Esther
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Esther

From the book of Esther

The book of Esther, in the Old Testament, is unique in the Bible in that the name of God is not mentioned. In no other book, however, is the concept of God’s providence more clearly shown.

{Insert here a retelling of the story, particularly chapters 3-7}

There are three main characters in this story; as is fitting, we will start with the most interesting - the villain.

Haman

Haman is a man who would be quite at home in modern politics. Character is revealed in our loves, our hatreds and our fantasies.

His loves.

What does Haman love? It’s tempting to say, “power,” but this is not correct. Haman is in love, first and foremost, with himself. He is his own god, so to speak. He wants not only power but the trappings of power. He is a man ill prepared to handle them, for he is very shallow.

Shallow? Look at the friends he has. At first they encourage him - but after he leads Mordecai about on the horse, they tell him he can’t win. How quickly they turn on him! Have you ever known someone who surrounds himself with sycophants (“yes men”) -- and then sees them turn on him when a new power arrives?

His hatreds

“Men avenge slight insults,” said Machiavelli, “not grave ones.” Mordecai refuses to bow down to Haman. Josephus suggests that this was either because such an act would be worship, forbidden to the Jews, or because Haman was an Amelekite - in fact, a descendant of Agag, the king of the Amelekites, who opposed Israel on their way to the Promised Land. One commentator views the resulting destruction by the Jews as the promised destruction of the Amelekites foretold by Balaam. Haman’s love of self gives rise to his intense hatred of Mordecai, who will not acknowledge his greatness.

It’s interesting to note how Haman twists the facts in his hatred. Look at his charges against the Jews, and see if you see anything familiar:

{8} Then Haman said to King Xerxes, "There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king's laws; it is not in the king's best interest to tolerate them. {9} If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will put ten thousand talents of silver into the royal treasury for the men who carry out this business." {10} So the king took his signet ring from his finger and gave it to Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. {11} "Keep the money," the king said to Haman, "and do with the people as you please." -- Esther 3:8-11 (NIV)

Notice the three points for persecution (and see if you see them today for “right wing fundamentalists”):

·         These people are everywhere in here - an insidious, treasonous bunch, poisoning our own righteous people.

·         They have strange customs -- not at all like regular folks like you and me.

·         They are not politically correct -- they don’t follow the law (legal or social!).

One fascinating point: Xerxes accepts the persecution as necessary to maintain good order in his kingdom -- but rejects the bribe that goes with it.

His fantasy

Have you ever dreamed, “If I were only rich....?” Haman had a fantasy too, and it is most revealing. It is not the wealth he wants (he just offered $20 million in silver for the purpose of vengeance); it is not power -- it is to be held in great esteem, to have everyone say, “There goes the great Haman, ...”

God takes his fantasy and makes it his undoing. At the end, this man is so shallow as to be all surface. He can’t even die for his own cause, but begs his enemy for his life.

Mordecai

Mordecai is a faithful man -- and that sums up his character. He is utterly convinced that God is in control. We see that in a number of ways:

·         We see it in that he will not bow down before Haman.

·         We see it in the sackcloth. Sackcloth and ashes meant great distress. Josephus tells us that Mordecai went about the streets proclaiming that “a nation that had been injurious to no one was about to be destroyed.” By his public humility he appeals to the God of justice.

Mordecai’s view of God is best shown in this passage:

{12} When Esther's words were reported to Mordecai, {13} 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. {14} 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?" -- Esther 4:12-14 (NIV)

You can see his confidence In the providence of God by the three arguments he makes in these three short verses:

·         God controls, Esther, and therefore even the fact that you are in the king’s house is not sufficient to spare you.

·         God controls. Esther, and if you will not do the job He will find someone else who will.

·         God controls, Esther -- and perhaps he has specifically chosen you for this place and this time. Be worthy of it.

How many of us have this confidence? How many of us have that confidence when the time comes to act?

Esther

There is something very appealing about Esther. She is not portrayed like so many heroes, as being without fear. Courage is not the absence of fear; that is insanity. Courage is not pretending that fear is not there; that is bravado, Courage is overcoming fear -- and we see Esther doing that. Let’s see how.

·         First, she tries to cover up the problem. Look, Uncle Mordecai, here’s some nice new clothing -- wouldn’t you really rather wear this? What could be the problem? (In other words, denial -- how could anything be wrong? Don’t tell me!)

·         Mordecai then sends in the facts -- and they are not sufficient. He expects her to draw the right conclusion; she sends him an excuse instead.

·         Mordecai then does what must be done. This is not a matter between Esther, Mordecai and Haman; it is a matter of God. It is not my courage that counts, but His command.

Now Esther responds as God would have her respond. Look at her response:

·         She asks her friends outside to fast (and pray, according to Josephus) for her. How often we attempt to be courageous alone!

·         She asks her maids inside to fast with her, as she asks counsel of God.

·         When she finally goes before Xerxes, according to Josephus, she faints. But Xerxes gets up off the throne and picks her up. Is it possible that God used her obedience, despite her lack of courage, to further His cause?

Providence

{28} And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. -- Romans 8:28 (NIV)

Consider these little “accidents” along the way to this story:

·         Vashti is deposed as queen. If the Chaldean account of this event is correct, it is because she refused to parade naked for the king’s friends at his drunken party. Did God use her righteousness for his kingdom’s sake?

·         On our view, why did Esther invite Haman and the king to two banquets? We might look at it this way:

·         She wanted a friendly atmosphere for such a serious request.

·         She didn’t want to tip her hand to Haman.

·         Maybe she didn’t have the courage the first time.

·         Perhaps it’s just that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach

·         God’s view might be different: He wanted the night in between the banquets for a bout of insomnia. Josephus tells us that the chronicles were written in the form of “achievement, reward, achievement, reward, etc.” The lack of reward for Mordecai would stand out -- if you were reading through the book.

The message is clear: God will use those who are his willing servants and those who are his unwitting tools. The difference -- shown between Haman and Mordecai -- is in the heart. Here the words of James:

{14} But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. {15} Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. {16} For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. {17} But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. {18} Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. -- James 3:14-18 (NIV)

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