The book of Esther
A long way from home
- This week we are going to turn to the book of Esther. We were looking together at the book of Daniel under the title of “A long way from home.” And I want to just take two more weeks on that title, but on different scriptures.
- Next week I want to talk about one of the areas of application that comes out of this idea of living along way from home, and that is the area of parenting.
- This week I want to look at the book of Esther. (The dedication of Esther, is it just chance? The book might have something to say about that!)
- This book explains for us the origin of the Jewish feast of “Purim” celebrated in late February.
- What I propose to do is tell you the story, and then make a few comments on it.
- I need to use quite a bit of time to tell the story because the book of Esther is like a jigsaw. If you miss out some of the pieces you don’t see the picture.
- Queen Vashti refuses to come to the Kings party and is banned from the king’s presence.
- A search is made for a new Queen. We discover that in Susa there is a Jew called Mordecai, who in his kindness has adopted his orphan nice who is called Esther and she is very beautiful. Esther enters the king’s palace, but does not reveal her nationality because Mordecai tells her not to. In the end Esther is chosen as the new queen.
- At the same time Mordecai uncovers an assassination plot against Xerxes, and through Esther reports it to the king thus saving the kings life.
- Xerxes promotes a new prime minister “Haman” who is infuriated by Mordecai because uniquely he will not bow and show him honour. Haman decides to get revenge not only on Mordecai, but on all of the Jews throughout the whole kingdom. This will include Palestine – to India. We are talking about extinction here.
- Read 3:7-15
- Mordecai hearing the news dresses in sackcloth and ashes, and Esther hearing this sends the eunuch who looks after her to find out what the matter is. Mordecai tells the eunuch what has happened and asks Esther to go to the king and ask for mercy for her people.
- Read 4:11-17
- Esther goes to the king and is welcomed. She invites the king and Haman to a banquet, and when they come, the king offers to meet her petition up to half the kingdom. She invites them the next night and says that she will ask then.
- Haman once again enraged by Mordecai’s refusal to bow goes home and boasts of his great influence and wealth and his wife suggests building a giant gallows and then asking for the king’s permission to hang Mordecai.
- That night Xerxes is sleepless. He has the records of his reign brought and read to him. As they read, they discover the record of Mordecai’s uncovering of the assassination plot, and the king asks if anything has been done to reward Mordecai, only to find that nothing has been done.
- Read 6:4-11 And then Haman goes home in despair.
- Xerxes gives the Jews the right to defend themselves, and then the Jews destroy their enemies throughout the Persian Empire on the allotted day. They establish a thanksgiving feast called Purim, and Mordecai becomes prime minister.
There are four significant persons in the unfolding plot of the story of Esther, and perhaps we can learn something by thinking briefly about each of them.
Who in his pride sets himself up as the opponent of God’s people and therefore of God also.
It is Haman’s acting on his hatred and opposition to God’s people that leads to his downfall, and the blessing of God’s people.
The “Haman” principle:
The hope that the anti God tyrants of our world might prosper for a time, but ultimately they will fall, and God’s people and cause will prosper.
In the history of the world, which individuals actions are responsible for the greatest number of people coming to Christ? The answer might be Chairman Mao. In 1949 when the communists came to power and attempted to suppress Christianity there were probably 700 000 protestant Christians in China. Now there may be as many as 70 Million.
Voltaire died in 1778 and said that one hundred years from his time Christianity would be swept from existence and passed into history. Within 50 years of his death, the Geneva Bible society used his priniting press and his house to print and store bibles (Evidence that demands a verdict p20)
What I want to draw our attention to in Mordecai’s part of the story is his conviction that God will do something.
Listen to what he says in 4:14. Mordecai has a conviction that God will work out his purposes anyway. Even if Esther does nothing, God will save his people and you won’t be part of it. Is Mordecai right in his theology?
Isn’t that an attitude to have. Mordecai presents us with a challenge. Will you be part of God’s purposes, or will you be left out of God’s purposes?
The “Mordecai” principle: God doesn’t need me to fulfill his purposes but he invites us to be part of fulfilling his purposes..
He doesn’t need you to fulfill his purposes. The idea that God needs me to run the universe or even a bit of it is blasphemy. Instead, we need to see that God invites us to be part of his purposes.
Act 17:24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,
Act 17:25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.
God doesn’t need me, he want’s me. Let me give you an illustration. I’ve done this just because of how things fall. You ring someone up just to see how they are doing. But while you are on the phone you also ask them to do something. You run the risk of them thinking not “He just wanted to know how I’m doing” but rather “He is only interested because of what I can do for him.”
God doesn’t want relationship with you because of what you can do for him. He want’s relationship with you, and he invites you to share with him in fulfilling his purposes which he could fulfill without you. That is precious.
I’ve been making a bird table with Joel. This week one of things we did was countersink all of the holes for screwing. Why do you think I got him to countersink the holes. It wasn’t because I couldn’t do it myself. About our relationship and friendship and companionship.
Yes you should serve him. Serve in his power. You won’t grow if you won’t serve. And our next character speaks to us about our service.
That said we need to turn to Esther. Esther who hears Mordecai’s challenge, the well known words of the book (v14)
The “Esther” principle: God can use us, even if we have nothing more than a willingness to be obedient in the place where God has put you.
Esther’s willingness to take a risk and go to the king is the hinge on which the book turns. It’s the hinge that turns disaster for God’s people, as we said total extinction into security and significance.
God can use you whoever you are, and whatever you are. Could it be that God has raised you up where he has put you for such a time as this?
There are some things we can learn about being raised up for such a time as this from the story:
- I’m not saying it will be easy. You may need to be bold, Esther was. You may need to be wise, Esther was. (5:1-2 cf 4:11)
- I’m not saying you don’t need to pray. You will need to pray and have other’s around you pray, Esther did. That anyway is the implication to the call for fasting. (4:15-17)
- I’m not saying it’s now. You may need to wait for that moment, Esther did.
- I’m not saying you don’t need anything. You may need to listen to wise counsel on the way to the place that God has called you to. Esther did (2:15)
But I am saying that God could give any one of us a “such a time as this”
And then there is the final personality in the drama:
He is never mentioned! But he is nevertheless the hero of the book. The book of Esther before it is about Haman’s pride and evil intent, before it is about Mordecai’s conviction that God’s purposes will be worked out, before it is about Esther’s seizing the for such a time as this moment, it is about God’s hand on the messy details of history.
You see the jigsaw pieces fit together. Some might look at it and call it chance, but others look with eyes of faith and see God’s hand on the circumstances and choices of life.
You know at one level the story isn’t even very edifying. Don’t look at Mordecai as an example of how to behave. He is difficult! Why all this refusing to bow, I mean showing respect to a government official didn’t fall into the same category as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refusing to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image.
And there have to be some questions about the appropriateness of his passing his niece into the harem of Xerxes. The process for becoming queen is certainly not one that would teach us anything about God’s values for sexual purity. If you think as you read the story “Does that mean what it sounds like it means” the answer is probably yes. The scripture doesn’t hold Mordecai or Esther up a moral examples. So what’s the point?
But there in the mess of life. In the confusing choices. Perhaps even in the bad choices. There in the reality of confusion and the reign of evil, and ordinary people trying to make sense of it, God is at work.
Here is the good news. Isn’t that the day to day world that we live in. The world we sometimes feel trapped by? The world we try to makes sense of. The world we experience trouble in. Where the choices sometimes aren’t right and wrong, black or white, but just messy.
Esther reminds us that life is not shaped by chance, chaos or Godless fate.
What was the feast called? It was called “Purim” Now where does that title come from? Notice 3:7 (cf 9:26) The “pur” was the lot. The instrument of chance. The very name of the feast is a reminder that there is a greater hand behind the hand that draws the lot.
Proverbs 16:33 The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.
That’s what God’s people were to remember when they celebrated purim.
The God principle: We can trust that God is working out his purposes in every circumstance.