Esther 1:1-2:18; Revelation 2:18-3:6; Psalm 140:6-13
God is at work in the life of both the Church and the nation. He has a message for His Church. It is the message of the Spirit: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Revelation 2:29; Revelation 3:6). This message of the Lord concerns His Church. It also concerns the world. On the surface, the story of Esther is not a very spiritual story. Nevertheless, God is there. Amid all the talk of "twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics" (Esther 2:12), God was working out His purpose. He was revealing Himself as the "Sovereign Lord", the "strong defender" of His people. The plans of men - "the wicked" - did not succeed. The pride of man was brought to nothing so that the glory belong to God alone (Psalm 140:7-8). This is the message of the book of Esther. In order to hear this message clearly, we must read between the lines. This message may not be spelled out in detail. Nevertheless, it is there for the believing reader who is attentive to the Lord, speaking through the events of history. God's concern is that there may be "justice for the poor", that "the cause of the needy" may be upheld (Psalm 140:12). This is a concern which will take us beyond the fairly narrow and well-defined scope of the Church. God's concern takes us into the world with a desire to see the quality of life improved by God so that the people will be more deeply moved to praise His Name and live in His presence (Psalm 140:13).
Esther 2:19-5:14; Revelation 3:7-22; Psalm 141:1-10
There are doors which can only be opened by God - "See, I have placed before you an open door that no-one can shut" (Revelation 3:8). There are doors which must be opened by man - "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If any one hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me" (Revelation 3:20). This is illustrated in the story of Esther. She became the Queen of Persia according to the sovereign purpose of God. God opened the door. Nevertheless, there were doors which had to be opened by Esther. As the Queen of Persia, she had to act in a wise and courageous way in order to carry out the purpose of God. In everything, we must say, with the Psalmist, "My eyes are fixed on You, O Sovereign Lord" (Psalm 141:8). This is not, however, to be the kind of heavenly-mindedness which makes us oblivious to what is going on around us. We must keep a close eye on events. We must direct our prayers towards the fulfilment of God's purpose through the particular course of events which are taking place here-and-now. This is precisely what the Psalmist does. He sees what is happening, and he prays, "Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil" (Psalm 141:4). His "prayer is ever against the deeds of evildoers" (Psalm 141:5-6). This, again, is a combination of God opening and closing doors - "What He opens no-one can shut and what He shuts no-one can open" (Revelation 3:7) - and ourselves opening and closing doors as, looking at what is going on around us, we choose God's way rather than the world's way. Concerning this opening and closing of doors, we say, "O Lord, keep watch over the door of my lips" (Psalm 141:3).
Esther 6:1-8:17; Revelation 4:1-11; Psalm 142:1-7
In the book of Esther, we see the people of God in conflict. There were enemies against whom they had to contend. In this battle, there are victories which lead to "joyous celebration" (Esther 8:15). Such times of victory are times of "happiness and joy, gladness and honour" (Esther 8:16). Such times point toward the final victory, the glorious celebration which will take place in God's eternal Kingdom. Worship will "never stop." The Lord's people will "give glory, honour and thanks to Him who sits on the throne and who lives forever and ever" (Revelation 4:8-9). Concerning the Lord, we say, "You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living" (Psalm 142:5). He is our refuge and portion in both this life and the life to come. "The land of the living" does not only speak of the "land" which will come to an end. It speaks also of the "land" that endures forevermore. In this life, there are many times when we say of our enemies, "They are too strong for me." In the life to come, we will be fully "set free from our prison", set free by God to "praise His Name" (Psalm 142:6-7).
Esther 9:1-10:3; Revelation 5:1-14; Proverbs 30:11-23
Esther 9 speaks of days of feasting and joy (Esther 9:17-19,22-23,28). If the Jews had cause to rejoice in Esther's day, we have much more cause for rejoicing in the Lord - "Do not weep! Se, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed" (Revelation 5:5). The praise of God's people does not arise only from the Jewish nation. It comes from "every tribe and language and people and nation" (Revelation 5:9. Our rejoicing is in Jesus Christ, "the Lamb of God": "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!" (Revelation 5:12). This praise will continue throughout eternity: "To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!" (Revelation 5:13). Proverbs 30:18 speaks of things that are "too amazing" for us, things that we "do not understand." This is the Gospel. It stretches far beyond our understanding. Through amazing grace, such great things have been revealed to us. This is why praise arises in the hearts of God's people as a song which will continue for all eternity.
Malachi 1:1-2:16; Revelation 6:1-17; Psalm 143:1-12
"Come! ... Come! ... Come! ... Come!" (Revelation 6:1,3,5,7). The invitation is clear. We are to come to the Lord. How are we to come to Him? If we are to learn how we are to come to Him, we should learn also how we are not to come to Him. Malachi 1 stresses that we are not to come to Him with blemished sacrifices. Bringing such sacrifices shows contempt for the Name of the Lord (Malachi 1:6-9). We are not to show contempt for "the Lord's table" (Malachi 1:7). We are not to say of the Lord's table, "It is defiled." We are not to say of the food of the Lord's table, "It is contemptible." We are not come to the Lord's table, saying, "What a burden!" (Malachi 1:12). This is no way to come to the Lord. We are to come with "pure offerings", acknowledging the greatness of the Lord's Name (Malachi 1:11). He is the "great King" whose "Name is to be feared among the nations" (Malachi 1:14). The invitation comes from "the Lamb" (Revelation 6:1,3,5,7). Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God. He is the pure Sacrifice. He has been slain for us. He is the foundation of our worship. He is the basis on which we come to God the Father. When we cry to God, "O Lord ... Listen to my cry for mercy" (Psalm 143:1), we come to Him in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. When we plead His "faithfulness and righteousness" (Psalm 143:1), our attention is fixed on the Cross of Christ. There, God's faithfulness and righteousness are revealed to us. When, in our morning meditation, we pray, "Let the morning bring me word of Your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in You" (Psalm 143:8), we are looking, in faith, to the Christ of Calvary from whom blessing flows to us. When we pray, "In Your unfailing love, silence my enemies; destroy all my foes, for I am your servant" (Psalm 143:12), we are seeking God's forgiveness and new life and are committing ourselves to be His servants.
Malachi 2:17-4:6; Revelation 7:1-17; Psalm 144:1-8
Malachi 4:5 speaks of "that great and dreadful Day of the Lord." The Day of the Lord will be a Day of Judgment. This is not, however, the full story. It will also be the great Day of salvation. This comes through clearly in Revelation 7 - "a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb ... wearing white robes and ... holding palm branches ... cried out in a loud voice, 'Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne and to the Lamb'" (Revelation 7:9-10). This is our great encouragement as we wage spiritual warfare against the enemies of God. The glorious celebration in the Kingdom of God is the outcome of our life of faith. Saved by grace, we are victors in Christ. "These in white robes ... have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Revelation 7:13-14). That is the glorious finale of God's gracious work of salvation. Here-and-now, we face spiritual warfare. In the midst of the battle, we say, "Praise be to the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle. He is my loving God and my Fortress, my Stronghold and my Deliverer, my Shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues people under me" (Psalm 144:1-2). We, who have had a glimpse of heavenly glory, a foretaste of glory divine, now pray, "Part Your heavens, O Lord, and come down" (Psalm 144:5).
Ezra 1:1-2:67; Revelation 8:1-9:12; Psalm 144:9-15
We read of "gold" in both Ezra and Revelation (Ezra 1:4,6,9-11; Revelation 8:3; Revelation 9:7). In Ezra 1:6, "gold" is set alongside "valuable gifts" and "all the freewill offerings." "Gold" is a valuable thing. The "gold" of our lives is truly valuable when it is given freely, as a "freewill offering." In Revelation 8:3, "gold" is associated with "the prayers of all the saints." The "gold" of our lives is truly valuable when it is given prayerfully to the Lord. In Revelation 9:7, the reference to "gold" is of a different kind. It refers to "the locusts." It does not refer directly to "gold." It uses the intriguing phrase - "something like crowns of gold." This phrase speaks to us of the counterfeit, something which is like the real thing but is not the real thing. Like "the locusts", we must be "prepared for battle" (Revelation 9:7). We must be watchful. We must guard against the counterfeit. We must keep ourselves for God so that we may be presented to Him as that which is truly "gold." "Prepared for battle", we must wage war as those who trust in the Lord, "the One who gives victory" (Psalm 144:2). This is the way of blessing: "Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord" (Psalm 144:15).
Ezra 2:68-4:5; Revelation 9:13-10:11; Proverbs 30:24-33
At the heart of the rebuilding of the Temple, there was worship -"With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: 'He is good; His love to Israel endures for ever" (Ezra 3:11). Those who worship the Lord are set within the context of a world that refuses to worship Him: "The rest of mankind ... did not stop worshipping demons" (Revelation 9:20). Even when the call to conversion is sounded out clearly and often, we must reckon with the fact that many will refuse to come to Christ for salvation. His way is still the narrow way, while many take the broad way that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14). Part of God's Word to today's world is a word of rebuke: "If you have played the fool and exalted yourself, or if you have planned evil, clap your hands over your mouth!" (Proverbs 30:32). Stop answering back! Stop protesting against the Lord! Start listening to the Lord! Listen to His Word! The Lord has much to say to this generation, if only the people would listen. If the word of rebuke is heeded, perhaps, there will be a real opening for the word of salvation.
Ezra 4:6-5:17; Revelation 11:1-19; Psalm 145:1-7
Ezra speaks of the rebuilding of the Temple at Jerusalem (Ezra 5:11). Revelation speaks of "God's Temple in heaven" (Revelation 11:19). Both belong together - building the Church here on earth and building for the Kingdom of heaven. We must never be content with a measure of success in building the Church here on earth. God's calling is heavenly. We look beyond the Church here on earth. We work towards the full and final fulfilment of God's eternal purpose: "The kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign for ever and ever" (Revelation 11:15). Here, on earth, we are learning to praise God - "I will exalt You, my God the King ... Every day I will praise You" (Psalm 145:1-2). This praise will be complete in the glory of God's heavenly and eternal Kingdom: "I will praise Your Name for ever and ever ... and extol Your Name for ever and ever" (Psalm 145:1-2). However much God may bless our worship here on earth, there will always be an inadequacy about our worship in this earthly life: "Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no-one can fathom" (Psalm 145:3). Psalm 145:4-7 gives a great description of the joyful celebration, which is true worship (Psalm 145:7). This joyful celebration will reach its fullness in the glory of heaven. There, we will see the most marvellous fulfilment of the words of Psalm 145:7: "They will celebrate Your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of Your righteousness."
Ezra 10:1-44; Revelation 14:14-15:8; Psalm 146:1-10
God's people are to belong to Him alone. Influences which are foreign to the Gospel of Christ, alien to the Word of God, are to be excluded from our lives so that we might be, more truly and more fully, the people of God. This is the message of Ezra 10, as it emphasizes the sinfulness of God's people intermarrying with those who worship false gods. From our lives as well as our lips, there is to be the song of praise, found in Revelation 15:3-4. It is a song of praise which gives God His rightful place in our lives. We acknowledge Him as the holy God, the God of righteousness. We affirm that His ways are just and true. We submit to Him - "Who would not fear You, O Lord." We seek His glory - "and bring glory to Your Name?" (Revelation 15:4). This commitment to singing the praise of the Lord involves the whole of our life - "I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live" (Psalm 146:20. This lifelong commitment is not to be fulfilled in our own strength. We need the strength of the Lord. "Blessed is he whose help is the God of Israel" (Psalm 146:5).
Nehemiah 1:1-2:20; Revelation 16:1-21; Psalm 147:1-11
How do we respond to adverse circumstances? We can respond in a godly way or we can respond in a worldly fashion. "The walls of Jerusalem ... had been broken down, and its gates ... had been destroyed by fire" (Nehemiah 2:13). Nehemiah responded with faith in God: "Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem ... The gracious hand of God is upon me" (Nehemiah 2:18). "Sanballat ... Tobiah ... and Geshem" responded in a worldly way: "They mocked and ridiculed us" (Nehemiah 2:19). There are still two quite different responses to suffering. In faith, we can say, "You are just in these judgments, You who are and who were, the Holy One ... Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are Your judgments" (Revelation 16:5,7). There is also the negative reaction: "They cursed the Name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify Him" (Revelation 16:9,11). Scripture leaves us in no doubt that the better way is the way of praise - "How good it is to sing praises to our God" (Psalm 147:1). We see that "the Lord builds up Jerusalem" and we give praise to the Lord (Psalm 147:2). This "building up" of Jerusalem is more than building with bricks and mortar. It is the gathering together of the Lord's people, the healing of the broken-hearted, the binding up of their wounds (Psalm 147:7). As we consider this "building up", which is the work of God Himself, we are to "sing to the Lord with thanksgiving" (Psalm 147:7). When we choose the way of praise rather than the way of complaint, we bring delight to the Lord: "The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love" (Psalm 147:11).
Nehemiah 3:1-4:23; Revelation 17:1-18; Psalm 147:12-20
God's people faced opposition. What did they do? They kept on working - "The people worked with all their heart" (Nehemiah 4:6). They kept on praying - "We prayed to our God" (Nehemiah 4:9). They were watchful - "Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked" (Nehemiah 4:17-18). God calls us to work for Him. As we work, we must also pray. In all of our praying and working, we must never forget that we are involved in spiritual warfare. In this battle with our spiritual enemies, we can say with confidence, "Our God will fight for us!" (Nehemiah 4:20). Revelation 17:14 speaks of conflict and victory: "They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because He is Lord of lords and King of kings - and with Him will be His called, chosen and faithful followers." It is important that we see the spiritual dimension of our own experience of conflict. Satan's opposition is directed against the Lamb. When we understand our conflict in this broader context, we begin to see the way to victory. The victory over Satan is not something that we achieve for ourselves. We stand against Satan in the victory of the Lamb. Our victory is always "with Him." It is always a sharing in His victory - ""The Lamb will overcome them." In Psalm 147:12, we read, "He strengthens the bars of your gates and blesses your people within you." This is speaking of the city of Jerusalem, but we can also apply it to our own lives. Through the Lord who fights for us, we receive strength and we enjoy His blessing.
Nehemiah 5:1-7:3; Revelation 18:1-17a; Proverbs 31:10-20
Again, the combination of prayer and work is seen in Nehemiah - "I devoted myself to the work on this wall" (Nehemiah 5:16), "I prayed, 'Now, strengthen my hands.'" (Nehemiah 6:9). "So the wall was completed ... this work had been done with the help of our God" (Nehemiah 6:15-16). We may contrast the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem and the fall of Babylon - "Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!" (Revelation 18:2). The contrast between Jerusalem and Babylon - the 'tale of two cities' - is the contrast between God and the devil, between holiness and sin, godliness and ungodliness, righteousness and unrighteousness, good and evil. the triumph is the Lord's. The word of judgment concerning Babylon has been spoken (Revelation 18:10,16-17). Proverbs 31:10 tells us that "noble character ... is worth far more than rubies." Again, what a contrast there is between the rich blessing of noble character and the empty futility of worldly riches: "Woe! Woe, a great city, dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet, and glittering stones and pearls! In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!" (Revelation 18:16-17).
Nehemiah 7:4-8:18; Revelation 18:17b-19:10; Psalm 148:1-6
We are called to "worship God" (Revelation 19:10). Our worship is to be with reverence and joy. "Be still: "This is the call for reverence (Nehemiah 8:11). Alongside this reverence, there is to be joy: "The joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10). We are to "rejoice" in the Lord (Revelation 18:20). This joy is not a superficial emotion. It is accompanied by the reverence which comes from taking seriously the "woe" that is pronounced on the "great city" that lives for this world only (Revelation 18:19). Joyful worship arises from "a great multitude in heaven" (Revelation 19:1). Four times, in Revelation 19, we read, "Hallelujah!" (Revelation 19:1,3,4,6). "Hallelujah" means 'Praise the Lord.' Our praise is to be characterized by joy: "Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory!" (Revelation 19:7). This joy is grounded in an awe-inspiring face: "Our Lord God Almighty reigns" (Revelation 19:6). "Praise the Lord": These are the first words and the message of Psalm 148. The 'choir' which praises the Lord is truly astonishing (Psalm 148:1-4). Our song of praise participates in the song of praise which arises from God's whole creation. This inspires us to worship Him, more truly and more fully.
Nehemiah 9:1-37; Revelation 19:1-21; Psalm 148:7-14
In the history of Israel, we read a great deal about the history of human sin. First and foremost, however, it is the story of God's grace and mercy. Israel's sin is there in the forefront: "We are slaves today ... Because of our sins ... We are in great distress" (Nehemiah 9:36-37). Even more significant is the God of grace and mercy: "But in Your great mercy You did not put an end to them or abandon them, for You are a gracious and a merciful God" (Nehemiah 9:31). The God of grace and mercy is "King of kings and Lord of lords" (Revelation 19:16). He reigns in grace and mercy. This is not to suggest that there is no judgment. There will be judgment. People from all walks of life come under the divine judgment (Revelation 19:18). There is, however, a way of escaping judgment. It is the way of coming to the Saviour: "Come, gather together for the great supper of God" (Revelation 19:17). When the redeemed of the Lord are gathered together for the great supper of God, it will be perfectly clear that "His Name alone is exalted: His splendour is above the earth and the heavens" (Psalm 148:13).
Nehemiah 9:38-11:21; Revelation 20:1-15; Psalm 149:1-9
The Lord’s people, in Nehemiah’s time, made this commitment: “We will not neglect the House of our God” (Nehemiah 10:39). Such a commitment to God and His work is not easy to maintain. There is an enemy who opposes God and His work – “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan” (Revelation 20:2). Whatever chaos Satan may cause in the Lord’s work here on earth, we are left in no doubt about his eternal destiny: “The devil … will be tormented day and night for ever” (Revelation 20:10). Satan’s eternal destiny is very different from that of God’s people: “The Lord takes delight in His people; He crowns the humble with salvation” (Psalm 149:4) – “This is the glory of all His saints” (Psalm 149:9).
Nehemiah 11:22-12:47; Revelation 21:1-27; Proverbs 31:21-31
“At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem”, the keynote of the service was joyful thanksgiving. They gathered together “to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving” (Nehemiah 12:27). “On that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy” (Nehemiah 12:43). They sang “songs of praise and thanksgiving to God” (Nehemiah 12:46). This joyful thanksgiving is only a foretaste of the greater joy and thanksgiving of heaven: “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). In the city of God, “the glory of God” will be shining with everlasting brightness (Revelation 21:23). The Church of God will be “prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). The beautiful picture of the godly wife in Proverbs 31 gives us an outline of what God is seeking to do in His people. It is summarized in Proverbs 31:30: “A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” This is what God wants to make His Bride, the Church – a people who fear the Lord and bring praise to Him.
Nehemiah 13:1-31; Revelation 22:1-21; Psalm 150:1-6
Each day, we stand between the past and the future. In our prayers, we call upon God to "remember" (Nehemiah 13:14,22,29,31). There are two different kinds of 'remembering' here. God remembers his faithful servants. He also remembers those who have been unfaithful. As we face the future, we must be guided by both the Gospel invitation and the Gospel warning (Revelation 22:17-19). Salvation is offered to all. It is to be received by faith in Christ. There is also judgment for those who refuse to "come" to Him. Whatever our reaction to Him may be, God maintains His saving intention. He waits patiently for us to heed the call to "praise the Lord" (Psalm 150:1,6). "Let everything that has breath praise the Lord" (Psalm 150:6).