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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What Good Is a Woman? Lesson 8

Read Esther Chapter 8.

In vs.1, Esther acquires the house of Haman. Compare this to Jesus' acquisition of a "house" in Matthew 12:24 and 29.

Compare the elevation of Mordecai in vss.1 and 2 to the events in Ephesians 2:4-7.

Esther's intercession continues in vss.5-8. Why are the Jews still in danger after the death of Haman?
Vss. 9-14 show the issuance of another irrevocable edict. See Psalm 85:10, and consider how seemingly contradictory standards can be upheld at the same time. See Matthew 5:17,18 and Romans 3:21-26.

Compare the new edict with the promise in Malachi 4:3.

Are the people of God still threatened even though redeemed by Christ? See 1 Peter 5:8.

How does the church "trample the wicked" today? See Matthew 16:18 and 2 Corinthians 10:4-6.

Mordecai appears in "royal apparel" in vs. 15. How is this different from the procession in Chapter 6? Consider how the people react and how long the effect lasts. Compare to Revelation 21:2. Matthew Henry calls the new Jerusalem "the church of God in its new and perfect state."

Note the Jews' reactions in vss.16 and 17. Compare to Isaiah 61:1-3 and Luke 4:16-21.

"Fear of the Jews" causes many to become Jews. Is this at all similar to the way people become part of the church today? See Deuteronomy 33:29, Matthew 5:14-16, Acts 5:12-16 and 9:31.
     In The New Geneva Study Bible, Chapter 8 bears the subtitle "Esther Saves the Jews." Yes, indeed, and she continues with more actions that resemble those of Christ. To begin with, Ahasuerus "gave Queen Esther the house of Haman." Jesus said in Matthew 12:29, "Or how can one enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house." Jesus conquered a realm that Satan thought he owned and turned it over to His church. ("On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" Matthew 16:18.) Victorious Esther "appointed Mordecai over the house of Haman."
       Through the action of another, Mordecai escapes a death sentence and gains a position of authority. His elevation is like that of the church as described in Ephesians 2:4-7. We were "dead in trespasses," but God "made us alive together with Christ." (Remember how Esther identified herself with her people.) Now we are seated with Christ at God's right hand. The church has unique authority in the world, and Mordecai has the king's signet ring.
            Haman is dead, but Esther's intercession must continue. The people are still in danger because the original edict against them still stands. As the king reminds Esther, "whatever is written in the king's name and sealed with the king's signet ring no one can revoke" (8:8). The only solution is a new edict, equally irrevocable, that will nullify the first. It is striking that this edict, like the first, is sent out "to every people in their own language, and to the Jews in their own script and language" (8:9). The Revelation tells us that God has redeemed His people "out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation" (5:9), and the "everlasting gospel" is preached "to every nation, tribe, tongue and people" (14:6).
       The two edicts echo the promise of Psalm 85:10. "Mercy and truth have met together, righteousness and peace have kissed." The New Geneva Study Bible explains, "This verse has long been interpreted to refer to the reconciliation that Jesus Christ effected between God's justice, that cannot tolerate sin, and His mercy, that does not rejoice in the death of the wicked. Justice and mercy came together in the cross of Christ." Perfect, unchanging and apparently contradictory principles are satisfied in the work of Christ. Esther guarantees escape for her people under the same authority that condemned them. In Matthew 5:17,18, Jesus tells His hearers that the law still stands. In Romans 3:21-26, Paul explains that "all have sinned," but God passes over sins because of Christ. He is both "just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."
       Salvation in Christ is more than rescue. It is triumph, as promised in Malachi 4:3. "For you shall trample the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I do this." The victory is sure, but the battle is not over. "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8). Satan's head has been crushed, but he's still thrashing about, trying to take down as many human beings as he can. Haman is dead, but his evil intent still has life. Only now, the Jews have permission to fight back.
         Death itself cannot conquer the church (Matthew 16:18). Of course, we fight in a different way from the Jews in Persia. "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds" (1 Corinthians 10:4). We "trample the wicked" with prayer and the truth of God's Word. We do this as royalty. Not only has God redeemed His people from the whole world, He has "made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth" (Revelation 5:10).
       Now that the Jews have hope, Mordecai appears in public "in royal apparel of blue and white, with a great crown of gold and a garment of fine linen and purple" (8:15). This procession is different from the one in Chapter 6. The first was derivative, accidental and ironic. When it was over, Mordecai returned to his humble position at the king's gate. No reaction from the people is recorded. Now Mordecai seems to be honored as royalty. He has a crown, and this time the people rejoice. He is one of them, and his position has changed permanently. Adorned and elevated like the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2), described by Matthew Henry as "the church of God in its new and perfect state," he rules along with Ahasuerus and Esther.
       Now the Jews have "light and gladness, joy and honor... a feast and a holiday" (8:16, 17). Their reactions resonate with the celebration that greets the proclamation of the "acceptable year of the LORD" in Isaiah 61:1-3. Jesus reads this passage in Luke 4:16-21 to demonstrate that He is the One Who brings the deliverance from slavery, ashes and mourning. In Esther's success, the Jews in Persia have certainly had a foretaste of that ultimate deliverance.
      Then, remarkably, "fear of the Jews" causes many of their neighbors to become Jews. I think there is little of this dynamic in effect today, but perhaps it ought to be more evident. As Moses said of Israel, "Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD... Your enemies shall submit to you, and you shall tread down their high places" (Deuteronomy 33:29). A divinely saved people is the light of the world, as in Matthew 5:14-16. Jesus tells his church to "let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." At least in the early church, God's power was so obvious that "believers were increasingly added to the Lord," as in Acts 5:12-16 and 9:31. God's work in the church has had the same effect on observers as Esther's work for her people in Persia.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What Good Is a Woman? Lesson 7

 Read Esther Chapter 7.

Esther makes her intercessory appeal in the first four verses. Compare the situation and the reasoning in her intercession for the Jews with that of Moses in Exodus 32:8-14. (See Hebrews 7:25.) 
 For what crime are the people in danger of annihilation? (See Exodus 32:8 and Esther 3:8.)
 How firm does the judgment seem? How is it deflected?
 Why does Esther say she would not have complained if her people had been sold into slavery? Consider Romans 9:21.
 What kind of problem does each intercessor argue that annihilation of the people would cause for their king?

God is, of course, sufficient in Himself, but consider what "problem" or "lack" would have resulted if He had not redeemed His people. (See Ephesians 1:22,23 and 5:25-27 and 1 Peter 2:9.) (Matthew Henry says, "Christ as Mediator would not be complete if he had not a church. How could he be a king if he had not a kingdom?")

Compare "adversary and enemy" Haman's pleading for his life with the pleading in Matthew 8:28-32 and Luke 8:30-31.

More irony: relate the intentions and downfall of Haman to the predictions of Genesis 3:15.

Would Esther have been technically correct if she had told Ahasuerus that he was the one who was going to destroy her people? From whom does Christ save us?

     If Esther is to stand as a type of Christ, it may be useful to compare her to one who is commonly so described: Moses. Christ is "able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:25). Moses makes intercession for his people in Exodus 32:8-14, and Esther makes her appeal in 7:1-4. The situations and the reasoning of the intercessors are comparable.
       In Persia, the Jews are in danger because "they do not keep the king's laws." It may not be true, but the king believes it. In Exodus, the offense is all too real. The Hebrews have "turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them." The substance of the charge, ignoring their king's law, is the same, and judgment seems sure. God tells Moses to "let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them." With authorization from Ahasuerus, Haman has set the date for destruction of the Jews.
       In both cases, a personal plea from the intercessor deflects the wrath of the ruler. The LORD proposes destroying the people and making a new nation from Moses, but Moses declines, apparently willing to stick with the original chosen people. Esther now clearly identifies herself with her people, including herself in the group to be annihilated. When she says "If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given to me at my petition, and my people at my request," her intercession seems more personal than that of Moses and thus a little more like that of Christ.
       Neither intercessor claims that the people are innocent, but each rather puts their destruction in terms of loss to the king. Moses specifically reminds God of His promise to multiply Abraham's descendants and to give them the promised land. He also details the "public relations" disaster of allowing the Egyptians to say that God  led His people out of the country only to kill them. Esther uses the less clear statement that "the enemy could never compensate for the king's loss." She may be implying that the Jews are actually such productive citizens that the loss of their services, commerce and revenues would be greater than the loot Haman promised. She does seem to acknowledge that the king has a right to do as he wishes with his subjects, even selling them into slavery. This idea resonates with Romans 9:21. "Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?"
       The Triune God is sufficient in Himself and cannot be said to "need" anything or anyone, but there is a sense in which He would have lacked something if He had destroyed all of sinful man instead of redeeming a people for His own possession. Ephesians 1:22,23 shows that the church "is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all." In Ephesians 5:25-27, He wishes to cleanse the church of sin "that He might present her to Himself." In his commentary on Ephesians 1, Matthew Henry says, "Christ as Mediator would not be complete if he had not a church. How could he be a king if he had not a kingdom?          
       In this chapter, Ahasuerus shows once again that, while he has god-like power, he certainly lacks God-like wisdom. His question in verse 5 about who would dare to destroy the Jews suggests that he does not even remember his agreement with Haman. It is interesting that Esther names Haman as the "adversary and enemy," even though the king is ultimately responsible. This oddity nevertheless squares with our salvation in Christ. He has called us "out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9), rescuing us from the influence of the devil, but He also "delivers us from the wrath to come" (1 Thessalonians 1:10), that is, the wrath of God.
       Haman now sees that his time is up. In his pleading, he takes on another sort of demonic role. As he flings himself across Esther's couch, he resembles the demons who cried out to Jesus, "Have You come here to torment us before the time?" and begged Him to let them enter the herd of swine (Matthew 8:28-30). They thought they had a refuge in the pigs, but the animals plunged into the sea. Haman may have thought he could find refuge in Esther's lap, but the ploy only guaranteed that the king would show him no mercy.
       Suggestible Ahasuerus hears Harbonah describe Haman's gallows and orders him hanged on it. "The wicked in his pride persecutes the poor; let them be caught in the plots which they have devised" (Psalm 10:2). Haman has snapped at the heel of God's people, and now, through the courageous work of Esther, his head is crushed. "Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms...?" (Isaiah 14:16).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Goat with One Eye

     Way back in elementary school, some of my classmates had a dispute over how to spell a particular word. Someone remembered that I was a good speller, and they asked me to arbitrate. "Is it b-l-o-o-n or b-l-o-o-m?" the spokesman asked. 
     I said, "Um, if you mean a flower, it's b-l-o-o-m." 
     "No, no, not a flower," said one of them. "The thing you blow up and tie on a string."
     "Oh," I said. "Balloon. That's b-a-l-l-o-o-n."
     "No, it isn't," they all scoffed as one. "That can't be it. It has to be bloon or bloom." And off they went, still disputing. 
     A Dutch priest of the 15th century, Desiderius Erasmus, is said to have said "In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." Maybe. But sometimes the one-eyed man is the goat.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Beautiful Beans

Why is anything beautiful? Here is one of my scarlet runner bean plants, sending up spires of radiant buds that open into splendid red blooms. After this incredible display, it produces... beans, common, mundane little vegetables. (I'm growing them to eat, but I expect that, if I look closely, I will find that they have beauty too.) Things that don't last long, things that are leftovers or throwaways, are often beautiful. In Alaska, we saw chunks of ice fallen from glaciers. Light gleams through them in the most ethereal, mysterious arctic blue. Then they melt. Seashells fall to the ocean floor and wash up on the beach by the millions, vacant armor of creatures now dead, but they are fluted and swirled and striated in incredible variety, and tinted pink, cream, purple, yellow, red. 
     Out behind a convent and school in New York, where I was a chaperon with a children's choir, I walked a labyrinth, a convoluted path mowed into the grass. A minute or so into it, I realized that the uncut green borders were not just green; they were sprinkled with tiny wildflowers in many colors. If I hadn't been walking slowly along the path and allowing my mind to take in whatever presented itself, I never would have noticed them. Once I did, I found myself seeing them everywhere. 
     I used to see nothing but flaws. I still have that tendency. Now, at least, it's tempered by the knowledge that there are offerings of beauty everywhere, and I can hold my magnifying glass over them. Knowing that they may be gone tomorrow makes it all the more important to look now. It's more than worth the mental effort, because it has finally got through my head that "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights." (James 1:17) "Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name; Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." (Psalm 29:2) Amen.