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Have courage like Esther
The next four weeks we will study women of the Bible and their heroism. Heroism involves great bravery, usually against great odds and with uncertainty of the result. Not always a matter of life or death, though always with much at stake. Heroism is most often in the service of some animating value, such as family, country, or faith. Esther, Ruth, Elizabeth, and Mary offer us examples of heroism that we can apply to our lives. Esther is a short book, only ten chapters, and a great story. So, read the entire book before you begin the study in detail.
Monday Esther 1:10-12 (NRSV)
The book of Esther begins with a banquet thrown by King Ashasuerus, the ruler of Persia and its provinces. (You might know him as Xerxes: remember the ‘X’ in your first alphabet book.) The banquet was intended to “… display the great wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and pomp of his majesty …” (1:4). His queen, Vashti, took issue and refused to be part of this display of vanity. As the story unfolds, this act of defiance would be heroic in its own right … and part of God’s plan.
Sometimes, we are unwittingly part of God’s plans. Our actions can set off a sequence of events that result in great (and sometimes no-so-great) things. We often never know these results. But God knows.
How did God work through Queen Vashti?
When have you been surprised how your action(s) turned out?
Tuesday Esther 2:5-6 (NRSV)
Now there was a Jew in the citadel of Susa whose name was Mordecai son of Jair son of Shimei son of Kish, a Benjaminite. Kish had been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives carried away with King Jeconiah of Judah, whom King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had carried away.
The story of Esther is set after the Exile, and according to some scholars is the first time the word “Jew” appears in the texts that form the Bible. These Jews were the ancestors of the original people of Israel, but their memory of the Exile and their experience of displacement and persecution very much defined them as a people. Mordecai, later in Chapter 3 behaves as suppressed person might behave. For Mordecai, there is much at stake.
What was at stake for Mordecai?
Have you every defied authority? What was at stake for you?
Wednesday Esther 2:7-11 (NRSV)
Mordecai had brought up Hadassah, that is Esther, his cousin, for she had neither father nor mother; the girl was fair and beautiful, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai adopted her as his own daughter. So when the king’s order and his edict were proclaimed and when many young women were gathered in the citadel of Susa in custody of Hegai, Esther also was taken into the king’s palace and put in custody of Hegai, who had charge of the women. The girl pleased him and won his favor, and he quickly provided her with her cosmetic treatments and her portion of food, and with seven chosen maids from the king’s palace, and advanced her and her maids to the best place in the harem. Esther did not reveal her people or kindred, for Mordecai had charged her not to tell. Every day Mordecai would walk around in front of the court of the harem, to learn how Esther was and how she fared.
Esther was her Persian name, and Hadassah was her Jewish name. The king had banished Queen Vashti and had begun a process of selecting a new queen. Esther found herself front and center in this process. Mordecai saw an opportunity!
Some Bible commentators consider Esther as a textbook example of God working providentially, working in, around, and through places, circumstances, and people. Now, it’s Mordecai’s turn to play a role in God’s plan. Later, (2:19-22), Mordecai gets more deeply involved and is positioned (by God, do you think?) to strike the final chord in the plan.
What does Mordecai do?
When have you directed a plan that you believed God had inspired?
Was the plan clear to you from the start?
Thursday Esther 4:10-11 (NRSV)
Then Esther spoke to Hathach [her servant] and gave him a message for Mordecai, saying “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 – all alike are to be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden scepter to someone, may that person live. I myself have not been called to come in to the king for thirty days.”
Now the plot thickens. Mordecai has offended Haman, the king’s prime minister (3:1-6), and discovering that Mordecai is a Jew, Haman asks the king to sign an edict of death for all the Jews in Persia and the provinces. Mordecai appeals to Esther to ask the king to reconsider, and Esther faces her test. Read the remainder of Chapter 4 and then Chapters 5, 6, and 7.
What was at stake for Esther?
Have you been asked to face a formidable challenge, and what were the reasons you did not want to face it?
Friday Esther 4:12-15 (NRSV)
When they told Mordecai what Esther had said, Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews of another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai, “Go gather of the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that 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.
Thus begin Esther’s acts of heroism. Is she a willing participant in God’s plan?
What is her scheme?
Thinking about your formidable challenge, what motivated you to take it on?
Saturday Esther 8:13-14 (NRSV)
A copy of the writ was to be issued as a decree in every province and published to all peoples, and the Jews were to be ready on that day to take revenge on their enemies. So the couriers, mounted on their swift royal steeds, hurried out, urged by the king’s command. The decree was issued in the citadel of Susa.
Finally, the story gets challenging. Haman has been vanquished by Esther’s guile, and Mordecai has assumed power by virtue of earlier foiling a plot to kill the king which the king recalls, quite by chance (or maybe not) one sleepless night. Esther’s final petition to the king is to rescind the decree to kill the Jews. Mordecai is now in control and with the king’s seal, changes the decree, giving the Jews command to kill their enemies. In our day, we might rightly ask if the slaughtering of tens of thousands of enemies was what God had in mind. Once the killing had been done, Mordecai further instructed the Jews to mark these days each year as a celebration … the festival of Purim (Chapter 9).
Did Mordecai get carried away and pursue his own plan?
Have there been times in your life when God’s plan, in which you played a part, has gone off track?
La Jolla Lutheran Church is a member of Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, a fast-growing association of churches that believe the Bible. Other LCMC churches in the San Diego area include Penasquitos Lutheran Church at 14484 Penasquitos Drive; and St. Timothy Lutheran Church at 2602 Reo Drive. Check the list of more than 800 congregations to find an LCMC church near you.
The Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), copyright, 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S. A. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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