The Book of Esther- A Reminder that God is at work behind the scenes; Corinthians- Reflecting the reality of Communion 

 Today we begin reading the Book of Esther.

1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, are historically linked in that they are written with the restoration period in view, (the return of God’s people from their captivity and their restoration to God’s purpose to make their lives speak to the nations of His holiness and plan of salvation).

I and II CHRONICLES 

God’s testimony expressed through the temple, and its functions (His presence, His holiness, His justice, His priesthood, and His mercy) had been tragically lost in the Book of Chronicles. The writer, probably Ezra, reminded the people of what was lost through their disobedience – the blessing of God’s presence and His testimony in the temple, specifically the ark of the covenant. 

THE BOOK OF EZRA 

The Book of Ezra gives the account of the restoration of the altar and temple building, a project led by Zerubbabel.  After the events in the Book of Esther take place, Ezra will lead a delegation to restore the teaching of the Word of God to the nation.

THE BOOK OF NEHEMIAH 

The Book of Nehemiah describes the restoration of the walls that helped to maintain the purity of their testimony as a distinct, separate (holy) people.

THE BOOK OF ESTHER

The Book of Esther describes the restoration of God’s people from the sentence of death. It takes place between Chapters 6 and 7 of Ezra.  The action takes place among those Jews who remained behind in Persia after the Persian kings had given permission for them to return. But the implications of their actions were far-reaching, providing for the salvation of all the Jews and the Gentiles as well, as it preserved the Messianic line that led to the birth of Christ.

This is the story of those Jews who did not return with Zerubbabel to rebuild the temple. Many of them had become owners of property and successful businesses and had grown comfortable in Persia / Babylon.

Without the Divine Intervention described in the Book of Esther, there would be no restoration. The deliverance from the sentence of death described in the book of Esther makes possible the later returning remnants led by Ezra and Nehemiah.

Martin Luther did not think that the Book of Esther should be included in the Bible. Why? Because God receives no mention in the story. There are no references to worship, heaven or hell. (Prayer is implied as a complement to fasting, but prayer is not explicitly mentioned). There is no prediction of the coming of the Messiah. The Book of Esther is not quoted in the New Testament. So why is it in the Bible?

At face value, this book is an account of a most unusual turn of events in history that result in the deliverance of the Jews from a death sentence and the unrighteous rule of the prime minister of Persia, Haman. It also explains the founding of the feast of Purim. But hidden in the story is the central character. God is at work. He is behind the scenes moving the scenes! The story is about God’s hidden works of deliverance, His providence, and His power providing deliverance for His people.

Even in a pagan country where people are given over to superstition, the one true God proves Himself to be God over all. While others roll the dice, as Haman and his sons do in this story in order to find the lucky day to carry out their evil plan, God proves He is sovereign over all, even those things that might appear to have occurred by chance.

Proverbs 16:33

The lot is cast into the lap,
but its every decision is from the Lord.

This is a true story. It is a relevant story. The story of Esther is played out in history, and we see His story (God’s redemptive history) played out in the story of Esther. Hidden also in the pages of this book is your story. The book holds up a mirror to the condition of our souls. As we study this book, we will discover the power of God to deliver us from internal bondages and external dangers. We will see that our placement in our current circumstances, relationships, and spheres of influence is no accident and that God works together with those who love him and are called, in everything, to the good of His purposes (Romans 8:28).

Why is the Book of Esther in the Bible?

It is a story to give us hope.

Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, (15:4)  For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance  and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Esther in History

The book covers the events from the 3rd year to the 12th year of the reign of Xerxes, approximately a decade, from 483-473 BC. This story takes place during the period known as the Babylonian captivity, after the fall of Babylon to the Medo-Persian Empire. Some Jews who do not return to Jerusalem to build the temple, remain settled in Susa, the headquarters of the Persian Empire. The story of Esther begins in the third year of the reign of a Persian King known as Ahazuerus. The Hebrew text follows a transliteration of the Persian, Achashverosh.  Ahazuerus is a title, such as the Czar, the Caesar or Kaiser, Pharaoh or the Shah, meaning ‘venerable father’.

There are three kings designated by this name in Scripture.

(1.) The father of Darius the Mede, mentioned in Daniel 9:1. This was probably the Cyaxares I who was known as Ahazuerus in history, the king of Media, and the conqueror of Nineveh.

(2.) The king mentioned in Ezra 4:6, probably the Cambyses, the son and successor of Cyrus (B.C. 529).

(3.) XERXES- The son of Darius Hystaspes (Darius the Great) is most likely the king named in the Book of Esther. He ruled over the kingdoms of Persia, Media, and Babylonia, “from India to Ethiopia.” This was, in all probability, the Xerxes, who succeeded his father Darius (B.C. 485). In the LXX (Septuagint) version of the Book of Esther, the name Artaxerxes occurs for Ahasuerus. He reigned for twenty-one years (B.C. 486-465). He invaded Greece with an army, it is said, of more than 2,000,000 soldiers, only 5,000 of whom returned with him. Leonidas, with his famous 300, arrested his progress at the Pass of Thermopylae, and then he was defeated disastrously by Themistocles at Salamis.

It was after his return from this invasion that Esther was chosen as his queen. (479-478 BC)

The story takes place at the height of the Persian Empire when Persian rule extended from the River Indus in India to the Nile in Northern Ethiopia. This story is well corroborated with archaeological evidence. Archaeologists have uncovered ruins at Susa and have found many of the things we read about in this book:

-the “king’s gate” (4:2)
-the “inner court” (5:1)
-the “outer court” (6:4)
-the “palace garden” (7:7)
-and even the dice, which they called “pur” (3:7) with which they cast lots.

The Book of Esther is one of the best archeologically verified books in the Old Testament. It is also helpful to learn about this period of history from the Greek perspective from other writings, especially those of Herodotus.

Another one of the many ironies found in the story is that it is Esther’s stepson, Artaxerxes, who becomes the most generous sponsor of the rebuilding of Jerusalem. The story is told in the previous book in the Bible, the Book of Nehemiah.

His Story in Esther

God is in the story of Esther, although you do not find His name written on the scroll. His fingerprints are everywhere as He engineers circumstances to provide the deliverance of His people. (God’s name, the tetragrammaton YHWH, is actually hidden in acrostic form in several verses. (YHWH) is hidden in an acrostic in Esther 5:4 — at the crisis moment demanding God’s providential help — the name Jehovah (YHVH) was purposely encrypted in the Hebrew words, “Let the king and Haman come this day” (Hebrew: “Let-come, the-king, and-Haman, this-day”). Here, the letters forming Jehovah (YHVH) begin each of the four Hebrew words.)

God’s name is hidden in the scroll. Even Esther’s name means ‘hidden’ according to Hebrew scholar Gesenius.

God is the Deliverer in the book of Esther. And the story points to the greater deliverance that God provides for His people through the cross of Christ.

Jesus said that all of the Tanakh (the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings) testify of Him. They  speak of what He came to accomplish in dying to redeem us from our death sentence under the Law, and to provide deliverance from the unrighteous rule of sin that holds us in bondage (John 5:39; Luke 24:44, Luke 9:31; Matt 1:21, Heb 2:15).

As the Jewish people who saw their appointed day of death (the 13th day of Adar) turned to a day of rejoicing (The Feast of Purim), we too can say with the apostle Paul:

2 Cor. 1:10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.

Jesus is our Deliverer (literally ‘Yeshua’- means ‘God to the rescue’). He is our Truer and Greater Intercessor and Advocate; our Truer and Greater Mordecai; our Truer and Greater Esther.

Jesus said, “It is written about me in the scroll (the megillah) ‘I have come to do your will O God'”. (Hebrews 10:7)

With Jesus, it was not a matter of “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16) but “I have come to lay down my life” (see John 10:17-18). Whereas in the book of Esther, Mordecai states: “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” Jesus knew that he came for the appointed hour to accomplish our exodus at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31; Mark 14:41; John 12:23-25).

We were all ‘in Adam’ when Adam sinned, and therefore we all were given the death sentence in Him.

We were born spiritually dead to God and alive to the rule of sin (the prime minister Haman) in our hearts.

We were all born conspirators against the king (like Bigthan and Teresh).

We should have been nailed to the tree (like Bigthan and Teresh were).

We should have been hung on the gallows (like Haman and his sons).

But Jesus died for us and as us. He rose from the dead on the third day and entered into God’s holy presence to plead mercy on our behalf. Because of sin, it is appointed for men once to die and then the judgment.

Jesus took our appointment in death, saying ‘yes’ to the Father’s plan, and like Esther, He appears before the throne as our advocate on the third day. By virtue of His mediation, there can be a change of government, so we are no longer under the rule of sin (Haman) but under the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (Mordecai). We are given the right to defend ourselves against the attack of the lawless ones and celebrate the Victory that has been granted. On the day we should have died, we live; when we should be mourning, we rejoice; when we should have been fasting, we are feasting; when we should have been plundered, we are sharing our portions with one another and giving out of our abundance to the poor. O happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away! He has reversed the curse and set us free from our enemies.

NEW TESTAMENT READING: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 

Paul addresses the divine discipline that was being brought upon the Corinthians for the manner in which they were observing the Lord’s supper.

Rather than giving evidence to their being united in the death of Christ and united as those who partake of the same life, there were shameful divisions among them. There were also instances of people seeing the Lord’s supper as only another occasion of self-indulgence. The “agape feasts,” as the church suppers were called, became occasions for gluttony, selfishness, and drunkenness. These dinners would culminate with the remembrance of where their community life came from, their common participation in the death and life of the Lord Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, who sacrificed Himself to bring about our reconciliation to the Godhead. They failed to wait for one another at the Lord’s table, failing to see what the supper was all about.

Are we conscious of the fact that we are demonstrating the unity of God’s people when we gather together? Therefore, let us love, respect, and be patient with one another. Let us bear with one another. Let us encourage one another.

PSALM 35:17-28 

These verses should encourage us to pray. 

Psalm 35:23 (NASB) 23 Stir up Yourself, and awake to my right and to my cause, my God and my Lord.

I am reminded of the song by Mark Altrogge that we love to sing, “O Faithful God”

            “You lift me up and you uphold my cause”

PROVERBS 21:19-20

Here is a good reminder to be careful whom you marry:

Proverbs 21:19-20 (NASB) 19 It is better to live in a desert land than with a contentious and vexing woman.

How do you treat what is truly valuable in your life? Protect and preserve God’s blessings and share them with others. Beware the trap of seeking instant gratification, hoarding, and self-indulgence.

20 There is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise, But a foolish man swallows it up.

These proverbs pose two questions: Are we contentious or vexing personalities? Do we properly steward our resources?

PRAY FOR THE NATIONS

(Based on the Prayer Journal “Operation World”)

Macedonia

Republic of Macedonia

Europe

Geography

Area: 25,713 sq. km

Landlocked state surrounded by Serbia/Kosovo, Bulgaria, Greece, and Albania.

Population: 2,043,360    Annual Growth: 0.08%

Capital: Skopje

Urbanites: 67.9%

HDI Rank: 72 of 182 (UN Human Development Reports 2009)

Peoples

Peoples: 25 (24% unreached)

Official language: Macedonian, one of the southern Slavic languages    Languages: 10

Answer to Prayer

The evangelical church in Macedonia is one of the fastest growing in Europe and displays growing unity across its theological breadth. Churches are ambitious in their outreach and church planting goals, and they minister across ethnic and national boundaries to share the gospel with their neighbors, a remarkable feat given the Balkanization of the region.

Challenge for Prayer

Macedonia’s ethnic composition dominates its political and social existence, where segregation is more prevalent than harmony. The large (and growing) Albanian minority feel more connected with their own kind in Albania and Kosovo than with the other ethnicities of Macedonia. Greece, Bulgaria, and Serbia also have agendas for Macedonia.

Economic difficulties cause significant emigration and urban pull; many of the 2,000 villages are dwindling or disappearing altogether. Pray for wisdom for the government, and pray that the divided communities might find ways to build their nation together.

PRAYER: Gracious Father, may we never forget Your goodness. Your glorious works are often hidden from our eyes. Help us to take You at Your Word, trusting that all that You have promised in Your Word will come to pass in Your perfect timing. Thank You for the great deliverance that You have accomplished for us in Christ and for the ‘hidden work’ that You are doing in our lives today by Your Spirit! Give us the courage to play our part in Your plan ‘for such a time as this!’ In Jesus’ Name. Amen

Pastor David