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          March 20, 2011, was the beginning of Purim.  The Book of Esther explains the origins of Purim and why it is celebrated.   Esther's story begins with Queen Vashti's fall from grace.  Persia was known for its opulent and excessive wealth.  The royal city of Susa was often host to endless banquets and celebrations.  Many times the entertainment at these affairs was "R" rated.  Vashti's refusal to take part in this debauchery seems understandable, but an inebriated king is not one to be crossed.  With the encouragement of his officials, King Ahasuerus deposes Vashti.  It seems a bit unfair, but Vashti's departure is a prelude to a bigger story.

            Since Vashti has been removed it is decided that a "Miss Persia" contest should be held. The winner gets an all expense paid year at the Palace Spa and the prestige of being the next Mrs. Ahasuerus.  Whether they want to enter or not, all the young maidens in Persia are rounded up, put through a beauty regime and paraded before the king.  A beautiful, young Jewish girl, named Hadassah (Esther in Persian) is chosen to be the next queen.

            The plot thickens as Esther's cousin, Mordecai, thwarts an assassination attempt on the king, and a man named Haman is promoted to a high position in the king's court.  Haman has a deep-seated hatred for Mordecai.  Earlier in Israel's history Haman and Mordecai's ancestors had bad blood between them (Ex. 17:8-16; Dt. 25:17-19; 1 Sam. 15:8).   Haman uses his rise to power as a means to take revenge on Mordecai and his people.  He casts lots (pur) to determine a date to exterminate the Jews, and that is how this festival gets its name.  If you want to know the rest of the story, read Esther!

            The Book of Esther raised some eyebrows when it was included in the Scriptures.  Its message was clearly in line with all the other sacred writings, but it had one, obvious omission, the name of God!  Although God's name is never spoken or written, God is clearly at work across its pages.  His hand is guiding the events within each chapter.  And His Covenant promises are still in tact as the Jews come out victorious in the end.

            It would be easy to read through this book and think that it has nothing to do with us here in the 21st century, but we would be wrong!  At a critical point in the story, Mordecai challenges Esther (Est. 4:14) saying she will not be spared just because she lives in the palace.  "If you do not step forward to help," Mordecai warns, "Help will come from another place."  That little phrase, "another place" reminds Esther of God's sovereignty.  God has placed Esther where she can make a difference.  The same is true about us. 

            Have events in your life seemed to spin out of control?  Does it seem like God is removed from your situation?  The Apostle Paul, like Esther, could have felt the same.  Locked in prison and separated from his beloved Philippian church, Paul learned that some people had begun to spread the Gospel, not for God's glory, but to spite Paul.  Paul, however, could see God's hand at work in the situation.  First and foremost, the Gospel was being shared, and for Paul, that was the most important thing (Phil. 1:12-18).

            Although we do not face a life or death situation as Esther did, sometimes we have trouble seeing God at work in our lives.  Perhaps, in those times, we would do better by changing our perspective.  Maybe there is an opportunity God has placed in your path where you can make a difference.  Like Esther and Paul, you will need courage to take hold of that opportunity, for who knows, maybe God has brought you there "for such a time as this".

Ann LeFevre                                                                                                            3/20/2011

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