Most of us face a time sooner or later when you feel you ought to stand up, step forward. You need to put your money where your mouth is. In work, at the voting booth, all sorts of places.
But often we don’t. We think the time isn’t quite right, or the consequences are too awful.
In Esther 4, Esther has exactly one of these defining moments and it’s massively helpful to you and me today. And you’d be mistaken to think it was easy for her.
Life’s not fair
This is something that needs little proving. It’s everywhere.
Esther may have been queen, but it wasn’t all easy.
- She was an orphan. We found that out in chapter 2.
- We’re given no details of her parents, only that they had died. Most likely they came with Mordecai from Jerusalem into exile in Babylon in 597 BC.
- Taken from home by force. Then her parents taken from her in death. It’s not a happy upbringing.
- And then, when the Persian king runs a beauty contest to find his next Queen, Esther’s taken to the palace.
So far, events have pretty much happened to Esther – she’s responded and gone with everything that came her way. By Chapter 4, she’s been queen about 5 years.
And there’s her cousin, Mordecai.
- He had also been taken by force from home in Jerusalem.
- Instead of serving Israel’s king, he was now working for a pagan government.
- He worked at “the gate” in Susa, the capital city.
- It was a government administrative office, probably looking after taxes and trade coming in and out, as well as being a kind of local council office.
- He’d cared for his beautiful young cousin after her parents died, only to have her taken from him by the king.
- When he overheard a plot to kill the king (working at the gate), he’d told Esther, Esther told the king, and the two plotters were executed.
- But Mordecai went unrewarded for sticking his neck out.
Life wasn’t fair for Esther or Mordecai. But it got worse.
The king didn’t reward Mordecai, but he did promote Haman to become “the most powerful official in the empire.”
- Haman is called “the enemy of the Jews” in 3:10.
- So we get one of the oldest, most painful questions for faithful men and women: Psalm 73:12-13 Look at these wicked people—enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply. Did I keep my heart pure for nothing?
- Why must the wicked prosper and the godly suffer?
- When Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman, Haman didn’t just take it out on Mordecai, he plotted to wipe out all Jews everywhere across the empire!
How can that be fair even on Mordecai, let alone all those Jews? How could God let that happen?
You feel it yourself, in your own life:
- Why is it that the pandemic has affected some of us so much – and others hardly at all? It’s not fair.
- Why do godly people suffer cancer or other illnesses, while many wicked people have easy lives? Not fair.
- Why do some of us live under terrible Government regimes, as in North Korea?
- Why do some people get lovely, enjoyable, highly paid jobs while others have to scratch around, working hard for awful bosses, or even struggling to get work at all?
Life’s not fair. And yet, what do we really mean by that?
Is that the same as “life’s unjust”?
- If fairness is about everyone having an equal share, then it’s obvious that life isn’t fair. Some just have harder times.
- But justice is about everyone having what they deserve – reward and punishment.
- And if we limit life to what we see “under the sun” then there isn’t always justice is there? Some people do seem to get away with it.
And if you truly believe that all there is is all you can see – that all reality is under the sun with no supernatural reality – then this is a miserable life. A life of injustice, unfairness and pain. Dog eat dog; fittest wins.
But the Bible tells a bigger story. Let’s go back to Esther:
Lots going on
God is not mentioned in Esther. But his fingerprints are everywhere. Read Esther 3:1.
It’s not always easy to keep track of names in the Old Testament. But Agag was king of the Amalekites in the days of Saul, king of Israel, and son of Kish.
- So who were the Amalekites?
- They were the first nation to go to war against Israel.
- Back in Exodus 17, after the exodus and before Sinai.
- There the Lord promised “I will erase the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” (Exodus 17:14)
- Years later, Saul was king of Israel and was told “Now go and completely destroy the Amalek nation” (1 Samuel 15:3). But he didn’t. He spared the Amalek king, Agag.
So here’s Haman, an Agagite, at war against God’s people. And in Esther 2:5, Mordecai was introduced to us as a descendant of Kish (king Saul’s father).
That bit of Bible study puts the conflict between Haman and Mordecai right at the end of an ancient conflict between Israel and the Amalekites. And the alarm bell for Haman is that God’s promise to wipe them out was still unfulfilled. Until Haman.
(It’s worth saying that this ancient promise from God in Exodus 17 to wipe them out is actually quite a factor in why the book of Esther was included in our Bibles, despite not mentioning God.)
So we have (in the ancestry of Haman in Mordecai) an old conflict. But we also get a reminder of an ancient hope. Read Esther 3:12.
The NLT pinpoints the exact day and year. But here it’s more important to read it literally, “The royal scribes were summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month…”
- To us, it’s like referring to 24th December. You’d recognise it instantly as Christmas Eve.
- To Jewish readers of Esther, the 13th day of the 1st month is (what you might call) “Passover Eve”.
As the letters start to go out to announce the destruction of the Jews at a specific future date, it happens to coincide with a remembrance of another king who once tried to quash God’s people.
- Another pagan ruler who discovered the power of God.
- A time when God rescued his people and brought them to the land he’d promised.
The royal scribes wouldn’t have had a clue. But the date wouldn’t have been lost on the Jews.
So there’s an old conflict, and an old hope. And lots were cast! A pur was something like a dice (a die). Purim is plural. Haman wanted to wipe out the Jews and he sought supernatural intervention for guidance – he cast lots.
- But as Proverbs 16:33 knows, We may throw the dice, but the LORD determines how they fall.
- Haman thought he was running the show, but he was being used by God for his own glory!
We see just this at the cross of Christ. Wicked men tried him in kangaroo courts, and unjustly determined he must die.
Soldiers grabbed him and nailed him to a wooden cross.
- Satan and all that is evil rejoiced to see it.
- And through it all, God was working.
- He was providing a sacrifice of atonement of his own Son.
- There was no accident. Jesus was no victim. It was planned, and the very moment of most awful suffering was the very focus of triumph over evil.
Rev 12 & 13 puts the cross at the centre of satanic opposition that runs through time against the Lord and his people.
- The events of Esther are part of that huge story.
- And because God works his plans throughout that whole timeframe there is nothing and no-one who can stop him.
- In his sovereignty, he uses his own dubious people and even those who are overtly opposed to him and his people
I said that you truly believe that all there is is all you can see – that all reality is under the sun with no supernatural reality – then this is a miserable life. But there’s much, much more to reality. Life under the Son.
And that changes things for all of us.
Turn to the Lord
In Esther 4, Mordecai asks Esther to go to the king to beg for mercy for the Jews. They have to work through a messenger. Read Esther 4:10-14.
Esther faces a choice: Certain death, or possible death. And remember, there are no miracles and no words of prophecy in this book. Will she remain a passive victim of circumstance?
Mordecai’s words are interesting:
- He’s certain that God will rescue his people somehow.
- The choice for Esther, as he sees it, is whether she will stand up, step forward and one of God’s people – and then be the very instrument God will use.
- We’ve already seen the bigger picture so we know Mordecai is right – but we’re not in her shoes.
The words in Esther 4 have allusions to an earlier prophet, Joel 2:12-15 Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.” … Who knows? Perhaps [the Lord] will give you a reprieve, sending you a blessing instead of this curse.
- Certainly, that’s what happens next.
- Esther changes. She takes no more instruction from Mordecai, but actually starts to give him orders.
- She’s on the front foot. But the first thing is a call to fasting. That is a heart before God.
- Fasting is a way of saying, “Lord, this thing I bring before you is more important than food to me.”
- It’s also a sign of repentance, of turning to God.
- For these Jews in a pagan culture, it was time to stand up, step forward, and be counted as a man or woman of God.
Why did they fast first? Because that time with God must precede anything you presume to do in his name. Not least because he will bring that divine assistance.
Stand up, step forward
Your confidence isn’t in your own ability, but in Christ’s power and willingness to help in your time of need (Hebrews 4:16 again).
So here’s the main point. This is how you are to look again at your own circumstances, the unfairness of life around you:
- Esther stopped regarding herself as a victim of circumstance.
- She began to use the position she found herself in positively to help save others.
When Jeremiah wrote to the exiles in Babylon he wrote words that have brought many people comfort: “I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster…” (Jeremiah 29:11)
- But those words are in the context of a 70-year exile.
- The message was never “There, there, it’ll soon be over,” but rather, “You don’t get to choose the times you’re in, so settle down and serve me where you are. Good will come, but not imminently.”
You look at the things that worry you, that hurt you, that make you anxious about the coming week.
- You see other people not worrying about those things and you know that, often, life’s not fair.
- But God has this. He has the big picture.
- Christ is at the centre and the victory is already won.
This life is not all there is; you don’t get to choose the times you’re in. Will you sit back, a passive, helpless victim of circumstance? Or stand up, step forward in faith?
Whether it’s for the first time or the millionth, turn to the Lord and be saved. Trust his powerful sovereignty in all things for good.