This morning we are going to explore the Old Testament book of Esther. It may be the most fun book in the Bible.... especially, if you are into the ironic. Who doesn’t like a little irony along with their vindictiveness? We are going to quickly go through the Story of Esther, while stopping along the way to learn some...lessons. This morning... Lessons from Esther.
The story of Esther is set during the same time as Ezra and Nehemiah.
--Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and took thousands of captives off to Babylonia.
--Cyrus, the king of the Persians, captured Babylon and let the captives free. Many of them went back to Jerusalem... to finish the house.
--While the returnees were finishing the house, some of the Jews stayed in exile. I guess they liked it. Sort of like Carlsbad... some people like it.
--Let’s call it 480 BC in the capital of the Persian empire... the city of... Susa.
The story begins with a feast...
King Ahasuerus or better known by his Greek name Xerxes, has just lost a major battle to the up and coming Greeks. Ahasuerus has returned home to sulk and drink and lick his wounds and drink. Ahasuerus knows how to party... For seven days there is an open bar for all his people; great and small.
Esther 1:5-8 The king gave for all the people present in Susa, the citadel, both great and small, a feast lasting for seven days in the court of the garden of the king's palace. There were white cotton curtains and violet hangings fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rods and marble pillars, and also couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and precious stones. Drinks were served in golden vessels, vessels of different kinds, and the royal wine was lavished according to the bounty of the king. And drinking was according to this edict: "There is no compulsion." For the king had given orders to all the staff of his palace to do as each man desired.
After seven days of heavy drinking... the king calls for his beautiful Queen; Vashti. He commanded her to wear her royal crown, (and I suspect not much else) and come dance for him and his drunk buddies. She refused. That embarrassed the King... in front of his guys. So, he fired her as Queen. I didn’t know you could do that... but he is king of the Persians. He fired the Queen.
This leads to our first lesson. Be thankful you are not a woman in the Persian Empire in 480 BC. I’m serious, mostly... women, during this time, were very much marginalized. They were property to be used and abused. Women are never to be marginalized.
The Story of Esther continues when Ahasuerus sobers up and realizes he doesn’t have a queen.
This is problematic. You need to have a beautiful queen amongst your possessions if you are going to be taken seriously as King. So, he has a contest. Just like in the fairy tales, they hunt through the 127 provinces of the kingdom to find the most beautiful young girls... kind of like The Bachelor... TV Show. All these young women, without their consent, were gathered up and cleaned up and brought up before the King.
Esther is among these beautiful young girls who are gathered up and brought before Ahasuerus. A little background to Esther...
--She was a Jew.
--Her parents were dead.
--She was raised by her cousin, Mordecai... remember the name.
--Mordecai told Esther to not tell anyone that she was a Jew... It would not help her to win the beauty contest.
--Which she does... win... obviously... or this would not be much of a story.
Another lesson... It pays to look nice. Just making observations... Esther is now Queen!
Then, the story then takes a side trip...
Mordecai is sitting at the city gate, which is what old guys did, when he learns there are two guards plotting to kill king Ahasuerus. Mordecai tells Esther, the Queen, she tells the king. The plot is foiled. The two guards are hung. And, most importantly the incident is recorded in the Chronicles of the King.
While the story is on this side trip, we are introduced to the bad guy in the story.
--His name is Haman... another name to remember.
--King Ahasuerus promotes Haman to vice-king or some high-up position. Haman is an ambitious, but insecure person. Because Haman is now vice-king, he wants everyone to bow down to him. Ahasuerus decrees that everyone should bow down to Haman.
--Mordecai refuses... I don’t know why. Perhaps, he doesn’t like Haman. Day after day at the city gate Mordecai refuses to bow to Haman.
--This, obviously, infuriates the ambitious, but insecure Haman, to the point that Haman decides he is not only going to kill Mordecai, but he wants to genocide every Jew in the Kingdom. That seems a bit extreme.
But that leads us to another lesson... Don’t poke ambitious, but insecure, powerful people. This may come under the broader rule...
If it’s stupid, don’t do it.
The story finally gets to the plot... Haman wants to kill all the Jews, Mordecai, who caused the problem, needs to save his people.
The story then gets ugly...
Esther 3:8-13 Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, "There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king's laws, so that it is not to the king's profit to tolerate them. If it please the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed, and I will pay 10,000 talents of silver into the king's treasuries." So, the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman, the enemy of the Jews... Then the king's scribes were summoned, and an edict was written... Letters were sent by couriers to all the king's provinces with instruction to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.
A bit excessive...
Perhaps, another lesson... Vindictiveness escalates. Haven’t you noticed this is true. If you insult me... I double insult you back... which leads to violence... which always double violence... Don’t allow insult to escalate.
This is interesting... how Haman choose the 13th day of the 12th month.. Haman then rolls the dice to pick the date to genocide the Jews. The dice he rolls are called, in Persian... pur. Anyway, he rolls the pur... the date... the 13th day of the 12th month.
Now, the story needs a hero...
Mordecai is told about the decree to kill all the Jews throughout the whole Kingdom. He sends a message to Esther with these famous words...
Esther 4:13-14 "Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"
Interesting trivia question... which book does not mention the name of YHWH? YHWH is not mentioned in the book of Esther, but certainly faith in the power of YHWH is found in these words from Mordecai.
This is the main lesson... Watch for where God has placed you. God uses people, ordinary and high up people, to accomplish his will. You need to be aware of where you are, who is around you, what you may be called to do, or say, or be, everyone has influence. Everyone has influence. Whether you are a Queen or a gate sitter... you are used by God to touch other’s lives; to be YHWH’s person of influence!
Here comes the hero part...
Listen to Esther’s response to Mordecai.
Esther 4:16 "Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then, I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish."
The law of the king was no one came to him unless he called for them. If someone just showed up unannounced, if the king didn’t immediately raise his scepter, they were executed. That would be a nice power to have. Especially with so many grandkids around.
Queen Esther decides to go to the king, even though he has not called for her for 30 days. It is a big risk. Ahasuerus is a bit fickle and pouty and drinks a lot... who knows what he will do.
Here is the other most important point of the book of Esther...
Have some grits. If she goes to the King uninvited it could mean death. It takes courage to be YHWH’s person of influence. It is not about you, it is about being used by YHWH to influence, to touch, to be the person God calls you to be! Have some courage!
After they all fasted, Queen Esther goes to the King... He raises his scepter and invites her in. She invites the King and Haman to a banquet.
Then, the story of Esther gets... ironic.
One night, before Esther’s banquet, the King can’t sleep. So, he decides to read the Chronicles of the King. Surely, that will put him to sleep. Coincidently... I think not, he reads about Mordecai saving his life from the guards’ plot. He decides to honor Mordecai. So, he calls for someone to give him some advice. Haman is hanging around just in case King asks him. So, he comes into the king who asks him, “What could I do to honor somebody?
Haman thinks it is him... “Have him dressed in royal robes and given the crown and taken through town on the King’s horse.”
“Great idea,” The King says, “Go do this for Mordecai.” What, his mortal enemy, the guy who won’t bow... the guy who he has built gallows to hang on the 13th day of the 12th month.
Here is another cool lesson, not the main lesson but my favorite... Look for God in the ironic.
Then, the story of Esther gets scary... for Haman.
The King and Haman attend Esther’s banquet... Listen to what happens.
Esther 7:1-6 So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. And on the second day, as they were drinking wine after the feast, the king again said to Esther, "What is your wish, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled." Then Queen Esther answered, "If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be granted me for my wish, and my people for my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have been silent, for our affliction is not to be compared with the loss to the king." Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, "Who is he, and where is he, who has dared to do this?" And Esther said, "A foe and enemy! This wicked Haman!" Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.
Haman is executed on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai for the 13th day of the 12th month.
Once again look for God in the ironic.
But there is still a problem... The law of the Medes and Persians cannot be changed. It is black, black no trade back. The Jews were still going to be genocided on the 13th day of the 12th month. The law to destroy the Jews cannot be revoked.
The story of Esther gets vindictive...
Esther 8:7-11 Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther and to Mordecai the Jew, "Behold, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and they have hanged him on the gallows, because he intended to lay hands on the Jews. But you may write as you please with regard to the Jews, in the name of the king, and seal it with the king's ring, for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king's ring cannot be revoked." The king's scribes were summoned and an edict was written, according to all that Mordecai commanded concerning the Jews... saying that the king allowed the Jews who were in every city to gather and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, children and women included, and to plunder their goods...
And that is what happened.
The Jews are delivered. Their enemies were plundered. And a new holiday was established... On the 14th day of the 12th month, the day after their deliverance, the Jews have, for the last 2,500 years celebrated the feast named after the word for dice... The Feast of Diceum... or more accurately... The Feast of Purim.
“That is a fun story Tim. Bottom line it for us.”
Sometimes, God is hidden in our stories.
Sometimes, the name of God is not mentioned.
Sometimes, it may not be apparent God is working.
It may look like dice, are deciding everything.
But, the reality is... God is behind the scenes using people of influence accomplish His purpose.
But, the reality is... God has a role for you to play in His Story.
But, the reality is... God expects you to have the courage to step up and be His people of influence!
Hey, if you courageously step up to be used by God to touch others... they may create a new holiday because of you!
June 10, 2018
Los Alamos Church of Christ