Monday, October 23, 2006

Certainity, in our circumstances (3)

ESTHER 4-7

The events of Esther 4-7 once more require us to believe the promises of God against all evidence. The powerfful Haman appears at first to be bound for abolute triumph until things take a turn for the worse, with comedic irony that almost makes you feel sorry for this enemy of God.

Esther & Mordecai: Confident in God's promises.
Esther 3v1 is the highpoint of the record about Haman. At this point he is the Prime Minister and seems free to wield absolute power even against the people of the LORD. By the time Act 2 ends he will be hanging from his own gallows. As the narrative resumes Mordecai and Esther are on stage, albeit separated and communicating by way of the messenger Hathach. Mordecai leads the Jews of Susa to fast and mourn over their impending annihilation. They lie in sackcloth and ashes surrendered to the LORD.

When Esther's words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: "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 royal position for such a time as this?" Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: "Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish."

Mordecai sends word to Esther with absolute confidence, and a degree of uncertainty. Firstly he tell her not to presume that she will survive this holocaust. She may be a secret Jew in the kings house but this should not be presumed to be her security. And then he speaks with great confidence that deliverance will arise for the Jews. Mordecai shows the confidence which allowed him to stand defiant against Haman. He is thoroughly convinced that the Jews will be delivered. He does not know quite how, though he suggests that Esther has the opportunity to bring that rescue. He ponders whether Esther has attained her royal position for this very purpose.

From his confidence in God's promise that he will not allow his people to perish Mordecai acts. By some means or another God will save his people - and it is as likely to be via Queen Esther as anything else. His certainty allows him to act against what might seem wise by circumstantial standards.

Esther commits to take a risk. She will go into the king, against the bounds of the Kings laws, knowing that if she must perish she will. The worst that can happen is that she will die. This is how people can act if their confidence is in God's promises rather than circumstances.

In Chapters 1-3 Esther comes off pretty badly, here there seem to be some evidences of grace as she seeks to live in line with God's promises. She illustrates well the dangers of making examples of sinful human beings in the Biblical narratives. She has flaunted her position and married a foreign king... but now she will seek to use this position for good.

How do we know the difference between the good and the bad? Our discernment surely comes from what God speaks to his people. Here it seems that Mordecai has been acting in line with God's promises - absolutely sure that his people will be preserved by God, and that they cannot bow to the Amalekites. Risky strategies to bring these things together appear to shape his actions.

Haman's boast....
Esther calls a feast with the King and invites one man - Haman. Haman is elated and boasts widely of how favoured he is. In all the kingdom he alone is invited. His stock has never run higher. As he boasts to his wife she suggests that he build a 23 metre high gallows in their backyard from which Mordecai can be hung. Everything is going for him - why shouldn't he do this!

Haman's bad luck?
But then the circumstances start to turn. The king has a sleepless night. He reaches for his books - for the biographies of his reign. That's the ego of the king - when he can't sleep he has people read stories about himself to him. In a bizarre twist of circumstance he reads the story of how Mordecai had saved his life. Those who do good to Xerxes must be honoured so he wants advice on how best to honour such a man.

At that moment Haman walks in and hears the request. Presuming that the King is planning to honour him - who is greater in the kingdom than Haman - he devises a grand scheme. Xerxes explains and Haman is forced to parade his arch-enemy around Susa. Haman goes home to his wife. And she has changed her tune. She now believes that it is impossible for Haman to triumph. Perhaps she also knows of God's promises to his people. Her confidence is such that she must have heard. Yet she is not a believer - and certainly wasn't previously. She's happy to urge her husband on when the circumstances suggest that he can win. But when the tide turns she can only conclude that the Jews will triumph.

The next night they're back at dinner and Esther makes her play. She tells the King that Haman is trying to kill all her people. The king is enraged and leaves the room to think it through. Haman's "luck" is no better today. He begs the Queen to save him, and just as the King returns he is falling upon her body. To the observer it looks like Haman is trying to rape the Queen. Immediately he dragged out and hung upon his own gallows. It's a shocking reversal.

Reversal, by God's promise
Within a day everything has changed. Once triumphant and boldly preparing to make a spectacle of the Mordecai. Now he dies on his own gallows. Circumstantially everything turned upon two moments of tragically bad timing. The guy has no manner of luck. Haman of course, believes in luck - he's a man who would cast lots (pur) to execute his plan against the Jews. Now the pur has turned against him. His fall has to be more than tragic bad luck. No-one falls this badly. It's comical. You'd almost feel sorry for him if he wasn't so arrogant and evil.

The key is found in the confidence of Mordecai and Zeresh. Mordecai knows that God will deliver his people, somehow. Zeresh's confidence leads her to despair. Her husband cannot win, though she once thought so. Mordecai has confidence in God's promises that leads himself, and Esther, to risk everything. God's sure promises don't lead to inaction, nor despair for those whose faith is in God. Rather, Esther does what looks absurd - invites Haman to a feast - and then does what looks insane - blows her cover - but she trust that God will deliver his people.

God's unchanging YES.
Circumstances say its over for the church. Dawkins says we're dellusional. Church buildings are shut down and sold off as shops and warehouses and fancy homes. But, none of this changes the unchanging promises of God. His deliverance of his people is secure. Secure in his word. Secured in the death and resurrection of Jesus. His unchanging YES.

Certainty in God's promises, even in our circumstances, leads us to action. It leads us to risk for God. Risk that ultimately is no risk. The worst that can happen is that a risk leaves us dead - but for a Christian death is gain. We can step out to proclaim the gospel. To take our stand morally. To move somewhere dangerous. To do what seems illogical by the depraved logic of our circumstances. Ultimately, since God's promises are unbreakable, there is no risk for anyone who trusts in the promises of God.

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