Saturday, February 18, 2017

Queen Esther: A Destiny Fulfilled. Day 1, Introduction

Queen Esther:
A Destiny Fulfilled
Day 1

The book of Esther is about a woman who is at the right place at the right time. It is about a young Jewish girl who rises from obscurity to a position of power as queen of the Persian Empire in order to fulfill her destiny: the saving of many Jewish lives. Near the beginning of this book we find the young Esther somewhat weak in the faith, reluctant to assume the heavy mantle of responsibility and unwilling to risk her life for the lives of her people. But by the end of the book she will have grown into a woman who is mature in the faith, prepared to surrender her will to God's will even if it means her own death. 

The dating for the book of Esther is likely somewhere between 486 BC and 465 BC because the best candidate for the king whom Esther marries is the Persian king Xerxes I. In the Persian language his name would have been Khshayarsha or Xsayarsa, but was rendered as Xerxes in Greek and Ahaseurus in Hebrew. The name meant something like "king of kings" or "ruler of heroes". Xerxes ruled when Persia was still at the height of her power and he was regarded as a great king, but although the name of God is never mentioned in the book of Esther, we will see that the true "king of kings" is God, not Xerxes. And the real hero of this book is not King Xerxes, but Queen Esther.

We first learned a bit about Xerxes I while still in the book of Daniel. The angel who provided Daniel with prophecies for the future said this about the kingdom of Persia, "Now then, I tell you the truth: Three more kings will arise in Persia, and then a fourth, who will be far richer than all the others. When he has gained power by his wealth, he will stir up everyone against the kingdom of Greece." (Daniel 11:2) Xerxes I is the fourth king. Due to very heavy pressure from his family, his advisers, and his top officials, Xerxes spent four years amassing a huge army so he could attack Greece in revenge for the defeat his father (Darius 1 Hystaspes, also known as Darius the Great) suffered at the hands of Greece in the battle at Marathon. 

Xerxes' war began with two victories for Persia at Artemisium and Thermopylae, after which Xerxes marched on to Athens where he burned the city in a fit of rage when the people resisted him instead of surrendering. The Greeks fled Athens and most of the countryside under the Persian onslaught but assembled their army off the mainland at Aegina and gathered their navy at Salamis. Upon advice of his council, Xerxes engaged the Greek navy at the battle of Salamis and suffered a crushing defeat. Xerxes headed home to his capitol at Susa, leaving his brother-in-law and general of the army (Mardonius) in the Greek territories to continue the assault without him. But Mardonius was defeated the next year in the Battle of Plataea while another detachment of the army was decisively vanquished the same day in the Battle of Mycale, effectively ending Xerxes' war with Greece. For the rest of his life he contented himself with massive building projects and the construction of roads, further depleting the economy and ushering in the decline of the Persian Empire. 

It is believed by many scholars and historians that Xerxes' war took place between Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of the book of Esther. In Chapter 1 we find Xerxes married to Queen Vashti, whom he deposes from her position as queen when she refuses to appear at a banquet to be displayed as a trophy wife to all the drunken men assembled there. It is thought that several years pass between Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, during which time Xerxes is busy with his war. Chapter 2 will begin by telling us that "later" Xerxes regrets the decision he made in anger to depose Vashti. Seeing how depressed he is by his military losses and how lonely he is without Queen Vashti, his advisers seek to cheer him up by proposing a contest in which young ladies will be gathered from all over the kingdom so he may select his next queen from among them. This is how a young Jewish orphan named Hadassah is brought into the citadel of Susa where she will be chosen as the next queen of Persia. 

God has a great destiny in store for Hadassah if she is willing to be used for His kingdom. If she can find it within herself to take a leap of faith, she is the instrument God will use to save the lives of thousands of Jews. The Lord didn't call Hadassah from her humble beginnings to crown her "Esther, Queen of Persia" for nothing. He invites her to take part in His awesome plan for His covenant people. But if she refuses, God's plan for His people will not be thwarted, for He will point out to her through her uncle Mordecai, "If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place." (Esther 4:14a) If Esther had refused God's calling on her life, Esther would have been refusing the opportunity to grow in her faith and, according to a dire warning from Mordecai, she would lose her life in the genocide that is proposed in this book by an enemy of the Jews. There would be no book of Esther for us to study if she had turned her back on her destiny. Her name would have perished with her.

Esther is presented with a choice, as we all are. Do we surrender our lives to the Lord and submit to His will and thereby fulfill our destinies? Or do we refuse Him and live lives of mediocrity and weak faith? The heroes of the Bible are the men and women who were willing to say "yes" to God. If they had refused Him, we wouldn't even know their names. What might God have in store for us if we decide, as Esther does, to follow Him no matter what the cost? God has placed us exactly where we are on the timeline of history, in our specific families, with our own individual personalities and talents, in order to fulfill our destinies. He is calling us to do kingdom work. He has chosen us for such a time as this. 

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