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Evening of the 17th August 480BC

 

On or around the 17th of August 480BC, Themistocles having heard from Scyllias the Greek diver in what mess the Persian fleet was after the 3-day Hellesponter, they being scattered all along the coast in various separate anchorages, he decided it was high time to take the measure of the Persian fleet.  Now no self-respecting trierarch of a trireme would dare do battle at night, so Themistocles set out with his fleet in full battle-order in the late afternoon.  This was so that if they got in trouble they could duck out under cover of darkness, returning to their base at Artemisium.  As the Greek fleet cruised up the coast it lured out small disunited contingents of the Persian fleet, who couldn’t believe such a small Greek fleet was coming against their Armada of 650 triremes (now 450, minus 50 because of the 3-day storm, and with the 200 sailing around Euboea to the south).  It was still 4 to 1 in favor of the Persians.  But the entire Persian fleet was not coming out to meet the Greek Fleet all in one well-ordered fleet of warships.  The Greeks managed to sink a number of Persian warships before their whole fleet mustered out in battle array.  Then the Persians tried an encircling movement called the “Periplous”, used to constrict the Greek fleet, causing it to run afoul of themselves.  But then the Greeks formed their fleet into a tight circle (bows facing outward, sterns tight in together)---called the “Kuklos” in Greek, I call it the “death-blossom.”  All at once, when a signal is given, each Greek trireme “explodes” outward striking the nearest enemy ship.  When the Greek fleet returned to Artemisium that night they had sunk a number of Persian ships and taken 30 captive, boosting their own number of ships by 30.  On land Xerxes was growing anxious for a naval victory so that his supply ships could come into the Bay of Malia with replenishments, seeing he had moved his hordes into a valley where Leonidas had practiced a scorched earth policy.  It was the 18th August 480BC when he decided to move his forces against the Greeks holding the Pass at Thermopylae.  He was going to try to overwhelm them with shear numbers.  But Leonidas had chosen his defensive battle-line well, in an area where Xerxes could not deploy the vast numbers of his army.  The Medes under Tigranes were ordered onto “Leonidas’ Dance Floor” first.  What happened next is truly amazing, but quite ordinary for the Spartan warrior.  What follows are some major quotes taken from Steven Pressfield’s The Gates of Fire and Bradford Ernlie’s Thermopylae.  I couldn’t even attempt to describe for you what they did in their superb books about this battle at the Hot Gates, Thermopylae.

 

The Battle---Day 1

 

Just before the battle begins

 

Steven Pressfield carefully studied both Spartan armour and battle tactics, as well as Herodotus’ description of the battle to write this astounding description of how it must have been that first day of battle.  He literally puts you on the battlefield with Leonidas and the Spartiates, and the other Greek hoplites.  Let’s read what he had to say about it.  “The Spartans had neither moved nor made a sound.  They waited patiently in their scarlet-cloaked ranks, neither grim nor rigid, but speaking quietly to each other words of encouragement and cheer, securing the final preparation for actions they had rehearsed hundreds of times in training and performed dozens and scores more in battle.”  [p.18]…the spears of the first three ranks snapped down from the vertical into the attack.  Words cannot convey the impact of awe and terror produced upon the foe, any foe, by this seemingly uncomplex maneuver, called in Lakedaemon “spiking it” or “palming the pine,” so simple to perform on the parade ground and so formidable under conditions of life and death.  To behold it executed with such precision and fearlessness, no man surging forward out of control nor hanging back in dread, none edging right into the shadow of his rankmate’s shield, but all holding solid and unbreakable, tight as the scales on a serpent’s flank, the heart stopped in awe, the hair stood straight up upon the neck and shivers coursed powerfully the length of the spine.  As when some colossal beast, brought to bay by the hounds, wheels in his fury, bristling with rage and baring its fangs, and plants himself in the power and fearlessness of his strength, so did the bronze and crimson phalanx of the Lakedaemonions now snap as one into its mode of murder.” [Gates of Fire, Steven Pressfield, p.20] 

 

Day 1, 18 August 480BC

The battle begins, a typical battle---How the Spartan Threshing Engine of Death works

 

“As disordered as were the ranks of the enemy, so held the Spartans’ intact and cohesive.  Their forerank did not charge wildly upon the foe, flailing like savages, nor did they advance with the stolid precision of the parade ground.  Rather they surged, in unison, like a line of warships on the ram.  I had never appreciated how far beyond the interleaved bronze of the promachoi’s shields the murderous iron of their eight-footers could extend.  These punched and struck, overhand, driven by the full force of the right arm and shoulder, across the upper rim of the shield, not just the spears of the front-rankers, but those of the second and even the third, extending over their mates’ shoulders to form a murderous thrashing engine that advanced like a wall of murder.” [pp.21-22, Gates of Fire, Pressfield]

 

The result

 

“…the eye found the center, where the slaughter had achieved its most savage concentration.  Here the earth was rent and torn as if a thousand span of oxen had assaulted it all day with the might of their hooves and the steel of their ploughs’ deep-churning blades.  The chewed-up dirt, dark with piss and blood…Bodies sprawled like a carpet upon the earth, mounded in places two and three deep.” [p.24] [At Thermopylae, the bodies of the Persians would end up being 10 to 20 deep, forming tall mounds of dead hacked bodies from this milling machine of death.]   [p37, Gates of Fire, Pressfield]

 

The Battle at the Hot Gates, how one battle-line relieves another

 

“The Spartans struck overhand with their spears, again and again into the faces and gorges of the enemy.  The Medes’ armament was that of skirmishers, of lightly armed warriors of the plains, whose role was to strike swiftly, from beyond range of the spear thrust, dealing death at a distance.  This dense-packed phalanx warfare was hell on them.  And yet they stood.  Their valor was breathtaking, beyond reckless to the point of madness.  It became sacrifice, pure and simple; the Medes gave up their bodies as if flesh itself were a weapon.  In minutes the Spartans, and no doubt the Mycenaeans and the Philiasians as well, though I couldn’t see them, were beyond exhaustion, simply from killing. Simply from the arm’s thrust of the spear, the shoulder’s heave of shield, the thunder of blood through the veins and the hammering of the heart within the breast.  The earth grew, not littered with enemies bodies, but piled with them.  Stacked with them.  Mounded with them…Now the slaughter in the forefront became man-to-man, with only the wildest semblence of rank and formation.  The Spartans slew belly-to-belly with the murderously efficient thrust-and-draw of their short xiphos swords.  “The middle-rankers of the Lakedaemonians surged into the bedlam, spears and shields still intact.  But the Medes’ capacity for reinforcement seemed limitless; above the fray, one could glimpse the next thousand reinforcements thundering into the Narrows like a flood, with more myriads behind, and yet more after that.  Despite the catastrophic magnitude of their casualties, the tide began to flow in the enemy’s favor.  The weight of their masses alone began to buckle the Spartan line.  The only thing that stopped the foe from swamping the Hellenes outright was that they couldn’t get enough men through the Narrows quickly enough; that, and the wall of Median bodies that now obstructed the confines like a landslide.”…Steady gentlemen.”…“The Thespaians will only last a few more minutes.  They’re exhausted from killing.  It’s a grouse shoot.  Fish in a net.  Listen to me!  When our turn comes, the enemy will be ready to cave.  I can hear him cracking now.  Remember: we’re going in for a boxer’s round.  In and out.  Nobody dies.  No heroes.  Get in, kill all you can, then get out when the trumpets sound.  Behind the Spartans, on the Wall, which had been filled with the third wave of Tegeates and Opountian Lokrians twelve hundred strong, the wail of the sarpinx cut the din.  Out front, Leonidas raised his spear and tugged his helmet down.  You could see Polynikes and the Knights advance to envelop him.  The Thespaians’s round was over.  “Hats down!” Dienekes bellowed.  “Cheeseplates up!”  The Spartans came in frontally, eight deep, at a double interval, allowing the Thespaian rearmen to withdraw between their files, man by man, one rank at a time.  There was no order to it; the Thespaians just dropped from exhaustion; the Lakedaemonian tread rolled over them [obviously without hurting them].  When the Spartan polmachoi, the forerankers, got within three shields of the front, their spears began plunging at the foe over the allies’ shoulders.  Many of the Thespaians just dropped and let themselves be trampled; their mates pulled them to their feet once the line had passed over them.”  Everything Dienekes had said proved true.  The Medes’ shields were not only too light and too small, but their lack of mass prevented them from gaining purchase against the Hellenes’ wide and weighty, bowl-shaped aspides.  The enemy’s shields slid off the convex fronts of the Greeks’, deflecting up and down, left and right as the metallic facings of the Greeks’ shields collided with the wall of wicker thrown up by the Medes.  The enemy reeled and staggered.  The Thespaians’ spears rose and plunged.  In an instant the killing zone was obscured within a maelstrom of churching dust.” [portions pp. 53-57 Gates of Fire, by Steven Pressfield]

 

The battle continues, day one

 

“…These closed ranks and lapped shields, shadow-to-shadow.  A wall of bronze rose before the scrambled mass, buying precious instants for those who found themselves in the rear to re-form and re-marshal, surging into position in second, third, fourth ranks, and take on the station’s role and rally to it.     Dienekes had ever declared the supreme accomplishment of the warrior: to perform the commonplace under far-from-commonplace-conditions…with order, and self-confidence, each man knowing his role and rising to it, drawing strength from him as he draws it from them; the warrior in these moments finds himself lifted as if by the hand of a god.  He cannot tell where his being leaves off and that of his comrade beside him begins.  In that moment the phalanx forms a unity so dense and all-divining that it performs not merely at the level of a machine or engine of war, but, surpassing that, to the state of a single organism, a beast of one blood and heart…From where I found myself, just behind the rear-rankers, I could see the warriors feet, at first churning in disarray for purchase on the blood and gore-beslimed earth, now settle into a unison, a grinding relentless cadence.  The pipers’ wail pierced the din of the bronze and fury, sounding the beat which was part music and part pulse of the heart.  With a heave, the warriors’ shield-side foot pressed forward, bows-on to the enemy; now the spear-side foot, planted at a ninety-degree angle, dug into the mud; the arch sank as every stone of the man’s weight found purchase upon the insole, and, with left shoulder planted into the inner bowl of the shield whose broad outer surface was pressed into the back of the comrade before him, he summoned all force of tissue and tendon to surge and heave upon the beat.  Like ranked oarsmen straining upon the shaft of a single oar, the unified push of the men’s exertions propelled the ship of the phalanx forward into the tide of the enemy.  Up front the eight-footers of the Spartans thrust downward upon the foe, driven by each man’s spear arm in an overhand strike, across the upper rim of his shield, toward the enemies’ face, throat and shoulders.  The sound of shield against shield was no longer the clash and clang of initial impact, but deeper and more terrifying, a grinding metallic mechanism like the jaws of some unholy mill of murder...each warrior’s lungs pumped only for breath; chests heaved like foundry bellows, sweat coursed onto the ground in runnels, while the sound which arose from the throats of the contending masses was like nothing so much as a myriad quarrymen, each harnessed to the twined rope of the sled, groaning and straining to drag some massive stone across the resisting earth.     War is work, Dienekes had always taught, seeking to strip it of its mystery.  The Medes, for all their valor, all their numbers and all the skill they possessed in the type of open-plain warfare with which they had conquered all Asia, had not served their apprenticeship in this, Hellene-style heavy-infantry combat.  Their files had not trained to hold line of thrust and gather themselves to heave in unison;  the ranks had not drilled endlessly as the Spartans had in maintaining dress and interval, cover and shadow.  Amid the manslaughter the Medes became a mob.  They shoved at the Lakedaemonians like sheep fleeing a fire in a shearing pen, without cadence or cohesion, fueled only by courage, which glorious though it was, could not prevail against the disciplined and cohesive assault which now pressed upon them.  The luckless foemen in front had nowhere to hide.  They found themselves pinned between the mob of their own fellows trampling them from behind and the Spartan spears plunging upon them from the fore.”  [ Gates of Fire, Steven Pressfield, pp. 67-70]  “In each crush of the phalanx each man could sense the sea change as the rush of emergency passed like a wave, replaced by the steadying, settling sensation of fear passing over, composure returning and the drill settling to the murderous work of war….Somehow the warriors sensed that the Spartan left, along with the main face, had broken the Medes.  A cheer swept laterally like a storm front, rising and multiplying from the throats of the Lakedaemonians.  The enemy knew it too. They could feel their line caving in.”  [p.71]…The Spartan officer advanced into plain view of the allied reserves in position along the Wall.  He stripped his helmet so the commanders could see his face, then pumped thrice with his horizontally held spear.  “Advance!  Advance!”  With a cry that curdled the blood, they did.” [ibed. p.73]

 

the Persian archers

 

“To the rear of the routed lancers stood their brothers, the Median archers.  These were drawn up in still-ordered ranks, twenty deep, each bowman in station behind a body-height shield of wicker, it’s base anchored to the earth with a spike of iron.  A no-man’s-land of a hundred feet separated the Spartans from the wall of bowmen.  The foe now began firing directly into their own lancers, the last pockets of the valiant who yet grappled with the Lakedaemonian advance.  The Medes were shooting their own men in the back…Of all moments of supreme valor which unfolded throughout this long grisly day, that which the allies upon the Wall now beheld surpassed all, nor could any who witnessed it place any sight beneath heaven alongside it as equal.  As the Spartan front routed the last remaining lancers, its forerankers emerged into the open, exposed to what was now the nearly point-blank fire of Median archers.  Leonidas himself, at his age having survived a melee of murder whose physical expenditure alone would have pressed beyond the limits of endurance even the stoutest youth in his prime, yet summoned the steel to stride to the fore, shouting the order to form up and advance.  This command the Lakedaemonians obeyed, if not with the precision of the parade ground, then with the discipline and order beyond imagining under the circumstances.  Before the Medes had time to loose their second broadside, they found themselves face-to-face with a front of sixty-plus shields, the lambdas of Lakedaemon obscured beneath horrific layers of mud, gore and blood which ran in rivers down the bronze and dripped from the leather aprons pended beneath the aspides, the oxhide skirts which protected the warriors’ legs from precisely the fusillade into which they now advanced.  Heavy bronze greaves defended the calves; above each shield rim extended only the armored crowns of the helmets, eye slits alone exposed, which overtopping these waved the front-to-back horsehair plumes of the warriors and the transverse crests of the officers.

The wall of bronze and crimson advanced into the Median fire.  Cane arrows ripped with murderous velocity into the Spartan lines.  Possessed by terror, an archer will always shoot high; you could hear these overshot shafts hailing and clattering as they ripped at crown height past the Spartan foreranks and tore into the forest of spears held at the vertical; then the missiles tumbled, spent, among the armored ranks.  Bronzehead bolts caromed off bronze-faced shields with the sound like a hammer on an anvil, their furious drumming punctuated by the concussive thwack of a dead-on shot penetrating metal and oak so the head lanced through the shield like a nail piercing a board…“The densely packed ranks advanced not in a mobbed disordered charge shouting like savages, but dead silent, sober, almost stately, with a dread deliberateness in time to the pipers’ keening wail.”…Now come a thousand arrows. The sound is like a wail.  There is no space within, no interval of haven.  Solid as a mountain, impenetrable; it sings with death.  And when those arrows are launched not skyward in long-range arcing trajectory to bear upon the target driven by the weight of their own fall, but instead upon the target driven flush from the chute of the bowman’s grip, so that their flight is level, flat, loosed at such velocity and such close range that the archer does not trouble even to calculate drop into his targeting equation; this is the rain of iron, hellfire at its purest.  Into this the Spartans advanced.  They were told later by the allies observing from the Wall that at this instant, as the spears of the Spartans’ front ranks lowered in unison from the vertical plane of advance into the leveled position of attack and the serried phalanx lengthened stride to assault the foe at the double, at this point His Majesty, looking on, had leapt to his feet in terror for his army.  The Spartans knew how to attack wicker.  They had practiced against it in countless repetitions against squires and helots holding wicker practice shields.  The enemy line must be struck, shock troop style, and overwhelmed, bowled over; it had to be hit so hard and with such concentrated force that its front-rankers caved and toppled, one rank backward upon another, like plateware in a cabinet when an earthquake hits…Closed breast-to-breast with the Spartan shock troops, the foe’s bows were useless…The ground immediately to the rear of the Spartan advance, as expected, was littered with the trampled forms of the enemy dead and wounded.  But there was a new wrinkle.  The Medes had been overrun with such speed and force that numbers of them, far from inconsiderable, had survived intact.  These now rose and attempted to rally, only to find themselves assaulted almost at once by the massed ranks of the allied reserves who were already advancing in formation to reinforce and relieve the Spartans…The Medes had cracked.  The Tegeates and Opountian Lokrians surged in reinforcements through the ranks of the spent Spartans, pressing the assault upon the reeling enemy.  It was the allies turn now.  “Put the steel to ‘em boys!” one among the Spartans cried as the wave of allied ranks advanced ten deep from the rear and both flanks closed into a massed phalanx before the warriors of Sparta, who at last drew up, limbs quaking with fatigue, and collapsed against one another and upon the earth.”…For the first interval in what seemed an eternity, the dread of imminent extinction lifted.  The Lakedaemonians dropped to the earth where they stood, on knees first, then knees and elbows, then simply sprawling, on sides and on backs, collapsing against one another, sucking breath in gasping labored need.  Eyes stared vacantly, as if blind.  None could summon strength to speak.  Weapons drooped of their own weight, in fists so cramped that the will could not compel the muscles to release their frozen grasp.  Shields toppled to earth, bowl-down and defamed; exhausted men collapsed into them face-first and could not find strength even to turn their faces to the side to breathe.” [Gates of Fire, Steven Pressman, pp.75-78]  “The wounded enemy, in numbers uncountable, groaned and cried out, writhing amid piles of limbs and severed body parts so intertangled one could not distinguish individual men, but the whole seemed a Gorgon-like beast of ten thousand limbs, some ghastly monster spawned by the cloven earth and now draining itself, fluid by fluid, back into that chthonic cleft which had given it birth.  Along the face of the mountain the stone glistened scarlet to the height of a man’s knee.”  [ibed. Pressfield, p.80]

 

Round two, day one, the Immortals

Leonidas’ presumed speech

 

Tigranes and his Medes had had their chance and lost, their tattered remnants withdrawn from the battlefield, Leonidas’ dance floor.  What was now drawing up before Leonidas and his men were Xerxes’ chosen Guard, the Ten Thousand Immortals.  In a short speech to his men Leonidas probably told them that these were Xerxes’ beloved, the Crème de crème of his fighting forces.  “Xerxes does not want to lose these special warriors, boys.  Kill 1,000 and the rest will crack, Xerxes will withdraw them.  Can each one of you kill four of them for me?”  And that is just exactly what the Spartans did.  Herodotus memorably describes one of the Spartan battle-tactics that caused havoc among the Immortals.  

“One of the feints they used was to pretend to turn and flee all at once.  Seeing them apparently taking to their heels, the barbarians would pursue them with a great clatter and shouting; whereupon, just as the Persians were almost upon them, the Spartans would wheel and face them, and in this about-turn they would inflict innumerable casualties upon them.  In doing this, the Spartans had some loses too, but only a few.  In the end, since they could make no headway towards winning the pass, whether they attacked in companies or whatever they did, the Persians broke off the engagement and withdrew.  It is said that Xerxes, who was watching the battle from his throne, three times sprang to his feet in fear for his army.”

 

The day was ending, Day 1.  The Spartans and their allies could withdraw behind the Phokian Wall, dress their wounds, eat and get some well-deserved rest for Day 2, which was bound to be a repetition of Day 1.

 

Evening of Day 1---An Ill Wind for the Persians Blew From the South, back to the naval engagement---18th August 480BC

 

Bradford Ernle in his Thermopylae gives us this account:  “The night, too was to prove a savage one.  Yet another storm blew up, ‘with torrential rain and with loud thunder from Mount Pelion.’…When the Persian task-force had been despatched to round Euboea and cut off the Athenians from the south the first storm had blown over.  No doubt it was reckoned, on a good average estimate of Aegean conditions, that several days or more of clear weather might follow upon this first hard gale. Herodotus remarks, as with some surprise, that ‘it was the middle of Summer’—that is, that it was a very strange thing to happen…The wind that now blew up, with its accompanying torrential rainfall, was a typical sirocco from the south-east. The result was yet another disaster for the Persians at sea.  (Rightly had the Delphic oracle advised the Athenians to ‘pray to the winds.’  [And Yahweh, God of Israel was right there to answer the prayer, for he had prophecied through his Prophet Daniel that 130 years later, a man named Alexander the Great would sweep down across the Mediterranean Sea and conquer the mighty Persian Empire.  The Greeks must, as unlikely as it looked, win these battles and win this war.  With his help, and through Sparta whom he had raised up, and Themistocles, they would.  Next act of God, the Persian fleet must be whittled down.]  The 200 ship force which, showing remarkable speed, had nearly rounded Euboea was caught off the area known as ‘the Hollows’ near Carystus, at the very southern end of the island.  A few hours more and they would have been into the Euboea Channel but, as it happened, they could not have been in a worse place when the roaring southerly struck.  ‘It found them in the open sea—and miserable was their end.  The storm and rain caught them…and every ship, unable to see where they were going for the rain, was forced to drive before the wind and ran upon the rocks.’ …But of one thing there can be absolutely no doubt; they never rounded Euboea.  The southerly gale finally put paid to the clever, but always risky stratagem of dispatching the 200 ships to take the Athenians in the rear.  Of this we can be quite certain, for the fifty-three Athenian ships which had been guarding the approaches by Chalcis picked up some of the storm-shattered advance-guard of the Persians, interrogated them and, having discovered the extent of the disaster, the Athenians promptly sailed north to join Themistocles at Artemisium...The southerly that had wreaked havoc on the enemies boosted the Athenians up the Euripus Channel to give Themistocles fifty-three new vessels at the very moment that he most needed them.  Emboldened by this great good news the reinforced Athenian fleet (and this time, one imagines, there were no protests from Eurybiades) proceeded to adopt the same hit-and-run tactics they had found fruitful before.”  [Thermopylae, Bradford Ernle, pp. 130-131] 

 

End of Day 1, Artemisium

 

This very same storm coming from the south (which was unusual) that had just destroyed the 200 Persian triremes that were attempting to round the southern tip of Euboea left the Persian fleet in the north huddled around Aphetae.  At this  moment Themistocles and his naval commanders came out of the blue and struck the unexpecting Persians, and again withdrawing as darkness fell.  It was a small victory, but the Greek navy was learning how to take on the Persian navy, and learning how to use their slower but more devastating triremes against the lighter, faster and more maneuverable Persian ships.  This marked the end of Day 1.

 

19th August, Xerxes army, Day Two at Thermopylae

 

Bradford Ernle describes day two in the Pass:  “On the morning of this day, 19 August, Xerxes threw in fresh crack troops, encouraging them with lavish promises of the rewards that would be theirs if they succeeded, but dire warnings of what would happen to them if they failed.  He had calculated also that since the Greeks ‘were so few in number, they would be too exhausted and too worn down by wounds to put up much of a resistance.’  The Great King was to be bitterly disappointed.  The Greeks, as we have seen—with the exception of the Phokians guarding the pass—were organised in divisions according to their states [officered by the 300 Spartiates, of course] and, in the intervals between the attacks, were able to replace the narrow front line with men who had come up fresh (or as much so as possible) from behind.  To judge from a later observation of Herodotus, it seems likely that even by this second day the Persian morale was so low that they had to be driven forward by the whips of overseers (military police have never been over-popular!).  In the confusion of those in front trying to turn back from the bronze wall bristling with spears and those at the back running forward to escape the blows across their shoulders the chaos was complete.  Yard upon yard in front of the Greek line was piled with slain and wounded while the sickly sweet smell of death was everywhere on the air.  ‘So, finding that they were doing no better than on the previous day, the Persians again withdrew.’ [Thermopylae, Bradford Ernle, p. 132]  By the end of Day 2 Xerxes is getting worried.  He can’t even get supply ships into the Bay of Malia to resupply his army, and this Spartan king’s army is chewing through his army like a road-grader chews up tar roads and spits out the pieces at the other end in chunks.  Something’s got to break, and up to this point it’s been his army that’s been breaking. 

 

Ephialtes and over the mountain

 

At this gloomy moment for the Great King Xerxes, in walks a Greek whose name is etched into the Greek consciousness as the word that is listed as a synonym in Greek dictionaries for the word “traitor.”  Ephialtes knew exactly where to get on “the Beautiful Running Track” at the Asopus River, and where exactly to head down off it to the road between the Phokian Wall and the town of Alpeni.  Immediately, without wasting a moment, Xerxes summoned Hydarnes, commanding general of the Immortals.  This mountain trek was well-suited to the type training and warfare the Immortals were used to.  They waited until after dark to embark, so as to avoid being seen by any observant Greek scouts.  As they were moving swiftly along the path they came upon the Phokian contingent of hoplites---sleeping, with their armour off!  In a hail of arrows being fired by the advancing Persians, the Phokians all fled to a nearby mountaintop.  They were quite literally caught with their pants down.  Ephialtes himself led Hydarnes and the Immortals as they circumvented Leonidas’ forces. “By this path, then,” Herodotus continues, “having crossed the Asopus, the Persians marched all night.  They had on their right the mountains of the Oeitians and on their left those of the Trachinians.  By the time they reached to top of the mountain dawn was just breaking.”  One deserter, an Ionian Greek by the name of Tyrrhastiadas, escaped and told Leonidas he was about to be outflanked by Hydarnes and the Immortals, who would be coming off the Mountain around mid-day.

 

Leonidas’ last speech to his men

 

With the knowledge that Hydarnes and his Immortals were about to circumvent their position Leonidas made a crucial decision to send all but his chosen 300 Spartiate Knights back home to Greece and the Isthmus line at Corinth.  The Thespians (700 hoplites) and Thebans (400 hoplites) decided to stay and fight alongside Leonidas and his 300 Spartiates.  Leonidas probably would have said something like this in his booming voice, for all his beloved Spartiates to hear:  “If we cut and run now, men, regardless of the glorious victories we have achieved up to this point in time, everything we’ve accomplished up to this point in time will be looked upon as a big defeat---demonstrating to the rest of all Hellas the utter futility of resisting Xerxes and his Persian Hordes.  But if we stand and fight, and die with honor, we will transform defeat into victory.  Our allied brothers I am sending home, with their precious knowledge of how to fight and defeat the Persian.  The victory will be theirs, not ours.  We must at all costs cover their retreat south.  If we fail to do this, Xerxes’ cavalry will sweep past us through the Gates and run down our comrades-in-arms before they’ve gotten ten miles.  We must tie up the enemy which will be coming at us from both sides, for as long as we can.  We must, according to our Laws of Lycurgus, hold and die.”

 



Raid on the Great King’s Tent (evening Day 2)

 

According to Diodorus, Leonidas did one other thing.  He carried out a raid on Xerxes’ tent, probably traveling along a mountaintop pass like the one the Immortals were using, maybe the same one.  This probably did occur, but Leonidas would not have gone on this raid---the laws of Lycurgus wouldn’t have allowed it.  He had to stay with his men, to stand and die.  But he would have dispatched a band of Spartan Rangers to attempt the raid on Xerxes tent to assassinate him.  Rumour has it they did succeed, but Xerxes tent was like the size of a small town, and he was never located.  As we’ll see, Xerxes has to make it back to Susa in Persia, alive and well, and before December 480BC.  Two of his brothers never made it back alive, they were killed by Leonidas’ men in battle.  In December Xerxes, unbeknownst to him, had a date with a beautiful Jewish princess named Esther.  But that’s getting ahead of the story.  The force that would remain probably didn’t number more than 2,000 (400 Thebans, 700 Thespians and 300 Spartiate Knights, not counting the losses they had suffered).  Hydarnes and his Immortals would be coming off the “Beautiful Running Track” in late morning to early afternoon.  The Spartans, with their great helmets placed near them found time to groom their long hair before the battle---something they always did.  Leonidas probably affectionately said to them: “Have a good breakfast, men, for we dine in Hades!”  It was probably between 9 and 10am when Xerxes ordered his troops to cross the plain leading to the Hot Gates.  Within a few hours Hydarnes and the Immortals would be coming around the rear of the Pass, outflanking Leonidas.  Leonidas, in a move designed to kill as many Persians as possible while he yet had time, ordered his men to move out into the wider part of the Pass, so as to engage as many of the Persian foe as was possible.  As a result, multiple thousands more would die before he and his men were outflanked from the rear by Hydarnes.  Leonidas wanted to send a last message to Sparta. He asked one of his Spartiates but the man answered him “I came here to fight not to act as a messenger.”  The king turned to another who answered him “I shall do my duty better by staying here, and in that way the news will be better.”  It is thought that a Helot finally took Leonidas’ last dispatch back to Sparta. 

 

Second evening, final decisions

 

“It is said that Leonidas himself dismissed them in order to spare their lives.  As for the Spartans it would be not in their code for them to desert the post which they had been entrusted to guard.”

 

 

Last stand of the 300

 

“The first attack now developed and ‘many of the invaders fell, while the company commanders behind them drove them forward, plying their whips relentlessly.’…‘Many of them were driven into the sea and drowned, while still more were trampled under foot by their own comrades.  No one could count the number of dead.’  As the attack carried on relentlessly, many of the Greeks’ spears were broken, and it was now that they drew their swords [Xiphos] and came up hand to hand against the enemy. Helmets and shields dented and cut about, the brave plumes slashed away, the Spartans still fought on.  ‘During this part of the action Leonidas was killed, having fought most gallantly…A savage battle now developed over the king’s body, the Persians being determined to seize so valuable a trophy while the Spartans were even more determined to deny it to them.  Four times the Greeks drove the enemy off, finally managing to drag the king back within their ranks.  Among the many Persian dead ‘of high distinction’ who fell fighting over the body of Leonidas were two brothers of Xerxes, sons of Darius.  Then came the moment which the Greeks had long been anticipating, the cry from a sentry at their rear: ‘Here they come!’   Hydarnes and the Immortals were in sight.” Herodotus tells of the very last stand:

‘They drew back again into the narrow neck of the Pass and formed themselves into a compact body all together—with the exception of the Thebans—and took up their stance on the Mound.  This is the hillock at the entrance where now stands the stone lion in memory of the Lion’s Son.  In this place they defended themselves to the last, with their swords, if they still had them, and if not even with their hands and teeth.  Then the Persians from the front, piling over the ruined wall, and those who closed in from behind, overwhelmed them with missiles.’

“The last word is significant; in Greek literally, ‘thrown things,’ presumably arrows, javelins and even lumps of rock.  To the very last the Persians kept their distance from these dying and indomitable men.  The Spartan Dienikes (he who had made the remark about ‘fighting in the shade’ if the arrows of the invaders darkened the sun) is especially singled out for praise, as well as two Spartan brothers, Alpheus and Maron, and above all a certain Thespian with the Bacchanalian name of Dithyrambos.  The Thespians, like the Spartans, died to a man…By midday it must have been over.  Xerxes was now free to inspect the battlefield, noting as he did so, the immense number of men the Spartans and their allies had cost him [20,000 dead on the Persian side].  He ordered them to be buried so that the troops following up behind would not suffer a loss of morale through the evidence of what a handful of Greeks could do…” [Thermopylae, Bradford Ernle, pp. 141-142]

 

Day Three, Corresponding Naval Engagement

 

The Persian army was through the Pass.  A 30-oared cutter had been hanging around the shore at Thermopylae until the commander whose job it was to maintain liaison between Leonidas and Themistocles knew the battle at the Pass was lost.  He then set out with all haste to inform Themistocles.  The Persian fleet, probably under the coordinating orders of Xerxes, knowing the Pass would be turned by Hydarnes, ordered his fleet to gather together for a concerted attack against the Greek fleet at sea.

 

 

Day Three: Final Naval Battle at Artemisium---the Greeks hold their own against the Persian fleet

 

Bradford Ernle tells us in his Thermopylae: “It was essential to the Persian master-plan that the army and fleet should work in concert together and, once it was clear that the pass would be breached that day, the word had gone to the fleet to take action against the Greeks at Artemisium.  The failure of the force sent to round Euboea and take them from the south had been a considerable setback; what was now needed was a major fleet action where the Persian superiority in numbers must, so it seemed, inevitably win the day.  [Yeah, right]  By now they will have completed their re-fitting and, even if it is correct that none of the Euboea squadron returned to join the fleet, the Persians still had a considerable edge in numbers over the Athenians and the allies.  Allowing for losses on both sides, the Persians would still seem to have had some 450 ships (possibly more) while the Greeks, even after the squadron from the south with its 53 fresh triremes had joined them, can scarcely have had more than 300.” [probably closer to 200 Greek triremes]…the Persian objective must have been to clear the Greeks out of their way in order to secure the Euripus (the Euboea Channel) while correspondingly the Greek objective must have been to deny it to them.  The Greeks will not have been ‘by Artemisium’ as Herodotus says, but farther west where they could oppose the enemy in the strait, most probably with their lead ships pointing towards the Gulf of Pagasae and their wings laid back so as to form a crescent-moon formation.  At about noon—somewhere near the hour when the Spartans were making their last stand on the mound—the Persian fleet, having completed their preparations, moved out from Aphetae.  They were also in a crescent formation but, with their superiority of numbers, they will have been able to throw their wings forward, the object being to envelop the Greek wings and constrict the smaller fleet in upon itself.  On that hot bright summer afternoon the initial collision must have exploded across the bay.  Trireme met trireme head on, the great bronze rams crashing against one another like prehistoric beasts in combat, the forward oars snapping off as an enemy insinuated himself one side, and the marines on both sides standing ready to board, or fighting across the interlocked bows of their ships.  As has been seen, at this stage in naval warfare, once the initial maneuvering was over and the ships had been engaged, what developed was a miniature land-battle between ship and ship…Nevertheless, things did not go all one way, for if they had, Artemisium would have gone on record as the Greek defeat that led to an over-all victory for Xerxes.  As it was, a fact which is well commemorated by Plutarch and Pindar, Artemisium—though something of a stalemate—had produced the desired effect of compelling the enemy to withdraw.  ‘Both sides were glad when they parted and made all speed back to their moorings.’  Far from being pursued, the Greeks even seem to have found the time on the way back to their station to collect their dead from the water and to salvage some of the wreckage.”  [Thermopylae, Bradford Ernle, pp. 144-145] 

 

With Defeat at the Hot Gates, the Army-Navy Thermopylae-Artemisium Line becomes untenable

 

“The Greeks found that the people of Euboea had decided on evacuation and, with this in mind, had driven their sheep down to the shore.  Themistocles wasted no time, but told his men to ‘kill as many sheep as they pleased, for it was better that they should have them than the enemy.’  Wreckage was burned, great fires were lit for funeral pyres; at the same time, with practical sense, the sheep of the Euboeans were roasted to put heart into the exhausted oarsmen and the battle-weary marines.  It was at the end of this hard-fought day while all were busy at their base that the news came in from Thermopylae.  Habronichus, the trusted lieutenant of Themistocles, who had been acting as liaison officer between army and fleet, had waited by the pass until the last possible moment.  When he saw that all was lost, he had slipped [anchor] and made off fast up the channel in his thirty-oared cutter.  With Thermopylae lost, Artemisium to the north was no longer tenable.  It was the end of the Themistoclean strategy of the land-sea defensive line to the north.” [ibed. p. 146]

 

The Fleet Vacates Artemisium, Moves South to Salamis---Xerxes Advances South

 

Artemisium had been a training-ground for Themistocles’ Greek fleet, to prepare it for his Master-stroke of genius---Salamis.  As Plutarch puts it,

‘how they would behave in the face of danger [and] that men who know how to come to close quarters and are determined to give battle have nothing to fear from mere numbers of ships, gaudily decorated figureheads, boastful shouts, or barbaric war-songs; they have simply to show their contempt for these distractions, engage the enemy hand to hand and fight it out to the bitter end.’

 

With the fall of the Hot Gates to the Persians, the Greek fleet’s landward flank was exposed to Xerxes hostile forces, and the Thermopylae-Artemisium Defensive Line became untenable.  Themistocles knew he had to move his fleet south through the Euripus Channel and on to Salamis Harbour as fast as he could go.  He had to oversee the evacuation of Athens to the Island of Salamis with all haste, as well as get his fleet into Salamis Harbour and get repairs of the battle damage underway immediately.  All this in preparation for Round Two of his Masterplan.  There was no time to waste.  In each ship, rowers were dead, oars ported, rams damaged and in some cases torn right off, planking around their bows opened up and leaking.  The southerly flowing current of the Euripus Channel aided their retreat southward to Salamis. 

 

Xerxes’ fleet moves into a deserted Artemisium, but does not give immediate pursuit---21 August 480BC

 

On the next day as the sun rose the Persians learned that the Greek fleet had vacated Artemisium.  So they sailed over, to find smoldering wreckage and campfires containing the roasted bones of Euboean sheep  the Greek sailors had feasted on the night before, after their successful stand-off with the Persian fleet.  The Persian fleet did not give immediate pursuit but instead effected needed repairs, the battle not having been a success for them, but instead more of a stalemate they were more than happy to break off from.  Besides, Xerxes had invited all in his fleet who wanted to see the battlefield to come and see it for themselves, to see what the Great King does to those who dare oppose him.  According to Herodotus (and this is a reliable figure) 20,000 Persians and their allies had died at the hands of Leonidas’ hoplite allied Greek army.  Xerxes had ordered the burial of all but 1,000 of the Persian dead while leaving all the Greeks unburied.  He did not want his army or navy demoralized and so he played the propaganda game.  Themistocles knew well how to play that propaganda game too.  Every port city and town down the Euripus Channel where there was fresh water to be had he stopped his trireme and wrote in Greek this message to his Ionian Greek countrymen under Xerxes control, who were manning 290 Ionian Greek triremes in Xerxes’ Persian navy:

 

‘The best thing for you to do is join us, but if this is impossible you should at least remain neutral.  On the other hand, if you are under such constraint that you can do neither of these things, at least, when it comes to battle, remember we are of the same blood—that our quarrel with the Persians originally began on your account—and make sure you fight badly.’ 

 

 

Xerxes’ Advance

 

It did seem that it took Xerxes’ massive army three or four days to get moving, chewing up precious time he could not afford to waste, due to the limited safe sailing time on the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas.  Thermopylae and Artemisium had thrown a very costly and critical time-delay into Xerxes invasion timetable.  So three or four days after the fall of the Hot Gates Xerxes army got moving.

 

In Athens, panic city

 

Although Themistocles had set plans in motion earlier to evacuate Athens, many people had dragged their feet, never believing the fall of their city was imminent.  Now they learned that a Spartan army, whose soldiers were the best and most fearsome in the world, had fallen, along with the death of their king, Leonidas.  Everything that could float was used now as a conveyance to transport the remaining population of Athens to the Island of Salamis.  Cleombrotus, younger brother of Leonidas, manned some 30,000 Peloponnesian hoplites at the defensive line they had agreed upon at the Isthmus of Corinth (to the west of Athens and Salamis). 

 

 

Into Attica

 

Xerxes’ army crossed over into Attica around the 30th of August, and Athens was taken around the 7th of September with the sacking and burning of the Acropolis.  The population of Athens had evacuated just in time and were huddled around open fires as refuges on the island of Salamis.  All the while the Greek admirals held conference after conference and debate after debate---to the utter frustration of Themistocles, who already knew exactly what needed doing, when and where.  And he had known this for three years, when construction of those 100 heavy triremes had begun and been completed, paid for by that Greek silver-mine windfall discovery.  Plutarch tells an anecdote which shows how high passions were running:

‘Themistocles, however, opposed this plan and it was then that he uttered a remark which became famous. Eurybiades had said to him: ‘You know, Themistocles, at the games they thrash anybody who starts before the signal?’  To this Themistocles replied, ‘Yes, but they do not crown anybody who gets left at the post.’  At this point Eurybiades lifted up his staff of office as if to strike him.  Themistocles, maintaining his self-possession, said: ‘You can hit me if you like, but still you must listen to me.’

The last speech of Themistocles carried real menace.  Herodotus says Themistocles even went as far as to name the place where the Athenian population would relocate to---Siris in the Gulf of Taranto.  He concluded his speech, according to Herodotus, with these words:

 ‘It is quite true that we have given up our houses and our city walls, because we did not choose to become enslaved for the sake of things that have no life or soul.  But what we still possess is the greatest city in all Greece, our 200 ships of war, which are ready to defend you, if you are still willing to be saved by them.  But if you run away and betray us, as you did once before, the Greeks will soon hear the news that the Athenians have found for ourselves as free a city and as fine a country as the one they have sacrificed.’

Herodotus now records the conclusion of his speech…:

‘Now for my plan: it will bring, if you adopt it, the following advantages; first, we shall be fighting in narrow waters, and there, with our inferior numbers, we shall win, provided things go as we may reasonably expect.  Fighting in a confined space favours us but the open sea favours the enemy.  Secondly, Salamis, where we have put our women and children, will be preserved and thirdly—for you the most important point of all—you will be fighting in defense of the Peloponnese by remaining here just as much as by withdrawing to the Isthmus—nor, if you have the sense to follow my advice, will you draw the Persian army to the Peloponnese.  If we beat them at sea, as I expect we shall, they will not advance to attack you on the Isthmus, or come any further than Attica; they will retreat in disorder, and we shall gain by preservation of Megara, Aegina, and Salamis—where an oracle has already foretold our victory.  Let a man lay his plans with due regard to common sense, and he will usually succeed.’

Within a night or two of the Acropolis burning the Greeks decided it would be wise to listen to Themistocles.  These were their home-waters, and they knew every fathom of depth and every cable-length of distance, every shoal of rocks.

 

The Masterplan

 

1. The Persian army needed supplies, a steady flow of them.  The Greeks had practiced a policy of scorched-earth in Attica.  2.  Xerxes’ fleet was now moored in Phaleron Bay (previously the main Greek Naval Base).  Phaleron Bay is 4 to 5 miles to the east of Salamis Island and Harbour, where the entire Greek fleet is currently moored (repaired and ready for action).  3. Xerxes wants to move his army to the Isthmus of Corinth to the west of Salamis so that he can engage and conquer the remaining Greek armies and wrap up this opening phase of his major invasion of Europe before the nasty fall weather totally disables the movement of his 3,000 supply ships.  4.  The Greek fleet is safely moored in Salamis Harbour.  The channel between Salamis and the mainland are constricted waters, a somewhat narrow channel for triremes to operate in as compared to the open ocean.  How could Xerxes supply an army at the Isthmus with a strong Greek fleet at Salamis which could strike out at any moment?  So to Xerxes and his generals, Salamis represented the key or problem to the whole campaign.  It was to the Persian navy’s advantage to lure the Greek navy out into the unconstricted open waters of the Saronic Gulf, south, east or west of Salamis Island. It was to the Greeks advantage to stay right exactly where they were and to lure Xerxes’ fleet into the constricted waters immediately to the north of Salamis island, into the channel that leads to the Bay of Eleusis.

 

Bradford Ernle tells us of an incredible woman in Xerxes fleet:  “The lone voice opposing a naval action was that of an exceptional woman, Queen Artemisia of Halicarnassus in Caria…Although she had a grown-up son, she had still decided that she herself would sail in command of her fleet, which consisted of five triremes from Halicarnassus together with contingents from the off-lying Aegean islands of Cos, Nisyros and Calymnos.  ‘Her own spirit of adventure and manly courage’, comments Herodotus, ‘were her only incentives…Her grasp of the whole situation was so extensive that the kernel of her speech deserves quoting:

 

“Have you not taken Athens, the main objective of the war?  Is not the rest of Greece in your power?  There is no one now to resist you….Let me tell you how I think things will now go with the enemy; if only you are not in too great a hurry to fight at sea—if you keep the fleet on the coast where it is now—then, whether you stay here or advance into the Peloponnese, you will easily accomplish your purpose.  The Greeks will not be able to hold out against you for long; you will soon cause their forces to disperse—they will soon break up and go home.  I hear they have no supplies in the island where they now are; and the Peloponnesian contingents, as least, are not likely to be very easy in their minds if you march with the army towards their country—they will hardly like the idea of fighting in defense of Athens.”

 

Persians fake a move west

 

As a compromise to Artemisia’s wise advice Xerxes tries two ploys to lure the Greek fleet out into open waters, as well as throw the Greek admirals into another round of senseless debates (Xerxes knew the Greeks).  He assembled a squadron of his fleet, 100 triremes, outside Salamis Bay, east of Salamis in the Saronic Gulf. The Greeks stayed pat right where they were.  Then Xerxes sent a corps of his army marching noisily west on the mainland, toward the Isthmus (doing everything but banging pots and pans).  The Greek admirals, much to Themistocles’ chagrin, started right up again with their endless rounds of debates and conferences.  Herodotus gives us:

 

“The smothered feeling broke out into open resentment, and another meeting was held.  All the old ground was gone over again, one side urging that it was useless to stay and fight for a country which was already in enemy hands, and that the fleet should sail and risk action in defense of the Peloponnese [just what Xerxes hoped], while the Athenians, Aeginetans, and Megarians still maintained that they should stay and fight at Salamis.”

 

Themistocles sets Xerxes up

 

late 18th September 480BC

 

Themistocles left the final debate when he was finished speaking and sent immediately for his Asiatic Greek slave, Sicinnus and ordered him to take a small boat and cross over to the Persian lines under cover of darkness.  Herodotus writes:

 

 “…Sicinnus made his way to the Persian commanders and said: ‘I am the bearer of a secret communication from the Athenian commander, who is a well-wisher to your king and hopes for a Persian victory.  He has told me to report to you that the Greeks are afraid and are planning to slip away.  Only prevent them from slipping through your fingers, and you have at this moment an opportunity of unparalleled success.  They are at daggers drawn with each other, and will offer no opposition—on the contrary, you will see the pro-Persians amongst them fighting the rest.’

 

Obviously Sicinnus didn’t have an audience with Xerxes, but his message made its way up to Xerxes, some time in the early hours of the 19th September 480BC.  The message itself was sold to the Persians “as the conclusions of the Greek’s last council of war.”  Apparently Xerxes fell for it “hook, line and sinker” as the saying goes.  Xerxes must have thought he had done the trick in sowing discord and division within the Greek naval commanders by marching his 30,000 troops westward toward the Isthmus.  The Greeks hadn’t taken the bait of his 100 triremes to the east of Salamis in the Saronic Gulf.  So he thought the Greeks were demoralized and making ready to flee with their fleet westward through the Bay of Eleusis and then down through the Megarian Channel into the Saronic Gulf west of Salamis.  Nothing could be further from Themistocles mind, but he wanted Xerxes to believe that’s what the Greeks were up to.  It was the 3rd week in September, when the weather could break into nasty gales at any time now.  Xerxes reasoned that there were two ways that the Greek fleet could escape from Salamis Harbour.  One, as mentioned before, west through the Megarian Channel.  The other way was east past Psyttaleia island and on into the eastern Saronic Gulf.  Following Xerxes line of reasoning (which Themistocles had set in motion like a chess-master) he wanted to trap and engage the Greek fleet no matter which way they fled.  So Xerxes makes the decision to divide his fleet in half, ordering the strong Egyptian Squadron of 200 triremes to row south and then come up northwest and stand guard at the Megarian Channel.  The Phoenician squadrons of 200 triremes would then row northwestward just north of Salamis Harbour in the hopes of catching up to the fleeing  Greek fleet sailing into the Eleusis Bay, blocking them in from both east and west.  If the Persian fleet did this, Themistocles had them just where he wanted them.  Xerxes should have had both fleets wait outside of either end of Salamis and not enter the straits or channel north of Salamis harbour.  But Xerxes wanted action.  He thought he had the Greeks on the run, and he wanted to chase them.  Interestingly enough, a trireme from the Persian occupied island of Tenos (commanded by a Greek named Panaetius son of Sosimenes) slipped quietly out of the Persian lines and joined up with the Greek fleet at Salamis.  Panaetius brought Themistocles the awesome news that Xerxes had divided his fleet and that the powerful Egyptian squadron of 200 triremes was off to the west uselessly guarding the Magarian Channel.  This confirmed Themistocles’ battle-plan and brought all the doubters onboard.  It was now 300 Greek triremes against the 200 Phoenician triremes which Themistocles hoped to lure into the constricted channel just north of Salamis Harbour.  As the hours ticked by on the evening of the 19th September 480BC, the Greeks rested comfortably in their rocky lair, as the Persians, probably wet and cold, manned their oars, waiting in their triremes on station either side of Psyttaleia island outside the eastern mouth of Salamis Harbour.  As dawn approached the well-rested Greeks manned their triremes, preparing to engage Xerxes’ pared-down fleet of 200 triremes in the chosen narrows of Salamis Channel.  The Persians to the east must have been wondering “No escaping Greeks, what gives?”  The bulk of the Greek fleet of triremes was hidden behind St. George’s island right off Salamis Harbour, the Athenian heavy triremes to the left of the line.  To the extreme north, near the eastern mouth of Eleusis Bay was the Corinthians, with the ships of the Peloponnesian contingents next to the Athenian line.  The ships of Magera and Aegina in Ambelaki Bay northwest of the town of Salamis.  The Persian ships numbered 400 in all, but remember 200 of these were not there, but uselessly guarding the Megarian Channel.  The Greeks had 300 triremes, against the remaining 200 Phoenician triremes.

 

The Trap,

 and how it was sprung

 

Once the order had been passed on to the various units within the two major squadrons of Xerxes’ fleet to move forward the die had been cast.  The fate of Xerxes’ fleet was sealed and there was no reversing it.  With no radio, no radar, only line of sight vision, with long rows of your own ships in front of you obscuring your vision, turning around was virtually impossible without running afoul of the ships moving up behind you.  200 Phoenician triremes entering in one, maybe two well-ordered rows all following each other in single file into the narrow Salamis Channel with the Greek mainland on their starboard side (to their north) and St. George’s island and Salamis Harbour on their port side beam.  To their northwest the Corinthian fleet had just hoisted masts and square-sails and was sailing toward Eleusis Bay.  Sails were never hoisted going into battle, so the Persians “assumed” the whole Greek fleet was in the process of fleeing, headed for the Bay of Eleusis and the Magarian Channel to the west (most of the rest of the Greek fleet was still hiding behind St. George’s Island).  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The Corinthian commander, Adeimantus, and his Corinthian triremes were the bait.  Immediately upon seeing the Persian fleet had swallowed the bait and was pursuing him, now totally committed, having entered the Salamis Channel, his fleet downed sails and masts, and turned and headed straight for the lead elements of the Persian fleet.  At the same time that this occurred, the entire Athenian and Peloponnesian fleet came storming out from behind St. George’s island and Salamis harbour, heading straight for the port flanks of the Persian fleet, a perfect deflection shot.  All the ships within the Persian fleet could not maneuver to the right or left to avoid the oncoming impact of the Greek rams.  If they backwatered, as some invariably did, they ran afoul of their own ships coming up behind them.  The Greek Aeschylus, who was in the battle, puts into the mouth of a Persian aboard one of their lead ships:  (The translation is by A. R. Burn.)

“Night wore on and still no Greeks out in secret flight; But when at last the sun’s bright chariot rose, Then we could hear them—singing; loud and strong rang back the echo from the island rocks, And with the sound came the first chill fear.  Something was wrong.  This was not flight; they sang the deep-toned hymn, Apollo, Saving Lord, that cheers the Hellene armies into battle. Then trumpets over there set all on fire; then the sea foamed as oars struck all together, and swiftly, there they were!  The right wing first, led on the ordered line, then all the rest came on, came out…”

“As the main body of the  [Corinthian squadron of the] Greek fleet moved down from the north, seeing the enemy well committed into the narrows, the ships from Ambelaki were able to strike out, roaring the Paean to Apollo, catching the enemy broadside on as they moved confidently down channel after what they had assumed were the fleeing Greeks.  This right wing, suddenly emerging on to their exposed flank, must have seemed like a bolt from heaven, accompanied as it was by the thunder of the hymn. Shortly after this devastating flank attack developed, throwing the Persians into disarray because in their close-ordered ranks there was little or no chance of manoeuvring, the main attack at the head of the column developed.  What the Persians had seen as a demoralized and fleeing enemy suddenly became a noose that tightened around their advance guard. …once the main battle had developed, each trierarch very largely exercised his own initiative.”  [Thermopylae, Bradford Ernle p. 199]

 

 

It was ship for ship, 200 Persian triremes, their flanks exposed to 300 heavy Greek triremes---all hitting them with 90-degree deflection shots, rams crashing against portside hulls, the sounds of crushing impacts thundering across the Channel into Xerxes ears.  From his vantage point 200 feet up on an adjacent hill, sitting on his gold throne, he watched as his fleet---all 200 Phoenician triremes---got demolished.

 

 

 

‘the Athenians and Aeginetans accounting for a great many of their ships.  Since the Greek fleet worked together as a whole, while the Persians had lost formation and were no longer fighting on any plan….Nonetheless they fought well that day—far better than in the actions off Euboea.  Every man of them did his best for fear of Xerxes, feeling the kings eye was on him.’  [Aeschylus]

 

Aftermath

22 Sept 480BC

 

The Greek Ephorus gives us the losses for both sides, Persian and Greek.  The Greeks lost 40 triremes, while the Persians lost 200 triremes.  Even if the Egyptian fleet of 200 triremes returned from their unnecessary watch over the Magarian Channel, the Greek fleet would still outnumber the Persian fleet by 60 triremes!  (300 – 40 = 260, verses the 200 remaining Egyptian triremes.)  Xerxes knew now that his supply vessels, now exposed to a powerful enemy Greek fleet, would not be able to supply his army in a hostile foreign land.  Also it was the 3rd week in September, when the nasty gales of fall and winter were about to begin.  Themistocles and Leonidas, working quite obviously together, had over-extended the Persian supply-lines, and then threatened to cut them off completely, leaving Xerxes’ grand army, going hungry, in a hostile foreign land.  There was only one thing Xerxes could do, and that was retreat, going back to Susa to attend to the Affairs of State.  For 24 hours the Greeks did not realize the extent of their victory.  The returned to Salamis harbour to effect repairs, rest and eat.  Then the next day Greek scouts came with the news, “Phaleron Roadstead is deserted!  The Persians are gone!”  Forty-five days later Xerxes and the bulk of his army had crossed over into Asia Minor, heading for Persia and Susa, his vast army happily dispersing into the vassal states from which they had come.  Xerxes left behind his brother-in-law, general Mardonius, along with 100,000 elite Persian infantry and cavalry to winter in Thessaly to the north.  Mardonius would attempt to conquer mainland Greece in the Spring of 479BC.  But a combined allied Greek and Spartan hoplite army, with Athenian archers now, and commanded by a nephew of Leonidas, would conquer this Persian army, killing general Mardonius in the process.  In another 130 years the disunited, bickering Greek city-states would be united under Alexander the Great, bringing about the rise of the 3rd Gentile World Ruling Empire prophecied in Daniel chapters 2, 7, 8, and 11, improbable as that would have appeared to anyone living in Greece or Asia Minor in the spring of 480BC.  Now we will connect back into a historic section of the Bible in the books of Esther and Ezra, picking up with Xerxes in Susa in December 480BC, just two months after he had fled out of Greece.

 

credits

 

This whole article is based upon the facts found within and gleaned from Bradford Ernlie’s “Thermopylae, the battle for the west” and Steven Pressfield’s “GATES of FIRE”, both available at http://www.amazon.com.  For a very complete treatment of the subject I highly recommend the first.  For an awesome, fast-paced page-burner of a historic novel, I highly recommend the second.  It places you right smack in the middle of the battle, front-row seat.  Also, Steven Pressfield did extensive research, making his historic novel extremely accurate to the actual history and the historic and actual re-enactment use of ancient Greek hoplite armour and weaponry, how it and the Greeks actually functioned in battle. 

 

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Back to the Book of Esther

 

Xerxes Retreats From Greece

 

Bradford Ernle tells us “The time taken by Xerxes to reach the Hellespont, forty-five days, half that of the advance, is made to suggest a panic-stricken rout.  On the contrary, since there was not opposition to deal with at any point---no Thermopylae, for instance---and since the fleet had been able to make its way up to the Hellespont to receive the army [and don’t forget they still had 200 Egyptian triremes, and who knows how many supply ships which never fought in the battles of Artemisium and Salamis], with no Greek fleet interposing, it sounds like a reasonable speed for withdrawal.  The bridges of boats, as might have been expected, had been broken by the onset of winter’s gales.  Nevertheless the army passed over into Asia without any significant incidents being recorded…”  So, from 20 September, the defeat of Xerxes’ navy at Salamis, plus 45 days takes us to around the 5th of November to reach the Hellespont and on into Asia Minor.  Given another month’s travel would have seen Xerxes estimated arrival back in Shushan (Susa) in December of 480BC.  And that is exactly where we find Xerxes in Esther 2:15-18, meeting Esther for the first time, being smitten by her beauty.  Esther 2:15-18, “Now when the turn came for Esther the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her as his daughter, to go in to the king, she requested nothing but what Hegai the king’s eunuch, the custodian of the women, advised.  And Esther obtained favor in the sight of all who saw her.  So Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.  The king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she obtained grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins; so he set the royal crown upon her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.  Then the king made a great feast, the Feast of Esther, for all his officials and servants; and he proclaimed a holiday in the provinces and gave gifts according to the generosity of a king.”  The tenth month of the seventh year of Xerxes was December 480BC!  How astounding.  He’s safely back at Shushan (Susa), just after his stunning defeat at the hands of Leonidas and Themistocles.  And what’s more, he’s alive and well, unlike his two brothers.  Miracle?  I’d say.

 

Part IV:  Esther chapters 2 through 10,

Esther Saves the Jews

 

Mordecai uncovers a conspiracy against Xerxes

 

Esther 2:19-22, “When virgins were gathered together a second time, Mordecai sat within the king’s gate.  Now Esther had not revealed her family and her people, just as Mordecai had charged her, for Esther obeyed the command of Mordecai as when she was brought up by him.  In those days, while Mordecai sat within king’s gate, two of the king’s eunuchs, Bigthan and Teresh, doorkeepers, became furious and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus.  So the matter became known to Mordecai, who told Queen Esther, and Esther informed the king in Mordecai’s name.  And when an inquiry was made into the matter, it was confirmed, and both were hanged on a gallows; and it was written in the book of the chronicles in the presence of the king.”  It is interesting that Xerxes did not reward Mordecai for his loyalty and for his uncovering this plot against the king’s life.  This will all play into events later.  Herodotus records that it was a point of honor for Persian kings to reward promptly and generously those who had benefited them.  This was a major oversight of Xerxes here, but one orchestrated by God, and God will use that oversight.

 

Esther 3, Haman’s plot to commit genocide against the Jewish race

 

A few years have gone by since the events of Esther 2 and Xerxes marriage to Esther.  We don’t know the exact date of Haman’s promotion to what would amount to be the office of Prime Minister of the Persian Empire, but we do know his casting of lots soon afterward to determine when he was going to destroy the Jews occurred in the first month of the 12th year of Xerxes, verse 7, which would have been in the spring of 474BC.  Haman is referred to as the son of Hammedatha the Agagite.  It is thought by some Bible scholars that this could indicate he was a descendant of king Agag of the Amalikites in the days of Saul (cf. 1st Samuel 15).  Josephus lists Haman as being “by birth an Amalikite (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 11, chap. 6, sec. 5).  Amalikites were a branch coming from the Edomites, a race descended from Esau, Jacob’s brother.  The Edomites hated and despised the Israelites, of whom the Jews were a part of.  It would explain why Mordecai would not bow down to Haman, who was an ancestral enemy of the Jews.  Also Haman’s desire to “ethnically cleanse” the Persian Empire of Jews could very well be explained by his Amalikite heritage and lineage, it was an issue of revenge.  The Jews get the word Purim from the Akkadian word puru, which means die or lot, for the casting of lots which Haman performed to determine when he would ethnically cleanse the Jews from the earth.  Another reason the Jews were hated was because they had at least tried to practice God’s moral laws, as a moral people, and this set them aside from the ‘sinful world’ and it’s practices.  The sinning world doesn’t like God-obeying believers living amongst them, because it makes them “look bad” by comparison.  That’s one reason the world hates Jews and Christians alike.  Immoral people just don’t like moral people being around them, makes ‘em look bad.  Also, Satan himself stirs this hatred of the world against believers in Jesus and the Jews alike.  But why would Satan want to stir hatred against the Jews for thousands of years before the birth of Christ?  Herein lies the answer, as pointed out to me by a Messianic Jewish believer in Yeshua, Jesus.  Satan has known since the beginning (Genesis 22:18; 49:8-12) that Yeshua haMeshiach [Hebrew for Jesus Christ] would come from the Jewish race, he’d be a Jew.  Yahweh, the arch enemy of Satan, was the pre-incarnate Christ.  The Satan-inspired source of anti-Semitism is intrinsically tied to Satan’s hatred of the very race the Messiah would come through.  Satan wanted to destroy that race of people before the Messiah could be born from a Jew.  Satan also, remember, tried to destroy the baby Jesus right at the time of his birth, acting through Herod the Great.  The hatred of Jews and Christians is not a new thing, it didn’t start with Adolf Hitler.  But it did originate from Satan influencing the rulers of this world, who are under his evil authority and sway, to hate both Jews and Christians.  Now lets read the account about Haman in Esther 3.  Esther 3:1-15, “After these things king Ahasuerus promoted Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him and set his seat above all the princes who were with him.  And all the king’s servants who were within the king’s gate bowed and paid homage to Haman, for so the king had commanded concerning him.  But Mordecai would not bow or pay homage.  Then the king’s servants who were within the king’s gate said to Mordecai, ‘Why do you transgress the king’s command?’  Now it happened, when they spoke to him daily and he would not listen to them, that they told it to Haman, to see whether Mordecai’s words would stand; for Mordecai had told them that he was a Jew.  When Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow or pay homage [sort of like a descent German not giving the Hitler salute in Nazi Germany], Haman was filled with wrath.  But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone, for they had told him of the people of Mordecai.  Instead, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus---the people of Mordecai.  In the first month, which is the month Nisan, in the twelfth year of king Ahasuerus [that would be 486 – 12 = 475/474BC], they cast Pur (that is, the lot), before Haman to determine the day and the month, until it fell on the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar.  Then Haman said to king Ahasuerus, ‘There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from all other people’s, and they do not keep the king’s laws.  Therefore it is not fitting for the king to let them remain.  If it pleases the king, let a decree be written that they may be destroyed, and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those who do the work, to bring it into the king’s treasuries.’  [So thus began the plans to carry out and attempt the first holocaust against the Jewish race by a Gentile world-ruling dictatorship.  Nebuchadnezzar had been used by God to conquer the Jews in Judea and Jerusalem, and that was a part of God’s punishment.  Nebuchadnezzar never tried to annihilate the Jewish race, he took care of them in Babylon.  Cyrus had been used by God to allow some of the Jews, the ones who wanted to, to return to Judea and Jerusalem so that they could rebuild the Temple.  But this marks Satan’s first real organized governmental attempt at genocide against the Jewish race.]  So the king took the signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews.  And the king said to Haman, ‘The money and the people are given to you, to do with them as seems good to you.’  Then the king’s scribes were called on the thirteenth day of the first month, and a decree was written according to all that Haman commanded---to the king’s satraps, to the governors who were over each province, to the officials of all people, to every province according to its script, and to every people in their language.  In the name of king Ahasuerus it was written, and sealed with the king’s ring.  And the letters were sent by couriers into all the king’s provinces, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their possessions.  [Now that is exactly what Adolf Hitler attempted to do within all the German occupied territory during World War II.  I highly recommend the movie Schindler’s List, which graphically depicts what Hitler did, and what would have occurred had Haman’s evil decree succeeded back in 474BC.]  A copy of the document was to be issued as law in every province, being published for all people, that they should be ready for that day.  The couriers went out, hastened by the king’s command; and the decree was proclaimed in Shushan the citadel.  So the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Shushan was perplexed [margin: in confusion].”

 

“For such a time as this, is the salvation of the Jews come”

 

Mordecai himself was appointed to a high position within the Persian government.  “Sitting at the gate” is a term used in the ancient Middle East for a position similar to our judges in a court-room.  Mordecai was in a position to learn and find out what was going on in the government of Persia, so this decree would not have gotten by Mordecai unnoticed.  Esther 4:1-17, “When Mordecai learned all that had happened, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city.  He cried out with a loud and bitter cry.  He went as far as the front of the king’s gate, for no one might enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth.  And in every province where the king’s command and decree arrived, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.  So Esther’s maids and eunuchs came and told her, and the queen was deeply distressed.  Then she sent garments to clothe Mordecai and take his sackcloth away from him, but he would not accept them.  Then Esther called Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs whom he had appointed to attend her, and she gave him a command concerning Mordecai, to learn what and why this was.  So Hathach went out to Mordecai in the city square that was in front of the king’s gate.  And Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasuries to destroy the Jews.  He also gave him a copy of the written decree for their destruction, which was given at Shushan, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her, and that he might command her to go in to the king to make supplication to him and plead before him for her people.  So Hathach returned and told Esther the words of Mordecai.  Then Esther spoke to Hathach, and gave him a command for Mordecai:  ‘All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that any man or woman who goes into the inner court to the king, who has not been called, he has but one law:  put all to death, except one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter, that he may live.  Yet I myself have not been called to go in to the king these thirty days.’  So they told Mordecai Esther’s words.  And Mordecai told them to answer Esther:  ‘Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews.  For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish.  Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?’  Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai:  ‘Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day.  My maids and I will fast likewise.  And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!’  So Mordecai went his way and did according to all that Esther commanded him.”  As Pastor Chuck Smith commented about these verses, “The interesting thing to me is that in three days, Esther fulfilled the whole purpose of God for her life.  The rest of it, she could cruise and enjoy being queen.  But all of the preparation up to that point was for these three critical days.  God brought her to the kingdom for such a time as this.   [In] These three momentous days, God was going to work, God was going to deliver His people.”  We see Mordecai’s message succeed in getting Esther to act.  It wasn’t coincidence she was in the position she was in as the head queen of king Xerxes.  As the rabbis love to say, “With God there is no such thing as coincidence,” and in this case it most certainly proved true. 

 

Esther’s Banquet

 

Esther 5:1-8, “Now it happened on the third day that Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, across from the king’s house, while the king sat on his royal throne in the royal house, facing the entrance of the house.  So it was, when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, that she found favor in his sight, and the king held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand.  Then Esther went near and touched the top of the scepter.  And the king said to her, ‘What do you wish, Queen Esther?  What is your request?  It shall be given to you---up to half the kingdom!’  So Esther answered, ‘If it pleases the king, let the king and Haman come today to the banquet that I have prepared for him.’  Then the king said, ‘Bring Haman quickly, that he may do as Esther has said.’  So the king and Haman went to the banquet that Esther had prepared.  At the banquet of wine the king said to Esther, ‘What is your petition?  It shall be granted you.  What is your request, up to half the kingdom? It shall be done!’  Then Esther answered and said, ‘My petition and request is this:  If I have found favor in the sight of the king, and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, then let the king and Haman come to the banquet which I will prepare for them, and tomorrow I will do as the king has said.’  Esther initially did not reveal anything to Xerxes, except to invite him and Haman to a banquet of wine, apparently on that same day.  Then at this banquet she invites the king and Haman to another banquet that she has prepared for the next day.  She’s being very careful on how she’s going about exposing Haman.  Xerxes is no fool, he realizes Esther has risked her life in coming to him uninvited.  He must realize something’s up.  She’s also leaving room for God to work in this situation, rather than just blurting out that she’s a Jew and what Haman is intending to do to all the Jews.  And God does work, as we’ll see in chapter 6.  If ever there was a story of palace intrigue and counter-intrigue, this is one.

 

Haman’s Plot Against Mordecai, the Suspense Builds

 

Esther 5:9-14, “So Haman went out that day joyful and with a glad heart; but when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate, and that he did not stand or tremble before him, he was filled with indignation against Mordecai.  Nevertheless Haman restrained himself and went home, and he sent and called for his friends and his wife Zeresh.  Then Haman told them of his great riches, the multitude of his children, everything in which the king had promoted him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and servants of the king.  Moreover Haman said, ‘Besides, Queen Esther invited no one but me to come in with the king to the banquet that she prepared; and tomorrow I am again invited by her, along with the king.  Yet all this avails me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.’  Then his wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, ‘Let a gallows be made, fifty cubits high, and in the morning suggest to the king that Mordecai be hanged on it; then go merrily with the king to the banquet.’  And the thing pleased Haman; so he had the gallows made.” 

 

Xerxes has a sleepless night

 

Esther 6:1-11, “That night the king could not sleep.  So one was commanded to bring the book of the records of the chronicles; and they were read before the king.  And it was found written that Mordecai had told of Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs, the doorkeepers who had sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus.  Then the king said, ‘What honor or dignity has been bestowed on Mordecai for this?’  And the king’s servants who attended him said, ‘Nothing has been done for him.’  So the king said, ‘Who is in the court?’  Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the king’s palace to suggest that the king hang Mordecai on the gallows that he had prepared for him.  The king’s servants said to him, ‘Haman is there, standing in the court.’”  Now if ever there was a Divine setup, this qualifies as one.  First, God makes sure that Xerxes, I’m sure on his part as a pure oversight, does not honor Mordecai for his exposure of two people in the Great King’s inner court who had been plotting his murder.  Then God, just at the right time, the evening before this second banquet of Esther, causes Xerxes to have a sleepless night.  As a believer, have you ever had God do that with you?  I have.  Now let’s see what happens, as it follows the normal pattern for Persian kings, according to Herodotus.  “And the king said, ‘Let him [Haman] come in.’  So Haman came in, and the king asked him, ‘What shall be done for the man whom the king delights to honor?’  Now Haman thought in his heart, Whom would the king delight to honor more than me?’  And Haman answered the king, ‘For the man whom the king delights to honor, let a royal robe be brought which the king has worn, and a horse on which the king has ridden, which has a royal crest placed on its head.  Then let this robe and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king’s most noble princes, that he may array the man whom the king delights to honor.  Then parade him on horseback through the city square, and proclaim before him:  Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor!’  Then the king said to Haman, ‘Hurry, take the robe and the horse, as you have suggested, and do so for Mordecai the Jew who sits within the king’s gate!  Leave nothing undone of all that you have spoken.’  So Haman took the robe and the horse, arrayed Mordecai and led him on horseback through the city square and proclaimed before him, ‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor!’”  Boy, has God turned the tables on Haman.  Did you notice Esther didn’t try to take control of the situation all on her own, but left God time to work?  And God did work.  He had already been working things out, by first inspiring Mordecai to overhear a conspiracy plot against king Xerxes and expose it to the king, probably saving his life.  Then he inspired Xerxes to have a lapse of memory, so that he did not immediately reward Mordecai.  Then he probably inspired Haman’s wife to tell him to build a gallows to hang Mordecai when he expressed his hatred of Mordecai to her.  This was such a well-orchestrated God-thing.  We humans often try work things out on our own for God, instead of trusting the Lord to work out the details, which he will wonderfully do, if we just give him the time.  Time and prayer, that’s what it takes.  Do what you can, but leave room for God.

 

By now Haman begins to realize ‘his goose is cooked’

 

Verses 12-14, “Afterward Mordecai went back to the king’s gate.  But Haman hurried to his house, mourning and with his head covered.  When Haman told his wife Zeresh and all his friends everything that had happened to him, his wise men and his wife Zeresh said to him, ‘If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of Jewish descent, you will not prevail against him but will surely fall before him.’  While they were still talking with him, the king’s eunuchs came, and hastened to bring Haman to the banquet which Esther had prepared.”  Now realize, Mordecai’s suddenly being honored in such a way by Xerxes, through Haman, gave Esther the green light that God had prepared the way for her to tell Xerxes the truth about what was going on.  She had waited on the LORD, waited for his timing.  And he revealed to her when it was time to expose Haman’s plot, and that it was against her and her people, the Jews. 

 

Queen Esther’s Banquet

 

Esther 7:1-10, “So the king and Haman went to dine with Queen Esther.  And on the second day, at the banquet of wine, the king again said to Esther, ‘What is your petition, Queen Esther?  It shall be granted to you.  And what is your request, up to half the kingdom?  It shall be done!’”  So now, after Haman having had to bestow high honors upon Mordecai, Esther knows God has prepared the way for her to divulge to Xerxes her plight.  Xerxes knows something’s up, because Esther had risked her life to come to him uninvited, and so he’s asking her what’s up for a second time within two days.  Now is the time, the God-time, to present her case against Haman.  And as we’ll read, she goes right to the heart of the matter, no wasted words.  “Then Queen Esther answered and said, ‘If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request.  For we have been sold, my people and I, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated.  Had we been sold as male and female slaves, I would have held my tongue, although the enemy could never compensate for the king’s loss.’  So king Ahasuerus answered and said to Queen Esther, ‘Who is he, and where is he, who would dare to presume in his heart to do such a thing?’  And Esther said, ‘The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman!’  So Haman was terrified before the king and queen.  Then the king arose in his wrath from the banquet of wine and went into the palace garden; but Haman stood before Queen Esther, pleading for his life, for he saw that evil was determined against him by the king.  When the king returned from the palace garden to the place of the banquet of wine, Haman had fallen across the couch where Esther was.  Then the king said, ‘Will he also assault the queen while I am in the house?’”  Haman, in his attempt to plead with Queen Esther for mercy and his very life, had apparently fallen on or over the couch where Esther was seated, and just then Xerxes walked back into the room to see Haman in this apparently compromising position.  If his goose wasn’t quite cooked before it was well-done by now.  “As the word left the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face.  Now Harbonah, one of the eunuchs, said to the king, ‘Look!  The gallows, fifty cubits high, which Haman made for Mordecai, who spoke good on the king’s behalf, is standing at the house of Haman.’  Then the king said, ‘Hang him on it!’  So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai.  Then the king’s wrath subsided.” 

 

Esther Saves the Jewish Race Within the Persian Empire

 

Esther 8:1-2, “On that day king Ahasuerus gave Queen Esther the house of Haman, the enemy of the Jews.  And Mordecai came before the king, for Esther had told how he was related to her.  So the king took off his signet right, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai; and Esther appointed Mordecai over the house of Haman.”  Under Persian law, the state had the right to confiscate the property of people who were deemed to be criminals or enemies of the State (cf. Herodotus 3.128-29).  We find Queen Esther giving Haman’s property, which must have been substantial, to Mordecai, making him a rich man. This was a touch of poetic justice, since Haman had sought to confiscate all the property of the Jews.  Also by Xerxes giving Mordecai his signet right, which had been worn by Haman, Mordecai took over as Prime Minister of all Persia, under Xerxes himself.  Mordecai was number two man in the realm, “second to king Ahasuerus” (Esther 10:3).

 

Second Decree Written to Cancel Out the Decree of Haman

 

 Verses 3-10, “Now Esther spoke again to the king, fell down at his feet, and implored him with tears to counteract the evil of Haman the Agagite, and the scheme which he had devised against the Jews.  And the king held out the golden scepter toward Esther.  So Esther arose and stood before the king, and said, ‘If it pleases the king, and if I have found favor in his sight and the thing seems right to the king and I am pleasing in his eyes, let it be written to revoke the letters devised by Haman, which he wrote to annihilate the Jews who are in all the king’s provinces.  For how can I endure to see the evil that will come to my people?  Or how an I endure to see the destruction of my countrymen?  Then king Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther and Mordecai the Jew, ‘Indeed, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and they have hanged him on the gallows because he tried to lay his hand on the Jews.  You yourselves write a decree concerning the Jews, as you please, in the king’s name, and seal it with the king’s signet right; for whatever is written in the king’s name and sealed with the king’s signet right no one can revoke.’  So the king’s scribes were called at that time, in the third month, which is the month Sivan, on the twenty-third day; and it was written, according to all that Mordecai commanded, to the Jews, the satraps, the governors, and the princes of the provinces from India to Ethiopia, one hundred and twenty-seven provinces in all, to every people in their own language, and to the Jews in their own script and language.  And he wrote in the name of King Ahasuerus, sealed it with the king’s signet ring, and sent letters by couriers on horseback, riding on royal horses bred from swift steeds.”  As Scriptures in Daniel 6:8, 12, 15 show, Persian law could not be altered or changed.  But depending on how a decree was worded, a second decree could be written that would countermand the first decree, making it ineffective.  This is exactly what Xerxes told Esther and Mordecai to do, to write another decree making Haman’s decree invalid.  In verses 11-12, some people say this second decree is allowing the Jews to kill all the women and children of those who sought them harm, which is not what the second decree said at all.  The second decree allowed the Jews to protect themselves from all those who would have come against them, and all their women and children.  History shows the Jews did not harm or kill the women or children of those who would attack them as a result of the first decree (cf. Esther 9:6, 12, 15).  This second decree was written and sent out on the month of Sivan, the third month of the Hebrew calendar, so there was about nine months before the time when the first decree calling for the destruction of the Jews would be enacted.  This allowed sufficient time for the Jews, now allowed to protect themselves from all attackers, to prepare for these attacks.  Essentially the Jews were allowed to arm themselves and defend themselves, even to the point of preemptively, against all attackers.  Verses 11-14, “By these letters the king permitted the Jews who were in every city to gather together and protect their lives---to destroy, kill, and annihilate all the forces of any people or province that would assault them, both little children and women, and to plunder their possessions, on one day in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, on which is the month Adar.  A copy of the document was to be issued as a decree in every province and published for all people, so that the Jews would be ready on that day to avenge themselves on their enemies.  The couriers who rode on royal horses went out, hastened and pressed on by the king’s command.  And the decree was issued in Shushan the citadel.” 

 

The Holiday of Purim is about to be born

 

Esther 8:15-17, “So Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal apparel of blue and white, with a great crown of gold and a garment of fine linen and purple; and the city of Shushan rejoiced and was glad.  The Jews had light and gladness, joy and honor.  And in every province and city, wherever the king’s command and decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a holiday.  Then many of the people of the land became Jews, because fear of the Jews fell upon them.”  Boy had the tables turned.  Now, at least in the eyes of the pagan Gentile Persians, it wasn’t safe not to be a Jew.  Obviously the whole story must have leaked out.  Stories of palace intrigue, murder and death always spread fast in a powerful monarchy.  The very couriers riding on horseback, being human, would have spread these stories far and wide as they were delivering the second decree, it’s only natural.  So we see the foundation has been laid for the Jewish holiday of Purim.  Later in the Book of Esther, Purim becomes an “authorized Holiday” in the Bible for all those of Jewish descent.  It is not a Levitical Holy Day, but a holiday.  The Jews and Israelis regard it like we do our 4th of July in the United States of America.  But unlike our 4th of July, it is Biblical.  It is a holiday celebrating freedom and deliverance from oppression, which also follows the very same theme of Passover in the Israelite’s Exodus from Egypt (see http://www.unityinchrist.com/lamb/exodus1.html).

 

The Jews Destroy Those Who Would Have Destroyed Them

 

Esther 9:1-17, “Now in the twelfth month, that is, the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day, the time came for the king’s command and his decree to be executed.  On the day that the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, the opposite occurred, in that the Jews themselves overpowered those who hated them.  The Jews gathered together in their cities throughout all the provinces of king Ahasuerus to lay hands on those who sought their harm.  And no one could withstand them, because fear of them fell upon all people.  And all the officials of the provinces, satraps, the governors, and all those doing the king’s work, helped the Jews, because fear of Mordecai fell upon them.  For Mordecai was great in the king’s palace, and his fame spread throughout all the provinces; for this man Mordecai became increasingly prominent.  Thus the Jews defeated all their enemies with the stroke of the sword, with slaughter and destruction, and did what they pleased with those who hated them.”  This twelfth month, Adar, corresponds to March of 473BC.  This was the date determined by Haman’s superstitious casting of lots, but God made sure the time for the intended slaughter of the Jews was sufficiently far away, 9 months, so that the Jews could properly determine who their enemies where.  To carry something out like this, with fair justice, would have taken that amount of time, to prevent the slaughter of innocent people who intended no harm to the Jews.  The Jews were not killing women and children, as Haman had intended to happen to them, and they didn’t even keep the plunder, as this chapter states at least three times.  “And in Shushan the citadel the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred men.  Also Parshandatha, Dalphon, Aspatha, Poratha, Adalia, Ariddatha, Parmashta, Arisai, Aridai, and Vajezatha---the ten sons of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews---they killed; but they did not lay a hand on the plunder.  On that day the number of those who were killed in Shushan the citadel was brought to the king.  And the king said to Queen Esther, ‘The Jews have killed and destroyed five hundred men in Shushan the citadel, and the ten sons of Haman.  What have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces?  Now what is your petition? It shall be granted to you.  Or what is your further request?  It shall be done.’  Then Esther said, ‘If it pleases the king, let it be granted to the Jews who are in Shushan to do again tomorrow according to today’s decree, and let Haman’s ten sons be hanged on the gallows.’  So the king commanded this to be done; the decree was issued in Shushan, and they hanged Haman’s ten sons.”  Now it says that Haman’s ten sons had already been killed in verse 7.  So it is thought by some that this further request that they be hung on gallows was for their bodies to be publicly displayed as a warning to all who would think of harming the Jews.  “And the Jews who were in Shushan gathered together again on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and killed three hundred men at Shushan; but they did not lay a hand on the plunder.”  In other words, the women and children of those who had been slain would not lose their homes and possessions and become displaced or homeless persons.  This was justice tempered by real mercy.  “The remainder of the Jews in the king’s provinces gathered together and protected their lives, had rest from their enemies, and killed seventy-five thousand of their enemies; but they did not lay a hand on the plunder.  This was on the thirteenth day of the month Adar.  And on the fourteenth of the month they rested and made it a day of feasting and gladness.”

 

The Holiday of Purim is established for all time for the Jews

 

Esther 9:18-32, “But the Jews who were at Shushan assembled together on the thirteenth day, as well as on the fourteenth; and on the fifteenth of the month they rested, and made it a day of feasting and gladness.  Therefore the Jews of the villages who dwelt in the unwalled towns celebrated the fourteenth day of the month of Adar with gladness and feasting, as a holiday, and for sending presents to one another.  And Mordecai wrote these things and sent letters to all the Jews, near and far, who were in all the provinces of king Ahasuerus, to establish among them that they should celebrate yearly the fourteenth and fifteenth days on which the Jews had rest from their enemies, as the month which was turned from sorrow to joy for them, and from mourning to a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and joy, of sending presents to one another and gifts to the poor.  So the Jews accepted the custom which they had begun, as Mordecai had written to them, because Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews plotted against the Jews to annihilate them, and had cast Pur (that is, the lot), to consume them and destroy them; but when Esther came before the king, he commanded by letter that this wicked plot which Haman had devised against the Jews should return on his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows.  So they called these days Purim, after the name Pur [Purim is plural for Pur, as Lot is plural of Lots]. Therefore, because of all these words of this letter, what they had seen concerning this matter, and what had happened to them, the Jews established and imposed it upon themselves and their descendants and all who would join them, that without fail they should celebrate these two days every year, according to the written instructions and according to the prescribed time, that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city, that these days of Purim should not fail to be observed among the Jews, and that memory of them should not perish among their descendants.”  God never established the feast of Purim in his law as one of his sacred Holy Days, but he did allow it to be recorded in his Word, canonized into the Old Testament, as a legitimate holiday for those of the Jewish race., and the holiday is celebrated yearly on the 15th Adar.   One other set of days have been kept by the Jews in similar fashion, commemorating God’s miraculous deliverance which he brought about through the Maccabee brothers from the wicked Antiochus Epiphanes, a forerunner of the future Beast person to arise during the tribulation.  We find Jesus, Yeshua of Nazareth coming to Jerusalem and standing in the Temple during the festival of lights, or Chanukah.  These are national holidays, similar to our Thanksgiving and 4th of July which we celebrate in the United States of America.  Jews continue to celebrate these holidays, even as American citizens, because they are Jewish, just as those of Latin American descent in the U.S. celebrate Cinco de Mayo (the Mexican Independence Day).  There is nothing wrong with these, Jesus did it.  But it’s interesting, Purim is actually included as a holiday in the Word of God.  It is a holiday celebrating deliverance, and in this case, Divine deliverance.  For Christians, our Divine deliverance came and comes through Jesus, our Passover lamb.  And Passover itself is a story of Divine deliverance, first for the Israelite race, and then through Jesus’ sacrifice on Passover day, for the whole world.  When God is in the picture, these holidays can have great meaning, even for Christians.  But our greatest deliverance was and is through Jesus Christ, who sacrificed himself as our Passover Lamb, and who lives to make us truly free.  Verses 29-32, “Then Queen Esther, the daughter of Abihail, with Mordecai the Jew, wrote with full authority to confirm this second letter about Purim.  And Mordecai sent letters to all the Jews, to the one hundred and twenty-seven provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus [Xerxes], with words of peace and truth, to confirm these days of Purim at their appointed time, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had prescribed for them, and as they had decreed for themselves and their descendants concerning matters of their fasting and lamenting.  So the decree of Esther confirmed these matters of Purim, and it was written in the book.”

 

Mordecai’s Advancement Under Xerxes

 

Esther 10:1-3, “And king Ahasuerus imposed tribute on the land and on the islands of the sea.  Now all the acts of his power and his might, and the account of the greatness of Mordecai, to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia?  For Mordecai the Jew was great among the Jews and well received by the multitude of his brethren, seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all his countrymen.”  Xerxes---who was full of the ambitions of his father Darius the Great to expand the Empire north into the Russian steppes and northwest into Europe---had to have those ambitions dampened by defeat at the hands of the Greeks (all without killing him), and then be sent home to mind the affairs of hearth and home---which would involve the salvation of the Jewish race from an evil plot within the Persian government that would have killed them all.  Ezra and Nehemiah would have died, along with all other Jews in the vast Persian Empire, had God not intervened through Mordecai and Esther, and yes, Leonidas and Themistocles.  Now we will continue the story-line in the Book of Ezra where we left off.  Xerxes and Esther lived from the period of time at the end of the book of Esther, 473BC until 465BC, when Xerxes was assassinated within his bedchambers.  Xerxes’ son Artaxerxes I then took over the reigns of the Empire.  Maybe Esther and Mordecai ended up in Jerusalem with Ezra and Nehemiah, history does not tell us what happened to them.  But as we will see, Xerxes son, Artaxerxes continued to be friendly towards the Jews, so Esther and Mordecai were probably safe no matter where they ended up, as this Artaxerxes was also friendly with Ezra and Nehemiah.  So that is where we will pick up the story again, in the 7th chapter of Ezra.

 

Part V:  Ezra chapter 7 through 10

 

Second Wave of Emigrants, Ezra and two thousand Jews return to Jerusalem, 458BC

 

Currently the most widely accepted period for the arrival of Ezra in the “seventh year of Artaxerxes, the second return of the exiles to Jerusalem, is 458BC, the 7th year of Artaxerxes I, son of Xerxes.  We’ve just been through the history of Xerxes attempting to expand the Empire, and getting literally evicted out of Greece in 480BC via the stunning military victories of Leonidas, Themistocles, and finally the battle of Plataea.  We  witnessed Esther become Queen of Persia, Xerxes wife, and save the Jews in the Persian Empire from annihilation.  In 465BC Xerxes died and his son Artaxerxes I began to reign.  He was apparently quite friendly with Ezra and later Nehemiah, and subsequently the Jews in Judea.  He reigned from 465BC to 424BC.  So between Ezra chapter 6 and 7, you had the reign of Xerxes, whose wife was Queen Esther.  Now we’re moving on in the Book of Ezra. 

 

The Beautification of the Temple

 

Ezra 7:1-10, “Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah [this would be the priestly line, and this Hilkiah was the father of Jeremiah the prophet, as well as the high priest while Jeremiah was young], the son of Zodak, the son of Ahitub, the son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Meraioth, the son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, the son of Bukki, and son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the chief priest---this Ezra came up from Babylon; and he was a skilled scribe in the Law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given.  The king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD his God upon him.  Some of the children of Israel, the priests, the Levites, the singers, the gatekeepers, and the Nethinim came up to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king [465BC – 7 = 458BC, so this is 7 years after the death of Xerxes, husband of Esther].  On the first day of the first month he began his journey from Babylon, and on the first day of fifth month he came to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of God upon him.  For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.”  Again, the word Israel is used to denote the returning tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi.  Ezra’s priestly lineage is established here, going all the way back to Aaron, the very first high priest.  Pastor Chuck Smith has an excellent comment about verse ten here (which I underlined):

Do It  How do you prepare your heart to seek the law of the Lord?  I think you prepare your heart through prayer, meditation, and commitment.  You make a commitment, ‘I’m going to seek the Lord.  I’m going to study the Word of God.  I’m going to commit the Word of God to my heart and learn what God has to say about Himself.’  I think it’s through commitment, dedication, and prayer that a person prepares his heart.  Notice Ezra was preparing his heart, first of all, to seek the law of the LORD, and, then, second, to do it.  Paul the apostle said that the Jews were making a serious mistake in their day because they thought that just because they had the law of the LORD, they were justified.  Paul said that having the law of God doesn’t justify anybody.  It is the keeping of the law that justifies a man (Rom. 2:12, 13).  Sometimes we make the same mistake, thinking, Well, I go to church, I partake of the sacraments of the church, and therefore, I am saved; I’m all right.  Yet, we are not really doing the things the Lord commanded.  Jesus said, ‘Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?’ (Luke 6:46).  It is really obedience to Him---the doing of the Word of God---that is important.  As James said, ‘Be doers of the word, and not hearers only’ (James 1:22) because if you’re just a hearer of the Word you can deceive yourself.  You start to think I know all about the Bible.  I studied under Pastor Chuck.  I’ve really gone though the Bible.  That won’t do it.  Are you obeying the Bible?  Are you obeying the precepts of the Bible?  We hear stories that grieve our hearts.  Stories of those who say they attend Calvary Chapel and yet are living in fornication or in adultery.  Somehow they feel attending Calvary is going to do something for them.  I’m always reading about some far-out person, who says, ‘Well, I attend Calvary Chapel,’ as if that’s going to buy them something.  Not with God.  It is doing the Word that is important.”  [p. 596, The Word For Today NKJV Bible]  [For a whole section on Law & Grace, log onto: http://www.unityinchrist.com/whatisgrace/whatisgraceintro.htm]

 

“Ezra had prepared his heart for the day that he would return to his land.  He knew it was coming because he had faith in God.  So he prepared his heart and studied the Law of Moses (the first five books of the Bible) and the book of Joshua, which were in existence in that day.  It is the belief of many that Ezra wrote 1 and 2 Chronicles.  Ezra not only studied God’s Word, he also did what it said.  Oh, my, that is so important!  It is one thing to study God’s Word and another thing to do it.  Ezra also wanted to teach the Word.  He wanted God’s people to know God’s statutes and judgments.  In Ezra 7, verses 11-26 Artaxerxes [Artaxerxes I, son of Xerxes, 465-424BC] made a decree which allowed Ezra and his followers to return to their land.  It was not a commandment that they go, but it was permission to return according to their own particular desires and according to the leading of the LORD.  Evidently Ezra had a real witness in the court [of Artaxerxes], because the king and his counselors made this offering to “the God of Israel.”  Ezra was given the authority to appoint magistrates and judges.  They got together all this material, Ezra was given the king’s decree, then preparation was made for them to leave.  The decree reveals a tremendous reverence of God.  Notice how it concludes [see verse 26].  This law, of course, was in reference to the Jews after they arrived in the land.  In other words, if they return to their land, they must mean business as far as their relationship to God is concerned.  Notice now the thanksgiving of Ezra [see verses 27-28].  Not only was the temple rebuilt, it was also to be beautified.  I think God’s house ought to be made beautiful, as beautiful as it can possibly be according to the ability of the folk who are identified with it.  Ezra led a fine delegation back to the land. It was not as large as the first delegation, but a great many of the leaders were in the second group.”  THRU THE BIBLE, Vol. II, p. 493, col.1, and col. 2, Ezra 7:11-28, “This is a copy of the letter that king Artaxerxes gave Ezra the priest, the scribe, expert in the words of the commandments of the LORD, and of his statutes to Israel:

‘Artaxerxes, king of kings, To Ezra the priest, a scribe of the Law of the God of heaven:  Perfect peace, and so forth.  I issued a decree that all those of the people of Israel and the priests and Levites in my realm, who volunteer to go up to Jerusalem, may go with you.  And whereas you are being sent by the king and his seven counselors to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, with regard to the Law of your God which is in your hand; and whereas all the silver and gold that you may find in all the province of Babylon, along with the freewill offering of the people and the priests, are to be freely offered for the house of their God in Jerusalem---now therefore, be careful to buy with this money bulls, rams, and lambs, with their grain offerings and their drink offerings, and offer them on the altar of the house of your God in Jerusalem.  And whatever seems good to you and your brethren to do with the rest of the silver and the gold, do it according to the will of your God.  Also the articles that are given to you for the service of the house of your God, deliver before the God of Jerusalem.  And whatever more may be needed for the house of your God, which you may have occasion to provide, pay for it from the king’s treasury.  And I, even I, Artaxerxes the king, issue a decree to all the treasurers who are in the region beyond the River, that whatever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven, may require of you, let it be done diligently, up to one hundred talents of silver, one hundred kors of wheat, one hundred baths of wine, one hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribed limit.  Whatever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it diligently be done for the house of the God of heaven.  For why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons?  Also we inform you that it shall not be lawful to impose tax, tribute, or custom on any of the priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, Nethinim, or servants of this house of God.  And you, Ezra, according to your God-given wisdom, set magistrates and judges who may judge all the people who are in the region beyond the River, all such as know the laws of your God; and teach those who do not know them.  Whoever will not observe the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily on him, whether it be death, or banishment, or confiscation of goods, or imprisonment.’

Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem, and has extended mercy to me before the king and his counselors, and before all the king’s mighty princes.  So I was encouraged, as the hand of the LORD my God was upon me; and I gathered leading men of Israel to go up with me.”  Israel again refers to the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi, and not “the ten lost tribes”.  Notice what Artaxerxes is richly enabling Ezra to do with this smaller second wave of émigrés back to Judah and Jerusalem, the beautification of the Temple.  Also Ezra’s return brings a lot of priests and leaders back, including himself, a real scribe and expert in the Law of Moses.  An interesting point to notice, the Law of Moses was duel in purpose, it was designed as a national law for the governing of a people in a land, as well as a church law, for the governing of the central ‘church and religion’ of the Jewish nation.  The core of that law, for both Israel’s church and state was the Ten Commandments.  All the statutes and judgments were specific applications of those Ten Commandments, explaining how they were to be applied, not just in a spiritual sense, but physically in the Promised Land, and punishments were included in these statutes and judgments for disobedience.  In that sense, these statutes and judgments don’t apply to a modern church, they were for the land.  The Law of God, also called the Law of Moses, was the Constitutional ‘Law of the Land’ for all of Israel, which now was only Judah, Benjamin and Levi.  As Hebrews 10 brings out, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross now takes the place of all those required sacrifices, in the church sense.  In Leviticus 23 the 7th Day Sabbath is the first Holy Day mentioned, and thus the 4th Commandment is inseparably tied to the Holy Days of God commanded in Leviticus 23.  So if you are a Sabbath observing church or person using the Sabbath as your chosen day of worship, you ought to be a Holy Day observing church or person as well, observing God’s Holy Days which are spelled out in Leviticus 23.  It’s that simple.  One interesting thing, and this comes out in the prophetic writings of Zechariah during the time of Zerubbabel and Joshua, but in Zechariah chapter 14, verses 16-19 show that right after the 2nd coming of the Messiah (Jesus Christ) the observance of the Holy Days as well as all the sacrifices (i.e. the whole Old Testament Law of God contained in the  Five Books of Moses) will be re-instituted.  Also, that same set of Laws will become the International Law of the Land, for all nations on earth.  So those of you who entertain or have an anti-Law of God, super-grace oriented attitude, you’d better rethink your belief system, for it is askew from the actual Word of God.  For one thing, the major difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant is that in the New Covenant God promises to write his laws in our hearts and minds, not to do away with them.  The real bone of contention between Sunday and Sabbath observing believers comes in whether the Sabbath command still stands, as part of the Ten Commandments.  The other nine of the Ten Commandments are re-commended and brought to a higher spiritual level in the New Testament, they’re not done away with at all, so the controversy is not about them for all but the most “liberal” Christians.  For more about this controversial subject that divides Sabbatarian and Sunday-observing believers in Jesus, see: http://www.unityinchrist.com/romans/romans12-14_2.htm.  Also consider this, the historic observance of Sunday/Christmas/Easter were forced upon the early Judeo-Christian churches in Asia Minor, which were descended from the first Christian churches in Judea and Jerusalem.  This occurred in 325AD, brought about by Constantine, acting on behalf of the proto-Catholic Church.  So Jesus, who was the pre-incarnate Yahweh, will just be returning the Church under his authority during the Millennium to the original Law of God, and the days of worship he originally instituted, days of worship the early Church had been observing.  Need proof about the Early Church, and how the proto-Catholic church supplanted the “days of worship” the Early Church was observing?  See http://www.unityinchrist.com/history2/index3.htm and http://www.unityinchrist.com/history2/earlychurch3.htm.  For a whole section on the oft-confusing subject of Law & Grace, see: http://www.unityinchrist.com/whatisgrace/whatisgraceintro.htm.  But the bottom line, as clearly seen in the Book of Zechariah, written in the time of Zerubbabel and Joshua, the Church in the Millennial Kingdom of God will be a Sabbath/Holy Day observing, Law of God observing Church.  There will be no room whatsoever for anti-Semitic feelings and attitudes in the Millennial Kingdom of God which Jesus will set up on earth at his return.  If you entertain any of those attitudes, you’d better dump them fast.  If you have been believing world sentiment that has been more or less pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli, you’d better back off on your judgments, and just leave the judging of the Israeli nation and it’s Jewish inhabitants in the LORD’s hands.  He’s a far fairer and more impartial judge than you could ever be.

 

Heads of the Families Who Returned with Ezra

 

Chapter 8 lists all the companions that went with Ezra on this second wave of returning captives from Babylon who were leaving in 458BC.  Notice Ezra is bringing back essential personnel for a completed Temple, probably all of the remaining Levites, it mentioned the Nethinims, who were the servants.  I have often wondered who the Nethinims were.  Remember in Joshua when the Gibeonites had fooled Joshua and Israel into making a peace treaty with them, saying they were from a far off land?  When Joshua discovered the ruse, too late to undo his promise of protection, they, all of the Gibeonites, were made temple woodcutters and water carriers for the Temple service.  I think, this is just my speculation, but these Nethinims could be none other than these Gibeonite servants of the Temple.  Of course this is just my speculation. 

Ezra 8:1-14, “These are the heads of their fathers’ houses, and this is the genealogy of those who went up with me from Babylon, in the reign of king Artaxerxes: of the sons of Phinehas, Gershom; of the sons of Ithamar, Daniel; of the sons of David, Hattush; of the sons of Shecaniah, of the sons of Parosh, Zechariah; and registered with him were one hundred and fifty males; of the sons of Pahath-Moab, Eliebeonai the son of Zechariah, and with him two hundred males; of the sons of Adin, Ebed the son of Jonathan, and with him fifty males; of the sons of Elam, Jeshaiah the son of Athaliah, and with him seventy males; of the sons of Shephatiah, Zebadiah the son of Michael, and with him eighty males; of the sons of Joab, Obadiah the son of Jehiel, and with him two hundred and eighteen males; of the sons of Shelomith, Ben-Josiphiah, and with him one hundred and sixty males; of the sons of Bebai, Zechariah the son of Bebai, and with him twenty-eight males; of the sons of Azgad, Johanan the son of Hakkatan, and with him one hundred and ten males; of the last sons of Adonikam, whose names are these---Eliphelet, Jeiel, and Shemaiah---and with them sixty males; also the sons of Bigvai, Uthai and Zabbud, and with them seventy males.”

 

Servants for the Temple, Priests, Levites and Nethinim

 

Verses 15-20, “Now I gathered them by the river that flows to Ahava, and we camped there three days.  And I looked among the people and the priests, and found none of the sons of Levi there.”  Oops!  Big oversight here.  Don’t forget, when Nebuchadnezzar captured the southern kingdom, called The House of Judah, this southern kingdom was made up of three tribes, the half-tribe of Benjamin, the tribe of Judah, and the priestly tribe of Levi.  Levi, the priestly tribe was especially assigned by God during Moses time, right after the Exodus from Egypt, to supply the priests of God for the whole 12 tribes of Israel, as well as to supply all the Temple workers.  The high priesthood would always come from the direct descendants of Aaron, the first high priest, and the descendants of one of his sons afterward.  Ezra takes a quick census of whose with him and discovers there are no Levites, “sons of Levi”, in the group returning to Judah and Jerusalem with him.  He’s supposed to be bringing back more things to beautify a completed temple, as well as essential personnel for the running of that temple.  So Ezra takes action here, before he gets too far along in the journey.  The river Ahava was a river in Babylonia, a tributary of the Euphrates named after a place by which it flowed.  “Then I sent for Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah, and Meshullam, leaders; also for Joiarib and Elnathan, men of understanding.  And I gave them a command for Iddo the chief man at the place Casiphia [Casiphia, a place near the river Ahava, a tributary of the Euphrates, a place where exiled Levites lived.], and I told them what they should say to Iddo and his brethren the Nethinim at the place Casiphia---that they should bring us servants for the house of our God.  Then, by the good hand of our God upon us, they brought us a man of understanding, of the sons of Mahli the son of Levi, the son of Israel, namely Sherebiah, with his sons and brothers, eighteen men; and Hashabiah, and with him Jeshaiah of the sons of Marari, his brothers and their sons, twenty men; also of the Nethinim, whom David and the leaders had appointed for the service of the Levites, two hundred and twenty Nethinim.  All of them where designated by name.”

 

Fasting and Prayer for Protection, Ezra shows his human side

 

So now “Ezra calls for a fast and a great prayer meeting at the river of Ahava.  He wanted to know God’s will.  He said, ‘You know, I went before the king and told him that the hand of our God was with us, that he will be against our enemies and will lead us back to our land.’  Then Ezra looked at the delegation gathered by the river ready to go on that long march.  He looked at the families and the little ones, and he knew the dangers along the way.  The normal thing would be to ask the king for a little help---for a few guards to ride along with them.  Then the king would say, ‘I thought you were trusting the LORD.’  Sometimes some of us become very eloquent about how we are trusting God and how wonderful he is, but when we get right down to the nitty-gritty, we don’t really trust him [as much as we thought we did].  Ezra is that kind of individual.  He surely is human.  He says, “I was ashamed to go ask the king.”  What was the alternative?  He called for a prayer-meeting and a fast.  He said, “Oh, LORD, we just have to depend on you.”  You know, the LORD puts many of us in that position many, many times.” [THRU THE BIBLE, Vol. II, pp. 493-494]  Ezra 8:21-23, “Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions.  For I was ashamed to request of the king an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road, because we had spoken to the king, saying, ‘the hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek him, but his power and his wrath are against all those who forsake him.’  So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and he answered our prayer.”

 

Artaxerxes’ Gifts for the Temple

 

“We find that the king sent a great deal of gold, silver, and vessels with this delegation. This wealth was put in the care of the priests, and they needed protection, you see.  And God did watch over them, and they arrived safely at their destination.  They stayed in Jerusalem three days and took the treasure into the temple---into the house of God.” [THRU THE BIBLE, Vol. II, p. 494, col. 2, par. 3]  Ezra 8:24-34, “And I separated twelve of the leaders of the priests---Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten of their brethren with them---and weighed out to them the silver, the gold, and the articles, the offering for the house of our God which the king and his counselors and his princes, and all Israel who were present, had offered.  I weighed into their hand six hundred and fifty talents of silver [at the talent weight of 120lbs per talent, 650 talents x 120lbs comes out to be 36 tons of silver], and one hundred talents [6 tons] of gold, twenty gold basins worth a thousand drachmas, and two vessels of fine polished bronze, precious as gold.  And I said to them, ‘You are holy [consecrated] to the LORD; the articles are holy also; and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering to the LORD God of your fathers.  Watch and keep them until you weigh them before the leaders of the priests and the Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses of Israel in Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of the LORD.’  So the priests and the Levites received the silver and the gold and the articles by weight, to bring them to Jerusalem to the house of our God.  Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go to Jerusalem.  And the hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambush along the road.  So we came to Jerusalem and stayed there three days.”  I’d say they stayed there three days, resting up. They’d just carried 42 tons of gold and silver hundreds of miles.  No wonder Ezra had everybody fast and pray for protection from enemies and highway robbers.  Anyone who has had to make a night deposit of thousands of dollars at an outside bank deposit box knows how Ezra and his group must have felt, and they all must have breathed a huge sigh of relief when they had entered Jerusalem proper.  ‘Rest up for three days, boys, you’ve earned it.  Then we’ll take this stuff to the Temple once you’re rested up.’  “Now on the fourth day the silver and the gold and the articles were weighed in the house of our God by the hand of Meremoth the son of Uriah the priest, and with him was Eleazar the son of Phinehas; with them were the Levites, Jozabad the son of Binnui, with the number and weight of everything.  All the weight was written down at that time.”

 

Celebratory Offerings Given at the Temple

 

Ezra 8:35-36, “The children of those who had been carried away captive, who had come from captivity [i.e. those in this 2nd wave of returnees, the 2,000 who came back with Ezra], offered burnt offerings to the God of Israel:  twelve bulls for all Israel, ninety-six rams, seventy-seven lambs, and twelve male goats as a sin offering.  All this was a burnt offering to the LORD.  And they delivered the king’s orders to the king’s satraps and the governors in the region beyond the River.  So they gave support to the people and the house of God.”  Notice they offered 12 bulls, and 12 goats, for all Israel, all 12 tribes, as a sin offering.  All 12 tribes weren’t there, only three of the 12.  But they had offerings offered for them, in remembrance, as well as to seek God’s favor on those missing 10 tribes, wherever they were.  Josephus remarks that the 10 tribes were residing north in the region of the Russian steppes as late as during the time of Jesus of Nazareth.  This was a generous gesture and action on the part of the Jews and Levites toward the missing tribes.  Now today they won’t even so much as publicly admit they exist (even though they debate amongst themselves as to where in the world they could be).

 

Discouragement Leads to a Dropping of Standards

 

Ezra 9:1-2, “Now when these things were done, the princes came to me, saying, ‘The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, doing according to their abominations, even of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites.  For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons:  so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands:  yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass.”  Now the Jews, Levites and Benjamites ought to know better.  Intermarriage with pagans had brought Solomon down, had brought Baal worship severely into Israel under Ahab and Jezebel.  The House of Israel, and then the House of Judah went into captivity and deportation because of these sins.  The whole section on Kings and Chronicles is about that, and the punishment it brought.  (see http://www.unityinchrist.com/kings/1.html and read through that whole six part section if you haven’t already.)  These intermarriages with the pagans would bring them right back into idolatry and ultimately Baal worship if something wasn’t done, and fast.  J. Vernon McGee’s comments are good on this section, so I’ll give them.  “Note that the Egyptians are mentioned and so are other pagan peoples. The Hittite nation [empire] was discovered after I was in school, and I have been interested in reading about them.  Throughout Asia Minor, especially along the coast, great cities like Ephesus, Smyrna, and Troy were first established by the Hittites.  They were indeed a great people, but they were heathen.  The people of Israel [Judah, Levi and Benjamin] had not separated themselves from these folk.  When the first delegation of Jews returned to the land, they met discouragement.  We will learn more about this when we come to the prophecy of Haggai.  We will see how he helped them overcome hurdles of discouragement that were before them.  Believe me, they ran a long line of hurdles, and through Haggai [and Zechariah] they were able to clear them.  With the help of Nehemiah [later], the active layman, the walls…of Jerusalem were rebuilt; but there was discouragement on every hand.  It is at times like this that you let down. It has happened to many Christians.  Someone has said that discouragement is the devil’s greatest weapon.  [I can personally attest to that.]  The Jews let down their guard and intermarried with the surrounding heathen and enemies of God…That in turn led to a practice of the abomination of the heathen.  The lack of separation plunged them into immorality and idolatry.  In some cases I don’t think these people took the trouble to get married because the heathen of that region and time did not pay much attention to the formality of marriage any more than the heathen in our contemporary society pay attention to it.  We have new freedom.  We are civilized people.  My friend, we are no different from the pagan peoples of Ezra’s day…Ezra 9:3-5, “So when I heard this thing, I tore my garment and my robe, and plucked out some of the hair of my head and beard, and sat down astonished.  Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel assembled to me, because of the transgression of those who had been carried away captive, and I sat astonished until the evening sacrifice.  At the evening sacrifice I arose from my affliction; and having torn my garment and my robe, I fell on my knees and spread out my hands to the LORD my God.”  “Even the leadership was involved in this.  They were all the more guilty before God, because privilege always increases responsibility.  The returned remnant is in a sad, sordid, and squalid condition…I want you to notice what he did.  It is something that we don’t see much of in our day.  Remember that Ezra did not arrive in his native land until about seventy-five years after the first delegation [emigration] of fifty thousand led by Zerubbabel.  When Ezra arrived with his delegation of two thousand, he found that the temple had been rebuilt, but not the walls of the city.  And the population was in a sad, sordid condition.  They had intermingled and intermarried with the heathen.  Immorality and idolatry were running rampant.  There was a lack of separation, and the Jews were a miserable and bedraggled lot.  When all of this was brought to Ezra’s attention, and he found that it was accurate, he was absolutely overwhelmed and chagrined that God’s people would drop to such a low level.  Today we talk about the apostasy of the church---at least I do.  But I wonder if we are as exercised about it as we should be.  Since I have retired [J. Vernon McGee speaking here] and am on the outside looking at he condition of the church from a different view, I must confess that I would like to wash my hands of it and say, ‘Well, it is no affair of mine.’  But it is an affair of mine.  And, friends, it is so easy for you and me to point an accusing finger at that which is wrong, but notice what Ezra did. He was so overwhelmed by the sin of his people that he tore his clothes and tore out his hair.  Instead of beginning a tirade against them (which would have been characteristic of many people today), notice the next step Ezra took.”  [THRU THE BIBLE, Vol. II, p.495]  If you are a believer, and are living by the standards of this world, this applies to you.  Next we have Ezra’s prayer, showing what Ezra did next.  Instead of doing what most Christian leaders would do, he did the only thing which would solve the problem, something that would bring on a spiritual revival amongst these Jewish refugees.

 

Some Christians Misapply Ezra 9 Through 10

 

But before we get to Ezra’s moving prayer, I want to address something to put this into modern perspective for the Body of Christ.  “They had intermingled and intermarried with the heathen.”  And in Ezra 10 we see Ezra commanding everyone to put away their pagan spouses, divorcing them and sending them away.  Some will try to use this Biblical example and command to try to teach and enforce amongst their congregants racism, condemning interracial marriage.  In the case of ancient Israel and Judah, interracial marriage brought idolatry and immorality (which was an integral part of the pagan religious sexual practices, which also made marriage a kind of informal thing amongst the pagans).  That is the only reason God was against interracial marriage back then, because of what it did to the nations of Israel and Judah, to their societies.  For a Christian, what would be the modern context for Ezra chapter 10, how should we apply it today?  Paul says that believers in Jesus Christ are not to be “unequally yoked, to nonbelievers” which means getting married to nonbelievers, with the word getting being the operative word here.  In modern-day context, nonbelievers are the “pagans, heathen” in the Ezra-Nehemiah passages.  For example, in God’s eyes, say you are a Caucasian believer in Jesus, and you are in love with a African-American believer in Jesus.  In God’s eyes, it is perfectly fine for the two of you to marry.  But if the person you intend to marry, regardless of race, is not a believer in Jesus Christ, an active Christian or Messianic Jewish believer, indwelt with the Holy Spirit, then Paul says you are not to marry that person.  Believers must marry believers.  Even in Ezra’s day, the real issue was Jewish believers in Yahweh marrying non-believers in Yahweh.  Rahab was a Canaanite from Jericho, and the LORD blessed her marriage with Salmon, continuing the kingly line of Judah from which Christ came through that union.  Rahab had exhibited a godly faith in Yahweh, demonstrated through her actions.  The same thing happened with Ruth, who was a Moabitess, her marriage to Boaz continued the kingly line, and she was the great-grandmother of King David, and her son was in the line of kings leading to Jesus Christ as well.  Both Rahab and Ruth were believers in Yahweh, both had the Holy Spirit indwelling them, and both are mentioned in Hebrews 11, the Hall of Faith for believers.  To read an excellent expository sermon covering the subject of marriage for believers in Jesus, log onto:  http://www.unityinchrist.com/corinthians/cor7.htm.  If you are currently married to a non-believer, you will find Paul’s instructions for you (and it isn’t to go and divorce that person, like you would think, mis-applying Ezra 9 and 10).  So log onto that excellent study and resource for marriage and learn how Ezra 9 and 10 apply to the Body of Christ in today’s New Testament times.  God created the races, he loves the races, all of them equally.  God is not a racist, demanding physical, genetic racial purity.  He desires above all for spiritual purity, not racial purity.  The nation of Brazil, over a hundred years ago, encouraged it’s people, composed of Spaniard whites, freed Black slaves, and South American Indians, to freely intermarry.  After awhile racism died, and they all look pretty much the same today.  God is not angry with them.  They are a wonderful people, and there are probably hundreds of thousands of genuine believers in Jesus in Brazil.  Now back to Ezra’s solution to the problem he uncovered in verses 1-2.

 

Ezra’s Prayer

 

Ezra 9:5, “And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness [affliction]; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the LORD my God.”  “What does it mean to spread out your hands to God?  It means that you are not concealing anything.  It means when you go to God in prayer, friend, that your mind and soul stand absolutely naked before Him.  Ezra went to God with his hands outspread.  He was holding nothing at all back from God.  The apostle Paul put it this way, “I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 Tim. 2:8).  We need to remember that in our prayer lives.”  Ezra 9:6-7, “And I said, ‘O my God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to lift up my face to you, my God; for our iniquities have risen higher than our fathers to this day we have been very guilty, and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plunder, and to humiliation, as it is this day.”  “Listen to Ezra.  This is a great prayer.  He knew what it was to be a captive in a foreign land.  He either had been born in captivity or he had been taken captive as a little boy, and he knew what it meant.  That is why he trembled when he recognized that God would judge him.”  Verses 8, “And now for a little while grace has been shown from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a peg [nail] in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and give us a measure of revival in our bondage.”  “This is a great verse.  Ezra says “We have had just for a little space grace.”  The seventy years of captivity is over.  God has permitted his people to return to their land, and off they go again, following the heathen---doing the very thing that had sent them into captivity in the first place.  Ezra says, “There is just a remnant of us.”  These Jews obeyed enough to return to the land---most of the Jews did not return to the land; those who did were just a remnant.  “To give us a nail [NKJV “peg”, Old KJV “nail”] in his holy place”---do you know what that “nail” is?  That nail is Christ.  “My anchor holds within the veil.”  Do you know why?  Because I am nailed there. Christ was nailed on the cross down here so that I might be nailed [anchored] yonder at the throne of God for eternity.  Consider what Isaiah 22:22-23 says, “And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and no one shall shut; and he shall shut, and no one shall open.  And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father’s house.”  So believers are nailed up there, not on a cross, but in heaven for eternity.  [Don’t forget, God’s throne will end up on earth when the heavenly Jerusalem comes down to earth after Revelation 21:1, cf. Revelation 21:1-23.] You see, a nail is fixed in a sure place…That he “may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving [NKJV revival] in our bondage.”  I think this is a true picture of revival.  The term revival is not actually a Bible word…Technically, revival means “to recover life, or vigor; return to consciousness.”  It refers to that which has life, then ebbs down almost to death, has no vitality, and then is revived.  Romans 14:9 speaks of Christ’s resurrection this way: “…Christ both died, and rose, and revived…”  Obviously the word revival must be confined to believers if we are going to be technical.  It means that a believer is in a low spiritual condition and is brought back to vitality and power.  So here in Ezra’s day a real revival is going to take place.”  [THRU THE BIBLE, Vol. II, p. 496, col. 2, par. 3 through p. 497, selected lines from col. 1]  Here we’re about to see how Ezra goes about bringing a true spiritual revival about with the Jews in the cities of Judah and Jerusalem.  It is through prayer, first and foremost.  Within churches and congregations, both personal and group prayer are the most oft ignored remedies for what ails us spiritually.  You want a revival within your church or congregation.  Prayer is the way to bring one about.  Programs, Bible studies, sermons galore, will not do the trick.  This site has a fairly large section on Prayer.  Be sure to log onto http://www.unityinchrist.com/prayer/bibleway.htm and read through those various articles, and apply them to your personal life and your church life, from house-church to mega-church it is the only solution to what ails us spiritually.  Now follows Ezra’s great prayer to the LORD, which when answered by the LORD, brought about the revival, made it possible.  Why, do you ask, is prayer so important?  Because revival, true revival, involves changing and cleaning up people’s attitudes.  That is a “mind-thing” a thing of the mind, which only God can change within people.  Now let’s read the entire prayer of Ezra here. Ezra 9:5-15, “At the evening sacrifice I arose from my fasting [KJV, affliction]; and having torn my garment and my robe, I fell on my knees and spread my hands to the LORD my God.  And I said, ‘O my God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to lift up my face to you, my God; for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown up to the heavens.  Since the days of our fathers to this day we have been very guilty, and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plunder, and to humiliation, as it is this day.  And now for a little while grace has been shown from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a peg [KJV, “nail”] in his holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and give us a measure of revival in our bondage.  For we were slaves.  Yet our God did not forsake us in our bondage; but he extended mercy to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to revive us, to repair the house of our God, to rebuild its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.  And now, O our God, what shall we say after this?  For we have forsaken your commandments, which you commanded by your servants the prophets, saying, ‘The land which you are entering to possess is an unclean land, with the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations which have filled it from one end to another with their iniquity.  Now therefore, do not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters to your sons; and never seek their peace and prosperity, that you be strong and eat the good of the land, and leave it as an inheritance to your children forever.’  And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our guilt, since you our God have punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us such deliverance as this, should we again break your commandments, and join in marriage with the people committing these abominations?  Would you not be angry with us until you had consumed us, so that there would be no remnant or survivor?  O LORD God of Israel, you are righteous, for we are left as a remnant, as it is this day.  Here we are before you, in our guilt, though no one can stand before you because of this!”

 

Prayer begets Repentance, which begets Revival

 

After this great prayer prayed by Ezra himself, a revival was born, and revival always leads to repentance and reform.  An intense conviction of sin came over the Jews here in Jerusalem and Judea.  We see this in Ezra 10:1, “Now when Ezra had prayed, and when he had confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, there assembled unto him out of Israel a very great congregation of men and women and children:  for the people wept sore.”  We’re going to witness the mechanics of revival here, and I’m going to use J. Vernon McGee’s commentary and let him walk through this, because this is important to understand.  “And Shechaniah the son of Jeiel, one of the sons of Elam, answered and said unto Ezra, ‘We have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives of the people of the land:  yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing” (Ezra 10:2).  “This man Shechaniah apparently became the mouthpiece for this group of people who recognized their sin and wanted to confess.  He come to Ezra and said, ‘We have trespassed against our God.’  That is a very candid acknowledgement.  He continued ‘We have taken strange wives of the people of the land.’  That, my friend, is nailing it down and dealing with the specifics.  What they had done was absolutely contrary to the Law of Moses.  They had not consulted in this grave matter, “that which was written.”  In other words, they had departed from the Word of God.  Now he casts himself upon the mercy of God and says, ‘Yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing.’”  Ezra 10:3, “Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law.”  “There were those who now joined in confession who likewise trembled at the commandment of God.  That is, they not only read it and studied it; they let the Word of God have its way in their hearts.  When the transgression was called to their attention, they confessed it.  They did not attempt to rationalize, excuse, or cover over their sin.  They did this according to the Word of God.”  Ezra 10:4-6, “Arise; for this matter belongeth unto thee:  we also will be with thee:  be of good courage, and do it.  Then arose Ezra, and made the chief priests, the Levites, and all Israel, to swear that they should do according to this word. And they sware.  Then Ezra rose up from before the house of God, and went into the chamber of Johanan the son of Eliashib:  and when he came thither, he did eat no bread, nor drink water:  for he mourned [fasted] because of the transgression of them that had been carried away.”  “Breaking the Law of God was a very serious thing.  They went before Him with great travail of soul.  What everyone went through is rather heart-rending, but the Word of God had been transgressed and the people had to repent.  [Repent, means to turn around and go the other way.]  Friend, that is where revival must begin.  First, we must walk in the light of God’s Word.  When we come to the Word of God, it brings conviction to our hearts.  We see that we are coming short of the glory of God.  We realize that we are openly transgressing that which God has written.  When we go to Him in confession, and there is real repentance, the result will be that God’s children will be revived.  Today we are busy preaching repentance to a lost world.  I am not sure that God is asking the lost world to repent.  He is saying to the world, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved…” (Acts 16:31).  When you come to Christ as Savior, something happens.  It happened in Thessalonica.  In 1 Thessalonians 1:9 Paul says, “For they themselves shew us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serving the living and true God.”  Repentance does not precede faith.  Faith goes before and repentance follows---it follows as surely as the night follows day.  If it doesn’t follow, the faith is not genuine---it isn’t saving faith.  Repentance is the thing that is so lacking in the church [Body of Christ] today.  Have you ever noticed that in the Bible God asks the church to repent?  In Asia Minor recorded in the Book of Revelation God asks all but two of them to repent.  God was talking to believers, not to unsaved people.  Personally, I do not agree with these people who are constantly asking the mayor, or governor, or the president to declare a day of prayer.  They say, “Let’s have a national day of prayer.  We need prayer.”  Oh, my friend, what are you talking about?  I cannot believe that Ezra sent out word to the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites [Phoenicians, remember them?---Baal worshipers which brought so much destruction on Israel and Judah], the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians and the Amorites that they were invited to a great day of prayer.  Let’s face it---America is a pagan nation.  Believers are a minority.  This is a day when every minority is being heard except Bible-believers.  I think one could organize a rally of a host of people in our nation for a day of prayer.  [And this has happened, composed mostly of believers.]  But what good would it do?  God is saying to the lost, “Come to me and be saved through Jesus Christ.”  [But far more importantly, I think] He is saying to His church, “Repent.  Come back to Me.  Come out of your coldness and indifference.”  The thing that we need today is revival [within the Body of Christ], and a revival will not come without repentance among believers.  In Ezra’s day God’s people were no longer indifferent, you see; but in our day there is indifference in the church.  Lyman Abbot made this statement years ago.  “When I was a boy, I heard my father say that if by some miracle God would change every cold, indifferent Christian into ten blatant infidels, the church might well celebrate a day of thanksgiving and praise.”  The trouble with the church [Body of Christ] today is that it is filled with cold, indifferent church members---perhaps many of them not even saved.  If revival comes, friend, you are going to see this indifferent crowd either come over on the Lord’s side or else they will make it very clear that they belong to the devil.  Ezra went to God in genuine repentance [as if he personally had anything to repent of] and others followed suit.  Ezra 10:7-8, “And they made proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem unto all the children of the captivity, that they should gather themselves together unto Jerusalem; and that whosoever would not come within three days, according to the counsel of the princes and elders, all his substance should be forfeited, and himself separated from the congregation of those that had been carried away.”  “They were making a real line of separation.  They are under the Mosaic Law.  In the church today I don’t believe you could force the issue as they were doing here.  They are removing all of the chaff that they possibly can from the good wheat.  It would take about “three days” to come from any section in that land, and this proclamation was directed to all those who had returned to rebuild the city, the walls, and the temple.  They were to come together for a time of spiritual refreshing, but repentance must precede it. Those who would not come because they felt that things were not being done the way they wanted them to be done, or had some other objection, were to be cast out of the congregation.  The church needs housecleaning today.  [emphasis mine, but I’m sure if J. Vernon McGee were alive today, it would be his too.]  I don’t mean taking from the church roll the names of members who can’t be located either.  What the average church needs to do is get rid of some of the members they can locate---those who need to repent but will not repent.”  [see and read the short introduction to this history piece at: http://www.unityinchrist.com/history/saga.htm and http://www.unityinchrist.com/history/IntroChurchHistory.htm.]   Ezra 10:9-11, “Then all the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered themselves together unto Jerusalem within three days. It was the ninth month, on the twentieth day of the month; and all the people sat in the street of the house of God, trembling because of this matter, and for the great rain.  And Ezra the priest stood up, and said unto them, Ye have transgressed, and have taken strange wives, to increase the trespass of Israel.  Now therefore make confession unto the LORD God of your fathers, and do his pleasure:  and separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives.”  “In other words, don’t jut be a hearer of the Word of God but be a doer of the Word also [cf. James 1:21-25].  We are hearing a great deal today about the need for action in the church [Body of Christ], but what the church really needs is to get cleaned up.  There needs to be confession.  Even a lack of love needs to be confessed.   “By this shall all men know ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”  (John 13:35).”  “Then all the congregation answered and said with a loud voice, ‘As thou hast said, so must we do’” (verse 12).  “What Ezra asked these people to do was a bitter pill to swallow.  I am confident that there was a great wrenching of the heart and a great agony of the soul as these people separated themselves from their loved ones.  It is interesting that while they were gathered together quite a rainstorm came up.”  Ezra 10:13, “But the people are many, and it is a time of much rain, and we are not able to stand without, neither is this a work of one day or two:  for we are many that have transgressed in this thing.”  “A rainstorm came up and everybody wanted to scatter.  Now Ezra had a whole lot of sense.  He said, ‘We don’t want to stand out here in all of this rain, especially because of the women and children.  Instead of doing this in a slipshod manner, what we want to do is come back another day and do this thing right.”  “Ezra 10:14, “Let now our rulers of all the congregation stand, and let all them which have taken strange wives in our cities come at appointed times, and with them the elders of every city, and the judges thereof, until the fierce wrath of our God for this matter be turned from us.”  “Ezra wanted things to be done in an orderly way, and this is what they did.”  “And they gave their hands that they would put away their wives; and being guilty, they offered a ram of the flock for their trespass” (verse 19).  “The offering mentioned speaks of the fact the people are united as one.  They are united in this tremendous effort to set things right with God.  Following this verse is a list of those who agreed to put away their foreign wives.  They entered into a solemn agreement and pledged to do it.”  “All these had taken strange wives: and some of them had wives by whom they ad children” (Ezra 10:44)  “This verse tells a sad story, does it not?  The sins of the fathers will be visited on the children.  We see here just how thoroughly this separation was to be carried out.  Ezra was God’s man for the hour.  For this generation, at least, he helped preserve the testimony of the Jews for the fulfillment of God’s plan.”  [THRU THE BIBLE, Vol. II, pp. 497-500]  I couldn’t have covered this chapter better than J. Vernon McGee did in his THRU THE BIBLE commentary.  He has squarely put his finger on the major problem within the Body of Christ.  That is why I used his comments here almost exclusively in covering Ezra chapter 10.  After Ezra’s coming to the land of Judah, Nehemiah came somewhere around 445BC, which was the date of the 2nd decree of Artaxerxes I, given to him, and the third decree given by the Persian monarchs altogether for the Jews to return.  Nehemiah returned and helped the Jews rebuild the walls around Jerusalem, and helped Ezra continue the spiritual revival which was taking place here.  See http://www.unityinchrist.com/nehemiah/nehemiah.html  to cover this book and subsequent continuation of the revival Ezra started, and don’t forget, started through prayer and fasting.  From this point on after Nehemiah, historically, Judah endures into the time of Alexander the Great, then the various Hellenist Seleucid kings leading up to Antiochus Epiphanes and the Maccabean period, which is covered in my section on Daniel 11.  See http://www.unityinchrist.com/Daniel/daniel1.htm  to follow this historic-prophetic thread right to the end-times, the times in which we are coming into. 

 

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