OAKRIDGE BIBLE CHAPEL

Esther: If I Perish, I Perish

I have always been a lover of hero stories. I love stories about people who face what appear to be difficult odds and somehow manage to come out victors! There are more such heroes than you might think. For example: 1] you might remember Eric Marcioni of Montreal. He noticed a speeding car which was being pursued by police. The car was heading for an intersection where numerous pedestrians were in danger. Marcioni drove his SUV into the intersection using his SUV as a barrier. He lost his SUV but saved many lives. 2] You might have heard of Sara Picard, a 17 year old girl from B.C. She saw a man accosting a woman. Ran to the scene – separated the man from the woman ultimately saving the woman’s life. Or, 3] you might have heard of Russel Fee who ‘bare handed’ broke up a wolf attack at a neighbouring camp site. 

Yes, there are a lot more heroes than you might think! And many of those heroes, until that one moment, were just ordinary people like you and me. 

Of course, it is not just the newspapers that are full of these kinds of stories – the Bible is full of them too. We think of David and Goliath. We think of Jonathan and the Philistines. We think of Daniel in the lion’s den. We think of Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego and the furnace. We think of Samson—the list could go on!

But today, I want us to focus on a woman—a woman by the name of Esther. In Persian her name means “STAR”. In Hebrew her name is MYTLE. If you are a serious Jew—you know this story. It is a source of great happiness and is read every year at the Feast of Purim. If you are a Christian, you might not be quite so familiar with the story. 

SERMON MANUSCRIPT

I have always been a lover of hero stories. I love stories about people who face what appear to be difficult odds and somehow manage to come out victors! There are more such heroes than you might think. For example: 1] you might remember Eric Marcioni of Montreal. He noticed a speeding car which was being pursued by police. The car was heading for an intersection where numerous pedestrians were in danger. Marcioni drove his SUV into the intersection using his SUV as a barrier. He lost his SUV but saved many lives. 2] You might have heard of Sara Picard, a 17 year old girl from B.C. She saw a man accosting a woman. Ran to the scene – separated the man from the woman ultimately saving the woman’s life. Or, 3] you might have heard of Russel Fee who ‘bare handed’ broke up a wolf attack at a neighbouring camp site. 

Yes, there are a lot more heroes than you might think! And many of those heroes, until that one moment, were just ordinary people like you and me. 

Of course, it is not just the newspapers that are full of these kinds of stories – the Bible is full of them too. We think of David and Goliath. We think of Jonathan and the Philistines. We think of Daniel in the lion’s den. We think of Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego and the furnace. We think of Samson—the list could go on!

But today, I want us to focus on a woman—a woman by the name of Esther. In Persian her name means “STAR”. In Hebrew her name is MYTLE. If you are a serious Jew—you know this story. It is a source of great happiness and is read every year at the Feast of Purim. If you are a Christian, you might not be quite so familiar with the story. 

Let’s just say at this point that this little book of Esther is a work of art. It is a literary beauty. But we are not here to study literary format, though it is something I love to do. We are here to understand this story and then to see the implications for our lives and our world. So, let’s turn our attention to the simple story!

A Simple Story

Now for those who know the story very well – this will just be a reminder of the details. If, on the other hand, you have not read the story – let me acquaint you with it. 

The story begins with a big party, a really big party. The King of Persia is entertaining the nobility of his Kingdom. They have been partying for quite a while when the King decides that it is a good idea to show off his trophy wife Vashti. Vashti does not want to be treated as mere object, a show girl. She refuses to come and display her beauty. Her behavior sets off a major dilemma for the men of Persia. After all, what would happen if all the Persian wives acted in this fashion? What is to be done with a wife who refuses to do as she is told? 

It is decided that this behavior cannot be tolerated – Vashti will be removed as Queen and a replacement will be found. A major search begins throughout all of Persia for a new Queen. We do not know how many candidates are found but evidently it is quite a few. Each woman will have a year to get ready for her meeting with the king. As you can guess – Esther is one of the girls who will have an opportunity to win over the king. Esther is the successful bachelorette. 

So the first part of the story tells us how Esther got into the King’s palace and his life. It tells us a couple of more things. It tells us that she has a cousin by the name of Mordechai. He has raised Esther.  It tells us that Esther  is a Jew. And, it tells us that Mordecai sits near the palace gates and there he learns of a plot to kill the king. He reports the plot to Esther who reports the plot to the King. Mordecai’s loyalty is recorded in the annals of the King. Keep that little detail in the back of your mind. 

Our attention turns now to the second part of the story. We meet a new character by the name of Haman. The more you know of him, the less you like him. He is a very important and powerful and devious man. Second only to the king, if you will. 

He expects to be honoured.  But Mordecai will not bow to Haman. Haman begins to hate Mordecai. Ultimately, his hatred for Mordecai will turn into hatred for the Jews in general. He will seek to annihilate the Jews. But of course, this would now put Queen Esther at risk since she is a Jew. But remember, the king does not yet know that Esther is a Jew. 

Haman now seeks to eliminate the Jews! He goes to the king to get permission to enact this genocide. The king approves of the plan. The Jews will be eliminated. But –

Mordecai learns of this plot and he shares it with Esther. She is a Jew what shall she do. It is not a simple thing!!!  To approach the king uninvited is to risk death. It is here that the famous statement comes up – “if I perish, I perish”. She will go to the king. The king welcomes her!!!

She has a request and the request is a simple one. Would the King and Haman come to a banquet that she has prepared? They will! And at that banquet she will make a request that they come back the next evening where she will make another banquet. For Haman it doesn’t get any better!!! Eating with the King and the Queen. But there is still the matter of Mordecai! Haman and his wife and his sons all decide – just put Mordecai to death. Hang him! This is the plan. 

But things change fast in the book of Esther. While Haman is planning the death of Mordecai – the King cannot sleep. He decides that the cure for insomnia is to read history. As the annals are being read to him – he comes to the part where Mordecai had saved his life by warning him of the planned assassination. What had been done for Mordecai? What should be done for Mordecai? At just that point Haman arrives at the palace. The King asks him a question – what is to be done for the man the king wishes to favour? Haman is sure that he is the one that the king wants to favour so he sets out a lavish plan: put on him a kings robe, let him ride on a kings horse, let someone lead the horse and the man through the city streets and call out before him – this is what is done for the man that the king delights to honour. 

The king tells Haman that his plan is a great plan! He should do that for Mordecai! He must honour the man he hates! Talk about fate. Talk about coincidence. Talk about reversal. 

But the story is not done. 

Haman must eat with the Queen and the King that evening. And at the feast the king will ask Esther – what is your request? Her request is simple. Save my life!  Save my peoples’ lives. My people have been assigned to destruction and annihilation!!!

The King asks – who did this? There is no escape for Haman. Esther tells the King that Haman is that man! In his hot anger the king goes out on the porch to clear his head. Back in the room – Haman knows he is as good as a dead man. He is begging Esther for his life. As he is begging he falls onto the couch where Esther is reclining. At just that moment – the king returns! It is not good. Haman will die. He will die on the gallows that he built for Mordecai. 

The end of the story is quite simple. On the day that the Jews were to die – the enemies of the Jews will die. 

That is the story!!! And, as I mentioned earlier – it is an incredibly well shaped story. It has parallelisms. It has duplication. It has irony. It has reversal. All of these mechanisms move the plot along. 

But, there is something strange about this book of Esther. You might have felt it as I was telling the story: It just seems all so secular! Indeed – it does!

It is a Secular Story

When you read this story – you are hunting for something spiritual but you don’t find many verses that you could build your spiritual life on! Only two verses out of 9 chapters:  “for such a time as this” and “if I perish, I perish”. Not much else. 

Think of it this way: 

            1] no mention of prayer

            2] no mention of the Temple

            3] no mention of God

And, that is just a starter. The book is filled with:

            1] sensuality

            2] drinking

            3] partying

            4] scheming – plotting

            5] ethnic hatred

            6] revenge

            7] chance and chaos

How did this story ever get into the Bible? It is secular to the core! Come to think of it, Esther’s world and our world look pretty much the same don’t they?

1] sensuality

2] drinking

3] partying

4] scheming – plotting

5] ethnic hatred

6] revenge

7] chance and chaos

Secular to the core! But then, maybe it is not quite so secular at the core! Let’s go back to the Esther story! No Temple! No Prayer! No God? Nothing but chance and chaos! REALLY? Do you really believe that?

1] Vashti has a bad hair day by chance?

2] Esther ends up in the king’s palace by chance?

3] Do you really believe that Mordecai hears about the assassination plot by chance?     

4] Do you really believe that the king can’t sleep by chance and so is reminded of Mordecai’s warning?

5] Do you really believe that Haman walks into the palace by chance just when the king is wanting to reward Mordecai?

6] Do you really believe that Haman falls onto Esther’s couch by chance?            

And all of a sudden it dawns on you that it is not chance, it is not chaos, IT IS GOD! He may be hidden, but he is present! As Karl Jung put it: Bidden or not, He is present. 

Spiritual Lesson #1: God is in Control

That is the first important spiritual lesson we get in this book of Esther. GOD IS PRESENT. GOD IS IN CONTROL.  In the midst of change. In the midst of chaos. In the midst of New Normal[s]. In the midst of Covid. In the midst of sexual upheaval. In the midst of Financial Revolution. In the midst of social unrest. There is a constant: I AM THE LORD, I CHANGE NOT (Mal 3:6)! Or as Nebuchadnezzar puts it – “he moves among the armies of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth and no one can stop him or say to him “what are you doing”!!! [Daniel 4]

It is the story of Psalm 23 – even though you walk in valley of the Shadow of Death – God is with you.  Or as the disciples of Jesus learned – as long as Jesus is in the boat – there is no problem. 

Jesus is in the boat. God is present. But, there is a second lesson. 

Spiritual Lesson #2: God Raises Up Heroes

In this story about Esther – there is no reason to believe that either Mordecai or Esther were people of renown! True – she is blessed with Beauty. He is blessed with wisdom and managerial skills. But they are relative nobodies. Foreigners in a powerful kingdom. They have no position. They have no power. They have no status. 

Just as the presence of God is hidden in the book of Esther – so is the spirituality of Mordecai and Esther. We know almost nothing of their spiritual lives. Remember – No temple! No prayer! It is a secular mess!

But in the middle of that secular mess there are two people who trust God.  Mordecai knows that God will send deliverance for His people! And Esther is willing to lay down her life for God’s people. In the midst of crisis – Esther and Mordecai stand for God. And, IN THAT MOMENT WHEN THEY STAND THEY BECOME HEROES FOR GOD AND CHANGE THE DESTINY OF A NATION! Ordinary people who become extraordinary!!!

Most Bible scholars point to the fact that the Esther story is simply the Joseph story retold. It is the Daniel story retold. It is the Nehemiah story retold. It is the story of God raising up heroes in Godless situations. It is as God says to Asa – the eyes of the Lord roam to and fro though all the earth looking for godly people he may fully support. 2 Chron. 16:9

If ever we needed Godly heroes – it is now. If ever we needed men and women to stand for God, it is now. 

But there is a third lesson.

Spiritual Lesson #3: God keeps Promises

I am not going to spend much time on this issue but when you are in the Old Testament you must keep in mind the promise God made to Abraham. I will bless those who bless you. I will curse those who curse you. Haman is proof. He hates Abraham’s descendants. He will curse them. He will exterminate them. But in the end- he will be cursed. He will be exterminated. 

God keeps promises. And there is one other spiritual lesson that we see in the book of Esther. 

Spiritual Lesson #4: God Finishes Business

Now this lesson is a little more difficult to see. It is difficult to see because you need to know some Jewish history to see what is going on. And you need to pay some attention to information that seems of little importance. In this case – the information you need to pay attention to is genealogical.

For example we are told of Haman that he is a descendant of Agag. 3:1. In chapter 2:5 we are told about Mordecai. He is from the tribe of Benjamin. He is a descendant of Kish. Now these two names remind us of a time in Israel’s history when King Saul, of the tribe of Benjamin, the son of Kish, was to eliminate the Amalekites whose King was Agag. 

The Amalekites had been the first nation to attack Israel on the Exodus. They are under God’s judgment. However – if you remember the story. Saul did not do what God told him to do. As a result – he will be removed as King of Israel. But the business with the Amalekites is unfinished business – until the time of Esther. Around 600 years have passed. But God’s judgment stands. Now, Mordecai, descendant of Kish will finish the job. Haman the descendant of Agag and his kin will be judged. 

God finishes what he starts!!!

So, what does this Esther story mean to you and me today?

First it reminds us that no matter what it looks like on the surface – God is in control. 

Secondly, it reminds us that we can trust God. He finishes what he starts and He keeps His promises. 

Thirdly, it reminds us that ordinary people like you and me who choose to trust God and stand against evil can be transformed in a moment to become heroes in the advancement of God’s kingdom. 

May God give us the courage to stand!!!



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