In a day and age, where wealth seems to get us what we want, and elite wealth seems to control the world, it is very easy to feel helpless, that is, unless you pursue wealth and seek to gain some type of control over your destiny. But even then, if we were to gain the wealth that could dictate our future (seemingly), we still need the position of influence for our wealth to dictate what we think we need. And for most of us, this isn’t even on our radar, so we are left with what “those at the top” decide, and we deal with it.
We also deal with self-dialogue concerning the “invisibility of God”. “The God who can part the Red Sea and raise Jesus from the dead, but seems not to choose to exercise that same power very often in our experience. We struggle when the goals and dreams we had for our lives are trampled underfoot by circumstances, even though perhaps they were good and godly dreams that God could easily have brought to fruition.”1
After all, most of our desires are good, such as just wanting a good job to provide for our family consistently, or just to have kids, or to be happy, or to see our loved ones be healed from a sickness, but these things didn’t happen in our story. God remained hidden to our sight. It’s often hard to keep our footing in a world so confusing. These are the types of questions and issues we are going address in this series.
In Ruth and Esther: Help for the Helpless, we have just finished the book of Ruth and have seen how God, in the midst of seemingly forgetting his people and being cruel to them, comes out as the provider, the romantic, the redeemer, and the one who keeps His word. In Esther, we are going to see a God, who is never mentioned by name in this book, but is never “not” working on behalf of His people and who works behind the scenes often times, to keep His promises that He has made to Himself (Gen. 12:1-3).
Esther is a story of God bringing to nothing the power of the wealthy and kingly, and making much of the poor and the forgotten, so that justice wins, and the cosmic plan of redemption is not thwarted.
It is in this book that we see God turn the cultural norms upside down and implement His kingdom values: power through weakness, the foolish confounding the wise, the first becoming last, & the poor becoming rich. This is a story that needs to be heard today.
The purpose of the book in its present form is clearly to account for the origin of the Jewish festival of Purim (9:18-10:3). The name of the festival derives from the Akkadian word pur, “lot” (3:7), and refers to the lots cast by Haman which we will learn about later.
The three references to the royal chronicles in the beginning (2:23), center (6:1), and end (10:2) of the scroll and the coda explaining the feast of Purim suggest that the Jewish author, who probably lived in Susa, intended to write real history.
The book narrates the life of Esther, a Jewish orphan who is reared by her older cousin, Mordecai. She becomes queen of the Persian Empire and saves the Jews from annihilation at the hands of Haman, the Agagite, and ensures that the promise of a savior coming from Israel to save the whole world will indeed be fulfilled.
Okay, enough of the introduction… let’s dive into our text this morning. Read Esther 1:1-22. The story of Esther is set in the reign of Ahasuerus (the biblical name for Xerxes, king of Persia 485–465 BC). The Hebrew version cannot be earlier than the time of the events it narrates, but its precise date is unknown. It can be inferred from 10:1, however, that it was written after the death of Xerxes, and from 9:19 that the feast of Purim had been celebrated for some time, yet before the fall of the Persian Empire to the Greeks in 331 BC. The absence of Greek influence on the vocabulary and language of the author confirms this conclusion.
The first character in this story we meet is King Ahasuerus, which is the biblical name that was given to the king of Persia. Xerxes is the Greek form of Ahasuerus. His reign is the context in which we view this whole story. If you want a mental picture of King Xerxes, think of the movie 300 which I’ve never seen because it’s full of buff guys who swear too much and beautiful who women who wear too little. But the movie is about this king, Xerxes. He is one of the three kings of Biblical history who ruled over the entire globe, the other two being Ahab and Nebuchadnezzar
v. 1: Xerxes is the son of king Darius, who is the one who threw Daniel in the lions den. This Xerxes inherited a rich and powerful kingdom. Not only that, but being a Persian king, he would have been looked to as a type of god, or greatly favored by the gods, so everyone catered to them and they got what they wanted. His word was like God’s word, to be immediately obeyed. They literally worshiped their king and called them the “Lord of lords”. He’s good looking, he rules most the world, he gets what he wants, and he’s a creepy lunatic. In his mid 30‘s, this man towered in history and commanded worship.
This is a spoiled brat, raised with a silver spoon in his mouth, and was raised to be narcissistic and full of himself. He would be given land, treasures, food, women (a whole harem of his choosing when and however he desired), military power, etc… This is the king we are reading of here and his kingdom consisted of more than 3 million square miles of land, and depending who you’re talking to, is all of the Middle East.
v. 2: He sat on his royal throne in Susa. This throne symbolized everything he valued; beauty, glory, reigning, worship. He accepted this godlike status. The palace was one of two palaces. He had one in different regions so he was able to live in good weather year round. His palaces were on high places so he was “high and lifted up” and made sure everyone knew where he lived.
His throne was sacred and no one was to even come into the presence of his throne without his invitation, lest they die. He was like a god.
What’s he going to do with all this power? Is he going to look out for the least of these, the oppressed, the marginalized? Is he going to honor women and treat them as humans? What about you? If you were given an unlimited amount of wealth and power, what would you do? Well, what we read next is that he throws a huge drunken feast.
v. 3-8: These opening verses are clearly there to show us the power and prestige of Xerxes and Persia which is the most powerful empire in the world. The setting of this party is in modern day Iran. The great feasts (this one lasting 6 months with over 15,000 people, at least, being entertained) that we see in the opening verses (2 different feasts) are intended to display the power and wealth that Xerxes holds as king and how people come to him to worship him for all that he “does” for them.
He is clearly a powerful king, who is a glutenous party animal who exploits women, men, children alike, but seems to be this generous guy who is giving poor peasants an opportunity come to his white house for them to come by for a week and gawk at all the wealth and glory encourages worship of himself. This is a marketing scheme to increase his own fame and power and to make everyone realize they could never be him.
His “showing the riches of his glorious kingdom” to his princes (v. 4) was especially sinful, as he had all the sacred vessels from the Jewish temple taken out of his royal treasury to the banquet in order to boast of these possessions, thus committing an offense against God and the Jews. He heaped up great treasures and in his miserliness he would hide them.
Daniel 11:2 briefly refers to Xerxes: “The fourth shall be far richer than all of them”. And Rich Xerxes was. He set up couches of gold and silver in the streets of his capital to show all the world his riches; all the dishes and vessels he used were of gold, while the pavement of his palace was entirely of precious stones and pearls.” This dudes is rich and arrogant
1:9-12: Now we are introduced to the Queen, who is called Vashti. In v. 9 she is holding a separate feast for women, which seems innocent, until we read vv. 10-12 and learn that she is protesting her drunk husband’s desire to exploit her beauty as a bunch of gross drunken men of war will lust over her body all the while puffing up the head of this king who is quickly proving to be a foolish buffoon! Maybe the title of a new Disney story is in the making: Xerxes and His Seven Fools.
As Vashti refuses to be masqueraded as a playboy (probably only wearing a crown, or not much more than her crown), she is making “the power and prestige” of Xerxes prove to be a joke. Like the fool in one of Jesus’ parables, Xerxes can’t depend on his wealth and power to get his wife to obey him. This is humorous.
“Here we [also] see the dark side of placing so much power in the hands of a man whose only thought is for himself.” 2 We can also learn a lot about marriage, relationships, how women ought to say “NO” to foolish men’s desires (even from their husbands), and that the way to have a healthy relationship is not by force and power.
1:13-22: But the foolishness of Xerxes increases as he is raging with anger, yet he is too drunk to know what to do with his rebellious wife. He asks his wise eunuchs what to do, and their wisdom falls into the hands of the other side, as we learn that Vashti being put out, only makes an opening for the Jewish orphan girl Hadassah to have her moment (we will meet her tomorrow).
Here’s a note on what foolish kingdoms make of men and women…”eunuch’s” and “objects”. Eunuchs are castrated men, and the only men who can serve in the king’s presence are men who can’t sleep with or impregnate his harem whom he has groomed to be only his. Foolish kingdom’s make eunuch’s of men and objectify women.
Here’s what Xerxes’ eunuchs essentially say: “The queen won’t come out and be a playboy to feed our drunken lust, so we’ll show her! Let’s banish her from the kings presence according to our great law, and find a new playboy to be the sexual icon of the perverted Persian kingdom.”
What a foolish consequence! Think about it, Vashti won’t come into the king’s presence and her consequence is that she can never come into his presence again. Vashti’s like, “Good! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you for a long time.” It’s like you telling your child to cut it out and they don’t listen, and you say here’s some candy for not listening.
So, at the beginning of this chapter, we see the royal power of Persia and Xerxes being flexed, but by the end of the chapter, we see the royal power of God’s kingdom being exerted through foolish choices of drunk “wise” eunuchs.
Xerxes can’t get what he wants and he pouts and gets angry. Sound familiar? Xerxes needed his butt kicked when he was a kid, but instead he always got what he wanted. Many parents in America are raising little Xerxes’ cause they’re afraid their children will be mad at them if they don’t get what they want, or they won’t like them. This is narcissism in the making! Kids need to know two things, that they are unconditionally loved, and they can’t always get what they want.
At this point, we need to take a quick look at ourselves lest we hypocritically view Xerxes as more foolish and wasteful than we. We live in a culture that continues to elevate trivial things. Movie stars, pro athletes, musicians, and the like. We pay more money on entertainment than we do the advancement of God’s kingdom.
We let the car we drive, the house we live in, and the social circles we hang with, the person we hook up with, inform our worth and value more than being children of the creator of the universe and savior of the world. As Dave Ramsey says, with my addition at the end: “We spend money we don’t have, to buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like, [to live in world that doesn’t really exist].”
“The empire of materialism in which we live takes stuff desperately seriously. It wants us to study the empire’s laws and learn how to get ahead by the empire’s standards. It wants us to dream of six-month-long banquets in beautifully decorated gardens, and then to devote our lives to pursuing the dream.” 3 Iain Duguid
A theme from this first chapter that is plain to see is that we ought to build a worldview based on the gospel, not based on the current trends in our culture. Trends and cultures come and go, but the word of the Lord will stand forever. In the new age to come, we will not be singing of great parties, family ties, wealth and good sex. Rather, we will be singing of and glorifying the lamb who was slain; Jesus the Christ who purchased us through taking what we deserved, giving us what He deserved.
So how are we to interact in a world that looks so different than the way we are supposed to look? In the OT, almost every time God came down through a prophet or Himself, it was because His people were intertwined with the world, and He would say, “My people do not live this way.” God is constantly reforming.
How then are we to live? How are we to approach God? Have you ever felt as if God is not with you? That He has abandoned the world?
– There’s rich, powerful, gross men who abuse and oppress the marginalized and there’s nothing you can do about it.
– There’s women masquerading and tempting you to buy into the lie that sex will make you happy.
– There’s kingdom’s that are reigning and they are wicked and seem to be prospering.
– There’s wicked kings ruling with an iron fist over you and you feel that the only thing you can do is to give into their power.
Well I have good news for you this morning Kineo!
– There is a better kingdom than that of Persia.
– There’s a kingdom that draws the poor not to oppress them more, but to release them from oppression.
– There’s a kingdom that invites the wicked to their parties, not to revel in their sinfulness, but to make them righteous.
– There’s a kingdom that invites prostitutes to dine with the king, not to exploit them, but to cloth them with true beauty and purity.
– There’s a kingdom that loves narcissistic domineering little wanna be kings, not to worship them, but to cause their knee to bow to the One true King!
In this kingdom, it is Jesus who is the king who is much better and more powerful than Xerxes.
– This King doesn’t mock the weak, but makes the weak strong.
– This King doesn’t use women for His own gratification, but He redeems them for their eternal gratification.
– This King doesn’t use his power to dominate, but He uses it to liberate.
– This King doesn’t inflict, He protects.
– This King never dies unlike king Xerxes.
– This King’s throne is high and lifted up and anyone called by His name can approach it at will.
– This is our King, Jesus, who has brought a better kingdom to live!
The kingdom that Jesus brings will reign forever unlike the kingdoms of this world. The author of Hebrews rightfully speaks of Jesus and His kingdom in chapter 12. (Read Hebrews 12:26-29).
Jesus will shake the earth the heavens one last time, and at that moment, all the kingdoms that are not of Him will be destroyed. Only that which cannot be shaken (the kingdom of God, not man) will remain, so whatever you are standing on today that is not apart of God’s kingdom will never last.
This is why we offer worship to Jesus and not to man or to earthly kingdoms. This is why we reverence and fear Jesus, not man. Our God, who revealed Himself through Jesus, the King, will consume all that is not of Him, and because of Jesus, those who repent will be saved, and will be standing on that which cannot be shaken. This is our King Jesus.
– Jesus makes the poor, rich.
– Jesus makes the weak, strong.
– Jesus makes the last, first; Jesus makes the sick, healthy.
– Jesus makes the sinner, whole.
– Jesus makes the evil kingdoms and evil kings become nothing.
– Jesus brings into His kingdom the humble, the repentant, the ones who know they need a good King.
Turn from the fraudulent kingdoms and the fraudulent kings and submit to King Jesus.