Guests: Brant Berglin and Paul Dybdahl
Key Texts: Esther 1-10; 1 Cor 9:19-23; John 4:1-26; Acts 17:26; Matt 22:21; Rom 1:18-20
The lesson this week looks at the famous stories found in the Book of Esther, a story first about Vashti the Queen, then about Esther and Mordecai, two Jews in exile who were instrumental in saving their own people from a dreadful law that would have allowed others to attack them and kill them and make off with their possessions.
We might note several things about the Book of Esther. It is unusual for a number of reasons, like there is no mention of God nor is there any mention of prayer, sacrifice, temple, worship, Covenant nor of forgiveness or mercy. It is also all narrative. If you do not know the story, you might read the book. It is short.
The story first features the King’s wife Vashti who was ordered, in the midst of a drunken feast, to provide entertainment for the king and his assembly. This she refused to do apparently preferring to preserve her sense of dignity and integrity rather than acquiesce to the king’s base request. Here we are left to ponder two things, first the effect that a principled person – in this case a woman – might have on unbridled lasciviousness. We do not know the effect of Vashti’s refusal but we can assume the drunken men were denied their unsavory exploitations. Secondly, Vashti disappears from history after this event and we are left also to ponder what the cost of principled behavior might turn out to be. Again, this is speculation, but worthy of some minutes of our time. The point is that principled stands do not always lead to obvious good but the preservation of conscience is always good.
The next person to be featured in the story is Esther, her way into court paved by the absence of the king’s wife. Because of palace intrigue, she finds herself in a real bind. There comes a point where she must either go in against all protocols to see the king or simply stand by as her people are slaughtered. She elects to go in to the king on possible pain of death but ends up being well-received and is subsequently able to tell the king of the plot which is then defused by a new pronouncement from the king. In the end, many people joined with the Jews in their practice of religion.
This story raises a number of issues pertinent to missions.
- How do we deal with the fact that Esther, for quite some time, was not public with here religion? Can this be justified? Is hiding one’s religion a good idea? What were the results of her hiding her faith? What do you think the results would have been if she openly expressed her faith early on in her palace stay?
- Look at the opening text for this week for it is a powerful one. It was spoken to Esther during the time of her exile where, because of her beauty or elegance, she was in the orbit of the king. The text reads: “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?” (Esther 4:14 NIV). What missional components can you draw from this text? Are there times when bravely is simply a must? What makes this statement and Esther’s response to it so inspiring?
- In some ways, the decree to destroy all the Jews parallels what is predicted in scripture to occur at the very end of time. What parallels can you draw between the two occasions?
- Why do you think as noted at the end of the Book of Esther (chapter 8) many people came to join the Jews in their religious practices?
- Think about the ethnic tensions that existed in the palace, Jews, Persians, probably some other people, too. What implications for mission can you draw from the way Esther and Mordecai conducted themselves in that kind of setting? What do you think made their efforts successful?