This past Sunday, our church began a series through the book of Esther. Esther is an interesting book. In fact, I would argue that it’s one of the most unique books in all of Scripture, in that it does not once mention the name of God. Further, the readers don’t see anyone praying to God, there seems to be no concern for God’s Law, no mention of miracles, and two of the most prominent characters in the story (Esther & Mordecai) don’t seem to be exactly role models.
The book of Esther takes place during the time of those Jews that had not returned to Jerusalem under the edict of Cyrus I (Ezra 1:1-4). They had remained under the Persian Empire, following their exile into captivity (Deut. 28:15, 36). As these Jews were living under the Persian rule, they faced two temptations: Assimilation and despair.
They were tempted to conform to the ways of this pagan world. Would it not be easier for them to simply adopt the ways of the Persians? We can certainly sympathize with this temptation as we find ourselves living in what seems to be a godless world. Daily we are tempted to renounce our allegiance to God and to conform to the ways of the world. We are tempted to conform by the idea that life will be easier for us if we would simply just go along with the narrative of our culture. Our lives, careers, and relationships will all be better if we would allow everyone to do what makes them happy. We’re tempted to stop the “judgmental” attitude and allow everyone to live as they best see fit.
We’re also tempted to despair. As we find ourselves living in our society, we are tempted to look at the world around us and ask the question, “Will God save us out of this?” It seems like daily we read of tragedies and dim news being circulated by the media. Is there any hope for those living for God in the world today? Is this all we have to look forward to in our lives?
The book of Esther is a story that reads much like a parable in the sense that the reader won’t know the full meaning of the story until they get to the end. However, we are attempting to walk through the book chapter-by-chapter as we make our way through this amazing story of Scripture. The reader is introduced to one of the main characters in the first chapter of the book: King Ahasuerus.
King Ahasuerus is also known by another name: Xerxes the Great. Xerxes was the great Persian king. He is described by historians as being tall and handsome. He is a “man’s man.” He was a ruthless ruler that lived for his own self-gratification. He was also extremely wealthy. We read in the first 9 verses that he a feast for all of the nobles, governors, military officials, and servants that lasted for 180 days! This was the “event of the year,” which makes sense, since the event lasted for 6 months! This was a royal feast.
The reader receives insight into the extravagant lifestyle of Xerxes through the depiction of his royal quarters. He had white cotton linens, violet hangings of fine linen and purple (reserved for the wealthy) to silver rods, marble pillars, couches of gold and silver (can you imagine seeing this! “Grab a seat on one of the gold or silver couches!”), precious stones, mother of pearl, and marble floors. Drinks were also served in golden vessels (and none of the vessels were the same), and the royal wine flowed lavishly throughout the palace.
The reader also comes to see another character: Queen Vashti. She was also throwing a feast for all of the women in the king’s palace at this time. The narrator of the story tells us that Xerxes wanted his queen to be brought before him and the other men so that he could parade her in front of them, displaying her beauty, thus bringing Xerxes more glory. Can you imagine this men? Can you imagine trying to bring your wife to be paraded around a group of drunken men so that they could lust after her and thus give you the “Atta’ boy Xerxes”? What kind of narcissistic man is this? This was the King that the Jews were under during this point of history.
We read something amazing in the first chapter, though. We see that although Xerxes commanded his wife to be paraded in front of the men in the palace, she refuses. I can understand why she would decline such a request. I imagine my wife hearing such a request coming from me, and I have no doubt that she would respond in the same way (and rightfully so). This refusal infuriated Xerxes. We can understand why. What must this do to a man that lived for all to fear and obey him? What must this do to his ego?
A refusal had taken place, therefore, disciplinary action must follow. The empire had to strike back (what’s up Star Wars lovers?). Xerxes gathered together all of his pals that were educated in the law and they stated that Vashti had to be removed from office. If she wasn’t, then anarchy would flow throughout the nation. Women everywhere would refuse to submit to the rule of their husbands. Something had to be done. Therefore, the edict went out that Vashti must be removed, thus preparing the way for Esther to enter into the narrative.
This is the setting of the book of Esther. You might understand, from reading this recap, the difficulty that this might pose for one that seeks to preach this text. Although we are unable to receive the full meaning of the story from this first chapter, we are able to receive some insight from this chapter.
First, we should note that the power and glory that this world has to offer must not be taken too seriously. You see, the feast that Xerxes had at this time also doubled as a military planning meeting. We know from history that Xerxes was using this time to deliberate with his fellow military leaders to execute an attack on the Greeks. We also know from history that a few years following this meeting, Xerxes attempted to defeat the Greeks. However, this power-hungry man suffered a surprising and humiliating defeat at the hands of Greece. He would return 4 years later defeated and his wealth depleted. The Jews reading this at this time would know this.
The pride of Xerxes preceded his fall. Isn’t this what we read in Scripture? We’re also reminded that above the throne of Xerxes there reigns another king. We see from Psalm 2, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us (vv.1-2).'” Psalm 2 goes on to say, “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the LORD holds them in derision (v.4).”
We know from Scripture that God sets up kings and he dethrones kings (Dan. 2:12). We also know that a man might plan his way, but it is the LORD that establishes his steps (Prov. 16:9). It’s easy for us to look at Xerxes and condemn his reckless and extravagant lifestyle. Yet, how often do we live for the material possessions that this world has to offer? How often do we live for the glory of the world? Many live to receive more Instagram followers and likes on Facebook. Many lives are centered on receiving the approval of man in hopes of elevating their own self-worth.
Too often, others live for the approval of man at the neglect of living under the fear of God. However, there’s a reason that hearses don’t pull U-Hauls. All of life’s possessions are temporary. There will come a point when it is all gone, and that could come before we leave this earth. We live for the approval of others, yet others’ views of you won’t help you when you stand before a Holy God. You see, times have changed, but the human heart has not.
Second, we know that as Christians, we serve a better king in Jesus Christ. Xerxes refused to leave his throne and had people come to him. Jesus left His throne in Heaven (Philippians 2) and came to us. Christ knew that we would never be able to come before His throne unless He first came to us. Xerxes’ life was about being served, but Jesus came not to be served, but to serve (Matt. 20:28). Xerxes no doubt, had many subjects from many nations, but Jesus has worshippers from many nations (Rev. 5). Xerxes desired to parade his wife in front of others at the shame of his bride. Christ doesn’t parade his bride in front of others to expose our shame, but to expose his glory, grace, and mercy.
Xerxes attempted to silence and kill his enemies. Jesus Christ died for His enemies (Rom. 5:8). Christian, we serve a better king, a greater king in Jesus Christ. The question I leave you with today is this, “Which king are you serving?” Are we serving the course of the world or are we serving the one that created it? Let’s let our lives reflect what we claim to represent. 7
Soli Deo Gloria
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