Esther (written by E Reiss, read by Anna Mari Green)
Fear is the greatest roadblock to fulfilling our purpose in life.
It seems that it is always lurking, waiting to paralyze us into inaction or to push us in a direction that ultimately leads to ruin. It is a darkness that feeds on doubt and the insecurity we hide from everyone but our deepest selves. At our core, the will to move, or the surrender to not even try, may be the first and best battle we ever face.
My life was perfect in many ways, surrounded by peace and an environment designed to make my heart as lovely as my appearance. The rolling and angry chaos within was carefully buried and known only to a few.
I was surrounded by the smell of saffron and wild flowers, placed in my chamber by those in charge of caring for my anteroom. It was beautiful. It was quiet. I needed a place to gather my thoughts and even more, to gather my courage. I looked for my heart among the scents and silk clothing, but my hands only found empty adornment.
My cousin had informed me of the plot against our people, an evil scheme borne of our enemy Haman, an advisor to the king. Standing against Haman, we had searched for an opportunity and Mordecai was convinced that our best course of action would come through me. I wasn't so sure.
I had asked him to gather people to fast and seek heaven for three days, while my friends and I did the same. It wasn't just stalling, but I admit that I needed some time. I needed more time than I had available; things were moving too quickly.
The knowledge that I was a Jew was a secret about to be revealed. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. Maybe I could wait a few minutes more.
I was afraid of failing. Not just for myself, but for the thousands of people counting on me. I was afraid of death. But again, it wasn't just my own life that was a sinking weight upon my heart; it was the death of my people. I hoped for things to reverse, for a people that desperately needed redemption to find it. I was afraid they would never see the answer they longed to embrace.
What if our plans failed? What if the response wasn't what we hoped for? What if nothing happened? What if he was angry and I made things worse? What if I came at the wrong time and sealed our fates forever? We were a city about to be bathed in blood and loss, what could a girl do to stop it?
I could do nothing but try.
I drew myself up to my full height and took a deep breath, releasing it slowly. I raised my hands toward heaven in supplication one last time. Then I stepped forward into the inner court and waited on my king's response.
It is a glorious and frightening moment when you've done all you can and all that is left to do is wait and see what happens. It may only be a few seconds, but that sliver of time contains everything. My wisdom is not as great as my beauty, but the counsel I give is this:
Be afraid. The danger is real. It's not just a shadowy exercise of the mind.
But don't be mastered by your fear. Act as if things will go as you hope and pray that they will. It will give heaven the opportunity to move in you and through you.
Your people need you more than you will ever know.
"On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the palace, in front of the king's hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne in the hall, facing the entrance. When he saw Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased with her and held out to her the gold scepter that was in his hand" (Esther 5:1-2).
She was beautiful, and I wanted her. There was nothing else in the world.
She was pregnant, and we had to hide it from her husband. He would never know.
The cover-up didn't work. So I orchestrated an "accident" in battle. No one would ever know. But I knew. And a wife in mourning knew.
And God knew. It's a horrible truth, but He loved me too much to let me get away with it.
I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat. Everything normal in life was filtered through a lens of guilt and hidden shame. People applauded me taking her in and providing for her when her husband was killed. I smiled and spoke the words they wanted to hear.
They didn't know I had killed him.
People were happy at our wedding; we made such a beautiful couple. We would make such beautiful children. When she started to show, they smiled and praised God for a coming child. They prayed for a prince to make my house even stronger.
They didn't know what I had done.
She was in denial, focusing on caring for the coming child to the exclusion of everything else. It was all too much to deal with on the surface, so we pretended that everything was what it appeared to be. Even to each other when no one else was around, we never spoke of what we had done.
Days turned to months, and the seasons changed. The whole earth moved, but I was stuck. Everything around me came and went as it always had, but sleep still wouldn't come.
It was a boy.
When Nathan came, I thought he wanted to congratulate us on a son. Instead he knew. He knew! And in judgment, he stripped everything away. My child would die, strife and bloodshed would never end for me, and disaster after disaster would haunt my family.
When he became sick, I became broken.
My kingdom, my voice, my songs have all become the ashes of this mourning. I've turned against You and against my friend. I've betrayed the trust of my people and my family. Even her. I can see in her eyes the words unspoken, the sorrow of her grief. It's more than I can bear.
Please be merciful, don't let my son pay the price for my mistakes.
The sky was calm, a stark counterpoint to the silent storm within the palace walls. Outside my door, people were arguing in whispers. I couldn't make out the words, but listening intently I heard the sound that was causing so much fear.
A baby was not crying.
It's funny. I can feel the five smooth stones in the palms of my hands. I can feel the warmth on my face, the shining sun of His presence as I dance into the city.
Yet in the dark of night as I sit alone, the miracle isn't in my grasp. It feels like the miracle will never be in my grasp again. I'm trapped in this waking dream where the giant wins and the ark remains lost with our enemies. I'm trapped in a night where morning never comes. Is this how my story ends?
Is this how all stories end?
I know nothing but this: God's love is bigger than our biggest mistake.
His love is not turned away when we fail. When I feel His presence, He is with me. When I feel nothing but the cold wind of silence, He is there. No despair is beyond His reach.
So I will place my heart in His hands.
"Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean;
Wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
Let the bones You have crushed rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins
And blot out all my iniquity" (Psalm 51).
Being king was the best thing that ever happened to me. Along the way, it got harder. But I held on to my position with everything that was in me. Giving up wasn't an option. I was the king! That was all that mattered.
Grabbing a skin of wine, I took a long drink to help me sleep, if you can call it sleep. Perhaps God would speak to me in a dream as He so often had in the past.
I saw the confident outline of a shepherd boy, tanned and strong with the lean and easy movement of someone who spends their days working outdoors. He moved with grace in his worn, hand-me-down clothing. His hands were nervously twisting the leather of the sling at his side.
Our ridiculous champion had come to kill a giant, and I suited him in heavy armor against my men's objections. He couldn't move, he wasn't strong enough to lift it, so carelessly, he left it behind. Then it began. The stones, the shout, the sprint, the throw, the fall, the roar of Israel in victory, the rout of our enemy and the boy again. Raising that terrible sword, the giant sword, he took the head of the one who dared mock the God of heaven. Turning back to me with those blue gray eyes, the sword he could barely hold, covered in blood, he raised the sword again.
Raising it over my head now. Why am I kneeling? How did I get here? His laughter rings as he leans into the cut ... I screamed and jerked violently ...
Awake. The sun was shining through the flap in my tent, and I was drenched in sweat. I could see tiny motes of dust coursing in the beam of light, floating, ever floating. Cursing, I sat and tried to shake the nightmares from behind my eyes.
David. How I hated that traitor, trying to take my kingdom away from me. Doesn't he know I am the anointed one? Doesn't he know I am the king? God picked me! A mealy little shepherd boy from a low house won't take this away from me.
I exploded in anger, grabbing a spear and with a maddened cry, I thrust the sharpened end at the lit brazier, spilling hot coals onto the tent floor. I watched them smoke and smolder, giving off a thick, dark, pungent scent. I wondered if the world would burn. I wondered if David would burn with it. As the blaze quieted, I came back to myself. Dressing quickly, I met my men for our counsel of war.
A battle was coming. Our enemies had gathered, and rumor said the traitor David was in their midst. We staged at Gilboa, at the foot of the mountains, as my captains and I went to a high place to look out over the Philistine host. They outnumbered us by thousands and when I realized our situation, my heart crumbled completely. Sudden terror gripped me as the icy hand of death ran his sinuous fingers down my spine. A cold wash of fear flooded over me and with tears in my eyes, I turned quickly to my tent, ignoring the calls of my men.
Lighting a lamp, the illumination seemed too dim, as if the light itself was somehow being swallowed up and couldn't escape. I hunched over to see if I could brighten it, but nothing worked. The very world was growing darker. I watched as the shadows began dancing evilly on the canvas, swallowing the feeble light of my hand. And I prayed, or tried to. I inquired of God if we should go and fight. Would He help us on the morrow?
But God is cruel. He doesn't answer when we need Him most. That made me angry, too. How dare He not answer me! I am the king! Does He not care about our kingdom?
Well, if God wouldn't deliver us, then I would take things into my own hands. My dreams were cold. My prophets were mute. Everyone was watching me, shaking their heads and wringing their hands around me. I needed Samuel. Samuel was dead. I needed him. I needed someone who could bring him to me.
I needed a medium. So we found one. She was a practicing witch from Endor, and she could speak to the dead. I needed to hear, I needed to know. I had her call Samuel and when the prophet appeared, she cried out in fear.
This wasn't what she expected.
As the holy prophet of God thundered away at me, I sank to the floor spent and terrified. My worst fears were realized, and the voices of my torment were right. It was too late, and I had gone too far to turn back.
In the morning light, the day of our death found me buckling on the armor of a king. I knew then what I did not know before. God's silence was to check me, to drive me back to Himself. He wanted me to wait, to fast, to pray and to seek Him again. He wanted me to rest in the truth I knew and to obey the Word I had been given. Even as I knew it, I rejected that path forward. I would go my own way. I would pay my own price. If Israel paid it with me, so be it.
It was pride. I was focusing on the power of my role, hanging onto it above all else. I held it above even my own relationship with God and His favor.
"And Samuel said, "Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy? The Lord has done to you as He spoke by me, for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David" (I Samuel 28:16-17).
I woke to the laughter of my enemies.
Blinking, I looked to my left and to my right. It was dark, with the flickering light of torches in the distance casting mocking shadows on the wall before me. My shoulders hurt from the awkward weight of my position. I pulled my feet underneath me and slowly stood.
I was underground. My hands were bound at the wrist by thick bronze chains leading to the stone behind me. My feet were restricted in similar fashion; the heavy chains made soft noises as they resisted my adjusted stance. I swung my right hand in a quick circle and felt the bronze links in my hand. I did the same with my left.
Rolling my neck and shoulders, I pulled myself a shuffling step forward, until the chains binding me went taut. My restraints were about to become my weapons. Their laughter would die with cries of terror and surprise soon enough. Taking a deep breath, I flexed against the chains to pull them free of their stone housings.
Growling, I reset and stepped forward again, losing my balance and jerking myself upright. The muscles in my arms and chest flexed as I shook my head to feel my hair around me. Something was wrong. I tilted my head to the left and rubbed my ear and scalp on my shoulder. I could feel the rough remaining tufts of stubble on my skin. My hair was gone. The symbol of my vow had been cut away completely. I was betrayed.
Panicked, I pulled at the chains desperately. Wide-eyed and straining I began to tremble in futile effort. It was no use. God had abandoned me. My strength was gone, replaced by cold anger. I didn't deserve this. I would make them pay.
I would make her pay.
Someone was coming, several someones from the sound of it. They rounded the corner of the passage before me and were carrying several items I didn't recognize. A large metal pot with a heavy handle, glowing with red-hot coals, swung slowly between the two soldiers carrying it. A makeshift table with blocks and straps was being carried as well, but it was too tall to be a table, I didn't know its purpose. A smallish man carrying a scroll was reading in a monotone; it sounded like he was reading a list of names. I cursed them all soundly.
The soldiers set the coals on the ground to my right. The table carrier brought the apparatus directly in front of me and set it down. I tried to grab him, but the heavy chains combined with my exhaustion made me easy to avoid. Even so, it took three of them to manhandle me on top of the table. They adjusted the straps and blocks to hold my head in place. I was still chained to the wall, and I just couldn't get enough leverage to resist. The small man was still reading names, one after the other.
From the corner of my eye, I saw the lead soldier put a sharpened length of bronze into the coals and over time, it started to glow with the heat from the surrounding material. At some point, I realized the names were names of Philistine families.
They were the names of the men I had killed.
It took hours to read them all.
When his voice finally droned away into silence, I was in agony. My back cramped from the unnatural position. My arms and legs were still chained, and I couldn't straighten or move my head. The small man handed his scroll to a soldier and picked up the heated bronze. Looking at me intently, he held it in front of my face. Its glow cast an unholy light.
For the first time in my life, I was afraid.
I dislocated my shoulder in a frantic effort that succeeded in pulling me back about an inch. I was quickly repositioned, tightened and in a single, practiced, terrifying and eternal moment, one half of the world went black. Screaming and unable to move, burning bronze took the rest of my vision away from me forever.
I woke on the ground with feet still chained, my shoulder throbbing but bound close to me in a makeshift sling. Reaching up, I felt cloth covering my eyes.
The next few months were a cycle of food, sleep, manual labor in the prison mill and a searching of the soul. I revisited every memory and prayed for God to deliver me to death. At some point, I came to the conclusion I deserved everything I had received and the litany of my failures became my morning and evening prayer.
I am Samson. The one who dishonored my mother and father. The one who broke and disdained the vows of the Nazarenes. The one who touched things unclean. I am Samson, the greedy, Samson the hungry. I am Samson, the violent and ill-tempered judge of Israel. The one who ruled with vengeance and impetuousness instead of wisdom and prayer. I am Samson, whose strength can lift a spoon of cold gruel to my lips and whose life is dependant on the mercy and provision of my enemies. I am Samson the selfish, husband of Philistines and speaker of lies.
I am Samson the weak, Samson the shorn, Samson the forsworn. I am the blind child of the God I ignored and took for granted. My victories are the bones of a tomb. My memories are the faint heat of stone giving no comfort from sweet summer days. I am Samson, the judge who has been judged and found wanting. I am Samson, the miller of grain. I am the one who is hopeless, the one who waits to die.
For weeks, I continued in a place even darker than my blindness could ever know. In the midst of that time, God spoke to me gently.
And my hair began to grow.
My spirit was encouraged by the thought that I was just a man, but God was the God of everything. He knew the generations of my ancestors past. He knows the children of Israel's future. His Hand is not weakened by my failure, or thwarted by the plans of His enemies.
In that thought I found hope, and in hope I found His Spirit surrounding me and comforting me again. I found a belief that God was still mine, and I was still His and in darkness my heart was opened.
Not through strength, for I had none. Not through victory, for I was utterly defeated. Not through power or leadership, or judgment. Not through action, or battle or any good I could do. Yet He loved me.
He loved me, just because I was His and not because of what I did or didn't do.
It wasn't about what I could do. It was about being the man He called me to be and loving Him with my whole heart: as Judge, as son, as husband, as prisoner.
It was never about muscle and sinew. It was never about revenge or power. It was never about my sense of victory of the things I could achieve. It was about God's purpose in the earth and my part to play. In many ways I succeeded; my faith and passion were great. In many ways I failed, selfishly focused on the moment.
Humbled, I became stronger than I ever was in health and victory. Blinded, I saw more clearly than I ever thought possible.
My strength was never my own.
My strength is His.
I am empty, and I am broken. But I have one last prayer to pray. May God use me up completely and let His will on earth be done.
"Then Samson called to the LORD and said, "O Lord GOD, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes." And Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and he leaned his weight against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other. And Samson said, "Let me die with the Philistines."
Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life" (Judges 16:28-30).
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.