Sunday morning we started our new session on Esther, Ezra and Nehemiah.
So let's start with some background on Esther, taken from Rod O'Neil of First Baptist Church of Mt. Washington, KY:
*** Author: The Book of Esther does not specifically name its author. The most popular traditions are Mordecai (Esther’s cousin), and Nehemiah (who would have been familiar with Persian customs), or Ezra who compiled it from another primary source.
*** History: Esther appeared about 40 years after the Temple was rebuilt and about 30 years before the Wall of Jerusalem was rebuilt. Persian records do not contain references to Esther or Mordecai, but the detailed descriptions of practices and customs in the book are archeologically and historically accurate. The action in the book would have taken place around 483-471 BC. The Book of Esther was likely written between 460 and 350 BC. Esther, in all probability, made it possible for Nehemiah to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the Wall.
*** Leading Characters:
--- Esther - She saves the Jewish race from near annihilation
--- Mordecai - Esther’s older cousin who raised her & guided her
--- Xerxes (Ahasuerus) - King of Persia who was noted for unruly behavior
--- Queen Vashti - Deposed queen who scorned her king
--- Haman - A power-hungry Persian official who hated Jews
--- God - Not mentioned once, but worked providentially behind the scenes to save His chosen people
Sunday's lesson focused on Esther 3:1-9, the idea being that God can use wicked men, wicked nations, and wicked situations to accomplish His will.
MORDECAI HONORS GOD ONLY (Esther 3:1-5)
After all this took place, King Ahasuerus honored Haman, son of Hammedatha the Agagite. He promoted him in rank and gave him a higher position than all the other officials. 2 The entire royal staff at the King’s Gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, because the king had commanded this to be done for him. But Mordecai would not bow down or pay homage. 3 The members of the royal staff at the King’s Gate asked Mordecai, “Why are you disobeying the king’s command?” 4 When they had warned him day after day and he still would not listen to them, they told Haman to see if Mordecai’s actions would be tolerated, since he had told them he was a Jew. 5 When Haman saw that Mordecai was not bowing down or paying him homage, he was filled with rage.
*** Esther is a Jewish orphan raised by her cousin Mordecai. In chapters 1 and 2 we read about how she was chosen to be the new queen to Xerxes, who is referred to as Ahasuerus in the Bible. During the same period, Mordecai is instrumental in foiling an assassination plot against the king. At the same time this period includes the ill-fated Persian invasion of Greece that cost Xerxes thousands of soldiers and much of his fleet.
*** Haman was a descendant of the Amalekites, the sworn enemy of the Israelites. The Jews were supposed to wipe them out after taking the Promised Land:
--- Deuteronomy 25:17-19 - 17 “Remember what the Amalekites did to you on the journey after you left Egypt. 18 They met you along the way and attacked all your stragglers from behind when you were tired and weary. They did not fear God. 19 When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance, blot out the memory of Amalek under heaven. Do not forget.
--- Saul finally desolated their territory and destroyed their power but he lost his kingdom due to failure to annihilate them completely. (1 Samuel 15)
*** Mordecai stood firm in the face of fierce opposition that required uncompromising faith in God.
GENOCIDE PLANNED (Esther 3:6-9)
6 And when he learned of Mordecai’s ethnic identity, Haman decided not to do away with Mordecai alone. He planned to destroy all of Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout Ahasuerus’s kingdom. 7 In the first month, the month of Nisan, in King Ahasuerus’s twelfth year, Pur (that is, the lot) was cast before Haman for each day in each month, and it fell on the twelfth month, the month Adar. 8 Then Haman informed King Ahasuerus, “There is one ethnic group, scattered throughout the peoples in every province of your kingdom, yet living in isolation. Their laws are different from everyone else’s and they do not obey the king’s laws. It is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. 9 If the king approves, let an order be drawn up authorizing their destruction, and I will pay 375 tons of silver to the accountants for deposit in the royal treasury.”
*** When Haman learns of Mordecai's refusal to bow, Haman wants to destroy not just him but all of his people, the Jews.
*** Haman lied to King Xerxes and said that they Jews did not obey the king's laws.
--- Haman even said he would put up 375 tons of his own silver to pay for the operation.
--- Xerxes signed off on the plan, not knowing that his queen was a Jew.
*** How can believers respond when confronted with conflicting religious and political demands?
--- 1 Timothy 2:1-3 - First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is good, and it pleases God our Savior,
--- Romans 13:1 - Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God.
*** Three important themes for Esther, Ezra and Nehemiah:
--- Dangerous times call for courageous stands.
--- Dispirited people need hopeful leaders.
--- Difficult situations require godly leadership.