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Esther

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Profile: 

 

When did she live

around 520 BC

 

Nationality

Jewish

Where she did live

Persia

Parents

Not mentioned

Children

Not mentioned

 

Story of her life: 

The population of modern day Jews

Before I consider Esther's story I want to first tell you about a interesting modern day fact which relates to the story of Esther!

In 2002, a analysis was done to try to work out how any Jews there are in the world. The results were published in the American Jewish Year Book. It was estimated that there were 13,300,000 Jews across the world. If you were to break that 13.3 million down into regions of the world you find that:

Where Jews live across the world (in 2002)
6.4 million

live in the North, Central and South America, with the bulk of those in the USA. 

1.6 million

live in Europe.

5.1 million

live in Asia

0.2 million

live in the rest of the world like Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

So the bulk of the Jews live in the Americas or in Asia.

Now, what the Year Book classifies as Asia is countries like China, southeast Asia and India but it also includes the middle east as part of Asia. According to the map-makers the middle east is western Asia. And that is why the Asia region has the large number of 5.1 million Jews, because it includes Israel. But there is a interesting fact here, when you look at the middle east: the country after Israel with the second biggest population of Jews is a country which on the surface you wouldn’t expect. The country with the second biggest population of Jews, after Israel, in the middle east, is Iran.

Which on the surface doesn’t make much sense - why would a Muslim country like Iran have the second biggest population? It doesn’t make any sense until you remember Iran’s previous name - Persia. When you look into the faces of the Jews in Iran you are looking into the faces of the descendants of those captured by Nebuchadnezzar 2,600 years ago.

The history of Persia

How the Jews came to be in Persia:

King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon captured the Jews in Judah around 600BC. Around 539BC, Persia's King Cyrus conquered Babylonia. As a result, many Jews migrated to Susa in Persia.   [1]

Back in history, Nebuchadnezzar captured Judah and brought the captives down to Babylon around 600 BC. But the next major event after this captivity, is of most interest to current day Iranian Jews. In 539 BC, Persia’s King Cyrus conquered Babylonia. This action liberated the Jews from captivity. Some of the Jews returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the destroyed temple. But at the same time there was a large migration of Jews to the lands that were then Persia, and are now Iran.

As time moved on, many of the Jews were enjoying the way of life in prosperous Persia. Many had attained positions of influence in their Gentile surroundings.

For  example, consider these three people:

Ezra held a position in Persia roughly equivalent to the Secretary of State for Jewish affairs.

Then there was Nehemiah. He was the cupbearer to the King Artaxerxes.

The third Jew to come to prominence in ancient Persia during those early years of Jewish settlement was Esther - the Jewish woman who married a Persian king. Some of us may have heard of the modern fairytale of a Australian woman marrying a Danish prince (Mary Donaldson married Crown Prince Frederik). Well here was a ancient case of a Jewish orphaned woman marrying a Persian King. As to whether Esther saw it as a fairy tale is debatable.

Modern day Jews in Iran look with a lot of affection to this woman called Esther. The Iranian Jews of today see themselves as the children of Queen Esther. They look back at Esther with pride, for they see her as saving the Jewish people from persecution in the fifth century BC.

Many today would certainly agree that Esther did play a important part in saving the Jewish people. But there was another who also played a central part in this great drama and his name was Mordecai. He was yet another Jew who had risen to an important position in the ancient Persian government.

The story of Esther

Esther was a young Jewish girl

Before we go any further, let me tell you the story of Esther, very briefly.

The king of Persia, A-has-ue-rus, was angered by his queen Vashti’s disobedience, and so he banished her from his presence and commenced a search for someone to fill her position.

The most beautiful young girls of his empire were brought into the palace to be considered.

A young Jewish girl, Esther, was among those taken into the palace to receive one years preparation and to be then presented to the King for his appraisal. Esther’s God-given beauty caused her to be taken into the palace.

Now, there was a man named Mordacai who was an assistant to the Persian King. Mordacai was also Esther’s cousin and guardian, so he instructed her not to divulge her nationality to the king. And this advice was critical, for even though Mordacai and Esther didn’t know it at the time, God was protecting her in preparation for the saving of her entire nation.

So eventually, being the most beautiful and desirable, Esther was chosen by the King to be his Queen.

After Esther had married the king, some time past, until one day the king’s right-hand-man, Haman, was angered when Mordacai refused to bow down to honor him. Haman knew that Mordecai was a Jew so he used his influence to persuade the King to issue a decree that all Jews should be killed in a single day. Esther intervened and the decree was reversed and all the Jews were saved. As a result, Haman was hung on the gallows for his actions.

And that very briefly is the story of Esther.

 

The background of Haman and Mordecai

A lot of people probably think that Hitler was the first time that someone had tried to exterminate the Jewish race but here is a man in 5th century BC Persia trying to do the exact same thing.

The ironic thing is that Haman wouldn’t have been in existence and wouldn’t have been a threat to the Jews, if Saul had been obedient to God about 600 years earlier. If Saul had been obedient 600 years before, Haman would not have been in existence now.

Some reading this article may know what I mean by that comment and others may not, so let me explain it.

Lets travel back in time - to a time well before Esther. We’ll go back to around 1500 BC, for it was then that the Lord told Moses these words:

“Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven … because the Lord hath sworn that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation”.

So in these words we can see that it was to be an important element of God’s purpose that Amalek should be annihilated. Why ? Because he saw that the Amalekites were nothing but evil.

But we learn from the book of Esther, that some 1,000 years later a man named Haman is in existence and, surprise, surprise, he is a descendent of the Amalekites. And in a complete reversal, instead of God’s people completely destroying the Amalekites, we are told in Esther that it is now an Amalekite who is about to annihilate God’s people! The roles of these two groups of people had completely switched around over that 1,000 year period.

So it is obvious that something has gone seriously wrong. Sometime during that 1,000 year period between when God spoke to Moses and the time of Esther something didn’t happen and the Amalekites weren’t wiped out as they should have been. So what went wrong? Why weren’t the Amalekites completely destroyed like they should have been?

What had gone wrong is that Israel had failed to carry out God’s command. This comes out particularly in the life of Saul who was explicitly commanded to destroy everything that pertained to Amalek. But he didn’t:

In 1 Samuel we are told:

And Saul took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword, but Saul and the people spared Agag…”. 1 Samuel 15:8-9

So Saul killed all the Amalekites but he spared King Agag. And it is this Agag, which we are told Haman is descended from. But it doesn’t stop there. The significance of Haman being a descendent of Agag is enhanced when we look at Mordecai’s own genealogy.

The book of Esther in chapter 2 says this:

Now there was a Jew in Susa the citadel whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish, a Benjaminite, Esther 2:5

So, Mordecai is from the same family as Saul (as Saul was a Benjaminite see 1 Samuel 9:21).

Haman is a descendant of Agag and.....Mordecai is from the same family as Saul. And as we heard before, it was Saul who had spared Agag, contrary to God’s command. So in a ironic twist six hundred years later, the favour of sparing Agag is now returned by Agag’s descendant Haman seeking to slay Saul’s relative, Mordecai.

So in the book of Esther, these two figures of Mordecai and Haman, are natural rivals. They are completely in contrast to each other. And if we stop for a minute and look behind the scenes, we see that these two men represent an age-old conflict between the people of God and what the Amalekites represent, that is sin.

I hate stating the obvious here, but if only God’s commands had been followed many years before and the Amalekites had been destroyed completely. If this had happened, then the prospect of terrible anguish in the future would have been avoided.

The lesson to us is an extremely important one. If Israel in general, and Saul in particular had obeyed God’s command to destroy the Amalekites, there would never have been a Haman. God does know best, and when He tells people to behave in a certain way He does so because He knows what He is talking about.

When you look at Saul in this instance, who does he remind you of ?............He probably reminds you of ourselves. I’m sure we can all think of instances where we have side-steped the commandments of God only to find somewhere further down the line that we pay a much higher price for having done so. And ofcourse when we do suffer we think:

“if only I had obeyed God’s commands in the first place”.

We might save ourselves pain and heartache if only we were to take God at His word in the first instance, to trust, that what He is telling us, is for our own good!

When Saul could see King Agag coming softly to him, he looked no threat to anyone. King Agag’s people were decimated and his wealth plundered and destroyed. The idea of fraternising with an ex-king whom he had conquered, appealed to Saul and he thought there would be no danger. God’s command seemed to Saul over-the-top, an excessive precaution.

But hundreds of years later, Agag descendant known as Haman, once more rose up to cause a threat to God's people. In the exact same way, our own sins return and threaten to devour us if we do not deal with them properly when they first appear. We cannot take these issues too seriously. In the end, the ultimate price for not obeying God’s commands is rejection at the judgment seat.

So the first thing we learn from the interaction between Mordecai and Haman is that we need to address sin straight away and not let it linger until it escalates into something that is out of control.

Theme of contrast expanded

But the exhortation from the interaction of these two doesn’t stop there.

When we look deeper into the book of Esther, we see that there are great parallels and contrasts between Haman and Mordecai.

Both men are symbolic of types of men. They represent a first Adam and a last Adam. Both men are given glory and honour; both are given power to rule and control. But the amazing thing is, look at how differently they exercise that power!

Haman the worldly one
If we firstly look at Haman you can’t help but see that he represents worldliness - it couldn’t be more obvious.

To give an example of his worldliness have a look at the type of ambitions this man had.

On that night the king could not sleep. And he gave orders to bring the book of memorable deeds, the chronicles, and they were read before the king. And it was found written how Mordecai had told about Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king's eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, and who had sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. And the king said, “What honor or distinction has been bestowed on Mordecai for this?” The king's young men who attended him said, “Nothing has been done for him.” And the king said, “Who is in the court?”

Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the king's palace to speak to the king about having Mordecai hanged on the gallows[a] that he had prepared for him. And the king's young men told him, “Haman is there, standing in the court.” And the king said, “Let him come in.”

So Haman came in, and the king said to him, “What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?” And Haman said to himself, “Whom would the king delight to honor more than me?” And Haman said to the king, “For the man whom the king delights to honor, let royal robes be brought, which the king has worn, and the horse that the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal crown[b] is set. And let the robes and the horse be handed over to one of the king's most noble officials. Let them dress the man whom the king delights to honor, and let them lead him on the horse through the square of the city, proclaiming before him: ‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.’”

Esther 6:1-9 ESV

a      Or suspended on a stake

b      Esther 6:8 Or headdress

Haman was indeed a ambitious man but nowhere is the emptiness of this ambition better illustrated than in the verses we just read. King A-has-ue-rus asked him what should be done to the man whom the king delights to honour. His own ego so dominated his own thinking that he could not conceive of the possibility that the king would want to honour anyone but him.

So in his own mind he reinterprets the question to mean ‘What would you really like, more than anything else in the world?’

Haman really wanted to play the king, even if it is only for a few short hours. To pretend and parade under the illusion of having that which he does not have. To wear the king’s clothes, to ride the king’s horse, to wear the king’s crown, to be led by one of the king’s mighty princes — to rise above himself and be for a moment that which he can never be.

Yet the whole experience, his greatest wish in the world, will be over in a matter of hours! It is amazing that this is the best that he can think of, that this is the best that Persian culture and excess can offer him!

His ambition was truly empty and foolish, and yet how many in the world around us follow in his path. We see every day, in this current world, people striving for rewards that are empty and don’t really give them any lasting happiness. We see and hear of people getting into huge amounts of debt to buy things which at the end of the day only give them fleeting happiness - yet the debt they used to buy these things stays with them for many years to follow.

This is indeed a lesson to us. It shows, that the rewards the people of this world around us are looking for, are brief. One moment the reward is here and next it is gone. One day the people of the world receive their reward and the next day that reward has gone and they have to start all over again striving for another reward.

It is unfortunately a trap that we can also fall into. We can sometimes change our focus from the long-term rewards that the kingdom offers to some short-term worldly reward which in the end will mean absolutely nothing and be forgotten.

Summarising

So let us now summarise what we have learnt from Mordecai and Haman.

So far, we have learnt from the story of these two men to obey our Heavenly Father the first time, for if we fail to do this then we may pay a much higher price further down the line.

The second lesson we have learnt is that the things of this world are meaningless and empty compared to what is offered as our hope by our Heavenly Father.

Let us summarise who Mordecai and Haman represent.

Who does Haman represent ?

Who is Haman ?

Haman represents sin and all that goes with sin, like the world and worldly ambitions. Haman is ‘the enemy of all the Jews,’ and the enemy of all men who would seek a relationship with God (9:24).

He was granted power for a limited time, but he used it against God’s people, and in particular, he sought to destroy Mordecai, and in symbol, Christ. But instead of destroying Mordecai he was forced to honour him, and was finally crucified on the very cross that he had prepared for Mordecai.

So, Haman represents sin.

Mordecai refused to bow down or pay homage to Haman.

Who does Mordecai represent ?

Who is Mordecai ?

Mordecai represents Christ.

Mordecai refused to bow to Haman [2], as Christ refused to bow to the temptation to sin. He took upon himself the salvation of the people, instructing Esther how she should conduct herself in the face of danger. He was figuratively brought to the cross by Haman, but was delivered from it along with all his people.

And finally, he was subsequently elevated throughout the worldwide empire as the royal representative, as was Christ.

So Mordecai represents Christ.

What about us ?

And what about us - where do we fit in ?

Well, in this struggle between Mordecai and Haman, it almost like watching a great drama being enacted out on the stage. It is tense drama where the powers of good and sin fight it out, and at the end of the drama we know one party must eventually die.

But in this great drama we can’t just sit back like a audience would at a play and watch the drama unfold on the stage before us. We have to be up on that stage playing a part in this drama. We also have to do battle with Haman. And the result will be the same, the one that is defeated will die.....for ever.

If we want to finish with a glorification similar to what Mordecai achieved, then we must also remove Haman from our life before he puts our chance at everlasting life at risk. As Mordecai fought and overcame Haman, we must also through our life, fight and overcome Haman.

How do we do that ?

Well, first we must identify who Haman is. He is the side of our nature prone to sin. Where is he ? He is in our mind. So, we must on a daily basis do battle with those thoughts which belong to the world. If we do that, then, like Mordecai, like Christ, we will receive that glorification which is going to be offered to those who have overcome.

The summing up of Mordecai’s exemplary character is found at the end of the book. The book of Esther closes with an accolade of Mordecai which is a great pointer forwards to our Saviour the Lord Jesus.

And all the acts of his power and might, and the full account of the high honor of Mordecai, to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia? For Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Ahasuerus, and he was great among the Jews and popular with the multitude of his brothers, for he sought the welfare of his people and spoke peace to all his people. Esther 10:2-3 ESV

The man who Mordecai represents, is the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us, like him:

Firstly, obey the commands of God the first time and not later when it is much worse.

Second, overcome sin, for if we don’t, it will surely in the end kill us. In other words, we will not be given eternal life in the kingdom to come.

Footnotes

1

Photo courtesy of NASA

2

Esther 3:5

Third, avoid focusing on short-term goals of this world, but rather focus on that great long term goal of the kingdom. Which will soon be set up on this earth.

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Last Updated: Sunday, 08 March 2015