Monday, January 14, 2013

You Were Born For This Esther 2:1-18

I don’t have as much historical research for you as I had last week, but I did want to give you some resources that I found helpful, and I have a TON of questions!!! 

Tim Kellers Esther 2 Sermon
Beth Moores Study on Esther 2 Currently on Youtube 
I want to point you to Rabbi Shmulley’s article on Esther
And Her.menuetics Article Why We Should Celebrate Beautiful Women

I also would like to plug Ginger Garrett’s book she wrote in conjunction with writing Chosen (which we are reading in our book club) while she was doing historical research. It’s absolutely fascinating, and if you are a nerd like me…a lot of fun!!! "Beauty Secrets of the Bible"

 As I’ve been reading this chapter so many questions and thoughts have been flying through my head. When I was a child, I used to see Esther as a Cinderella story. And in it’s own right it is. For a child, I think it’s good and appropriate for them to see Esther as a Cinderella story. Every good story is a story of redemption, and similarly to Esther, the story of Cinderella is just that. The fact that Cinderella holds a universal truth is what allows it to stand the test of time, and even enter our pop culture.

But as an adult, this begins as positively THE WORST Cinderella story EVER! At least Cinderella’s prince was charming and didn’t bed and ENSLAVE the 400 to 1,400 single women who were at the ball!!! 

It is unlikely that all of the girls who were taken into the palace went willingly. To be a part of the kings harem would require them to live at the kings palace for the rest of his life.

Bible verses of the week:

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. Psalm 139:16

And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail Isaiah 58:11

25 gHusbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and hgave himself up for her,26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by ithe washing of water jwith the word,27 so kthat he might present the church to himself in splendor, lwithout spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Ephesians 5:25-27

But the Lord said to Samuel, b“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, cbut the Lord looks on the heart.”
I Samuel 16:7

 You can download a printable of the bible verses here.

Esther 2 in a Nutshell

The Players

King Xerxes
Xerxes fraternity bros….I mean young advisors
Mordecai (Esther’s Guardian and Cousin)
Hegai (The head Eunuch of the Harem…that job HAD to suck!)
Hadassah (called Esther)

I do want to point out a couple things about characters and time as we move along.

Mordecai  was not supposed to be in Persia at this period in time. He was supposed to be in Jerusalem with the other Jews after they had been released from Persia. The assumption is that Mordechai probably was not a publically practicing Jew, and had assimilated into the society of Persia.

Hadassah, called Esther was orphaned as a little girl. She was most likely a teenager when she was taken into the king’s palace. The fact that she has two names, one Jewish, and one Persian, this probably indicates Esther trying to live in two different worlds.

Rising Action

The Bachelor (In Persia)

A few years after Xerxes banishes Vashti he has lost a lot of money, and plenty of wars against the Greeks. He starts thinking about Vashti and is lamenting to his “young male attendants.” They suggest that Xerxes should find all of the beautiful virgins in the kingdom, give them a full year of beauty treatments, and then give them one night to show the king a good time. Xerxes thought this was an excellent plan and made it so.

Mordecai, a Jew, had brought up his orphaned cousin, the lovely and beautiful Esther, as his own daughter.

Esther was among the women whisked away to the palace. At the harem, she became one of Hegai’s, the head eunuchs, favorites.   She was given the best place in the harem. Esther didn’t tell anyone she was a Jew, because Mordecai told her not to.

The Preparation all of the concubines in the harem were given a year of treatments and food. On their night with the king, they were given whatever they asked to take with them. They would spend one night with King Xerxes, and then move their way on to the harem of the “not virgins,” not to be called in again, unless the king called for her. On Esther’s night with him, she took only what Hegai told her to bring. On Esther’s night, Xerxes chose her as his queen and threw a big feast in her name.

There are so many things going on in this short section of the book that my brain and heart are about to explode.

Discussion Quesstions

Again, answer the questions that peak your interest, or ask your own. Please feel free to make your own observations.

One of the things that struck me as I read this was the reality of sex trafficking in this situation. As often as we read the bible as things that happened in the past, it is so easy to transport this story into our present.  Sex trafficking is prevalent in the world as well as in America today. It's something that has been on my heart for awhile, and I think this is as good a time as any to make you aware of it. 

Again, before we judge anyone in this story, the media, or in our vicinity we need to take the log out of our eyes first. Human trafficking is a reality and a horror in present america and around the world. In main stream society it either goes unnoticed or ignored. Slavery should outrage us!!! And yet....

In the first part of this chapter, what are some other ways that we still hold similar views to those of Xerxes’ Persians?

I found it a bit surprising that the men I came across who have written and spoken on Esther call out the men in their congregations, and of America . They do a lot more male bashing than I could ever muster myself.

The women tend to step away from that conversation and give women their own reprimand for buying into the pressures of society.  The more I thought about it, the more I saw that my collegiate guilty pleasure of watching, The Bachelor and Millionaire Matchmaker, on television are actually taped versions of what was going on in the palace. Only, the girls in Persia had no hope for a future, past being one of the kings favorites. They would never see their family again, and if they had relations with anyone else, they would most likely be killed.

What impact do you think the “Young Advisors” advice would have on the Persian world?

 In what ways do our current American dating practices mirror those of Xerxes harem?

If you had hundreds of men to pick from to date, or to marry…how would you start to weed them out?

If you had all the Hollywood heartthrobs at your feet how would you decide which one you would marry?

There are a lot of different philosophies out there about "Christian" dating practices. It's something that, as a single woman, I have been struggling with. 

What do you think a healthy, godly dating life would look like for a woman?

One of the questions I grapple with, in (re)thinking my lifestyle of a woman is the feminist movement and fashion. Just today I had a discussion with my Dad about the clothes we wear and how I’m SO frustrated with the feminist movement that my clothes are built the way they are.

While I agree with the pre-tense of the feminist movement, some of the back lash is driving me NUTS! Women have inadvertently created the form of the “ideal woman” as it is today. Previous to the feminist movement, it was thought of as more attractive to be rounded and slightly plump.

 Beginning in the early twentieth century, instead of simply burning our corsets we decided equality with men equaled sameness with men, and so our clothes should be more masculine….and then begins the downward slope of the “anti-feminine movement.”

Women, God made you a WOman!  Not a man! And Designers, I am NOT a man- God did not build me like a man, I have roundness where I’m supposed to have roundness…and while I LOVE button down shirts, please make them to fit the fact that I have breasts!  *Whew! I needed to say that!*

Up to this point in the book, whose shadow do ALL of the women of Persia have to live up to, and be better than? What “ideal” do you feel like you have to live up to today?

What is determining your worth?

In what ways do we, as women make life hard on ourselves by succumbing to the peer pressure of thinking of beauty as a treatment? 

 In what ways have we made this an expectation of each other?

I was at my parents’ house this morning before I ran off to a lunch date. I asked my mom which purse I should bring, the brown one, or the grey one? My Dad happened to be in the room and his comment was “No guy is going to care which purse you brought to lunch.”

Or over dinner the other night, my mom was admiring how well the new sally nail polish strips stayed on, and how long they were lasting….my Dad cut in with “ANYWAY!  WHO CARES ABOUT NAIL POLISH!” and he proceeded to roll his eyes. He’s funny like that, he encourages us to go out on Mom and Daughter dates to have brunch and get our nails done and our eyebrows waxed, but it’s because he knows it makes us happy.

Heck, when was the last time a guy noticed your haircut? Now when was the last time a woman noticed your haircut?

In Ginger Garret’s book “Beauty Secrets of the Bible” she says,
“There is an unnatural, uneasy relationship in our society between (beauty and spirituality.)In biblical days, it was easier to understand the symbolism of caring for the body in relationship to the state of your spirit. Before you could worship, you had to ceremonially wash yourself…you were preparing to go into God’s holy presence, the temple’s sacred ground. To prepare the body was to prepare to meet God…if we want to discover the beauty that is in us, we have to be willing to abandon the worlds definition of beauty. We have to believe, by faith, that we have something more: a beauty that cannot be fully seen by human eyes.”  (pg 38-39)

Sooo…we’re girls. I LOVE pampering-taking long baths-smelly things- doing my hair, putting a goopy green mask on my face…getting my fingernails done….YOU know! To be honest, most of the time doing these things has nothing to do with anyone else but myself. 
It feels good to be able to “beautify” –heck sometimes it just feels good to take an amazingly long shower and get into some newly clean sheets. Or after a weekend of backpacking, jumping in a cool fresh lake. A part of me would love a year of spa treatments.

What are some of the things you love to lavish in?

What are some things that you notice God lavishes you in? He KNOWS you need this. He KNOWS you enjoy it. He KNOWS you feel completely pampered and noticed by Him when he blesses you with it?

In Tommy Tenney’s Book “Finding Favor With the King” he talks about Gods preparation of us, the preparation for being His bride. Tim Keller discusses a similar idea, he says that spiritual beauty treatments often involve suffering and pain. Refiners fire.

For mhe is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. He will sit nas a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring oofferings in righteousness to the Lord.1 pThen the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. Malachi 3:2-4

What kinds of pain and suffering have you endured, that when you look back on it, you realize that through it, you came out more beautiful and closer to the Lord?

Most scholars believe that Esther blew it! She sold out!  Esther and Mordecai were Jews, and yet they hid it. Esther ate food that as a Jew, would have been considered a sin. She would have been considered unclean after eating the food of the Persian king. When Abraham hid the fact that Sarah was his wife, God reprimanded him. Peter denied Christ three times! Unlike Daniel, Esther didn’t stand up and say “I’m a Jew, this is not the food of my people,” most likely for fear of being killed. Regrettably, I think I would be like young Esther, too scared of death to say no to the pagan-Persian ways.

What are some of the things we do, or don’t do, say or don’t say, because we are too scared of the repercussions from other people?

Has there been a time, when you didn’t show or didn’t know your true self? The person God created you to be?
What are some of the things we do as Christians to assimilate to our society when we are supposed to be set apart?

“One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.” (Psalm 27: 4 KJV)

"Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me. All His wonderful passion and purity. O my Savior divine, all my being refine. Till the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.” ~Albert Orsbon

As women, what does it look like physically, and spiritually, to prepare to reflect the beauty of God?  

The bible doesn’t tell us what happened in the kings bedroom. Esther may have charmed him by her personality or her good looks immediately. As soon as she walked in the door, God might have put it on Xerxes heart to choose her, to make a commitment to her immediately and thereby save her virginity. For her heart, her sake, and dignity I pray that that happened. But we don’t know. Much like the story of Cinderella, being taken to the kings palace may have actually been a refuge for some of those girls. Like the story above of the teenager girls, giving their bodies one night may have seemed like a small price to pay to escape the life that they were living.

Are there ways that we escape an unhappy life other than turning to God?

The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
he yturns it wherever he will. Proverbs 21:1

What do you think Esther had that the other women didn’t have?

Esther ISN’T perfect and we’re not either. Which should give us hope! This is what the Jews celebrate during Purim. Hope! The Hope of the gospel. We are not perfect.

            I will greatly rejoice in the LORD;
                        my soul shall exult in my God,
            for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
                        he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
            as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
                        and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
(Isaiah 61:10 ESV)

            Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.          
(Ephesians 5:25-27 ESV)

            Let us rejoice and exult
                        and give him the glory,
            for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
                        and his Bride has made herself ready;
            it was granted her to clothe herself
                        with fine linen, bright and pure”—
            for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
(Revelation 19:7-8 ESV)

How are the above scriptures of our preparation to be Christ’s Bride different from Xerxes Preparation to be Christ’s Bride?

Where do you see hope in this section of Esther?

Where do you see God working in this section of Ether? 

I'm loving this study! I hope you are too! Let's start commenting and getting some discussions rolling!!!
Lord, make us instruments of your peace, 

Where there is hatred, let us sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; 

to be understood as to understand; 

to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive; 

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; 

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

St. Francis

Homework: Read Esther 2:18-4:4

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