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Hadassah to Esther

Pastor Josh Combs

“Hadassah, that is Esther…had neither father nor mother. The young woman had a beautiful figure and was lovely to look at…” Esther 2:7

Orphaned, exiled, and now the “winner” of a kingdom-wide search for a new queen is how we are introduced to Hadassah. Following the death of her parents, she would be raised and cared for in the home of her cousin Mordecai. They were Jews living in exile in the land of Persia. Hadassah, meaning “myrtle,” would be brought to the palace, where she would find favor with the king and be crowned queen. The previous queen had been deposed for refusing the command of her husband, Ahasuerus (Xerxes in Greek). When Hadassah, a Jew, now known by her Persian name of Esther, reaches the heights of power, she is soon informed of a plot to annihilate her native people.

Esther had been plucked from obscurity and powerlessness to a place of luxury, privilege, and authority. Her cousin states very plainly, “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” But to intercede on behalf of her people, she will have to tread on extremely thin ice. The previous queen had displeased and embarrassed the king and was removed. If she dares to approach the king without a royal invitation, will she suffer the same fate? Will all the Jews then be exterminated? A choice lies before this beautiful woman. Either she must embrace her new Persian identity as queen, which affords her safety and privilege, or put all that on the line, sacrificing herself and her life of luxury   for the sake her people. Hadassah chooses sacrifice rather than safety. God intervenes and rescues the Jews, Mordecai, and the Jewish-born Persian queen.

The name Esther comes from the Persian word for “star” and probably is homage to the chief Babylonian (now Persian) goddess, Ishtar. This goddess of love and fertility was, according to one source, “fearsome, often violent…known as the ‘Lady of Battles.’” Hadassah on the other hand, as noted, means “myrtle.” The myrtle “is an attractive evergreen shrub or small tree…. [Its] leaves, bark, and berries are also fragrant. Manufacturers use them in making perfume.” Sacrifice is a beautiful perfume—dare I say, the most fragrant to the Lord.

From prison, the Apostle Paul writes to the church at Philippi thankfully telling them, “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18).

When you and I sacrifice our comfort, privilege, time, money, resources, and ultimately ourselves, we offer to the Lord what amounts to an intoxicating aroma that is pleasing to the Lord. It is the perfume of sacrifice. Conversely, what does selfishness or self-preservation smell like to the Lord?

Hadassah was a myrtle. More than just attractive, she was used by the “manufacturer” to make a stunning perfume.

Today’s Bible Reading: The whole book of Esther

Sources:

The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology World Book Encyclopedia

Mara to Naomi

Pastor Josh Combs

“A son has been born to Naomi.” Ruth 4:17

The book of Ruth could just as well be called the book of Naomi. The tragic and triumphant story that unfolds begins and ends with her. This widow and the mother of two deceased sons has returned home childless and with her foreign-born daughter-in-law Ruth in tow. Without protection and a financial provider, these two ladies are in serious danger of starvation. Ruth, as a young foreign woman, is in imminent danger of being sexually assaulted. But God, in the midst of this seemingly merciless catastrophe, is doing something extraordinary for the ages. A beautiful love story unfolds between Ruth and a wealthy close relative of Naomi named Boaz.

This union, however, was not unopposed. Boaz was forced to negotiate with another relative who had a greater, closer claim on the widow and all that she owned. Boaz redeemed (bought back) Naomi and Ruth, making this young Moabite widow his wife. Naomi and Ruth’s future is secure, their needs are provided for, and their safety is made sure. Yet, God’s redeeming plan isn’t over. God makes Naomi a grandmother. It is in that moment that the town no longer calls her Mara or sees her as a bitter old woman. She is once again Naomi.

The women of the town, while celebrating, exclaim, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Naomi becomes a grandmother and the neighborhood celebrates, “A son has been born to Naomi!” (Ruth 4:14–17). Naomi’s life had truly been redeemed. She would become the great-great grandmother to King David and part of the lineage of Jesus Christ. Naomi’s name was once again sweet.

This small book of the Bible is a story of redemption—a woman crushed by unspeakable tragedy brought back to a life of sweetness. This is what God does for us in Jesus Christ. Followers of the Lord Jesus can confidently proclaim, “I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25). Boaz serves as a type of Christ. Jesus redeems us from our sin, securing our eternal home in Heaven, providing all    of our needs according to His inexhaustible riches, and protecting us through the gift of the Holy Spirit. The bitterness of sin had devastated our peace and joy, but in Christ we have been given “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding” and a “joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (Philippians 4:7; 1 Peter 1:8). Naomi is a testimony to God’s redeeming power and hope in the midst of tragedy.

Today’s Bible Reading: Ruth chapters 3–4

Naomi to Mara

Pastor Josh Combs

“Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara….” Ruth 1:20

Naomi’s journey begins with great promise. She and her husband, Elimelech, and their two sons have decided to leave their home country and travel to Moab, in hopes of escaping the devastation of a famine. While in Moab, tragedy strikes and Elimelech dies.  The Scripture does not record how Naomi’s husband died, but the event was certainly devastating. Naomi has two sons who rise to the occasion and begin caring for their widowed mother. Naomi’s sons marry Moabite women named Ruth and Orpah. After a decade as a widow, catastrophe strikes again, and both of Naomi’s sons die. The Bible simply says, “The woman was left without her two sons and her husband.” With a broken heart, Naomi begins the journey back to her home country of Judah.

She is in such anguish she tries to send her daughters-in-law away: “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me?” She has become so depressed, sad, and angry that she tries to push everyone away. She sees herself as bad luck and cursed by God. Her daughters plead with her, and yet her response remains the same, “No, my daughters,” she says, “for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” Naomi is not only bitter for her sake, but also on behalf of her daughters-in-law. Orpah returns to her home, but Ruth refuses. As Naomi and Ruth journey toward Bethlehem, Naomi is returning as a completely different woman than when she left. She returns as a childless widow, culturally viewed as the most pitiable of people.

When these broken widows arrive, the Bible says, “The whole town was stirred because of them.” The women of the village are thrilled to see their friend and relative return, until she speaks. They greet Naomi, but realize she isn’t the same. “Do not call me Naomi,” she says, “call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi…” (Ruth 1:20-21). Naomi means “sweet and pleasant,” while Mara means “bitter.” No more is she sweet and pleasant company. Naomi changes her own name to reflect the dramatic change of circumstances. She’s too old to marry and too old to bear children. She is a bitter, broken woman.

Job was a hero of the Old Testament that faced similar catastrophes. When Job found himself broke and childless, he simply said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Life can and will bring great testing and trials. The decision lies before each of us whether to become bitter towards the Lord or to bless the Lord. The choice to bless and honor the Lord is not contingent on external circumstances but the condition and commitment of the heart. The choice to bless the Lord is not contingent on the state of our emotions but on the condition of our faith in the flawless character of Almighty God. “I will bless the Lord at all times,” David writes, “his praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psalm 34:1).

Today’s Bible Reading: Ruth chapters 1–2

Sarai to Sarah

Pastor Josh Combs

“And God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of people shall come from her.’” Genesis 17:15-16

In Genesis chapter 17, God includes Abraham’s wife Sarai into His covenant with Abraham, His promise that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). As God had done with Abraham, the Lord now changes Sarai’s name. Sarai becomes Sarah. With a dramatic announcement, the Lord reveals to Abraham, who was 100 years old at the time, that he and his 90-year-old wife are going to have a child. The reaction that both Abraham and Sarah have can only be described as human. They both laugh (Genesis 17:17; 18:12). The physical impossibility of this older couple having a biological child of their own is a hope that had died long ago. Sarah has ceased to have her menstrual cycle, so her childbearing years have come to an end.

Sarah overhears this news during a conversation between her husband and the Lord. She laughs to herself, but this was no laughing matter. Sarah later denies laughing at this extraordinary news, but she did laugh and God knew it. The Almighty simply asks, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14). A year later, Sarah and Abraham are the proud parents of a baby boy named Isaac, which means, “He laughs.”

Sarai’s name change and introduction into the covenant is of incredible significance. God was not simply shortening her name or making it easier to pronounce; He was changing her life and legacy. Sarai means “my princess” and a princess she was. She was beautiful, wealthy, and married to one of the most powerful men in the known world. Yet, she was childless, and bore the stigma that, even today, comes with infertility. She was simply Abraham’s princess. But God had grander plans for this 90-year-old woman. He changes her name to Sarah, which eliminates the “my” and simply means “princess.” She became not only Abraham’s princess, but a princess and a pivotal part of the promise of God. Hebrews 11:11 says, “Bwy faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.” God gave her a son, but more than that, she was mother to royalty and part of the lineage of Jesus Christ (see Matthew chapter 1).

The principle is basic: don’t laugh at God, no matter how impossible circumstances may be or how beyond reach His promises may seem. He is faithful, and in a moment He can make the impossible possible. Jesus said, “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

Today’s Bible Reading: Genesis 11:27-32; chapters 12, 16, and 20

Woman to Eve

Pastor Josh Combs

“The man called his wife’s name Eve… Genesis 3:20

God came looking for Adam and his wife in Genesis chapter 3, but they were hiding. “Where are you?” God asked. “I was afraid,” Adam responded, “because I was naked, and I hid myself.” God then asked Adam, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” It is at this moment that Adam, who already made a terrible choice, makes another. Rather than accept responsibility, Adam blames both God and his bride. “The woman whom you gave to be with me,” he complains, “she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” And just like that the spotlight of shame shines solely on the woman. She had been deceived by the serpent, who charged that God was holding something back from them. The woman had believed this lie, rebelled against God, and led her husband to do the same. She now stood before the Creator of the universe completely bare, covered only in a quickly assembled, shoddy fig-leaf loincloth and her overwhelming shame. She stood condemned and cursed for her sin.

In the midst of this guilty verdict, God’s grace and redemptive plan is previewed. Ironically, this glorious plan is prophesied in the very name change that occurs. In Genesis chapter 2, when God creates a partner for Adam and brings her to him, Adam states, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (verse 23). Her name is Woman, but after the fall, Adam changes her name. The Bible says, “The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20). Woman, meaning “out of man,” was her original name. Eve means “life.” Adam had shamed his wife, whereas now, he honors her and the Lord.

God had pronounced that the offspring of the woman would be at war with the offspring of the serpent (Satan), and that the offspring of the Woman would conquer the enemy, crush the head of the serpent, and be the ruin of the devil and his kingdom. Adam changes his wife’s name to reflect his faith in God’s promised Savior. Bible commentator Matthew Henry wrote, Adam “called her Eve, that is, life. Adam bears the name of a dying body, Eve that of the living soul.” Eve, meaning “life,” was the symbol of hope—that from her would come the Savior of the world.

In 1 Timothy, Paul writes, “The woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self- control” (verses 14-15). The promise is not eternal salvation if a woman bears children, but that each woman is a beautiful symbol of life and hope for the world. Jesus was the seed of the woman, who came “to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).

Today’s Bible Reading: Genesis chapters 1–3

Sources:
Expositor’s Bible Commentary: “Her first named pointed to her origin (‘out of man’), whereas her second name pointed to her destiny (‘the mother of all the living’).”

Matthew Henry Commentary and Gills Commentary



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