Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Queen Esther: A Destiny Fulfilled. Day 11, Mordecai Honored

Queen Esther:
A Destiny Fulfilled
Day 11
Mordecai Honored

Haman has set up a pole on which he hopes to have Esther's uncle Mordecai impaled. He is going to accuse him before the king and secure an immediate death warrant. But meanwhile the Lord prevents King Xerxes from getting a good night's sleep.

"That night the king could not sleep; so he ordered the book of the chronicles, the record of his reign, to be brought in and read to him. It was found recorded there that Mordecai had exposed Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king's officers who guarded the doorway, who had conspired to assassinate King Xerxes." (Esther 6:1-2) Xerxes' book of chronicles must have been quite lengthy, but it was turned to the very page that gave the details of the foiled assassination plot. The Lord placed His hand over the reader's hand and caused him to open the book to the passage the king needed to hear.

"'What honor and recognition has Mordecai received for this?' the king asked. 'Nothing has been done for him,' his attendants answered." (Esther 6:3) No reward had ever been given to Mordecai for saving the king's life. And he had never asked for any kind of recognition. In contrast we find the wicked man Haman promoted to a high rank in the kingdom. Sometimes we feel like we've worked hard and been honest for nothing, but even if our superiors don't recognize and reward us for our labors, we can be certain God has noticed our diligence. Mordecai did what was right even though he gained nothing by it. Everyone except the Lord overlooked his service, but the Lord reserved his reward for this very night.

"The king said, 'Who is in the court?' Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the palace to speak to the king about impaling Mordecai on the pole he had set up for him." (Esther 6:4) God's timing is perfect. By our own standards we often judge Him as running late. Mordecai may have thought He was running late when no reward or honor was given him for saving the life of the king. But now we see that God held it in reserve for such a time as this.

"His attendants answered, 'Haman is standing in the court.' 'Bring him in,' the king ordered. When Haman entered, the king asked him, 'What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?' Now Haman thought to himself, 'Who is there that the king would rather honor than me?'" (Esther 6:5-6) Xerxes is simply asking his right-hand-man for advice. But Haman, who thinks only of himself, believes Xerxes is looking for a way to honor him. It would never occur to him that the king is referring to Mordecai, ("that Jew", as Haman always thinks of him), so naturally he assumes the king is talking about no one other than Haman himself.

Because he believes the king wants to honor him for his service, he envisions an honor he would take great pleasure in. "So he answered the king, 'For the man the king delights to honor, have them bring a royal robe the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, one with a royal crest placed on its head. Then let the robe and horse be entrusted to one of the king's most noble princes. Let them robe the man the king delights to honor, and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, 'This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!'" (Esther 6:7-9) I picture Haman standing there with an enraptured expression on his face as he daydreams about himself dressed in the king's robe, seated on the king's horse, riding through the city as everyone he passes bows to him...including that Jew Mordecai.

"'Go at once,' the king commanded Haman. 'Get the robe and the horse and do just as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king's gate. Do not neglect anything you have commanded.'" (Esther 6:10) Haman's happy dreams of glory come to a screeching halt. His jaw nearly hits the floor in shock. But there's nothing he can do but obey the king.

"So Haman got the robe and the horse. He robed Mordecai, and led him on horseback through the city streets, proclaiming before him, 'This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!'" (Esther 6:11) Oh, the poetic justice of this! If only Haman had remembered the words of the great King Nebuchadnezzar, who said of the Lord, "Those who walk in pride He is able to humble." (Daniel 4:37b) Instead of bowing to Haman, and instead of being impaled on a pole, Mordecai is led through the streets dressed in a royal robe, seated on a royal mount, as the people bow to him. Along about now I bet Haman wishes a big hole would just open up and swallow him; he's that humiliated.

"Afterward Mordecai returned to the king's gate. But Haman rushed home, with his head covered in grief, and told Zeresh his wife and all his friends everything that had happened to him." (Esther 6:12-13a) This adulation means nothing to Mordecai. As soon as he dismounts the horse he goes back about his business. His head isn't swelled with pride. He is wise enough to know that the praise of man means little. Only the honors bestowed by God have any lasting value.

Haman, on the other hand, is a man to whom recognition means everything. He flings a covering over his head and scurries home in shame only to be given more bad news by his wife and friends. "His advisers and his wife Zeresh said to him, 'Since Mordecai, before whom your downfall has started, is of Jewish origin, you cannot stand against him---you will surely come to ruin!'" (Esther 6:13b) Pagan and lacking in godly perspective though they were, even the people close to Haman sense the hand of God in these matters concerning Mordecai. The God of Israel appears to have taken Mordecai's side. To fight against Mordecai, and the Jews in general, is to oppose God. And who is Haman that he should prevail against God?

Haman's terrible day is just getting started. It's about to go from bad to worse. "While they were still talking with him, the king's eunuchs arrives and hurried Haman away to the banquet Esther had prepared." (Esther 6:14) He probably hopes the private banquet with the king and queen will make him feel better, but in tomorrow's study we find Esther revealing her heritage to the king and accusing Haman of being the very man who would love to see her and her people wiped from the face of the earth. The trap Haman laid for the Jews will snap shut on him instead. Then we will see a principle spoken by King Solomon proven true, "For the Lord detests the perverse but takes the upright into His confidence. The Lord's curse is on the house of the wicked, but He blesses the home of the righteous. He mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and oppressed. The wise inherit honor, but fools get only shame." (Proverbs 3:32-35) 

Maybe you feel like you've labored in vain and lived a life of integrity in vain. You've seen others promoted while you've been passed over. At one time or another, we've all felt like the psalmist Asaph who said, "I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked...This is what the wicked are like---always free of care, they go on amassing wealth. All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments." (Psalm 73:3, 12-13) But then Asaph went to the house of the Lord and poured out his heart to God, who showed him that the pleasures of this world and the praise of our fellow man is meaningless. The person who flatters us today may be the one who stabs us in the back tomorrow. The wicked enjoy sin for a season but their downfall is coming, just as Haman's downfall is coming. But the favor of the Lord endures forever. This is why we must keep on doing what is good and honest. We may not receive the accolades of man, but we can be sure our God will exalt us in due time. (1 Peter 5:6) God will reward us at the right time...in His perfect timing. Our King will take delight in us. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Queen Esther: A Destiny Fulfilled. Day 10, Haman's Plot Against Mordecai

Queen Esther:
A Destiny Fulfilled
Day 10
Haman's Plot Against Mordecai

Haman has just had a private banquet with King Xerxes and Queen Esther, a very high honor. He leaves the palace feeling on top of the world. "Haman went out that day happy and in high spirits. But when he saw Mordecai at the king's gate and observed that he neither rose nor showed fear in his presence, he was filled with rage against Mordecai. Nevertheless, Haman restrained himself and went home." (Esther 5:9-10a) 

Haman is obsessed with Mordecai and his refusal to honor him. King Xerxes has given Haman a high position in the kingdom and he has just spent a wonderful lunch hour in the private quarters of the palace, but he immediately loses his high spirits when Mordecai doesn't pay him homage. Because this one Jew will not honor him, Haman hates Mordecai and all the Jewish people. In my opinion, no amount of adoration and recognition would ever have been enough for a man like this. Even if he were king himself, I think he would still have been eaten up on the inside with insecurities. He would still have been miserable because something was lacking in the inner man. 

He manages to keep his cool at the king's gate and passes on by Mordecai. It would be unseemly to fly into a rage and start beating a man within sight of the palace. Besides, he knows Mordecai's day is coming, because Haman has enticed the king to sign an edict for the extermination of the Jews on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month. So he pretends to ignore Mordecai's disrespect and goes home.

"Calling together his friends and Zeresh, his wife, Haman boasted to them about his vast wealth, his many sons, and all the ways the king had honored him and how he had elevated him above the other nobles and officials." (Esther 5:10a-11) Haman feels compelled to soothe his vanity by bragging to his family and friends. If Mordecai isn't impressed with him, no doubt these others will be. His wife and friends have probably had to sit through this same song and dance many times before, but they dare not show anything but the utmost admiration for him. I think all eyes were fastened on Haman as he told tales of his intelligence and greatness. I bet they "oohed" and "aahed" when he waved his bankbook in front of them and showed them the balance. I believe they clapped their hands delightedly when he told them in great detail everything that was said and done at the banquet. 

"'And that's not all,' Haman added, 'I'm the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the king to the banquet she gave. And she has invited me along with the king tomorrow. But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king's gate.'" (Esther 5:12-13) We can almost hear Haman's tone of voice in our heads when he says with disgust "that Jew". Nothing will ever be right for Haman until that Jew gets what's coming to him. How can he enjoy his high rank in the kingdom, the banquets in the palace, or the wealth he has accumulated, as long as that Jew refuses to honor him? What good are all his accomplishments if that Jew still looks down on him?

"His wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, 'Have a pole set up, reaching to a height of fifty cubits, and ask the king in the morning to have Mordecai impaled on it. Then go with the king to the banquet and enjoy yourself.' This suggestion delighted Haman, and he had the pole set up." (Esther 5:14) His wife and friends say, "Why wait for the twelfth month to be rid of Mordecai? Have him killed in the morning. Then your troubles will be over and you can fully enjoy your meal with the king and queen. You won't ever again have to walk out of the palace and see Mordecai at the gate."

Their casual cruelty is stunning. They speak about a torturous death as coolly as they might discuss the weather forecast. Mordecai has committed no crime worthy of death, yet they gleefully suggest he be executed publicly in a slow and painful manner. It could sometimes take several hours for a victim of impalement to perish, and Haman is delighted with the idea of Mordecai writhing in agony on a pole while he himself dines with the royal family. He believes it will enhance his enjoyment of the food and wine if he knows Mordecai is suffering at the same time. 

Haman is a man who has gained the whole world but lost his own soul. He has achieved more than most men in the Medo-Persian Empire have ever dreamed of, but it's not enough. He's empty inside. His fulfilled ambitions have not made him happy. His wealth and his large family have not made him happy. Adoration and recognition have not made him happy. Somehow, satisfaction remains out of his reach. But he has fallen for the lie of Satan that if he obtains this one thing, (the death of Mordecai and the Jews), he will at last have everything he needs to enjoy life. This is the same type of lie Satan still tells mankind today. One more drink, one more pill, one more promotion, one more affair, one more deposit in the bank, one more house, one more car, one more round of plastic surgery, one more boat.....and on and on and on. But the kind of emptiness we feel in our souls can't be filled with anything of this world. Nothing will ever be enough. In the daytime we might be able to look around at all our accomplishments and fool ourselves, but in the long dark hours of the night we know better. This is why so many seek to numb the pain of emptiness with anything available. But we were created by God and for God; nothing other than a relationship with Him will ever satisfy the longing in our souls. Nothing else gives our lives true meaning and purpose. The Apostle Paul, a man who was once driven by ambition and a desire for wealth and recognition, gave up everything he had for the sake of the gospel, including his own life. And he was able to say, "Godliness with contentment is great gain." (1 Timothy 6:6) Without God, nothing we have will ever be enough. But with God, even the smallest blessing brings us great delight. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Queen Esther: A Destiny Fulfilled. Day 9, Esther Goes To The King

Queen Esther:
A Destiny Fulfilled
Day 9
Esther Goes To The King

Esther is about to go see the king without having been summoned, an action worthy of death in the Persian culture. In Chapter 4 Esther asked Mordecai and all the Jews to fast for three days while she and her attendants fasted. I believe much prayer was made, day and night, for those three days. Now there is nothing left to do but step out in faith. 

"On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the palace, in front of the king's hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne in the hall, facing the entrance." (Esther 5:1) During the days of fasting she would not have been wearing her royal robes but garments of mourning, just as her uncle Mordecai wore as he wept through the city streets in yesterday's passage. But it's against the law to appear before the king in mourning, so she dresses in the garments a Persian queen wears when making a public appearance. Dressed in the full regalia of a queen, looking so beautiful that everyone who sees her will be impressed, Esther hopes the king will look on her with favor. 

There are occasions in the Scriptures where the Lord does all the work, when He commands that everyone be still and watch what He will do. But in most cases He invites mankind to walk straight into the battle with Him, in faith believing He is going to bring the victory. Esther could have remained in her private quarters, praying for God to change Xerxes' heart, praying for God to change Haman's heart, and God would have been more than able to do these things. But Esther will grow more in her faith if she participates in the victory. We know the faith of the Apostle Peter grew when the Lord Jesus told the storm to be still, but I believe he learned even more about the Lord on the night he found the courage to step out of the boat and walk on the water. This is what Esther must do now. She must step out in faith and trust the Lord to hold her up. 

The Lord gives Esther grace in the king's eyes. God heard her prayers and the prayers of her people. "When he saw Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased with her and held out to her the gold scepter that was in his hand. So Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter." (Esther 5:2) 

Xerxes knows Esther would not have taken such a chance unless she has a vital request to make of him. "Then the king asked, 'What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given you." (Esther 5:3) 

This man who has not been interested enough in his wife to send for her in over a month is pleased at the sight of her. His heart has been so prepared by the Lord that he feels especially indulgent toward her. It was a Persian custom for kings and other wealthy men to endow their wives with lands, but for Xerxes to promise her up to half the kingdom is generous indeed, for the Bible told us in Chapter 1 that he ruled over 127 provinces. I don't know whether Xerxes' and Esther's marriage has been somewhat on the rocks lately, but the bloom had definitely worn off their relationship. And now suddenly, because the hand of the Lord is in it, their marriage seems fresh and new to Xerxes. He is as enthralled with Esther as he was on the night they first met. This should give hope to anyone who is struggling in their marriage. If God could take an evil-tempered despot like Xerxes and make him fall back in love with his queen, God can change any heart and restore any marriage.

"'If it pleases the king,' replied Esther, 'let the king, together with Haman, come today to a banquet I have prepared for him.'" (Esther 5:4) I can understand Esther not blurting out her request to save the Jews in the middle of the king's court. It's a very public setting, filled with the king's bodyguards and various officials and the people who had petitioned for and been granted an audience with the king. Esther wishes to interact with her husband in a more private setting where Xerxes can eat and drink and be in good spirits.

Xerxes is in the mood to accommodate the queen's wishes. It seems harmless enough to attend a banquet and it's probably time for his lunch break anyway. "'Bring Haman at once,' the king said, 'so that we may do what Esther asks.'" (Esther 5:5a)

"So the king and Haman went to the banquet Esther had prepared. As they were drinking wine, the king again asked Esther, 'Now what is your petition? It will be given you. And what is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.'" (Esther 5:5b) We learned in Chapter 1 that Xerxes is a man who likes his wine. He once held a party for 187 days in which the wine flowed freely twenty-four hours a day. He can party with the best of them and right now he's feeling comfortably full of rich foods and is sipping the finest vintage of wine, all while gazing on his charming queen and congratulating himself on having obtained the most beautiful wife in the kingdom. Life is looking mighty fine to Xerxes on this lovely afternoon.

But Esther senses the timing is not quite right. "Esther replied, 'My petition and my request is this: If the king regards me with favor and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet I will prepare for them. Then I will answer the king's question.'" (Esther 5:7-8)

We know the king agrees to a second banquet because later on we will find him there. It is well that Esther decided not to reveal her request at the first banquet, because the Lord has a sleepless night in store for Xerxes, a night in which he will realize he owes a debt of gratitude to a Jewish man named Mordecai. This will make him feel generous toward the Jews in general. 

Another reason the first banquet was not the right time to present her request is that the first banquet was used by the Lord to make Xerxes feel soft toward the queen and to remind him why he fell in love with her. This will be of great value when Esther announces her Jewish heritage to him. Instead of being angry that her background was kept secret, Xerxes will be filled with a manly desire to protect the woman he loves and to save her people from slaughter. 

Some scholars have criticized Esther for a lack of faith at the first banquet, accusing her of hesitating out of fear. But I don't believe that's what happened. I think the plan included two banquets all along. Esther's appearance in the court and the first banquet were necessary to set the stage for the second banquet. The Lord is putting this plan together one building-block at a time, in a logical order, leading up to the moment when everything will come together exactly as it should. Esther is in the Lord's will when she appears at the court, when she throws the first banquet, and when she asks for a second banquet. She may not understand God's reasons for doing things this way, but she trusts Him. Esther has decided to follow the Lord wherever He leads her, even when she doesn't understand His plan. An attitude like Esther's is vital to anyone who wishes to fulfill his or her destiny in the Lord. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Queen Esther: A Destiny Fulfilled. Day 8, For Such A Time As This

Queen Esther:
A Destiny Fulfilled
Day 8
For Such A Time As This

Haman has succeeded in securing an edict against the Jews. They will be slaughtered on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month of the year. Esther's uncle Mordecai is devastated. "When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly. But he went only as far as the king's gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it." (Esther 4:1-2) It was against Persian law to appear inside the courtyard of the king or in the palace itself while in mourning. The sight of a mourner might dampen the king's spirits. 

Mordecai bears some personal responsibility for the tragedy at hand. He refused repeatedly to bow to Haman and show him honor, apparently because something about the way he was commanded to do it went against the laws of God. This is similar to Daniel's refusal to bow down and worship Darius the Mede or forego prayers to God for thirty days. It also reminds us of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who remained standing when everyone else in the capital city was on their knees before Nebuchadnezzar's ninety-foot golden statue. In those cases only the offenders were threatened with death, not all the Jews living in the Medo-Persian Empire. Mordecai may have expected personal repercussions for his actions, but I don't believe it ever entered his mind that this would be the last straw for a man like Haman. He never dreamed Haman harbored a genocidal hatred against all the Jews or that he would be able to procure a death sentence against them.

All the Jews in the kingdom are in a similar condition as Mordecai, "In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes." (Esther 4:3) The name of God is not mentioned in the book of Esther, but the people observe the custom of fasting. Fasting in the Bible goes hand in hand with prayer and it is often used in when an important decision must be made or when people are facing disaster. The name of God may not be written on the pages of Esther, but His name was on the lips of the people as they cried out to Him for deliverance.

"When Esther's eunuchs and female attendants came and told her about Mordecai, she was in great distress. She sent clothes for him to put on instead of his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. Then Esther summoned Hathak, one of the king's eunuchs assigned to attend her, and ordered him to find out what was troubling Mordecai and why." (Esther 4:4-5) The queen and the royal harem have not been informed of the king's edict. Xerxes is not in the habit of consulting his wives or concubines when signing bills into law. He does not feel it necessary to keep them up to date with everything he signs because in his "man's world" these things do not concern them. Some of Esther's attendants spot Mordecai outside the gates, weeping and wailing in a grief so great it has no words, but Esther has no idea what's wrong with him. 

"So Hathak went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king's gate. Mordecai told him everything that had happened to him, including the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the royal treasury for the destruction of the Jews. He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict for their annihilation, which had been published in Susa, to show to Esther and explain it to her, and he told him to instruct her to go into the king's presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people. Hathak went back and reported to Esther what Mordecai had said." (Esther 4:6-9) Mordecai himself cannot gain an audience with the king. Even if he were not in mourning he would not be welcome in the palace now that Haman has persuaded Xerxes to believe the Jews are in opposition to his rule over them. 

Mordecai hopes that Esther, the queen chosen out of all the most beautiful women of the land, will have more influence on Xerxes than anyone else. But there is a problem with this and she sends Hathak back to her uncle with bad news. "Then she instructed him to say to Mordecai, '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. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.'" (Esther 4:10-11) Xerxes and Esther have been married a little over four years by this time and the newness has worn off their relationship. The honeymoon is long over. Xerxes has so little interest in Esther that he hasn't even set eyes on her in a month.

What Esther sees as an insurmountable barrier is brushed aside by Mordecai. Her decision means life or death in more ways than she realizes. It means life or death for her people, for Mordecai, and even for Esther herself. "When Esther's words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: '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?'" (Esther 4:12-14) 

Some commentators believe the relationship between Esther and Mordecai was suspected either by Haman or by those in the palace. I don't see how it could not have been suspected by the eunuchs, the attendants, and the ladies of the harem. They saw the way Mordecai came by to check on Esther every day before she was chosen queen. In today's passage they are able to observe that messages are being taken back and forth between the queen and the grief-stricken Jewish man in the torn robes. If she does not reveal her nationality now, someone will snitch on her. Someone in the harem who is jealous of her will tell a eunuch who will tell a guard who will tell someone in the palace who will tell the king. Or someone who guards the gate and harbors prejudice against the Jews may report that a certain Mordecai carries on a correspondence with the queen. Haman himself may have noted that Mordecai lurks about the courtyard of the harem and he might decide to find out why, only to be informed Mordecai keeps asking about the welfare of the queen. At that point Haman could perform a background investigation on the queen and find out who she really is. One way or another, if Esther does not reveal her heritage to the king, the king is going to find out. 

Mordecai says, "Esther, this is your destiny! Why else would God take a poor orphaned Jewish girl and raise her up to be Queen of Persia? The Lord has placed you exactly where you need to be so He can use you in the saving of the Jews. Of course it's a monumental risk to enter the king's presence without being called, but to remain silent would be to condemn your people to death. And it will also condemn you to death. If you refuse God's calling on your life, someone else will accept His calling and deliver the Jews, but you will not be spared because you are the queen. Yes, you may lose your life if you go before Xerxes, but you will most certainly lose your life if you do not. There are others God could have called to do this great work, but He has called you, a Jew, a woman, for this specific time in history and for this particular purpose. Are you woman enough to say yes to God? Are you strong enough to step out in faith? Will you accept your destiny?"

When this message reaches Esther, she is convicted in her heart. She knows she must answer God's call no matter what the cost. She finds within herself the courage and the faith to say to the Lord, "Not my will, but Yours, be done." "Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 'Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.' So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther's instructions." (Esther 4:15-17) 

Esther wants all the Jews fasting and praying together, in one mind and one accord, for three days before she goes to the king. The name of God is not mentioned, but He cannot be missed. There is no purpose in fasting ahead of Esther's brave visit to the king if it is not accompanied by prayer. Before she enters the throne room of Xerxes, the Jews must enter the throne room of Almighty God with prayer and supplication. If God does not go with her, Esther goes in vain. But with God on her side, who can be against her? (Romans 8:31) With God on her side, what weapon formed against her can prosper? (Isaiah 54:17) With God on her side, who is there to fear? (Psalm 27:1) With her mind made up, Esther bows on her knees before God, accepting His calling on her life, believing He crowned her Queen of Persia for such a time as this.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Queen Esther: A Destiny Fulfilled. Day 7, Haman's Hatred

Queen Esther:
A Destiny Fulfilled
Day 7
Haman's Hatred

Haman, one of King Xerxes' top officials, hates Esther's uncle Mordecai because he won't bow to him. Haman also hates the Jews as a people. He comes up with a plan to rid the kingdom of them.

"In the twelfth year of King Xerxes, in the first month, the month of Nisan, the pur (that is, the lot) was cast in the presence of Haman to select a day and month. And the lot fell on the twelfth month, the month of Adar." (Esther 3:7) This is thought to have been a practice of Persian divination in which the lot was cast for each month of the year in order to determine which month would be the luckiest for a particular enterprise. Haman probably called in a magician or astrologer to do this for him. The dice, or similar object, came up in the right combination for the month of Adar. The lot was cast in the first month of the year and the lot fell on the last month of the year, causing a gap of time in which a solution can be found to save the Jews. Bible scholar David Guzik sees the providential hand of God in this, quoting the words of Solomon from Proverbs 16:33, "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord." Had the lot fallen on the month of Nisan, Haman could have carried out his genocidal plot right away. But he is a victim of his own pagan superstition and he dares not make a move that goes against the way the lot fell, so he has to wait almost a year to carry out his plans. 

As soon as he sees which month the lot falls on, he goes to the king. "Then Haman said to King Xerxes, 'There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king's laws; it is not in the king's best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will give ten thousand talents of silver to the king's administrators for the royal treasury." (Esther 3:8-9) Haman is such a liar we almost expect to see his pants on fire at this point. And shame on King Xerxes for not investigating these charges! The Jews indeed were "separate" in that they evidently obeyed the Mosaic law by not intermarrying with the other peoples in the kingdom. Many of them had retained, at least in part, their religion and a great deal of the customs that went along with it. But we have already seen that they had integrated into Persian society to such an extent that they were virtually indistinguishable from everyone else. They were causing no trouble, leading no rebellion, and disobeying no laws. They looked and behaved so much like everyone else that King Xerxes appears almost ignorant of their presence in his kingdom. He doesn't even suspect that his own queen is Jew. I picture him sitting in the palace, listening to Haman with a slight frown on his face, thinking, "The Jews? Are they still here? I thought they all went home when Cyrus said they could. Why, I couldn't even pick a Jew out of the crowd if somebody asked me to. But if they are refusing to obey my laws they might incite an insurrection and I can't have that. Haman says this is a matter of national security and I trust his judgment." 

Haman has pulled the wool over Xerxes' eyes. The king believes Haman is a man of integrity. As far as Xerxes is concerned, if Haman says the Jews are a problem, then they are a problem. In yesterday's study Esther's uncle Mordecai discovered a plot to assassinate the king and we were told that the matter was investigated and found to be true. But Xerxes does not investigate Haman's charges against the Jews. I think the reason for this is racially motivated, though Xerxes may not have been aware he harbored prejudice. He investigated the assassination plot because the men who stood accused were men of his own culture. He gave them a fair trial before executing them. He does not extend the same courtesy to the Jews. "So the king took his signet ring from his finger and gave it to Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. 'Keep the money,' the king said to Haman, 'and do with the people as you please.'" (Esther 3:10)

"Then on the thirteenth day of the first month the royal secretaries were summoned. They wrote out in the script of each province and in the language of each people Haman's orders to the king's satraps, the governors of the various provinces and the nobles of the various peoples. These were written in the name of King Xerxes himself and sealed with his own ring. Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king's provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews---young and old, women and children---on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. A copy of the text of the edict was to be issued as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality so they would be ready for that day." (Esther 3:12-14) Imagine the terror that struck the hearts of the Jews when this edict went out! A death sentence has been handed down but they have committed no crimes. A bitter man with a heart full of racial prejudice has simply decided they do not deserve to live. Haman is the Adolf Hitler of his day. 

"The couriers went out, spurred on by the king's command, and the edict was issued in the citadel of Susa. The king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was bewildered." (Esther 3:15) The king and Haman believe they have put in a good day's work and they enjoy a bottle (or many bottles) of wine together. Meanwhile the populace is in shock. The Jews have lived peacefully among them, going about their work like responsible citizens, breaking no laws and being good neighbors. But now a great slaughter has been proposed for every Jewish man, woman, and child simply because of who they are. King Xerxes doesn't realize he has been fooled, but the people of the kingdom know it. They are powerless to revoke the king's orders, but while Xerxes and Haman drink congratulatory toasts to each other, the land is in mourning. A great travesty of justice has been carried out. I believe a huge wail of grief rose up at the news of the king's edict. It rose all the way to heaven and to the very ears of God, the God who fights for His people Israel. 

God is not caught off guard by Haman's racial prejudice or by the king's bad judgment. The execution order does not send Him into a panic. Everything is proceeding right on time and according to plan, because God foresaw all these things and He placed a crown on the head of a Jewish woman so she could be used of Him to save the Jewish people. God made certain Mordecai uncovered a plot to assassinate the king so that Xerxes will later realize he owes him a debt of gratitude. Xerxes will come to see that everything he has been told about the Jews is false and that there is no basis for prejudice against them. Right now Haman thinks he is control of the situation and congratulates himself on his masterful plan, but God is going to have the last word. Haman is going to fall into his own trap. Then will come true the words of David, who said of the one who lays a trap for the innocent, "Whoever digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit they have made. The trouble they cause recoils on them; their violence comes down on their own heads." (Psalm 7:15-16)

Troubling circumstances often come into our lives with no warning, leading us to wail in fear and spend sleepless nights in anxiety. But God is never caught off guard. Long before we ever reach a day of trouble, He is already there. While the Jews in the Medo-Persian Empire quake in terror, and while the citizens of Persia whisper to each other of their shock at the king's edict, God is on the move. He was already on the move long before Haman came up with his plot. He has been working things out, setting a framework in place for the saving of the Jews. What might He be doing in your life and my life today? Even in our darkest hours, God is at work. When it seems like nothing is happening, He is on the move. When our circumstances are unfair and unreasonable, He has a plan. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28) 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Queen Esther: A Destiny Fulfilled. Day 6, Two Murderous Plots

Queen Esther:
A Destiny Fulfilled
Day 6
Two Murderous Plots

The royal court of King Xerxes is filled with intrigue and conspiracies. Esther's uncle Mordecai discovers a plot to kill the king and is able, through Queen Esther, to warn Xerxes. Soon after this a new plot is hatched, but this time against the Jews.

"When the virgins were assembled a second time, Mordecai was sitting at the king's gate. But Esther had kept secret her family background and nationality just as Mordecai had told her to do, for she continued to follow Mordecai's instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up." (Esther 2:19-20) Mordecai had a high enough rank to be allowed to sit in the king's gate where judges and officers sat. When Esther had first been brought to the harem, this allowed Mordecai to lurk near the garden so he could check on her, but no one knew of their family connection. This is where he is sitting when he learns of the plot against the king. The reference to the virgins being assembled is puzzling. Some commentaries suggest there was another gathering of young women into the harem after Queen Esther had been chosen as queen, that King Xerxes was so lustful and prideful that he kept adding to a harem that was already too large for him to ever personally meet each woman in it. Other reference books skip over verse 19 completely without offering an explanation. It's possible Mordecai learned of the plot while Esther was still in the company of the virgins, but he had no opportunity to get a message through to the king until Esther was made queen. 

"During the time Mordecai was sitting at the king's gate, Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king's officers who guarded the doorway, became angry and conspired to kill King Xerxes. But Mordecai found out about the plot and told Queen Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai. And when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were impaled on poles. All this was recorded in the book of the annals in the presence of the king." (Esther 2:21-23) This is a pivotal event and will be of utmost importance later on in the book of Esther. Mordecai's action on behalf of Xerxes will cause the king to issue a decree that helps save the lives of the Jews.

"After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles." (Esther 3:1) We are not told why Haman was given this honor. We will learn that Haman is a barbaric and racially prejudiced man, so we may safely assume he rose up through the ranks by dishonest and back-stabbing means. Haman is a descendant of King Agag of the Amalekites, a people who had long been enemies of Israel. Amalek, the founder of the nation, was a grandson of Jacob's brother Esau. This made a strong familial connection between the Amalekites and the Israelites, but the Amalekites never showed Israel any brotherly love. Instead they attacked the children of Israel after they emerged from Egypt. Time and time again the Amalekites viciously attacked the people of Israel, allying themselves with other enemies of the Jews such as the Canaanites, Ammonites, and Midianites. They would even come in and destroy the crops the people of Israel had planted. By the time of King Saul the Lord's cup of wrath against the Amalekites was full and overflowing, so he ordered Saul to destroy them and everything that belonged to them. but Saul failed to fully obey the Lord's command. He left King Agag alive for a time and one ancient Jewish legend states that Agag fathered a child while in captivity and that Haman is descended from this child. We can't possibly know if this is true but we know David also had to deal with the Amalekites, plus it was an Amalekite who killed King Saul after he had been wounded in battle, so it stands to reason Saul didn't kill them all.

"All the royal officials at the king's gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor." (Esther 3:2) It was not a violation of Mosaic law for a Jew to bow to a person in authority, but the text indicates that an element of worship was involved. The Jewish Targum states that a statue of Haman was set up and that the officials were required to bow before it as to an idol. It is believed Mordecai refused to obey the king in this matter because to do so would be a sin against God. We found Daniel disobeying the order to worship Darius the Mede and we found Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego declining to bow before Nebuchadnezzar's statue. The Bible tells us to respect those in authority, but there are exceptions when paying those respects would require us to violate the laws of God.

"Then the royal officials at the king's gate asked Mordecai, 'Why do you disobey the king's command?' Day after day they spoke to him but he refused to comply. Therefore they told Haman about it to see whether Mordecai's behavior would be tolerated, for he had told them he was a Jew." (Esther 3:3-4) The men at the gate urge Mordecai to get with the program. Day after day they try to talk him into going along with everyone else. At last they conclude his refusal is somehow bound up with his religion and they go to Haman to see if he can make Mordecai obey. I believe these men know of Haman's anti-Semitic feelings and expect him to take action.

"When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel to down or pay him honor, he was enraged. Yet having learned who Mordecai's people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai's people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes." (Esther 3:5-6) Haman may be holding a grudge that goes all the way back to the time of King Saul, or even one that goes all the way back to when Jacob and Esau struggled with each other in their mother's womb. He sees am opportunity not only to be rid of this man who won't show him honor, but to be rid of an entire people. He longs to live in a kingdom where he will never again lay eyes on another Jew. Like others who have been under Satanic influence, he seeks a final solution against the Jews. 

But God has placed a Jewish woman on the throne as Queen of Persia who will be instrumental in delivering His covenant people from extinction in the Persian Empire. And in the days to come we will see God's awesome plans fulfilled. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Queen Esther: A Destiny Fulfilled. Day 5, Esther Wins The Crown

Queen Esther:
A Destiny Fulfilled
Day 5
Esther Wins The Crown

Esther has been brought to the citadel of Susa and the Lord gives her a special grace in the eyes of Hegai, the eunuch in charge of the virgins recently brought into the harem. "She pleased him and won his favor. Immediately he provided her with beauty treatments and special food. He assigned to her seven female attendants selected from the king's palace and moved her and her attendants into the best place in the harem." (Esther 2:9) 

We don't know what it was specifically about Esther's character that endeared her to the eunuch. She may have had a humility of spirit because of her relationship to the Lord. She might have been kinder and more respectful to him than the other young ladies were. Or it could be that the Lord had spoken to Hegai's spirit, letting him know this was the one destined to be chosen Queen of Persia.

"Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so. 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." (Esther 2:10-11) Perhaps the Lord had spoken to Mordecai's heart too, and he had an inkling Esther would be chosen as the next queen, but he feared she would be disqualified if the king realized she was a Jew. The land of Babylon was filled with people of various cultures because of all the nations Nebuchadnezzar had conquered, so the men commissioned by Xerxes to round up the beautiful young women would have known the group contained women of various backgrounds. But Mordecai didn't want anything to prejudice the women of the harem, the eunuchs, or the king against Esther. He wanted her to have the best shot possible at winning the crown.

We don't know whether the fathers and guardians of the other young ladies were concerned enough about them to lurk outside the courtyard, but no one questions Mordecai about his behavior. Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra, an ancient Jewish writer and philosopher, suggests that Mordecai's high position in the king's court allowed him to hang around the palace grounds without appearing suspicious. Mordecai's care and concern for Esther are displayed in his daily trips to the courtyard. I think she was on his mind and in his prayers every hour of the day and night. 

"Before a young woman's turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatment prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics." (Esther 2:12) The women of ancient Persia wore makeup, used dyes and stains, and adorned themselves with scented oils and perfumes. The young ladies brought into the harem were trained in the application of these cosmetics so that, whether chosen as queen or simply appearing in the king's entourage as part of the harem, all of them would look their best. They were trained to enhance all their best features. Some scholars suggest that twelve months had to be fulfilled before any of the girls went to the king in case any of them had been unchaste and was pregnant when brought into the harem. This would relieve the king of the risk of providing for a child that was not his.

"And this is how she would go to the king: Anything she wanted was given her to take with her from the harem to the king's palace. In the evening she would go there and in the morning return to another part of the harem to the care of Shaashgaz, the king's eunuch who was in charge of the concubines. She would not return to the king unless he was pleased with her and summoned her by name." (Esther 2:13-14) A Persian harem was divided into three sections. The most exclusive section was for the queen and her attendants. The second section was for concubines, who were legal wives but of lesser status than the queen. (Generally, the son of a concubine could not be heir to the throne unless the queen was unable to bear a son.) The third section was for virgins brought into the harem who had not yet been with the king. This is where Esther and her companions were housed and, after each one has been called to spend a night with the king, she was then sent to the second section where the concubines lived. Some commentators have criticized Esther for spending her night with the king, as if she was a loose and immoral woman, but we have to keep in mind that a concubine was a legal wife and she would have been considered married to the king. She was not having relations with him outside of marriage. Polygamy is not God's pattern for marriage but it was widely practiced by wealthy men in the ancient world, and Esther was not living in sin when she went to the king. She was a victim of the society she lived in and if anyone was guilty of sinful living, it was Xerxes, not Esther.

"When the turn came for Esther (the young woman Mordecai had adopted, the daughter of his uncle Abihail) to go to the king, she asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king's eunuch who was in charge of the harem, suggested. And Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her." (Esther 2:15) The Bible doesn't tell us what Esther asked for. Presumably she was free to choose any finery and jewels she wanted, but maybe Hegai advised her to keep it simple. It would have been natural for these ladies to want to stand out as much as possible and to adorn themselves with all the costly clothing and jewels they could, but Hegai may have had an idea that Esther would stand out more if she did the opposite. Then her own natural beauty could shine through.

"She was taken to King Xerxes in the royal residence in the tenth month, the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign. Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. And the king gave a great banquet, Esther's banquet, for all his nobles and officials. He proclaimed a holiday throughout the provinces and distributed gifts with royal liberality." (Esther 2:16-18) Each girl who went to the king had to hope she impressed him enough that he would either choose her as queen or at least remember her name and call for her again at sometime in the future. Xerxes had no trouble remembering Esther's name. There was something about her that impressed him right away, and it could be because she had an inner beauty of the spirit, the type the Apostle Peter praised, "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight." (1 Peter 3:3-4) I don't think there's anything sinful about taking care of ourselves and looking nice, but outward beauty is of little worth if there is no inner beauty. Outward beauty fades as time marches on. If we are not of good character on the inside, what are we left with? 

God says there is a beauty that never fades. There is a beauty that will never need the nip and tuck of a plastic surgeon. There is a beauty that is invaluable in the eyes of God (and in the eyes of every godly husband). This is the beauty of good character, of a gentle spirit that ministers to others, of a quiet and calming personality that comes from trusting fully in the Lord. This type of beauty only grows as time passes. The world places value only on young, beautiful, and sexually alluring women. The world says that as we age we become less useful. But the world couldn't be more wrong. In the eyes of God there is nothing more beautiful than a godly woman who is mature in the faith and confident of who she is in Christ. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Queen Esther: A Destiny Fulfilled. Day 4, The Bachelor

Queen Esther:
A Destiny Fulfilled
Day 4
The Bachelor

King Xerxes is single again, or as single as a man with a harem but no queen can be. If historians and Bible scholars are correct, he spent the time between Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 waging unsuccessful war against Greece, and now he is back home and has time to think about the mistake he made in deposing the beautiful and brave Queen Vashti.

"Later when King Xerxes' fury had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what he had decreed about her." (Esther 2:1) He's moping about the palace missing his queen. Now that his anger has worn off he realizes he made a mistake, but he signed her banishment into law and it cannot be revoked. Even if he could call her back, it would make him look weak to the people, and that's the last thing he needs after putting the country through a very expensive war.

His attendants come up with an idea they think will lift his spirits. "Then the king's personal attendants proposed, 'Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king. Let the king appoint commissioners in every province of his realm to bring all these beautiful young women into the harem at the citadel of Susa. Let them be placed under the care of Hegai, the king's eunuch, who is in charge of the women; and let beauty treatments be given to them. Then let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.' This advice appealed to the king, and he followed it." (Esther 2:2-4) The ancient historian Josephus states that a total of 400 women were brought into the harem in this contest for the title of Queen of Persia. 

"Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shemei, the son of Kish, who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, among those taken captive with Jehoiachin king of Judah." (Esther 2:5-6) Mordecai's great-grandfather had been among those carried off to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. This particular family of the tribe of Benjamin has been there ever since, although King Cyrus of Persia in his first year as king over Babylon gave permission for the Jews to return and rebuild the temple at Jerusalem. A successor, Darius I Hystaspes, gave quite a bit of help to the Jews in their rebuilding efforts. So why was Mordecai still there? And why were so many other Jews still there? The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah both foresaw the downfall of Babylon and the return of the people to Jerusalem and their message, on the authority of the Lord, was, "Come out, come out! Come out of her, my people!" But life back in Judah was difficult and the rebuilding was hard work. In Babylon (now part of the Medo-Persian Empire) the Jews had jobs and homes of their own. Their children received educations. Life was easy and comfortable in Babylon in comparison to life in Judah, especially for those who assimilated into the Persian culture. As we will learn later on in the book of Esther, they had assimilated so well into the culture that King Xerxes was barely aware of the Jews as a separate people. 

We don't know whether the women gathered into Xerxes' harem had any say-so in the matter. In the movie based on the book of Esther, One Night With The King, the commissioners appointed to gather the women simply grab them off the streets. It may have happened this way. It's also possible that fathers of beautiful girls in the nation volunteered their daughters to enter this contest. Marriages were arranged in those days and young women had very little control, if any, in the choice of marriage partners. Fathers may have willingly entered daughters into the contest in the hopes of becoming father-in-law to the king. The women who would not be chosen as queen would remain in the harem for life, being richly provided for by the king even if he never interacted with them again, and there may have been fathers in the land who found this arrangement acceptable for their daughters. 

One young woman in particular is taken into the harem. "Mardecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This young woman, who was also known as Esther, had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died. When the king's order and edict had been proclaimed, many young women were brought to the citadel of Susa and put under the care of Hegai. Esther was also taken to the king's palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem." (Esther 2:7-8) Esther, like Daniel, was known by two names. Her Hebrew name of Hadassah meant "myrtle" and her Persian name of Esther meant "star" or "morning star". It's possible this name is a derivative of that of the pagan goddess Ishtar. 

You may have heard the expression of keeping one foot in the church and one foot in the world. This is the condition of the Jews in Babylon in Esther's day. They have managed to retain some of their religion and heritage and customs, but they have blended these with the worldly ways of the Persians. They have largely remained a separate people as far as marriage goes, but they look and speak and behave much like everyone around them. This is a great danger to us in our own times. When we, as Christians, become indistinguishable from unbelievers, we have compromised our faith. We have stopped swimming against the stream and are going with the flow, which makes us weak. Daniel stood out in Babylon because he never compromised his faith. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood out in Babylon because they never compromised their faith. They purposed in their hearts to be true to the one true God and that is why we know their names today. Esther will be faced with the same choice they were faced with: does she integrate herself into the culture and remain silent? Or does she step out in faith and be used for a great purpose by a great God? 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Queen Esther: A Destiny Fulfilled. Day 3, Queen Vashti Deposed

Queen Esther:
A Destiny Fulfilled
Day 3
Queen Vashti Deposed

Yesterday King Xerxes asked his wife, Queen Vashti, to appear before the drunken men at his party so they could see how beautiful she was. She refused and now he is angry and embarrassed. 

Xerxes is not an especially nice man but still managed to find himself a queen of good character, although he doesn't appreciate her. Any man ought to be thankful for a modest wife who isn't interested in dressing or behaving in ways that provoke sexual responses from other men. A woman who dresses provocatively in public is likely not doing so to attract the attention of her own husband, but to cause other men to stare at her. Vashti is not that kind of girl.

Because he's so embarrassed in front of his party guests, Xerxes decides to punish the queen. "Since it was customary for the king to consult experts in matters of law and justice, he spoke with the wise men who understood the times and were closest to the king---Karshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena and Memukan, the seven nobles of Persia and Media who had special access to the king and were highest in the kingdom." (Esther 1:13-14) He speaks with the men who "understood the times"; in other words, they are current on all the laws of the land. He wants to know his legal rights in this matter. What exactly can he do to the queen in return for what he considers disrespect and treachery? 

"'According to the law, what must be done to Queen Vashti?' he asked. 'She has not obeyed the command of King Xerxes that the eunuchs have taken to her.'" (Esther 1:15) Though the Bible places the husband as head of the household, we must assume a wife is excepted from obedience when to obey her husband would be to sin against God. Vashti's gods would have been pagan gods, but the same principle remains. She felt her husband was asking her to do something that violated her morals and her sense of self-worth and self-respect. The Scriptures command the husband to love his wife in the way that the Lord loves the church, but we do not find Xerxes loving Vashti in this way. To him she's nothing but a trophy wife. She's just one more accomplishment he can brag about. She means no more to him than the rich food and the wine he's been serving to his guests. Vashti may not be able to prevent her husband viewing her with disrespect, but she can prevent doing something that will make her disrespect herself, so she remains in the women's quarters with her friends. Xerxes can't see the situation from her perspective and probably doesn't even try; his pride won't allow him to stop and consider the matter from other angles. All he knows is that men of the nation are laughing at him behind his back for not being able to control his own household, so he is going to make a public example of Vashti to salve his pride and gain back the admiration of his men.

"Then Memukan replied in the presence of the king and the nobles, 'Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes. For the queen's conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands and say, 'King Xerxes commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come.' This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen's conduct will respond to all the king's nobles in the same way. There will be no end of disrespect and discord.'" (Esther 1:16-18) I have a sneaking suspicion that Memukan is not nearly as worried about all the wives of the land as he is about his own wife. In his mind he pictures giving his wife an order only to have her reply, "If Queen Vashti doesn't have to obey King Xerxes, I don't have to obey you!" So Memukan interprets the problem of Queen Vashti as one of national security. He makes Xerxes feel he will be doing a disservice to all men if he does not punish the queen appropriately.

Memukan continues, "Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also let the king give her royal position to someone else who is better than she. Then when the king's edict is proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest." (Esther 1:19-20) 

The Jewish Midrash states Xerxes had Vashti executed, although the original text suggests only banishment. I think Xerxes may have done something similar to that which David did when he realized he and his first wife Michal would never have a meeting of the minds or have anything in common spiritually. We find the story in 2 Samuel 6, when the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem and David danced in praise before the Lord. The Bible tells us, "Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart." (2 Samuel 6:16) She verbally attacked him when he returned to the house, accusing him of displaying himself in a vulgar manner, having no understanding of the joy David felt in the Holy Spirit when the ark came into the city. She despised David, she despised his faith, and she quite possibly despised the Lord. Verse 23 concludes the matter between Michal and David by saying, "And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death." Some scholars interpret this as "she lived as a widow til the day of her death". This would mean that, although David didn't divorce her, he didn't maintain a husband/wife relationship with her. He would have provided for her just as he provided for all his other wives and concubines, but would have had no further contact with her. She lost her position as his first wife and queen, suffering what to Jewish women of her day was the greatest humiliation of all: never becoming a mother of children. This may be the way Xerxes dealt with Vashti. I certainly hope so. I like to think she lived out the rest of her days in the women's quarters in peace, never having to deal with Xerxes and his bad temper again. 

Xerxes thinks Memukan's advice is good. "The king and his nobles were pleased with his advice, so the king did as Memukan proposed. He sent dispatches to all parts of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in their own language, proclaiming that every man should be ruler over his own household, using his own native tongue." (Esther 1:21-22) Xerxes extended this right not only to the men of Media and Persia, but to all the other men dwelling in the territories the Medo-Persian Empire controlled. He says something like, "Don't let your women get out of hand! You are the king of your castle. I didn't let the queen get away with her behavior; don't let your wives get away with it either. If they disobey you, just remind them what happened to Vashti and that your authority over your household is now the law of the land."

Xerxes is a man luckier in love than he ever deserved to be. The Lord provided him with a queen of good character and high morals, but he didn't appreciate her. He could have learned some valuable things from Vashti's example. He could have looked at the situation from her perspective and realized he was wrong, going to her with an apology and then apologizing to his guests for setting such a poor example of how a husband should behave toward his wife. We've all heard the saying, "Behind every successful man there is a woman," and Vashti could have helped Xerxes be a better man and a better king if only he had allowed her to be more of an equal partner and helpmate in their marriage. 

Xerxes may never have appreciated the noble character of his wife, but the Lord appreciated it. Vashti was a woman the Lord could use as a part of His plan to save the Jewish people from a terrible time of trouble soon to come. If Vashti had been the type of woman who enjoyed flaunting herself in front of other men, she could have remained Queen of Persia for the rest of her life. Instead, the Lord used her modesty to create a vacancy in the role of queen, a vacancy that Esther will later fill. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Queen Esther: A Destiny Fulfilled. Day 2, Queen Vashti Disobeys The King

Queen Esther:
A Destiny Fulfilled
Day 2
Queen Vashti Disobeys The King

Today we learn who the first wife of Xerxes I was and how she fell out of favor with her husband.

"This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush: At that time King Xerxes ruled from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present." (Esther 1:1-3) By the time of Xerxes, the capital of Babylon had been moved from the city of Babylon to the city of Susa. Xerxes' palace was there and like many ancient kings, he was eager to demonstrate his power and wealth by supplying his top officials with rich foods and free-flowing wine for an extended period of time.

"For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty." (Esther 1:4) If his war against Greece takes place between Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, one of the motives for the feast may have been to prop up the men's morale, secure their support, and encourage them to fight for the glory of their kingdom.

"When these days were over, the king gave a banquet, lasting seven days, in the enclosed garden of the king's palace, for all the people from the least to the greatest who were in the citadel of Susa." (Esther 1:5) It was important to secure the allegiance of the common people as well, for he would spend four years recruiting and conscripting men into his army.

No expense was spared in the courtyard of the palace. "The garden had hangings of white and blue linen, fastened with cords of white linen and purple material to silver rings on marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and other costly stones. Wine was served in goblets of gold, each one different from the other, and the royal wine was abundant, in keeping with the king's liberality. By the king's command each guest was allowed to drink with no restrictions, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished." (Esther 1:6-8) With seven days of continual drinking, we can see why so many couches were necessary at this feast! 

"Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the royal palace of King Xerxes." (Esther 1:9) The wives and concubines of the king were housed in a separate section of the palace where each woman was provided with her own private quarters. According to historians, Persian women were allowed to hold money and property in their own names and were at times even involved in the political careers of their husbands. While not granted equal rights with men, Persian women enjoyed more freedom than that of many other women of ancient times. They were supplied with a high level of education and training in the arts, and they traveled in the entourage of the king wherever he went and enjoyed various cultural experiences. Vashti would have had the freedom to throw lavish parties anytime she chose and would have been able to spend money at her own discretion without asking the permission of her husband the king. 

Xerxes has been feasting and drinking for a total of 187 days now and does not have his wits about him, so he makes a poor decision. "On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him---Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Karkas---to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at." (Esther 1:10-11) The king is sloppily drunk by now and gets the bright idea of parading his queen before all these men. He sends the eunuchs (the only type of men allowed into the women's quarters) to fetch his wife. It's not enough for him that he has made an obscene display of his wealth before all the nation for over six months in order to prove he is the greatest king on earth. He now feels compelled to prove to everyone he has the most beautiful wife on earth. 

An ancient Jewish legend states that the men were arguing over which nation produced the most beautiful women, at which point Xerxes decides to settle the matter by showing them the most beautiful woman he has ever laid eyes on. I picture him lying on his couch with his eyes narrowed to slits in that common expression of inebriation, red-faced with wine, slurring his words and saying, "You don't think Persian women are the most gorgeous girls on the face of the earth? I'll prove it to you! Yeah, I'll prove it to you...Hey, eunuchs! Go and get the queen and tell her to put on her prettiest crown and come out here so I can show these guys who is the most beautiful woman in the world!"

Some scholars have proposed the idea that the king ordered Vashti to appear wearing only her crown, but most of the reputable commentaries and study guides I consulted say this is not indicated by the original text. I tend to believe Vashti was expected to appear before the king and his guests in the finery she was already wearing, but with the addition of the royal crown, which she was likely not wearing at her private party in the women's quarters. I think Xerxes wanted her to make an impression that would take the men's breath away, and he felt the addition of the crown would add to her already majestic appearance.

Things do not go according to plan. "But when the attendants delivered the king's command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger." (Esther 1:12) Wives of high officials in Persia were expected to be intelligent and educated and capable of making decisions regarding their own money and property. They were not expected to be mere sex symbols. Vashti was not brought up to be the kind of woman to flaunt herself in a lascivious manner. She knows she is worthy of honor in her own right and she respects herself too much to be objectified in this way. She will not allow herself to be exposed to the whistles and catcalls of a courtyard full of drunken men who will be undressing her with their eyes and lusting for her in their hearts. No man who respects and loves his wife would ask such a thing, so she refuses her husband's request. 

Xerxes' rage is so great because his embarrassment is so great. He has spent an untold amount of money and a great deal of time proving to his people that he is the greatest king on earth and now his own wife humiliates him in the presence of all these men. How will he ever live it down? How will he lead soldiers into war if he can't even lead his wife to the garden? In their intoxicated state, some of the men may have dared to laugh at this turn of events. The lavish party which was intended to be the talk of Persia for many years to come is going to be the talk of Persia for an entirely different reason, a reason which puts the king in a bad light. If he can't control his household, how is he expected to control the nation? If his wife disobeys him, why should men obey his orders on the battlefield? He knows he must come up with some way to soothe his wounded pride and salvage his reputation. In tomorrow's study his wise men will propose a solution which sets the stage for a young orphan girl named Hadassah to become Esther, Queen of Persia.

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. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Psalm 91

Psalm 91

Tomorrow we begin our new Bible study on the book of Esther. I ran short of free time this week to finish collecting all my study materials, so yesterday and today we are looking at a couple of my favorite Psalms before we begin the book of Esther on Saturday morning. I apologize for the delay, but maybe someone needs the comforting words of Psalm 91 today. I've needed them many times myself.

No author is ascribed to Psalm 91. Some scholars believe Moses wrote it, on account of the tradition of attributing authorship of untitled psalms to the person who wrote the previous one. It cannot be dated with any certainty and this leaves its authorship in question. That's fine with me, because I think Psalm 91 is a psalm for everyone, and we can pray it with the same positive and unwavering faith as its author. It doesn't matter who wrote it because this psalm is for anyone who wants to abide in the shelter of the Most High.

I want us first to take a look at the meaning of the word "abide" (or "dwell" as some translations put it). It means to "reside, inhabit, continue, nest, occupy, remain, rest, settle, stay, tarry, establish oneself, make one's home, to live or continue in a given condition or state, to linger over or ponder in thought, to keep the attention directed upon." We are promised great and mighty things in today's psalm if we commit to abiding in the shelter of the Most High. The psalmist doesn't have just a casual relationship with God but a continual and ongoing communion with the Lord. Like the psalmist, when we abide in the Lord we are living in a constant state of connection with God, with our hearts and minds unwaveringly fixed on Him. It involves living with the sense of His presence at all times, living in a way that honors Him, and putting Him at the forefront of all things.

When we abide in the shelter of the Most High, spiritually speaking it's as if we are living full time in His temple. We are established in Him. We make our perpetual home in His presence. We keep Him in our thoughts and we meditate on His holy word.

This psalm doesn't promise us freedom from all the troubles of this life but it does promise us God's care and provision. It would be easy to misinterpret the writer's words and think that if we live a righteous life no harm will ever fall upon us. But the Lord Jesus Christ, perfect Son of God, suffered in this life and we too will will be confronted with hardship. I think the psalmist is promising us freedom from the fear of trouble. I think he assures us of victory over our trials and over our enemy the devil. He professes peace during the storm, just as baby chicks have peace during the storm while they sleep snugly under theirs mother's wings.

Have any of you ever suffered from panic attacks? Has worry ever attacked you during the midnight hour? Don't our problems and fears seem so much worse in the long dark hours of night? I have read this psalm out loud during long nights of distress. In verse 5 the author will say, "You will not fear the terror of night." This is a beautiful verse to speak out loud to our fears in the night. No lie can stand before the word of God! Fear is a lie, the product of our own mortal minds and an assault from our enemy the devil. But fears are like cockroaches: when we turn the light of truth on them they run away. When we resist Satan he has to flee. (James 4:7) When we hear our own voice speak the word of the living God we can't help but feel strengthened in our hearts. We find the strength to keep fighting the battle. As verse 13 encourages us, "You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent".

Our true enemy is a fallen angel who who hates us, but the scripture promises us, "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." (Romans 16:20a) In the Bible we find the devil called both a lion and a serpent. Peter says about him, "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour". (1 Peter 5:8b) And we see Satan taking the form of a serpent in the garden of Eden, where he fired the first battle shot at mankind. But this doesn't mean we have to live in fear of our enemy. We have victory over him in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord! We aren't resisting him in our own power but by the blood of Christ and the glory and holiness of His name. Jesus said to the disciples in Luke 10:19, "I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you." The Lord isn't promising that no bodily harm will ever come upon the disciples, for we know many of them were martyred for their faith. But He promises no enemy can overcome their faith, their courage, their peace, their confidence or assurance. Jesus purchased us with the immeasurable worth of His blood and we are precious to Him. No enemy can have the final victory over the children of the Most High.

If fear finds you in those dark hours of the night, take your Bible and read Psalm 91 out loud. Speak these words of your loving Father to your weary soul. Darkness has to flee before the light. Lies have to flee before the truth. Tell your anxiety that in the name of Jesus Christ and through the power of His blood you will not fear the terror of night. Abide in the shelter of the Most High. Fix your heart and mind on Him.

Let's nest underneath the wings of Almighty God. Baby birds sleep through thunderstorms and lightning underneath their mother's wings, without a care in the world, held close to her heart. The feathers dampen the sound of the wind so it isn't so loud. The warmth of her feathers soothes the baby chicks to sleep. This is how God wants to hold us. He dearly desires to enfold us in His wings and comfort us. Outside the shelter of His wings, the storm may continue to rage. He may not completely still the sound of the thunder or the rain. But our Lord will shield us with His feathers the whole time. Protected and secure as He holds us close to His heart, we can say with assurance, "I will not fear the terror of night, nor the danger during the day, nor the threat that comes against me at noon. I will tread the roaring lion and the deceiving serpent under my feet. I will grind my enemy into the dust, for the Lord Jesus Christ has won the victory over him. Through Christ I have victory over all my fears. I will abide in the shelter of the Most High and find my rest in the shadow of the Almighty."

This is all our Lord asks of us in troubled times: to abide and rest. He is going to take care of everything else.

Psalm 91

The one who abides in the shelter of the Most High
Will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of my Lord, "He is my refuge and fortress,
My God, and I trust in Him."
He will surely save you
From the hidden snare
And from the deadly plague.
He will shield you under His feathers,
And you will find refuge under His wings;
His trustworthiness will be your shield and defense.
You will not fear the terror in the night,
Nor the arrow shot during the day,
Nor the the threat that stalks at noontime.
A thousand may fall all around you,
Ten thousand even,
But it will not come near you.
You will witness with your eyes
As it takes down the wicked.
If you confess, "The Lord alone is my refuge,"
And you make the Most High your habitation,
No misfortune can overcome you,
No adversity will bring down your confidence.
For God will command His angels regarding you
To guard every step you take;
They will lift you in their hands,

So that no calamity overpowers you.
You will tread underfoot the devourer and the deceiver;
You will trample them underfoot like dust.
"Because this one loves me," says the Lord, "I will come to the rescue;
I will be the Protector, for this one acknowledges My name.
I will answer when My children call;
I will be right there beside them in troubled times,
I will be the Deliverer.
I will grant an abundant and satisfying life
And show salvation to My children.