In the book of Esther, this battle and the Persian war against the Greeks, takes place between chapters 1 and 2 of the book. It would be included in the “after these things” (2:1).
The Battle of Thermopylae
The Greek historian Herodotus (ca. 484 BC – 430 BC), writing several decades after the battle of Thermopylae, is our main source for this event (Persian Wars, Book 7.175-233; LCL 3:491-549).
Sparta was a military city-state with two kings that claimed to be the descendent of the demi-god Hercules. They were famous for their austerity and public military education. In Sparta, the women had a lot of freedom: “they could wrestle in the nude, inherit property, and, if they were married, publically insult bachelors at an annual festival (Strauss 2007: 73).” The Spartans had “unusual sexual customs, such as polyandry (wives having more than one husband each), socially acceptable wife-sharing, and institutionalized pederasty between a young male citizen warrior and a teenage boy” (2007: 73).
Thermopylae is a narrow pass separating northern Greece (Macedonia and Thessaly) from central Greece. The word “Thermopylae” means “hot gates” (plural) because there are three sections of the pass going east – west between steep mountains to the south and the Gulf of Malis to the north. This pass had sulfurous hot-springs along the way. It was the middle gate, no more than 20 yards wide, that had a dilapidated wall crossing it, that the Spartans defended in order to block the Persian advance to Athens.
Xerxes, the Great King, the king of Persia, entered Greece from the Hellespont in June of 480 BC, in order to seek glory for himself and revenge from his father Darius’ defeat by the Greeks a decade before at Marathon. Xerxes commanded an army of 150,000 fighting men and a navy of 1,200 warships. In his army were the 10,000 strong Immortals, the crack infantry troops of the Persian army. Herodotus reports that the army, with all its support personal, numbered well over a million people from all over the Persian empire (cf. Esther 1:1, the 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia). Supplying this force with food and drink must have been a phenomenal job. In fact, Herodotus reports that when they came to a river, they drank it dry! (Persian Wars 7.187; LCL 3:505).
The Greek force that met the Persians at Thermopylae was about 7,100 soldiers from a dozen or so different city-states in Central Greece and the Peloponnese. They were commanded by one of the kings of Sparta, Leonidas. The Greeks were not able to muster a large force immediately because of some religious prohibitions. In progress at the time were two major religious festivals. The first was the Spartan’s Carnea in honor of the Greek god Apollo; and the second was the famous Olympic Games. There was, however, a promise of a large force after the religious festivals were over!
Xerxes and his army arrived at the western end of the Thermopylae passes and set up camp. He expected his vast numbers and superior forces would intimidate the Greeks and force them to flee in fear. However, the Spartans stood their ground. After four days, Xerxes decided to take matters into his own hands.
Herodotus records a bit of “gallows-humor” by a Spartans named Dieneces. A Trachinian said to him before the battle that the Medes were so many that when they shoot their multitudes of arrows it would block the sun light. Dieneces reportedly quipped, “Our friend from Trachis brings us right good news, for if the Medes hide the sun we shall fight them in the shade and not in the sunshine” (Persian Wars 7.226; LCL 3: 543). Keep in mind, the battle took place in the month of August, the heat of the summer!
On the first day of battle, Xerxes sent the Medes against the Spartans. With heavy losses the Medes were repelled so Xerxes sent a second wave to break through the pass, but this failed as well. By the end of the day, the Immortals were thrown against the Spartans, but again with heavy losses. The second day was a repeat of the first, with substantial losses for the Persian army and light losses for the Greeks.
On the evening after the second day of battle, a greedy Greek traitor named Ephialtes, the son of Eurydemus, from Trachis, in exchange for money, offered to lead the Immortals along a little know path over the mountains so they could out flank the Spartans. This they did in the silence of the night. By dawn, Leonidas had gotten word that the Immortals were behind him, but the Spartans stood their ground to the last man.
After the battle, Xerxes buried the three hundred Spartans where they fell in the pass so his forces would not be demoralized when they realized they were stopped by so few warriors. The head of Leonidas was impaled on a spear so that he could be seen by all. Xerxes buried 19,000 of his troops that were slain by the Spartans but left 1,000 dead bodies on the battlefield so his forces would think that their losses were not that great. (For a detailed account of the battle, see Cartledge 2006; for two good summaries of the battle, see the articles: Strauss 2004 and Frye 2006.)
A year later, after the war was over and the Persians defeated and gone home, the Greek erected a monument at the site of the battle with the inscription: “Go tell the Spartans, thou that passest by, that here obedient to their words we lie” (Persian Wars 7.228; LCL 3:545). This inscription is also on a modern monument beneath a statue of King Leonidas that was erected by Greek Americans in 1955.
The “final problem” of Thermopylae that scholars have debated is: “What was the purpose of Leonidas clinging to his position at Thermopylae when it had apparently become untenable?” (Evans 1964: 231). A number of answers have been suggested. King Leonidas realized that the Greek troops were afraid so he sent them away so they could escape to fight another day. If they and the Spartans all fled at the same time, Leonidas knew that the swift Persian cavalry would catch up with them and slaughter everybody. Leonidas was buying time so their allies could escape (Evans 1964: 237).
Herodotus recounts: “But to this opinion I the rather incline, that when Leonidas perceived the allies to be faint of heart and not willing to run all risks with him he bade them to their ways, departure being for him not honorable; if he remained, he would leave a name of great renown, and the prosperity of Sparta would not be blotted out. For when the Spartans enquired of the oracle concerning this war at its very first beginning, the Pythian priestess had prophesied to them that either Lacedaemon should be destroyed of the foreigners, or that its king should perish” (Persian Wars 7.220; LCL 3:537). Leonidas understood this prophecy to be about his death. His heroic stand encouraged the other Greek states to take up arms against the Persian invaders and fight for liberty and freedom.
The Historical Setting of the Book of Esther
King Xerxes (486-465 BC), the Great King, the king of Persia is King Ahasuerus in the book of Esther (Esther 1:1; for a full discussion of his life, see: Yamauchi 1990:203-206, 226-239).
In the third year of his reign (1:3), Ahasuerus had a “Pep Rally Party” to entice the various kings in his empire to join him on a military expedition to Greece (Esther 1:3-22). At this lavish banquet, each participant got their own gold vessels (1:7). Each vessel was individually hand crafted and different from any other. This banquet was designed to encourage these kings to “sign up for a Greek vacation” with their armies!
One of my favorite objects in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is a gold drinking vessel that was bought on the antiquities market in Iran, allegedly near Susa. It is a beautifully stylized drinking cup with the front part of a lion on it and is contemporary with this banquet (Pittman 1987: 140-141; plate 102). Whether it was one of the vessels mentioned in verse 7 cannot be determined. But if I was a kinglet in the Persian Empire and I got this unique vessel from the Great King, King Xerxes, I would be impressed and would immediately sign up for this vacation package!
It was at this banquet that Queen Vashti refused to entertain the king and his guests with a dance. The king, insulted by her rebellion and humiliated in front of his royal subjects, deposed her (1:10-22). The second chapter of the book of Esther begins with “After these things” (2:1). The time frame includes the campaign to Greece, the battle of Thermopylae, the sack of Athens, and the Persian defeat at Salamis.
The Theme of the Book of Esther
The theme of the book is this: “God’s preservation of His unbelieving people, and the celebration of that event in the feast of Purim” (Shepperson 1975:26). This theme explains why the Name of God is not mentioned in the book and why prayer is never mentioned. It also explains why Mordecai is still in Susa on the 13th of Nisan when he should have been back in Jerusalem for Passover on the 14th (Esther 3:12; cf. Lev. 23:5; Deut. 16:16). It also addresses why there is a “lack of spiritual awareness in Esther and Mordecai, and the vengeful spirit so apparent at the end of the book” (Shepperson 1975:25).
Esther and Mordecai were out of the will of God and in unbelief. The expression of faith for an Israelite (Mordecai was from the tribe of Benjamin, Esther 2:5) was for them to “Flee the Chaldeans” (Isa. 48:20,21; 52:7-12; Deut. 28:64-67) and return to Zion when Cyrus made the decree so the Judeans could return to Zion (Ezra 1:1-4). Yet a large number of Israelites and Judeans chose to remain outside the Land of Israel, in Babylon and Susa, rather than return to Zion and the hardships that existed there. When a person is out of God’s will, the last Person they want to talk about is the Lord. Thus the Name of God is not mentioned. Sometimes a person in unbelief or out of the will of God will perform religious rituals, just as the Jewish people did in Susa. They fulfilled their religious ritual by fasting for three days, but they did not pray to Him who should have been the LORD their God (Esther 4:16, 17; cf. Isa. 58:1-7; 1 Kings 8:22-61; 2 Chron. 6:12-42). They were still part of God’s covenant people, but they were in unbelief.
The Lord used Mordecai and Esther, outside Eretz Israel in unbelief, in order to preserve the Messianic line that had already returned to the Yehud Province in faith during the First Aliyah (return). The Messianic line returned in the person of Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:2; Matt. 1:12, 13 or Luke 3:27). Haman’s decree to annihilate all the Jews affected the Jews living in the land of Judah (Esther 3:12, 13; 4:3; 8:5, 9, 13). This was God’s hand of providence at work.
Another example of God’s providence using an unbeliever to fulfill His purposes is the decree by Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1-4). This decree moved Joseph and Mary from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judah in order to fulfill the prophecy of Micah 5:2. “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”
Origen Compares the Death of Leonidas and the Lord Jesus
Origen, one of the church fathers from Alexandria in Egypt (AD 185-254), was a prolific writer. He wrote a defense of Christianity against the attacks by the pagan philosopher Celsus, entitled Against Celsus. In it, he compares the death of Leonidas with the death of the Lord Jesus. He wrote: “Extremely foolish also is his [Celsus] remarks, ‘What god, or spirit, or prudent man would not, on forseeing that such events were to befall him, avoid them if he could; whereas he threw himself headlong into those things which he knew beforehand were to happen?’ [Origen discusses the death of Socrates].... Leonidas also, the Lacedaemonian general, knowing that he was on the point of dying with his followers at Thermopylae, did not make any effort to preserve his life by disgraceful means, but said to his companions, ‘Let us go to breakfast, as we shall sup in Hades.’ And those who are interested in collecting stories of this kind, will find numbers of them. Now, where is the wonder if Jesus, knowing all things that were to happen, did not avoid them, but encountered what He foreknew” (Against Celsus 2.17; Ante-Nicene Fathers 4:438-439).
One historian summarized the battle of Thermopylae this way: “Thermopylae was not the decisive battle of the Persian Wars. But it may well be the decisive battle of our imagination. Thermopylae grips us because men chose to stand there and die for the sacred cause of freedom. That alone is reason to remember” (Strauss 2007: 75).
2006 Thermopylae. The Battle that Changed the World. Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press.
Evans, J. A. S.
1964 The “Final Problem” at Thermopylae. Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 5: 231-237,
2006 Spartan Stand at Thermopylae. Military History (January / February): 38-44.
1998 The Persian Wars. Books 5-7. Vol. 3. Trans. by A. Godley. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library119.
1994 Origen Against Celsus. Pp. 395-669 in Ante-Nicene Fathers. Vol. 4. Edited by A. Roberts and J. Donaldson. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.
1987The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Egypt and the Ancient Near East. Edited by J. O’Neill. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Shepperson, G. E.
1975 The Role of the Book of Esther in Salvation History. Unpublished ThM thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary. Dallas, TX.
2004 Go Tell the Spartans. MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History (autumn): 17/1: 16-25.
2007 Classic Spin. Review of Paul Cartledge, Thermopylae: The Battle That Changed the World. The New Criterion (March): 72-75.
1990 Persia and the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker.
On the inside wall of the Church of Lydia (currently standing just outside the archaeological park of Philippi), is a mosaic icon of Epaphroditus. He is depicted as a young man dressed in a purple garment, holding what appears to be a scroll. That is not the impression I get from the book of Philippians. Epaphroditus was a veteran, a battle tested soldier, who gambled his life for the sake of the gospel.
Yet I consider it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my needs; since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful. Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me …having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.
Epaphroditus in Philippi
I suspect, but can not conclusively prove, that Epaphroditus was a veteran of the Roman Legion, and possibly of the Praetorian Guard. If so, upon his discharge from the army, he would have been given land in Philippi so he could retire to that Roman colony. It was in this city that he came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. His former military training and lifestyle would have served him well in his Christian life because he volunteered for a difficult and dangerous task, thus risking his life for the sake of the gospel. There are several lines of reasoning that have led me to this conclusion.
First, Epaphroditus name means “charming, lovely, or fascinating” and has at the root of his name Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. According to Greek mythology she was born in the sea and washed up onto the shore of the island of Cyprus on a sea shell. In fact, Greek mythology could point to the very rocks off the beach where she came ashore. There was even a temple dedicated to her outside the ancient city of Paphos that had a black basalt rock that was worshiped as the goddess. [If you believe this Greek mythology stuff, I will be glad to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge]!
Apparently Epaphroditus’ parents may have been pagan devotees of the goddess and therefore named their son in her honor. If true, they were probably not from Philippi because no temple or shrine to Aphrodite has been uncovered in the extensive excavations in the city. None of the ancient sources that mention Philippi attest to her presence in the city, nor is there any evidence for her, or her cult, on coins or inscriptions that have been excavated in the ruins of ancient Philippi (Koulouli-Chrysantaks 1998: 22-27).
I would conclude that Epaphroditus was not born or raised in Philippi but that he came to the city of Philippi as a retired solder. After the battle of Philippi in 42 BC, the victors settled a number of veterans in the city and gave them fertile land to farm (Strabo, Geography 7, fr. 41; LCL 3:363). In 31 BC, after the battle of Actium in western Greece, more veterans were settled in the city upon their retirement from military service. Even in the First Century AD there were retired soldiers living, and eventually dying, in Philippi and its environs (Speidel 1970: 142-153). One of those who retired to the city could have been Epaphroditus and he would have been about 45-50 years of age.
Second, the apostle Paul calls Epaphroditus a “fellow soldier” (Phil. 2:25). It is obvious that he is using this term in a metaphorical sense because, as far as we know, Paul never served in the Roman army. But that does not preclude that Epaphroditus did not serve in the military. By using this term, the veterans who were in fellowship in the assembly at Philippi would understand the character of Epaphroditus and the nature of the spiritual warfare that they were engaged in (cf. Eph. 6:10-20).
Interestingly, during the reign of Claudius (AD 41-54) or Nero (AD 54-68), a coin was minted in Philippi with Nike, the goddess of victory, on the obverse side and three Roman standards on the reverse side. The inscription framing the standards said: “COHOR(tes) PRAE(toriae) PHIL(ippensis)” which means Praetorian Cohorts of Philippi (Burnett, Amandry, and Ripolles 1992:I:308; coin 1651). This suggests that some, if not all, of the veterans in Philippi were from the Praetorian Guards. Perhaps Epaphroditus had served in this elite unit composed of bodyguards for the Emperor. Coincidently, Paul mentioned the Praetorian Guards in his epistle to the Philippians (1:13; cf. 4:22). If the Praetorian Guards did retire to Philippi, the recent converts would be interested in hearing about Paul’s evangelism of their former comrades and Epaphroditus would have told the Philippians believers about this when he returned home.
Can you imagine the conversation? The church assembled, possibly in the house of Lydia or the Philippian jailer, and Epaphroditus began to share with them Paul’s condition and state of mind. Even though he was under house arrest and in chains, he rejoiced because the Praetorian Guards were chained to him and he had a captive audience to share the gospel with. Epaphroditus started to share some of the conversations that Paul had with different soldiers. He said, “Remember sergeant Felix?” A muffled laugh was given out by some of the retired Praetorian guards. One man spoke up: “Yeah, we remember him well. He was the meanest, nastiest, hardest boozer and womanizer in the whole Praetorian guards! He had a mouth that was a filthy as the muddy Tiber River in Rome!” There were chuckles and snickers from the audience until Epaphroditus said: “Brother Paul shared the gospel with him and Felix trusted Christ as his Savior!” Stunned silence in the audience, then an audible gasp. “Him?! He is the last person we would have thought would trust Christ as his Savior.” Epaphroditus reminded the people of the power of the gospel to penetrate the heart of a sinner and convict them of their sin of unbelief so they could trust the Lord Jesus as Savior. “Yes Felix was now a believer in the Lord Jesus and a trophy of God’s grace.”
Third, there is an axiom that says: “You can take a man out of the Marines, but you can never take the Marines out of the man.” It has been my observation of people who put in their 20, or 25, years in the military and retire still live a regimented military lifestyle. They still say, “Yes sir, no sir.” They still have a disciplined life as far as their time is concerned. They react in dangerous situations in the way they had been trained in the service.
You will recall the events surrounding Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot of US Air flight #1549, in the airspace over New York City in January 2009. He was a former US Air Force pilot and trained other pilots in emergency landings. When those geese clogged up and shut down both engines on his plane, he did not stop and think, “Oh my, we have a problem, what am I going to do now?” No, he calmly reacted, based on his many hours of training, and safely landed the plane on the Hudson River. Likewise, as a former soldier, Epaphroditus reverted to his military training and put his life in danger for the sake of the gospel and the Apostle Paul.
Paul in Philippi
The church at Philippi was one of Paul’s favorites. He had been to the city, fellowshipped with the saints, and ministered to them on at least three occasions and one of his travelling co-workers, Dr. Luke, had some association with this city.
On the Apostle Paul’s second missionary journey (AD 49-52), he was accompanied by Silas and Timothy. In response to the “Macedonian Call”, they went to Philippi and planted a church in that city (Acts 16:9-40). Dr. Luke, apparently lived in Philippi at the time, stayed behind and continued the work in the newly established church in the city (AD 50).
During Paul’s third missionary journey (AD 52-57) he had a lengthy, almost three year, stay at Ephesus (AD 52-55; Acts 19). The ministry of Paul and his co-worker Timothy, was so effective that “all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (19:10). After the near riots in the theater, Paul thought it best to leave Ephesus so he departed to Macedonia (Acts 19:23-20:1). More than likely, his first stop was Philippi (AD 55). After a ministry in Macedonia, and apparently Illyricum (Rom. 15:19), he went to Greece (Achaia). After three months in Corinth (winter AD 57), he returned to Macedonia and rejoined Dr. Luke in Philippi (spring AD 57). They, and six other brethren, accompanied them to Jerusalem with the collection for the saints in the Holy City (Acts 20:3-6).
The church at Philippi was dear to Paul’s heart. He enjoyed the “fellowship in the gospel” (Phil. 1:5) that they shared for over ten years and knew they cared for him (4:10). One of the individuals he valued in this fellowship was Epaphroditus. When they first met, and when and how Epaphroditus came to faith, we are not told as well. Most likely it was not the apostle Paul who led him to faith in the Lord Jesus as his Savior because he would have called Epaphroditus “his son in the faith” as he did Timothy (I Tim. 1:2; II Tim. 1:2) and Titus (Tit. 1:4). Paul only calls him a “brother” (Phil. 2:25; cf. John 1:12).
Paul also identifies Epaphroditus as a “fellow worker” (Phil. 2:25), as he does Clement and other saints from the church at Philippi (Phil. 4:3). These were individuals who labored with the apostle as he and his team proclaimed the gospel in Macedonia on various occasions.
The Gift to Paul from the Church at Philippi
The saints at Philippi sent a financial gift to the Apostle Paul while he was under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:30). He had lost everything when he, Dr. Luke and Aristarchus were shipwrecked on Malta. Perhaps Dr. Luke wrote a letter to the assembly at Phillipi to inform them of this misfortune. If he wrote the letter from Rome he probably mentioned that the rent was high in the Eternal City. This was not the first time the believers in Philippi sent Paul a gift. They sent him two gifts while he was in Thessaloniki (Phil. 4:16), and then again when he was in Corinth (Phil. 4:15; cf. II Cor. 11:9). Each time they gave sacrificially out of their poverty (II Cor. 8:2).
The church at Philippi appointed Epaphroditus as their “sent one” (apostle) to take the money to Paul (Phil. 4:18). Most likely he would have had others go with him, not only for accountability, but also to protect the money, since this is the pattern in the early church (cf. Acts 20:4; Lenski 1937:696-697). More than likely, they would have walked the Via Egnatia from Philippi to Dyrrachium on the Adriactic Sea (367/8 Roman miles; Adams 1982:280), and then cross the sea by ship. They would have continued walking on the Via Appian from Brundusium to Rome (360 Roman miles). This trip, covering 729 miles, most likely would have taken 57 days, with a rest on each Lord’s Day, a trip of almost two months. If Epaphroditus and his friends made this trip during the winter, he might have picked up pneumonia, or he could have eaten tainted food at one of the inns. These conditions might explain why he got deathly sick and almost died (Phil. 2:27, 30).
Paul Under House Arrest in Rome
The Apostle Paul was under house arrest in Rome and more than likely confined to a rented apartment near the Camp of the Praetorian Guards on the Viminal Hill (Richardson 1992: 263, fig. 58; 325, fig. 72; 431). Ministering to him was Dr. Luke and some other brethren (Col. 4:7-14; Philemon 23-24).
The Philippian church sent a financial gift with Epaphroditus and his team and referred to him as “one who ministered to my needs” (2:25). The implication of that statement was that Epaphroditus was to stay in Rome and join the Apostle Paul’s team and work with him, even though he was under house arrest. There was one problem: Epaphroditus got deathly sick when he arrived in Rome or while he was in the city working with Paul. The Apostle had a dilemma on his hands. He was preparing for his defense before Nero and he also had a person with a near fatal sickness on his hands who may have also been homesick (“… since he was longing for you all” Phil. 2:26) and worried about the believers at home because they heard he was sick. What to do? Fortunately for both Epaphroditus and Paul, God was merciful and intervened in the situation by healing Epaphroditus. That was one less thing Paul had to be concerned about (2:26-27).
Paul also had another concern on his heart. In that he had heard about the seeds of division that had been planted in the church at Philippi. Two sisters, Euodia and Syntyche, were at odds with each other and Paul needed to implore them to be of one mind in the Lord (4:2).
The Apostle Paul saw a win-win situation. He would write a letter to the church at Philippi about their fellowship in the gospel (1:5), being of one mind and having the mind of Christ (2:1-11), and have it directed at these two sisters who did not get along. The letter carrier that would take this epistle back would be none other than Epaphroditus (2:25, 28). The people in the assembly at Philippi who were worried about him would rejoice when they saw him again. Paul would be less sorrowful because Epaphroditus was one less concern for him as he prepared for his defense before Nero.
The Apostle Paul was probably aware that some in the assembly at Philippi would think that Epaphroditus did not accomplish the mission that the church commissioned him to do: join forces with Paul as they engaged in spiritual warfare in Rome. Paul gave a command to the veterans in the assembly to: “Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem.” Not only were they to receive him, but also to hold him in high esteem because he went above and beyond the call of duty for the cause of Christ and almost died in the line of duty (2:30).
One commentator points out that: “Epaphroditus was no coward, but a courageous person willing to take enormous risks, ready to play with very high stakes in order to come to the aid of a person in need. He did not ‘save’ his life, but rather hazarded it to do for Paul and the cause of Christ what other Philippians Christians did not or could not do” (Hawthorne 1983:120).
The Greek phrase that is translated “not regarding his life” is a gambling term coined by the Apostle Paul. A Greek gambler, before he rolled the dice, would invoke Aphrodite (or Venus in the Roman world), the goddess of gamblers, with the phrase “epaphroditos,” meaning “favorite of Aphrodite” (Lees 1917:201-203; 1925-1925:46; Hawthorne 1983:120). Paul made a pun on Epaphroditius’ name. Truly the dice were loaded when Epaphroditus put his life on the line for the Lord’s work. Instead of invoking Aphrodite, he invoked the true and living God, and He was merciful to Epaphroditus and healed him.
Paul concludes this section by stating that Epaphroditus risked his life “to supply what was lacking in your service toward me” (2:30). The Greek construction does not give the impression that Paul is trying to lay a guilt trip on the people in Philippi because they did not do enough for Paul. In fact, the opposite was the case; Paul was praising them because they had sent a trusted and beloved brother who in essence was an extension of their ministry.
Lessons from the Life of Epaphroditus
There are at least four lessons we can learn from the life of this battle tested soldier of the Lord Jesus Christ.
First, he was a brother to the Apostle Paul. Paul used that term in a metaphorical sense to indict that they were in the same spiritual family, the family of God by faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ alone (John 1:12; Eph. 2:8, 9). Have you trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior and do you know the assurance of sins forgiven and the guarantee of a home in Heaven? Epaphroditus did and knew these truths.
Second, the Apostle Paul characterized Epaphroditus as a selfless person - one with the mind of Christ who esteemed others better than himself (Phil. 2:1-5). He demonstrated this selflessness by volunteering to go to Rome and help out the Apostle Paul in his time of need. When we consider the Christian life, do we ask ourselves, “What’s in it for me?” Or, do we ask ourselves, “How can I be of service to others?” Epaphroditus sought to serve other people.
Third, Epaphroditus worked on the philosophy, “I would rather wear out than rust out.” The word retirement was not in his vocabulary! Yes, he may have put his 25 years of service in the Roman army and he had his bronze retirement diploma. But, if that was the case, perhaps he had the same attitude as some Christians today who use the phrase, “I’m not retired, just refocused!” When Epaphroditus retired as a soldier in the Imperial army, he refocused his life as a soldier of the Cross engaged in spiritual warfare. Have we refocused our lives in order to be engaged in this spiritual warfare?
Finally, Epaphroditus took great risks for the sake of the gospel. Exactly what he did in gambling with his life, we are not told, but I am sure he will be greatly rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ for his risk taking. Will we gamble our lives for the sake of the gospel?
Isaac Watts (1674-1748) eloquently expressed what may have been the motivation for Epaphroditus “gambling habit” when he penned the last verse of his famous hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”. He wrote:
“Were the whole realm of nature mine
that were a present far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.”
It was the divine love of the Lord Jesus that constrained Epaphroditus to risk all to follow Jesus because He died and rose again from the dead in order to pay for all Epaphroditus’ sins. It was only his reasonable service to live completely for the Lord Jesus (Rom. 12:1-2), and risking all he had, including his life, to follow Him. Will we be willing to do the same?
Perhaps Epaphroditus was the one Isaac Watts had in mind when he penned the words to “Am I a Soldier of the Cross?”
Am I a soldier of the cross, a follower of the Lamb,
And shall I fear to own His cause, or blush to speak His Name?
Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize, and sailed through bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace, to help me on to God?
Sure, I must fight if I would reign; increase my courage, Lord;
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, supported by Thy Word.
Epaphroditus, the gambling veteran, bet all that he had and he hit the jackpot. He received the crown of life (James 1:12)!
Adams, John Paul
1982 Polybius, Pliny and the Via Egnatia. Pp. 269-302 in Philip II, Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Heritage. Edited by Adams, W. L.; and Borza, E. N. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
Burnett, Andrew; Amandry, Michel, and Ripolles, Pere Pau
1992 Roman Provincial Coinage. Vol. 1. London and Paris: British Musem and Bibliotheque nationale de France.
1983 Word Biblical Commentary. Philippians. Waco, TX: Word Books.
1998 Colonia Iulia Augusta Philippensis. Pp. 5-35 in Philippi at the Time of Paul and After His Death. Edited by C. Bakirtzis and H. Koester. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International.
1917 St. Paul’s Friends. London: Religious Tract Society.
1925-26 Epaphroditus, God’s Gambler. Expository Times 37: 46.
Lenski, R. C. H.
1937 The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, and to the Philippians. Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern.
Richardson, L. Jr.
1992 A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University.
1970 The Captor of Decebalus a New Inscription from Philippi. Journal of Roman Studies 60: 142-153.
1983 The Geography of Strabo. Vol. 3. Trans. by H. L. Jones. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 182.
When one hears the name “Jericho” one naturally thinks of Israelites marching, trumpets sounding and walls falling. It is a wonderful story of faith and victory that we enjoy reading and telling in Sunday School class, but did it really happen? The skeptic would say no, it is merely a folk tale to explain the ruins at Jericho. The reason for this negative outlook is the excavation carried out at the site in the 1950s under the direction of British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon. She concluded,
It is a sad fact that of the town walls of the Late Bronze Age, within which period the attack by the Israelites must fall by any dating, not a trace remains.…The excavation of Jericho, therefore, has thrown no light on the walls of Jericho of which the destruction is so vividly described in the Book of Joshua (Kenyon 1957: 261–62).
Thomas A. Holland, who was editor and co-author of Kenyon’s excavation reports, summarized the apparent results as follows:
Kenyon concluded, with reference to the military conquest theory and the L[ate] B[ronze Age] walls, that there was no archaeological data to support the thesis that the town had been surrounded by a wall at the end of LB I (ca. 1400 BCE...) (Holland 1997: 223).
H.J. Franken, a member of the Jericho excavation staff, stated,
Miss Kenyon’s work has presented scholars with the hard fact that if Joshua was active with the incoming Israelites either c. 1400 or c. 1200 B.C. he would not have been able to capture a great walled city of Jericho, because there was no city of Jericho in these periods… the huge ruins of the Hyksos city gave rise to the folktale attached to the hero Joshua (1965: 190, 200).
According to Kenyon’s dating, there was no city for the Israelites to conquer at the end of the 15th century BC, the Biblical date for the event. The Jericho of Joshua’s time could not be found--it was lost! Through our research, however, we have found the lost city of Jericho, the Jericho attacked by the Israelites.
Fortifications of Jericho
Before the Israelites entered the promised land Moses told them, “You are now about to cross the Jordan to go in and dispossess nations greater and stronger than you, with large cities that have walls up to the sky” (Dt 9:1). The meticulous work of Kenyon showed that Jericho was indeed heavily fortified and that it had been burned by fire. Unfortunately, she misdated her finds, resulting in what seemed to be a discrepancy between the discoveries of archaeology and the Bible. She concluded that the Bronze Age city of Jericho was destroyed about 1550 BC by the Egyptians. An in-depth analysis of the evidence, however, reveals that the destruction took place at the end of the 15th century BC (end of the Late Bronze I period), exactly when the Bible says the Conquest occurred (Wood 1990).
The mound, or “tell,” of Jericho was surrounded by a great earthen rampart, or embankment, with a stone retaining wall at its base. The retaining wall was some 12–15 ft high. On top of that was a mudbrick wall 6 ft thick and about 20–26 ft high (Sellin and Watzinger 1973: 58). At the crest of the embankment was a similar mudbrick wall whose base was roughly 46 ft above the ground level outside the retaining wall. This is what loomed high above the Israelites as they marched around the city each day for seven days. Humanly speaking, it was impossible for the Israelites to penetrate the impregnable bastion of Jericho.
Within the upper wall was an area of approximately 6 acres, while the total area of the upper city and fortification system together was half again as large, or about 9 acres. Based on the archaeologist’s rule of thumb of 100 persons per acre, the population of the upper city would have been about 600. From excavations carried out by a German team in the first decade of this century, we know that people were also living on the embankment between the upper and lower city walls. In addition, those Canaanites living in surrounding villages would have fled to Jericho for safety. Thus, we can assume that there were several thousand people inside the walls when the Israelites came against the city.
The Fallen Walls
The citizens of Jericho were well prepared for a siege. A copious spring which provided water for ancient, as well as modern, Jericho lay inside the city walls. At the time of the attack, the harvest had just been taken in (Jos 3:15), so the citizens had an abundant supply of food. This has been borne out by many large jars full of grain found in the Canaanite homes by John Garstang in his excavation in the 1930s and also by Kenyon. With a plentiful food supply and ample water, the inhabitants of Jericho could have held out for several years.
After the seventh trip around the city on the seventh day, Scripture tells us that the wall “fell flat” (Jos 6:20). A more accurate rendering of the Hebrew word here would be “fell beneath itself.” Is there evidence for such an event at Jericho? It turns out that there is ample evidence that the mudbrick city wall collapsed and was deposited at the base of the stone retaining wall at the time the city met its end.
Kenyon’s work was the most detailed. On the west side of the tell, at the base of the retaining, or revetment, wall, she found,
fallen red bricks piling nearly to the top of the revetment. These probably came from the wall on the summit of the bank [and/or]… the brickwork above the revetment (Kenyon 1981: 110).
In other words, she found a heap of bricks from the fallen city walls! The renewed Italian-Palestinian excavations found exactly the same thing at the southern end of the mound in 1997.
According to the Bible, Rahab’s house was incorporated into the fortification system (Jos 2:15). If the walls fell, how was her house spared? As you recall, the spies had instructed Rahab to bring her family into her house and they would be rescued. When the Israelites stormed the city, Rahab and her family were saved as promised (Jos 6:17, 22–23). At the north end of the tell of Jericho, archaeologists made some astounding discoveries that seem to relate to Rahab.
The German excavation of 1907-1909 found that on the north a short stretch of the lower city wall did not fall as everywhere else. A portion of that mudbrick wall was still standing to a height of 8 ft (Sellin and Watzinger 1973: 58). What is more, there were houses built against the wall! It is quite possible that this is where Rahab’s house was located. Since the city wall formed the back wall of the houses, the spies could have readily escaped. From this location on the north side of the city, it was only a short distance to the hills of the Judean wilderness where the spies hid for three days (Jos 2:16, 22). Real estate values must have been low here, since the houses were positioned on the embankment between the upper and lower city walls. Not the best place to live in time of war! This area was no doubt the overflow from the upper city and the poor part of town, perhaps even a slum district.
After the city walls fell, how could the Israelites surmount the 12–15 foot high retaining wall at the base of the tell? Excavations have shown that the bricks from the collapsed walls fell in such a way as to form a ramp against the retaining wall. The Israelites could merely climb up over the pile of rubble, up the embankment, and enter the city. The Bible is very precise in its description of how the Israelites entered the city: “The people went up into the city, every man straight before him” (Jos 6:20, KJV). The Israelites had to go up, and that is what archaeology has revealed. They had to go from ground level at the base of the tell to the top of the rampart in order to enter the city.
Destruction by Fire
The Israelites “burned the whole city and everything in it” (Jos 6: 24). Once again, the discoveries of archaeology have verified the truth of this record. A portion of the city destroyed by the Israelites was excavated on the east side of the tell. Wherever the archaeologists reached this level they found a layer of burned ash and debris about 3 ft thick. Kenyon described the massive devastation:
The destruction was complete. Walls and floors were blackened or reddened by fire, and every room was filled with fallen bricks, timbers, and household utensils; in most rooms the fallen debris was heavily burnt, but the collapse of the walls of the eastern rooms seems to have taken place before they were affected by the fire (Kenyon 1981: 370).
Both Garstang and Kenyon found many storage jars full of grain that had been caught in the fiery destruction. This is a unique find in the annals of archaeology. Grain was valuable, not only as a source of food, but also as a commodity which could be bartered. Under normal circumstances, valuables such as grain would have been plundered by the conquerors. Why was the grain left to be burned at Jericho? The Bible provides the answer. Joshua commanded the Israelites:
The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent. But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the Lord and must go into His treasury (Jos 6:17–19).
The grain left at Jericho and found by archaeologists in modern times gives graphic testimony to the obedience of the Israelites nearly three and a half millennia ago. Only Achan disobeyed, leading to the debacle at Ai described in Joshua 7.
Such a large quantity of grain left untouched gives silent testimony to the truth of yet another aspect of the Biblical account. A heavily fortified city with an abundant supply of food and water would normally take many months, even years, to subdue. The Bible says that Jericho fell after only seven days. The jars found in the ruins of Jericho were full, showing that the siege was short since the people inside the walls consumed very little of the grain.
Lessons of Jericho
Jericho was once thought to be a “Bible problem” because of the seeming disagreement between archaeology and the Bible. When the archaeology is correctly interpreted, however, the opposite is the case. The archaeological evidence supports the historical accuracy of the Biblical account in every detail. Every aspect of the story that could possibly be verified by the findings of archaeology is, in fact, verified.
There are a number of theories as to how the walls of Jericho came down. Both Garstang and Kenyon found evidence of earthquake activity at the time the city met its end. If God did use an earthquake to accomplish His purposes that day, it was still a miracle since it happened at precisely the right moment, and was manifested in such a way as to protect Rahab’s house. No matter what agency God used, it was ultimately the faith of the Israelites that brought the walls down: “By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days” (Heb 11:30).
The example of Jericho is a wonderful spiritual lesson for God’s people yet today. There are times when we find ourselves facing enormous “walls” that are impossible to break down by human strength. If we put our faith in God and follow His commandments, even when they seem foolish to us, He will perform “great and awesome deeds” (Dt 4:34) and give us the victory.
See Dr. Wood discuss the evidence in this cutting edge video, Jericho Unearthed. Jericho Unearthed can be purchased in the ABR bookstore.
See Dr. Wood present his research on Jericho in this video from 2009.
1965 Tell es-Sultan and Old Testament Jericho. Oudtestamentische Studiën 14: 189–200.
1997 Jericho. Pp. 220–24 in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, Vol. 3, ed. E.M. Myers. New York: Oxford University Press.
1957 Digging Up Jericho. London: Ernest Benn. 1981 Excavations at Jericho, Vol. 3. London: British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem.
Sellin, E., and Watzinger, C.
1973 Jericho die Ergebnisse der Ausgrabungen. Osnabrück: Otto Zeller, reprint of 1913 edition.
1990 Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho? Biblical Archaeology Review 16.2: 44–58.
ABR has been conducting excavations in Israel since 1995 at Khirbet el-Maqatir (9 miles north of Jerusalem), which meets the biblical requirements to be identified as the fortress of Ai conquered by the Israelites as recorded in Joshua 7-8.
Pottery excavated at the site indicates the fortress was in use in the Late Bronze period, circa 1500-1400 BC. The scarab is a rare type that was made in the early 18th dynasty, ca. 1485-1418 BC. This is a significant discovery since it provides an independent date for the fortress apart from pottery. According to the Bible, the Israelites left Egypt in 1446 BC and entered Canaan in 1406 BC. The scarab substantiates the historical accuracy of the narratives found in Joshua.
The Egyptian scarab from Khirbet el-Maqatir will be on display in the Dunham Bible Museum at Houston Baptist University from January 22 to December 20, 2014.
For more information, please contact:
Henry B. Smith Jr.
Associates for Biblical Research
Director of Development
The Associates for Biblical Research is a Christian apologetics ministry dedicated to demonstrating the historical reliability of the Bible through archaeological and biblical research. Founded in 1969, ABR is unique as the only evangelical Christian organization conducting professional archaeological field work in Israel. For about the ministry of ABR, visit www.BibleArchaeology.org