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Esther

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\\ ESTHER:

To those who are like Dr Burky, you will need no reminding that we will see a full moon tonight.  To the rest of us, we need to realize that there is simply a month until the Passover.  In fact sunset tonight starts the 14th Adar, so there is just one month until we gather for the Passover.

Most have already been making plans for the Passover and the Days of ULB.  Yet so often as we approach the Passover, the problems that arise seem to loom larger than normal.  Part of that is the process of examining ourselves, and most of us don’t like what we see.  We see sins and shortcomings that have been part of our lives for a long time; that we never seem to be able to overcome.  This can lead to discouragement if we are not careful and remain focused on our hope.  It really should be a time of rejoicing at the power of GOD to save us.

Tonight at sunset begins a festival that is recorded in God’s Word.  It is not a festival that we are commanded to keep, but one that helps reinforce to us the power of God to save us from all difficulties.  The Festival emphasizes the importance of our own actions as we approach the Passover.

The Festival is that of Purim or of Lots.  The details of it are given in the Book of Esther.

Very little use is made of the book of Esther for a couple of reasons.  In the past, it was noted that two principal problems exist.

          Firstly, the name of God is never mentioned in the book yet the name of the king of Persia occurs some 127 times.  People are worried as to the absence of the name of God, either Elohim, Yahweh or other names that are used throughout Scripture.

          Secondly, the book is not obviously referenced in the New Testament and hence Protestants commentators have questioned is validity. Martin Luther was noted as stating that: “I could with that the book of Esther did not exist at all, for it Judaizes too greatly and has much pagan impropriety.”

Treatment of Women – disliked by feminists

With the first concern it has been noted that the name of YAHWEH does appear four times in the book, but as acrostics, a Hebrew literary pattern where the first letters of successive words or sentences spell out a name.  In Esther, this occurs four times.  Without a black board or Powerpoint to show you, it is not profitable to spend the time looking at this aspect of the book.  What it says more than anything else is that the writer that was inspired to write the book was a skilled person in understanding literary styles and those who heard the book read had a much greater appreciation of those styles than we may have today.

Let’s return to the proximity of Passover that I mentioned early on.

This Festival occurs exactly one month prior to the Passover.  There are so many similar details to the situation in the Book of Exodus.

          1.       In captivity

          2.       Future of the nation is threatened

          3.       An Israelite ends up as part of the royal household

          4.       Deliverance is given at the expense of those who sought to destroy

Same conditions can hold true today.

Yet major differences are given as well.

In Egypt, the Eternal is orchestrating everything.  Moses delivers  YHWH’s messages and instructions.  Here God appears absent.  Esther and Moredecai appear to be on their own.  This is the major lesson I would like to focus upon today.

As we approach Passover, we would love to see God intervene in our lives to take all our problems away.  But it doesn’t happen that way does it.  Not all the time.  At first, God may appear very active in our lives.  I’ve heard of people who have had great miracles performed in their lives when they first came into the Church; miracles of healing or miracles relating to other parts of their lives.  Years down the line, and when they are anointed they aren’t healed as quickly or dramatically as they may have been at the first.  It’s easy to wonder, where is God in those circumstances? 

We want God to be present to handle our trials, but he doesn’t appear.  That doesn’t mean that He is not in control of the situation.   We love to see God zapping our trials, removing difficulties, providing physical intervention in our lives and those of His people.

The book of Esther addresses that question.

What we must always appreciate is that we see things in an imperfect manner.

2 Kings 6:8-23 (ESV)
8 Once when the king of Syria was warring against Israel, he took counsel with his servants, saying, “At such and such a place shall be my camp.” 9 But the man of God sent word to the king of Israel, “Beware that you do not pass this place, for the Syrians are going down there.” 10 And the king of Israel sent to the place about which the man of God told him. Thus he used to warn him, so that he saved himself there more than once or twice. 11 And the mind of the king of Syria was greatly troubled because of this thing, and he called his servants and said to them, “Will you not show me who of us is for the king of Israel?” 12 And one of his servants said, “None, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.” 13 And he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and seize him.” It was told him, “Behold, he is in Dothan.” 14 So he sent there horses and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city. 15 When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” 16 He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 18 And when the Syrians came down against him, Elisha prayed to the Lord and said, “Please strike this people with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness in accordance with the prayer of Elisha. 19 And Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he led them to Samaria. 20 As soon as they entered Samaria, Elisha said, “O Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” So the Lord opened their eyes and they saw, and behold, they were in the midst of Samaria. 21 As soon as the king of Israel saw them, he said to Elisha, “My father, shall I strike them down? Shall I strike them down?” 22 He answered, “You shall not strike them down. Would you strike down those whom you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” 23 So he prepared for them a great feast, and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the Syrians did not come again on raids into the land of Israel.[1]

Daniel 3:16-25 (ESV)
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” 19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury, and the expression of his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated. 20 And he ordered some of the mighty men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. 21 Then these men were bound in their cloaks, their tunics, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the burning fiery furnace. 22 Because the king’s order was urgent and the furnace overheated, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 23 And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace. 24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” 25 He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”[2]

Did the three men know there was a fourth there with them or was it only Nebuchadnezzar who saw?

The events of Esther follow the same line. 

Note the way events work out in Chapters 1 & 2.  There is the same level of background control here as we find in Exodus.  In what way was Moses a goodly child?  Is the Eternal making a statement that we don’t comprehend fully?

Despite the maneuverings of human beings, someone else is really in charge.  Notice the outcome of Esther.  From a situation that looked bleak to deliverance 4:12 ff and 9:1 “on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred: the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them.”[3]

Two ways of living are being presented throughout the book: Haman’s way of chance, based on the roll of the dice or some other way.

Despite the lack of the name or instruction of God, there is a clear commitment on the part of Mordecai and Esther to God and His ways.  The Jews also knew how to respond to God when facing a trial and call upon Him for intervention.

Let’s look at some of the material that is given in the book

Let’s start with Mordecai and Esther. 

Mordecai puts Esther forward as a candidate for the Queen.  The reason is not known, but we know that he sees a greater purpose in their lives.  Their lives are not ruled by chance as is Haman’s. 4:15 “Come to situation for a time as this”. What was motivating Mordecai -- self interest or concern for others?  Clearly the concern for his people was paramount rather than self aggrandizement. 

Did M put E forward as a candidate allowing her selection to be in God’s hands?

Second lesson:

Mordecai and Haman: Chapter 3, Mordecai won’t prostrate himself before Haman.  Interesting verb used that is only used in relation to the second command.  In fact in this case it is intensified.  Haman wanted people to worship him.  Despite the pressures on Mordecai, he refused to compromise the way of life he had been called to live.

Third lesson:

How do we respond to trials in our lives.  To them the response was that of sackcloth and ashes with fasting.  If we look at the use of this throughout the Scripture we find that it is used to indicate repentance and the seeking of God’s will and intervention in a persons life.  Fasting was well understood by the people: Daniel in the previous century, 9:3, Zechariah, some 50 years prior, 7/8.  Ezra and Nehemiah subsequently knew of the right approach to fasting (Ezra 8:21-22, Nehemiah 1:4-10).

Fourth:

Consider Esther’s approach to the king at the banquet. The King offered her half the kingdom, but her response showed no concern for the self. Esther 7:2-4 (ESV)
2 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.” 3 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. 4 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.”[4]

Consider the options.  Half the kingdom and the Jews could have been safe!

Compare Esther’s response with that of Solomon when the Eternal appeared to him at Gibeon. 1 Kings 3:5-12 (ESV)
5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” 6 And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. 7 And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” 10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you.[5]

Fifth:

Consider the reaction after deliverance is provided. Esther 9:22 (ESV)
22 as the days on which the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and gifts to the poor.[6]

Focus is upon outgoing concern for others rather than the self.  Loving the neighbour as oneself.  So the people were in harmony with the great commandments.  Even although the name of God is not mentioned, the people were living to His standards.  He was being reflected through the decisions and choices the people made throughout the short book.  Like us they were to be lights in a dark world.

Clearly God was present in the way in which the people were saved. He is concerned about being aware of the experiences of others so that we can be encouraged and have help and direction in our lives.  The Eternal is a God of people, of history and events and not a God of philosophy.  He is a God of action.  Compare Paul’s comments to the  Corinthians : 1 Corinthians 10:13 (ESV)


13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.[7]

Destruction of the enemies:

They were opponents of God’s way of life just as Haman had been.

Situation in Jerusalem with the Samaritans. This allowed the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple.  Nothing is to stop the building of the temple of God of which we are part.

Come back to Introduction. We also live ina  world of bondage.  Abuses exist today like those wrought on Vashti.  Where and when have any human beings been treated properly in this world’s system.  Feminists look for justice but exert the same wrong power as men have exerted over them in the past.  The only environment in which true relationships between the sexes should normally occurr is in the family of God.  Yes some are able to have good relationships within this world, but it is not the norm

1 Peter 1:8 (ESV)
8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,[8]

John 20:29 (ESV)
29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”[9]


----

[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.

[3]The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Es 9:1.

[4]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.

[5]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.

[6]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.

[7]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.

[8]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.

[9]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.

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