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Recap of Chp 20-

King Xerxes of Persia had reason to party.  His vast empire was powerful and prosperous. His queen was lovely.  His palace was ideal for a celebration befitting such a monarch.  His merrymaking continued for six months when Xerxes summoned Queen Vashti so he could put her on display for the inebriated revelers.  She refused.  Kings do not like to be refused.  With his advisers’ support, he stripped Vashti of her crown and banished her from his presence.

Kings also do not like to be queenless.  The king commissioned a kingdom-wide beauty pageant, and young women from every province were whisked into the king’s harem for a year-long visit at the royal spa.  One such woman was a Jewish girl named Esther who had been raised by her cousin, Mordecai.  Esther won everyone’s heart, including the king’s.  He made her queen but did not know she was a Jew.  Soon after, Mordecai learned of a plot kill the king.  He passed the news to Esther; the king was rescued and the conspirators hanged. Xerxes’ scribe recorded Mordecai’s service in the annals of the king.

Haman was King Xerxes’ right-hand man.  Haman reveled in his high standing and enjoyed having all the royal officials kneel at his feet.  Mordecai refused to pay such homage.  Haman was enraged.  To exact his revenge, Haman deceived the king into issuing a decree to exterminate Mordecai and his people, the entire Jewish population of Persia.  He cast a lot, or pur, and chose a single day of unfettered violence against the Jews.

Mordecai sent word to Esther asking her to beg the king for mercy. Queen Esther feared for her life because no one could legally go before the king without prior permission.  Mordecai’s immortal words persuaded her: “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”  Her courageous response was, “If I perish, I perish.”

She and the Jews in Susa fasted, and Esther approached the king.  Xerxes welcomed her and offered to grant her heart’s desire.  She invited the king and Haman to a private banquet.  Haman was delighted.  Esther invited them both to another fancy but ultimately fatal feast.  Haman was elated to be the exclusive royal guest but still enraged over Mordecai’s insolence.  With all the satisfaction of a Cheshire cat, he erected a pole on which Mordecai could be impaled.

Kings with full stomachs must not sleep well, so Xerxes spent the midnight hours reading the royal records.  He discovered the account of Mordecai’s report that saved his own life and wondered how he might honor such a man.  The king asked Haman for advice on how he might honor one of his favorites.  Assuming that he was the king’s favored, Haman dreamed up an elaborate ceremony. Within moments, a mortified Haman was giving his nemesis the king’s robes, leading him through the streets and singing his praises. Haman later enjoyed the queen’s second banquet until Esther exposed his plot to destroy her people. The king left the room in a fury only to return and discover Haman appearing to assault his queen. He ordered that Haman be impaled on the very pole intended for Mordecai.

The king could not repeal his original edict declaring the destruction of the Jews. But he enabled Mordecai to issue a counter-edict providing for the Jews to take up their own defense. The day planned for destruction became a day of deliverance.  Though the lot was cast, God remains the author of the story.  Even in exile, God protected His people, and in Esther, we see God’s heart for saving us all.

Why have a book in the Bible that God is not mentioned?

The book of Esther is the only book in the Bible where the name of God is never mentioned.  In addition, the Law, sacrifices, the temple and prayer are also conspicuously absent.  These combine to give the reader the impression that Mordecai and Esther and their Jewish brethren were not overly concerned with their relationship with God.   Yet Esther called for a three-day fast, and all the Jews in Susa complied.  So we get a picture of a semi-faithful Jewish population that is still loved and cared for by the ever-faithful LORD.  How comforting to all of us who have experienced periods of spiritual lackluster!

The story of Esther has two main purposes.  First, it teaches us about the providence of God.  In spite of these Jews partial faithfulness, He remains faithful to His promises.  Had Haman been successful, the line of the Messiah would have been cut off. But God has a plan of redemption through the nation of Israel.  He will not let Haman or any other creature restrain it.  This story reminds all readers that even when we cannot see God working, He is.  Secondly, the story of Esther provides future generations of Jews a historical account of the institution of the Feast of Purim.  The pur, or lot that Haman cast to destroy the Jews ironically became his downfall and instead became a day of deliverance for the Jews.  Like Hanukkah and Passover, God’s miraculous deliverance from evil oppressors is worthy of an annual celebration.

The Feast of Purim

Non-Jewish Christians usually know very little about the Jewish holidays that are outlined in our Old Testament or how they are celebrated today by our Jewish (including Messianic Jewish) friends.  Hanukkah tends to be the most visible as it falls near Christmas and includes the exchanging of gifts.  Some Christians have enjoyed the celebration of Passover by participating in a Seder Supper.  But very few Christians have even heard of the Feast of Purim.  One of the author’s purposes in penning the Book of Esther is to pass on to future generations the roots of this tradition.

This year Purim starts on Saturday, February 23rd, 2013 and goes through the 24th.  This is the one Jewish holiday that is filled with fun!  Participants go to synagogue dressed up in costumes of the various characters from the Book of Esther and celebrate!  It is the wildest, most action-packed day of the Jewish year because it remembers turning a day of sorrow into a day of joy.  All of the other Jewish holidays are somber and reflective, but not Purim.  Once at synagogue, the leader reads aloud from the Megillah, the Book of Esther from a handwritten parchment scroll.  If you do not have one, you can use The Story Chapter 20.  It is important to hear every word of the reading because when the name of Haman is mentioned, children and adults alike make noise to eradicate his evil name.  They use graggers (noisemakers), stomp their feet and boo and hiss. (Instructions for making graggers are found below.) When the name of Mordecai is mentioned, the celebrants cheer and clap.

After the reading of Esther, family and friends gather to celebrate with a festive meal.  Traditionally this meal begins with challah bread.  This light, braided bread loaf can be purchased from your local Hebrew bakery or easily prepared at home.  The feast normally includes meat and wine, and traditional songs. Finally, hamantashen (which is German for Haman’s ears or Haman’s hat) are traditional cookies that are eaten for dessert.  The pastry sides folded up to make a triangle and have fruit preserves fillings hidden inside to remind us of the hidden nature of the miraculous deliverance of God.  (Recipes provided below.)

One of Purim’s primary themes is unity through charity.  There is special emphasis placed on caring for the poor and on enjoying community.  Gifts of food are sent to family, friends and neighbors and are usually delivered through a third party—children love to be the messengers.  Worshipers are expected to give food or money to at least two needy people during the daylight hours of Purim.  It is especially important to include the children in fulfilling this tradition.  You could encourage your small group or family to take up a special offering for a specific purpose, or individually give gift cards to the less fortunate on street corners.

Preparing the Feast

  1. Make homemade graggers
  2. Read the story of Esther (with the accompanying cheers and jeers)
  3. Feast on challah bread and hamantashen cookies
  4. Pray and thank God for his provision and deliverance
  5. Give to the needy. (With a small group or family make some sack lunches. Assemble them together, then give them away on the way home from church or whenever you like.)

Homemade Graggers

Graggers are traditional Jewish noisemakers used during the reading of the story of Esther whenever the name of Haman is mentioned. Have students make graggers (the traditional shape is pictured, but these are made with juice cans.

gragger

Materials Needed:

  • Juice cans ( cleaned and dried)
  • adhesive backed paper (Contact paper works well)
  • Stickers or colored tape
  • Jingle bells
  • Scissors
  • Glitter
  • White glue
  • Pipecleaners
  1. Prepare the juice can by making sure the can is washed and dried.
  2. To make the end caps for the can, trace the circular end on the adhesive paper. Draw another circle 1″ larger than the outline circle. Cut out the circles.
  3. With the scissors make cuts spaced 1″ apart around the circle, from the outer edge in. Make two, one for each end of the can.
  4. Peel off the backing of the adhesive paper. Cover one end of the juice can.
  5. Place 1 or 2 jingle bells inside.
  6. Now ask an adult to poke a hole in the center of the metal or plastic end of the can.
  7. Bend a pipe cleaner in half and insert the two ends into the hole. On the inside of the can, twist the two ends to prevent them from slipping back through the can. The wire loop on the outside of the can will be your handle.
  8. Attach the other paper circle over the open end of the can, sealing the jingle bells inside.
  9. Cut a strip of adhesive paper which is the width of the can and is long enough to wrap around the can with 1″ of overlap. Remove the paper backing and wrap around the can, covering the entire outside of the juice can.

Now let’s decorate it.  You can use colored tape to make stripes or decorative shapes and symbols. Personalize your gragger with some of your favorite stickers. Draw decorative lines with white glue and sprinkle them with glitter. Shake off the excess.

Traditional Hamantashen Cookies

Hamantashen are traditional Purim cookies that all will enjoy.  They are shaped as triangles to represent either Haman’s hat, or his ear.  They can be personalized to your liking simply by changing the filling.  Prune butter and poppy-seed fillings are traditional, but any kind of jelly or jam can be substituted.

Pastry Ingredients:

4 c flour                                               1 tsp. vanilla extract

4 eggs                                                  2 tsp. baking powder

¾ c sugar                                             pinch of salt

1 c margarine, softened                       1 tsp. orange rind

1 T orange juice

Fillings:

1 lb. prepared poppy-seed filling

OR 1 lb. apple or prune butter

OR 1 lb. strawberry or apricot jam or preserves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease cookie sheets.

Place all pastry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and beat to a good consistency for rolling out.  You may need to add a bit more juice or flour to get it just right.  Divide dough into 4 parts for easier assembly.

On a floured surface, roll out 1 portion of dough to about 1/8 inch thick.  Cut into 3-inch circles using a round cookie cutter.  Place ½  to 2/3 teaspoon of filling into the center of the circle.  Shape the cookies into triangles by lifting up 3 sides and meeting in the middle.  Only a little filling should be showing.  Pinch the edges together.  Place on a greased cookie sheet 1 inch apart.  Bake for 20 minutes at 350.  Allow to cool a minute or two before moving to a cooling rack.


Esther: a study of beauty

We will now start our traditional Bible Study section of the study. We will take a look at the Esther story and learn that God is working even when we do not see him. Esther shows us true beauty not only in the physical but more importantly in the spiritual.

All cultures see beauty in the face and form of a woman, even though each culture and each generation sees beauty in different things.  Perhaps the art of making a woman beautiful is actually the oldest profession. Women take their cues about beauty from their cultural traditions.  But wise women want to be beautiful in God’s eyes, and they place the highest importance on pleasing Him.  Esther seemed to be able please the earthly king, Xerxes, and the King of Kings. Esther can teach us all a lesson today about beauty, although this advice will not appear in the beauty magazines.

I.  Esther pleases Xerxes. Esther 2:5-18

The plight of Queen Vashti, Esther’s predecessor, is recorded in the first chapter of Esther.  Xerxes’ made a completely selfish and disrespectful request of the Queen, but her reaction was not wise.  Furthermore, it did nothing to help her situation; it only made matters worse.  When Esther was brought to the harem she captivated her handlers and the king with her beauty, but that could not have been the only thing that fascinated them.  When you answer these questions consider the normal reaction of a young girl, who had been removed from her home with no choice in the matter, and discover what made Esther different.

1.  What was Esther’s background? 2:7

2.  Who was Hegai? 2:8-9

3.  What kind of attitudes and actions on Esther’s part would bring about Hegai’s opinions?

4.  What shows Esther’s wisdom when it was her turn to visit the king? 2:9

5.  What did it mean that Hegai found favor with Esther? 2:9b

6.  What was the King’s reaction to Esther? 2:17-18

7.  Fill in the blanks and analyze the following events:

The king was _________________________ to Esther more than any of the other women, and she

__________    ___________    ________________ and ____________________ more than any of the other virgins.  2:17

First the king was ________________________.

Then Esther gained  ______________________________________________________________.

People notice beauty.  But beauty in itself does not guarantee a good impression on others.  It takes more than just beauty.  This implies that Esther had a manner, or qualities of character and actions, that were as pleasing as her physical attributes.

II.  Esther reveals a beautiful strength.  Esther 2:10, 11; 3—8

The saying goes: “Beauty is skin deep.”  The pursuit of physical beauty is shallow and meaningless when it comes to real life struggles.  Strength of character is what counts.  When Mordecai reveals an impossible problem to Esther her actions give evidence of the character that drew King Xerxes and his court to her.

1.  What personal information did Mordecai insist that Esther keep to herself? 2:10

2.  What did Mordecai do that proved his concern for his adopted daughter? 2:11

3.  What was the crisis that caused Mordecai and Esther to be distraught? 3:8-10

4.  How did Esther react to this news? 4:1-11

5.  Mordecai’s response was a challenge.  What was it?  4:12-14

Esther decided to accept Mordecai’s challenge and she quickly took action.  Her decision led her to appeal to two kings.  Wisely, she chose to seek the King of Kings before she sought out Xerxes.

6.  Esther sought God and called upon certain people for support. 4:15-16

What did Esther want her people to do?

What did she and her maids do?

What kind of determination did Esther show?

7.  Esther approached King Xerxes three times, at great risk.  What was that risk? 4:10-11

8.  Attitude is shown by words and actions.  Fill in the chart to analyze how Esther approached the king and note the words she used each time.  5:1-8; 7:3-6; 8:3-7

Esther’s attitude. Esther’s words and actions. Esther’s request.
5:1-8
7:3-6
8:3-7

9.  What was the outcome for Esther’s people, the Jews?  8:8; 9:1

Esther was a treasure among the Jews.  Her bravery, and that of Mordecai, was celebrated by their people.  But more than that, God used Esther to protect the greatest treasure. Jesus’ ancestors were among the Jews who were saved from Haman.  Esther’s actions were her most beautiful attribute.

 

III.  What makes you beautiful.

1. Several people in the Bible were favorable in God’s eyes.  What do you think caused God to find favor with each one?

Moses- Exodus 33:13

Samuel- I Samuel 2:26, 35

Mary- Luke 1:30, 46-55

2. You might be surprised at what makes a person beautiful. Read the following Bible passages and reflect on what makes people beautiful in God’s eyes.

Isaiah 52:7

Romans 10:14-15

What makes you beautiful in God’s eyes?

Key question:  Throughout Esther God is not mentioned, but he is all over the place. Where is God maybe not mentioned in your life but is seen all over the place?

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