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Saturday, April 28, 2012

What Good Is a Woman? Lessons 9 and 10

Lesson 9

Read Esther Chapters 9 and 10.

In 9:1, "the opposite occurred." Comment on this theme in Esther, in Scripture generally and in relation to our salvation through Christ. See, for example, Psalm 37:12-15, Micah 5:2 and 1 Cor. 1:26-31.

The Jews wipe out their enemies, including, finally, the Amalekites. (Vss.6-10) They leave the plunder (Vss.10, 15 and 16). Describe how this is a more precise form of obedience than the Jews carried out in the past. See 1 Samuel 15:17-19 and 22-23. Note which monarch is in office during the two efforts.

Consider Christ's perfect obedience (Philippians 2:8,9), the credit we get for it (Romans 4:5-8) and how we are to obey now (John 6:29 and Matthew 5:16).

What about "plunder"? See Matthew 6:19-21.

Haman's sons, already dead, are hanged in v.13. Why? See Malachi 4:1 and 2 Peter 2:6. Compare Esther's request with David's display of Goliath's head in 1 Samuel 17:54, 57. See Colossians 2:15.

What do vss. 20 and 29 suggest about the relative authority of Mordecai and Esther?

Chapter 10 reads like a postscript and doesn't even mention Esther. Why do you suppose it is there?
On the very precisely chosen and designated day that the enemies of the Jews expected to destroy them, "the opposite occurred." From a human vantage point, this theme can be applied throughout the ages of God's dealing with His people. Looking at the very beginning, one might think that Adam would surely obey the good and bounteous God Who placed him in paradise. He didn't. God might well have blasted ungrateful humans from the now-besmirched earth. Instead, He began to work out their salvation.
          In this world, the wicked often seem to prosper. ("How long...?" Psalm 94:3) Governments think they can ignore God's rule and keep their power (Psalm 2). "The wicked plots against the just... The wicked have drawn their sword... to cast down the poor and needy" (Psalm 37:12-14). But the Lord laughs at them and promises, "Their sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken" (v.15). The opposite occurs.
          Human beings might expect God to send His Deliverer in splendor out of a great city, or perhaps directly from heaven with trumpets and angels. Yet Micah 5:2 promises, "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel." Ultimately, "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18). Christ exercised His power to save by humbling Himself. Death on a cross looked like defeat, but "the foolishness of God is wiser than men" (v.25). In the end, "many who are first will be last, and the last first" (Matthew 19:30).
          A striking oddity appears in the account of the slaughter the Jews execute on their enemies. They destroy their enemies by the hundreds, including the ten sons of Haman (vss. 6-10), but they leave the potential plunder (vss. 10,15,16). Here again is the historical connection with Saul, Agag and the Amalekites. Saul disobeyed God by sparing Agag (1 Samuel 15:1-3 and 8) and allowed his people to disobey as well by plundering the best livestock and  "all that was good" (v.9). Finally, under Esther, the last of the Agagite line is destroyed. She obeys more perfectly than Saul. Her people also follow the original mandate by leaving the spoil.
          Like Adam, Saul disobeyed God's instruction and lost his position as king. "Someone better" had to come along much later and perform the work in which he failed. Saul's replacement in eliminating the Amalekites is Esther. Adam's replacement is Christ, whose obedience led Him to the cross (Philippians 2:8,9). Gloriously, we get credit for that obedience, as God imputes righteousness to those who count on Christ (Romans 4:5-8). Our first act of obedience then is to believe. "This is the work of God," said Jesus, "that you believe in Him whom He sent" (John 6:29). As we follow Him, we "let [our] light so shine before men, that they may see [our] good works and glorify [our] Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).
          As followers of the One Who has "overcome the world" (John 16:33), we may, as much as Esther's people, face the temptation to go after the plunder, that is, to grab at all the material wealth we can get. But our King has told us, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth... but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven... For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21). Matthew Henry proposes that the Jews hoped to demonstrate that they "used their interest at court for the saving of their lives, not for the raising of their estates." Their perspective seems to be the heavenly one Christ put forth in Matthew 6:33. "But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." As redeemed people, we ought to place the working out of our salvation before the enhancement of our bank balance.
          Earthly actions with spiritual significance continue with the hanging of Haman's sons (v. 13) even though they are already dead. This grim display certifies the end of a tribe that has long set itself against the people of God. This happens on a day of deliverance that prefigures the Great Day of Malachi 4:1. "'And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,' says the LORD of hosts, 'That will leave them neither root nor branch.'" The corpses of the sons may, like the ashes of Sodom and Gomorrah, be "an example to those who afterward would live ungodly" (2 Peter 2:6).
          Such gruesome display is not unique. Another representative of Christ, the young David, not only cut off the head of Goliath, he carried it to Jerusalem and presented it to Saul (1 Samuel 17:51-57). Both events may foreshadow the results of Christ's work on the cross. "Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it" (Colossians 2:15).
          Esther's people celebrate their victory over Haman with "a day of feasting and gladness." Mordecai writes to the Jews in all the provinces to establish the dates for future commemoration (v.20), but apparently his is not the last word on the subject. Esther later writes "with full authority" (v.29), demonstrating that her position as queen is above Mordecai. He can speak for her in the manner of an ambassador, as we are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21), but he is not himself the source of authority.
          After this, Chapter 10 seems oddly tacked on, a sort of postscript that fails to mention Esther. It even calls Mordecai "second to King Ahasuerus" (v.3). Taken out of context, this might suggest that Mordecai is actually the powerful redeemer figure, but it must be remembered that Mordecai would never have attained his honored position without the bravery and sacrifice of Esther.
          The fine attributes of Mordecai, "great among the Jews and well received by the multitude of his brethren, seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all his countrymen," sound like the ideals that members of the church should attain to. Paul told the Thessalonians to "esteem [your leaders] very highly in love for their work's sake" and to "be at peace among yourselves." He urged them to "comfort each other and edify one another" (1 Thessalonians 5:11-13). Mordecai seems to have led the way in building godly relationships.
          Tiny Chapter 10 also serves the vital function of anchoring the events of the book in history. "Now all the acts... are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia?" (v.2). Such references, like the mention of emperor and governor in Luke 2:1-2, reassure us that we are not reading fantasy, but accounts of God's actual working in the world of men. As more scholars and scoffers claim that the Old Testament is only a series of stories invented to make a point and even that Jesus is no more than a myth, these touchpoints encourage the believer. 


Lesson 10

Read Judges 4:1-24 and Judges 5:24-31.

Evaluate this situation, and especially the actions of Jael, in the light of all the principles we have applied to Esther. Is this story really about Christ? Is Jael a "type" of Christ?

A few hints:


belief (or not)

failure in duty


unexpected actions

unlikely agent

surprising results

changes for Israel

          Jael's story in Judges 4 is so odd and horrifying, it falls into the same category as the sacrifice of Isaac. Taken alone, it sounds barbaric. Taken as a precursor of God's work of salvation, it shows again how God controls all of human history and makes it reflect Christ. The same comparisons that illuminate Esther illuminate Jael.
          Judges 4 begins with the children of Israel in peril because of their disobedience. This time, they fall "into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan." Sisera commands his army. Though the Jews have brought on their own predicament by doing "evil in the sight of the LORD," the sight of "nine hundred chariots of iron" causes them to cry out to their God for deliverance.
          Because of her position of authority, Deborah might seem at first a likely candidate as type of Christ. However, she only predicts deliverance. She does not perform it herself. She gives the Jewish commander Barak his assignment and God's promise of victory (vss.6,7). All he must do is obey. Like Adam, though, he shirks his responsibility and even tries to foist it onto a woman, saying in verse 8 to Deborah, "If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go!" Adam blamed "the woman whom You gave to be with me" for his own disobedience (Genesis 3:12).
          The pattern repeats. Once again, "one who is better" must carry out the neglected task, and Deborah predicts that it will be a woman. Though Barak is already hiding behind a woman's skirts, this must have been even more humiliating. He has ten thousand men under his command and not a single woman. The final defeat of the Canaanite army will come from the most unexpected source.
          In verse 14, Deborah identifies "the day" on which the seemingly invincible Canaanites will be destroyed, just as "the day" was fixed for the Persian enemies of the Jews to meet with the opposite of their expectations. Here the events take place in a different order from those in Esther. Haman died, and then the Jews routed the Persians. Here, the Jews rout the Canaanites, and their living commander flees, but the end is the same.
          Haman flings himself into Esther's lap like the demons begging Jesus for mercy. Barak stumbles into Jael's tent, thinking he has found a protector. Jael shows remarkable cunning and forethought. She seems to know that the military man will never suspect a little "tentwife" of being his nemesis. The wicked ignored and scorned the Christ, but He became the chief cornerstone and destroyed them (Matthew 21:42-44). Isaiah 8:14 indicates that the Messiah will be like a sanctuary to some, but to unbelievers, "a stone of stumbling... a trap and a snare."
          Jael's tent, sitting in a sort of demilitarized zone, where there is "peace between Jabin king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite" (4:17), looks like a sanctuary, but for an enemy of God's people, it is a snare. Sisera has been knocked down like Goliath, and only the coup de grace remains. The final blow comes after another opposite, the milk offered instead of water (4:19). He expected refreshment, but received something that made him sleepy.
          Pounding a tent peg through Sisera's head is so gruesome and so unexpected at the hand of a woman, we must look to its symbolism to justify it. The first hint lies in the fatal injury to the head. Sisera's demise is similar to that predicted for the seed of the serpent in Genesis 3:15. A wooden stake being driven all the way into the ground to destroy the power of the enemy may also suggest the cross of Christ. Bearing His weight, it pierced the earth, defeated sin and death, and guaranteed victory for the people of God.
          Jael lived among a tribe that was, at least for the time being, at peace with the king whose general she killed. She may seem at first to have been treacherous and to have violated all rules of hospitality. Matthew Henry explains that Jael "preferred her peace with the God of Israel before her peace with the king of Canaan." Instead of criticism, she earns praise in the triumphal Song of Deborah in chapter 5. Verses 24-30 repeat in detail Jael's scheme and even gloat over Sisera's failure to return home. Verse 31 justifies it all. "Thus let all Your enemies perish, O LORD! But let those who love Him be like the sun when it comes out in full strength." Such celebration resembles that in Malachi 4:1-3.
          As the wife of Heber the Kenite, Jael inhabits the opposite end of the spectrum from Esther. She seems to have no power, no political influence, no wealth. She lives in a tent, not a palace. Nevertheless, she bears the image of Christ and serves His people in a similar way. Matthew Henry comments: "Those whose lot is cast in the tent, in a very low and narrow sphere of activity, if they serve God in that according to their capacity, shall in no wise lose their reward."
          I would not call the sphere of the housewife “low and narrow,” especially in our era of easy communication and transportation. A woman can manage a household and have quite a lot of effect on her community through the church, children’s activities, volunteering, political awareness and public forums like letters to newspaper editors. There is no real reason to sneer at the traditional roles of women, even though much of our culture does just that.
Nevertheless, the same Scriptures that require us to see the image of God in women also say plainly that a woman shall not have authority over a man (1 Timothy 2:12.) If we accept that all Scripture is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16), we don't have the post-modernist luxury of believing only the bits we like. 
          A friend who calls herself a feminist cited with approval a professor who said that the authority a woman ought to have on her head, as stated in 1 Corinthians 11:10, may actually mean the sort of authority that pastors and elders have. She thought this supported the argument that women ought to hold the same offices as men. I came away perplexed and dismayed at this classic example of taking a verse out of context and applying imaginative interpretation. This chapter says a woman must keep her head covered. A few verses earlier, it says that men must not cover their heads. If this feminist interpretation is correct, then, to be consistent, they must say that the men cannot be pastors or elders. Whatever that word "authority" means, men and women still have different assignments, but in feminist thought, desire trumps clarity.
          When I studied journalism and English literature at Boston University, I learned how tempting it is to take words out of context when you want to make a point. But if you do it when looking for guidance, it's foolish. If you do it when pushing a political position, it's dishonest. If you do it when teaching in the church, it's evil and will incur a stricter judgment (James 3:1).
          My pastor has said from the pulpit, "Men, you don't hold the offices because you're superior. I know you, and I know your wives. The women are better." However, some men do seem to think that if women are not supposed to hold church offices, they must be inferior in intellect or value. When women insist that they must be given the offices to show their equality, they fall into the same fallacy. "If I can't have the office, that says I'm inferior. Therefore, the only way to show I'm not inferior is to give me the office."
Both sides might take another look at 1Cor. 12:15-25. Women who insist that their talents are being wasted unless they are made pastors or elders may be making the mistake of the foot that says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” or the ear that says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body.” Verse 18 reminds us, “But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.” Every assignment has its own importance, and the differences are vital. “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing?”
Esther did not have to become king to save her people. Jael remained a “tentwife” when she vanquished the enemy commander. We can be equal and effective in different offices. As we follow Christ, we will be.


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