Today’s reading starts the excellent story of Esther. If you’ve never read the story, hold on to your hat; it will have drama, intrigue, a few twists and turns, and a great victory.
Before we dive into the text, however, I thought you might enjoy a little background to the story. First, Ahaseurus, the king of the story, is the same man (Xerxes) in the famous secular story of the battle of Thermopylae against the 300 Spartans, led by king Leonidas. Indeed, he was married to Esther and she was queen of Persia at the time of this historic battle. His Persian empire and power was vast — from northwest India, across the Fertile crescent, all of modern Turkey, and south to as far as Ethiopia.
Secondly, notice the detail of the descriptions found in just these first three chapters of the book. It seems clear that the writer was an eyewitness of these events, for example…
“There were hangings of fine white and violet linen held by cords of fine purple linen on silver rings and marble columns, and couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and precious stones. Drinks were served in golden vessels of various kinds, and the royal wine was plentiful according to the king’s bounty.” Esther 1:6, 7, NAS95.
“On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus,” … “and were close to him: Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media who had access to the king’s presence and sat in the first place in the kingdom–” Esther 1:10, 14, NAS95.
Thirdly, you will notice that although the word “God” is not found in the book of Esther at all, it is clear that God’s providence is actively at play. In fact, the theme of this book seems clearly to be the providence of God.
So, what interesting things do we have in today’s reading?
Obeying God rather than men — This story contains a great example of civil disobedience — or at least a laudable choice to honor God’s command over any man’s. Mordecai hung around the gate of the palace of the king everyday; and as Haman, the king’s prime minister or grand vizier, came to the palace to advise the king, only Mordecai did not bow. The reason was purely religious, Mordecai did not want to offer a gesture to a men that ought to belong only to God. Now bowing to kings was not wrong of itself (e.g., 1 Sam. 24:8), but this bowing was obviously intended to be a reverence reserved for gods — the Hebrew word for “homage” (the root meaning “bow”) is often translated “worship” in its context. This Mordecai would not do. This risked the king’s anger, since it was the king’s command that he was disobeying; but obeying God rather than men was more important. Keep this in mind, when the world tries to jam you into its mold.
The price of being different — In connection with the point above, its also important to notice that Mordecai didn’t just put himself at risk, but his entire ethnic group, the Jews. According to Haman’s “pitch” to the king, “…There is a certain people (Mordecai’s people, the Jews) 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.” Esther 3:8, NAS95. The Jews were accused of being different, and they were — they were supposed to be! But being different can draw persecution — every kid in school knows this. What’s the saying, “It’s the nail that stands up that gets the hammer”? And so it has always been, even today. And the temptation remains as strong as it ever has, to blend in, be like everyone else, not be judgmental of others by being different — look the same, act the same, talk the same, dress the same, be the same. But the God calls His people of all ages to something different, “… Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,’ says the Lord. ‘AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ Says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:16-18, NAS95.
I’ve a rabbi friend with whom I had regular conversations years ago. He was from the Reformed Synagogue tradition. They do not wear the prayer shawls; they don’t wear beards; they usually don’t observe the Sabbath or the dietary laws; Passover is usually only confined to the evening of the Seder meal. Our conversation, one day ran to why and how the Reformed Synagogue came to be, his answer to me was that it was largely a reaction to the Holocaust of WWII, when Jews were too easily identified by those who hated them — they were different than the other Europeans, and this drew persecutions and pogroms and ultimately the Holocaust. So, the Reformed tradition sought deliberately to blend in, no longer be different — effectively reducing them to a culture club.
Can you identify with their fears? But despite the “good” reasons that we might have for blending in to the general “Gentile” population, God still commands that His people be different! Holy!
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.