Tuesday, July 28, 2015

ESTHER+—An Illustrated Summary of Life Applications from Every Chapter of the Bible by G. Campbell Morgan

"On every page of the God-breathed writings are many thoughts that stretch out like long, clear arms of light across the darkness, discovering things otherwise hidden and illuminating wider areas than those of the immediate context. They are searchlights. From a multitude of these, I have selected one in each chapter of Scripture, for at least one central thought in every chapter should arrest the mind and affect the life," wrote G. Campbell Morgan, a wise, warm-hearted, careful Bible teacher who conducted a classic 3-year chapter-by-chapter study called Life Applications from Every Chapter of the Bible. Here are the fruits of that timeless study—summarized, illustrated, and amplified—on all 66 books of the Bible (posted one book at a time, cumulatively).

Esther 1:12 "Vashti refused to come." Ezra and Nehemiah tell about Jews who bravely returned to their homeland, while Esther tells of those who remained in the land of their captivity, but were not forgotten by God. It opens with King Ahasuerus celebrating the splendor of his reign throughout Persia to most of the known world at the time. Being "merry with wine" (verse 10), he sent 7 of his officials to escort his queen, Vashti, to his presence so he could display her beauty to his guests. As the highlighted text makes clear, she refused to come. We are not told why, but we are told the effect of Vashti's choice: she humiliated her royal husband, who decided to divorce her. Soon he would be seeking a new wife, and that special woman would prove to be God's choice for delivering the Jewish people from destruction. Esther as a book seems to be a fragment of Persian history, captured and incorporated for sacred purposes.

Esther 2:17 "The king loved Esther.... He set the royal crown upon her head and made her queen instead of Vashti." The king's search for a new queen brought many women to his attention, including a lovely one named Esther, an orphan whose late parents were Jewish exiles. Her older cousin Mordecai cared for her like a father, and continued looking after her welfare day by day when she was taken into the king's court. Esther also found favor in the eyes of the king's officials and then before the king himself, who chose her as his new queen. By this time Mordecai was regularly "sitting in the king's gate," which implies he had a court position. While there he overheard a plot against the king's life and promptly reported it to Esther, who told the king in time for the plot to be foiled. Both Esther and Mordecai were now in position to save their people from one of the greatest enemies they would ever face.

Esther 3:15 "The king and Haman sat down to drink." This Haman is introduced to us as an Agagite, the last-mentioned survivor of Israel's ancient foes the Amalekites. Haman had power and cleverness on his side, which led to his being in complete favor with the king, whom he deceived into signing off on a plan to exterminate the Jewish people throughout the king's extensive realm. They settled down to seal the deal with a drink together, but all the while Mordecai and the rest of the Jews were in the hands of God. Although the scheming occurred during the first month, a Persian custom Haman avidly followed was  casting lots (Purim) to determine the most auspicious time to carry out an offensive, which pushed off the extermination plan until the twelfth month—almost a year later. Often we see evil men and women doing strange and inexplicably fooling things from the standpoint of their own purpose. Perhaps Haman thought this delay would make the extermination of the Jewish people all the more complete, but we will see how it gave the necessary time for all the events that worked together to deliver the Jewish people from destruction. Those who fear God and follow Him can always reckon on Him. If they ignore Him in their reckoning, they always find Him sooner or later, to their own undoing. 

Esther 4:14 "Who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" News of Haman's bloody plot quickly spread throughout the land to terrify the intended victims and give the executioners time to prepare their fatal thrust. The whole diabolical plan had been cleverly conceived. It seemed there could be no escape from a terrible massacre. Mordecai was overcome with grief, but in his highlighted words to Esther, we discover the one gleam of hope that shone for him amid the prevailing darkness. We do not know whether it was more a wistful hope than the expression of a confident faith, but we do know, like Mordecai, that Esther was a direct link between the king and her people. The custom and law of the court forbade her making a direct approach to the king without his summoning her. Doing so would bring the death penalty unless the king decided to extent his scepter as a sign of approval. Nevertheless, the urgency of the case inspired her to the heroism of making this great venture. Conscious of her need for moral and spiritual strength, she asked her people to fast with her. This portrait of Esther is a singularly fine one. Her saying, "If I perish, I perish" (verse 16) displays a spirit of sacrifice on the highest level. This beautiful woman occupied a grave place of peril at the court of an Eastern despot by no choice of her own, and was willing to step up on behalf of her people in their hour of desperate need. She did it with conscious dependence on God and complete readiness to sacrifice her life if necessary. Esther had certainly come to the kingdom for that time, and was the precise instrument God would use to deliver His people.

Esther 5:13 "All this means nothing to me so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate." What an unveiling of Haman's evil heart! At the back of selfish ambition, some stabbing pain forever torments. In this case it was Mordecai remaining at his post, refusing to treat Haman like some kind of idol by groveling at his feet. Haman frankly admitted to his family and friends that nothing satisfied him while this state of things continued. Petty pride and pique were at the root of Haman's fiendish plot against an entire race of people! If it were not for the terrible things that result from such a trivial attitude, we would naturally hold it in contempt or laugh at it. When such envy completely expresses itself, it breaks forth as cruelty, rape, murder, and every other evil thing. Yet all the while that bitter root is a torment to the man or woman in whose heart it dwells. The only cure Haman would seek for his malady of soul was the death of Mordecai, which God would prevent. Haman soothed himself by erecting a gallows to symbolize Mordecai's impending execution, but in the will of God that gallows was not for Mordecai. The more carefully one considers the moral world under the overruling government of God, the more one is constrained to worship Him for His infinite wisdom and precise justice and mercy. Meanwhile, Esther had made her bold venture, and the welcoming outstretched scepter of the king was a sign of God's ultimate rule over that court of earthly pride and pomp.

Esther 6:1 "On that night the king could not sleep." In this chapter we have a night interlude between the erecting of a gallows and the holding of a feast. A sleepless night is a transient matter and almost trivial, yet it has often been a time of revelation and surprise. In the case of Ahasuerus, it was another of the ways God moved forward in protecting His people. To while away its hours, the king commanded that he be read to from his court's records or chronicles. That was a divine choice of reading material, for the part his reader came to was of the assassination plot Mordecai revealed to Esther early in her marriage to the king. Ahasuerus inquired if Mordecai had been rewarded for saving his life, and when learning he had not, determined to get advice on the best way to honor Mordecai. By now it was morning and Haman arrived early, waiting outside the king's chamber to receive permission to execute Mordecai on the new gallows. The king called him in, but Haman got the opposite of his desire: being promptly sent out to confer the highest dignities of the kingdom upon Mordecai! God works out His own high purposes surely and with unerring wisdom. The stage was set for Haman's end to come suddenly, dramatically, and completely.

Esther 7:10 "They hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai." When Haman returned to his home after a humiliating day of being obliged to honor Mordecai, the man he hated most, he was summoned to a feast Queen Esther prepared for him and the king to dine in her presence. He consoled himself with the honor of being invited to such a feast—and with the thought of hanging Mordecai as soon as he could manage on the gallows he passed by on his way to the feast. At that  feast, however, Esther revealed that Haman's plot to exterminate the Jews would kill her and all her people. She pleaded for the astonished king to spare their lives. The king was furious with Haman for endangering his queen, and ordered him executed immediately on the apparatus closest to hand: the gallows Haman himself erected. It was a fierce and terrible retribution, but was characterized by poetic justice. The core of Haman's hatred for Mordecai was his self-centered and self-consuming pride and ambition that extended way beyond Mordecai himself to everyone and everything associated with him. The nets of evil plotting and malicious enterprise swing far out in the tides of human life, but never far enough to enmesh God. He remains beyond them all, and gathering them in the hands of His power, He makes them include the men and women who weave them to destroy others. The very instrument that Haman's brutality prepared for Mordecai is what God chose to employ for Haman's destruction. Not always with the same spectacular visibility or suddenness, but inevitably "the Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He frustrates the plans of the peoples" (Psalm 33:10).

Esther 8:16 "The Jews had light and gladness, joy and honor." The removal of Haman resulted naturally in the promotion of Mordecai. The peril threatening the Jewish people, however, was not yet by any means thwarted. The royal proclamation had got out that on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the Hebrew people should be massacred. According to Persian law, no such royal proclamation could be directly reversed. Some other way had to be discovered if the people were to be saved. Through the intervention of Esther, the king granted permission to Mordecai to send another proclamation under the royal seal allowing the Jews to arm and defend themselves. God brought about the deliverance of His people through ordinary channels, but through the extraordinary method of sending the king's own messengers with haste to urge the Jews to be ready against what would have been the fateful day of their own slaughter by the previous royal proclamation! We can understand, therefore, about the highlighted light, gladness, joy, and honor that the Jewish people experienced when they received this amazing news. Since other people throughout the kingdom recognized this complete reversal as coming from the hand of God, many of them "became Jews" themselves (verse 17). In a distant land and on a dark day, God gave His people an undeniable sign of His watchful care over them that filled their hearts with joy. The value of this story then and now is that it reveals anew the greatness of God's love for His own, and stirs the heart to become one of God's own.

Esther 9:32 "The command of Esther established these customs for Purim." In this chapter we have a full account of what happened on that fateful thirteenth day of the twelfth month. The changed conditions of Haman and Mordecai were revealed that day throughout every province in the kingdom. People who had habitually mistreated the Jews and were looking forward to the opportunity of exterminating them by royal decree now found themselves filling the places they had intended their victims to occupy. Not only were the Jews protected, but also their most implacable enemies were rooted out near and far. It was in remembrance of this great deliverance that the Feast of Purim was established. The thirteenth day of the twelfth month was the day that the lots or Purim Haman tossed back in chapter 3 designated as the optimum time to destroy the Jews. Since God overruled those lots in a big way, the fourteenth and fifteenth days of that month were designated as a joyous new festival of remembrance, appropriately called the Feast of Purim. There was feasting, rejoicing, giving of gifts, and sharing food with the needy while all were reminded of how God delivered His people. At the command of Esther, this happy celebration of remembrance became an annual tradition from that point on. It is a remarkable fact that while there have been breaks in the observances of the other great Jewish feasts, and some practically discontinued, the Feast of Purim has been maintained to this day. Jewish leaders have always regarded the Book of Esther as an exposition of the method by which God rescued His people in a time of peril, even while they chose to live in exile, and so of His unceasing care for them. It has given the Jewish people hope in many dark and desolate days.

Mordecai Was Entrusted with the King's Seal
Esther 10:3 "Mordecai the Jew was second only to King Ahasuerus." This tiny chapter gives us a last glimpse of a particularly fine man. Probably all the experiences Mordecai had of God's protective care molded his character to likewise care for God's people. His elevation in political status as second only to King Ahasuerus did not alienate him from his own people. He continued to seek their good and speak up for the welfare of his whole nation. Therefore he was held in highest honor among them, as well as trusted in the realm in which he exercised authority. Perhaps there is no severer test of greatness of soul than rapid political advancement. Too often such advancement has been the undoing of men who, in poverty or under disfavor in high places, have been true men. The man who can move to wealth and position among the mighty of the earth, yet still maintain his integrity and loyalty to his own, is truly a great man. The secrets of such greatness are invariably that his roots are in God.

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