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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson

Month

December 2020

Esther 3:10-15: Careless and callous

“10 So the king took his signet ring from his finger and gave it to Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. 11 ‘Keep the money,’ the king said to Haman, ‘and do with the people as you please.’12 Then on the thirteenth day of the first month the royal secretaries were summoned. They wrote out in the script of each province and in the language of each people all Haman’s orders to the king’s satraps, the governors of the various provinces and the nobles of the various peoples. These were written in the name of King Xerxes himself and sealed with his own ring. 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 children – on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. 14 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 that they would be ready for that day.15 The couriers went out, spurred on by the king’s command, and the edict was issued in the citadel of Susa. The king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was bewildered.” NIV

‘Through this one girl-life God was about to save his people, though He was all the while hidden from view. The peculiarity of this book is that there is no mention of the name of God; but there is no book in the Bible more full of the presence and working of God for his own. His name is clearly in the water-mark of the paper, if it do not appear in the print.’ F.B.Meyer: ‘Great verses through the Bible’, p.173.  It’s good to again be reminded of this as we read through this third chapter. It ends on a callous note:

‘’The king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was bewildered’’ (15b).

The poor people were like sheep without a shepherd. Sadly, such heartless, careless leadership is not an isolated case. Many in history (and still it is the true today) have suffered at the hands of callous leaders. How can these people comfortably enjoy their outrageous wealth while their people languish in a swamp of need and difficulty? But there are many who raise their glasses at the table of the callous. Life is cheap to them. They issue their orders and people disappear into gulags, salt mines and foul, primitive prisons. Many are removed from the world altogether. Meanwhile, the tyrants sit down and propose another toast.

Nevertheless, God is here in this scene, even if He is not mentioned, and His intervention will soon be evident. F.B. Meyer goes on to say: ‘Do not dread the foe, be not fearful nor dismayed, as he draws his net around thee; God has prepared a way of escape, so that thou shalt be able to bear it. In the meanwhile, rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him; trust in the Lord; wait for the Lord; be silent to the Lord. He is more far-seeing, his plans more far-reaching, his help more certain, than all the stratagems of evil. God laughs at them. Into the pit they have dug, thine enemies shall fall.’

The king’s ‘’signet ring’’ (10) was the symbol of royal authority. It was used as a stamp to seal official documents. This was duly given to Haman. He now had the permission he needed to carry out his wicked schemes.

But we need to remember that there is a higher authority, and in this we rest, even when events seem bewildering.

Esther 3:7-11:Living counter-culturally  

“7 In the twelfth year of King Xerxes, in the first month, the month of Nisan, the pur (that is, the lot) was cast in the presence of Haman to select a day and month. And the lot fell on the twelfth month, the month of Adar.Then Haman said to King Xerxes, ‘There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they 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 give ten thousand talents of silver to the king’s administrators for the royal treasury.’10 So the king took his signet ring from his finger and gave it to Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. 11 ‘Keep the money,’ the king said to Haman, ‘and do with the people as you please.’NIV

I remember a conversation I had with a godly man from another nation. He was an intelligent guy, studying at a university. He told me frankly that in his country, the only way to get ahead was by bribery. So Christians (in fact anyone) who would not go along with this system were stymied within it. Well, they say ‘Money talks.’ Whether or not it was a form of bribery, Haman offered to pay for the killings out of his own personal fortune (9), so that it would cost the king nothing. As it happened, Xerxes showed no interest in having Haman’s money, and gave him the authority to go ahead (not realising that by doing so he was sentencing his own wife to death).

‘Prejudice is the dislike for all that is unlike’ said Israel Zangwill. I read once how some birds will attack and kill other birds of a different plumage. There is something about difference which can both attract and repel. People sometimes fear those who are different. Haman painted a picture of the Jews as a threat to the king’s ‘’best interest’’ (8). He also mixed lies together with truth in his portrait. It was true that the Jewish people lived a ‘’separate’’ life, and had ‘’different’’ customs. But it was false to portray them as bad citizens – those who ‘’do not obey the king’s laws’’. As God’s people in the world, Israel was called to live counter-culturally under the reign of God. The same is true for the church now, in all the places where we too are ‘’dispersed and scattered’’.

From earliest times, the Jews cast lots in order to discern God’s will. In Persia, the lot was called a ‘’pur’’. It’s plural form was ‘purim’. ‘Purim’ became the name of an annual Jewish festival that celebrated the Jews’ deliverance from Haman’s plot (see Esther 9:20-28). Tom Hale explains: ‘The day chosen was eleven months away; this would give Haman plenty of time to make preparations for the killing of the Jews. It would also give time for the Lord to carry out His plan to save them. Once again we see the Lord’s hand in every circumstance; it is He who alone controls the lot (Proverbs 16:33), and it was He alone who would determine the fate of the Jews.’ ‘The Applied Old Testament Commentary’, p.772.

‘From Pharaoh to Hitler, every leader who tried to destroy the Jews has tasted the wrath of God. No race is perfect, including the Jews, but no race should be singled out for oppression as they have been. God’s covenant with Abraham still stands (Gen.12:1-3).’ Warren W. Wiersbe: ‘With the Word’, p.274.

Wiersbe also points out that everything about Haman was hateful to God (Prov.6:16-19), but He did not interfere with his evil deeds. Effectively, he gave him enough rope to hang himself. ‘Haman’s sins would ultimately destroy him and be used by God for the good of Israel’ (pp.273/274).

PRAYER: Even when we can see little but evil in the headlines, help us to know Lord that you are always there, and ultimately your purposes will triumph.

Esther 3:5-7: Petty tyranny

“After these events, King Xerxes honoured Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honour higher than that of all the other nobles. All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honour to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honour.Then the royal officials at the king’s gate asked Mordecai, ‘Why do you disobey the king’s command?’ Day after day they spoke to him but he refused to comply. Therefore they told Haman about it to see whether Mordecai’s behaviour would be tolerated, for he had told them he was a Jew.5 When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honour, he was enraged. Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes.In the twelfth year of King Xerxes, in the first month, the month of Nisan, the pur (that is, the lot) was cast in the presence of Haman to select a day and month. And the lot fell on the twelfth month, the month of Adar.” NIV

Matthew Henry observes: ‘A very black and mournful scene here opens, and which threatens the ruin of all the people of God. Were there not some such dark nights, the light of the morning would not be so welcome.’ Haman showed himself to be a petty tyrant (with the emphasis on ‘petty’). He was petulant – the archetypal playground bully, but carrying a lot more firepower than the average bully.

‘It is soon resolved that Mordecai must die. The head must come off that will not bow to Haman; if he cannot have his honours, he will have his blood.’ Matthew Henry.

But Haman would not be content to rid himself of Mordecai. For the sake of a personal grudge he would wipe out a whole nation. It was diabolical.

Anti-semitism is a gross evil. The many attempts to eradicate the Jewish people throughout history is evidence of the hatred of the devil, and the principalities and powers themselves, towards God’s own people. But although they can do great damage, they will never succeed, for God is on the throne and will work out His purposes for them and through them.

‘But God was over all. The strongest assaults are vain against him, Ps 2:4. He will not let high-handed wrong proceed beyond a certain point, 2 Kings 19:28. Let us shelter behind him and be at peace, Isa.54:14.’ F.B.Meyer: ‘Devotional Commentary’, p.212.

Esther 3:1-2: Little man in a big job

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

I remember reading a book in which the author made an observation about a pastor friend of his. He said something like this: ‘He was such an able man; so talented, and I was surprised that he didn’t rise higher in his denomination.’ One day he expressed this opinion to his friend, who replied that he felt it was a good thing he had not been given a larger, more influential role. ‘I think the Lord knew I wouldn’t be able to handle it,’ was his frank assessment.

I have to say I marvelled at the humility and self-awareness in his words. Sometimes, promotion to high office (and honour) is one of the worst things that can happen to a person. Or, perhaps, to get the position at the wrong time.

As we are going to see, Haman got a big job, but it couldn’t cover over the fact that he was a little man in it. In fact, being given the role brought exposure. He had nowhere to hide.

Why did Mordecai refuse to bow the knee to Haman? Some suggest there may have been religious connotations to Haman’s role, and, as a Jew, Mordecai did not want to be an idolater. But the Bible doesn’t spell this out. Tom Hale points out that some scholars ‘believe it was because Haman was an Amelekite. He is called an Agagite (verse 1), which may be derived from the name Agag, an Amalekite king whom the Benjamite Saul defeated five hundred years earlier (1 Samuel 15:1-9). The Amelikites had been enemies of Israel since the time of the Exodus (Exodus 17:8-16). Now the Benjamite Mordecai, himself likely related to Saul’s father Kish (1 Samuel 9:1-2; Esther 2:5), was continuing this struggle between Jews and Amalekites.’ ‘The Applied Old Testament Commentary’,p.772.

This morning (Sunday 27th as I write) the Radio 4 service was a commemoration of the martyrdom of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral many moons ago. But it also honoured all those who, right up to the present, have been prepared to suffer and die for their faith.Mordecai (and all his race) would have died for this perceived insubordination, if God had not intervened. But he know when to make a stand, and was quite prepared to do so.

PRAYER: Lord, help us to not be cowardly, but brave. May we know where to draw a line in the sand and always be willing to do so, leaning on your strength.

Esther 2:19-23: Planting seeds

“19 When the virgins were assembled a second time, Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate. 20 But Esther had kept secret her family background and nationality just as Mordecai had told her to do, for she continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up.21 During the time Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, became angry and conspired to assassinate King Xerxes. 22 But Mordecai found out about the plot and told Queen Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai. 23 And when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were impaled on poles. All this was recorded in the book of the annals in the presence of the king.”NIV

It seems possible that Mordecai may have held an official position (19). The ‘’king’s gate’’ was the place where official business was transacted. Did Mordecai hold this role before Esther became queen, or was it a job she secured for him? We don’t know. But there he was; and while he was there, he became aware of a plot to assassinate the king. This he reported to Esther, who in turn passed it on to the king, duly crediting Mordecai for the intelligence. He, however, was not rewarded at the time, but it is a significant point to note that it was ‘’recorded in the book of the annals’’ (23). We will see why in due course.

I found in my old Bible some quotes from Warren Wiersbe which I had seen fit to write down around this passage:

‘The selection of Esther (vv1-18) and the detection of the plotters (vv19-23) may seem to be events that do not belong together, but they are both part of God’s plan to save his people.’

Noting that Esther’s coronation was public, but Mordecai’s service was private, yet God used both in His service, Wiersbe wrote: ‘All events are important if you are living in the will of God.’

He also said, ‘Do your duty today, and let God take care of the consequences.’

Again, ‘Our good works are like seeds…planted by faith…fruits don’t always appear immediately.’

The birth of Jesus was barely noticed at the time. True, there were angelic appearances, and visits from shepherds and magi; and word reached Herod’s court. But for the most part we would have to say the birth of Jesus occurred in poor circumstances and in an obscure setting. It was like the planting of ‘’a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground’’ (Mark 4:31). But it was destined to become ‘’the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade’’ (Mark 4:32).

So let’s go on quietly doing our duty, planting seeds in possibly small corners where God places us, and trust Him for the harvest which will come in His timing (Galatians 6:9,10). This is how the Kingdom of God works.

Esther 2:15-18: It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!

“15 When the turn came for Esther (the young woman Mordecai had adopted, the daughter of his uncle Abihail) to go to the king, she asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the harem, suggested. And Esther won the favour of everyone who saw her. 16 She was taken to King Xerxes in the royal residence in the tenth month, the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.17 Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favour and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. 18 And the king gave a great banquet, Esther’s banquet, for all his nobles and officials. He proclaimed a holiday throughout the provinces and distributed gifts with royal liberality.”NIV

Reading through these verses my mind went to Joseph who found ‘’favour’’ amid unfavourable circumstances in Egypt. It was the same for Esther, who centuries later was among the Jewish exiles in a foreign country. Both Joseph and Esther found themselves as ‘missionaries’ in an alien culture, finding ‘’favour’’ with people when necessary because God’s favour rested on them. Note the repeated phrase: ‘’won the favour’’ (15. It is almost identical in 17.See also Luke 2:52).

‘Those that make sure of God’s favour shall find favour with man too as far as it is good for them.’ Matthew Henry.

As I have said previously, if Xerxes had been told of Esther’s nationality, she would not have had a look in. But he didn’t know, and Esther’s loveliness won him over. He liked her so much that he immediately chose her to be queen in place of Vashti. (This was the seventh year of his reign – four years after he deposed Vashti).

Clearly, Esther was physically attractive. But as we meet her in the pages of this book we become aware of encountering a beautiful soul. She was lovely inside and out. Reading verse 15 I was impressed with the thought that she was a contented person. ‘’But godliness with contentment is great gain’’ (1 Timothy 6:6).

The appointment of the new queen ushered in such a joyous season, and ‘’the king gave a great banquet, Esther’s banquet…’’ (18). There was a feast, a holiday and generous gift-giving. It was beginning to look (and feel) a lot like Christmas!

I couldn’t help but think that our King distributes His gifts with a ‘’royal liberality’’ far exceeding that of king Xerxes (18), and His greatest gift is that of His Son; indeed it is that of Himself.

‘’Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!’ (2 Corinthians 9:15).

Esther 2:11-14:Called by name

“5 Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, among those taken captive with Jehoiachin king of Judah. Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This young woman, who was also known as Esther, had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died.When the king’s order and edict had been proclaimed, many young women were brought to the citadel of Susa and put under the care of Hegai. Esther also was taken to the king’s palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem. She pleased him and won his favour. Immediately he provided her with her beauty treatments and special food. He assigned to her seven female attendants selected from the king’s palace and moved her and her attendants into the best place in the harem.10 Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so. 11 Every day he walked to and fro near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her.”NIV

The lovely Esther (such a bright star in the Biblical firmament) was an orphan. She was raised by her cousin Mordecai, and there is something touching in the description of his care for her in (11). He loved her as his own child, and she honoured him as if he were her father (see verse 10. Matthew Henry comments: ‘…he did not bid her deny her country, nor tell a lie to conceal her parentage; if he had told her to do so, she must not have done it. But he only told her not to proclaim her country. All truths are not to be spoken at all times, though an untruth is not to be spoken at any time.’)

It was a lonely life for a girl in the harem. She would possibly be with the king just once, and only return to his bed if he specifically requested it. She would live the rest of her life in another part of the harem. Technically she was a widow (See 2 Samuel 20:3).True, her material needs would be met, but she couldn’t belong to another because, she was, in effect, a (secondary) wife of the king.

By the way, eunuchs were men who for one reason or another were unable to have sexual relations with women. So they made good employees to supervise the harems of ancient kings, because they could be trusted not to molest the king’s wives and concubines.

As I read verse 14 I couldn’t help reflect that the King of kings is ‘’pleased’’ with each of us in Jesus, and He does call us by name to be with Him in worship, fellowship, prayer, communion. What a privilege is ours.

‘’For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit’’ (Ephesians 2:18).

‘’In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence’’ (Ephesians 3:12).

Esther 2:5-11: The chosen people

“5 Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, among those taken captive with Jehoiachin king of Judah. Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This young woman, who was also known as Esther, had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died.When the king’s order and edict had been proclaimed, many young women were brought to the citadel of Susa and put under the care of Hegai. Esther also was taken to the king’s palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem. She pleased him and won his favour. Immediately he provided her with her beauty treatments and special food. He assigned to her seven female attendants selected from the king’s palace and moved her and her attendants into the best place in the harem.10 Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so. 11 Every day he walked to and fro near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her.” NIV

William Norman Ewer wrote:

‘How odd of God to choose the Jews’

However, there have been several responses. Here is one such:

‘Yet not so odd                                                                                                                                                                                 As those who choose                                                                                                                                                                            A Jewish God                                                                                                                                                                                  Yet spurn the Jews.’

The information given in today’s reading about Mordecai and Esther being Jews should cause the attentive reader of Scripture to prick up his or her ears. Here is an indication that something good is going to happen because God chose these (His) people to be a blessing to the whole world. It is unlikely that Mordecai or Esther would have had any choice in the matter of Esther joining the king’s harem, but we know that ultimately this was God’s choice. Xerxes would not have naturally chosen Esther to be his wife, but God ordered the circumstances so that she was in the right place at the right time to make her unique contribution. Esther’s Hebrew name means ‘Myrtle’, but her Persian name means ‘star’. She was another of those Biblical ‘stars’ who reflected God’s light in a dark world.

PRAYER: May I see that I am where I am by your appointment dear Lord. Cause me to shine right here, right now, until you move me on.

Esther 2:1-4: God is in the details

“Later when King Xerxes’ fury had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what he had decreed about her. Then the king’s personal attendants proposed, ‘Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king. Let the king appoint commissioners in every province of his realm to bring all these beautiful young women into the harem at the citadel of Susa. Let them be placed under the care of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women; and let beauty treatments be given to them. Then let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.’ This advice appealed to the king, and he followed it.

‘God is preparing His heroes, and when the opportunity comes, He can fit them into their places in a moment, and the world will wonder where they came from.’ A.B.Simpson.

The ground is being prepared for Esther to take her place on history’s grand stage. The invisible God is in all the details. At least two details had to fall into place at this point: a.) the king had to remember what he had decreed while in his drunken state (1:19); b.) he had to be happy with the advice he received (4). Admittedly, a pagan king, used to having all his sensual appetites continually gratified was hardly likely to refuse this counsel! But you never know. Such kings could be capricious.

(‘Observe’, says Matthew Henry, ‘The extravagant course that was taken to please the king with another wife instead of Vashti. Josephus says that when his anger was over he was exceedingly grieved that the matter was carried so far, and would have been reconciled to Vashti but that, by the constitution of the government, the judgment was irrevocable—that therefore, to make him forget her, they contrived how to entertain him first with a great variety of concubines, and then to fix him to the most agreeable of them all for a wife instead of Vashti. The marriages of princes are commonly made by policy and interest, for the enlarging of their dominions and the strengthening of their alliances; but this must be made partly by the agreeableness of the person to the king’s fancy, whether she was rich or poor, noble or ignoble. What pains were taken to humour the king! As if his power and wealth were given him for no other end than that he might have all the delights of the sense wound up to the height of pleasurableness, and exquisitely refined, though at the best they are but dross and dregs in comparison with divine and spiritual pleasures.’)

For now, simply note that when God intends to do something with someone, you will marvel at His attention to detail. But it may only be in retrospect that you see it.

PRAYER: Help me, Almighty God, to really see that ‘History is ‘HIS STORY’.

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