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Characters in Esther – Mordecai’s Confidence in God April 20, 2008

Posted by roberttalley in Esther, Faith, Religion, Sermons.
2 comments

CHARACTERS IN ESTHER

MORDECAI’S CONFIDENCE IN GOD

Esther 4:13-14

 

As we look at the various characters of this book, we are looking at the one character who seems to openly express faith in God. As you know, God is not named as a participant in the book of Esther but the verses that we are looking at today make it clear that Mordecai had a faith in God that is consistent with what is taught elsewhere in the Old Testament. Esther, his cousin, who he has raised is now the queen. After she became queen, Mordecai was instrumental in uncovering a plot against King Ahaseurus. Everything seems to be going well but trouble by the name of Haman comes on the scene. Today we want to see how that this man had confidence and faith in God.

MORDECAI’S CONFIDENCE WAS NOT BASED ON AN UNUSUALLY RIGHTEOUS CHARACTER.

He had chosen not to return to Jerusalem as other Jews had. Now we do not want to read more into this than the Bible tells us but let us think about this for a moment. Around 50,000 Jews returned to Jerusalem and the surrounding area under Persian rule. There were many, however who for some reason or another chose not to go back to the land of their fathers. They had permission to go home but many did not, among them Mordecai and Esther. Mordecai may have held a minor office in the government, which would explain why he sat in the king’s gate  and would perhaps explain why he did not return to Jerusalem. The trip back to Jerusalem was dangerous and once there, he would have had no guarantee of a living. Whatever the reason, Mordecai chose not to go back to his homeland.

Remember, Mordecai had advised Esther not to be open and honest about her ethnic identity (2:10). Certainly, it might be understandable for Mordecai to not take up his roots and move to a country which, though it was his homeland, he was unfamiliar with. It seems though that Mordecai not only was unwilling to go home with the other Jews but also that he preferred to play down his Jewish heritage. Now it should be noted that he did not keep it a complete secret (Esther 3:1-4). It is ironic that the very thing he told Esther not to do, in order to protect her, he himself did. In fact, it was Mordecai’s admission that he was Jewish that ultimately brought the whole nation into jeopardy. 

MORDECAI’S REFUSAL TO BOW DOWN

Although clearly loyal to the king (Esther 2:21-23), Mordecai chose not to show respect to command of the king in honoring Haman (3:1-6). Now the command of the king was not likely a command to worship Haman. If anything the king would have reserved that privilege for himself. Haman had been lifted to an authoritative position and the king had commanded that Haman be respected. One might imagine that Haman himself had requested this honor to be shown him. Mordecai would not have been breaking any laws by bowing down to Haman. In fact, according to the commandment of Jeremiah, in Jeremiah 29:3-7 to honor Haman would have been obedience to the LORD’s command. Mordecai was obviously loyal to the king, otherwise he would not have rescued his life by betraying the conspiracy against Ahasuerus’ life. Apparently, Mordecai just did not like something about Haman. Mordecai never reveals why he reacted this way to Haman. Mordecai appears to be foolhardy. Although on the surface, Mordecai would not be candidate number one for “Most Righteous Jew of the Year;” he was according Esther 4:13-14 confident that God would protect His people.

BIBLICAL CONFIDENCE

Mordecai’s confidence was based on a knowledge of God’s promises (Compare Esther 4:14 with Jeremiah 30). He did not presume to say that he knew how God would deliver the Jews but he was confident that God would.

These promises had been clearly made (Jeremiah 30). Of course, these promises were first made to Abraham (Genesis 12), Isaac, and Jacob. God had confirmed them when he gave the Ten Commandments (Exodus 19-20) and again before Moses died in the book of Deuteronomy. I would like for us to look, though, at Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning God’s promise of protection to His people.

First, he promises to return His people to the promised land (Jeremiah 30:2-3). We will look at this promise a bit closer later on.

Secondly, God promises that no matter how bad things may get, He will save His people (Jeremiah 30:4-11). The description here is of extreme sorrow and pain. Unlike the previous promise, this event, the time of Jacob’s trouble has not yet occurred. This time of Jacob’s trouble is described for us several places in the Bible, most notably in the book of Revelation but it is also described by Joel, Daniel, Isaiah, and many other of the writing prophets, which doubtless Mordecai would have been familiar with and have known that God would never allow His people ultimately to be destroyed.

Because the first set of promises had been clearly kept, Mordecai had every expectation that God would keep the other promises (6:12-13). From his viewpoint, it appeared that the time of Jacob’s trouble had come. From his viewpoint, it was time for the Messiah to deliver his people. Because of this knowledge, he had confidence that if his cousin, who he had raised, deserted him and her people, God would deliver his people.

Notice, Mordecai did not say, I know God will deliver me. He did not know that. God had not made that promise to him individually but God had made that promise to His people and Mordecai believed that promise. He had seen what God had been able to do to move Cyrus to permit the Jews to return to Jerusalem. He knew that God through Isaiah had predicted that a man named Cyrus would do this. He knew that Jeremiah had predicted that it would happen seventy years after the captivity began. He had every reason in the world to believe that God somewhere would use someone from somewhere to somehow deliver His people.

WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM MORDECAI…

The story of Mordecai suggests that the purpose of faith in God is more than simply winning God’s favor but rather to give us insight into what God is doing, so that we might act accordingly.

Let me explain. Too many people believe that pleasing God is some type of white magic. “If I do enough good things then God will give me blessings, power to do mighty deeds, a nice home with a two car garage, kid’s who never rebel, physical and mental health, good grades, good jobs, good retirement packages, and death while we sleep with a smile on our face.” This is not Mordecai’s philosophy. He believes that God has already promised that He would rescue His people. Mordecai is convinced that he and Esther should act rather than hide themselves because he knows that God is in control and that His promises endure forever. His responsibility is simply to act accordingly. He does not need to fear that his people would be destroyed. He simply trusts in God’s providence and power and purposes.

 

WHAT PROMISES HAS GOD MADE TO US?

It should be clear that the national promise of protection to Israel has not been made to any other nation or group of people. There are, however, some promises that are specifically made to the Church, the Body of Christ. I will only mention a few. God has promised that if we trust Jesus Christ, His Son, as our sacrifice for our sins, that we would receive eternal life. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life, He that believes in me, though he were died, yet shall he live.” Some of you young people worry about whether you will truly go to heaven when you die. According to the Scriptures, if you have trusted Christ, you are assured of salvation forever.

 

Titus 3:3-7 tells that it is only in Christ that we have hope of salvation.

3 “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared,  not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

 

Others of you are worried about all sorts of things. Christ said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” This does not mean if you seek God first you will never worry. What He is saying is that you do not need to worry, you are wasting your time with worrying. God will take care of you. This is not a call to live a life pleasing to God so that you can win God’s favor but rather give priority to the things of God and He will take care of every other priority that you might have or might want to have. When you bow before God in prayer, you can pray, not my will but thy will be done because you are convinced not only that God’s will shall be done but that also His will is best.

 

Next Week: Haman – The Sin of Pride – Esther 6:1-14

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Characters in Esther – The Queen Herself April 6, 2008

Posted by roberttalley in Esther, Faith, Religion, Sermons.
2 comments

 

 

 

 

CHARACTERS IN ESTHER

ESTHER – STRENGTH TO DO THE NECESSARY

Esther 4:6-17

 

As we look at the various characters of this book, we move to the heroine, the woman God uses to protect His people from their enemies. Esther became queen after twelve months of impressing on official of the king after another and finally impressing Ahasuerus himself with her great beauty. Today we want to see how that this woman had the courage and boldness and strength to do what was necessary for her to do, if she was going to be an active participant in God’s plan.

 

Esther was not living as an orthodox Jew (2:8-12). This is in great contrast to the example of Daniel and his three friends in the first chapter of his prophecy. These men refused to eat the unclean food and drink the wine that was provided by the king. Esther not only becomes fully integrated with the culture of the palace but we find that when she gives a banquet for the king and Haman, it is called a banquet of wine. We do not know what kind of woman Esther was but there is no mention of her godliness. She’s apparently not living faithfully according to the law of God. She is also trying to keep it a secret that she is one of God’s chosen people.

Humanly speaking, she has good reason to keep her ethnic identity a secret. The Jews had a number of enemies in the Persian empire. Daniel, as an old man was hated by his political rivals who set a trap to have him cast into the lion’s den. As also happens in the book of Esther, they trick a foolish king, Darius, into signing a law that should have resulted in Daniel’s death. Instead Daniel’s political rivals and their families were killed. The likelihood of remaining personal animosity against the Jews because of Daniel was great.

The Jews also had political enemies who we read about in Ezra and Nehemiah. These people did not want to see the temple rebuilt nor the walls around Jerusalem rebuilt and they attempted a number of ways to bring the work to a halt and were at times successful. One of these methods was appeal to the Persian king to stop the work. They were painted in the descriptions of one of these letters as a rebellious people who would not remain submissive to the Persian king if allowed to establish themselves in Jerusalem.

 

Mordecai and Esther are aware of the recent history of the Jews in the Persian Empire. They also knew what type of man that Ahasuerus was and that Esther is going to have to deal with this man as his queen. We find, however, that God controlled and even used Esther’s secret for His purposes. Esther ended up queen because God needed her there.

Esther was put in a position where she was forced to make a decision about doing the will of God (4:10-14).

She needed to face her personal responsibility in this matter. It does not appear that Esther is trying to know God’s will for her life. God does not speak to her or perform some miracle or give some sort of sign. Esther does not go and read her Bible. In fact, she may not have had access to the Scriptures. She is just there in the palace minding her own business and then God works the situation to the point where she is forced to make a decision. Do I do what is right or do I try to find a way to save my hide?

God himself actively works to see that she has the opportunity to do His will. Remember that Esther did not know when she became queen that she would be used of God to deliver the Jewish people. She was not keeping her identity a secret waiting for that special day when its revelation would be salvation of the Jewish nation. All she knew was that she was now the most honored woman in the kingdom. God, however, is working. He is working before she becomes queen and after she becomes queen and even during the night between her two banquets of wine, when he takes Ahasuerus’ sleep away from him and allows him to hear of how that Mordecai rescued his life by revealing a plot against the king’s life and how that Mordecai had not been honored for his good deed and God uses this knowledge to humble Haman.

What God wants more than anything else is a willing, strong, and courageous heart. Now the book of Esther does not say this but the Bible makes it clear that what He wants from us is a willingness to simply to what is right, what is His will. How important is it to do the will of God?

Jesus put it this way in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”

It is the only guarantee of eternal blessing and significance according to 1 John 2:17, “And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”

Esther was willing to do God’s will despite the likely personal cost. The issue is not being in God’s will but rather doing God’s will. That is, by the way, the emphasis in the New Testament. It is not a matter of finding out what you are to be but simply doing what you already know to be the truth. That is the decision that Esther has to make. Am I going to do what is right, what God wants me to or am I going to do something else? Esther did not know whether she would survive the first step but she had faith to act, confident that this was the right thing to do. Faith and confidence are not real if you are assured of a rosy outcome. Faith and confidence show itself to be real even if the outcome appears to be disaster in the making.

Esther was encouraged to put her trust in God and she did (4:16, 5:1-8, 7:1-6). God’s will is revealed to her one step at a time and even at that it is not always clear what it is that she should do.

“If I perish, I perish! (4:16)” That is not the same as “Que sera, sera!” (Whatever will be, will be). Esther is not passive nor is she fatalistic. She is active and convinced that she must act. She did not know if she would survive but she did know that God was in control and that her responsibility was to act accordingly. She did not need to fear when the events of the day were going against her. She needed to trust in God’s providence and power and purposes.

Esther seems in 5:1-8 to be feeling her way. She does not seem to be convinced as to the best time to reveal Haman’s trap. God, however, even uses her hesitancy for His purposes. Just as God is not limited by our lack of character, he is also not limited by our inadequate plan. He will accomplish His purposes, no matter how awful we may bungle to the task we have before us. There were many records that could have been read to Ahasuerus that night but the royal reader selected exactly the portion that included the deeds of Mordecai.

When Esther at the second banquet finally revealed Haman’s plan and her identity (7:1-6), God took things up from there and shaped the situation to accomplish His purposes (7:7-8:8).

He Maketh No Mistake

My Father’s way may twist and turn

My heart may throb and ache.

But in my soul I’m glad I know

He maketh no mistake.

My cherished plans may go astray,

My hopes may fade away.

But still I’ll trust my Lord to lead

for he doth know the way.

Tho’ night be dark, and it may seem

That day will never break;

I pin my faith, my all in Him,

He maketh no mistake.

There is so much now I cannot see;

My eyesight’s far too dim.

But come what may I’ll simply trust

And leave it all to Him.

But by and by the mist will lift

And plain it all He’ll make.

Through all the way tho’ dark to me

He made not one mistake. (unknown)

 

You are presented almost everyday with an opportunity to do God’s will. He is giving you that opportunity. It is not easy but it is there for you. You may be no more interested in doing something great for God than Esther was but that does not absolve you from the responsibility to do what is God’s will.

 

Believer, young and old, where does the strength come? According to 2 Thessalonians 1:11 it comes from God,

 

“Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power,” Turn to Christ for the strength and the power and the courage and the boldness that you need.

 

Perhaps you have yet to trust Christ. Please consider Hebrews 10:35-39.

35

 

Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward.

36

 

For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:

37

 

“For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry.

38

 

Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.”

{#Hab 2:3,4}

39

But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.

The Characters of the Book of Esther: Ahasuerus (Xerxes I) March 30, 2008

Posted by roberttalley in Esther, Religion, Sermons, Sovereignty.
2 comments

CHARACTERS IN ESTHER: AHASUERUS

God’s Hand in World Affairs

Esther 1:1-2:18

The Bible makes it clear that from all eternity God had a plan. What is not always clear, is how wicked men, especially wicked rulers are used by God to fulfill His plan. We find in the book of Esther in the character of Ahasuerus an example of how God controls world affairs through the arrogant and sometimes foolish designs of wicked men.

 

God is accomplishing His purposes not in spite of Ahasuerus but rather He is using Ahasuerus to serve His own great purpose, that is, to protect the nation of Israel. This is the theme of the book of Esther. In Esther 2:15-18, we find that the heart of the king and those of his officers were in God’s hand.

He uses Ahasuerus’ political ambitions (1:3-8).

Ahasuerus (Xerxes) was a man of great ambition. He was a man who was used to controlling his own fate as well as the fate of others. Ahasuerus was a very determined man.

Since it was in the “third year of his reign” (483 BC), these festivities would have been just prior to his invasion of Greece, and just after his successful suppression of the Egyptian and Babylonian revolts. This feast is both a celebration as well as a political stunt to boost morale and support for his Grecian campaign after his father Darius the Great had failed in his quest to conquer the Greeks at the battle of Marathon. He was apparently successful because he invaded with a huge army and navy including ten thousand elite soldiers called the Persian Immortals. This is the army that the three hundred Spartans and their allies held off at Thermopylae.

He uses Ahasuerus’ impulsive character (1:9-22 and 2:15c, 17).

We see this in the Bible but we also know this from history. Herodotus tells how shortly after this great feast as Ahasuerus was gathering his army, a man with four sons said to him, I am going with you to Greece and my three youngest sons are going with you to Greece but I ask leave of you that my eldest son might stay here and not go into battle. Ahasuerus in anger said, your son will stay here and he had the eldest son cut in half and set the carcass on the two sides of the road for the army to march between.

After Ahasuerus reached Greece, he attempted to build two bridges over the Hellespont. These bridges were destroyed by a storm. In his anger Ahasuerus ordered that the waters of the strait be whipped three hundred times and then had fetters thrown into the water as a punishment for the storm.

This is the man that Esther is going to have to deal with in our story. We find, however, that God controlled and even used Ahasuerus’ impetuous ways for His purposes (Esther 2:15c, 17). God used his hastiness in deposing a queen and later in his method of acquiring a new queen to allow Esther to become Ahasuerus’ favorite in the harem.

Now Esther was beautiful but in a sense she was just another pretty face. She was lined up with all the other women in the harem. She ate at the same table with them. She dressed the same way they dressed. She acted just like them. Nobody knew she was a Jew. How did she gain favor with the king’s court? What made the king pick her out? They were all good looking. They could all smile. They could all flirt. The reason Esther ended up queen is because God put her there.

He uses Ahasuerus’ life circumstances (compare 1:3 with 2:12-16).

The fierce resistance of the Spartan-led army at Thermopylae offered Athens time to prepare for a decisive naval battle that would determine the outcome of the war. The subsequent Greek victory at the Battle of Salamis left much of the Persian Empire‘s navy destroyed and Xerxes retreated to Asia, leaving a force in Greece under Mardonius, who was to meet the Greeks in battle one last time. The Spartans assembled at full strength and led a pan-Greek army that defeated the Persians decisively at the Battle of Plataea, ending the Greco-Persian War and with it, the expansion of the Persian Empire into Europe.” (adapted from Wikipedia).

Wiersbe: “…all this activity – eating and drinking, dethroning the queen, issuing edicts, and losing the war – was part of God’s plan to rescue His people from annihilation.

We can use Ahasuerus (and the rest of the book of Esther) to learn some important lessons.

Tim Challies tells of looking at a book that his uncle had used that gave step-by-step instructions on how to properly butcher a deer and prepare the meat. This book had chapters on how to butcher cows, pigs, sheep, rabbits, raccoons and chickens. It wasn’t hard to recognize the portion on butchering a deer—those pages were covered in blood. Obviously his uncle had kept this book with him through the butchering process and had turned to it often. There were bloody fingerprints on the edges and drops of blood smeared across the pages. It looked well-used. Apparently it served as a good guide because his uncle managed to properly butcher the deer and prepare it for eating. The week we were there he was preparing a pit in which he could smoke the meat from the next deer that found itself in his crosshairs.

Tim goes on to explain how that there are some pages in our Bibles that are covered in blood, so to speak. They are pages that we use to proclaim or defend our faith; they are pages with verses that uplift and inspire; they are the pages with verses that people like to adapt as their “life verses.” We turn to these pages often and love to learn from them.

But then there is Esther 1-2. The two chapters we are looking at today have little or no blood on them. There is little evidence that we have learned from these pages and that we use them to bolster my faith. There is little evidence that we have used those pages to teach me more about the God I serve (Adapted from Tim Challies at  http://www.challies.com/archives/articles/bible-study/blood-on-the-book.php).

If I may, I would like to drop three drops of blood on these two chapters this morning before we close.

Even when those in power do things that harm us, God can work His purposes through them in us. Whoever He is using in our life, it is a part of His purpose (verse 42). Every political leader, every CEO, every leader of an organization plays in some way a vital part in God’s plan. Why? Because He orders it. In the story of Genesis, Joseph put it this way when talking to his brothers, “You meant this for evil but God meant it for good. We do not need to fear when the events of the day are going against us. We do not need to get even. We need to trust in God’s power and in His purposes.

God is not limited by our character in accomplishing His purposes. Proverbs 21:1says,“ The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” When bad men get worse and worse, God does not get frustrated. God is not limited by our cowardice, our bitterness, our laziness, our lack of faith, or even by our wickedness. He will accomplish His purposes, even if the character of every man and woman on earth was against them, we could not slow Him down for a second.

God shapes every circumstance to accomplish His purposes.

This is often hard for us to accept. Yet it is true and it is a necessary truth. It is the truth that keeps us from debilitating fear and worry, the truth that stands between us and a fatalistic or pessimistic outlook. God is in control is not a catch phrase. It is the truth. That is the message of the book of Esther.

Next week we will look at Esther herself and her reaction to the difficult circumstances in which God put her.