Stories of Strength Against All Odds
There are two Books in the Bible named after women: Esther and Ruth. Esther became a Queen, and Ruth was a peasant girl, whose descendants include the Royal House of David. Together, their stories give us a glimpse into Jewish culture and belief and into the everyday life of women in Biblical times.
This teaching is about God's miraculous provisions and plans for His people and how He accomplishes them in the world through His willing vessels. Both stories are equally important, even vital, to the historical narratives of Israel. It's essential to note that Jewish people read both of these books at appointed times; Ruth is read at the Feast of Pentecost (Shav'uot), and Esther is read at the Festival of Purim. (or, the Feast of Lots)
In the Book of Esther, God's name is never mentioned.
There are many similarities in both books:
Relatives play an essential role.
Death is a familiar plot.
Someone stood in the way of God's plan.
Loyalty and commitment come into play.
Action and faith were required.
Yet, there are many contrasts between the two women:
Esther was Jewish, an orphan, and she married a pagan Gentile king. Ruth was a Gentile from a pagan country who married a Hebrew.
Esther was an orphan. Ruth was a widow.
Ruth came to Israel. Esther was an exile.
Ruth was a Gentile living among Jews. Esther was a Jew living among Gentiles.
Ruth was a proselyte. Esther was influenced by many proselytes.
Ruth gleaned in a field. Esther ruled in a palace.
Esther was rich. Ruth was poor.
Ruth was the grandmother of a king. Esther was related to King Saul.
Ruth gave life. Esther ordered death.
…were foreigners living in a land other than their own.
…found favor in the eyes of those who saw them.
…were taken into the home of relatives.
…of their relatives were blessings to others.
…were women of Integrity.
…were submissive and willing to die to do God's will.
…were dressed in special garments to make their request.
…brought joy to the Jews.
God redeemed Ruth to perpetuate the line of our Redeemer, Yeshua.
God saved Esther to protect the nation through whom the Redeemer would be born.
Let's focus on Esther since The Festival of Lots (or Purim) is on Feb. 26, 2021, this year.
Purim is not one of the Levitical Feasts though it is equally important because it is mentioned in the Book of Esther.
The author of the book is uncertain; however, some say Mordecai wrote the book around 465 BCE and covered ten years (483-473 BCE) during the reign of Xerxes (or Ahasuerus, a Hebrew form of his name).
Esther 1:1-2; "Now it took place in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, in those days as King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne which was at the citadel in Susa…"[i]
_____A Banquet / Party
Esther 1:3-8; "(3) in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his princes and attendants, the army officers of Persia and Media, the nobles and the princes of his provinces being in his presence. (4) And he displayed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor of his great majesty for many days, 180 days . (5) When these days were completed, the king gave a banquet lasting seven days for all the people who were present at the citadel in Susa, from the greatest to the least, in the court of the garden of the king's palace. (6) There were hangings of fine white and violet linen held by cords of fine purple linen on silver rings and marble columns, and couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and precious stones. (7) Drinks were served in golden vessels of various kinds, and the royal wine was plentiful according to the king's bounty. (8) The drinking was done according to the law, there was no compulsion, for so the king had given orders to each official of his household that he should do according to the desires of each person."
The King of Medo-Persia wanted to display the glory of his riches by giving two banquets. The first was a massive affair with many guests because the king wanted to flaunt his wealth and power in front of the people. It lasted a mere 180 days! This banquet was for the 'upper class' and included the princes, nobles, and army officers. (Had you lived 2500 years ago in Susa, there is a good chance that you, like me, would have waited in vain for the invitation to this party. But, we would have made the second one! )
The second - was a seven-day banquet for everyone and involved all the finery the king could display. On display at this banquet were – 'hangings of fine white and violet linen held by cords of fine purple linen on silver rings and marble columns, and couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and precious stones.' Plus a fair amount of wine.
It is worth pausing at this stage to think about OUR King - The King of kings, that is.
In what ways does He display 'the riches of His glory'?
Have you read about that term and what it relates to in the New Covenant?
In contrast to the king of Medo-Persia’s ostentation, God displays His riches and glory as He moves in and through our lives. His glory is His grace, character, and nature, and these riches are encapsulated in a person – Yeshua, The Messiah – whom God has given to all that believe in Him. That is why Shaul (Paul) wrote:
Colossians 1:27; God chose to make known to them this glorious mystery regarding the Gentiles- which is Messiah in you, the hope of glory. Ephesians 3:16-17; I pray that from His glorious riches He would grant you to be strengthened in your inner being with power through His Ruach, so that Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray you, being rooted and grounded in his love,
_____A Third Banquet
Esther 1:9-12 In addition, Queen Vashti held a banquet for the women in the royal palace of King Ahasuerus. On the 7th day, when the heart of the king was merry from the wine, he commanded Mehuman, Bizzetha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Carcas the seven eunuchs who attended Ahasuerus the king to bring Queen Vashti before the king wearing the royal crown. He wanted to show the peoples and the officials her beauty, for she was very attractive, But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's command conveyed by the eunuchs. Then the king became furious, and burned with anger.
Queen Vashti held the third banquet for the women of the palace. It seems that they were pretty keen to keep their distance from the drunken party the men were having. Some say it was the custom of the day to have separate banquets. Still, a problem arose on the last day when the drunken king called for the queen to come and display 'her beauty' before all these men!
Would you want to be 'gawked' at by a room full of men who had been drinking for seven days? Right or wrong (and I can understand why she would NOT want to go!) Vashti refused. Her boldness was noble, but neither commoners nor queens dare to deny the kings of Medo-Persia and think to get away with it.
Herein lies an important lesson we can learn from Vashti:
Our beauty is on the inside and should only be displayed as we reflect Yeshua in us. It is not for vanity or man's purposes.
Esther 1:16-22 Then Memucan answered in the presence of the king and the princes: "Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king, but also all the princes and peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. 17 For the queen's conduct will go out to all the women making their husbands contemptible in their eyes, by saying, 'King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought in before him, but she would not come!' 18 This very day the noblewomen of Persia and Media who have heard of the matter concerning the queen will respond similarly to all the king's princes and there will be no end to the contempt and anger. 19 If it pleases the king, let a royal commandment go forth from him, and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti may not come into the presence of King Ahasuerus, and let the king give her royal status to another who is more worthy than she. 20 Then the king's edict, which he will enact, will be proclaimed throughout all his vast kingdom, and all the wives will give their husbands honor from the greatest to the smallest." 21 The matter pleased the king and the princes. So the king did according to the word of Memucan. 22 He sent letters throughout all the royal provinces, to each province in its own script, and to each people in its own language, that every man should be in charge of his own household, and speak the language of his own people.
So, the furious king asks his 'wise men' what should be done to the queen for refusing his invitation. And Memucan, seizing the opportunity, suggests that this may not be an isolated incident if left unchecked, and wives throughout the kingdom will rise up and rebel against their husbands! He might seem a bit dramatic with that conclusion, but his manipulation worked. The king wasn't in the mood for mercy and agreed.
Because she refused to go to the king’s banquet feast, Vashti is stripped of her crown, is refused entry into the king's presence, and letters are sent to each of the king's provinces advising that it is the man that is the master in the household! (And note that this decree was written in the laws of Persia and Media and could not be altered or repealed.)
An illustration of this is given to us in the New Covenant. The true King, the God of heaven and earth, is now inviting all that will come to his banquet feast to honor His Son. Those that accept find the richest of God's grace and blessing upon their lives, just as the inhabitants of the Persian kingdom found an abundance of the king's provision. Those that refuse will, in like manner, be banished from His presence in an act that cannot be overturned or repealed.
Matthew 7:21-23 21 "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord!' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, didn't we prophesy in Your name, and drive out demons in Your name, and perform many miracles in Your name?' 23 Then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you. Get away from Me, you workers of lawlessness!'”
Some believe that those who reject God in this life will be given another chance in the next. The Bible does not teach this. Now is the day of salvation. Now is the day of grace! If a person dies having refused God's invitation to come, then they will be sent from His presence on the Day of Judgment, never to return.
Now the above verse in the Book of Matthew is known to scare even true Believers. Although there is no need to fear, for it only concerns those that Yeshua ‘NEVER knew.’ This scripture was not meant for true believers of whom Yeshua says, ‘I KNOW my sheep... and they shall NEVER perish!’ But it should act as a clear warning to those who trust in the things they do and not in what Yeshua DID.
Those who do the will of God will enter heaven. The Bible tells us what the ultimate intention of the Father is for mankind. We do not have to be insecure concerning this. God’s will was the very thing that the disciples wanted to know about, so they asked of the Lord Yeshua and were answered emphatically:
John 6:27-29- 27 Don’t work for food that spoils, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on Him, God the Father has put the seal of approval.” 28 Then they said to Him, “What shall we do to perform the works of God?” 29 Yeshua answered them, “This is the work of God, to trust in the One He sent.”
Though we started out comparing Esther and Ruth, it is Vashti’s actions here in the Book of Esther that remind us ‘it is better to obey the king than to be cut off forever.’ Even so, her actions provided an opportunity for Esther to become queen and for God’s people to be saved.
The Festival of Purim is a story of victory against all odds. It’s a story of God’s ultimate preservation and election. It’s a story of God using ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary tasks. Esther’s famous words: “If I perish, I perish,” express her willingness to defy the odds and carry out God’s plan for His people.
In our lifetime, we may not have the ability to do something as spectacular as Esther did for her people, but we do have opportunities every day to stand for Messiah and do what’s right. We simply need to be willing vessels. Let’s not miss it!
Love in Yeshua,
Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved [i] New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. All rights reserved.