God’s Great Story In Esther

pagankingA few years ago there was great consternation over the story of Esther. A pastor who has since fallen into disrepute preached a series of sermons from the book of Esther, and apparently pointed a finger at Esther and accused her of . . . wait for it . . . (gasp) sin! And feminists had a field day! Oh, how they stood up to defend Esther and how they accused this pastor of condoning rape and abuse and sex trafficking.

I have to say, ever since I heard the story of Esther, I’ve had problems with it. Yes, Esther was one of the exiles from Judah, and therefore, not free. But was she forced into a relationship with the king? Not really.

But my intention isn’t to rehash the debate over Esther’s choices—or whether she had any. Rather, I was struck by something about the opening scene, before Esther has been introduced.

The book is ostensibly about the salvation of the Jewish people from annihilation because of God’s intervention through Esther and her role as queen in King Ahasuerus’s (Xerxes) reign in Medo-Persia. But as a number of Bible teachers will tell us, every book of the Bible is about Jesus Christ.

The pastor I mentioned above certainly preached his series from that perspective. His sermons had titles such as “Jesus Is A Better King,” “Jesus Has A Better Kingdom,” “Jesus Is A Better Savior,” and “Jesus Is A Better Mediator.”

But of course Jesus isn’t mentioned in the book of Esther. Neither is God, though His fingerprints are all over the place. The writer alluded to God most clearly in 4:13-14 when he wrote,

Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”

So what about the opening struck me as so significant?

We’re introduced to King Ahasuerus who inherited his position as ruler of the greatest empire then known to man. It stretched from India to Ethiopia. He was the greatest sovereign of that time.

With his position came power and wealth—so much so that in year three of his reign, he declared a six-month-long party for all the nobles, leaders, soldiers of his empire. Anyone who was anyone was invited to this bash. He capped the lengthy celebration off with a seven-day feast for those who served him in his palace.

Seven days his men drank and feasted. And elsewhere in the palace, his queen also held a banquet. King Ahasuerus used the occasion to brag about all his power and wealth. At some point, when he was drunk, he also started bragging about how beautiful his wife was. He decided to show her off, so he summoned her to leave her feast and her guests and to parade in front of his men.

Some commentators suggest this had sexual ramifications—making his party to be like a stag party or using her as live porn. Scripture doesn’t say that, but it’s not too hard to imagine that he wasn’t telling her to model the latest evening gown and then return to her own feast.

It’s all very unsavory.

His queen, for whatever reason, refused to come to him. He was furious. As punishment, he removed her from her place as his queen. On the advice of one of his princes, he determined to replace her with someone more worthy.

So here’s the opening of the story:

  • an all powerful king summons his chosen wife to his banquet
  • she refuses to come
  • he removes her and gives her favored position to someone else

Here’s the key verse:

If it pleases the king, let a royal edict be issued by him and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media so that it cannot be repealed, that Vashti may no longer come into the presence of King Ahasuerus, and let the king give her royal position to another who is more worthy than she. (Esther 1:19)

This opening, I suggest, is a metaphor for God’s dealing with humankind.

I know some people will object because King Ahasuerus is an unsavory character who did selfish, godless, unwise things. Some will call him a misogynist.

But throughout Scripture metaphors gave a picture of God’s work in the world and His plan of salvation, and they used sinful people to do so. Jesus even used a godless King in one of His parables to illustrate a point about God. The nature of this king should not blind us to the similarities.

  • God, the all powerful sovereign, calls His people to Himself.
  • His chosen nation refused Him, and finally rejected His Messiah.
  • In response, God chose a people from those who had not been a people—the Church—which has become His bride.

In other words, God’s plan of redemption is right there in the opening chapters of Esther.

Yes, the book is full of other great truths. Esther did have to make a life or death kind of decision, which she did on the strength of the prayers of the Jews she would intercede for. God did orchestrate a set of circumstances that we can only think of as providential because the chances of them all happening when they happened is just too coincidental to be believed . . . unless Someone was in charge.

How sad that in the cultural context of our day we can’t seem to see past the issues we’ve put on our human-centric pedestal.

Ahasuerus was an ungodly king, no doubt about it. He had a harem of untold number of wives and concubines. He made bad decisions and trusted the wrong advisors. He gave away his authority to a man who was prideful and wicked. What’s more, the king was unaware of the effect of his rule on the people in his empire. He wasn’t a good king, he wasn’t a good man, he wasn’t a good husband.

Scripture does not condone any of his behavior. It records it. And by doing so, a picture of God comes out of it all, like the phoenix rising from the ashes: God who is sovereign, calls His people to Himself. When they rejected Him, He created a new people for His own.

Does God Play Favorites?

ThreeSheepIn the atheist Facebook group I visit from time to time, one person brought up the idea that God favors the Jews, which is bound to make everyone else feel bad. I admit, when I was growing up, I was sad to learn that I was not one of the “chosen people.” But that was because of my ignorance.

Scripture states unequivocally that God picked the people of Israel to be His because of what we would consider their weaknesses. They weren’t strong, they were few in number, they weren’t influential.

So why them?

Scripture tells us that too:

The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments (Deut. 7:7-9)

The people of Israel benefited from God’s love and faithfulness, not from their own abilities or cleverness or obedience or wisdom or service. They were wayward, weak, needy, complaining, disobedient. But God had promised, and God is faithful.

The question still lies there: why choose any one nation at all?

God’s purpose from the beginning was to use His son to mediate between Himself and His creation. Adam filled that role at first when God put him in control of all creation, to rule it and subdue it. He was God’s ambassador to creation.

After the fall, God chose a nation, Israel, who he called His son, to show the way for the nations to find Him.

When their disobedience was complete, God sent His Son to be the beacon to the world.

Now He is building His Church to be those who reflect His glory, who shine the light of salvation to all the world.

So where is favoritism?

God hasn’t left anyone out.

Granted, He gave Adam and then Israel and now the Church unique roles. But certainly not favored roles. Would anyone say that God was showing favoritism to Jesus by sending Him to die at Calvary?

Israel wasn’t favored either. It was to serve as an example before the nations of a people who worshiped the one true God and obeyed Him, so that others would come to Him. They were sort of like the test case, the prototype. All the others could see how it was done, iron out the mistakes, and do it better.

If anything, Israel was under a microscope. They had to get it right, not just for themselves, but for all the watching nations around them.

But, of course, they didn’t get it right.

Their “favored nation” role became a place of judgment and condemnation, with a caveat: God promised them a remnant and a Savior.

Jesus is that Savior. Although His mission on earth was to teach and heal the people of Israel, as He Himself said (see Matt. 15:24), He made it clear that His ultimate goal was to seek and to save the lost. He came because God loves the world, not just the Jews (see John 3:16). He provided Israel every opportunity to claim Him as Messiah, but they would not.

Consequently, new branches were grafted into the vine, and now we who were not a people, have become the people of God.

Just like the Jews, however, we haven’t been chosen because of some merit in ourselves. Rather, God choose the weak and the foolish of this world, that His power and glory will be all the more evident.

For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.” (1 Cor. 1:26-31)

Such an ironic question—does God play favorites. Throughout Israel’s history, He instructed them to care for orphans and widows and strangers. When Jesus came, He spent a great deal of His public ministry healing people who were the castoffs of society. And His entire purpose for coming to earth was to rescue the perishing. All who believe, even the very last little lamb who’s gone astray.

Yeah, no, God isn’t partial and doesn’t play favorites. Peter, in his first letter, tells us God impartially judges. James tells us there’s no partiality with God. Scripture also tells us that God wants all to come to repentance, that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.

God’s love is as complete and universal as it can be. It’s us humans who treat God unfairly, not the other way around.

Published in: on July 19, 2016 at 6:31 pm  Comments Off on Does God Play Favorites?  
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Jews And Jesus

Jewish_Pictures_Of_EthnicitySome months before the release of Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ, I began to hear that the Jewish community had serious concerns about the film. It seems they feared it would spark a new era of anti-Semitism.

I was astounded. I had no idea that “Christians” had been credited with instigating hate against Jews. After all, I grew up in a Judeo-Christian culture. I only knew of shared values and a determined stand against the Holocaust.

I learned that some “Christians” justified hating Jews because they had killed Jesus. It’s such an ignorant idea, I thought it had to be someone’s sick joke. But no, apparently this idea has a basis in history: some people waving the banner of Christianity turned against Jews because of the crucifixion.

In some ways, of course, the Jewish religious leaders responsible for convicting Jesus brought the accusation on their people when they told Pilate, who literally washed his hands of Jesus, that His blood would be on their heads and on their children’s heads (Matthew 27:25). But I always assumed that was either verbiage or calling down God’s judgment. I never imagined it to be an acknowledgment that would justify throughout history, profound racial persecution.

The idea of holding the entire Jewish race responsible for Christ’s crucifixion is ludicrous, and anyone following Him in truth would know this. First, Jesus Himself is Jewish. Not only was His mother a Jew, but He Himself said He was the fulfillment of the Law. That would be the Jewish law, given to Jews by God who chose the Jews to be His people–“the apple of His eye.”

Second, all the first Christians were Jews! Peter was a Jew, and so was Mary Magdalene, Salome, Stephen, Martha, Paul, Barnabas, Euodia, James, Jude, Synteca, Matthew, and countless others. A corollary to this point is that the vast majority of people in the Old Testament are also Jews.

Third, Jesus Himself called on God to forgive those who crucified Him. Did He mean only the Roman soldiers? There’s nothing to indicate Jesus intended such a limited understanding.

The greatest reason might be that the Christian understands he has been forgiven because of Jesus’s death on the cross. Without that sacrifice, we’d still be in our sins. If anything, we could see those responsible for His crucifixion as doing us a favor.

But the fact is, Jesus rose from the dead! He is alive today. So what’s the point of carrying a grudge against people, even if we did think they were responsible, when the act has been “undone”?

Besides, Jesus Himself said that no one was taking His life. He was laying it down. How can a people group be held accountable for that?

Finally, Scripture clearly indicates that Christ bridges racial divides. For example, Paul said in Colossians “there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all” (3:11). His Church–His family–consists of people from every tribe and tongue, including Jews.

The idea that Christians are against Jews as a people group is laughable. That some people want to lay that charge at the feet of Christians shows two things.

First, there are people calling themselves Christians who are lying. They aren’t following Christ, don’t believe in Him, and aren’t part of His Church. They are the proverbial wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are the weeds Jesus talked about in one of His parables, allowed to grow up alongside the wheat, that will be sorted out and burned up at the harvest.

In conjunction with these pretenders are those outside the Church who accuse Christians of hating Jews. They are speaking in ignorance of the facts, perhaps because they’ve listened to the pretenders instead of the historical record.

Have there been Christian bigots?

Sadly, yes. Like any other sin, Christians are susceptible to disobedience of God’s law and we are subject to our own lack of understanding. Hence, as hard as it is for me to understand, a Christian might wrongly accuse the entire Jewish race of killing Jesus, and he might even disobey God’s command to love enemies. But it’s a leap to say that Christians as a people hate Jews. In fact, such a leap is just as heinous as the one a pretender makes in arriving at the idea that Jews are responsible for Christ’s death.

The real problem is the generalization. Did some Jews falsely accuse Jesus and condemn Him? Yes. Does that mean that all Jews are guilty of a heinous crime and deserving of punishment? Not at all. Do some Christians act out of prejudice? I wish it weren’t true, but yes. Does that mean all Christians endorse such and share the responsibility for those acts? Not at all.

How is it that we have come to paint people groups as if they believe and act in concert, or as if they ought to? One of the beautiful things about the Church is God’s clear instruction that we are not all the same and yet that we are all important. My role, my gift given for the building up of the Church, is different from someone else’s. Scripture makes the analogy with the body. I may not be a foot, but that’s OK. What would the body be like if we were all feet?

Sin, of course, is a different matter. If a person in the church is a bigot, he ought to receive Church discipline–something that has been seriously watered down over the years. But that’s another whole blog post.

Published in: on April 12, 2013 at 6:49 pm  Comments Off on Jews And Jesus  
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