Wednesday, January 15, 2014

If I Perish, I Perish

Esther (see Bible Hero Posters)
“..and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law:  and if I perish, I perish.”  Thus is the epic response of a Jewish girl who, after becoming the queen of Persia, put her life on the line to save her people (Esther 4:16).
Esther’s story begins with Vashti, the first wife of the king of Persia, king Ahasuerus.  In Persia in ancient days the rule was that everyone had to obey the king, even the queen.  He summoned her to appear before the people at one of his great feasts and she refused to come.  So he got pretty angry.  After consulting with his chamberlains, he decided her punishment was to end her career as his queen.

But later on he missed her.  He needed a wife. 

Now there was another rule in Persia.  Once the king decreed something it couldn’t be reversed, not even by himself.  This rule is also seen played out in the story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den (see Daniel 6:8).   Consequently the king’s princes and chamberlains sometimes tricked the king into signing a law that was too general in order to get rid of a specific person they didn’t like.  All they had to do was gratify his pride in the presentation of it so he would be blind to consider the possible ramifications that he may not be so in favor of.

So even if king Ahasuerus missed Vashti, he couldn’t get her back because of the decree.  His Servants then suggested that he send officers out to round up all “the fair young virgins” in the kingdom (Esther 2:3) and bring them to the palace.  And it was done.

After their purification, these young women were presented before the king so he could choose which one he liked best.

Enter Esther.

Esther’s real name was Hadassah.  She was brought up by her cousin Mordecai because both of her parents had passed away.  Their ancestors had once resided in Jerusalem but after the king of Babylon attacked it, he carried off a bunch of Jewish people to be held captive in his own country.  By the time Mordecai and Esther came on the scene, their people were subject to the king’s commands but basically lived normal lives.  Thus Esther was one of “the fair young virgins” that were gathered into the palace. 

During her year of purification she pleased the “keeper of the women” so much that he favored her.  He made sure she had everything she needed.  Sounds kind of like Joseph and his propensity to reach sustainability wherever he was (see blog post Spin the Story). 

It’s important to note at this point in the story that Esther did not tell anyone that she was Jewish according to Mordecai’s instructions.

The day came when Esther was brought before the king.  When a woman was going to be presented before the king she could ask for anything she desired.  I assume many women took advantage of this offer and decked themselves out with stuff.  But Esther “required nothing but what…the keeper of the women appointed.”  And yet she “obtained favor in the sight of all them who looked upon her” (Esther 2:15).
When she was taken before the king he fell head over heals in love with her and put the royal crown on her head.  She became the new queen of Persia.

Later on, as the story goes, the king reorganized his palace staff advancing a man named Haman to the top prince seat.  And it was the rule that everyone should reverence, bow, show respect to Haman when he walked by. 
Mordecai, Esther's cousin, was a regular at the king’s gate so whenever Haman walked by everyone around him bowed.  But he didn’t.  One day Haman noticed this and was very angry about the whole thing.  So he devised a plan to get revenge.  He knew that Mordecai was Jewish so he told the king that there was “a certain people scattered abroad…among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom” and (now paraphrasing) “they don’t obey your law.  So you shouldn’t put up with them.  Are you okay with signing this decree that all of them should be killed.  I’ll even pay for it” (Esther 3:8-15).

And the king agreed!  Okay, this isn’t the point of the story but wouldn’t you think he would be more careful signing decrees when he knew they couldn't be reversed?  And we’re talking genocide here.  Because Esther never told anyone including the king that she was Jewish, he had no idea what he was doing to her in signing that document.

So the letters went out by post to all the king’s provinces.  All of the soldiers and government officials in those areas were to annihilate the Jewish people and rob them of all their stuff on Adar 13th (Adar is the name of the month).

When Mordecai heard of this he was pretty upset, not to mention the entire kingdom.  Everybody wondered, What the heck? 

Esther found out through Mordecai.  He then instructed her to go unto the king and beg him to save her people.  But guess what!  There was another crazy law.  No one could come unto the king unless he called them.  Okay.  Hmm…sounding more and more egocentric all the time.  If someone did go unto the king and he didn’t hold out the golden scepter, he or she would be put to death.

Listen:  "Need You Now (How Many Times)" by Plumb
Esther’s life was on the line and obviously her first response was to avoid the whole ordeal if possible.  A healthy desire (Matt 26:39).  But then Mordecai told her (partial paraphrase):

“Don’t think that you’re going to escape this genocide of our people just because you are in the king’s house.  If you don’t do anything, then we will be delivered by someone else.  But you will be destroyed.  So Esther, think of it this way:  What if you were brought to this very position in the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14)

He spun the story.  Her reply? Again partially paraphrased:

“Go, gather all of our people in Shushan and fast for me.  Don’t eat or drink for three days and nights.  My maidens and I will do the same.  Then I will go in unto the king, which is totally against the law:  and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16)

If I perish, I perish.   
I have to believe that we all have an overall destiny.  I can’t believe that random chaos reigns.  I believe that chaos and its subsequent random causes do indeed exist.  But every cell of my body cries out for a overarching order, a purpose, a destiny.  A Master Organizer organizing things that tend to get unorganized.  

Not only does Esther's response apply to those epic decisions we have to make in our lives but it also applies to the seemingly small choices we must make on a daily basis in order to finally arrive at our desired destination.  And when I take enough time to figure out what commitments I know I need to keep every single day, especially the unremarkable ones (yet totally hard ones for me to keep consistently), it helps me more than I can describe to say in my mind with Esther, if I perish, I perish.  The issue is that I will do whatever God wants me to do regardless of what seems to be my very possible impending death.  What logically must occur if this is my credo is to ensure that I have spent enough time developing my ability to communicate with him through experience and sacrifice.  I need to be sure my sacrifices are in alignment with his will (Samuel 15:22).

The king did hold out his golden scepter.  Esther’s life was spared.  And eventually she was able to tell him what Haman did and that she herself was Jewish.  The king was angry with Haman for manipulating him like that so off to the gallows he was sent.  Actually the rest of the story is well worth the read.  It is evidence that “Karma” (the Master Organizer) is indeed alive and exact in his own kingdom.  But we’ll save that for another day.  It is sufficient to say that the Jewish people were basically given the right to bear arms and defend themselves against anyone who attempted to assault them or take their property on that fateful day.