Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Esther Pt 1

Esther is a story about the sovereignty of God. Though the name of God isn’t mentioned in the book, it is obvious He is working behind the scenes to take care of His people. Much like He does in our lives. Though they didn’t see Him, His hand is touching everyone and everything that goes on in the story. Though we don’t always see Him, He’s here, continually working all things together for good - Rom 8:28, accomplishing what concerns us - Ps 138:8, making everything appropriate in its time - Ecc 3:11. 

To believe God is working behind the scenes takes more faith than watching Him work. To see God rout an enemy army is more convincing than to believe He can. Israel was privileged to see miracle after miracle throughout their lives. Each time wowed them, but none of that changed them. The very moment God went behind the scene, they rebelled. They could only believe as long as they saw what they believed in. 

This was Thomas’ problem. After the resurrection, all the other disciples had seen Jesus. He hadn’t. He said: unless I see Him and touch the wounds I won’t believe. John 20:27-29 Then Jesus said to Thomas, "Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing." Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed [are] they who did not see, and [yet] believed."  

I’ve often wished I could have been a fly on the wall and watched the Bible stories being lived out. I thought seeing them might help me believe. Then I realized that’s what faith is for. That when I read the Bible in faith, I’m there, in real time. When I know the stories are true even before I open the book, I can see God all over the place. And even though most of those who experienced what went on still missed what God was doing, I can see it. 

But here’s the greater issue. Can I look at today and see God with the same confidence I can see Him working in the past? 

I admit to you, that becomes a struggle. This time of seclusion is a test. Can we still see God at work when everything normal is taken away? Can we understand that even with restrictions, He is still here, in our lives, in our homes, with our families, taking care of business? That though we are having a hard time seeing Him in all of this, can we remain faithful to God without our normal method of connection - going to church - where we are accustomed to sensing His presence, feeling His power, recognizing His voice? Can we, in these silent times, still know He is with us right where we are, still operating in our best interest, still being God on our behalf, hearing us when we pray, still speaking to us through His word?  

A third of the world is under some measure of restriction. Some totally locked down, others under less stringent regulations. This is unprecedented for us...but not for the nation of Israel. Their entire nation was taken captive by the Babylonians. They were scattered throughout a foreign land. That created circumstances that brought up questions from the depths of men’s souls: Are God’s promises still active? Are His plans still in effect? Is He still on the throne? Can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? Does what Zephaniah said remain true? 

Zeph 3:17  The LORD your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy. 

They didn’t know because their faith required sight. To them, when God was silent, He wasn’t there. But He was. He was as engaged as when He parted the Red Sea, as when He rained fire from Heaven, as when He delivered the nation from plagues, famines and wars. They just couldn’t see it. They had allowed their circumstances to steal away their memories of how great God has been in the past and rob them of any hope of what He might be doing in their present. The story of Esther shows us how God works behind the scenes, silently and undetected but powerfully accomplishing what fulfills His purposes.  

The events in Esther take place after the Persians take over from the Babylonians. The people are now scattered over a much broader area. Nearing the end of the long 70-year captivity, they have recognized little if anything visible from God working in their lives. Even with a new captor, their circumstances have changed little - they’re still in a foreign land. And as we saw last week, in their minds, God can’t work in foreign lands. 

But, then, God begins to work through a young Jewish girl to save the nation. But since she was born in captivity, she only has the stories of God’s work in the past. She knows nothing of the presence of God in her life, only silence.  

What happens when God steps unannounced into her life? When she has to make decisions under the threat of death, how will God come through? And even though she is unaware of what God is doing, how does she become an instrument of His purposes? Let’s find out. 

Est 1:1  Now it took place in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, 2  in those days as King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne which was at the citadel in Susa, in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his princes and attendants, the army officers of Persia and Media, the nobles and the princes of his provinces being in his presence. 4  And he displayed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor of his great majesty for many days, 180 days.

What was going on? Ever since Ahashuarus’ father, Darius, had been defeated by the Greeks, he had planned on going back and conquering Greece. This was in 480, or the third year of his reign. The movie The 300 captures this event. This display of royal glory and splendor was the mustering the troops.

5  When these days were completed, the king gave a banquet lasting seven days for all the people who were present at the citadel in Susa, from the greatest to the least, in the court of the garden of the king's palace. 7  Drinks were served in golden vessels of various kinds, and the royal wine was plentiful according to the king's bounty. 8  The drinking was done according to the law, there was no compulsion, for so the king had given orders to each official of his household that he should do according to the desires of each person. 
9  Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the palace which belonged to King Ahasuerus. 10  On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded…his seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, 11  to bring Queen Vashti before the king with her royal crown in order to display her beauty to the people and the princes, for she was beautiful. 
12  But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's command delivered by the eunuchs. Then the king became very angry and his wrath burned within him. 13  Then the king said to the wise men who understood the times—for it was the custom of the king so to speak before all who knew law and justice 14  and were close to himthe seven princes of Persia and Media who had access to the king's presence and sat in the first place in the kingdom—"According to law, what is to be done with Queen Vashti, because she did not obey the command of King Ahasuerus delivered by the eunuchs?" 
16  In the presence of the king and the princes, Memucan said, "Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king but also all the princes and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. 17  For the queen's conduct will become known to all the women causing them to look with contempt on their husbands by saying, 'King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought in to his presence, but she did not come.' 18  This day the ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen's conduct will speak in the same way to all the king's princes, and there will be plenty of contempt and anger. 19  If it pleases the king, let a royal edict be issued by him and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media so that it cannot be repealed, that Vashti may no longer come into the presence of King Ahasuerus, and let the king give her royal position to another who is more worthy than she. 20  When the king's edict which he will make is heard throughout all his kingdom, great as it is, then all women will give honor to their husbands, great and small." 
21  This word pleased the king and the princes, and the king did as Memucan proposed. 22  So he sent letters to all the king's provinces, to each province according to its script and to every people according to their language, that every man should be the master in his own house and the one who speaks in the language of his own people. 

This is called nipping it in the bud. The queen’s actions would have a rippling effect throughout the Empire. This is a harsh but firm way of dealing with it.

But more so, there’s a lesson here: never make a major decision when you’re drunk, angry or under the influence of peer pressure. A resolvable problem between a husband and wife became a national event.

But what else was going on. The sovereignty of God.

Prov 21:1 The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes. 

Had Ahasuerus not been drunk, not been angry, not been under peer pressure, he would not have dismissed Vashti. But when all these ingredients aligned, God moved on Memucan to advise Ahasuerus. 

Prov 16:33 The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD

The matter drops into our lap, but God can control the decision.

Everything that goes on is typical and no unusual. But it did set up the events necessary for God to accomplish His plan for Esther. The rest of the story depended on this banquet ending like it did.
We never know what the events of our lives will produce. We look at them as unwanted, unnecessary, an intrusion but God sees them as ingredients.

Take any single ingredient of a cake by itself and you’ll spit it out. But mixed together they become something good.

The old farmer that lived alone with his son had one horse. One day the horse ran away. The people said, “What bad luck.” The man said, “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?” A few days later the horse came back leading a small herd of horses. The people said, “What good luck.” The man said, “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?” When the man’s son went to break one of the horses, he was thrown off and broke his leg. The people said, “What bad luck.” The man said, “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?” The next day the army commander came by taking all able-bodied young men war. He looked at the young man with the broken leg and left him alone. The people said, “What good luck.” The man said, “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?”

When we haven’t read the whole story, we don’t know what each part means. When we try to figure out our lives by one moment, we can easily miss the bigger picture of what God is doing.

We may think we’re fine here with the way things are, but God may want us somewhere else and we can’t get there from here. Things need to change before we’re where God wants us to be.

Or we may be going through rough times now. We can’t imagine that God is using these rough times to work out a great result. These days are necessary to prepare us for tomorrow. 

Jeff Strueker was a US Army Ranger posted in Mogadishu, Somalia. For him Oct 3-4, 1993 were the defining moments of his life. He was one of the troops called on to go into the center Mogadisu to secure a building as part of a larger operation. It was part of the movie Black Hawk Down.
After the first helicopter was shot down, the team received orders to go in. He said, "I began to talk to the Lord. I thought I was going to die." Feeling his fear grow, he began to ask God to protect him. But his prayer soon changed.

"I’ll never forget this for the rest of my life. ... A scene appeared in my mind of Jesus in the Garden. ... He clearly and honestly knew that he was going to die. ... He also showed that he did not want to go to that cross and die. And I knew that I didn’t want to die that night. But Jesus courageously said, ’God, not my will, but yours be done.’

Struecker told the Lord, "If I die tonight, that’s fine, as long as your will is done.” For the first time in his life, he was prepared to die. "God spoke to my mind and my heart and said, ’I’ve been protecting you every day of your life,’" "He didn’t tell me, ’You will live through the night.’ He simply showed me my life has always been in his hands."

Struecker and his men returned to the field of fire in Mogadishu and fought with a God-given courage. The was later awarded the Bronze Star for valor. "I fought differently that night than everybody else ... because of my faith," he said. God had given him a "supernatural peace" in the midst of pandemonium. 

"I began to understand God’s omnipotent power. He was orchestrating every single bullet that was fired that night. ... The peace that I had was not only for my own life, but for the lives of my soldiers. If any of them were to get shot, then that was part of God’s sovereign plan." 

Do we need a Mogadishu moment? Or a Coronavirus moment? Or a cancer or heart or whatever we face moment?

1Pet 5:6-7 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. 

The mighty hand of God is the powerful sovereignty of God to accomplish whatever makes His plans work out. Even though that may cause anxiety, know He does it because He cares for you.

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