Purim – A Celebration of God’s Infinite Grace

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This is a mirror inside the Topkapi Palace Harem in Istanbul Turkey.  The picture is a little blurred, but notice the mirror reflected back and forth in the mirror…this is realistic picture of infinity…as each mirror continually gives a reflection of another mirror on and on infinitely uncountable. You might even say this was an example of mathematical pi in a way. Just as God’s grace is also infinite.

1Peter 5:10-11, Give God the glory and credit for the grace he extends to you, and for all of the gifts he has given you in your life.

 

Read the story of Esther part 3 – Esther Chapters 8 thru 10 In this final portion of the Book of Esther after Haman’s death, we find that Esther and Mordecai are rewarded by the king, and the jews get permission to defend themselves on the day that according to Haman’s treachery the jews were to be put to death.  They are victorious.  The celebration the Jews have after the battle is called Purim, and is still kept today.  During this celebration the Book of Esther is read, and the people dress up in costume as the people who are in the Book of Esther, and they are supposed to drown out Haman’s name every time he is mentioned with noise to the point where no one can understand that his name has been said, and they are to cheer Esther and Mordecai’s name greatly.  Interestingly, Esther is only one of two books in the Bible where God’s name is not actually mentioned, the other one is the Song of Solomon.  In spite of God’s name not being mentioned, Esther is still a wonderful story of grace and faith, and illustrates God’s love for his people.  Even though the reason for Haman’s existence is that the Jewish people were disobedient to God, God still put Esther and Mordecai in the right place at the right time to save the Jewish people. The Purim celebration is a celebration of victory and of God’s grace through others.

Note of interest:  King Saul’s father was named Kish, and Mordecai is listed as a Kishite in the Book of Esther.  According to Jewish writings Mordecai’s lineage can be traced back to Benjimen through Shimei and King Saul on his father’s side, so it is presumed that he is related to Judah on his Mother’s side.  Saul is the one who disobeyed God, and then along comes one of his descendants who is given a task related to correcting the fallout from Saul’s disobedience.  Isn’t God good!

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Inside the harem in Topkapi Palace in Istanbul is a sitting area

The above map gives you an idea where the city of Susa was in relation to Babylon the city of modern day Isfahan is about where the word Persia is on the map.  I find it is sometimes helpful to look at a map and try to picture where things were in relation to a modern place.

 

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Grace to the Humble

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This is the inside the Harem at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey.  Esther would have resided in a harem also.  From the tour guide we learned that until a woman had a child she was housed in a general group with no private quarters, but after a child was born she was given her own quarters within the harem.  The harem was considered a social step up for most women over the regular life of marrying and having children to a poor person.  Women didn’t have to work or slave and they had plenty of food and clothing so life was generally much easier.  There was no negative stigma in those times as we think of that type of life from our moral point of view today. Mainly because women were for the most part powerless as we see in the story of Esther.  Her power came from God.

Peter 5:5-7 Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older.  All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all anxiety on him because he cares for you.

2Thes.2:16-17 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

In other words, God’s grace offers comfort, encouragement, hope and strength.

Read the Story of Esther Part II  Esther Chapters 5 thru 7  As you can see in this portion of the story, Esther has been strengthened and shown great faith in approaching her husband the King, as she is actually risking her life doing so without being called, and having to admit to being a Jew herself, and Haman gets taken down by his own self centered pride. 

This situation with Esther and her fellow Jews was very upsetting because it all actually came about because of an act of disobedience back in the days of King Saul. (1Samuel 15:1-35) The Amalekites, whose King Agag was originally spared is the one whom Haman was descended from.  I am not sure exactly how Haman was descended from him, but perhaps Agag was not the only member of the royal family that King Saul spared, or King Saul treated Agag as a typical captive of royal peerage gave him suitable quarters including women which would allow for him to father a child during that time period. We are not told how this descendent came about, only that Haman was Agag’s descendant.  Either case is possible because we are told when Samuel called for Agag that Agag when to him in an unworried manner.  It does tell us in the above verses that Samuel slew Agag after Saul spared him.

The Amalekites/Agagites were a group of people whom God had condemned to death because they were so horrible as to not be tolerated any longer.  In reading  Deuteronomy 25:17-19 we find that they were a group who were vicious and sneaky, they followed after the Israelites as they were crossing the Wilderness and went behind them picking off the women, children and the elderly.  They didn’t come at them face to face and fight the strong, they picked off the weak of God’s chosen people. The most defenseless.  God hated this so much that he told the people of Israel that when they got into the promised land and got settled down they were to wipe them off the face of the earth…so that they were not able to influence any of his people the Israelites with their evil ways.

King Saul took it upon himself to keep the finest of the spoils and to spare Agag the King of the Amalekites.  The thing is that this was King Saul’s second great disobedience to God and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back so to speak.  On both occasions Saul was more worried about people and maintaining their good opinion than he was about God and what God wanted him to do.  He suffered from the idea that he knew more than God about the situation and he needed to take care of things.  King Saul was suffering from pride.  Whenever we start to think that we know more than God, or we know better than God then we are suffering from Pride.  We are actually putting ourselves and our desires and our opinions into the place of God…or another way to put it is that we are becoming our own god!  After all, if we know better than God about something, then that would mean that God is not God.  By definition God is all knowing, all powerful, and eternal.  How can we who are not all knowing, nor all powerful, and are limited by our lifespans even begin to consider what is the best course of action and even begin to think that God is wrong about something?  I mean, who are we to tell God that he is wrong?  Yet, we do this all the time.  One needs only to look at the world to see that kind of thinking in action and to see what that has brought to us.

We get very upset when we read in the Old Testament that God told the Israelites and Saul to wipe out an entire group of people, but the Bible also tells us that the penalty of sin is death.  These people as a whole were the worst kinds of people, they were vicious and completely unrepentant….There is the difference between them and the average group of people.  They were completely and totally as a whole group unrepentant, not sorry at all.  There wasn’t a single individual among them who had a conscious or felt bad about what they did.  How do we know this?  That is a simple answer, if they did, they would have left the group.  No one who has a conscience and is in a group like that survives long, either they would flee for their life, or they would be killed by the rest as a weakling. So rest assured, God being a God of justice and a God of wrath decided that they were like Sodom and Gomorrah and judged the Amalekites/Ammonites as unredeemable.

We don’t like the idea at all that someone can be unredeemable, but the world is full of people who are too hard hearted toward God to ever allow themselves to be humble and submit to God.  We all have to admit that this is also true, even if we don’t like the thought.  However, the thing we have to remember is that as Christians we are required to love those people to the best of our ability, and to share our knowledge of God with them to the best of our ability, and when our ability falls short, as it frequently does, we need to pray that God’s love for them will flow through us to them so that they may know the love of Christ.  What we are not to do is to stand in the place of God and condemn them.  We do not ever know what God has in store for that person.  We cannot tell the redeemable from the unredeemable, only God knows that.  So as Christians we must treat everyone as redeemable.  We do not need to put ourselves in harms way or blithely hand the keys to our house to a known thief.  That is not at all what I am saying.  God gives us a spirit of discernment as to what to do in these cases so as to have a measure of protection for ourselves, and also so as not to offer temptation to someone who is struggling.

Anyway, back to King Saul, his inability to humble himself before God cost him the Kingdom that God had entrusted him with.  In contrast, we look at Queen Esther, who stepped humbly forward in faith at great personal risk to do as God wished her to do and was able to save her people because of that single step of faith.

Proverbs 29:23 “A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honor shall uphold the humble in spirit” 

Grace is Never Wasted

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This is an 1800’s copy of Rev. John Brown’s Self interpretation Bible.  It has a lot of information in it, and was still being printed into the 20th century.  My Mother bought it at a used book store, and she recently passed it on to me.  It is an awesome thing to hold something that has been around that long and has been treasured as the word of God.  There are very neat calligraphy entries in the family section which give a glimpse of life in the 1800’s and how fragile it was.  There is an entry of a birth, then in the same day an entry of the baby’s death.  You can imagine how hard of a day that must have been for the writer of those dates.

1Cor.15:10  But by the grace of God, I am what I am and his grace to me is not without effect.  No I worked harder than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

Note: God doesn’t bestow his grace on anyone and it is wasted.  If his grace is bestowed on you, you will be productive for him.  You are what you are by the grace of God.

Read the story of Esther part 1:  Esther Chapters 1 thru 4.  In this first part of the story of Esther, we find out how it comes about that Esther becomes queen, and we learn of Mordecai overhearing a plot on the king’s life and saving his life, and Haman enters in as the enemy of the Jews who plots for their destruction. Mordecai tells Esther that she may have been put in the position of queen just for the purpose of saving their people from extinction.  Note that Esther lived in Persia which is Modern day Iran/Iraq her time was 473 BC or Before the Birth of Christ, or BCE which is Before Common Era in new terms.

Most of us spend at least some of our time on this earth contemplating why we are here…or what is our purpose.  For each person that is different.  We are all unique creatures created by God.  We all have an intended purpose.  For some of us it can be as important as Queen Esther’s purpose where we can save a whole nation of people.  For others it may be something as simple as being there to help another person across the street at the right time to save their life.  Maybe the person who is crossing the street is important in a different way in God’s plan.  Perhaps that person is involved in the teaching of someone who may grow up to be a leader who does something on behalf of God.  Maybe they will grow up to be a well known minister or world leader, maybe they are just another person who is going to grow up and pass on what they have learned from the person crossing the street to others…maybe they are the next Madame Curry, or Mother Teresa, or Billy Graham.   The point is that no matter what task God gives us in life we should all treat ourselves as an important part of God’s plan.  In God’s eyes each and every one of us are valuable and equally important.

One thing I have learned this week is that sometimes we may hold ourselves in a place because we don’t want to let someone down, or we feel needed there.  The Holy Spirit reminded me of the story of Esther.  She was told that God would save his people even if she did not step forward to speak with the King on their behalf, but that she would suffer a great penalty for not stepping forward in faith.  God would use someone else to accomplish his purpose.   That is true.  God has a back up plan for his ultimate plan.  That is part of our free choice.  We are free to choose at all times whether to follow God’s plan in our lives…or not.

Each of us have our very own individual journey of faith.  How we grow depends largely on how much we pursue God. If we just sit back and do nothing, then we simply won’t grow or our growth will be very slow…it may have starts and stops in it.  If, on the other hand, we avidly pursue God…he will draw closer to us in amazing ways.  The Holy Bible is like the ultimate Vitamin for your spirit.  The more you dive into it the more you can learn about who God is and what he wants you to do in your life.

Yet, sometimes even the most devoted Christian can have moments when they are unsure of God’s plan….the thought comes…”What do I do now? I want to stay in your will for my life, but I don’t know what you want me to do?”  At times like that the best thing to do is to pray and to open God’s word and start reading and listen to the quiet, still voice which instructs on on the way we should proceed.

 I had an experience recently.  I spent several hours really praying about whether to stay where I am serving God, or to go look for another place to serve.  At that time (which was several months ago) I went out of the place where I had been praying and sat down in the car turned on the radio just in time to hear a random minister talk about “what do you do when you don’t know what God is wanting you to do?”  I thought, (goosebumps) “Wow!  Timely answer God!”  I was told through that minister to just keep doing what I was doing because it wasn’t anything unGodly, until it was evident that God wanted me to do something else.

Sometimes God uses others to give you information about what he has in mind for you to do.  Sometimes, he will tell you himself.  Yesterday, I heard the sweet whisper of the Holy Spirit telling of a pride problem I had that was unrecognized by, yours truly…aka me! Sometimes pride can hold a person back from doing God’s will also.  I mean, sometimes we talk ourselves into believing that we are the only one who can do something and that we are indispensable in certain situations.  When reminded of the story of Esther she was told that she was the person chosen for the task, and that may be why she was there, but if she refused, then God would use someone else. That is why it is important to truly immerse yourself in God’s word…to the point that the content is written on your heart. This will draw God closer to you so that you may more clearly hear his purpose for your life and understand how important you are to God…what a precious person he created you to be.