Nov 28, 2015
In the final two chapters of Nehemiah, we heard of the culmination of Nehemiah’s work— the ceremony for the dedication of the wall. The people proved that the wall could stand up to more than just a fox walking on it. Then Nehemiah went back to Babylon. When he came back to Jerusalem, he needed to right several wrongs, as the people had allowed a deterioration in the temple worship.
We now turn to the book of Esther, which may have been written by Mordecai (a major character in the book), or by Ezra or Nehemiah, who would have known this story. The king Xerxes was defeated in a famous naval battle against Greece. From the historian Herodotus we find that the feast mentioned in the first chapter of Esther was the occasion for planning that battle. Esther has been compared to Joseph and David. She also started out as just an ordinary person, but God planned something great for her.
The Jews always read the book of Esther in the celebration of Purim. Whenever Haman’s name is mentioned the people boo and shake rattles or noisemakers to drown out his name.
We return to Isaiah 40. I stopped our reading yesterday at verse 17. Three memorable musical compositions in Handel’s Messiah are taken from just verses 1-11. Today I will start in verse 12.
In chapter 4 of Colossians we heard Paul encourage alertness in prayer and making the most of every opportunity to share the Good News. Our speech should be (literally translated ‘seasoned with salt’. NLT does a nice job translating that meaningfully as ‘attractive’.
Along with other people, Onesimus was mentioned at the end of Colossians. He was the slave of Philemon. We will read that letter now. I wish that we knew if Onesimus was so attracted to the Gospel after over-hearing Paul speak at Philemon’s house that he ran away to search for Paul when he was under house arrest in Rome. Or did Onesimus just run away as any ordinary slave might do and just ‘happen’ to ‘end up’ in prison with Paul in Rome? Each story would be fascinating!
One of my spiritual fathers was Dr. Glen Zumwalt, who taught aeronautical engineering at Wichita State University and was the faculty advisor for Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. Whenever Glen had the opportunity to do a one-off Bible study, he picked Philemon. I think I heard him lead a Bible study on this book four times. He always showed how this little book is a picture of the Gospel. Philemon is in the place of God. Paul is an advocate like Jesus. And picture yourself in the position of a runaway slave.
6And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your [believing/faith] as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ.
10I appeal to you to show kindness to my child, Onesimus. I became his father in [believing the Good News about Jesus//the faith] while here in prison.
25May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with [each of you spiritually//all of your spirits//your spirit].
The shift to plural-you indicates that Paul is closing with a greeting to all the people mentioned at the first of the letter, not just Philemon. It is amazing to me that many English translations fail to make this clear.