Sabbath School Lesson for December 16-22, 2023

Overview for Lesson 12, Esther and Mordecai

Memory Text: ” ‘I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’ ” Isaiah 49:6 NRSV

What to expect from this week’s lesson:

  • Sunday: Captive in a Foreign Culture–even under trying circumstances, we can remain faithful to God
  • Monday: In a Foreign Court–when to stay silent about our identity
  • Tuesday: Mordecai’s Faithful Witness–the perfect recipe for persecution
  • Wednesday: For Such a Time as This–“…if I perish, I perish.”
  • Thursday: The Miracle of Purim–God performs a miracle, even when His name isn’t mentioned
  • Friday: Our Challenge–How we can join God’s mission

Sometimes God’s mission doesn’t always require us to go very far. We may already find ourselves living right in the midst of unreached, gospel-starved people. The story of Queen Esther and her cousin and adopted father, Mordecai, bring us hope that it is possible to serve God, despite persecuting elements all around us.

Susa, the capital of the Persian Empire, was certainly not an ideal environment for the Jewish people to raise their children. But some found themselves remaining there, even after many of their Jewish friends and neighbors were able to return to Jerusalem.

It’s helpful that we are given a glimpse of the experience of those who did not make the journey back to their beloved homeland. God did not abandon them in their most critical hour there. At just the right time, God saved them from certain disaster, a story which has been retold in Jewish households ever since, through the feast of Purim, based on Esther 9:26-31.

Sunday: Captive in a Foreign Culture

When Israel was a theocracy, and God’s commandments were its only law, their mission for God should have been a easy one. If only their hearts had remained close to God, they could have accomplished much more than they did.

God demonstrated that even when conditions were far less than ideal, His worship could be achieved, and His mission could advance. But, without a close relationship with their Creator, only persecution and ruin would be the result. And it often was.

Two captives, the two main characters in the book of Esther, were able to hang on to the faith of their fathers and, with God’s amazing intervention, all Jews in Persia were able to survive the deadly plot of their persecutors.

Bible Verses:

Daniel 1:1-12, 3:1-12, and 6:1-9

  • What three big trials did Daniel and his friends face in the land of their captivity?
  • What was the central theme of all three trials?
  • Why were trust and obedience necessary to overcome these obstacles?

Monday: In a Foreign Court

One gets the idea from the first chapter of Esther that the Persian Empire was a wicked, boastful, dangerous place to be, especially if you were from a Jewish family brought there in captivity–or even a woman. During a 6-month-long feast, which the king declared for the purpose of showing off the wealth of the empire, an unfortunate episode ensued when Queen Vashti refused to show up to a drunken party when the king sent for her.

His wise men “buddies” convinced the king that,. in response, the queen should lose her position, and thus make all husbands in the provinces feel justified and confident in their right to rule over their wives. Their wives would also be compelled to be more obedient to their husbands. Whether the king agreed inwardly or not, he felt there was no alternative but to de-throne Vashti and go searching for another queen.

This search led to Esther, a beautiful Jewish young woman, finding herself in a foreign palace, with a harsh, persecuting power dictating her every move. It’s no wonder that her uncle advised her to keep her identity unknown there, most likely for her protection.

Bible Verses:

Esther 2:10, 11, and 20

  • Why do you think it might sometimes be prudent for us not to openly reveal our identity as followers of God?
  • How can God still use us in situations where our lives and those of our family are threatened when our identity is known?

Tuesday: Mordecai’s Faithful Witness

In chapter 2, we learn how Esther was chosen and crowned as the new queen. She continued to keep her Jewish identity hidden, as her uncle had instructed. Mordecai, on the other hand, had revealed his identity to at least a few who worked beside him at the king’s gate (Esther 3:4). He was able to continue his faithful service there, even exposing two angry eunuchs who wanted to do the king harm (Esther 2:19-23). Esther, upon learning about it from her uncle, brought the matter to the attention of the king.

The next chapter explains why Haman, whose ancestor Agag, a dreadful enemy of the Jews, developed a sinister plot to destroy Mordecai and all Jews in the empire. Haman had managed to get a promotion from the king, which included the reward of having everyone bow down to him. Mordecai, however, refused to bow to Haman. Not only because he was an Amalekite, but most likely because it would be wrong for a Jew to bow down in that fashion to any person.

Therefore, Haman brought a proposal to the king to destroy the Jews. The foundation of his charges were that: #1  the Jews kept their own laws and customs that were different from the rest of the kingdom and #2 they did not obey the king’s law. (Of course, in Haman’s  mind that would include Mordecai’s refusal to bow down to him.)

Bible Verses:

Esther 3:8 and Acts 16:20, 21

  • Why have these charges so often become a reason to persecute God’s people?
  • How might they be used to persecute Christians again before Christ’s return?

Esther 3:15

  • Why do you think the capital city, Shushan, or Susa, was perplexed, confused, worried, agitated, and/or troubled (as it reads in different translations) over the king’s decree to kill the Jews?

Wednesday: For Such a Time as This

When Queen Esther learned that her uncle was wearing sackcloth and sitting in ashes, a sign of deep sorrow and humble repentance, she tried to discover what the problem was. He sadly told her of the disastrous event that was about to transpire. He also reminded her that perhaps her rise to the throne had been “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

Without hesitation, Esther made the decision to intervene and use whatever influence she could with the king to reverse the dreadful situation. But, first she requested that Mordecai spread the word that she needed three days for her people to fast and pray for her. She knew instinctively that she needed God’s wisdom to prepare for such a dangerous undertaking. Only He could make her attempt to save them a success.

Knowing the mission could mean her death, should the king not accept her uninvited appearance in his court, she resolved to do it anyway, stating “if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). It was her desire to directly help with the worthy mission of God by putting her very life on the line.

Bible Verses:

Esther 4:14, Ecclesiastes 3:7, and Amos 5:13

  • How do these verses help us understand the need for silence and when to break our silence?

Esther 4:16, Luke 22:42, and Romans 12:1

  • Who besides Esther put the lives of others and the will of God above her own life?
  • Why do some, and why should we, make our life a sacrifice for God?

Thursday: The Miracle of Purim

Esther’s risky mission of saving her people was an astounding success. Not only was Haman hanged instead of Mordecai, but the Jews were allowed to defend themselves, resulting in all of their tormentors’ deaths as well.

Religious Jews have celebrated their victory in Persia ever since by a feast called Purim. By prayer and fasting, and Esther’s willingness to sacrifice whatever it took to preserve God’s people, they forever felt the need to meditate and thank God for such an amazing delivery (Esther 8:17).

The book of Esther curiously contains no mention of  the word “God”, and is the only one in the whole Bible that doesn’t use His name. The fact that God’s name isn’t mentioned in the book of Esther tells us that even God may at times find it helpful to keep His identity hidden. For God to save us so anonymously shows that even He is a humble, loving God we can gladly and openly identify with.

Bible Verses:

Esther 8:17 and Psalms 18:43

  • How and why was it possible for their foreign neighbors to become Jews?
  • What kind of fear allowed this to happen?

Friday: Our Weekly Mission Challenge

“Pray that God will give you the courage to share something He has done for you with one of the people on your prayer list this week.

Begin a diary or journal of special things (or big things) that God does for you. Review it and pray that God will bring these things to your mind at just the right time so you can share them with someone.”

For discussion: What special blessings, and to whom were you able to share them with, this past week? What makes journaling such a valuable tool as we worship God personally? How can social media be used to witness for God, and how can we do it most appropriately?

Next Week: The End of God’s Mission

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