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Entries in Esther (5)


God's counter-degree

The climax has come, and Haman, the enemy of the Jews is dead (Esther 7:10). While Esther is not out of the woods just yet, the worst is over.

Ahasuerus had given Haman his royal signet, and Haman had used it to draw up a decree which could not be revoked: to kill all the Jews. When Esther throws herself at the feet of the king on behalf of her people, asking him to revoke it, the king points out to her that he has just killed her enemy and given her power. She is now able to use that power to save her people. Now that Mordecai has the royal signet (8:2), he is able to make a new edict. Mordecai issues a counter edict.

If we look at Esther 8:1-15 and compare it with Esther 3:10-4:1, we see that the new edict is mirrored by the old one, this time in favour of the Jews. As we look at the similarities, we can see that this is a total reversal; from death to life.

As we make the connection between Esther and our own time, we can see that God, through Christ, issued his own counter-decree. We are born under a decree of death (Rom. 6:23). In Adam, we are all born into sin (I Cor. 15:22). God's counter decree in Christ provides victory: from sin and death to life. As through one man's transgression sin entered the world, through one man,  Jesus Christ, the price for sin is paid. Complete reversal.

The counter-decree that Mordecai issued comes after a series of complicated events which only God could have orchestrated. Esther "just happened" to have been in the palace when the threat came upon the Jews. Mordecai "just happened" to hear a plot against Ahasuerus, and was able to save him. The king "just happened" to have a sleepless night which led to him discovering what Mordecai did. The list of "just happened" goes on and on. Looking at those moments, we see the handiwork of a sovereign God.

Perhaps we could question Mordecai's wisdom when he suggested that Esther keep her Jewishness a secret. Perhaps we could question his wisdom in refusing to bow to Haman, which was what ultimately set the death decree in motion. Perhaps it would have avoided the death decree of Haman completely. Perhaps God wanted it exactly this way, so he could set in motion a reversal that draws our minds and hearts to the reversal that Christ provides for us through his shed blood.

Even if you don't believe in God, the book of Esther is a masterful work of literature. However, I do believe in God, and I believe in the innerancy and inspiration of Scripture, and seeing how God uses his word continues to amaze me, and leave me in awe. 


Word of the day: peripeteia

A peripeteia, is a reversal. It's a literary term. I'm sure you've read a book that has a reversal in it. It's when you read something, and think "I didn't see that coming."

There are quite a few reversals in the book of Esther. Isn't it amazing how God's inspired word is communicated in beautiful literary ways? Truths expressed in stories are always memorable, and easy to remember.

The first, most crucial reversal, is nestled in between chapter 5 and chapter 7, after the king just happens to have a sleepless night. While he is trying to ward off his insomnia, he discovers that Mordecai, who, unbeknownst to him, has been condemened by Haman, his right hand man, was never rewarded for squashing a plot against the king's life years ago. The king doesn't like this at all. Persian kings were known to reward such things carefully. It revealed not only their generosity, but ensured them of loyalty and possible help in the future.

The king calls Haman in and asks him, "What should be done for the man whom the king seeks to honor?" The king doesn't seem to know how to do much for himself. He relied on the wisdom of his eunuchs earlier when his wife refused to obey, as well as when he wanted to find a new wife. When Haman came to him and asked for permission to condemn an entire race of people, he really didn't show much interest other than to give Haman the go ahead. The king is kind of dope.

Haman, in his pride and arroangance, wonders: "Whom would the king delight to honor more than me?" and proceeds to describe a wonderful celebration that would involve wearing the king's robes and being paraded around in public, carried around by a crown-wearing horse. He thinks he is designing his own glorification, so he spares no expense.

To Haman's utter astonishment and horror, the king, after hearing the suggstion, tells him to do all of it in honour of Mordecai, the bane of Haman's existence!

The tide has turned. After this, things don't go very well for Haman, but they begin to improve for the condemned people of God. And all because the king had a sleepless night.

God often works in big, miraculous ways. But just as often, he works in the ordinary, everyday circumstances. Reversals don't always hinge on the miraculous. They often hinge on the most inconsequential things.

Thirty-one years ago, I was scheduled to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I had long been searching for God, and it was this group I had determined I had the truth. After all, they used the Bible, which was in contrast to the Roman Catholic masses I had been made to attend with my father.

The baptism service was scheduled for a Sunday, but in the days leading up to this event, I contracted the flu: weakness, fever, stomach ache, headache, body aches. It was postponed for the following Sunday. The following week, on a Thursday night, as the date approached, I had a relapse. I had to cancel again. That Thursday night, a feeling of anxiety came over me; kind of like the king getting up because he couldn't sleep. I changed my mind.

That's a reversal.

Three years later, I was converted to Christ, and became a child of God, redeemed, justified, and adopted. And all because of a little stomach ache. It was ordinary and miraculous at the same time; miraculous, because every conversion is a miracle of God.

God's providence is a beautiful thing. He can make even the most unlikely events turn for the sake of his glory.


Lessons from Esther's silence

In the book of Esther, we are not treated to any glimpses into the workings of Esther's mind. We don't know how she felt about being told to hide her Jewish identity (2:10), or how she felt about being taken into the palace to be placed into the harem (2:8). We don't know what kind of mental wrestlings she had when she faced the reality of going in to the king for what amounted to a "one night stand" competition. We don't know how she felt when she "won" this contest and the crown was put on her head.

In our contemporary minds, we balk at this way of treating women. Our evaluations run to extremes: Esther was a victim and helpless to do anything, or Esther should have known better. The truth is, we don't know what she thought. We don't know if she felt violated or simply didn't care. 

Karen Jobes, in her commentary of Esther, cautions against taking Esther as an example of morality to follow. In order to make one, we have to know what her motivations are, either from her own words, or from some contribution of the author. We don't have either.

I liked Jobes's comments about this passage for our purposes of application:

It is easy to look at other people's decisions and size them up, thinking that we know clearly what is right from what is wrong, and that if we were in their shoes, we would have both known and done the right thing. We believe God will give us the wisdom to know what to do and the moral strength to do it. It is easy to talk about ethical and moral issues in the abstract, because in any theoretical situation we can define the situations simply enough to make  the choices clear.

But life isn't always that neat and tidy. There comes a day when we find ourselves in a situation where right and wrong are not so clearly defined and every choice we have seems to be a troubling mixture of good and bad...

Only God knows the end of our story from its beginning. We are responsible to him for living faithfully in obedience to his every word in every situation as we best know how. Even if we make the "wrong" decision, whether through innocent blunder or deliberate disobedience, our God is so gracious and omnipotent that he is able to see that weak link in a chain of events that will perfect his purposes in us and through us.

As a parent who occasionally looks back with regret at decisions I have made, this provides me with great comfort. Contrary to what many young mothers (and older mothers) think, we cannot calculate every decision with precision and be assured that we will always do what is right. Is there anyone who looks back without any regret? If they do, I wonder how honest they are with themselves.

The comfort in this portion of Esther is that God used this situation to further His kingdom. Isn't God amazing?This just blows my mind to consider it. 


It's not about womanhood

I've been immersed in studying the book of Esther over the summer. I'm on the fourth commentary that I've acquired to help me put together the lessons I'll be sharing with the ladies of my class. There have been many surprises for me as I've studied this book.

In my experience, most of the lessons or sermons about Esther discuss her womanhood, and often, in a positive way. I've discovered that not all scholars agree with this. Some of them are actually quite hard on Esther, and I felt myself cringing a little reading the commentary. One of the most important lessons I have learned is that Esther is, at heart, a morally ambiguous character. We're not there to learn character lessons from Esther. This is a book about God, and about how He works His sovereign will in the most ordinary, unlikely circumstances. Esther is a vehicle for that.

Therefore, the studies that make Esther a book about womanhood are missing the point. A study that I have on my shelf focuses a lot on Esther's womanhood. I think that's not a very thick description of the book of Esther. The book is about so much more. Yes, there are women characters. Yes, Vashti and Esther are contrasts, and yes, there are instances where Esther was badly treated that make us cringe. In the end, the only similarity I find between myself and Esther is that we're both women "in exile," God's people in a hostile world, and I need not fear, because God is going to work out His plans with or without me.

As I prepare to start teaching this book in a few weeks, I'm excited about what the ladies in my class are going to see in the book, and what their contribution to the discussion will add to my own understanding.


Parenting lessons from Esther

In his commentary on Esther, Iain Duguid talks about trusting in providence as he discusses the providential happenings in chapter 6. He points out that even though an evil empire (like Persia) does its worst, it cannot prevail against those who have taken refuge in Christ:

Indeed, if we are exalting Christ as Lord in our hearts, and are trusting firmly in God's providence to do what is good for our souls and to bring glory to himself, why are we so troubled? Why are we so filled with doubts and fears about our own futures, or the future of our children, or the future of our churches? God will accomplish his purposes, often slowly and imperceptibly, but nonetheless certainly. Somtimes he will do it by directing those whose hearts are at enmity to him, so that their sinful motive accomplish his perfect purposes. Sometimes he will do it through the collaboration of a whole series of seemingly trivial circumstances. But in the light of the great and precious promises of God, this we know for sure: our God will save his people. In light of the cross, we know that his salvation cannot be thwarted. In the light of these heavenly realities, what is left for us to do but to bow our hearts and knees before him and sing his praises?

Duguid's comments about how we are troubled about our children really struck at my heart.

When I look back at parenting my younger children, I can see how very fearful I was; fearful of the influence of the world on them. I was fearful they would hang around with "the wrong crowd." I was fearful they would fall into sin. I was afraid that the typical sins of childhood meant they were doomed to a life of crime. It was a lack of understanding of God's providence that made me react this way.

Lack of understanding of God's providence means we often end up micromanaging our kids, and wrongly believing that it's up to us to produce holy children. We may even be saying with our mouths, "God alone sanctifies our children," but with our lives and our hearts, we're like hamsters running on a wheel, trying to do something that only God can do.

When we don't understand providence, we will fear. Fearful parents make for harsh, unmerciful parents.

Now, I suppose I could sit back and beomoan my mistakes. I do that often enough in those hours when sleep eludes me. But if I do that, I'm ignoring the very lesson I just spoke about: providence. Just like God moves anonymously throughout the book of Esther, he has been moving about in my life and the lives of my children. Whatever has happened before has happened under God's careful watch, and may be contributing to a purpose of which I am unaware. 

Young parents, you are faced with a plethora of parenting manuals and books. There are books to help you organize, manage, and cope. If I have a word of advice to any young mother it is this: understand who your God is. The books that help you manage are helping you with details; details are not enough. 

First, focus on understanding who your God is. After marriage, while you think ahead about children, learn who God is on a deep level. You won't have any more time to do so once those kids come along, and then, you may find yourself like me, knowledgeable about diapers, parenting methods, and domestic management methods, but not having a clear understanding of the thing that matters most: knowing God and understanding providence.