I want to say at the start that I understand it can be hard to sit there and be engaged. I’ve been there. I want to challenge you, however, to lean in and listen. The events we’re talking about here may be some 2500 years in the past but they have amazing significance today.
Plus, the book of Esther is an amazing book. It is a true work of literature. There is a heroine, suspense, irony, reversal, and surprising coincidences. Basically everything you’d want in a story.
The book of Esther tells “the story of events surrounding the rescue of the nation of Israel from the threat of extinction while it was in exile in Persia… The more profound and universal purpose of the story is to explain how God’s providence can protect his people.”
Whoever you are, wherever you come from, and no matter where you are spiritually, this year has likely brought many challenges to you. I believe the book of Esther offers some much-needed perspective on things.
As we saw the last two weeks, God’s people are in exile, under the reign of king Ahasuerus. Ahasuerus, as the King of Persia, has a ton of wealth. So he shows his wealth by having a party for 180 days (1:4). With that much partying it is no wonder that he seems to be somewhat of a drunk and pushover. However, it appears that he’s trying to combat his pushover persona (but not his potential alcoholism!) with the help of his friends and so he makes an example of his wife Vashti who did not obey his every whim.
In Herodotus’ Histories, it says that that the “king of Persia could do anything he wished.” And so, that’s what he did. He gets rid of his old wife and throws a lavish beauty pageant to find the most beautiful and pleasing bride in the kingdom (2:2-4). In somewhat of a Cinderella story, the king “fell in love” with Esther or at least more than all the other women and so he put the royal crown on her head and made her queen (v. 17).
Israel is in Exile. God’s people are not in the Promised Land. They have a foreign ruler. And can you imagine, that ruler was allowed to do “anything he wished.”
We too are in exile, we too are not home. It may be different than Esther’s exile but we are in exile too. We see this truth in Scripture in various places. For instance, 1 Peter 1:1 talks about us being “elect exiles” and verse 17 tells us how we are to conduct ourselves throughout the time of our exile. First Peter 2:11 says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” Philippians 3:20 reminds us “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Hebrews 13:14 says that “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”
So, just as Esther was in exile, we as Christians are in exile too. This book is relevant and has a lot to encourage us in the midst of the challenges of exile.
More and more our exile is a very visible reality. The Public Religion Research Institute did a study on religious affiliation in America. Here are their findings:
“The American religious landscape has undergone substantial changes in recent years… One of the most consequential shifts in American religion has been the rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans… In 1991, only six percent of Americans identified their religious affiliation as ‘none,’ and that number had not moved much since the early 1970s. By the end of the 1990s, 14% of the public claimed no religious affiliation. The rate of religious change accelerated further during the late 2000s and early 2010s, reaching 20% by 2012. Today, one-quarter (25%) of Americans claim no formal religious identity, making this group the single largest ‘religious group’ in the U.S.”
The study also found “about two-thirds (66%) of unaffiliated Americans agree ‘religion causes more problems in society than it solves.” They also “reject the notion that religion plays a crucial role in providing a moral foundation for children.”
It is not just America, however, that is becoming increasingly less affiliated. The Church in America also has less and less commitment.
One recent study conducted by Barna Group for the book Faith for Exiles found that out of the around 1,500 people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine that grew up in the church (as Christians) the majority no longer go to church. 22% are now considered “ex-Christians.” 30% may identify themselves as Christians but they no longer go to church. 38% describe themselves as Christians and have attended church at least once in the last month but do not have the core beliefs or behaviors associated with being a disciple of Jesus. Only 10% were found to be regularly involved in the life of the church, trust in the authority of Scripture, affirm the death and resurrection of Jesus, and express a desire for their faith to impact their world.
Dedicated Christians are more in more considered odd. Christians are more and more on the fringes of society. If things don’t change, these trends will just continue in the future. The reality of our exile status will be felt more and more.
So, friends, Esther has a lot to teach us about our exile. Let’s go to the first scene…
1. Haman’s Plot (Ch. 3)
Scene 1 starts with Haman, the antagonist or bad guy of the story, being promoted (3:1). It seems like he’s promoted because the beauty pageant was his idea.
Haman soon became furious at a Jewish man named Mordecai because he would not bow down to him. But instead of just taking it out on him, Haman wanted to destroy all the Jews throughout the whole kingdom (3:5-6). So, we see a big problem introduced in the plot.Read More…
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45).
“And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22 cf. 24:9, 13; John 15:18-21; Mark 13:13; Rev. 2:10; Heb. 3:6).Read More…
Tongues are used in a few overlapping ways in Scripture and should be pursued and practiced as outlined in the Bible. Scripture shows us that the problem is not tongues but the abuse of the gift of tongues. I think it should be admitted that even if we do not completely understand the gift of tongues we should not forbid their practice in private or publically when interpreted (1 Cor 14:27-28) because Paul explicitly says “do not forbid speaking in tongues” (v. 39).
Paul actually tells people to be ready to share a tongue (1 Cor 14:26) and he says, “I want you all to speak in tongues” (v. 5). Further, Paul tells us that he spoke in tongues more than all the Corinthians (v. 18). Paul said all of this even though “one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit” (v. 2). Therefore, even though tongues are unintelligible to the human mind unless one is given the gift of interpretation (12:10), to speak in tongues is not wrong or bad (see 14:39); although, it should not be done publicly unless there is an interpreter (v. 28).
Many believe that tongues simply refer to a foreign human language (e.g. Ferguson, MacArthur). Michael Horton says, “We should… understand ‘tongues’ as synonymous with natural languages, which some were miraculously gifted to speak and others to interpret.” This understanding of tongues is simplistic and wrong for at least three reasons. (1) Tongues are used to speak to God. Paul says, the “one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit” (v. 2). In this way tongues, at least the way tongues are used here, may be similar to the groans that Romans speaks of (Rom 8:26-27). (2) If tongues are interpreted they seem to function in a similar way as prophecy thus they are different than a foreign speaker coming into a meeting that needs to be interpreted. (3) Paul says there are different types of tongues (1 Cor 12:10, 28). It seems that tongues (glossia) are used in overlapping ways in Scripture. R. P. Spittler points out that in Scripture we see that tongues refer to three types of overlapping phenomena. He says,
‘Kinds of tongues’ (génê glôssôn, 1 Cor. 12:10, 28) can refer to anything on a glossolalic continuum ranging from (1) prayer ‘with groans that words cannot express’ (Rom. 8:26, NIV; preferable to RSV ‘sighs too deep for words’), through (2) tongues speech in a controlled ecstatic jargon that ‘no one understands’ by someone who ‘utterers mysteries to God’ (1 Cor. 14:2), to (3) charismatic use of a recognizable language never learned by the speaker (Acts 2:8).
Regarding tongues, it must also be pointed out that though tongues are good gifts that are given by the Spirit, tongues are not the marker of maturity. Further, tongues are not linked to a “second blessing” or to being filled with the Spirit. Lastly, it must be understood that even if we do not understand something in Scripture does not mean it is wrong or that it does not continue. I, for example, do not understand, the seraphim. But I believe in them. In the same way, just because we may not understand every aspect of tongues does not mean that tongues do not still or cannot function as a blessing to the Church.
Here is a summary of what 1 Corinthians says regarding the gifts of tongues:
(1) There seem to be various kinds of tongues (1 Cor 12:10. 28 cf. 13:1; Acts 2:4).
(2) Tongues are unintelligible and unedifying to the group (1 Cor. 14:2-4, 6, 19) but are edifying to the speaker (v. 4).
(3) Tongues are not a foreign langue but are addressed to God (at least this is the case in 1 Corinthians) (vv. 2, 14-17).
(4) Tongues are not to be shared publically unless interpreted (1 Cor 14:6, 13, 26-33 cf. Acts 19:6).
(5) Tongues themselves are not forbidden but actually encouraged (1 Cor 14:5, 26).
(6) The regulations of tongues show that the tongues speaker is not in “ecstasy” or “out of control” (vv. 27-28).
If we have the New Testament why do we need the Old Testament?
- All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable (2 Tim. 3:16), not just the texts we like to read.
- All the promises of God find their answer in Jesus so it is important that we understand what the promises are (2 Cor. 1:20).
- When Paul preached to the Ephesian church he preached the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) and the whole counsel of God points us to Jesus (Lk. 24:27).
- When Stephen preached in Acts chapter seven he preached the Old Testament (see also the other sermons recorded in the New Testament) which demonstrates the vital importance of the Old Testament.
- The things in the Old Testament serve to instruct us and set an example for us (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11).
- When Paul ministered to churches one of his ministries was proving that Jesus was the Promised One, the Christ (Acts 9:22). Paul demonstrated the amazing truth that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah by teaching the Old Testament. We see this all through Acts (Acts 9:22; 13:16ff; 16:13; 17:3, 17; 18:4-5, 19; 19:8ff; 24:25; 26:6, 22-26; 28:23, 31 cf. 18:28). We too must understand what it means that Jesus is the Messiah and that will require learning from the Old Testament.
- Much of the New Testament assumes knowledge of the Old Testament.
- Scripture is so good we need as much of it as we can get, Old Testament or New. Scripture is perfect (Ps. 19:7), true (Ps. 19:9), pure (Ps. 19:8), a light (Ps. 119:105,130), a sword (Eph. 6:17), a hammer (Jer. 23:29). It is better than gold (Ps. 19:10; 119:72) and we need it to live (Ps. 119:144). Scripture gives joy (Ps. 119:111; Jer. 15:16), makes wise (Ps. 19:7), guards (Ps. 119:9), guides (Ps. 73:24; 119:105), sanctifies (Ps. 119:9, 11).
Read and study the Old Testament along with the New. 🙂
I use to do construction and I remember my boss telling me that if you get something plumb, straight up and down, then it would go all the way up to the moon forever. But if you get it wrong by just a little bit than you are going to be off by a lot in the end. What you do in the beginning has a big impact on where you end up. It is the same with the Bible. The book of Genesis is very foundational. Without a good grasp of Genesis the rest of our theology will likely crumble to the ground and be worth nothing. So much is built on it. If we are off here, we are going to be way off down the road of the Bible.
There are many “plot conflicts” in the book of Genesis. They will serve as our compass to find our way through the huge book that is Genesis. Leland Ryken has wisely said “Stories are always built around plot conflicts. These conflicts progress toward some type of resolution… Noting plot conflicts is one of the best ways to organize a story, either in the actual process of reading or when talking about the story” (How to Read the Bible as Literature, 41). So, there are three things I want to pay careful attention to and note their expansion in the rest of Scripture and their fulfillment through or in Jesus the Christ.
Here are a few of the themes that are the building blocks of the theology of Genesis (NDBT, 140) and in many ways the whole Bible: (1) The promise of seed, i.e. offspring, (2) the promise of land, and (3) the promise of being a blessing to the nations (see esp. 12:1-3). All of these themes are in embryonic form in Genesis chapter three and expand through the rest of the book. They continue to expand through the Old Testament but don’t find their true fulfillment until the New Testament and the coming of the Promised One. Truly, even then, in the New Testament, there is still an element of the “not yet” until in Revelation all things are made new.
Many decide not to follow the Bible because it is in their opinion morally restrictive. However, we as humans need a definitive source of morality. We need a moral guide and the Bible is…
As we have said, many people struggle with the morality that the Bible presents. D.A. Carson has said, “Many Christians slide away from full confidence in the trustworthiness of Scripture for reasons that are not so much intellectual as broadly cultural.” Many people, for example, do not agree with the Bible’s opposition towards homosexual practice.
We have already looked at many reasons why we can believe the Bible. Yet, there are still many more. Here we briefly look at the Bible being trustworthy because it is…
The Bible contains all sorts of fulfilled prophecies (see e.g. “The Prophecy of Daniel 8”), particularly about Jesus. These attest to the Bible’s uniqueness, truthfulness, and authority.
“Whatever one may think of the authority of and the message presented in the book we call the Bible, there is a world-wide agreement that in more ways than one it is the most remarkable volume that has ever been produced in these some five thousand years of writing on the part of the human race.
It is the only volume ever produced by man, or a group of men, in which is to be found a large body of prophecies relating to individual nations, to Israel, to all the peoples of the earth, to certain cities, and to the coming of One who was to be the Messiah. The ancient world had many different devices for determining the future, known as divination, but not in the entire gamut of Greek and Latin literature, even though they use the words prophet and prophecy, can we find any real specific prophecy of a great historic event to come in the distant future, nor any prophecy of a Savior to arise in the human race…”
“Why should I believe the Bible?” This might sound crazy to a lot of people but you should believe the Bible because it is…
The Bible is not a scientific textbook. Yet it is accurate scientifically. The Bible concurs with all sorts of scientific discoveries. The Bible also lays the groundwork for scientific research to be carried out.
“Belief in the rationality of God not only led to the inductive method but also led to the conclusion that the universe is governed rationally by discoverable laws. This assumption is vitally important to scientific research, because in a pagan or polytheistic world, which saw its gods often engaged in jealous, irrational behavior in a world that was nonrational, any systematic investigation of such a world would seem futile. ”