25. Esther

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 25.  Esther

Esther 4:13,14   Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

A highlight verse? It certainly seems a verse with a distinctly threatening tone to it, but it is nevertheless, as we shall see, a highly significant verse on which much turns in this book. Just in case you are not familiar with Esther, we had better pick up the key things that have happened so far in the book. In some ways it is almost like a stage play with key characters.

It starts with Xerxes, the king, (1:1), son of Darius who we read about in Daniel. He rules over the mighty Persian empire, and Susa (1:2) is one of the four ‘capitals’ of the Persian kings. He is very powerful and therefore somewhat arrogant. He holds a feast for his male friends (1:3) and during the course of it calls for Vashti, his queen, to show her off to his men friends (1:11). She is affronted by this and refuses to come (1:12). He is equally affronted and after consultation she is banished from the royal court (1:19)

He therefore needs a new queen and so a search is made for beautiful young women to be brought into the royal palace. (2:1-4) In what follows, we are introduced to a Jew called Mordecai who had been caught up in Nebuchadnezzar’s deportation and exile of Israel and who still lives in Susa (2:5,6). He has a cousin who he cares for and who lives with him, called Esther (2:7). Esther is caught up in the sweep for young women and ends up in the palace winning favour and becomes queen (2:9-18 Long story, cut short!) Mordecai keeps in touch with what is going on (2:10,11,19,20).  In a small aside, there is a plot to kill the king, which somehow Mordecai hears about and the king is warned and a record is made including reference to Mordecai. (2:21-23  End of aside).

We are then introduced to another character who appears on this stage, an Agagite named Haman, whose ancestry possibly goes back to Agag, the king executed by Samuel (1 Sam 15), and who would have been an enemy of the Jews. If it was a stage production, Haman would clearly be the villain! To cut a long story short, Haman is honoured by the king making him next in honour to the king himself. All were supposed to bow before him, but Mordecai would not! (3:1,2) Haman finds out that Mordecai is a Jew and so plots to kill ALL the Jews in the kingdom (which included Israel) and sends out edicts throughout the kingdom that on a certain date all the Jews in the land are to be executed (3:5-15)

When Mordecai hears of this he prays and fasts and sits outside the palace in sackcloth and ashes. The word gets back to Esther who tries to persuade him to desist. He clearly wants her to approach the king and appeal for mercy but she explains that unless she is called in by the king it is against court protocol for her to do this. (4:1-11) It is at this point that our verses above occur: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

Look, Mordecai is saying, if all the Jews are killed, that will include you. Don’t think you will be safe just because you are queen. If you don’t act, I’m sure God will save us by some other means but you may not get saved. But then comes the highlight: “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” i.e. is it just possible that God has allowed you to be in this place so that you can be the means of our salvation? There it is! What a challenge of belief. Now we won’t follow the story through, you can read it in your own time. Suffice it to say, she plots how to approach the king and get him on her side and eventually the Jews are saved and Haman killed.

So what have we got here? Genocide planned and Satan’s plot to wipe out the Jews and thwart God’s promises to Abram to bless the world through him and through his family. If Haman succeeds, there will be no nation into which the Son of God can come and display the works, the love and the goodness of God. The whole of God’s plan of salvation for the world is under threat. That is the magnitude of this threat. And there is one little Jewish girl forcibly taken into exile, forcibly taken from her family into the royal court and forcibly given to the king. It is NOT a happy set of circumstances! But she is all that stands between the destruction of God’s people and the plan of salvation for the world. She would not have realised or known the significance of all this, but that is what this is all about.

Throughout the Bible, Satan is shown to be a liar, a deceiver and a murderer, out to thwart the plans of God (but we’ll see the reality of that when we get to Job) by using sinful mankind for his own ends. It is amazing that God should trust His plans to a single Jewish girl. (Single? What about that other young Jewish girl named Mary?) What is amazing is that God uses the weak and the vulnerable and yet in both the instances we have just referred to, they have free will and can refuse! But they don’t!  In the book of Ruth we saw a young foreign girl who gave herself over to join the plans of God (without realizing it). Now we have another young girl being challenged to see herself as a similar player in the plans of God.

Stop there! Neither Ruth nor Esther saw themselves as part of God’s plan for His people and for the salvation that would come about involving them. Isn’t that how it is with most of us? How many of us are sharply aware that we are key players, significant characters on the stage of God’s production? The world around us teaches us to be self-centred, self-concerned, seeing the world as revolving around us but the story of Esther (yes, and of Ruth) challenges us to see that there is a very much bigger picture and we are part of it. We never know the significance of our actions.

I can never forget the story of a man who had a lorry that he used to pick up young people, to take them to the church young people’s group, week in week out. One young man wasn’t particularly interested, so the story goes I believe, but went along and got saved at the church, but if the man with his lorry hadn’t persisted and been a servant for the kids, that young man wouldn’t have been saved. And that young man? Billy Graham, who went on to be God’s instrument as the greatest evangelist in history! Did that man with his lorry understand what he was doing and what would follow? Almost certainly not. We have small parts to play but they may have massive significance. They may be difficult parts to play but God’s grace and protection is always there.

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Walk of Wisdom

WALKING WITH GOD. No.45

Esther 5:2 When he saw Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased with her and held out to her the gold scepter that was in his hand. So Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter.

Yesterday we considered the walk of provocation of faith, of Mordecai nudging Esther to speak out, even in a potentially dangerous situation. We also suggested that we too need nudging to step out in faith, but stepping out in faith is not sufficient on its own, we need something else to go with it, so often, because faith is just the starting point of action. It took faith, a belief in God’s leading, to help Esther step out and go to seek the king, but once there that’s when the difficulties start. Esther needs wisdom, she needs to know how to act, what to do and what to say. To catch the full import of this, let’s look at her situation.

The first thing about her situation is that she is married to a king who is incredibly powerful, is known to act hastily and without thought, is self-centred and doesn’t give too much thought to his wife. Now how can we say all this? Well the opening verses of Esther tell us about his might and power, ruler over 127 provinces and having a banquet lasting seven days. At that banquet he had got drunk and boasted about his queen who he casually sent for to show her off. When she refused to come to such a bidding, he allowed his wise men to persuade him to get rid of the queen. It was after this that Esther was made queen. Later on the king had honoured Haman the Agagite (Agagites, descendants of king Agag – see 1 Sam 15 – were traditionally enemies of Israel) and given him a great deal of power. Moreover, just recently the king had not asked for Esther for thirty days, and this was not a king you just turned up on. So, going into his presence without an invite was definitely a hazardous exercise!

If going into his presence wasn’t bad enough, knowing how to broach the subject of the Jews in front of Haman was doubly so. This was definitely going to have to be a walk of wisdom. There are many times in life when we need this knowledge of ‘how-to’, in fact I think it is the thing we need more than anything else. The good news is that God is very willing to give us wisdom when we ask for it: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (Jas 1:5). However there is a condition to asking, “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.(v.6). In other words, there is no point asking unless you really believe God is there, that He is for you and will do what His word says.

So what does Esther do? First of all she dresses up in her royal robes (Es 5:1). If she’s going into a formal throne room, she needs to be dressed up accordingly. Do you want to impress the world? Well, after you have prayed, dress up to their level. The king welcomes her in (v.2) and asks her what she wants. Obviously the fact that she has come without invitation means she has something on her mind that she wants to communicate. It is at this point she needs tact. She’s asked for wisdom and she gets it. She knows the king likes his food and likes ‘big events’ so she invites him, together with Haman to a special banquet she wants to put on for him. This makes him feel good. At this special intimate banquet again the king asks her what is on her mind. Still she senses the time is not yet ripe for speaking of the edict. She simply asks the king to extend his grace by coming the next day again to a special banquet. He’s enjoyed this one, so why not.

Again he turns up next day and again he anticipates it will be a good experience, but in between the two banquets two things have happened. First, Haman has shown his hand by having a gallows built and has been speaking about having Mordecai hanged on it. The second thing is that the king slept badly and, waking in the night, he feels he needs picking up, and so sends for the books that record what has happened during his reign. There he reads of Mordecai’s saving his life earlier in his reign and realizes he hasn’t rewarded him. Thus next day when he comes to the banquet he comes feeling good towards Esther and towards Mordecai. Thus it is that the circumstances have so changed and we are left wondering how much of this has been of the Lord. So it is that when Esther does share the situation the king is open to her and responds well. This has been one of the classic examples of the exercise of wisdom.

What have we seen? We have seen Esther gaining prayer support, choosing her way of entry carefully, being in no rush to present her petition, doing things that will win over the king’s heart and giving God space to move to make the circumstances even more favourable. Consider your own life. Do you walk a walk of wisdom, seeking the Lord and getting from Him the knowledge how to proceed through life? The request for wisdom is a request that the wise make regularly. Do you?

(We will be taking a break for a while from the meditations on ‘Walking with God’ and so this will be the last one until the New Year)

Faith Provocation

WALKING WITH GOD. No.44

Esther 4:12-14 When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

Left to ourselves we would potter through life untouched by anything that would upset the balance of peace in our lives. It is always nicer to walk the quieter path in life that avoids disturbance of any kind. ‘Leave me alone’, would be our motto if we had our way. However, over the years I have often said that God loves us just like we are and He loves us so much that He won’t leave us like we are – because He has something better for us than we have at present. Thus He is in the process of changing us (2 Cor 3:18). When we understand what the Bible is, we read, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.(2 Tim 3:16) which suggests that every time we come to it with open hearts, it teaches us and possibly rebukes and corrects us. Of course it is the Holy Spirit within us who takes it and uses it to convict us so that we do something to change. Thus it is as Christians that we are never left to simply live a placid, untouched life, never changing, never being disturbed, because all of these processes we’ve just referred to, disturb us.

Our verses today from the book of Esther come at a point in history when the Jews were in exile and one of them, Esther, has been made queen, and she has an uncle, Mordecai. One of the king’s counsellors, Haman, hates the Jews and has got the king to foolishly make a decree that later in the year all the Jews will be destroyed. (The king has forgotten or does not know that Esther is a Jew!) Mordecai’s response to this edict was to put on sackcloth and ashes and to fast and pray in the streets as a public demonstration against what had happened. Esther is told what he is doing and so sends clothes out to him – which he refuses to take. Eventually Esther is told about the edict but her response is basically, ‘so what can I do about it?’ She has a legitimate cause for saying this: “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that he be put to death. The only exception to this is for the king to extend the gold scepter to him and spare his life. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.(Es 4:11). In other words, unless I get called in, I can’t go, otherwise the king in his anger might have me executed!

It is at that point we have our verses for today. Mordecai is walking the path of faith provocation and Esther is on the end of it. What is Mordecai saying? He is saying, you won’t avoid this disaster by staying quiet, you’re going to have to risk it, for who knows, this may be the very reason that God has allowed you to be king. Mordecai is challenging Esther’s preference for peace, and her desire not to be disturbed, which brings us back to what we were saying earlier about our own desire for peace and tranquility. He is challenging her to come into a place of faith. If we had been Esther, we too would have preferred to keep quiet and hope it would work out all right without our intervention. Perhaps someone else will do something might be our hope. That, so often, is our escape clause, or at least the one we use – perhaps someone else will step in and do something, it doesn’t need me.

The only trouble is that it does need you. Someone has said something like, “Evil men prevail only when good men stay quiet.” We are called to be salt and light in our world (Mt 5:13 -16) and we do that passively (living by example) and actively (by speaking out). It’s not one or the other; it’s both. Esther’s fears were laid down as she said she would do it, but only if Mordecai and the other Jews would fast and, by implication, pray for her. Very often we stay quiet because we fear an outcome and so we would do well to follow Esther’s example and pray about it AND, if it is possible, get others to pray about it as well. We need to seek wisdom from God to know what to say, how to say it and when to say it, and we can also ask the Lord to prepare the heart of the one to whom we go to speak. It may be something at home, at school or college, at work or in the community. We know the right thing would be to speak out, yet fear of consequence stops us. If that is so, check it out. Like Esther, this may be your time, the time appointed by God and you are the one chosen by Him to bring change. Seek Him for wisdom, seek others who will pray with and for you. “For such a time as this?