Bible Reading Plan – July 23-29
Bible Project Reading Plan (July 23-29):
Nehemiah 4-13, Esther 1-10, Daniel 1-3, Psalm 49-55
Esther is one of the most fascinating books in the Old Testament, and another testimony to the beautiful art of storytelling portrayed in the Bible. The Bible Project video below is helpful in demonstrating this: the story is well structured, uses irony well, has wonderful plot twists, and demonstrates a deeper meaning than just the retelling of a nice story. Esther, truly, should get more notice from Christians than it likely does, and easily could be re-adapted for the cinematic screen today, with updated themes and settings.
Well, it could, but such an adaptation would rob the story of one of the main underlining themes, which may come as something slightly unexpected: the finishing of the work of Saul, son of Kish, the first (disgraced) king of Israel. Saul, it may be remembered, had the kingdom removed from him by God, when Saul refused to kill Agag (remember that name!) and the choicest of the animals of the Amalekites. We read in 1 Samuel:
Saul and the troops spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, goats, cattle, and choice animals, as well as the young rams and the best of everything else. They were not willing to destroy them, but they did destroy all the worthless and unwanted things.
Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel, “I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned away from following me and has not carried out my instructions.”
So Samuel became angry and cried out to the LORD all night. Early in the morning Samuel got up to confront Saul, but it was reported to Samuel, “Saul went to Carmel where he set up a monument for himself. Then he turned around and went down to Gilgal.”
When Samuel came to him, Saul said, “May the LORD bless you. I have carried out the LORD ‘s instructions.” Samuel replied, “Then what is this sound of sheep, goats, and cattle I hear?”
1 Samuel 15:9-14 (CSB17)
Instead of destroying the livestock, and the king, Saul kept them, and allowed the people to do the same.
The Amalekites were a source of trouble for the Israelites since they had first met them during the trek to Sinai. Instead of allowing the people to pass, the Amalekites attacked the weak Israelites, who survived because of God’s good favor over them. God swore that he would not leave the Amelekites unpunished, and that he would destroy them from the earth for their treachery. The failure of Saul hints at the impossible: the failure of God to keep his word (see Exo 17:8-16).
When we come to Esther, we find that the chief antagonist is identified as Haman, an Agagite (3:1; remember that name?). The story unfolds, showing that God’s concern for his people is often times worked out through unusual circumstances, “lucky” occurrences, and happenstance. Yet, his providential hand is behind it all. While he is not mentioned, his concerns and desires are worked out in the “real world,” as it is. Nowhere is this better seen then in the destruction of Agag through his descendant, Haman and his sons. God uses the bravery of Esther, and the cunning of Mordecai, to bring about his good pleasure, mentioned centuries before and thwarted through the sin of Saul.
Two things are of special note, one that seals (for me, at least) this connection, and one of prophetic importance. First, the refrain at the end of Esther, as the Jews defend themselves by putting their enemies to death, that they refused to “seize any plunder” (Est 9:10; cf. 9:15, 16). This is to show, with great finesse, that the people here followed the leadership of Mordecai for the good, while the people had followed Saul’s poor leadership to their harm. In 1 Samuel again, we read
The LORD anointed you king over Israel and then sent you on a mission and said: ‘Go and completely destroy the sinful Amalekites. Fight against them until you have annihilated them.’ So why didn’t you obey the LORD? Why did you rush on the plunder and do what was evil in the LORD ‘s sight?
1 Samuel 15:17-19 (CSB17)
The people under Saul’s rule ignored the voice of God, rushed on the plunder, and left the king alive. The Jews is Susa and other parts of the kingdom fully followed the voice of the Lord, killing all of the Amalekites and seizing none of the spoil. God uses his people to destroy the Amalekites, just as he foretold. God’s word is true, and he is good to his word.
But, secondly, we are to understand that the fate of the Amalekites is not limited to them alone. God’s wrath was pointed toward the Amalekites for their desire to destroy the people of God, and God’s wrath has not averted from his enemies. While the Amalekites are a clear example of this, the point is made firmly in Ester that “the Jews [had] the right to assemble and defend themselves, to destroy, kill, and annihilate every ethnic and provincial army hostile to them” (Est 8:11). All who stand against God and his people will face his wrath in the end.
Seek the Lord while he can be found, while the year of the Lord’s favor is upon us!