I was privileged to share this past Sunday and speak about the book of Esther. I thought it might be good to share the message here for those who would like to read it. I learned a lot in studying this little book, and was once again inspired to live well, in such a time as this. A longer blog than usual, I hope it will encourage you.
If you want the video version you are welcome to check it out on our church’s YouTube Channel. Unfortunately the audio had some difficulties, but you can get most of it. https://youtu.be/KOHo1ubzjlg
For Such a Time as This
Encouragement from the Story of Esther
I was tempted to dress up like a queen this morning, for our story is an important one in the Jewish Calendar, the festival of Purim. (Pourim)
It is a time of celebration and joy, and Jewish families dress up, have parades, and feast as they remember how Queen Esther was instrumental in freeing the Jewish people from destruction.
Purim is a two day feast celebrated on the 14th day of the month of Adar in the Jewish calendar, which is in February or March in the Gregorian calendar.
However, I didn’t have any queen like clothes, and my only tiara says 50 on it, a faded remembrance of a birthday gone by!
The festival of Purim is also called the festival of lots.
The story of Esther, told in the book of Esther is in the Old Testament. You will find these ten short chapters after the book of Nehemiah and before the longer book of Job.
This story reads like an ancient fairytale, with a beautiful girl who becomes a queen, an evil villain and a murderous plot. It isn’t a long read, and I enjoyed reacquainting myself with this inspirational story.
Even though God is not mentioned once in this little book, His presence and His care is central to the lives of the Jewish people.
The story takes place from 483 – 473 BC, during the reign of King Xerxes. This was the time period when the first remnant of Jews who were in exile in Persia had returned to Judah. But others had stayed behind, including cousins Esther and Mordecai. They lived in the capital city of Susa.
Haman, the villain in this story is the king’s second in command. He was a descendent of Agag, king of the Amalekites, who were ancient enemies of God’s people. He cast the lot, called “pur”, in order to determine the day that the Jews would be exterminated. And the feast of Purim commemorates the Jews’ deliverance from this evil plot.
The Bible is filled with stories of some amazing women. Charles Swindoll, in his book about Esther starts off by talking about the “power of a woman”. Many of these biblical women were pioneers and had important roles to play, even in a very paternalistic culture. God has used both men and women to throughout history, and in this story, we will learn about the heroism of both Esther and her cousin Mordecai. (This book is available in our church library if you are interested!)
Swindoll describes Esther well in his introduction:
“Unwittingly victimized by an unbearable situation, she stepped up and determined, by God’s grace to make a difference. Throwing protocol to the wind and ignoring all her fears, this woman stood in a gap most of her peers would never have risked. In doing so, she not only exposed and foiled the plans of an evil man, who, like Adolph Hitler, had a violent agenda. She saved her nation from extermination. Now, that’s what I call power! “ –Charles Swindoll
He goes on to quote this descriptive verse from Proverbs 31: “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future.”
That is a confident woman!
To help us this morning, I’d like to take some time to get to know Esther, and to see where we can relate to her story.
We will touch on the story –but I encourage you to read it for yourself!
Esther was an orphan. We don’t know more than that, but she was raised and watched over by her cousin Mordecai. Esther’s real name was Hadassah and she was renamed Esther when she was chosen for a beauty pageant to please the king.
I do know that God has a special heart for orphans. Psalm 82: 3 says: “Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.”
Esther had likely known great grief and was dependent on her cousin and guardian Mordecai, who took her under his care.
When my children were younger, I became a foster mother. We became an emergency foster home, taking in children at a point of crisis, sometimes in the middle of the night.
When children experience the trauma of being separated from their parents – by death – or by separation of any kind, it can affect them for life. They bear the scar of separation. I was glad to love on these kids and provide a temporary safe place, but I realize more now how traumatized many of them were.
Esther had likely known much trauma in her young life.
Esther was also a Jew. Part of the Jewish remnant had stayed in Persia while others had returned to Judah. We do know that she kept her identity a secret from the king. There was danger in being a Jew.
She knew what it meant to be marginalized, a people group that was looked down upon. When I think about my own white privileged upbringing, I realize I can’t fully understand what that feels like.
But I also know I have enormous gratitude to my grandparents and great-grandparents who showed great courage and left lands where they were persecuted to seek safety in Canada.
Esther didn’t have choices. Or did she? While we can romanticize her beauty, her rags to riches story, I wondered how she felt about being chosen. Was she afraid? Was she lonely? She, like the story of Moses, was placed in a foreign culture, and groomed to be a Persian queen. I wonder, what must it have felt like, to be chosen by the king, a king who had rejected his first wife, Queen Vashti. Vashti had been banned just for speaking up and denying the request of the king.
We do know Esther sought wise counsel. We are told Mordecai, her cousin stayed close by, and was a watchful relative. And in his close proximity to the palace, he even uncovers a plot which saves the king. He is not recognized for this however, until later in the story. We do know that Mordecai is faithful to his cousin and he quietly remains vigilant, close by the palace.
Mordecai is also exceedingly brave. Hamen, who was the second in command sought power and prestige. He devised a plan for all to bow to him. But Mordecai refused to do so, for his loyalty belonged to God.
This made Hamen very angry and he manipulates the king to find a way to exterminate the Jews.
He says in verse 8 of Chapter 3: “There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. “If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them …
And the king signed the degree.
Mordecai, hearing of the plot, tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, wailing loudly. Esther heard about his distress and inquires about what is troubling her cousin. This was difficult news indeed.
She knows she should approach the king, but there is fear, because he has not called for her in thirty days.
It is at this point her cousin reminds her – 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
Then Esther sends a message back asking Mordecai to gather all the Jews in Susa to fast. I’m sure that fasting was accompanied by much prayer. For three days they went without water or food – all the Jews in the city, and Esther and her servants also fasted.
This was a critical moment. She could have easily continued in her pretense, hoping the king would not find out her identity as a Jew. She was in a place of great privilege.
Esther finds courage. Even she as a queen could not approach the king without permission. But she does, hoping he will hold out the scepter to her to show favour. And he does, asking her what she desires.
I find it interesting that Esther does not hurry. There is no emotional outbursts, or cries for mercy. She is calm. She invites the king to a personal banquet and also extends an invitation to, Haman, the very man who would destroy the Jews.
There is another interesting plot twist in this story. That night the king suffers from insomnia and decides to read the record of his reign. It is here he finds out that Mordecai had exposed two men who had threatened to kill the king – something he had not known. And so he asks Haman a rather interesting question – He asks him in verse 6 of 6 “What should be done for the man the kind delights to honour?”
And Haman, with puffed pride thinks the king is thinking about him! And to his great irony, Mordecai is honoured instead of himself!
He shows up in a terrible mood to the 2nd banquet, only to be exposed by Esther, who reveals his plot to kill the Jews.
And the king listens and redeems her and the Jewish remnant. Haman is killed on the very gallows he built for Mordecai.
It is truly a fairy tale ending with the villain slayed, and the good prevailed.
And so this is the story of Purim. Esther saves her people. Justice is served.
I’ve often thought about those words – “For such a time as this”.
Do you ever wonder why we are born into the lives we have been given? The country, the ethnicity, the time in history?
I think about that at times, knowing I am privileged, I have not been orphaned as a child, I have not known want. I live in a beautiful country and have known much freedom.
We can grow up in our bubbles thinking that we are entitled – this is how life should be. Until we begin to really see the inequities of those around us.
So what do we learn from this fairy-tale like story? What do we learn from Esther?
I see characteristics in her that shine. Esther actually means star. What a beautiful name.
She took the scars in her life – an orphan and a Jewess, and submitted to a life she could have never dreamed of – and she shone!
It was Robert Schuller that coined the phrase – Turn your scars into stars!
It is a good sentiment – but not always so easy.
Scars are reminders of pain, of trauma. We are often good at hiding them from others, even ourselves.
And then events happen that trigger old wounds, and those scars can break open, creating fresh grief.
We see this with our Indigenous people, as their grief and history, which most of us knew nothing about, has become public. Their stories are being revealed, and with it, there is much pain and sadness.
I visit many people with deep emotional pain. As a hospital chaplain, I have observed this phenomena over and over again. It is not always the physical pain or illness that is the source, but emotional pain that has not been dealt with. When we take a tender look at that, and see Jesus’ care for us in our humanity – then true healing can come. From the inside out.
This doesn’t happen quickly. As we acknowledge inner pain, we might need help to work through our trauma. Opening up scars can be vulnerable and painful. But it is part of the healing process.
Jesus shows us the way. He too bore scars, scars that remained even after his resurrection.
This was foretold in the book of Isaiah who said But He was pierced for our offences, He was crushed for our wrongdoings; The punishment for our well-being was laid upon Him, And by His wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5 (American Standard)
Our scars can serve as reminders of God’s graciousness and redemptive love, as we accept our past, and trust God to work it all for good. I love the words “By His wounds we are healed”. Nothing is too hard for Jesus!
What else can we learn from Esther?
I think of her bravery, her willingness to step into a culture that wasn’t her own, and then her courage to stand up for what was right, and to confront evil. Not with a sword but with words.
Did Esther know the scriptures? Surely she would have been familiar with the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. She would have known the song of Moses and the Israelites who sang:
The Lord is my strength and my song; he has given me victory. This is my God, and I will praise him— my father’s God, and I will exalt him! Exodus 14:2
The whole song is from Exodus 14.
These amazing words speak of God’s faithfulness – past, present, and future.
Did Esther and Mordecai know the outcome? No!
We don’t know our future, even though we can see God’s loving hand leading us as we look back. Esther actually said: “If I perish, I perish”. That is trust in God, that there was a bigger plan at work.
“In our unknowing, God is all-knowing”. In our unknowing we choose to trust. We have an omnipresent God who sees a far bigger picture.
We know Esther did not act alone. Her cousin Mordecai supported her and advised her. More than that, all of the Jewish people fasted and prayed.
It reminds me that we are to pray for our leaders, for our country, for our world. Do we take this prayer seriously? Esther might be the star of this story, but the people all had a part. It is easy to let those in charge take care of things, to be apathetic, as if our part doesn’t make a difference. But there is always something to do. Sometimes we need to use our voices. Sometimes we need to show up. But always, always, we are all called to pray.
2 Chronicles 7:14 says: If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
I’ve always loved the story of Esther – perhaps it is because God uses a woman to free her people, perhaps it is because of her amazing bravery which inspires me, but most of all we see God’s hand in caring for his people.
God’s ways are not our ways. As we live in this time, the time we are created for, can we trust in God’s care for us? Can we pray that we too can be part of God’s plan for redemption in our time? Can we minister to those who are deeply wounded? Can we care for the orphans, for the marginalized, for our broken planet?
May God give us strength to shine, knowing the Light of Jesus is our source of strength.