These are trying times. As we're confronted with an economic meltdown of global proportions, international terrorism, political upheaval and cultural decline, many can't help wondering how we will survive such conditions.
Jewish history has much to teach us about how God has preserved His people through times of upheaval and distress. This month, Jews around the world are celebrating the Festival of Purim, based on events recorded in the Old Testament book of Esther. This holiday is celebrated with great mirth—with games and feasting, costumes and theatrical extravaganzas called Purim Spiels. Nevertheless, the subject of Purim is serious.
Thousands of Jews in the Diaspora were on the brink of full-scale slaughter at the hands of a Persian prince named Haman, who, much like Adolph Hitler, wanted to exterminate the Jewish people. The book of Esther records how God used a very unlikely duo to rescue His people from Haman's plot. This true story offers tremendous insight for all of God's people today; it provides keys for survival in the midst of a crisis.
The book of Esther sets the stage for the dramatic fate of Jewish people living in Persia. Descendants of those exiled from their homeland, Israel, Jews were tolerated, but still strangers. Esther had been tragically orphaned at a young age, bereft of any immediate family to care for her. What a deeply profound sorrow she had to endure. How does an orphan child survive such devastating loss in a foreign land? Esther had no Persian social safety net," to care
for her in her distress.
The First Key to Survival:
The Bible tells us that Esther's cousin, Mordechai, mercifully adopted and raised her as his own daughter. Of all the scenarios that might have played out in the life of a beautiful orphan child, what could be better? Mordechai was a righteous man who sought to follow God. There is no substitute for godly families who seek to raise loved ones in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. But when there are no immediate family members to do so, thank God for extended family.
Apparently Esther felt the benefits of her upbringing, as she chose to obey Mordechai in all things. This fact resurfaces as a crucial component later in the story.
Through an amazing set of circumstances, Esther became queen to the Persian monarch. Once Haman's wicked plot unfolded, Mordechai called upon Esther to act on behalf of her extended family, the Jewish people. Esther had learned the importance of extended family and agreed to intervene, risking her life in the process.
Even today, most Jewish people I know view other Jews, wherever they may be, as extended family. As an often misunderstood and even despised minority, Jewish people have had to look out for one another, a concept known in modern times as "Ahavat Yisrael," the brotherhood of Israel. (Israel, in this case, referring not only to a particular location but to Jewish people everywhere.)
Followers of Jesus, whether Jewish or Gentile, are an increasingly misunderstood and often despised minority. We need to act accordingly, caring for and supporting one another like the extended family the Bible tells us we are (Galatians 6:10). Jesus made a point of identifying His extended family: "Who are my mother and my brothers? Whoever does God's will" (Mark 3:33-35).
The Second Key to Survival: Personal Righteousness.
We see this character trait in Mordechai. When he discovered a plot to kill the king, he risked his own well being to warn Ahasuerus, though he had little to gain in doing so. And of course, Mordechai also refused to bow down and pay homage to evil Haman, despite the potential of deadly retribution.
As for Queen Esther, she had a place of prominence and personal security. Yet, at the urging of her uncle and the constraints of her own conscience, she risked it all for the sake of the Jewish people. Her one hope was to rely on their intercessory prayers. Having done all she could to secure those prayers, she bravely concluded, "If I perish, I perish."
By today's standards these may seem like reckless acts of altruism. Mordechai and Esther reflected a piety and a moral rectitude rarely seen today. Political, corporate and, unfortunately, ecclesiastical corruption are the stuff of daily headlines. We can easily become inured to it, failing to mourn the passing of virtues like personal responsibility and godly character. When did the term "puritan" become "puritanical" and a personal insult?
Today we elevate celebrities, not tzaddiks. (Tzaddik is a Hebrew term to connote a person who is righteous, good and kind.) Sadly, this is true even among some Christ-followers. But a time is coming when God's people will have to risk much to stand against the rising tide of moral relativism. We may even face challenges similar to those of Esther and Mordechai. Extended family and a willingness to risk all to do what is right are two keys to survival. But it is the third key on which everything must depend.
The Third Key to Survival in Today's Uncertain World: Faith in the unseen God.
The name of God is never mentioned in the book of Esther. Yet we see His fingerprints all over the story. Certainly He is the cornerstone of Mordechai and Esther's commitments, be it Mordechai's refusal to bow to Haman or Esther's great risk on behalf of her people, Israel. But we also see Him in a series of circumstances that may appear random—from Mordechai's "happening" to be in a position to prevent the king's assassination, to the way Esther "happened" to become queen.
In fact, the name of this festival, Purim, means "lots," since Haman had cast a lot to determine the best time to destroy the Jewish people. Many today believe, as Haman did, that life is a series of coincidences, or else a set of circumstances determined either by luck, or by the stars if not by human will. Many people today say they experience the "luck of the draw;" they talk about "the die being cast," or "this is my lot in life."
Proverbs 16:33 tell us, "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord." There is no such thing as coincidence or luck. God is sovereign over all, even when His amazing behind-the-scenes work remains unseen. While we find no mention of God in the book of Esther we may find a sense of God's humor in the omission. I imagine God giving us a wink and a nod, as though daring us to write off this story as mere coincidence.
Do we really believe that the recent economic meltdowns, rise of global terrorism or quickly escalating "culture wars" are catching God by surprise? Rather than wringing our hands over these problems, let's trust in His hand, and stand with His purposes for this world and for His people.
Today the Jewish people celebrate Purim as a festival—but on that first Purim, God delivered us by enabling us to fight, and the ability to do so was, in itself, a blessing (Esther 8:11). Someday we followers of Jesus will look back on this difficult period and rejoice in all the good that God has done. But now is the time when we must pick up the weapons of our spiritual warfare, contend for the well being of our family in Christ, stand firm for personal righteousness and renew our faith in the sovereignty of our unseen God. Come on people of God. Let's fight the good fight!