“I Was the King’s Cupbearer” (Nehemiah)

July 20, 2017

Nehemiah, whom God used to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (444 BC), served during the administration of the Persian King Artaxerxes (464-423 BC). Nehemiah states, “For I was the king’s cupbearer” (Nehemiah 1:11).

Drinking Cup. Bible Lands Museum, Jerusalem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Professor Edwin Yamauchi has some helpful information on what it would have meant to be a “cupbearer”:

“Cupbearer” (mašqeh is a Hiphil participle of the verb šaqāh) literally means “one who gives (someone) something to drink.” It occurs twelve times in the OT in the sense of “cupbearer,” e.g., in 1 Kings 10:5 and 2 Chronicles 9:4 of Solomon’s attendants. In the Joseph story it occurs nine times (Gen 40:1–41:9), but its significance is obscured by the KJV and the RSV, which translate the word “butler.” That the cupbearer could have other responsibilities as well is indicated by Tobit 1:22: “Now Ahikar was cupbearer, keeper of the signet, and in charge of administration of the accounts, for Esarhaddon had appointed him second to himself.” For archaeological evidence of Persian wine services, see P.R.S. Moorey, “Metal Wine-Sets in the Ancient Near East,” Iranica Antiqua 15 (1980): 181ff.
Varied sources suggest something about Nehemiah as a royal cupbearer:

1. He would have been well-trained in court etiquette (cf. Dan 1:4–5).

2. He was probably a handsome individual (cf. Dan 1:4, 13, 15; Jos. Antiq. XVI, 230 [viii.1]).

3. He would certainly know how to select the wines to set before the king. A proverb in the Babylonian Talmud (Baba Qamma 92b) states: “The wine belongs to the master but credit for it is due to his cupbearer.”

4. He would have to be a convivial companion, willing to lend an ear at all times.

5. He would have great influence as one with the closest access to the king, able to determine who was able see his master.

6. Above all Nehemiah had to be one who enjoyed the unreserved confidence of the king. The great need for trustworthy court attendants is underscored by the intrigues endemic to the Achaemenid court. Xerxes, father of Artaxerxes I, was killed in his own bedchamber by Artabanus, a courtier (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job. Vol. 4, p. 683).

H.G.M. Williamson notes:

Royal cupbearers in antiquity, in addition to their skill in selecting and serving wine and their duty in tasting it as proof against poison, were also expected to be convivial and tactful companions to the king. Being much in his confidence, they could thus wield considerable influence by way of informal counsel and discussion. Texts and pictures from many Ancient Near Eastern sources (including Achaemenid) supporting this statement have been helpfully collected by Yamauchi, ZAW 92 (1980) 132–42. The portrayal fits admirably with the sequel in chap. 2. It may be noted also that the office of cupbearer could be combined with other important offices. (Word Biblical Commentary, Ezra, Nehemiah. Vol. 16, p. 174).

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The Euphrates, at Zeugma/Seleucia

June 20, 2017

We are currently teaching the OT book of Ezra in our local congregation. Ezra 8 mentions Ahava as a place (v.15) and a river (note NET: “canal” and NLT: “Ahava Canal” (vv.21,31).

This [Ahava] has not been identified, though it appears from v 21 that both the canal (lit., “river”) and the locality shared the same name. We must assume from the context that it was a large open space close to Babylon. Babylon itself was built on the Euphrates river from which flowed a number of artificial canals and waterways for defensive purposes (cf. IDB 1, 334–38; Ezek 1:1; Ps 137:1). Ahava was no doubt one of these (Williamson, H. G. M. Ezra, Nehemiah, Word Biblical Commentary, p. 116).

Our photo shows the Euphrates at Zeugma, named Selucia during the Grecian intertestamental period.

Euphrates River at Zeugma. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

I took this photo in Upper Mesopotamia, near the Birecik Dam, well north of the area referenced in Ezra 8, but it serves well for illustrative purposes. In the foreground are pistachio trees.

Pistachio tree, close-up. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Originally, the ancient city of Zeugma was founded as a Greek settlement by Seleucus I Nicator, one of the generals of Alexander the Great, in 300 BC. The city was called “Zeugma”, because of the bridge across the Euphrates River that was made of pontoons, thus connecting the two banks of the river. In Greek, “zeugma” means “bridge-passage” or “bridge of boats”. The population of the city at its peak was approximately 80,000.

In 64 BC the city was conquered and ruled by the Roman Empire. During Roman rule, the city became one of the attractions in the region, due to its commercial potential originating from its geo-strategic location because the city was on the Silk Road connecting Antioch to China via a bridge of pontoons across the river Euphrates, which defined the border with the Persian Empire until the late 2nd century.

In 256 AD, Zeugma experienced an invasion and was destroyed by the Sassanid king, Shapur I. The damage from the invasion was so drastic that Zeugma was not able to recover for a long time. To make the situation even worse, a violent earthquake buried the city beneath rubble. Indeed, during the rest of its time under Roman rule, the city never regained the prosperity it had once achieved.

Zeugma and environs remained part of the Roman empire. During the 5th and 6th centuries the city was ruled by the Early Byzantium or Eastern Roman Empire. As a result of the ongoing Arab raids the city was abandoned once again. Later on, in the 10th and 12th centuries, a small Abbasid group settled in Zeugma.

Finally a village called Belkis was founded at the site in the 17th century. (Wikipedia).

To see another of my photos of the Euphrates click here. Ferrell Jenkins has several entries on the Euphrates including here and here.

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Armageddon (Megiddo), where Good King Josiah Was Slain

May 19, 2017

Megiddo is mentioned several times in the Old Testament, and once in the NT (Rev. 16:16). In the Old Testament, nearing the close of the kingdom of Judah, good King Josiah (r. 640-609 BC) was mortally wounded there in battle by Pharaoh Neco of Egypt, who was en route to Carchemish to war against Babylon. The international highway, the Via Maris, connected Egypt to Mesopotamia, so Neco was on that route, which passed through the strategic site of Megiddo.

However, Josiah would not turn away from him, but disguised himself in order to make war with him; nor did he listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God, but came to make war on the plain of Megiddo.  The archers shot King Josiah, and the king said to his servants, “Take me away, for I am badly wounded.”  So his servants took him out of the chariot and carried him in the second chariot which he had, and brought him to Jerusalem where he died and was buried in the tombs of his fathers. All Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah.  Then Jeremiah chanted a lament for Josiah. And all the male and female singers speak about Josiah in their lamentations to this day. (2 Chron. 35:22-25, NAU).

Tel Megiddo in distance. A portion of the “Plain of Megiddo” or the “Valley of Megiddo” is in foreground. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

One of the sites my group visited in November ’16 was Megiddo.

View from Megiddo through ancient gate looking to plain below. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Here is a view of some of the archaeological excavations in foreground, with another view of the plain/valley below.

Excavations/view from Megiddo. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

These photos help provide the setting for the texts that mention biblical Megiddo.

I have made numerous posts on Megiddo; click here, here, herehere, here, and here.

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What Time Is It?

May 4, 2017

Today we were able to visit Ein Yael, Philip’s Spring, located on the ancient Jerusalem-Gaza route. A number of interesting artifacts were on the site, including this sundial.

Sundial at Ein Yael. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

This helps illustrate an event in the life of King Hezekiah of Judah, one of Judah’s best kings. He faithfully led the nation in very difficult times. Then he became sick and was near death. God sent the prophet Isaiah to Hezekiah with the message, “Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live” (Isaiah 38:1). Hezekiah fervently prayed to the Lord, his prayer was heard, and the Lord promised to add 15 years to his life. As a sign to confirm this promise, God said, “Behold, I will bring the shadow on the sundial, which has gone down with the sun on the sundial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward” (Isa. 38:7,8, NKJV).

Some translations render the Hebrew term maalah as “stairway” (see NAS, CSB). The NET Bible notes, “These steps probably functioned as a type of sundial.”

Whether the term means “steps” or “sundial,” certainly what is under consideration is a means of telling time by the moving shadow cast by the sun. The miraculous sign was that the shadow would return, it would go backward by 10 “steps” or “degrees.”

Whether what is intended in Isaiah 38 is this type of sundial, or another system (steps, stairway) is meant, the principle is the same. God miraculously returned the shadow to confirm to Hezekiah that He would extend his life as He had promised.

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Jerusalem’s Temple Mount

May 3, 2017

Today we had opportunity to visit the temple mount in Jerusalem. This is a wide-angle shot I made this morning:

Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The very recognizable Dome of the Rock at center approximates the site of Solomon’s temple, as well as the 2nd temple, built after the return from Babylonian Captivity and vastly renovated by Herod the Great.

This area is known as Mt. Moriah. This was the location where Abraham took Isaac in obedience to God’s command to offer him as a sacrifice, though He stopped Abraham prior to the actual event (Gen. 22:1-13). Years later, when Solomon built the temple, the Bible says, “Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah . . .” (2 Chron. 3:1, ESV).

The temple mount consists of about 36 acres. When the New Testament speaks of Jesus teaching in the temple, or of the early church meeting in the temple, those texts are not referring to the naos (holy place/most holy place) into which only the priests/Levites could enter; the most holy place only the high priest could enter, and that only once per year on the Day of Atonement. Rather, reference is made to the hieron, the greater temple area, consisting of its many courts and colonnades, etc.

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“Ye Kine of Bashan” (Amos 4:1)

April 29, 2017

The fearless prophet Amos was sent by Yahweh to the northern kingdom of Israel in the days of the Divided Kingdom. He cried out against the idolatry there. In this prosperous (albeit short-lived) time when Jeroboam II reigned (8th century BC), Amos also rebuked the luxury-loving women in Israel who cared nothing about God and His will: “Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say to their masters, Bring, and let us drink.” (Amos 4:1, KJV).

Cattle in Bashan, Israel. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The word kine as used in the KJV is old English; it is archaic plural for “cow.” The ESV renders the text, “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, ‘Bring, that we may drink!'”

The women were not left in doubt as to the meaning of the imagery–they were behaving with no more concern for spiritual matters than a bunch of fat cows!

The background for Amos’ reference to cows of Bashan takes us back to Numbers 21, when Israel conquered the land of Og of Bashan, north and east of the Jordan (as well as the land of Sihon, to the south of Bashan). Then Numbers 32 tells how two and one half tribes (Reuben, Gad, and 1/2 tribe of Manasseh) asked that they might settle on the eastern side of the Jordan. That request was granted (conditioned upon the men of war helping with the conquest of Canaan). The reason given for the request: these lands “were ideal for cattle” (v.1, NET).

Land of Bashan, good for cattle. BibleAtlas.org.

The women Amos addressed did not live in Bashan, east of the Jordan. The text refers to their being in Samaria, which was the capital of Israel. But they were acting like cattle in that place which was so noted for its cattle.

Today I was in what was the OT land of Bashan when I photographed these cattle. I was put in mind of our text in Amos.

I do not know how the women in Israel responded to the preaching of Amos. We do know that the nation as a whole did not listen, and God would soon allow the Assyrians to destroy the northern kingdom. One can hope that at least some individuals may have responded appropriately and repented. Though they may have felt insulted, in reality Amos was their friend, their best friend.

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16,17).


The Jordan River

April 28, 2017

Today after leaving Jerusalem I made a stop at the Jordan before heading up the Rift Valley for the Galilee. This location is thought by many to be the area in the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized by John.

Jordan River. Traditional location of Jesus’ baptism. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

We had a safe late afternoon arrival at Tiberias, situated on the Sea of Galilee. While having dinner, Zachary Shavin, who is presently directing a tour, came by to visit a while and “talk shop.” Zack served as our guide for my Israel tour in November. His website is www.landofisraeltours.com

Leon Mauldin and Zachary Shavin.

To view my previous posts about the Jordan River, go up to search box and enter “Jordan.”

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