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For Such A Time As This

The Book of Esther is the story of a Jewish girl who becomes queen of Persia and saves her people from a plot to kill them. And one of the unique things about the book of Esther is that God is never mentioned.

Jewish rabbis and scribes argued whether Esther should be included in the Scriptures because God’s name doesn’t appear. But a good reading reveals that while his name may not be mentioned, God is in the events of this story.

It happens like this: The story is set in Susa which was the capital of the Persian empire. We know this area today as Iran. The King of Persia, Xerxes, gives a huge banquet filled with lots of drinking. When he asks his queen whose name is Vashti to come out and prance around so that all the men could see how beautiful she is, Vashti refuses. She is not going to be a part of this meat market anymore. Score one for women’s rights and dignity, heh?

The thing is when you don’t do what the King wants, he pouts, gets angry, and removes Vashti as queen. Can you imagine? He asks that all the young virgins of the kingdom be brought, and whoever pleases him most will become the new queen.

Now, there were a large segment of Jewish people living in Persia during this time. They had been taken from Jerusalem after Israel was conquered by Babylon. Daniel was among those taken from his homeland and brought to Persia. Same with Esther.

There is a Jewish man in Susa named Mordecai. He was raising Esther, who was his cousin, because her parents had died. Mordecai sees to it that Esther is included in the harem of women from whom the king would choose a new queen. Well, Esther impresses, is chosen and becomes queen. But no one knows that Esther is also a Jew.

Now, Mordecai, who keeps his ears to the street, hears of a plot to harm the king. Mordecai sends word through Esther about this. The perpetrators are captured and hung. The king is safe. This will become important in what happens later so just file it away.

In the meantime, King Xerxes promotes a man named Haman to be his top official. Haman is arrogant and narcissistic. When Haman walks around everyone is supposed to bow down to him. But Mordecai refuses. Maybe because he is a devout Jew and bows down to know one except the Lord? Haman throws a tantrum, finds out that Mordecai is Jewish, and hatches a plot to destroy all the Jewish people. Why deal with one when you can just get rid of them all?

Haman goes to the King and says,

“There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will give ten thousand talents of silver to the king’s administrators for the royal treasury.”[1]

The King, probably acting out of his insecurity, buys into this and issues an edict that all Jews, young and old, women and children, are to be killed and their property plundered. It was to take place on a particular day that Haman determined by casting lots.

When Mordecai hears about this he tears his clothes and puts on sackcloth and ashes which were a sign of grief and mourning. This is huge. This is life and death. Esther hears about her cousin, and sends one of her attendants to find out what is wrong with Mordecai. Mordecai provides the attendant, whose name is Hathach by the way, a written copy of the king’s decree. He also tells Hathach to tell Esther to go into the king’s presence and plead for her people and end this evil plot.

Esther sends word back that if anyone goes into the king’s inner chambers without being summoned he or she can be put to death. And Esther adds that she hasn’t even seen the king for 30 days. Just because she is the queen doesn’t mean she can just waltz in.

When Hathach tells Mordecai that Esther thinks its too risky to just walk in and meet with the king, Mordecai gives the words that are really at the heart of the book of Esther, and words that were in our reading this morning. Mordecai says to Esther,

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”[2]

Mordecai is brutally clear. He tells Esther that because she is a Jew, one way or another, she will die given the edict, so she has nothing to lose.

And has God made Esther queen for such a time as this? Is the only reason God has raised her up is so that she could be in a position of influence to deliver her people from this plot? This is a time where her power and influence can do a great deal of good. Is there a hand beyond her life moving her life circumstances?

Esther says to ask all the Jews in the kingdom to fast. Fasting was a way of seeking God with special energy. Surely God will pay attention if he sees that we need help more than food. Then Esther will go to the king, though it is against the law. And she says, “if I perish, I perish.” It’s on. Esther realizes the seriousness of this and is now willing to put her life on the line for everyone.

Three days later Esther stands in the inner court of the king’s palace in front of the where the king hangs out a lot. The king sees Esther. She wins favor in his sight, and he welcomes her in. The king asks Esther what her request is and whatever it is he will give it up to half the kingdom. The door is open. She asks that a great banquet be given where just she, the king, and Haman, the king’s top official, be present. Then she will tell the king her request.

Haman hears this and he is thrilled. A dinner just for him and the royal couple. He goes and brags about it. And he brags about his riches, career, and accomplishments. But he is still angry at Mordecai who continues to refuse to bow down to him.

While preparations for this banquet are being made, some of Haman’s counselors tell him to make a gallows, a large pole, and impale Mordecai the next day. Haman builds this and we await the next morning. Remember Haman doesn’t know anything about Mordecai and Esther’s relationship.

But that night the king can’t sleep. He has, what is called, a book of memorable deeds read to him and in that book is recorded how Mordecai unveiled the plot to harm the king. The king remembers this and finds out it was this man, Mordecai, who had done this. The king has Mordecai decorated with high honors. And he appoints Haman to do it. Haman wants to kill Mordecai but now he has to honor Mordecai.

Well, this spoils Haman’s plot to kill Mordecai. Haman goes to the special banquet with the king and queen the next day. The king asks the queen what her request is and she tells him that there has been a plot put into action to kill her and her people. When the king asks who is behind this she reveals that it is wicked Haman. She calls him vile and an enemy.

The king leaves in rage and disbelief and goes out to the palace garden. Meanwhile, Haman knowing he is in it now, begs the queen for his life. When the king returns he sees Haman falling on the couch where Esther was reclining and thinks Haman is going to molest her.

The king has Haman taken away and he is impaled on the very pole that he originally prepared for Mordecai. Mordecai is exalted by the king to become his top official. King Xerxes issues an edict that no one is to harm the Jewish people. There is great celebration and joy among the Jews.

The book of Esther ends with a proclamation establishing the day of Purim. Purim is a holiday kept by Jewish people to this day. Pur means “lots.” Lots were objects that were kind of like dice. Haman cast lots to determine the day he would attack the Jews. Realizing a potentially dark day became a day of life – the Jews call the festival Purim and celebrate to this day.

On Purim, the entire book of Esther is read in synagogues and people read it on their own. When Esther is read in synagogues it is customary for people to boo, hiss, stamp their feet in disapproval, or rattle small noisemakers called “gragers” whenever wicked Haman’s name is mentioned.

Jews are also commanded to eat, drink and be merry for this festival. The Talmud, which is a record of sacred teaching over the years for Jews, require people to drink wine on Purim. It says they are to drink until he or she cannot tell the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordecai”.

Purim is quite a day. Jewish tradition is also to give gifts of food and drink to others, and especially give gifts to the poor.[3] The reason and foundation for these things are all found in the 9th chapter of Esther.

It says,

“For Haman…the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them and had cast the pur (that is the lot) for their ruin and destruction. But when the plot came to the king’s attention he issued written orders that the evil scheme Haman had devised against the Jews should come back onto his own head, and that he and his sons should be impaled on poles. Therefore these days were called Purim…And these days of Purim should never cease to be celebrated by the Jews…”[4]

God had raised Esther to the throne so that she could be a part of his purposes. It’s Mordecai who sees this. Mordecai says, “who knows why you are now the queen, Esther?”

Who knows? Who does know why Esther is queen now when all this is happening? Well, God certainly knows. And it seems Mordecai has a hunch.

You are the Queen for such a time as this, Esther. It is no accident that you are here. God has put you in this place, in this time, to intervene on behalf of his people. You aren’t just where you are to please the king. He’s a self-centered, nimwit, anyway. Life is more than a beauty contest, Esther. Put the curling iron away. All your current privilege and prestige is meant to be given up for something larger than yourself.

This is the time.

Do you ever wonder why you are where you are? Your position in the company or at the office. Your place as the parent of that particular child? Your relationship with that person? Your residence in that neighborhood, with those people?

Could it be that that is exactly where God wants you? To make a difference for him? To act? To influence?

Maybe you are the one who God wants to use for that person or situation. Has the Lord brought you to where you are for such a time as this? There may be a time when we find ourselves in the critical place to make a difference for others. We didn’t ask for it. We didn’t seek it. We may not want it. But that is where we find ourselves.

Esther’s heart must have been beating like a humming bird and her heart in her throat when she approached the king. She knew she might perish. Esther had to take the risk and in the risking she discovered God had raised her up for such a time as this.

Esther was an orphan. Her parents had died. She was being raised by a family member, Mordecai. Life goes along. She comes to a position of great honor as the queen. And then she faces a crisis. A crisis that is about more than just her but effects the very lives of all her people.

Esther is also human. When Mordecai challenges her to use her influence she is hesitant. We see her discomfort. She weighs the cost. She could die just going in and approaching the king without having permission. But Esther draws on spiritual resources. Remember she asked the word to be spread to all her people that they fast.

What do we do when we face a crisis? It is natural to feel scared or inadequate. There are times when circumstances are dire and we need to turn to God with special devotion asking for his deliverance. And we need the assistance and support of others.

Daniel did this. In the book of Acts Christians pray for those who have been detained by the government.

Paul was in prison when he writes the letter to the Philippians. He is in a crisis. They could come and kill him anytime. But he says that he is confident that through the prayers of the Philippian church and the Spirit of Jesus Christ it will all work for his deliverance. And his hope is that he will have the courage to face whatever comes.

Esther was on a throne. Paul was in prison. But both summoned others to help them receive the courage they needed, trusting in God to deliver. When we face something particularly trying, we can ask the spiritual support of others. That’s what churches do. We aren’t meant to go it alone.

As I said, one of the fascinating things about the book of Esther is that God is never mentioned. But that doesn’t mean God isn’t present. Sometimes God is powerfully in the background.

Karen Jobes, a Bible scholar at Wheaton College, made this observation, “God is most omnipotently present when He is most conspicuously absent.”[5] In other words, though it seems God is not around he can be actually very powerfully present. Beware of God’s conspicuous absence.

God isn’t just around and working when everything is smooth and good and easy. God is around and working even when things are dark and threatening. He is up to things. He is making ways.

The purposes of God cannot be stopped. Time and time again when it looks like God’s people were at a dead end God rescues them. You ever notice how in every country and regime that has tried to stamp out Christianity, it has only grown and become stronger?

Sometimes we wish God were more obvious. But sometimes he chooses to sit in the backseat while we steer.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have God’s direct intervention, a burning bush or an obvious miracle? But most days we don’t get such things. Esther didn’t. God can be conspicuously absent. But faith gives us eyes to see and ears to hear, and he enables us to see where God is acting in our lives.[6]

Our God is a God who moves in the circumstances, sometimes oh so silently. And he uses people like us to do that. Like he used Esther.

As we have seen in Jesus Christ, he always goes before us. He always goes with us. He is moving beside us.

Prayer: Whenever you put us in a place of influence, responsibility, or authority, help us to always use it for your glory. Give us courage. Give us yourself. Give us faith to believe you are working even when not named. Amen.

[1] 3:8-9 [2] 4:13-14 [3] Carnivals are held during Purim, as are plays and parodies, and even beauty contests to commemorate the beautification of the women in Persia as Xerxes searched for a new queen. [4] 9:24-26, 28 [5] Found at, by Steve Brown [6] Kathryn Schifferdecker

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