Preach from TRINITY 630 / 11th November 2018 / Part of the ‘Ordinary Heroes’ series.
Reading: Esther 3:8-11 & 4: 1-15
These are the notes from my preach this weekend. Esther’s a tough book and while I raise some concerns about the themes in the preach, I’m still questioning all of this. There are so many questions, so many concerns, perhaps the biggest being: did God ‘let’ this happen so she could save her (his) people? Is that how God works? Does he make people go through the really though stuff to meet a purpose? I’m still questioning all this so I’d love to hear others thoughts…
Continuing in our series on ordinary heroes. Today we look at Esther whose story is the subject of an entire book in the OT. We can’t read the whole thing so we’ll start by going over the story and a few problems with it!
Esther was an orphan, taken in by her cousin Mordecai. Now a long time before this book starts, there was a civil war amongst the Jews which resulted in the nation being divided into 2 kingdoms, (the northern one being Israel, southern – Judah). Many of the subsequent kings were not followers of God and eventually God got fed up and at different times had people attack both the northern and southern kingdoms.
In amongst this, around 586 BC Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and carried off most of the Jews into captivity.
It is in the aftermath of this that Esther’s story plays out. Her and Mordecai areJews living in exile,spread out across the nations – known as – the diaspora. And here we are in the capital of the Persian empire – Susa – with King Xeres on the throne.
King Xeres we see in the first chapter of Esther, gets annoyed because his wife the Queen won’t come and be shown off to his guests at a big party, so she gets he basically gets rid of her.
But once he has chilled out a bit he decides he needs a new wifeand so his officials go out and round up all the pretty young virgins in the kingdom and bring them to the palace.
They then get given lots of beauty treatments and each one given the chance to win the kings favour (in his bed). Esther is chosen and becomes Queen.
All of this the time, not revealing she is Jewish.
At some point Mordecai finds out about a plot to kill the king and gets Esther to tell the king, who kills the plotters and adds into the records of history what Mordecai did to save him.
In the meantime the king’s assistant Haman grows more powerful, and by all accounts is the pantomime villain of the piece. Mordecai refuses to bow down to Haman, presumably because of his faith, and this gets so up Haman’s nose that he decides not only will he kill Mordecai but his entire people! The king actually grants this and notice is given.
At this point we have our passage today with Mordecai saying to Esther, come on, you have to do something!
So Esther calls the Jews to fast for 3 days and she and her assistants fast also.
3 days later she courageously goes to see the king and invites him to a banquet
In the mean time the king is reminded of what Mordecai did,years earlier to save his life and much to Haman’s distress decides to honour Mordecai!
Then we see the banquet where Esther asks the king to spare her people.
The king is aghast, who has done this awful thing? – and of course it is revealed it is Haman. Who ends up getting impaled on a pole he has built to kill Mordecai.
Oh the irony.
The Jews are savedand Haman’s lands are given to Esther and Mordecai comes to work in the palace.
Then we read that the festival of Purim is established to remember how the Jews were saved.
So that is the story of Esther in a tiny nutshell!
Now in a moment we are going to look at what we can learn from Esther’s story? –
And there is so much in there, do read it and I suggest read a good commentary or book on it too.
But before that I want to reocognise that this can be a really problematic book (for women especially).
and here’s why (and this is going to be a bit ranty but I’m not apologising for that)
Firstly we see a woman (Queen Vashti) who refuses to be shamed by her drunken husband wanting to show her off (and quite possibly naked) in front of his equally drunken mates and not just them but we read the banquet was:
for all the people from the least to the greatest – a lot of people
good on her for saying no frankly.
Then the king and his male advisors go totally over the top thinking her actions will encourage all women everywhere to rise up against their husbands, (yawn) so they cast her out never to be seen by the king again and a new queen found.
Then we see Esther, a young girl who has already suffered the trauma of losing her parents and going into exile
(imagine some of those refugee kids you see on the news leaving war torn countries)
young and vulnerable, forced into a life and being taken, against her will into the king’s new scheme like some awful male privileged ‘Kings Got talent’ competition.
(and let’s not romanticise this, they would have had no choice and what’s more the cultural context indicates that these young virgins would probably have been around the age or 12-13)
Which reeks of modern day sex trafficking.
What’s more we could read it as she is effectively coerced by the one man who she has trusted, to put her life immediately on the line in what might seem a pretty feeble attempt to save the Jews, using what seems like emotional blackmail when Mordecai says to her:
but what if this is why you have been put here.
what if everyone dies because you don’t do something…?
And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
A position, let’s remember, that she had little choice in…
I even read one male commentator outrageously wrote that Esther:
Beautiful, she allows men to tend to her needs and make her decisions. Her behavior is sinful and she spends around a year in the spa getting dolled up to lose her virginity with the pagan king like hundreds of other women. She performs so well that he chooses her as his favorite
I mean WTF? Don’t get me started! She was a child! she was a girl in a patriarchal society and anyway when the king had a plan – she had no choice in this matter.
So the next time someone tells you Esther is a wonderful rags to riches story, you can tell them where to stick that nonsense!
Right, rant over…
Where is God?
So in all that, what kind of story is it?
where the heck is God?
In fact he’s not actually mentioned by name in the whole 10 chapters.
But God’s presenceis all over it
I mean who else could turn such a situation around?
- Mordecai, the faithful, soon to be impaled at our evil villain’s plotting
- The Queen – Esther, in a life where she has no control, her position precarious, risking her life just to talk to the king
- and a people group consigned to certain death – a genocide in the waiting
and yet God transforms it so that:
- The evil villain is comically done away with – by his own methods
- Mordecai now is put in the position of honour that the villain had once held
- Haman’s loot is given to Esther, taking her from a position of reliance and uncertainty to one where she had her own wealth (still govern by a man but now at least her cousin)
- And of course an entire people group are saved from death and even given prominence in the nation with the Queen now known openly as a Jew and another Jew as the Kings counsel
What a turn around! That is where God is in the story….
For Such a Time as This
There are lots of areas we could focus in on today, like the role of prayer and fasting, faithfulness and what that looks like, we could ask the question: does God put people in potentially harmful situations like this to achieve his ends?
But actually I want us to spend a few minutes thinking about that one line:
‘for such a time as this’
because it is regularly bandied around in Christian circles – so let’s just think about that
What does that line mean, here in Esther’s story?
What about in our stories?
What or when might that timing be in your life?
When Mordecai sends word to Esther to go to the king to plead for mercy for his and her people, she points out the risk of death to herself.
“All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives….
Mordecai simply points back to her that her life is at stake anyway –
“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house, you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
Earlier I suggested this could be emotional blackmail. But let’s explore this a bit further. The other option is that Mordecai loved her as his own daughter.
He had taken her in and after she was taken to the palace, every dayhe went their to find out how she was.
Every day he walked back and forth near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her.
He wasn’t able to actually visit her, he was simply hanging around by the courtyard to see if he could see her or perhaps ask someone if they had seen her.
And when he was in sack cloth and ashes she was concerned for him.
if we also take into account the context of the day and the little freedom for women, the fact that Mordecai took her in, and cared for her, it doesn’t sound like a commandeering relationship.
And here when he suggests this is what God has for her…
- Perhaps he is desperate, he knows she is the only one who might make a difference.
- Perhaps he is worried for her well being – isn’t it better for the truth to come from her? What if someone has seen him talking to her and reveals that she is related to a Jew? How would the king react to that?
- but he also knows God is in control – he says if you don’t do this God will use someone else to bring deliverance and relief for the Jews. He has recognised that this could be THE TIME. The time when that deliverance comes for the Jewish people. And perhaps he simply wonders:
is that what all this was about? Is this why she was taken into the palace? Is this why she had to go against her will?
Perhaps he’s been seeking God every day wondering why and what it’s all for and now he wonders, could it all be for this? Building up to this moment? Trying to make sense of it all?
Modern Day Examples?
I was trying to think of a modern day example to compare Esther to. And perhaps someone like Corrie ten Boom who I mentioned a few weeks ago, and her sister Betsy would be a good example. They had helped Jews to escape from WW2 by hiding them in their home in Holland. As a result they ended up in a concentration camp in WW2. How could they understand that? As Christians they might have asked, how could God allow this terrible thing to happen? Hadn’t they been doing the Lord’s work too and ended up in a concentration camp. But in that camp, fuelled by faith, they reached out to others, shared numerous acts of kindness and generosity, perhaps they too wondered if they had been put there for such a time as this?
Or perhaps Nelson Mandela. A man who campaigned against Apartheid in South Africa, fighting for the rights of his people, who suffered in prison for 27 years. Perhaps he too wondered if his role, his campaign, his imprisonment wasn’t that he might have been there for such a time as this as he finally became President of the country after all that fight.
Or Nicholas Winton. Who as a young man, saved over 600 children also from WW2 by getting them out of the country to safety abroad.
In fact it wasn’t really publicly acknowledged what he had done until his wife found an old book in their attic with details if some of the children he had helped. And the story ended up on That’s Life – this TV programme.
I wonder if for him, he had a similar ‘for such a time as this’ moment.
He was actually due to go on a skiing holiday when a friend asked him to come help with a project supporting Jewish refugees and instead he went to Prague ton help and then he set up an organisation to help Jewish children at risk from the Nazis.
In total he saved 669 children before the war began.
For such a time as this in Esther’s story was about:
Her willingness to step into it
And when those things all worked out then God’s abundance turned things around.
God had a plan but we’re not so naïve as to think that if Esther had said no to it that he wouldn’t have achieved his aims some other way. Even Mordecai notes that when he says:
For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish.
God wants to use us, can use any situation for his abundant aims but we have a choice to step into them.
Esther was at first reluctant.
Really? But I might get killed.
She knew what had happened to Queen Vashti, she knew the place of women and not least the behaviour of King Xeres, she was at a very real risk of death in going to him without being summoned.
But when she realises: well perhaps I am here for such a time as this, perhaps this is God’s plan for me? what does she do?
She turns to God – she is going to fast and she asks others to as well.
Now we don’t know much about her faith or how her and Mordecai worshipped or whether there was a temple in Susa.
We know there were other Jews but not how many.
We don’t know how much she was able to keep Jewish law while in the Harem but we do know that in this time of great need she turned to God.
The point of fasting is to help one focus more clearly on God, to pray more – in modern terms we might suggest that whatever we take out – whatever we are fasting from we replace with prayer.
So if you gave up coffee for example, you might pray whenever you would normally have a coffee.
Esther gathers with her attendants to fast too. 3 days with no food or drink. And in that, normal patterns of life probably wouldn’t be followed,perhaps they have had a quiet 3 days, waiting patiently. Perhaps anxiously.
Parallels with Jesus
Interesting we might draw an analogy of 3 days of waiting in certain death, a period of absence and then on the third day we read at the start of Ch 5 she got up and put on her royal robes and as she rose, sought life for her people.
So reminiscent of Christ rising after 3 daysinto his role as true king and heir to the kingdom, bringing Eternal life to his people.
We see Esther in this period truly stepping into who God has made her to be. It’s interesting as we see her talking to Mordecai having followed his advice as she grew up now it is her giving the instructions. She tells him what to do. To gather the Jews to fast and pray.
And then, as she begins to step into her calling she steps into a time of seeking God. From which she emerges and after 3 days of seeking God she steps into her God given destiny for this time. Really stepped into her royal role, who God has made her to be and allowing him to work through her.
Another similarity between Christ stepping into his calling and the first thing he does is to go into the wilderness and fast before coming out and truly stepping into who god has made him to be.
Thanks to Esther here, certain death for her people is overcome by one person (her) standing in the gap against what has been done wrong.
She has offered her life for her people just as Christ offered his life for us.
Now for many of us here we won’t have had such a dramatic moment.
But I think what Esther’s story encourages us to do is to think about those God given moments in our own lives. We might ask ourselves who has God made me to be? What is my true God given identity? Even amidst difficulties and trials?
We might not have such an obvious ‘such a time as this’ moment but perhaps there is something he is calling you in to today? A role, a challenge? Something you need to step in to?
But also let’s seek those moments daily. In the detail, if not the dramatic – What is God calling us to do in each day?
Who has he made us to be in this day? In the places we find ourselves?
If I am here for such a time as this today what does that mean?
Because whilst he does call us to specific things he also calls us to represent him in every day.
You have a choice as to whether to step into those things but would you rather be the person that allows God to use them for his glory and his kingdom or let him use someone else? Do you want to miss out on his purpose for you?
So we conclude by asking ourselves today.
- Gods plan for us? Are we seeking him for that? Can we see it in our lives now?
- What is Gods timing in our lives right now? Perhaps we are already doing it! Already fulfiling his purpose for us.
- Are we being faithful in seeking his plan for our lives?
- And how willing are we to step into it?
Because when we do, we can be sure that God will be revealed…