Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Evil plans

The Bible is very specific about the exact time Haman chose to speak to the king and get permission. Ironically, this was the month of the Passover, when the Jews celebrated their release from slavery in Egypt. Now, this month would be when their annihilation was decided.

To make sure he got what he wanted, he chose his words carefully, using language so inflammatory as to ensure that the king would agree with him:
'Haman then spoke with King Xerxes: “There is an odd set of people scattered through the provinces of your kingdom who don’t fit in. Their customs and ways are different from those of everybody else. Worse, they disregard the king’s laws. They’re an affront; the king shouldn’t put up with them. If it please the king, let orders be given that they be destroyed. I’ll pay for it myself. I’ll deposit 375 tons of silver in the royal bank to finance the operation.” '

So of course the king said yes! We have had no indication so far that Xerxes was anything but selfish and capricious: now we add greed to his list of unpleasant characteristics. He accepted Haman's payment, but magnanimously gave Haman the confiscated wealth of all the about-to-be-murdered Jews. (He must have been incredibly rich to forego so much wealth as would have belonged to an entire people.) And so he gave the royal seal of approval, literally: his signet ring.

How foolish of the king to put so much trust in a man of violence.

Oh, how Psalm 52:2 speaks truth about Haman: "You plan brutal crimes, and your lying words cut like a sharp razor."

Things are looking bad for the Jews... I try to imagine how I would feel in the same situation, knowing that a licence to kill was being printed and it was only a matter of time when I would be attacked and brutally murdered.

As is happening even now to Christians in Iraq.

Imagine the fear, the terror, the feeling of helplessness and powerlessness.

Esther 3:7 - 11

Monday, 15 September 2014

Pride

"Haman was furious to learn that Mordecai refused to kneel down and honour 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."

Pride. Hurt feelings. Anger.

I can be like Haman. I have felt angry,  as he was - not furious, perhaps, but still angry enough for feelings to cloud my judgement, spoil my joy and affect my relationships.

Rejection does this. I'm working on it, focusing on God's love for me, dealing with the deep feelings that modern day slights, petty offences or downright rudeness and rejection awake in me.

But I have been like Haman. I have let hurt pride poison relationships with other people who are connected to the perpetrator. I have let hurt pride cause me to react with inappropriate anger. I have let hurt pride cause me to dwell on the sin and ugliness in those who have offended me instead of covering them with the oil of forgiveness.

I know the truth of "Too much pride will destroy you." (Proverbs 16:18, CEV)

Scary. But I am NOT like Haman. I have confessed my sin to Jesus. I have opened myself up to the work of the Holy Spirit in my heart. And I am learning to nestle close to the Father heart of God, to know that, whatever happens, I am loved.
(Esther 3:5 - 6)

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Truth - at last

Interesting. A detailed background sketch of the man who will emerge as villain in the piece. Haman proves to be not only wicked in his own right, but is a descendant of Agag, king of the Amalekites, who were a cruel enemy of the Israelites. God told Saul to destroy the Amalekites completely but Saul spared their king, Agag. The prophet Samuel himself then  killed Agag, but his descendants lived on, with intent on complete annihilation of God's people.

We don't know all this yet, though. We know only that Haman has risen to the position of chief favourite who can do no wrong, and so: "All the king’s servants at the King’s Gate used to honour him by bowing down and kneeling before Haman—that’s what the king had commanded."
Egoistic, power hungry...
But...
Except Mordecai. Mordecai wouldn’t do it, wouldn’t bow down and kneel. The king’s servants at the King’s Gate asked Mordecai about it: “Why do you cross the king’s command?” Day after day they spoke to him about this but he wouldn’t listen, so they went to Haman to see whether something shouldn’t be done about it. Mordecai had told them that he was a Jew.  (The Message Esther 3:1- 4)

Mordecai has, at last, revealed his true identity. Because this is the crunch: Psalm 95:6 tells us, as do many many other verses: "So come, let us worship: bow before him, on your knees before God, who made us!"

Not before anyone else. Before God. It is God only who we should worship and adore: not men, however powerful, or clever, or gifted or talented...GOD.

This morning, this day, let me worship God alone. Putting him before everything else and especially before my standing with others...

Love God Greatly, the study I am doing this with, reminds me:

"1. It is never to late to take a stand.

Even though Mordecai didn’t stand up from the beginning, he decides to take a stand now. And we can do the same. We can choose this day to say, “No more” to the things that we have been letting slide that we know we should really take a stand for. Is it a TV show that we really know isn’t benefitting us? A gossip conversation that we have been a part of that we know we need to stop? Even if we have failed to take a stand in the past, it isn’t too late to say today is the day!

2. We can choose to bow to the Lord our God.

Psalm 95:6 invites us to worship and bow down before the Lord our God our Maker. Take a moment to read this verse and let it sink in. What have you been bowing to other than the Lord? Idols have a way of creeping in without us even realizing it! Take a moment to think about what has become an idol in your life, and confess. Then choose to bow to the Lord!"

My prayer: God, keep reminding me of who You are: awesome, majestic, the only one worthy of worship, adoration and praise.

Friday, 12 September 2014

God's plans

The plot thickens...first Esther is chosen to join the king's harem, now Mordecai has a job at the palace. How did he manage that? He has already shown himself to be astute; now, perhaps, he worked his way into the palace in order to be nearer Esther.

The Living Bible says: "Even after all the young women had been transferred to the second harem and Mordecai had become a palace official, Esther continued to keep her family background and nationality a secret. She was still following Mordecai’s directions, just as she did when she lived in his home."

A known relative of an important person would have expected to be given a favourable position at the palace, but Mordecai's position was relatively lowly, as his duties were at the gate to the palace or the entrance to the women's harem. Here, he could keep in closer contact with Esther; and here, he discovered a plot by disgruntled servants to kill the king.

Esther was the king's wife, his possession...but it was not marriage as we know it. Xerxes had already demonstrated a lack of mutual respect and trust in his marriage to Vashti, and Esther follows this tradition, keeping her family background secret and following Mordecai's instructions. Yet, when the plot against the king's life was discovered by Mordecai, he told Esther and then SHE told the king. Did the king then ask her how she knew, and, perhaps, as she admitted that Mordecai had told her, what the relationship was? Did the secret come out?  Or was Mordecai still just a lowly servant? He certainly doesn't seem to have received any reward for his service.

Here, again, we see how God uses this unpropitious circumstances to work things together for good: the plot is discovered, the perpetrators disposed of and Mordecai's service in this respect is recorded in the official record books. (Esther 2:19 - 23)

Proverbs 19:20 reminds: "Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life." Accepting advice means admitting that we need it; we need help; we have to humble ourselves.

Not always easy...

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Waiting and preparation

As Esther joins the harem, she gets special beauty treatments in preparation for meeting the king. It seems to take five years before she actually gets to meet the king (beauty treatments took a year, but then the girls were taken in turn to the king), but then he falls in love with her straightaway and makes her his queen. There are great celebrations: a special dinner, a national holiday, and Esther joins the wives.

It was all worth waiting for.

Esther has made friends, especially the king's personal servant Hegai who had advised Esther and told her what to take with her when she went to the king. (I can't begin to imagine all the sexual tricks and contrivances Esther had probably become acquainted with during her time of preparation. I'm not going there.)

She is queen, with a hugely prominent position within the country.

And what, in this situation, did Esther see as 'good'? Would she have preferred to stay with Mordecai, living simply and humbly away from palace intrigue? Or in the security of the harem, rather than becoming queen...did the shadow of Vashti and her downfall loom over her? Or was she simply delighted to have become Xerxes' wife?....

Who would have thought that an orphaned foreigner could attain such heights?

Esther 2:12 - 18

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Becoming a woman of influence: godly character.

Esther is chosen to join the group of potential new queens and immediately becomes the chief eunuch's favourite. So she was given special food, cosmetics, and seven maids from the king's palace to look after.

But she didn't tell anyone she was a Jew. This was deliberate: Mordecai had told her to keep it a secret. Perhaps, had it been known, she would not have been favoured; might, indeed, even have been discriminated against.

Hmmm. How often have I 'not told' anyone I am a Christian? Not deliberately lied, but not nailed my colours to the mast because, if I am honest, there has been lingering fear of prejudice. Literally, others pre-judging me on what they think they know about me. Fear of 'put downs' or derogatory remarks; fear being excluded from 'the group'.

Yet, by keeping quiet, Esther grew 'in favour', building relationships with important people and, as we shall see, eventually becoming queen and obtaining a position of influence.

Fair enough. Psalm 112:1 says: "Shout praises to the Lord! The Lord blesses everyone who worships him and gladly obeys his teachings." 

Esther was indeed blessed: she became a favourite. She might have kept quiet, but she must have secretly worshipped him in her heart and obeyed his teaching. St Francis said: "Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words."

Esther is a great example of obedience as she listened to and followed Mordecai's advice and as she lived a good gentle, life. For it could not have been just her external beauty which attracted others, but her loving, kind character as well.

Great example.

Esther 2:8 - 11

Monday, 8 September 2014

Who we are informs what we do

Suddenly, into the life of the king comes a Jew, Mordecai, who was a great-grandson of one of the captives taken from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar many years earlier. We are immediately told that Mordecai had taken responsibility for his beautiful cousin, Esther (Hadassah), after both her parents had died.

This shows true love and compassion: reaching out and caring for the abandoned in society is what God wants us to do, not just 'talking the talk'.  Mordecai sounds like a good guy.
(James 1:27)

Yet when I read the commentary: oh, I don't know. It sounds as if Mordecai was a Jew who could have returned to Jerusalem after the exile, but chose not to; perhaps he was an official at the king's palace, wielding some sort of power and prestige; perhaps he was worldly and ambitious, rather than religiously devoted to God.

I also wonder if he was OBLIGATED to take in his orphaned cousin, according to custom.

Yet even if he WAS all these things, his actions and a sequence of events eventually led to saving the lives of the entire Jewish community in Persia at the time.

God works all things together for good...


Esther 2:5 - 7

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Things turn out for the best - even for those who don't deserve it.

Now, after a hasty decision, we see Xerxes (Ahaseurus) regretting his action. His anger had taken a while to simmer down and he realised, because of the law he had been advised to make, that he could not take Vashti back. Did he love her? Was she a good queen? Did Xerxes rely on her, and miss her? She became queen again later, when her son succeeded Xerxes on his death; perhaps she was powerful and accomplished in her own right. Certainly it seems as if the advisers grasped the opportunity to get rid of her, so maybe she wielded power.

Whatever she was like, now he had no queen at all.

So his advisers suggested he choose another. Only the best, of course, so grab all the beautiful young girls to be found and then choose his favourite.
'This advice appealed to the king, and he followed it.'
You bet he did. Thinking, no doubt, that a young girl was much more likely to be acquiescent and do whatever he said - especially after the example that had been made of Vashti.

Ephesians 5: 15 says: So be careful how you live. Don't live like fools, but like those who are wise.

Good advice. Be careful. Think first.

As for Xerxes and his court: this is beginning to look like a soap opera...   Esther 2:1 - 4

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The consequence of not submitting...

Esther 1:19 - 22: so, the consequence for Vashti's refusal to go to her husband was banishment. Why not death? How severe was the regime at the time?

The devotional today says: "When Queen Vashti did not come into the presence of the king when he asked, she was showing disrespect to her husband. Whether or not he should have asked her is not the point, the point is she made him look like a fool. We can do the same things to our husbands when we do not respect them. Respecting your husband is to humbly submit to him. Now I realize that this is not a very popular idea in our society, but popular or not, we are called to follow God’s word."


Ephesians 5:33 says: "So each husband should love his wife as much as he loves himself, and each wife should respect her husband."

Humbly submit. Well, yes. Difficult, sometimes. But I guess the best attitude to have is that of Jesus as the Message says in Philippians 2:  If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Advice

After Queen Vashti refused to go the king, he couldn't make a decision himself without asking his advisors what to do. (He sent seven men - seven eunuchs, in fact - to fetch her; now he asks seven advisors. Seven is always a significant number in the Bible.)

"These men were very wise and understood all the laws and customs of the country, and the king always asked them what they thought about such matters." Esther 1:14

The advisors told him that the queen had not only insulted the king, showing disrespect, but that she had set a bad example for all wives throughout the kingdom.

"Before this day is over, the wives of the officials of Persia and Media will find out what Queen Vashti has done, and they will refuse to obey their husbands. They won't respect their husbands, and their husbands will be angry with them." Esther 1:18

True, really. We all look up to leaders, expecting them to model the behaviour we aspire to: just think of our celebrity culture of pop stars, actors, sports stars and young royals. Wasn't this wise advice? Doesn't it show them thinking of the consequences of Vashti's actions, disregarding the customs of the country?

Proverbs 14:8 says: "Wise people have enough sense to find their way, but stupid fools get lost."

Who was wise, here? Vashti was certainly told to 'get lost'! And the advisers were wise in their own way in their own times...but God has a better way: "We must look to God’s Word for true wisdom and discernment. We see in the New Testament that yes, wives are to respect their husbands but let’s not forget that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church.These men should have known better than to write such a law…forcing someone to obey you and show you respect never produces a healthy, loving relationship."