Monday, February 9, 2009

Esther Risks Her Life

International Sunday School Lesson
For Week Ending February 15, 2009

Purpose: To understand that commitment to God involves overcoming fear and taking risk for the sake of personal and communal growth.

Scripture Text: Esther 4:1-3, 9-17 (NRSV)

Background: Esther 4 & 5

Esther 4:1-3, 9-17(1)When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went through the city, wailing with a loud and bitter cry; (2)he went up to the entrance of the king’s gate, for no one might enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth. (3)In every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and most of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.

(9) Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. (10)Then Esther spoke to Hathach and gave him a message for Mordecai, saying, (11)‘All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—all alike are to be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden sceptre to someone, may that person live. I myself have not been called to come in to the king for thirty days.’(12)When they told Mordecai what Esther had said, (13)Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, ‘Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. (14)For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.’(15)Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai, (16)‘Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.’ (17)Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.

My Thoughts by Burgess Walter

The book of Esther is a unique book in the Holy Scriptures, it is an amazing story that has everything we look for in a romantic mystery novel, sex, violence, intrigue and romance It also lacks the one thing that we would expect to find in Holy writ, God's name is never mentioned anywhere in this book, but He is definitely at work behind the scenes. The book is only 10 chapters long and can easily be read in an hour.

To put the book in historical context it takes place about 486-465 BC. The nations of Judah and Israel had been in captivity for over 70 years as predicted by Jeremiah. During the reign of King Cyrus in 536 BC he decreed a return by Ezra, Nehemiah and others, the Babylonians have been overthrown by the Persians and Medes. Anyone that wished to, could return to Jerusalem. Many returned but some stayed in Persia or wherever they had been brought. Esther and her cousin Mordecai were some of those that stayed on in the city of Shushan about 150 miles north of the Persian Gulf, on the Ulai River, where Daniel had a vision (see Daniel 8), in modern day Iran.

The conflict in Esther between Mordecai and Haman goes all the way back to Esau and Jacob (see Gen. 36:12) (Ex. 17:14-16) (I Samuel 15:18) King Saul had lost his kingdom because he did not kill Agag, king of Amalek. God had told Moses they would be blotted out of history forever. With the history between the Agagites and the Jews, we can understand why Mordecai would not bow down to Haman.

The short version of this story is Haman got mad at Mordecai because he would not show him respect and decreed that all of the Jews would be slaughtered on a set day. Esther intervenes and Haman is hung on the gallows he had built for Mordecai, but the law of the Persian and Medes can not be changed so another decree goes out allowing the Jews to defend themselves.

Our lesson looks at the maturing of Esther. Between verses 11 and 16, she goes from a passive attitude to a women in charge, and willing to risk her own life for sake of all the Jews. Esther reacted with high morals, spirituality and political savvy. Mordecai's words in verse 13 of our lesson “Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this” was the only challenge Esther needed.

This story is celebrated in Jewish synagogues around the world as the “Feast of Purim.” (purim comes from the casting of lots to set the date of destruction for all of the Jews) A few years ago when I was teaching this lesson, I arranged for our group to attend the Purim celebration at a local synagogue. It is a skit done for the children and every time Haman's name is mentioned there are noise makers and clackers to drown out that name (as God commanded in Ex.) along with boo's and jeers. Conversely whenever Mordicai's name is mentioned there are cheers and celebrations. When the play or skit is over, there is a great feast of traditional Jewish foods. This is an event I would recommend all of you try to attend. Purim this year starts on Tuesday March 10th and last for 2 days. The story of Esther will never be the same after you have experience the “Feast of Purim.” Most synagogues would probably welcome your group.

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