Welcome Back to the Bible Blog!
So here we are in Nehemiah 10 already. Last week we talked about how the people continued to sin against God by marrying foreign wives and having children with them, even though God was restoring them to their capital city. Ezra ended with the repentance of the people. In Nehemiah 8 we see that Ezra (the priest) is reading the Law to the people again and in chapter 9 he gives a great summary of their history. Chapter 9 ends with the people making a covenant in writing, committing to follow God and his Laws and Commandments, and specifically naming the Levites and priests (among others) as signers of this written covenant.
Failure doesn’t take long. In chapter 12 we read about the priests and Levites coming for the dedication of the walls (and gates), which have just been completed. They hold a service at the newly constructed temple to dedicate the wall and in chapter 13 we already see a lack of concern for the Law. Nehemiah, to his horror, discovered that the people were not resting from work on the Sabbath, but were instead continuing as ‘business as usual’. He chastised them and even had to shut the gates of the city just before nightfall the day before the Sabbath to convince them not to engage in trade (Neh 13:15-21).
We read in Nehemiah 13:28-29 that not even the priests are spared, but Nehemiah was counting on God to remember how he defended God and His honor by doing good in His name (Neh 13:31b). Will we ever learn?
Now to Esther!
Did you notice while reading Esther that God is never mentioned? This is one of two books in the Bible where you don’t find God directly referenced (we’ll talk about the other one in coming weeks). Some believe this is because there is no direct utterance from God and no miracle performed by God that would typically demand the direct reference to Him. However, Mordecai and Esther are clearly identified as Jews and the intervention of the Lord cannot by mistaken. This is a fascinating story of intrigue, good prevailing over evil, unexpected plot twists, etc. that would make any Hollywood movie pale in comparison.
The story takes place in Susa, the capital of the Persian Empire, where Mordecai and Ester live. It begins with a feast where King Ahasuerus has been entertaining many guests and has been drinking lots of wine (he is described as being ‘merry with wine’). He commands his servants to bring his wife, Queen Vashti, before them, because he wants to show off her beauty. Isn’t that nice? (“What a pig!” you might be thinking.) She, understandably, refuses to come. This angers the (drunk?) king and he has her banished and vows to give her crown to another, more worthy, young woman.
So the king demands a search for a beautiful, young virgin to be his new bride. It is a one-year search where many young women are chosen and paraded past the king, until Esther is finally brought to the king. The king “falls in love” with Esther and makes her his new Queen.
One day Mordecai overhears two of the king’s servants plotting to kill the king and he brings it to Esther’s attention. Esther tells the king and, once proven, the king has the servants executed. Shortly after this, Haman the Agagite is promoted to the king’s right hand. Haman essentially becomes second in command of the Persian Empire.
A couple times we’re reminded that Haman is an Agagite. Does that name sound familiar? Agag was king of the Amalekites in 1Samuel 15 when Saul was ordered by God to devote them to destruction; all the people, the cattle and sheep, all the animals, because they treated Israel despicably when they made their way out of Egypt. Instead of obeying God, Saul decided to spare the king and to take the spoils of the best of the cattle and sheep, apparently to sacrifice to God as a victory.
Here Samuel is so ‘hacked off’ that he tells Saul, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1Samuel 15:22) Samuel tells Saul that God is removing him from being king over Israel and will give that office to one who is better than he is. Samuel then has Agag, the king of the Amalekites, brought before him and, “Samuel hacked Agag to pieces before the Lord” (1Samuel 15:33b – ESV).
The Agagites were bitter enemies of Israel, as were Israel to the Agagites. This explains why when Haman the Agagite was looking for people to bow down to him, Mordecai refused. This really ‘hacked off’ Haman, who later plotted to kill, not only Mordecai, but all of the Jews. Haman planned a ‘holocaust’ so-to-speak to take place all in one day (which required about a year’s preparation).
In the meantime, Mordecai learned of the plot and informed Esther asking her to intervene with the king. Esther’s ethnicity was unknown to the king (and to Haman), because Mordecai had instructed her not to tell of her lineage. Haman, burning with hatred for Mordecai, commanded that a 75’ gallows be constructed behind his home upon which to hang Mordecai.
Esther is nervous about approaching the king, because to do so without invitation could cost her her life! However, Mordecai convinces her by saying, “who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14b)
Has God placed you exactly where you are for such a time as this? A time to listen, a time to comfort, a time to give, a time to witness to someone who may never hear the Gospel from anyone else?
When the king asks Haman what he should do to honor the one he has chosen to honor, Haman’s own arrogance convinces him that the king is speaking of him, so he describes an elaborate celebration for this chosen man. Unwittingly, Haman has prescribed that method in which the king will honor Mordecai for foiling that plot against the king’s life! Talk about a dramatic plot twist! Haman is distraught to find out that the man he intended to hang on the gallows is the one the king plans to honor. To make matters worse, Haman has to lead Mordecai out to be praised by all the people as the one whom the king honors. (I love God’s sense of humor!)
Later at a banquet being thrown by Esther, to which only Haman and the king are invited, Esther pleads with the king to spare the life of her people and her. When she informs the king that it was Haman’s idea to slaughter all the Jews the king becomes enraged. Before announcing his sentence on Haman the text tells us, “And the king arose in his wrath from the wine-drinking and went into the palace garden…and the king returned from the palace garden to the place where they were drinking wine…” I don’t think it is mere coincidence that the two moments of the king’s rage include much wine drinking.
The Bible doesn’t condemn drinking wine, in fact wine is often mentioned as a blessing to Israel, but over indulgence is condemned. Paul gives us clear instructions about wine when he tells us, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18 – ESV). He uses this example as a means to connect with people of experience. Just as they have experienced (or seen others experience) over-indulgence and how they seem to be carried along to do things they wouldn’t normally do, because “the liquor made me do it”, in a similar fashion if they allow themselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit, it is the Spirit of God who will carry them along to do things they wouldn’t normally do, to the Glory of God!
Paul doesn’t condemn consumption of alcohol completely, as he explains in Romans 14 while also describing eating of meat and honoring the Sabbath, but he does indicate that we should be respectful of those don’t believe they can rightly do so and honor God. Whether we consume at moderate levels or not at all should always be in our control, as one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control.
I mention this here because it stands out to me that in the two moments of the king’s anger the author seems intent on pointing out that the king was ‘merry with wine’. Have you ever known someone who got angry easily when they had too much to drink?
Where does self-control come into play?
Have you ever been condemned by another “Christian” because you drink?
Have you ever looked down on a Christian who drinks?
Can or should a Christian drink?
Read Romans 14 carefully and give us your thoughts. For some this is a non-issue and for others it is a very critical issue.
Wow! That was a big diversion from the story… Sorry for the rabbit trail… back to Esther…
So the king has Haman hanged on the very gallows Haman was constructing behind his house for Mordecai and Mordecai is raised to Haman’s position in the palace, second to the king!
To this day the Jews remember the story of Esther each year with the Festival of Purim, which reminds them that Haman cast Pur (or cast lots) for their destruction, but God rescued them through Mordecai and Esther. (Purim is simply the plural for Pur. In Hebrew the –im ending often indicates ‘plural’.)
I know we began Job this week, but this blog is long enough. We’ll catch up and cover most of Job in next week’s blog. Thanks for hanging in this week for 1,670 words!