Such a Time As This.
Esther 3-4, James 1
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. – James 1:2-4 ESV
We sometimes forget that while Ezra, Nehemiah and the remnant of Jews who had returned to Judah were busy rebuilding the temple and restoring the walls of Jerusalem, there were thousands of Jews left behind in captivity. They had chosen to stay in Babylon, rather than return to their native land. And the story of Esther tells us what was happening to them while their brothers and sisters were thousands of miles away. Through an amazing turn of events, Esther had become queen of Persian. Four years after her coronation, another significant event would take place that would dramatically impact the lives of the people of God. King Ahasuerus had promoted one of his officials “and set his throne above all the officials who were with him,” commanding that he be shown proper honor by bowing down before him. Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, refused to do so. Perhaps because Haman was a descendant of the Amalekites, enemies of the Jews. When word got out that Mordecai refused to show proper honor and pay homage to Haman, he became incensed and in his anger came up with a plan to destroy all the Jews living in Persia. He convinced the king to put his royal blessing on the plan and issue a decree to that effect. When Mordecai found out, he went into mourning and into action. He informed Esther of the situation and begged her to use her position as queen to plead with the king on behalf of the people of God. But Esther became fearful. She had yet to reveal her Jewish identity to the king. She also knew that unless she was summoned by the king into his presence, any attempt on her part to see him would result in death. Things looked bleak. The situation appeared hopeless.
What does this passage reveal about God?
But we must remember that this story was being written for those Jews who lived long after the events recorded had taken place. This book is a reminder of God’s sovereign hand in the lives of His chosen people. The story of Esther is the story of God’s sovereignty and faithfulness. When we read of the promotion of Haman and Mordecai’s stubborn refusal to bow down before him, we can easily wonder why these things had to happen. We can question why God allowed this evil man to be given so much power and authority. We can marvel at Mordecai’s hard-headed decision to dishonor Haman. We can speculate how things might have turned out if he had just swallowed his pride and bowed down before Haman. But there is something far greater going on in this story. God had a much larger plan in mind and was working behind the scenes in ways that King Ahasuerus, Haman, Esther and Mordecai could not see. It is interesting to note that Haman used Lots to determine the best day to put his sinister plan in motion. In other words, he relied on chance. But we read that “the king’s scribes were summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month” (Esther 3:12 ESV), and the edict was issued. It just so happened that the day the edict became official was the day before Passover – a yearly Jewish holiday commemorating God’s miraculous deliverance of His people from captivity in Egypt. This was not luck or chance. It was a not-so-subtle reminder that God was still in control. As bad as things looked, the people of God needed to always remember that their God was fully aware and fully in charge of all that was happening around them.
What does this passage reveal about man?
Haman was power hungry. His new-found position had gone to his head. When one man refused to bow down before him, he because so angry that he determined to wipe out an entire people group in retaliation. This scene had been played out time and time again for the people of Israel over the centuries. Their history was filled with other stories of men attempting to annihilate them. But God had protected them. He had been there for them. And He would do so again. As evil as Haman was, he was no match for God. But this did not mean that the people of God were just to sit back and do nothing. It does not mean that they were to simply accept the situation as is and wait for God to act. Upon learning the news of the king’s decree, Mordecai went into mourning. He fasted. But he also took action. He did what he could do to step into the situation. He went to Esther and appealed to her to use her influence as queen to beg for the king’s mercy. He recognized that this young girl’s unexpected elevation to her position as queen had a divine purpose behind it. He warned Esther that her silence would not save her. While she had managed to keep her Jewish identity a secret all these years, it was just a matter of time before the truth became known. Her life was in danger just like everyone else. Then Mordecai told Esther, “If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place” (Esther 4:14 NLT). In this simple statement Mordecai revealed that he believed God was going to protect His people. He would act. But Mordecai also believed that Esther had been made queen of Persia for a reason. “Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14 NLT). He knew that Esther held a unique position and believed that God had orchestrated her rise to prominence and influence for just such an occasion. She had a God-ordained role to play.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
Esther was scared. She was justifiably frightened at the prospect of having to confront the most powerful man in the kingdom and beg him to counter his own decree. She knew that the odds were stacked against her. Centuries later, James would write, “when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing” (James 1:2-4 NLT). Trouble had come Esther’s way. But James would have told her to consider it an opportunity for great joy. Her faith was about to be tested. She needed wisdom. So James would have told her, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone” (James 1:5-6 NLT). And it’s interesting to note that Esther asked Mordecai to call all the Jews living in the land of Susa to fast on her behalf. The inference is that they were to take their situation before God and lift up their sister, Esther.
One of the things that jumps out at me in this story is that no one, including Mordecai or Esther, blamed God for their circumstances. They didn’t shake their fists at God and question His love or wisdom. They didn’t get angry and demand to know what He was going to do about their situation. In the letter of James, he tells us, “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (James 1:19 NLT). James was writing to people who were living under tremendous pressure and persecution. The natural tendency, when things get tough, is to get mad at God. We can find ourselves getting angry for allowing difficulty into our lives. We can demand to know why He isn’t acting or why He allowed it to happen in the first place. But James would tell us to be slow to speak and slow to anger. Instead, we are to listen. Ask God what He is trying to teach us – about Him, about ourselves, about our faith or lack of it, about His power and our failure to believe in it. Esther and Mordecai had no idea what God was going to do. They had no guarantees about the outcome. But rather than get angry, they got busy. They prayed. They planned. They took advantage of their God-ordained positions and acted.
Father, You never said this life would be easy. There are always difficulties to be faced. There are always trials alone the way. But You have promised to always be there for us. You have told us that You are greater than our greatest obstacle or enemy. You have proven Your faithfulness and illustrated Your saving power over and over again. When times of trouble come, may I learn to focus my eyes on You. But may I also understand that You have me right where You want me and I must seek to know what it is You would have me do. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men