Over the past few months we have been in the New Testament in our Bible readings, so this month we return to the Old Testament. We are going to work our way through a short book, the Book of Esther.
Thursday 1st March
The story begins in the royal household of Xerxes, King of Persia. He had succeeded his father Darius and reigned from around 486 to 464 BC. He had a huge empire stretching from India to Cush (Ethiopia). We are told that over a six month period he brought nobles, officials and princes to a great celebration in Susa, where he displayed his riches ‘and the splendour and glory of his majesty’ (verse 4). The picture painted in these verses is that of a man with astonishing wealth and overwhelming power. He wanted everyone to see that wealth and power, so the leaders in each province came from across his empire to meet in Susa. King Xerxes had it all and wanted everyone to see his glory. This sets the scene for what follows, when his absolute power is challenged.
Pray for Covenant Fellowship Scotland as it seeks to build up opposition to the current trajectory of the Church of Scotland and as it tries to work towards the reformation of the Church. Pray for the Director, Eric Smith.
Friday 2nd March
At the end of the six months in which the glory of Xerxes’ wealth and power were displayed, the king holds a huge banquet, which lasted for seven days. The biblical scholars tell us that such huge banquets were quite common in the Persian empire. The banquet took place in the enclosed garden of the palace, lavishly decorated and prepared. Every person attending was given a gold goblet to drink from and every single goblet was different from the others, all individually designed. Each guest could choose what he would like to drink and the waiters were instructed to meet every request. While the men were attending this banquet, Queen Vashti hosted a banquet for the women. So far, everything is fine and everyone is enjoying their respective banquets. As we shall see tomorrow, that was about to change.
Today is the World Day of Prayer. There will be a service in our church from 10am to 12noon. Pray that many will come. Pray too for the services taking place all over the world in different churches.
Saturday 3rd March
On the last day of the banquet, when the king was ‘in high spirits from wine’, he issued an order. The suggestion may be that he had had too much to drink and was not thinking clearly. What he wanted is described in verse 11. He ordered his officials ‘to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at’. Perhaps Queen Vashti objected to being paraded in this manner or perhaps she was quite happy at her own banquet with the women. Either way, she refused to come. The king was furious ‘and burned with anger’. This was a man who controlled the largest empire of his time and he was used to getting his way. People did not say ‘no’ to King Xerxes and so there was a crisis.
As we move towards Easter in a few weeks’ time, pray that many people in Inverness and throughout the Highlands might hear the Easter message of resurrection and respond in faith and repentance.
Sunday 4th March
The king consults with his officials and wise men, to ask what ought to be done about the queen’s refusal to obey an order from the king. They discuss the matter and then Memucan replies on behalf of them all. The wise men were concerned that Vashti’s refusal to obey an order from the king could lead to an outbreak of disobedience across the empire! They were worried that wives would refuse to obey their husbands just as Vashti had done. They could see anarchy and chaos breaking out. That being the case, the recommendation was that Vashti be stripped of her royal position and prevented from ever again coming into the presence of the king. Then a new queen should be appointed in her place. This whole episode prepares the way for Esther to come into the story.
Pray for the Minister as he takes both services in church today and also takes the service at Raigmore.
Monday 5th March
The king and his nobles accepted the advice of the advisors and the decision was made. An edict was sent out across the empire, in multiple languages, with the instruction that ‘every man was to be ruler over his own household’. This may seem to us like astonishing ‘overkill’ in response to a simple act of disobedience by the queen but clearly the king and his courtiers were rattled. Given that Esther was soon to replace Vashti and given that she would help to save the Jews all over the empire from being killed, we must see the hand of God’s providence in this situation, whatever we might think of the king’s pride and arrogance.
Pray for the Fellowship Groups, many of which will be meeting this week. Give thanks for these opportunities to discuss God’s Word and to share fellowship together.
Tuesday 6th March
Some time had passed between the events described in chapter one and the next episode in the story. In chapter one, Xerxes is in the third year of his reign (verse 3) and by the time Esther comes into the royal palace, it is the seventh year of his reign (2:16). In any case, new advice is received by the king from his officials. Since Vashti has been deposed, she must be replaced. Beautiful virgins should be brought from all over the kingdom, brought into the royal harem and prepared to be received by the king. He should then choose the new queen from among them. The king agreed. This shows us the sinful, inhumane treatment of women when the law of God is not in place and where pagan kings make up their own rules and their own morality.
Pray for the Girls’ Brigade, for Susan Mackenzie and her officers and staff. Pray for every girl who comes, asking that all of them may grow up to love and serve the Lord.
Wednesday 7th March
Now Esther is introduced to the story. We’re told that Mordecai was one of those Jews who had been taken into exile when Judah fell to Nebuchadnezzar (see 2 Chronicles 36). Given the time gap between the exile and the time of Xerxes, it is more likely that Mordecai’s family was taken into exile and that he was born in exile, in Susa. Clearly, however, he identifies with his Benjamite forefathers and sees himself as a product of the exile, thus remaining faithful to his Israelite heritage. We’re told that he had adopted his cousin Hadassah as his own daughter, after her father and mother had died. She was also known as Esther and was very beautiful. Her destiny in God’s providence would soon be revealed.
Pray for the work among the homeless in Inverness. Pray too for those who are helped by the provision of food. Pray for all those in Inverness Presbytery who are engaged in this work. Pray too for the Salvation Army, the Highland Homeless Trust and Blythswood International.
Thursday 8th March
When all the most beautiful young women were being selected to be taken to the king’s harem, with a view to one of them becoming the new queen, Esther was also taken. She immediately became a favourite of Hegai, the keeper of the harem, who provided lavishly for her and gave her a special place. One thing she did not do was to admit her nationality and family background. Mordecai had insisted that she keep this secret. Was this because there was still hatred of the Jews among many of the Persians? The rest of the story might suggest that. Or was it because Mordecai believed that the king would never marry an exiled foreigner? Certainly, Mordecai was concerned for Esther and did not want any trouble to come her way. Each day he went near the harem to find out what news there was of her.
Pray for the Senior Citizens’ lunch at Raigmore Community Centre today and pray for Ian Challinor who will give the message.
Friday 9th March
Each girl had a year of preparation before being taken in to the king, with beauty treatments, perfumes and cosmetics provided. After going in to the king, each girl returned to the harem to await news of whether or not the king would summon her again. When they went in to the king, they could request anything. When it was Esther’s turn she took the advice of the keeper of the harem and asked for nothing more. The decision of the king is found in verse 17: ‘Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favour and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti’. Esther has gone from being the lowly daughter of an exiled Jewish family, to being the most powerful woman in the empire. God works in mysterious ways.
Pray for Open Doors today. Pray for Bob Matheson and his team of volunteers. Pray that opportunities might be found to share the truth about Jesus Christ.
Saturday 10th March
The focus of the story now switches from Esther to her cousin (and adoptive father) Mordecai. Somehow, Mordecai discovered a plot by two of the king’s officials. They were intending to assassinate him. Mordecai tells Esther about this and she tells the king, naming Mordecai as the source. The plot was foiled and the two officials were hanged. One interesting element in this story concerns verse 20. Speaking of Esther it says that ‘she continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up’. She was now queen of the Persian empire but still obeyed the instructions of her adoptive father. No doubt as a Jewish child growing up (even in exile) she would have learned the Ten Commandments and continued to honour her father. She was in a land where the laws were not based on God’s revelation through Moses but she remained faithful to God and Mordecai.
Pray for the meeting of Presbytery today. Pray for the Minister as he chairs the meeting as Moderator of Presbytery. Pray that the fellowship shared over food during the day might be a real blessing to everyone.
Sunday 11th March
Now we are introduced to the villain of the piece, Haman. For the rest of the book, he and Mordecai will be arch-enemies and only one will survive in the end. We’re told that the king ‘honoured Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honour higher than that of all the other nobles’. As a result, everyone else bowed down to Haman and paid him respect. Mordecai refused to bow. We’re not given details but perhaps what Haman expected was akin to worship and Mordecai, as a good Jew, would worship only the Lord. Either way, Haman was enraged. Mordecai has made an enemy and the plot of the story will centre around these two men.
Pray for the Minister as he takes the morning service, Donald MacVicar as he takes the Raigmore service and Alex Stephen as he takes the evening service. Pray too for the Gaelic Service which takes place today and for the Rev. D.A. Maclennan who will take the service.
Monday 12th March
We read these verses again today to note something very significant in verse 6. Haman, ‘having learned who Mordecai’s people were, scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes’. We are used to hearing stories of Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust, the attempt to wipe out the Jewish race. That is exactly what Haman planned to do. There have been various times in history when attempts have been made to destroy the Jews. Even in our day, we have heard speeches from some extremist Arab leaders, denying Israel’s right to exist and calling for them to be wiped out. This attack on God’s chosen people can only be satanic. Yet God has never allowed these plans to succeed and so Haman would also fail.
Pray for the Minister and June as they begin their holiday today. Pray that they will return refreshed and ready for the work here in the East.
Tuesday 13th March
The main reason for the inclusion of Esther in the Bible is to explain the origins of the Jewish festival of Purim. We shall see that more clearly towards the end of the book. Here we see the word ‘pur’ appear for the first time, a Persian word meaning a ‘lot’. In order to ascertain the best time to carry out his threat against the Jews, lots were cast and the time was decided. Having established the time, Haman goes to the king for permission to carry out the planned holocaust. Notice, he did not even say that the people in question were the Jews. He simply said that they were a people who had their own law and did not obey Persian law. This was not true. The Jews did have God’s law, given through Moses but wherever they went into exile, they obeyed the laws of the land to which they were taken. The king agreed to what Haman proposed and gave Haman his signet ring, so he could authorise any edict in the king’s name. The king simply left Haman to get on with it. The danger to God’s people was indeed very great.
Pray for Sheila Murray and for the work of the church office. Pray too for all those who help with the day to day tasks which are so necessary in the church.
Wednesday 14th March
Finally, the instruction is given. On the day chosen by lot, every Jew in the empire was to be killed. The instruction went out to every part of the empire, in every language, authorised by the king’s command and sealed by his signet ring. The words of the edict are terrible in their intention. The order was ‘to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews – young and old, women and little children’ and to plunder their goods. It is hard for us to imagine such barbarity being enacted at the whim of one man, Haman, yet we have seen similar barbarity in regimes in our day: think of Joseph Stalin, Idi Amin, Kim il Sung, Robert Mugabe, Saddam Hussein and others, all of whom were utterly ruthless with those who stood against them. As the Scripture says, ‘the heart of man is desperately wicked’. When someone has absolute power, with no restraints, such a person can do abominably evil things.
Pray for the work of the Scottish Bible Society and for its chief executive, Elaine Duncan. Pray that the distribution of Bibles in this country and throughout the world would put God’s Word into the hands of many who have never heard it or understood God’s grace.
Thursday 15th March
Mordecai was beside himself with grief at the impending fate of his people, the Jews. He followed the traditional signs of mourning, wearing sackcloth and wiping ash on the body, weeping and wailing before God and in sight of the people. The same reaction was being witnessed all over the empire, as the Jews awaited their annihilation. Esther hears about Mordecai and sends him clothes to wear instead of the sackcloth but he refuses. Then she sends a trusted servant to find out what was happening and why Mordecai was so troubled. Although she was the queen, she lived in the harem and had little knowledge of what was happening outside the palace. Nevertheless, she was deeply concerned about Mordecai.
Pray for the Gathering this morning. Pray that the time of fellowship might be a pleasure and encouragement to all who attend.
Friday 16th March
Esther’s servant Hathach went to see Mordecai on Esther’s behalf, to discover what was happening. Mordecai told him the whole story, in great detail. Somehow, he even knew about Haman’s offer to put a huge sum of money into the royal treasury. He had a copy of the edict and gave it to Hathach to show Esther and to ask her to plead with the king on behalf of the Jews. Hathach reported back to Esther but there was a problem. No-one could approach the king without being summoned. To appear without being summoned could mean instant execution. Esther had not been summoned for 30 days and did not know what to do. This message was sent back to Mordecai by Hathach. The situation seemed impossible.
Pray for the office bearers of the church: for Donald MacVicar, the Session Clerk; for, Marlene MacRae, the Clerk to the Deacons’ Court; for Duncan Fraser, the treasurer; for Calum Campbell, the fabric convener; and for all who serve as elders and deacons.
Saturday 17th March
When Mordecai heard that Esther did not believe she could do anything to help, he sent a message straight back. He warned her that her own position was in danger too. The fact that she was queen would not save her because she was a Jew. Then he said something prophetic, in verse 14: ‘And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?’ Mordecai understood the providence of God. It could not be a coincidence that a Jew had become queen at the very time all Jews were about to be killed. Esther understood and volunteered to risk her life by appearing unsummoned before the king. She urged Mordecai and all the Jews to fast, one of the ways in which prayer was enhanced in the Scriptures. Mordecai called everyone to fast.
Pray for those Christians who face persecution and for those Christians who have suffered terrorist attacks on their churches and communities, in Pakistan, in Nigeria, in Syria, in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Pray for the work of the Barnabas Fund which supports the persecuted church.
Sunday 18th March
Esther, with great courage, goes before the king, even although he had not summoned her. He would either have her killed for such audacity or hold out the sceptre and invite her to draw near. Happily, he held out the sceptre. He offered her whatever she wanted. Instead of coming straight out and asking for the decree against the Jews to be annulled, she invited the king and Haman to a banquet that she had prepared. Somehow, she knew that an immediate request was risky and that to prepare the way by having the king and Haman together at a banquet was a better option. The banquet began and then the king asked for her request. She again delayed, inviting them back the next day. All of this, in the providence of God, led to the result Esther and Mordecai wanted.
Pray for the Rev Donald MacQuarrie, as he takes the morning and evening services today and for Derek Morrison as he takes the Raigmore service.
Monday 19th March
Before the second banquet, Haman saw Mordecai at the gate of the palace and Mordecai (unlike everyone else) would neither acknowledge nor bow to Haman. This infuriated Haman. He was already proud of the fact that, as well as the king, he was the only one invited to the banquet prepared by Esther. He was full of himself and the failure of this Jew to acknowledge his importance led him to burn with hatred. At the suggestion of his wife and friends, he built a gallows, seventy five feet high, on which he intended to ask the king to hang Mordecai. It is amazing how God can use the pride and arrogance of human beings to engineer their own downfall.
Pray for the Council of Assembly meeting in Edinburgh today, as it prepares for the General Assembly in May.
Tuesday 20th March
The king could not sleep and started to read the annals of his kingdom. He came across the story of how Mordecai had foiled a plot to assassinate the king (2:19-23). He asked what had been done to reward Mordecai and found that nothing had been done. Discovering that Haman was in the royal court, he summoned him and asked a question, ‘What should be done for the man the king delights to honour?’ In his pride and arrogance, Haman assumed that the king was talking about himself and spelled out what should be done for such a man. Imagine his shock when the king stated that he was going to honour Mordecai! Since Haman had come to court to ask the king to hang Mordecai, this was wonderful, poetic justice.
Pray for the Women’s Bible study group which meets every Tuesday morning. Pray that as they study God’s Word it will impact their lives and promote godly Christian living.
Wednesday 21st March
Haman is now in the impossible position of leading around the city in triumph, the very man he had intended to hang. Mordecai was given the honour which Haman had craved for himself. It was deeply humiliating for Haman to have to do this and again he consulted his wife and friends. This time their advice was different, as we see in verse 13: ‘Since Mordecai, before whom your downfall has started, is of Jewish origin, you cannot stand against him – you will surely come to ruin!’ This is a remarkable statement. They knew that to touch God’s covenant people, the Jews, would never succeed. Did they know the stories of how God had protected his people over the centuries and enabled them to triumph over their enemies? In any case, this was a powerful statement concerning God’s love for his own chosen people, of whom Mordecai was one.
Pray for TEAR Fund, Christian Aid and the other Christian relief agencies, as they seek to help those in greatest need, in the name of Christ. Pray especially for their work among refugees and other displaced persons, especially those affected by civil war and natural disasters.
Thursday 22nd March
As the king, Haman and Esther sit at the banquet she had prepared, the king once again asks Esther what she wants. He offers her up to half the kingdom. At this, Esther asks for her life and the lives of her people the Jews to be spared. The king is clearly horrified at the thought that his queen and her fellow Jews were to be annihilated and demands to know who is responsible. When he discovers that the man in question is Haman, sitting at the banquet with himself and Esther, he is absolutely furious. Haman, who was so proud to have been the only one invited to dine with the king and queen is utterly terrified. He could see that his life hung by a thread. Justice would soon be done. God will not be mocked.
Pray for those in our congregation who are sick, at home or in hospital, those who are housebound, or in care homes and for those who have been bereaved.
Friday 23rd March
The king storms out of the room in anger. When he returns he finds Haman pleading with Esther for his life, which the king interprets as Haman molesting the queen. This made things even worse. Haman’s face is covered as a sign that he is a guilty man. Then the gallows which Haman had built to hang Mordecai was pointed out to the king and he instructed that Haman be hanged on his own gallows. Haman is hanged and the king’s anger subsides. The main lesson from this story is the power of God to turn evil back on itself. Those who dare to attack God’s covenant people find that they themselves come under God’s judgement. Mordecai was not a very important man but he was God’s man and that was enough. The evil Haman gets what he deserved. Good triumphs over evil.
Pray for missionaries supported by our congregation. Pray for Neil and Rachel Rae in the Philippines and pray for the MacDonalds in Zambia.
Saturday 24th March
The king gives Haman’s wealth and estates to Esther, who places Mordecai in charge of them. The king is now told of the relationship between Esther and Mordecai and so Mordecai is given high position, including the signet ring of the king, necessary to issue edicts and make laws. In effect, Mordecai now has all the power and prestige that Haman previously had. Yet there was still a problem. The edict ordering the annihilation of all Jews in the empire had gone out in the king’s name and with his seal. It could not be revoked! Esther, in tears, pleads with the king and a solution is found. The previous edict could not be revoked but a new edict could be sent out to offset the previous one. This was agreed by the king.
Pray for all who will preach God’s Word tomorrow, especially in those churches known to us. Pray that God will move by his Spirit across Scotland.
Sunday 25th March
There was no time to lose. The second edict had to be prepared and sent out urgently before the Jews were killed. The royal secretaries were summoned and Mordecai took charge. He prepared and sent out the second edict, in all the languages of the empire, in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s signet ring. The edict was delivered throughout the empire by men on fast horses. The edict allowed the Jews to defend themselves against any attacks by their enemies and to plunder the property of those enemies. There was celebration wherever the Jews were to be found. There is one interesting point in verse 17: ‘many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them’. Having seen the way in which God stood behind his own people and protected them, many came to believe in this God and became Jews themselves.
Pray for Norman Maciver as he takes morning and evening services today and for Ian Challinor as he takes the Raigmore service.
Monday 26th March
The situation of the Jews in the Persian empire changed dramatically. From being a persecuted minority, which had been marked out for death and destruction, suddenly their had friends in high places, particularly Mordecai whose power grew and grew. Their enemies were all defeated. This was assisted by the local officials in each province who saw the new lie of the land and put into effect the second edict. Notice, however, that although the Jews defeated those who were intent on killing them, they did not take the plunder to which they were entitled by the second edict. It was enough that they were now free from danger and that the supporters of Haman were killed. They could now live and worship in peace and safety.
Pray for the work among our children and young people. Pray for the Sunday School, the Girls’ Brigade and the Ark Sunday Club.
Tuesday 27th March
When the king asked Esther what further requests she had, she asked for another day to continue the slaughter in Susa of the enemies of the Jews, including the ten sons of Haman. We might well think that this additional slaughter does not sit well with Jewish law and with what we would expect of a Jewish woman but Esther was vindictive and was determined to complete what had been started. The main reason for these verses is to explain the difference in the date of celebration in Susa compared to the rest of the provinces of Persia. The attack on the enemies of the Jews took place on the 13th Day of Adar in the provinces but on the 13th and 14th Days of Adar in Susa, being the extra day requested by Esther. The relevance of this will become clear tomorrow.
Pray for Bill Flett as he takes the Word at One service today.
Wednesday 28th March
A great feast, to celebrate the deliverance of the Jews from annihilation, took place on the fifteenth Day of Adar in Susa and on the fourteenth Day of Adar in the provinces. Mordecai wrote to all the Jews, instructing them to observe these feast days. These were also to be days when gifts were given and food was taken to the poor. No-one was to be excluded from the celebrations, even those who could not afford food for feasting. We should note this concern for the poor which is found throughout the Old Testament. Provision was always made for those who had little, for example, the rule that fields were not to be harvested to the very edge but some was left for the poor to work in. Also, land that was sold by the poor was to be returned at the Jubilee. The care for the poor was obvious too in the ministry of Jesus.
Pray for the Minister as he takes a school assembly at Raigmore this morning and pray for the Annual Stated Meeting of the congregation this evening.
Thursday 29th March
In these verses we learn that this annual feast was called Purim. See notes above on Esther 3:7-11 to explain the word ‘pur’ and the origins of the word ‘purim’. Here we see that this feast of Purim was to be celebrated in perpetuity, so that the deliverance of the Jews under Esther would never be forgotten. There is a strong emphasis in biblical history of remembering days of deliverance, when God rescued his people. This was particularly true of the Passover, when God redeemed his people from Egypt. The annual Passover festival reminds the Jews of what God did for them in the past and encouraged faithfulness to him. To hold such celebrations was an indication of faith in God, who delivered them from Haman’s deadly intentions.
Pray for the Deacons’ Court meeting tonight and give thanks for all those who serve as Deacons, caring for the fabric and finances of the congregation.
Friday 30th March
Esther and Mordecai send letters to the 127 provinces of the empire, to instruct the Jews to mark this annual feast of Purim, on the designated days. The feast of Purim is still celebrated by Jews today. It takes place a month before the Passover and is usually in March. There is a fast before the day, called Esther’s fast, to commemorate the days of fasting before she went to appear before the king. Purim itself is a joyful and happy feast. On that day, the Jews gather to hear the whole book of Esther read, reminding them of the reason for the feast. As we noted at the beginning of these readings, the main reason for Esther being included in the Bible is to explain the origins and significance of the feast of Purim.
Pray for the meeting of the Kirk Session this evening and for the Good Friday service. Pray that God will bless us in our Easter communion week-end.
Saturday 31st March
What an incredible turnaround in the story! Haman, who was given the highest place in the empire after the king, is hanged and the Jew Mordecai becomes himself the second most powerful man in the empire. All of this should lead us to reflect on the sovereign providence of God. At the evening services just now, we are looking at the story of Joseph and that is another Old Testament story which speaks of God’s sovereignty. We must recognise that this same providence of God is at work today, in our own lives and in the life of the church. Sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances which lead us to doubt and fear but if we have a clear understanding of the love and gracious providence of our God, we will find ways through the difficulties we often face. God is in control.
On this Easter Saturday, as we remember the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus, pray that God would give us a deeper understanding of the atonement and the Gospel.