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Esther
Esther
Esther
Esther
Esther
Esther
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Esther

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  1. Esther – Friday Night Genesis, Friday, Aug 2, 2013 Scripture reading: Romans 5:6-11 This month we are looking at the book of Esther. The book of Esther completes the historical portion of the Old Testament, tracing the history of the Israelite nation. Job is a very unique book and we’ll look at it next month. But everything else after Job, from Psalms to the end of the Old Testament, will be within the framework of the history we have now covered. As we have been going through the Bible book by book, we have been asking a simple question: “What does this book tell us about God?” On the surface of it the book of Esther poses an unlikely challenge in answering that question, because God is not mentioned a single time. No one even prays. They do fast at one point, but prayer is not explicitly mentioned. So what can we learn about God from a book that doesn’t even mention Him? How did such a book even end up in the Bible? The answer, I believe, is to look at the historical context within which the events are taking place. In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that it also requires an assumption that while God is not specifically mentioned, He is working behind the scenes. In my defense, this is not an unfounded assumption or wishful thinking that would make things nice and tidy for me. This assumption is based on the evidence of God’s involvement in the events of the world up to this point as they are recorded in the Bible. Seeing patterns that we can carry through the places where things are not explicitly spelled out of us is yet another benefit of going through the entire Bible, book by book. The year was 483 BC. King Xerxes ruled the vast Medo-Persian empire spanning most of the then known world. To get an idea of just how vast, I have brought along a map for you to look at. The empire starts here in Greece, and extends over a territory that includes what is today Turkey, Syria, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, borders here with Russia, and also includes Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and goes into today’s India. So when you read about decrees being issued and dispatched across the 127 provinces of the kingdom– this is the territory that they had to cover. The seat of government was in the Citadel of Susa, which is at the site of the town of Shush in modern day Iran. And yes, that is the real name of the town, if you don’t believe me – look it up. Xerxes had invited nobility from all over his kingdom to Susa for a grand old party, to display his largesse. For 180 days, basically 6 months, entertainment, food and wine flowed freely. It was during these festivities that a rather inebriated king Xerxes summoned queen Vashti to come to the party so that the nobles can ogle her. When she flat out refused to come this caused no small embarrassment to the king, and so he banished her from the court. And that’s how it came to be that king Xerxes was in search of a new queen. He did not lack for female company, you understand, he did have a
  2. whole harem of women, but he was looking for that special no. 1 wife since Vashti was no longer it. By this stage the Jewish remnant had already returned to Jerusalem and the temple had been completed some 30 odd years ago, but there was still a large number of Jews dispersed throughout the Medo-Persian empire. While the books of Ezra and Nehemiah showed us how God cared for the small remnant that returned to Jerusalem and Judah, the book of Esther shows us how God cared for those who didn’t even care to go back, but stayed put wherever they were in the Medo-Persian empire. If you’ve read the book you will remember Haman, a noble who won the confidence of king Xerxes, so much so that the king gave him his seal, so he could send official dispatches in king’s name. Anti-Semitism, as we discover, is not a recent phenomenon. Haman seems to have had a distinct dislike of the Jews and planed a holocaust way back then, 5 centuries before Christ. It was all set up, signed, sealed and approved. Events in not too distant history can help us imagine what that must have been like. All of a sudden you find that your entire nation has been singled out for extermination. You even know the date when it will happen. What would you do? You might as well have a yellow star stitched to your clothing that says “Jew”, since you know you are singled out. People of other nationalities in your neighborhood are treating you as a leper, you can see them looking at you, and that gleam in their eye that says “just a few more weeks and you will no longer be here, and then all that is yours will be mine.” This wasn’t even the case of just living with the uncertainty, not knowing when the SS would bust into your house and take you away to an unknown destination where work would make you free…. You knew the exact date, and you knew that it was your neighbors who were tasked with carrying out the order of executing you. You can only imagine the despair the Jews must have felt at that time. And it is at that time that God steps in and through Esther and Mordecai rescues the Jews from annihilation. Since the orders that were sealed with the king’s seal could not be repealed, the solution that saved the Jews was not pretty. On the same day that they were to be executed, they were given the right to defend themselves and attack those who were coming after them. This resulted in the death of 75,000 people across Medo- Persia in that one day. And before you get all excited because “our side” was now winning, just stop and consider for a moment – 75,000 people perished that day. That is the equivalent of more than half of the entire population of Calhoun County being slaughtered in one day. Does God really work in such ways? Why would God even be involved in any of this? After all, had Israelites followed His commandments they never would have been in exile, dispersed across the Medo- Persian empire as they were. Even after they were exiled God said “I will bring you back
  3. in 70 years” and the edict for their return had been given decades ago. Some returned and by now they had established themselves in Jerusalem. The Temple had been completed and dedicated over 30 years ago. Why did these people not return? And more to the point why would God care for people who, on at least two counts, shouldn’t have been there in the first place! Their ancestors got into trouble by rejecting God and got conquered and carried away into exile, and now these guys didn’t even care enough to return to their ancestral hearths, and begin a new life with God. So why didn’t God just leave them be, since evidently, that’s where they wanted to be? This is where we get to see the heart of God in the book of Esther, and it is truly a beautiful picture. God does not abandon us. During the course of your life you may have heard tales, or felt like God was just waiting to pounce on the smallest mistake that you made and doom you for eternity. But look at the heart of God towards Israel that we have seen as we’ve been going through the Old Testament and now culminating in the book of Esther. Through all their rebellion and rejection God kept coming back to them, sending them messages of warning, messages of love. God is not afraid of getting dirty trying to reach us. He is willing to get stuck right in the middle of our own mess in order to save us and win us back to Him. There has been a lot of discussion lately centering on what God did and did not do, especially in the Old Testament, a lot of discussion on what God would and would not do. We look at things in the Bible from our 21st century world view, and we just cannot fathom how a loving God could do some of the things that He is credited with in the Old Testament. We look at things in the Bible and we just know that God could not work through such methods. I mean, God is holy, and He cannot stand to be in the presence of sin, so there is no way a holy God could operate through the ways of a sinful world to reach out to us and save us. I’m sorry, but the evidence is overwhelming that He is working right in the midst of the sinful world. And that is good news! When Adam and Eve sinned and were driven away from the garden of Eden and the tree of life, what would have happened if God simply decided that He could not work within the framework of sinful humanity? If He just threw up His hands and refuse to have anything to do with us until we returned to His ideal, lest He be seen as condoning our sinful behavior? If He refused to work with less then perfect circumstances? If that were God’s attitude, you do realize that from the moment Adam and Eve sinned we would have been lost with no hope of redemption. So rather than be on the defensive about the methods that God has been credited with using especially in the Old Testament, we can rejoice because it means that God never gave up on us regardless of how far we may have wondered from His ideal. When we screwed up His plan A, He went to plan B, and when we threw a monkey wrench into plan B, He went to plan C, and plan D and plan Z. He has constantly been adapting to the conditions and ways of the world as we have set them up.
  4. Just look at Esther as a case study. When we think of Esther becoming a queen this is the image we have in mind. (William and Kate wedding photo). But the reality was very different. King Xerxes had a harem and Esther merely got to be wife no. 1 among many. In choosing the new no. 1 wife, there was no dating, no romance. This was a beauty pageant in its most extreme. They gathered all these beautiful young ladies, and they got to go through a year of spa treatments. Now I know some of you here would be more than happy with that turn of events, especially when it’s on someone else’s dime  But then look at the “interview” process. The young ladies would go into the king’s chamber in the evening and when they came out in the morning they were moved to another part of the court where the concubines were housed. Who has ears, let him hear. You can read between the lines what was going on here. Surely God wouldn’t work through something like that, would He? Is that the dream that you have or had for your daughters – for them to become a wife in some oriental potentate’s harem? Should that be the ideal towards which we should point the young ladies in our families or in our churches? No. But in the days of king Xerxes that was the norm, and God was able and willing to work through the norms of the day. Should we consider slaughtering 75,000 people an ideal way to deal with a threat to our well being? No. But at a time when impaling someone on a pike and settling disputes with a sword was the norm, God worked within that framework. There are other examples in the Bible. People today have a real problem with a God who would kill all the firstborns in Egypt and then drown the entire Egyptian army in the Red Sea. But as we saw when we looked at the book of Joshua, it was precisely that gruesome display of power that convinced a heathen in Jericho by the name of Rahab that Yahweh was the true God. Why? Because in her world view, the gods were all about power, and the most powerful god would wreak the most havoc. God worked and reached people within that world view. Was that the ideal? Is that how He wants to act toward His creation? No – He has shown that many times. But He did not wait until we reached His ideals. Instead He came down to us, to a level that we would understand, and reached out to us. He continually acted throughout history in order to reach out to us, get our attention and then set us on a path toward His ideal. Another example can be found in Matthew 19. There Jesus has a rather interesting discourse with the Pharisees about divorce. During the discourse Jesus makes this statement: “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.” (Matthew 19:8) And as if to provide further emphasis to His point, the disciples then wonder aloud about whether anyone would ever get married if there wasn’t such an “out” clause! God did not create marriage with a divorce clause nor is that His ideal. So why did He give us something that is so far from the ideal? Back in the days of Moses, women were treated like property. And if a woman displeased her man, say for example, she burnt dinner one day – he could simply throw
  5. her out of his house, wouldn’t even have to pay for the donkey’s fare to get her back home! And so through Moses, God gave the Israelites rules about divorce. Through this God was leading them to the first step towards His ideal, by teaching them to treat their women with some dignity. Under the law of Moses you could no longer just throw them out of the house like a piece of broken furniture, you had to go through a process and give them a certificate of divorce. In a world where women had no rights, God gave a law that created rights for women. It was still far from His ideal, but it was the first step leading us back towards His ideal. But if God was never willing to work within the sinful framework and guide us step by step through horrendous circumstances towards His ideal, we would have been completely lost. There is no way that with the “normals” we have created over the centuries we ever could have or would have figured out what God’s ideal for us was, nor how to get there. And so as we read the story of Esther, we get to know the heart of God. A God who is not so aloof that He wouldn’t touch us sinners or work within our world. In the book of Esther God was looking out for a people who on at least two counts should not have been where they were. He worked through methods that were the norm of the day, even though they were so far removed from the ideal that He has for us. But He did it because His love transcends our sinfulness. Our sinfulness will never destroy His love for us. Our sinfulness will never be a barrier for God to reach out to us and show us the evidence of His love and care. He is in 100% no matter how messy it gets.
  6. her out of his house, wouldn’t even have to pay for the donkey’s fare to get her back home! And so through Moses, God gave the Israelites rules about divorce. Through this God was leading them to the first step towards His ideal, by teaching them to treat their women with some dignity. Under the law of Moses you could no longer just throw them out of the house like a piece of broken furniture, you had to go through a process and give them a certificate of divorce. In a world where women had no rights, God gave a law that created rights for women. It was still far from His ideal, but it was the first step leading us back towards His ideal. But if God was never willing to work within the sinful framework and guide us step by step through horrendous circumstances towards His ideal, we would have been completely lost. There is no way that with the “normals” we have created over the centuries we ever could have or would have figured out what God’s ideal for us was, nor how to get there. And so as we read the story of Esther, we get to know the heart of God. A God who is not so aloof that He wouldn’t touch us sinners or work within our world. In the book of Esther God was looking out for a people who on at least two counts should not have been where they were. He worked through methods that were the norm of the day, even though they were so far removed from the ideal that He has for us. But He did it because His love transcends our sinfulness. Our sinfulness will never destroy His love for us. Our sinfulness will never be a barrier for God to reach out to us and show us the evidence of His love and care. He is in 100% no matter how messy it gets.

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