Summary: In this message Pastor Richard prepares the congregation for Ten Days of prayer and fasting. He uses the story of Esther and the story of King Jehoshaphat to illustrate the value of seeking the Lord in this way, especially in times of crisis.
Ten Days of Awe
We have committed ourselves to Ten Days of Prayer & Fasting beginning at sunset this evening until sunset on September 23rd, the Day of Atonement. Preparation for that Ten Days of Awe was made in last week’s sermon. This morning I want to provide some practical suggestions on how that commitment might be fulfilled.
First, a brief reminder of two occasions in Scripture when Israel gave themselves to prayer and fasting because they were facing some very challenging situations:
One is in the story of Queen Esther. Her Uncle Mordechai learned about a diabolical plot, led by a politician named Haman. The objective of the plot was to kill all the Jews in the Persian Empire. Haman had persuaded King Ahasuerus to issue a decree (an executive order) that authorized the killing of all the Jews on the 13th day of Adar (last month of the Jewish calendar). The effective day was eleven months away. That gave plenty of time to get the word out and for preparations to be made for the slaughter. What would motivate the people in Persia to kill the Jews? This Executive Order authorized the killers to take all the Jews possessions. It’s interesting how Hitler’s Final Solution also contained this element of plundering the Jews possessions. I had never noticed before that this executive order initiated by Haman and signed by the King was in effect calling for riots and civil war in his own domain—kinda crazy.
Both Mordechai and Queen Esther were Jews. So Mordechai told Esther that she needed to go to the king and get this changed or they would all die. However, there was a problem. Even the Queen could not just go before the King without being called. Probably for security reasons, there was a standing order that anybody who approached the King without first being summoned was to be killed immediately. There was only one exception to this. If the King held out his golden scepter it was a signal to allow the person to approach. So going to the King was not all that easy.
Here is Esther’s reply to Mordechai in Esther 4:16 "Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan (That was the epicenter of the conflict) and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!" So Esther’s response to the challenge was to call a fast! Most of you already know that the story ends well. God gave Esther favor with the King. Haman was hung on his own gallows. Mordechai was promoted to second in the Kingdom. The Jews were authorized to defend themselves. Others joined in on the defense because of Mordechai’s influence. And what would have been a horrific disaster turned into a great victory for the people of God.
On another occasion, King Jehoshaphat got the news that a vast army was launching an attack from Syria against Judah. The numbers were overwhelming and Jehoshaphat knew that in the natural he had no chance to win. 2 Chron. 20:3-4 “And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. 4 So Judah gathered together to ask help from the LORD; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD.” In answer to those prayers God intervened and caused the enemy’s alliance to fall apart and they destroyed one another. Israel didn’t even have to fight in this battle.
The reason I have rehearsed those two stories is to emphasize the biblical response to trouble. The fundamental answer in both situations was not political although there were certainly political activities involved in Esther’s story. The answer wasn’t to run and hide, although there are occasions in the Bible when godly people did that. The key to victory was found in God’s people humbling themselves and seeking God through prayer and fasting (2Chron. 7:14).
We are facing some alarming challenges in our own nation today. The moral decline is more than disturbing. We have some of our own Supreme Court justices warning the Christians of impending persecution. In his minority report on the court’s same-sex decision, Justice Thomas, explained how the June 26th decision will threaten religious liberty by creating an unavoidable collision “particularly as individuals and churches are confronted with demands to participate in and endorse civil marriages between same-sex couples. Of course, that has already begun to happen in the Kim Davis case in Kentucky. Particularly alarming to me is the rapidly approaching confirmation of the Iranian Nuclear Agreement. That seems to constitute a monumental violation of good faith with Israel.