Saturday, 21 June 2014

(173) June 22: Esther 1-3 & Acts 5:1-15

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read consider the signs of God at work in bringing Esther to her position of influence.

To ponder:
The third year of Xerxes is 483BC, before the returns of Ezra and Nehemiah. However, the events take place in Susa, where Nehemiah would live and serve.
The awesome power of the one Esther would marry and reason with is first stressed in the detail of Xerxes’ vast empire, stretching from the Sudan to Pakistan, together with the greatness of his six month banquet, in which his wealth and liberality were displayed. The irony, however, was that he couldn’t control his wife. Wanting to show off her beauty he commanded she come to him, but she refused. This precipitated a crisis in which it was feared all wives in the empire would be encouraged to despise their husbands. Having consulted his wisest men, Xerxes therefore decreed throughout his kingdom that the Queen should never again enter his presence, a “better” one should be found, and that wives should respect their husbands. The Queen’s actions would have been frowned on by the Jews too. So this event affirms the quality of Esther’s character as one who would deal so respectfully with Xerxes, whilst also outlining the means God used to bring Esther to a position of powerful influence. Even the cut and thrust of difficult marriages can be used to further God’s purposes.
By relating how a beautiful alternative Queen was sought, Esther’s rise is dramatized. She is the adopted daughter of her cousin Mordecai who was a descendent of Kish, Saul’s father. He had been exiled to Babylon in 597BC with king Jehoiachin. Esther’s beauty of form and features is portrayed as God’s gift, and his blessing on her is seen throughout. Over all the girls brought to the king’s harem under the care of his eunuch, Hegai, she won his favour and was given special beauty treatment and food, with seven (the number of completeness) maids and the most esteemed place in the harem. There she underwent a whole year of beauty treatment before going to the king. And at that time she displayed wisdom too, doing only what Hegai advised. Not only did she then win the favour of everyone who saw her, but of the king, who crowned her (four years after his divorce, 1v3, 2v16), and held a banquet and holiday, with the giving of gifts to mark it. Of course the idea of a harem and of Esther spending a night with the king to see if she pleased him is appalling. However, as so often, God was working amidst such evil for good.
Throughout, on Mordecai’s advice, Esther had kept her nationality secret, no doubt in case this prejudiced her opportunity. And every day of the year, her loving father walked near the harem in concern, to find out how she was doing. It may have been whilst sitting at the gate on one of these occasions, as the virgins were assembled after the coronation, that Mordecai overheard the conspiracy to assassinate the king. Its record is important later in the story.
 For now, although Mordecai is the one who should be credited (2v22), it is Haman who is honoured – and highly, seen in the king’s command people should kneel in honour to him. As an Agagite, his rivalry with Mordecai patterns that between the Agagite king and Saul (1 Sam 15). Here, the theme of obeying the king develops as Mordecai refuses to. The reason seems to do with Mordecai being a Jew (3v4), so may have been because he felt such honour was only God’s, or because of God’s command that Israel oppose Amalakites (Ex 17v16, Deut 25v17). Whatever the case, it commends obeying God not man, even though important people might urge us not to, and even though it may mean hardship (3v3-4).
Haman’s wickedness is seen in taking his anger to the point of not just desiring but organising a total genocide of the Jewish race. The king’s evil neglect, and the status he had given Haman, is seen in his readiness to give Haman the authority to do it and not even take his bribe. A date was set by lot, or “pur,” which is why the Jewish festival that celebrates the deliverance the Jews will experience is called purim. And so orders in the name of Xerxes were sent throughout his provinces, to be made law and communicated to those of every nationality, that on the selected day all Jews were to be destroyed, killed, annihilated and plundered. Moreover, while this happened the king and Haman sat down to drink, although the city was bewildered.
One cannot but think here of the holocaust, where an irrational hatred of the Jews also arose after played on their difference (as 3v8). But in Bible history, what is at stake is the continuance of Israel and so nothing less than the fulfilment of God’s promise to bless the world and so reverse the curse of Eden through one of Abraham’s offspring.

Praying it home:
Praise God for working good even from evil. Pray that he would place Christians in positions through which they can influence rulers for good, and especially the good of the church.

Thinking further:
To read the NIV Study Bible introduction to Esther, click here.
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