THE ESTHER WE NEVER KNEW (Bible Study That Transforms)
SHE WAS AFRAID
WHO WOULDN’T BE?
HE WAS A SORDID KING
HE DID AWAY WITH THE LAST WIFE WHO DISOBEYED
(SOME HISTORIANS SAY VASHTI WAS BANISHED, OTHER SAY SHE WAS BEHEADED)
THE MAN SHE TRUSTED, MORDECAI
TOLD HER TO HIDE HER FAITH
TO GO ALONG WITH EVERYTHING
THE EATING OF UNKOSHER FOODS
THE DENIAL OF HER GOD
THE SEXUAL EXPLOITATION
AND SHE DID
MANY OF US WOULD HAVE TOO.
SHE HAD THE SAME FEARS, THE SAME HEART IDOLS
SHE WAS A WOMAN LIKE US.
BUT THEN, WHEN EVERYTHING CAME CRASHING DOWN
SHE TOOK A TURN
A DRAMATIC LEAP OF FAITH
THE LEAP MANY OF US HAVE TAKEN AT TIMES
AND GOD MET HER.
This transformation of Esther is the side we usually see, but it is important to see her before the transformation. You will see God as the hero,the One who was with her before she was brave, and after. (This is the beauty of our God.)
Though it is true that it helps to know the meaning of some Hebrew words (such as “pleases” the king and “went into” the king) you can figure out what is going on without knowing Hebrew if you read slowly. Though it is helpful to know some cultural practices (eunuchs taught women in the harem how to please the king sexually), you can figure out what is going on without knowing that if you read slowly. Though it is eye-opening to read historians say perhaps 400 to 1,000 women were involved, by simply noting how many provinces from which young virgins were taken (127) you can figure out it was a lot of women. You simply need to read S L O W L Y and be alert.
I think you will be both fascinated and encouraged by this week’s Bible study. My purpose during these three weeks in Esther is to learn to read the Bible so it transforms your life. To review:
- Slow down — don’t assume you know it — you may have been taught wrong
- Stop and contemplate when you are quickened — God is speaking to you
- The Bible is not about us — but about God — every “hero” is flawed, but God is forever faithful
- The genre is important — this is history — and with history you don’t necessarily assume that what believers did was right and use it as a model. It is also important to see that it is satirical — the proud are ridiculed and brought down — including Mordecai.
One of my most helpful commentaries on Esther was from Joyce Baldwin. She explains that though the beauty treatments given to all these girls were akin to marriage preparation (such as still happens in Iran and North India), the sad thing is that most of these young girls were preparing for a life of widowhood. It was an abuse of women — and God wept. Why did He let it happen? That is a mystery. But the Hebrew is very clear that He was with Esther during the abuse. Often He does not sweep our pain away, but He is with us, and He is a Master at turning ashes into beauty.
Was Esther wrong? Many of you have chimed in with your thoughts already. I tend to think she was young, submissive, and simply obeying Mordecai. Most of us would have done the same. I tend to hold Mordecai more responsible — and yet I wonder, what I really would do if I were a parent in such a situation? Would I be able to give my daughter up? Refusal surely would have meant her martyrdom. Parents like the Bonhoeffers and the parents of Sophie Scholl (see the movie on Netflix!) are the exception — encouraging their children to take a stand for the voiceless when to do so seems so likely that martyrdom will happen.
One of the truths hidden in this passage is that God was with Esther. This moves me so. You expect God to be with you when you suffer and are completely innocent, but when you have given in to pressure, you might expect Him to withdraw. But He is with her. And He is with you and with me when we fail Him, when we don’t take the highest road. He loved us first, He loved us when we were yet sinners, and He loves us and is with us when we fail.
I believe God was also very sympathetic with the pressure on Esther. We don’t know how old she was, but we know the pressure was enormous.
If you are a victim of sexual abuse, or love someone who has been. The word “favor” is the Hebrew word “hesed” which is God’s unfailing love. I don’t understand why God allows abuse to happen, but I find comfort in knowing that His unfailing love was with Esther. He saw, He wept, and He eventually turned her ashes into beauty.
This week we will read of her capitulation, and next week her leap of faith. In each, you’ll learn more about reading carefully so you see and are transformed. God is hidden in the book of Esther, but His fingerprints are everywhere. See if you can see them.
1. What stands out to you from the above and why?
2. When you read the Bible quickly so that you don’t really connect with God — what heart idols do you think are deceiving you?
3. What have you learned about reading the Bible so it transforms you — is it making a difference? Explain.
In case you missed it, I want to share something Elizabeth wrote at the end of last week:
When I read the Bible in context, with God, instead of Self, as the center, the reference point–the Bible is…indescribable! I am noticing now that even one verse strikes me as it never has before. There is a richness and depth that draws me in for more. And, not sure if this makes sense out-loud–but there is a RELIEF, a peace that comes from taking myself out of the center. When I stop looking for answers for me–and turn to His Word to know more of Him–there is a satisfying calm that comes over me.
Monday-Wednesday Bible Study
4. Read Esther 2:1-4
A. How did the “wise men” advise the king?
B. What qualifications were they looking for in the woman who would be the new Queen?
The word “please” has a strong sexual connotation. In Judges 14:3 Samson tells his parents he wants them to get an unbelieving woman for him for his wife for “she pleases me well.”
C. What satire do you see in this passage?
5. Read Esther 2:5-11
A. When the Jews were taken captive in Babylon, Cyrus released them to go home. Historians believe the godly Jews went home, but others had become quite comfortable in Persia and stayed, becoming very like the Persians. How many generations had Mordecai’s family lived in Persia? (See verse 5)
B. Find evidence in this passage that Mordecai loved Esther.
C. Other details in the book help us know Esther hid her faith for a minimum of seven years — and no one even knew that Mordecai was a Jew in all that time. What fears (and what idols?) might have motivated Mordecai to instruct Esther in this way?
6. Read Esther 2:12-18
A. In this passage there is a phrase that is used four times. It is “to go into.” Find this same phrase in Genesis 16:2; Ruth 4:13, and 1 Samuel 11:4. What does this tell you?
B. According to verse 14, when would she go to the king, when would she return, and where would she go after her night with the king? What would determine her fate, according to this verse? (This verse is loaded — slow down! Find all you can about a woman’s possible fate.)
C. Why do you think Esther capitulated? What might have been her fears (or her idols)?
D. When have you capitulated? Looking back, what were your fears or your idols?
7. It is also absolutely vital to see that God was with Esther — you see it in the word “hesed” which here in Esther is usually translated “favor.”
A. Find it in Esther 2:9; 2:15, and 2:17.
B. What does it mean to you that God was with her? Think of your failings, right now.
8. It is also important to read the Bible according to genre. Esther is a historical book. What you see God’s people doing isn’t necessarily a commendation — it is just a recording of what they did. We cannot endorse polygamy because God’s people practiced it, because God’s didactic teachings clearly opposed polygamy. For example, if you ignore genre, you might come up with the conclusion that what Esther and Mordecai did was right because they were eventually used to rescue God’s people. See if you can refute this from scriptures that are not a recording of history but are didactic (commands from God, teaching Scriptures).
9. Here is a controversial question — and believers who love the Lord come down on both sides. How do you think God feels about smuggling Bibles or hiding Jews during the holocaust since it involves lying? Is this in the same category as what Mordecai and Esther did? Why or why not? What is your case scripturally?
If you did not listen to last week’s free sermon — please do now. (LINK)
If you did, and want to go on, listen to this sermon. (LINK)
10. Share your notes on the message
11. What is your take-a-way and why?