Monday, May 12. Esther 7 – 10

Reading chapter seven I cannot help but think of this law: “If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother” (Deuteronomy 19:16ff).

Persia, of course, was under no such obligation to follow this law since it was Jewish law. But God’s law is not arbitrary. It exhibits a sense of justice and fair play. And in this case, it was only just that the unjust attempt against Mordecai and God’s people should be met with this kind of punishment.

My mother used to say: “What goes around, comes around.” If you set out to mistreat others, you will be mistreated.

In a Bible class recently, a student related the story of an employee being horribly treated for no other reason than a boss took a dislike to her. His ill-treatment infected others until soon, everyone was mistreating this person. The employee became ill and needed to go to the hospital. The boss forbade anyone to take off from work to take her and she had to find another way. But, perhaps coincidentally (but perhaps not), the boss ended up spending his weekend in the hospital caring for a seriously ill relative.

We might be reluctant to say this was a punishment from God. But after all, our text does not attribute Haman’s punishment to the Lord either. It’s just “What goes around, comes around” and Bible students realize that God often is the one who makes it happen.

Friday, October 4. Esther 9-10. Ezra 7

The events of chapters three through eight do not occur in a matter of days, but over a period of two months. The events of chapter nine are eleven months after Haman first put his plan in motion. The Jews have had nine months to get ready. They are allowed by law to defend themselves against attackers who will never answer to anyone for killing Jews (because of the first edict). Theoretically, the Jews will be slaughtered.

But that isn’t the way it turns out. Some folks are wise enough to recognize the winds of change in the Persian palace. But not everyone is wise. In fact, nearly eighty thousand people throughout the empire – and 500 in the capital itself – are foolish enough to attack the Jews, and are killed for their hatred. And so, the salvation of the Jews is celebrated at the feast of Pur, and we finally realize that the purpose of Esther is to tell us how that festival came to be.

Is it a righteous thing to be hated?

By the attitudes and actions of some of God’s people, it would appear so. Some folks do not think it possible to be a Christian unless they have cultivated hatred for themselves in the lives of others.

I mention this because of the great hatred that seems to be apparent against the Jews in the book of Esther. Remember that Mordecai forbade Esther to reveal her ethnic heritage. Haman has an obvious hatred of the Jews and there is a huge contingent of people throughout Persia who were willing to take their lives into their own hands just to kill Jews.

Why were they so hated?

Jesus said we should not be surprised that the world hates us, but Jesus never called on us to court the hatred of the world. Our task is to love the people of the world in such a way that they too will come to join us in glorifying God. If we are going to be hated, let it be the natural result of following Jesus, not the courted consequence of being obnoxious.

Thursday, October 3. Esther 6 – 8

Chapter six is a classic tale of comeuppance and it must have delighted the Jews who first read it. You have to wonder though how disconnected Xerxes must have been to have ordered the extermination of an entire race of people and not know what particular race was involved. Remember: Haman called them “a certain people,” not the “Jewish people.”

From Esther’s perspective, the future of the Jewish people, those on whom God had set His affection, were doomed unless she could influence the king to change his mind. Their future – their hope – all rested on her. On the other hand, even if she were successful, how could the Jews be saved? Such a decree, sealed with the king’s ring, could not, by law, be changed.

But other things were happening she could not possibly know. The king’s insomnia made him search for something to put him at ease. His own vanity caused him to find peace in hearing of his own exploits. But that night, what was read to him was a story of a Jew who had saved the king’s life – yet he had never been rewarded. In a quick turn of events, that one reading influenced in a powerful way how he felt about the Jews, and readied him for Esther’s request in the next chapter.

As I’ve mentioned before, the word “God” is unmentioned in this book. And yet, you have to wonder if all the coincidences of this book are coincidences. The word “coincidence” would have never come to the first readers’ minds. They would have seen God in the details, looking out for His people.

When you think everything is “on you,” keep in mind that the Lord took it all on Himself years before. He’s working behind the scenes to bring about deliverance and blessing.

And one more thing: He isn’t working to bring about deliverance and blessing just to the “perfect” people. Esther, you remember, was a part of a harem. Her uncle Mordecai had opted not to return to the “promised land,” but to stay among the heathen in Babylon. Why would God use them or bless them? Only one reason: they were His people. This is how highly God favors His own family.

Wednesday, October 2. Esther 3 – 5

A considerable amount of time is covered between Ezra 6 and Esther. Ezra 6 occurs during the reign of Darius (cir. 544 B.C.). Esther occurs during the reign of Xerxes (beginning 486 B.C.), nearly sixty years later. The story of Esther probably occurs about 479 B.C. Xerxes had initiated a campaign against Greece and while he was gone, considerable unrest occurred back home in Babylon. Xerxes had to return home to quell the disorder. The big party in chapter one of Esther was likely an attempt to re-unify his political position (and so you can see why the revolt of Queen Vashti was so troublesome).

Haman makes his first appearance in the story in chapter three of Esther. He is called an Agagite. You are supposed to make a connection here. Esau was the son of Isaac, Jacob’s brother. Esau was the grandfather of Amalek, who became a leader among the Edomites as well as the beginning of his own dynasty – that of the Amalekites. A recurring royal name of the kings of the Amalekites was Agag, and his descendants were called the Agagites. So, with the appearance of Haman the Agagite, a deep seated hatred for the Jews appears once again in the Bible story. The reader, making this connection, knows that it’s not going to go well for the people of God.

Haman perpetuates the hatred of his people for the Jews, a hatred Amos has told us raged unchecked perpetually (Amos 1:11-12). Because Mordecai refused to worship Haman as a god, Haman’s anger increased exponentially and he determined to exterminate the Jewish people.

Xerxes doesn’t get much press in the Bible. He doesn’t seem to know much about the Jews and if he considers them at all, he considers them to be as troublesome as a flea – and worthy of the same treatment. By the end of chapter three, it would appear the days of God’s people are numbered.

The end of the story, however, reminds us of the fate of all who harbor hatred and animosity in their heart. This was Haman’s real problem, but he came by it honestly; he was descended from a long line of hotheads. Ancestry may make you the way you are, but that will be no excuse before the God who judges the hearts of men.

Wednesday, October 3. Esther 7 – 10

    Xerxes could not just abrogate his proclamation to destroy the Jews.  Once his word had been given, written, and sealed with his ring, the command was bound to stand.  The Jews would be attacked.  But there was nothing to keep the Jews from being allowed to protect themselves.

    You should have already noticed two things in this book: First, the Jews are hated.  Second (though this is a little harder to see), why they are hated.  Jews seem like a magical people, a force to be reckoned with.  Notice that when Haman went home in disgrace, having spent the day honoring Mordecai, a man he despised, his family said to him: Since Mordecai, before whom your downfall has started, is of Jewish origin, you cannot stand against him” (note my emphasis).

    Zechariah, who had prophesied just a few years before, plainly stated that God’s preference was for the Jews.  “I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves. On that day I will strike every horse with panic and its rider with madness,” declares the Lord. “I will keep a watchful eye over the house of Judah, but I will blind all the horses of the nations” (Zechariah 13:3-4).

    The Persians weren’t wrong to think God’s people were special – shielded by God’s power.  That truth is being played out in the story of Esther.  It’s just too bad that God’s people often overlook the real blessing of their relationship with our heavenly Father.

Tuesday, October 2. Esther 4 – 6

    Solomon wrote: “He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly comes to ruin” (Proverbs 13:3).  I think about this text when I read chapter 5.

    On the one hand, you can excuse the king’s statement to Esther: “What is your request?  Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given you” as an indication of how smitten he was with his wife.  How romantic!  On the other hand, you have to wonder how such a cruel, thoughtless human being (remember, he has ordered the extermination of a race of people) could ever be that romantic.  Was he exaggerating?  He does make the statement three times.

    I think it speaks to the careless and wanton way of life of this monarch.  To find a wife, he would sleep with a different woman every night until he found the one he wanted.  But every girl he slept with was one less girl available to be married to someone else.  He asks nothing of Haman regarding the people he about to annihilate and evidences no concern for them whatsoever.  He is rash, a man driven by his appetites.  You interrupt the king’s day at your own peril.

    He and Haman are alike in this respect.  Haman has it all: wealth, family, honor, position and preference.  But because he lacks the respect of one man, a Jew, he cannot be happy.  Who really cares if Mordecai is disrespectful?  No one respects Mordecai – at least, not through chapter five.

    The seventy-five foot gallows is more than adequate to hang a man; but that’s not the sole goal.  Haman wants to make an example of Mordecai – simply another example of a rash man going overboard.

    But God is at work.  This Jewess, Esther, a woman whose race is to be slaughtered, is offered half the kingdom of Persia.  It is hers for the asking.  Because she is God’s.

Monday, October 1. Esther 1 – 3

    The next time we look at Ezra will be during the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia.  Between Darius, however, who rejuvinates the project of rebuilding the temple, and Artaxerxes (also known as Ahasruerus), who authorizes and finances the building of the city of Jerusalem, there is another king who ruled Persia for nearly twenty years.  His name was Xerxes, and he is the king mentioned in Esther.

    Mordecai is a distant relative of King Saul, being descended from Kish and Shimei (who cursed David in 2 Samuel 16:5). I wonder why Mordecai didn’t return to Jerusalem?  It was always God’s intent for His people – emphasized in Zechariah 2:7 (also Isaiah 48:20).  Whatever the reason, it becomes obvious that God used Mordecai to save them from extermination.  Mordecai had been Esther’s adoptive father since the death of her own parents and he supremely has her best interests at heart.  The text does not say that Mordecai encouraged Esther to “run” for Queen.  Indeed, considering what being “in the running” meant, Mordecai likely opposed it, but as a Jew in a foreign land, he must have realized how powerless he was to prevent it.  Better to “go with the flow” than be killed.

    The beauty treatments sound like a lengthy spa treatment.  What girl wouldn’t enjoy such pampering?  But consider the end result.  The girl would be brought to the king for a “one night stand.”  If she pleased him, she might be made queen.  But chances are, her life afterward would be relegated to little more than widowhood, for she might never see the king again, and never enjoy marriage to another man.

    Esther is careful not to reveal her nationality.  The ramphant anti-semitism of Persia will be disclosed shortly.  She is also careful to follow Mordecai’s advice – which she has done since her youth.  Were she a modern girl, she might well have questioned her cousin’s counsel.  But to Mordecai’s credit, he has been a parent who lived in a way to cause his child to trust and obey.  To Esther’s credit, she does both.

    I see a parallel here between Esther and Israel.  Both were captives.  Both had to adjust to captivity and make compromises.  Both were adopted (Israel, of course, was adopted by God – see Psalm 2:7-8).  The difference between them is that Esther was obedient to her father.  Israel, was not.

Reading Through the Bible, Saturday, May 14. Esther 10- Job 3

    How do you explain an orphan girl of a hated race becoming the favored wife of the most powerful king on earth?

    How do you explain the presence of another person of that hated race at in the court of the same king?

    How was it that Mordecai just happened to over hear plans to assassinate Xerxes?

    How was it that the reward for foiling such a plot went unappreciated?

    How was it that Esther, after a month of no contact with the king, was allowed into his presence?

    How was it that, on a night Xerxes couldn’t sleep, that the account of Mordecai’s foiling Xerxes’ assassination and his failure to reward Mordecai was read to him?

    How was it that this text was read to the king on the evening just before Haman was to ask to have Mordecai killed?

    How was it that Xerxes walked into the room just as Haman was falling on the Queen’s couch to beg for his life?

    One or two of these could be a coincidence.

    But ALL of them?  At just the right time?

    The name of God may not be in this book, but God’s fingerprints are all over the story.

Reading Through the Bible, Friday, May 13. Esther 7-9

    Reading chapter seven I cannot help but think of this law: “If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother” (Deuteronomy 19:16ff).

    Persia, of course, was under no such obligation to follow this law since it was Jewish law.  But God’s law is not arbitrary.  It exhibits a sense of justice and fair play.  And in this case, it was only just that the unjust attempt against Mordecai and God’s people should be met with this kind of punishment.

    My mother used to say: “What goes around, comes around.”  If you set out to mistreat others, you will be mistreated.

    In a Bible class recently, a student related the story of an employee being horribly treated for no other reason than a boss took a dislike to her.  His ill-treatment infected others until soon, everyone was mistreating this person.  The employee became ill and needed to go to the hospital.  The boss forbade anyone to take off from work to take her and she had to find another way.  But, perhaps coincidentally (but perhaps not), the boss ended up spending his weekend in the hospital caring for a seriously ill relative.

    We might be reluctant to say this was a punishment from God.  But after all, our text does not attribute Haman’s punishment to the Lord either.  It’s just “What goes around, comes around” and Bible students realize that God often is the one who makes it happen.

Reading Through the Bible, Thursday, May 12. Esther 4-6

    You will remember that during the reign of Xerxes, reports came to the king from residents in the trans-Euphrates area about the Jews.  They were considered a rebellious and treasonous people (Ezra 4).  Daniel, which is also written from the perspective of the captivity, also underscores anti-jewish prejudice.  You see it again here in Esther.  Note that Xerxes cares so little for the Jews that he can order their wholesale slaughter.  Note also that he knows so little about them that he doesn’t even know Mordecai is a Jew, nor does he know his wife’s heritage.

    You couldn’t tell by looking.

    The book of Esther provides insight to prejudice.  One person speaks ill of something, and because another regards him highly, accepts what he says as true.  Others follow suit and before you know it, a whole group of people are being condemned because of the often self-centered thoughts of a few.

    We cannot paint people with broad strokes.  Everyone is different.  Nationality and race are no basis for prejudice and thinking people – that is to say, God’s people – will look at the story of Esther and beware.