Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Happy Ending (Est. 8:9-17)

Esther 8:9-17 (CEV)

And so our story ends.

A law is enacted that the Jews may defend themselves against any attacks. And throughout the region, there is great rejoicing as the people of Israel realize their God has secured for them the victory.

So what lessons can we learn from Esther’s story?

First, pride will usually bring its own downfall. Perhaps it won’t lead to hanging on a tower, but it will alienate others. It will breed discontent. It will sow a desire for wanting more—and even more.

Second, standing by our convictions may mean persecution (Matt. 5:10-11; Mark 13:13). This is especially pertinent today. People are careful—for the most part—to avoid ridiculing others for race, gender, or religious background. Except if you’re a Christian, that is. We’re fair game. If we proclaim something as biblically-determined sin, we’re intolerant. If we surrender our lives to God’s will, we’re weak. If we rely solely on Him, we need a crutch.

Third, God is in loving control—whether we sense His presence or not. He never leaves us or forsakes us (Heb. 13:5). Never. And even if we never mention His name, He is here.

Finally, our God is the victor. Even when it seems the enemy is winning the battle, God will win the war (John 16:33). And if we follow Him, trusting Him in all circumstance, we too will be victorious.

We can learn a lot from Esther’s story. Pray for God to reveal His lesson for you.

And may the God of Esther and Mordecai bless and keep you. Amen.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Plan to Save (Est. 8:3-8)

Once again Esther went to speak to the king. This time she fell down at his feet, crying and begging, "Please stop Haman's evil plan to have the Jews killed!" King Xerxes held out the golden scepter to Esther, and she got up and said, "Your Majesty, I know that you will do the right thing and that you really love me. Please stop what Haman has planned. He has already sent letters demanding that the Jews in all your provinces be killed, and I can't bear to see my people and my own relatives destroyed." King Xerxes then said to Esther and Mordecai, "I have already ordered Haman to be hanged and his house given to Esther, because of his evil plans to kill the Jews. I now give you permission to make a law that will save the lives of your people. You may use my ring to seal the law, so that it can never be changed."
(Esther 8:3-8, CEV)

Even though Haman has been taken care of, Esther’s problem isn’t yet solved. Her people are still scheduled for annihilation.

So yet again, she approaches the king—without his invitation. She has faith that King Xerxes really loves her.

And she has faith in the unnamed Jehovah that things will work out.

However, for the moment, she doesn’t really know how that will happen. The letters have already gone out. The plan is in effect.

What can be done? The king’s signature is on those letters and can’t be revoked.

King Xerxes comes up with a brilliant idea. Esther herself will make a law to save her people. She will use the king’s ring to seal it. It too won’t be revocable.

But if a law is already in place to destroy the people, what kind of new law could save them?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Greatest Irony (Est. 8:1-2)

Before the end of the day, King Xerxes gave Esther everything that had belonged to Haman, the enemy of the Jews. Esther told the king that Mordecai was her cousin. So the king made Mordecai one of his highest officials and gave him the royal ring that Haman had worn. Then Esther put Mordecai in charge of Haman's property.(Esther 8:1-2, CEV)

Irony. Irony. Irony.

The book of Esther is chock full of it.

Haman wanted everything, and he ended up with nothing. Mordecai wanted nothing more than to worship his God, and he ends up with everything.

And that’s the greatest irony of all. Mordecai’s only “sin”—in Haman’s eyes, at least—in this story was his refusal to bow down to anyone but his God. His humility and faithfulness is overwhelmingly evident. In fact, I’m pretty certain the very last thing he wanted was to be a high palace official or to own Haman’s property.

Yet, I don’t believe the lesson we’re to learn is: If you’re humble, you’ll get recognition and wealth. Or even: If you’re prideful and arrogant, you’ll end up on a tower.

No. I believe the lesson for us all is to just focus on God. Focus on His will. Don’t let the world distract you from worshipping Him and Him alone. Then, be willing to do and be anything He wants you to be, whether it’s to stand at the palace gate or rule the land.

Humbly and faithfully serve Him. And Him alone.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Haman's End (Est. 7:9-10)

Then Harbona, one of the king's personal servants, said, "Your Majesty, Haman built a tower seventy-five feet high beside his house, so he could hang Mordecai on it. And Mordecai is the very one who spoke up and saved your life." "Hang Haman from his own tower!" the king commanded. Right away, Haman was hanged on the tower he had built to hang Mordecai, and the king calmed down.
(Esther 7:9-10, CEV)

And so Haman’s role in our story ends.

His pride, his arrogance, and his hatred have become his downfall … literally. And in the ultimate irony, Haman is hanged on the very tower he’d built to take Mordecai’s life.

So what can we learn from the tragedy of Haman?

Of course, it’s easy for us to look at Haman and comment on what he could have done differently, but what’s important is how we should behave. We have the words of Jesus Himself. We have Paul’s God-inspired letters.

We know that God desires our humility (Ps. 147:6; Prov. 3:34)). We know we should “esteem others better than ourselves” (Phil. 2:3). And when we do, we look out for their interests as well as our own. We certainly do not want to destroy them.

And the other lesson is exactly what our Lord Jesus taught: Love your neighbor (Mark 12:30) and love your enemy (Matt. 5:44). Imagine how Haman’s story would have played out had he known that lesson. Or had he even understood God’s commandment—“You shall not kill”—perhaps he would have made another choice.

But Haman did make a choice to let his pride and hatred consume him. And he ends up losing his very life.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A History of Hate (Est. 7:7-8)

The king was so angry that he got up, left his wine, and went out into the palace garden. Haman realized that the king had already decided what to do with him, and he stayed and begged Esther to save his life. Just as the king came back into the room, Haman got down on his knees beside Esther, who was lying on the couch. The king shouted, "Now you're even trying to rape my queen here in my own palace!" As soon as the king said this, his servants covered Haman's head.
(Esther 7:7-8, CEV)

Believe it or not, I feel pity for Haman. Just some, but pity I do feel. His story is not as rare as we might think. While Haman is certainly culpable for the choices he makes, so much of who he is directly results from a long line of hatred and prejudice.

So many have been raised to hate others because of their race or cultural background or religious beliefs. While they may not plan to annihilate those they hate, many choose to hurt them through words or other ways of rejection.

And now Haman’s heritage has caught up with him. The choices he’s made are going to bring about his own demise.

Ask yourself. Is there anyone against whom you’re prejudiced? Do you look down on someone just because you were raised to do so?

Don’t make Haman’s mistake. Don’t let hatred for a people be your own undoing.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Plan Backfires (Est. 7:1-6)

The king and Haman were dining with Esther and drinking wine during the second dinner, when the king again said, "Esther, what can I do for you? Just ask, and I will give you as much as half of my kingdom!" Esther answered, "Your Majesty, if you really care for me and are willing to help, you can save me and my people. That's what I really want, because a reward has been promised to anyone who kills my people. Your Majesty, if we were merely going to be sold as slaves, I would not have bothered you." "Who would dare to do such a thing?" the king asked. Esther replied, "That evil Haman is the one out to get us!" Haman was terrified, as he looked at the king and the queen.
(Esther 7:1-6, CEV)

We’ve reached the climax of our story.

The second dinner party with the royal company and Haman is underway, and the king tells Esther yet again that she can have whatever she wants, up to half the kingdom.

Finally, Esther is able to tell the king exactly what she wants. The lives of her people.

I imagine what was going through Haman’s mind as soon as the words, “… a reward has been promised to anyone who kills my people.”

The queen is Jewish?

He must have been shocked. This was not part of the plan. Not at all.

And then the next words, “That evil Haman is out to get us!”

Terrified? I think that’s an understatement. Immobile with fright. Petrified.

Haman is beginning to realize that his hatred of a people and his plan to wipe them out is about to backfire.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Humilty versus Pride (Est. 6:12-14)

Afterwards, Mordecai returned to his duties at the palace gate, and Haman hurried home, hiding his face in shame. Haman told his wife and friends what had happened. Then his wife and his advisors said, "If Mordecai is a Jew, this is just the beginning of your troubles! You will end up a ruined man." They were still talking, when the king's servants came and quickly took Haman to the dinner that Esther had prepared.
(Esther 6:12-14, CEV)

Today’s verses show yet another stark contrast between Mordecai and Haman.

Mordecai has just been honored by the king. He’s been clothed in the king’s own robe and has ridden the king’s own horse. He’s been led by Haman with the proclamation, “This is how the king honors a man!”

And what does he do when it’s all over? He goes back to work. He doesn’t throw a party for himself. He doesn’t brag throughout the neighborhood. He doesn’t preen and tell everyone how amazing and wonderful he is.

He just goes back to doing what he usually does.

Can you imagine what Haman would have done had he been similarly honored? He would have kept the robe and worn it constantly—probably would have even slept in it. Had FaceBook been around, he would have posted his status and sent a message to all his friends. And photos of him on the horse would have filled his online album.

Instead, he slinks back home, utterly humiliated … just in time for the second dinner party with the royal couple. And hoping for some vindication—after all Mordecai isn’t dining with King Xerxes and Queen Esther—he quickly joins the party.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Downward Spiral Begins (Est. 6:6b-11)

Haman was sure that he was the one the king wanted to honor. So he replied, "Your Majesty, if you wish to honor a man, have someone bring him one of your own robes and one of your own horses with a fancy headdress. Have one of your highest officials place your robe on this man and lead him through the streets on your horse, while someone shouts, `This is how the king honors a man!'" The king replied, "Hurry and do just what you have said! Don't forget a thing. Get the robe and the horse for Mordecai the Jew, who is on duty at the palace gate!" Haman got the king's robe and put it on Mordecai. He led him through the city on the horse and shouted as he went, "This is how the king honors a man!"
(Esther 6:6b-11, CEV)

Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

Haman is so very full of himself. He is so sure the king wants to honor him, Haman tells the king how he wants to be honored. The king’s robe and horse. Being led through the street with someone shouting “This is how the king honors a man!”

Everyone would see how revered Haman is.

Little did he know … In moments, Haman is enrobing his mortal enemy, Mordecai, and putting him on that kingly horse. And to make matters worse, he is the one leading Mordecai through the streets.

Solomon could have been writing about Haman with the proverb, “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before stumbling (16:18).

I know I can be prideful, and Haman’s story is a cautionary tale. Pride left unchecked can lead to, at the very least, stumbling. At worst? Destruction.

Lord, help me to be humble. Help me to “esteem others better than” myself (Phil. 2:3). Help me not to let pride cause me to stumble. Amen.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"How Do I Honor Someone?" (Est. 6:1-6a)

That night the king could not sleep, and he had a servant read him the records of what had happened since he had been king. When the servant read how Mordecai had kept Bigthana and Teresh from killing the king, the king asked, "What has been done to reward Mordecai for this?" "Nothing, Your Majesty!" the king's servants replied. About this time, Haman came in to ask the king to have Mordecai hanged on the tower he had built. The king saw him and asked, "Who is that man waiting in front of the throne room?" The king's servants answered, "Your Majesty, it is Haman." "Have him come in," the king commanded. When Haman entered the room, the king asked him, "What should I do for a man I want to honor?"
(Esther 6:1-6a, CEV)

I love all the twists and turns in Esther’s story.

Months have gone by since Mordecai overheard the plot against the king. Not only had nothing been done to honor Mordecai, but now he mourns over the impending annihilation of his people.

In a sleepless night—the same night that Haman’s ego expands exponentially—the king reads the chronicles of his time as Persia’s ruler. He recalls how Mordecai saved his life. And then discovers that nothing had been done to honor his savior.

What a tremendous oversight. And one the king wants to take care of. Immediately.

I have to give King Xerxes credit. When he recognizes his neglect, he does want to make sure Mordecai is honored. He does want to give credit where credit is due.

But what to do?

And then, in a marvelous bit of irony, enter Haman. Intending to ask about the tower to hang Mordecai.

And the first question he hears?

“What can I do to honor someone?” the king asks.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Haman's Obsession (Est. 5:10b-14)

When Haman got home, he called together his friends and his wife Zeresh and started bragging about his great wealth and all his sons. He told them the many ways that the king had honored him and how all the other officials and leaders had to respect him. Haman added, "That's not all! Besides the king himself, I'm the only person Queen Esther invited for dinner. She has also invited the king and me to dinner tomorrow. But none of this makes me happy, as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the palace gate." Haman's wife and friends said to him, "Have a tower built about seventy-five feet high, and tomorrow morning ask the king to hang Mordecai there. Then later, you can have dinner with the king and enjoy yourself." This seemed like a good idea to Haman, and he had the tower built.
(Esther 5:10b-14, CEV)

Is there any end to Mordecai’s ego … and treachery?

After dinner, he goes home and brags about how wonderful he is. He’s rich. He’s got great sons (and apparently logs of them). He’s been honored by the king. AND he just had dinner with the king and queen—and he’s the only one who was invited. AND he would be going back to dine with the royal couple again.

Good for me!
he says. I’m so wonderful. Everything about me is awesome.

You’d think he’d be satisfied. But no. Not at all.

None of the amazing things in his life mattered to him as long as Mordecai lives. So what to do, he asks his wife and friends.

Build a seventy-five foot tower for the king to hang Mordecai, and then he could go off and enjoy dinner with the king and queen.

We look at Haman and condemn his actions—and rightfully so. But I have to wonder. How often do we overlook how immensely blessed we are and focus on the one thing that isn’t going our way. I mean, we certainly don’t desire someone’s death, but don’t we sometimes obsess about what isn’t working rather than what is?

I’m incredibly blessed. I know this, and I’m grateful. So very grateful. Yet, there are times when I overlook my blessings to mull on my ill health. Or my not finding work.

Then I have to ask myself, How like Haman am I? More than I should be. More than I’d like to be.

But unlike Haman, I can ask for forgiveness—and focus on those blessings.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Joy and Anger ... All At Once (Est. 5:9-10a)

Haman was feeling great as he left. But when he saw Mordecai at the palace gate, he noticed that Mordecai did not stand up or show him any respect. This made Haman really angry, but he did not say a thing.
(Esther 5:9-10a, CEV)

Haman has an issue with his emotions.

He leaves Queen Esther’s dinner party “feeling great.” And I think that’s probably an understatement. His ego has been stroked—a lot. He’s been wined and dined. He’s enjoyed conversation with the royal couple.

Yes. He’s “feeling great.” Absolutely.

And then he falls from the mountain high to the valley depths in a matter of seconds. Seeing Mordecai again—and Mordecai’s not showing him the respect he thinks he deserves—makes him really angry.

And again, I think that’s probably an understatement. I think the rage is simmering.

Yet, he doesn’t say anything to Mordecai. Mainly because he thinks Mordecai’s days are numbered.

And besides, he’s got another dinner date coming. More time with the royals.

More time to grow that already overblown ego.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Plan Continues (Est. 5:6-8)

The king and Haman went to Esther's dinner, and while they were drinking wine, the king asked her, "What can I do for you? Just ask, and I will give you as much as half of my kingdom." Esther replied, "Your Majesty, if you really care for me and are willing to do what I want, please come again tomorrow with Haman to the dinner I will prepare for you. At that time I will answer Your Majesty's question."
(Esther 5:6-8, CEV)

I’ve often wondered why Esther asks for another dinner party rather than just tell the king what she wants. After all, he again tells her he’ll give her whatever she wants—even up to half his kingdom.

Is she fearful? Is she worried how he will respond?

Or is she laying a plot of her own? I imagine her reclining at the table and watching Haman preen in the presence of the king and queen. I see her spending the evening with Haman and really see his ego in full force. And I wonder if she decides to do a little cat and mouse herself.

She knows Haman is responsible for the plot against her people. She knows he would like nothing more than to see all Jews wiped out. And here he is, eating with one of them—and he doesn’t suspect a thing.

I have to think that the human side of Esther is a bit smug as she continues the plan of salvation for her people.

I know I would be.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Esther's Plan Begins (Est. 5:1-5)

Three days later, Esther dressed in her royal robes and went to the inner court of the palace in front of the throne. The king was sitting there, facing the open doorway. He was happy to see Esther, and he held out the gold scepter to her. When Esther came up and touched the tip of the scepter, the king said, "Esther, what brings you here? Just ask, and I will give you as much as half of my kingdom." Esther answered, "Your Majesty, please come with Haman to a dinner I will prepare for you later today." The king said to his servants, "Hurry and get Haman, so we can accept Esther's invitation."
(Esther 5:1-5, CEV)

Now we come to my favorite part of Esther’s story … for many reasons.

First, I am always overwhelmed by the faith of this still very young woman. She goes to the king’s doorstep, not knowing if doing so will mean her death sentence. She really does trust her God to complete His plan.

Second, I love the indication that the king really does care for Esther. When he sees her, he is happy. I have this vision of a look of delight covering King Xerxes face as he gazes upon his beautiful queen. Further, he offers her whatever she wants—“as much as half of my kingdom.” While he isn’t willing to give up more than half (that would make her richer and more influential than he), he’s willing to make her an almost equal. That says a lot!

Finally, I just love how Esther’s mind works. Instead of automatically asking for Haman’s plot to be overthrown, she begins this somewhat elaborate plan to save her people.

And she begins with a dinner party—which seems odd when you think of what’s at risk.

Friday, March 18, 2011

If I Perish ... (Est. 4:15-17)

Esther sent a message to Mordecai, saying, "Bring together all the Jews in Susa and tell them to go without eating for my sake! Don't eat or drink for three days and nights. My servant girls and I will do the same. Then I will go in to see the king, even if it means I must die." Mordecai did everything Esther told him to do.
(Esther 4:15-17, CEV)

Yes, Esther has been given a seemingly impossible choice. Saving herself or saving her people. There doesn't see to be a way that both will be saved.

But she does make a choice: She will risk her own life to save those of her people.

She doesn’t do it in a vacuum, though. She uses the best weapon in her arsenal: Prayer. When she asks Mordecai to tell the people to fast for three days, she doesn’t mean just to stop eating. Throughout the Bible, fasting is connected with prayer.

For example, when Nehemiah heard of the destruction of Jerusalem’s wall, he “was fasting and praying before the God of heaven" (Neh. 1:4). Daniel also “gave [his] attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes” (Dan. 9:3).

When we fast, we focus on God instead of our hunger. And so Esther asks for her people to focus on Jehovah—the unnamed presence in our story.

She fasts, focuses on God, and prays for His will, even if that will is for her to perish (NKJV).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

For Such a Time (Est. 4:12-14)

When Mordecai was told what Esther had said, he sent back this reply, "Don't think that you will escape being killed with the rest of the Jews, just because you live in the king's palace. If you don't speak up now, we will somehow get help, but you and your family will be killed. It could be that you were made queen for a time like this!"
(Esther 4:12-14, CEV)

God moves in ways we often don’t understand. His thoughts really aren’t our thoughts. His ways aren’t our ways. (See Isa. 55:8-9.) So often we’re put into situations that we would never have chosen ourselves. A job we don’t like. A place far from home. A ministry we never anticipated.

Even a place in the palace.

Yet, if we follow Christ, if we trust our loving God, we can be certain that everything is in His plan, and He really will work all things for good and His glory (Rom. 8:28).

Mordecai certainly understands this. He is certain that the people of Israel will “somehow get help.” He believes that the God he trusts and serves would save His people. But Mordecai also knows that Esther’s life is at risk because it's likely her heritage would be found out—and she might be killed anyway.

Then he says those great words that I so love. The New King James Version says it like this: “… who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

How many “such a time” experiences have you had? Maybe you’re in one now. You don’t understand why God’s put you where you are, but if you just trust Him, He may just reveal your “such a time.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Challenged Faith (Est. 4:9-11)

Hathach went back to Esther and told her what Mordecai had said. She answered, "Tell Mordecai there is a law about going in to see the king, and all his officials and his people know about this law. Anyone who goes in to see the king without being invited by him will be put to death. The only way that anyone can be saved is for the king to hold out the gold scepter to that person. And it's been thirty days since he has asked for me."
(Esther 4:9-11, CEV)

One of my favorite “talks” I give at women’s events is “Refreshing Your Faith” (aka “Fresh Faith”). In it, I talk about what happens when we have a crisis of faith, and I use Esther’s story as one of my examples.

Imagine for a moment. You’re the queen of Persia. You have everything at your disposal. Food—any king of delicacy your heart might desire. Servants to do your bidding. You spend your days being pampered and revered. The people in the palace love you.

You have it made.

Then you find out about a plot to destroy your people, and perhaps you are the only one who can do anything about it.

Only one small problem: Your husband, the king, doesn’t know you’re a Jew. Further, even if you wanted to reveal your heritage, you have no way of entering the king’s presence without risking your own life.

Your life or the lives of your people.

Not much of a choice. Yet that’s exactly what Esther faces.

What would you do?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

One Man's Hatred (Est. 4:5-8)

Esther had a servant named Hathach, who had been given to her by the king. So she called him in and said, "Find out what's wrong with Mordecai and why he's acting this way." Hathach went to Mordecai in the city square in front of the palace gate, and Mordecai told him everything that had happened. He also told him how much money Haman had promised to add to the king's treasury, if all the Jews were killed. Mordecai gave Hathach a copy of the orders for the murder of the Jews and told him that these had been read in Susa. He said, "Show this to Esther and explain what it means. Ask her to go to the king and beg him to have pity on her people, the Jews!"
(Esther 4:5-8, CEV)

I just love how I can read a part of scripture over and over, and I still gain new insight. As I meditated on today’s passage, I realized something I hadn’t before: Haman is going to pay the king for allowing him to kill all the Jews.

For some reason I thought the “tons of silver” mentioned in an earlier verse was going to come from the businesses and households of the Jews. Yes, they were captives, but it was likely they brought some of their wealth with them and set up shop.

But no, Haman actually puts a bounty on the heads of each Jew—man, woman, and child. Haman so hates these people—who have probably done nothing wrong to him personally—that he’s willing to pay what has to be a huge amount of silver to see them wiped out.

I can’t fathom that kind of hatred. And I know about hatred. I’ve mentioned in previous devotionals that I spend 20 years in rebellion against God, mostly because I’d allowed anger and hatred of the men who’d abused me to fill my heart. But I can honestly say I never wished or hoped for their destruction. I may have wanted them to own up to what they did, but I total annihilation? Never. And these were men who really did harm me.

The only “harm” Haman experienced was Mordecai’s refusing to bow down to him. And for that slight to his fragile ego, he would pay to kill an entire people.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sackcloth and Ashes (Est. 4:1-4)

When Mordecai heard about the letter, he tore his clothes in sorrow and put on sackcloth. Then he covered his head with ashes and went through the city, crying and weeping. But he could go only as far as the palace gate, because no one wearing sackcloth was allowed inside the palace. In every province where the king's orders were read, the Jews cried and mourned, and they went without eating. Many of them even put on sackcloth and sat in ashes. When Esther's servant girls and her other servants told her what Mordecai was doing, she became very upset and sent Mordecai some clothes to wear in place of the sackcloth. But he refused to take them.
(Esther 4:1-4, CEV)

Can you imagine what Mordecai and the rest of the Jews felt after hearing the edict? In one year, they would be wiped out. Entirely.

Mordecai begins to truly mourn. Tearing his clothes and putting on sackcloth, then covering his head with ashes. It was as though his people are already dead. And the people mourn as well.

The next part of today’s verses is a bit confusing. Esther is upset about Mordecai’s mode of dress. Is she worried about appearances? Is she concerned that people might find out about her heritage? Is she fearful her place in the palace will be jeopardized?

It seems so as she merely sends clothes to prevent any embarrassment. Seems a bit callous when her people’s lives are threatened. But as we’ll soon discover, Esther hasn’t heard about the edict yet. And when she does, the last thing on her mind will be sackcloth and ashes.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Death Sentence (Est. 3:14-15)

King Xerxes gave orders for these letters to be posted where they could be seen by everyone all over the kingdom. The king's command was obeyed, and one of the letters was read aloud to the people in the walled city of Susa. Then the king and Haman sat down to drink together, but no one in the city could figure out what was going on.
(Esther 3:14-15, CEV)

The edict is posted in Nisan, the seventh month of the Babylonian civil calendar. The destruction of the people of Israel is to take place in Adar, the sixth month. Twelve months later.

In some ways, this is more cruel than the orders themselves. The people have received a death sentence and have a year to fearfully await their annihilation. And because they’re captives, there is nothing they can do to overturn the king’s command.

And in an astonishing bit of irony, as the city writhes in confusion, the king and Haman congratulate each other and enjoy a drink. Or perhaps I should say an “expected” bit of irony. Haman has already shown his desire to destroy God’s people, so his celebrating is predictable. And the king seems to just love a reason to imbibe.

So as the royals pat each other on the back and begin the countdown toward the fruition of Haman’s plan, the people of Israel mournfully begin a countdown of their own.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tragedy in the Making (Est. 3:12-13)

On the thirteenth day of Nisan, Haman called in the king's secretaries and ordered them to write letters in every language used in the kingdom. The letters were written in the name of the king and sealed by using the king's own ring. At once they were sent to the king's highest officials, the governors of each province, and the leaders of the different nations in the kingdom of Xerxes. The letters were taken by messengers to every part of the kingdom, and this is what was said in the letters: On the thirteenth day of Adar, the twelfth month, all Jewish men, women, and children are to be killed. And their property is to be taken.
(Esther 3:12-13, CEV)

I read these words, and I’m sickened. Really. I feel sick to my stomach. One man’s hatred will lead to the total annihilation of an entire race of people living in Persia.

Read that last sentence again: “On the thirteenth day of Adar, the twelfth month, all Jewish men, women, and children are to be killed. And their property is to be taken.”

I cannot in any way imagine what kind of mind it takes to even think about such a thing. And then to actually put this plan in motion?

But we can’t let King Xerxes off. He doesn’t even question a total destruction of a people. In his laziness or disregard or ignorance—I’m not sure which—he’s going to allow this. He’s the one, after all, who allows the letters to be written in his name and sealed with his ring.

Amazing—and not in a good way.

It’s tragic how hatred and fear of those different than we are can lead to such utter disdain for human life. Life that is absolutely precious in the eyes of our Father. Yet, Haman’s act wasn’t the first of its kind, nor will it—sad to say—likely be the last.

So what are we to do? In our own little circle of influence, we can show Christ’s love. We can show kindness to those who may not be of our race or from our culture. And we can pray for those who are still being repressed or mistreated—just because they’re different.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Treacherous Plan (Est. 3:7-10)

It was now the twelfth year of the rule of King Xerxes. During Nisan, the first month of the year, Haman said, "Find out the best time for me to do this." The time chosen was Adar, the twelfth month. Then Haman went to the king and said: “Your Majesty, there are some people who live all over your kingdom and won't have a thing to do with anyone else. They have customs that are different from everyone else's, and they refuse to obey your laws. We would be better off to get rid of them! Why not give orders for all of them to be killed? I can promise that you will get tons of silver for your treasury.” The king handed his official ring to Haman, who hated the Jews, and the king told him, "Do what you want with those people! You can keep their money."
(Esther 3:7-10, CEV)

Oh the treachery!

Haman so hates Mordecai and the people of Israel, he immediately goes to King Xerxes to put his plan of total annihilation into effect.

And look at how he does it. “Those people” are different than “our people.” They—meaning Mordecai—refuse to obey. So let’s just get rid of them.

It’s not enough that the people of Israel are captives. It’s not enough that they’ve lost their freedom. It’s not enough that they live under the rule of a foreign nation.

No, Haman wants king-approved “orders for all of them to be killed."

I’m currently reading a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and these words were chillingly repeated by Nazi Germany. “Those people”—the Jews in Germany—were different. They followed their own customs. They didn’t live exactly as the non-Jews did.

And so Hitler and his consorts decided to just “get rid of them.”

Treachery centuries ago. Treachery less than one hundred years ago. I think Haman and Hitler would have been great friends.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Plot Thickens ... Again (Est. 3:5-6)

Haman was furious to learn that Mordecai refused to kneel down and honor him. And when he found out that Mordecai was a Jew, he knew that killing only Mordecai was not enough. Every Jew in the whole kingdom had to be killed.
(Esther 3:5-6, CEV)

At first blush, Haman didn’t seem that much of a villain, did he? He was just promoted and took the honor the king bestowed upon him.

But today, his true colors bleed out.

I mean, I understand his being furious at Mordecai. After all, Mordecai is disobeying direct orders. And perhaps I could understand Haman’s wanting to punish Mordecai, but it appears his first thought wasn’t to just punish—no, he first thinks of killing one man who refuses to obey.

Overkill (pun intended)? I should say so.

But that’s not enough for this particular villain. No. Punishing one man—even killing him—isn’t enough to sooth Haman’s bruised ego. He wants to kill every single Jew in the kingdom.

Now his heritage begins to come through. His ancestors hated the people of Israel and tried to wipe them out on more than one occasion.

Haman wants to do the same. And he devises a way to do just that.

Stay tuned as the plot continues to thicken.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Firm Faith (Est. 3:2b-4)

All of them obeyed except Mordecai. When the other officials asked Mordecai why he disobeyed the king's command, he said, "Because I am a Jew." They spoke to him for several days about kneeling down, but he still refused to obey. Finally, they reported this to Haman, to find out if he would let Mordecai get away with it.
(Esther 3:2b-4, CEV)

All the palace officials have been ordered to bow down to Haman, honoring him as they would one of their gods. And Mordecai refuses.

For the first time in our story, Mordecai divulges his Jewish heritage. He’s kept quiet about it, but when he has to make a decision to honor His God or save his own skin, he chooses His God.

His fellow palace officials seem to want to keep Mordecai from any repercussions—perhaps he’s as well liked as Esther is. They talk to him “for several days,” trying to convince him to kneel.

“It’s not so bad,” they say. “All you’re doing is following the king’s command. You can still bow down to your God. It’s not like you’re worshiping Haman or anything. And if you don’t … well, we’ve heard Haman can be tough. Just bow down, Mordecai.”

Yet, Mordecai remains strong and refuses.

And then, no matter why they tried to convince Mordecai, the other palace officials decide to tattle on him.

What would Haman do with this upstart Jew?

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Villain ... Boo! Hiss! (Est. 3:1-2a)

Later, King Xerxes promoted Haman the son of Hammedatha to the highest position in his kingdom. Haman was a descendant of Agag, and the king had given orders for his officials at the royal gate to honor Haman by kneeling down to him.
(Esther 3:1-2a, CEV)

Ah … a new character has entered our story.

Every good story needs a villain, and Haman is definitely that. If you’ve ever watched an old melodrama, he’s the one at whom you’d boo and hiss as he entered the stage.

Although, I have to say, at first glance, there’s nothing to indicate that Haman is anything other than someone who’s obviously worked hard to get to a position of honor. After all, it’s doubtful he reached the “highest position in [the king’s] kingdom” unless he earned it.

But we’re given a hint of whom Haman really is. He is a descendant of Agag, a leader of the Amalekites, who were bitter enemies of the people of Israel. Several times, the Bible describes how the Amalekites would attack God’s chosen people. And in 1 Samuel 15, God commanded the total and complete destruction of this mortal enemy.

So knowing Haman comes from a long line of Israel’s enemies is key for understanding what comes next in our story.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Plot Thickens (Est. 2:21-23)

Bigthana and Teresh were the two men who guarded King Xerxes' rooms, but they got angry with the king and decided to kill him. Mordecai found out about their plans and asked Queen Esther to tell the king what he had found out. King Xerxes learned that Mordecai's report was true, and he had the two men hanged. Then the king had all of this written down in his record book as he watched.
(Esther 2:21-23, CEV)

Yesterday we learned that Mordecai had been put in the position of a palace official, which brought him closer to Esther. It also placed him in a strategic position to overhear a plan to assassinate the king.

And again, even though the name of Jehovah isn’t mentioned, it’s so clear there’s a providential plan.

Mordecai, a Jew, is within the palace itself. His cousin is the queen. He overhears an assassination plot. He’s close enough to tell Esther, and she tells the king.

The plot is overthrown, and the would-be assassins are hanged.

Coincidence? I don’t think so!

No, clearly, something pretty amazing is happening through Esther’s story.

Oh, and tuck that last verse away for a while. It will turn out to be very important.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

God Uses Sinful Us (Est. 2:19-20)

When the young women were brought together again, Esther's cousin Mordecai had become a palace official. He had told Esther never to tell anyone that she was a Jew, and she obeyed him, just as she had always done.
(Esther 2:19-20, CEV)

As God continues to work out His plan for His people, Mordecai is put into a strategic position as a palace official. I’m not certain exactly what his role was, but he now has better access to Esther, and his new role will put him in just the right place at just the right time. (Come back tomorrow to see how!)

Neither of them has revealed his or her heritage, and so we now have a Jewish girl as queen and a Jewish man as a palace official. This when the people of Israel are captives of Persia. Oh, the irony.

It does make me wonder, though. There are several times in the Bible when something is achieved due to deception. Abraham claiming Sarah as sister. Jacob’s stealing Esau’s birthright. Rahab lying about the spies. Now Esther becoming queen via a lie of omission.

I know God doesn’t bless a lying tongue. But even when we—whether to cover our tush-ends or with purer motives—deceive, God can and will carry out His plan.

Praise Him that He works through our fleshly, frail, sinful selves.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

"Everyone Liked Esther" (Est. 2:14a-16)

There a man named Shaashgaz was in charge of the king's wives. Only the ones the king wanted and asked for by name could go back to the king. Xerxes had been king for seven years when Esther's turn came to go to him during Tebeth, the tenth month of the year. Everyone liked Esther. The king's personal servant Hegai was in charge of the women, and Esther trusted Hegai and asked him what she ought to take with her.
(Esther 2:14a-16, CEV)

I would have liked to have known Esther. She seems like a pretty amazing young woman. Dearly loved by her cousin and guardian. Honored by the servants. Well-liked by everyone in the women’s area of the palace.

That last one is saying a lot.

Think about it. There are a lot of women vying for the position of Queen of Persia.

And let’s face it. Women can be somewhat catty toward one another, especially when they’re competing for the same man. I would imagine there were cliques of the similarly-minded. The popular girls’ table. The athletes. The drama queens.

Yet, here is this beautiful young girl whom everyone likes. Not only is she beautiful, she is sweet and caring. I imagine her helping the others with a servant’s heart. I see her encouraging a shy woman who is heading into the king’s chamber. I envision her smile lighting the room.

Because, after all, the light of Jehovah is shining through her.

Even though she doesn’t mention her Jewish heritage, she is still a follower of the one true God, and He continues to work His plan through her.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Ecstasy ... and the Agony (Est. 2:12-14a)

The young women were given beauty treatments for one whole year. The first six months their skin was rubbed with olive oil and myrrh, and the last six months it was treated with perfumes and cosmetics. Then each of them spent the night alone with King Xerxes. When a young woman went to the king, she could wear whatever clothes or jewelry she chose from the women's living quarters. In the evening she would go to the king, and the following morning she would go to the place where his wives stayed after being with him.
(Esther 2:12-14a, CEV)

Verse 12 sounds really, really good to me! For an entire year, all the young virgins received beauty treatments. One whole year of being massaged with oil and anointed with perfumes. Ahhhh. And each of them, one evening, was able to choose beautiful clothes and jewels. Whatever she wanted.

And if that were the end of it, it would be a pretty wonderful story.

However, all that pampering was for one reason only: a night with the king.

There’s something about this that makes me sick to my stomach. Each of these young women—again we can only assume there were one hundred or so—went to spend a single night with the king. Kind of like a test drive. And one can only assume those nights weren’t full of playing monopoly or watching movies—or the ancient equivalent.

Then, after her night with the king, each young woman—no longer a virgin—went to live with the king’s many other wives. She was now a “wife” of the king. One of many wives.

I know I have to consider the context and the times. But it just seems somehow … wrong.

But I have to remember: God always uses what seems wrong to us and turns it to good, according to His plan.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

An Illustration of Love (Est. 2:10-11)

Mordecai had warned Esther not to tell anyone that she was a Jew, and she obeyed him. He was anxious to see how Esther was getting along and to learn what had happened to her. So each day he would walk back and forth in front of the court where the women lived.
(Esther 2:10-11, CEV)

So far, we haven’t seen much real love displayed by our characters. While former queen Vashti might have loved King Xerxes, it was certainly (and understandably) conditional. And if the king really loved his former queen, he had a funny way of showing it.

But when we read about Mordecai’s care for Esther, we sense a true depth of love.

The Greek language has several words to connote love. Many of us are familiar with at least three of them: Agape (unconditional, sacrificial love); Phileo (brotherly love); and Eros (intimate love, usually between spouses). There’s also a fourth: Storge, which is the love of family.

Mordecai certainly shows Storge, as he warns Esther “not tell anyone that she was a Jew.” He knew this revelation could lead to her death.

But he also shows Agape, as he “walk[s] back and forth in front” of the place where Esther lives. Each day. Sacrificially.

He's anxiously and lovingly concerned about her well-being.

What an inspiring depiction of love in the midst of a—so far—relatively unloving story.