|After Aert de Gelter|
The events in the book of Esther occurred from 483 BC to 473 BC, during the first half of the reign of King Xerxes, who chose Esther as his queen. During this time period, the first remnant of Jews who had returned to Judah were struggling to reestablish temple worship according to the Law of Moses. But Esther and Mordecai, along with many other Jews, had chosen not to make the trek back to Judah. They seemed content to stay in Susa, the capital city of Persia, in which the story is set.
The book was written no earlier than 470 BC and probably no later than 424 BC, during the reign of Xerxes’ son Artaxerxes.
Why is Esther so important?
Esther is the only book in the Bible not to mention the name of God. But that is not to say that God was absent. His presence permeates much of the story, as though He were behind the scenes coordinating “coincidences” and circumstances to make His will happen.
Much like the book of Ruth, this book stands as one of the most skilfully written biblical books. Using eight feasts to systematically build and resolve suspense, the author constructed the story chiastically—using a Hebrew literary device in which events mirror each other inversely. Early listeners to the story would have recognised significant events and followed the rising tension with understanding.
Haman, the king’s evil second-in-command, was a descendant of Agag, king of the Amalekites, who were ancient enemies of God’s people (Numbers 24:7; 1 Samuel 15:8). He cast the lot, called “pur,” in order to determine the day that the Jews would be exterminated (Esther 3:7–9). The feast of Purim, still celebrated by Jews today, commemorates the Jews’ deliverance from Haman’s plot (9:24–32).
While the primary purpose of the book of Esther was to relate the dramatic origins of the feast of Purim, a greater theme shines through the story. The sovereignty and faithfulness of God permeate each scene. Nothing is truly coincidental, the book of Esther says to us. God’s sovereignty is best summarised in Mordecai’s exhortation to Esther: “Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”” (Esther 4:14).
When events seemed out of control to Esther and Mordecai, when the king dictated ruin for their people, when evil was poised to triumph . . . God was at work.
He worked through their dark days (Esther was taken to the harem [2:1–16]), their faithful obedience (Esther risked her life before the king [5:1–3]), and their victories (Esther revealed Haman’s plot and the Jews’ destruction of their enemies [7–9]). This message is clear: God is sovereign even when life doesn’t make sense.
God is also the great Promise Keeper. Mordecai’s words reflected his faith that God would honor His eternal covenant with Abraham and David.
When our King comes back
And we will be with Him
The One who died for us
Victorious in every way
Loving and compassionate
His name is Jesus-Christ,
He is the only way
and the Life.
In 1957, Dr. King was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), an organization designed to provide new leadership for the now burgeoning civil rights movement. He would serve as head of the SCLC until his assassination in 1968, a period during which he would emerge as the most important social leader of the modern American civil rights movement.
In 1963, he led a coalition of numerous civil rights groups in a nonviolent campaign aimed at Birmingham, Alabama, which at the time was described as the “most segregated city in America.” The subsequent brutality of the city’s police, illustrated most vividly by television images of young blacks being assaulted by dogs and water hoses, led to a national outrage resulting in a push for unprecedented civil rights legislation. It was during this campaign that Dr. King drafted the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” the manifesto of Dr. King’s philosophy and tactics, which is today required-reading in universities worldwide.
In 1963, Dr. King was one of the driving forces behind the March for Jobs and Freedom, more commonly known as the “March on Washington,” which drew over a quarter-million people to the national mall.
It was at this march that Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, which cemented his status as a social change leader and helped inspire the nation to act on civil rights.
Dr. King was later named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year.”
In 1964, at 35 years old, Martin Luther King, Jr. became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. His acceptance speech in Oslo is thought by many to be among the most powerful remarks ever delivered at the event, climaxing at one point with the oft-quoted phrase
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”
Also in 1964, partly due to the March on Washington, Congress passed the landmark Civil Rights Act, essentially eliminating legalized racial segregation in the United States. The legislation made it illegal to discriminate against blacks or other minorities in hiring, public accommodations, education or transportation, areas which at the time were still very segregated in many places.
The next year, 1965, Congress went on to pass the Voting Rights Act, which was an equally-important set of laws that eliminated the remaining barriers to voting for African-Americans, who in some locales had been almost completely disenfranchised. This legislation resulted directly from the Selma to Montgomery, AL March for Voting Rights lead by Dr. King.
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Tolkien at the Botanical garden, Oxford
1 John Ronald Reul Tolkien was born in Bloem-fontein, South Africa, on January 3, 1892. The Tolkien family moved back to England three years later, when J. R. R.’s father took ill. J. R. R.’s father died when he was 4 years old, and his mother died when he was 12. After that, he and his brother were left in the care of Father Francis Morgan, a Catholic priest.
2. After graduating from Oxford University in 1915, Tolkien joined the British Army to fight in World War I. In his first year of service he took part in the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles in human history, where more than 1 million men were killed or wounded, including many of Tolkien’s friends. “By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead,” he would later write. As biographer Bradley J. Birzer says, “Though he spent less than a year in the war, if affected him deeply. Tolkien had lost several of his closest friends, and their loss, he believed, gave him an even greater duty to carry on their jointly conceived project, which was to do God’s will in the world.”
3. During the war Tolkien contracted trench fever, a moderately serious disease carried by lice (his fellow writers A. A. Milne [creator of Winnie-the-Pooh] and C. S. Lewis would also contract the disease on the Western front). Tolkien served the remainder of the war in recuperating in hospitals or performing duties in garrison.
4. After leaving the military Tolkien took a job working for the Oxford English Dictionary (his speciality was the history and etymology of words of Germanic origin. In 1920 he took a teaching position at Leeds University. Four years later he accepted a job at Oxford University, where he would remain for the rest of his career.
Tolkien had a speech impediment that made him difficult to understand, especially during his class lectures. Despite this flaw, he was popular with his students and frequently received standing ovations.
6. Tolkien had a peculiar sense of humor and was fond of playing odd pranks. Along with Lewis, he once dressed as a polar bear for a non-costume party. He would chase neighbors away dressed as an Anglo-Saxon warrior, and, in his later years, would include his false teeth in payment handed to store clerks.
7. From 1929 to 1940, Tolkien and C. S. Lewis were close friends as well as co-workers. Tolkien brought Lewis back to the Christian faith, and Lewis inspired Tolkien to write and publish his fantasy stories. (“The unpayable debt that I owe to [Lewis] was not ‘influence’ as it is normally understood, but sheer encouragement. He was for long my only audience. Only from him did I ever get the idea that my ‘stuff’ could be more than a private hobby.”) After Lewis death Tolkien wrote in a letter to his daughter, “So far I have felt the normal feelings of a man of my age—like an old tree that is losing all its leaves one by one: this feels like an axe-blow near the roots.” He also refused to write an obituary for his old friend, saying, “I feel his loss so deeply that I have since his death refused to write or speak about him.”
8. Tolkien claims the idea for his first famous fantasy novel, The Hobbit, came to him suddenly while he was grading student essay exams. He took out a blank piece of paper and wrote, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” When he began writing the story, Tolkien believed he had invented the word “hobbit.” Released on September 21, 1937, with a print run of 1,500 copies, the book was already sold out by December. Since Nielsen started tracking books with their BookScan service in 1995, The Hobbit has not once fallen off of their list of the top 5,000 books. Because the book did so well, publishers requested a sequel in December 1937. Originally, Tolkien presented them with drafts for The Silmarillion, but they were rejected on the grounds that the public wanted “more about hobbits.” Tolkein's answer was the three-book series, The Lord of the Rings.
9. Tolkien generally objected to overt religious allegory in stories (such as the Narnia novels by Lewis), but he nevertheless considered his fantasy stories to be influenced by his religious worldview:
The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like “religion,” to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.
For Tolkien, fantasy and myths could reflect deeper truth: “We have come from God and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed, only by myth-making, only by becoming a ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man ascribe to the state of perfection that he knew before the fall.”
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