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.

Every Man a King?

Scripture Focus: Esther 1.22
He sent dispatches to all parts of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in their own language, proclaiming that every man should be ruler over his own household.

Reflection: Every Man a King?
By John Tillman

It is quite fitting that a book titled for it’s heroine, Esther, begins with a tale of fragile male ego. In what amounts to not answering her husband’s Facebook event invite, Vashti commits what, to the assembled, powerful men of the land was a grievous wrong. She says, “no.”

What follows is what typically follows after a bruised male ego—overreaction leading eventually to violence. In any era, including our own, powerful men being snubbed at a party can set off a chain of events that threatens an entire population, but in the ancient world of monarchs it was inevitable.

Xerxes, who on the outside seems the most powerful person in the story, is shown in many ways to be the weakest. He is ruler of half the known land mass of the world, but spends the entire narrative beset by and tied up in, reactionary (and irreversible) laws. Some of them of his own making.

Xerxes is obsessed with what happens to himself. His ego can’t tolerate being disobeyed in even the slightest way. When snubbed, he looks to legislation rather than to relationships as both punishment and final solution.

The idea of “every man a king” does not come exclusively from this verse, but it is an early iteration of the concept and a desperate attempt by men to maintain ungodly power over women who are, together with men, bearers of the image of God.

The legislation that ends Chapter one is the desperate shutting of the door on an already empty barn. It is descriptive—telling us of the foolish actions of men. It is not prescriptive—telling us how men should deal with women. The authors of the “every man a king” law are the bumbling fools of the story, not the heroine.

And the next step taken, to replace Vashti, is the first step in bringing to power a woman who will do something more unusual than refuse the king’s presence. Esther will command Xerxes attention instead. She will condemn to death men close to him. She will issue commands to the leaders of his people and change the course of history.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Righteousness shall go before him, and peace shall be a pathway for his feet. — Psalm 85.13

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

Today’s Readings
Esther 1 (Listen -4:14)
Acts 24 (Listen -4:11)

This Weekend’s Readings
Esther 2 (Listen -4:31), Acts 25 (Listen -4:40)
Esther 3 (Listen -3:12), Acts 26 (Listen -5:17)

Read more about Faith Requires Humility
One reason faith is so difficult for today’s culture is that we devalue humility. And faith cannot exist without humility.

Read more about Humble, Welcoming Servants :: A Guided Prayer
We confess to you, Lord…Just like the twelve…we are concerned about being number one. We argue and attempt to dominate one another.

Forward-Looking Remembering

Scripture: Esther 9:20-22
Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, to have them celebrate annually… the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and… 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.

Reflection: Forward-Looking Remembering
By Jon Polk

A visit to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. is a testament to the significant power of memory. In the heart of the United States’ capital are numerous monuments dedicated to the memory of great historical figures – Lincoln, Washington, King and others – and significant human sorrows – World War II, the Vietnam War, the Holocaust. Standing in front of the impressive white marble statue of the great American president Abraham Lincoln, one cannot help but be overwhelmed with a sense of history that goes far beyond the memory of personal life experiences.

Many of us have our own memorials in a prominent place in our home: the refrigerator door. There on that sleek magnetic surface, the faces of family and friends stare back at us from treasured moments that have come and gone. There, kindergarten artwork is treated like a rare, priceless Van Gogh. There we find notes and cards that remind us of the ones we love.

At the conclusion of the story of Esther, her uncle Mordecai instructs the Jews to annually celebrate by remembering the attempted genocide and their escape from it. This inaugurates the Jewish Festival of Purim, a memorial of the time when sorrow turned to joy and mourning to celebration.

Remembering is not “living in the past” or “longing for the good ole days,” instead it informs our hope for a future that God has for us. At Purim, the Jews were to look back to the story of Esther and their deliverance in order to look forward to find a hope for their future. This remembering caused them to not only feast and celebrate, but also to give gifts to the poor. Memory of God’s favor on us should compel us to share that same grace with others.

It is often noted that Esther is the one book in the Bible where God is not specifically mentioned. Reading the story with the benefit of hindsight reveals that God was indeed present and working behind the scenes.

We would be wise to regularly recall God’s intervention and provision in our own lives, giving thanks and praise for how God has delivered us and cared for us, especially in those times when we may have not been able to immediately recognize his presence.

What spiritual memories are we hanging on the refrigerator doors of our hearts that we look to regularly for hope and to say, “Thanks be to God”?

The Greeting
Your testimonies are very sure, and holiness adorns your house, O Lord, forever and for evermore. — Psalm 62.6

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Esther 9 (Listen – 5:34)
Romans 4 (Listen – 4:08)

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