Scripture Focus: Esther 8.3, 7-8
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…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.”

Reflection: Cringeworthy?
By John Tillman

You’d be hard pressed to find a Christian or Jew who would express dislike for Esther. However, depending on your political/philosophical bent there are aspects of her story that make one cringe.

Some cringe when Esther is supplicative and submissive—submitting to being one of a harem of wives, throwing herself into servile hospitality and beauty as strategy, and finally, pleading and begging, apologetically before the king, her husband. We want her, instead, to be a modern, powerful, assertive woman.

Some cringe when Esther is powerful and assertive—she is unashamed of her sexuality and uses the power of beauty and seduction, she writes law for a nation, she orders the death of her enemies, she tells the king what to do. We want her, instead, to be a demure princess so we can dress up our daughters like her.

Esther’s culture specifically and biblical culture in general is so foreign to us that we often fail to understand it. Even with years of study and knowledge of cultural facts, we can’t fully understand what living in that culture was like. When we don’t understand biblical culture, we tend to assume the lesson God has for us is that our culture is better. This is always the wrong lesson. Always.

But it is more than just Esther’s brokenness, or that of her culture, that makes us uncomfortable. It is the image of God in her. Esther, like any of us, does not carry the image of God perfectly. But the image of God does make us uncomfortable—even in Christ, the one perfect image of God.

We, like Peter, are uncomfortable with the kneeling, submissive Christ who serves us. We also, like the Pharisees, are uncomfortable with the powerful Christ of Heaven, as described by Stephen before his martyrdom.

Yet Christ is both. And we must accept him completely. And Esther is both. And she deserves to be seen fully. And as we attempt to manifest Christ in our world and to our culture, we must allow the Holy Spirit to bring out in us the fullest picture of who God is.

It is healthy for us to remember that what we admire in biblical heroes and heroines came to them from God. We need not emulate the heroes so much as we need to allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, drawing out of us the shining vestiges of God’s image that are needed.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show me your marvelous loving-kindness, O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand from those who rise up against them.
Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me under the shadow of your wings. Psalm 17.7-8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Esther 8 (Listen -3:41)
Romans 3 (Listen -4:30)

This Weekend’s Readings
Esther 9-10 (Listen -6:15), Romans 4  (Listen -4:08)
Job 1 (Listen -3:38), Romans 5 (Listen -3:53)

Read more about For Such a Time
God calls us to obedience during the dark and the daring moments of our lives. 

Read more about Every Man a King?
Esther, begins with a tale of fragile male ego. What follows is what typically follows after a bruised male ego—overreaction leading eventually to violence. 

Lesson from Xerxes

Scripture Focus: Esther 7.5-6
King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is he—the man who has dared to do such a thing?” Esther said, “An adversary and enemy! This vile Haman!”

Reflection: Lesson from Xerxes

By John Tillman

Racism today is supposedly not acceptable. But it’s quite common if you look around.

Esther stops short of accusing Xerxes of conspiring to kill her race (when that would be a factual argument), however, Xerxes is not painted kindly by the author. Xerxes is portrayed as impulsive, gullible, reactionary, forgetful, and seemingly ignorant of some of his own laws. Xerxes either willingly or out of incompetence participates in ethnic-cleansing for hire when he consents to Haman’s scheme to exterminate the Jewish population. One might argue that Xerxes is only racist by ignorance, not intent. However, whether the misdeeds of powerful kings result from malice or incompetence makes little difference once you are dead.

Haman’s scheme might seem far removed from modern times. But ethnic cleansing and genocide occur with regularity in today’s world. It just doesn’t crack the first page of the news anymore. Many in the past few years have complained that western news organizations provide wall-to-wall coverage of shooting incidents in which relatively small numbers of Americans or Europeans are killed, but rarely cover to the same extent far worse atrocities in Africa or Asia. 

Xerxes has one big mark in his favor that modern leaders could learn from—Xerxes does not react negatively toward those revealing his mistakes and he decisively acts to correct his mistakes. Because of the unique oddities of Persian laws, he can’t simply reverse what he has done, he has to positively act against his previous orders. But he does it. There is no defensiveness. No lashing out at the person confronting him. No doubling down and killing everyone accusing him.

Xerxes does this both when he discovers how deeply deceived he was in Haman and earlier when he discovers that he has neglected to honor Mordecai for saving his life. Oh, that we had more leaders with this kind of integrity! 

Racism is a sin so deeply ingrained in us that it is nearly the last thing to be rooted out by the redemptive reconstruction of the Gospel. But we know the villain’s end is coming. God will bring to completion the good work that he began in us. And that includes crushing out of us the infectious taint of racism. 

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading

Jesus taught us saying: “The lamp of the body is the eye. It follows that if your eye is clear, your whole body will be filled with light. But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be darkness. If then, the light inside you is darkened, what darkness that will be!” — Matthew 6.21-23

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Esther 6
 (Listen -2:08)
Romans 1 (Listen -4:13)

Read more about Racism Wears a Mask
John Wesley points out Esther could have answered Xerxes by saying, “It was you, King!…You not only allowed this to happen, but profited from it!”

Read more about Avoiding Haman’s Petard
If we don’t want to act like Haman, we need to be careful not to be motivated like him, think like him, or speak like hm.

With Friends Like These

Scripture Focus: Esther 6.12-14
Haman rushed home, with his head covered in grief, 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!” While they were still talking with him, the king’s eunuchs arrived and hurried Haman away to the banquet Esther had prepared.

Reflection: With Friends Like These

By John Tillman

It is little wonder that Jews celebrate Purim with melodramas. Haman’s fall is a masterpiece of dramatic ironies. It is too good of a story not to be acted out with some flair. 

When the king asks Haman how to honor someone, Haman assumes it is himself, so Haman’s answers are his own desires. Haman wants to wear the king’s clothes, to ride the king’s horse, to sit in power as the king. But in a reversal of Matthew 7:12 Haman must do unto another what he wanted done unto himself. And not just anyone—to Mordecai!

Haman’s friends and family recognize this as a foreshadowing event—a sign that Haman is doomed. They say, “Well, Mordecai’s Jewish so…of course you are going to lose.” If only they had led with this realization…

Haman’s friends and his wife are worse than no help. They helped him get into this situation.

They endorsed his complaining about Mordecai’s refusal to bow. They supported his self-glorifying bragging. They smiled at his name-dropping about dining with Esther and the King. They encouraged him to wield his governmental influence to have Mordecai killed. They advised him to build the towering pole to impale Mordecai on. Then they blame Haman for having a bad idea to go after a Jew in the first place.

When life starts to crash down around us because of our sins and poor choices, the people who helped us get there, won’t be there to help us out. Like the prodigal son, we have to come to our senses alone in our pig sty. Unfortunately, Haman doesn’t get that chance.

All of us are individually responsible for our actions before God. There are no free passes for having bad friends.The company we keep has a huge effect on the decisions we make and the outcome of our lives. Our friends help us to keep sinning or to repent. Our friends help us to nurse our anger, or to forgive slights against us. Our friends help us to entrench ourselves in our opinions, or to open ourselves to be influenced by facts, reason, and the scriptures. 

May we choose our friends more wisely than Haman.
May we dive deep into the accountability and grace available to us in relationships founded in the church and in God’s Word.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm

Happy are those who act with justice and always do what is right!
Remember me, O Lord, with the favor you have for your people, and visit me with your saving help… — Psalm 106.3-4

Today’s Readings

Esther 6 (Listen -2:40)
Romans 1 (Listen -5:56)

Read more about The Mingled Prayers of Exiles
Lord, we pray today as the exiles prayed, with mingled sorrow and joy.

Read more about The Exodus and The ReturnI
n the return from Babylon, freedom comes slowly over generations and is accomplished by faithful obedience.

Avoiding Haman’s Petard

Scripture Focus: Esther 5.13-14
But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate.” 
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. 

Reflection: Avoiding Haman’s Petard

By John Tillman

The set up leading to Haman’s demise builds an extremely dramatically satisfying tension. 

Haman is metaphorically “hoisted by his own petard,” as Hamlet would say. Hamlet’s phrase referred not to being raised up on a pole but to being blown up by one’s own explosive device. (A “petard” was a small explosive used to breach doors or castle walls.)

What led to Haman blowing up his life? If we find ourselves thinking in these Haman-like ways, we are lighting a fuse towards Haman-like actions that will blow up in our faces.

Haman took things personally. Haman’s path to hatred was hatched based on an action which he interpreted as disrespect. (Esther 3.3-5) Mordecai would not kneel. In doing this, Mordecai was disobeying the king’s order, and seems to have defended himself to the other nobles by appealing to his Jewish heritage. Mordecai’s act of civil disobedience probably had nothing to do with Haman personally. But Haman made it about him and sought to punish his non-compliance. 

When we take other’s expressions of faith as personal attacks, we are thinking like Haman.

Haman equated the individual with the group. Rather than deal with Mordecai individually, Haman applied his hatred of Mordecai to all of the Jews. (Esther 3.6)

When we allow personal dislike or conflict to grow into generalizations and stereotypes about groups, we are thinking like Haman.

Haman demanded disproportionate “justice.” (Esther 5.13-14) Even if one agreed that Mordecai’s actions were disrespectful, Haman demanded disproportionate punishment for the offense. His vengeful desires are outsized in both scale (wanting to exterminate all Jews, not just Mordecai) and severity (wanting to impale Mordecai on a pole for a comparatively minor infraction.) This is similar to “cancel culture” today, in which online trolls seek to make someone who has offended them unemployable pariahs for life. 

When we seek disproportionate revenge, we are thinking like Haman.

It might seem like too easy of a lesson to not be like Haman. After all, he was an explicitly racist, genocidal maniac. Right? Haman didn’t think so. Haman would have described himself as a patriot and a faithful government servant. After all, Haman just wanted Mordecai to follow the law. 

“It’s fine to be Jewish. Just do it legally,” Haman might have said. 
Haman says, “Be respectful.” 
Haman says, “Be grateful.” 
Haman says, “Bow.”

If we don’t want to act like Haman, we need to be careful not to be motivated like him, think like him, or speak like him.

Image: Esther Denouncing Haman, by Ernest Normandpublic domain

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
…I am small and of little account, yet I do not forget your commandments.
Your justice is an everlasting justice and your law is the truth.
Trouble and distress have come upon me, yet your commandments are my delight.
The righteousness of your decrees is everlasting, grant me underansing, that I may live. — Psalm 119.141-144

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Esther 5 (Listen -2:42)
Acts 28 (Listen -4:56)

Read more about A Prayer for the Hurting
Esther had her triumph from you; you procured the downfall of Haman. You brought us from darkness to eternal light…

Read more about The Honor of Faith
I suppose you think it a high honor to be admitted into an earthly prince’s private council—to be trusted with his secrets, and to have his ear at all times and at all seasons. It seems Haman thought it so when he boasted.

The Purpose of Power

Scripture Focus: Esther 4.13-14
Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” 

Luke 12.48
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Reflection: The Purpose of Power

By John Tillman

The idea that the rich can’t be bought is a fallacy. In some cases, saying the rich can’t be bought is like saying an alcoholic won’t want another drink.

Xerxes, the emperor and the richest man in any room, signs off on the killing of the Jews without even knowing who they are due to what amounts to a large bribe. Even though the king says to Haman, “Keep the money,” the rest of the book indicates that Haman paid it or intended to pay it. (Esther 3.11; 4.7; 7.3-4)

Despite the corruption of the government, Mordecai has faith that help will arise. But he does not simply wait and hope. Mordecai puts his faith into action, prompting Esther to use her access to power on behalf of others. Esther’s concerns of danger and personal risk don’t dissuade Mordecai. As much as Mordecai loves Esther like a daughter, part of his message to her is chilling—you won’t be safe. 

Mordecai assures Esther that her privileged position won’t save her. As confident as Mordecai is that God will act to save his people, he is also confident that God will act in judgment against those who stand by and watch as the helpless are crushed.

After prayer and fasting, Esther’s concerns for her own life disappear and her purpose is clarified. The purpose of Esther’s power is to serve others. So it is with us. (Luke 12.48)

God’s help will arise for the oppressed. When there is suffering, when there is oppression, when there is distress in the land and leaders who callously allow people to die for profit, God will move. The only question is, will the people of God join him?

As we observe our community and our country, let us open our eyes as Esther’s eyes were opened to the dangers, suffering, and oppression around us.
Let us humbly consider how privileged we are and know in our hearts that God will not hold us innocent for failing to care for the poor and downtrodden.
Let us place our security and our lives in God’s hands as Esther did, and let us boldly step in front of the powerful who are doing wrong and say, “stop this.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Let your ways be known upon earth, your saving health among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,  for you judge the peoples with equity and guide all the nations upon earth. — Psalm 67.1-4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Esther 4 (Listen -2:53)
Acts 27 (Listen -6:09)

Read more about In Denial about Greed and Power
Ezekiel’s purposely shocking parable is intended to connect the established shame of sexual sins to the sins Israel was unashamed of—greed and pursuit of power.

Read more about The Exodus and The ReturnT
he testimony of Ezra tells us that kings come and go, but it is the Lord who is our only hope and protector.

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