Tag Archives: Esther 9

“If You Only Knew What it was Like….”

Meanwhile, the remainder of the Jews who were in the king’s provinces also assembled to protect themselves and get relief from their enemies. They killed seventy-five thousand of them but did not lay their hands on the plunder.
Esther 9:16 (NIV)

This past weekend I attended my 35th high school reunion. It’s only the second reunion that I’ve attended and it was a lot of fun to catch up with old classmates and where their life journeys have taken them. I walked to Kindergarten with some of these people. We played Kick-the-Can, Freeze Tag, and Ding-Dong Ditchem’ as children and experienced all the awkwardness of adolescence together. It was especially sobering for me to see the table of memorials to all classmates who have already passed, and to recall moments and life events I experienced with each of them. It was strange to have such vivid memories with these amazing individuals from my childhood and to realize that so much time has passed. One of the common conversations that evening was how our children (and now grandchildren) have no concept of what everyday life was like for us.

I found myself expanding that thought to a macro-level this morning as I read the chapter. It’s been a while since this chapter-a-day journey took me into such a bloody text. It is difficult for this twenty-first century, enlightened Western mind to get my head wrapped around such bloodshed and carnage. I’ve observed along the way that we have a penchant in our modern culture to whitewash, rewrite, or simply ignore certain aspects of history, including the brutal violence which was an everyday part of the culture in ancient days. “Kill or be killed” was the way of life and survival for most tribes and people groups.

In today’s chapter, I found it fascinating that Xerxes did not seem to bat an eye at the destruction of Esther’s enemies. But, I have to remember that his father, Cyrus, established the Persian Empire and became the world’s first “superpower” by destroying a lot of people. Xerxes had a reputation for holding onto that power and his Empire by brutally suppressing any kind of rebellion against him and his kingdom. Again, it was simply the way of life during that period of history.

There are two things happening in today’s chapter that are often lost on the casual reader. The first connects to something I pointed out the other day. The face-off between Mordecai (descendant of King Saul’s tribe of Benjamin) and Haman (descendant of King Agag of the Amalekites) is a historical rematch. In the first round (see 1 Samuel 15), Saul did not complete the task of wiping out Agag and his followers. In today’s chapter, the destruction of Haman and his followers was historically perceived by the Hebrews as righting an old wrong that Saul should have completed.

Second, while Xerxes’ proclamation gave the Hebrews permission to plunder their enemies, you’ll notice the text clearly points out that they chose not to do so. Again, this is further evidence that the events of today’s chapter were perceived as righting the wrongs of Saul, who was forbidden from plundering King Agag and the Amalekites but did so anyway. The story of Esther is layered with the theme of reversals: the reversal of fortunes, the reversal of specific events, and the reversal of past wrongs.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about the march of time. Based on conversations this past weekend, I and my classmates clearly wish that our children could understand what life was like for us:

  • “If you only knew what it was like without smartphones.”
  • “If you only knew what it was like to write a research paper on a daisy-wheel typewriter without the internet, Google, or Wikipedia.”
  • “If you only knew what it was like to walk a mile to school every day in the winter.”
  • “If you only knew what it was like to be at college and communicate with your parents once a week (at most) because they didn’t want to pay for the collect call.”
  • “If you only knew what it was like to be expected to get a paper route and start working as soon as you were 11 or 12 years old.”

In the same way, I imagine Mordecai and Esther inviting me to take off my modern, rose-colored glasses and to attempt to see beyond my politically correct horror at the violence of their time in history.  I imagine them beckoning me to try and imagine what it was like to live in the “kill or be killed” realities they experienced every day when there was no other choice. “If you only knew what it was like,” I hear them say, “to walk in our sandals as exiles and captives in a foreign land surrounded by enemies bent on killing us.”

I don’t think it’s fully possible, but I’ve found it worth the effort to try. The stories of history have secrets to teach me; Secrets that provide wisdom for my own life journey, and for the journeys of my children and grandchildren.

As Jesus said, “Seek, and you’ll find.

And so my “seeking” begins for another day, in another week.

I hope your own search is going well, my friend.

Chapter-a-Day Esther 9

dice
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews, had plotted to crush and destroy them on the date determined by casting lots (the lots were called purim). Esther 9:24 (NLT)

The casting of lots was a common practice in ancient times. It was a form of what we would call today “rolling the dice” and letting the future be determined by fate. It’s a practice from which our modern lottery is based. When Jonah was running from God and his ship was being threatened by the storm, the crew cast lots to determine who was to blame for God being so angry. When Jesus’ disciples needed to pick a replacement for Judas Iscariot, they cast lots to decide between the candidates.

While we still have lotteries as a form of gambling and money-making, our culture long ago moved away from trusting in the practice as way of divining God’s will. Today we put our trust more in reason and discernment than to chance.

Nevertheless, I find in the story of Esther and the festival of Purim a reminder that God is not confined to using only the means of our human design and prescription to work His will. I hear in my head some of my stuffy college professors eschewing the idea that God would use anything other than human reason to divine a proper choice. You can’t deny, however, that God worked through both Haman and Esther’s gambles. God used the casting of Haman’s lot to turn the tables on his heinous motives. Esther rolled the dice when she presented herself to the king without being summoned and God used her bet to work His good and perfect will.

Despite our reliance upon knowledge, intellect, and reason, I find that we all face distinct crossroads at different waypoints of our life’s journey. Two paths diverge from our single one and we must make a choice. Sometimes we make reasoned decisions. Sometimes, we roll the dice.  In either case, I believe there is a divine orchestration at work. As it says in Proverbs: “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps” (16:9) and “We may throw the dice, but the LORD determines how they fall” (16:33). Like me, you may have a hard time wrapping your head completely around how that works exactly. There is a divine mystery to it. Proverbs addresses that too: “The LORD directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way?” (20:24).