A Case of Providence, Not Coincidence.

When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and he cried out with a loud and bitter cry. He went up to the entrance of the king’s gate, for no one was allowed to enter the king’s gate clothed in sackcloth. And in every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.

When Esther’s young women and her eunuchs came and told her, the queen was deeply distressed. She sent garments to clothe Mordecai, so that he might take off his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. Then Esther called for Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs, who had been appointed to attend her, and ordered him to go to Mordecai to learn what this was and why it was. Hathach went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate, and Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the exact sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasuries for the destruction of the Jews. Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her and command her to go to the king to beg his favor and plead with him on behalf of her people. And Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said.. – Esther 4:1-9 ESV

Chapter three ended with the words, “And the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was thrown into confusion.” As news of the king’s edict declaring an official day set aside for the slaughter of all Jews living in the kingdom of Persia, the reaction among the citizens of the kingdom was mixed. There was confusion among many. Others were probably excited about the prospect of being able to take the lives of the Jews and their property and possessions as well. But for the Jews, the news was shocking. They were in Persia because of the destruction of their own homeland, and now they were facing destruction once again. Where was their God? How could this be happening to them? And Mordecai, the uncle of Queen Esther, upon hearing the news, goes into a state of mourning. He tears his clothes, covers himself in sackcloth and ashes and proceeds to wander the streets of the capital city, offering a visible illustration to all who could see of just how devastating this news was to the Jews. And he was not alone. Jews all over the kingdom were reacting in the same way – “as news of the king’s decree reached all the provinces, there was great mourning among the Jews. They fasted, wept, and wailed, and many people lay in burlap and ashes” (Esther 4:3 NLT).

Mordecai’s trek through the city took him all the way to the gates of the palace, but he is refused entrance. The king’s sumptuous lifestyle and celebratory mood was not to be disrupted by some despondent and disheveled Hebrew. It is interesting to note the contrast between the opening of this book and the current state of Mordecai’s demeanor. The story began with a royal party, a festival that lasted more than 180 days and was marked by wine, food, fine linens and an overall mood of celebration. Now we have Mordecai and his fellow Jews fasting, mourning and covering themselves in soot and coarse garments. The original party was a result of the king’s command. His word produced a festive occasion and a non-stop celebration where the food and wine flowed non-stop for nearly six months. Now, by his decree, an entire population of people found themselves in deep and bitter mourning, because their lives had been declared worthless and their future, hopeless.

The news of Mordecai’s presence outside the city gates was taken to Esther. She seems to have had no idea as to what was going on. In her isolated and insulated world within the palace, she had not yet heard about the decree. She offered Mordecai a change of clothes, but he refused. She sent a trusted confidant to Mordecai in order to ascertain the cause of his distress. What she would learn would rock her world. Her fairy tale-like rise from obscurity to wealth, power and royal prestige was about to come to an abrupt halt. Mordecai told her everything. He withheld none of the sordid details. She may have been safe in her cocoon of comfort and ease within the palace, but Mordecai wanted her to know just how dangerous her position really was. But he also wanted her to realize how vital and obviously God-ordained her newfound role was going to be. He told her of Haman’s plan, even sending her a copy of the king’s edict.

But his real motive for appearing at the gates of the king’s palace was to get Esther to use her position as queen to appeal to the king on behalf of her people. It was time for her to reveal her true identity to the king. Mordecai had been the one to counsel her to keep her Hebrew heritage a secret. And to this point in the story, Esther had done just that. King Xerxes had no idea that his new queen was actually a Jew. But given the dire change in circumstances, Mordecai has changed his tune and begs his niece to drop the charade and use her access to the king to make an appeal. Mordecai believes that she is where she is for a reason. She has been put in this place of royal influence for a divine purpose that is far greater than either one of them could have ever imagined. All the pieces of the story are starting to come together. All the characters in the story have had their parts to play. From King Xerxes to his recalcitrant queen, Vashti; Mordecai and his adopted niece, Esther, and the two plotting assassins to the pride-filled, and revenge-obsessed Haman. Nothing has happened by chance. And while God has yet to be mentioned, He has been there all along. And Mordecai seems to sense that there is a divine agenda at work in this seemingly hopeless scenario. His niece is the queen of Persia. Who could have ever imagined something so far-fetched and unlikely? You see, we read this story and automatically wonder why God would allow someone like Haman to rise to power and have the power to demand the destruction of the people of God. But what we should be wondering is why God would allow Esther, an inconsequential, orphaned Hebrew girl to ascend to the queen’s throne. Mordecai didn’t waste his time worrying about Haman and his need for vengeance. He saw a God-given opportunity in Esther and wasted no time in begging her to see her role as a godsend.

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Our Silent Sovereign.

In the first month, which is the month of Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, they cast Pur (that is, they cast lots) before Haman day after day; and they cast it month after month till the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar. Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king’s laws, so that it is not to the king’s profit to tolerate them. If it please the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed, and I will pay 10,000 talents of silver into the hands of those who have charge of the king’s business, that they may put it into the king’s treasuries.” So the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews. And the king said to Haman, “The money is given to you, the people also, to do with them as it seems good to you.” – Esther 3:7-11 ESV

Having been snubbed by Mordecai, a Jew, Haman plots his revenge. He is not one to suffer a slight easily. So he comes up with a plan by which he can eliminate not only Mordecai, but every single Jew living in the lands of Persia. Because his strategy was going to require proper planning and resources, Haman determined to utilize the casting of lots (Pur) to come up the exact day on which to schedule his mass extinction of the Jews. It was customary in his day to make significant decisions with what was essentially the “roll of the dice.” We see this as nothing more than decision-making based on random chance. But in the ancient near east, they saw it as a means by which God revealed His will. Even the Jews practiced the casting of lots. In fact, when Judas killed himself, after having betrayed Jesus, the disciples chose his replacement by casting lots (Acts 1:26). Proverbs 16:33 reveals the Hebrew mindset behind the casting of lots: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”

A better rendering of verse seven is found in the NET Bible. “In the first month (that is, the month of Nisan), in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerusreign, pur (that is, the lot) was cast before Haman in order to determine a day and a month. It turned out to be the twelfth month (that is, the month of Adar).” It was customary to cast lots in the first month of the year. That is why the month of Nisan is mentioned. And as a result of the casting of lots, Haman arrived at the twelfth month of Adar. So nearly a year would pass before Haman’s heinous plan could be enacted. But having determined a date, he wasted no time in laying the ground work for his pogrom of the Jews. He knew that a plan of this magnitude was going to require the approval and power of the king. But he also knew the Achilles’ heel of any king was a threat to his kingdom. So he came to King Xerxes with a cleverly crafted story about a “people” who lived throughout the kingdom who refused to keep the king’s laws. They were rebels. They were a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode and wreak havoc on something near and dear to the king’s heart: his sovereignty. Interestingly, like Esther, Haman hides from the king the identity of the people he is trying to eliminate. This could have been because the Jews were looked upon with favor by the king. Two of his predecessors, King Darius and King Cyrus, had issued favorable edicts on behalf of the Jews, allowing many of them to return to their land and even funding the rebuilding of the temple and the city of Jerusalem. But while Haman hid the identity of the Jews, he was more than forthright in his recommendation for what to do about them: He was recommending their destruction. And he was willing to help fund the cost, offering the king an exorbitant gift of 10,000 talents of silver. It is estimated that this would have amounted to two-thirds of the entire kingdom’s annual income. How Haman was going to come up with that kind of money is not clear. Perhaps his plan included the confiscation of Jewish lands and property. He had obviously calculated the potential financial rewards of his plan and knew that he was going to benefit greatly from the elimination of the Jews.

But his request, greased with the offer of financial reward, was acceptable to the king. So unwittingly, the king “took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews” (Esther 3:10 ESV). The king gave Haman carte blanche to accomplish his plan. With the casting of lots, a little clever coercion and a great deal of unbridled hatred, Haman plotted his revenge on Mordecai and the people of God. Things were about to get ugly. And this unexpected twist in the story begs the question: Where is God in all of this? It is natural to want to know how God could allow something this devastating to happen. Why had he not stepped in and prevented any of this from taking place? And the truth is, God could have stopped it all. He could have brought a timely end to both Haman and his plot. But to assume that God was silent and inactive would be wrong. Just because God is not responding the way we think He should and according to the timing we have established, does not mean He is not at work. His ways are not our ways. His plans are beyond our capacity to know or understand. He does not have to explain Himself to us or defend His motives or methods. We will see soon enough that God was at work. Esther’s meteoric rise to fame and fortune was part of His plan. Mordecai’s fortuitous discovery of the plot on the king’s life was divinely ordained. Even Haman’s promotion was sovereignly ordained by God Himself. None of this was case of luck, fortune, fate, or a simple roll of the dice. God was in control of it all and for reasons He had not yet disclosed. Yes, the king could say to Haman, “The money is given to you, the people also, to do with them as it seems good to you” (Esther 3:11 ESV), but Haman would only be able to do what God allowed him to do. We may not understand God’s methods, but we must never question His motives. We may not approve of how He accomplishes His will, but we must never doubt that His will is always holy, righteous and just.

He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! – Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT

The LORD is righteous in everything he does; he is filled with kindness. – Psalm 145:17 NLT

Listen to me, you who have understanding. Everyone knows that God doesn’t sin! The Almighty can do no wrong. – Job 34:10 NLT

 

The Danger of Disobedience.

After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, and advanced him and set his throne above all the officials who were with him. And all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage. Then the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate said to Mordecai, “Why do you transgress the king’s command?” And when they spoke to him day after day and he would not listen to them, they told Haman, in order to see whether Mordecai’s words would stand, for he had told them that he was a Jew. And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury. But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone. So, as they had made known to him the people of Mordecai, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus. – Esther 3:1-6 ESV

Mordecai has just foiled an assassination plot and helped save the life of the king. And while Mordecai’s efforts earned him a place in the official chronicles of the king, that was all the recognition he received. And yet, another individual, new to our story, was about to receive a huge promotion that would create a major conflict for Mordecai and Esther. The man’s name is Haman and the important, but often neglected part of the story is his heritage. He is an Agagite. Like Esther and Mordecai, he is not a native Persian. He is an outsider who has made his way to the Persian empire, most likely as the result of their conquest of his land. What is significant is that Haman is an Agagite, a descendant of Agag, the Amalakite. The Amalakites carried out an unprovoked attack on the Israelites during their days in the wilderness. Joshua and the people of Israel defeated them in battle and God pronounced a curse on the Amalakies. “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (Exodus 17:14 ESV).

Years later, long after Israel had settled in the land of Canaan and Saul had become their king, God sent word to King Saul through Samuel, the prophet. “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey’” (1 Samuel 15:2-3 ESV). Saul did as the Lord had commanded him, but he did not obey fully.

And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction. – 1 Samuel 15:7-9 ESV

Saul had spared King Agag and kept the best of the spoil, disobeying the direct orders of God. And he would be removed as the king of Israel for his disobedience. What makes all of this so important to the story of Esther is that she and Mordecai are both descendants of Saul and Haman, the newly promoted, second-highest official in the land, is a direct descendant of Agag. This long-standing conflict was about to be relived, all because one man refused to do what God had called him to do. His one act of disobedience and compromise was going to have long-term implications.

And the story makes it clear that Mordecai was well aware of Haman’s heritage, because it tells us “all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage” (Esther 3:2 ESV). Mordecai could not bring himself to pay homage to an enemy of his people. And when the king’s servants asked him why he was taking such a huge risk by not bowing down to Haman as the king had commanded, he simply informed them that he was a Jew. This news is reported to the king. It is interesting to note that when two officials of the king had plotted to assassinate him, it was Mordecai who made the news known to the king. Now, two officials are reporting Mordecai’s insubordination to Haman, unknowingly placing him in a very dangerous situation.

When Haman finds out about Mordecai’s refusal to bow down before him, his reaction is swift and over-the-top. Rather than take out his anger on Mordecai, he determines to destroy each and every Jew in the kingdom of the Persians. The long-standing hatred between the Amalakites and the Hebrews rises to the surface once more. And King Saul’s refusal to obey the command of God would come back to haunt the Jewish people. Haman would use his newfound power to not only settle a personal score between himself and Mordecai, but to wipe out all memory of the Jews from the land of the Persians. What is hiding just under the surface of this story is the role that disobedience plays in our lives. The whole reason Mordecai and Esther are even living in Persia is because of the disobedience of the people of Judah. They had refused to listen to the prophets of God who had been sent by God to call them to repentance for their unfaithfulness and disobedience, and to warn them about their coming destruction. But they had refused to listen to God’ warnings and were ultimately defeated by the Babylonians and taken captive. Likewise, the whole reason Haman even existed was because King Saul had refused to obey the word of God and completely destroy the Amalakites from the face of the earth. Haman was nothing more than the residual effect of Saul’s disobedience. Failure to do the will of God always has ramifications. Disobedience to God always has dire consequences. And Mordecai and Esther were going to learn a first-hand lesson in just how how dangerous disobedience could be.

Threads In God’s Tapestry.

Now when the virgins were gathered together the second time, Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate. Esther had not made known her kindred or her people, as Mordecai had commanded her, for Esther obeyed Mordecai just as when she was brought up by him. In those days, as Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, became angry and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. And this came to the knowledge of Mordecai, and he told it to Queen Esther, and Esther told the king in the name of Mordecai. When the affair was investigated and found to be so, the men were both hanged on the gallows. And it was recorded in the book of the chronicles in the presence of the king. – Esther 2:19-23 ESV

Esther has been crowned the new queen. Her lot in life has changed dramatically. But she has a potentially dangerous secret she is hiding from the king. She is a Hebrew. She is part of the remnant of Jews taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon when defeated Judah and destroyed the city of Jerusalem. When the Persians overthrew the Babylonians, the Jews remained in their captive state, slowly acclimating to the foreign culture around them and being assimilated into the ethnically diverse society of Persia. As they had in Egypt during their captivity there, the Jews continued to marry and have children, and as a result, their numbers increased. But for some undisclosed reason, Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, had counseled her to keep her Hebrew identity hidden from the king. We are not told the motivation behind Mordecai’s advice to his young ward, but he consistently warned her to keep her identity hidden, even after being crowned the new queen. Perhaps Mordecai was well-acquainted with the king’s reputation for fickleness and feared he might reject Esther as unfit for her role as queen. It almost seems that Mordecai had a sort of sixth-sense that led him to believe there was something greater going on here than met the eye. Throughout the story, Mordecai appears to know that this is not a case of good fortune, but the sovereign hand of God.

We are told in verse 19 that there was a second wave of virgins gathered into the king’s palace. The most logical explanation seems to be that the king so enjoyed the original beauty competition that had resulted in the discovery of Esther, that he decided to do it again. Keep in mind that the young women who didn’t win the queen’s crown were still permanent occupants of the king’s harem. And from all we have seen of King Xerxe’s behavior so far, he was used to have the best and the most of everything. So, just because he had a new queen didn’t mean he was going to stop adding more virgins to his collection. But the real reason this verse is included is to let us know that some time has passed. Some commentators believe that as much as five years may have transpired since Esther was crowned queen. We are also told that Mordecai was “sitting at the king’s gate” (Esther 2:19 ESV). This is usually a reference to a position of authority. Since the time that Esther had become queen. Mordecai had evidently received a commission as a government official. He was on the government payroll, perhaps as a representative of the Hebrew population. At this point in the story, the Jews were no longer being treated as slaves, but had become a part of the multi-ethnic makeup of the culture of Susa. There would have been people from all of the various nations that were now under Persian rule, from Ethiopia all the way to Egypt. So Mordecai was most likely a representative of some kind, acting on behalf of the crown.

And it just so happens, that as a part of his official capacity, Mordecai was at the king’s gate, when he overheard a plot to assassinate the king. It seems that Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs, who had confidential access to the king, had become upset with him and were planning to do him in. But when Mordecai heard their plans, he relayed them to Esther, who then informed the king. This incredible case of good timing will prove to be fortuitous, not just for the king, but for Mordecai and the people of God. Bigthan and Teresh are executed and Mordecai’s role in exposing the plot is recorded in the official historical chronicles of the king. No reward is given. No recognition for a job well done is forthcoming. Mordecai just happened to be in the right place at the right time and heard what was being planned. His relationship with Esther, the queen, afforded him the opportunity to get this news to the king in a timely fashion. And the result was that the king’s life was spared. But all Mordecai got for his troubles was a line in chronicles of the king.

But God is not done. The story is far from over. This seemingly disparate events are all part of an intricate tapestry that God is weaving. Esther has become queen of Persia. Mordecai has become an official in the king’s government. These two obscure, seemingly insignificant individuals are being used by God to prepare for an even greater, untold story. What we are witnessing is the butterfly effect lived out in real life. Esther’s selection to join the king’s harem has had a far greater impact than anyone, herself included, could have ever imagined. We are not told how Mordecai came to his position in the king’s government, but the inference is that his relatively unimportant role was going to have a dramatic influence on future events. It is so easy for us to discount what is happening in our lives and dismiss our importance in the grand scheme of things. As Christians, we can convince ourselves that we are insignificant and lacking in the ability to influence the larger culture around us. And yet, the story of Esther is meant to remind us that no one is insignificant or unimportant when they are being used by God. The disciples of Jesus were all relative nobodies. They were not movers and shakers or members of the religious elite. They were simple, common men who had spent their lives as common laborers and fishermen. And when Jesus chose them, they each had to have wondered, “Why me?” They had no idea just how significant their lives were going to be in the history of the world. And we have no idea how God is going to use us to accomplish His divine will in the world. Esther was just a young, orphaned Jewish girl living in a pagan country with her uncle Mordecai. And Mordecai was just another Jewish man, trying to care for his family and make ends meet in a society that was opposed to his religious beliefs. But God was going to use these two individuals in ways they could have never imagined. The events of their lives were being directed by God Almighty. The thing we must always remember is that the story is not yet done. God is not yet finished. We cannot see the finished tapestry that God is weaving or how the particular colors of our life’s events fit into the overall results. But God knows. And we can trust Him.

 

 

Just Lucky, I Guess.

Now when the turn came for each young woman to go in to King Ahasuerus, after being twelve months under the regulations for the women, since this was the regular period of their beautifying, six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and ointments for women—when the young woman went in to the king in this way, she was given whatever she desired to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace. In the evening she would go in, and in the morning she would return to the second harem in custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch, who was in charge of the concubines. She would not go in to the king again, unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name.

When the turn came for Esther the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her as his own daughter, to go in to the king, she asked for nothing except what Hegai the king’s eunuch, who had charge of the women, advised. Now Esther was winning favor in the eyes of all who saw her. And when Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign, the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. Then the king gave a great feast for all his officials and servants; it was Esther’s feast. He also granted a remission of taxes to the provinces and gave gifts with royal generosity. – Esther 2:12-18 ESV

A year has passed. During that time, Esther, along with all the other young women who had been gather, has been receiving “beauty treatments.” This regimen of highly regulated dietary and cosmetic treatments was designed to make the young ladies as beautiful as possible. These women were the most beautiful in the land, but they were not yet “good enough” for King Xerxes. So they were being prepared to appear as what they were auditioning to be: The Queen of Persia.

After 12-months of preparation, which more than likely included classes in etiquette and royal protocol, each young lady was given her opportunity to appear before the king. The passage presents this encounter in a rather pedestrian fashion: “In the evening she would go in, and in the morning she would return to the second harem in custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch, who was in charge of the concubines” (Esther 2:14 ESV). It would be easy to read right through this and not notice that this “audition” lasted from sunset to sunrise. This was far more than a beauty pageant. Each woman was expected to be pleasing to the king, and would be judged by her beauty and, more than likely, for her ability to please the king sexually. Esther and her companions were part of the royal harem, not the serving staff. They were there to please and bring pleasure to the king. It is easy to gloss over this somewhat obvious point when reading the story of Esther. Yet, when the time came for Esther to go before the king, she would have been expected to do far more than look pretty and answer a few questions.

There is a palpable and intended tension in this story. We are introduced to Esther in the opening verses of this chapter. Her Hebrew name is Hadassah. Her pagan or Persian name is Esther. She is an orphaned Hebrew living with her older uncle, who has adopted her as his own. They are part of a community of Jews living in the capital of Susa, who were originally taken captive when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon defeated Judah. The Babylonians were later defeated by the Persians and the Jews simply found themselves slaves with new taskmasters. Esther’s Hebrew heritage is a vital part of the story. When she was taken into the king’s custody as part of his edict to search for a new queen, her uncle instructed her to hide her true identity. She was to go by her Persian name. She was not to disclose the fact that she was a Jew. And it seems that Mordecai instructed Esther to go along with the flow, to submit herself to the king’s plans. At no point does she appear to have resisted the king’s command or attempt to escape her obvious fate. She knew she was part of the king’s harem. She knew what she was being prepared to do. And her uncle Mordecai knew as well.

In all of this, there appears to be a subtle hint at Mordecai’s belief in the sovereignty of God. He does not know exactly what is going on, but he seems to have a confidence that God is at work in some form or fashion. He believes that there is a reason behind Esther being chosen. Yes, he could have counseled Esther to resist the king’s command and she would have likely been put to death. Instead, he instructed her to submit to the king’s authority. There seems to be a silent submission to the will of God in all of this as well. Perhaps it is just a simple case of Mordecai hoping that Esther never gets chosen, that she somehow fails the test and is allowed to return home. But most likely, Mordecai knew that Esther would remain a permanent part of the king’s harem, whether she became queen or not. She was not returning. Her fate was sealed. And because of the rest of the story, it seems that Mordecai had a sort of sixth sense that there was something divine going on in all of this.

We read, “Now Esther was winning favor in the eyes of all who saw her” (Esther 2:15 ESV). There is a striking similarity between the life of Esther and that of Joseph, when he was sold into slavery in Egypt. Both were Hebrew young people who found themselves living in a pagan land and thrust into unexpected and unwanted circumstances that were out of their control. And yet, both seemed to thrive. We read repeatedly that Joseph found favor with those for whom he worked. And Moses makes it clear that the reason behind Joseph’s favor was God. God was blessing Joseph in all that he did, and that divine favor was felt by Joseph’s superiors. The same thing seems to be happening with Esther. She found favor with “Hegai the king’s eunuch, who had charge of the women” (Esther 2:15 ESV). And then we are told that “when Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign, the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti” (Esther 2:17-18 ESV).

She was chosen queen. The contest was over. The tryouts were called off. Somehow Esther, the young Jewish girl, had caught the eye of the king and found herself wearing the royal crown. It would be so easy to read this part of the story and simply write it off to luck. Or to simply conclude that Esther must have been gorgeous. But there is that subtle thread of God’s sovereignty flowing throughout the story, from beginning to end. This is not a case of fate or kismet. This is the hand of God. And Mordecai seems to be aware that his God is doing something with the life of Esther, to prepare her for a purpose far greater than anything she could have ever imagined. Again, like Joseph, she finds herself in a place where questions outnumber the answers. Her head was swirling. Her mind was having a hard time grasping the significance of what had just happened. She had gone from obscurity to a life of wealth and royalty. She was the queen of Persia. But why? What was the purpose behind her favor with the king? What was it that God was doing? Why had she been chosen over all the other women in the king’s harem? In time, God would answer all those questions and more. He would reveal His will. He would divulge His plan and show her the part she was destined to play.

The Unseen Sovereign.

Then Memucan said in the presence of the king and the officials, “Not only against the king has Queen Vashti done wrong, but also against all the officials and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. For the queen’s behavior will be made known to all women, causing them to look at their husbands with contempt, since they will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, and she did not come.’ This very day the noble women of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s behavior will say the same to all the king’s officials, and there will be contempt and wrath in plenty. If it please the king, let a royal order go out from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes so that it may not be repealed, that Vashti is never again to come before King Ahasuerus. And let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she. So when the decree made by the king is proclaimed throughout all his kingdom, for it is vast, all women will give honor to their husbands, high and low alike.” This advice pleased the king and the princes, and the king did as Memucan proposed. He sent letters to all the royal provinces, to every province in its own script and to every people in its own language, that every man be master in his own household and speak according to the language of his people. – Esther 1:16-22 ESV

The king is angry. He has just thrown a six-month long celebration for his dignitaries and the citizens of his kingdom. He has pulled out all the stops in an effort to flaunt his vast wealth and power. And it all went south when his own queen refused to respond to his command to put herself on display like a piece of royal property. In his anger, Xerxes summoned his wise men, and in doing so, he turned a family dispute into a national crisis. Queen Vashti’s refusal to obey the king’s command for her to appear in all her royal finery and parade herself in front of his drunken guests was seen as an affront against all men. One of the king’s wise men declared his fear of the shock waves her actions were going to have on the entire kingdom.

Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king but also every noble and citizen throughout your empire. Women everywhere will begin to despise their husbands when they learn that Queen Vashti has refused to appear before the king. Before this day is out, the wives of all the king’s nobles throughout Persia and Media will hear what the queen did and will start treating their husbands the same way. There will be no end to their contempt and anger. – Esther 1:16-18 NLT

At face value, this appears like a bit of over-reaction. But we must keep in mind that the king is asking his counselors for advice, and so they feel they must give it. Did Memucan truly believe that Queen Vashti’s actions were going to have national ramifications? We will never know. But he knew the king was angry and, as we will see, the king seems to have an anger problem. Perhaps Memucan was simply trying to placate the king by providing him with a viable way of dealing with this affront to his sovereignty. It was obvious to all who had just taken part in the king’s non-stop revelry that his power and influence were important to him. He was not a man who was used to being refused. He got his own way on a regular basis. So Memucan came up with a plan that appealed to the king’s pride and gave him a way to reassert his authority in the eyes of the people.

So if it please the king, we suggest that you issue a written decree, a law of the Persians and Medes that cannot be revoked. It should order that Queen Vashti be forever banished from the presence of King Xerxes, and that the king should choose another queen more worthy than she. – Esther 1:19 NLT

What better way to get the king in a good mood than to encourage him to flaunt his power as king by having him issue a royal decree. And this decree was to be “proclaimed throughout all his kingdom.” It would not be enough to simply let Queen Vashti know that she was no longer welcome in the king’s presence and that she was going to be replaced. No, the king needed to send out a royal edict to all 127 provinces, from India to Ethiopia. Yes, this was overkill, but it was intended to be an appeal to the king’s obvious megalomania. Memucan was truly a wise man. He knew exactly what he was doing. He was very familiar with the king and had more than likely seen this episodes of anger before. So he came up with a plan to pacify the king’s anger and feed his overactive ego.

Memucan’s advice pleased the king, so the decree was issued and sent across his vast empire, having been translated into all the languages of the kingdom. Queen Vashti’s fate was sealed. Her snubbing of the king’s command had proven to be costly. We are not told what happens to the queen from this point forward. She disappears from the scene, like an actor who has played her part and exited the stage, never to be seen again. But her absence creates a vacancy, a void that begs to be filled. The king must have a queen.

And this is just another turning point in the story. Queen Vashti’s actions have set the stage for something significant to take place. The king’s edict has left him without a queen. And this was not something a man with an ego like Xerxes could live with for very long. And so a new chain of events was about to take place. God was setting the stage for something significant to happen that no one in the kingdom of Persia could have foreseen or expected. What appears to be nothing more than a series of unfortunate events is actually the hand of God working behind the scenes. There is an unseen Sovereign issuing decrees and orchestrating events and even Memucan and his team of wise men have no idea He is there. All they can see is an earthly king and their influence over him. He is a monarch who is easily upset and just as easily influenced. He is prone to listen to their advice and susceptible to their suggestions. But God is operating on His own. He is truly sovereign, determining the future without the need for human advice or influence. Neither King Xerxes or Memucan have any idea what the outcome of their decisions will be. They think they are in control. They believe they are the arbiters of their fate. But God is at work behind the scenes. His sovereign plan is greater than that of kings and wise men. His will trumps the will of earthly rulers. His decrees are greater than those of despots and dictators. We may not see Him, but God is always at work and always in control.

Will The Real King Stand Up?

And when these days were completed, the king gave for all the people present in Susa the citadel, both great and small, a feast lasting for seven days in the court of the garden of the king’s palace. There were white cotton curtains and violet hangings fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rods and marble pillars, and also couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and precious stones. Drinks were served in golden vessels, vessels of different kinds, and the royal wine was lavished according to the bounty of the king. And drinking was according to this edict: “There is no compulsion.” For the king had given orders to all the staff of his palace to do as each man desired. Queen Vashti also gave a feast for the women in the palace that belonged to King Ahasuerus. – Esther 1:5-9 ESV

After a non-stop, no-holds-barred feast that lasted 180 days, King Xerxes was far from finished. He threw another feast lasting seven days for all the people living in Susa, the capital. It was held in the court of the garden outside the king’s palace. By this time, everyone would heard about the king’s 180-day soiree. The rumors about his opulent, invitation-only party would have become legendary. Now he was opening up the gates of the palace to invite anyone and everyone to join in the celebration. And it was another, no-expense-spared spectacle. Rather than showing signs of exhaustion from his 180-day long binge of drinking, eating and over-indulging in all kinds of ways, the king upped his game. The description provided for the decorations alone reveal that this was not a scaled-down, low-budget party for the common people. This was a setting designed to create awe in the eyes of the beholder. It was intended to drop jaws, catch the breath, widen the eyes, and elicit emotional responses of amazement, awe, and even envy.

There were white cotton curtains and violet hangings fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rods and marble pillars, and also couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and precious stones. – Esther 1:6 ESV

Imagine the impact this all had on the common people of Susa. They would have never experienced anything like this before. And as amazing as the surroundings were, they were allowed to drink the king’s finest wine from golden goblets. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And it was all a show. We are not told why the king was celebrating or what prompted him to throw these extravagant and expensive parties. The reason for the parties is not the important point of the story. We are being given a glimpse into the power, pride and wealth of a king who knows no bounds, answers to no one and enjoy unprecedented authority and has access to seemingly limitless resources. He is a man at the top of his game who rules over a nation that is at the top of the food chain. Xerxes is a force to be reckoned with. He is all-powerful. He knows no limits. He has no equal.

We are being set up. The author wants us to read the opening lines of his story and see King Xerxes as the central figure in the narrative. His power and possessions are proof of his importance. He is the king after all. He is in control. But all of that is about to change. A series of events is about to take place. Unbeknownst to the king, things are about to get really interesting. His sovereignty is about to get challenged and in ways he never could have imagined or foreseen. This is a man used to getting his own way. He is addicted to power and control. He has the wealth to do whatever he wants. He has an army that allows him to conquer whoever he wills. And while his power and possessions may amaze and astound his people, there is someone who is not in awe of Xerxes: God Almighty

God was not blown away by King Xerxes’ party. He didn’t look down from heaven with slack-jawed amazement at the wealth of this king or the staggering breadth of his kingdom. Xerxes might sit on a throne in his palace in Susa, but God ruled from His throne in heaven. God didn’t need to throw a party to prove his worth. He didn’t need to put on a show to prove His power. In fact, God will operate behind the scenes throughout this story, without recognition and seemingly invisible to the eye. His name will not be mentioned, but His presence will be felt. He will not appear, but His hand will be seen orchestrating events in such a way that His power will be indisputable.

This is a story about sovereignty – God’s sovereignty versus man’s. It is about providence, “the foreseeing care and guidance of God” (dictionary.com). The author wants us to see God in the everyday affairs of life, even though He is not visible to our eyes. He wants us to realize that God’s seeming lack of presence does not mean He is not there. God does not have to put on a show to prove He is powerful. He doesn’t require a burning bush or a pillar of fire to prove His existence. Just when we think He is no where to be found, He shows up. About the time we conclude God is absent from our midst, we realize He has been there all along. God is always at work. He never sleeps or slumbers. He is never out of control, out of touch or out of reach.

Xerxes was the king. But he was about to find out who was really in control.

Pride, Pomp, Circumstance.

Now in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne in Susa, the citadel, in the third year of his reign he gave a feast for all his officials and servants. The army of Persia and Media and the nobles and governors of the provinces were before him, while he showed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor and pomp of his greatness for many days, 180 days.– Esther 1:1-4 ESV

The book of Esther opens with a scene from a throne room. The author sets the stage by giving us a glimpse into the world of one of history’s most powerful rulers: King Xerxes, also known as Ahasuerus, the monarch who ruled over the Persian Empire from 486 to 465 B.C.

King Xerxes is powerful. He is wealthy beyond belief. He oversees an empire that stretches from India to Ethiopia. He had inherited this vast domain from his father, Darius, who had conquered much of the known world and established himself as its supreme ruler. His kingdom and wealth were passed down to Ahasuerus, who also inherited the task of maintaining the power his father had worked so hard to establish. There were constant threats from the Greeks and Egyptians. World dominance was not easy. There was always someone ready to expose a weakness or take advantage of a flaw in your defenses. Others dreamed of controlling the world and enjoying the perks that come with power. King Xerxes could not rest on his laurels. He was incredibly wealthy, but he could not afford to let his guard down. There were constant threats to his reign, from without as well as within.

But the king was not above flaunting his power and possessions. After all, what was the good of being king if you weren’t able to flex your muscles or display your wealth for all to see? So the author provides us with an inside-look into the realm of royalty. We are given an all-access pass into the palace that provides us with exclusive, behind-the-scenes views into a world that few ever get to see. It is a world of unbelievable extravagance and seemingly limitless excess. We are told that the king decides to throw a banquet, but not just any banquet. This one will last 180 consecutive days. It is intended to be “a tremendous display of the opulent wealth of his empire and the pomp and splendor of his majesty” (Esther 1:4 NLT). No expense will be spared. The food and wine will flow. The surroundings will be sumptuous. The meals will be decadent and delicious. The guests will be made up of the powerful and influential – the nobles, officials and military leaders from all over his vast domain. Xerxes will impress them with his generosity and amaze them with his seemingly limitless prosperity. He is wealthy beyond belief. He is powerful beyond measure. And they will celebrate alongside him for 180 consecutive days.

Before we get very far into the story of Esther, we find ourselves confronted with a character of epic proportions. He is bigger than life. His wealth is unbelievable. His power is unimaginable. His extravagance is legendary. His ego is enormous. But there is something missing, or better yet, there is someone missing. Just four verses into the narrative and we can’t help but notice that God is nowhere to be found. And amazingly, we will find that His name is never mentioned in the book. He is the God who is not there. Hundreds of miles from the land of Canaan and the city of Jerusalem, a remnant of the people of Israel find themselves in captivity, the unwilling citizens of a foreign power. They are suffering the consequences of their rebellion against God. He had warned them that their disobedience would bring discipline. And eventually, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had conquered the Israelites, destroying their capital city and taking thousands of them captive to Babylon. The Babylonians would eventually be conquered by the Persians and the Israelites would find themselves the slaves of yet another world power. Their taskmasters would change, but not their lot in life. And it would be easy for them to determine that their God had abandoned them, that He had left them for dead and destined them to a life of hopeless servitude and enslavement at the hands of their enemies.

But the book of Esther is all about God. While Xerxes seems to get top billing, he is not the main character. Neither is Esther, the young woman for whom the book in named. The God of Israel is the unseen, unnamed protagonist in the story, operating behind the scenes, orchestrating events and dictating outcomes as only He can. While King Xerxes is busy displaying his power and flaunting his vast wealth, God is busy setting the stage for a divine display of His own power. He doesn’t have to have His name mentioned or His presence felt. Men can assume His absence or try to negate His existence, but God is always there. He may go unrecognized and unseen, but He is never non-existent. We may fail to sense His presence and may even question His existence, but the book of Esther is a reminder that God is an ever-present reality. What appears to be coincidence is, more often than not, the hand of God. What comes across as luck or good fortune is really the providence of God. He is always in control. He is never up in heaven ringing His hands or fretting over the state of affairs back on earth. He is never impressed with the power and pomp of kings and presidents. He is never intimidated by the wealth or military might of nations. The book of Esther is the story of God. It is a timely reminder of the sovereignty and power of God Almighty.

Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power. He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.  He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the scholars. He reveals deep and mysterious things and knows what lies hidden in darkness, though he is surrounded by light.– Daniel 2:20-22 NLT

 

Esther 1-2, Hebrews 13

God’s Perfect Timing.

Esther 1-2, Hebrews 13

The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me. Hebrews 13:6 ESV

Meanwhile, back in Babylon. While Nehemiah and the Jews had returned to Judah and were busy rebuilding the walls of the city and recommitting themselves to remain faithful to God, there were still Jews who had chosen to remain in exile in Babylon. The story of Esther takes place during the reign of King Ahasuerus and covers the same period of time. The King Xerxes of Nehemiah is the same person as King Ahasuerus of the book of Esther. Xerxes was his Greek name. So in the book of Esther we get a glimpse of what was taking place back in Babylon to the Jews who were still living as exiles in a foreign land. While it is obvious from reading the book of Nehemiah that God had been with the Jews who returned to the Promised Land, He had not forgotten or forsaken those who remained. And while God is not mentioned anywhere in the book of Esther, His presence can be felt throughout the book. It is the story of a young Jewish girl who found herself surprisingly and suddenly thrust into a very unexpected role. She went from the obscurity of life as a poor peasant girl to the throne room of the king of Persia. Through a series of seemingly random events, she became the next queen. Her rapid and unexpected rise to prominence reminds me of the story of Joseph. Like Joseph, Esther would experience some very unwanted trouble early in life. She lost both her parents at a young age and ended up being raised by her cousin, Mordecai. She later found herself included in a special “beauty pageant” that had been designed to find the next queen of Persia. Again, like Joseph, Esther found favor with the man who was placed in charge of caring for these young women. Out of all the girls brought in to compete for the king’s favor, Esther stood out. We read that, “he [Hegai] advanced her and her young women to the best place in the harem” (Esther 2:9 ESV). Later we read that “Esther was winning favor in the eyes of all who saw her” (Esther 2:15 ESV). And finally, we’re told, “the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti” (Esther 2:17 ESV).   

What does this passage reveal about God?

While the name of God is not mentioned in the book of Esther, He is inferred all throughout the story. The original audience for this book would have been the people of God living long after the events recorded in the book had taken place. It was intended as a reminder of God’s sovereignty and providence. The Jewish readers of this book would have clearly seen the hand of God in the circumstances recorded on its pages. They would have recognized that Esther’s rapid rise to fame was totally the work of God. He had been behind the scenes, orchestrating every single circumstance – from Queen Vashti’s refusal to obey the king and Esther’s unparalleled beauty to the favor she found all along the way. You also see God’s sovereign hand in the seeming good luck of Mordecai to be in the right place at just the right time so he could help foil a plot on the king’s life. Every single aspect of this story speaks of God’s involvement in the lives of men and the history of mankind.   

What does this passage reveal about man?

But the story of Esther is also the story of human responsibility. While God could prepare the path and order the events surrounding this young woman, the day came when she had to step out in faith and do her part. She was going to have to recognize that God had placed her right where she was for a reason. She had a part to play in God’s divine plan for the people of Israel. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16 ESV). He even asked for prayer from his readers, saying, “for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things” (Hebrews 13:18 ESV). Esther was going to have to do good and share what she had – her influence over the king. She was going to have to take full advantage of the role in which God had placed her and act honorably in all things. The temptation would have been to protect herself by playing it safe. She would find it easy to justify self-preservation and ignore the difficulties of those around her. But the story of Esther is the story of human responsibility in light of God’s overwhelming sovereignty. This young girl had been crowned queen for a reason. And the ramifications of her seeming good luck went far beyond her solitary life. God had placed her in that unique spot for a very specific reason. But would she obey? And what would have happened had she not obeyed? 

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The story of Esther is also the story of the ongoing reality of both human and spiritual opposition. While God is not mentioned in the story, neither is Satan, but his handiwork will be evident throughout. There is far more going on in this story than the life of a single young Jewish girl who finds herself the recipient of some remarkable good karma. What we have here is a vivid glimpse into the spiritual warfare that Paul so aptly describes: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV). There is an epic battle recorded in this little book that pits the ruler of this world against the God of the universe. And what we learn is that “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4 ESV). Every day, God is raising up an Esther. He is putting in place a particular person to accomplish His divine plan by living in submission to His revealed will. Which is why the writer of Hebrews says, “Now may the God of peace—who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood— may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21 ESV). God places us right where He wants us. Then He equips us with all that we need to do what He has called us to do. We may find the role intimidating and overwhelming. We may feel that we are not up to the task. But we must always remember that God doesn’t place us without empowering us. Esther would find the inner resolve to do what God had called her to do. She would find the strength to face her fears, stand up to the enemy and watch God use her life for the good of man and His own glory.

Father, there is no such thing as luck for us as believers. You are at work in and around our lives each and every day. You are orchestrating events and placing us in situations and circumstances so that You might reveal Your power in us and through us. May we truly approach life with the mindset of Esther. Help us to see You at work and recognize Your sovereign will placing us where we need to be and equipping us with what we need to succeed. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org