Esther 9-10 B

“Mordecai recorded these events and sent letters to the Jews near and far, throughout all the provinces of King Xerxes, calling on them to celebrate an annual festival on these two days. He told them to celebrate these days with feasting and gladness and by giving gifts of food to each other and presents to the poor. This would commemorate a time when the Jews gained relief from their enemies, when their sorrow was turned into gladness and their mourning into joy.” 9:20-22

Mordecai has experienced the ultimate turn-around. He goes from dreading an impending genocide of his people to celebrating their victory over their enemies. And I love the way he chooses to celebrate! It’s how I wish America celebrated Christmas. Feasting, gladness, homemade gifts and generosity to the poor. That is what it looks like to celebrate when God has done something great. Did God financially bless you, when recently you were clobbered with debt? Throw a party, invite a ton of people and don’t forget to generously tithe to the needy. When God is generous with us, he expects us to be generous with others.

Maybe he’s bringing relief to you in other ways, like your health. Stop and acknowledge what he’s doing, and take the time to celebrate, even the smallest victories. Because if I’ve gleaned anything from the book of Esther, it’s that things can turn on you in an instant.

Monday morning we start the Songs of Solomon!

-Carly

Esther 7-8 B

I enjoyed Carly’s take on this last time.

To be perfectly honest, as much as I’ve studied this book, these chapters are when things start going over my head. Why is the response to encourage the Jews to defend themselves? Were they previously planning not to?

It seems to me like instead of devising a way to deescalate the violence, they kick it up several notches. If someone else is understanding this in a better, fuller way, I would love and welcome any explanation attempts. It feels like one of those things that skips in my brain like a broken record and never fully computes.

Why this? Why give the Jews support to murder and loot anyone who comes at them? I’m no political expert, and it’s not like I’m leading up to a point, I just wonder about it.

In any case, this new decree invokes great rejoicing and it’s certainly great news for the Jews.

A verse foreshadowing these chapters is a little funny to me:

“Haman recounted to Zeresh his wife and all his friends everything that had happened to him. Then his wise men and Zeresh his wife said to him, ‘If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of Jewish origin, you will not overcome him, but will surely fall before him.’” (6:13‬)‭

As if they didn’t catch Mordecai’s ethnicity the day before when they suggested the plot against him (5:13). Now its, “oh if he’s a Jew, you’re screwed.”

This must be a comforting line in the Hebrew Bible. As a Jew, reading this story, they probably first quake with the familiarity of persecution, then swell with pride in the way they persevere. Corporate history is a powerful thing, and that is a huge point of this book: celebrating the different times and ways the LORD preserves His people.

Do you have a story (maybe within your family or community) where you can remember a way the LORD preserved you? Maybe even brought you out stronger than before? We will see tomorrow how victory leads to yet another holiday. What is the history of your victory? How do you remember it?

-Bethany

Esther 5-6 B

The Bible has the best stories, doesn’t it? If you’re not reading along with us, I encourage you to catch up. This book is so good!

Did you notice how quickly (at least in the text) Mordecai’s mourning turned into celebrating? He goes from complete dread to being paraded around and exalted by the king. It was such a reminder to me that we can’t sit around waiting to be pat on our head for good deeds. Mordecai went years before being properly honored for his honorable work of saving the king. How much better was it to be unexpectedly honored, at such a dark, scary time in his life, than to demand the attention he deserved? (Not to mention the added benefit of how much it frustrates Haman…)

The commentary in my Bible mentions that the book of Esther has been regarded as a myth or historical romance. I have no problem believing that God could orchestrate this contrite, script-like storyline in real life, though. The most unbelievable, couldn’t-plan-it-better-yourself timing (the king reading of Mordecai’s heroism just as Haman was storming towards the king to have him destroyed, etc), is the result of the Lord at work.

“ ‘My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,’ says the Lord. ‘And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.‘ ” Isaiah 55:8-9

When has God’s timing seemed unbelievable in your lifetime?

Share below! I love stories like that.

-Carly

Esther 3-4 B

“Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, ‘There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from those of all other people and they do not observe the king’s laws, so it is not in the king’s interest to let them remain.’” ‭‭(3:8‬)

This verse almost makes me laugh. The Jews were known for following their own rules and being different from the other nations? What?! Weren’t they exiled because they had gone too far to fit in with the other nations?

At least the majority was, I suppose. There were always the faithful: Daniel, Mordecai, etc., but they hadn’t escaped exile. In fact, our boy Daniel was snatched up in the first wave. Now Mordecai sees another horrible wave coming and he mourns, because he knows his innocence won’t necessarily spare him.

He tells Esther:

“Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews.” (4:13‬)

He tacks on that he believes salvation will come from somewhere–that the Jews can not possibly be to totally annihilated, because of the promises to Abraham–but he implores her to consider that, if the LORD does use her, their family may survive this one.

Isn’t guilt by association something we all learn in elementary school? You could be a model little second grader, but sitting next to the wrong person at the wrong time could get you missing recess. Maybe you didn’t participate in any ruckus, but you were with the perpetrators and didn’t stop it.

Mordecai knows “guilt” by association, and he’s not about to go down without a fight.

Where are you these days? Are you associated with a “guilty” party? Has the LORD placed you somewhere to do something? Sometimes it’s easier to just get swept up in a punishment, with our self-righteous hands up pleading, ‘this wasn’t me’ than it is to find a redemptive/restorative action.

Wherever you find yourself, ask the LORD, is there something you’d like me to do here?

-Bethany

Esther 1-2 B

“There will be no end to their disrespect and discord.” 1:18

I love the panic that ignites when one woman makes her own decision. (The decision not to be objectified..) Yes, it wasn’t just any woman, it was the queen. And yes, the king had a point. Rebellion is contagious, especially when seen in a leader or role model. Still, it’s pretty frustrating to read how they respond to Queen Vashti’s bold move.

I’m trying to approach the book of Esther without my preconceived notions. Or, without the bitterness that’s developed over the years from Bible studies using this story to celebrate the privilege of beauty and the art of passivity.

So far, the author of this book hasn’t mentioned God.

Where have you seen him in the story so far?

-Carly

Nehemiah 11-13 B

After the success of rebuilding, cleaning, cleansing the temple and promising, things slide back into old habits quickly.

Nehemiah went back to Susa after a job well done, and was extremely disappointed when he came back to check in.

If you’ve ever been in leadership, you know this feeling. While you’re looking, the people are nodding and getting excited and making promises (maybe even earnestly), but the minute you look away, they’re back to doing whatever they want.

After all this work, it’s hard to fathom that this Eliashib guy could just set up a room for his own personal god in the temple. He’s supposed the be the High Priest!

Israel’s history is a string of rebellions, interrupted by moments of repentance and reformation. With this, along with Ezra and Chronicles being the end of the Hebrew Scriptures, it begs for some hope. It’s exhausting trying to shepherd these sheep! There’s too many of them! There’s too much time for things to go wrong.

Evangelism efforts can look like this too. High moments of conferences, crusades, revivals and movements bring exciting reforms and fresh hope. But then after the conversions slow down, there’s a moment of panic when your good sheep start falling away. As a Christian leader, this is going to be so stressful and discouraging, right? It’s like we need to save everyone at the same time, then have Jesus come back before anyone has a chance to get distracted.

Missions has seen waves of this as well. It’s like only a few countries can be doing well at a time before they start slipping in to secularism.

I remember youth ministry in the nineties being so fun and flourishing, but there was this looming dread that in 20-30 years America would start being post-Christian like Europe. We scrambled to keep the momentum from the Jesus movement going, but alas, conference attendance did go down and secularism did rise.

So don’t we all feel for Nehemiah? What are we going to do with these people?! I don’t know. But I think a good hint is not putting my hope in a “we have a great leader so everything will now be perfect forever”!

As shepherds, we need to know this prayer of Nehemiah:

“Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out my loyal deeds which I have performed for the house of my God and its services.” (13:14‬)

The old, “please notice that I did my best” prayer.

As sheep, we need to keep our eyes on the Shepherd of chapter 9 who had been with His sheep the whole time. We can’t depend on the leadership around us to always be stellar or even present. Our hope can’t rest on the shoulders of another human. We all suck in our own ways and have a proclivity for letting people down. Expectations for ourselves and others should not be perfection.

However, before Our Almighty God, we must humbly seek to know Him, remember Him, serve and obey Him as He asks.

Where do you find yourself in this story today?

As we leave Nehemiah, let’s head over to Susa and check in on Esther.

-Bethany

Nehemiah 9-10 B

Chapter 9 is just the best, isn’t it? I love all the specific details mentioned of God’s provision. How God came down from heaven to his people in the wilderness (9:13), how he took such good care of them, their clothes didn’t even wear out in 40 years (9:21). I jotted down the summary line by line, and it really highlighted the pattern of God’s relationship with his people. His repeated compassion and the mercy he extends. His presence among them.

It’s Saturday, you have a minute, right? Pour another cup of coffee and pull out a notebook. Summarize your journey with God. Take note of the details. When did he come down and stay with you, leading the way like a pillar of fire? When did you rebel, turning to other gods? How did provide for you?

The more we familiarize ourselves with God’s abundant provision and presence in our lives, the better. Know your story with him and you’ll be eager to tell it. Practice seeing the hand of the Lord in your life and you won’t be able to miss it. Even when you’re wandering in the wilderness, he’s with you.

-Carly