Thursday, March 03, 2016

Lessons From Esther

Elim’s young adult group, Pulse, is nearing the completion of a study of Esther. In case you’re unfamiliar with the story, it takes place in post-exile Persia (formerly Babylon). Freed from captivity, about 60,000 Jews have emigrated back to the Jerusalem area to rebuild the Temple and pick their lives back up as God’s people living in their Land.

Esther denounces Haman, by British painter Ernest Normand.
But what many people don’t realize is that at least 10 times that many Jews willingly chose to stay behind in Persia. Why? After 70 years, it was home. They were used to it. They were rebuilding comfortable lives and businesses. Almost everything was going well.

Almost. There was a strong anti-Jewish sentiment among many of the Persians. The Jews’ “strange” ways, coupled with their business acumen, caused many to look down upon them in envy and disapproval. (Sound familiar?)

One man in particular bore a grudge. His name was Haman, and he was descended from a group of pagans who were almost wiped out more than a century earlier (at God’s command) by Saul. The fact that Saul compromised and didn’t completely obey God resulted in Haman later rising to power as prime minister to the king of Persia, Xerxes (or Ahaseurus), and harboring a secret hatred of the Jewish people who had almost wiped out his forefathers.

In ancient Persia, much as it is today, money translated to political power, and Haman had lots of it. And he used his capital to trick the king into signing a death warrant against all Jews remaining in Persia.

Mordecai and his cousin Esther were two of those Jews. And it just so happened that King Xerxes, after banishing a queen who had disrespected him, fell in love with the beautiful Esther and chose her to be his queen. Xerxes didn’t realize, of course, when he signed Haman’s paperwork, that he was giving Haman permission to put his own wife to death!

The book of Esther never even once mentions God, but it is a book full of “coincidences” that clearly show God’s power to order circumstances (even very difficult circumstances) to bring about His will. And His will was (and is) the protection and salvation of His people.

One such “coincidence” was the elevation of Mordecai to favor with the king, even as his death was being plotted by Haman, because of his role revealing a plot against the king by his bodyguards. Mordecai also revealed the plot against the Jews to Esther, and urged her to plead their case before the king. She knew that to do so was to risk death, for anyone approaching the king without being called would be summarily executed if he didn’t intervene. Mordecai challenges Esther with these famous words: “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for just such a time as this?” And Esther’s classic, courageous response: “Tell everyone to fast for me for three days, and on the third day I will approach the king. And if I perish, I perish.”

The king spares Esther’s life, and she definitely gets his attention. Even so, she doesn’t immediately reveal her request; she waits. Why?

God’s timing is perfect! In waiting, Mordecai is elevated to power, and Haman is shown for the schemer he is. Once Esther finally reveals her request (that the king spare her life and the lives of her people), Haman’s plot is undone. He finds himself instead skewered upon the pole which he had planned for Mordecai’s demise. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

There are so many lessons in this book, it’s hard to choose one, but let me list three favorites:
  • When life’s circumstances become difficult, we can trust that God is behind the scenes, working, even if we can’t see Him. He is for us, and Paul's words in Romans 8:28 are true: “We know that in all things God works for the good for those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
  • There is tremendous power in waiting upon the Lord. Esther waited until the moment was right and God said, “Go.” His power is seen in the perfection of His timing.
  • Like the Jews in Persia, in many ways we Christians have become a little too comfortable living in a land that is not our home. In the process, we have in some ways become a stench in the nostrils of the people of this land. There are Hamans here who seek our destruction, but God knows their hearts and will ultimately skewer them upon their own devices.
I am so grateful we have an all-powerful God who is for us, and who is working behind the scenes to secure our salvation from the plots of the enemy! May God help us to learn to wait on Him!

Reprinted from Elim EV Free Church's The Last Word leadership blog on March 3, 2016.

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