Monday, March 27, 2017

A Study of the Book of Esther: Week One, Day One

Week One: Let's Meet the Characters

Bible Verse: As a result of the king’s decree, Esther, along with many other young women, was brought to the king’s harem at the fortress of Susa and placed in Hegai’s care. - Esther 2:8

Day One: King Xerxes

     Go put the word "party" into Google, Bing, or Pinterest and you'll see millions of hits. My own Google search yielded more than 3.5 million hits for the word "party." They range from actual parties to definitions to songs to stores to a million more things. My point? Parties are a big deal even today. We love them. They bring us together in a way that nothing else quite does. Most people get excited about at least one party in their lives.
     When I turned 30, my husband threw me a surprise party to celebrate the occasion. It wasn't a huge ordeal because huge isn't my style and he knows that. But all of my closest friends and family were there. The time flew by and I thoroughly enjoyed the entire thing. Imagine though, if instead of lasting a couple of hours, that party went on for a couple of days or a couple of months.
Read Esther 1:1-9. When did these events happen (1:1)?

Who was the King (1:1)?

     When you read Esther, it's important to note that we aren't sure exactly who King Xerxes was. If you read Nick Page's "The MAP" you'll see a note that Xerxes was "the Hebrew version of the Greek name Ahasuerus." It's possible that he's the same Ahasuerus that appears in Ezra, but we aren't sure of that. Either way, it seems he was likely one of the first kings of this particular empire.

Over how many provinces did he rule at the time (1:1)?

From where did he rule (1:2)?

What happened in the third year of Xerxes' reign (1:3)?

Who was invited (1:3)?

How long did the celebration last (1:4)?

Why did Xerxes' hold this celebration (1:4)?

Reflection: What do you suppose it would have been like in the palace during this party?

Personal Reflection: If you were invited, would you have wanted to attend this party at all? Why or why not?

     According to Matthew Henry's Commentary, it is likely that Xerxes hosted many different people over the course of the 180 days. For example, "perhaps the nobles and princes of one province one day, of another province another day, while thus he and his constant attendants fared sumptuously every day."

Reflection: Based on what you've read, what do you think was the heart motivation for Xerxes' grand party?

     While Xerxes obviously had the wrong motivation for his party if you're looking at this through the "Christian lens," we have to remember that Xerxes was Persian. He didn't know God. Not even a little. In fact, he hasn't even met the woman in this story yet who DOES. So while we can't fault Xerxes too much here since he doesn't have the same moral standard, we can still learn something from him and his actions.

Personal Reflection: Is there anything you've done lately with the wrong heart motivation?

     I know I'm guilty of this. I do things for all the wrong reasons all of the time. Just yesterday, I was taking a walk with my sweet husband and pretending it was warmer than it really was (because March in Pennsylvania, oh my goodness, the struggle is REAL). While we walked, we talked. I told him of my feelings circling this whole writing thing and told him of my struggles with a book I'm trying to write. And his response?
     "What if you're just supposed to be writing it for God? What if you're doing it for all the wrong reasons and that's why it's so hard right now? What if it was never meant to be bigger than it is right now in this moment?"
     I'm going to be real here. Those words made me upset and I, of course, balked against them. But I've been thinking about them ever since. What if he's right? In talking it out with him, I told him that my motivation for writing as I do is to share Jesus with those around me. I told him that I couldn't very well share Jesus through my writing if no one ever read the words I wrote. But was I being honest with myself?
    Jesus, change my motivations. Align my heart with yours and show me my faults. Show me the places that I need more of you.

What happened "when it was all over" (1:5)?

Reflection: Why do you think that verses 6 and 7 were devoted to describing the decorations and surroundings at the party?

What did the king order in regards to drinking (1:8)?

     This is important to note for several reasons. First, it obviously shows the king's generosity even more that he allowed every man to drink as much as he wanted. But it also took all responsibility for what happened off the king's shoulders. If a man drank too much, it was his own fault. One custom that I read about in my studies of these verses said that wine was often passed around and you were expected to drink when it made it into your hands. By telling the people they could drink as they saw fit, the king was removing this custom from the ordeal. Finally, the presence and focus of all of this alcohol indicates banquet rather than feast since the food isn't the focus here.

What was the Queen doing while the banquet happened in the palace (1:9)?

Reflection: Why do you think she held a separate party for the women?

Reflection: If you had to guess, what do you think was Queen Vashti's heart motivation for throwing her party?

     Tomorrow, we'll take a closer look at this question as we move into the verses about Queen Vashti and what happened to her at the hands of her husband.

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