On a recent Sunday, I was playing piano for our worship time. After 35 years of playing the piano, hymns and worship songs are not difficult for me and I usually only practice during our regular Thursday night rehearsal. Moving from one hymn to another is common and often I have to figure out which chords best make the transition. This particular Sunday, however, the only transition we had was actually written in the hymnal. How easy was that! With the music in front of me, it was going to be a breeze.
You probably already see where this is going. During the service, I blew it. My mind was happily reveling on all the “extras” I was able to add with my amazing skill. After playing two verses, I continued in the same key with a third verse instead of making the key change to the next song. I realized my mistake and tried to fix it. That would have been fine and no one would have noticed, except for one thing. I was leading an entire orchestra astray. Fortunately, they’re all excellent musicians. They heard my blunderings, simply stopped and waited to see what I would do, and when I would arrive at the right spot. I transitioned with some really strange chords and prayed that our music pastor would get the right starting note. The orchestra came in as if nothing happened. Of course, I was teased mercilessly later.
That’s just a small, embarrassing story. Not a big thing. My pride has caused more serious problems in the past. Thinking back, I find myself wishing I’d exhibited more humility – instead of having gotten so caught up with what I could bring to the table only to suffer the “humiliation.”
In Webster’s 1828 dictionary I discovered something amazing about humility. The first definition began with “freedom from pride and arrogance.” I didn’t read any further for several moments. Freedom is an amazing word. It just sounds daring, courageous, uplifting, and even regal. The definition of “freedom” is “a state of exemption from the power or control of another; liberty; exemption from slavery, servitude or confinement.”
Freedom is the prize for those who choose humility. In this week’s lesson, Esther discovers her feelings of helplessness begin to crumble as she chooses it. And Haman gives us a frightening mirror of what we are like when we don’t.
DAYS ONE AND TWO
A. Read Esther 5:1-8. It’s time for Esther to prepare to meet the king. There was no year long period with cosmetics and perfume to prepare. She had a 3-day fast. There were no suggestions or advice given by the head eunuch. She had just a glimmer of an idea taking shape in her heart. There was no official protocol. She simply must go. There is a power in humility’s freedom. There is no pretense. There is no notice of self. Yes, Esther was beautiful and she prepared herself physically to maximize this quality to its fullest. Not for herself, it was for her husband. Her king. And the purity, along with the readiness of her heart made her beautiful beyond compare.
1. Read Matthew 25:1-13. How do you prepare yourself spiritually in your daily time with the Lord and as you look to His future return?
2. Esther prepared herself for her visit with Ahasuerus. How do we prepare ourselves – physically as well as spiritually – for our visit with the Lord? On Sundays, do we care enough to look better than our usual, weekday fare? I’m not suggesting God won’t accept us as we are. I’m also not suggesting that suits, ties, dresses, hose and heels have to be the norm. (That’s certainly not where I am on the fashion scale!) But if we are required to wear such clothing for our jobs, or if we are expected to dress for a dignitary visit, for a presidential banquet, even for a wedding, it’s challenging to think of how we should look to physically present ourselves to Christ. Certainly He is qualified or worthy of our greatest care in this regard– the Almighty Creator (I Peter 4:19) who provides eternal rewards (I John 5:11), the King of Kings (Revelation 17:14, 19:16), and the One who is coming soon to claim us as His bride (Revelation 19:17). How might choosing humility change your preparation for corporate worship this week?
B. In verse 3, Ahasuerus noticed Esther’s unhappy countenance. In Nehemiah 2:1-2 we see that as cupbearer to the king, Nehemiah had “not been sad in his presence” prior to the incident recorded in these verses. When the king noticed, Scripture tells us that Nehemiah was extremely afraid. Persians associated sackcloth and ashes with mourning the dead, so Mordecai couldn’t enter the palace gates because he would have been deemed “unclean” in that culture.1 Perhaps there was something in a sad or troubled countenance, apparently associated with death and mourning, that was simply not to be allowed in the presence of the crown.
1. The fear in Nehemiah could also have resulted from the request he was about to make. A mere cupbearer, a servant of the king is requesting permission and monies to head back to Jerusalem for an engineering project. Choosing humility for Nehemiah meant a quick prayer and a swallowing of human doubt (Nehemiah 2:2). In Matthew 14:31, 21:21; Mark 11:23 we see Jesus encouraging His disciples to trust fully in God’s power. How do you need to trust God this week?
C. Esther’s plan was to invite Ahasuerus and Haman to a banquet she herself had prepared and oversaw. Banquets in Biblical times were for a variety of reasons. Marriage (Matthew 22:2), weaning children (Genesis 21:8), taking leave of friends (I Kings 19:21), ratifying covenants (Genesis 26:30), having a good harvest (Ruth 3:2-7), coronations (I Kings 1:9), and festivals (I Samuel 20:5, 24-26) were just some of the reasons to celebrate. In one sense, this banquet is a prequel to the celebration that is to come later in the book of Esther when God intervenes in Haman’s plot. Choosing humility allows us to celebrate in faith what God can do.
1. A mentor once encouraged me to pray for what God wanted to do and would do in a given situation. He would want us to encourage His children. It’s His plan that we build trust in a hurting sister’s heart or bring glory to Himself through our circumstances. Providing a way for His word to flourish is obviously part of His will. What about creating a desire in the heart of a believer to want Him more than anything else? How can you pray this week in anticipation of what God wants to do in your life?
A. Read Esther 5:9-14. When I worked for the newspaper, every article researched and every story published was open to public praise or criticism. Sometimes in the form of a Letter to the Editor, readers’ comments came most often in the form of a personal note. No matter how many good notes or even phone calls came in, just one bad one would wreck it for me. I would constantly dwell on the bad or critical opinion and think my efforts were not worth it. I was choosing the same path as Haman in verse 9 – pride. His pride was displayed through an obsessive, wrathful anger. Mine came out in a cutting defensiveness. Either way, one incident caused Haman to forget the favor of the queen, and one incident often caused me to forget that through criticism I could learn to be a better reporter.
1. In what way have you allowed your pride to only see the negative aspects of your life?
2. Anger is often a direct result of pride. There are several forms of anger in Hebrew and in the Greek. The Hebrew word for “anger” that is used most often to describe God’s anger is also used for “nose” or “nostrils” and depicts an anger which shows itself in hard breathing. That word for anger also means countenance and has sorrow in mind. William Evans wrote:
God’s wrath is always regarded in the Scripture as the just, proper, and natural expression of His holiness and righteousness which must always, under all circumstances, and at all costs be maintained. It is therefore a righteous indignation and compatible with the holy and righteous nature of God. The element of love and compassion is always closely connected with God’s anger. 2
But Scripture warns us of human anger – taking offense, impatient, vengeful. Read Proverbs 12:16, 14:29, 19:11, 19:19. 22:24; Ecclesiastes 7:9.
3. Now look up Ephesians 4:26. The Greek word for anger in this verse indicates a feeling of justness. In Ephesians 4:31 the Greek word for anger means a “natural impulse, or desire, or disposition.” In Psalm 97:10 and Mark 3:5 we see a righteous anger toward sin. The feeling of anger is real and can be just, but we need to check the outward explosion of that passion by choosing humility. (It’s interesting to note that the anger of Haman – and Ahasuerus earlier in the book – is a Hebrew word that means “heat” and “wrath,” but also in association with snakes and the characteristics of evil men, it means “poison” and “venom.”)3
B. To bolster his damaged ego, Haman proceeds to call his wife and his friends to a little celebration of his own. The rundown he gives of his “greatness” is almost laughable. His riches, the number of his sons, every instance of the king’s honor or promotion of him, plus the recent, royal, exclusive invitation were all put into narrative for people who likely knew most of these statistics already. Perhaps he’d given personal historic recitations before.
1. Read Proverbs 27:1-2. Do you find yourself trapped in the habit of constantly glorifying your position to those around you? Are you too often talking more about you than asking questions of those patiently-listening friends? How can choosing humility change your focus?
DAYS FOUR AND FIVE
A. Read again Esther 4:13. The little word “yet” has so much meaning here. It indicates “in spite of.” You can almost hear a petulant, “But all that doesn’t really matter.” Nothing satisfies. It’s the main revelation of and the purpose for this gathering. It’s clear Haman has seen Mordecai more than once at the king’s gate and it rankles him every time. It seems he is annoyed not only by the fact that Mordecai refuses to bow to him, but just that Mordecai is in that position at all. Even the little influence Mordecai may have in the service of the king makes Haman fume.
1. Read Proverbs 23:17, 27:4 and James 3:16. Choosing humility means dousing the coals of anger and ego, that we looked at yesterday, and not allowing envy a foothold.
2. Part of Haman’s problem was that of satisfaction. He himself said that in spite of all the greatness done to him by the king, nothing satisfies. Even as believers we’re not immune to this problem. Simply being in the world can promote a feeling of dissatisfaction. But definitely, being of the world will escalate those feelings. In Scripture, “the world” denotes being apart from Christ, away from the Lord and His will. It’s easy to get caught up in a whirlwind of dissatisfaction depending on our perspective on life and of ourselves. Read Psalm 81:16, 90:14, 103:5, 145:16, 147:14; Isaiah 58:11. From where does your satisfaction come?
B. In verse 14 of Esther 5, Haman’s wife Zeresh and his friends come up with a solution to his dilemma regarding Mordecai. Kill him. Legally, of course. With the king’s permission, and all. Why wait so many months for the edict against the Jews to come to fruition? In a culture such as ancient Persia where achievement was paramount, life meant self, and whole people groups were disposable, the preoccupied Ahasuerus might consent.
1. Most Bible versions translate the suggested plan to include a “gallows.” This brings up visions of the Wild West and a noose at the end of a rope. Read Ezra 6:11. This kind of hanging was actually impalement or staking, a form of crucifixion.
2. The suggesting also included building the apparatus 50 cubits high. A cubit is between 18 and 20 inches long. The Hebrew word means the lower arm. It was the measure of a man’s arm from the elbow to the tip of the longest finger.4 Taking the smaller, more conservative measurement of 18 inches and multiplying it by 50 we get 900 inches. Divide by 12 to convert to feet and we get a 75-foot tall stake. Think about what something 75-feet tall would look like. A 7-story building. Two city light poles on top of one another. It was tall enough for all to see. It would be the height of Haman’s pride and display of power.
3. This sense of overkill is amazing. But is it unrealistic for the rest of us? Not really. When we allow ourselves to go over the top with our reactions, our punishments, our anger, our complaints, we take the path of Haman and his “counselors.” Choosing humility means walking in moderation – gentleness, patience. Read Philippians 4:5; Titus 3:2-3, 8, 10-11; and James 3:7. How should moderation look in your daily life?
C. Humility, like we discussed in the introduction, is freedom from arrogance and pride. The opposite of freedom is chains, harshness, confinement, slavery. Haman, like so many people throughout history who’ve refused to follow Christ, is bound with chains that control him. As believers, we are no longer enslaved by the power of sin. Unfortunately, we can still voluntarily climb into pride’s cage, ignoring the gentle prodding of the Holy Spirit. Christ forever forgives, once for all sin (I Peter 3:18). But the consequences of our sin can damage our witness, our effectiveness, our relationships and even our earthly lives.
1. Read Job 1:22; Psalm 69:32-33; Proverbs 15:33, 18:12, 22:4; II Corinthians 3:5; James 1:20-25. From these passages, what are some of the blessings you can receive through choosing humility?
2. Read Acts 20:17-36 and find examples of humility in Paul’s life as he recounts life with this beloved congregation in a final good-bye.
All webs created by sin are dangerous, but there is something about the web of pride that is more like that of the black widow spider. At our house, we can always distinguish the web of a black widow spider versus other types of arachnids. There is a thick, stickiness and heaviness to each strand that has a sizzle-like sound as you try to brush it away. It doesn’t easily break loose. And one can imagine its strength if it were wrapped many times around the body of a fly being readied for feeding. It’s persistent. It’s foreboding. That’s pride. Thankfully, the power of Christ can dissolve even the stickiest, most potent of webs. Choosing humility means true freedom. And it makes the piano during worship sound far sweeter.
1. Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Bible Handbook, (Moody Press: Chicago, 1967), p. 266.
2. William Evans, 1913, edited by James Orr, “Wrath, (Anger),” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, www.blueletterbible.org, 1 Apr 2007, 1 Sep 2008.
3. Wilhelm Gesenius, translated and edited by S.P, Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testamament Scriptures, (Tregelles, 1847).
4. M. G. Easton, “Cubit,” Easton’s Bible Dictionary. www.blueletterbible.org. 1897. 1 Apr 2007. 1 Sep 2008.
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