Friday, August 31, 2012

Kings of the Past Part 1: Every End is a New Beginning

Do you ever have a question for so long that you finally decide to dive in and discover your answers? I sure do! My latest quest is taking me deep into the history of the ancient Persian empire. No, history is not my cup of tea, but good stories are and that is what has led me here!

Why on earth would I want to study about ancient Persian kings? That is a question I keep asking myself! One of my favorite books of the Bible is the book of Esther. What is so frustrating to me about it, however, is that it is just stuck in the Bible with no real historical context given. Many of the names found are similar names to those found in Ezra and Daniel. What is difficult, however, is that many of these names are repeated in the royal lineage, so there are seven kings known as Xerxes/Artaxerxes and four individuals known as Darius and that makes things confusing! What it does tell us, however, is that the events found in Daniel, those found in Chronicles and Ezra, and the story of Esther all took place close to the same period in time. So my question has been, for a very long time, how do these stories flow into one another? I have finally decided to find out, if possible. This may be somewhat of a lengthy journey, but I will share all that I can with you!

I decided, the best place to begin is the beginning. So here is my best attempt to compile what I have read into a story that makes sense. Please remember that this is completely my own understanding of what the historical studies show and I am in no way a historian. This story twists and turns, so hang on for the ride!

The Israelites in Babylon and Old King Neb
Ok, so we all know that when Israel fell it was to the Babylonians under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar II. Much is found about Old King Neb in the Bible, most of which we find in the book of Daniel. When King Neb destroyed Israel, he did not do so entirely and he took the noble young men with him back to Babylon with him in order to train them up the Babylonian way and make good Babylon-serving leaders out of them. Daniel and his three friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were along on this ride and we find out about their experiences during this time frame in Daniel chapters 1-3. King Nebuchadnezzar married Amytis, daughter of Cyaxares the Great, king of the Medes. History tells us that she was so homesick that King Neb built her the great Hanging Gardens of Babylon to remind her of home. King Neb was also married to the great Queen Nitocris who continued his building projects and kingdom improvements for years during King Neb's insanity (Daniel 4) and even after his death. It is thought that Nitocris was the grandmother "Queen Mother" of Belshazzar that refers the prince to Daniel during the banquet in Daniel chapter 5.

Babylon No More
There is a lot of history pertaining to the fall of Babylon, and even many prophetic scriptures warning of this occurrence in the Bible. For our purposes we need to know that King Neb was succeeded by his son Nebonidus who was the father of Belshazzar in Daniel 5. Nebonidus was the last Babylonian king. When Babylon fell, Nebonidus was on a conquest in Arabia, so his son was left in charge, just as we see in the biblical account. The Medo-Persians, under Cyrus the Great, were now in control. Daniel 5:31 states "So Darius the Mede received the kingdom at about the age of 62." This Darius the Mede is most likely the individual in historical accounts known as Cyaxares II who served for 2 years as the viceroy of Cyrus in Babylon. One of Cyrus' immediate acts to prove his authority and secure his reign in Babylon was to release all of the forced exiles to return to their homeland. This event is found in the Bible in 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 and Ezra 1:1-8; 5:13-17 and is a clear fulfillment of the prophesy in Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1. Cyrus, called by name, was an instrument in God's overall plan for His people.

Now, if your head is swimming with facts like mine is at the moment, then I am happy to tell you that I am finished for today! I find it always helpful to place stories in context, so now that we have a beginning to our story!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Praying Through Our Choices

Every day we are faced with choices, large or small. Our choices lead us down the path of our life and take us in a direction. All of our choices, big and small, form our future. And whether we like it or not, our choices affect more than just our own lives. They affect the lives of those around us, our children, our friends and family, our employees or employers, whether in a positive way or a negative way. Many people often question why bad things happen. In my experience, bad things typically happen because of someone's poor choices.

So how can we avoid this? How can we live our lives as a blessing to others? Well, we can start by praying through our choices. We should always take time to pray about the choices we make, big and small, before deciding them. We should seek God's will in everything we do. Sometimes, for a smaller decision, we feel silly praying about it. But small decisions eventually become large ones. Pray for your choices of what you watch, read, how you spend your time. Pray for your financial choices. Pray for what you are going to buy. Pray before buying a vehicle or a home or other large purchase. Pray before confronting someone on a serious issue. Pray before voting. Pray before EVERY choice you make! You will find that you become more confident in your choices and make less "rash" decisions by doing so!

So today, as I am learning to weave prayer deeper into my life, let us focus on praying through our decisions.

"A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel." --Proverbs 1:5

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Winning the Gold

Today's prayer topic is perfect for the Olympics going on right now! Our focus today is on obedience. Have you had a chance to watch any of the Olympics? I have been watching as much as I can and it is astounding! What those athletes can do with their bodies is phenomenal. Here's the question, though. Did any of those individuals get to that point just because they knew the rules of that sport, or because they had read a lot about it? Did they get there because they decided they wanted to be an Olympian and signed up? Obviously, the answer to both questions is no. Every one of those athletes, when interviewed after their achievements, will claim that the only reason they made it that far was from hard work. They trained, day after day. They pushed themselves as far as they could push. They were never content with where they were but wanted to be better, stronger.

borrowed from

As Christians, we should be spiritual Olympians. We should never be content. We need to train daily and push ourselves to the limit. Here is what Paul says to us in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.  No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Does that describe you? Do you want to win that gold? If not, then that is what today is about. This discipline comes from a constant obedience to God's desires for you. We begin by having time spent in his word. We cannot be obedient if we do not know what he is asking of us. There is a level of calling, however, that God places on each of our individual lives. That is only determined by seeking God's will through prayer.

As you take time to pray today, ask God to show you what it is that he desires of you. Ask him to reveal any place in your life where you are not being obedient. Ask him if you are where he desires you to be (work, church, relationships) or if he would like you to step out into something new.

"Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules." --2 Timothy 2:5 (NIV)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Cleansing Power of Prayer

The other day I had to explain to my daughter the definition of repentance. That concept is a bit hard for a six year old to understand. The problem we were having was that she would do something mean to her brother, say sorry, then do it over again. She thought it was ok, because she said sorry. Thus, the repentance conversation.

What is repentance? Repentance is just turning from your sin. When you confess it, you are recognizing that the sin is there, that you've messed up. But when you repent, you turn away from that action and try to not do it any more.

Today's prayer focus is on Confession and Repentance. During our prayer times we must allow God to cleanse us. We must open up our hearts to allow him to show us what is wrong in there. Then we must confess those things - admit it. Then turn away.

For some, this may be a hard thing to do. It may make us feel awful to admit what is truly inside! But that is the point - as long as we leave it hiding there, it is like an unclean wound that just festers and grows! If we face the pain and shame, then the healing process can begin. Remember the study from yesterday - knowing the names of God? Today we call upon God our Judge and our Healer.

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." --1 John 1:9

Take time today in prayer to confess, repent, and heal.