The Advance Of A Lifetime (Esther 10:1-3)

Martin Luther, credited with starting the Protestant Reformation that we can trace our Bible-believing roots back to, had this to say about the Book of Esther:

…[T]hough I could rightly reject this book [Ecclesiastes], for the time being I accept it so as not to waste time by getting involved in a dispute about the books received in the Hebrew canon. For you poke more than a little sarcastic fun at this when you compare Proverbs and The Song of Solomon (which with a sneering innuendo you call the “Love Song”) with the two books of Esdras, Judith, the story of Susanna and the Dragon, and Esther (which despite their inclusion of it in the canon deserves more than all the rest in my judgment to be regarded as noncanonical).

I know; it’s hard to follow.  The gist of it is that Luther called the Book of Esther “noncanonical,” meaning he thought it should not be in the Bible.

Why would he think that?  Esther is odd in that never, not even once, does the word “God” appear.  It is, in fact, the only book in the Bible that doesn’t mention God in any way.

Strangely enough, the book of Esther is the only Old Testament book (the only books around at the time, mind you) not discovered at Qumran amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls.

I pointed out that the heroine, Esther, was not only not walking with the Lord at the start of the book; she was positively living in sin.

Ah, but there is one overriding spiritual truth driven home by this book despite all those things.  In some ways, it is more powerful because of those things.

It is the providence of God, meaning, simply, that God provides for Himself for the protection and progress of His plan of redemption.

And He does it without violating anyone’s free will to choose.

My summary of the book would read, “Without violating anyone’s free will, God, by His providence, protected and preserved the Jews in order that His plan of redemption might make progress.”

Queen Vashti, a Persian, was deposed and Esther, a closet Jew, became queen and saved her people.  Haman, once exalted, was brought low, and Mordecai and the Jews, a subjected people, were exalted and honored.  A decree that would have wiped out the Jews was overruled by one which led to the destruction of nearly 76,000 enemies of the Jews.

Mordecai made an important statement concerning the relationship between God’s overruling providence and mankind’s free will.

Est 4:14  For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

God would see to it the Jews survived.  He didn’t need Esther’s co-operation.  He could provide for Himself.  She was free do as she pleased, only her decisions would, of course, have consequences.

You and I can have the utmost confidence that God will provide for His plan for the ages, and for His plan for our lives.  We are free within His providence to experience the blessings of obedience, or the consequences of disobedience.

As for the plan of God, we are living in the time between the two comings of Jesus Christ to the earth.  We’re getting a strong dose of this on Sunday mornings, in our study of the Gospel of Mark; but it’s something we cannot emphasize too much.

We are not living in the kingdom of God, but, rather, the kingdom of Satan, who is called the ruler of this world, the prince of the power of the air.

The apostle Peter, thinking about this age and our responsibilities,  made the statement, “how should we then live?”

All of us are working out the answer to that question daily as we seek to walk with Jesus, and work for Him.

With that in mind, I think we can take a look at Mordecai, living among the Persians, and glean some insight as to how we should (then) live.

In a world dominated by a godless ruler, Mordecai nevertheless was elevated and enabled to help further God’s cause.

Est 10:1  And King Ahasuerus imposed tribute on the land and on the islands of the sea.
That’s what godless rulers do.  They exert their influence, their authority, over the less powerful, and demand something to show their submission.

This verse is reminding us that, despite the relative godlessness or godliness of the country we might live in, overall, the kingdoms of this world are Satan’s.

It’s why he could offer them to Jesus during the wilderness temptation.

It’s why, in the Book of the Revelation, we read of a future time when, “the kingdoms of the world… become the kingdoms” of Jesus Christ, and “He shall reign.”

Thus as we see Mordecai described, it is against this dark background – on this unlit stage.  He shines forth; and so should we.

Est 10:2  Now all the acts of his power and his might, and the account of the greatness of Mordecai, to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia?

Just as you think the writer is going to mention “the acts of his power and might,” he breaks off to highlight Mordecai instead.

The devil is powerful; he is mighty.  But he is defeated.

Think of the Book of Acts, which tells of the spreading of the Gospel from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and to the ends of the world.

The devil constantly flexed his power and might against a rag-tag group of men and women with little in the way of resources.

But in every way that counts, they went on, victoriously, as the devil’s strategies, one after another, failed to silence them.

The “greatness” we see is the glory of God in Jesus Christ, empowering us, enabling us.  Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.

In Persia, it was Ahasuerus who advanced Mordecai.  I’m not suggesting that Satan advances us; he does not.

Just as every detail in a parable need not have a deep, hidden meaning, so in our comparing ourselves to Mordecai, some details will not translate over.

Alternately, we could say that the devil does advance  us, in that often his efforts backfire.  Geno is teaching the Book of Acts on Wednesday mornings to our Men’s Fellowship.  We recently covered the story of Paul and Silas being imprisoned in the dungeon at Philippi, after being beaten.

Satan’s strategy to silence them backfired when Paul invoked his Roman citizenship, terrifying the magistrates.  He left behind a small but vibrant and Spirit-filled church – right on Satan’s beach.

Est 10:3  For Mordecai the Jew was second to King Ahasuerus, and was great among the Jews and well received by the multitude of his brethren, seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all his countrymen.

I’m reminded of Joseph and Pharaoh, and of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar.  Both men were elevated to the second chair, and both excelled – despite all the pressure to the contrary.

I wouldn’t put Mordecai in the same class as Joseph and Daniel… Except that I wouldn’t put myself in that class either.  I can nevertheless dare to be a Joseph, or a Daniel, because, from God’s perspective, if I’m saved, I am no less righteous than they or any other believer.

If Mordecai seems second string to us, he still was used mightily by God.  We can be, too.

You and I can do what Mordecai did: seek the good of God’s people, and speak peace to them.

Those are big, broad categories that can encompass any number of godly actions and reactions to the members of the body of Jesus on the earth – the church.

Just ask yourself, “Am I seeking the good of other Christians?”  If you answer, “Yes,” then what would you cite as evidence?

Ask yourself, “Am I speaking peace to other believers?”  Do folks walk away from an encounter with you built-up, or torn-down; ready to serve, or wanting to quit?

I get torn-down plenty by the devil.  I come here to be built-up in my most holy faith.

Let’s build something together.

Victor Victorious (Esther 9:17-32)

The agonized athlete was a Slovene ski-jumper by the name of Vinko Bogataj.  It was the World Ski Jumping Championships in 1970.  Midway through his third run, Bogataj felt he was going too fast and tried to slow down.  Unfortunately, he lost his balance and tumbled spectacularly over the side of the ramp.  Bogataj suffered only a concussion, though it looked far worse.

He’s the guy made famous in the opening of ABC’s long-running series, Wide World of Sports.  Some of you are old enough, or pop-cultured enough, to remember it.  As the announcer opened the program each week he would mention “the thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat.”

Vinko Bogataj’s failed jump defined “the agony of defeat” for a generation of sports enthusiasts.

“The thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat” is a phrase that can sometimes define your life as a Christian.  You’re told in the Bible that you have victory over the world (First John 5:4), the flesh (Galatians 5:16), and the devil (James 4:7); over death, sin, and the Law (First Corinthians 15:54-56).

We are the victors; we are victorious.  Yet we often experience the agony of spiritual defeat.

Our text in Esther gives us some principles about preserving victory.  The Jews had just defeated their enemies in Persia.  They were the victors.  In the aftermath of their stunning victory, they did two things to help remain victorious:

They celebrated their victory.

They commemorated their victory.

We can apply those same two strategies in our own lives – both individually as Christians, and corporately as a Church.

Celebrations normally follow victory.  Sticking with the world of sports, we’ve all seen images of celebrations by the fans and fanatics of the winning team.  (It’s sad that they have gotten so violent and destructive).  After a short while, the celebrations die down, and then folks get back to their normal routine.  All that’s left of their victory celebration is a t-shirt or a hat with their team’s logo.

We need to change our way of thinking regarding Christian victory.  It’s not something we achieve once in a while, then celebrate for a short time – only to return to our normal routine with nothing more than a Christian t-shirt or hat.

Spiritual victory, as I understand it, is ours all the time to either believe or ignore.  The apostle Paul wrote,

2 Corinthians 2:14  Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ…

The word “triumph” is a reference to a Roman parade called the Triumph.  It was a grand processional that celebrated a general’s total and complete victory over the enemy.

Here is my thought: If I can have victory all the time, and celebration follows victory, then I ought to be celebrating all the time!

The Jews won a stunning and complete victory over their enemies in the Persian Empire.  They celebrated it.  The ways they temporarily celebrated their victory are ways we can permanently celebrate our victory.

A decree had been issued by wicked Haman calling upon Persians to rise-up and annihilate all the Jews.  After a dramatic scene in the palace, where Queen Esther revealed to King Ahasuerus that she was a Jew, a second decree had been issued.  It allowed the Jews to defend themselves and rise-up against any of their Persian oppressors.  After two days of fighting, the Jews were completely victorious.

The first thing they did was rest:
Esther 9:17  This was on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar. And on the fourteenth of the month they rested and made it a day of feasting and gladness.

They rested physically on a particular day.  We are to rest spiritually every day.  It is a reminder to us that all of the work of defeating our enemies has already been accomplished by Jesus.  Our part is to walk by faith, resting in Him.

The next thing the Jews did was feast with gladness:
Esther 9:17  This was on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar. And on the fourteenth of the month they rested and made it a day of feasting and gladness.
Esther 9:18  But the Jews who were at Shushan assembled together on the thirteenth day, as well as on the fourteenth; and on the fifteenth of the month they rested, and made it a day of feasting and gladness.
Esther 9:19  Therefore the Jews of the villages who dwelt in the unwalled towns celebrated the fourteenth day of the month of Adar with gladness and feasting, as a holiday, and for sending presents to one another.

All the Jews, both in the city and in the country, enjoyed a day of feasting and gladness.

God wants to spread out before us, each day, a glad feast; or a feast that will make us glad.  It’s a spiritual feast and it begins with taking-in the Word of God.  Read the Word.  And read it from the perspective that God is revealing Himself to you in and through it.

The next thing the Jews did was treat the day as a holiday; the word is mentioned in verse nineteen.  The word holiday is two words in the Hebrew, good and day.  It was a ‘good day’ because things had worked out for good.  It reminds me of the fact that all things work together for the good for them that love God.  It’s not positive thinking; it’s prophetic thinking – knowing the ultimate outcome.

I can celebrate each day as another in the long providence of God that – although I may not understand it – is working together for my good and His glory.

The next thing the Jews did was send gifts to one another.

God has given you gifts by His Holy Spirit Who indwells you.  They are not for you; they are for others.
They are to minister to others.  Discover them; use them.  If you’ve quit using them, then get stirred-up and start using them.

Here’s a clue: Just hang around other believers, with a desire to help them, and you will find yourself using the gifts God has given you.

You can celebrate your victory all the time, everyday, if you are resting in God, feasting on God’s Word, looking to your future hope, and looking for ways to exercise your spiritual gifts to benefit others.  It’s so simple that we don’t always do it.

Mordecai and Esther knew that the thrill of victory would quickly begin to fade.  So they combined to think of a way to commemorate the victory.  They established, on an annual basis, the Feast of Purim.

For us, the key principle in this section is found in verse twenty-three:
Esther 9:23  So the Jews accepted the custom which they had begun, as Mordecai had written to them,

The word “accepted” is a poor translation.  Let me give you a better reading of the verse from the good ‘ole KJV:

Esther 9:23   And the Jews undertook to do as they had begun, and as Mordecai had written unto them;

They undertook to do something that would commemorate their victory.  It was a great undertaking, involving thought and planning and foresight.

The Christian life is a great undertaking.  If we give it some thought… Some planning… Some foresight… Then we will commemorate our victory on a daily basis.

Esther 9:20  And Mordecai wrote these things and sent letters to all the Jews, near and far, who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus,
Esther 9:21  to establish among them that they should celebrate yearly the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar,
Esther 9:22  as the days on which the Jews had rest from their enemies, as the month which was turned from sorrow to joy for them, and from mourning to a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and joy, of sending presents to one another and gifts to the poor.
Esther 9:23  So the Jews accepted the custom which they had begun, as Mordecai had written to them,
Esther 9:24  because Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to annihilate them, and had cast Pur (that is, the lot), to consume them and destroy them;
Esther 9:25  but when Esther came before the king, he commanded by letter that this wicked plot which Haman had devised against the Jews should return on his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows.
Esther 9:26  So they called these days Purim, after the name Pur. Therefore, because of all the words of this letter, what they had seen concerning this matter, and what had happened to them,

The Jews still celebrate Purim today.  Like all celebrations, customs and traditions surrounding it have changed over the centuries.  I do want to share one of the more modern customs.

The children dress up as the characters found in the story of Esther.
The Book of Esther is read aloud as it is acted out in a play or acted out with puppets.  Every time the name of Haman is mentioned, everyone boos, hisses, and stamps their feet.  There are even special noisemakers, called groggers.  When the name Mordecai is mentioned, the people cheer.

Esther 9:27  the Jews established and imposed it upon themselves and their descendants and all who would join them, that without fail they should celebrate these two days every year, according to the written instructions and according to the prescribed time,
Esther 9:28  that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city, that these days of Purim should not fail to be observed among the Jews, and that the memory of them should not perish among their descendants.

I like the wording, “imposed it upon themselves.”  We would say we discipline ourselves.  Discipline is a part of the victorious Christian life.  We impose discipline upon ourselves, knowing that our spirit is willing but our flesh is weak.

They also imposed it upon their descendants.  Parents: It’s your joyous privilege to share Jesus Christ with your children.

They also imposed it upon all those who would join them.  This doesn’t mean we try to force others to become believers.  But we ought to take advantage of every opening and opportunity to share Christ with others.

Esther 9:29  Then Queen Esther, the daughter of Abihail, with Mordecai the Jew, wrote with full authority to confirm this second letter about Purim.
Esther 9:30  And Mordecai sent letters to all the Jews, to the one hundred and twenty-seven provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, with words of peace and truth,
Esther 9:31  to confirm these days of Purim at their appointed time, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had prescribed for them, and as they had decreed for themselves and their descendants concerning matters of their fasting and lamenting.
Esther 9:32  So the decree of Esther confirmed these matters of Purim, and it was written in the book.

This feast was not prescribed by God.  It was wholly the invention of Mordecai and Esther.  It is in the category of a tradition of man.

Traditions are not wrong in-and-of themselves.  They can be a great aid in passing on our faith to the next generation.  It is when tradition becomes traditionalism that we get into problems.  One theologian said, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

For us, it means we should desire to establish certain days and events to honor the Lord.  But we must constantly be seeking God’s leading to alter or even cancel them if they become traditionalism.

Celebrate… Commemorate… Let the Lord direct you to discover how.

And may He continue to direct us, as a fellowship.

Plunderbust (Esther 9)

Finish this famous quote: “The only thing we have to fear…”

FDR’s words, at his first inaugural address, comforted a fearful nation.

Truth is, the only thing we have to fear, is God.

We can fear Him with the reverence and awe of those who love Him.
Or we can fear meeting Him at the end of our lives, having rejected His offer of salvation.

A decree was in effect that allowed Persians, on a certain date, to annihilate any and all Jews in the empire and plunder their property.  The properly signed and executed decree of a Persian monarch could not be rescinded.  But it could be countered by another decree.

After discovering rather dramatically that Queen Esther was, in fact, a Jew, King Ahasuerus gave her uncle, Mordecai, the authority to issue a counter decree.

The second decree allowed the Jews, on the same date, to gather and defend themselves against their aggressors; and to destroy, kill, and annihilate all the forces of any people or province that would assault them, both little children and women, and to plunder their possessions (Esther 8:11).

The day arrived.  Its chief feature, from a spiritual point of view, was the fear that fell upon the nonbelieving Persians.
Mordecai in particular; and the Jews in general; struck fear in the hearts of the nonbelievers.

It’s a picture for us.  Mordecai is a type of Jesus Christ; the Jews are a type of the believer. There is a sense in which we, as believers, should strike fear in the hearts of those who do not know our Lord.

Let’s see exactly what that means by identifying some of the characteristics of Mordecai and the Jews.

Esther 9:1 Now in the twelfth month, that is, the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day, the time came for the king’s command and his decree to be executed. On the day that the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, the opposite occurred, in that the Jews themselves overpowered those who hated them.

The first thing we might note is that the Jews understood they were involved in a serious conflict.  On a certain day, their enemies would attack them – seeking to annihilate them and plunder them.

Christians are involved in a serious conflict.  The world, the flesh, and the devil form a kind of Axis of Evil that want to annihilate and plunder you.  Not on a certain day, but everyday.

The battleground is anywhere and everywhere you find yourself – even in the Church.

If you do not prepare for battle everyday, you risk being plundered.  When things are going well, there are strategies being planned against you behind the scenes.  Take advantage of the calm to spiritually resupply yourself.

If you do not understand there is a battle everyday, you will be drawn into fighting it with the wrong weapons.  You will try to meet anger with anger, strife with strife, instead of walking in the fruit of God’s indwelling Holy Spirit.

Esther 9:2  The Jews gathered together in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus to lay hands on those who sought their harm. And no one could withstand them, because fear of them fell upon all people.

The Jews were no doubt stronger in numbers than they were separately.  Still, even gathered together, they were greatly outnumbered.  It wasn’t their numbers.  There was a power in their gathering that struck fear into the hearts of their enemies.

When we gather together, it can be something powerful.  The Lord Jesus promises to be among us when we gather.  He surrounds us with His strength.  Many of you were saved in a gathering of God’s people.  I’d say that was power!  Most of you, after being saved, have experienced some word from God, or some touch in your life as you’ve gathered with other believers.  Power!

We should look forward, with expectation, to gathering together.  We can’t be at every meeting, or meet every day.  But we ought to want to, because we’re not just meeting with one another; we’re meeting with Jesus Christ.

Speaking of our Lord: Mordecai is a type of Him.

Esther 9:3  And all the officials of the provinces, the satraps, the governors, and all those doing the king’s work, helped the Jews, because the fear of Mordecai fell upon them.
Esther 9:4  For Mordecai was great in the king’s palace, and his fame spread throughout all the provinces; for this man Mordecai became increasingly prominent.

This doesn’t mean that we will always have favor with those in authority; or that we won’t experience trouble in our walk.  As a type, Mordecai teaches us the following:

Although others are in authority over us, Jesus Christ is the ultimate authority.  Just as God was working behind the scenes in Persia, so in the world today – and in your world – He causes all things to work together for good for them that love Him.
Just as Mordecai’s fame spread, so the knowledge of Jesus Christ has been and is being spread to the whole world as Christians take the Gospel with them wherever they go.

And just as Mordecai became increasingly prominent, there is coming a time when Jesus will become increasingly prominent until, at His Second Coming, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:11).

Esther 9:5  Thus the Jews defeated all their enemies with the stroke of the sword, with slaughter and destruction, and did what they pleased with those who hated them.

Something important to note in verse five is the mention of the stroke of the sword.  It was the skillful wielding of the sword that defeated their enemies.

So it is for us.  If we are to strike fear in the hearts of nonbelievers, hoping some will be saved, then we must defeat our enemies with skillful strokes of the sword, which for us is the Word of God.  
Esther 9:6  And in Shushan the citadel the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred men.

Esther 9:7  Also Parshandatha, Dalphon, Aspatha,
Esther 9:8  Poratha, Adalia, Aridatha,
Esther 9:9  Parmashta, Arisai, Aridai, and Vajezatha –
Esther 9:10  the ten sons of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews – they killed; but they did not lay a hand on the plunder.
Esther 9:11  On that day the number of those who were killed in Shushan the citadel was brought to the king.
Esther 9:12  And the king said to Queen Esther, “The Jews have killed and destroyed five hundred men in Shushan the citadel, and the ten sons of Haman. What have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces? Now what is your petition? It shall be granted to you. Or what is your further request? It shall be done.”
Esther 9:13  Then Esther said, “If it pleases the king, let it be granted to the Jews who are in Shushan to do again tomorrow according to today’s decree, and let Haman’s ten sons be hanged on the gallows.”
Esther 9:14  So the king commanded this to be done; the decree was issued in Shushan, and they hanged Haman’s ten sons.

Gentle Queen Esther calls for the already dead bodies of Haman’s ten sons to be hanged publicly; and for an additional day of fighting against the enemies of the Jews.  Don’t mess with Esther!

It is to remind us how harshly we must deal with our spiritual enemies.  We must be brutal and unyielding in the skillful application of the sword of the Spirit.  We can give no place to, show no mercy towards, the world, the flesh, or the devil.

Esther 9:15  And the Jews who were in Shushan gathered together again on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and killed three hundred men at Shushan; but they did not lay a hand on the plunder.
Esther 9:16  The remainder of the Jews in the king’s provinces gathered together and protected their lives, had rest from their enemies, and killed seventy-five thousand of their enemies; but they did not lay a hand on the plunder.

God’s people were victorious.  Not only were their lives spared, but many Persians were saved.  Sadly, many Persians also perished.  But not without warning; not without opportunity to know and fear the Lord.

Three times (which is a lot in just eleven verses) you’re told they did not lay a hand on the plunder.

The second decree allowed them to plunder their enemies; but they adamantly refused.  It causes you to pause and wonder, “Why?”

To answer “Why?” we need a quick refresher in Jewish history.  Back in the days of Saul, Israel’s first king, they were at war with the Amalekites.  God’s battle plan was revealed in First Samuel 15:3,

1 Samuel 15:3  Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

God gave King Saul and his forces a mighty victory.  But Saul disobeyed God’s command:
1 Samuel 15:7  And Saul attacked the Amalekites, from Havilah all the way to Shur, which is east of Egypt.

1 Samuel 15:8  He also took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword.
1 Samuel 15:9  But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.

What you want to notice is that Agag, the Amalekite king, was spared.  The wicked villain of the Book of Esther was Haman.  He’s the one who wanted all the Jews annihilated.  Haman is no less than five-times called, Haman the Agagite.  Although some scholars disagree, most scholars, along with a strong Jewish tradition, say that Haman the Agagite was a descendant of Agag the Amalekite king.

If King Saul had obeyed God earlier in Jewish history, there would not have been a Haman the Agagite to unleash the Persian anti-Semitism.

Saul had blundered by keeping Agag alive and by plundering the Amalekites.  Knowing this history, you can easily see why the Jews would refuse the plunder.  They did not want to make the plunder-blunder a second time!

When Saul disobeyed God, the prophet Samuel rebuked him with strong words.  He called what Saul had done rebellion and stubbornness (First Samuel 15:23).  The Jews in Esther’s time were not about to make the same error a second time.  It’s why they were careful to kill all the sons of Haman; and it’s why they refused the plunder.

Our fear of God is that, since He is our loving Heavenly Father, our disobedience is a rebellion and a stubbornness that will wound Him.

Think of God as your Father and you will fear striking at His heart.  You will obey His Word for His sake – often against your own will and wants, but always for your good and His glory.

If you are not a believer… God has brought you here in order to reveal Himself to you as a loving Father.  If you reject Him, you will one day meet Him again – but then He will be your Judge, and must declare you “Guilty!” and you will perish.

You are to strike fear in the hearts of nonbelievers.  You will if you understand you are engaged in daily spiritual warfare; if you are committed to gathering together with the Church; and if we skillfully handle God’s Word.

But most importantly, you will strike fear in the hearts of nonbelievers to the extent you expect our Lord and King to be among us and you remember that He is already enthroned high above all other principalities and powers.

Leading A Lady (Esther 5)

Proper training is crucial.  I’ve seen the difference it can make as I’ve worked alongside law enforcement and emergency services personnel.  Those of you in the military, or the families of those who courageously serve, also understand the importance of proper training.

You train and train and train.  You sit through classes; you participate in drills and role-plays.  You do it because you know that, once the real thing happens, you will fall back on your training.

The emphasis and the trust we place on proper training stands in stark contrast to the lack of training that often accompanies a call to serve the Lord.  Christians are pressed into service with little or no time or training as disciples.

Gideon is one good Old Testament example.  He had no time or training as a disciple; he was hiding from the Midianites when the angel of the Lord came to press him into service as the one who would deliver Israel from her enemies.
In the New Testament, little or no time or training transpired in many cases.  The first seven men chosen as deacons were themselves recently saved.

What compensated for the lack of time or training?  Concerning Gideon you read that the Spirit of the Lord came upon him; concerning the seven deacons you read that they were men full of the Holy Spirit.

Esther had no time or training as a disciple.  We want to take a look at the Holy Spirit leading this lady to learn how we can be more aware of, and dependent upon, His leading in our lives.

The Holy Spirit is God.  He is a person – not a force.  When we talk about His leading, we are talking about a person who is God guiding and directing our lives.

I’m not against training or discipline in the Christian walk.  We should be studying God’s Word; spending time in prayer; sharing our faith; fellowshipping with one another.  But there is a danger – a grave danger – of trusting our own preparation and training over the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The more mature we get as believers, the more we tend to rely on ourselves rather than on the leading of the Holy Spirit.  It’s a pitfall we must recognize and avoid.

The leading of the Holy Spirit is not a reward for holiness; it is not reserved for super-saints.  It is the inheritance of every believer, for each of us all the time.

A decree had been issued in Persia that all Jews anywhere in its provinces were to be exterminated on a certain day.  Mordecai was urging his niece Esther to plead for her people before King Ahasuerus.  To go before the king uninvited could mean death.

Esther 4:15  Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai:
Esther 4:16  “Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, 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!”
Esther 4:17  So Mordecai went his way and did according to all that Esther commanded him.

Esther had not been walking with God; not by a long shot.  But now, in a moment’s time, she was fully up to spiritual speed.

She declared, if I perish, I perish.

With those words we can say that Esther offered herself a living sacrifice to God.  In one of the most popular verses of the New Testament, Romans 12:1, we are told to do the same:

Romans 12:1  I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.

It doesn’t say you should live sacrificially.  It says you should present yourself a living sacrifice.  There is a difference.

Living sacrificially is noble; but you remain in control of your life.  You decide when you’re going to sacrifice, what, and for how long.

If you are a living sacrifice, you’ve given up control.  God is the one in control, telling you what to do, when, and for how long.

Esther’s famous phrase is a sort of commentary on what it means to be a living sacrifice.  You must be willing to perish; in fact, you must perish.

I submit to you that the moment she determined to go before the king, she perished.  Her hopes; her dreams; her plans; her priorities; everything that had previously been Esther, perished.
Even if the king decided to spare her life, it would never be the same afterwards.  He would know she was a Jew.  She was a real live living sacrifice.

To be led by the Holy Spirit requires that you perish.  Your independent hopes… dreams… plans… and priorities… Must be sacrificed in favor of God’s.   You must perish on God’s altar.

Lying on an altar seems a little scary.  But there is a good scary, isn’t there?  Don’t we like to be scared?  Why do people watch scary movies?  Why do we ride scary rides?  The kind of ‘spiritual scariness’ that comes with lying on the altar and giving your life to God is in that category.  It’s a good scary; an exciting scary; it’s an adventurous scary.

It’s not crazy; it’s scary.  There is a big difference.  Sometimes people do the craziest things, then blame them on the Holy Spirit.

Esther’s leading began when she perished.  She immediately began practicing at least two Christian disciplines.

She was strengthened by fasting.

She did so in fellowship with others who were likeminded.

There are important spiritual disciplines we should engage ourselves in.  We should pursue all the spiritual training we can.  Just be careful to keep it in perspective.  Esther would undoubtedly grow deeper in her knowledge of and love for God.  But she was just as spiritual right then as she ever would be in terms of discovering God’s leading.

Esther 5:1  Now it happened on the third day that Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, across from the king’s house, while the king sat on his royal throne in the royal house, facing the entrance of the house.
Esther 5:2  So it was, when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, that she found favor in his sight, and the king held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther went near and touched the top of the scepter.

Follow-through was important.  Willingness is not faithfulness.  Faithfulness is what puts your spiritual life in motion.

God broke-down a door; busted it wide open; for Esther to plead for her people:

Esther 5:3  And the king said to her, “What do you wish, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given to you – up to half the kingdom!”

“Thank you, Lord!”  All Esther had to do was lay-out her request and everything would be over.  She took a deep breath and said,

Esther 5:4  So Esther answered, “If it pleases the king, let the king and Haman come today to the banquet that I have prepared for him.”
Esther 5:5  Then the king said, “Bring Haman quickly, that he may do as Esther has said.” So the king and Haman went to the banquet that Esther had prepared.

Great idea!  Get Haman in the king’s dining hall – then drop the bomb.  Fabulous plan.

Esther 5:6  At the banquet of wine the king said to Esther, “What is your petition? It shall be granted you. What is your request, up to half the kingdom? It shall be done!”
Esther 5:7  Then Esther answered and said, “My petition and request is this:
Esther 5:8  If I have found favor in the sight of the king, and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, then let the king and Haman come to the banquet which I will prepare for them, and tomorrow I will do as the king has said.”

Let’s not pretend that this makes sense.  Esther’s request only makes sense if you have read chapters six and seven.  There you find out that Haman builds a gallows to hang Mordecai on; but Ahasuerus ends up promoting Mordecai instead.  Once Esther busts Haman, Ahasuerus ends up having him executed on the very gallows he had built for Mordecai.

But you don’t know this yet… And neither did Esther.  Her request makes no sense at all from a strategic point of view.  She had the king’s ear; he had promised to grant her any request.  It seemed the perfect opportunity to plead for the Jews.  A delay might prove disastrous.  Ahasuerus was fickle, and could easily change his mind and mood.  Haman had the kings ear, too, and might discover Esther’s plans, heading her off somehow.  Now seemed the time to speak.

But Esther didn’t speak… She delayed, inviting the king and Haman to another banquet the next day.  Why?  It was the leading of the Holy Spirit.  He knew what was going to happen in chapters six and seven, and He led Esther accordingly.

It’s the only explanation that makes any sense.

We often are not patient to wait.  We get involved with the Lord, and begin to sense His leading us.  Then we step in and take over based upon our own wisdom or training.  We do what makes sense to us.

The leading of the Holy Spirit doesn’t always make sense at the time.  It makes sense later – after you see the whole plan unfold.

Probably the most public example of this in the life of our fellowship has to do with the purchase of these facilities.  We were finally able to buy land – a beautiful, perfectly situated 5-acre parcel on Fargo.  We quickly paid it off.  It made sense to us to begin our building project.

Only once we did, nothing made sense.  All of our efforts to draw an affordable but adequate building were dismal failures.  We had many meetings in which we kicked around many ideas.  They were solid, creative ideas… But they were our ideas – ideas that made sense to us based on our assumption that owning land meant that God wanted us to build on it.

God graciously led us to a Scripture we all knew:

Luke 14:28  For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it –
Luke 14:29  lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him,
Luke 14:30  saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’

It was only obvious we could not and therefore should not build.  It was a time (in my life at least) when we had to perish.  Our independent hopes; our plans; our dreams; our priorities; they perished.

Soon after we perished, the Holy Spirit began to lead us in a new direction.  The ownership of the land would be the means by which we could afford to buy this building.

I do not want to have begun in the Spirit only to continue in the flesh.  I want to discover and discern the leading of the Holy Spirit.  I want it for you as well.

We must maintain a healthy fear of trusting our own training and our own wisdom.  We should mature and grow in the Christian life and its disciplines – but never to a point where we lose the dependency on the Holy Spirit.

If you’re not being led, maybe you’re not dead.  God’s leading requires daily that we offer ourselves a living sacrifice; and moment-by-moment that we patiently wait on the Lord.

If you’re not a Christian – You’re dead, but in a very different way.  The Bible describes you as dead in trespasses and sins.  Before you can experience this wonderful leading, you must be born again.

An Outing At The Palace (Esther 4)

“Providence” is something we believe in but don’t fully understand.

All of the definitions are a little different.  I like this one: “Providence is the act of seeing and providing or preparing for the future, and biblically refers to God’s foresight and power to watch over and protect and provide for His creatures.”

It’s a good definition for several reasons:

It takes into account both foresight and providing, which are the meanings of the two roots from which providence, as a word, is formed.

It specifically mentions its biblical use.

It doesn’t go too far theologically in terms of deciding exactly how providence is manifested.

My paraphrase of biblical providence would be, “providence is God seeing to it that His plan for the future stays on track in the present.”

Theologians can go to the extremes in discussing and describing providence:

One extreme is called omnicausality, which says that God causes your every action in such a way as to determine completely its nature and outcome.

The other extreme is open theism, the teaching that God has granted to humanity free will and that in order for the free will to be truly free, the future free will choices of individuals cannot be known ahead of time by God.

I may be oversimplifying, but that’s about right, and I’m guessing most, if not all, of us think that the true answer must be somewhere in the middle, where I am no mere robot of omnicausality, but where God definitely remains omniscient.

We may not be able to explain in a totally satisfactory way the relationship of free will and God’s providence, but we can see it everywhere in the Bible, and nowhere more clearly than in Esther.

Esther 4:1  When Mordecai learned all that had happened, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city. He cried out with a loud and bitter cry.
Esther 4:2  He went as far as the front of the king’s gate, for no one might enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth.

I almost wish we would adopt the practice of tearing our clothes and putting on sackcloth and ashes.  It would completely eliminate our sometimes empty greetings that ask, “How are you doing?”

Sackcloth was forbidden in the palace.  They wanted to maintain the façade that everything was awesome.

Esther lived in the very lap of luxury – so much so that she had no idea what was happening right outside her very doors.

Esther 4:3  And in every province where the king’s command and decree arrived, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

This wasn’t just wearing a pin or a ribbon or a bracelet to promote your cause.  You put on a whole outfit of mourning, then threw ashes over your head.  It was a total commitment to grieving.

Esther 4:4  So Esther’s maids and eunuchs came and told her, and the queen was deeply distressed. Then she sent garments to clothe Mordecai and take his sackcloth away from him, but he would not accept them.

Apparently Esther could not leave the palace.  As queen, she was confined within its walls.  She was a prisoner of luxury.  The Holy Spirit is establishing the emptiness and shallowness of living comfortably.

Esther 4:5  Then Esther called Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs whom he had appointed to attend her, and she gave him a command concerning Mordecai, to learn what and why this was.
Esther 4:6  So Hathach went out to Mordecai in the city square that was in front of the king’s gate.
Esther 4:7  And Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasuries to destroy the Jews.
Esther 4:8  He also gave him a copy of the written decree for their destruction, which was given at Shushan, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her, and that he might command her to go in to the king to make supplication to him and plead before him for her people.
Esther 4:9  So Hathach returned and told Esther the words of Mordecai.

Mordecai boldly called upon Esther to intercede on behalf of the Jews.

When we think of interceding, or intercession, we think of a type of praying.  Here we see that intercession calls for involvement of some kind.  When you pray for someone, you’d better be ready to get involved with them as well.  You are often the answer, or part of the answer, to your own prayers for them.

The world is abounding with Mordecai’s.  There are needs upon needs.  Most of us, here in the United States, are Esther’s.  We’re pretty comfortable; we’re pretty insulated.  We don’t always know or care what is going on just outside our gates.

Are we willing to go before our King and intercede on behalf of those who have need?  Are we then willing to get involved?

Of course we are.  How could we live in luxury, ignoring the needs outside our walls, if Jesus is really our passion and purpose for living?

Esther 4:10  Then Esther spoke to Hathach, and gave him a command for Mordecai:
Esther 4:11  “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that any man or woman who goes into the inner court to the king, who has not been called, he has but one law: put all to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter, that he may live. Yet I myself have not been called to go in to the king these thirty days.”
Esther 4:12  So they told Mordecai Esther’s words.

Esther was trying to convince Mordecai, and herself, that there was nothing she could do in this situation.  In her case, it was because of the very real danger of execution.

Do we ever look at some situation and say, “There’s nothing we can do; it’s too dangerous, or too difficult.”  We need to factor in God.

Esther 4:13  And Mordecai told them to answer Esther: “Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews.

Did you catch the significance of what Mordecai just said?  He hinted at it, in verse eight, calling the maybe 15 million Persian Jews her “people.”  But that might simply mean they were citizens of Persia whom Queen Esther ought to care for.

You’ve heard of the term, ‘outing.’  It is most commonly used to describe the act of disclosing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity without that person’s consent.

Mordecai just outed Esther as a Jew.  It would have been a shock to her servants.

We occasionally need shock-treatment.  Call it shock-treatment for God’s elect… Or “elect-shock treatment.”

We need to hear something, or see something, that causes us to say to ourselves, “Hey! I’m a Christian! I need to act; I need to get involved.”

Esther 4:14  For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Mordecai believed in divine providence.  He knew God must intervene, because God had made unconditional promises to Abraham about his descendants, and especially that through the Jews the Savior of the world would be provided.

It doesn’t mean he was saved.  You can believe in providence as a force without having faith.  Even today, people look upon Israel and acknowledge providence is at work – even though they are mostly in unbelief of Jesus.

Though some may argue, I see Mordecai and Esther as free agents, making bad, wrong choices, but God by His providence, providing for His plan without violating their free will.

This is not omnicausality.  You can’t really say God made Esther queen for just this moment, because if you do, you make God complicit with her sin.  It was her free choice to enter the queen-search, to partake of forbidden foods and rituals, to commit fornication with the king, and then to marry him – all against the stated will of God.

There she was, though, and if she came clean about her heritage, God could use her.

If not… God could have worked in other ways; Mordecai said as much himself.  Esther was free to choose; God would act regardless, to provide for His plan to have the Savior of the world be born a Jew.

You might have made some bad decisions; you might be where you are because of disobedience to God.   Wherever you are today – God can use you in a powerful way.

I emphasize: This does not give you an excuse to make bad decisions, or stay in the wrong place, with the wrong people.  Greg Laurie tweeted, “When you hang out with the wrong people in the wrong places you will soon do the wrong things.”

Esther 4:15  Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai:
Esther 4:16  “Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, 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!”
Esther 4:17  So Mordecai went his way and did according to all that Esther commanded him.

Esther goes from being a closet-Jew to calling for a fast – not just for herself, but for all the Jews and her own servants.

Listen: When you decide to repent and return to walking with God, just go for it.  Don’t be weighed down by the things which have gone before.  Get up to spiritual speed in a heartbeat.

Esther counted the cost and was willing to pay it.  She would lose her life if it came to it.  But she would lose it serving God – and, thus, she had found her life.

The cost of discipleship is nothing less than your life.  But in losing your life, you find it.  The risk is always cancelled-out by the reward.

Something else to consider: Esther was going to lose her life anyway.  She had been outed as a Jew, and would therefore be killed when the day of slaughter came.

Living in comfort is always a mirage.  Live that way, surrounded by or at least pursuing the material world, and you will lose your life anyway, and have nothing to show for it in the end.

Mordecai and Esther had exercised their free will and defied the will of God.  Mordecai brought this crisis upon himself, and upon his people, due to his pride.

I simply cannot accept that God led them both to sin in order to get her to be queen so she could save her people.

They chose; and God overruled.  Had they finally refused to walk in God’s will, “relief and deliverance for the Jews” would have come some other way.

God’s will, will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.  But you are free to choose.

Maybe this illustration will help.  Every parent wants their child or children to make the right choices.  Good parenting teaches children to think for themselves to come to the right choices.  It gives them room to make mistakes, and to learn from those mistakes.

But good parenting also sees to it, as much as is humanly possible, that children do not make foolish, even fatal, mistakes.  You step in and exert your will for their greater good.  The kids remain free, but their freedom is curtailed so that the parents get their way.

God is your heavenly Father and wants you to obey Him, for your own good.  He’s given you freedom, but will act providentially when necessary, to see that all things work together for the good for you as His child.

Pur Evil (Esther 2:19-3:15)

What do young nonbelievers think of Christians?

David Kinnaman, president of Barna polling, and Gabe Lyons set out to find the answer.

Kinnaman and Lyons spent three years polling young, unchurched Americans to find out what they thought about Christianity.  They published their results in 2012.  Millions of young people, they discovered, see us as judgmental, hypocritical, anti-homosexual, too political, insensitive – and boring.  Ouch.

Our immediate reaction is that hostile, liberal  media characterizations of us as judgmental, homophobic bigots have stuck.  But this is only half the answer.  A shocking 50 percent of respondents said they base their negative views on personal contacts with Christians.

You and I may not give God a bad name, but some Christians do.

In our story, Mordecai will give God a bad name.  He starts out keeping his Jewish heritage a secret, but when a situation arises that rankles him, he blames it on God, saying it’s because he is a Jew.

Sometimes we want to be like Bible characters.  This is an example of someone we do not want to be like.

Esther 2:19  When virgins were gathered together a second time, Mordecai sat within the king’s gate.

Virgins had been gathered from all over the kingdom in order to choose one of them to be queen.  Esther had been chosen.  We don’t know why there was a second search.  The best explanation seems to be that King Ahasuerus wanted to add to his harem; and this idea of having young virgins compete was rather appealing to him.

It meant he would be with a different girl each night for at least the next year, if not longer.  Pretty much right after he was so pleased with Esther, he was through with her.  Esther’s life was very sad, if you ask me.

Mordecai sat within the king’s gate.  The words mean he was promoted to a position of a magistrate.  He was one of the men who sat in judgment over legal matters that were brought to the king.

Esther 2:20  Now Esther had not revealed her family and her people, just as Mordecai had charged her, for Esther obeyed the command of Mordecai as when she was brought up by him.

Esther was old enough to decide for herself.  She should obey God, not a man – especially one who was asking her to sin.

Instead she hid behind her obedience to Uncle Mordecai.  It’s not commendable; it was a cop-out.

Esther obeyed when it was convenient.  When it was beneficial.  Such behavior gives God a bad name, a bum rap.

Esther 2:21  In those days, while Mordecai sat within the king’s gate, two of the king’s eunuchs, Bigthan and Teresh, doorkeepers, became furious and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus.
Esther 2:22  So the matter became known to Mordecai, who told Queen Esther, and Esther informed the king in Mordecai’s name.
Esther 2:23  And when an inquiry was made into the matter, it was confirmed, and both were hanged on a gallows; and it was written in the book of the chronicles in the presence of the king.

Mordecai overheard a plot against Ahasuerus.  It led to the arrest, conviction, and execution of the conspirators.

It was duly noted in the official records.  Make a mental note of this because it is going to play a crucial role later on in our story.

For now, notice that Mordecai received no recognition for his deed.  But, even if he had received recognition, so what?  Isn’t it infinitely better to live in such a way that your recognition comes from God?  Isn’t it His “Well done, My good and faithful servant,” that you want to hear?

Serve as unto the Lord.  He sees what you are doing; and deeper – into your heart with its motives.  Trust Him to reward and promote you.

Chapter three begins with a contrast.  Mordecai was not recognized and rewarded for his good deed… But Haman was recognized and rewarded, though he was an evil man.

Life can seem unfair.  In fact, it is unfair.  So what?  You and I walk with God and can remain above our circumstances.

Esther 3:1  After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him and set his seat above all the princes who were with him.

Haman was an Agagite, which could mean he came from a district in the empire known as Agag.  But it could also mean that he was descended from Agag, king of the Amalekites.

Esther 3:2  And all the king’s servants who were within the king’s gate bowed and paid homage to Haman, for so the king had commanded concerning him. But Mordecai would not bow or pay homage.

We don’t really know why Mordecai refused to bow to Haman.  Maybe it was because he was an Amalekite, not popular among Jews.

At first reading, we think his refusal to bow is commendable, an act of obedience to God.

Not so fast.  It wasn’t wrong for Jews to bow before officials, or even to one another, as long as there was no worship involved.

There was something about Haman that irritated Mordecai.  This was a personal issue – not a spiritual issue.

Esther 3:3  Then the king’s servants who were within the king’s gate said to Mordecai, “Why do you transgress the king’s command?”
Esther 3:4  Now it happened, when they spoke to him daily and he would not listen to them, that they told it to Haman, to see whether Mordecai’s words would stand; for Mordecai had told them that he was a Jew.

Mordecai played the religion card.  He wasn’t walking according to strict Judaism, but he used his Jewishness as an excuse for not bowing… Which was not forbidden.

God was getting blamed for Mordecais’ personal bias.

Esther 3:5  When Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow or pay him homage, Haman was filled with wrath.
Esther 3:6  But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone, for they had told him of the people of Mordecai. Instead, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus – the people of Mordecai.

You cannot understand history unless you read the Bible from cover-to-cover and realize that there is a spiritual conflict in our universe.  Much of the tension between God and Satan focuses on God’s plan for the nation of Israel.  Haman was a Hitler – just as others before him and others after him.

Haman hatched a plan to exterminate the Jews:

Esther 3:7  In the first month, which is the month of Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, they cast Pur (that is, the lot), before Haman to determine the day and the month, until it fell on the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar.

Haman consulted the wise men of Persia, who were occult astrologers and sorcerers.
In order to determine the best date to exterminate the Jews, they threw a die, called Pur, onto calendars.  They thus determined the month; then the date of the month; that this plan would have the support of the zodiac.

Does that make Haman the first Zodiac Killer?

Esther 3:8  Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from all other people’s, and they do not keep the king’s laws. Therefore it is not fitting for the king to let them remain.
Esther 3:9  If it pleases the king, let a decree be written that they be destroyed, and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those who do the work, to bring it into the king’s treasuries.”
Esther 3:10  So the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews.
Esther 3:11  And the king said to Haman, “The money and the people are given to you, to do with them as seems good to you.”

Maybe the king ought to have thought more about his people than his virgin-search.  Whether he was distracted, or just shallow, this was a horrible decree.

The plan was announced:

Esther 3:12  Then the king’s scribes were called on the thirteenth day of the first month, and a decree was written according to all that Haman commanded – to the king’s satraps, to the governors who were over each province, to the officials of all people, to every province according to its script, and to every people in their language. In the name of King Ahasuerus it was written, and sealed with the king’s signet ring.
Esther 3:13  And the letters were sent by couriers into all the king’s provinces, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their possessions.
Esther 3:14  A copy of the document was to be issued as law in every province, being published for all people, that they should be ready for that day.
Esther 3:15  The couriers went out, hastened by the king’s command; and the decree was proclaimed in Shushan the citadel. So the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Shushan was perplexed.

Perplexed is an understatement.  There you are in Persia, minding your own business, when all of a sudden a law is passed that says on a certain day you can exterminate an entire people and confiscate their property.  We know from secular sources that Jews were heavily involved in business dealings in Persia; many of the Persians were friends with Jews.

All the while Ahasuerus and Haman are at a bar enjoying Happy Hour.

Mordecai put Esther in a position where she would need to totally submit her body to the sexual use (really abuse) by the king, against all God’s clear teaching on sex and marriage.  Yet he refused to show common respect for a nobleman, which was not unlawful, blaming it on his being such a strict Jew.

These types of behaviors are why average people look at God’s people with disdain.

You could legitimately argue that Mordecai brought this trouble upon himself.  Moreover, God’s people suffered for his deliberate and unnecessary disrespect of authority.

Let’s be sure our version of being a Christian is really biblical and not a matter of our own personal biases hiding behind things we pick and choose from God’s Word.

Let’s defy the odds and 100% show people Jesus.

Beauty Is Only Sin Deep

Like it or not, American Idol has been a phenomena since it debuted in 2002.

The success of American Idol has been described as “unparalleled in broadcasting history.”  The series was also said by a rival TV executive to be “the most impactful show in the history of television.”  It has become a recognized springboard for launching the career of many artists as bona fide stars.  According to Billboard magazine, in its first ten years, “Idol has spawned 345 Billboard chart-toppers and a platoon of pop idols.”

Don’t forget that Jennifer Hudson won an Oscar.

One estimate puts the total number of contestants at 100,000 each season – about 10,000 per city.  Contestants go through at least three sets of cuts.  The first is a brief audition with a few other contestants in front of selectors which may include one of the show’s producers.

Only a few hundred of these make it past the preliminary round of auditions.  Successful contestants then sing in front of producers, where more may be cut.  Only then can they proceed to audition in front of the judges.  Those selected by the judges are sent to Hollywood.

As we are introduced to Esther, I want you to be thinking American Idol, in terms of the contest she was involved with.

Our story opened (in chapter one) in the palaces of Persia, where King Ahasuerus was throwing a feast.  His queen, Vashti, had refused to come at his bidding.  Ahasuerus decreed a law that Vashti should no longer be queen.  We pick-up the story some few months after those events.
Esther 2:1  After these things, when the wrath of King Ahasuerus subsided, he remembered Vashti, what she had done, and what had been decreed against her.
Esther 2:2  Then the king’s servants who attended him said: “Let beautiful young virgins be sought for the king;
Esther 2:3  and let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, that they may gather all the beautiful young virgins to Shushan the citadel, into the women’s quarters, under the custody of Hegai the king’s eunuch, custodian of the women. And let beauty preparations be given them.
Esther 2:4  Then let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” This thing pleased the king, and he did so.

These young women were not rounded-up in midnight raids against their will.  They wanted to be queen.  They auditioned to be queen.

I’m sure there were preliminary rounds.  There were hundreds or perhaps even thousands of young women who did not make the cut.  Others did, and were sent on to Shushan to chase this once-in-a-lifetime dream.

The Jewish historian, Josephus, says there were around four hundred of these finalists.  One of them was Esther – probably in her early 20’s.
Esther 2:5  In Shushan the citadel there was a certain Jew whose name was Mordecai the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite.
Esther 2:6  Kish had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captives who had been captured with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away.
Esther 2:7  And Mordecai had brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter, for she had neither father nor mother. The young woman was lovely and beautiful. When her father and mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter.

Mordecai had been taken captive by the Babylonians, probably in the second of their three assaults upon Jerusalem.  He had a younger cousin, whose Hebrew name was Hadassah, whose parents may have been killed in one of the sieges of Jerusalem.  After the Persians defeated the Babylonians, Mordecai raised her as Esther as his would his own daughter.

Much emphasis is placed on Mordecai’s genealogy.  It is to highlight the fact that he instead chose to keep his nationality hidden.  He doesn’t reveal that he is a Jew until chapter three.

While men like Ezra and Nehemiah were risking everything for the sake of following God, Mordecai was content to deny his heritage and live as a Gentile.  He was not walking with or living for the Lord.

Esther 2:8  So it was, when the king’s command and decree were heard, and when many young women were gathered at Shushan the citadel, under the custody of Hegai, that Esther also was taken to the king’s palace, into the care of Hegai the custodian of the women.

Let’s be honest about Esther.  When we first meet her, she is not walking with or living for the Lord.  Esther willingly entered the pageant as a candidate to become his queen.  There is no indication in the language of the story that she was forced against her will.  When the writer says she was taken to the king’s palace, it is not a word that connotes force or capture.  It is the same word used to describe Mordecai’s adoption of Esther.

Esther should not have been a participant in this pageant; but she was.
Esther 2:9  Now the young woman pleased him, and she obtained his favor; so he readily gave beauty preparations to her, besides her allowance. Then seven choice maidservants were provided for her from the king’s palace, and he moved her and her maidservants to the best place in the house of the women.

The Jews were under strict Old Testament dietary regulations which kept them separate from other people.  Esther willingly ignored these dietary regulations, showing no regard for God’s law.  Compare her to Daniel, when he was a young man taken against his will by the Babylonians.

When they wanted to prepare him for a career in Babylon, he refused to eat his allowance of things which were not Kosher.
Esther 2:10  Esther had not revealed her people or family, for Mordecai had charged her not to reveal it.
Esther 2:11  And every day Mordecai paced in front of the court of the women’s quarters, to learn of Esther’s welfare and what was happening to her.
It was not a crime to be a Jew in Persia.  A previous king, Cyrus, had signed a decree allowing Jews to return to Jerusalem.  There was anti-Semitism, but open persecution had not yet broken out. Esther concealed her identity in order to live comfortably and get farther in the world.

Mordecai’s pacing is the activity of a man who is relying on human wisdom rather than God’s will.  Although God will definitely use both Mordecai and Esther, they were not in His will at this time.

Dr. J. Vernon McGee points out that Mordecai and Esther were in God’s providence.  I like his definition of providence: Providence is the way that God leads the man that will not be led.

Esther 2:12  Each young woman’s turn came to go in to King Ahasuerus after she had completed twelve months’ preparation, according to the regulations for the women, for thus were the days of their preparation apportioned: six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with perfumes and preparations for beautifying women.
Esther 2:13  Thus prepared, each young woman went to the king, and she was given whatever she desired to take with her from the women’s quarters to the king’s palace.

This was a spa vacation to die for.  Six months of beautification treatments.  Exercise… nutrition… cosmetics… massage… facials… hair and nails… fashion consulting… etiquette courses.

Esther 2:14  In the evening she went, and in the morning she returned to the second house of the women, to the custody of [Ryan Seacrest] Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch who kept the concubines. She would not go in to the king again unless the king delighted in her and called for her by name.
It was a beauty pageant that included having sex with the only judge.  Esther knew this, but willingly participated.

It goes without saying that God’s Law prohibited sex outside of marriage – let alone with a non-Jew.  Note, too, that if Esther was not chosen queen, she would instead become a member of the king’s harem.  She would be called upon from time-to-time to go in and satisfy him sexually.  She wouldn’t simply walk away and return to her life.

Mordecai and Esther were blowing it.  Living in Persia, they had become too Persian.  It’s all an example to us of spiritual desensitization.

It can be tough to remain spiritually sensitive in a culture like ours.  Every day, by multiple means, you are bombarded with ideas and images that are designed to erode your views and values.

What can you do?  The only people in our story who were not being desensitized were those who had returned to Jerusalem when given the opportunity.  Their example to us is to stay connected with the things of God by obeying His Word and gathering together with His people.

Esther 2:15  Now when the turn came for Esther the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her as his daughter, to go in to the king, she requested nothing but what Hegai the king’s eunuch, the custodian of the women, advised. And Esther obtained favor in the sight of all who saw her.

Up to this point, it’s all outward.  Esther has no inward, spiritual beauty to commend her – not yet.  It is always the inner person God is concerned with.

The overwhelming emphasis in our culture on physical beauty is one of the key ways the world desensitizes believers.  Our attention is constantly drawn to the physical, keeping our minds off the spiritual.

Esther 2:16  So 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.  Esther 2:17  The king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she obtained grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins; so he set the royal crown upon her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.

Don’t get fooled by the word loved.  The pagan king was incapable of the higher love that comes from God.  He preferred Esther and loved her as much as you could in the flesh.  There was no spiritual component to it.  This is not the fairy-tale romance that every girl desires.  Vashti had once been in Esther’s position.  The way of the world tells us that Esther would one day be in Vashti’s position.  They would not live happily ever after, growing old together.  Esther’s husband would continue to sleep with his many concubines.  Esther could never know true love – unless Ahasuerus converted to become a Jew.  Not likely – especially since Esther was ashamed to even tell him about Jehovah.

Esther 2:18  Then the king made a great feast, the Feast of Esther, for all his officials and servants; and he proclaimed a holiday in the provinces and gave gifts according to the generosity of a king.

It was almost five years from the time Esther became queen to the time she revealed her true identity as a Jew.  As queen she ate, dressed, and acted like a Persian – and that included worshipping like a Persian.
God considered Himself the Husband of the Jews; they were His wife.  To marry this pagan king; to worship his pagan gods; was to conceal her vows to Jehovah.  It was to commit spiritual adultery.

When the world beckons to you, it is as a harlot seeking to woo you away from your Beloved Bridegroom.  It can be a worldly idea or ideal; it can be a worldly activity; it can be a worldly pursuit.  These things may or may not be sinful to begin with.  But they slowly begin to boil around you until you are cooked by them.

Typically we make lists of the worldly things we must avoid at all costs.  Those can be helpful, I suppose.  It’s better to set your inward affections on things above.  It’s better to have your heart consumed with the pursuit of God.  Then the harlot has no appeal for you.

Impotent Notables (Esther 1:1-22)

Esther was the queen of Persia who saved the Jews from extermination with her wholehearted commitment to God.

Risking her life to save her people by coming uninvited before the king, her famous declaration was, “If I perish, I perish.”

She didn’t start that way.  When we first meet her, she is anything but committed.  In fact, her heart isn’t into walking with God at all.

As the book opens, we will see Esther enter the king’s harem as a contestant to become his next queen.  She did so willingly, not by force.  It’s sort of like being on the Bachelor.

In her preparations Esther ate foods which were prohibited for a Jew.  Compare Daniel and his three friends in a similar situation in Babylon about a century earlier.  Esther would have known about Daniel, since Persia conquered Babylon, and Daniel had been involved at a high level in the Persian government under Darius, who ruled before the king that Esther married.

This was no beauty contest to win the king’s affections.  The women, Esther included, were being prepared to have sexual relations with the king.

Esther married the king.  Marriage to a non-Jew was strictly prohibited by God’s law.  Her contemporaries, Nehemiah and Ezra, were forcing Jews who had married Persians to divorce.

It was almost five years from the time Esther became queen to the time she revealed her true identity as a Jew.  As queen she ate, dressed, and acted like a Persian – including worshipping like a Persian!

What we are looking at, theologically, in this book is huge.  God providentially preserved His chosen people, against all odds, in order for Jesus to be born as promised to be the Savior of the world.

What we are looking at, devotionally, is a call to fully committing our lives to God, without the crisis.

Even if I’ve been a believer for some time, this can really speak to me.  Spiritual apathy is an ever-present peril.

Chapter one takes us back to the fifth century BC.  King Ahasuerus of Persia holds a lavish banquet, initially for his court and dignitaries and afterwards for all the inhabitants of the capital city, Shushan.

For the big finale, Ahasuerus orders his queen, Vashti, to come and display her beauty before the guests.  She refuses.  Furious, Ahasuerus has her removed from her position and makes arrangements to choose a new queen from a selection of the most beautiful young women from throughout the empire.

There is a kind of forced-perspective in the way the chapter is written:

In verses one through eleven it’s as if you are approaching the throne of King Ahasuerus.  You are forced to look around at his world and are seduced by its splendor.
In verses twelve through twenty-two it’s as if you are sitting on the throne with Ahasuerus.  You are forced to look within, at his heart, and see it enslaved to natural passions.

Est 1:1  Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus (this was the Ahasuerus who reigned over one hundred and twenty-seven provinces, from India to Ethiopia),
Est 1:2  in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan the citadel,
Est 1:3  that in the third year of his reign he made a feast for all his officials and servants – the powers of Persia and Media, the nobles, and the princes of the provinces being before him –
Est 1:4  when he showed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the splendor of his excellent majesty for many days, one hundred and eighty days in all.
Est 1:5  And when these days were completed, the king made a feast lasting seven days for all the people who were present in Shushan the citadel, from great to small, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace.
Est 1:6  There were white and blue linen curtains fastened with cords of fine linen and purple on silver rods and marble pillars; and the couches were of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of alabaster, turquoise, and white and black marble.
Est 1:7  And they served drinks in golden vessels, each vessel being different from the other, with royal wine in abundance, according to the generosity of the king.
Est 1:8  In accordance with the law, the drinking was not compulsory; for so the king had ordered all the officers of his household, that they should do according to each man’s pleasure.
Est 1:9  Queen Vashti also made a feast for the women in the royal palace which belonged to King Ahasuerus.

They partied for six months.

The king probably didn’t assemble all his leaders at one time; that would have kept them away from their duties too long.  It’s more likely that, over a period of six months, Ahasuerus brought the officers to Shushan on a rotation.  He brought them all together for the seven-day city-wide feast finale.

You are forced to walk through King Ahasuerus’ palaces on an approach to his throne.  The subtle suggestion is that you, too, can sit enthroned – at least over your own smaller empire – and enjoy the best that the world has to offer.

Persia represents the material world to you.  The world can be a place of beauty, wealth, pleasure, and power.

If you are not careful, you are seduced by the world.  Instead of living for spiritual realities, you settle for material trifles.  You gain the world, but lose those things that are most important and meaningful.

The wine vessels symbolize the whole affair.  Each person had a custom made golden goblet.  I’d like to think that they kept it as a souvenir.

In their goblet they drank the royal wine that was normally reserved for the king.  They held in their own hands a little part of the world’s splendor, and drank it to their fill.

In verse eight, where it says, “the drinking was not compulsory,” a better translation is, “each drank in his own way.”  The idea is that you could pace yourself, or you could get blitzed.  This was, however, very definitely a drunken party.

King Ahasuerus  decided to go for the big close by bringing out Queen Vashti.

Esther 1:10  On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus,
Esther 1:11  to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing her royal crown, in order to show her beauty to the people and the officials, for she was beautiful to behold.

Vashti, in one beautiful package, was everything Ahasuerus was trying to portray.  She represented what the Persian material world had to offer.  She was its beauty; she was its pleasure.

The thing that most stands out to me are the seven eunuchs who served King Ahasuerus.  The men closest to the king were always castrated.  That way they could not have any children who would challenge the king for his throne.  They were powerful men, in a worldly sense – having access to the king and all the privileges of his palace.  But they were impotent.

Powerful, but impotent.  That is what the world makes you.  It seduces you; but when you think you are going to sit on a throne, and enjoy your own little kingdom, you find you’ve been rendered impotent.  You’re a eunuch serving the king of this world.

Esther 1:12  But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command brought by his eunuchs; therefore the king was furious, and his anger burned within him.

Having come right up to the throne, we looked around at the world.  Now we’re going to look within – at the world within, at the heart.  In the case of Ahasuerus, he was a slave to his anger.  His anger represents all of the works of our flesh that are a part of the sin nature we are born with.

He began by seeking some spiritual help:

Esther 1:13  Then the king said to the wise men who understood the times (for this was the king’s manner toward all who knew law and justice,
Esther 1:14  those closest to him being Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, who had access to the king’s presence, and who ranked highest in the kingdom):

The description, “wise men who understood the times,” means these guys were occult astrologers.  They practiced things like divination and sorcery and dream research in order to predict the future and give advice.

It was spiritual help, but not biblical help. The world is filled with spiritual help that is not biblical.  You know what that tells us?  It tells us that most people realize the material world is not enough.  People innately know they have a spiritual side.

Here is their best advice:

Esther 1:15  “What shall we do to Queen Vashti, according to law, because she did not obey the command of King Ahasuerus brought to her by the eunuchs?” Esther 1:16  And Memucan answered before the king and the princes: “Queen Vashti has not only wronged the king, but also all the princes, and all the people who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus.
Esther 1:17  For the queen’s behavior will become known to all women, so that they will despise their husbands in their eyes, when they report, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought in before him, but she did not come.’
Esther 1:18  This very day the noble ladies of Persia and Media will say to all the king’s officials that they have heard of the behavior of the queen. Thus there will be excessive contempt and wrath.
Esther 1:19  If it pleases the king, let a royal decree go out from him, and let it be recorded in the laws of the Persians and the Medes, so that it will not be altered, that Vashti shall come no more before King Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she.
Esther 1:20  When the king’s decree which he will make is proclaimed throughout all his empire (for it is great), all wives will honor their husbands, both great and small.”

Their advice reveals their heart.  They were small; they were mean; they were vindictive; they were cruel; they were selfish.

The best spiritual advice that human religion and philosophy can give is always flawed because it comes from the sin nature.  Only God can offer mercy and grace.

Esther 1:21  And the reply pleased the king and the princes, and the king did according to the word of Memucan.
Esther 1:22  Then he sent letters to all the king’s provinces, to each province in its own script, and to every people in their own language, that each man should be master in his own house, and speak in the language of his own people.

Memucan probably got a book deal – Memucan’s Marriage Manifesto His talk show, Memucan’s Mastery of Marriage, was must-see TV for husbands dealing with insubordinate wives.
It sounds funny… But this is what we do today with those dispensing stupid advice.

Ahasuerus was a slave to the world within him.  It made the world around him all the more dangerous.  When the world appeals to your flesh, and you have only religion and philosophy to guide you… You are a slave – no matter that you are seated on a throne.

When you become a Christian, God gives you a new nature.  The Holy Spirit lives within you, giving you power to say “No!” to the flesh and “Yes!” to obeying God.

The Word of God gives you a new and proper perspective on the world around you.  You are in the world, but not of the world.  You can enjoy much of it without being seduced by it.  You are passing through it to your home in Heaven.

God is seated on the Throne.  You are happy to let Him sit there.  You are His servant.  But you’re not a eunuch!  Instead, you are are promised power – His spiritual power.

The world attempts to seduce you.  It won’t succeed if you remember you have a Lover in Jesus and are betrothed to Him.

He’ll return for you at any moment.  Be ready.