Sunday November 24th 2019
Pastor Galen Zook
Esther 4:10-17; Romans 8:31-39
Esther — a Melodrama
Today we wrap up our series on “The Greatest Hits of the Old Testament” by looking at the book of Esther. The book of Esther is quite unique, in that it is the only book of the Bible that does not mention God. Esther is a rather secular book in that sense. And in fact, for most of the book, we have to look closely to see how God is at work at all, even behind the scenes.
Now I believe that the book of Esther is written in the style of a classic melodrama — a sensational dramatic piece of literature with exaggerated characters and exciting events intended to appeal to the emotions — sort of like a soap opera.
Every good melodrama has a damsel in distress, a villain and the villain’s bumbling sidekick who provides comedic relief, and of course a hero or heroine.
Esther is a sort of “damsel in distress” in the beginning of the story, who ends up becoming the hero of the story. At the beginning of the story, Esther is an orphan who is adopted by her older cousin Mordecai. Esther and Mordecai are Jews living in the foreign land of Persia. Esther is taken against her will and put into the king’s harem and becomes the Queen. Not long after, Mordecai and Esther and all of Jewish people’s lives are put in danger, because of an evil plot hatched by the archvillain of the story: Haman (at this point, everyone listening to the story would let out a loud “boo!”).
Haman was technically the second in command to the king — but in many ways he seems to be the one calling the shots. Haman is a hotheaded, egocentric megalomaniac who is upset because Mordecai will not bow down to him, and he devises a scheme to get the king to allow him to destroy not only Mordecai, but all of the Jews.
The King in the story is a malleable pushover who loves to drink and party and who seems to do whatever his advisors — particularly Haman — tells him to do. When Haman bribes the king and asks him to issue a decree that destroys a whole subset of people who live in his kingdom, the king allows Haman to write out the decree himself, no questioned asked, and he doesn’t even accept the vast amount of money Haman offers him (Esther 3:11).
Now, the book of Esther, like every good melodrama, is full of ups and downs and amazing hairpin turns and plot twists. Esther, a young Jewish woman, is chosen to be the Queen of the whole kingdom of Persia, but it turns out that it is a position of very little power all. She can’t even go into the king’s presence unless she is summoned. At first, she has no idea that she and her people are even in danger at all. And so her cousin Mordecai sits outside the palace wearing sackloth and ashes in order to get her attention.
Esther finally works up the nerve to go into the king’s presence, risking her very life if the king refuses to hold out his golden scepter. When the king finally does welcome Esther into his presence, she merely invites the king and Haman to a banquet the following evening. And at that banquet she invites him to another banquet, where she finally reveals her identity and pleads for her people.
But in between those 2 banquets, the craziest sequence of events happen. Haman leaves the first banquet and passes his sworn enemy Mordecai, who once again refuses to bow to him. Seething with rage, Haman goes home and complains to his wife, who encourages him to set up a 75-foot tall gallows for the purpose of hanging Mordecai the following day. Haman loves this plan and sets the gallows up, intending to ask the king’s permission the following day to have Mordecai hanged.
But that exact same night, the king can’t sleep, and so he calls in one of his servants to read to him. The servant reads to him from his own book of records, in which it was recorded that Mordecai had at one point in time saved the king’s life. The king realizes that he never rewarded Mordecai, and so the next day he asks Haman what he should do for someone that he wishes to honor? Thinking that he’s talking about him, Haman says,
“let royal robes be brought, which the king has worn, and a horse that the king has ridden, with a royal crown on its head. Let the robes and the horse be handed over to one of the king’s most noble officials; let him robe the man whom the king wishes to honor, and let him conduct the man on horseback through the open square of the city, proclaiming before him: ‘Thus shall it be done for the man whom the king wishes to honor” (Esther 6:8-9).
The king commands Haman to do that for Mordecai, and one can only imagine the sudden sinking feeling that Haman must have felt inside when the king commanded him to do that.
“For Such a Time As This”
But of course one of the most dramatic and suspense-filled dialogues that takes place in the book of Esther is the exchange that occurs between Mordecai and Esther, when Mordecai asks Esther to go into the king’s presence to plead on behalf of the lives of their people.
Queen Esther, who has been living a life of comfort and ease and luxury in the King’s palace, who has successfully been able to hide her identity as a Jew, has to consider whether she is willing to risk it all, to enter the king’s presence without being summoned, to “out” herself as a Jew, and to risk the anger and wrath of the king and the hatred of Haman who had it out for her people.
How will the king respond, if she even makes it into the throne room at all? Will she be deposed, as the king had done to the previous queen? Even worse, will she be put to death for her breach of protocol, or slaughtered along with all of the other Jews once her true identity is revealed?
Mordecai’s words to Esther are rather stunning. Because, although God is never mentioned outright, Mordecai seems to have faith that no matter what, their people will be saved from destruction. Mordecai says to Esther, “if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter” (Esther 4:14a). Who exactly Mordecai thought would save them if Esther kept silent can only be left up to speculation. But either way, Mordecai seems to have a strong faith that they will be saved, and that faith must have ultimately been placed in God.
Mordecai’s belief that there is a higher power at work behind the scenes is also demonstrated in the next line, where Mordecai tells Esther, “‘Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this’” (Esther 4:14b). Perhaps Esther has come to royal dignity for just such a time as this. Mordecai doesn’t want to over-promise, but he has a firm and quiet belief that God is indeed working in the background, and that perhaps Esther is part of God’s plan.
Our Life as a Melodrama
I don’t know about you, but I feel like so often our lives can feel like a poorly written melodrama. One moment it seems like everything is going well, and the next moment there’s a car accident, or our boss lets us go. We become estranged from a friend or family member, or someone close to us passes away suddenly.
So often it’s difficult to know how God is at work behind the scenes, or if God is even at work at all. We wonder, is God even there? Does God even know what’s happening? And if so, does God even care?
A life of faith often entails looking closely for those places where God must at work behind the scenes. Sometimes we may not even be sure if it’s God — and so we might say along with Mordecai, “Perhaps.” “Perhaps God placed us in this situation for just such a purpose. Perhaps there’s a reason. Perhaps God has been orchestrating things. Perhaps God has been intervening after all. Perhaps this was part of God’s plan.” We can rarely be certain, but there are those times when there’s no other explanation than that it must be God, it has to be God.
And then there are those times when we feel led to act. Something stirs inside of us, prompting us to take action. We see something, and we know we have to say something. We know that even if we don’t speak up God could always bring deliverance from another quarter. But we don’t know what it would do to us if we don’t do something. If we don’t speak up, it will eat us up from the inside. If we squash the prompting of the Holy Spirit when we feel prompted to act or to speak, who knows what it will do to us?
And so like Esther we step out in faith. We act. We throw ourselves upon the mercy of God, and we do what we feel called to do, hoping and trusting that it is indeed God prompting us to act, and that in fact God will hear, and God will protect, and God will provide as we step out in faith.
Step Out, and Speak Up
I don’t know in what areas of your life you might be feeling called to step out, or to speak up. Perhaps it’s an issue at your workplace, but you’re afraid if you speak up you might miss out on a promotion, or worse, lose your job. Perhaps there an issue of injustice that you care deeply about, but you’re afraid of being seen as too “political.” Perhaps you’re feeling called to speak to your friend or neighbor or family member about God, or invite someone to church, but you’re afraid that if they say “no” you might lose them.
But on the other hand, we can also say, along with Mordecai, that perhaps you’ve been placed where you are for such a time as this! Perhaps God gave you the insight, or the skills, or the relationship necessary to make an impact. Perhaps God placed you where you are for a reason.
Sure, God could bring deliverance through some other sort of means. God could act in spite of you. But what tremendous opportunities we miss out on when we fail to do what God has positioned us to do!
The amazing thing is that Esther did step out, and she did speak up. She entered the king’s presence without being summoned, and the king welcomed her with open arms. When she finally told him of Haman’s evil plot, the king protected not only her, but all of her people as well. Her relationship with her husband the king seemed to grow ten times stronger. And Esther and her people were not only saved, but given places of power and prestige within the kingdom.
Just as Esther entered into the king’s presence to advocate on behalf of her people, the book of Romans tells us that “Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God…indeed intercedes for us” (Romans 8:34). Jesus didn’t just risk his life to save us — Jesus gave his life for us. Jesus paid the ultimate price to bring about our freedom. Jesus our King, is daily interceding for us. He’s rooting for us, cheering us on, advocating and pleading on our behalf.
That’s why Paul can say that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). And “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:38-39).
We don’t have to be afraid to go to God with our requests, or even our complaints — because Jesus is daily interceding for us. We don’t have to be afraid that God will not love us, or accept us into God’s presence, or forgive us for whatever it is that we’ve done — because we’ve been forgiven through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. And we don’t even have to be afraid of death, because Jesus has conquered sin and death and the grave (see 1 Cor. 15:57).
With Christ our King interceding for us, we do not have to be afraid. So we can step out, speak up. We can trust that God is at work behind the scenes, even when we’re not sure how. We can believe that God is indeed working for good, even in the midst of the crazy plot twists and turns of this melodrama we call life.