Good morning! This morning, we are going to take a quick break from Alan. Please listen to this beautiful song.
When we meet together, we usually shares joys and concerns. Please take a moment to be thankful for any joys you have had this week, and to give any concerns to God. If you would like, feel free to share these below.
The scripture referenced throughout this lesson has been linked to an online text. If you click on a scripture, it will open up in a new window.
This week's scripture lesson is Esther 7:1-10.
The story of Esther is one of several in the Old Testament to portray the success of Israelites living in foreign surroundings. In a few noteworthy cases, these Israelites rose to influential positions (examples: Joseph in Egypt in Genesis 41:40-43; Nehemiah in Persia in Nehemiah 1:11; Daniel in Babylon in Daniel 2:48-49).
These accounts illustrate God's care for his covenant people. They also illustrate his resolve to use them as agents of influence even when (or especially when) they faced opposition, criticism, and ill-treatment.
The events in the book of Esther take place in the Persian citadel of Susan during the reign of Xerxes I, also known as Ahasuerus ("Uh-haz-you-ee-rus," 485-465 BC; see Esther 1:1-2). Key figures in the account are the close relatives Mordecai and Esther. They were part of a Jewish community that had remained in the area even after a decree in 538 BC allowed them to return home (Ezra 1:1-4; Esther 2:5-7).
Esther became queen after Vashti, the previous queen, was divorced by Xerxes (Esther 1:10-22). Xerxes subsequently replaced Vashti by holding a beauty pageant, which Esther won (Esther 2:1-18).
Throughout the selection process, Mordecai forbade Esther from revealing her nationality, and she complied (Esther 2:10). There is no indication that the king himself would have held her Jewish identity against her. Perhaps Mordecai was aware of a general prejudice among the members of the royal court in the larger community.
Eventually, a scheme to destroy the Jews materialized. Xerxes' highest official, Haman ("Hay-mun"), had developed a fierce animosity for Mordecai (Esther 3:1-5). This resulted in Haman's seeking an edict from Xerxes for the annihilation of all Jews throughout the Persian Empire (Esther 3:6). Haman secured this edict without revealing to Xerxes which people he had targeted for destruction. A date for their eradication was set, and the Jews found themselves in grave peril (Esther 3:7-15).
Mordecai convinced Esther to act, at the risk of her own life, to save her people (Esther 4). A key part of his appeal was to consider the possibility that divine providence was at work. This possibility can be seen in his question, "Who knows but that you are come to your royal position for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14). Esther's subsequent resolve is seen in her reply, "I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish," (Esther 4:16).
After three days of fasting, Esther went before Xerxes and received his mercy (Esther 4:16-5:2). She asked that he and Haman join her in a banquet, where she would answer the king (Esther 5:3-4). When prompted at the meal to offer her petition, she requested only that they come to another feast the next day (Esther 5:5-8).
Normally, we discuss the lesson during our Sunday School class. Please take some time to think about and reflect on each question. If you are reading the lesson with someone else, discuss your thoughts together. If you would like to, you may post some of your thoughts and answers below.
Like many people, I count the story of Esther among my favorites in the Bible. Though the book famously does not mention God by name anywhere, its many twists and turns strongly hint at God's providential hand with his covenant people. From Esther's selection as queen, to Haman's execution, to the Jews' deliverance -- the eyes of faith clearly see these events as much more than luck or happenstance. Rather, God was at work behind the scenes.
We should therefore see God as the main character in the account. The actions of its human characters are of mixed quality. Xerxes consistently acted under the influence of alcohol and with a hot temper. Haman always acted in self-interest and pride. Esther and Mordecai seem not to have resisted Esther's participation in a contest that resulted in marriage to a pagan king (contrast Ezra 10). But God worked his will through all parties nonetheless.
Like Esther and her relative Mordecai, we are God's imperfect servants in rectifying the wrongs in the world. But God can and does work through us nonetheless. There are two extremes to avoid: (1) thinking that confronting evil is all up to us and (2) thinking that confronting evil is all up to God. The proper path to take in any given situation will depend on prayer, Bible study, and openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit. We must always consider the possibility that God has placed us in a circumstance, "for such a time as this," (Esther 4:14).
There is no guarantee that every incident in the lives of God's people will have a tidy ending, as the book of Esther does. Evil sometimes enjoys temporary victories. The path to triumph over evil is often unclear, recognized only in twenty-twenty hindsight. But with Christ working in us and through us, we can live with the assurance that, "in all things God works for the good of those who love him," (Romans 8:28).
Father, open our eyes to the opportunities you have for us. Give us courage to act, even when we don't know your plans. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.