- Date: December 4, 2022
- Bible Reading: Esther 4:1-17
- Free Resource: Spiral Prayer (Cross+Gen Education, NL)
- Unit Theme (November 27—December 18): Faith in God’s Promises
- The Point: We all can be leaders in faith and make a difference for others.
This week, we encounter a non-Advent-y reading from Esther where God is not mentioned. How do we trust in God’s promises when we can’t see God?
Faith in God’s Promises
We are now in the second week of Advent and the second reading in our thematic unit “Faith in God’s Promises.” Faith—trust—is the main throughline for these four readings in Advent. Last week, we reflected on God’s call for the prophet Habakkuk to trust that God’s promise of justice and deliverance will indeed come, even if it seems delayed. In the readings for Advent 3 and 4, we see a promise for the savior in Isaiah 42, and Joseph’s trust in the surprising words of an angel in Matthew 1. But today, we are looking at the non-Advent-y story of Esther.
The Season of Waiting
Advent is the season of waiting. That’s just what it is. The word comes from Latin and means “come to.” As I reflected on in my other Esther post four years ago (“Waiting with Courage”), Esther 4 does not easily connect with the normal associations with Advent. But, indeed, there is plenty of waiting, so that’s the connection I made then. Check it out if you’re interested.
The Story of Esther
Within Scripture, Esther’s story is significant in multiple ways. The easiest to see is that she is only one of two women in the Bible to have full books about them, bearing their names (the other being Ruth). It is also, as I will reflect on later, one of the only books to not mention God (the other being Song of Solomon). The Books of Ruth and Esther are also the most focused books of the Hebrew Bible, each covering only one story.
Esther’s story is an entertaining tale that follows many of the conventions of a royal courtier’s tale, much like the stories of Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon: someone of low class rises quickly within a king’s court, with plenty of drama and danger. These tales are about a reversal of fortunes, but Esther’s is even more so. She starts out as one of the most vulnerable people in their society: an orphan, a woman, and a foreigner. She not only is elevated to the position of queen, but through her ingenuity, she bests the king’s second-in-command.
If you or your participants are not familiar with this story, I would recommend you catch a story summary by reading, performing, or watching a video.
God Isn’t Here
As I mentioned above, Esther is one of only two books of the Bible that doesn’t mention God. That’s strange, given that the whole Bible is put together to teach us about God. But as much as God was with Joseph in his misadventures and God was miraculously present several time in Daniel’s tale, God isn’t in the Book of Esther. You might immediately argue that God is present behind the scenes, and I don’t disagree with you. But—to be intellectually honest—we must admit the strange reality that whoever wrote this book decided to not mention God.
But I think that’s one of the good things about this book. Because most people do not receive messages from a burning bush, a voice out of a cloud, or the visit of an angel. God’s presence for many of us is an inward experience or is mediated by the work and presence of a person representing God. Or we see God’s hand at work in the history of our lives and world. This, seemingly, is how Mordecai views things. In his conversation with Esther, he tells her that if she doesn’t act, then “relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews” (Esther 4:14a) and “Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this” (Esther 4:14b). The first suggests a force of liberation would act on behalf of the Jews. The second suggests a providence that affects history.
Courage to Act
It took a lot of courage for Noah, Abraham, Moses, and many others to follow God’s commands. But they had the benefit of hearing these commands directly from God. It takes courage to act, and this courage came from faith: trust in God’s promises. How much more courage does it take to do the right thing—put yourself at risk in one way or another—when you don’t have so clear of a command? Just like the people of Jerusalem had to trust King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah in addition to God (Isaiah 36–37), Esther had to trust Mordecai’s advice, and everyone had to trust Esther’s courage and ingenuity.
We’re often in the same situation. In some situations, we can trust our own wisdom and the wisdom of others to make ethical decisions (the right thing), but in others, we must trust our discernment in things that do not have a strong moral or immoral dimension. “Do I start a new project?” and “Which conferences to I go to?” are two questions that have occupied my thoughts recently, neither having clear ethical right or wrong. Like Esther, we can only do our best and trust our invisible God, acting with courage and faith.
Faith Formation Connection
How can you address this passage in your faith formation ministry (worship, preaching, teaching, etc.)?
- The first step is to make sure everyone knows the story. Tell the story out loud. Use a skit to act it out (many of our lessons have some version of storytelling or skit). Find a video that summarizes the story.
- Once participants are at least generally familiar with the story, challenge them to see themselves in the story, at their personal level of development, etc.
- As they look for themselves in the story, help them by suggesting a direction to go, whether it is waiting like my original Esther post or courage to act in the unknown like this one.
May God give you clear direction, a strong faith, and the courage to act.
Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 11 to May 28), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download a free activity “Spiral Prayer,” an activity from our Living the Word: Cross+Gen Education (NL) curriculum. This activity can be used intergenerationally or with most age groups.
2022-2023 Faith Formation Resources
Advent is here, and this means that our Fall educational quarter has ended, and Winter has begun! Do you have everything you need for your faith formation ministries? Order Winter and Spring lessons of our Narrative Lectionary and Revised Common Lectionary resources, or one of our Learning Together units! You can download the lessons as soon as your payment is processed.
At Spirit & Truth Publishing, we might just have exactly what you are looking for:
- Resource for the Revised Common Lectionary (intergenerational classroom)
- Resources for the Narrative Lectionary (products for all ages)
- Learning Together: Five-lesson topical units for VBS, Sunday school, children, and intergenerational classes.
- Cross+Generational Confirmation
- Worship and Liturgy Education