Color with Friends. Be Drawn In to Scripture. An unlikely queen. A murderous enemy. A miraculous turnaround. The story of Esther is breathtaking. Through study, coloring, and conversation, discover how to find your voice and grow your faith during times of trouble.Deepen your friendships as you gather around Scripture for coloring and conversation. Drawn In offers simple four-week Bible studiesperfect for groups or personal devotions. Coloring quiets your heart and mind so you can enter fully into Scripture’s stories. The Bible’s passion and personality come through in The Message, surprising new and old Bible readers alike. Discover the delight of being Drawn In.
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Esther: Finding Yourself in Times of Trouble
By Eugene H. Peterson
Tyndale House PublishersCopyright © 2017 Eugene H. Peterson
All rights reserved.
— SESSION ONE &mdash
This Is the Story of Something That Happened
* * *
SERVANTS GO ABOUT their work quietly and deferentially. They walk down the street and speak in soft conversational tones. They go about their work in gentleness. They don't stand over someone and bully. They stand under and serve.
To be a servant is to be like God, for God is in his creation serving it.
1. Recall a time you worked as a "servant" — a job in a service industry, a voluntary role as a care provider, or some other "quiet" and "deferential" role. What was your experience like? What was good about it? What was hard about it?
2. Who are some of the people in your life who are "like God" in their servant attitude? What do you appreciate about them?
3. Even though "to be a servant is to be like God," very few people aspire to servanthood. Why is that?
* * *
THIS IS THE story of something that happened in the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled from India to Ethiopia — 127 provinces in all. King Xerxes ruled from his royal throne in the palace complex of Susa. In the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his officials and ministers. The military brass of Persia and Media were also there, along with the princes and governors of the provinces.
For six months he put on exhibit the huge wealth of his empire and its stunningly beautiful royal splendors. At the conclusion of the exhibit, the king threw a weeklong party for everyone living in Susa, the capital — important and unimportant alike. The party was in the garden courtyard of the king's summer house. The courtyard was elaborately decorated with white and blue cotton curtains tied with linen and purple cords to silver rings on marble columns. Silver and gold couches were arranged on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and colored stones. Drinks were served in gold chalices, each chalice one-of-a-kind. The royal wine flowed freely — a generous king!
The guests could drink as much as they liked — king's orders! — with waiters at their elbows to refill the drinks. Meanwhile, Queen Vashti was throwing a separate party for women inside King Xerxes' royal palace.
4. The Bible is mainly filled with stories about the Jews, God's chosen people, and their interactions with God. Yet the book of Esther begins with a story about a pagan king and an extravagant celebration. What expectations do you have for the rest of this book, given this unusual opening story?
5. Xerxes, described as "a generous king," throws "a weeklong party for everyone living in Susa, the capital-important and unimportant alike." What might be an equivalent event in contemporary society? Who might be an equivalent person to throw such an event?
* * *
IN THE SEVENTH day of the party, the king, high on the wine, ordered the seven eunuchs who were his personal servants (Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas) to bring him Queen Vashti resplendent in her royal crown. He wanted to show off her beauty to the guests and officials. She was extremely good-looking.
But Queen Vashti refused to come, refused the summons delivered by the eunuchs. The king lost his temper. Seething with anger over her insolence, the king called in his counselors, all experts in legal matters. It was the king's practice to consult his expert advisors. Those closest to him were Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven highest-ranking princes of Persia and Media, the inner circle with access to the king's ear. He asked them what legal recourse they had against Queen Vashti for not obeying King Xerxes' summons delivered by the eunuchs.
Memucan spoke up in the council of the king and princes: "It's not only the king Queen Vashti has insulted, it's all of us, leaders and people alike in every last one of King Xerxes' provinces. The word's going to get out: 'Did you hear the latest about Queen Vashti? King Xerxes ordered her to be brought before him and she wouldn't do it!' When the women hear it, they'll start treating their husbands with contempt. The day the wives of the Persian and Mede officials get wind of the queen's insolence, they'll be out of control. Is that what we want, a country of angry women who don't know their place?
"So, if the king agrees, let him pronounce a royal ruling and have it recorded in the laws of the Persians and Medes so that it cannot be revoked, that Vashti is permanently banned from King Xerxes' presence. And then let the king give her royal position to a woman who knows her place. When the king's ruling becomes public knowledge throughout the kingdom, extensive as it is, every woman, regardless of her social position, will show proper respect to her husband."
The king and the princes liked this. The king did what Memucan proposed. He sent bulletins to every part of the kingdom, to each province in its own script, to each people in their own language: "Every man is master of his own house; whatever he says, goes."
6. Queen Vashti is described as "extremely goodlooking." The king seems to think so and wants to show her off. But she refuses. Why do you think this is?
7. Vashti's snub causes a kingdom-wide uproar. What do we learn about Susa from the reaction to Vashti's defiance?
8. How would you have liked to be a woman in Xerxes' kingdom? What difficulties might you have faced?
* * 8
LATER, WHEN KING Xerxes' anger had cooled and he was having second thoughts about what Vashti had done and what he had ordered against her, the king's young attendants stepped in and got the ball rolling: "Let's begin a search for beautiful young virgins for the king." ...
The king liked this advice and took it.
Now there was a Jew who lived in the palace complex in Susa. His name was Mordecai the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish — a Benjaminite. His ancestors had been taken from Jerusalem with the exiles and carried off with King Jehoiachin of Judah by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon into exile. Mordecai had reared his cousin Hadassah, otherwise known as Esther, since she had no father or mother. The girl had a good figure and a beautiful face. After her parents died, Mordecai had adopted her.
When the king's order had been publicly posted, many young girls were brought to the palace complex of Susa and given over to Hegai who was overseer of the women. Esther was among them.
9. Xerxes starts to have second thoughts about his treatment of Vashti, but his attendants distract him with a search for a new queen. What does this series of events indicate about Xerxes as a leader?
In verses 5 through 7 we are introduced to Mordecai, a Jewish exile, and Esther, his cousin whom he had raised. What is your initial impression of Esther?
* * *
HEGAI LIKED ESTHER and took a special interest in her. Right off he started her beauty treatments, ordered special food, assigned her seven personal maids from the palace, and put her and her maids in the best rooms in the harem. Esther didn't say anything about her family and racial background because Mordecai had told her not to.
Every day Mordecai strolled beside the court of the harem to find out how Esther was and get news of what she was doing....
When it was Esther's turn to go to the king (Esther the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had adopted her as his daughter), she asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king's eunuch in charge of the harem, had recommended. Esther, just as she was, won the admiration of everyone who saw her.
She was taken to King Xerxes in the royal palace in the tenth month, the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of the king's reign.
The king fell in love with Esther far more than with any of his other women or any of the other virgins — he was totally smitten by her. He placed a royal crown on her head and made her queen in place of Vashti. Then the king gave a great banquet for all his nobles and officials —"Esther's Banquet." He proclaimed a holiday for all the provinces and handed out gifts with royal generosity.
ESTHER 2:9-11, 15-18
11. Esther does what Hegai tells her to (verse 15) and obeys Mordecai's instructions of what not to do (verses 9-10). Why do you think she acts this way? What would you have done in her situation?
12. Why would Mordecai advise Esther not to share her ethnicity or family?
Have you ever kept secrets about your background? If so, what was the reason?
A NOTE FROM EUGENE
THE SUSA JEWS are known only from the biblical story of Esther. The elimination of detail and background leaves a kind of stark black-and-white picture of what is basic: a surviving community of faith. The community survived simply because of God's grace.
13. Esther, "just as she was, won the admiration of everyone who saw her" (verse 15) and became queen, which brings an end to the story that began in chapter 1. Why do you think people admired her?
14. Where do you feel pressure to please people by not being just as you are?
What would help you to resist that pressure to change yourself to please people?
15. In what ways is Esther demonstrating servanthood?
If "to be a servant is to be like God," how can you practice servanthood more consistently in your life — without giving up who you are as a person?
* * *
ON ONE OF the occasions when the virgins were being gathered together, Mordecai was sitting at the King's Gate. All this time, Esther had kept her family background and race a secret as Mordecai had ordered; Esther still did what Mordecai told her, just as when she was being raised by him.
On this day, with Mordecai sitting at the King's Gate, Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king's eunuchs who guarded the entrance, had it in for the king and were making plans to kill King Xerxes. But Mordecai learned of the plot and told Queen Esther, who then told King Xerxes, giving credit to Mordecai. When the thing was investigated and confirmed as true, the two men were hanged on a gallows. This was all written down in a logbook kept for the king's use.
16. Chapter 2 ends with Mordecai exposing a plot to kill the king. What is your impression of Mordecai based on what we've seen of him so far?
In what way is Mordecai demonstrating servanthood here?
17. God has not been mentioned in these two chapters, and yet we know he's involved — the Bible is his book! What do you think God is doing here?
Until we meet again
REFLECT on times you have behaved like Xerxes. Have you ever reacted badly to someone not giving you what you want, or let other people talk you out of feeling remorse for something you did? What was motivating you in your Xerxes moment?
REFLECT on some things you and Esther might have in common. What do you admire about her? What do you hope for her as this story continues to unfold?
REFLECT on some ways you can play the Godlike role of a servant this week in the lives of your friends and families, even strangers. Consider how to do so as your authentic self — not trying to be like Esther or Mordecai or anyone else.
Thank you, God, that though you may not seem center stage in the drama that surrounds me, you are always behind the scenes, like a good servant, watching over me and working all things for good.
Excerpted from Esther: Finding Yourself in Times of Trouble by Eugene H. Peterson. Copyright © 2017 Eugene H. Peterson. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
How to Get the Most out of Esther xi
Session 1 This Is the Story of Something That Happened: Esther 1-2 1
Session 2 If I Die, I Die: Esther 3-4 21
Session 3 What Do You Want?: Esther 5-7 41
Session 4 How Can I Bear to Stand By?: Esther 8-10 61
How to Lead a Drawn In Bible Study 81