Tuesday, June 12, 2012

18 Months of Creams and Lotions...!?

Oh Jack White...
why can't I be you?

As I mentioned earlier, May was a wild ride for our family... In fact, we’re just now coming down from it. I’ve veered wildly between too busy / preoccupied to think about anything to swamped with insights and reflections... few of which I actually remember. 

Sooo... as I jump back into the blogosphere, I was at first tempted to give comment on EVERYTHING that has happened... well, not everything, just some of the standouts... like my GREAT trip to Tennessee for my awesome niece’s high school graduation... or our trip to Asheville to see Jack White. (Jack White - men want to be him, women want to be WITH him. Wait, I think women want to be him, too! Sometimes I do, anyway!)

But then, I just decided to jump in with something that I’ve been thinking about lately... And that is the story of Esther. As we progress through our reading of The Story, we come to this sort of crazy story. It’s full of reeeally nutty things... an a-hole of a king, an a-hole of a henchman, a would-be harem and couple of Jewish people who are just trying to stay alive. 

Kids be graduatin'!
There are a lot of details to the story, so it will be hard to sum it up in a few words, as I would prefer to do... but here goes: The queen Persia of makes the king of Persia mad, so he decides to pick a new queen. He hauls all the attractive young women into the palace, where they live and are given beauty treatments for a year and a half, and paraded before him. Esther, a Jewish woman who has been raised by her uncle Mordecai, is one of these women. And while she’s in the palace, Uncle M hangs out by the city gate to check up on her. While he’s there he overhears some guys plotting against the king. He rats them out – crisis averted. 

So, another guy is Haman, the “henchman” I referred to earlier. Seems he can’t feel good about himself unless every single person in the city bows down to him... and Mordecai isn’t having any of this. This, of course, makes Haman REALLY mad. To top it off, there’s this incident where the king asks Haman, “What should I do to celebrate a guy who has been big help to me?” Haman says that the man should be dressed in the king’s royal robes and led around on the king’s royal horse, while a herald calls: “See how the king honours a man he wishes to reward!” Now, Haman assumes the king is talking about HIM! Imagine his surprise and disgust when he finds himself leading Mordecai around the city and heralding him!

Now Haman is spitting mad! So he gets the stupid king to say that the Jews need to be exterminated. And Haman himself builds a humongous gallows in front of his house with Moredecai’s name on it. 

Next, Mordecai tells Esther, who is queen by now, that it’s her job to get the king to help the Jews... Thing is, though, nobody’s allowed to even go up to the king unless he invites them. So she has to sort of ease into asking him by standing near him until he notices, then inviting him to a banquet night after night. And she invites Haman too... I guess because it’s his evil plot to begin with. 

And the King freaks out when he finds out Esther’s people are about to be annihilated, but there’s not a lot he can do about it. See, with kings, there are no take-backs. The king can’t just negate his own decrees. The only thing he can do is make a second decree that the Jews are allowed to defend themselves. He does this, AND is so mad at Haman that he has him hoisted with his own petard.... that is to say, impaled on the pole he erected for Mordecai. So, with all the people obeying all of the king’s decrees, trying to kill the Jews, then the Jews defending themselves... the body count is horrendous: five hundred attackers and Haman’s ten sons are killed in the capital city, plus seventy-five thousand more Persians in the rest of the country. The yearly commemoration of this insane event is the Jewish holiday, “Purim.”

See? It’s a long story... and full of things that make me go, “Hmmmmm....” and “Huh?” For instance...

The King... what an a-hole!
1. The King. What an a-hole, right?  I know “a-hole” and what it signifies is a gross word, but I do feel it is an accurate descriptive in this – and Haman’s – case.  a) His queen refuses to be paraded as a possession in front of his dinner guests and, boom! time for a new queen!  b) What is it about liking to have women paraded in front of him? Misogynistic much?  c) What kind of wishy-washy jerk agrees to kill a whole people on the word of one advisor?  d) A person can’t even go up to him without being invited? On pain of death? Touchy.  e) How powerful is he if he can’t just rescind his own decree? This king is obviously so powerful that his decrees can’t be broken, even by himself! But if he’s so powerful, why can’t he break it? It reminds me of that age-old question, “If God can do anything, can He make a rock that’s too heavy for Him to lift?” This weird quirk in their law produced a huge, sad waste... 75,500+ dead? Smart. Very smart. 

Haman... the a-hole
behind door number 2!
2. A harem of would-be queens? Nice. What if they didn’t want to go? On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind being subjected to some beauty treatments. I would love to know what those treatments involved, exactly. Nowadays they call that a “spa weekend.” Only for these ladies it was much longer than a weekend: “Before a young woman’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics.” What’s crazy to me about this is... that the king won’t even look at a gal unless she had been through 18 months of creams and lotions...!? 

3. Haman. An even bigger a-hole! What kind of guy expects people to bow down to him? Can’t rest until they do? Orders a whole race to be extinguished just to get the one guy who won’t do it? Wants to kill the guy right in front of his house? Assumes that if the king wants to honor a guy it’s naturally himself? I’m sorry, but I’m tempted to give him the Nelson laugh when he gets it in the end. HAH-ha!

Esther... not sure what that
look on her face is all about!
4. Esther and Mordecai... just a couple of Jews trying to stay alive. Mordecai is obviously more of an action-taker than Esther... trying to avert a plot against the king, getting Esther to use her pull with the king to avert a large-scale disaster for the Jews... But Esther? She just wants to lay low.  It’s Mordecai who convinces her to step up and help ALL the Jews.  “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” That is to say, we are urged to use the positions we are in to do what we can for God. This speech is often used to inspire activism.

Despite her “royal position,” I think it’s a miracle that Esther was game to try... She may have been queen, but it looks like to me that Esther’s only power was her actual “position”... her location. Her proximity to the king. I mean, to that guy, women were obviously supposed to stay pretty and polished, come when called, and stay away when ignored. Oh – and be available for parades at the whim of the king.  

There's a movie of this crazy story,
but I don't know if it's any good...
That said, she did it. She devised this elaborate plan of humility and hospitality, and the king changed his mind. Because she was brave and she was willing. And because she used all the gifts God gave her to further His kingdom – even those things that you would think would not be terribly helpful, like her submissiveness and her beauty and feminine wiles. It kind of stretches the imagination regarding what qualities are useful to God and his people, doesn’t it? It's clear that He uses what we consider our failures – or at least, not helpful, as well as what we regard as our advantages – wealth, power, popularity, talent... 

I think God PREFERS to use our weaknesses, in fact. What better way to show HIS strength, right?  Like God told Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” In my case, I have to hope this is true. Sure, I have a lot of advantages... but I also experience a copious amount of failure and weakness. It’s good to know that God can get the job done in spite of my great slackitude!

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