The Great Feast of Feasts (Revelation 19:4-9)

The following is totally true, even if it seems entirely unbelievable. In 1977, Diana and I got married on a budget of $1,000. We paid for everything related to the wedding and reception, as well as went on a 17-day honeymoon to Florida. It’s true!

The wedding was a simple affair (expense-wise), though there was significant spiritual investment in the content of the service. The reception was an ice cream social in the church fellowship hall, as Diana’s uncle owned a soft-serve ice cream business. And we camped about 10 of the evenings we were on our trip.

I’ve always had a bit of a critical spirit about wedding receptions that are somewhat massive and expensive affairs; but I have more recently come to reconsider my opinion. Celebrations I have seen of brides and grooms have oft been joyous outpourings of love and gratitude for the work of God in two lives — with the couple simply wanting to share it lavishly with their friends and families.

As we wrote yesterday about the common experiences of the Jewish people having God-ordained feasts, observances and celebrations, these were established to express gratitude and joy for the remembrance of God’s powerful works on behalf of the nation. One of these is this feast of Purim that we read about yesterday.

For all of us, our story as God’s pinnacle of creation is one that begins in a garden from which we were expelled because of sin, but ends with perfect reconciliation in heaven at a feast called “the marriage supper of the Lamb.” We read about it in Revelation 19 … so let’s look at it and then add some comments following the passage …

19:4 The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried: “Amen, Hallelujah!”

5 Then a voice came from the throne, saying: “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both great and small!”

6 Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. 7 Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. 8 Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.”

(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)

9 Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”

To be able to fully understand the significance of this, we need to recall the Jewish wedding context that undergirds this picture. Think of it as having three phases …

First is the betrothal period. Marriages were arranged by parents, and a dowry price was paid by the groom (or his parents).

Secondly, a year later the bridegroom would come for the bride accompanied by his friends. This was not a surprise — the bride would know he was coming and would be ready for him with her attendants. They would all then go to the groom’s house.

Finally, a marriage feast would follow which was a HUGE celebration that could go on and on, perhaps for days!

To interpret this, the arrangement for the marriage is the covenant love of the Father set upon us by His grace, along with our response in faith. The payment of the groom is, of course, the death of Christ. The coming of the bridegroom for the bride is the return of Christ to take away his bride, the church. And the event written in Revelation 19 is the feast in the groom’s home, in heaven … a big, big affair that is a blessing for those invited to attend.

What a beautiful picture! Purim was great. Celebrations are fun. But this is the ultimate feast, and in Christ you have your invitation to be a part of it.

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The Feast of Purim (Esther 9:20-32)

I have often looked at the Jewish traditions and thought it would have been fun in some ways to have grown up in that tradition of feasts and remembrances — with things like living in a tent for a few days each year to remember the exodus from Egypt, etc.  These are very colorful teaching moments for families.

In my sports writing and editing life, I have had a teenage boy from a very traditional Jewish family on my staff. He is way ahead of his years in terms of writing and taking on responsibility, as he wants to be a sports writer. And he is a really fun and outgoing kid. He has talked very openly with me about what his Jewish school and family life is like, as he really embraces the various holy days, celebrations and feasts with deep reverence and meaning. And there is something really good about that; and we as Christians likely fail to have enough of these moments in our traditions to cause us to sufficiently reflect on what God has done in history that impacts our faith and lives.

Today we look at the story that initiated the Jewish holiday of Purim. Here it is …

9:20 — Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, 21 to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar 22 as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.

23 So the Jews agreed to continue the celebration they had begun, doing what Mordecai had written to them. 24 For Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them and had cast the pur (that is, the lot) for their ruin and destruction. 25 But when the plot came to the king’s attention, he issued written orders that the evil scheme Haman had devised against the Jews should come back onto his own head, and that he and his sons should be impaled on poles. 26 (Therefore these days were called Purim, from the word pur.) Because of everything written in this letter and because of what they had seen and what had happened to them,27 the Jews took it on themselves to establish the custom that they and their descendants and all who join them should without fail observe these two days every year, in the way prescribed and at the time appointed. 28 These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family, and in every province and in every city. And these days of Purim should never fail to be celebrated by the Jews—nor should the memory of these days die out among their descendants.

29 So Queen Esther, daughter of Abihail, along with Mordecai the Jew, wrote with full authority to confirm this second letter concerning Purim. 30 And Mordecai sent letters to all the Jews in the 127 provinces of Xerxes’ kingdom—words of goodwill and assurance— 31 to establish these days of Purim at their designated times, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had decreed for them, and as they had established for themselves and their descendants in regard to their times of fasting and lamentation. 32 Esther’s decree confirmed these regulations about Purim, and it was written down in the records.

You should recall from chapter three that the word “pur” was related to the divination involved in picking numbers for a day for something to happen, believing that the best of luck would come from this sort of casting the lot or “rolling the dice.”  And the “-im” ending is the way Hebrew words are pluralized.

The celebration was one to remind the Jewish people of the providential hand of God in their preservation, God using a variety of circumstances, including the casting of the lot to all work together so that the nation would be delivered in 473 B.C.

In Chuck Swindoll’s book on Esther, he writes …

“In order to have perspective, we must have monuments and memorials, places to return to and learn from and talk about and pass on. If we don’t, we are destined to live rootless, fast-lane lives without much significance and all-too-seldom celebrations.”

In Karen Jobes’ commentary on Esther, she writes …

 “Purim continues to be celebrated by the Jewish people around the world today.  For them the significance of the holiday and the book on which it is based have continued in unbroken tradition from generation to generation.  However, the Holocaust of this century has for many Jews all but extinguished its joy.  The book of Esther was treasured by Jews imprisoned in the Nazi death camps precisely because it promised the survival of their race despite Hitler’s attempts to annihilate them. The hope of those who died in the death camps was realized.  The Jewish people did survive, yet ironically many Jews of the subsequent generations have found it difficult to believe that God’s presence and power are manifested in history as they grapple with the theological implications of Auschwitz….The divine Messiah of the Jews took up the moral agony of Auschwitz and every other atrocity ever perpetrated against the human race.  He agreed that God had to do something about such unimaginable evil and was willing to take it on himself so it could be destroyed on Calvary.  Where is the evidence of his achievement?  In Jesus’ resurrection, which empties physical death of its power over everyone who takes refuge in him as the Messiah.”

So we do celebrate and commemorate our deliverance. We do it when we have communion. It remembers his death and resurrection … his victory over sin, and hence our own deliverance. This is a big deal!  It is not a silly little tradition we tack onto the end of a worship service as a ritual to get out of the way. No, communion could even be argued as the focal point of purpose for the early church gathering, and while there for the remembrance, they also sang some songs and had some teaching.

Celebrations are a good thing. We should do more of them and make more of them.

The Turning of the Tables (Esther 8:15-9:19)

Any of you reading this would have to be nearly as old as I am to remember much of anything about the 1967 Israeli Six Day War. I would have been age 12 at the time, and I remember it dominating the news and the conversation of my parents. I also recall the universal amazement everywhere as to the rapid nature by which Israel was able to defeat their foes from Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, being outnumbered by huge numbers of people in those surrounding lands. It seemed impossible.

And so it was in Persia 2500 years earlier. The original decree that would eventuate in the wipeout of the Jewish people looked to be incontestable. It was motivated by the legal opportunity that presented those attacking the Jews to plunder their belongings.

The second decree to match the first was written in a one-to-one fashion, allowing the Jews to do the same, though we see that they did not do this in the end. This demonstrated their pure motives as simply that of defense. Though some of this reading today has the sound of aggression on the part of the Jews, it is actually speaking of their proactive moves to defend themselves from those intent upon bringing harm to the Jewish people.

As well, the public display of the sons of Haman was not a vindictive move by Esther and the Jews. Rather it was, as throughout times of antiquity, a visual statement to others to not attempt the same behavior that originally emboldened those who were executed to perform their dastardly deeds.

God was preserving the nation of Israel. Through it would come the Savior of the world. And God yet has a future for this people. The support of Israel is a principle of truth that arises from an accurate understanding of biblical interpretation and God’s plan of the ages and the end times. This does not mean that everything Israel does in the modern era is fully just, but as a nation it remains central in God’s plans. Some of these ideas will be discussed in an 11:00 Sunday series for five weeks that begins on October 25th — talking about end times themes.

I especially like the phrase today in 9:1 where it says that “now the tables were turned and the Jews got the upper hand over those who hated them.”  I told the following story in church on Sunday about a Civil War event … A slave had run away from the brutality of his Southern plantation, joined the Union Army, and over time was with their advance into the south, near his old home. While assigned to guard some Confederate prisoners, in the lineup he sees his former master, and in greeting him says, “Hello Massa, the bottom rail be on top this time!”

God is good at putting the bottom rails on the top when His mighty hand is involved.

8:15 — When Mordecai left the king’s presence, he was wearing royal garments of blue and white, a large crown of gold and a purple robe of fine linen. And the city of Susa held a joyous celebration. 16 For the Jews it was a time of happiness and joy, gladness and honor. 17 In every province and in every city to which the edict of the king came, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating. And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them.

9:1 — 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. 2 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. 3 And all the nobles of the provinces, the satraps, the governors and the king’s administrators helped the Jews, because fear of Mordecai had seized them. 4 Mordecai was prominent in the palace; his reputation spread throughout the provinces, and he became more and more powerful.

5 The Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them, and they did what they pleased to those who hated them. 6 In the citadel of Susa, the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred men. 7 They also killed Parshandatha, Dalphon, Aspatha, 8 Poratha, Adalia, Aridatha, 9 Parmashta, Arisai, Aridai and Vaizatha, 10 the ten sons of Haman son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews. But they did not lay their hands on the plunder.

11 The number of those killed in the citadel of Susa was reported to the king that same day. 12 The king said to Queen Esther, “The Jews have killed and destroyed five hundred men and the ten sons of Haman in the citadel of Susa. What have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces? Now what is your petition? It will be given you. What is your request? It will also be granted.”

13 “If it pleases the king,” Esther answered, “give the Jews in Susa permission to carry out this day’s edict tomorrow also, and let Haman’s ten sons be impaled on poles.”

14 So the king commanded that this be done. An edict was issued in Susa, and they impaled the ten sons of Haman. 15 The Jews in Susa came together on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar, and they put to death in Susa three hundred men, but they did not lay their hands on the plunder.

16 Meanwhile, the remainder of the Jews who were in the king’s provinces also assembled to protect themselves and get relief from their enemies. They killed seventy-five thousand of them but did not lay their hands on the plunder.17 This happened on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and on the fourteenth they rested and made it a day of feasting and joy.

18 The Jews in Susa, however, had assembled on the thirteenth and fourteenth, and then on the fifteenth they rested and made it a day of feasting and joy.

19 That is why rural Jews—those living in villages—observe the fourteenth of the month of Adar as a day of joy and feasting, a day for giving presents to each other.

 

Justice Achieved (Esther 8:1-14)

“With liberty and justice for all” … so says the final phrase of the Pledge of Allegiance. What is justice for all? How is it achieved? Is it possible for human government to grant justice for all citizens?

In today’s reading we see the tables completely turned against evil and justice prevailing in a situation where previously it appeared that power was on the side of wrong-doing …

8:1 That same day King Xerxes gave Queen Esther the estate of Haman, the enemy of the Jews. And Mordecai came into the presence of the king, for Esther had told how he was related to her. 2 The king took off his signet ring, which he had reclaimed from Haman, and presented it to Mordecai. And Esther appointed him over Haman’s estate.

3 Esther again pleaded with the king, falling at his feet and weeping. She begged him to put an end to the evil plan of Haman the Agagite, which he had devised against the Jews. 4 Then the king extended the gold scepter to Esther and she arose and stood before him.

5 “If it pleases the king,” she said, “and if he regards me with favor and thinks it the right thing to do, and if he is pleased with me, let an order be written overruling the dispatches that Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, devised and wrote to destroy the Jews in all the king’s provinces. 6 For how can I bear to see disaster fall on my people? How can I bear to see the destruction of my family?”

7 King Xerxes replied to Queen Esther and to Mordecai the Jew, “Because Haman attacked the Jews, I have given his estate to Esther, and they have impaled him on the pole he set up. 8 Now write another decree in the king’s name in behalf of the Jews as seems best to you, and seal it with the king’s signet ring—for no document written in the king’s name and sealed with his ring can be revoked.”

9 At once the royal secretaries were summoned—on the twenty-third day of the third month, the month of Sivan. They wrote out all Mordecai’s orders to the Jews, and to the satraps, governors and nobles of the 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush. These orders were written in the script of each province and the language of each people and also to the Jews in their own script and language. 10 Mordecai wrote in the name of King Xerxes, sealed the dispatches with the king’s signet ring, and sent them by mounted couriers, who rode fast horses especially bred for the king.

11 The king’s edict granted the Jews in every city the right to assemble and protect themselves; to destroy, kill and annihilate the armed men of any nationality or province who might attack them and their women and children, and to plunder the property of their enemies. 12 The day appointed for the Jews to do this in all the provinces of King Xerxes was the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar. 13 A copy of the text of the edict was to be issued as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality so that the Jews would be ready on that day to avenge themselves on their enemies.

14 The couriers, riding the royal horses, went out, spurred on by the king’s command, and the edict was issued in the citadel of Susa.

The law that Haman had written could not just be undone, so the king gave authority for a new edict to also be given to supersede the prior law. This gave the Jews the just authority to prepare and fight against any who attempted to take action against them, giving the Jews even the lawful ability to plunder any who made an action against them. This law was sent out about two months after Haman’s first edict, thus giving about nine months for preparation.

What an incredible turn of events! Justice was achieved.

Justice is a worthy goal, but it is not defined by everyone in the same way. Take for example the story of an illegal immigrant who was fleeing persecution in his home country. It can be argued that it is just to send him back there, doing so because he broke the law by his method of entry. But is it any sort of justice to send a person to a place where their life is certainly in danger?

The reason injustice exists is because sin exists. In Genesis 4, after Cain killed his brother Abel and was confronted by the Lord, God said to him, “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”  This was a cry for justice.

God cares about justice. It says in Psalm 9:16 — “The Lord is known by his acts of justice; the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.”  And indeed, justice will prevail, as Psalm 45:6 looks forward to that time — “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.”

However, until that time, we live in a fallen world where justice does not always prevail (in this world) in every circumstance. For it to prevail, there needs to be objective standards of truth and righteousness. This comes perfectly from God’s Word, though fractional and imperfect portions of it are found in the human conscience as the remnants of the image of God in man.

But the conscience may be suppressed, ignored and rejected. There is not a lot of conscience and perfect truth seeping to the surface in the ISIS/ISIL craziness we see in the world today. That is an extreme example, but it is evident as well in our own culture in the rejection of objective truth in preference for the relativism of individual desire.

So justice will rise and fall with the standards of acknowledging God’s truth. And this is why the character of people in government matters so much. John Adams wrote that if this newly-founded USA ever gave way to unrestrained individualist passions that “… this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world; because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

The USA is exceptional in the sense that no other country in any time or place has given so much consideration to foundations upon moral and biblical principles. But we see very clearly in our time that it is “wholly inadequate” to achieve true justice.

So we wait and look forward to a future, perfect time where Christ will rule and reign, and where justice will truly prevail.

Justice Prevails as Time Goes By (Esther 7)

So, you think you are having a bad day?  A rough period of time in your life where things are not going well?  Consider the turn of events that were happening for Haman — having recently had the indignity of having to lead Mordecai through the streets in honor — now the wheels of his life are going to come off completely …

7:1 So the king and Haman went to Queen Esther’s banquet, 2 and as they were drinking wine on the second day, the king again asked, “Queen Esther, what is your petition? It will be given you. What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.”

3 Then Queen Esther answered, “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. 4 For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king.”

5 King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is he—the man who has dared to do such a thing?”

6 Esther said, “An adversary and enemy! This vile Haman!”

Then Haman was terrified before the king and queen. 7 The king got up in a rage, left his wine and went out into the palace garden. But Haman, realizing that the king had already decided his fate, stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life.

8 Just as the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was reclining.

The king exclaimed, “Will he even molest the queen while she is with me in the house?”

As soon as the word left the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face. 9 Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs attending the king, said, “A pole reaching to a height of fifty cubits stands by Haman’s house. He had it set up for Mordecai, who spoke up to help the king.”

The king said, “Impale him on it!” 10 So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai. Then the king’s fury subsided.

Has it struck you in our reading through Esther as to how out of touch King Xerxes is with the world around him? He’s the most powerful man in the world at this time, but he seems to be lacking in some basic information. One would think that his Secret Service / CIA would have kept him a bit more informed!

Consider the things he did not know…

  • The ethnicity or family background of his own queen!
  • Until hearing it in the annals of his kingdom, that Mordecai had saved his life.
  • Exactly what people group he had allowed Haman to plan to have eradicated.
  • The nature of Haman’s character … or that of so many others around him (and he would later be assassinated in 465 BC at the hands of Artabanus, the commander of the royal bodyguard).

You have heard it said that when there are lies and deceit that “the truth will rise to the surface,” or that “eventually the whole story will all come out.” This does have a way of happening, though perfect justice does not always eventuate in every situation.

Justice — God is indeed behind all the scenes of this story of Esther, working together an incredible array of circumstances. And that is the only way it was going to happen with such a daffy monarch who seems to always be locked away in his throne room drinking wine.

But here is the great thing: We have a King who is not like Xerxes, but is rather fully informed about everything that is happening, that has happened, AND, that will happen! And knowing him as our Heavenly Father, we know that his heart is warmly disposed toward us for our good. And as we’ve written before, we don’t have to fear coming before him; we are always welcomed. Beyond that, we don’t have to worry that he is ill-informed or out of touch with what is really happening.

In Psalm 33, it says of God … “From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth.”

His promises to his people are written in Deuteronomy … “It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them. The Lord will vindicate his people and relent concerning his servants when he sees their strength is gone…”

Hey, I don’t understand a lot that goes on, nor why justice does not often prevail more expeditiously; but I know I can trust the God who knows and sees all, and who is just. But I might need you to remind of this the next time I complain that something unjust is happening!

Twists and Turns of Sin Always Unravel (Esther 6:12-15)

Among the best books I have ever read is Escape from the Deep: The Epic Story of a Legendary Submarine and Her Courageous Crew by Alex Kershaw. It tells the tale of the World War 2 submarine named the U.S.S. Tang, a vessel that sank a total of 33 Japanese ships. Its own demise came by the rather unusual (though not unheard of) circumstance of one of its own torpedoes malfunctioning and running in a circular course back to the sub. It hit, sinking the boat in 180 feet of water, killing all but nine men who made an unprecedented escape to the surface, one by one, using a Momsun lung device.

Also in World War 2, a British vessel named the HMS Trinidad was making an attack run upon some German destroyers, who were unsuccessfully firing torpedoes toward the British ship. As the Trinidad was closing in to finish off a crippled destroyer in flames, a torpedo came directly toward the cruiser. The captain is reported to have looked over the bridge at the approaching “fish” and said, “You know, that looks remarkably like one of our own!”  It was. The explosion damaged the boat severely, ripping a hole in the side and killing 32 sailors.

Sin is a lot like a circular-running torpedo. It comes back to cause the most damage to the sinner himself.

In literature or art, a situation irony is when something occurs that is opposite of what was actually expected to happen. For example, a professor might despise a certain student in his organic chemistry class and have him fail, thus resulting in the student flunking out of medical school. Twenty years later the professor has a dreadfully rare disease and goes to see the one doctor in the world who has become a specialist in dealing with the ailment. And the prof finds out it is the very student he failed years before, who went to another school and became an accomplished physician.

Situational irony is seen in other Scripture passages. For example, Joseph — the hated younger brother of Jacob’s family — is sold into slavery, only to eventually rise to power in Egypt and become the one who saves the family from extinction.

Such a story is especially powerful in the hands of an omnipotent and providential God, who delights in displaying His power through the weak, disenfranchised and despised.

And so we see the irony of this evil man Haman, who conspires for the death of his hated rival Mordecai, only to see his entire plan take twists and turns that come back upon himself.

12 Afterward Mordecai returned to the king’s gate. But Haman rushed home, with his head covered in grief, 13 and told Zeresh his wife and all his friends everything that had happened to him.

His advisers and his wife Zeresh said to him, “Since Mordecai, before whom your downfall has started, is of Jewish origin, you cannot stand against him—you will surely come to ruin!” 14 While they were still talking with him, the king’s eunuchs arrived and hurried Haman away to the banquet Esther had prepared.

It may often be that in a fallen and sinful world, it will appear to the righteous that they are in danger on every front, abused and maligned by those who appear to get away with it. Yet there is a just and sovereign God who often only appears at the last moment to avert a severe injustice. And even when injustice does prevail, as it sometimes does, there is a truer and final justice that is to be found in the greater reality that is life eternal beyond this world. And we will begin to talk about that tomorrow.

“Esther” … not “Ester” (humorous post)

I thought I would take a break from the devotionals to tell you about a funny moment that happened at our pastoral staff meeting this morning — a moment that captured the different personalities of those involved.

Tim Lester preached this past Sunday, and he had his prepared PowerPoint slides with Scriptures and his main outline comments.

I (Randy) am not a neatnik about many things in life, but I do like words on a paper or presentation to be just right — perfectly spelled and punctuated. DSC_0440

Tim does not share this by nature, not always being really quite sure how to spell something. And so I immediately noticed that he spelled Esther throughout his slides as “Ester.”  It made me recall how, during the art work associated with the recent kids’ musical program on heroes of the faith, that the children also spelled it “Ester.”  (see picture)

So, I was teasing Tim about how he spelled it. And he said, “No, no way … I ran spell-check on it to be sure everything was just right. So how could that be?”

“Well,” said Chris. “The spell-check probably corrected it from the proper name of “Esther” to “ester” because it was thinking you meant to talk about esters — which are a type of chemical compound.”  He then went on to explain how esters in fruit are very powerful, illustrated by how, for example, after eating a banana, everything after that tastes like a banana, at least for a while.

So … Tim screws up spelling, Randy sees it immediately, and Chris gives the scientific explanation for why it happened. Just another day with the staff.

It is Dangerous to be Proud (Esther 6:1-11)

Today we read about the beginning of the end for Haman. We have spoken already of his rather expansive view of himself. It is a struggle we all have at times — to not find ourselves thinking of ourselves as the center of the universe.

There is a really interesting video “out there” that I have seen people post online. And it begins and ends by saying that “You are not the center of the universe.” (Click HERE to see it on YouTube.)  It then goes on to talk about the size of things in the universe, beginning with the moon and progressing through all of the planets and up to our sun. It then shows how small the sun is compared to the other stars — the largest of which it would take an airliner 1100 years to fly around it one time. And yet this is just a speck in the sky of billions of stars in our galaxy — one of billions of galaxies. So, yes, we are not the center of the universe.

Before we say more, let’s read the passage again. And we are immediately struck by the providential hand of God working out of sight, in the dark, behind the scenes …

6:1 That night the king could not sleep; so he ordered the book of the chronicles, the record of his reign, to be brought in and read to him. 2 It was found recorded there that Mordecai had exposed Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, who had conspired to assassinate King Xerxes.

3 “What honor and recognition has Mordecai received for this?” the king asked.

“Nothing has been done for him,” his attendants answered.

4 The king said, “Who is in the court?” Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the palace to speak to the king about impaling Mordecai on the pole he had set up for him.

5 His attendants answered, “Haman is standing in the court.”

“Bring him in,” the king ordered.

6 When Haman entered, the king asked him, “What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?”

Now Haman thought to himself, “Who is there that the king would rather honor than me?” 7 So he answered the king, “For the man the king delights to honor,8 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. 9 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!’”

10 “Go at once,” the king commanded Haman. “Get the robe and the horse and do just as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate. Do not neglect anything you have recommended.”

11 So Haman got the robe and the horse. He robed Mordecai, and led him on horseback through the city streets, proclaiming before him, “This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!”

Having a balanced view of self is oft difficult. We may tend to think too highly (more common), though some may go to the other extreme. But we are encouraged in Romans 12:3-5 with these words …

12:3 – For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

Even what we possess in terms of positive assets — be it intellect, talent, energy and health — is all the gift of God. And the encouragement of the passage is to think about how those gifts and abilities contribute to the good of others, even as the strengths of others serve us well as contributory toward minimizing and making up for our limitations and liabilities.

It is dangerous to think more highly than we ought to, and this is because it will lead to foolish decisions and exposures. We may find ourselves being unwise and in the middle of a situation for which we are unprepared and cannot find a means of extrication.

This is essence of the Scripture that says, “The highway of the upright avoids evil; those who guard their ways preserve their lives. Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud.  (Proverbs 16:17-19)

Don’t be a Haman … it just ain’t safe!

The Biggest, Baddest Gallows Ever Made (Esther 5:9-14)

Several of these passages in our study of the book of Esther have made me reflect upon my five to six years of high-level involvement in the political realm. Though I honor those who do it as those involved in honorable service, especially those who humbly do it as serving God while serving also their fellow man (and there are such in politics), there really are a lot of troubled people in this field of endeavor. I know — no big revelation there!

I met more than a couple who were “Haman types” relative to our story in Esther — people who reveled in and found their personal meaning in life defined by where they were on the political ladder. No matter where they were or how much they had accomplished that was honorable, they were never satisfied with their place in the pecking order. They were always politicking, always positioning themselves for the next campaign and the next higher office.

It is sort of like the story of John D. Rockefeller being asked when enough money was truly enough, and he said, “Just one more dollar.”  Likewise, gaining value from high position never really quite fully satisfies.

After Haman has the glory of a personal banquet with the king and queen, another banquet scheduled for the next day, along with all else that had gone well for him, we read this …

5:9 Haman went out that day happy and in high spirits. But when he saw Mordecai at the king’s gate and observed that he neither rose nor showed fear in his presence, he was filled with rage against Mordecai. 10 Nevertheless, Haman restrained himself and went home.

Calling together his friends and Zeresh, his wife, 11 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. 12 “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. 13 But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate.”

14 His wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, “Have a pole set up, reaching to a height of fifty cubits, and ask the king in the morning to have Mordecai impaled on it. Then go with the king to the banquet and enjoy yourself.” This suggestion delighted Haman, and he had the pole set up.

Yes, yes, it’s true. There is nothing more honoring than to have a pile of sons. True greatness! The Greek historian Herodotus wrote of the Persians that “Next to prowess in arms, it is the greatest proof of manly excellence to be the father of many sons. Every year the king sends rich gifts to the man who can show the largest number: for they hold that number is strength.”  (At least the Persians had something right!)  Haman had 10 sons (9:7-10).

Really, if you have to call together your friends and wife to have an audience to hear your recitation about how great you are, you’ve got a few issues.

Haman was happy, happy, happy … except for one thing — “that Jew, Mordecai.” And as evidence that his wife and friends were of no better character, they suggest he build a gallows that would be 75 feet high and hang Mordecai upon the king’s authority. Other translations have that it was a pole to impale a person upon as a means of execution. In any event, dead is dead; and the idea of having it high was for everyone to see and be fearful of the power that accomplished such a deed (like Roman crosses on a hill).

It is the general opinion that people of fame and acclaim have the good life. And though there are many elements that involve glamor and alleged good times, there is no shortage of stories as to how this never truly satisfies … stories of loneliness, substance abuse, depression and even suicide by those who would seem to have it all in terms of the world’s scorecard.

It is, as they say, lonely at the top. We see it throughout this story. For example, who could King Xerxes really trust?

One of the great lines of all time is this: that some folks spend their whole life climbing the ladder of success, only to get to the top and discover that it was leaning against the wrong structure.

There is no lasting success or satisfaction of the soul that can be found apart from the peace and settled confidence of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. All else is a vain search that will come up empty. We just need to daily remind ourselves of this truth.

One Advocate is All You Need (I John 2)

Over the course of my ministry career, there have been times when I have needed to testify in court in the midst of a difficult situation, domestic or otherwise. Almost always the judge looks at me with a sad face as if to say, “I’m so sorry you’ve gotten caught in the middle of this and are here today.”

But I’m sure the judge looks a bit less collegial and brotherly to the varied litigants. Going before a judge is a scary thing. And at times when sitting in court rooms, watching other cases adjudicated before mine was called forward, people would stand without official legal representation. And the judge would say something like, “Are you sure you do not want to seek legal counsel before proceeding?”

Imagine you are coming before the judge for a crime you have indeed committed. You know you are wrong and it grieves you greatly for doing the same thing that you’ve done before. Your genuine desire is to change, but the strength to do so is something that fails you at times. It is indeed a scary place to be.

But standing with you is legal representation, an advocate to plead with the judge on your behalf. But this is not just some lawyer you dug up out of the phone book or secured from seeing a cheesy ad on a late-night cable TV station. No, this is actually the son of the judge. And in fact, he found you first before you were even looking for such a representative or realized you had need of an advocate.

As the proceeding advances, the most incredible thing is that you realize that though you have incurred a debt and judgment due to your crime, the price of that has already been paid by your advocate out of his own resource account. You are free to go.

What would you do and how would you feel after that? Would you say to yourself, “Wow, this is a great bottomless pit of payment that enables me to commit any crimes I could ever imagine … So eat, drink and be merry!”  Or would you be so profoundly grateful that you would want to speak the praises of this advocate and share the story with others around you (everyone) who is going to have to visit the same judge at some point.

I think you get the picture. Here is the Scripture …

I John 2:1-2 – My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.