The King Who Listens on Saturday- Esther Ch. 4

Shut out from the inner courts, Mordecai stood weeping and crying at the King’s gate for mercy. Never entering, as no one was allowed inside who dressed in sackcloth and ashes – an outward symbol of his people’s inward condition. Grief & desolation.

Xerxes wished to hear no pleas or requests from any person drowning in misery, ruin, or sorrow. No one.

Mordecai wasn’t even allowed to enter the gate.

Esther, however, sat already inside, and yet, so far away. Though a wife to the King, she found herself in an unfavorable situation. She stood uncalled on by the King for an entire month. To approach him without his beckoning would mean risking her life by setting herself at the mercy of the one who signed her death certificate.

Yet, a seed of hope hidden in the midst of the sackcloth and ashes. If you skim over the passage, it is quite easy to miss. Another character in stark contrast to the powerful King of Persia.

3And in every province, wherever the King’s command and his decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.”

 The King of Persia inside of his walls never heard the laments, didn’t see the tears and display of grieving. But outside of the King’s gates, a different King, a higher King met pleas for mercy, for saving.

Can you see Him?

In stark contrast to Xerxes, the God of the Jews is listening to His peoples cries as they lay in sackcloth & ashes, in desolation and ruin.

The Queen of Persia, a woman of position, beauty and wealth, now stood within her own palace walls with a target on her head. The decree ordered the “to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day.” (Esther 3:13)

No position or palace walls could save her. And then it hits her, just as it should you and I – no hope or refuge outside of Jesus can ever offer complete protection and safety.

15Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, 16‘Go, gather all of 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.’”

God’s people’s supplications once again meet His ears, and His plan that began long before the decree, the plan that brought Esther “14to the kingdom for such a time as this”, begins to unfold.

On this Easter weekend, particularly on this Saturday, I can’t help but correlate the fear and despair God’s people felt when the King’s decree of their sure destruction came to them, when all hope seemed to be lost, to the way I’m sure the disciples felt when their leader, Jesus, was crucified the day before.

What an empty day. What a fearful day. What a confusing day.

And though Esther chapter four ends on a “Saturday-like” note, and though the disciples “rested on the Sabbath day according to the commandment” (Luke 23:56b) where I’m sure they inwardly mirrored the sackcloth and ashes.

God still heard their pleas, no walls could keep them from Him, and Sunday’s resurrection is coming. The same goes for you. He hears your pleas. He see’s your mourning. There are no walls or laws to keep you from Him in your grief. He calls you tenderly to His throne of grace. He has a ressurection coming for you.

Sister, whatever grave you feel like you’re sitting in, no matter what or who let you down or didn’t protect you, you have a God who’s already won your resurrection and who is working all things for your good and His glory. Because of His Son’s death on Good Friday, your pleas for mercy are reaching His ears today.

Reflection Questions:

What do I trust for protection and refuge more than Christ?

Do I/Am I boldly approaching His throne of grace?

What is God asking me to release over to Him for a new resurrection?

The Heart of a Persecutor & the Persecuted: Are We Both? – Esther 3

In our last study through Esther 2:5-23, we encountered our Heroine, Esther. We learned that this woman had a story, and maybe not one you would expect a Queen or one chosen by God to have.  This orphaned Jewish girl, taken from her Uncle, Mordecai, at the order of the Persian King Xerxes, eventually became Queen.

In chapter 3 of Esther, we come to an introduction of a character of a much different sort.

Haman was a man who advanced under King Xerxes rule more than any other official. He was so powerful that a declaration was given that all must bow before him to pay homage to him.

Day after day, all the King’s servants would get on their knees and pay respect to Haman as he walked by – that is all but one, and that one was Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, for He was a Jew. Infuriated, Haman not only sought to destroy Mordecai, but also intended to wipe out the entire Jewish people under the rule of Xerxes. Haman wanted genocide of the Jews as a response to his hurt pride.

The King sent out yet another decree. This one declaring that all Jews were to be slaughtered in one day. Men, women and children. All of God’s chosen people to be annihilated. And while the people of Israel mourned at the news, King Xerxes and Haman sat down to drink.

It sounds pretty hopeless right?

Thankfully, there are seven more chapters in the book of Esther. The story of God’s people will continue.

But what does Haman’s introduction teach us as humans and as Christians?

Well, though there are many more applications, I believe there are two main points.

  1. As humans tempted towards pride and ego, we too can have disproportionate responses to “disrespect” when our pride goes unchecked and our sense of entitlement grows.
  2. As Christians, we can expect persecution, prejudice and misunderstandings as we live as outsiders in this world.

One thing I always seek to do in my bible study, is to ask the Lord to convict me of sin in my own life. Oftentimes, He does so by drawing connections between an antagonistic character like Haman to my very own heart.

While reading through this chapter, the Holy Spirit reminded me of a time when I wasn’t chosen to be a leader for a ministry team. He then guided me to hard parts in my heart that continue to harden when people don’t recognize my value or respect my thoughts and ideas. I can tend to grow indignant, insensitive and very self-righteous to the point that in my heart I desire to see those who don’t sing my praises to eat dirt, if ya know what I’m saying?

How do you respond when your feathers get ruffled? How do you receive criticism, rebuke or correction? What do you feel and do when your idea, vision or position aren’t respected or praised?

My guess is that many times we all respond a little self-righteously.

To expand on the second point, that as Christians we can expect opposition and persecution. Mordecai made a stance for his faith. Because he was a Jew, he would not bow down and treat Haman like a God.

As Christians, people should notice when we don’t worship the things they do. We should be living a life that shows that drunkenness, promiscuity, popularity, social status, and wealth are not things we bow down to or give our lives to.

People today live for the parties, the social status, the wealth, the praise and when we don’t live like that it’s going to ruffle some feathers. Whether it comes out as a simple disagreement or full on persecution, don’t be surprised to experience opposition in a world that is so opposed and offended by a just, holy and good God.

So questions to ask yourself:

  • Am I living in a way that shows I’m seeking the praise of my Savior rather than the praise of this world and culture?
  • Have I chosen to bow down to what our world and culture says I should worship?
  • How do I use my voice well to glorify God in our political and cultural landscape?
  • Am I afraid to be an outsider?

Let’s engage in this culture and world humbly, each one of us seeing ourselves as the chief of sinners, yet living in a way that shows we bow down to none other than the One who felt the pain of the Cross.

 

 

I’m a Fraud – Esther 2:5-23

“They are all so perfect. Perfect Christians, perfect friends. They come from perfect, holy Christian homes and families. They are not going to want to hang out with me once they know my story.”

These are all things that passed through my mind at a dinner my host family held for me after I had first moved to State College, Pennsylvania. They had invited over staff from their college ministry, who were about my age, to meet me. They were all so friendly and close with one another and it seemed that they all had lived what one may consider the perfect Christian life.

I on the other hand had not, and my community in Arizona was built of a whole bunch of prodigal sons (Luke 15) just like me. See I had a story (later I would find out that though a little bit different, my dinner partners did too). Mine was wrought with promiscuity, heavy drinking, and a bunch of scarring done by my own hand and others. I felt like I was a danger to a community full of saints. I was stained and I wasn’t so sure how I would be received or thought of. I knew the Truth that Christ washed me clean, I had just never been around people who didn’t have stories like mine or to the extent that mine went. I felt like a fraud.

As I continued to get to know these people, I was continually comparing myself to them. They mentored so many college students. They dressed perfectly and appropriately. They had major impact on students. I couldn’t help but to be led to think could God even use me?

Have you ever felt that? That if people knew who you were, what you had done, where you came from that they would label you a danger to their way of life? Have you felt too scarred, complicated or dirty to be used by God?

I find a lot of comfort for my story, and I hope you did and will, in Esther 2:5-23.

We are finally introduced to our heroine, Hadassah, more commonly known as Esther, but she looks a little different than maybe you thought she would. Though lovely in beauty, she has a story that you would think would disqualify her from being queen, but also by being used by God.

 

  1. The author makes it point in 2:5-6 to tell us Esther’s lineage. Esther comes from an exiled Jewish family “who had been carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah”.

At this point in history the exile had ended and many Jewish families had returned            to Judah in order to rebuild the temple. However, Mordecai, Esther’s uncle and                    adoptive father, along with other Jewish people had decided instead to stay in the              Persian capitol Susa.

This is important to note. It not only gives us the perspective that Esther walked                  around as an outsider in this land, but it also shows that she is a part of the Jewish              people who did not, for one reason or the other, find it important enough to return            to Judah to rebuild God’s temple.

  1. We are also told that she is an orphan being brought up by her relative Mordecai.

“He (Mordecai) was bringing up Hadassah, that is Esther, the daughter of of his uncle, for she had neither father nor mother… and when her father and mother died..  Mordecai took her as his own daughter.”  (Esther 2:7)

          Though she was an orphan, we know she was truly loved b Mordecai because after           she was taken away to be a part of the King’s harem, “..everyday Mordecai walked in           front of the court of the harem to learn how Esther was and what was happening to               her” (Esther 2:11)

  1. She was taken away as one of the virgins gathered after the King’s decree went out. She was taken to the harem, where she was went under beauty treatments for a year before going in to the King. (v8-9)

We are also told, that at the command of Mordecai, Esther was not to reveal that she          was Jewish. She had to hide a part of her identity at this point in the story.

  1. Esther lost her virginity to the King as an unmarried woman. Feminists today, would possibly condemn her for playing into the patriarchal society. Others may have grace as it seems she didn’t really have another choice. According to Jewish law and scripture, she could be stoned for having sex before marriage. She seems to be a failure either way.

 

This woman has a story, and it’s not the prettiest cookie cutter one. She’s an outsider, oppressed, kidnapped, raped, no longer a virgin, and rather than choosing God at the cost of her life she chose to lay with the King.

This woman is broken, even though she is lovely to look at and finds favor in Mordecai, the eunuch in charge of the harem, and eventually the King.  Though she is crowned Queen, part of her identity is still a secret.

How in the world could this woman ever be used by God? She’s weak, she’s betrayed the Law it seems, she has no real family unit, she’s kidnapped and taken away from all she knows.

But this is the beautiful thing about our God, He is the ultimate Redeemer or broken people. I really believe, the invisible hand of God is at work in Esther’s life and that He’s setting her up to make a large impact. And we begin to see that played out in the last few verses of this section after Esther has been crowned Queen.

“19 Now when the virgins were gathered together the second time, Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate. 20 Esther had not made known her kindred or her people, as Mordecai had commanded her, for Esther obeyed Mordecai just as when she was brought up by him. 21 In those days, as Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, became angry and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. 22 And this came to the knowledge of Mordecai, and he told it to Queen Esther, and Esther told the king in the name of Mordecai. 23 When the affair was investigated and found to be so, the men were both hanged on the gallows. And it was recorded in the book of the chronicles in the presence of the king.”

We begin to see God’s invisible hand bringing both Esther and Mordecai into more favor with the King as they unravel a plot of his servants to kill him.

See God uses unlikely, unqualified candidates to bring about His will and the good of His people.

To the eye, I am an unlikely candidate to be used by God. But in fact,  my brokenness more than qualifies me to be used by my Redeemer to display his power.

Our life story is God’s story. It holds power and displays the gospel so clearly when we aren’t afraid to share the not so pretty spots.

We will continue to see the rest of Esther & God’s story unravel in future chapters.

 

Reflection/Application Questions:

  1. When circumstances change in your life do you cling to God’s commands the way Esther did with Mordecai’s? Why or why not?
  2. What part of your story are you too ashamed to share? What does God have to say about it?
  3. How do life circumstances change your view of God?
  4. Are you willing to bear the cost of hardship in order to be placed in a position to make change?

 

In God’s Absence – Esther 1:13-2:4

As I sat on our living room couch late into the evening, Ricky and I grieved the pain we had just been submitted to and we weren’t sure just how much more we could bear.

“It’s just hopeless and only gets worse. If it keeps going like this, I’m not sure I want to keep watching it,” Ricky lamented.

See, we had just hit the first episode in season seven of AMC’s “The Walking Dead”. My eyes were misty, my heart was sad, and I was dreading where the series was going. (spoiler alert!!) We had become emotionally invested in this show and its characters. In that first episode of season seven, we watched two of our favorite characters die horrific deaths at the will of this new, evil and all-powerful Negan guy and his “girl” Lucille, a barb-wired baseball bat.

Why would the writers of the show do this?

Haven’t they had it bad enough?

Who wants to watch a story without any sight of hope to hold onto?

As we continue into the book of Esther, working our way through chapter one, verse 13 through chapter 2, verse 4, I started to ask the same type of questions that I did after watching that brutal episode.

Why is King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) so angry that he would willingly cast away his wife?

Why are all these evil men so powerful?

Why are women so oppressed in this time?

Why should I care about this King’s drama?

And where in the world is God? Is he blind to the evil going on? Does He care about the ugly pride of Xerxes and his friends? (by the way, I challenge you to look up the meaning of each name of the men listed in 1:14)

The fact is, friend, we will see no mention of God throughout this story of Esther. It is the only book of the bible that doesn’t refer to God once. And in our repeated word observations, I not only discovered what seems like the absence of God completely, but also the story of a man just like The Walking Dead’s Negan.

Xerxes is looking to exert and make a show of his power after Queen Vashti has undermined his authority. He is acting impulsively after being enraged at his wife’s rejection of him. He is surrounded by self-seeking men who also celebrate enslaving the weak. (Side-note – this is not where to go for a biblical view of marriage or God’s view of women. Ephesians 5 is the place to go for a correct biblical view of marriage.) In his offense, King Ahasuerus decrees the second-rate nature of all women to their husbands. He casts out his beautiful wife and bride, never to be seen again. He makes an example of her.

And then, in verse one of chapter two, the King fondly remembers Vashti and regrets his impulsive decision. That is, until once again, his friends offered more thoughtless advice to first fill the emptiness inside of him with all the young beautiful women in his Kingdom, and then whichever woman he enjoyed the most in his overnight rendezvous, He could take as a wife.

Once again, the King became pleased with the thought of fulfillment through sex, power, and affirmation.

What do we take away from this?

When we are not looking to God for answers, or believe He doesn’t care because we don’t see Him at work, we turn to others and our own devices, often acting out impulsively.

The next morning after watching that horrible show, as I was getting ready for work, I watched the “talk-show” that usually runs after each episode of the Walking Dead. It was from the writers of the show themselves where I found the hope to carry me through this latest season. They gave me a new perspective and a reason for why they allowed what they did, and though I didn’t have to like the brutality, I could continue to watch with expectant hope of seeing a grander story appear.

But I wouldn’t have found that hope to keep going if I had simply based my view on what I was seeing. I had to look to the author of the show for revelation. I had to know they weren’t just sadists.

God is not a sadist. If only we would be still and wait to see Him unravel the masterful story not only in Esther, but in our own lives as well. He is there despite what you think, feel or even see. Often He calls us to His Word to find the reassurance and hope to endure through what seems like His absence. The bible is full of stories in edition to Esther where God’s people fear His abandonment or distrust His plans in the face of battle. But sweet sister, whatever it is you are facing, I pray you will find an anchor and hope for your soul in the gospel and the truth that He will never leave you nor forsake you. Hold on, He has a better resurrection headed your way.

“The awareness of a master storyteller weaving my life lets me pause and, like an artist, see hidden blessings and patterns where I begin to bear the cost of narrowing my life. It let’s me endure in love because I know Someone is guiding the story toward resurrection.”  – Paul E. Miller, A Loving Life

 

Tell Me I’m Pretty – Esther 1:1-12

Esther 1:1-12

Not only was this Valentine’s Day our first one as a married couple, but it was also the first that Ricky and I were able to spend together.  So when I got home from work, I of course tore through my closet and tried on about four or five different outfits that would (in the words of Thomas Rhett) “bring him to his knees”. I even put on a pair of pumps which is a rare occurrence.

Ricky had ran out and bought flowers earlier in the day and set up a super sweet card on the table with pictures and the flowers. He showered me with words like “my love” and all the other encouraging, sappy, sweet things that as a woman I melt for. He had made a reservation at one of those places in town that you don’t go to without a special reason. It was a sweet setup, but one thing was missing.

When I walked downstairs, my husband didn’t tell me how beautiful I looked.

Left without the affirmation I wanted from my husband, though I had everything else, my spirit deflated and my heart grew disappointed and frustrated. How could his knees not get weak looking at me in these painful high heels, perfectly cut dress and curled hair? If he really was attracted to me, if he really loved me, if I really had value to him, he would have swooped me off my feet with his Song of Songs poetic lines about my beauty too. But, he didn’t and I was frustrated that the man I married didn’t revel in my beauty like other men I knew.

I waited throughout the entire evening to have my beauty acknowledged, and I waited to no avail. In fact, for other reasons Ricky withdrew throughout the evening.

Instead of ending our night together, I went to bed this Valentine’s Day without the acknowledgement I thought I deserved and I was left frustrated, withdrawn, even more insecure and as far as I could get away from him in our king-sized bed.

Can the wives here relate?

Even if you’re not a wife (but still oh-so-special-and-loved), aren’t there times in life where we parade our beauty, money, clothing, children, husband, career, home, car, hot date in hopes of affirmation from others about such a thing and then get severely disappointed or even angered when our friends, colleagues or family don’t affirm our value because of these things?

This is the situation we find ourselves peeking into when we open the first 12 verses of Esther. King Ahasuerus is throwing a huge party, and not just a normal one-night or weekend party. No, this party is 180 days long. It’s purpose? To parade all of the things the King finds his worth tied to – the “riches of his royal glory and the splendor of his pomp and greatness” (v4). The King was parading his wealth and power before all the higher ups in the land, possibly to grow trust in his power and their allegiance to go fight the Greeks. And after that, he throws another feast, this time for a more modest week, for all in the capital city of Susa. As he demonstrates his worth to his subordinates and princes on the last day, the King thinks of Queen Vashti, his wife, “for she was lovely to look at” and he orders his eunuchs to fetch her to display her beauty (and his worth) to the people and princes.

But Vashti, refuses the call.

And the King becomes enraged and I would guess embarrassed in front of those whose affirmation he was seeking.

See we are not so different from King Ahasuerus. Often we find ourselves tying up our worth and value in things that aren’t secure, that we have no control over, and that can be destroyed. Whether it’s our appearance, intelligence, children, or home décor, these are all fleeting and the affirmation we receive because of such things (though not innately bad) will never fill up our souls and spirits.

Those things are made to be blessings and gifts, not to serve as a measure of our worth or act as ego-boosters. That affirmation from that one person you desperately want attention from (husband, child, mother, father, teacher, coach) is good and encouraging, but it should not define you. You will be left disappointed, hurt and angry when these fail.

But this world is passing away, every day there’s death and lies and hurt people hurting people.  So where do we hold onto for security?

I know a King who gave up all the heavenly riches and glory He had, in order to parade you, my sweet sister, as His inheritance. In stark contrast to King Ahasuerus, Jesus Christ set aside His power, riches and beauty to save you unto himself even to the point of death.

But He is risen.

And He calls you beloved, chosen, set-apart, beautiful, and precious. His love is based on nothing you got goin’ on for yourself and endures despite the pieces of you that you try to leave hidden. You don’t need to prove yourself and parade yourself before Him to love you. He already does.

So, sweet sister, whatever it is that you’re finding your value and worth attached to that is passing way, lay it down and take up the easy yoke of Christ’s love once again.

What did you gain from your study of Esther 1:1-12?

Let us know in the comments below!

 

Next Saturday we’re continuing our study of Esther 1:13 – 2:4.

Keep highlighting repeated words, listing what you learn about each character and try splitting the passage into 3 sections to help break things down for your study!

Esther

Join me in diving into the incredible story of God’s plan to use an orphaned Jewish girl to save her entire people from genocide decreed by the Persian Empire of King Xerxes.

 Together we’re going to uncover the mysteries of the providence of God and our own conflicting loyalties, and on the way, we’ll also learn how to even understand that confusing bible lingo.

It’s a drama of power, fear, hate, beauty, sex, pride and reward.

 Are you ready to grow a richer, deeper knowledge of our God?

Setting the Stage

Setting the stage for your study is so, so, so important in being able to understand the text and all the hidden gems Christ hid in His Word for us to discover. I always begin my in-depth bible studies by reading through the book I’m going through once, and then with an overview of the book.

Need a good starting point? Here’s the main things I always try to look for, for an overview:

(Try to find the answers in the text first!

They are often there. Next go to helpful commentaries.)

  1. Author: Who wrote it?
  2. Audience: Who is it written to or for?
  3. Genre: Is it an epistle (aka letter), narrative (historical or historical novella), poetry, wisdom, prophesy, gospels, apocalyptic?
  4. Purpose: Why is this written? (For ex: In the Gospel of John, John states in 20:31 that he wrote all of his account so that the reader would believe Jesus is the Messiah and would believe in Christ for salvation. Other books are not that obvious.)
  5. Date Written: When was this book written?
  6. Setting: What was going on at the time this book takes place? What was the culture like?
  7. Themes: As you read through the book initially, were there any major ideas that stuck out to you repeatedly? What might the author be trying to emphasize?

 

Below is my overview of Esther. I also put the place I found the answer.

(i.e. text, commentary, inferred)

 Author: Unknown – Jewish and aware of 4th Century BC Persian Culture (text/inferred)

Audience: People of Israel (text/inferred)

Genre: Diaspora Story/ Historical Novella (text/inferred/commentary/)

Purpose: To explain the establishment of the Jewish holiday Purim; to display God’s silent sovereignty (text/commentary)

Time Written: ~470-350 BCE (text/commentary)

Setting: (~484-474 BCE ) The Book of Esther is believed to have taken place in the Persian Empire under the rule of the famous King Xerxes I, well after Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed the temple and sent the Jewish people into Exile. The story begins three years into King Xerxes rule. Then there is about a 4-year gap between the time Queen Vashti loses her throne and Esther is made Queen. From the time Esther takes the throne to the end of the book is about 7 years more. (text/commentary)

Themes: Providence of God, conflicting loyalties, sex, fear, beauty, death, hate, honor, pride, submission, reward, power. (text)

Next week we’re going through Esther 1:1-12. I’ll be talking a little bit more about the setting, the people of King Xerxes and Queen Vashti, and just how pride, wealth, beauty and rejection are never enough.

 

Things to look for, for next time:

Repeated Words

What do we learn about each “character”