This coming Wednesday is the beginning of Purim. It commemorates the events that happened in the book of Esther. For some reason I always figured that Queen Esther looked a lot like the Italian actress, Sofia Loren. Now I have the pictures to prove it.
N-E-Way, Purim is not one of the major jewish holidays that YHWH set out for the people when they were under Moses' leadership. It's a secondary holiday like Hanukkah, and the big sale at Bloomingdale's. When I was living in Israel, I viewed it as sort of their version of Halloween. There is a lot of candy and costumes, and kids totally dig it. If you are familiar at all with the book of Esther, it tells the story of how she saved the Jews from a genocide after they had been exiled.
It's a rather tense short-story, but one with a lot of humor in it too. For starters, King Xerxes comes off as the stereotypical "Dumb Jock." The story opens with the Persian version of a Frat party, where the king is showing off all of his bling. The bling apparently included his wife at the time, Queen Vashti. (Which is an awesome name that I hope to use someday.)
Xerxes wants her to come out to where the boys are and show off her hotness. The queen refuses, sending the king into one of his many, and easily achieved temper-tantrums. Long story short, he gets a new queen.
Throughout the book you see the character of Xerxes as one who thinks so highly of himself that he is willing to let all sorts of stupid promises come out. This ends up being very good, indeed, for the Jews.
Another comical fellow is Haman. His ego is at least as large as Rush Limbaugh's, and it ends up getting him in similar trouble. You know what they say about Karma? Well...
At Living Waters, we have been going through The Story, which is the bible slightly reorganized so as to read more like a proper narrative. Today Scott preached on Esther. Since this year, Purim will fall on this Wednesday, the 7th, it seemed only fitting to write a little bit about it too.
I've never understood "Anti-Semitism." I'm decent with history, and to my knowledge I can't think of any other ethnic group that has been persecuted more than the Jews. At my current job there is a guy who is a Nazi. (And I do mean a Nazi! "Seig Heil, Aryans are the greatest. We need to kill the Jews." All of that crap.) When I have to talk to him, and refrain from hitting him repeatedly about the head and neck with a 2x4, I ask him what any given Jew ever did to him. He never seems to have a coherent answer...which really comes as no surprise to me.
I've heard him and others say that the Jews control the media. I had thought that Rupert Murdoch was Anglican. I've heard him and others say that the Jews control the weather. (I guess they have a semi-secret base up in Alaska.) I know many Jews who live in Minnesota. If they really controlled the weather, our climate would be considerably different, I can assure you.
My own theory is that anti-semitism is satanic in origin. God picked Abraham and his offspring to begin to reveal himself to humanity through. Jesus is jewish, which means that God is jewish. Satan has a rather distant and troubled relationship with YHWH. So I imagine that Satan has a particular disdain for Jews. Ta Da!
Any time I've spoken to someone who is anti-semitic, they can never give me a logical answer to their hate. It is always emotional. "I had a pastrami sandwich in a New York deli that had too much fat on it. Plus, the spices gave me heartburn. I hate those Jews!" And that's about as logical as it gets.
I dunno, maybe Satan doesn't like hummus. He never did strike me as a guy who enjoyed enough fiber.
Back to Esther.
One interesting fact about this short story, is that God is never, ever directly mentioned. Yet the book made it into the Old Testament cannon. God is never mentioned, but his fingerprints are everywhere. Go figure.
What is interesting about the story is how you see the divine providence of YHWH behind the scenes at all times. He is at work. He is being faithful. He is setting pieces on the board and always ready to make his move. But none of this is overt. It is more of a quiet faithfulness that can only be seen by those whose hearts have the eyes to see and ears to hear.
At this point, the kingdom of Judah had been exiled long ago. The Babylonians had been replaced by the Persians. The great & kind emperors, Darius & Cyrus, have long since passed away. Now the throne of Persia is seated with a fellow who is not particularly bright.
Mordecai, one of the descendants of the exiles, is a minor official in the government. He has been raising his younger cousin, Esther, since she had been orphaned. So right off the bat, you see a man who has remained faithful to YHWH despite the exile. He is doing the right thing with members of his extended family. Ultimately, this shows that God was putting Mordecai in a strategic position without his knowing.
It is from that position that Esther gets the attention of the royal staff. This in turn leads to her becoming Queen. This in turn leads to her being able to intervene at just the right time to avert a slaughter of the Jews.
For those who don't know, Haman, who appears to be a sort of Prime Minister for he empire, gets a bit miffed that Mordecai doesn't grovel in his presence on a regular basis. Naturally, the only logical thing to do for Haman is to enact a genocide on all of Mordecai's extended ethnic group. (Perfectly logical with no hint of overkill, don't you agree?)
However, due to the strategic placement of Mordecai and then Esther in their positions, God prevents this act from taking place. It also helps that God made sure a dimwit was on the throne, and that Haman was a man with a zeal that far out stripped his amazing ability to tie his own shoes.
For me, the central point of this story comes in Chapter 4, when Mordecai confronts Queen Esther with the stark choice that she needs to consider. I also believe it is one that confronts all people, and Believers in particular.
After Mordecai sends word to Esther that a decree has been issued to exterminate all of the Jews in the empire, he ads this statement:
"Don't think that just because you live in the king's house you're the one Jew who will get out of this alive. If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, help and deliverance will arrive for the Jews from someplace else; but you and your family will be wiped out. Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this." (Esther 4:12-14)
Apparently, Mordecai knew who his God was and what he could do. He also saw that this God puts people where they are for reasons that we do not always see at the time.
I am not a big believer in Great Men & Women of God. Those who seem to consider themselves to be great for God, generally seem to me to be great big poofs.
What I do believe in is average, everyday people with messy hearts and a humility to realize their situation. I also believe in a great & mighty God who will use people exactly like that to do great things by his strength.
I am generally unconvinced that God spends much time worrying about the great & mighty folks. They are usually too busy being great & mighty, and making sure you know just how great & mighty they happen to be, to give God the opportunity to actually use them for his kingdom.
Generally speaking, you can tell the Great Men & Women of God by their earthly success. They create Universities, and have really awful shows on T.V., cable and radio. They often have large churches in which they guard the pulpit most vigorously, lest someone with a less-than-their-version-of-proper-theological-orthodoxy steps in for a few words. Many of them say things like "God told me to run for this political office." To which God will often reply, "Oh sorry, I was out refilling the bird feeder. What were you saying again?"
I am of the opinion that YHWH scratches his head over these people and utters thoughts along the line of, "Well, good luck with all that. But thanks for the thumbs up, bro." I also recall Jesus saying something along the lines of, "I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full."
Question: Who is the greater man, Billy Graham, the man who led Billy Graham to faith, or the man who led that man to faith?
I think you get the point.
I doubt very much that Mordecai thought he was particularly special. I doubt very much that most of the "Heros" of the bible thought they were very special at the time. Those who did always ended up in trouble. Look at Paul. He expressed the opinion that deep down inside, he was little more than a dirty little rat bastard. It was this realization that, even as such, he was deeply loved and redeemed by Christ that changed his life forever.
Obviously, my Grandmother does not count in this. Obviously, my Grandmother was beyond awesome in all manner of things. But I doubt you could have told her that. My Grandmother began her teaching career in a one room school house in N. Dakota. Later she taught for the Minneapolis Public Schools.
It was during this time that she had a student who shall remain nameless. (His first name is Paul, and I'll leave it at that.) He came from an alcoholic family that was rather poor. He would come to school with neither a jacket nor gloves in the winter time. My Grandmother took that little boy under her wing and provided him with clothes and such. She took special care of him. She loved that little boy because Jesus loved her.
That little boy grew up. He became a millionaire. He became very active in the Democratic Party here in Minnesota. He also became a follower of Jesus. He is very concerned about poverty, and fights against it. To my knowledge, to this day he attends a local Salvation Army church. He honored my Grandmother in public before she died that she was the one who made the difference in his life. She told him about Jesus through her words and deeds.
Because she was faithful and knew who her God was, in turn God used her for his kingdom.
My Grandmother was an average, everyday person with a messy heart. She did not think she was anything special. (Obviously, I would disagree with her.) She was "Last," but she will be "First." When the kingdom is here in full, she will be called "Great" before that king.
And so it is with us.
It is easy for me to discount where I am presently. It is easy for all of us to wonder why God has allowed us to be where we are and what we are doing. Is it his sovereign will at work? Is it his permissive will letting us do as we please? I don't know.
I suppose that what matters is where our hearts are during any and all of these times. I read a post by Dr. Russ Moore a while ago. http://www.russellmoore.com/2012/01/02/the-next-billy-graham-might-be-drunk-right-now/ He posits that the next Billy Graham might be passed out on the floor of some Frat house right now, and doesn't even realize it. Since YHWH has a divine sense of humor, such a thing would not surprise me. (Jesus might even accidently turn up the stereo in the morning to wake him up with a live version of AC/DC's "Hells Bells.")
Maybe you are the guy or gal there, right now, looking at that college kid with the beer dripping out his nose. Perhaps you should get him a bucket.
Perhaps you are digging a ditch and your co-digger is needing to vent about the problems with his wife. Maybe you are the big kid who sees a smaller kid getting bullied. Maybe you are the corporate executive who feels it is immoral to take that bonus while your company is laying people off. Maybe you are the candidate for office who feels that running a campaign that uses a lot of Jesus language ought to actually resemble Jesus instead of using rancid attack ads. Maybe you are the girl who just heard the most devastating piece of truthful gossip that would destroy your rival if properly placed on Facebook. Maybe you are the High School Jock who just had the offer of a lifetime from the hottest girl in school. And perhaps you are simply working at the most boring, dead end occupation you can think of, but a hurting customer just happened to walk in the door.
"Who knows? Perhaps you were made for just such a time as this."