Saturday, March 4, 2017

Queen Esther: A Destiny Fulfilled. Day 15, The Holiday Of Purim

Queen Esther:
A Destiny Fulfilled
Day 15
The Holiday Of Purim

In yesterday's passage the Jews defeated their enemies in battle and then celebrated their victory. Esther's uncle Mordecai now writes down everything that has happened. In fact, a number of renowned Bible scholars believe he is the author of the book of Esther.

"Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor." (Esther 9:20-22) Mordecai establishes the holiday of Purim, which is still observed these many centuries later. Because he wanted all the Jews to be able to join in the festivities, he ordered that gifts (alms money) be given to the poor among them so that they too could put a luxurious celebratory dinner on the table. 

"So the Jews agreed to continue the celebration they had begun, doing what Mordecai had written to them. For Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them and had cast the pur (that is, the lot) for their ruin and destruction. But when the plot came to the king's attention, he issued written orders that the evil scheme Haman had devised against the Jews should come back onto his own head, and that he and his sons should be impaled on poles. (Therefore these days were called Purim, from the word pur.)" (Esther 9:23-26a) The holiday of Purim in 2017 will begin on Saturday, March 11, and end on Sunday, March 12. The days of the month in the Jewish calendar are somewhat different than the days in our modern calendar, making the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month the eleventh and twelfth in our calendar. Next weekend, if we happen to notice "Purim" written on our calendars, I have a feeling all of us will think of Esther and of Mordecai and of all the Jews whose lives were saved in the Medo-Persian Empire.

"Because of everything written in this letter and because of what they had seen and what had happened to them, the Jews took it on themselves to establish the custom that they and their descendants and all who join them should without fail observe these two days every year, in the way prescribed and at the time appointed. These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family, and in every province and in every city. And these days of Purim should never fail to be celebrated by the Jews---nor should the memory of these days die out among their descendants." (Esther 9:26b-28) When Purim is observed, Jewish families attend the synagogue to hear the Megillah, the book of Esther. It is required to give alms money or food to at least two needy people or to participate in an offering that is taken up for the poor. At least two ready-to-eat food items are to be sent to friends, with men sending such gifts to men and women sending such gifts to women. A festive family meal is enjoyed in the evening. Special prayers and Scripture reading are performed throughout the day and the children are allowed to dress in costumes to play characters from the book of Esther. Purim is a time of thankfulness and celebration as Jewish families remember how God saved their people from death.

"So Queen Esther, daughter of Abihail, along with Mordecai the Jew, wrote with full authority to confirm this second letter concerning Purim. And Mordecai sent letters to all the Jews in the 127 provinces of Xerxes' kingdom---words of goodwill and assurance---to establish these days of Purim at their designated times, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had decreed for them, and as they had established for themselves and their descendants in regard to their times of fasting and lamentation. Esther's decree confirmed these regulations about Purim, and it was written down in the records." (Esther 9:29-32) The Jewish people observe an "Esther Fast" the day before Purim. The fast begins about an hour before sunrise and ends at nightfall. 

"King Xerxes imposed tribute throughout the empire, to its distant shores. And all his acts of power and might, together with a full account of the greatness of Mordecai, whom the king had promoted, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Media and Persia? Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Xerxes, preeminent among the Jews, and held in high esteem by his many fellow Jews, because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews." (Esther 10:1-3) Mordecai, like other humble and godly men before him, was lifted to a position of power by the Lord in a foreign government. Joseph, the son of Jacob, entered Egypt as a slave and became second in command to Pharaoh. Daniel, taken as a captive to Babylon, became a high governor in both the Babylonian and the Medo-Persian administrations. And now we find Mordecai, a Jewish man once condemned to death solely on the basis of racial prejudice, being second in command to King Xerxes. 

When we first met Mordecai and his orphaned niece Hadassah on the pages of the book of Esther, we might not have expected great things of either of them. If we could have seen them in person we would probably never have predicted Hadassah would become Esther: Queen of the Persian Empire, the woman who would save her people from slaughter. We could not have envisioned Mordecai becoming the right-hand-man of a powerful Persian king. But thanks be to God that He looks not on our outward appearance but on our hearts. He sees who we can become if we will submit ourselves to Him and to His plans for our lives. If we are willing to step out in faith and trust God, He has a destiny in store for each of us. Some believers may find themselves in the position of Esther, having the opportunity to save many lives. Others may end up leading only one person to Christ, saving a single soul from death. Some may become renowned evangelists, Christian musicians, teachers, missionaries, or Bible scholars. Others may be prayer warriors, laboring privately in prayer at home, being the unknown soldiers of the Lord's army. No matter what our calling is in Christ, whether it puts us in the public eye or puts us on our knees in our prayer closets at home, it is a very high calling. It is an honorable calling. It is worth performing to the very best of our abilities. 

Who knows what great things God may do through us if we are humble in spirit and obedient to Him, as Esther and Mordecai were? Who knows how many generations after us will be affected by our godly obedience? In the book of Esther the Lord took two people who were racially despised by many in the Medo-Persian Empire and He did great things through them, things we are still studying today. And the Lord took someone who was not highly valued in ancient times, a woman, and allowed her to be the instrument He used to save thousands of lives. Her name is still known to us today. We still celebrate her courage and her faith. We still consider her a symbol of female power, proof that God loves and respects and honors godly women just as much as He loves and respects and honors godly men. 

Even though the name of God is never written on the pages of the book of Esther, we can't miss Him. He is on every page of the book of Esther just as He is on every page of our lives. We may go through times that are so difficult and so worrisome that we can't feel His presence, but He is still there. And as we go through life, and as we look back on circumstances the Lord brought us victoriously through, we can say along with the patriarch Jacob and with Esther and Mordecai and with all who look back and celebrate the faithfulness of God, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it." (Genesis 28:16) 

Let's be willing to say yes to our destinies in the Lord. He will be with us. He will never call us to do anything He will not also empower us to fulfill. Let's be like Esther, willing to step out in faith, willing to be used of our Lord. Let's see what great destinies He has in store for us!

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