Monday, April 27, 2020

Esther Pt 4

We left our story last week with Haman the Agagite announcing a decree that by the end of the year, on the 13th day of the 12th month, all Jews were to be killed and their property plundered. Since Haman’s specific target was Mordecai, it would be easy to say Mordecai caused this problem. Had he simply bowed to Haman like everyone else the plot never would have unfolded. But don’t forget there are hundreds of years of historical animosity between the Amalekites and the Jews. More was going on here than personal revenge. 

Prov 19:21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand. 
Esther 4:1-3 When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and he cried out with a loud and bitter cry. He went up to the entrance of the king's gate, for no one was allowed to enter the king's gate clothed in sackcloth. And in every province, wherever the king's command and his decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes. 

Mordecai’s reaction, though strange to us, was typical to the Jews. When grief and anguish are far too great to hold inside, they have to be expressed. We cry, we scream, we throw things. In that day tearing your clothes identified you as one who had a broken heart. Even today, the Torah tells Jews tearing the clothing is an expression of pain and sorrow when a loved one has died. It exposes the broken heart.

That’s what Mordecai was doing. Distraught at the dark future for God’s people, he was exposing his broken heart. But he didn’t stop there. He took it a step further. He put on sackcloth and covered himself with ashes.

Sackcloth was a coarse material, similar in some ways to burlap. It was typically made from a black goat’s hair – the fibers of which were extra stiff and pricked the skin with uncompromising vengeance, making it miserable to wear. Where tearing of the clothes indicated a broken heart, sackcloth demonstrated a broken man. Tearing the garment was to let people know you were in anguish. The sackcloth was a sign to God to show brokenness and abject poverty before Him. Coupled with ashes, you were saying to the Lord, “I am in desolation and absolute ruin. You are my only hope.” It was a cry for the mercy of God to be enacted upon your life.

In the story of Jonah, after Jonah had spoken God’s message of destruction, Jonah 3:6-9 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”

The message is clear, but…we throw ourselves onto the mercy of God. We have heard our verdict, but…maybe there is room for another answer. We hear what seems a settled matter, but…is this God’s final answer? We can’t change the outcome, but…we can submit the matter to God and wait. Perhaps He will change the outcome as He has in the past.

Tearing the garment, sackcloth and ashes are all outward signs of Mordecai’s inward condition. It revealed his grief. But by these symbols, Mordecai isn’t grieving as those without hope. He is saying: but God. His eyes are turned upward, anticipating God’s intervention. In his desperation and without his own solution, he says: only God can fix this. This seems a bit over the top, but you understand this if you have ever gotten to the point in life where God is Your only answer.

It’s called Mental Anguish

  • Suffering that someone experiences as the result of a traumatizing experience or the anticipation of a traumatizing experience.
  • A high degree of emotional torment, distress, or suffering.

Esther 4:4-9 When Esther's young women and her eunuchs came and told her, the queen was deeply distressed. She sent garments to clothe Mordecai, so that he might take off his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. Then Esther called for Hathach, one of the king's eunuchs, who had been appointed to attend her, and ordered him to go to Mordecai to learn what this was all about and why. Hathach went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king's gate, and Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the exact sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king's treasuries for the destruction of the Jews. Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her and command her to go to the king to beg his favor and plead with him on behalf of her people. And Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. 

We have the old saying that ignorance is bliss or [what I used to raise my parents]: what you don’t know can’t hurt you. But all that does is delay the moment when reality catches up to us. Even though Esther didn’t know what was going on, she was nonetheless affected by it. Her life wouldn’t be spared any more than Mordecai’s or any of the Jews living in Persia, just because she lived in the palace. But her ignorance didn’t stop God’s plan.

Prov 24:12 If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not He who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not He who keeps watch over your soul know it? 

Write this down somewhere, preferably on your heart: God knows!

What fights within us against believing God knows? It’s what God said through David Ps 50:21 You thought that I was just like you
We often get God confused with someone else. If we don’t understand God as He is, we’ll give Him characteristics He doesn’t have. We’ll make Him human, more like us. Problem? He isn’t just like us. His ways are higher than our ways. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. 

We look at ourselves and, since we’re untrustworthy, we’ll think God is untrustworthy. Since we’re unfaithful, we’ll think God is unfaithful. Since we’re unmerciful, we’ll think God is unmerciful. Since others have let others down, we’ll think God will let us down.

It goes on: if we don’t know something, we’ll assume God doesn’t know it either. If we can’t change things, we’ll assume God can’t change things. If we have no plan, we’ll assume neither does God.

So, without more details, Mordecai tells Esther, “Here’s what you must do. Use your position as Queen to speak to the King and get this ruling changed.”

Esther 4:10-12 Then Esther spoke to Hathach and commanded him to go to Mordecai and say, “All the king's servants and the people of the king's provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live. But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days.” And they told Mordecai what Esther had said. Which basically was her saying, “I can’t do that. You’re asking too much of me.”

Why do we say we can’t do something?

  • We don’t want to.
  • We feel we don’t have what it takes.
  • We’re afraid we might fail.
  • It’s asking more from us than we’re willing to do.

Esther felt she had legitimate reasons:

  •  I haven’t seen him in a month.
  • There is a rule that no one goes before the King without being summoned under penalty of death.
  • Even if I get summoned, unless he acknowledges me by extending his scepter, I will be killed on the spot.
“Do you understand what’s at risk? This is my life we’re talking about.”

Ever hear the expression: not my monkey, not my parade? We use it when someone’s asked to take responsibility for something that isn’t their responsibility. They’re asked to commit to the feeding and care of an obligation that isn’t their job. Esther is saying: “This isn’t my monkey; this isn’t my parade. I’m not responsible for fixing this problem.”

But all of that is about to change. There are two profound statements in the Book of Esther. Here’s the first: 

Esther 4:13-14 Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” 

Mordecai is saying, “This is why you must do this anyway. You are the right person at the right place at the right time. There could be no greater reason for why you are Queen than this moment.”

It’s the wake-up call for action. It’s the moment the hero decides to do what places him or her at greatest risk. It’s when the first responders rush into a disaster scene. It’s when the military takes off on a dangerous mission. It’s when we decide God’s way is the best way.

King Asa was facing an unbeatable foe. The Israeli army didn’t match up with what was coming against them. But they had to fight. It was a defining moment for what kind of king Asa would be. He prayed: 2Chron 14:11 “O LORD, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O LORD our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O LORD, you are our God; let not man prevail against you.” 

“God this moment is bigger than we are. We’re too small for what we face. But here we are. And because we believe you have placed us here in this moment, at this time, you have plans for us that go beyond what we can see. We surrender to whatever you choose.”

Esther 4:15-17 Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him. 

This is the second most profound statement in the Book of Esther, perhaps in much of the whole Bible. It defines the moment of surrender to what God wants, saying what God wants is more important than what we want for ourselves. It’s Jesus in the Garden praying, “Not My will but Yours be done.” Regardless of the outcome, we will trust God.

Jim Elliot was to be a missionary to the Acua Tribe in Ecuador. On the first trip in to make contact with these hostile people, he and his team were attacked and killed. People wondered how God could let this happen. They were on a holy mission. Why didn’t he rescue them, or at least prevent them from going? Later, among Jim’s writings, they found this statement: He is no fool who gives that which he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.

What was Jim Elliot saying? Regardless of the outcome, I will trust the Lord. And if in doing so I perish, I perish.

Esther was just an ordinary person, yet God had plans to use her to do something extraordinary. Something nobody but she could do. She had a choice, but yielded her choice to courageously allow herself to be used by God. Even though she had become Queen, she was willing to give up her crown, her status and her life, to do what God had positioned her to do. Only she was in the right place at the right time to make a difference.

There is no mention of what Esther wore to go before the King. It is obvious she didn’t tear her clothing, put on sackcloth and pour ashes over her head. What did she wear that expressed the content of her heart? Peace.

I believe when she chose to go before the King, that though she started out carrying the burden of her people and even her own life, she laid that aside and covered herself in peace. Look at what she decided to do. Fear doesn’t make decisions like that. Grief doesn’t push us to selflessness. Anguish doesn’t move us to sacrifice. Only peace. Peace comes when we release the burden to the One who controls the outcome. 

Col 3:15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,

Rule means letting peace settle the matter. It is the picture of an umpire controlling a game. The umpire decides the outcome of the plays, not they players. What he says goes. Paul is saying: Let peace be the deciding factor. Choose to let peace overrule our emotions, our anxiety and our fears.

Prov 27:19 As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects man.

If our heart is being exposed on the outside, revealing all that’s going on inside, what is it showing? The distress of our anguish, the fear of our panic, the blackness of our grief, the agony of our heartbreak, or the peace that passes all understanding?

Two little girls gave their mom a very nice potted plant for Mother’s Day. They bought it with their own money, and mom was very happy, until she read the pretty ribbon that said, ‘Rest In Peace.’ One of the little girls beamed and said, “We knew this was perfect for you since you’re always asking for a little peace so you can rest.”

For such a time as this, we must let the peace of Christ rule over us. Without peace there will be no rest. It doesn’t matter what’s going on, we must allow the peace of God to decide the outcome. We must surrender ourselves to His best.

One of Winston Churchill’s most famous speeches came after France fell to Germany in June, 1940. And it was clean Britain was next. He said:

“What General Weygand has called the Battle of France is over... the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. 

But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”

This was Esther’s finest hour. This was why she had become Queen – for such a time as this. Next week, we’ll find out what she did next.

  1. Wherever we are is the perfect place for God to work.
  2. He doesn’t have to change our location or our circumstances to fix our problems, most of the time He only has to change our hearts.
  3. When our hearts agree with God’s purposes, peace rules over us and gives us rest.
  4. If we don’t have rest, it’s because we don’t have peace.
  5. If we don’t have peace, it’s because we haven’t surrendered the outcome of our circumstances to the Lord.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Esther Pt 3

Coming back to our study of the Book of Esther, I remind you that the theme of the book is the Sovereignty of God. Throughout the story God is accomplishing His purposes through incidental moments that seem to have no significance other than moving the story along. Yet, within each incident is a piece of a puzzle, only God knows where it fits and how many pieces it will take to complete the picture. 

What’s at work is: Prov 19:21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.   

What’s interesting about that proverb, it doesn’t matter whether the man is a believer or a non-believer, a follower of the principles of God or a heathen, a Christian or a non-Christian. Through the manifest sovereignty of God, God can accomplish, through whomever He chooses, whatever helps fulfill His purposes. He can use any circumstance or situation at any time, instantly, along the way, or in the distant future to bring about His greater good. Bottom line: God will do what God will do.  

Thus far in our story, Ahasuerus, King of Persia, has dethroned his wife Vashti, gone to war with Greece and got defeated, discovered and married Esther, who is now queen. Also Mordecai moved into a position of influence. In all of this we saw God’s hand moving certain people, positioning them, to be in the right place at the right time. 

Esther 3:1-2 After these events King Ahasuerus promoted Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him and established his authority over all the princes who were with him. All the king's servants who were at the king's gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman; for so the king had commanded concerning him. But Mordecai neither bowed down nor paid homage.   

It’s important to the story to go back in history a bit to better understand Haman’s heritage.  

I find ancestry an interesting pastime. Since I had my DNA processed to search my family lineage, I have had many discoveries of relatives I had no idea existed. Obviously, many of those are in the third to fifth cousin realm and I’ll never meet them, but I’m amazed that I have a family connection to thousands of people I don’t know.  

At first when I got my results back, they came with a bag of acorns and a note saying, “We think, in the interest of the betterment of society, you need to forget the past and just start over.”  

Realize, each person is the product of one couple. Each couple comes from two sets of parents. Those parents come from four sets of parents. Those four from eight. The further you go back, the more the branches of the tree spread out. Each branch is its own legacy. So, we back up to ten generations and thousands of people can claim the same tenth generation grandparents. Each one a direct descendent, having followed a different branch to get there from here. 

Haman is a direct descendent of Agag the Amalekite. Now the Amalekites were a thorn in the side of Israel throughout the conquering of the Holy Land. They were a warring people living in the southern desert region of Israel.  

They were distant cousins, both coming from the tree of Abraham. Abraham had a son Isaac. Isaac had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Jacob became Israel. Esau was the father of Edom, and the grandfather of Amalek. But even though they were family, the Amalekites had turned hostile toward the nation of Israel. So, God made a judgement against them:   

Deut 25:17-19 Remember what Amalek did to you along the way when you came out from Egypt, how he met you along the way and attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore it shall come about when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies, in the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you must not forget.  

Samuel made this command personal to Saul, the first king of Israel. 

 1Sam 15:1-3 Then Samuel said to Saul, "The LORD sent me to anoint you as king over His people, over Israel; now therefore, listen to the words of the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.' 

1Sam 15:9 But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were not willing to destroy them utterly; but everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.   

However, it must be assumed that some escaped because, several hundred years later, we have a twig from the branch of the tree of Agag ending up in Persia. But, with even one fiber of the strand of the Amalekites remaining, the prophetic command Moses gave remained to be fulfilled. So, add that to the story of Esther.  

Esther 3:3-6 Then the king's servants who were at the king's gate said to Mordecai, "Why are you transgressing the king's command?" Now it was when they had spoken daily to him and he would not listen to them, that they told Haman to see whether Mordecai's reason would stand; for he had told them that he was a Jew. When Haman saw that Mordecai neither bowed down nor paid homage to him, Haman was filled with rage. But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone, for they had told him who the people of Mordecai were; therefore Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus. 
What causes reactions in some people toward other people? Typically, it is prejudice. Prejudice means:
  1. an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand and without knowledge, thought, or reason.
  2. any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable or unfavorable.
  3. unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, regarding an ethnic, racial, social, or religious group.
Prejudice is basically an ingrained opinion for or against something or someone. Watch how it manifests itself in Haman’s life.  

Obviously, Haman’s ego was bruised when Mordecai the man refused to bow. But he went into rage when he found out Mordecai was a Jew. Centuries of prejudicial hatred now consumed him. Haman, like others in history, took his hatred to the extreme to annihilate all the Jews. 

Most hatred comes from preformed opinions, justified because of a damaged history. But in this case, God may be using that hatred. Prov 19:21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.   

As much as it runs contrary to how we think God works, because He is sovereign, God can even use the evil of personal prejudice to accomplish miracles in the lives of His people. 

Esther 3:7-12 In the first month, which is the month Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, Pur, that is the lot, was cast before Haman from day to day and from month to month, until the twelfth month, that is the month Adar. Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, "There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from those of all other people and they do not observe the king's laws, so it is not in the king's interest to let them remain. If it is pleasing to the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed, and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those who carry on the king's business, to put into the king's treasuries." Then the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. "The silver is yours, and the people also, to do with them as you please." Then the king's scribes were summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month, and it was written just as Haman commanded to the king's satraps, to the governors who were over each province and to the princes of each people, each province according to its script, each people according to its language, being written in the name of King Ahasuerus and sealed with the king's signet ring.   

The seal made with the Kings’ signet ring made this an irrevocable declaration. Not even the King himself could change what Haman had done. Sounds like a done deal. Until the greatest words of Scripture come in: But God... Prov 21:30 There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD. 

Esther 3:13-15 Letters were sent by couriers to all the king's provinces to destroy, to kill and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to seize their possessions as plunder. A copy of the edict to be issued as law in every province was published to all the peoples so that they should be ready for this day. The couriers went out impelled by the king's command while the decree was issued at the citadel in Susa; and while the king and Haman sat down to drink, the city of Susa was in confusion. 
This is scheduled for a year later, but for now, let’s look at the patience of God. Though the city was in a panic, and Jews throughout the empire were distraught, God had everything under control. Someone said: If you can remain calm at a time like this you do not understand the severity of the crisis.  

The natural response to a crisis moves from shock, to disbelief, fear, confusion, then to panic. But the unnatural response, the spiritual response, is different, it moves from shock, to belief, hope, trust, then peace. Those who know God is at work respond differently in a crisis. Those who are not convinced God is at work will react like those who don’t know Him.  

Ps 33:10-22 The LORD nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. 11 The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation. 12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance. 13 The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men; 14 from His dwelling place He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, 15 He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who understands all their works. 16 The king is not saved by a mighty army; a warrior is not delivered by great strength. 17 A horse is a false hope for victory; nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength. 18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness, 19 to deliver their soul from death and to keep them alive in famine. 20 Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield. 21 For our heart rejoices in Him, because we trust in His holy name. 22 Let Your lovingkindness, O LORD, be upon us, according as we have hoped in You.  

Nothing ever takes God by surprise. Nothing happens that catches Him unprepared. It can never be said that, “God never saw this coming.” Whatever the crisis is, it comes with the plan God will use to get us through.  

So, if God is patiently doing what’s best, faithful at all times, working constantly behind the scenes, consistently accomplishing good on our behalf, what should that produce in us? 

Patience to wait on His outcome:
  • Patience is the ability to sit back and wait for the outcome without experiencing anxiety, tension, fear or frustration.
  • Patience is the ability to remain calm in the midst of turmoil because you know God is in control.
  • Patience is the ability to let go of our needs for immediate gratification and be willing to wait for God’s best.
  • Ps 27:14 Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord. Dont set a timer for God to work. Don’t try to hand God puzzle pieces you want in the picture. Let Him accomplish His purposes His way and on His time schedule.
  1. It is not our faith that makes God accomplish what’s best for us, it is His faithfulness.
  2. Without faith, we will not see Him at work, trust Him or patiently await the outcome He intends, but that won’t stop Him.
  3. It is to our advantage to settle the matter of God’s goodness in our lives now, so that when we enter a crisis, we do so in faith not fear.
  4. Peace comes when we no longer carry the burden of the outcome. Let Him carry it for you.