Thursday, August 18, 2011

August 18- The Power of Providence

August 18, 2011

Scripture Reading:
Esther 1:1-3:15; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34;
Psalm 35:17-28; Proverbs 21:19-20

Neutrality is no favorite with Providence, for we are so formed that it is scarcely possible for us to stand neuter in our hearts, although we may deem it prudent to appear so in our actions. 
~Charles Caleb Colton

Esther 1:1-3:15

I always thought that the book of Esther was a story about a beautiful woman.  I was wrong.  This is a story about a beautiful God and the beauty of His Providence.  What is Providence? Providence is defined as, "The care, guardianship, and control exercised by a deity.  Divine protection."  This is the story of God protecting the Jews, even though this particular group of Jews have chosen not to return to the Promised Land. The amazing thing is that the book of Esther never mentions the name of God.  This is the nature of God's Providence.  Even if people are going about their business from day to day without ever acknowledging the existence of God, He is still directing the events of history.  His hand is ever upon us.

Let's get some background before we begin to analyze this story.  This book is probably written by Mordecai.  We will meet him in the story.  At this time in the history of the nation of Israel, the Southern Kingdom has been taken into captivity by Babylon.  (Remember that the Northern Kingdom was previously taken into captivity by the Assyrians.) The Babylonian Empire has subsequently been defeated by the Persians, and now we are reading about the Empire of the Medes and Persian.  The Jews have settled nicely into their captivity.  They are prosperous members of society, even though they are foreigners.  After seventy years in captivity, Zerubbabel leads a group of Israelites back to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple.  This effort has the blessing of the Persian King Cyrus.  A number of years later, Ezra returns and revival occurs. Then, Nehemiah gets the permission from Artaxerxes to go back and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.  Esther is a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah.  She is also a contemporary of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah.

While the books of Ezra and Nehemiah contain much information about the remnant of the Jews who return to Jerusalem (approximately 60,000) and worship God through reading the Scriptures, prayer, and rebuilding God's Temple, the book of Esther never even mentions God by name.  This is the picture of the fifteen million Jews who were unwilling to follow God's command to reoccupy the Promised Land.  These are the people who have chosen to live out of God's will and make due with their own gifts and talents, apart from direction from their Creator.  Do you know anyone who lives their life this way?  Do you know people who act as if God is not even around?

We learn from this story that even if you think God is not involved in your life, He is.  God's Providence directs this material world.

By the way, if your Bible calls King Xerxes by the name of Ahasuerus, this is simply a title like the title Caesar.  His real name is Xerxes.  As our story begins, we learn that Xerxes is a powerful king who rules the lands from India to Ethiopia. He is ruling from the capital city of Susa.  His wealth and power are displayed when he decides to have a six-month long celebration to display his wealth and opulence.  Everything is decorated beautifully with fine cloth and mosaic tiles of marble, pearl and costly stones.  The goblets are made of gold and the wine is flowing freely. 

During the seventh day of the banquet, Xerxes gets drunk and decides to call in his Queen Vashti, who is also throwing a banquet for the women, to come before all of the men wearing her royal crown so that the men can gaze (lust) upon her beauty.  Vashti refuses.  Good for her.  Needless to say, Xerxes is furious and burns with anger.  Upon consulting his advisers, Xerxes decides to divorce Vashti and banish her from his presence.  The king, and his princes and advisers are hoping to teach all women in the kingdom a lesson about obeying their husbands. The subsequent proclamation sent out from the king across his vast empire notes that every man should be the ruler of his home.  We see that men needing the respect of their wives is an ancient need.  There is truly nothing new under the sun.

In God's Providence, Vashti is banished from being queen and coming before the king and the court again. Xerxes is left without a beautiful queen by his side.  It is decided that there will be a search for a new queen from among the virgin women of the empire.  The search will be based on physical beauty.  Really?  Men choosing women based on physical beauty?  What a novel approach...  Young virgins from each province will be brought to Susa and put into the royal harem, where they will receive beauty treatments for twelve months! 

A Jew named Mordecai, who has adopted his orphaned cousin Esther, encourages Esther to enter the contest. Esther's name means "star" and she really was a star.  As she enters the harem, she is favored by Hagai, the man in charge of the harem. Neither Esther or Mordecai reveal to anyone that they are Jewish.  After her twelve months of beauty treatments, Esther is taken to the king's bed, going in with the jewelry and clothing suggested by Hagai, who favors her.  Upon seeing her, Xerxes sets the royal crown on her head.  Again, God's hand is moving in this situation. It should be noted that this was a risky situation.  If the king rejected a girl, she was doomed to live in his harem for the rest of her life. This would mean never marrying or having a family of her own. 

Mordecai conveniently becomes a palace official and eventually prevents a plot to assassinate the king. His good deed is recorded in the annuls of the king.  Coincidence that he is at the city gate and overhears the plot?  I think not.  It's Providence.

Now, we meet the villain in the story.  Haman is a character like Hitler.  He has a thirst for power and a hatred for the Jews.  When asked to bow down to Haman, who is essentially the prime minister of the Empire, Mordecai, the Jew, refuses.  This infuriates Haman, who decides to punish Mordecai by destroying all of the Jews in the Empire.  Haman is planning a holocaust.  Haman convinces the king that when they destroy these people (Jews), they will be able to seize their assets and add the money to the royal treasury to pay for military pursuits.

With power from the king's signet ring, Haman creates the decree for the Jews destruction, and it is sent to every province in the kingdom. The city of Susa falls into confusion because the Jews are prominent citizens in the kingdom.

Lessons:  The Jews have a history of prosperity and success, even when they are not in their own land. The Jews fall into persecution and Satan attacks them throughout history.  God's hand moves to protect the Jewish people for His good purposes, even when they are out of His will.  God's Providence can protect believers, even when we are out of His will.

Do you recognize the Providential hand of God in the universe today?  The founding fathers of America referred to God as "Providence" in recognition of this fact.

1 Corinthians 11:17-34

Have you ever dealt with a really immature person?  They just don't seem to get that their behavior is inappropriate?  This is what Paul is dealing with in Corinth.  Today, Paul is asking the Corinthians to honor the sacrament of the Lord's Supper with dignity and proper reverence.  Apparently, the Corinthians were using it as an opportunity to pig out and get drunk.  Really? Please, people.

Paul encourages the Corinthians to examine themselves before they partake of the Lord's Supper. If one takes the bread or drinks the cup in an unworthy fashion, that person is dishonoring the body of Christ.  This results in eating and drinking God's judgment upon oneself.  The Lord's Supper is not about pigging out to satisfy a person's temporal hunger. It is about confessing one's sins, getting right with God, and renewing one's faith by remembering work of Christ.  When a person takes communion, they are acknowledging that they are sustained by the Bread of Life, which is Jesus.  They drink his death and resurrection when they drink his blood, which is the life in each body.  A person partakes of his death and resurrection in the Communion ceremony.  This is to be done with reverence and humility.

Do you take the Lord's Supper with the proper attitude of remembrance?  This is a good reminder to all of us.

Psalm 35:17-28

Think of the Jews being under a death threat from Haman as you read this psalm today.

Proverbs 21:19-20

"It is better to live alone in the desert than with a crabby and complaining wife."  Ouch.  Hope I am not thought of in this way!

What did you learn today?  Please share.


Jubilee Gal
Kathy Fullerton
© 2011

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