10 Esther had not made known her people or kindred, for Mordecai had commanded her not to make it known. (Esther 2:10)
There is no shortage of lessons we can draw from the book of Esther. For a book with so many feasts, it’s only fitting that Esther itself is a feast for those of us trying to learn how to thrive in a hostile culture.
What jumped out to me on this reading, though, is that assimilation into the culture didn’t shield the Jews from the threat of annihilation and genocide.
We are first introduced to Esther in Chapter 2, where we are told she is the cousin of Morecai, “the son of Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish, a Benjaminite, who had been carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had carried away” (Esther 2:5). Marinate on that for a moment: Mordecai was a fourth-generation exile. His great grandfather had been among the original exiles. So all this is taking place about a century after Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem and deported the Jews.
This also means that it’s been about thirty years since King Cyrus first issued the decree that the Jews could return to Jerusalem. This fact corrects the false assumption many of us have that all the Jews jumped at the chance to return to the Promised Land. But this isn’t the case. Many had apparently become quite comfortable with the culture of Babylon (and later Persia). This was Babylon’s strategy all along. Teach the exiles the language and customs of our culture. Feed them our food. And within a couple of generations, no one will be able to tell the difference (for more on this topic, see Day 256: When the World Wants to Change You).
This may have been why Mordecai initially told Esther to keep her heritage a secret. For a hundred years now, the Jews had learned to go along to get along. Keep your head down and you reduce the risk of it getting cut off.
But if the book of Esther teaches us anything, it’s that blending in is not supposed to be a strategy for God’s people. From the outset, God had intended for His people to be set apart and different. God chose the Jews to be “a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth (Dt. 7:6). And for that reason, Satan has had it out for the Jews ever since. The order for extermination Haman issues in Esther 3 is just one of dozens examples throughout history of Satan’s attempts to annihilate God’s people.
I love how the King James Version translates 1 Peter 2:9:
9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;
God’s people are supposed to be peculiar. Distinct. Different. We aren’t intended to fit in. And it wasn’t until Esther made her heritage known that her people were saved from extermination. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We’ll circle back to that in tomorrow’s reading.
Beloved, you were set apart to stand out. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount to let our light shine before men so that they may see our good deeds and glorify our Father in Heaven (Matthew 5:14-16). So let’s stop working so hard to convince the rest of the world that we are just like they are.
In her book Searching For Sunday, the late Rachel Held Evans had this to say about the “weirdness of Christianity.” Rachel grew up in a traditional, conservative church, became disillusioned with religion for a number of years, and then came back to faith as a young adult. And while I don’t agree with everything Rachel thought or wrote about, this spoke to my soul:
What finally brought me back, after years of running away, wasn’t lattes or skinny jeans; it was the sacraments. Baptism, confession, Communion, preaching the Word, anointing the sick — you know, those strange rituals and traditions Christians have been practicing for the past 2,000 years. The sacraments are what make the church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained in the context of a loving, authentic and inclusive community.Rachel Held Evans, Searching For Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church
Blending in won’t shield us from the Enemy’s attacks. But being distinct just might be what preserves the church for future generations.