ,2nd , and 3rd  John and Revelation. He was a disciple of Jesus, along with his brother James. James was martyred. “Then he (Herod) killed James the brother of John with the sword.” (Acts 12:2)

He referred to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” recognizing the close relationship he had with the Lord. He was the only one of the disciples not martyred. He was exiled to the island of Patmos, where He was given the vision of the end times.

He claims to be an eyewitness of the events he records, and testifies to their veracity.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

“And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe.” (John 19:35)

“This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.” John 21:24

He also mentions it in 1 John 1:1-3 “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—that which we have seen and heard we declare to you that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”

What would it have been like to have lived alongside Jesus for three years? To see the miracles, like the calming of the storm, the raising of the dead, or the feeding of the five thousand? And to hear the greatest Preacher in the world, to see His character to know the sound of His voice and recognize His mannerisms? To see the veil pulled back on the Mount of Transfiguration and get a glimpse of the glory of the Son of God? To witness the mockery of the trial and to see the nails being driven into the hands of the Lamb of God on Passover? To feel the grief over the loss of his dear friend and his Lord? And to run to the tomb at the news of Mary Magdalene. Seeing the deflated linen wrappings and the napkin folded off by itself made him finally believe that Jesus was who He claimed to be; the Son of God.

Then after a lifetime of sharing this news and establishing the church, he was exiled to a remote island where he could cause no more trouble. Yet it was here that the Lord gave him even more blessings. He allowed him to see what was to happen in the future; the horrible persecution to come on the church, the horrendous plagues to fall on the world, and even to get a glimpse of Heaven itself, when all of the judgments, including the Final Judgment are past, and it’s just glory, glory, glory.

But while we’re reading his gospel, he hadn’t yet reached that point in his life. Peter wanted to know what would happen in the future; he was always rushing ahead. Jesus told Peter that his future would include persecution and martyrdom. Then Peter asks Jesus what would happen to John. Jesus told him not to worry about it. His concern should be to follow Jesus. (John 21:18-23) We each need to be concerned with our own walk with the Lord and not what He’s doing in the life of another. He knows the best path marked out for our good and His glory.

Bible Character Studies: John the Baptist

John the Baptist

The only denomination mentioned in the New Testament. J

John was the forerunner, the voice in the wilderness crying out, ‘Get ready, Someone is coming! In fact, He’s already here among you, and you don’t even know Him.’ They didn’t recognize the significance of the Person about to come on the scene. (1:23,26)

John came baptizing with water, but the coming One would baptize with the Holy Spirit. John recognizes the superiority of this One. He claimed to not be worthy to untie his sandals. He said this One was preferred before him, for He existed before him. (1:15, 30, 33) This “before me” can’t refer to Jesus being older than John, for John was born first. Remember, his mother Elizabeth was further along in her pregnancy than Mary (Luke 1:36). She was six months along when Mary received the message from Gabriel, so something greater must be in mind.

John the Baptist also recognized pre-born Jesus in Mary’s womb (Luke 1:41-43). He leapt for joy in his mother’s womb at the appearance of Jesus, and his mother Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She also recognized the significance of Mary’s pregnancy because she referred to her as “the mother of my Lord.”

John denied being the Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet. He understood his role was to magnify the Messiah, like a friend of the bridegroom magnifies the bridegroom (3:29) His job was to bear witness to the True Light (1:8) It was time for this Jesus, whom Israel nor John did not know, to be revealed to Israel (1:31) Jesus thus began His public ministry with baptism. We should begin our spiritual walk with a public declaration as well.

John also knew by a message from God how to recognize Jesus (1:33). The Spirit would descend on Him and remain there. This sign would confirm the identity of the Messiah. Twice, he points Jesus out and says, “Behold the Lamb of God.” (1:29,36) This hints at the idea that He has come as a sacrificial lamb; the reason? To take away the sin of the world.

Twice, John says, “I did not know Him.” (1:31,33) Apparently, although they were second cousins, Jesus and John had no contact with each other during the early years; Jesus living in Nazareth and John living a nomadic, ascetic life. But John recognized Him once the prophetic sign was fulfilled.

John’s disciples, including Andrew now leave John the Baptist and follow Jesus. John doesn’t seem to mind; it was his purpose, like how we raise our children to leave our nest and live on their own. He said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

Bible Character Studies: Joshua

Character Studies: Joshua

-Joshua first comes on the scene in the book of Exodus (17:8-14) during Israel’s first battle as a nation, against Amalek.

-he is tasked with mustering a task force. This will help to prepare him as a military leader. At this point the children of Israel could hardly be called an army.

-his name was still Hoshea at this point, until Numbers 13:16 when he went into Canaan as a spy.

-the victory over Amalek is attributed to Joshua (Ex. 17:13)

-God tells Moses to “write this for a memorial in the book, and recount it in the hearing of Joshua.” This is because Joshua will be one of those going into the Promised Land, although we don’t know that yet. By learning why God was angry with the Amalekites, he’d act accordingly. Deut. 25:17-19 tells us what they did. “They attacked the stragglers at their rear ranks, when they were tired and weary, and did not fear God.”

-in Exodus 24:12,13 God called Moses back up on the mountain to receive the law on tablets of stone. So he “arose with his assistant Joshua.” Moses left the elders at the foot of the mountain and took Joshua up at least part way. “Wait here for us until we come back to you.”

-Ex. 32:17 As Moses descended from the mountain with the ten commandments, Joshua was waiting, and said, “There is a noise of war in the camp,” but Moses corrected him saying it wasn’t the noise of a shout of victory, or a cry of defeat, but the sound of singing. This tells us that Joshua wasn’t in the camp with the people when they made and worshipped the golden calf.

-Num. 11-28-30 He is referred to as Moses’ assistant and one of his choice men.

-Joshua was zealous for Moses’ sake and wanted him to forbid people from prophesying. Num. 11:25-30

-Num. 13:1-16 Moses dispatches twelve spies, one from each tribe, to spy out Canaan. Joshua (Hoshea) son of Nun, from the tribe of Benjamin is a representative.

-his name is changed by Moses from Hoshea (desire for salvation) to Joshua (the LORD is salvation).

-Num. 14:6-9 After a discouraging report from ten of the spies, Joshua and Caleb spoke up, after they had torn their clothes in distress, saying; the land was an exceedingly good land, if God delights in us then He will bring us in and give it to us, the land flows with milk and honey (bountiful), don’t rebel against the LORD or fear the people, their protection has departed from them, and the LORD is with us. The congregation wanted to stone them (shoot the messenger).

-Num. 14:26-38 God swears that none of this congregation who have complained against Him will enter the Promised Land, but will instead wander in the wilderness for forty years and die there. The exceptions are Joshua and Caleb. The other ten spies died by plague, but Joshua and Caleb were spared.

-Num. 27:18-23 God tells Moses to take Joshua and publicly inaugurate him, for spiritual service, to assist Moses. “Lay your hands on him, set him before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation."

-Num. 31:23 Moses inaugurated Joshua a second time, as his replacement, saying, “Be strong and of good courage; for you shall bring the children of Israel into the land of which I swore to them, and I will be with you.”

-Num. 32:11,12 Joshua and Caleb “wholly followed the LORD.” –this was the reason they were spared to see the Promised Land. Their faith led to their good report of Canaan.

-Deut. 32:44 Moses and Joshua, at the end of the 40 years of wilderness wandering, taught the people the song of Moses.

-Deut. 34:1-12 He was probably the one who recorded the details of Moses’ death.

-Num. 27:18 He was indwelt by the Holy Spirit

-“Now Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him; so the children of Israel headed him and did as the LORD commanded Moses.” Deut. 34:9

-Josh. 1:1, Num. 27:18-21 After the death of Moses, God speaks directly to Joshua, telling him to cross over the Jordan. After that, God communicates to him through Eleazar the priest, using the Urim and Thummim. Moses’ relationship with God was unique.

-Joshua sets up memorial stones, to help the people remember God’s faithfulness (Josh. 4) and he writes their history so it will outlive him, and be a witness to future generations (Josh 8:32, 24:26)

-he faithfully circumcises the conquest generation before they cross over the Jordan, (because they didn’t do it during their time in the wilderness) and then celebrates the Passover for the first time in the Promised Land (Josh. 5)

-Josh. 3:23,24 When Joshua hears the report of the two spies who went to Jericho, he doesn’t get angry with them for making such a deal with a prostitute, when everything is under the ban; but sees the sovereign hand of God behind it.

-he met with the Commander of the Army (hosts) of the LORD (Josh. 5:13-15) This was his commissioning by God, as Moses had been at the burning bush. See Scarlet Thread.

-crossing the Jordan. He followed the instructions of the LORD and faithfully passed on the instructions to the people, “…for you have not passed this way before.” Josh. 3:4b The Exodus ends as it began, with the crossing of great waters.

-he fought alongside the people until Jericho was defeated (Josh. 6)

-he tells everyone to avoid the accursed things of Jericho, but reminds them to spare Rahab and family because she hid the spies. Then he speaks to the two spies directly and tells them to go back and rescue her as they swore to do. Josh. 6:25 says “Joshua spared Rahab.”

-he places a curse on anyone who rebuilds Jericho, and prophetically announces the personal cost on the one who does it. Josh. 6:26 fulfilled exactly in 1 Kings 16:34

-he is a great military leader and he follows God’s instructions fully, by completely destroying the people, yet not leaving them hanging past sunset, as the law required, and keeping his word to spare Rahab’s family, and to not kill the Gibeonites after his covenant with them (Josh. 8:26,29,6:25,9:26).

-as promised in Josh. 1:9 “The LORD was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout all the country.” Josh. 6:27

-he was privileged to witness a large swath of the new country’s history, having grown up in Egypt, surviving the wilderness, and settling in the Promised Land

-he received his inheritance in the mountains of Ephraim (Josh. 19:49-50) He gave Caleb Hebron as his inheritance (Josh. 14:14) A fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to Abraham.

-as a leader, he reminds the people of their history, God’s faithfulness and their unfaithfulness, and challenges them to choose whom they will serve (Josh. 24)

-he gave a farewell address which included warnings (Josh. 23).

-he was almost 90 years old when he became Israel’s leader, and died at the age of 110 (Josh. 24:29).

Bible Character Studies: Ezra the priest/scribe


Ezra was a godly man, raised up by God to be the spiritual leader during the second return to Jerusalem. He was a contemporary of Nehemiah.

He was both a priest and a scribe. (Ez. 7:6, 12) His genealogy is recorded back 16 generations to Aaron, the first High Priest (Ez. 7:1-5). He arrived in Babylon sixty years after the second temple was dedicated, 80 years after Cyrus’ decree.

He was a skilled scribe in the law of Moses (Ez. 7:6). This was no small task as life had changed a lot in the intervening 1,000 years since the law was given. But the pattern of his preparation is exemplary.

For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.” Ezra 7:10 He first studied God’s word to know what He commanded, then he obeyed, then he sought to teach others. Seek, do, teach is a great pattern to follow. Tradition says Ezra had the law memorized and could recite it from recall.

After the temple was rebuilt and dedicated, they reinstituted the appointed feasts, which they now saw as a great privilege. (Ez. 6:19-22) He was given great privileges and freedoms by the kings of Persia (second cause) because  “the hand of the LORD my God was upon me.” (first cause). He was granted everything he requested (Ez. 7:6), as the letter from king Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:12-26) records. Any Jews who volunteered to go to Jerusalem were freed to go to assist in the rebuilding and resettlement. (Ez. 7:13) The project was financed generously by the royal treasury (Ez.7:15-20). They were given discretion in spending (Ez.7:18), given exemption from taxes (Ez. 7:24), and allowed to exercise local autonomy by appointing any magistrates or judges as he saw fit to do. (Ez. 7:25).

Ezra acknowledged that all these things were done because of the grace of God moving these pagan kings to extend mercy to both him and his people (Ez. 7:27,28).

The humble character of the man is best shown when he hears about the great sin of intermarriage with the pagan Samaritans, especially that the leaders and rulers had been foremost in this transgression. He understood full well that God had justly punished them as He’d warned, expelling them from the Promised Land for taking on the ways of the people of the land, not remaining separate and holy as they were told they should. He saw how the Samaritans, who were the offspring of mixed marriages (spiritually) had drifted far from true worship. And now that they were finally back in their homeland, they were already beginning the slippery slope into idolatry.

Ezra’s priestly prayer of confession and intercession, recorded in chapter nine, is like Daniel’s (Dan. 9:1-20) and Nehemiah’s (Neh. 1:4-11) because he also used plural pronouns to include himself in the guilt of the sin, even though he had not personally married someone from there. He understood national sin led to national guilt and often national punishment. The sin of the few contaminated the many. “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” Gal. 5:9

He humbled himself, fasted, lamented, and prayed for repentance. He was humiliated. He knew they had transgressed a clear command of God’s word. A transgression is an act that goes against a law, rule, or code of conduct; an offense. They were without excuse. (Ez. 9:10-15)

He recognized the goodness of God in giving them favour in the sight of the kings of Persia, and in leading them back to the land to rebuild the temple. He had graciously redeemed a remnant and revived them. He had given them a peg in His holy place; this speaks of permanence. Now he feared they could lose it all again, and rightly so. (Ez. 9:6-9)

Ezra’s prayer of repentance was an example to the leaders, who trembled at the word of God, and they came and confessed that they were guilty, God was right to judge them. Yet they still had hope that God would forgive them, because of His mercy in the past. They supported and encouraged Ezra in the difficult task ahead of him. Only a few opposed the process of dealing with the intermarriage issue. It was thoroughly investigated by leaders in each city, and it was completed within three months’ time. The priests led by example in promising to put away their pagan wives and admitting their guilt, and presenting a trespass offering.

We’ll see more of Ezra in the book of Nehemiah.

Bible Character Studies: The Samaritans


These were the inhabitants of the land during the time of the captivity and they persisted there until the time of Jesus (John 4). The Samaritans had a syncretistic worship. Their ancestry came from intermarriage with foreign immigrants in Samaria after 722 B.C. After most of the people in Israel (north) were exiled to Assyria, a settlement of Babylonian colonists took their place and intermarried with the remaining Jewish women. These were their descendants.

Then the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel; and they took possession of Samaria and dwelt in its cities.”

 “Then one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the Lord.”

 “However every nation continued to make gods of its own, and put them in the shrines on the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in the cities where they dwelt.”

They feared the Lord, yet served their own gods—according to the rituals of the nations from among whom they were carried away.”

To this day they continue practicing the former rituals; they do not fear the Lord, nor do they follow their statutes or their ordinances, or the law and commandment which the Lord had commanded the children of Jacob, whom He named Israel,”

2 Kings 17: 24,28,29,33,34

They approached Zerubbabel and the heads of the tribes of Israel when they first returned and offered insincere requests at cooperation, claiming that they worshipped the same God as the Israelites. Ezra refers to them as adversaries/enemies. When they could not join them, although it was probably an effort to thwart the work from the inside, they then opposed them by trying to discourage them, trouble them, hire counsellors (lawyers) against them, and to frustrate their purpose.  “If you can’t beat them, join them,” in this case became, “If you can’t join them, beat them.” This legal action caused a 16 year delay. (Ezra 4:1-5) As a result, the people took more of an interest in their personal affairs than spiritual matters. (Haggai 1:2-6)

Bible Character Studies: Zerubbabel

Zerubbabel was the grandson of Jehoiachin (Jeconiah), the penultimate king of Judah. He was the rightful leader of Judah because he was in the family line of David (1 Chron. 3:17), he didn’t serve as king because of the curse on Jehoiachin’s line (Jer. 22:24-30). (This curse was bypassed in the Messianic line to Christ because His lineage was traced through David’s son, Nathan.) Therefore he is known only as the governor, a role to which he was appointed. He was the political ruler, whereas Joshua (Jeshua) the High Priest is the religious leader who is always associated with him.

His name doesn’t have the usual godly endings like ‘ah’ from Jehovah, or ‘el’ from Elohim. It means, ‘offspring of Babylon’, which indicates his place of birth. His father is Shealtiel. His mother is not named. He led the first group of Jews back from captivity in Babylon to Jerusalem. He laid the foundation of the second temple.

God through Zechariah tells them not to despise the day of small things and encourages Zerubbabel by saying, “’Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of Hosts.” Zech. 4:6b He says that as Zerubbabel has begun to lay the foundation of the temple, he will also finish it.

His name appears in both genealogies of Jesus, in the New Testament. )Matt. 1:12-13, Luke 3:27) He is also mentioned by name in the books of Haggai and Zechariah. (Hag. 1:1,12,14, 2:4,21,23, Zech. 4:6,7,9,10) In them, he is encouraged by God Himself to be strong, because He is with them. He is commended as being obedient, and also having his spirit stirred by God, to enable him to work on the house of God. God refers to Zerubbabel as His signet ring, because He has chosen him.

‘In that day,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will take you, Zerubbabel My servant, the son of Shealtiel,’ says the Lord, ‘and will make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you,’ says the Lord of hosts.” Hag. 2:23

A signet ring was a symbol of honour authority, and power. It was used to seal letters and decrees. Joseph had been given Pharaoh’s signet ring (Gen. 41:41-43,1 Kings 21:8,Est. 8:8, Dan. 6:17-READ). It was similar to a king’s scepter. By referring to Zerubbabel in this way, God was saying that he was His official representative of David’s dynasty and represented the resumption of the Messianic line which had been interrupted by the exile.

Bible Character Studies: The Prophet Jeremiah

Known as the weeping prophet (Jer. 9:1, 13:17, 14:17) He was called to be a prophet from the womb (Jer 1:5-10) and warned not to fear people. This foreshadowed his unpopular message. He is quoted in both the Old and New Testaments at least 7 times. He served as both a priest and a prophet. He was the son of a priest named Hilkiah. He was from the small village of Anathoth. He remained unmarried (Jer. 16:1-4) He was assisted in ministry by a scribe named Baruch (Jer 36: 4,32, 45:1) His ministry was primarily to his own people in Judah.

He lived a life of conflict because he had an unpopular message: Judah would be judged and taken into exile by the invading Babylonians. Specifically, he prophesied that they would be in captivity for 70 years, no longer. This 70 years corresponded to 490 Sabbath years, so that the land could finally rest since the people had been unfaithful in allowing it to rest every seven years. (Lev.26:34,35)

After that time, God would restore them to the land and a foreign king would issue orders to rebuild the temple and walls of Jerusalem (Jer. 29:10, 25:11.12) Daniel knew about this and it was a comfort to those in captivity because they knew God would keep His promise (Dan. 9:2) False prophets continually preached a contradictory message and persecuted Jeremiah relentlessly. He was threatened, tried for his life, put in stocks, forced to flee from Jerusalem, publicly humiliated, and thrown into a pit.

Jeremiah appealed to the people of Judah to repent and avoid judgment. They did not. Once invasion was both certain and imminent, he appealed to them not to resist the Babylonian conqueror in order to prevent total destruction. His ministry spanned five decades from Josiah’s 13th year to beyond the fall of Jerusalem in 538 B.C.  Jeremiah was forced to go with a fleeing remnant of Judah to Egypt (Jer. 43, 44). He may have been taken captive to Babylon when Babylon invaded Egypt. He may even have penned the closing remarks of the book, about the favourable treatment of Jehoiachin (Jer. 52:31-34). He would have been about 85-90 years old at the time. According to tradition in extrabiblical sources, Jeremiah died by stoning by fellow Jews in Egypt.

Bible Character Studies: Cyrus the Great

Cyrus the Great

Cyrus was the King of the Persian Empire in 550-530 B.C.  It was the largest empire the world had yet seen, encompassing most of the known world. He brought every nation into subjection except three, which his son later added. He defeated King Belshazzar in Babylon (Dan. 5). The first year of his reign was 538 B.C. He was born around 598-600 and died in battle in 530 B.C. His proclamation, instructing the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple was a fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy 175 years earlier (Isa. 44:28, 46:1-4). The Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus says the prophet Daniel, who was Cyrus’ prime minister read this prophecy to him, and in response he declared this proclamation. Daniel played a part in the favourable treatment the Jews received.

It also fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy of 70 years of Babylonian captivity, now at the end. God sovereignly used him, by stirring up his spirit. We know that God is the First Cause of all events in history. Here we see that “the king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” Prov. 21:1 Cyrus made an oral proclamation, by herald, followed by a written record. He commissioned the building of the second temple after Solomon’s magnificent temple had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. leading to the third and final wave of deportees.

He respected the customs and religions of the lands he conquered. This was a successful model of centralized administration via administrators known as satraps (see Esther chap. 1). In the 1970’s, the Cyrus cylinder was discovered. It was the oldest record of a declaration of human rights. He was ahead of his time. In it he declares in his own words, “I returned (the images) of the gods to the sacred centres (on the other side of) the Tigris whose sanctuaries had been abandoned for a long time, and I let them dwell in eternal abodes. I gathered all their inhabitants and returned (them to) their dwellings.”

He issued an edict of restoration. He acknowledged that the God of heaven had sovereignly given all the kingdoms of earth into his hand, and had commanded him, by name, to build Him a house in Jerusalem. Whoever could not personally go was to help by giving supplies towards it. He also released all the temple furnishings which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away and stored in his temple. These were miraculously preserved by God until this time (2 Chron. 36:7, Jer. 27:22).

Cyrus' proclamation is itself a picture of the general call of the gospel for people to leave this world and go to the Promised Land.

Bible Character Studies: The Pharaoh of the Exodus

What do we know of him?

-Scholars can only guess which Pharaoh was the Pharaoh of the Exodus. There are convincing arguments for all the names presented. Since Scripture doesn’t tell us, we must leave it at that.

-We know that in the book of Genesis, the Pharaoh (or king) of Egypt was favourable to the children of Israel for Joseph’s sake. Gen. 47:5, 6

-“Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” Ex. 1:8  This marked a change. This new king did not know of Joseph or appreciate what he had done for Egypt. Pharaoh is afraid of this large ethnic group among his people, not for anything they did, but merely because of their number. He surmises that in the event of war, they’ll join Egypt’s enemies, (even though he has no evidence to assume this) attack them and go up out of the land. So he makes them slaves to build his cities. In spite of this, they multiplied and grew. It made them dread the children of Israel more, so they worked them harder and “made their lives bitter with hard bondage.”

-He went further and we see the first recorded attempt at genocide, when he commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill all the male children when they were born. However, in civil disobedience, they defied the king’s edict, fearing God instead, and saved the male children alive. When Pharaoh summoned them and called them to account for their failure to obey, they made up a story that the children were already born by the time they arrived. God rewards this and these women, who normally would have remained unmarried, are blessed with households, because they feared God.

-They continue to multiply, so Pharaoh escalates the persecution, ordering that every male child who is born should be cast into the river. There is no mistaking his intent. Unlike the more subtle first order, which could seem to be just the unfortunate death of sons, everyone in the land, Egyptians and Israelites, would know he planned genocide of this people group.

-Into this dreadful and stressful social scenario, a son is born to a Levite couple. They hide him, sensing something special about him. We already studied what happened to him.

-This Pharaoh now has a Hebrew growing up in the palace as his own grandson. All is well until Moses kills an Egyptian. Then Pharaoh turns on him and seeks to kill him. Moses flees to Midian and doesn’t return to Egypt for 40 years.

-There is now a different Pharaoh on the throne. Ex.2:23, 4:19 After his commissioning by God and with the support of the elders of Israel, Moses takes his brother, Aaron and goes before Pharaoh with God’s demands.

-Pharaoh is arrogant. He sees himself as a god. He has absolute control over his people. He says, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, nor will I let Israel go.” Ex.5:2

-They repeat the message, but Pharaoh rejects it and orders them back to work. “The same day” he gives the harsh order to make bricks without providing them with straw, but their quota is to remain the same. Ex. 5:3-9

-Of course, they are unable to fill their quota and are beaten for it. They complain to Moses and Aaron. Moses takes his own complaint to the LORD, who hasn’t delivered His people, “at all.” Ex. 5:23

-We see that during the course of the ten plagues on Egypt, it’s recorded that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and/or that Pharaoh hardened his heart nineteen times. Both factors are at play. Pharaoh was not acting against his will. He really didn’t want to let the people go. But the plan was God’s. Pharaoh was acting in keeping with his desire to not let the people go. Yet, behind it all, was the sovereign plan of God, in order to bring about the deliverance of His people with a mighty hand.

-Even though God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, He still held him responsible. “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? Let My people go, that they may serve Me.” Ex. 10:3 Also Ex. 7:16 “…but indeed, until now, you would not hear!”

-Pharaoh is threatened by God, Himself. A scary prospect. God says, “Or else…” Ex. 10:4 which should make Pharaoh take notice. He also says, “Thus shall you say to Pharaoh, ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn—So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me. But if you refuse to let him go, indeed, I will kill your son, your firstborn.” Ex. 4:22,23

-Even Pharaoh’s servants eventually tried to reason with him and admit defeat. “How long shall this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God. Do you not yet know that Egypt is destroyed?” Ex. 10:7

-God is not required to explain any of His actions to us. “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” Ex. 33:19b

Yet Scripture lists several reasons for the plagues/hardening of Pharaoh’s heart/separation between Egypt and Israel/testing in the wilderness. Ultimately, it’s for His glory.

1. “…that you may know that there is none like Me in all the earth.” Ex. 9:14 He is the only true God.

2. “But indeed, for this purpose I have raised you (Pharaoh) up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” Ex. 9:16 He is sovereign over the affairs of the earth and desires that His glorious name is proclaimed worldwide.

3. “…that you may know that the earth is the LORD’s.” Ex. 9:29 He owns and controls the planet He created.

4. Now the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go in to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants, that I may show these signs of Mine before him, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and your son’s son the mighty things I have done in Egypt, and My signs which I have done among them, that you may know that I am the Lord.’” Ex.10:1, 2 So that future generations will hear of them and know who God is.

5. So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days.  They did not see one another; nor did anyone rise from his place for three days. But all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.”  Ex.9:22, 23 Only in the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel were, there was no hail.” Ex.9:26 “But against none of the children of Israel shall a dog move its tongue, against man or beast, that you may know that the Lord does make a difference between the Egyptians and Israel.’ Ex. 11:7 God protects His people and demonstrates His concern for His people before a watching world. And He took off their chariot wheels, so that they drove them with difficulty; and the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the face of Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians. Ex. 14:25

6. “’Then I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord.’ And they did so.” Ex. 14:4 God desires even His enemies to acknowledge who He is.

7. “And I indeed will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them. So I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, his chariots, and his horsemen. Then the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained honor for Myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.” Ex. 14:17, 18 God fights for His honor over the kings of the earth. He is the King of kings. He fights for His people.

8. “And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.’” Ex. 20:20 Trials come so we may recognize the greatness of our God and cease from sin.

Bible Character Studies: Aaron

What do we know of him?

-Aaron was three years older than Moses. Ex. 7:7

-His parents were Amram and Jochebed. She was his aunt. Exodus 6:20

-Both parents were from the tribe of Levi. Ex. 2:1,4:14

-He was Moses’ spokesperson/prophet. He was eloquent. Ex. 4:14-16

-He was possibly the middle child, Miriam being the eldest. He would’ve already been a toddler or young boy when Pharaoh’s edict was passed, so he was safe. Ex. 2:4,7

-He went with Moses to Pharaoh each time, and also before the elders of Israel. Ex. 4:29,30,5:20,6:26,27,7:10,8:8,12,9:27,10:16

-He was obedient. Ex. 7:6,20,12:50

-He was 83 when he spoke to Pharaoh. Ex. 7:7

-Wife’s name, Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab, sister of Nashon. Ex. 6:23

-Sons: Nadab, Abihu (who were killed by the LORD, Lev. 10:1-3), Eleazar and Ithamar. Ex. 6:23

-Eleazar’s son was Phineas. Ex. 6:25

-Used by God to perform some of the miracles. Ex. 7:10-12,8:5,6,16,17

-God spoke in his hearing as well. Ex. 12:1,43, 20:22

-He supported Moses during the battle with the Amalekites. Ex. 17:11,12

-He went up onto the mountain with Moses and heard the Ten Commandments and other laws. Ex. 24:1,9

-He saw God. Ex. 24:9-11

-He stood in for Moses while he was away. Ex. 24:14

-He was consecrated (set apart) as High Priest, with his sons as priests. Ex.27:21, 28:1,2,12,29,30,35,38,40,41, 29:4-10,15,19,24,27, 28,32,44,30:7,8,10,19-21,30

-Even though he had witnessed all the signs and wonders in Egypt, heard the voice of God and walked through the Red Sea, ate manna and quail, drank water from the rock, and saw God give them victory over the Amalekites, he still led the people in idolatry and did not restrain them. Ex. 32

-He voiced no argument or entreaty when the people asked him to make an idol, even after all this revelation! Ex. 32:1-4

-He even built an altar for the golden calf, and then, as if to legitimize it, he tried to associate it with a feast to the LORD. First case of syncretism (mixing the worship of God with pagan worship). Ex. 32:5

-When questioned by Moses, he blamed the people’s propensity to sin, told him their reasoning for wanting a god (that something must have happened to Moses), and therefore he should make them gods to go before them. Ex. 32:22,23

-He distances himself from the idol-making, even though he admits to taking their gold, but says, “So they gave it to me, and I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out.” Ex. 32:25 He implies he was passive, and the idol has almost a supernatural origin/it created itself. Ex. 32:24

-He didn’t restrain the people, to their shame among their enemies. Ex. 32:25

-The idolators were killed/plagued “because of the calf which Aaron made.” Ex. 32:26-35

-He was afraid when he saw how Moses’ face shone after speaking with God. Ex.34:30,31

-He was clothed in the garments of the High Priest and consecrated along with his sons. Ex. 40:12-16. 30,31