Not a Beauty Contest
If you joined us this last week as we dove into chapter two of the book of Esther then that title might have some meaning for you. If you haven't been able to tune in and watch the service, then you may be scratching your head a little.
See often times we think there are things that we know about scripture. Stories that we know we've heard a thousand times that we feel like we have down pat. Maybe the story of Esther is one of those stories for you.
I find it interesting that a handful of people have talked with me since Sunday and told me that they had never looked at the second chapter of Esther through the lens we examined it with. They had always bought into the idea, as we discussed, that Esther was part of some elaborate beauty contest. So when we begin to look at the Hebrew language that tells us that Esther was probably very young (14-16 range), when we look at the Hebrew words that are translated for us as taken and gathered which indicate that these young virgins were rounded up whether they liked it or not, when we look at how they were put into the 'custody' of Hegai (you know-like prisoners), and we examine how King Xerxes was sleeping with them all one by one until he found the one he liked best, this rated G, fairy tale version of the story many of us thought we knew takes on a different light.
One of the reasons I was so excited to get to this book was because I knew that it had the power to teach us a great truth about scripture. No matter how well you think you know it, you can know it better! I find this out all the time as I study and read, prepare and learn. Sometimes we can get caught up in the fact that a subject and story is something we've already heard, already studied. We can come only half engaged, because we know it already, we've read it already, we've heard it preached already. But we have to be careful:
1) God's word is a living breathing document- the words never change but the way God relates them to our hearts and minds sometimes does. That's why we can have read a passage hundreds of times before only to look at it with fresh eyes and walk away with a new understanding. Sometimes it's us who has changed, had new experiences, gained new knowledge that allows us to react and understand to God's word in a way that we never could before.
To say I've read or heard that before (and so I don't need to hear it again) presupposes that you know every lesson that God could ever teach you from the text that He inspired. In truth I could live a hundred lifetimes and read the word a thousand times and never have the time and capacity to absorb all God could teach me through His word!
2) To say I've heard that preached on before, taught before also presupposes that those who were teaching were infallible. If I believe that I've thoroughly understood a passage, a book, a text because of the way it has been presented before then I'm not putting my hope in the truth of that passage, but in the interpretation of that singular presenter. Even if I trust that teacher or preacher, even if I've done the study myself and know the rigor and extreme care that I have taken in forming an understanding, studying it again, looking from a different perspective can only enhance my understanding as a student of God's word.
It will either:
A) confirm the belief and teaching I previously sat under
B) give me cause to study and compare as I look for truth
As we mature in age, and in our walk, this is a concept that we have to be on guard against in our lives. We can begin to feel we don't need to read our Bibles, because we've read it all before (several times). We can begin to feel that we don't need to be as attentive when we sit under teaching because we've been teaching longer than that young preacher has been alive, or we've heard the best of the best teach on that subject, or I've probably sat under 10 sermons on that topic.
All of that may be true, and you may have a vast knowledge and understanding of the passage or topic. But when we adopt an 'I've heard it all before' mentality we can miss out on the blessing of something fresh, new and meaningful that God wants to reveal through a passage that is very familiar.