Tag Archives: Esther 8

Structure and Flow

In every province and in every city to which the edict of the king came, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating.
Esther 8:17 (NIV)

Over the past few years, I have served as a mentor to a group of teachers. I will typically review outlines and provide encouragement and advice prior to their message, and then give feedback after the delivery of their messages. It’s been rewarding to watch individuals improve their preparation and presentation skills, and it’s challenged me in a number of unexpected ways. I honestly think I’ve been a better learner than I have a  teacher in the process.

One of the biggest observations I’ve made over my tenure in this role is the importance of structure. If you have a well-ordered structure then your words and ideas have flow. The hearer, almost sub-consciously, follows the flow and ends up right where you want them at the end. Without structure, there is no flow. Transitions are clunky and the hearer gets lost not being able to follow how what you’re saying now related to what you just said before. When an audience is lost they check out. Casual observers rarely appreciate how a great story, song, play, painting, building, sculpture, movie, or presentation is almost always well-structured.

Which brings us to today’s chapter of Esther in which the villain, Haman, has been dispatched. Mordecai, his nemesis, is elevated to Haman’s position and given his possessions. It’s such a good story, but the casual reader does not realize that the story-teller has carefully structured the narrative in what’s known as a “chiastic” style. The author uses the same phrasing in both introducing Haman and then describing Mordecai’s redemption to highlight the reversal of fortune. Commentators Karen Jobes and Janet Nygren help us see the structure:

In the quiet of my office this morning I find myself thinking about structure and flow. The further I get in my life journey the more aware I’ve become that everything is connected. It’s the design of creation. Even a seemingly random sight of trees in a forest has what scientists call a fractal structure. Whether it’s my work, a message I’m giving, a story I’m telling, our weekly schedule, the vacation plan, our meal plan for the week, or how our living room is arranged there is both structure and flow. If I structure things well then things flow better and the results are generally good. If things are disjointed, disconnected, and there’s no real flow, then everything feels unstable and out of whack.

And with that, I enter the structure of my day.

Flow well, my friend.

Chapter-a-Day Esther 8

Purim street scene in Jerusalem
Purim street scene in Jerusalem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The day chosen for this event throughout all the provinces of King Xerxes was March 7 of the next year. Esther 8:12 (NLT)

Each May, the community where I live (Pella, Iowa) has a large festival to honor the Dutch heritage of the town’s founders. Our community of 10,000 will have upwards of 100,000 guests descend upon us to feast, enjoy one of the many parades, see people dressed in traditional Dutch costumes and (if nature cooperates) to enjoy the half-million tulips blooming around town.

When I was small, Memorial Day was a time when I would accompany my Grandma Golly to the cemetery to plant flowers on the graves of family members and to remember them. When our girls were small, my mother took them to the same cemetery to plant flowers on those same graves along with the grave of my grandmother who had stood there with me.

As a lover of history, I like feasts, festivals and commemorations like our annual Tulip Time or the simple act of placing flowers on family graves on Memorial Day. I think it’s great when peoples, families or communities celebrate their heritage or keep a significant historical event alive for subsequent generations.

For those not familiar with the Jewish culture, you may not know that the story of deliverance we’ve been reading in Esther is celebrated each year with a holiday called Purim. The festival’s date is based on the Hebrew lunar calendar, so the date moves on our calendar each year and lands in February or March. In 2013 Purim will be celebrated from sunset February 23 to nightfall on February 24.

The celebration is rooted in four obligations:

  1. Public reading of the story of Esther
  2. Sending gifts of food to friends
  3. Giving charity to the poor
  4. Eating a festive meal

In an age when change happens so rapidly and culture is pressing forward at a break-neck speed, I often wonder if it will become increasingly difficult for future generations to appreciate the past. I personally believe that it is more important than ever for parents and grandparents to instill in children and grandchildren an honor and appreciation for heritage, history and key events of the past that provide a strong foundation in times when both the present and the future seem shaky and uncertain.