Thursday, November 14, 2013

Save Me From My Fear

Our scripture for this second week in our series on the book of Esther is Esther 3:1-6 and Esther 4
(yes, all of it). You can read them here:

One of the most interesting and discussed features of the book of Esther we get from the Hebrew Bible (and that is featured in our Bibles) is that the word "God" is never used. In fact, God is barely even implied in the text, and the story features few overt expressions of religion. It is, on the surface, an almost wholly secular book-except for the fact that, through coincidences, courage, and plot twists that lead to deliverance for God's people, you get this unshakable sense that God is always at work behind the scenes.

If you read the Greek version of Esther, however--which includes several additions to the manuscript we honor as part of our canon--God is mentioned all over the place. In fact, we get to hear a prayer Esther is said to pray just after the events of this week's story, before she approaches the king to seek mercy for her people. It is a pretty incredible prayer, even if it is not in our canon (it is included in the part of the Bible commonly called the "Apocrypha"). I thought it was worth taking time to read here:

Then Queen Esther, seized with deadly anxiety, fled to the Lord. She took off her splendid apparel and put on the garments of distress and mourning, and instead of costly perfumes she covered her head with ashes and dung, and she utterly humbled her body; every part that she loved to adorn she covered with her tangled hair. She prayed to the Lord God of Israel, and said:“O my Lord, you only are our king; help me, who am alone and have no helper but you, for my danger is in my hand. Ever since I was born I have heard in the tribe of my family that you, O Lord, took Israel out of all the nations, and our ancestors from among all their forebears, for an everlasting inheritance, and that you did for them all that you promised. And now we have sinned before you, and you have handed us over to our enemies because we glorified their gods. You are righteous, O Lord! And now they are not satisfied that we are in bitter slavery, but they have covenanted with their idols to abolish what your mouth has ordained, and to destroy your inheritance, to stop the mouths of those who praise you and to quench your altar and the glory of your house, to open the mouths of the nations for the praise of vain idols, and to magnify forever a mortal king.
“O Lord, do not surrender your scepter to what has no being; and do not let them laugh at our downfall; but turn their plan against them, and make an example of him who began this against us. Remember, O Lord; make yourself known in this time of our affliction, and give me courage, O King of the gods and Master of all dominion! Put eloquent speech in my mouth before the lion, and turn his heart to hate the man who is fighting against us, so that there may be an end of him and those who agree with him. But save us by your hand, and help me, who am alone and have no helper but you, O Lord. You have knowledge of all things, and you know that I hate the splendor of the wicked and abhor the bed of the uncircumcised and of any alien. You know my necessity—that I abhor the sign of my proud position, which is upon my head on days when I appear in public. I abhor it like a filthy rag, and I do not wear it on the days when I am at leisure. And your servant has not eaten at Haman’s table, and I have not honored the king’s feast or drunk the wine of libations. Your servant has had no joy since the day that I was brought here until now, except in you, O Lord God of Abraham. O God, whose might is over all, hear the voice of the despairing, and save us from the hands of evildoers. And save me from my fear!”

I am totally captivated by the last line of that prayer, one that seems added in almost as an afterthought: "Save me from my fear." That is one of the best prayer, I think, I have ever heard. I wonder what would happen if we prayed to be saved from the fear that possesses us and keeps us from acting? I wonder what would happen if we meant that prayer as we offered it?

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