God doesn't demand respect.
For all the times I’ve read the book of Esther, I never remembered that it began this way—with an egotistical king and his non-compliant wife. King Xerxes had gone on what could kindly be described as an ego binge: “For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty. When these days were over, the king gave a banquet, lasting seven days, in the enclosed garden of the king’s palace, for all the people from the least to the greatest who were in the citadel of Susa.” (vs 4-5)
For six months (and then an extra week), the king partied like it was going out of style, lavishing his guests with anything they wanted, in order to show off and maybe store up some political goodwill for the future. But somewhere along the way, in the middle of this alcohol-laced ego-fest, Xerxes decided to show off a little more than his kingdom, and he summoned the queen: “On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at. But when the attendants delivered the king’s command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger.” (vs 10-12)
Commentators suggest that there was nothing subtle about the king’s request. When it says “she was lovely to look at,” apparently it didn’t mean her face or her nicely-coiffed hair. The king wanted Vashti to come to his party and show off more than was appropriate. No wonder she refused.
The king was so upset that he listened to his advisors’ advice to “issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also let the king give her royal position to someone else who is better than she. Then when the king’s edict is proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest.” (vs 19-20)
King Xerxes was worried about being respected in the wake of his wife’s rebuff. His advisors told him that if he didn’t act quickly, all the women in the land would follow her example. “There will be no end of disrespect and discord,” they said. (vs 18) So the king banished her forever and issued an order that every man, as the head of his household, should be respected.
I find this highly ironic—that King Xerxes was so worried about being given something he hadn’t earned. He wanted to be given respect, although (in this case) he had certainly done a most un-respectable thing. He didn’t care if he acted with respect as long as he was treated with respect.
God is just the opposite! He conducts Himself in a respectable manner, whether He is treated with respect or not. He doesn’t go around demanding respect; instead, He goes around earning it. He earns it by being the kind of person He is.
We all know that “respect” means nothing if it is not freely given. King Xerxes may have issued a decree that said he and the other men of the land were to be respected, but that didn’t mean they actually were. After such a ridiculous proclamation, I’m sure there were women who stopped short of openly opposing their husbands yet felt no true respect for them. A command to do anything—respect, love, honor, admire, or cherish—never works. All those things have to be given freely.
That’s why God never demands our respect. If we respect Him, He wants it to be because we have chosen to do so. He wants us to respond only to the beauty of His character, not to threats or commands to love Him “or else.” If our love, admiration, and respect for Him is not freely offered, it means nothing to Him.
God — Now you see Him, now you don't.
Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous. —Albert Einstein
I recently saw that quote on a church’s outdoor marquee, and I must say that I agree. In fact, I don’t even believe in coincidences anymore. I think all the details of our lives—even the nitty gritty ones—are being woven and spun by God into this grand tapestry. I don’t think He leaves anything to chance. Does He leave things to choice? Yes. But to chance? No. At least I don’t think so.
The Einstein quote also made me think of the book of Esther. Where is God in the book of Esther? In case you weren’t aware, Esther is only one of two books in the Bible that never mentions God by name. (Song of Solomon is the other one.) That’s why I find it so interesting that this book which never mentions God still has God stamped all over it. In fact, from my perspective, it’s almost easier to see God in this story than in some others in the Bible where He is specifically mentioned and given credit!
Today’s chapter related the events that culminated in Esther’s becoming Queen of Persia. From hundreds of women, she was selected to take the place of Queen Vashti (who had been banished because of her principles). Unbeknownst to the king, Esther was a Jew. Esther’s uncle had advised her not to volunteer information about her nationality and family background, and she listened to his advice. At the time, there was still a great deal of hostility toward the Israelites, and if Esther had been up front about her ancestry, it’s likely she would not have been made queen.
Like a great symphony of unfolding music, every successive event in this chapter brought Esther one step closer to being queen until, in the grand finale, the king chose her from among all the other eligible women. He “set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. And the king gave a great banquet, Esther’s banquet, for all his nobles and officials. He proclaimed a holiday throughout the provinces and distributed gifts with royal liberality.” (vs 17-18)
How in the world did a little Jewish orphan become the Queen of Persia? And how in the world did these events unfold immediately prior to an evil plan that would threaten the continued existence of the Jewish race? Do you think it’s coincidence? I most certainly don’t.
The truth is, the Book of Esther—though it doesn’t formally use God’s name—is all about God and how He provides just what we need at just the right time. In this case, He was working to put Esther in the right place before anyone even knew there was trouble coming down the road. When the moment came, she was right where she needed to be to help save God’s people.
For this reason, Paul writes that “what may be known about God is plain . . . because God has made it plain. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (vs 19-20)
Even when God is “invisible,” He can clearly be seen working in our lives and the lives of those around us. Even if we don’t mention Him, He’s right there in the middle of our stories, working things out for our best good even before we know what we need. So we may sometimes feel like it’s now you see Him, now you don’t with God, but the truth is, even when we don’t “see” Him, He’s right there!
God is secure.
My, my. What a startling portrait of insecurity in the third chapter of Esther: “When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged. Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes.” (vs 5-6)
I have known a few insecure people in my lifetime (and been one myself from time to time). Dealing with insecure people is very difficult. They think they know everything; thus, they are closed to new ideas and experiences. Furthermore, their lack of openness causes them to be very narrow in their thinking, and—while they won’t hear a word about anything from anyone else—they often try to force others to think and act like they do.
Haman was a very insecure person. The king had commanded that people should show him honor and respect by bowing down to him. First of all, can you imagine knowing that people are “respecting” you because somebody else commanded them to? That would drive me crazy! But not Haman. Not only did he like it, he was outraged when Mordecai refused to follow orders.
Insecurity can’t handle opposition of any sort. It usually can’t even handle innocent questions, let alone open resistance. And it can’t deal with disagreement in an appropriate and constructive way. If Haman had been a secure person who felt threatened by Mordecai’s refusal to acknowledge his position, he would have taken up the issue with Mordecai personally. Instead, he launched a plan to annihilate the entire Jewish race. Talk about overreacting!
It’s very interesting to see the kind of person Haman was, because it’s the exact opposite of what God is like. He is a secure person, not an insecure person. He is not threatened by questions, opposition, even open resistance. When people oppose Him, He doesn’t go on the warpath. He doesn’t look for ways to destroy His enemies. Instead, He deals with the person or persons directly, trying repeatedly to solve the problem—not make it worse because His ego can’t handle a challenge.
Now, don’t confuse this with the idea that God never disciplines His children. If His creatures are headed down the wrong path, He will intervene in order to keep them from ultimate self-destruction. Sometimes these interventions look and sound harsh, but God is trying to protect us in an ultimate sense. It is in the ultimate sense, then, that God is not insecure. If His children ultimately make the choice to rebel and leave Him, He allows them to do that without coercion or threats. His ego can handle challenges all day long. He is totally secure!
God's timing is perfect.
There is a verse from this chapter that has stuck with me ever since I read it for the first time: “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (vs 14) A couple days ago, I confessed that I no longer believe in coincidences, and it seems obvious to me that Mordecai didn’t believe in coincidences either. He knew that someone else was in charge of the events that had led Esther to be in the right place at the right time.
Talking about God and time is always interesting because His perspective on time is so much different than ours. And one of the reasons I believe God gave us the Bible is so that we can see, over and over, how His timing is always perfect. This is something that is difficult for us to see over the course of our own lives, but when we read something like the Bible that spans so many generations, we can see how God’s timing is always perfect and always right on time.
It must have been an incredibly surreal thing for Esther to have been chosen out of all the other Persian women to be queen. I bet there were times when she wondered what was going on. But, as Mordecai so wisely said, she was not in that place by accident. She had come to her royal position for “such a time” as that.
And you are not where you are by accident either. God has brought you to right where you are for “such a time as this.” You are in the right place at the right time, and God’s hand is guiding and directing you. So relax. Trust. God’s timing is perfect. He knows exactly what He’s doing, and His plans are always right on time.
God offers satisfaction.
Perhaps the theme of the 1965 hit by the Rolling Stones is apropos to this chapter—I can’t get no satisfaction. Poor Haman. That was his problem. It seems that no matter how “good” things got for him, it wasn’t enough: “Calling together his friends and Zeresh, his wife, Haman boasted to them about his vast wealth, his many sons, and all the ways the king had honored him and how he had elevated him above the other nobles and officials. ‘And that’s not all,’ Haman added. ‘I’m the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the king to the banquet she gave. And she has invited me along with the king tomorrow. But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate.’” (vs 10-13)
We live in a day and age when many are eager to solve the problems of society with money. If only the rich paid more taxes. . . If only minimum wage were higher. . . If only everybody could buy a home. . . If only everyone had a cell phone. . . And the list could go on and on. In Western society, we seem to think that making people equal by giving “more” to those who have “less” is going to solve society’s problems. Yet, there is a lot of evidence to the contrary, and this chapter of Esther is no exception.
Haman had it all, didn’t he? Wealth, a large family, honor, and prestige. Yet none of it was enough. Because of what was in his heart, at the end of the day, all Haman wanted was to see Mordecai destroyed. As long as he remained at the king’s gate, everything Haman had didn’t matter. He might as well have been the poorest beggar sitting at the city gate.
Our joy, peace, and satisfaction in life ultimately has nothing to do with how much or how little we have. It all has to do with what is in our hearts. If we don’t have the love of God in our hearts, nothing will ever be enough. On the contrary, if we live according to the principles of God’s love, we will be like Paul—content whatever the circumstances. Poverty won’t be a burden, nor riches a snare.
There is only one thing that brings satisfaction to the human heart, and it’s not money, power, or possessions. God is the only one who can offer the kind of satisfaction that lasts. Without Him, no matter what we have, we will always be restlessly searching for something else. True contentment is found only in surrendering what we have, what we want, and what we need to Him.
God reverses fortunes.
No wonder King Solomon wrote: “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall. Better to live humbly with the poor than to share plunder with the proud.” (Prov 16:18-19) This chapter begins the demise of Haman, which has to be one of the most ironic stories in the Bible—perhaps in all of literature! By this time, Haman is so blinded by his own pride that he is completely taken in by its trap and, unfortunately for him, will not escape.
In a great reversal of fortune, Mordecai goes from being the hunted to the honored, and Haman is literally forced by the circumstances to unwittingly carry out the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” (Lk 6:31) In his state of pride and arrogance, he assumes the king is interested in honoring him. So, he lays out exactly how he would like to be honored: “For the man the king delights to honor, have them bring a royal robe the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, one with a royal crest placed on its head. Then let the robe and horse be entrusted to one of the king’s most noble princes. Let them robe the man the king delights to honor, and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!’” (vs 7-9)
The king likes Haman’s suggestion and decides to do just that—for Mordecai. And who is the most noble prince who must lead Mordecai’s horse through the streets? Haman himself. And all because Haman was in the palace court so very early in the morning—to engineer Mordecai’s demise. Oh, how deadly pride is!
On the other hand, how comforting it is to trust in the Lord. He can do anything—including reversing our “fortunes.” Think of this story from Mordecai’s perspective. Not only is he being unfairly targeted by Haman, but as a Jew, he has also been condemned to die by royal decree. Things aren’t looking very good for him. Yet, he is still going about his daily business, trusting that God’s hand is working in and through all circumstances for the right outcome.
And then, all of a sudden, Haman meets him in the court again. Only this time, he’s not teasing and taunting Mordecai. Instead, he’s offering him a leg up on the royal horse and then begins parading him around town, proclaiming the king’s favor and blessing. What a turn of events! What a reversal of fortunes! But Mordecai must have known that his God was capable of that.
It’s not always easy to remember that God specializes in reversing fortunes, but he does. As David said in Psalm 23, He prepares a feast for us in the presence of enemies. He causes those who despise us to bless us. He turns misfortunes into miracles. He turns obstacles into opportunities. So, no matter what your “fortunes” look like today, remember that with God, today’s fortunes don’t determine tomorrow’s fortunes. He can turn everything around in an instant!
God is not a destroyer.
Esther chapter 7 contains a startling example of the self-destructiveness of sin. Haman’s gig is up. When the king asked Esther to present her request, she replied, “If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated.” (vs 3-4) That must have been a heart-stopping moment for Haman, as he realized the web he had spun for himself. I’m sure he never imagined that the Queen of Persia was a Jew.
That sealed the deal for Haman. The king stormed away from the table in anger (apparently a bad sign in Persian culture). And when he was told that Haman had a pole all set up on which to execute Mordecai, the king decided it would do just fine to use the pole for Haman instead.
Is it any wonder that, in the Psalms, David wrote, “An evil person is like a woman about to give birth to a hateful, deceitful, and rebellious child. Such people dig a deep hole, then fall in it themselves. The trouble they cause comes back on them, and their heads are crushed by their own evil deeds.” (Ps 7:14-16) This is the nature of sin. It can’t help but destroy itself because it runs contrary to the principles of love and life. While love goes on forever, sin quickly spirals down to nothing.
Haman’s ironic ending made me think of Satan. He hated God so much that he would stop at nothing to put Jesus on the cross. It was his goal to see Christ defeated and destroyed. Yet his own evil backfired on him. The very thing he worked so hard for—the death of Jesus—was the very thing that sealed his own defeat. The plan that he thought would end up in triumph ended up in tragedy instead. It can be no other way when it comes to sin.
That’s where the title of today’s blog comes from. A lot of people still see God as the destroyer of the wicked, as if He is the one who must get justice, revenge, or retribution to “right” all the wrongs that have been done in this world. But sin destroys itself. That is its nature. God doesn’t destroy sin because He doesn’t have to. Sin accomplishes its own destruction, and that’s precisely why God wants us to steer clear of it.
God woos us.
I thought this chapter of Esther ended on a very interesting note: “After the law was announced in Susa, everyone shouted and cheered, and the Jews were no longer afraid. In fact, they were very happy and felt that they had won a victory. In every province and city where the law was sent, the Jews had parties and celebrated. Many of the people in the provinces accepted the Jewish religion, because they were now afraid of the Jews.” (vs 15-17)
God’s working behind the scenes had not only won victory for His people over evil, but had also served to advance the message of Judaism in a heathen land. The very thing Haman had set out to destroy was, in the end, exalted and blessed through the unexpected turn of events at the end of the story.
Many people embraced the Jews because their God had “prevailed” in the struggle between Haman and Mordecai. They saw, and what they saw changed their minds. This is the way God works. He woos us, giving us evidence to consider in order to help us change our minds.
I believe that’s what Jesus meant when He said, “If I am lifted up, I will draw all people unto myself.” (Jn 12:32) God doesn’t gain followers by taking prisoners or slaves. He doesn’t force us to believe in Him or trust in Him. Instead, He woos us. We see Him lifted up in our lives and the lives of those around us. We see the way He works, bringing all things together for good. And when we see Him, we are drawn to Him.
I think it’s wonderfully good news about God that, although He is the all-powerful Sovereign of the universe, He doesn’t run His government on the basis of force, fear, and coercion. Instead, He wants to reason with us. He loves us, and that’s why He woos us.
God is for us.
I wonder about the King of Persia. He was king of a heathen land, with a large number of Jewish exiles living in his territory. I’m not sure what gods (or how many) he worshiped, but it’s safe to say that he did not worship the God of Israel. Yet, when the plot of Haman was uncovered, he was willing to stick his neck out for this race of people who were foreigners in his land:
“On the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, the edict commanded by the king was to be carried out. On this day the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, but now the tables were turned and the Jews got the upper hand over those who hated them. The Jews assembled in their cities in all the provinces of King Xerxes to attack those determined to destroy them. No one could stand against them, because the people of all the other nationalities were afraid of them.” (vs 1-2)
Was it just for the love of a woman that the king supported the Jews? Perhaps. And maybe he was also grateful for the intervention of Mordecai that saved his life. Whatever his motives, the Jews were only able to stand against their enemies because of the king.
And that made me think about the King who is for us. Paul writes about this in his famous passage from Romans 8: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom 8:31-32)
No matter what we face in life, we can stand up to all our enemies because God is for us. That includes all enemies in this life: trouble, hardship, unexpected crisis, our past, our present, our future, even death itself. In all these things, we can be more than conquerors through God who loves us. Nothing can separate us from His love and care!
God is for us. Because of that, we know that even when our enemies look fierce and overwhelming, we are more than able to stand. In Christ, we can find victory over any and all of our enemies!
God is great.
In the New International Version of the Bible, the tenth chapter of Esther bears this heading: The Greatness of Mordecai. With such a title, it’s surprising that the chapter is so short. Just three verses! But the third verse is of particular interest: “Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Xerxes, preeminent among the Jews, and held in high esteem by his many fellow Jews, because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews.” (vs 3)
In this way, Mordecai is a perfect example of God. True greatness doesn’t come from having it bestowed upon you (as in the case of Haman, who was only honored by others because of the king’s decree). True greatness comes from service. Mordecai was great because he was a servant to his people, and he cared about others.
God is great for the same reason. It’s not His all-powerful-ness that makes Him great. It’s His servanthood. He is great not because He rules over everything but because He serves everyone. That’s why, when the disciples were arguing over who was to be the greatest in the kingdom of God, Jesus showed them how to be great. He knelt down and washed their feet, doing the job of the most humble servant.
God’s greatness is in direct proportion to His servanthood. The more He serves, the greater He becomes.
How great are you?