Esther and Mordecai

Stephen Terry


Commentary for the August 8, 2015 Sabbath School Lesson


“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15, NIV

During the winter of 1973-74, I was an Army Medic stationed at Fort Wainwright. Just outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. In the wintertime, nights are long and cold. We did not have much to break the tedium of long hours indoors. The local radio station was more about those out in the bush being able to keep in touch with others through “trap line chatter.” Entertainment was not their number one concern. Naturally, when an opportunity presented itself for diversion, I would participate.

Late that winter, I discovered that a Jewish Rabbi would come up from Fort Richardson, outside of Anchorage, to perform Sabbath Services for a small Jewish population assigned to Fort Wainwright. Since Seventh-day Adventists also observe the Sabbath, I decided I would attend to see what differences and similarities we had. After the service I visited with the Rabbi. When I revealed that I was Adventist, I was surprised when he lamented that he wished his Jewish congregation were as faithful about the Sabbath as Seventh-day Adventists were known to be. I didn’t know what to say to that, but I was pleased that we had a respected reputation even among the Jews.

The Rabbi invited me to their upcoming Purim celebration. Not sure what to expect, but facing boredom in my room back in the barracks, I accepted. When I arrived later in the week, I was given a gragger, similar to the one in the picture above. I was told that they would be reading aloud the “Megillah” which means “scroll” but is a reference to the Book of Esther. When reading the story, periodically they would read the name of Haman, who was an evil character in the book. When the name was read, I was to join with the rest of the congregation and spin my gragger to drown out the name and holler, “Boo!” This made for a very noisy scripture reading, but certainly helped one to remember the story well. Perhaps this is similar to the visual aids and handheld objects used to illustrate the Bible stories in the lower divisions for Sabbath School in our own churches.

After the reading, we gathered in another room for fellowship and to enjoy a pastry/cookie known as “hamentaschen.” Literally this means “Haman’s Pockets.” While I am still not sure what his pockets had to do with the story, it was a delightful treat, and I thank my Jewish friends for sharing their special holiday with me. It still brings back pleasant memories forty years later.

The story in the Book of Esther has special challenges for Seventh-day Adventists. While true that her courage and willingness to be used by God to deliver her people from condemnation (after some intense coaxing by Mordecai, her guardian), she did so after a history of concealing her ethnic and religious identity, even, apparently, from her husband, the king. He could easily have felt betrayed and instead of saving the Jews, as he did later, he could have pushed forward their destruction in response to the broken trust.

However, he did not, and all turned out well for the Jews. But this is not the problem I am referring to. Last week, we were examining the witness of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These were men who hid nothing about their faith. They might even be said to have been confrontational about it. Daniel prayed to God through his open window, even when such prayer had been outlawed. If we take the example of Mordecai’s counsel to Esther,[i] we would have expected Daniel to pray secretly. But how does one hide their religion yet honor Jesus’ instructions about letting our light shine.[ii]

This idea of secretiveness becomes even more controversial when we examine what that might mean in practice. For instance, two very distinctive aspects of Seventh-day Adventism that would make us stand out are also practices of the Jews. We and they both observe the seventh-day Sabbath. Also, we and they do not typically eat unclean foods.[iii] Might it not be reasonable to conclude that if she were to refuse to eat the roast pig served up at a feast, or if she refused to participate in feasting and revelry on the Sabbath that it would raise questions? Questions about things that Mordecai had cautioned her to keep hidden? The implication arising from all of this secretiveness is that perhaps Esther abandoned the Sabbath and the Jewish dietary practices to remain concealed, a concept just as provocative today as it may have been then. Perhaps this has something to do with why Esther was the very last book to be approved by the Jews for inclusion in the Tanakh.[iv]

In any event, the challenge for Seventh-day Adventists is “Does this mean it is OK to fudge on matters of praxis in order to advance one’s career?” For instance, is it allowed to stop keeping the Sabbath and to eat “whatever is set before me,”[v] without question if I decide to enter military service? Increasingly, the answer today for some seems to be more in line with Esther’s thinking than Daniel’s, not only for military service but for many other secular situations as well. Should we then decide to make an issue over this? Are we to be like Phinehas[vi] and run through the camp with a spear skewering everyone who does not answer to our strict definition of what is right and wrong? It is hard to deny that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were ultimately blessed for their strong stance. Even Phinehas we are told was able to bring about the end of a plague through his actions. But perhaps that is the very reason the Book of Esther ultimately found its way into the Bible.

As we saw last week with Peter’s denial of Jesus, not everyone is like these heroes of the Old Testament. Maybe the lesson is that God’s grace is much bigger than we understand. For some of us, we want things laid out clearly in black and white so we can measure ourselves and others by those standards. Those personalities really like things like the test of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the Ten Commandments, doctrinal creeds, and anything else that can be reduced to a clear “thus saith the Lord.” But Disciples like Peter and books like Esther tend to muddy those waters, and that makes the person dependent on that frame of rules and regulations uncomfortable.

Jesus spoke to that discomfort in a memorable parable.[vii] He spoke of the owner of a vineyard who went out to hire workers early in the morning. He engaged several workers, agreeing to pay them the proper wage for a day’s work. Later he went out and hired others without setting an amount for their pay. He did this similarly throughout the day, even hiring some shortly before the day was done. At the end of the day, when it was time to pay all of his workers, he gave the same wage to those who had only worked a few hours as he gave to those who had worked the entire day. Needless to say, this made the workers who had worked all day very unhappy. They felt that their reward should have been greater since they had contributed more of their labor. But in the parable, the owner of the vineyard said their pay was not based on how long they had worked but on his generosity.

With this parable to help guide us, we can re-examine both Esther and Peter. Although Peter denied Jesus before the palace of the High Priest, Jesus later welcomed him back into the vineyard.[viii] After Peter returned to the vineyard, he harvested a great many souls for the kingdom of God. Thousands were baptized into the church when he preached boldly his first sermon at Pentecost.[ix] After a lengthy concealment, Esther also returned to the vineyard in order to save her people. As a result, they were not only saved but her guardian, Mordecai, was elevated to a position of prominence in the Persian Empire.[x]

Perhaps as Seventh-day Adventists in particular and as Christians in general, we should all understand that there is a reward for being the faithful servant toiling hard without letup in the Lord’s vineyard. However, we should also understand that those who may have vacillated and are late comers to the harvest have a reward as well. That reward at the end of the harvest is no less than those who have worked all day. All work for the same wage, eternal life. How can that be fair? Perhaps the fairness is that those who have worked long and hard for the Lord have had the blessing of all that time in His service. He rewards all according to His grace. We cannot work our way into that.[xi] If we honestly examine our lives, that’s a good thing.

[i] Esther 2:10, 20

[ii] Matthew 5:15-16

[iii] Leviticus 11

[iv] "Book of Esther,"

[v] 1 Corinthians 10:27

[vi] Numbers 25:6-8

[vii] Matthew 20:1-16

[viii] John 21:15-19

[ix] Acts 2:36-41

[x] Esther 10

[xi] Ephesians 2:8-9



This Commentary is a Service of Still Waters Ministry


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