‘There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them’ […] In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing.
Esther 3:8-9, 4:3
‘There are people who are different. Destroy them.’ We do not have to look very hard to see history repeating itself. Too often in European history it has been the Jews who have faced this. Today, Christian communities face this kind of threat in, for example, Iraq, Sudan, and Nigeria. How quickly neighbours become executioners – in Rwanda, in Congo, in Bosnia, in Myanmar.
The book of Esther never mentions God. But we can read between the lines. Fasting and weeping tell us that the people of God had turned to repentance and desperate prayer. Only God could help them. But would he? And, if so, how?
At another point in Israel’s long exile, three friends of Daniel, about to be thrown into a blazing furnace were challenged by another king: ‘What god will be able to rescue you?’ They replied, ‘If we are thrown into the furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it… but even if he does not, we want you to know that we will not serve your gods’ (Daniel 3:15-18).
‘But even if he does not…’ Desperate prayers of desperate people are not always answered in the way they would like. The stories of heroism and quiet courage that come out of situations of violence and terror do not always end in rescue and preservation. Most of us today do not face such extreme situations, but our lesser fears require the same kind of trust in his care – to rescue, or to carry us through the very thing we fear.
We are called to serve the Lord and have faith in him, however he answers our prayers. Jesus knew this in Gethsemane. Pray for those whose faith is being tried by fire today.