What Is Worth Celebrating?

Explore the Bible Series

February 25, 2007

 

Background Passage: Esther 8:1-10:3

Lesson Passage: Esther 8: 3, 6-8; 9:1-2, 20-22

 

Introduction: This weekís lesson marks the end of our study of the Book Esther. Along the way we have encountered fascinating, colorful characters that make this story come alive; but, more importantly, we have considered, in these characters, some very important lessons for Christian living. Perhaps we should pause to review some of these principles.

 

Mordecai: This remarkable man left an enduring legacy of quiet, consistent patience in the service of God.He provides a wonderful example of patriotism and faithfulness to the King of Persia, and he also demonstrates the importance of longsuffering in the outworking of Godís providence in his life.Very early in the story we discover the life-saving kindness of Mordecai as he uncovered a clandestine conspiracy on the kingís life.For years Mordecaiís kindness went unrecognized and unrewarded.In time, the king rediscovered the account of Mordecaiís service, and Ahasuerus honored his noble benefactor.

 

Esther: The ancient world held women in low regard, but we find notable exceptions to this trend in the pages of Scripture.Despite her gender and youthfulness, God exalted her to a position of influence in the Medo-Persian Empire.Her comfortable, luxurious circumstance, however, did not quench her godly concern for her people.She roused herself from the temptation to lethargic neglect and risked her life to follow the path of honor by interceding for the Jews.Courageously, she entered the court of the king, and, in time, unveiled the sinister, murderous plan of Haman.

 

Ahasuerus: We find little reason to admire this capricious, impressionable king. He appears, in the text, as an easily-influenced, weak-willed man. His unseemly pride caused him to unjustly depose Vashti; then, he gives in to the impulsive, hateful designs of Haman.Even at the end of the story, Ahasuerus seemed startled at the revelation, by Esther, of Hamanís cruel plans for genocide. This was not a discerning, intelligent man.

 

Haman: This sad figure demonstrates the dangers of harboring envy, racism, and hatred.His ascension to power fostered a foolish illusion of invincibility, and he boldly sought the annihilation of the Jewish people.His wickedness seems exaggerated because of his great influence, but these attitudes can have catastrophic consequences in the lives of anyone.

 

As we considered in out initial study of this book, God does not always act in overt ways. Often, he works quietly, behind the scenes.His hand, however, turns the pages of human history, and Christians must discern his handiwork.The Book of Esther ends with a valuable lesson for us.The Jews, delivered from the deadly designs of Haman, commemorated their deliverance by annual observance of the Feast of Purim.

 

 

Outline of Background Passage:

 

I.                   The Deliverance of the Jews (8:1-17)

A.    Royal honor given to Esther and Mordecai (vv. 1-2): Following the common pattern of the ancient Middle East, a heroic figure, in this case Esther, received the estate of a vanquished enemy.

B.     The reversal of the kingís decree to annihilate the Jews (vv. 3-14): Estherís great concern, of course, did not center on receiving Hamanís estate; rather, she wanted the king to reverse the deadly edict concerning the Jews.Ahasuerus complied with the queenís request by giving her authority to compose a new decree.He gave her his signet ring to denote his approval of this action and gave her permission to send the newly written document to the governors of Persiaís provinces.

C.     The ascension of Mordecai (vv. 15-17): The remarkable change in circumstances triggered the kingís gratitude.He promoted Mordecai to a position of great dignity and responsibility in the kingdom.This is obviously an amazing development.Some decades before, the Babylonians had denigrated a vanquished and disgraced nation if Judah.Many of the Jews found themselves in disgraceful exile in a pagan, in hospitable land.Clearly, profound anti-Semitism existed during the time of Haman; yet, in the providence of God, this Jewish man Mordecai ascended to the position of prime minister.Mordecaiís ascension produced an interesting effect on the citizens of Persia.Verse Seventeen indicates that a significant number of people identified themselves as Jews. It is possible that this verse means that some of the Jews, living incognito, determined to publicly identify themselves as Jews; however, the text seems to pint to different alternative.Some of the Persian people, if I read the text properly, may have converted to Judaism.

 

II.                The Destruction of the Enemies of the Jews and the Establishment of Purim (9:1-32)

A.    The destruction in Shushan (vv. 1-10): When the day of Hamanís conspiracy came, the Jews in Shushan armed themselves and killed their enemies.This warfare extended beyond the winter capital, but this section places special focus on the killing in Shushan.Mordecai played a significant role in leading the fight, and the text records the death of five hundred people in Shushan.The rest of the chapter registers the destruction in other parts of the empire.Frankly, this chapter may prove problematic for people who understand the teachings of Jesus regarding the treatment of enemies.Tens of thousands of people died in this slaughter (See v. 16), and it seems difficult to reconcile this with the clear teachings of the Master.I claim no special insight into this dilemma; however, Esther Nine seems to describe an organized, authorized military confrontation aimed at self-defense.

B.     The destruction of Hamanís sons and the extended warfare into the Persian provinces (vv. 11-19): After the killings in Shushan, Ahasuerus asked Esther what she wished to do.She requested the execution of the ten sons of Haman.Perhaps Hamanís sons had participated in their fatherís conspiracy, and Esther reasoned that killing them was an appropriate act of justice.As the fighting spilled over into the other provinces, the Jews killed 75,000 of their enemies.The text emphasizes the Jewís refusal to take the spoils of their victory, perhaps in commemoration of Saulís disobedience in taking spoils from his conflict with the Amalekites (See I Samuel 15).

C.     The celebration of Purim (vv. 20-32): The purpose of the Book of Esther now becomes more evident, the establishment of Purim.Mordecai notified the Jews in all the Persian provinces to mark the anniversary of the destruction of Hamanís conspiracy.

 

III.             Postscript (10:1-3): This brief postlude traces the statesmanship of Mordecai.This story began with the humble position of Mordecai, but it concludes with this manís ascension to the second position in Persia.Despite the great hardships Mordecai endured, in the end, God blessed his servant in ways beyond imagination.

 

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

  1. Discuss the importance of commemorating important events in Christian history.Why should Christians mark the currents of Godís providence in human history?
  2. What role did hardship and trials play in the lives of Mordecai and Esther?
  3. How should Christians respond to their enemies, men like Haman?Perhaps a brief study of Psalm 73 might prove helpful in considering this point.
  4. How should Christians respond to their political leaders, even those who seem weak, unethical, and indecisive?