Esther 1-3, Deliverance is Needed

              I.      Introduction

Chris wrapped up the book of Hebrews last week admirably with his statement that the husband always makes the coffee.  That’s why it is called, “He brews.”

2014-12-07 Esther 1-3 Deliverance is Needed

No, seriously, he wrapped up with, “How shall we live.”  Hebrews taught us that Jesus is sufficient for everything we need, and that He equips us today for today.  We have everything we need in Him to love, to worship, to serve, to study, to do everything and anything God asks us to do.

Now we’re going to spend two weeks on the book of Esther and see God’s people under a time of difficulty, and see how God calls His people to do His will at the time He calls them.

            II.      Background History

Two weeks is really too short to do the book of Esther justice.  The history, the life lessons, the imagery, the symbology in Esther is amazing.

We have a soap opera to review here, there are a lot of people involved right up front.  Let’s talk about the book itself.  The book of Esther is a historical novella, intended to teach the Jewish people of the history and significance of the feast of Purim.  The book is interesting for what it does not mention.  It doesn’t mention God, or the Law, or the Torah, or Jerusalem.  It’s a story.  A story of a simple Jewish girl and her uncle and how they live by faith in a hostile land.

          III.      Esther 1

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Both lived in the ancient kingdom of Persia under the king Ahasuerus, probably from 486-465 BC.  Persia at this time was huge; the book of Esther, chapter 1:1, says it included 127 provinces.  Modern countries which were once part of the Persian Empire include northern Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, Jordan, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Abkhazia, Chechnya, Ossetia regions, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Egypt, parts of Libya and Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, parts of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of Kyrgyzstan.

That’s a huge swath of civilization.  So how did a simple Jewish girl in exile become Queen of Persia?

Well, you can’t have a soap opera without a cast of characters.

The good:

Mordecai the Jew.  He’s the son of Jair, tribe of Benjamin.  He lives in Susa in the center of Persia.  The Talmud records his name as Mordechai Bilshan, and he’s also mentioned in Ezra 2:2 and Nehemiah 7:7 as one of the exiles who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple under the Persian king Cyrus.  We know that was in approximately 537 BC, which means Mordecai is about 64 years old.  Interestingly, the Talmud also lists Mordecai as a prophet who prophesied in the second year of King Darius, and also lists Mordecai as a direct descendant of Kish who is the father of the 1st king of Israel, Saul.

In Esther 2:7,

“And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter: for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid was fair and beautiful; whom Mordecai, when her father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter.”

So, Esther is actually Mordecai’s cousin, though Mordecai is the much older of the two, and since he adopted Esther as his own daughter, sometimes he’s Uncle Mordecai.

We also have Esther who is called Hadassah.  She’s a Jewish orphan girl.  Esther is her Persian name, Hadassah is her Hebrew name.  Mordecai forbids Esther to reveal her nationality and family background, so when she’s around Persians, she’s Esther.  She’s described as beautiful and having a lovely figure.

The king of Persia is Ahasuerus, which is a weird name.  Ahasuerus is a Latin word which is derived from a Hebrew word.  Other translations begin with a Greek word and is translated Xerxes.  Since Ahasuerus is so hard to spell and pronounce, I’m going to call him Xerxes.

Queen Vashti.  Traditional Jewish teachings about Vashti describe her as wicked and vain, the great-granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon.  She’s married to Xerxes.
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As our story of Esther opens in Esther 1:1, Ahasuerus, I mean Xerxes, is holding a massive celebration.  And I mean massive.  It is a celebration that last 6 months long.  The sole purpose of the celebration was to demonstrate that Xerxes had a lot of money and could party for 6 months.  And at the end of the 6 months of partying, Xerxes isn’t done.  Xerxes then throws a banquet in an enclosed garden of his palace for his closest friends and advisors.  There are wall hangings of the finest linen, couches made of gold and silver, on floors made with marble and mother-of-pearl.  And it says in verse 8, “By the king’s command each guest was allowed to drink with no restrictions, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.”

So at the end of this week long binge, Xerxes is completely drunk.  He nudges his friends, “Man, my wife is hot.  You guys want to see her?  Hey, attendant-guy, whatever your name is, fetch my wife Vashti.  Tell her to wear her crown.”
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Vashti is in the palace.  She’s been holding her own banquet next door at the same time.  The attendant-guy shows up and says to Vashti, “The Great and Powerful Xerxes summons you to the enclosed garden of drunk men.  PS.  Wear your crown.”  Vashti says, “I don’t think so.”

So attendant-guy goes back to Xerxes and says, “Vashti says no.”  And the king is mad.  He’s furious that Queen Vashti won’t come parade before his drunk buddies wearing her crown.  He asks his drunk friends what they think he should do, and they say, She can’t tell you ‘no,’ you’re the king.  If this gets out, no wife will ever appear before their husband.  Wearing a crown.”

I’m thinking that week-long drinking binge isn’t the best environment for making serious decisions.  It’s clear from the context that Xerxes wasn’t trying to complement his wife, but to show her off as a trophy to his drunken friends.  After she refuses, king Xerxes doesn’t lash out at her but instead looks for a way to manipulate the law of the land to punish her and redeem his pride.

Pretending he’s helping all husbands in the kingdom, Xerxes banished Vashti from ever seeing Xerxes again, and her position as Queen will be given to somebody else.

Exit Vashti, stage left.  End Act I.

            IV.      Esther 2

As we move into chapter 2, Xerxes recovering with his hangover.  One his advisors suggests that Xerxes should hold the world’s first Ms. Persia contest and then Xerxes can select whoever he wants.  All of the beautiful young virgins throughout the kingdom are to be brought to the palace and given spa treatments until they’re ready to see the king.
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Enter Mordecai and Esther.  Esther’s taken to the palace and she placed in the trust of the king’s eunuch who takes special care of her.  She’s provided with beauty treatments and special food and 7 girlfriends to take care of her, while Mordecai checks on her daily.  He cautions her not to reveal that she’s a Jewish orphan.  After a full year of beauty treatments, she’s taken to King Xerxes, who likes what he sees.  Xerxes says, “Hey, attendant-guy, whatever your name is.  Get a crown.”

Esther is made Queen of Persia.  A simple Jewish orphan, now in the palace with a crown on her head.  An incredible turn of events for her.

You know, we’ve been talking about how God equips us today for today, and the story of the faithful Jewish orphan girl demonstrates God’s gifts.  Through a series of “coincidences,” Esther was elevated to a very high status, the Queen of Persia.  How did she arrive here?  Through submission to her faith, submission to her cousin who was her acting father, and because of her inner and external beauty.  Her beauty was a gift from God, and like all gifts, we are entrusted by God to use it wisely, for His glory alone, in obedience to Him.  The old Queen Kardashian, er, I mean Queen Vashti, we’re told, was very beautiful on the outside.  But she was not going to use her God-given beauty to further God’s purposes, so she was removed, and Esther became queen.  Esther also has both external and internal beauty which we will be seeing soon.

And Mordecai?  He’s exactly where God wants him, too.  During his daily visits to see Esther, he overhears a plot to assassinate the king.  He passes the news to Esther who in turn reports it to the king.  Mordecai’s courageous actions are recorded in the king’s annals in the presence of the king, Mordecai is given credit for thwarting an assassination, and he’s a hero.  We’re supposed to be good citizens, for all governments serve at Gods command, and Mordecai is faithful to God.  But by doing the right thing, Mordecai gains some unwanted attention.  Up to now he’s been happy as just a simple Jew living in exile.

              V.      Esther 3

In Chapter 3 of Esther, the plot thickens, mwahaha.  Enter the villain of our lesson, Haman.  In Esther 3:1-2,

After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles. 

I’ve always wondered about this.  Chapter 2 ends with Mordecai foiling the assassination, and Chapter 3 begins with “After these events,” and Haman is honored.  Is it because Mordecai was a Jew?  Was it because Haman took credit?

This is ominous.  Haman’s father was Hammedatha the Agagite, which means he was a descendant of Agag the king of the Amalekites.  The Amalekites were a tribe from Canaan who have constantly been harassing the Israelites throughout history, from the Exodus out of Egypt throughout the reign of David.  In Exodus 17:8-16, around 1440 B.C, just after Moses struck the rock and the water flowed, the Amalekites attacked the Israelites.  Joshua led the battle against the Amalekites, and Moses stood on top of a hill with his arms raised in glory to the Lord while Aaron and Hur held his arms up.  When the Amalekite army fled, Exodus 17:14-16 says,

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”  Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner.  He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”

These are the Amalekites from whom Haman is descended. Then, 400 years later around 1040 B.C, the book of 1 Samuel chapter 15, Saul is commanded by the Lord.  This is the same Saul from whom Mordecai is related.  1 Samuel 15:1-3, it says,

Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt.  Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ “

And of course the Israelites were obedient, right?  But nooooo… You may remember this story, God has commanded Saul to put all of the Amalekites to death, but Saul gets this idea to spare King Agag of the Amalekites and keep the sheep and cattle and fat calves and lambs.  The next morning, Saul tells Samuel, “I did it, I followed the Lord’s instructions!”  And Samuel is like, “Do I hear sheep?”  And Saul says, “Ah, the sheep.  Well, um, well we saved Agag and the sheep and cattle, but, um, other than that we followed the Lord’s instructions.”  The Lord was trying to protect Israel by ordering Israel to destroy the Amalekites, and the Amalekites kept coming back and attacking Israel.

Now, another 500 years pass, and now we find Haman, an Amalekite and descendent of Agag, has been elevated to a position of power in the kingdom of Persia where the Israelites live.  This is really bad news for the Jews like Mordecai and Esther living there.

King Xerxes orders all the royal officials to bow down and pay honor to Haman.  Mordecai refuses to bow down.  Now, it’s not against Jewish law to bow down and give respect.  The Jews bowed down before their own kings in other books of the bible, like 1st and 2nd Samuel and in 1st Kings.  And Mordecai also almost certainly bowed down to King Xerxes or he wouldn’t be alive.

Some scholars believe that one reason Mordecai would not bow may be that as a descendent of Agag, Haman would believe he was devine or semi-devine, a god.  Mordecai would certainly not bow down before another god.  Other scholars believe it was simply because Mordecai would not bow down before an enemy of God, an Amalekite who hated Jews.

Whichever one it was, Haman certainly noticed the one man standing while everybody else at the king’s gate bowed down to him.  The other royal officials tried to pressure Mordecai to comply, but Mordecai refused, obeying his faith.  The others in the kingdom must have been distressed, verse 3 says the other spoke to him every day, asking Mordecai why he’s disobeying the king’s command.

Haman was enraged that this one man would not pay homage to him, and when Haman found out Mordecai was a Jew, he wasn’t satisfied with just killing Mordecai.  No, Haman decided this would be his chance to destroy all the Jews.  A religious, ethnic cleansing.

Before we leave this passage, let’s look at Esther 3:7.   As Pagans, it was common at the time to consult astrologers for serious decision, and Haman consults the “stars” to pick the right time to approach the king. Lots would be cast, most likely a colored or dark pebble would be drawn from others to determine the right month, day and time for the extermination of the Jewish people. This process is known as “Pur” or to “cast pur,” from the Persian language and practice.  Hence, the Feas of Purim that the Jewish people celebrate, a feast of deliverance.

Verse 8-9,

Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them.  If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will put ten thousand talents of silver into the royal treasury for the men who carry out this business.”

Haman could not come right out and tell King Xerxes he wanted to kill all the Jews.  Xerxes would know that the Jews were loyal subjects; Mordecai had himself saved King Xerxes life.  So Haman mixes in half-truths… a “certain” people.  They’re… “different.”  They don’t… “obey.”  You shouldn’t have to “tolerate” them.  By laying out an incomplete picture with half-truths, Haman was able to convince the King that these “certain people” should be killed.

As Christians, we’re still at war with the Amalekites.  Dagnabbit Saul, why didn’t you do as you were told?  The Amalekites in positions of power today still sit at the king’s gate, and we’re still not bowing down.  The Amalekites sit at the gate of information.  They taint Christians with half-truths:

  • control freaks. Instead of focusing on attempts to save the lives of unborn children, they paint us as trying to control what women do with their own bodies.
  • Hate-mongerers because we encourage people to turn from sinful ways.
  • Uptight people that do not want to have fun, or let anybody else have fun.

The Amalekites sit at the gate of entertainment:

  • Movies and television that portray Christians as uptight people, like Ned Flanders of the Simpsons
  • The NBC show “The Book of Daniel” that portrayed Christians as hallucinogenic, influenced by drugs and dysfunctional.

The Amalekites sit at the gate of Academia:

  • No recognition of God in our schools. No Christmas, no Easter.
  • We control our own destiny, evolution happens all by itself without any influence by our grand designer.

The Amalekites sit at the gate of the political establishment:

  • People believe the U.S. Constitution mandates a “separation of church and state.”
  • “Under God” removed from Pledge of Allegiance (which is still being fought in the courts).

So with half-truths and innuendos, Haman convinced Xerxes to sign the death warrant for the Jews.

Persia was a big empire, and this ethnic cleansing could not happen immediately.  Haman cast lots (v7) and decided the annihilation would occur in the twelfth month of Adar, about a year away.  All the royal secretaries were summoned (v12), and the decree was written in every language of Persia and then distributed to all the satraps, governors, in all the provinces.  This took a lot of time since they didn’t have email or FoxNews.  In verse 13,

Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews — young and old, women and little children—on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.  A copy of the text of the edict was to be issued as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality so they would be ready for that day.

The Jews would have an entire year to fear their fate.  Apparently this was met with a lot of confusion in the city of Susa.  In verse 15, King Xerxes and Haman sit down to drink a toast to the destruction of the Jews, but the city itself was bewildered.  The Jews had been loyal subjects.  Why had the king ordered them destroyed?

Mordecai is a little troubled by all of this, if you can understand this.  By refusing to bow down before Haman, he had set in motion the destruction of all of his people within the year.  Esther 4:1 –

When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.

Part of this was a public display against the orders of the king, but most of it was probably genuine grief.  He’s going to die.  All of his loved ones are going to die.  All of the people of his faith are going to die.  Verse 2,

But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it. 

Apparently they had some sort of dress code and Mordecai was not allowed inside.  Verse 3,

In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

All of the Jewish people are scared, mourning, praying, crying.  Mordecai sends a message to Esther, who’s protected inside the palace.  Mordecai tells Esther to go to the king and beg for mercy for the Jews.

This is a terrifying request to Esther.  As queen, Esther did not have a husband/wife relationship like we understand it today.  Esther was a servant of the king, and she could only appear to him when summoned.  The law was strict – if you crash the king’s party, you die.  There was a possibility that the king could hold out his golden scepter and your life would be spared.  But whatever relationship Esther and the king had, it was not currently in the best of conditions.  Esther had not been summoned by the king for 30 days.  She was certain that to appear before the king would mean her death.

How do we understand God, who created us and everything we see?  Do we decide who He is, and then assume God will do our will?  Or do we decide to be obedient and try to understand what God wants?  Do we stay safe, keep silent, avoid taking risks?  Or do we try to be obedient?

Fear not.  God’s got this.  God’s will will be done, whether we obey or not.  We can choose to participate, be a spectator, or deny Him altogether, but we cannot thwart God’s will.  God sees history all at once, past, present and future.  God creates us for a purpose and plants us right where we are.  Your job, your family, your pretty face, your intelligent brain, your feelings, your money, your talents have all come together for this one instant, this one instant that will never occur again.  In another minute, in another hour, this moment will have passed.

In 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, Paul explains this concept to new Christians.  It says,

Nevertheless, each of you should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to you, just as God has called you. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.  Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised.  Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts.  Each of you should remain in the situation you were in when God called you. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so.  For those who were slaves when called to faith in the Lord are the Lord’s freed people; similarly, those who were free when called are Christ’s slaves.  You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings.  Brothers and sisters, all of you, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation in which God called you.

In other words, Paul tells us as Christians we are to bloom where we are planted.  How?  It says, right in the middle of those verses, “keeping God’s commands is what counts.”  Not the legalistic old testament stuff, but the attitude and love of Christ Jesus, with all your words and all your actions.
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Sometimes we feel stuck in a rut and can’t bloom.  I read a story about a woman who was complaining about working with heathens.  The boss was mean, her coworkers poked fun at her faith, and out of a hundred employees, she was the only Christian.  Her pastor complimented her and told her God must think a lot of her to trust her with 100 people.  If she quit, the only light these people have would be gone.  Maybe she wasn’t stuck.  Maybe she was just planted.

And don’t fall for that “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” philosophy.  The only reason grass is green is because it’s watered and cared for.  If you want your grass to be green, bloom where you are planted.

Mordecai knows all this.  Esther is exactly where God put her.  God removed Vashti and placed Esther as queen.  She had every resource she needed to do God’s will.  But will she do it?  Will she risk everything given to her to do what God wants her to do?  God had given Esther so much.  God gave her external beauty, and it was her beauty that gave her and her alone access to the king.  Would she put her beauty on the line and risk death?  God gave her position – she was queen and had access like nobody else.  Would she put her position as queen on the line and risk death?  Esther also had her inner beauty and love for her people.  Most important, Esther had the entire kingdom of heaven behind her.  She had everything she needed, but would she risk it, or would fear hold her back?

Mordecai delivers at this point one of the most memorable lines of the bible.  He tells Esther that God will accomplish His purpose, nothing she does or does not do will change that fact.  If Esther will not do it, the God will save His chosen people another way.  Esther’s choice is whether she is going to participate in God’s plan and realize that her entire being, her beauty and position, was orchestrated by God, and God will accomplish His will through His obedient people.  Mordecai also tells her that if she’s trying to save her own skin, she’s probably going to lose that, too.  She’s a Jew – if the Jews are eliminated, that includes her.  She cannot save her own life.  All she can do is choose to be obedient, or not.

Mordecai says in verse 13-14,

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape.  For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

The entire purpose of Esther’s life had come to a point of decision.  Her entire existence had a purpose.  What was more important, being queen, or being the liberator of the Jews?  God will not fail to keep His promises or fall short of His purposes, therefore, the deliverance of the Jews was certain.  God had made Esther queen so that she could deliver His people.  God places people exactly where they can serve Him.

            VI.      Conclusion

Examine yourself and where you are in this world.  God placed you right here for a reason.  Our talents, our money, our selves should be used for God’s purposes, every minute of the day.  Take a risk at being uncomfortable for God.  Bloom where you are planted.

What did Esther do?  Come back next week, and Libby will tell you.

To God be the glory.

Responding to Loss

We’ve been studying the rise of David as King of Israel. David is an interesting man, full of failures, yet David is a man after God’s own heart. What makes David different? How is David different than Saul?

As we studied in 1 Samuel, the people of Israel demanded a king and God gave them what they asked for, even though God knew it wasn’t in their best interests. Saul, as king, has actions that outwardly display his obedience to God, but we know his heart isn’t right. Saul is full of himself, and his actions are inconsistent. They do not speak of a man fully committed.

At the end of 1 Samuel, David knows he has been anointed by God as the future king of Israel, but he has to wait. Wait and wait and wait. David waits for 15 or 20 years for Saul to die so that David can be king. Who can identify with waiting on God? It’s easy to become impatient, but God’s timing is perfect; it’s our timing that gives us angst.

For these 20 years, David has to deal with everything the human heart is exposed to. Tragedy, romance, family conflict, madness, hate, betrayal. What makes David different is not his righteousness, but his faith. David made his share of mistakes, but he placed his faith in an Almighty God that was bigger than David. As a result, David becomes the king that leads God’s people through peace and prosperity in the land that God promised Abraham.

The first book of Samuel reads like a prime-time television thriller. In Chapter 22, Saul goes on a killing spree, killing off the priests of God. Chapter 23, Saul almost catches up to David to kill him, but has to veer off because of an attack by the Philistines. Chapter 24, Saul’s reliving himself in a cave when David sneaks up and cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe, scaring and humbling Saul… for a while anyway. In Chapter 25, David has a run-in with Nabal, but Nabal’s wife Abigail averts a battle. The next morning, Abigail tells Nabal what she’s done, and Nabal has a heart attack, so David marries Abigail. In Chapter 26, Saul’s trying to kill David again, but David again spares Saul’s life, and Saul again promises to stop trying to kill David. Chapter 27 is when David finally decides to remove himself from Israel so that Saul will stop trying to kill him.

David’s in an interesting spot; Saul has alternated between trying to kill David and vowing not to kill David. David has had more than one opportunity to kill Saul, but David knows that Saul has been placed as king by God, and it will be God’s actions to remove Saul from the throne, not by David’s hand. David is to respect authority and will have no part of killing Saul.

Chapter 27, David flees to the land of the Philistines. Since the Philistines are at war with the Israelites, David’s logic is that Saul won’t follow him there. David lived there for a year and four months, becoming the right hand man of the king of Philistine by day, slayer of Philistines by night. Chapter 28, Saul goes to a séance at the Witch of Endor’s place to seek advice from Samuel, who died a few chapters back. Samuel shows up and he is not happy. Samuel tells Saul that because of Saul’s disobedience to the Lord, Saul and his sons will be joining Samuel the next day.

Then, when the Philistine army gathers their forces to invade Israel, the Philistine generals don’t trust David to lead his small army against Israel, so David is dismissed from service. David uses this time in Chapters 29 through 30 to destroy the Amalekites, the people that Saul should have destroyed years earlier. While David is destroying the Amalekites, the Philistines invade Israel and destroy Saul’s army at Mount Gilboa. As the Philistines close in on Saul, in chapter 31 Saul and Jonathon fall on their swords and commit suicide to prevent the Philistines from taking them prisoner.

We’re tempted to breathe a sigh of relief at this point; the long saga of Saul’s attempts to kill David has come to an end. We might even be tempted to celebrate. Ding dong, the witch is dead, which old witch, the wicked witch. Ding dong, the wicked king is dead.

But this is not a celebration. This is a day of sadness in the history of Israel. Israel’s first king is dead.

As 2 Samuel opens, David is unaware that Saul has died. David is in Ziklag in Philistine territory after destroying the Amalekites, when a man arrives to tell David of Saul’s death. 2 Samuel 1:5-15 describes the encounter; the man says he was there at Mount Gilboa and Saul was injured. Then the man says that Saul begged the man to kill him, so he does. But we know from 1 Samuel 31 that Saul fell on his sword and killed himself. Why would this man claim to David that he had killed Saul?

The man is obviously trying to buy favors from David, but it doesn’t work out the way the man expects. He tells David he is one of the Amalekites that David has been destroying and admits to killing the Lord’s anointed ruled of Israel, so David find him guilty of murder and has him put to death. David does not reward the man for doing what David has resisted doing for the past 20 years.

David begins a period, not of celebration, but of mourning for the passing of Saul. 2 Samuel 1:11-12 says,

Then David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the LORD and the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.

And 2 Samuel 1:17-27, David composes a lament in honor of Saul and Jonathan.

Society teaches us, especially men, how to react in situations of grief. We’re supposed to be stoic. We are to control our emotions. And the news provides so many examples of horror in our society, and the movies we watch provide so many examples of death and destruction, that we become numb, calloused, and uncaring.

But I don’t believe that God’s plan for us is to learn to be stoic and uncaring. The only way we can avoid the grieving process is not to become attached in the first place. God wants us to become attached and involved. After loving God, the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Scripture supports that we are to spend extra effort loving Christian brothers and sisters, family and friends. And if we get attached, then certainly we will grieve when we experience loss.

God wants us to grieve such losses. Grief is a God-given emotion, a gift to deal with the pain. God doesn’t want us to live in grief; he wants us to use grief as an appropriate tool. It’s important to realize that, whether a believer or a non-believer, we will all experience grief. The issue is not whether we experience grief, but rather how we respond when we feel these emotions. It’s important to remember that, even when we don’t get all the answers we seek, that we can seek comfort in the Lord, that He understands the grief we experience. Be honest with God and He will help you work through your crisis. He may not tell you the answers to your questions, but He will remind you of His love for you. You can find comfort in Him.

Psychologists teach that there are five stages of grief that we go through when we experience a serious loss of a loved one, of a parent, a child, a spouse or sibling. The grief cycle is –

• Denial (shock, numbness). This is a protective reaction and it’s temporary. We’re not ready to deal with it, so we don’t. “This isn’t happening to me.”
• Anger. The actual root of anger is usually hurt or fear, but it’s expressed through anger. It’s normal, part of the fight or flight response. “Why” is the common question when we’re going through the anger phase.
• Bargaining (shame, guilt, or blame). “I promise I’ll be a better person if…” We try to find answers, we try to fix blame on somebody, maybe on ourselves. Sometimes we blame God.
• Depression (sadness). “I just don’t care anymore.” This is the hardest part of grief to overcome, it’s anger, but now it’s turned inward. Professional help is often necessary.
• Acceptance (forgiveness). This is just the way things are. When our desires, our expectations, our needs and wants are not the same as reality, we go through the first four stages. To get to acceptance, we get to a realization that we’re not going to change reality, so we’re going to have to change our expectations.

I’m not a psychologist; I don’t pretend to know all there is to know about grief. As an engineer, I can plot your grief stages in a spreadsheet if that’s helpful. If that’s not helpful, then we need to find some appropriate help in a friend, a confidant, or professional help. If you’re going through this now, Second Baptist offers qualified counselors free through the Barnabas Center to help you deal with issues like this.

But what we can do today is look at David’s responses to grief as a way of working through grief. In 2 Samuel 1:11-12, David goes through the anger and sadness phase by mourning and fasting. In verse 17, we can see the depth of David’s emotions as he composes a lament in honor of Saul and David’s best friend Jonathon. It’s important to find a way to express the sorrow we feel.

Horatio Spafford was born in 1828 and became a successful lawyer in Chicago. He was a deeply spiritual man and devoted to the scriptures. He amassed a great deal of wealth by investing in real estate near Lake Michigan. In 1871, Horatio Spafford’s only son died, and while he was still grieving the loss of his son, the Great Chicago Fire burned up much of his real estate and wiped him out financially. Two years later, he and his wife and four daughters planned to assist Dwight Moody in an evangelism campaign in Great Britain. Spafford got delayed by business for a few days, so he sent his wife and daughters ahead on the S.S. Ville du Havre. On November 22, 1873, his wife’s ship was struck by an English vessel and sank in a few minutes. When the few survivors landed in Wales, Spafford’s wife telegraphed two simple words, “Saved alone.” Spafford had lost all four daughters.

When Horatio Spafford followed by ship a few days later, as the ship was passing through the area where his daughters had perished, Spafford wrote his own lament of personal grief, life’s pain and suffering, and finally, Christ’s redemptive work in his life. You’ve heard these words –

It Is Well With My Soul

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Refrain:
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trumpet shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Horatio Spafford

Both Horatio and David went through periods of intense grief. Both expressed their grief in powerful ways that gave thanks and glory to God. Ecclesiastes 3 tells us that there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the sun, including a time to mourn. We don’t have to be embarrassed or hide the fact we are in mourning; on the contrary, it shows the deep love God wants us to have for another. But we can learn something else from David’s lament; David had many reasons to be angry with Saul, yet, David’s lament in 2 Samuel 1:19-27 mentions not one word of criticism. Saul is described with beautiful words such as “How the mighty have fallen” and “in life they were loved and gracious,” “they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.”

One thing David does not mention, however, is Saul’s godliness. David knew that Saul failed as a spiritual leader of a nation. David praised Saul for the strengths Saul had, and did not resort to embellishing his praise with lies. Saul had his strengths, and David praised those honestly. What I find most amazing is that David’s grief and lament is about a man who made David’s life miserable, a man who hunted him into exile. But David acted in a godly manner, and it didn’t matter whether Saul did. Proverbs 24:17 says,

Do not gloat when your enemy falls;
when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice

God is displeased when we rejoice in another person’s troubles. Jesus tells us to love our enemies. David loved Saul out of compassion and without malice.

Sometimes we have a love / hate relationship with someone; often I hear it’s about a father, one full of stern discipline and sometimes harsh treatment that we nonetheless respected and loved. Once they’re gone, it is not the time to remember what we disliked about them, but to celebrate the strengths and positive characteristics they possessed.

I’ll confess that I feel uniquely unqualified to teach much more about grief; the Lord had blessed me with a wonderful life with little grief, and one my life’s biggest reasons for grief, my divorce from Diane, God gave me the chance to do it over in His way. But I know there are many of us that have recently experienced grief, and some of us are expected to experience grief. I would like to give us a chance to express a lament for those we may grieve for. I’d like to open up for discussion some thoughts about the grieving process.

First, what are some of the ways that Christians can respond in times of loss that honor God?

Why is it important for people to express grief after a loss?

How does acknowledging a loss help us grieve and help us ultimately move on with our lives?

What are some of the ways a believer can acknowledge loss in a relationship that had problems?

Perhaps you’re not currently going through a season of grief, but it’s likely that somebody you know is. What can we learn from David about other’s grief? When others grieve, sometimes it’s difficult for us to know how to respond. When the Philistines captured Saul’s lifeless body, they mangled and mutilated it, and his remaining men had the grisly task of burying what was left of the body. In 2 Samuel 2:5-7, David meets with these men who buried Saul. Look at the beautiful, encouraging words from David –

The LORD bless you for showing this kindness to Saul your master by burying him. May the LORD now show you kindness and faithfulness, and I too will show you the same favor because you have done this. Now then, be strong and brave, for Saul your master is dead, and the house of Judah has anointed me king over them.”

As we go through anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, we will all react differently. Sometimes when a difficult person passes away, we feel relief and then guilt at feeling relief. We might hide the grief with a joyful exterior. We might put ourselves to work and lose ourselves in our jobs or in service. We might shut down and withdraw. We might even use humor to ease our grief. We can be kind to others in their grief. Professional counselors can help individuals in dealing with their grief, but there is no substitute for the love and care from others to help the healing process. Our church, our bible class, is our spiritual community to do just that.

If you’ve recently been through a grieving process, what are some of the things that people have done for you that helped?

The reason God wants us to express our grief to a community of believers is because we are uniquely positioned by God to be here as support to our Christian brothers and sisters that need us. David grieved with others and shared his thoughts through prayers and service to others. It’s tempting to withdraw into ourselves and suffer alone, but that’s not God’s plan. We need to share our losses with others so they can strengthen us. I don’t know why we feel the need to suffer alone. Pride, maybe? That somehow suffering a loss or the fact that we’re hurting somehow makes us look weak? But if we share our grief, we can be encouraged by those who care for us.

Who here has recently experienced a reason to grieve or expects to experience one soon? Pray silently for just a moment, and if you feel led, tell us who you grieve for and a positive quality about their life you can share with us.

(Prayers and thoughts from the class)

Another lesson we can learn from David after his lamentations is to look at his actions in 2 Samuel 2. In verses 1-4, David seeks the Lord’s advice on how to respond. Our first priority in life must be to seek God’s guidance, whether in joy or pain. This includes big questions such as “should I take a new job” or “should I move to a new city,” but smaller questions such as “should I continue to serve on a particular church committee.” What process do you follow in making decisions?

I think David was able to deal with his grief over the death of Saul and Jonathan because he could see God working His plan for Israel. Instead of focusing on Saul’s faults, David focused on God’s sovereignty and grace. After a loss, we want to ask why. Why did she die? Why did I lose my job? Why did I get cancer? But I’m convinced God wants us, instead of asking “why,” to ask “how” or “what.” What do you want me to do in my life, Lord? How shall I respond to this loss, Lord? We know that God promises that in all things, He works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. In all things. We have to have faith that when God says all things, He means it. Even in times of grief.

So our time of grief is a season that we go through, but grief is not a place where we stay. We should express our grief to others so they may strengthen us. How long do we spend grieving? That’s up to each of us individually. 2 Samuel 2 begins with the words, “In the course of time, David.” David had a destination as king of Israel and he had to get on with his life. In the course of time, we, too, must get on with our lives. God has prepared a destination for us, too. Let us give thanks to Him.

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Bloom Where You Are Planted

On a Christian forum website I regularly read, one of the Christians had posted some sad news. He had participated regularly with a Christian Missionary organization called Honduras Outreach. This week in a remote mountain village in Honduras, their vehicle was in an accident in rugged terrain. There were 28 adults from four church groups from Georgia. Ten people suffered various injuries from head injuries to a broken femur; three people died. They were in Mal Pais, Honduras to bring fresh water to villages, build chimneys in homes to reduce lung inflammations, lay concrete floors, and build latrines. I found the press release and made copies for everyone; it includes the names of these heroes and links to their individual churches. Pray for their families this week and this organization that is doing so much to help people and spread the love of Christ.

The Christians that participate in this forum I read were supportive and offered prayers and condolences; the original poster was concerned that people might be afraid to serve with Honduras Outreach that does so much good for some of the poorest people on the planet. That if people realized how dangerous this missionary work is, people would not sign up for it. There are a lot of non-Christians and even atheists that participate on that forum – God bless them, I’m learning a lot about what the world teaches people and it’s often not pretty. One post from an atheist begins, “Do you really believe any of this stuff yourself? Or is Christianity just one big social club?” The atheist asked, “”God works in mysterious ways” is usually a good one for you — but it solves nothing. For example, why didn’t God just keep his eye on his good missionaries in South America and save them from being killed in the first place? Do you suppose he wasn’t pleased with their ‘work’? Do you suppose he just wanted to ‘call them home’?”

Yes, God works in mysterious ways, but the more one studies God and learns these mysterious ways, the clearer answers to questions like these becomes. Many Christians – and non-Christians – believe that God’s primary function is to protect us, preserve us, prosper us. An omnipotent Santa Clause where we line up, confess Jesus as our Lord, and then hold a big bag open for God to pour in His blessings. A belief in a God like this cannot understand why God would lead people someplace where they would be uncomfortable or be in some sort of danger. Why God would send missionaries to Honduras and then not use His big supernatural hand to keep their bus from tipping over. Scripture confirms and comforts us that God loves us and He cares for His children. We can take great comfort in knowing the almighty Lord is in control. But God’s primary purpose is not to pamper us. God’s will is not what we will it to be, and rather than trying to find out why God isn’t doing our will, we can study our entire lives to find out what God’s will is. It took Moses 40 years of study before he was able to know the will of God. We only have about 30 minutes today, not nearly enough time to learn all about God. We’re going to see today that God’s primary purpose is accomplishing His will through His people. Those purposes are not always comfortable, not always safe. Sometimes it will require sacrifice; sometimes it will require great personal risk. The Lord expects His people to exercise faith in obedience to His will in whatever situation the Lord leads.

We’re continuing the book of Esther this week, chapter 3 and 4. Last week, Fred introduced us to Esther who was a poor Jewish orphan girl. Through a series of “coincidences,” she was elevated to a very high status, the Queen of Persia. How did she arrive there? Through submission to her faith, submission to her cousin who was her acting father, her inner and external beauty. This beauty is a gift from God, and like all gifts, we are entrusted by God to use it wisely, for His glory alone, in obedience to Him. The old Queen Anna Nicole Smith, er, I mean Queen Vashti, we’re told, was very beautiful on the outside. But she was not going to use her God-given beauty to further God’s purposes, so she was removed, and Esther became queen. Esther also had external beauty, but also internal beauty.

In Chapter 3 of Esther, the plot thickens, mwahaha. Enter the villain of our lesson, Haman. In Esther 3:1-2,

After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles. All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor.

This is ominous. Haman’s father was Hammedatha the Agagite, which means he was a descendant of Agag the king of the Amalekites. The Amalekites were a tribe from Canaan who had constantly opposed the Israelites throughout history, from the Exodus out of Egypt throughout the reign of David. In Exodus 17:8-16, around 1440 B.C, just after Moses struck the rock and the water flowed, the Amalekites attacked the Israelites. Joshua led the battle against the Amalekites, and Moses stood on top of a hill with his arms raised in glory to the Lord while Aaron and Hur held his arms up. When the Amalekite army fled, Exodus 17:14-16 says,

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”

Then, 400 years later around 1040 B.C, the book of 1 Samuel chapter 15, Saul is commanded by the Lord. 1 Samuel 15:1-3, it says,

Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ “

And of course the Israelites were obedient, right? But nooooo… Saul gets this idea to spare King Agag of the Amalekites and keep the sheep and cattle and fat calves and lambs. The next morning, Saul tells Samuel, “I did it, I followed the Lord’s instructions!” And Samuel is like, “Do I hear sheep?” And Saul says, “Ah, the sheep. Well, um, well we saved Agag and the sheep and cattle, but, um, other than that we followed the Lord’s instructions.” The Lord kept trying to protect Israel by ordering Israel to destroy the Amalekites, and the Amalekites kept coming back and attacking Israel.

Now, another 500 years later, around 500 B.C., we find Haman, an Amalekite and descendent of Agag, has been elevated to a position of power in the kingdom or Persia where the Israelites live as subject to the king of Persia. This is really bad news for the Jews like Mordecai and Esther living there.

King Xerxes (or Ahasuerus) of Persia does orders all the royal officials to bow down and pay honor to Haman. It’s not clear what Haman did to deserve this promotion, or exactly what his new position is. From some of the other verses in Esther, it seems that King Xerxes and Haman were drinking buddies. But Haman gets a new lofty title, like… Darth Vader, and everybody is supposed to bow down and give homage to him.

Mordecai refuses to bow down. Now, it’s not against Jewish law to bow down and give respect. The Jews bowed down before their own kings in other books of the bible, like 1st and 2nd Samuel and in 1st Kings. And Mordecai also almost certainly bowed down to King Xerxes or he wouldn’t be alive.

Some scholars believe that one reason Mordecai would not bow may be that as a descendent of Agag, Haman would believe he was devine or semi-devine, a god. Mordecai would certainly not bow down before another god. Other scholars believe it was simply because Mordecai would not bow down before an enemy of God, an Amalekite who hated Jews.

Whichever one it was, Haman certainly noticed the one man standing while everybody else at the king’s gate bowed down to him. The other royal officials tried to pressure Mordecai to comply, but Mordecai refused, obeying his faith.

Haman was enraged that this one man would not pay homage to him, and when Haman found out Mordecai was a Jew, he wasn’t satisfied with just killing Mordecai. No, Haman decided this would be his chance to destroy all the Jews. A religious, ethnic cleansing.

Esther 3:8-9,

Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will put ten thousand talents of silver into the royal treasury for the men who carry out this business.”

Haman could not come right out and tell King Xerxes he wanted to kill all the Jews. Xerxes would know that the Jews were loyal subjects; Mordecai had himself saved King Xerxes life in the second book of Esther. So Haman mixes in half-truths… a “certain” people. They’re… “different.” They don’t… “obey.” You shouldn’t have to “tolerate” them. By laying out an incomplete picture with half-truths, Haman was able to convince the King that these “certain people” should be killed.

As Christians, we’re still at war with the Amalekites. Dagnabbit Saul, why didn’t you do as you were told? The Amalekites in positions of power today still sit at the king’s gate, and we’re still not bowing down. The Amalekites sit at the gate of information. They taint Christians with half-truths:

– Control freaks. Instead of focusing on attempts to save the lives of unborn children, they paint us as trying to control what women do with their own bodies.
– Hate-mongerers because we encourage people to turn from sinful ways.
– Uptight people that do not want to have fun, or let anybody else have fun.

The Amalekites sit at the gate of entertainment:
– Movies and television that portray Christians as uptight people, like Ned Flanders of the Simpsons
– The NBC show “The Book of Daniel” that portrayed Christians as hallucinogenic, influenced by drugs and dysfunctional.

The Amalekites sit at the gate of Academia:
– No recognition of God in our schools. No Christmas, no Easter.
– We control our own destiny, evolution happens all by itself without any influence by our grand designer.
– That case in California, near Oakland, where schools used role-playing to teach seventh graders about Islamic history by making them wear nametags with Islamic imagery, memorize Islamic religious teachings as “fact”, wear Islamic clothing, recite phrases from the Koran and mimic the fasting of Ramadan. This was in 2002, after 9/11.

The Amalekites sit at the gate of the political establishment:
– The Oakland case on teaching Islam was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
– People believe the U.S. Constitution mandates a “separation of church and state.”
– “Under God” removed from Pledge of Allegiance (which is still being fought in the courts).

So with half-truths and innuendos, Haman convinced Xerxes to sign the death warrant for the Jews.

Persia was a big empire, and this ethnic cleansing could not happen immediately. Haman cast lots (v7) and decided the annihilation would occur in the twelfth month of Adar, about a year away. All the royal secretaries were summoned (v12), and the decree was written in every language of Persia and then distributed to all the satraps, governors, in all the provinces. This took a lot of time since they didn’t have email or FoxNews. In Esther 3:13-14,

Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews — young and old, women and little children—on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. A copy of the text of the edict was to be issued as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality so they would be ready for that day.

The Jews would have an entire year to fear their fate. Apparently this was met with a lot of confusion in the city of Susa. In verse 15, King Xerxes and Haman sit down to drink a toast to the destruction of the Jews, but the city itself was bewildered. The Jews had been loyal subjects. Why had the king ordered them destroyed?

Mordecai is a little troubled by all of this, if you can understand this. By refusing to bow down before Haman, he had set in motion the destruction of all of his people within the year. Esther 4:1 –

When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.

Part of this was a public display against the orders of the king, but most of it was probably genuine grief. He’s going to die. All of his loved ones are going to die. All of the people of his faith are going to die. Esther 4:2,

But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it.

Apparently they had some sort of dress code and Mordecai was not allowed inside. Esther 4:3,

In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

All of the Jewish people are scared, mourning, praying, crying. Esther apparently is oblivious, though, because she sends the king’s eunuch that was assigned to attend her to go find out what’s up with the sackcloth.

The eunuch, Hathach, went out to Mordecai to get the scoop, and Mordecai is very prepared. Mordecai tell Hattach everything that has happened, how Haman has ordered the destruction of the Jews, and also gives him proof – look, here’s a copy of the edict. Mordecai tells Hathach to explain all this to Esther and tell Esther to beg the king for mercy for the Jews.

In verse 9, Hathach reports back to Esther and tells her everything Mordecai has said, including Mordecai’s request for Esther to go before the king. Esther’s like, uh, no, that’s a bad idea. As queen, Esther did not have a husband/wife relationship like we understand it today. Esther was still a servant of the king, and she could only appear to him when summoned. The law was strict – if you crash the king’s party, you die. There was a possibility that the king could hold out his golden scepter and your life would be spared. But whatever relationship Esther and the king had, it was not currently in the best of conditions. Esther had not been summoned by the king for 30 days. She was certain that to appear before the king would mean her death.

How do we understand God, who created us and everything we see? Do we decide who He is, and then assume God will do what we want? Or do we decide to be obedient and try to understand what God wants? Do we stay safe, keep silent, avoid taking risks? Or do we try to be obedient?

God’s will will be done, whether we obey or not. We can choose to participate, be a spectator, or deny Him altogether, but we cannot thwart God’s will. God sees history all at once, past, present and future. God creates us for a purpose and plants us right where we are. Your job, your family, your pretty face, your intelligent brain, your feelings, your money, your talents have all come together for this one instant, this one instant that will never occur again. In another minute, in another hour, this moment will have passed.

In 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, Paul explains this concept to new Christians. It says,

Nevertheless, each of you should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to you, just as God has called you. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each of you should remain in the situation you were in when God called you. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For those who were slaves when called to faith in the Lord are the Lord’s freed people; similarly, those who were free when called are Christ’s slaves. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. Brothers and sisters, all of you, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation in which God called you.

In other words, Paul tells us as Christians we are to bloom where we are planted. How? It says, right in the middle of those verses, “keeping God’s commands is what counts.” Not the legalistic old testament stuff, but the attitude and love of Christ Jesus, with all your words and all your actions.

Sometimes we feel stuck in a rut and can’t bloom. I read a story about a woman who was complaining about working with heathens. The boss was mean, her coworkers poked fun at her faith, and out of a hundred employees, she was the only Christian. Her pastor complimented her and told her God must think a lot of her to trust her with 100 people. If she quit, the only light these people have would be gone. Maybe she wasn’t stuck. Maybe she was just planted.

And don’t fall for that “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” philosophy. The only reason grass is green is because it’s watered and cared for. If you want your grass to be green, bloom where you are planted.

Mordecai knows all this. Esther is exactly where God put her. God removed Vashti and placed Esther as queen. She had every resource she needed to do God’s will. But will she do it? Will she risk everything given to her to do what God wants her to do? God had given Esther so much. God gave her external beauty, and it was her beauty that gave her and her alone access to the king. Would she put her beauty on the line and risk death? God gave her position – she was queen and had access like nobody else. Would she put her position as queen on the line and risk death? Esther also had her inner beauty and love for her people. Most important, Esther had the entire kingdom of heaven behind her. She had everything she needed, but would she risk it, or would fear hold her back?

Mordecai delivers at this point one of the most memorable lines of the bible. He tells Esther that God will accomplish His purpose, nothing she does or does not do will change that fact. If Esther will not do it, the God will save His chosen people another way. Esther’s choice is whether she is going to participate in God’s plan and realize that her entire being, her beauty and position, was orchestrated by God, and God will accomplish His will through His obedient people. Mordecai also tells her that if she’s trying to save her own skin, she’s probably going to lose that, too. She’s a Jew – if the Jews are eliminated, that includes her. She cannot save her own life. All she can do is choose to be obedient, or not.

Mordecai says in Esther 4:13-14,

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

The entire purpose of Esther’s life had come to a point of decision. Her entire existence had a purpose. What was more important, being queen, or being the liberator of the Jews? God will not fail to keep His promises or fall short of His purposes, therefore, the deliverance of the Jews was certain. God had made Esther queen so that she could deliver His people. God places people exactly where they can serve Him.

Our beautiful Esther, spurred by her cousin of faith, chose to do God’s will, and fully aware of the consequences. Esther 4:15-16,

Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

And if I perish, I perish. God’s will be done. Esther did the right thing, obeying God, even though it was against the law and at risk to her life. This is a key to understanding all you are. You are God’s child and entrusted with your life to serve him. If I perish, I perish.

While Christians in other nations like Sudan are risking their lives, in America the risk to life is pretty small. In fact, we mostly just risk our own comfort. Afraid to defend the words of Jesus because we don’t want to look silly. Afraid to tithe because if we just had a few more dollars we could afford that Lexus. Afraid to serve because we might miss out on an episode of American Idol.

What are you doing with the resources God has given you? Are you using your talents, your money, your looks, your heart, in a way that is pleasing to God? Are you taking risks in service to Him who created you? Or are you afraid?

Dr. Young and Wallace Henley of the West Campus sent the following that I thought wrapped up today’s lesson well. It says,

79 years ago God brought us together as the family that would be known as Second Baptist Church. On that founding Sunday, the first pastor preached the first sermon in the life of this church. His text was Esther 4, the very passage we study today.

That pastor said to the congregation assembled in 1927—“Who knows but what God has brought us as a body of Christ to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

History has proven him right. The generations who followed caught the vision, and because of that tens of thousands of people have been transformed by Jesus Christ. They’ve impacted families, educational institutions, politics and government, businesses and the marketplace with the vision, values and worldview of God’s Kingdom.

They sacrificed, many giving sacrificially so the great ministry of this church could be carried out. They did so because they understood God’s providence and that He had a plan for them individually, and their resources.

Now the question is before us—Will there be a generation a century from now who will still be standing like Mordecai, still be using the best of the themselves and their resources, like Esther, for God’s Kingdom?

That answer is in our willingness to say of our personal lives and resources, “If I perish, I perish…”

Examine yourself and where you are in this world. God placed you right here for a reason. Our talents, our money, our selves should be used for God’s purposes, every minute of the day. Take a risk at being uncomfortable for God. Bloom where you are planted.