The events of Genesis 1:14 – ‘And God said: “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky…
and let them serve as signs to mark seasons, and days and years”’ – obviously happened quite some time before January 2016!
But we can see in the first book of the Bible that even as he created this world, God had a plan for it… one including seasons, days, years. Indeed God’s plan includes our lives – yours and mine. I believe that this new year of 2016 is a significant one of opportunity for us as we hear from God and obey.
Esther and her God-ordained opportunity
But…let’s go back a bit to around 478BC to the Bible book of Esther. It’s a precarious time for the world today but some 2,500 years ago it was a very critical season for Israel – and Esther.
For this beautiful young lady it became a dangerous time that resulted in personal surrender and acting courageously. Not only would Israel be saved but the lineage that ensured the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ would be protected.
Background to the book of Esther
• 2-3 million transported Jews lived in Persia; an empire of 127 provinces; one that stretched from Egypt to India and included Israel.
• Esther lived 60 years after King Cyrus had allowed some 50,000 exiles led by Zerubbabel to return to Jerusalem (537BC).
• Her story is set in Susa (Iran today), in the winter palace of King Xerxes (Greek name, Ahasuerus in the Hebrew).
• The book tells the story of Esther’s commitment – and God’s protection and deliverance of the Jews.
Summary of the main story in the book of Esther
• King Xerxes deposed his wife, Vashti, because she would not obey his drunken command to indecently display her beauty to all the King’s guests at a feast.
• The he searched his empire for beautiful women, and was most pleased with young Esther.
• Esther was a Jew, raised by her older cousin, Mordecai, but kept her Jewish nationality secret.
• With favour the king made Esther queen of the Persian Empire.
• Around that time, Xerxes promoted one of his nobles Haman the Agagite, a descendant of the Amalekites. Historically Amalekites had been sworn enemies of Jews for generations.
• Esther’s cousin, Mordecai, a leading Jewish businessman, refused to give special honour to Haman.
• This enraged Haman. Mordecai became his enemy and Haman plotted to kill not only him but also all Jews across 127 Persian provinces (including Israel).
God rules the world – even today!
From God’s perspective, Haman’s hatred of Mordecai and all Jews was inspired by Satan. Not only did Haman plot against Mordecai but planned genocide on all the Jews.
And so he engineered his stratagem. He influenced Xerxes to sign a decree that ‘a certain people’ throughout all 127 Persian provinces should be killed on a certain day. The king signed this, without knowing he was condemning all the Jews and also his wife Esther.
If that scheme had eventuated it would have wiped out Abraham’s descendants and prevented the promised Messiah (Jesus) from being born as God had intended. This was a spiritual conflict against the overall plan of God.
Today we must be aware that behind many large scale world events is yet another spiritual conflict. Satan still opposes God’s plan to save and restore men, women and children and to bring peace and joy to our troubled world.
Therefore, with confidence in our God we must realise and know that despite unsettling issues worldwide he is still in charge! And that, as he had for Esther, God has a plan for us too to do something good, something important, for him as we follow Jesus and hear directions from the Holy Spirit.
The courage of Esther
Mordecai sent a message to Esther asking her to risk her life and request Xerxes to spare the Jews from extermination. This meant going into the Persian king’s court unsummoned – at the risk of losing her life because of Persian traditions.
At first Esther said she couldn’t do this. To take such action could involve such a great cost. Mordecai responded: ‘If you remain silent, deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place…but who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?’ (Esther 4:14, emphasis mine).
Esther, with faith and courage, decided to act positively, and replied, ‘Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish’ (Esther 4:14).
This brave young lady made a decision to do the right thing. Backed by prayer, she surrendered to doing something not only for her people but for God!
Her courageous decision to surrender and do something resulted in Esther winning the king’s favour. Xerxes was so pleased to see her that he immediately asked, ‘And what’s your desire, Queen Esther? What do you want? Ask and it’s yours – even if it’s half my kingdom!’ (Esther 5:3Mge).
I encourage the reading of this great Bible book – God sovereignly worked out the deliverance of Jews throughout the Persian Empire according to his plan. That schemer Haman was forced to honour Mordecai the Jew. His plot was exposed and he, not the Jews, was executed – on the very gallows he had made for Mordecai!
And Mordecai was promoted to second ruler in the whole Persian Empire. Jews still commemorate all this by the annual Feast of Purim (usually March).
But most importantly Jesus, our deliverer, our redeemer, our Saviour, was born around 470 years later from the descendants of Abraham as had been planned by God.
Christians don’t celebrate Purim. But in March (sometimes April) we celebrate a different feast about deliverance – Easter.
It was with great joy last month we celebrated the miraculous incarnation of Jesus – the remembrance celebration we call Christmas!
What has this true story from biblical history got to do with you and me today?
There are many great lessons to be discovered in the unfolding story of Esther…such as –
• The power of personal and corporate prayer
• The need to act in faith
• Trusting in Almighty God
• The need to be willingness to obey
• The importance of taking a stand
• Miracles causing enemies to be thwarted
• Winning the favour of God and those around us
• Always being aware that no matter how desperate a situation seems, our God is still in control
• The cutting edge of God’s perfect timing
• How God ensures that we are in the right place at the right time – for his purposes!
• Taking courage in the face of adversity.
Let me wrap up this’ mini-Bible study’ with this thought based on these points …
There are significant ‘times’ – or ‘timings’ – in the outworking of God’s overall purposes. 2016 could be such a time for us – for you and I and the church of Jesus Christ. From the beginning, God created ‘times, seasons, days and years.’
I personally believe that 2016 is a significant time – a new year of new opportunities! In this year our churches, you and I individually, can serve the purposes of the Lord, we can achieve something good, something special for God!
But this means that at whatever point God calls us to respond, to be obedient, and to surrender to doing whatever he asks of us, we’ll need to be like Esther. We need to make a positive, definite decision and fearlessly act accordingly, even trusting him with our very lives.
The heart of Mordecai’s prophetic word to Esther regarding her kingdom placement could apply to us today – ’Who knows but that you have come to (your) position (whatever it is or proves to be) for such a time as this?’
May we all, with faith and courage, fully surrender to God, and decide to act, to do that ‘something’ – something meaningful, eventful for God in 2016!
2016!…Now is a good time…to surrender and…do something for God!
Paul Morgan is associate pastor of Waurn Ponds Community Church (CRC), Victoria. Link: firstname.lastname@example.org