Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: The third of three sermons on the Bible and its importance

As I begin this morning, I am asking you to dip into your historical awareness (realizing as I do that not everyone loves history) with this question.

(Slide 1) In your opinion, what has been the most important military battle in history?

No one mentioned (Slide 1a) The Battle of Salamis.

The Battle of Salamis, was fought in 480 BC between the Greeks and the Persians. It was a naval battle fought with around 1,000 ships.

The Greeks were victorious. And, according to a review posted at npr.com, historian Barry Strauss, in his book Salamis: The Battle that Saved Western Culture, asserts that the battle saved Western culture by keeping the aggressive Persians from defeating the Greeks and gaining a foothold in that part of the world. (Source: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=3489001)

I will have more to say about this battle in a few moments.

Today is the final of a three part series on the Bible and I am picking up where I left off last week with Esther chapters 1 and 2. Last week, we divided into groups and studied one portion of chapter 1 using these questions:

(Slide 2) Observation: What does it say?

Interpretation: What does it mean?

Correlation: How does it fit with the Bible as a whole? Application: How do I use it in my life? (Source: David Durey, Steps Toward Spiritual Maturity, Foundation of Hope, Portland, Oregon © 1996)

(Slide 3) This morning we conclude with the consideration that the Bible is an ancient book with a timeless story.

(Slide 4) I ended last week by sharing what I called some concerns with Bible study. I am renaming them “areas of importance.” The first area of importance, I spoke of last week, was context. It is important to study the context of the verse or passage you are studying so that you correctly understand and interpret it.

This morning I address the second area of importance, one that I am more aware of in my sermon preparation as the years go by. (Slide 4a) The cultural and historical background.

Researching and understanding the cultural and historical background can help us understand certain sayings and customs as well as seeing how the Bible does fit into human historical events.

A return to Esther 1 and 2 illustrates how uncovering the cultural and historical background allows the Biblical text to be seen and heard in a clearer way.

(Slide 5) Here is Esther 1:9, “Queen Vashti gave a banquet for the women of the palace at the same time.”

Again, we are reminded this morning that this verse appears at the end of the first eight verses of Esther 1 that describes in detail a large and long-lasting banquet (actually two) that King Xerxes gives to his civilian and military leaders. But, Vashti and the women do their own thing during the second one. Why?

How often do we go to a wedding or Birthday party and the women go do their own party and the men theirs? Granted we tend to group off that way as conversations develop, but verse 9 implies that Vashti and the other women were together “at the same time” which could possibly mean (interpretation here) that they were together for the entire time, in another part of the palace, which from the wider text of chapter 1, was seven days.

Now, as we move further into chapter one we discover, in verse 10, that at the end of seven days, Xerxes told his advisors to have the queen come and pay the men a visit. It also notes that he was half-drunk.

She refused. Trouble ensued. The King was not bemused. Why?

Well, our first thought is, that she could have been thinking, “He’s half-drunk and probably several others are as well. I am not going to go over there.” Good for her!

But there is a good possibility that there was a cultural reason for her refusal as well.

I checked several sources about this verse and all of them indicated that Vashti was a woman of character and refused to make herself her an object of sexual desire by a room full of men. Yet, in one of them, the running commentary with the electronic version of my Bible, is a statement that in Persian culture a woman would not appear in a room full of men.

Let me give a personal example.

When Susan and I lived in Kalamazoo in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the apartment we lived in (and I worked at part-time) was about two miles from Western Michigan University. We had several Middle Eastern residents in the apartment complex.

One day, I took a service call from one of the Middle Eastern students, who, I believe, was Egyptian. As I went in to the apartment, his wife entered the bedroom and shut the door. I dealt with him.

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