Bible Study Esther: God In The Details City Presbyterian Church citypresokc.com
© 2014. A Product of the ministry of City Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma City by Doug Serven and Bobby Griffith. Not much of this material is original or unique since we are striving to present historic Christianity to the 21st Century world. Therefore, we are building on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. Please feel free to use this material in discussions with others and even in other Bible studies. Feel free to adapt and modify for your own purposes.
All Scriptures come from the English Standard Version, Crossway. Used by permission. Cover graphic designed by April Marciszewski. City Presbyterian Church is a missional community that seeks to worship Christ and serve Oklahoma City. Our goal is to Love God, Love People and Love the City. You can learn more about us at citypresokc.com.
The Gospel At City Pres, the gospel is our greatest treasure – it truly is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, and that continues all throughout our Christian lives. However, in our day and culture, there is confusion as to just what the gospel is. The following article, adapted from an article written by Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, clearly defines the gospel. The Third Way of the Gospel The Gospel means “good news.” It is the basic message that: “God made (Christ), who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). The gospel says that we are so sinful, lost and helpless that only the life and death of the Son of God can save us. But it also says that those who trust in Christ’s work instead of their own efforts are now “holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:22-23). The gospel tells us that our root sin is not just failing in our obedience to God but relying on our obedience to save us. Therefore, the gospel is a “third way,” neither religion nor irreligion. The religious person may say, “I am doing the right things that God commands”1 and the irreligious person may say, “I decide what is right and wrong for myself.” But both ways reject Jesus as Savior (though they may revere him as Example or Helper). Both ways are strategies of self-salvation – both actually keep control of their own lives. So the gospel keeps us from legalism and moralism on the one hand and from hedonism and relativism on the other. The Gospel’s Power for Change The gospel is not just the ABC but the A-Z of the Christian life. The gospel is not just the way to enter the kingdom but is the way to address every problem and is the way to grow at every step. If we believe we can find our own worth and meaning through performance, then we will become either proud or disdainful of others (if we reach our goals), or else discouraged and self-loathing (if we fail our goals). But the gospel creates an entirely new self-image. The Gospel tells us that we are more wicked and sinful than we ever dared believe but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared to hope – at the same time. In fact, if the gospel is true, the more you see you sin, the more certain you are that you were saved by sheer grace and the more precious and electrifying that grace is to you. So the gospel gives us enormous power to admit our flaws. Then secondly, the knowledge of our acceptance in Christ makes (for the first time) the law of God a beauty instead of a burden. We come to use it to delight the One who has enriched us so mightily, instead of using it to get his attention or win his favor. The first way makes the moral and sacrificial life a joy; the second way makes it a burden. Therefore the gospel changes everything. It brings down racial barriers by melting away facial pride or inferiority. It brings down psychological problems by melting away self-inflation or self-hatred. It brings down personal facades, for we are free to admit who we are. It effects the way we do everything… how we motivate people, how we help them work through counseling problems, how we worship, how we take criticism.
1 “Our core problem, say St. Augustine, is that the human heart, ignoring God, turns in on itself, tries to lift itself, wants to please itself, and ends up debasing itself. The person who reaches toward God and wants to please God gets, so to speak, stretched by this move, and ennobled by the transcendence of its object. But the person who curves in on himself, who wants God’s gifts without God, who wants to satisfy the desires of a divided heart, ends up sagging and contracting like a little wad. He desires are provincial. ‘There is something in humility which, strangely enough, exalts the heart, and something in pride, which debases it.’” - Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, p. 62, (at the end quoting Augustine, The City of God)
How to Do This Bible Study With those important preliminaries aside, we’re excited that you have decided to join us in exploring some of the foundational truths of the Christian faith. Whether you are investigating Christianity or have been a believer for as long as you can remember, we hope that this study will be fruitful for you. You may come with lots of questions or even with some apprehensiveness. Whatever the case, we earnestly desire this to be a time where you can honestly ask questions and explore the foundations of Christianity. You may have been in a Bible study before, or you may be joining us for the first time. I want to make a note on our method of study. In each of the texts before us, we will use the simple O-I-A method of study: Observation – Interpretation – Application. Observation We simply want to know what the text actually says. The answers are sometimes so obvious that you may feel like it’s a trick question, but its not. In observing the text, we want to ask, “What does the text say?” Interpretation This admittedly is the toughest part of studying the Scriptures. Usually, we’ll be comparing Scripture with Scripture. We are interested in how the Scripture speaks to us, not in what we may want it to mean. Here, we are asking, “What does the text mean?” Application This is where the rubber meets the road. Sometimes in observing the text and understanding its meaning, the application flows naturally. Sometimes, we will need to do some discussing to work it into our lives. Having understood and accurately interpreted the text, we now ask, “So what?” How does this affect my beliefs, my words, my actions, my community? Attendance If you are working through this study in a group, please commit to coming each week. Not only will you benefit by this commitment, but the other people in your group will by your presence. It can be really discouraging for each week’s study to be only optionally attended. While coming each week is by no means a badge of righteousness for you, it will mean something if you put this as a priority in your week’s schedule and make every effort to be there.
Esther 1 Read Esther 1 Underline, highlight, and/or circle anything that stands out to you or that you might have questions about. Opening Questions When is a time in your life where you didn’t feel like God was saying anything to you? (You may be in a time like that now.) What was that like? How frequently have you felt that way? Esther 1 Do some work in a study bible or a commentary or on the internet to get a grasp on the context and setting of this book. Author: Date: Occasion: Why Are God’s People In This Situation? (Look in Deuteronomy 28 for some clues.) Key Characters in This Story:
Brief Outline of the Book:
Possible Key Themes:
What do you hope to learn from studying Esther?
Extravagant Empire List as many observations as you can that speak of the extravagance of this setting.
What empires come to mind that could be at least partly like this?
Would you ever want to live in a place like that? Why or why not?
Corrupt King What happened to Queen Vashti when she said no?
Why might she have said no to Xerxes’ request?
What was the response of the empire to Vashti’s refusal? What affect did this have on people, on men, on women?
How do we start to see that Xerxes is a corrupt king?
How do we see that God’s people are also corrupt?
And then this – How might you see that your heart is also corrupt? We always want to try to see ourselves in the story. And we’re not the heroes. So we want to identify with and empathize with the true and real situation of need for these people, for we are all a people of need. This gives us a reason to make application, a cry of repentance and a value for faith in the grace of the Redeemer. Who do you identify most with in Esther 1 and why?
We want to think of Christ. All passages are about Jesus. How is Jesus a much greater king?
How is Jesus creating a much greater empire?
How does God work in quiet ways, in normal life, in everyday details?
Write a psalm (a poem written to God that doesn’t have to rhyme) on the back of this page that expresses his quiet yet important work, and perhaps your question of where you can see him today, this week.
Esther 2 Read Esther 2 Underline, highlight, and/or circle anything that stands out to you or that you might have questions about. Opening Questions Can you think of a story in your life where things went badly all along the way but in the end turned out great? You might try to think of movies or books that have that as a premise too. Esther 2 Do you feel like God is a regular part of your daily life right now? Remembered Events Look at 2:1. There is a theme of remembering all throughout Esther. What are some things that either get remembered or get forgotten? There is another instance at the end of chapter two.
When is time when you were forgotten?
When is a time when you wished something hadn’t been remembered?
Look up Psalm 103. What does that psalm say about remembering and forgetting?
Hidden Beauty What is Esther’s other name?
What is Esther’s other life?
Who is Mordecai and what does he tell her to do?
What does Esther get taken into? Do you think this is a good idea? Why or why not?
What does the author say about Esther’s beauty? Write that verse down.
As you think about beauty or your beauty – what are your feelings about it? What if it were your only job to be beautiful?
So why do you think Esther was so committed to remaining hidden? Can you think of examples in your life where you have done this same thing?
What is the best-case scenario for Esther’s path? Is that okay?
How would you assess Mordecai’s advice to his niece?
List the people who are doing a good job of following God’s will in this book of the Bible:
Does God work with bad people? People who ignore him? Non-praying people? Hiding people?
Would God work with someone like you? Why or why not?
Look up and write down Romans 6:23.
What are the sins that cause the wages of death in Esther 1 and 2? Then what are those in your life?
How might eternal life – and beauty and God’s remembering grace and justice – look in your life because of Jesus Christ?
Esther 3 Read Esther 3 Underline, highlight, and/or circle anything that stands out to you or that you might have questions about. Opening Questions Who is a tyrant that you know? What is something in your life where you are in fact a tyrant? (It can be about something small or silly). Esther 3 The Huge Problem of Sin – Haman, Mordecai, the Jews and You This often happens in the Bible. This chapter is a downer. It’s not filled with hope in itself. Why are chapters like this in the Bible at all? What importance does its place here mean for us? Do you remember what Mordecai did at the end of chapter two? What is the situation at the beginning of chapter three?
What then does Mordecai do (or not do)? Do we know why?
What is Haman’s response?
What is Haman’s plan? Write down its key features:
Go back to Romans 6:23. We often think that sins are small things, things we can contain. They’re private things. But Esther (and many other chapters) confronts us with the idea that sins can have monumental, world-wide results. Sin brings death in people, friendships, families, marriages, communities, even nations and peoples. When you think of sin this way, what comes to mind? You may want to draw a picture or write a psalm or write a prayer to express your thoughts.
Compare Esther 3:13 to the first part of John 10:10. How are these verses similar and what do you think the implication is?
How do you participate in sin? How do you contribute to it?
The Strange Solution of Grace – Haman, Mordecai, the Jews, Jesus and You The last word in the chapter (in the ESV) is the word “confusion.” That seems appropriate. You may have some confusion about the way God works. Please write down your questions and then follow up with those with a trusted Christian friend or a pastor. We can learn more in Esther 3. Agagite Haman is an Agagite. This is an enemy of God’s people. Why would this be important information?
Purim When the dice fall, they land on a date that is the eve of Passover. Do some research on what happens on Passover. Why would it be significant that the decree would go out on the day before Passover?
These laws and decrees from Haman are absolutely unjust. Are God’s laws and decrees just? Why do you think they are or aren’t?
There is a connection to Haman and the devil when you compare Esther 3:13 and John 10:10a. But what if you look at the second part of John 10:10? What is the other half of the story? What did Jesus come to do?
When then is true, real, honest grace a strange solution?
How do you see John 10:10 true in your life? How do you see grace in the midst of an Esther 3-type week/month/year/life?
Let Us Love And Sing And Wonder John Newton, 1774 Let us love and sing and wonder Let us praise the Savior’s name He has hushed the law’s loud thunder He has quenched Mount Sinai’s flame He has washed us with His blood He has brought us nigh to God Let us love the Lord Who bought us Pitied us when enemies Called us by His grace and taught us Gave us ears and gave us eyes He has washed us with His blood He presents our souls to God Let us sing though fierce temptation Threatens hard to bear us down For the Lord, our strong salvation, Holds in view the conqu’ror’s crown He, Who washed us with His blood, Soon will bring us home to God Let us wonder grace and justice Join and point to mercy’s store When through grace in Christ our trust is Justice smiles and asks no more He Who washed us with His blood Has secured our way to God Let us praise and join the chorus Of the saints enthroned on high Here they trusted Him before us Now their praises fill the sky Thou hast washed us with Thy blood Thou art worthy Lamb of God
Esther 4 Read Esther 4 Underline, highlight, and/or circle anything that stands out to you or that you might have questions about. Opening Questions What is a story (from a movie or book or in the news) where the hero who saves the day got in that spot to save because of a thousand strange coincidences that all came together in the end? Esther 4 What is a definition of God’s providence? Many Christians have looked for help to understand theology and the Bible and found guidance from the Westminster Confession of Faith and Shorter Catechism. A catechism is a question-response learning device. Here is a question and answer about providence. Q. 11. What are God’s works of providence? A. God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions. Do you like that answer? If not, what do you think is a better definition of God’s providence?
How do you see God’s providence working in your life right now?
Power God works his providence through many means and ways. How does Haman act like a powerful person?
Where do you see Esther’s power?
How are Haman, Esther and others in this book shown to be powerless?
What attributes or characteristics or abilities or situations give you power?
Status Rank the people in the story on how you perceive their status to be:
Does Esther have high or low status? Why do you think so?
What is Esther’s dilemma in Chapter four and the rest of the book?
Have you ever faced a dilemma like that?
Action List the positive actions from Esther, Mordecai and the Jews:
What are a few key elements of action that might be missing?
What does Mordecai ask Esther to do? Why is this risky?
What do you think Esther is thinking at this point?
Consider these two passages: “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping and with mourning, and rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and he relents over disaster.” (Joel 2:12-13) “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him how boasts, boast about this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24) What does God want you to do? With your power, status and actions?
How is he the God of Power, Status and Action?
How is Jesus Christ the Mediator and Redeemer in this passage?
Esther 5 Read Esther 5 Underline, highlight, and/or circle anything that stands out to you or that you might have questions about. Opening Questions When is a time where you asked for something and were rejected? Can you think of a time when you asked for something and should have been rejected but you werent? Esther 5 The Death Tower – Haman Look first at the second half of the story. Make at least five observations about Haman:
What does Haman seem to want most, or what does the narrator want us to think he wants most?
His friends and wife seem to egg him on. What are other things they could have said to him?
Would he have listened? Why or why not?
What is Haman’s solution?
How can you see the hate in Haman’s heart and life?
We always want to put ourselves in the story and situation, but sometimes it’s uncomfortable. What are ways you or a part of you and your life are like Haman?
The Brave Request – Esther We’ve been a little hard on Esther. But she’s been in a bad situation. Give a recap of what and why she’s in this place now.
How do you think you’d be doing if you were her?
Have you ever had – or had recently – a very difficult conversation coming up that you didn’t know what the outcome would be? Describe it.
How is Esther weak and powerless in this situation?
How is Esther strong and courageous in this situation?
Esther enters the throne room to ask the king for help. Read Philippians 4:6-7. How are we to ask God for help? What can you ask him for help about today?
The are many parallels in this story to Jesus. For example, he is the mediator for God’s people. Can you see if you can find at least five other connecting points between Esther and Jesus?
How can you rest in the love and care of Christ and his concern for you?
Esther 6 Read Esther 6 Underline, highlight, and/or circle anything that stands out to you or that you might have questions about. Opening Questions What is something about your life that did not turn out the way you thought it would? What is a “coincidence” that happened in your life, or in your family, that changed the story? When has something really good happened that you did not expect? The King’s Heart What do you make of the king’s sleepless night?
Does his request to have the “annals” read sound normal? What are other things he could have done? (hint: the book of Esther makes it clear this king loved wine and women)
What event does the king hear about that seemingly shocks him?
What does this sleepless night tell us about how God works?
What do you think the author of Esther is hinting at?
What does the king’s sleepless night show us about the power of God?
How would this be interpreted by the original audience? What does it mean for you?
Mordecai’s Honor Who comes to visit the king? Why is this important to the story?
Who receives the kingly parade Haman wanted?
Why is this ironic?
Mordecai was forgotten, then remembered? Has that happened to you?
What is the author telling us about God’s memory?
Who promised never to leave or forsake his people?
What “type” of person does God dress in royalty?
Why do you think Haman is so excited about the king’s question?
Haman asks for the kingly parade. What does this tell you about his self-understanding?
How is Haman humiliated?
Why is this so bad for him?
What do his friends say is going to happen to him?
What does this show us about God’s plan for evil?
How does that come about?
Esther 7 Read Esther 7 Underline, highlight, and/or circle anything that stands out to you or that you might have questions about. Opening Questions Can you think of a salvation story where someone risked for a great cause? Does your family have a “salvation story” where a someone made a great sacrifice? Tell us the story. Why do some people, like Martin Luther King, risk their lives?
Salvation What is Esther doing in this passage?
What is risky about Esther revealing herself?
Did Esther wait for God to clearly show her something before she risked? Why is this important?
How is Esther an agent of salvation?
How does Esther picture Jesus in this passage?
To what do the examples of Jesus and Esther compel us?
What are ways we can be agents of salvation in our community? Family? Justice What happens to Haman?
What does this tell us about justice?
How are we obligated to bring justice (goodness, righteousness) to this world?
What does the death of Haman show us with relation to what we want in this world?
How do we eliminate evil?
Did Jesus come only to bring salvation? How does his life, death and resurrection inform our view of evil?
Read these lyrics from the Avett Brothers’ “Salvation Song.” How do they apply to this passage? We came for salvation We came for family We came for all that's good that's how we'll walk away We came to break the bad We came to cheer the sad We came to leave behind the world a better way
Esther 8 Read Esther 8 Underline, highlight, and/or circle anything that stands out to you or that you might have questions about. Opening Questions List a few evils in the world around us? What are some evil things in your life? Do most people naturally want to see evil in the world? Undone Kingdom What happens to Haman?
What had Haman worked for in his desire to destroy Mordecai and the Jews?
What is the irony of Mordecai’s exaltation to the highest position in the kingdom?
What are kingdoms people try to build in our culture?
What are kingdoms we try to build in our lives?
Are there any human kingdoms that have endured throughout time?
What does the Bible say about God’s kingdom?
Undone Death With the right of the Jews to defend themselves, what does that mean to their death sentence?
Haman wished death upon the Jews, but what happened?
What are ways we try to undo death in our world?
What do you do to fight against your own death?
Why do we fight death?
How does fighting death point us to Jesus?
What did Jesus do to defeat death?
How does his death undo death? What kind of death? Whose?
Undone Separation The text says that people saw the Jews’ victory and treated them reverence and honor. What do you make of that?
Why did people want to join the Jews?
What does this undone separation tell us about our mission as God’s people?
How are we separated in our city? State? Nation?
How does the Gospel respond to separation?
What are practical ways we can undo separation in our church?
Esther 9 Read Esther 9 Underline, highlight, and/or circle anything that stands out to you or that you might have questions about. Opening Questions What are some important national holidays? Why are they important? What is a milestone in your life that you celebrate? Oppression and Victory The king issued an edict that allowed the Jews to defend themselves. This basically meant “leave them alone.” Why did people still seek to oppress the Jews? What word is used three times in relation to the Jews’ attackers?
How does hate corrupt our hearts?
In Esther 9, does hate win? Who leads the Jews in a kingly way?
How does Mordecai picture Jesus in this passage?
How does Jesus give victory over oppression? How should we respond to oppression? List some biblical examples.
Celebration and Remembrance Why is there a celebration? What are the Jews celebrating? What role should celebration play in the life of a church? Why should Christians celebrate? Isn’t the world a bad place?
What are victories we can celebrate for others? Ourselves? Our church?
Why do the Jews set up a day of remembrance?
What are things you mark to remember?
What would our neighborhood think of our church if we were known for celebrating victories, rescue and having days set aside for parties?
How does celebration and remembrance point us to Jesus?
Read Esther 9-10 Underline, highlight, and/or circle anything that stands out to you or that you might have questions about. Opening Questions What movie or show do you think “captures” your life? What movie do you find yourself in over and over again? Who would act you in a movie? Looking Back As we end our study in Esther, it’s a great time to go back and think about what you have learned through studying this book. Go through your notes and also go through the book again. What stands out to you now that you’ve studied this for awhile? Key themes:
Words or terms that you’ve learned:
Illustrations that have stood out to you:
Applications that you remember doing or still need to do or want to do:
Things you’ve learned about yourself:
Things you’ve learned about God:
Looking forward As you look ahead in your life, how can Esther help you?
Where are some things you need to trust God for or trust God about?
How can Esther give you hope?
Where are you praying for and hoping for reversal in your life?
How can you see the theme of Romans 6:23 in the book of Esther and in your life?