|Vol. 13 No. 8 August 2011||
James 2:14-27 tells us in rapid fire succession of the irrevocable connection between faith and works. Despite all voices to the contrary, James 2:17 still reads, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Verse 18 continues the thought, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
James 2:20-22 contains three most thought provoking questions that demand an affirmative answer based in Scripture – not on man’s opinion, attitude or worldview. “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?”
James strengthens the divine line of reasoning in verses 23 and 24. “And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.”
Abigail is a most striking example of her faith being justified by her works. We are introduced to this beautiful woman and learn of her outstanding faith and works in 1 Samuel 25. Her husband Nabal was a very rich man, but he was harsh and badly behaved. Nabal had 3,000 sheep and 1,000 goats, and he was shearing his sheep. Nabal’s shepherds had been with David’s men, and the men had been a shield for the shepherds. David’s men were very good to them; Nabal’s men were not hurt, and they were not missing anything as long as they accompanied David’s men when they were in the fields. David’s men were a wall to them day and night all the time they were with them keeping the sheep.
David sent some of his young men to Nabal on a feast day and asked him for whatever he had on hand to be given to him and his men. Nabal snubbed this most courteous and well-mannered request from David, the future king of Israel, for food and water.
First Samuel 25:10 says, “Then Nabal answered David’s servants, and said, ‘Who is David, and who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants nowadays who break away each one from his master. Shall I then take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers, and give it to men when I do not know where they are from?”
This ruthless reply is what ignited David’s angry response! Verses 21 and 22 record, “Now David had said, ‘Surely in vain I have protected all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belongs to him. And he has repaid me evil for good. May God do so, and more also, to the enemies of David, if I leave one male of all who belong to him by morning light.’”
It is at this point that one of the young men of Abigail’s household informed her of what had happened. In verse 17, he had told Abigail, “Now therefore, know and consider what you will do, for harm is determined against our master and against all his household. For he is such a scoundrel that one cannot speak to him.” Abigail sprang into action upon hearing this urgent plea! Did she believe what the young man had just told her? Every word was still ringing in her ears as she proceeded to act on what she believed! Verse 18 is rich indeed in its description of her actions. “Then Abigail made haste and took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five sheep already dressed, five seahs of roasted grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and loaded them on donkeys.”
Abigail sent her servants ahead with this massive provision of food; they were told she would follow them. However, Abigail did not tell her husband Nabal. She went down under cover of the hill and there met David and his men. Verse 23 tells us, “Now when Abigail saw David, she dismounted quickly from the donkey, fell on her face before David, and bowed down to the ground.”
What we read in 1 Samuel 25:24-31 is without a doubt one of the most impassioned pleas for the life of a particular person, as well as many others in all of Scripture! She lived up to the description as a woman of good understanding and discernment. Abigail’s plea was refined, proper and gracious to the utmost. She was so meticulous in her plea for mercy that David’s anger was completely abated!
David’s response to Abigail is priceless! First Samuel 25:32-35 may well be one of the passages that show us why David was described as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). “Then David said to Abigail: ‘Blessed is the LORD God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! And blessed is your advice and blessed are you, because you have kept me this day from coming to bloodshed and from avenging myself with my own hand. For indeed, as the LORD God of Israel lives, who has kept me back from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, surely by morning light no males would have been left to Nabal!’ So David received from her hand what she had brought him, and said to her, ‘Go up in peace to your house. See, I have heeded your voice and respected your person.’”
Let us just suppose that Abigail had held the position and attitude that she believed what the young man had told her but did nothing. Abigail showed her phenomenal faith by her works!
Esther was another woman of remarkable faith. Her faith moved her into action in such a profound way that it too is noteworthy for us as women of God. It has been noted in virtually every commentary, article or book that the name of God is not mentioned in the book of Esther. Yet, God’s plan, purpose and providence are seen throughout all ten chapters!
The entire Jewish nation had been targeted to be destroyed, to be killed, to be annihilated, young and old, women and children and their goods to be plundered (Esther 3:12-13)! King Ahasuerus, the ruler of the Persian Empire, had chosen Esther as queen sometime previously, but her cousin Mordecai had instructed Esther not to make known her kindred or her people. Haman was the king’s right hand man. Haman hated Mordecai simply because Mordecai would not bow down to him at the king’s gate, as all the other servants paid homage as the king had commanded. When asked why he would not bow down, Mordecai told the other servants he was a Jew. When Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down to him, he was furious!
When Mordecai learned that Haman was the driving force behind this murderous plot to destroy the Jews, he tore his clothes, put on sack cloth and ashes, went out into the city and cried loudly and bitterly (Esther 4:1-2)! Esther’s young women and her eunuchs came and told her that Mordecai was in mourning, and she was deeply distressed. She sent clothes for Mordecai, but he refused to take off his sackcloth. So, she ordered one of her eunuchs to go to Mordecai and find out what it was and why it was. Esther 4:7-8 reads, “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 that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her, and that he might command her to go into the king to make supplication to him and plead before him for her people.”
Initially, Esther did not seem to grasp the urgency of Mordecai’s request. She was most reluctant to even consider the possibility of going before the king. She sent a message back to Mordecai saying all the king’s servants and the people of the provinces knew that any man or woman who went into the inner court who the king had not called would be put to death! She said the only exception was the one to whom the king would extend his golden scepter. Esther further stated that she had not been called to go into the king in thirty days.
Mordecai’s response to Esther was most powerful in motivating her into action! He declared with full conviction in Esther 4:13-14, “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?’” Isn’t that rich?
Upon hearing this, Esther’s faith began to be turned into the most decisive action possible! Esther 4:15-16 says, “Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, ‘Go gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then, I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.”
Three days later, Esther was standing in the king’s inner court. She won favor in his sight, and he asked her what her request was. That day Esther invited the king and Haman to a banquet that she had prepared. They accepted her invitation, and at the banquet, the king again asked Esther what was her request. Esther answered that her wish and request was that they both return the next day for another prepared banquet.
On the second day, the king again inquired about her wish and her request. Esther answered and said if she had found favor in the king’s sight, she was asking for her life to be granted to her as her wish and the life of her people for her request. Esther 7:4 records her saying, “For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have been silent, for our affliction is not to be compared with the loss to the king.” The king did not have the first clue what Esther was talking about, even though he was the one who had signed the decree for their utter destruction! He asked her, “‘Who is he, and where is he, who has dared to do this?’ And Esther said, ‘A foe and enemy! This wicked Haman!’ Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.” (Esther 7:5). Haman was subsequently hanged on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai (Esther 7:7-10). On that day King Ahasuerus gave Haman’s house to Queen Esther! Esther then spoke again to the king and asked him to send out an order revoking the letters that Haman had devised for the Jews’ destruction. However, because of the unchangeable nature of Persian law, unable to rescind Haman’s decree (Esther 8:8), the king nevertheless granted her request immediately by permitting a second decree to go forth allowing the Jews to defend themselves (Esther 8:1-14)!
Esther 9:1b reads, “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.” Esther 9:5 reads, “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.” What a grave warning for those who plot wicked, appalling schemes! Proverbs 26:27 reads, “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and he who rolls a stone will have it roll back on him.”
After the Jews destroyed their enemies, two days every year were set aside to celebrate! “Then Queen Esther …wrote with full authority to confirm this second letter about Purim. So the decree of Esther confirmed these matters of Purim, and it was written in the book” (Esther 9:29, 32).
Let us just suppose that Esther had stood firm on her original position and continued to believe and insist that there was nothing she could, would, or even needed to do. Esther showed her phenomenal faith by her works!
Abigail and Esther are two of the most remarkable biblical women whose lives exemplified faith in action! Neither of them believed their faith only was sufficient. Neither of them thought their faith alone was so strong that God had already done everything needed. They fully understood they had to act to have any hope of averting the life threatening circumstances they faced.
Centuries before James wrote on faith and works, they demonstrated the vital connection between the two. May we as servants of God living centuries after James wrote on faith and works also exhibit the vital connection between the two. Scripture does not allow for anything more, anything less or anything else. Faith without works is dead, useless and worth nothing!