Use Your Influence
Week of May 8, 2011
Bible Verses:† Esther 4:13-17; 8:3-8.
Lesson Focus:† This lesson is about leading by exercising godly influence.
Recognize Your God-Given Potential for Influence:† Esther 4:13-14.
† Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, "Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. † For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"† [ESV]
INTRODUCTION:† The Book of Esther tells a story of the Jewish people who, about fifty years after Cyrusís decree allowing the Jews to return to their homeland, apparently had chosen not to return to the homeland. The story of this book is set in Susa (located in modern Iran), in the court of the Persian king Ahasuerus, whose Greek name was Xerxes I, who ruled from 486 Ė 465 BC. The Greek historian Herodotus characterizes Xerxes as an ambitious and ruthless ruler, a brilliant warrior, and a jealous lover. What value does the Book of Esther have for Christians today?
1.†††††††† The Providence of God. Although God is not referred to explicitly, the author presupposed divine providence. In Israelís history the prophets spoke of the constant care given its nation by God both in salvation and discipline. All things happen at Godís hand. The story of Esther is to be read within this particular worldview of the Old Testament. The most pervasive teaching in the entire book is the importance and extent of Godís providence Ė His sovereignty over nature, nations, and individuals. In the Old Testament, Godís providence is taught largely by illustrations because Israelís understanding of divine providence grew out of its experiences. Godís providence is seen in the stories of Abraham, the other ancestors, judges, kings, and the whole nation. Israel remembered Godís marvelous deeds in the exodus and wilderness wanderings as paradigms of Godís providence in caring for and directing His people in every circumstance. Belief in Godís providence also affected the Israeliteís self-understanding. God is not only interested in the concerns of the whole nation but guides and upholds each individual. The author of Esther stands in the same Hebrew tradition as all other Old Testament writers by taking for granted all these aspects of divine providence. Godís providence is the driving force of the narrative. The author of Esther wanted his readers to see the mystery of Godís hand in history. He chose to show how human decision and action are the instrumentation of divine purpose. Also, the bookís careful avoidance of explicit references to God suggests that application should be made in particular to those situations in which God appears to be least visible. When we are most tempted to think that God has forgotten us, we can be sure that He is at work. Furthermore, as the story unfolds, before the wicked Haman is even introduced and his malicious plan devised, God already had installed the instruments of deliverance: He had placed Esther in the royal court and Mordecai in the kingís favor. The point is that even before our problems arise, God has made provision for them.
2. ††††††† The Conflict of Worldviews. In Esther the author presented two conflicting worldviews. One is represented by Haman, who believed in fate and tried to use it to destroy his enemies [3:7]. Haman was very proud; even though he believed in fate, he thought he could control the direction of events. This belief in fate was part of the worldview that pervaded all the ancient world except Israel. It was based on a kind of pantheistic outlook that sees innate laws in the totality of the universe; even the gods were subject to these laws. Thus they used magic against each other. This worldview formed the basis of astrology, the horoscope, omens, and magic practices that the Old Testament strongly condemns. Hamanís casting of lots to find the auspicious day to carry out his malevolent plans draws attention to this pagan worldview. In his conclusion the author of Esther called attention to the foolishness of such reliance on supernatural power other than the Lordís [9:24-25]. The auspicious day on which Haman had depended for the destruction of the Jews turned out to be the day of his destruction and of their triumph. The author showed the biblical perspective of how peopleís decisions affect history. Human agents are the tools God uses to bring justice. This biblical view of history is of paramount importance throughout the whole Bible. God is the Lord of history, but He has made humans responsible for their decisions and actions. The Bible does not teach fatalism; rather, history is a dialogue between God and humans. God is in control, and history moves toward a goal that God has marked. God takes into account human decisions, weaving them into the very fabric of history. Another important teaching from Esther is that the Jews occupy a special place in divine purpose. In spite of attempts to destroy them throughout history, the Jews can continue to see Godís providence in preserving them. This must be a major factor in why the book was canonized.
[13-14]† Mordecai reacts with great emotion when he hears that the personal conflict between himself and Haman has brought the entire Jewish nation into jeopardy. Hamanís plan to annihilate all the Jewish people is way out of proportion to Mordecaiís offense. Apparently Mordecaiís behavior had merely given Haman the excuse to put his power behind his anti-Semitism. Upon hearing of the kingís decree, Mordecai tears his clothes and puts on sackcloth and ashes in an act of deep mourning and distress. This gesture was common throughout the biblical period. Although apparently separated from direct contact with Mordecai during the first five years of her marriage to Xerxes, Esther remains concerned for him. When she heard about Mordecaiís situation, she sends clothing to him to replace his sackcloth. However, it is only when he refuses to accept her gift that she attempts to find out what is actually troubling her cousin. When Estherís attending eunuch, Hathach, however, brings Mordecaiís entreaty that she go to the king to plead for her people, she begs off, explaining that she no longer routinely sees the king. Moreover, as Mordecai well knows, she cannot go to the king uninvited without risking her life, for unless Xerxes extends his golden scepter, her life will be taken on the spot. Surely Mordecai does not mean to suggest she jeopardize herself like that. Haman had access to the king but Esther did not. Apparently she does not expect to see the king anytime soon, since he has not summoned her for thirty days. She chooses not to request an audience with the king. Mordecai replies to Esther that even if the queen should decide to continue to hide her Jewish identity, as he himself had previously advised, she will face certain death, but the Jews will be helped from another place. By this Mordecai probably meant that God would use another human agent in order to deliver the Jews. In Mordecaiís thinking, Estherís life may be in jeopardy if she goes to the king uninvited, but her doom is certain if she does not. Mordecaiís remark is unsettling. If Esther fails to act as he is suggesting, is he threatening to reveal her identity as a Jew, thus bringing her under Hamanís decree? Or is he invoking divine judgment on her for her apparent apathy toward her people? Esther probably wondered the same thing. Mordecaiís words also suggest that there is a purpose in all that has happened that exceeds Estherís own interests. Mordecai points out that all of the previous circumstances of Estherís life that led her to the Persian throne may have been just for this moment when she can intercede for her people.
Realize that God is the Ultimate Influencer:† Esther 4:15-17.
† Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, † "Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then 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.† [ESV]
It is only after hearing this remark containing both a veiled threat and a suggestion of a greater purpose that Esther decides to act as Mordecai wishes. Perhaps she believes Mordecaiís veiled threat and thinks it safer to take her chances with Xerxes. Or perhaps she glimpses a greater vision of the purpose for her life, regardless of the outcome (If I perish, I perish). The author does not let us in on Estherís thoughts. In either case, this is the last time in the story that Mordecai commands Esther. After deciding to go to the king, she gives Mordecai a command to call the Jews of Susa to hold a three day fast on her behalf. At the end of the three day period, Esther will go to the king. For the first time in this story Esther identifies herself with Godís people and responds to the prophetic call to repentance by joining with the Jews of Susa in this fast. Up to this point in the story, while Esther was pretending to be a pagan, she was controlled by her circumstances. She has been passive in the story, not initiating action, but following along the path of least resistance. Then comes that defining moment when she is faced with taking responsibility for the life God has given her by identifying herself with the people of God. Esther was brought to this defining moment in her life by circumstances over which she had no control. While her people fast with her, Esther overcomes herself and finds the courage to reveal her identity as a Jew before Xerxes regardless of the consequences. After her decision to identify herself with Godís people, Esther becomes the active agent, commanding Mordecai, planning a strategy to save her people, and even confronting Haman to his face. Her decision energizes her, gives her purpose, and emboldens her to face a threatening and uncertain future. There is first a great reversal in Estherís own life, through which consequently comes the great reversal of the destiny for her people. The defining moment in her own life is at the same time a crucial moment through which God will sovereignly fulfill His promise to His people in Persia. This is where wisdom and encouragement for Christian living is found in the example of Estherís life. Perhaps, like Esther, you have been brought to this moment in your life by circumstances over which you had no control, combined with flawed decisions you made along the way. Perhaps instead of living for God, you have so concealed your Christian faith that no one would even identify you as a Christian. Then suddenly you find yourself facing calamity, either in the circumstances of your life with others or just within your own inner emotional world. Regardless of the straits you find yourself in, turn to the Lord. Rend your heart and return to the Lord your God. His purposes are greater than yours. And, who knows? Perhaps you have come to your present situation for such a time as this.
Use Your Influence in Godly Ways:† Esther 8:3-8
† Then Esther spoke again to the king. She fell at his feet and wept and pleaded with him to avert the evil plan of Haman the Agagite and the plot that he had devised against the Jews. † When the king held out the golden scepter to Esther, † Esther rose and stood before the king. And she said, "If it please the king, and if I have found favor in his sight, and if the thing seems right before the king, and I am pleasing in his eyes, let an order be written to revoke the letters devised by Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, which he wrote to destroy the Jews who are in all the provinces of the king. † For how can I bear to see the calamity that is coming to my people? Or how can I bear to see the destruction of my kindred?" † Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther and to Mordecai the Jew, "Behold, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and they have hanged him on the gallows, because he intended to lay hands on the Jews. † But you may write as you please with regard to the Jews, in the name of the king, and seal it with the king's ring, for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king's ring cannot be revoked."
Haman is gone, but the evil he set in motion lives on in the decree of death against the Jewish people. The kingís anger has subsided with Hamanís execution. This suggests the ruthless king was not angry because Haman had plotted to annihilate a whole race of people in his empire, even if they were Estherís people, for that danger was still threatening. Apparently the kingís pride had been hurt by Hamanís affront to his honor. Ironically, Hamanís injured pride had driven him to plot the destruction of Mordecai and the Jews, and the kingís injured pride had driven him to execute Haman. The death of Haman sets a sequence of reversals into motion. Because Haman was executed as a traitor to the throne, his property was confiscated. Because Esther was the person wronged by Haman, the king bestows Hamanís estate on her. Immediately, Esther summons Mordecai into Xerxesí presence, who gives to Mordecai, the man who had years before saved the kingís life, the signet ring previously worn by Haman. In a great reversal Mordecai is vested with all the power and authority previously wielded by Haman. Having received Hamanís estate, Esther in turn appoints Mordecai over all the wealth and property previously owned by Haman. Ironically, Hamanís plot to destroy Mordecai leads to Mordecaiís acquiring both Hamanís position and property. Esther pleads with Xerxes to avert the evil plan of Haman that still stands against her people , but the king is unable to do so, for the decree of death is irrevocable. Now, however, Esther and Mordecai have power and authority equal to Hamanís. The only solution to their dilemma is to write another decree to counteract the first with equal force. The kingís scribes were summoned, just as they had been previously summoned more than two months earlier by Haman [3:12]. Just as they had done for Haman, the scribes write Mordecaiís orders to the satraps and the governors and the officials of the provinces . However, Mordecaiís decree is addressed also to the Jews, who are mentioned first in the list. The effect is to put the Jews of Persia on the same level as the rulers and to give them a distinct identity among the peoples of Persia. The people who were the helpless target of evil are now empowered. As Haman had done, Mordecai writes in the name of King Xerxes. His message is that the Jews may take whatever measures are necessary to defend themselves. He seals the edict with the kingís signet ring and sends out the edict by mounted couriers to every part of the empire. In order to counteract Hamanís decree, in other words, Mordecai has just effected a legalized war between the Jews of the Persian empire and any people of any nationality who might set themselves against the Jews. Just as Hamanís edict had been posted publicly in Susa, Mordecaiís edict was also to be posted in Susa.
Questions for Discussion:
1.†††††††† Why do you think that Mordecaiís words to Esther in 4:13-14 motivated her to act? What do you think went on in her mind as she struggled with her decision?
2.†††††††† All of us face ďdefining momentsĒ in our lives. How did Esther handle this defining moment? What can we learn from her that will help us face our own defining moments?
3.†††††††† What do we learn about Godís providence in these verses? How did belief in Godís providence impact Esther and Mordecai? How can it impact the way you live your life?
Esther, Mervin Breneman, NAC, Broadman.
Esther, Iain Duguid, P&R Publishing.
Esther, Karen Jobes, Zondervan.