We’ve been following this thread of rescue and redemption that runs throughout the Old Testament. But another thread we see consistently show up in story after story is the reason we need a rescuer and a redeemer to begin with.
The people of God…we…are so quick to cling to whatever or whoever is the shiniest and most persuasive. Whatever or whoever it seems will bring us the most pleasure or comfort or security.
But God made it clear that His people were to worship Him and Him alone, and we see time and time again in the pages of the Old Testament, the people of God forgetting who He was and turning to idols. The very kings they had begged the Lord for would eventually lead them straight into idolatry.
King Ahab was one of those Kings. After King David’s rule, the kingdom of Israel divided and eventually, King Ahab took rule of the northern kingdom. The Northern Kingdom was particularly fond of turning away from the One True God and worshipping idols, and under Ahab’s rule idol worship skyrocketed. So many times, God had plenty of reason to simply wash his hands of His unfaithful people. But instead, we see him relentless in His pursuit of them. Just listen to what He did to draw them back from the idolatry King Ahab had led them into.
1 Kings 18:17-39 When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals. Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the LORD, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.” Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.
Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that had been thrown down. Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,” and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahs of seed. And he put the wood in order and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” And he said, “Do it a second time.” And they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time.” And they did it a third time. And the water ran around the altar and filled the trench also.
And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.”
Can you even imagine? This fire of the Lord, this all-consuming fire that licks up even the water that had poured over into the trench…I imagine the people did fall to their faces at the sight of that. Because of the Lord’s great mercy they had that opportunity. Hearts that loved faceless and voiceless and fireless gods, He turned back to Him in an instant with just a glimpse of who He really is.
But when the people of God weren’t requiring rescue and redemption from their own adulterous hearts, they were crying out for rescue and redemption from those who would persecute them for their faith in the One True God.
By the time our next character enters the story, the Southern Kingdom had been captured by Babylon, the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed, and the people scattered as a result of exile. Persia later conquers Babylon and takes control of the Southern Kingdom, and the Jewish people had been granted permission to return home and rebuild the temple. But not all of the Jews returned to Jerusalem, many stayed in the land where they had been exiled. Esther, and her family were among those who stayed.
But lest we make an idol out of Esther…she stayed because God intended for her to stay. God intended to use Esther, an orphaned Jewish girl, adopted by her uncle, Mordecai, to change the trajectory of an entire people. Or, maybe, a more accurate description would be, to ensure those people stayed on the trajectory He had set for them all along.
You see, not everyone was happy that the Jews had been released from captivity and allowed to return to their homeland. In fact, many were quite angry, including one of the king’s right hand men-Haman, He was determined to wipe out this people group once and for all. But in the meantime, Esther had found herself as the chosen bride to the King of Persia.
Don’t glamourize it too much, though. In that time and culture she would not have had much influence or voice or power. And yet, God intended to give her those very things if she would but trust in Him. Her uncle Mordecai urged her to go to the King. To tell him of the plot to kill all of the Jews and to ask that he have mercy on her people.
This would be no small act of obedience should she go through with it, but God would honor her faithfulness and grant her favor with the king.
Esther 4:10-17 and 7:1-6 Then she commanded him to go to Mordecai and say, “all the King’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law-to be put to death, except the one to whom the King holds out the golden scepter so that he may live. But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days.”
And they told Mordecai what Esther had said. Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise up for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.”…
…So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. And on the second day, as they were drinking wine after the feast, the king again said to Esther, What is your wish, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor in your sight, O King, and if it pleasing the king, let my life be granted me for my wish, and my people for my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have been silent, for our affliction is not to be compared with the loss to the king.” Then the king said to Queen Esther, “who is he, and where is he, who has dared to do this?” And Esther said, “A foe and enemy! This wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and queen.
I guess so! The king went on to order that Haman be hanged, Mordecai was established as head over the house of Haman, and the King issued a decree that the Jews be able to defend themselves against those who would come against them. Esther never would have imagined the role she would play in the rescue of her people as a young girl. But God had a plan, and nothing and no one was going to thwart that plan.
There would be many, many more years of the people of God falling in and out of relationship with the Lord. Years of the prophets warning them to return to Him. Constant threats of capture and captivity. But all the while, a promise and a hope of a deliverer.
Micah 5:2-5 But you, O Bethlehem, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.
He shall be their peace. What a promise! Join us Saturday evening as we gather on the eve of Christmas Day to welcome the answer to this great prophecy.
Jesus. The Messiah. The Prince of Peace.