For such a time as this

Jews have just celebrated the festival of Purim where they mark and remember the  story of Esther, the  Queen used by God to deliver her people from Genocide.  The book of Esther is set during the exile of God’s people in Persia. King Ahasuerus has a falling out with his wife, Vashti the Queen. Drunkenly he demands that she comes to a feast he is having so he can show her off to his guests. She refuses. He decides to get rid of her and replace her with a new, more compliant Queen.

The story turns to a Jewish exile Mordecai who engineers it so that his cousin can be part of the beauty pageant that follows and chosen as Queen. Mordecai has an enemy with a grudge. Hannan is jealous of the influence Mordecai has, arrogant and proud he wants to be important in the kingdom. His jealousy turns into vindictive hatred of all God’s people and so he plots to have Mordecai executed on a gallows (actually the method would probably have been impaling on a sharp stake).  He also gets a law passed so that the Jews will be massacred.

Alert to this, Mordecai persuades his cousin the Queen to use her position to influence the King so that the people will be protected. She does and so the Jews are given permission to defend themselves which they do successfully. Hannan is humiliated. Honours he craves for himself are given to Mordecai and he ends up impaled on his own execution stake. 

The narrative often provides seemingly rich material for Sunday school story telling and drama.  However, our familiarity with it can obscure the darker side of the story. Our #MeToo society has become alert to the horrors in the story. The treatment of young girls and women is shocking, in Esther’s world, women are there to be summoned and gawped at, traded between men and implicitly used sexually without consent. Esther should shock and disturb us as we realise that women today are still treated in this way. Contrast Mordecai, a descendent of Benjamin and Kish, so in the line of King Saul who uses a young female relative to further his own ambitions with Jesus, of the tribe of Judah, in the line of King David who seeks to honour and protect women.

For Jews, part of the celebration is to see the wonderful absurdity and humour of the events as the world is turned upside down. A rich and powerful man is brought low whilst a Jewish exile is exalted to power. The poor become rich, the weak become strong.  A king dismisses one wife because she refuses to do his bidding. He wants to reassert his authority, to show that he is in charge.  Yet rather than controlling his new wife, she is seen to influence him. What a reminder of the God who turns this world upside down, humbling the proud and raising up the meek.

The crucial line in the story is where Mordecai urges a hesitant Esther to risk her life for her people and go to speak to the king. He says that if she stays quiet, then God will raise up someone else in her place. However

“Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”[1]

Whilst the book does not mention God’s name directly, there is an overarching sense of his providential care as he acts bringing the right person into the right place at the right time. Esther was there “for such a time as this.” The world seemed dark, dangerous and messy but God was present and at work.

Jesus was a person “for such a time as this.” At exactly the right point in history, in the fullness of time, God sent his son not just to risk his life for us but to willingly die on our place and rise triumphant defeating sin and death.

What about you and me?  Is is too much to say that God has put us here “for such a time as this?”  Our world may seem dark, dangerous, chaotic and uncertain at the moment but are we willing to trust God that he is at work? His plan and his timing is perfect. I am amazed as God turns the World upside down forcing us to think and act differently, even using social isolation and restrictions on physical togetherness to open up new and deeper relationships between churches and believers. It is a good thing when at a time when we are called to distance ourselves, we have the opportunity through a wave, smile and shouted greeting to establish contact with people who would never normally greet us. I am so encouraged to see how believers all around the world are seeking to witness to the hope they have.  I am excited to hear stories of Christians being able to comfort, pray and share the Gospel with frightened friends and relatives. God’s people are always people “for such a time as this.” Let’s be ready for God to use us in unexpected ways today.

[1] Esther 4:14.

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