Monthly Archives: September 2013
I have to admit that I’m not necessarily an expert on Jewish history, but I have heard of Purim. In Esther 9, we see how that holiday was established.
Even though a letter had gone out with the king’s signature and said that the Jewish people had a full right to defend themselves against anyone who tried to attack them, some people still wanted to follow through with Haman’s original command.
For some reason, there were still people who hated the Jewish people and wanted to see them dead.
After a day of fighting where 75,000 people died, the Jewish people celebrated because they had survived the day that was supposed to annihilate their people.
Est 9:27 The Jews ordained, and took upon them, and upon their seed, and upon all such as joined themselves unto them, so as it should not fail, that they would keep these two days according to their writing, and according to their appointed time every year;
Est 9:28 And that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city; and that these days of Purim should not fail from among the Jews, nor the memorial of them perish from their seed.
That is how this holiday came to be. They were celebrating the fact that even though humans were planning to destroy them, God was able to put the right people in the right places to arrange for their protection and well-being. If Esther and Mordecai had not been in the position that they had been, it very well could have spelled an end to the Jewish people.
When I think about things like this, it makes me wonder why we worry at all. If God has the power and the knowledge to organize entire nations and make everything work out for them, why do we often times worry that He won’t be able to handle our problems? He is so much greater than any circumstance we might be facing.
With Haman out of the picture, the Jewish people were in a much better position in Esther 8. However, Esther knew that more work needed to be done. Previously, Haman’s command to exterminate all of the Jews had gone out all over the kingdom, so now it needed to be reversed. She asked king Ahasuerus to send out another letter reversing that order.
He went farther than that.
Est 8:7 Then the king Ahasuerus said unto Esther the queen and to Mordecai the Jew, Behold, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and him they have hanged upon the gallows, because he laid his hand upon the Jews.
Est 8:8 Write ye also for the Jews, as it liketh you, in the king’s name, and seal it with the king’s ring: for the writing which is written in the king’s name, and sealed with the king’s ring, may no man reverse.
He basically gave Esther and Mordecai free reign to write whatever they wanted and the authority to make it permanent, so here is what they wrote.
Est 8:10 And he wrote in the king Ahasuerus’ name, and sealed it with the king’s ring, and sent letters by posts on horseback, and riders on mules, camels, and young dromedaries:
Est 8:11 Wherein the king granted the Jews which were in every city to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish, all the power of the people and province that would assault them, both little ones and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey,
Basically, under this agreement, it seems as if the Jewish people had unlimited self-defense. They did not have the power to initiate violence which is probably a good thing, but they did have the power to protect themselves if anyone came at them.
Of course, as we find out later in the chapter, the Jewish people were really happy and relieved when they find out about this new protection that they had been granted. People like to have the power to defend themselves.
Unfortunately, we can’t protect ourselves from everything even with all of the best laws in the world. With this law in place, the Jewish people were a lot more protected than they had been, but it was definitely not a perfect system. No humans organization can possibly be.
It is a good thing that we have a perfect Shepherd who can offer us perfect protection.
Psa 23:1 A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
Psa 23:2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
Psa 23:3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Psa 23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Psa 23:5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Psa 23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
Esther 7 made me think about the value of human life. Esther clearly recognized that life was something precious.
Est 7:3 Then Esther the queen answered and said, If I have found favour in thy sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request:
Est 7:4 For we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish. But if we had been sold for bondmen and bondwomen, I had held my tongue, although the enemy could not countervail the king’s damage.
Notice that her first statement regards her life and the lives of her people. Then, she emphasizes that point by saying that if they had been sold to be slaves, she would not have made this request. The problem started when lives were going to be at stake.
Now, I live about an hour away from New Hampshire, and the state motto there is “Live Free or Die.” I don’t think that Esther would agree with that. There is something intrinsically valuable about being alive that goes beyond freedom.
However, what is that?
I think that Paul can tell us something about that value that exists even without freedom. He wasn’t a slave, but he spent an awful lot of time under lock and key as a prisoner for the cause of Christ.
Php 1:20 According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.
Php 1:21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Verse 21 really hits it home. For the Christian, there really is nothing wrong with death because we know that we’re going to a better place. However, when we live, we are supposed to be alive to serve Jesus. That is one obvious thing that is hard to do when we have passed on. We can’t be working on earth sharing the good news with people when we are no longer here.
Of course, that good news itself is the most important thing we can ever hear and internalize while we are alive, so that is also arguably the most important part of life. If we have never made that decision for Jesus while we are on earth, death is indeed a frightening thing.
I know that there are many, many reasons for valuing human life, and maybe I’ll emphasize more of them later. However, I wanted to particularly highlight this particular scenario today. Life has value because it is the time that we are given to serve Jesus on earth, and the entire purpose of that service is to bring people including ourselves to a saving knowledge of Jesus Himself. We carry a very important message, and we are carrying it to people who are walking an eternally dangerous road. Our destiny relies on really one simple decision that we make during this short amount of time. I think that that means this seemingly short blip on the screen of eternity incredibly valuable.
Esther was indeed right when she argued that there is value on human life regardless of the conditions that we find ourselves in.
Haman must’ve been getting a little bit frustrated in Esther 6. He had this plan to exterminate all of the Jewish people, and he was going to start with Mordecai. However, I think that we can see divine intervention at work here.
One night, king Ahasuerus was having a hard time sleeping, so he wanted some of their record books to be read to him. It was in those books that he realized that Mordecai was the one who actually stopped the assassination attempt on his life but had never been properly honored for that. He knew he had to make that right.
Est 6:4 And the king said, Who is in the court? Now Haman was come into the outward court of the king’s house, to speak unto the king to hang Mordecai on the gallows that he had prepared for him.
Est 6:5 And the king’s servants said unto him, Behold, Haman standeth in the court. And the king said, Let him come in.
Est 6:6 So Haman came in. And the king said unto him, What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour? Now Haman thought in his heart, To whom would the king delight to do honour more than to myself?
Haman was all excited that this honor was going to be for him, so he basically said that they should allow the one who was honored to ride through the street wearing all of the king’s apparel and riding on the king’s horse.
Est 6:10 Then the king said to Haman, Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as thou hast said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew, that sitteth at the king’s gate: let nothing fail of all that thou hast spoken.
Haman followed through on his word, but he also became incredibly aware that there was no way he could kill Mordecai at that moment like he had planned back in verse four.
This is going to sound a little bit morbid, but we are kind of like this at times. I am absolutely not saying that we all want to murder an entire group of people, but I am saying that we have a plan, and we get really close to executing that plan. However, God has something else in mind.
Haman was literally outside the king’s chambers ready to condemn Mordecai. His plan could have been completed in five minutes. He was probably getting excited because his plan was just about ready to come to fruition.
However, for some reason, the king could not sleep that night and happened to be reading from the particular book that recorded Mordecai’s heroism. I use the word “happened” as kind of an understatement because I believe there was a lot more at work here than chance.
God’s plan might not always make sense, and its timing might seem questionable. God could have intervened before Haman even started to plot against Mordecai, but for some reason, He waited until this moment to intervene and save Mordecai from death at this particular point.
As Christians, even though I am sure that we don’t plan to do this kind of evil, this should be a wake-up call. We might have a plan, and we might come really close to seeing our plan happen. However, we need to remember that God has a better plan, and that is the one that we really need to try to be following.
In Esther 5, Esther bravely went into the court of the king under the penalty of potential death. However, when he saw her, he held out his scepter which was a sign that she would not be killed for breaking the rules of etiquette.
Personally I am sure that Esther must have been relieved. She wasn’t going to be killed, but she still needed to muster up the courage to ask to save the Jewish people. In doing so, she was asking king Ahasuerus to overturn a ruling that he had already permitted. Assuming that he was probably a rather proud man, I wonder how often he entertained requests like this.
Interestingly though, Esther did not immediately ask for mercy toward the Jewish people.
Est 5:3 Then said the king unto her, What wilt thou, queen Esther? and what is thy request? it shall be even given thee to the half of the kingdom.
Est 5:4 And Esther answered, If it seem good unto the king, let the king and Haman come this day unto the banquet that I have prepared for him.
He was willing to give her a lot. Half of the kingdom would presumably be more than enough authority to save the Jewish people, but all that she asked was that the king and Haman, the main persecutor of the Jewish people, would dine with her at a banquet.
Part of me has to wonder what she was doing. She had permission to ask for an awful lot, and she didn’t immediately address the most important problem at hand. None of the Jewish people on the outside really knew what was going on with Esther most likely, but if they had, they might have been a little bit disappointed that she wasn’t moving faster.
Sometimes, I think we can think the same thing about God. We can wonder why He isn’t moving at the speed that we want Him to. However, we need to rest assured that God is watching over us, and He does care about humanity. At the result of both of those attributes, even if we run into circumstances that really don’t make sense like Esther asking for company at dinner rather than the rescue of her people, we can know that everything is unfolding as God wants it to.
Mat 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.
Mat 10:30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
Mat 10:31 Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.
Naturally, the Jewish people were getting a little bit nervous in Esther 4. The date of their planned extermination was drawing nearer, and they were trying to figure out how they could somehow avoid this terrible thing that was about to happen to all of them.
Being the smart man that he was, Mordecai had an idea.
Est 4:8 Also he gave him the copy of the writing of the decree that was given at Shushan to destroy them, to shew it unto Esther, and to declare it unto her, and to charge her that she should go in unto the king, to make supplication unto him, and to make request before him for her people.
Esther was in a position of influence. She had access to the king, and Mordecai knew that the king was really the only one with the authority to alter his own order. Politically, they needed to change his mind in order for any of this to work out.
Unfortunately, when you wanted to see the king, it wasn’t as if you could just walk in.
Est 4:11 All the king’s servants, and the people of the king’s provinces, do know, that whosoever, whether man or woman, shall come unto the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is one law of his to put him to death, except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden sceptre, that he may live: but I have not been called to come in unto the king these thirty days.
I don’t quite know how such a strong penalty ever developed for just entering a room, but that is what Esther had to consider. Was it worth putting her own life in danger to potentially help all of her people? Potentially is a very important word in that sentence because if he decided to kill her, no one would have benefited.
However, here is what she decided by the end of the chapter.
Est 4:16 Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.
Quite frankly, this is one of the best expressions of human love in the Bible. Obviously, the love of God rises above all human love, but Esther was willing to put her own life on the line for all of her people. This kind of radical concern for the well-being of others is something that I think we can miss a lot today. We probably all won’t be in a position to stop a genocide, but we can still take this attitude into our lives. We can worry about other people despite the consequences.
Esther is a great example of that and was prepared to give up her own life for many people who she probably had never even met.
Joh 15:13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
In Esther 3, we see part of the reason that Esther might not have wanted to say that she was Jewish. Haman, one of the favorites of king Ahasuerus, could not stand the fact that Mordecai would not bow to him. He was so upset in fact that he asked the king if he could eradicate every Jewish person in the kingdom.
Est 3:8 And Haman said unto king Ahasuerus, There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king’s laws: therefore it is not for the king’s profit to suffer them.
Est 3:9 If it please the king, let it be written that they may be destroyed: and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to the hands of those that have the charge of the business, to bring it into the king’s treasuries.
Obviously, Haman was really mad at Mordecai, and that is a lot of why he ordered this massacre. However, part of me also thinks that he really must not have liked Jewish people to begin with. If there was indeed this kind of culture at the high levels of government, there is no doubt that must have been a little bit frightening for Esther (which explains a little bit about what I talked about yesterday).
I think that when you read this in the Bible, you might be wondering where God was. You might be wondering why He allowed this kind of hatred to begin to develop. At this point in the chapter, nothing has happened yet in terms of violence, but the Jewish people must have wondered if they were going to be brutally attacked. That is nevertheless a frightening time.
As we will find out, God did not abandon the people, but we have the benefit of hindsight. We know what is going to happen (if you read ahead of me), but the people that had to live entirely by faith.
You know, especially in times like that but really all of the time, it is good that we have a God that loves all of us and never fails. It brings us hope in tough times, and it gives us a solid foundation for that faith.
Heb 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
In Esther 2, king Ahasuerus decided that he needed a new queen since the old one Vashti would not do everything that he demanded. As a result, he basically brought a bunch of women in to decide who would be his next queen, and Esther, our star lady, was one of those women.
The interesting part was that Esther was a Jew, and that surely would not have been a popular thing to say in the court. She never would have had a chance at becoming queen.
Est 2:10 Esther had not shewed her people nor her kindred: for Mordecai had charged her that she should not shew it.
As it turned out, she quickly became the favorite of the king, and it was not very long until he decided that she needed to become his queen. However, the king still had no idea that she was actually Jewish.
Est 2:17 And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti.
Est 2:20 Esther had not yet shewed her kindred nor her people; as Mordecai had charged her: for Esther did the commandment of Mordecai, like as when she was brought up with him.
This is kind of an interesting thought because it makes me wonder if there are ever circumstances where we should hide away some part of our character.
For example, would it ever be right for a Christian to hide part of his or her belief system if it did allow for the ultimate potential for gain for other Christians?
I’m thinking about China hypothetically. Obviously, the house church movement is powerful, but there is also widespread persecution. Identifying with that movement can lead to severe consequences that are potentially lethal.
In that situation, does it make sense for a Christian to not lie about their beliefs (because that is an obvious violation of the 10 Commandments) but rather not disclose them because it could damage some greater mission? Imagine if a Christian official was able to rise into a high position in China like Esther. That person would then have the influence to make life much easier on our brothers and sisters over there. That would be a great thing, but that official might not ever have the opportunity to get into that position of power if he or she had been identified with the house church movement to begin with.
If the question never comes up, is it wrong to simply not mention faith?
As an American Christian, I can say that many of the churches I have heard from are very evangelistic. It is part of our duty as a result of our faith to go out and preach to the entire world. I believe that. If you look at the early church, they were doing that all the time even though many of them did indeed die or at least spent time in prison for what they were saying. They are often times the examples we look up to and use as our justification for doing anything for God. From that perspective, it seems that we really should always be reaching out about Christianity regardless of the consequences.
On the other hand, I have to wonder about someone like Jesus. Until the age of 30, He was not actively engaged in His ministry. In a way, He wasn’t letting people know that part of His identity yet. Again, I’m sure that if somebody came up and asked Him whether or not He was the Messiah, He certainly would not have lied to them, but He simply did not mention that fact until the time was right. On that level then, if this is sort of similar to something that Jesus did Himself, I have a hard time saying that it was wrong for Esther to do.
As you can tell, I certainly have mixed feelings.
What do all of you think? Are there circumstances where omission is okay particularly if there is long-term benefit and no lying (an obvious sin) involved?
I would love to get a little discussion going about this one if people have some opinions to share.
All right! We have made it to the book of Esther which will be our 17th book together. Obviously, we are going to start in chapter 1 where we find a royal celebration going down, and a king named Ahasuerus was in charge. He was a very powerful man, ruling a very large kingdom, and he also had a very beautiful wife named Vashti.
He wanted to show her off to all the people and let them see how beautiful she was, but she refused to go out in public, so the king was left with a little bit of a dilemma. He didn’t know what to do and what kind of action he should take, so he talked to his princes.
Est 1:15 What shall we do unto the queen Vashti according to law, because she hath not performed the commandment of the king Ahasuerus by the chamberlains?
Est 1:16 And Memucan answered before the king and the princes, Vashti the queen hath not done wrong to the king only, but also to all the princes, and to all the people that are in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus.
Est 1:17 For this deed of the queen shall come abroad unto all women, so that they shall despise their husbands in their eyes, when it shall be reported, The king Ahasuerus commanded Vashti the queen to be brought in before him, but she came not.
Besides the obvious questions that could come up about the role of women in this society and whether or not that is right, I want to take a little bit different perspective because you can read about that in plenty of other places.
I want to show something from verse 16. When the queen did not appear before the king, the prince Memucan said that she was not just harming the king but also all people in the kingdom by destroying the traditional relationship between men and women.
Again, I’m not going to engage with the issue of that cultural practice here, but what if we think about this verse with God being our King and, as Christians, we are the disobedient queen?
God has something that He wants us to do as well as a way that we should live, and we can be stubborn. We can say that we are going to do it, but when other people see us as professing Christians who aren’t willing to do the work of God, we start to have discipline problems everywhere else.
These things come from other Christians who might say, “Well it was okay for him to do it, so I guess it is okay for me,” or these might even come from those outside of Christianity who would say something like, “I don’t want to be a Christian if they are all like her.”
In either situation, we are kind of doing what the prince was worried about in Esther. People will take what we do as representative of Christianity, but if we aren’t living in the right way, we are putting forth a bad testimony.
I hope that we all can think about this in our day-to-day lives. I’m not advocating for works-based salvation, but I am saying that if we are Christians, we need to act like it and remain obedient to our God.
Jas 2:17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
Well, we have come to the end of Nehemiah, and in chapter 13, it seems as if Nehemiah himself had to take a trip back to Babylon to most likely report to the king. Unfortunately, while he was gone, the people got into some bad stuff.
Neh 13:4 And before this, Eliashib the priest, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God, was allied unto Tobiah:
Neh 13:5 And he had prepared for him a great chamber, where aforetime they laid the meat offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the corn, the new wine, and the oil, which was commanded to be given to the Levites, and the singers, and the porters; and the offerings of the priests.
Basically, a guy who was supposed to be a priest turned a room in the temple that was meant for the worship of God into a room that was used for a feast. Beyond that, we find that a little bit later that the food that is mentioned here and was meant for the Levites never made it to the Levites.
Neh 13:10 And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field.
Not only did he defile a room in the Temple, but he also broke the rules in regards to how the food was supposed to be used. The food was supposed to be for the people who had the duty of serving God in the Temple, but in this case, the system was being abused.
Nehemiah was not thrilled with this to say the least.
Neh 13:11 Then contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together, and set them in their place.
He disciplined the rulers, and then he made the situation better by bringing all the Levites back to the Temple like they should have been. He didn’t let the people off the hook for disobeying the law of God, but he also took productive steps to ultimately improve the situation.
This is what we need to do today. We live in a world that disobeys the word of God all the time (and I know that we are all guilty of doing that every now and then). We can’t just ignore the problem. We need forgiveness. However, we also need to take steps in a positive direction to continue growing nearer to God.
1Jn 2:1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
1Jn 2:2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
1Jn 2:3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.
1Jn 2:4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
1Jn 2:5 But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.
It is a two-part process. We might sin, and while that is not acceptable, Jesus died to bring us forgiveness. Then, we need to keep His commandments and continue growing closer. This will lead us toward spiritual maturity.