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Friday, June 14th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries

Bell's Commentary on the BibleBell's Commentary

- Esther

by Brian Bell

  1. Intro:
    1. Story: The only survivor of a shipwreck washed up on a small uninhabited island. He cried out to God to save him, and every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming. Exhausted, he eventually managed to build a rough hut and put his few possessions in it. But then one day, after hunting for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky. The worst had happened; he was stung with grief. Early the next day, though, a ship drew near the island and rescued him. “How did you know I was here?” he asked the crew. “We saw your smoke signal,” they replied.
      1. Oh the sweet Providence of God.
    1. When you & I read History we read for the facts, & nothing but the facts.
      1. This History is not one of facts, like most ALL ancient texts.
      2. This is Ancient Story Telling at its finest-It tells History in the form of a story
      3. From our earliest attempts to communicate using language, we tell stories about ourselves & others.
        1. Children first learn to read by stories. (only much later do they learn skills like abstraction)
        2. Storying is a form of communication accessible to most people. [thus, why God revealed Himself in stories]
      4. When we are getting to know someone we ask, “tell me about yourself.”
        1. And, we expect to hear a story that narrates what that person considers to be significant events & experiences in his/her life.
        2. If we ask, “How was your day” we expect a narrative of selected highlights in their day, not, “I inserted my key into the door & it opened...”
        3. With stories we get to know each other. With biblical stories, written under God’s inspiration, we learn about God & His relationship with His people.
          1. When you sit down to read the bible, hear God saying, “Come, hear My story. I’ve selected the most important ones for you to know right now. Regarding who I am & the relationship I desire with you.”
        4. So, with God’s stories, they’re not about bare facts (though they are factual). They are about God promises towards us, about His redeeming us, Him helping us overcome obstacles, for His glory & for His purposes.
    2. The story of Esther consists of 6 sections, revealing a well-constructed literary piece. Ingenious writing tells the story through a flow of events, building suspense to a pivotal point. The problems & tension then cascade downward until all is resolved, yet the final solutions areunexpected. The reader is never bored. (Shepherd’s Notes, Ruth, Esther, pg.42)
    1. Date Written - Events in this book are set in the era of the Persian Empire, sometime between 483-471 b.c.
    2. Extended from Sudan to Pakistan to Greece.B.
    3. Chronologically - Esther comes between the return of a first group of Jews to Judah from Babylon (538 b.c.) and the return of a second group led back by Ezra (458 b.c.).
      1. Esther fits in between Ezra chapters 6 & 7. [a 60 yr. gap]
      2. Esther covers a 10 year time period.
    4. Author – unknown. Some think Mordecai (9:29). Some think Ezra or Nehemiah, because of similar writing styles.
    5. Historical background
      1. Civil war in Israel (divided kingdom) - both sides weren’t walking w/the Lord - So God allowed Assyria take the north (Israel) into captivity; & then Babylon took the south (Judah) away for 70 years.
        1. The Book of Daniel took place there while they were in exile.
      2. Then, Babylon was overpowered by the Medes/Persians.
        1. The Jews were free to return to their land.
        2. Zerubbabel led the 1st group back. Ezra the 2nd. Nehemiah the 3rd.
      3. Our story is about the many Jews who chose to “stay back” in Persia…Did God forget them…No way!
    1. The Place – The story is set in the Persian empire (Iran).
    2. Shushan the citadel:
      1. Shushan – Or Susa (the capital of Persia). Its ruins are located in SW Iran, about 150 miles N of the Persian Gulf. East of the Tigris.
      2. The citadel – A fortified fortress. This palace became the winter residence of later Persian kings.
        1. Most of the action of this book takes place right here in the winter palace.
      3. Archeologists have not recovered documents that mention either Esther or her uncle, Mordecai. But the detailed descriptions of Persian court practices and customs in Esther have been shown to be completely accurate.
    3. The 5 Main Characters
    4. King Ahasuerus – “Lion King” (Smith’s Bible Dict.)
    5. This was Xerxes (Zerk-sees), surnamed Longimanus.
    6. In Persian, "Ardsheer the long-handed;" so called, according to the Greeks, from the extra-ordinary length of his hands, but according to the Easterners, from the extent of his dominions.
    7. Ahasuerus was actually a title, like Pharaoh.
    8. He ascended the Persian throne, B.C. 464, and reigned 41 years.
      1. He is said to have been the most handsome person of his age, and to have been a prince of a very mild and generous disposition.
    9. Note vs.4 – he showed all of his riches & glory for 6 months!
      1. I can show you mine in about 10 minutes! - But really, a man is very poor if he can show you all his glory & wealth in 6 months!
      2. It’ll take eternal ages to begin to fathom the riches of God’s grace/glory that we have
        1. Eph.1:11,18 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance,…that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.
    10. Queen Vashti – Strong willed, independent-minded woman who refuses to cooperate w/her husband’s drunken demands. Quickly whisked off the scene.
    11. Mighty Mordecai – Exposes an assignation plot. Refuses to bow to anyone(Haman). He cared enough to adopt his cousin(Esther). Takes Haman’s place as Prime Minister.
    12. A little Orphan named Myrtle(Esther) –
      1. Hebrew name – Hadassah, or Myrtle (see 2:7)
      2. Persian name – Ester, or Star (Stara) [She’s truly the “star” of our story! - A star is born]
      3. Latin name – Hester; Greek name – Esther
      4. She’s a woman with chutzpah! See 4:16b
      5. Esther’s key to her success was that she was, “blind to the visible(problems) & saw the invisible(God)!”
    13. The Evil Haman
      1. Every story has its Antagonist, prideful Arch-villain.
        1. Here is the Adolph Hitler of the 4th cent bc, as he tried to utterly exterminate the Jews (3:13)
      2. When read by the Jews (even today) you hear the boo, hiss & spin rattles when his name is read.
        1. The book ends with a new feast…Purim…where they do this.
    14. The Plot
      1. Survival of the Jews. They were so close to a Holocaust!
      2. Jew/Jews/Jewish – is used 53 times.
    15. The Purpose
      1. ​​​​​​​To show Gods Sovereignty & His care for His people via His Providence.
      2. Some say God’s Sov. makes people passive?…It makes me Active! - “Lord I want to play, Coach put me in!”
      3. The book of Esther testifies clearly to the “invisible hand of Providence!”
    16. The Key Verse - Read vs. 4:14.
    17. Special Features
    18. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​1 of 2 books named for women (Ruth)
      1. Ruth – A Gentile who married a Jew; Esther – A Jew who married a Gentile.
      2. Both – women of faith & courage.
      3. Both – helped to save the nation of Israel.
      4. Ruth – by birth of a son(Obed, Jesse, David); Esther – by death of an enemy.
    19. Unusual Features
    20. There is 8-10 Feast - And this king knows how to party!
    21. The Name, Title, or a pronoun for God never appears! (no Yahweh/Elohim)
      1. It also doesn’t mention the Mosaic Law, sacrifice, prayer, or revelation.
      2. Not mentioned in the NT. (nor in Dead Sea Scrolls)
      3. Yet, again and again the story told here shows our sovereign God working quietly, behind the scenes, shaping events so that His good purpose for His people is achieved.
      4. So the big question is...Can we grab theology from a book absent of religious language?
        1. Answer: Yes! When it bests suits the author to express theology through the vehicle of story, arranging the events & dialogue to accentuate that theology.
      5. Though His name is not written we see His fingerprints all over it.
      6. Like Shakespeare plays – every page bears testimony to its author.
      7. Or it’s like burnt toast - If your standing in another room you may not see the burnt toast, yet it fills the whole house with its presence!
        1. Though our God is invisible to our eyes he is always present. From the Middle east to Murrieta, from Susa to Temecula.
        2. As we go through this book I don’t care if you learn about Persian history but do learn that God is at work in His people & their lives!
      8. Though He’s Invisible He is never Indifferent - Though Invisible, yet Invincible!
    22. Another important contribution of Esther is to document what happened to the Jews who did not return to Judah.
      1. ​​​​​​​Esther 3:8 shows that they had scattered throughout the empire “among the peoples in all the provinces” of the empire, and that there they kept “themselves separate.”
    1. ​​​​​​​God’s Perfect Work, through Imperfect People!
      1. We’ll see Esther in the midst of a Persian Harem being all dolled up for a sensual night to please a pagan king...where we ask, “What’s a nice Jewish Goyal like you doing in a place like this?”
      2. We’ll see Mordecai, not respecting the authority of Haman & thus putting all the Jews lives at risk.
        1. God’s Perfect Work, through Imperfect People!
    2. Esther answers the question, “Is God only present in Jerusalem?” No, even in the pagan places of godless palaces.
    3. Maybe God used Esther because she was able to ignore her impressive surroundings & listen to the still small voice of Providence.
    4. Read Ps.46:1-3,7,10 (esp.10)
      1. NASB – Cease striving and know that I am God;
      2. N.L.T. - Be silent, and know that I am God!
      3. (10) be still = let your hand drop (2 Sam.24:16). Take your hands off (www). Also means to relax, refrain (Brown Driver Briggs).
        1. “Be still, O troubled heart! The God of the nations. The God of pagan places. The God of impossible situations. The God behind the scenes...is your Father”
      4. 1st trust in His person(10a); then trust in His plan(10b)!
      5. Initially, be quiet – Listen to the whisper of God behind the roar of your circumstances!
      6. Ultimately, be convinced - God may change your circumstances as He did for Esther & Mordecai, but most of all He wants to change YOU!
        1. God IS for you, not against you!
        2. He is working behind the scenes for your highest good!
    5. It answers the question, “Is God only present in Jerusalem?” No, even in the pagan places of godless palaces.
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