Saturday, 15 June 2019

Let God pick up the pieces

Mordecai said, “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” ... And Esther said, “I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I die, I die”. Esther 4:14-16

I was given a book not long ago which had me gripped pretty well throughout. It’s about the Nazi horror both before and during the Second World War. Especially, it focuses on two of the lawyers who played a major part in establishing what crimes the German leaders could be accused of at the Nuremberg war trials. What makes it particularly fascinating is that both of them were themselves victims of the Holocaust - and both of them came from the same city, Lvi v, situated today in Ukraine. If you’re interested, look out for East West Street, by Philippe Sands.

I was in the middle of this book when, in my daily Bible reading, I found myself in the Old Testament book of Esther. What struck me is how uncannily history repeats itself: the Nazis tried to exterminate the Jews - and that, according to Esther, is exactly what happened under King Xerxes of Persia nearly 500 years before Jesus.
I won’t go over the story- you can read it again at your leisure. But in essence it’s about how God raised up a Jewish girl called Hadassah, or Esther, to become part of the king’s harem and to succeed in wrecking the wicked Haman’s plot against the Jews.

As you read books like these, you find yourself shaking your head at one of the mysteries of history: why have the Jews been so viciously hated down through the centuries? May God forgive us for any hint of racial prejudice that lurks in our hearts! - and especially, perhaps, for any hint of antisemitism.

I’m not competent to answer the question. I just want to highlight a pivotal point in the story of Esther, a point which remains relevant for us all these centuries later. It takes the form of a conversation between Esther and Mordecai, her uncle and guardian...

First, there is the moment when Mordecai gets her to see that it is no mere accident or coincidence that - completely out of the blue - she has risen to a position of power with King Xerxes.

True, a terrible emergency has arisen; true, all the Jews in Persia are threatened with mass murder. But... Esther is one of the king’s concubines! So she may be able to exert influence on him. Mordecai speaks these memorable words: “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (4:14).

Though God is never actually mentioned in the book, its message for us is about his providence - how, in ways we cannot imagine, he works through the circumstances of our lives in order to bring his purposes to reality.

Do we believe this? Of course, most of us have a far more humdrum role in life than Esther. But God uses his people in all sorts of ways, so that even when things seem to be going wrong, his hand is, so to speak, on the tiller.

As we go about our ordinary business day by day, let’s remind ourselves: “It’s not just random or coincidental that I am where I am. God has a purpose for my life today - through the situations I find myself in, through the people I meet, even through the pains and difficulties I may have to face up to.”

And so let’s breathe a simple prayer: “Lord, don’t let me miss what you want of me today!”

How does Esther respond? The task Mordecai suggests is extremely uncertain, and fraught with danger. She may succeed, or she may fail, for strictly it is forbidden for her to approach Xerxes - on pain of death.

So what does she do? First, she asks Mordecai to get the people of Israel to fast and pray for three days and nights. And then this: “When all this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I die, I die.” (4:16).
There is a wonderful, if rather brutal, simplicity about those words: If I die, I die.

In essence what Esther is saying is: “My business is simply to do what is right - and leave the consequences to God.” She isn’t shrugging her shoulders in resignation; she is affirming her faith in God.

In my time as a minister I developed a little mantra for when we found ourselves in a particularly difficult situation. (I wish I could say I obeyed it at all times!) I remain convinced that it’s wise: Do what’s right and let God pick up the pieces.

Life sometimes throws up difficult and delicate situations which require hard answers. It can be easy to “take the line of least resistance” and go with the flow. It can be hard - and involve real pain and sacrifice - to stand firm for what is right.

To say with Esther, in effect, If I die, I die. So be it, Lord.

Do we have that kind of faith and courage?

Father, you tell us in your word to “put on the whole armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Give me, I pray, the faith, the courage and the wisdom to do that in every situation. Amen.

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