This development in the narrative reminds me of two really key biblical ideas...
First, Proverbs says a number of times and with different phrasings (and it's repeated elsewhere in Scripture), that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Jesus says that he humbles himself will be exalted, but he who exalts himself will be humbled... or you might say humiliated, as the connotation of that word captures the idea more accurately.
Haman is a living, breathing example of the trappings of pride. The tables just turn on him so dramatically and bitterly. We do well to seriously consider that wisdom and warning.
Mordecai, of course, is a living, breathing example of taking the low place before the Lord and having Him elevate you. The low place is the place of blessing. We do well to seriously consider that too, and be deliberate in warring against our own sense of self-importance by actively elevating the importance of others through service, encouragement, listening and other simple practices that put others first.
Secondly, we see the biblical idea playing out that our responsibility is to do the possible, and let's trust God to do the impossible. Esther and Mordecai could fast, pray, think deeply, act wisely and courageously, and wait patiently. But only God could radically alter their reality. This does not guarantee that he always will in the ways we hope, but he often does in ways we never even imagined. I suspect this was a situation like that. I doubt either Esther or Mordecai thought God would intervene in such a dramatic way. But God joined his power to their obedience... He joined his sovereign grace to their simple courage to flip everything upside down.
This is our God. This is the nature of the gospel too. That we bring our guilt and weakness and need to Christ, and he joins his grace, power, and love to us, so that we find new life, new hope, and a new future. The story of Esther is compelling on it's own, but even moreso when you see the story of the Gospel unfolding too.
A Prayer for Breakthrough:
Lord, there are so many things I try to control in my life... For the life of me I'm trying to dictate outcomes everywhere. But I can't. And I'm worn out from trying. Give me the humility to know place, to understand the limits of my responsibility, and to play in that sandbox, while I trust you and wait on you for the breakthrough and outcomes that only you can determine. I lay all my anxieties at your feet and I acknowledge I desperately need your grace and wisdom to levae them there... but I want to walk with you in a fully engaged way that remains fully dependent. Would you give me the courage to take the low place, to stay there, and would you do what only you can in timing you determine. Amen.
Esther does a remarkable job of framing her appeal to the king. It strikes me as very intentional and well thought out. Again, even prayerfully considered and deliberately delivered.
We tend to be so emotional and reactionary. We live in such an entitled culture, but there isn't a hint of entitlement in Esther. She careful and tactful with her words, gracious in her request, and even complimentary of the king.
In our own social climate, small moments of unfairness or frustrating inconveniences are met with such outrage. We demand so forcefully of others, and that they might be a person in authority only intensifies our response so much of the time.
Our regard for authority has become so low... it's almost as if authority figures are given less honor and respect than those not in positions of authority. The ways we talk about and to presidents and political actors are a good example of this. And I suspect if you're reading this as a democrat you think of how much President Trump deserves everything he gets and more. While if you're reading as republican you sympathize with Trump and forgot how the political right treated President Obama.
Neither was ordering the genocide of a whole ethnic group in their borders, so let's agree this King in Esther was probably more deserving of criticism. And yet, she approaches him with respect, dignity, and honor. We seem to want to shame and embarrass people more than we want to actually win them over or persuade them. Esther wanted to persuade and she recognized that a particular approach had the best chance of being effetive.
Esther gives us a beautiful example of how to move toward people with whom we violently disagree in a way that's productive. She doesn't go on the attack. She honors the person who is a real threat to her. She even serves him. She builds trust patiently. She speaks graciously and humbly. And she wins him over.
This is more art than science and while she got the result she wanted for her fellow Jews, that's never a guarantee. What worked here doesn't always work. But it's not only the right approach for the sake of expediancy. It's also often the right approach for the sake of our own hearts and for the sake of Christ, particularly with people in authority. Jesus himself dealt with Pilate and Herod and others in authority with a similar tone and approach. The Apostle did likewise. And there were different results in their cases...
None of us are dealing with any crisis as urgent and life-threatening as Esther, and yet few of us strike the right tone or maintain the level head she was able to here. But I wonder if we even want to. Is our aim to squash our opponents? Is our goal to shame them publicly or just get applause from those on our side? Is our aim in conflict to crush the other person or defeat them? Or, is it to win them over?
A Prayer for Persuasiveness:
Father, I admit that I like to win arguments and prove points and leave people feeling small. I'm more likely to attack someone on the other side of an argument than to bring them to my side... or more importantly, to your side. I'm more driven to win arguments and win points than to win people. Forgive me, Lord, for that disposition. And I ask, not just for the ability to treat others with respect, but to actually respect them. I ask for the ability to disagree with people on even major things without demonizing or vilifying them. I pray that you would give me the wisdom of Esther, to think and pray before I speak, and to communicate with humility, grace and to be measured in my engagement with others... help me be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow become angry, none of which comes easy or naturally to me. Let me represent you, and the gospel faithfully in my positions, but also in my disposition, I pray. In Jesus name. Amen.
I love the picture of the gospel that this chapter represents. Esther, the unlikely queen, whose words are vested with the authority of the King to declare good news, and by her words and the letters sent out, those who were facing certain death and without any hope are brought under the protection of the King with the full force of his might, while another took the wrath of the King that had been aimed at Israel.
They were utterly helpless... but in God's sovereign grace, Esther was positioned to intercede for her people, as their representative. She identified with them, took up their cause, and with grace, humility, and self-sacrifice she subverted the earthly and spiritual forces set against God's people to thwart God's plans and purposes, thus prserving God's promises and saving God's people.
We were once in the place of the Jews in Susa, with the dark cloud of death hanging over us and no way to save ourselves. But God the Father sent word forth in the flesh, and God the Son came in the power of God the Spirit to identify with us and represent us and brings salvation to us through his own grace, humility and self-sacrifice. And in him we find the joy and gladness of heart that found all of Israel on that day... in him we brought under God's protection and provision and we are made full citizens of his kingdom with the full rights of of citizens. God's wrath and judgment has been abaited because Jesus took it upon himself at the cross and we are now free, with nothing to fear.
A Prayer of Gratitude:
Father, I am just in awe again at the gospel. Give me the joy and gladness of heart which Israel experienced in Susa, because certainly I have been spared the same fate. I'm so eternally grateful for salvation... I'm so grateful for Jesus, and his kindness and grace to me and for the safety and security of living under your protection, sustained by your word, sealed by your Spirit, with a whole new life in your kingdom... what an amazing reality you've brought me into. Let me be awake to it every day. Amen.
So much of this chapter focuses on this new holiday inaugurated in Israel, called Purim. v. 20-22 summarize very succinctly what they were to celebrate and how they were to celebrate. What's described isn't unlike Christmas for us.
I appreciate the importance Israel place on remembrance, which Esther 9 really embodies. It was their practice to honor and commemmorate the faithfulness of the Lord and his different mighty acts of deliverance on their behalf through feasts and festivals. We take on many of these patterns too, but as someone younger than most estbalished holidays, I can truly say we do a better job of relaxing and feasting on holidays than we do remembering.
Remembrance is a distinctly Christian practice which we would be well served to recover and guard. This is why the Lord's Supper is so vital to the life of a church. Jesus calls us to take communion together when we gather, in remembrance of his finished work on the cross. So many churches do this once a month, and some even more rarely than that. We take the Lord's Supper every week in order to remember every week, in a vivid and visual way, what Christ has done for us.
Some people think you should do it less often in order to keep it fresh and meaningful, to make it more special. It's been my experience, in the 4 years or so of doing Communion weekly, that the frequency and consistency of the ordinance has actually enhanced it's significance and deepened it's meaning for me personally and for many other I've talked to. By taking communion weekly, and at the conclusion of preaching God's words compels us to tie everything into the gospel itself and it allows us to explore the many facets of the gospel and appreciate the fullness of Christ's work more fully.
This practice of remembrance, through the Lord's Supper, religious and cultural holidays, as well as through personal expressions that re-attach us to meaningful experiences of God's grace have enormous impact on shaping our lives. Taking the time and finding ways to intentionally re-embed ourselves in the story of God so that we faithfully find our place in what he's doing in us and around us is a thoroughly redemptive habit.
A Prayer for Remembrance:
Father, give me the grace to mindful of you and all you have done to prove your faithfulness, your kindness, your love; and all you have done to display your glory, your majesty and supremacy. But not just the grace for a cognitive awareness of you... give me the grace to take every reminder as an opportunity to reconnect my life and reorient myself within your story. Amen.
What these few short verses remind us of is that non-Christian governing officials, nor unbelieving authority figures more generally, aren't to be feared or opposed or distrusted necessarily. God, as Proverbs indicates, is able to steer the heart of the king in whatever direction he desires. King Ahasuerus was foavorably disposed to Mordecai, and Queen Esther, and to the Jews, and they appreciated and respected him, but there is no indication he trusted in the God of Israel.
This is an important reminder to pray for those in authority of us. We can ask for God's favor to us as his people through Godly as well as godless officials. We can honor the people God places over us even if they don't honor Him. And can conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Lord, and thus develop a helpful, peacable, and life-enriching relationship with those who have power over us. We should pray to that end and operate in that spirit wherever possible.
A Prayer for Favor:
Lord, even today so many of our leaders, and the whole landscape of political leadership in this country is discouraging and so easy to be cynical about. But I ask that you would use flawed, sinful people to preserve life, peace and freedom for your people to love you and serve you faithfully. I pray that you would grant your church in America favor from on high through the powers that are situated to do harm to the church or honor the church. Lord, don't let us as your people get caught up in unholy and unhelpful allegiances with political figures and parties, but let us treat those in authority with dingity and honor as those positioned by you... and let receive favor from them. The environment is getting more divided and tense and toxic, but I pray that we would be humble, gracious, kind and gentle, and receive the respect and even the ear and favor of those who oppose us today. In Christ's name I pray. Amen.