Stories of the OT: Esther

Opening Hymn

Readings

Esther 4:10-17 (NLT)

10 Then Esther told Hathach to go back and relay this message to Mordecai: 11 “All the king’s officials and even the people in the provinces know that anyone who appears before the king in his inner court without being invited is doomed to die unless the king holds out his gold scepter. And the king has not called for me to come to him for thirty days.” 12 So Hathach gave Esther’s message to Mordecai.

13 Mordecai sent this reply to Esther: “Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. 14 If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”

15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will do the same. And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king. If I must die, I must die.” 17 So Mordecai went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.

Esther 7:1-10

So the king and Haman went to Queen Esther’s banquet. On this second occasion, while they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “Tell me what you want, Queen Esther. What is your request? I will give it to you, even if it is half the kingdom!”

Queen Esther replied, “If I have found favor with the king, and if it pleases the king to grant my request, I ask that my life and the lives of my people will be spared. For my people and I have been sold to those who would kill, slaughter, and annihilate us. If we had merely been sold as slaves, I could remain quiet, for that would be too trivial a matter to warrant disturbing the king.”

“Who would do such a thing?” King Xerxes demanded. “Who would be so presumptuous as to touch you?”

Esther replied, “This wicked Haman is our adversary and our enemy.” Haman grew pale with fright before the king and queen. Then the king jumped to his feet in a rage and went out into the palace garden.

Haman, however, stayed behind to plead for his life with Queen Esther, for he knew that the king intended to kill him. In despair he fell on the couch where Queen Esther was reclining, just as the king was returning from the palace garden.

The king exclaimed, “Will he even assault the queen right here in the palace, before my very eyes?” And as soon as the king spoke, his attendants covered Haman’s face, signaling his doom.

Then Harbona, one of the king’s eunuchs, said, “Haman has set up a sharpened pole that stands seventy-five feet tall in his own courtyard. He intended to use it to impale Mordecai, the man who saved the king from assassination.”

“Then impale Haman on it!” the king ordered. 10 So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai, and the king’s anger subsided.

Sermon by Rev’d Jo Joyce

The story of Esther has been described as ‘a tale of Jewish courage amidst the threats and risks of the Persian empire.’ It is one of only two books of the bible that take its name from the female lead character and one of only two books that doesn’t mention God at all. It’s the story of a young woman who with great courage under the guidance of her guardian Mordecai, secures the safety of her people by becoming a Queen then winning over the Persian King to her cause, saving the Jews from genocide. Her story continues to be remembered in the Jewish festival of Purim to this day.

It has been a controversial part of scripture ever since its inclusion because of the absence of direct mention of God, yet the hand of God’s guidance runs clearly through the story. One of the important themes is human action in accomplishing God’s purposes, and importance of powerful women with agency. Here we have Esther who as a woman was a powerless member of a powerless group, the Jewish people, living under Persian rule. Yet as the heroine of the story she uses her intelligence, beauty, cunning and courage to stand up for justice and protect her people, in the face of great personal danger to herself.

The story begins with Queen Vashti, who refuses to parade herself (it’s thought possibly naked) for the Kings pleasure, before his mates. It is her action to stand up for herself in the face of them that enables Esther’s rise. When she refuses to oblige the King is angry and dismisses her lest she set an example for other women to disobey their husbands. After she has gone the King’s servants suggest that a beauty contest is held and young women from across the land be sought out and brought into his hareem to be prepared. The one whom he likes can then become Queen in Vashti’s place.

There lived in the ancient city of Susa (in modern Iran) a man named Mordecai who was Guardian to Esther. After she was selected for the Hareem he would walk each day to see how she was getting on, but he warned her not to tell them that she was a Jew. Esther was beautiful and was selected by the King from all the other young women to replace Queen Vashti. Not long after this Mordecai hears some of the Kings servants plotting against him, and warns Esther who in turn tells the King.

Later Haman an enemy of Mordecai and the Jewish people became angry when Mordecai refused to bow down before him. Haman in his anger decides to set out to destroy all the Jewish people and offers the King a huge sum of money for a decree that on a particular day of a particular month all the Jews should be annihilated, young and old, men and women. When Mordecai and the Jewish community heard of this they go into mourning, there is much distress, confusion and lament. When Esther hears that Mordecai is upset she sends a servant to find out what the problem is, and Mordecai sends a message explaining what has happened and urging her to go to the King and seek a reprieve. Her advises her that she should not think she will escape any more than the rest of them, and then says:

 “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?”

Here is the crux of the story perhaps the providence of God gave Esther the position she has so she can make a difference. Remaining silent in the face of injustice is wrong – we are called to use our influence – however great or small to do what is right. We are called to trust that sometimes God puts us in a particular place for a particular purpose and to have the courage to walk in that.

Esther recognises the danger she is in. She can be executed for approaching the King when he has not asked for her so she prepares herself by calling for a fast for 3 days. After this she goes into the presence of the King, he is pleased, and she asks for a banquet. At the banquet he is reminded of the work Mordecai did to protect him from the assassination plot – at the same time Haman is plotting how Mordecai should be hanged. The king seeks Haman asking how to honour a person who has saved the King and Mordecai is then honoured and Haman gets hanged on his own gallows after the terrible plot to the Jewish people is revealed. And so it is that Esther saves the Jewish community from destruction, Haman faces the consequences of his plotting and all the enemies of the Jews are punished. The festival of Purim is established to commemorate the events to ensure that they are never forgotten.

It’s a great story, with plot twists a beautiful heroine and an evil enemy is overcome, but underlying it all is the sense that behind the story and all its twists and turns there is a purpose to life. That God puts us in situations for a reason, that we are called to stand up for justice, even if this comes with a risk.

Maybe today there are things you need to stand up for or speak out against? I wonder if you are where you are for just such a time as this?’

Prayers

Loving God, we pray for your world,
so imperfect and yet so rich and so diverse.

We pray for those places where humanitarian aid
is being distributed amid violence, fear and power struggles…
for volunteers, medical staff, peacekeepers, reporters
and all who risk their lives to help others.

We remember those who continue to be affected
by the attack at the maternity hospital in Iraq…
for the people of Yemen, and Syria…

We pray too for those places where landmines
still lay in the crops of fields, in villages,
in places where children and communities
live and work and go to school

Loving God, hear our prayer.

We pray for discernment and wisdom
around the use of social media.
We give thanks for those who use it for good –
to fundraise, to highlight injustice, to share good news
and to keep in touch with family and friends;
but we also pray protection from, and for a change of heart for,
those who use it to incite hatred, to bully and abuse,
those who are predatory,
and those who initiate financial fraud and scams.

Loving God, hear our prayer.

We pray for our relationship with creation,
and we give thanks for birds and wildlife,
and those green spaces that inspire and nurture us;
but we pray also for those who live in places devoid of colour,
for all caged by their surroundings;
we pray for an end to practices that are cruel and inhumane,
and we pray for the welfare of all animals and creatures,
and for wisdom in our stewardship of the earth.

Loving God, hear our prayer.

We pray for the family of the nations,
for our own families and for our church family.
Where there is division – bring reconciliation.
Where there is mistrust – bring healing.
Where there is opportunity – bring courage.
Where there is a shared dream – bring joy.
Where there is discouragement – bring hope.

And, amid all the muddle of the best and the worst of humanity,
bring your grace, your love and your truth
We ask these things in Jesus’ name.

Loving God, hear our prayer. Amen.

(Intercessions from rootsontheweb.com )

Closing Hymn

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