This week Jewish people celebrated Purim-reminding us of the turnaround that took place during the time of Esther. It is good to remember what God did in the past. But turnarounds don’t need to be the thing of the past. For instance, with the global Coronavirus outbreak all nations are in dire straits today. President Trump tweeted today: To unleash the full power of the Federal Government in this effort, today I am officially declaring a National Emergency. The governments try to do whatever they can in their power but the answer comes from the Lord. We as Christians cannot panic as the rest of the world and take this opportunity to let our hope and light shine when people need the most. There are a few lessons we can learn from the story of Purim. The miraculous story of God sparing the Jewish people as a result of seeking Him in prayer and fasting is narrated in the book of Esther. In fact, it is a book in the Bible where the word God is not at all mentioned. Yet we see God at work all over the book.
There are times we wonder where is God’s hand at work in our lives. Sometimes we feel why God seems hidden when we need Him the most. Most of the times our frustrations arise from our limited understanding of God’s operations. His thoughts and ways is not parallel to ours. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isa 55:8-9).
Purim-the story of two immigrants
The Persian Empire during the time of Esther ruled over 127 provinces extending from Ethiopia to India in 5th century BCE. It was one of the largest empires of that time. The book of Esther is the story of two immigrants taking place – one was a young Jewish woman and the other was an Amalekite advisor. Hadassah, commonly known by her Persian name Esther, grew up as an adopted child who ended up becoming the queen of the emperor in 489 BCE. King Ahasuerus or Xerxes in his third year held an assembly to prepare for invading Greece. In his seventh year Xerxes replaced Vashti by marrying Esther (Est 2:16). King Xerxes also had a prime-minister called Haman, an Amalekite. Haman or his parents were brought to the Persia kingdom as captives taken in war. The word Haman means magnificent. He is called an “Agagite,” which seems to denote that he descended from the royal family of the Amalekites, the bitterest enemies of the Jews. Agag was one of the titles of the Amalekite kings.
Haman had indisputable hatred towards the Jews. Haman’s hatred is spiritual in origin and goes back to generations. Today a similar hatred for God and His people is evident that spans across continents. This hatred towards God’s people should not come as a surprise. “If the world hates you, you should realize that it hated me before you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as one of its own. But because you do not belong to the world and I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you (Jn 15:18-19).
The Enemy or Satan does not like anything about humans or God and what he is after is God’s good purposes for us. He hates the fact that repentance and a second chance was offered to humans and not to him and his angels. The context for Haman’s hatred going back to Amalekites is outlined earlier in Exodus by Moses. “Because a fist has been raised in defiance against the throne of the LORD, the LORD will wage war against Amalek from generation to generation.” (Ex 17:16).
The hatred and war against truth is perpetual. Moses in the same passage also gives a strategy as to how to fight this war of hatred coming against our generations. Moses built an altar and named it “Yhwh Nissi.” which means, the LORD is My Banner (Exo 17:15). Jesus won the victory once and for all through the resurrection from the dead. When we offer our lives at the altar of prayer and erect the Lord as our banner we win against the assaults of the enemy every day.
In the book of Esther, Haman the Amalekite is motivated by the hatred towards God’s people comes up with an agenda to destroy them. He uses his influence with King Xerxes to annihilate the Jews. Haman succeeded in gaining king’s approval for this plan. He lays out a plan consulting with the occult and determined the date of Adar 14 & 15 to execute the Jews by casting lots. The name Purim comes from the Persian word “lots”. Afterwards the king gave the order approving Haman’s plan and is irrevocable now. The Jews in Xerxes’s kingdom woke up to the new reality the next day.
Esther, the new queen also happened to learn about it. King Xerxes did not know about her Jewish identity. Esther grew up with Mordecai, who held some office in the household of the Persian king. She hardly had any influential role growing up and maybe felt underprivileged as an orphan. It doesn’t matter how the world and circumstances around define you. What really matters is your identity in Christ. Like Esther you are placed hidden as a child of the King. But know that you are called for such a time as this. Whether you have a role of great influence or an insignificant one in the world it cannot alter your identity in Him. What truly matters is when you awaken to your true identity in Christ and act on it.
Esther handled crisis through her heavenly Father’s identity
Instead of handling the crisis from her influence as a queen she sought the Father in heaven first. She realized early on that even as a queen she has no control of the circumstances and thus learned to seek the help of God. It doesn’t matter what position you carry you need God. It is a choice we conveniently ignore unless we are intentional. Mordechai, a type of Holy Spirit nudged her to act on her heavenly Father’s identity and rise up to her time to make a difference. How many times have we preferred our own ways and acted selfishly instead of listening to the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit. The default move in this fallen world is to try all options except God. Esther humbled before God through prayer and fasting as instructed. God opened doors for the turnaround. Her original name Hadassah means “myrtle” that represents humility. According to rabbinic tradition, the fasting of Esther occurred during the 14th -16th days in the month of Nisan (the eve and first two days of Passover), soon after Haman’s casting of lots. She based her prayer on the atonement that Passover represents. Today we come to the altar of prayer on the basis of atonement-the finished work of our Pesach Lamb.
Fasting and prayer
Fasting is a place of positioning ourselves so that we can learn to ask appropriately in our prayer communication. Prayer is the evidence of one’s dependence on God. Fasting is not about getting God’s attention through pleasing Him with our good works. Sometimes our faith can depend on our good works to get answers. Biblical prayer and faith is different. It is about receiving answer to prayer based on the atonement and exchanged life of Christ being applied to our every situation. When our faith and prayer is even slightly compromised, it still looks the same in the outside but with little fruits. “I do not misapply God’s grace, for if righteousness comes about by doing what the Law requires, then the Messiah died for nothing” (Gal 2:21). Esther’s fasting helped her to stay focused on God’s intent and outcome in the crisis she faced. Even when she was offered a lucrative deal from the king in return, she stayed focused on her purpose.
Prayer is about taking risk
According to Mordechai’s words, Esther chose to step up to her God-given assignment and identity. Many times the enemy keeps us blank and feeling down. His target is that we not wake up to knowing our true purpose, assignment or identity. The decision for Esther was a do or die situation. Because she rarely had seen the king in the past 30 days and even if she is given an audience there is no guarantee that he is willing to grand her need. There was also great risk in revealing her identity as a Jew in such hostile environment around her.
On the other hand, God allows such risk-taking situation where our faith is tested. It happens so that we depend on Him and Him alone during crisis. Esther risked her life and stepped outside her protocol to see the king.
History is full of daring and inspiring stories when it comes to the few who chose to take risk in prayer. The same precedent continues till the end of ages. As stated in Revelation, “And they conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives until death.” (Rev 12:11). Great prayer comes with great test of faith even to the point of willing to lose our lives. When everything within us says no or impossible that is when the realm of prayer and faith is best demonstrated. He wants to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think so that unto Him be glory throughout all ages (Eph 3:21). When a thing is humanly possible there is less excitement as to God’s majesty.
The audience with the King
The audience with the King cannot be taken lightly. Even as queen there was protocol to be followed to meet with the king. We have access to the King of kings who dwells in heaven who has given us audience 24 hours 7 days a week and 365 days a year. It did not come cheap. In the Old Testament the high priest only had access once a year to the throne room or in other words the holy of holies. It happened during Yom Kippur and there was a strict protocol to be followed or else even the high priest was struck dead. All this complication was removed when the veil was torn into two during the vital hours of Messiah suffering on the cross and gave up the ghost. Therefore, because we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is not able to sympathize with our weaknesses, but who has been tempted in all things in the same way, without sin (Heb 4:14-15). So the word continues, therefore let us approach with confidence to the throne of grace, in order that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb 4:16). This is what Esther did. Just because we have access does not mean we can barge into His presence as we like. Fasting and humbling prepares our heart to receive mercy and find grace to help in the time of our need.
Know your King
Unlike a human emperor who has limited jurisdiction and limited capacity to meet all needs, your father in heaven is the King above all kings and emperors. He said in Matt 28:18 that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. Moreover this King is able to do exceedingly and abundantly than we ask or think (Eph 3:20). Therefore the right question to ask is not whether you have a King who is able to fulfill or perform. Indeed he is more than able. The better question to ask is whether you know Him as your king. If you have given your lordship over to Him He is indeed the lord of your life.
You have favor with your King like Esther. To everyone’s surprise the king asked her, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? It will be given to you—even half the kingdom.” (Est 5:3). Esther received extraordinary favor with the king as a result of her positioning right with her heavenly Father first. The favor from above broke all protocols. King Xerxes offered her request.
Esther could have grabbed the rare opportunity of favor with the king and asked for something personal and different. She had all the right to do so. Prayer and fasting prepared her not to be distracted and be pulled apart by her will over God’s purpose and will in the situation. There was another famous prayer that had a same approach that sealed our destiny. Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt 26:39). Jesus did not have to go through all that trouble if He did not have you and me in mind. Esther preferred the need of God’s people over her personal comforts. I and my young girls will fast likewise, and then I will go to the king, which is not according to the law; if I perish, I perish (Esther 4:16). When you delight yourself in Yhwh, He will give you the desires of your heart (Ps 37:4). When you abide in Him and his words abide in you then ask whatever you wish and he shall give you your petitions (Jn 15:7). Esther chose to depend on God and intercede on behalf of her people before her needs.
He qualifies you to be an intercessor
Esther took the mantle of intercession and her role as an intercessor seriously. Selfless prayer pleases God’s heart. In your faith journey there comes a point in your life when He matures you to become an intercessor. You are then able to come to God on behalf of friends and people around you. It is not an easy thing to do. In one instance God offered Moses to make his name great and let go of the children of Israel because of their unbelief. Now let me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may consume them, but I’ll make a great nation of you. But Moses implored the LORD his God: “LORD, why are you angry with your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and a show of force? (Exo 32:10-11). Moses was frustrated with his own people many times. However in this case he did contend for Israel as an intercessor. He could have had a better life and career than dealing with the rebellious people in the wilderness. He was close to losing the nation of Israel to God’s wrath. But he prayed selflessly and spared his own people. God qualified him to be an intercessor during his wandering in Midian to become the meekest man on earth (Num 12:3). That was not the case when Moses started out. He killed an Egyptian.
Job is another example. God had asked him to pray for his “friends” towards the end of the book. Although his friends came to comfort him they were hurting him more than being a consolation. “..the LORD spoke to Eliphaz from Teman: “My anger is burning against you along with your two friends, since you haven’t spoken correctly about me, as did my servant Job.” (Job 42:7). It was not easy for Job to pray for them after all they did to them. Job had to first forgive them before he was even able to pray for them. When Job was selfless in his prayers and chose to come to a place of intercession for his friends God also dealt with his own life issues. The LORD restored Job’s prosperity after he prayed for his friends (Job 42:10). We can become consumed with our own troubles and needs we miss God’s heartbeat and to follow His plan of breakthrough for such a time as this.
His ultimate plan is your restoration
God’s ultimate plan is to bring turnaround to the Haman threats in the life of your people and land and your own life. There is a spiritual process where He takes us to qualify us and to bring turn around. There comes a time of restoration where God reverses your situation around like in the book of Esther. That is what Purim is all about. God is in the business of backtracking us to our true identity and original destiny of our lives. He knows the mess we have been in and the messed up world that we live in every day. But He also had a way of restoring us through repentance and prayer. In the season of Purim He flips our situations around. As a result the Haman gang goes into exile while the remnant gang that walks with the Lord in the exile will be exalted. Humble yourselves in the Lord’s presence, and he will exalt you (James 4:10).
Coronavirus – a case for a national day of repentance?
Coronavirus or COVID-19 is considered an epidemic that spreads rapidly among many people in higher concentration than normal. There are fears among governments and medical communities that it could become a pandemic. Coronavirus could be a human-made virus that was accidentally or intentionally released. Or its origin could even be something random. Either way God allowed it. It is too late now as the genie is out the bottle. All are trying to curb its effects. As governments are scrambling for answers and vaccines, the scope of human solutions are limited. It is too early to predict, the impact it is going to affect communities and economies. One thing is for sure. The contagious nature of the pathogen is going to considerably affect economic activities in the near future, especially where economic activity that involves interaction with one another, which happens to be the case of a lot of transactions. The industries that are likely to be spared are the services industries that allow remote work such as Information technology and so on. Even such industries depend on the volume of economic activities in other industries. Thus Coronavirus can affect financial markets and span across all industries. It can create a financial crisis very different from the financial crisis of 2008. A virus situation is beyond any economic crisis that can be solved through an economic stimulus package from banks or governments.
So what is it about? It is a perfect storm that demands every individual’s attention to look to the One above. No government or hospitals can guarantee to contain it. Also note that it is not spreading in a predictable manner across nations. Some nations are more affected than others. For instance a natural disaster like a flood or earthquake has a limited geographic target. Coronavirus has a potential to have a global reach erratically.
An Appeal to Heaven
Coronavirus calls for a global SOS alert. Even if a region is considered safe does not mean that it will be safe tomorrow. This unique crisis situation leaves us with little or no option other than to consider an appeal to heaven on behalf of our land and fellow-humans.
The famous “pine tree” flag that features the slogan “An Appeal to Heaven” is widely recognized as a symbol of the American Revolution for Independence. In fact the first American flag was not the stars and stripes, but a flag featuring a pine tree with the motto, “An Appeal to God” or “An Appeal to Heaven”. It was used for the ships Washington commissioned during revolutionary war. Following the signing of the declaration of independence, the Massachusetts General Court established the same flag as the flag of the state navy. During the American Revolution, this flag could be seen flying in Massachusetts and before long, throughout all thirteen colonies. It is still a great miracle how a small army of under-resourced men fought and won the war for America’s freedom against the mighty British. Great heroes of the past were far deprived of resources compared to their counterparts and yet they succeeded because they chose to appeal to God of heaven and earth. The inspiration from Biblical history to modern history concludes that when a small or insignificant group chose to rely on heaven the impossible became a reality.
We have long forgotten the appeal to heaven part and made it about the human revolution. What we are lacking today is missing on the opportunity to make a true appeal to heaven. We don’t need another human revolution. But unfortunately, for the bad actors every calamity is to progress their humanistic and global agenda to create and promote chaos for the purpose of control.
The true secret to Esther’s success was not her looks or influence in the palace but her relationship and humility before her God. It was the same with all the remnant leaders in the Bible. Nehemiah was a marketplace believer that prayed while serving in the palace of the king. He did not come from the clergy class. The Lord was preparing his heart through prayer for the great purpose He had for Nehemiah. God opened door for Nehemiah to go build the ruined walls of Jerusalem while he was an immigrant in exile. He absolutely knew that he did not have the expertise or the influence to undertake this enormous task. But the Bible says, despite all odds that he was still able to complete the wall in 52 days. There was intense resistance and persecution from the enemy outside and also people within his own camp. Nehemiah always kept the right perspective despite the enemy’s arsenals attacking them every day every day. Nehemiah and Ezra repeatedly cite the reason: because of the good hand of the Lord was on them (Neh 2:18, Ezra 8:18). God’s assignments always seem impossible until it’s done. God’s purposes can only be carried out by depending on Him daily.
Yhwh Nissi-The Lord is my banner
The global epidemic of Coronavirus is an opportunity for people to look above than to their governments. It is a reminder for leaders to look up than to look into their own strength and resources for solutions. Perhaps President George Washington took his instruction from Moses when he raised the flag “An Appeal to Heaven” similar to Moses when he said-The Lord is my banner-Yhwh Nissi. So did Gideon, Jonathan, David, Nehemiah, Esther and many who followed that tip from Moses. They saw turnaround in their generation. Jonathan said that there is no restraint to the LORD to save by many or by few (1 Sam 14:6). In the book of Esther the children of Israel gathered together on the 13th of Adar to defend themselves against their enemies. Mostly when they were in a state of war, and preparations for war always included a public fast and humbling and so might have been the case during Purim as well.
Coronavirus is a latest incident that justifies an appeal to heaven. There is a beautiful promise made in scriptures that directly relates to this epidemic. 2Ch 7:13-14 is plain and self-explanatory. “Whenever I close the skies so there is no rain, or whenever I command locusts to lay waste to the land, or whenever I send epidemics among my people, when my people humble themselves—the ones who are called by my name—and pray, seek me, and turn away from their evil practices, I myself will listen from heaven, I will pardon their sins, and I will restore their land.”.
We don’t have to wait everyone to repent. It can start with us. In the New Testament Jesus Himself exhorts us plainly in Rev 3:19-20. “I correct and discipline those whom I love, so be serious and repent! Look! I am standing at the door and knocking. If anyone listens to my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he will eat with me.”
The call to repentance is an individual call that you and I personally need to respond. It is also good if a whole nation can call for a day of repentance or take repentance seriously. Many government leaders have already or in the process of declaring a nation-wide and state-wide and city-wide emergency to curb this epidemic. We pray that it goes beyond that and cause them to look up and declare a national day of repentance. A nation that was absolutely far away from God decided to do that at the word of a foreign prophet Jonah. As a result God spared them two hundred years from destruction. Nothing is too hard for the Lord if we choose to repent and obey. He is always close enough when we humbly respond and choose to believe the gospel.
God does not love to punish and torture us. It is the enemy who came to steal, kill and destroy us of our God-given destiny. God has to discipline us because He loves us and want us to live a fulfilled life in a fallen world. Discipline is for our good so that we listen and repent. Our children always think they know better until they grow up and become adults. Unfortunately we are no different before God. We think we know better and choose to walk away from Him. He disciplines us and is always willing and able to pardon our sins when we genuinely seek Him. As a result He even promises to heal our land and economy to become prosperous according to 2 Chro 7:14.