How Wise Were They?

The most beautiful story in history is the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, which we celebrate every Christmas. Joseph and Mary, along with a string of other characters, remind us of how holy His birth was to all Christians. But through centuries of translations, this special event has become inundated with a lack of facts and/or misinterpretations. Let’s revisit a section of the nativity’s chain of events – that which involves the three wise men. I think it will surprise you to learn a few details never explicitly revealed in the Bible. For this blog, I will refer to the nativity story as written in the Book of Matthew 2:1-12.


Who Were the Three Wise Men?

Matthew tells us they came from “east of Jerusalem.” If we examine the historical facts, east of Jerusalem was the Parthian Empire (also known as Persia), which is today’s ancient Iran. They rivaled Rome during the time of King Herod’s reign and occupied much of Palestine.

Image of Persian Empire courtesy of Wikipedia

When the Medes (ancient Iranians) and Persians conquered Babylon, the Persians formed a priesthood of wise men known as magicians or magi. This appears to be the point of origin for the wise men, who held dual priestly and governmental authority. They were called the magi of the Parthian Empire but were NOT considered kings. (So, how did we invent the Christmas song, We Three Kings??) They were perhaps advisers to the kings.

Most residents of the empire practiced the Zoroastrianism religion, now considered being the oldest practice in the world. They believe in one universal, supreme deity, Ahura Mazda, or the “Wise Lord.” Despite their religion, they understood a new Savior would be born through the prophet Daniel’s prophecy. (Daniel 9:24-27)


Names of the Three Wise Men

Following the format of most stories in the Bible, the three wise men were never named, and only legend and many interpretations assigned the names Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. The Catholics kept the names and honored them as kings and saints, but their real names were never revealed in scriptures.

The three wise men, today, are called “Magi,” “the Three Wise Men,” and “three kings.” We’ve already confirmed they were not kings. “Wise men” translated is “magos,” which means an Oriental scientist, magician, sorcerer, or wise men. They interpreted dreams, were fortunetellers and royal astronomers. The gospel writer, Matthew, referred to them as ma’goi, or magi.


How Did the Wise Men Become Involved in the Birth of Jesus?

Many territories around Bethlehem had close links with King Herod, including the Parthian Kingdom. They knew Herod as a treacherous king who committed many murders, including his wife, her brother, and father, many friends, and military leaders. He didn’t trust anyone.

Image of King Herod courtesy of Wikipedia

The day arrived when the wise men appeared in Jerusalem, and they began asking questions around town. They wanted to know where they could find the new King of the Jews. A major stir developed because people believed their earthly king was Herod.

When Herod learned of the chatter, he became furious because he was the only king of the land. He approached Jewish religious leaders who told Herod what was written in God’s word. They told him the Messiah would be born in the town of Bethlehem:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:2

Furious at the news, Herod secretly called a meeting with the wise men. They told King Herod they witnessed a star which they believed to be the prophecy of the Jewish King. (Many Christians conclude the wise men followed the star, but the Book of Matthew only says they SAW a star).

King Herod, the conniving leader he was, acted thrilled about the magi’s news, but he was seething inside. He sent them to Bethlehem to find the Messiah.

“Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” Matthew 2:8


The Magi’s Journey

The Gospel of Matthew does not place the wise men at the birth of Jesus. It is written they arrived at a house with a young Jesus, by His mother’s side. It’s estimated He was about forty days old to two years of age, but not in a manger. They dropped to their knees and gave praise to the new Savior.

Image courtesy of FreeBibleImages.org

The evening of the magi’s visit, David, the archangel, paid a visit to the wise men. He warned them not to return to Herod, and he also told Joseph that night to pack up his family and move to Egypt for safety.

The wise men “departed into their own country another way.” (Matthew 2:12) Realizing he was snubbed by the magi, King Herod madly ordered the death of every boy between the ages of birth and two years old. He thought he would find the Messiah, but not before his death.


How Wise Were They?

I believe they were quite wise men! The word wise means having good judgment. They studied the word of God and obeyed His commands, even though they were of another religion.

Are the three wise men fact or legend? We can decipher the answer by reviewing the written facts above, but there is one profound message in their story… wise people acknowledge their need for a Savior.


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Creating Creches

Last Christmas, my wife and I attended the largest private showing of manger scenes in the world. Made of every substance possible, I was in awe of their delicate beauty. I immediately knew we would have to collect nativity sets – I was hooked! The inspiring creches represented almost every country in the world, and every cost range too.

Nativities from all over the world – images owned by Bicks Books LLC

So, this year, as we began gathering topics for the Christmas blogs, I remembered the local church’s display of nativities. Detoured from my train of thought, I began searching the internet for sets made in Bethlehem. I couldn’t believe the splendor of these handmade creches of biblical olive trees. With my mind really ambling now, I wondered how long ago people made the sets, which signifies Jesus’ birth, thus today’s Christmas blog.

It surprised me to learn Saint Francis of Assisi, in 1223, created the first nativity scene in the town of Greccio, Italy.  He wanted to make an extraordinary experience for people who attended Mass at Christmas, and others who visited the area. But, his scene differed from those we purchase on the internet because he brought it to life!

Saint Francis of Assisi

Inspired by a recent trip to the Holy Land, he set up the Christmas scene in a cave just outside of town. It featured a wax figure of the baby Jesus, costumed people playing Mary and Joseph, a live donkey and ox, which a friend loaned St. Francis.

During the Mass, Francis told the Christmas story, then delivered a sermon. Afterward, many people strolled to the cave to watch a live enactment of the sacred event. He told the story of Mary and Joseph with tears and piety, and people responded with joy. His first manger scene became so popular that others soon followed his lead.

With time nativity sets evolved into an artisan craft. Today, the oldest set remains in Italy. Constructed in 1289, out of marble, it is attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio. He was an Italian architect and sculptor whose most famous work was the bronze statue of St. Peter now placed at St. Peters Basilica.

Creche sets of the 1300s were made of marble, wood, or terracotta. They placed most of them in chapels and churches for year-round displays. The most famous of these was a set carved in wood, in 1330, for the Poor Clare Sisters at the Convent of Saint Clare in Naples, Italy.

As Christianity progressed, Martin Luther used these holy scenes to counteract the pagan beliefs of Christmas trees. The creches became front and center of holiday celebrations for Christians.

Today, the tiny town of Bethlehem, in Connecticut, boasts a restored 300-year-old handcrafted nativity scene displayed in a barn on the grounds of a monastery. Thousands of people stream through the doors to view one of the country’s most exquisite artworks, dubbed the Rembrandt of creches. A coronation gift to the King of Sardinia in 1720, this masterpiece sits in a 15 by 10-foot area. The sixty-eight terracotta figures adorn colorful silks with gold embroidery. The creche is a lasting impression, for all walks of life are represented throughout the artwork. This must go on my bucket list!

Image owned by Robert Fenton Houser

Creating creches, whether in a live show or by the loving hands of true workmanship, will always remain the resounding reason for the season. They are a simple reminder of the humble King who would grow up to sacrifice His life on a cross for sinners. Let us never forget the gift of Jesus coming to earth to offer salvation to all people.

Be blessed!

www.danabicksauthor.com

An Acceptable Christogram

Three weeks before Christmas, I can remember the annual ritual of watching my mother write her holiday cards to friends and family members. She’d sign our name and below that she wrote, “Merry Xmas.” One year, I asked her what “Xmas” was, and she told me it was short for Christmas. She used to mail about 60 cards, so I could understand why she shortened it – I’d have writer’s cramp too!

I grew up seeing both written versions of this holiday name and never thought twice of any Christian implications; after all, my mother was a devout worshipper of God. But, this Christogram (an abbreviation for Jesus Christ) became a secular upheaval called the “War on Christmas.”

Many Christians take great offense to the use of the Greek word “Xmas” instead of Christmas, for they feel it takes Christ out of Christmas. Some call it blasphemous and disrespectful to the Lord, making Him anonymous. Modern etiquette discourages using the word as an abbreviation in formal writing. Style guides for some publications such as The New York Times, discourage using Xmas unless writing space is limited.

Well, a surprise to all Christians – “Xmas” has impeccable credentials! The “X” in this Christogram  represents the Greek letter ‘Chi’ which is the first letter of the Greek word for Christ, Christos. The English translation for Chi is “X,” and it represents the Messiah. Xmas’s second half, “mas,” means mass; thus, the whole word means Christ’s Mass. In Hebrew, Jehovah also has an abbreviation.

The Christogram, Xmas, has been abbreviated for at least 1,000 years. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reveals “Christ” written as “Xp” or “Xt” as far back as 1021. So, how did this word become so prevalent in today’s times? I think we have the world of advertising to thank for this transition as Xmas fits perfectly in the narrowest of leaflets or shop windows. And it’s no coincidence the “X” looks similar to the cross. I think it is acceptable for Christians to write “Xmas” on their Christmas cards or social media sites. If faced with objections, explain why their criticism is unfounded, according to Christianity. Blaming the secularization of a religious holiday on the misconception of “Xmas,” reflects a misunderstanding of our history and language, don’t you agree?


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Flowers of the Holy Night

How often do you drive down a road and notice the plants and weeds growing along its edge? You might see them if they are shockingly beautiful, but otherwise – not so much. Would you ever think a Mexican roadside weed could become a symbol of Christmas, or be linked to Christianity?

Poinsettia, a name meaning “very beautiful,” grows as a weed in Mexico and Central America. They grow wild in a tall, stringy form, and the red flowers are actually not flowers. Similar to our Bougainvillea in the United States, its upper leaves turn red, and the tiny flowers grow in the middle of the bracts. Cultivated in a variety of colors now, an Aztec king once prized it. So, how did it become a favorite Christmas plant?

The Aztecs used to pull these weeds to make purple dye for clothes and cosmetics. They made the white sap in the stem into medicine to treat fevers. In 1825, Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first ambassador from the USA to Mexico, owned greenhouses on plantations in South Carolina. He began growing these plants and sent them to friends and botanical gardens.

Image of Joel Roberts Poinsett courtesy of scencyclopedia.org

Joel’s friend, Robert Buist of Philadelphia, fell in love with the plants when he received one. He began selling them as cut flowers, using the name of Poinsettias. By the early 1900s in America, they sold whole plants for landscaping and pot plants nationwide.

Albert Ecke, a German immigrant, increased the availability of poinsettias in America when he sent cuttings by air instead of fully grown plants by rail. By this time, the Ecke family had a profuse inventory of single-stem plants. His grandson, Paul Ecke, Jr., was strong in marketing, and he developed a brilliant idea for the poinsettias. Why not send them to early television shows so they can be a backdrop during the holidays?

So, they shipped thousands of plants to the Dinah Shore, Bob Hope, and The Tonight Show programs. The public went crazy over the burst of color on the Christmas shows, and their popularity was born. Throughout most of the 20th century, the Ecke family crop accounted for over ninety percent of all poinsettias sold in the United States. The US Congress even deemed December 12 as National Poinsettia Day to commemorate the date of Poinsett’s death.

As Christianity quickly spread across the Americas, Mexicans became the first people to celebrate the holiday flower’s Christian meaning. They saw its red leaves as a symbol of deep love and the blood of Jesus at His crucifixion. Today, the poinsettia, with its star-shaped foliage pattern, is used consistently in churches at Christmastime, for it is thought it resembles the Star of Bethlehem.

I’m ending today’s blog with the Legend of the Poinsettia for your reading enjoyment. Be sure to join us again on Sunday, November 24, for the next “Everything Christmas Blog.” God bless!

*************

The Legend of the Poinsettia

Pepita, a poor Mexican girl, had no gift to present the Christ Child at Christmas Eve Services. As Pepita walked slowly to the chapel with her cousin Pedro, her heart was filled with sadness rather than joy.

“I am sure, Pepita, that even the most humble gift, if given in love, will be acceptable in His eye,” said Pedro.

Not knowing what else to do, Pepita knelt by the roadside and gathered a handful of common weeds, fashioning them into a small bouquet. Looking at the scraggly bunch of weeds, she felt more saddened and embarrassed than ever by the humbleness of her offering. She fought back a tear as she entered the small village chapel.

As she approached the alter, she remembered Pedro’s kind words: “Even the most humble gift, if given in love, will be acceptable in His eyes.” She felt her spirit lift as she knelt to lay the bouquet at the foot of the nativity scene.

Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds burst into blooms of brilliant red, and all who saw them were certain they witnessed a Christmas miracle right before their eyes.

From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as the Flores de Noche Buena, or Flowers of the Holy Night, for they bloomed each year during the Christmas season.


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The Schwan Christmas Tree

The year was 1843, and Heinrich Christian Schwan was a newly ordained minister. Six years later, Heinrich and his new wife, Emma Blum, moved to the United States from Horneburg, Germany (a province of Hanover). The Puritan practices were all but gone in the U.S., so he was free to preach Christianity and practice his childhood traditions from Europe. Zion Lutheran Church, in Cleveland, Ohio, was the perfect start.

On Christmas Eve 1851, the first winter storm of the season hit, and Rev. Schwan decided it was time to put a tree up in his church. He wasn’t sure how well it would be received by parishioners, but he took the risk. Most of his congregation were from Germany, so he was pretty sure they had seen a Christmas tree. (The U.S. did not formally celebrate the holiday until 1870).

Rev. Schwan and his wife made the garland of colored paper and used cookies, nuts, and candles to decorate the beautiful large tree. It was important to share his happiness of the birth of the Christ Child. The next morning, as the congregation arrived for the Christmas service, mixed reactions filtered throughout the church. Some were delighted to see the tree, yet others were offended and angry.

Within a couple of days, the Schwan Christmas tree was headline news, but it wasn’t positive. A prominent newspaper called it “nonsensical, moronic absurdity, and silly.” The media even suggested the church be shunned for idolatry practices. Rev. Schwan was devastated, for he thought it expressed joy. He couldn’t believe many people considered it to be sacrilegious, so he began making inquiries to fellow clergymen about Christmas trees.

A letter arrived one day from the Imgaard family in Wooster, Ohio. Lighting a Christmas tree was part of their family tradition since 1847! So, the following year, Rev. Schwinn met with the community leaders and his congregation to share this news. He convinced them it was not pagan or wicked.

On the eve of Christmas, 1852, another tree blazed in the Zion Lutheran Church. As fate would have it, decorated trees began popping up all over town, and within five years, they appeared all over the country.

It was believed for a very long time, the Schwan Christmas tree was the first to appear in a church in America. However, we found facts that show Rev. John Muehlhaeuser of Rochester, New York, used a tree in his church as early as 1840. However, it was placed there to charge admission and raise money for his building. Today we read that they used Christmas trees in churches in Philadelphia, in 1834, and Fort Dearborn in 1804. Pastor Schwan is fully responsible, though, for gaining the widespread acceptance of Christmas trees in the church. His pastorate later continued by serving many years as the president of the Evangelical Lutheran School of Missouri.

Image courtesy of readtheplaque.com, Bryan Arnold

I would like to touch on the pagan roots of Christmas trees. Using Jeremiah 10:2-4, some Christians believe the following verse maintains their position that Christmas trees are pagan…

“Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen… For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.”

May I say the Christian belief is the Christmas tree is merely a symbol. To be considered idolatry, it has to be worshiped like God. We do not place our trust in a piece of wood – this is ridicules! Christians need to follow their conscience, though, when deciding if they want to use a Christmas tree. For sure, it should not be a debate that divides us.


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A Christmas Celestial Event

A perfect scene… a star like none other, sitting above a stable in the peaceful night, and it’s announcing the birth of a holy Messiah. The Gospel of Matthew was the only book in the Bible that described “The Star of Bethlehem” occurrence.

Matthew 2:2

“…and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

What did the wise men witness in the sky that night? Was it real? Was it a star, a comet, or something else? The magi were skilled astrologers and scholars, so their fixation was not in the stars, but on large astronomical events which they believed would predict something happening. But why were they the only men to witness and describe a star guiding them? If they were well trained then why didn’t they understand what they saw in the sky?

Many astrologers of 2,000 years ago, the Chinese, Korean, and Babylonians, documented the heavens because they placed predictions based on events. The writings recorded then, are in a constant review by our astronomers today, and theories abound. But, one thing is for sure, no answer or explanation for this divine incident is clear. Here are the details I discovered, and you may come to your own conclusion.

I know little of astronomy, but for certain, stars do not move relative to themselves. Planets continuously shift through the solar system. Based on this, how did the sacred star move, leading the magi to Bethlehem? One theory suggests a heliacal rising. The planets Jupiter and Venus lapped each other while moving through the background stars. If the sun caught up to one of the planets, the planet would disappear until the sun moved far enough away from it. Then it would reappear shockingly bright in the sky, just before sunrise. Historical records show this exact occurrence on April 17 of 6 BC to December 19 of 6 BC. But, this natural alignment of planets, sun, and earth would not create a long, extended tail to the ground such as the one described by the magi.

A second theory suggests a comet. This seems to be the most logical explanation because it can hang over a city or land mass as did Halley’s Comet on March 8, 1986. Historical astronomy records revealed a tailed comet in the timeframe of the magi’s travels, and it lasted for seventy days. However, from Jerusalem’s vantage point, the comet would have been in the southern sky with the head close to the horizon and the tail pointing upward. The magi described the “Star of Bethlehem” as one they never seen before and comets were frequent visitors in their galaxy. So, as scholarly astrologers, why couldn’t the magi tell the difference between a comet and a star? Apparently, something confused their decision.

A final theory suggests the birth of a star, known as a nova. It certainly matched the biblical description. Once again, Chinese historical records reveal a new star was born in the northern constellation of Aquila in 4 BC. During the time the three wise men traveled from Jerusalem, the star would have lit their sky south into Bethlehem and not in the west. This explains why no one else witnessed this bright star. However, the star did not move, and it certainly didn’t stand over the city of Bethlehem; nor would it have stayed bright for the one to two years they took to find Jesus.

Revealing all the facts described in this blog, I will stand on my own theory. The Star of Bethlehem was an incredible act of God and one created for a unique purpose. God can use natural law to carry out His will because He is not bound by the laws He created for this world. When you think of the whole miraculous event of Jesus’s birth, a special star is not beyond His scope.

What do you think?


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New ways

There is no end to education;
Hence, no end to learning;
Learning will only end,
If the world ends;
Which may be billions
Of years away;
Leaning is like a river
That flows nonstop;
The more you learn,
The more you know;
The more you need to learn.
It is by learning
That we acquire new knowledge;
Which means knowing new things;
New ways of living,
New ways of acting;
New ways of cultivation;
New ways of planting;
New ways of harvesting;
New ways of preserving
What we have harvested.
New ways of enjoying
The fruits of our labour.

The 8 Most Powerful Women in the Bible: Part Three

What makes a woman powerful? Is it money, fame, a political position, or is it an Oscar-winning actress? Any of these attributes may be true in today’s society, but not in biblical days. Many excellent examples of strong, influential women grace the pages of the Bible. Now two thousand years later, everyone may find much wisdom in the biblical females. Use them as a guiding tool in your personal lives and to develop a relationship with God.


Did you miss the first two parts of this series? Click HERE for Part One. Click HERE for Part Two.


Joanna the Apostle (also known as Junia)

Joanna does not have a specific story as some other women in this series. In fact, her life is pieced together by many scriptures throughout the Bible, but what an influential person! She was an upper-class Jewish woman in 1st century Palestine. Her grandfather was Theophilus, the High Priest in the Second Temple, in Jerusalem.

The earliest mention of Joanna was in Luke 8:3, where she is referred to as the wife of Chuza, a steward to Herod Antipas. They were married when she was very young, and they both maintained jobs in Herod’s royal household. I’m sure this placed Joanna in a very unpopular category with ordinary Jews. One of her husband’s duties was to make sure everyone paid their taxes to Herod.

Like Mary Magdalene, Joanna, too, had demons in her body. She was often curious about Jesus and His miracles. Would He cleanse her as well? On the days she traveled away from the royal household, she would sit as a bystander and listen to His sermons of parables. One day, Jesus directed his attention to her and spoke with conviction. As the healing miracles of Jesus’ power tell, He knew she was possessed, too, with infirmities…and so He healed her.

Joanna gave a lot of money to Jesus and His disciples. She was wealthy, well-connected, and influential, so she was able to protect Him in subtle ways. She became instrumental in the success of His mission. In this biblical age, it was scandalous for a woman to be financially supportive of a man, much less a female who came from King Herod’s house. But, she took the risk, even though she witnessed her employer, King Herod, behead John the Baptist.

Ruins of King Herod’s palace

At some point in Joanna’s marriage, she becomes single again. One can only imagine the reasons why this happened – perhaps Chuza divorced her, or was he murdered for his position in the royal home? The Bible does not state a specific cause. But, Joanna was in the ranks of the Galilean poor with no social standing or financial security, but she held her head high, turning her life to serve Jesus.

She memorized the Lord’s parables and joined Jesus in storytelling among the poor villages along with a few other women. Many of their listeners were rejected for their conversion to Christianity, so Joanna could sympathize with their feelings. Indeed she was inspired by Jesus’ teachings. She traveled as far as Rome, being a witness to the Lord. She was eventually named an Apostle.

It is spoken in scripture Joanna and Mary Magdalene prepared the cloths to wrap Jesus’ body after His crucifixion. She was also a witness to the empty tomb after His resurrection. Her love for Jesus was deep, and she served Him faithfully until the end of His life.


What made Joanna a powerful woman?

Joanna was brave and proud. She faced public condemnation by becoming single and leaving a royal household, but she held her head high amidst the turmoil and confusion. I’m sure her conversion to Christianity was a radical change too.

When she lived among the elite and wealthy, she gave her money to Jesus and the disciples. She was generous to a fault. Her high values didn’t place wealth on personal belongings, but rather to God.

Joanna was inspiring because she transitioned from an aristocratic woman to a humble servant during her life. She didn’t mourn the loss of possessions but became a witness to the strength of the Lord. Money was a means-to-an-end to serve others.

Jesus healed her ailments because he recognized the self-power she had inside her to change.

Her stewardship to Jesus and the Gospel was uncompromising, and in return, He blessed her with grace.

After Jesus’ death, Joanna became a traveling missionary. It is implied that if she died outside the Holy Land, they brought her body back to Jerusalem. In the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, they adorned Joanna a saint.


EVE

Imagine if suddenly your body just appeared as an adult. You are facing another human who looks different, and his name is Man. Everything around is magically beautiful. Objects called trees stand taller than yourself, and the ground is green with grass and shrubs.

God spoke to them saying they could eat from any fruit of the trees except for the tree of good and evil in the middle of the garden. God warned them if they ate from the tree, they would die. This scenario is precisely the one Eve faced on her creation day. I wonder what her thoughts were at this exact moment?

As she walked through the shrubbery, she saw a slithering serpent who spoke to her. (Genesis 3:1-6, NIV)

“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

Eve responded, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.”

“You will not certainly die, for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil,” the serpent retorted.

The fruit on the tree looked delicious, so she picked it off the stem and took a nibble. Then she handed it to the Man who also took a bite of the irresistible fruit. Their eyes opened wide when they realized they were naked. Ashamed and embarrassed, Adam and Eve pulled fig leaves off of the trees, sewed them together, and covered the most intimate parts of their body.

Suddenly, they heard footsteps walking in the garden, so they hid, in fear, among the trees. The Lord God approached them and asked why they were hiding. Adam spoke first… “I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” Adam and Eve hung their heads down.

Adam answered, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then Eve responded to God, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:11-13 NIV)

God sternly faced Eve and said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16 NIV)

Then the Lord God said to Adam, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:17-19 NIV)

The Lord made garments of skin for them to wear and moved Adam to the east side of the Garden of Eden, where he would work the land for food. Adam and Eve procreated, and a son, named Cain, was born. Later, another son, Abel, was born. As they grew older, their children learned to struggle, working in the fields.

Eve realized the curse God placed upon them, for life was a battle. Childbirth was unbearable, and then she endured the death of her son, Abel. The Lord punished Cain for killing Abel and placed him in the land of Nod, east of Eden, to become a wanderer. We must do what is right before God or reap the consequences.


Many misunderstandings about Eve swirl throughout the generations and since the beginning of mankind. She is held responsible for the sin of humanity by eating the forbidden fruit. Some believe she ‘enticed’ Adam to eat it, too. However, there isn’t biblical truth to this statement. The fact is, Adam did not have to take the fruit and eat it, but he did, knowingly aware of the consequences.

Eve is mislabeled with names such as “the devil’s gateway,” “temptress,“ and “wicked persuasion.” My response to any of those unwarranted titles come from this standpoint – Eve did not know of evil, nor Satan and his lies. How can she be singly be held accountable for the fall of mankind?


What made Eve a powerful woman?

Eve was the first woman, no other before her.

She is “the mother of all living,” for she is the beginning of humanity. Eve represents the maternal potential of adult women. She proclaimed the sons she gave childbirth to were created by man and God.

Eve was created with a pure heart, and her only knowledge of life came from Adam and God.

Created in God’s image, Eve carries the feminine qualities of the character of God. Her power of being a woman teaches us mankind cannot exist without ‘womankind.’


Eve’s powerful story wasn’t so much about her good qualities, but what she taught us about life and a relationship with God:

Disobedience to God leads us to follow our own will, thus unfortunate consequences. She believed Satan rather than God. How many of us, today, act on impulse versus praying to God for the correct answer to problems?

When we compromise God’s Word by blocking out or changing the parts we refuse to hear, it becomes a means to continue sinning.

If we do not resist sin when it presents itself, we will eventually give in to the temptation.


Next Sunday will be the final two women in this series. Be sure to join us!


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The 8 Most Powerful Women in the Bible: Part Two

What makes a woman powerful? Is it money, fame, a political position, or is it an Oscar-winning actress? Any of these attributes may be true in today’s society, but not in biblical days. Many excellent examples of strong, influential women grace the pages of the Bible. Everyone today, now two thousand years later, may find much wisdom in the biblical females. Use them as a guiding tool in your personal lives and to develop a relationship with God.

The last point I want to express is “behind every successful man is a strong and wise woman.” So true of these most powerful women in the Bible! I hope you enjoy my review of this week’s next two women.


Did you miss Part One? Click HERE.


ESTHER

This biblical story begins in the time of King Xerexes, who ruled from India to Ethiopia in 486 BC to 465 BC. In the third year of his reign, he gave a luxurious banquet for all his officials and ministers in the garden courtyard. His wife, Queen Vashti, threw a separate party for women in the royal palace. As he became drunk, he ordered his personal servants to bring his wife to him. She was gorgeous, and he wanted to show her off to his proteges. Queen Vashti refused to show off her beauty, and the king lost his temper at her disrespect of his orders. He wanted to avoid his embarrassment, so he ruled her to leave his premises. “Every man is master of his own house; whatever he says, goes.”

King Xerexes’ young royal attendants suggested he search the kingdom for beautiful young virgins to replace Vashti. Soon, a woman named Hadassah, otherwise known as Esther, was brought to the palace and given over to the overseer of the women in the harem. She stayed twelve months for beauty treatments and for visits with the king in the evenings. Esther soon won the admiration of everyone, including the king. He placed a crown on her head and proclaimed a holiday for all the provinces. But she had a dark secret…

Her older cousin, Mordecai, raised Esther after her parent’s death. He was a member of the Jewish community who had an ancestor captured and taken away from Jerusalem. Her rearing was in exile, and Mordecai begged her never to tell a soul.

Mordecai often walked in front of the palace, hoping to glimpse Esther. He still felt responsible for her welfare. One afternoon, he made his usual trek to the palace gates. He overheard two guards plotting the death of King Xerexes, so he quickly sent word to Esther, who told her husband. In the king’s investigation of the incident, she told her husband that Mordecai, “her cousin,” heard the conversation, but this was all the details she gave him.

Sometime later, King Xerexes promoted a man named Haman to the highest-ranking official in the government. He required everyone at the palace gates to kneel before Haman, but Mordecai refused repeatedly. Haman learned Esther’s cousin was a Jew, so he devised a plan to kill all Jews throughout the kingdom.

Esther’s maids told her of Haman’s plan, and she was shocked and scared for her relatives. So she sent a servant to find Mordecai and find out the whole story. She also handed the servant clothes for her cousin to wear, which would hide his Jewish roots. But, Mordecai refused to wear it and relayed a message to her, “Do not imagine that because you are in the king’s palace you alone will escape the fate of all the Jews.…” He encouraged her to talk to her husband.

Esther sent a strong message back to Mordecai.

“Go and get all the Jews living in Susa together. Fast for me. Don’t eat or drink for three days, either day or night. I and my maids will fast with you. If you will do this, I’ll go to the king, even though it’s forbidden. If I die, I die.” Mordecai followed her instructions.

Three days later, Esther dressed in her royal robe, visited the king on his throne. She asked him to arrange a dinner with Haman, of which he obliged her request. Meanwhile, Haman was building seventy-five foot high gallows. He would soon hang Mordecai.

The day of the dinner party arrived, and King Xerexes, Esther, and Haman gathered for the feast. The king asked Esther, “What would you like? Half of my kingdom? Just ask and it’s yours.” Her charm beguiled him. She broke into tears and revealed the horror of her people’s fate at the hands of their dinner guest. Haman was now terror-stricken. The king raged with fury and stalked out into the palace garden. He saw the gallows structure and came storming back into the banquet room when he noticed Haman on the floor in front of his wife. Haman was pleading for his life at Esther’s feet, and the king exploded with anger. King Xerexes ordered him hanged at the very gallows meant for Mordecai… and so it was done.

Later in the day, the king presented Queen Esther the estate of Haman, archenemy of the Jews. She admitted her background to him and the story of her cousin. Mordecai came before the king who took off his signet ring and handed it to him in a loving gesture. Esther appointed Mordecai over Haman’s estate. Then, she pleaded with her husband to please revoke the plan plotted against the Jews. “How can I stand to see this catastrophe wipe out my people? How can I bear to stand by and watch the massacre of my relatives?”

King Xerexes allowed Esther and Mordecai to write whatever she deemed necessary to stop the massacre on an order, and he signed it. Their city exploded with joy for Esther saved their lives. Celebration, cheering, and feasting took to the streets. Many non-Jews became Jews on this day. Mordecai also became a mighty name in the palace. The king, with love on his face, turned to Esther and said, “What else would you like? Name it and it’s yours. Your wish is my command.”

Mordecai soon released a notice calling for an annual celebration of the Jew’s freedom, and it became a tradition. He soon ranked second in command to King Xerexes for the peace and prosperity he brought to his race.


I found it interesting God is not mentioned in the Book of Esther, however, the protection of His chosen people is implied. The Jewish religion was an ethnic choice rather than a religious practice in the era of Esther. When the Bible was interpreted, many rabbis were troubled by Esther’s failure to live as a Jew, so her story suffered in its religious connotation.

Why was Esther a powerful woman?

Esther was a female hero, for women in Persia were a low species in society. Whatever power she did have was earned through manipulation of higher forces (such as her husband). Esther used her beauty, charm, and political intelligence to save the Jews. She fought for her objectives.

Queen Esther was a positive role model for Jewish women during her lifetime. She was courageous to approach the king about the death plot of her race. Her life was on the line and it was risky but Esther stood up for what she believed in, even though it was dangerous.

Though God was not mentioned in the Book of Esther, Esther used fasting and prayer for clarity. It placed her in the path of humility.

Esther is a powerful example that our background does not determine God’s plan for us, only faith. She was an orphan and lived in exile, but God brought her to redemption and freedom.

Not many details are known about Esther after the story written in the Bible. However, Jewish scholars claim she had a son named Darius who became a king. He lifted the ban against the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, which led to the building of the Second Temple.

According to Wikipedia, Esther is commemorated as a matriarch in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. She is also recognized as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox and Coptic Orthodox Churches. It is believed Esther’s son buried her, with Mordecai, in a mausoleum in Hamadan, Iran. In 2009, Iran added it as a Jewish holy site on their National Heritage List.


ABIGAIL

Image of Abigail courtesy of Pinterest

Abigail’s short, but compelling story, is in 1 Samuel 25, and written about 960 BC. It occurs in the town of Maon, a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

Nabal was a very wealthy, yet obstinate and harsh man, who owned three thousand sheep and one thousand goats. His wife, Abigail, was an intelligent and beautiful woman. One afternoon, Nabal was shearing his sheep in the wilderness. A young warrior named David was hiding in a nearby town, and he heard of Nabal’s huge undertaking. He sent ten of his men to visit Nabal; after all, he guarded Nabal’s sheep on more than one occasion.

“Go and approach Nabal. Greet him in my name, ‘Peace! Life and peace to you! When your shepherds were camped near us we didn’t take advantage of them. I’m asking you to be generous with my men – share the feast! Give whatever your heart tells you to your servants and to David, your son.”

Nabal was furious and began insulting the men while demanding to know the identity of David. He yelled, “Who is this David? The country is full of runaway servants these days. Do you think I’m going to take good bread and wine and meat freshly butchered for my sheepshearers and give it to men I’ve never laid eyes on? Who knows where they’ve come from?”

David’s men ran back to tell him of Napal’s arrogance. “Strap on your swords!” he called out to four hundred of his men. “What a slap in the face! May God do his worst to me if Nabal and every cur in his misbegotten brood isn’t dead by morning!”

Meanwhile, a young shepherd ran back to Abigail and told her of the confrontation in the fields. He begged Abigail to do something before they killed everyone. She immediately took action by gathering two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five sheep ready for cooking, a bushel of roasted grain, a hundred raisin cakes, and two hundred fig cakes. She loaded all the food on the donkeys and had her servants lead the way to David. No one could say a word to her husband.

Image courtesy of timothylutheranbiblestudy.com

As Abigail was riding her donkey into a large ravine, David and his men were descending from the other end. They all met in the middle where Abigail quickly climbed off the donkey and fell on her knees before David. With humility, honor, and respect, she humbly spoke to him of her husband’s faults.

“My lord should not pay attention to this wicked man Nabal. He simply lives up to his name! His name means ‘fool,’ and he is indeed foolish!” David immediately recognized Abigail was sent by God. He apologized and thanked her for stopping him from murdering all of them. He accepted the food she brought him and said, “Return home in peace.”

Abigail arrived home, and Nabal was eating a huge spread of food and was very drunk. She left him be… until the next morning when she told him what she gave David. Nabal’s raging face turned red, and he grabbed his heart and fell onto the ground. For ten days, he laid in a coma until God took his life.

When David heard Nabal was dead, he said, “Blessed be God who has stood up for me against Nabal’s insults, kept me from an evil act, and let his evil boomerang back on him.” He sent for Abigail to propose marriage to her, and she didn’t linger. She climbed onto her donkey and rode to David.

Abigail was David’s second wife, as he was also married to Ahinoam of Jezreel. Both women accompanied him while they sought refuge in a Philistine territory, and their life wasn’t easy. But, soon after settling in Hebron, Abigail gave birth to their only child, who was named Chileab (also called Daniel).


In case you did not make the connection in Abigail’s story, the man who she married was none other than a young King David, one of the most well-known figures in Jewish history. He was promised by God that his children would rule Israel forever. If we delve into Bible scriptures, Abigail was one of eight wives to David.

She suffered the consequences of an arranged marriage to Nabal. She could not blame or fight their choice. But, her story reveals why women should follow God’s guidelines for a partner. Though he was an abusive husband, she remained dedicated to him until God’s perfect timing played out.


Why was Abigail a powerful woman?

Abigail was a very humble woman. Though she was wealthy, she did not let her riches interfere with the welfare of her family. Not only did she save her family, but she saved David from committing murders.

She was fearless as she rode to find David and give him her offerings. It was perilous for her to face a man with an army of four hundred men.

Abigail had an attitude of humility, honor, and respect as she approached the man who would one day rule Israel. I think David knew Abigail was the kind of comrade he needed to be a successful king.

She always acted in wisdom, for God was building character in her heart. Living with an abusive man, she still grew into a respectful woman, even amid adversity.

Please join us again next Sunday for two more powerful women in the Bible. God bless!



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The 8 Most Powerful Women in the Bible: Part One

What makes a woman powerful? Is it money, fame, a political position, or is it an Oscar-winning actress? Any of these attributes may be true in today’s society, but not in biblical days. Many excellent examples of strong, influential women grace the pages of the Bible, and I will review two a week for the next four Sundays. Our ladies, now two thousand years later, may find much wisdom in the biblical females. Use them as a guiding tool in your personal lives and to develop a relationship with God.

The last point I want to express is “behind every successful man is a strong and wise woman.” So true of these most powerful women in the Bible! I hope you enjoy my review.


MARY MAGDALENE

Mary of Magdala lived in a comfortable village of many Greeks in Galilee. They depicted her as a prostitute in town. According to scriptures, the single Mary Magdalene had a serious sickness caused by ‘seven demons,’ so many people assumed she was a fallen woman. But, in biblical times, certain illnesses such as schizophrenia, blindness, heart disease, and epilepsy were thought to be demonic. The Bible is unclear what her specific situation was, but bible scholars agree she was not a prostitute.

At some point in her life, Mary met Jesus in one of the many villages He ministered to, and He healed her afflictions. She became an immediate follower and a leader of a group of women who traveled with Jesus and helped to support His ministry. Only a strong, self-confident woman would be so brave to spread the Gospel in biblical days.

Jesus had two groups of people who accompanied Him – a group of men led by Peter the Apostle, and a group of women led by Mary Magdalene. However, according to religious tradition, females were meant to be seen and not heard, but Mary, in controversy, was very close to Jesus. Just as I wrote in the past, God chooses people to be His disciples that we least expect to reach this broken world. Mary was one such example. Her great faith earned special attention from Jesus.

On the day they crucified Jesus, Mary Magdalene, along with two others, stood at the base of His cross and watched Him breathe His last breath. Her heartbreak must have been unimaginable!  In the Bible passages of Luke 23 and Matthew 27, Mary prepared Jesus’ body for burial by making a spice anointment for the linens. She observed from afar as they placed His body in the rock tomb. Mary visited His burial site every day as if waiting… did she know something?

Image of Mary Magdalene courtesy of James Tissot Collection at Brooklyn Museum freebibleimages.org

In the early morning light, the following week, Mary visited the tomb. As she sat and prayed an earthquake erupted and forced the rock away from the entrance of the grave. Mary jumped up to look inside, and it was empty! Suddenly, God’s angel appeared before her.

“Woman, why are you weeping?”

With tears streaming down her face, Mary replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

Suddenly a voice from behind her spoke, “Mary! Why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”

Not recognizing the face, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” He responded with, “Mary!” It was Jesus standing before her.

She dropped to her knees, grabbed His hands, and said in Hebrew “Rabbouni!” Jesus told her not to hold on to Him because He had not ascended to the Father yet. Instead, He ordered her to go tell the disciples he was resurrected.

Mary Magdalene at Jesus’ resurrection courtesy of freebibleimages.org

Mary ran to them and announced, “I have seen the Lord.”

It is interesting that in a society where women were held in low regard, Christ showed Himself first to a woman. Mary loved her Lord, and she was His truest, faithful follower.

What made Mary Magdalene a powerful woman?

  • She taught us to live courageously and faithfully for Christ. Jesus set her free by eliminating her ‘demons,’ and instead of going about her own life, Mary worked for Him. Even when she faced difficult times, and people called her hopeless, she allowed Jesus to work through her.
  • Mary was more loyal to Jesus than His own disciples. They hid as Jesus was led to His crucifixion, but Mary stayed with Him. She also anointed His linen with spices.
  • Mary was given the honor of being the first person to see Jesus after His resurrection. She was very important to Christ, or He would not have revealed Himself to her before the other disciples. It may be safe to comment Jesus changed the way women were viewed in society.
  • Mary teaches us that even if our lives are in terrible disarray, it is never too late to find hope in God.
  • Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends and His apostle, ostracized her work as a disciple. In the Gospel of Thomas, he said, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of the Life,” but her strength of character and love of God gave her the courage to move forward. Today, she is often called the first woman evangelist.

What happened to Mary Magdalene after Jesus’ resurrection? Much controversy exists about this topic. One theory suggests fourteen years after the crucifixion, she was put into a boat by Jews and set adrift without sails or oars. The boat landed in southern France where she lived in solitude in a cave.

Another theory claims she accompanied John to Ephesus, where she died and was buried. Some say she evangelized Provence, France during her last thirty years.

A recent book titled The Lost Gospel even claims Mary and Jesus were secretly married and had two children, but someone’s imagination was a little overextended.

Today, in the Russian Orthodox church, they know her as the patroness of sinners and penitent women. One of the world’s best-known monuments is the Church of Mary Magdalene in East Jerusalem.


HANNAH

Image of Hannah courtesy of Moody Publishers and freebibleimages.org

Hannah is an inspiring and wonderful story of humanity and all its flaws. No one is the leading character in the story of their own life.

Elkanah lived in the Ephraim hills of a small town thirteen miles to the northeast of Jerusalem. He practiced polygamy through his Levite religion. Hannah was his first wife, and he adored and loved her, doting on her every need. But, she was infertile, and his family name needed to be honored with children, so he married another woman. Peninnah was envious of the love Elkanah had for Hannah. She cruelly taunted Hannah to tears each time she gave birth to their ten sons, and Hannah lost her sense of appetite.

One day, Hannah traveled to the sanctuary, and she spoke to the priest about her inability to have children. Her soul was crushed as the tears flowed down her lovely face. She dropped to her knees before the altar and prayed.

“Oh, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, if you’ll take a good, hard look at my pain, if you’ll quit neglecting me and go into action for me by giving me a son, I’ll give him completely, unreservedly to you. I’ll set him apart for a life of holy discipline.”

Before the year was out, Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son named Samuel. She told Elkanah she asked God for this son. Hannah also explained when the child was weaned, she would present him before God, where he would remain forever. He agreed with her plans.

Image courtesy of freebibleimages.org

The day arrived when Samuel was no longer dependent on Hannah for nutrition. She took him to Shiloh along with a butchered bull, flour, and wine and presented him to the priest, Eli. “I prayed for this child, and God gave me what I asked for. And now I have dedicated him to God. He’s dedicated to God for life.”

Hannah and Elkanah dedicated their lives to God as they watched their son grow up among the priests. Hannah made Samuel little white robes cut to his size, and they took them to him. Eli often said a prayer over her on those visits, “God give you children to replace this child you have dedicated to God.” His blessings and prayers were heard as Hannah and Elkanah had three more sons and a daughter.

Today, we acknowledge Samuel as a prophet by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, an equal to Moses. He wrote the story of his life, including his mother, Hannah, in the Book of Samuel.

What made Hannah a powerful woman?

  • Hannah’s main attribute was perseverance. She prayed for many years for God to give her a child. She had faith in the power of the Lord and never doubted He would answer her prayers. Hannah teaches us never to give up, even when we think something is impossible. Her faithfulness to the Lord bled into her son, who became a great man.
  • Her boldness, strength, and devotion were like no other for she was a mother who gave up her first-born to the Lord. I’m sure most parents would rethink this decision. But, Hannah recognized all things are God’s possessions, even our children. He honors parents with children as merely a gift, a temporary gift. We are to mold them in the ways of the Lord as a blessing to all nations. In Hannah’s case, because she fulfilled her promise to God, He blessed her with a legacy of five more children.
  • Hannah’s power is also demonstrated through a promise which she kept to God. Her integrity is in the commitment of handing her child over to God. She never went back on her word, for if she did, she might never have conceived any more children. God rewards us for loyalty.

Thank you, Hannah, for teaching us we must trust in the Lord in everything in our lives. Life is not always a bowl of cherries, but with persistent prayer, miracles can and will happen. Dedication to the Master who created us, along with integrity, will reap you blessings beyond your wildest imagination.

Hannah is buried in the Tomb of Samuel in the West bank, beside her son Samuel, on top of a steep hill just north of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot.

We hope you enjoyed Part One and will return next Sunday for two more powerful women in the Bible.


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