Working Within a Fallen System (Esther 2-4) - God’s Word for Work, Online Video Bible Study

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WORKING WITHIN A FALLEN SYSTEM (ESTHER 2-4)

Agenda

1. Leader gathers the group in an online meeting.

2. Leader shares screen and audio.

3. Leader plays video. The video includes:

  • Introduction to God's Word for Work
  • Opening prayer
  • Bible reading: Esther 2-4
  • 1 minute for quiet reflection
  • Excerpts from the Theology of Work Bible Commentary: Esther

4. Leader pauses the video and the group discusses the readings.

5. Leader resumes the video with the closing prayer.

Opening Prayer

God, we invite you to speak to us through the Bible today. Show us what your word means for our work. Amen.

Bible reading: Esther 2-4

After these things, when the wrath of King Ahasuerus subsided, he remembered Vashti, what she had done, and what had been decreed against her. Then the king’s servants who attended him said: “Let beautiful young virgins be sought for the king; and let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, that they may gather all the beautiful young virgins to Shushan the citadel, into the women’s quarters, under the custody of Hegai the king’s eunuch, custodian of the women. And let beauty preparations be given them. Then let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.”

This thing pleased the king, and he did so.

In Shushan the citadel there was a certain Jew whose name was Mordecai the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite. Kish had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captives who had been captured with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away. And Mordecai had brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter, for she had neither father nor mother. The young woman was lovely and beautiful. When her father and mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter.

So it was, when the king’s command and decree were heard, and when many young women were gathered at Shushan the citadel, under the custody of Hegai, that Esther also was taken to the king’s palace, into the care of Hegai the custodian of the women. Now the young woman pleased him, and she obtained his favor; so he readily gave beauty preparations to her, besides her allowance. Then seven choice maidservants were provided for her from the king’s palace, and he moved her and her maidservants to the best place in the house of the women.

Esther had not revealed her people or family, for Mordecai had charged her not to reveal it. And every day Mordecai paced in front of the court of the women’s quarters, to learn of Esther’s welfare and what was happening to her.

Each young woman’s turn came to go in to King Ahasuerus after she had completed twelve months’ preparation, according to the regulations for the women, for thus were the days of their preparation apportioned: six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with perfumes and preparations for beautifying women. Thus prepared, each young woman went to the king, and she was given whatever she desired to take with her from the women’s quarters to the king’s palace. In the evening she went, and in the morning she returned to the second house of the women, to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch who kept the concubines. She would not go in to the king again unless the king delighted in her and called for her by name.

Now when the turn came for Esther the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her as his daughter, to go in to the king, she requested nothing but what Hegai the king’s eunuch, the custodian of the women, advised. And Esther obtained favor in the sight of all who saw her. So 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. The king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she obtained grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins; so he set the royal crown upon her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. Then the king made a great feast, the Feast of Esther, for all his officials and servants; and he proclaimed a holiday in the provinces and gave gifts according to the generosity of a king.

When virgins were gathered together a second time, Mordecai sat within the king’s gate. Now Esther had not revealed her family and her people, just as Mordecai had charged her, for Esther obeyed the command of Mordecai as when she was brought up by him.

In those days, while Mordecai sat within the king’s gate, two of the king’s eunuchs, Bigthan and Teresh, doorkeepers, became furious and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. So the matter became known to Mordecai, who told Queen Esther, and Esther informed the king in Mordecai’s name. And when an inquiry was made into the matter, it was confirmed, and both were hanged on a gallows; and it was written in the book of the chronicles in the presence of the king.

After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him and set his seat above all the princes who were with him. And all the king’s servants who were within the king’s gate bowed and paid homage to Haman, for so the king had commanded concerning him. But Mordecai would not bow or pay homage. Then the king’s servants who were within the king’s gate said to Mordecai, “Why do you transgress the king’s command?” Now it happened, when they spoke to him daily and he would not listen to them, that they told it to Haman, to see whether Mordecai’s words would stand; for Mordecai had told them that he was a Jew. When Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow or pay him homage, Haman was filled with wrath. But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone, for they had told him of the people of Mordecai. Instead, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus—the people of Mordecai.

In the first month, which is the month of Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, they cast Pur (that is, the lot), before Haman to determine the day and the month, until it fell on the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar.

Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from all other people’s, and they do not keep the king’s laws. Therefore it is not fitting for the king to let them remain. If it pleases the king, let a decree be written that they be destroyed, and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those who do the work, to bring it into the king’s treasuries.”

So the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. And the king said to Haman, “The money and the people are given to you, to do with them as seems good to you.”

Then the king’s scribes were called on the thirteenth day of the first month, and a decree was written according to all that Haman commanded—to the king’s satraps, to the governors who were over each province, to the officials of all people, to every province according to its script, and to every people in their language. In the name of King Ahasuerus it was written, and sealed with the king’s signet ring. And the letters were sent by couriers into all the king’s provinces, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their possessions. A copy of the document was to be issued as law in every province, being published for all people, that they should be ready for that day. The couriers went out, hastened by the king’s command; and the decree was proclaimed in Shushan the citadel. So the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Shushan was perplexed.

When Mordecai learned all that had happened, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city. He cried out with a loud and bitter cry. He went as far as the front of the king’s gate, for no one might enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth. And in every province where the king’s command and decree arrived, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

So Esther’s maids and eunuchs came and told her, and the queen was deeply distressed. Then she sent garments to clothe Mordecai and take his sackcloth away from him, but he would not accept them. Then Esther called Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs whom he had appointed to attend her, and she gave him a command concerning Mordecai, to learn what and why this was. So Hathach went out to Mordecai in the city square that was in front of the king’s gate. And Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasuries to destroy the Jews. He also gave him a copy of the written decree for their destruction, which was given at Shushan, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her, and that he might command her to go in to the king to make supplication to him and plead before him for her people. So Hathach returned and told Esther the words of Mordecai.

Then Esther spoke to Hathach, and gave him a command for Mordecai: “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that any man or woman who goes into the inner court to the king, who has not been called, he has but one law: put all to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter, that he may live. Yet I myself have not been called to go in to the king these thirty days.” So they told Mordecai Esther’s words.

And Mordecai told them to answer Esther: “Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai: “Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!”

So Mordecai went his way and did according to all that Esther commanded him.

Excerpt from the Theology of Work Bible Commentary: Esther

The Book of Esther begins with King Ahasuerus (known to history as Xerxes) throwing a lavish party to display his glory. Having consumed ample amounts of wine, Ahasuerus commands his servants to bring Queen Vashti before him in order that he might show her off to the other partygoers. But Vashti, sensing the indignity of the request, refuses and is fired. In one sense this episode depicts a family matter. But every royal palace is also a political workplace, so Vashti’s situation could be seen a workplace issue, in which a boss seeks to exploit a subordinate because of her gender and then terminates her when she fails to live up to his fantasies.

A young Jewish woman named Esther joins the royal harem and becomes the new wife of the king. The fact that Esther, a Jew, would set out to marry a pagan king is striking, given the emphasis in both Ezra and Nehemiah on the wrongness of intermarriage between Jews and Gentiles. Esther does not share the religious morality of Ezra and Nehemiah. To get ahead, she is willing to take advantage of another woman’s misfortune and submit herself to exploitation.

This sort of moral compromise is present in many workplaces today. Examples include keeping silent when the mistreatment of another person gives you an advantage. Or watching the dirtiest, most dangerous job fall once again to an ethnic outsider.

Although God is not mentioned in the book of Esther, that doesn’t mean God has no plan or purpose for Esther in the king’s palace. As it happens, her cousin Mordecai is more scrupulous in keeping Jewish law, which puts him in conflict with Ahasuerus’ highest official, Haman. Haman responds by plotting to kill not only Mordecai, but the whole Jewish population. Mordecai learns of the plot and sends word to Esther. Initially, Esther refuses to help, as it could jeopardize her position and even her life. Mordecai responds with two arguments. First, he explains that her life is at risk, whether or not she intervenes. “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews” (Esther 4:13). And second, he calls on her sense of purpose. “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). Together, these arguments lead to a remarkable about-face, and Esther is suddenly willing to risk her life on behalf of her people.

Notice that Mordecai’s two arguments appeal to different instincts. The first argument appeals to self-preservation. The second argument appeals to destiny. Perhaps both arguments were essential steps in Esther’s change of heart. First Esther identifies herself with her people. In this sense, she takes the same step Jesus was to take at his birth, identifying himself with humanity. After identifying with those in peril, Esther takes the next step towards service. Her high position can now be used for others, rather than solely to serve herself.

For Esther and the Jews, the story has a happy ending. Esther employs a clever scheme to curry the king’s favor and to manipulate Haman into exposing his own hypocrisy. The king revokes the judgment against the Jews and rewards Mordecai and Esther with riches, honor and power. They in turn improve the lot of Jews throughout the Persian Empire.

Esther’s story relates to today’s workplace in four key ways:

One. Many people — Christians or not — make ethical compromises in their quest for career success. Because we all stand in Esther’s shoes, we all have the opportunity — and responsibility — to let God use us despite any past moral failure. Did you cut corners to get your job? Even so, God can use you to call an end to the deceptive practice in your workplace. Have you made improper use of corporate assets? God may still use you to clean up the falsified records in your department. Prior misuse of your God-given abilities is no reason to believe you cannot employ them for God’s good purposes today.

Two. God makes use of the actual circumstances of our lives. Esther’s position gave her unique opportunities to serve God. Mordecai’s position gave him different opportunities. We should embrace the particular opportunities we have. Rather than saying, “I would do something great for God, if only I had the opportunity,” we should say, “Perhaps I have come into this position for just such as time as this.”

Three. The more powerful your position, the higher spiritual danger you may be in. Many people come to equate their value and even their very existence with a job title. Esther ceased to see herself as a Jew when she became the queen of Persia. If becoming CEO or getting tenure becomes so important that it cuts us off from the rest of ourselves, then we have lost ourselves already.

Four. Serving God sometimes requires risking your position. Yet you are also at risk if you don’t serve God. Esther’s case was extreme. She risked losing her life if she intervened as well as if she didn’t. Are our positions really any more secure than Esther’s? It is no foolishness to risk what you cannot keep in order to gain what you cannot lose. Work done in God’s service can never truly be lost.

Group Discussion

  • How does what you heard apply to your work?

Closing Prayer

God, thank you for being present with us today. Please stay with us in our work, wherever we go. Amen.