30 April 2016

Stone 17 - Esther

Last week we looked at Nehemiah and his burden to help rebuild the wall at Jerusalem. This week we begin our journey backwards on the timeline of history and look at the role of Esther.

Wanted: Queen of Persia
The book of Esther begins with a description of King Xerxes having a big celebration. At some point during the lengthy celebration, the King was getting a buzz on and decided to bring out his wife to parade around for the guys (Est 1:10-11). The king wanted to show off basically. We do not know how drunk he may have been and we don't have any details on how she was to parade around. The fact that Vashti was beautiful was all the king needed to show off as part of the "look what I got" mentality that he had. Vashti the Queen, however, would not have any of it which really made the king angry (Est 1:12). Again, we do not know for sure why she declined - just that she did. So now the king is at least sober enough not to make an immediate rash decision and gets together with his lawyer friends and tries to figure out how to deal with this (Est 1:13). The concern is brought up that the queen has set a precedent that would have all the wives disobeying their husbands (Est 1:17-18). So Vashti gets the boot so that another queen can be established (v. 19) and a decree is issued to make each man the master of his own house (v. 22).

**You know, this is another one of those areas of the Bible that records the events of history as they happened - this does not mean that the actions are condoned by God

Eventually, the king begins the search for a new queen by sending out some reps to gather the beautiful women of the kingdom and bring them to the palace (Est 2:2-4).

**By this point we have pretty much found out what kind of guy the king is... pompous and self-centered - interested in image alone rather than substance.

We are then introduced to Mordecai and Esther (Est 2:7) and learn that Esther is an attractive young woman and enters the interview process for the queen position (v. 8). So from verse 12 we learn that this is a pretty lengthy interview process and in the end she was chosen as queen (Est 2:17).

Now up to this point, Esther has not revealed that she is a Jew (Est 2:20) and that Mordecai hangs out at the gate and overhears of a plot to kill the king (Est 2:22) which he reports to Esther. The plot is foiled and the plotters are hung.

Enter Haman - who is promoted to a prominent position. At some point, Haman and Mordecai meet and Mordecai refuses to pay the proper respects to a man of rank. When called out on it, Mordecai gives the excuse that he is a Jew.

**Now I have read that there are a couple of competing explanations of this book. One side says that Mordecai is a model Jew and chose not to violate his God by bowing to Haman. The other side states that bowing to Haman would not have been an act of worship but respect of position and thus Mordecai was in sin of pride and rebellion. In light of the fact that God is never mentioned in the book of Esther and considering the timeframe (Ezra) where other Israelites have returned to Jerusalem because the exile was over - this seems reasonable. Mordecai and Esther did not return to Jerusalem but chose to stay where they were. Esther was hiding her identity as a Jew and Mordecai was claiming to be a Jew when he saw benefit from it. Unfortunately, many Christians today do the same thing. They hide it or claim it when it suits their personal interests.

So Haman becomes upset and decides he is going to take care of the Jews and plots to have them all killed throughout the region (Est 3:5-6). Verses 9 and 10 tell us that the king, like Burger King, pretty much let Haman have it his way. Haman drafts the commands and sends it out and then sits down for drinks with the king (Est 3:14-15)

Of course, those in the city where Haman issued the commands were the first to hear. Mordecai learns of the news and is grieved. Soon after, Esther learns of the news and sends someone out to meet with Mordecai and learn more (Est 4:5-7). Mordecai wanted Esther to appeal to the king over this news (v. 8) but she was concerned for her life in doing so (v. 11). Mordecai pleads further and eventually convinces her to try it (v. 15-16).

Plot Breakers
Esther  then goes before the king and was extended the scepter meaning she would not be killed for entering the king's presence unsummoned (Est 5:2). Esther invites the king as well as Haman to a banquet that she has prepared. Interestingly, she does not make her requests known yet but invites them back for a second banquet (Est 5:7-8). After the first banquet, Haman heads home but runs into Mordecai on the way and that pretty much rained on Haman's parade (Est 5:13-14) and he follows some advice of building a gallows to have Mordecai killed.

What seems divine here is that the king is not able to sleep well that night and has someone come and read some of the records for him (Est 6:1). Interestingly, they come across the event of Mordecai breaking the plot of those who wanted to kill the king earlier (v. 2) and learn that nothing had been done to honor Mordecai for having saved the life of the king (v. 3).

Now Haman just happens to be walking in and so the king asks him what should be done for a man that the king wants to honor (v. 6). Haman, the pompous, prideful man that he is thinks he is the one to be honored and so he gives a lavish description of what should be done that would probably make him feel like he was the king (v. 7-9).

Can you imagine the look on Haman's face when the king tells him to go and honor Mordecai - the one he just built a gallows in order to kill? Dang...!

**Here is where we see Haman following the king's orders and honoring Mordecai - this is something that Mordecai would not do for Haman but accepted himself. This is part of the evidence suggested for Mordecai being more prideful and rebellious than being godly.

Afterwards, it was time for the next banquet (Est 6:14). This time Esther delivers her request to save her people (Est 7:3-4). When asked who would do such a thing she replies that it was Haman (v. 5-6). The king was upset and left for a moment - when he returned, one of the eunuchs informed the king that Haman had built a gallows to hang Mordecai on and so the king ordered that Haman be hung on his own gallows (Est 7:9). Oh, the irony!

Spoils of Victory
To add to the irony, the ring and estate of Haman are given over to Mordecai (Est 8:2). However, even though Haman was dead, the command to kill all the Jews was still out there and Esther pleaded with the king to revoke the decree (Est 8:5).

Remember at that time a king's order could not be revoked. So instead we find that an order was given that the Jews could defend themselves (Est 8:11).

The Jews were later successful in defending themselves and a celebration called Purim was established by Mordecai (Est 9:20-22).

Mordecai became a popular man in the land (Est 10:3).

**Again, is it not interesting that God or prayer or repenting were never mentioned? God can use anyone to serve his will - not just those who follow him. The events that took place in the book of Esther helped to prevent the Jews who did go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple during the time of Ezra from getting wiped out. Whether or not Mordecai and Esther were true followers of God or not, He used them to protect those who were.

Next week we will look at Job and his case with God.

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