The Power of Position

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Power, pride, position, prestige, and fortune seem to go to people’s heads and there is nothing but their own demise that brings them back to reality.  Some people think so highly of themselves that nothing matters but the selfish desires that propels them to energetically jump out of bed each morning ready to face the next conquest.  These selfish desires for power, prestige, and fortune are more important than the people they use as stepping stones to get to the ideal destination.  In many instances in history, this lust for power and fortune costs people their lives.  This is seen in the numerous battles that have been fought over the years in order to conquer new lands and gain more wealth.

Haman fits quite nicely into the picture painted above.  As the story in Esther continues to unfold, the desires of Haman become visible and his means are no different than the many that have gone before him.  Haman was appointed the top official in King Ahasuerus’ kingdom. (Esther 3:1) In order to feed into this quest for prestige even more, the king ordered that all must bow down and pay homage to Haman.  (Esther 3:2).  Homage or reverence means to bow down as to worship.  King Ahasuerus ordered all the people to bow down and worship Haman.  Mordecai, being a Jew, was not going to worship anyone except God, the Creator of the Universe.

Mordecai did not obey.  Forced worship is not true worship, and forced respect is not true respect.  This bowing down to pay homage to Haman did nothing more than feed into Haman’s ego about himself and cause a wider gap between him and his subjects.  Mordecai was reminded time and time again by the king’s servants that he was disobeying the king’s edict.  This did not matter to Mordecai; he was being true to his God.

After Mordecai’s continued refusal to bow down to Haman, these same servants went to Haman and reported to him Mordecai’s disobedience.  It was not just his disobedience they reported but also his nationality, “he was a Jew.” (Esther 3:4).  To say the least Haman was furious, but was able to control himself and not lay a hand on Mordecai, but rather “Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus.” (Esther 3:6).

This injustice to Haman burned within him for a year as he cast lots “day after day, and month after month” (Esther 3:7) to find the appropriate time to handle this situation. Casting lots was a common practice throughout the Bible.  It was used by the High Priest to assist in making decisions, knowing that the decision was an impartial one albeit a chance decision.  Various things were used to assist in this decision making process like stones, sticks, cards, or dice.  “I drew the short end of the stick” comes from this practice of casting lots.  Whoever drew the short stick was the intended person for the question to be answered.  Casting lots is seen in the life of Jonah, Jesus and His clothing at the cross, and Matthias who replaced Judas as one of the twelve apostles.

Finally, after twelve months of casting lots day after day, Haman went to King Ahasuerus with his evil plot.  He presented the Jews as a group of people that were insubordinate and did not follow the rules of the King.  Haman twisted the facts and the rules of the Jews into a plot of terror that if allowed to continue would cause the demise of the kingdom of Ahasuerus. After twelve months of hatching a plot and saving his money, Haman had a plan.  Haman would personally deposit 10,000 talents of his own silver into the treasury of the king so that all the Jews could be destroyed.  The king’s scribes were summoned the thirteenth day of the next month and the edict was written “according to all that Haman commanded.” (Esther 3:12).  Once the decree was written the “instructions to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month…and to plunder their goods.” (Esther 3:13).

Questions:

  1. Who is Haman and where did he come from? (Genesis 36:1, Exodus 17:8-16, Deut. 25:17-19, I Samuel 15) The Amalekites lived in the same area as Esau and the Edomites, so it is believed they are descendants of Esau.)
  1. Record the chronology of the events of this chapter in order to see the length of time it took for this plan to come to fruition.
  1. What did Mordecai do that he told Esther not to do? (Esther 3:4)
  1. Do you think this was the appropriate time for Mordecai to disclose his ancestors?
  1. In essence, it was not his ancestors that Mordecai was taking a stand for, but whom?
  1. Compare the edict that was written in Esther 3:13 with the order from God in I Samuel 15:3?
  1. What would have happened if Saul would have obeyed in I Samuel 15?
  1. Once the edict was written and began to circulate what was the response of the people versus the response of the King and Haman? (Esther 3:15).

A Royal Beauty Contest

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A royal beauty contest is about to ensue in the city of Susa circa 478 BC.  The elaborateness of this beauty contest is beyond our ability to fathom.  All the “beautiful young virgins” of the land were “gathered” to the harem in Susa.  From these many beautiful young virgins would come the new queen.  This is a beauty contest like no other, since the prize, to be chosen to be the queen, was the highest honor for any woman of the land.

After the women were gathered, each woman spent twelve months preparing for her presentation to the king.  They were given whatever their heart desired to prepare themselves for this meeting.  Nothing was spared if it was needed for their beautification process.  They spent a year preparing themselves for this short interview process with the king.

We all know women and the jealousy and cattiness they can have with each other.  It is hard to imagine what it would have been like to live in this environment for a year, all striving for the same thing in the same way.  Esther, quickly won the favor of Hegai, the keeper of these women, and he provided her with food, cosmetics, and seven young women to assist in her beauty process.  All the beautiful young virgins had been brought to him, yet Esther stood out among the crowd to this keeper of women, Hegai.

A few facts must be remembered as the scene is set for this beauty contest.  Since Nebuchadnezzar invaded Israel and carried into captivity 4600 Israelites (Jeremiah 52:30) the influence of the Jews in the leadership of the Babylonian and later the Medo-Persian Empires is quite remarkable.  Going back to the earliest history of the Jews, Joseph also played a major role in the leadership of the Egyptians.  God has His hand on people’s lives and places them in positions of leadership in order to influence pagan people.  Nebuchadnezzar took Daniel from Israel in 605 BC and he became “ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon.” (Daniel 2:48).  Daniel continued to influence the Kings, even after the takeover of the Babylonians by the Medo-Persians, as seen in Daniel 6 and the rule of Darius.

Living in the Persian Empire in the capital city of Susa, and being raised by Mordecai, who was a court official for the king, brought many opportunities to Esther, yet Mordecai did not allow her to forget her heritage.  Mordecai had commanded Esther not to make her people or her kindred known to anyone.  This indicates that there was some hard feelings between the Jews and the Persians.  This animosity could have grown through the special treatment the other officials of the Persian Empire felt the Jews continued to receive throughout history.

Walking in obedience to the Lord brings great benefits, but it also can come at a cost.  Esther took her role in this beauty contest very seriously and followed not just Mordecai’s direction but also Hegai’s.  These men knew the king and knew what it took to win the favor of the king.

After a year of preparation, the big meeting took place between the future queen and the king.  Esther followed the advice of Hegai, and presented herself to the king without pomp and ceremony.  “The king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head…” (Esther 2:17)

Questions:

  1. Who is Mordecai? What is his lineage? Who is he related to?

(Esther 2:5, I Samuel 9:1,2).

  1. Read Esther 2:6. King Jeconiah (Jehoiachin) was taken to Babylon in 597 BC.  Mordecai served during the time of Xexes I (Ahasuerus) 486-465 BC. This cannot refer to Mordecai but to one of these relatives mentioned in this lineage.  Living in a foreign country under exile, Mordecai did not forget his lineage.  Do you think it was difficult to remember his lineage?  Why or why not?
  1. Read the following verses and record what you learn about the character of these influential Jews.
  1. Esther 2:9, 17; 5:2
  1. Daniel 1:9, 20; 6:3, 4
  1. Nehemiah 2:6, 8
  1. Genesis 39:2-5, 21, 23; 41:37-41
  1. Read Esther 2:19-23 and record the events as they happened
  1. Why did Esther follow the advice of her uncle? (Esther 2:20)
  1. What do we see about the character of Mordecai in these verses? Is it the same as Daniel’s, Nehemiah’s, Joseph’s and Esther’s?  Is it any wonder Esther found favor?

To go or not to go

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Woman of today strive to be independent.  We as woman have been striving for this independence for centuries, but it came to a head in 1848 when the first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York. The primary goal of the women’s rights movement at that time was to allow women the right to vote. The newest equality struggle women have felt as a need is the allowance of women to serve in combat in the military.

This power struggle women have felt goes back to the Garden when Eve took a bite from the forbidden fruit.  Rather than defer to Adam, consult with Adam, or ask God what she should do she chose to eat the fruit.  She chose to show her independence and it cost her and Adam their lives.

In the book of Esther, a similar situation takes place when Queen Vashti surrounded by the ladies of the kingdom refused to come before King Ahasuerus when she was asked.  There are many theories as to the nature of this request by King Ahasuerus, and there is the same amount of speculation as to why Queen Vashti refused to come when beckoned by the King.  Since the Biblical account does not share this bit of information then the assumption is that God did not think it was important to the story.  It is important not to add into Scripture what is not there.  The focus of the book of Esther is not Queen Vashti, rather the focus of the book of Esther is God’s preservation of His people using willing servants to carry out His plans.

King Ahasuerus was the fourth King in the Medo-Persian Empire.  Cyrus the Great had taken over the Babylonian Empire from Belshazzer, the great grandson of Nebuchadnezzar.  During this takeover by Cyrus the Great, one of his officials, Darius, who later became a King of the Medo-Persian Empire took the daughter of Belshazzar, Vashti, and gave her to his son, Ahasuerus, for his wife. The Medo-Persians also killed Belshazzer, Vashti’s father.  This may have caused some animosity in their marriage.

During this time, the rulers of these lands often left home, trying to quell uprisings or conquer new lands.  There were many lives lost during these frequent battles with seemingly no end in sight or no purpose to the fighting. One of the roles of the king was to promote trust within his armies, generals, officers, servants, and the people of his kingdom.  King Ahasuerus held a grand party for all these people.  For 180 days he held a party for all his officials, servants, nobles, and governors to show the splendor and pomp of his greatness.  Once this feast was complete, he held a feast for “all the people present in Susa, both great and small.” (Esther 1:5).

During this feast, he made an edict that the people could drink wine according to their desires.  The King did not want the people to feel they had to drink wine every time he drank a glass, as this was the custom in these times, rather he was trying to accommodate all people. Queen Vashti also gave a feast during this time for the women of the kingdom.  It is unknown whether this was custom for the Medo-Persians.  During this grand party, King Ahasuerus summoned Queen Vashti.  Although the King had made provisions for the people to drink wine in the quantity they desired, he had not changed the ruling that when summoned by the King the one summoned can decide if they wanted to go.

Queen Vashti refused the summons and the court of high officials was abuzz.  The fear of these men was that the wives in the kingdom would all decide that they were no longer subject to their husbands since Queen Vashti did not go when summoned by the King.  After much discussion, the queen was banished from the kingdom as an example to all the wives of the land that this behavior was unacceptable.  Letters went out to all the provinces of the kingdom in the appropriate language stating that “every man be the master of his own household.” (Esther 1:22).

Questions:

  1. Who was Vashti’s father?
  2. Who did Vashti marry?
  3. With a new kingdom comes new leadership, how would the events of Vashti’s life affect her disposition?
  1. There is much speculation as to the summons by King Ahasuerus to Queen Vashti, is there a way she could have obeyed the order without degrading herself?
  1. Why is the role of the man as the leader of the home such an important concept, even in the realm of a pagan society who does not believe in the God of the Bible?
  1. What would have been the value of a 180 day feast and who was it for? (Esther 1:4).
  1. What was the benefit to a seven day feast and who was this feast for? (Esther 1:5)
  1. The furnishings for the party are described in Esther 1:6, 7, why is this important to the story?
  1. What do can be learned about the character of the King and the Queen from Esther 1?

Freedom or Servitude

Delores CarrA pen could not write a letter without a person composing the words.  A paintbrush could not paint a beautiful masterpiece without an artist.  A piano could not play beautiful music without a musician.  A house could not be constructed without the construction worker putting all the pieces together.  A piece of work no matter how small or how grand needs someone to orchestrate it and put the pieces together.  Even a car built with many robotics and computers still needs a person to engineer the robotics and the computers.  This translates to the world around us as we look at the intricacies of our world and the intricacies of our bodies, it seems we forget how complex the natural world is, and get caught up in how grand we are as humans.  We often forget that there was a world before us and there will be a world after us, so why do we get so enamored with ourselves? “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21).

Deborah’s humility shines through these two short chapters in Judges.  She does not take any credit for herself, nor does she seek the approval of others.  Rather she spends time communing with God.  We are not told of her intimate relationship with God, rather we see the fruit of her intimate relationship with God.  She is consulted for her wisdom by many as she sits under a tree and the people of Israel come to her for wise council regarding the things of God. (Judges 4:5). She receives a message from God regarding the battle that is to be fought between two tribes of Israel led by Barak against Jabin, king of Canaan. (Judges 4:6).  She has faith in the message from God and goes out into the battle with Barak to help bolster his faith.  (Judges 4:9). She takes no glory in herself as she sings a song of praise and worship to God in Judges 5 with Barak regarding the victory over Jabin given to the Israelites from God.

Deborah realizes she is a pen, a paintbrush, and a violin in the hands of her Master and Creator, God!  She takes no glory in her abilities, but rather gives the glory to God through her song of praise in Judges 5.  Just as the paintbrush took no glory when Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, so Deborah took no glory in the salvation of the Israelites from the Canaanites.  Yet today in our culture so many take glory for their accomplishments.

Frank Sinatra sung a song about this very thing called, “I did it my way.”  One of the verses contain these words:  “I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway, and more, much more than this, I did it my way.”  God also speaks to this in His word in Proverbs 16:9 “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”  Two opposite thoughts: God’s way or our way.  Deborah illustrates what happens when we seek God’s ways and God’s wisdom, even the enemies of the Israelites were defeated.  The cycle in Israel during the time of the judges was idolatry, forced servitude, pleading with God, and salvation.  If the people of Israel would have submitted only to God and served Him with their whole hearts, there would have been no servitude.  If the people would have given up their way and followed God’s way, they would have enjoyed living in the “land flowing with milk and honey” as they had been promised by God during their years of slavery in Egypt.  Rather than enjoy these blessings by serving God, they decided to live life their way.

The question for each of us is, “what path will we choose?”  If we choose to follow our own desires and our own path without consulting the Lord and His direction for our lives, we will end up like the Israelites in servitude.  If we choose to live life like Deborah, we gain our freedom.  Deborah desired no glory for the victory over the Canaanites, yet she is remembered in the pages of scripture as a faithful follower of God and a leader of the Israelites to freedom.

Questions:

  1. Read Judges 4 and recount the events of the battle between Israel and Canaan.
  1. Who would receive credit for subduing the commander of the army of Canaan, Sisera according to Judges 4:9, 21?
  1. Who received credit for subduing Jabin, the king of Canaan, and subsequently the nation of Canaan? (Judges 4:23)
  1. What does Deborah call herself in Judges 5:7?
  1. What is said about Jael in Judges 5:24-27?
  1. Why did God use these woman in these roles?
  1. Do you think Barak’s cowardice as seen in Judges 4:6, 8 is indicative of the cowardice of the other Israelite men?
  1. Would following after God and serving Him have provided the men of Israel more courage? How?
  1. What caused the 10,000 men of Israel to have courage to fight Jabin, Sisera, and the Canaanites?
  1. Do you lack courage? Whose way are you following?  Do you need to make some changes in your life?  If so what changes?