God’s Purposes in Evil

As we finish Esther and begin the book of Job, we get a unique view of how God allows evil but turns it into a good result.  May you find comfort for your trials and sorrows.

Today’s reading: Esther 9:18-Job 3:26

[For more reflections on this passage see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

A Delayed Reward with Accrued Interest

We are impatient people demanding immediate recognition and reward for our efforts.  In today’s reading (Esther 4:1-9:17) we get to know a man who did what was right even though he was overlooked for a time.

Whoever said, “A man may do an immense deal of good, if he does not care who gets the credit.” must have had Mordecai in mind. [Click here for a discussion of the origin of this quote.]

By faith in our sovereign God, we may live more selflessly and more productively.  May this be true of you and me.

[For more reflections on this passage see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

 

Godly Living in a Pagan Society

As we move on from Nehemiah to Esther, we find people living with grace in the midst of a pagan society.

Today’s reading: Nehemiah 13:1- Esther 3:15

It is difficult to imagine more challenging circumstances than those of Esther.  As a Jew she sought to be faithful to God but all her people who are in exile are condemned to death.  What do you think you would do if you were her?

[For more reflections on this passage see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

Who’s he? Nobody!

Today’s reading: Esther 7-10; Acts 6

2 And the king took off his signet ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai. And Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman.                     Esther 8:2

2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers,[b] pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.                                                                                          Acts 6:2-3

God uses whom He chooses for His purposes and is not limited to those who hold high standing in their contemporary society. In today’s readings, we find two men greatly used by God who were not particularly notable from the point of view of the watching world, well, not until God used them.

Mordecai is an example of a man who was faithful in the small things. He stepped up when his uncle and aunt died leaving a young daughter, Esther. He became her guardian and raised her. He reported a plot against the emperor, Ahasuerus, which may have saved him from assassination. Mordecai played a key role in saving the Jews from extermination throughout the Persian Empire when he urged Queen Esther to appeal to the king for relief. He took all of these actions without holding any power or position. He just did the right thing when he had opportunity. Yes, he was eventually recognized. His enemy was hung on the gallows meant for him, and he took over that villain’s property and authority. All this was by God’s providence.

Stephen was named to a group of seven servants whose task was to free up the apostles by serving tables, waiting on the widows of the Hellenists. God had an even bigger role for Stephen.   He filled him with grace to do great wonders and signs and to be an invincible debater for the gospel (Acts 6:8-10). He was faithful in the position he had, and God allowed him to rise to greater prominence and effectiveness.

In my college days at home basketball games, our student body would taunt the players of opposing teams when they were introduced. After the announcer gave a name, one side of the coliseum would shout, “Who’s he?” and the other side would respond, “Nobody!” Mordecai was nobody. Stephen was nobody. Yet God used them mightily for His purposes in the plan of redemption. He still does this. Be faithful where you are, even though you may be considered nobody. You do not need a high profile position to do the work He has for you.

Obedience by Faith

Today’s reading: Esther 4-6; Acts 5:17-42

“Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:16b

17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”                                                                               Acts 5:17-20

Obedience to God must be by faith, because it does not always bring pleasant results immediately and, sometimes, it can even cost you your life. Yet for the Christian, his obedience always has a positive outcome because even loss of life brings him into the glorious presence of God.

Esther was queen, but she and all the Jews were under a death sentence because of Haman’s instigation of the king’s decree. Mordecai challenged her to go to the king and plead for a reprieve from the law. After some back and forth, Esther agreed, knowing that, if the king did not hold out the golden scepter to her, she would be executed. She uttered her famous words, “if I perish, I perish.”

Of course, in her case the king did receive her and her plea was heard. She did not have to wait long for the reward of her obedience.

The apostles continued to preach the gospel of the risen Christ, and the chief priest and the Sadducees had them thrown back into prison. This time the angel of the Lord opened the door of the prison and sent the apostles back to the temple to preach. The officials looked like fools when they sent to the prison and could not find them. Finally, a report came in that they were preaching in the temple again. At their hearing they maintained that they “…must obey God rather than men.”

There really is no downside to faithful obedience to God for even if we perish, we win the victor’s crown. Be ready to obey by faith today, no matter what the outcome. If you are opposed, or prosecuted you may go straight to glory, but, if not, you will be able to rejoice “that you were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”

Mordecai Wins; Ananias Loses

Today’s reading: Esther 1-3; Acts 5:1-16

15 The couriers went out hurriedly by order of the king, and the decree was issued in Susa the citadel. And the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was thrown into confusion.                                                                                                      Esther 3:15

11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things. 12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.                                         Acts 5:11-13

The presence of God’s people within an unbelieving culture can be a cause of great impact and the society does well to consider how God will deal with those who touch the apple of His eye.

The Jews, because of their unfaithfulness to God’s covenant with them, were taken into captivity in Babylon which by the time of Esther was under the rule of the Persians. Through a fascinating series of circumstances, Esther, a Jew, becomes the queen, Haman, the Agagite, becomes second to the king, and Mordecai, Esther’s cousin and guardian, causes Haman to become infuriated by his refusal to show him homage. Haman, learning that Mordecai is a Jew, decides to use his newly acquired power to exterminate, not only Mordecai but, all the Jews in the empire. With the decision announced, the king and Haman relax with a cool drink while the capital city is thrown into chaos. Details are not given, but the order to commit genocide and plunder the property of the Jews must have raised questions about where this kind of policy might be heading.

The early church was alive with passion for the gospel and with love for its members. Enter two hypocrites, Ananias and Sapphira, who attempt to impress the church by pretending to give all their wealth to the apostles. Instead of impressing, they are struck dead for their lie. The news spread and fear gripped everyone both inside and outside of the church. This group of believers was not to be trifled with. No one dared to join them, but, on the other hand, “…the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women…” (vs. 13b-14). The point is no one joined them unless they truly believed. You would not join a group where you might die if you were a phony.

Do you, like me, long for a revival in the Church of Jesus Christ, where the level of commitment to God and His people is such that hypocrisy would melt away? We may see that in coming days as the society around us heads toward the establishment of secular relativism and the intolerance of any kind of moral absolutes. Be ready. Mordecai wins. Ananias loses. God is glorified.

God’s Purposes in Evil

Today’s reading: Esther 9:18-Job 3:26

My selection: Job 1:12

And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

My reflections: The case of Job demonstrates a number of important truths about God, man and Satan.

1. God knows those who trust in Him. God knew Job by name.

2. God is glorified in those who trust Him. For God, Job was an example to be held up to Satan of a man who walked with Him.

3.. Satan seeks to diminish God’s glory by questioning the true motivation of believers.

4. God has power and authority to send undeserved testing into the life of the believer for His own secret purposes. The suffering Christian may ask “why?” but, ultimately, God has no obligation to give all the desired answers. This should end the claims of the “health and wealth gospel.”

5. Satan is limited by God in testing His people. No ill can befall the believer apart from God’s permission.

6. For the mature believer, even the severest test of Satan cannot thwart his trust in God.

My challenge: Are you facing severe testing? Get comfort and encouragement from Job knowing that, like him, if you trust in the Lord, He knows you and has a purpose to bring glory to Himself through your trials. That will also result in your glory when the end of this world comes.

Tomorrow’s reading: Job 4:1-7:21

A Delayed Reward with Accrued Interest

Today’s reading: Esther 4:1-9:17

My selection: Esther 6:3

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.”

My reflections: Much could be said about the obvious character of Mordecai and of Esther: his wisdom, her courage etc. It may be less obvious to say that Mordecai’s humility is seen in his apparent willingness to do the right thing, reporting the plot of the king’s would-be assassins, without reward or recognition.

I do not know how much time had elapsed between Mordecai’s reporting of the assassination plot and the king’s sleepless night on which he realized that Mordecai had never been rewarded for his loyalty. Mordecai had made no appeal for reward or recognition. Because of that, the timing of the king’s decision to have Haman honor Mordecai brought even greater joy to the Jews and an ominous sense of impending doom to Haman and his family. Indeed, the last public act of service of Haman was to lead his enemy, Mordecai, through the streets of the capitol on the king’s horse, dressed in the king’s robes and proclaiming “Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.” That very night the wicked Haman would die on his own gallows.

My challenge: Has your faithful service been unrecognized and unrewarded? How have you responded to the slights you have received? Can you see how being faithful and loyal without recognition is still the right thing to do? Can you see how God may be reserving your recognition and reward for a particular moment when it will mean even more?

Mordecai exemplifies the commands and promises of Colossians 3:23-25: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.”

Today, be faithful working heartily for the Lord expecting only His reward in His time.  Who knows?  There may be accrued interest.

Tomorrow’s reading: Esther 9:18-Job 3:26

Living with Integrity and Humility in a Pagan Society

Today’s reading: Nehemiah 13:1-Esther 3:15

My selection: Esther 2:16-17

And when Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus into his royal palace in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign, 17 the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.

My reflections: Esther handled herself wisely in the presence of the king and the court. She listened to the advice of her cousin/foster father, Mordecai, and to the advice of the king’s eunuch, Hegai. As a result she stood out from all the other candidates for the position of queen, winning grace and favor. This gave her credibility when she reported an attempted assassination of the king. It would give her credibility when she had to appeal to the king for the lives of the Jews in the kingdom.

The book of Esther shows the importance of living with wisdom and integrity in the midst of a hedonistic society. [See 1:8]. It further shows that God rules sovereignly over all the kingdoms of the earth and no one may escape His judgment.

My challenge: Do you feel the pressure of life in a society that is godless and hedonistic? Do you wonder if it is worth the price to live with integrity and humility among people whose principal thought seems to be personal fulfillment and pleasure?  Peter admonishes us:

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.1 Peter 2:12.

Remember Esther and Mordecai, examples of living with honorable conduct before the face of a God who rules even over pagan kingdoms.

Tomorrow’s reading: Esther 4:1-9:17

 

Taking Time to Celebrate

Today’s reading: Nehemiah 11:1-12:47

My selection: Nehemiah 12:43

And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.

My reflections: Care was taken to dedicate the wall and to give thanks to the Lord for His strength and blessing which allowed the work to be completed. All of the people were invited and many were given responsibilities for the sacrifices and the music. Men and women, boys and girls of all ages were included. This was a time of joy that came from God and was lifted up to God. What a happy moment this must have been as “the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.”

My challenge: It is wise and good to take time to celebrate the achievements accomplished by God’s providence. God has built one day in seven into our lives for the purpose of giving thanks and worship to Him. Do you review His blessings and celebrate His goodness to you regularly?

Beware of rushing through life pursuing one goal after another with no thought of praising and thanking God. Stop and praise Him now for successful projects accomplished and goals achieved.

Tomorrow’s reading: Nehemiah 13:1-Esther 3:15