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Esther Chapter 1

Esther Chapter 1

Sermon Transcript

We often see the conflict and tension in our world. What we don't always see if how God is setting the stage for a greater story...and maybe even calling us to be a part in it. Join us as Dr. Marty Baker dives into Esther chapter 1 and starts to unpack our new sermon series: Esther - Made For This Moment

Rosa Parks was arrested in 1955 for refusing to give her bus seat to a white man. In her book Quiet Strength, she writes:

"When I sat down on the bus that day, I had no idea history was being made—I was only thinking of getting home. But I had made up my mind. After so many years of being a victim of the mistreatment my people suffered, not giving up my seat—and whatever I had to face afterwards—was not important. I did not feel any fear sitting there. I felt the Lord would give me the strength to endure whatever I had to face. It was time for someone to stand up—or, in my case, sit down. So I refused to move."[1]

This brave young woman refused to move, resulting in the culture moving away from racism and toward acceptance of others created in God’s image.  Did she want the conflict? No. Did the conflict master her? No, the Lord brought this obscure woman out of the shadows and into the national spotlight with a challenging situation. She handled it quietly, with humble bravery for her people and everyone.  In many ways, Rosa merely reflected the spirit of Esther, another young woman God placed in a complex situation so she could courageously address the racism of her day.

As we see from how Esther’s story opens in chapter one, it typically takes time for God to set up the scenario where He tests your spiritual mettle.  Rosa would agree, I’m sure.  It took many years of cultural abuse before she decided it was time to sit instead of stand.  The same occurred in Esther’s life, as we shall see.  Your life is no different. God is quietly working to bring you to a point of decision. What will you do when the time comes?

Please listen and learn from Esther chapter 1 regarding how the unseen hand of God moves to position you to be His mouthpiece.  I divide the historical movement into four distinct scenes.  While you consider the content of these scenes, realize your life has its own divinely ordained scenes.  Sure, the scenes may seem innocuous or even obnoxious; however, never underestimate the movement of God’s hand.

Scene 1: The Party (Esther 1:1-8)

If anything, the Persians knew how to party.  Each summer, the bikers who roll into Sturgis, South Dakota, have nothing on the ancient Persians.  True, the bikers in 2023 drank 40,000 hard drinks, along with 3 million gallons of beer, but their party doesn’t even compare to how these ancient and powerful people rolled. Read the biblical text, and you’ll see what I mean:

1 Now it took place in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, 2 in those days as King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne which was in Susa the capital, . . .

As I’ve said, Ahasuerus is merely a title, like our word President.  Historically, the book opens with a party thrown by King Xerxes, who reigned over the mighty and massive Persian Empire from 486 to 465 B.C.  His father, Darius 1 (522-486 B.C.), had expanded the kingdom; however, his power began to slip when the Greeks summarily defeated his forces at the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C.  When Xerxes assumed the title of King, he had to address rebellions in Egypt quickly and then in Babylon.  Verse 2 shows him sitting on his throne because his military movements had brought peace back to the empire.

Yet in the third year of the reign of King Xerses, which was 483 B.C., he couldn’t wait to settle the score with the militarily inferior Greeks.  Revenge served as the motive for war, and a party to end all parties served to drum up broad support for his selfish warmongering.

3 in the third year of his reign, he gave a banquet for all his princes and attendants, the army officers of Persia and Media, the nobles, and the princes of his provinces being in his presence.

Calling this shindig a banquet is an understatement.  It was a party to end all parties, and anyone of wealth, power, and influence received a coveted invitation. The location? The glorious and magnificent palace in Susa, the winter palace located about 150 north of the Persian Gulf.  Who wouldn’t want to party here? Who would not want to party with the who’s who of Persian society? Showing up here would guarantee that your picture wearing your finest clothes would appear in their version of the New York Post or the Persian Post.

Of course, King Xerses showed off all of his wealth gained by fleecing conquered people and taxing his people exorbitantly.  He did this to demonstrate that he, above all leaders, was positioned to deal with the likes of the fledgling Greecian military.  Verse 4 begins to validate the king’s misguided motives:

4 And he displayed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor of his great majesty for many days, 180 days.

Yes, you read that right.  They partied for SIX MONTHS. American bikers only party hard for a WEEK. This year, the gala is from August 2 (Friday) to August 11 (Sunday).  Imagine. They gorged themselves on fine foods for six months as the wine and spirits flowed like the mighty Tigris river.  During that time, I’m sure all of these political and military leaders waxed eloquent on the power and glory of their empire to convince themselves to regain their national face by lowering the Greeks down a few notches.

A week-long bash for the general populace followed the six-month bash.  After all, if you’re going to war, and the majority of the soldiers will come from families of the nation, you need to make sure to bring them along with you ideologically. What better way to do this than to invite them to the palace to get in on the party they had only heard about from gossip and small talk?

5 And when these days were completed, the king gave a banquet lasting seven days for all the people who were present in Susa the capital, from the greatest to the least, in the court of the garden of the king's palace. 6 There were hangings of fine white and violet linen held by cords of fine purple linen on silver rings and marble columns, and couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and precious stones. 7 Drinks were served in golden vessels of various kinds, and the royal wine was plentiful according to the king's bounty. 8 And the drinking was done according to the law, there was no compulsion, for so the king had given orders to each official of his household that he should do according to the desires of each person.

Don’t you know many of these folks had never even been through the gates to the palace, let alone seen the wealth, walked on the precious inlaid stone walkways, drank from golden, not wooden, cups, and, yes, drank until you were blind  . . . if you wanted to.  All of this minute historical detail perfectly matches what archaeologists and scholars have uncovered in Susa. As Max Lucado notes:

“The palace hall had 36 columns that stood 70 feet tall. Each column was crowned with sculptures of twin bowls, which supported the immense wooden timbers of the ceiling. Even the mosaic pavements were works of art. When Alexander the great entered the palace at Susa a century later, he discovered, in today’s dollars, the equivalent of 54.5 billion in bullion and 270 tons of minted gold coins. Xerxes was not hurting for cash.”[2]

And the citizens were problaby dumbstruck by the oppulance . . . but as we shall see, it was really all smoke and mirrors.  Don’t be deceived by outer trappings. God isn’t.

A couple of sidenotes: One, a Jewish targum of this chapter, states the goblets were stolen from the Temple in Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 586.  If true, this was sacrilegious and blasphemous and a desecration God would take note of and deal with in due time. Two, a nation whose leaders make decisions based on being boozed or drugged up is well on its way to oblivion.  Three, a country is open for attack when its leaders and people are constantly boozed up instead of being built up with reason, reality, and sacrifice.

No doubt, this was a party to end all parties, with its open bar constantly replenished with seemingly endless supplies from the King’s massive wine cellar. But even in this debauchery, God silently worked behind the scenes to steer events toward His loftier purposes.  The same is true in your life.  Your co-workers may go off the rails in their after-parties at bars on business trips; they may drink it up with the boss when he’s paying for the Christmas party; they may, well, you can fill in the blank, I’m sure.  Whatever carnal chaos those around you are engaged in, and whatever comes out of it, never catches God off-guard.  We see how this truth slowly begins to unfold in the next scene.

Scene 2: The Proposition (Esther 1:9-11)

While Xerxes threw two parties, Queen Vashti threw her own. His was public, hers private, and only open to palace women.

9 Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the palace, which belonged to King Ahasuerus.

Interesting. Why didn’t she join her husband’s party since everyone was invited? We aren’t told why, but this husband and wife are not on the same page. There is some slight breakage in their supposedly picture-perfect marriage. Vashti, whose name means “the best” or “the beloved,” subtly doesn’t appear to be either of these terms to her husband.  Did she know about her husband’s womanizing past when he pursued the wife of his brother, Masistes? Did she know how his rebuffed sexual advances with her led him to attempt to seduce Artaynte, his brother’s daughter and his niece? Perhaps.  It’s hard to keep salacious information about a sexual deviant out of the public eye, let alone the eyes of the Queen.

In any event, the last day of the wild 187-day party is when the story takes an unexpected and divinely ordained turn or highly ironic pivot. This ironic pivot will be the first of many in the book.  It begins to set the stage for us to learn how God works in the complexities and conflicts of life.  When you thought life could never change and head into a righteous direction full of justice and purity, God slowly lets events unfold to ironically grab your attention and secure your decision to stand when you should sit or sit when you should stand.  Watch how the unnamed and skilled storyteller introduces this change of direction:

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

The king wasn’t just “merry with wine” but controlled by wine.  Put differently, he had been inebriated for a whopping 187 days.  He wasn’t thinking clearly when he ordered seven eunuchs to go and fetch the Queen so he could show her beautiful and gorgeous self off to all of his drunken friends.  Drinking does impair your thinking, as well as doing a number on your heart, liver, and stomach.  Have you ever made a dumb decision while inebriated? I hope you haven’t, but I’m sure you have heard horror stories like I have over the years.

When I was a baby, my mother was getting into our family car parked on a busy, one-way street. To access the passenger side with me, she had to walk behind our car. Right before she stepped into the dimly lit street, a drunk driver crashed into the back of our car,  causing the front end to slam into a large tree. Had she been standing behind our car, we would have both been dead instantly. God, fortunately, had other plans.

Like this unknown man, the people of those stories learned the hard way not to make decisions while full of booze. Xerxes was undoubtedly the poster child for this truth. The last thing you want to do as a husband is engage in immoral behavior and then publically debase your wife by asking her to reveal her beauty before a bunch of drunk men with little to no inhibitions.

In the next scene, we bump right into Vashti's courage.  Like Esther, later, she will stand on the high ground of principle, and by so doing, she will create a colossal problem for her drunk husband and his boozed-up buddies.

Scene 3: The Problem (Esther 1:12)

This scene drips with irony. Listen and learn.

12 But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's command delivered by the eunuchs. Then the king became very angry and his wrath burned within him.

The Hebrew connective particle, gam ( גַּ֚ם), is emphatic by means of its placement at the head of the sentence where the subject should reside.  The King commanded his wife to place the crown on her head and head over to his drunken party so he could show her off, and instead of saying, “Yes, honey,” she ironically and bravely stood her modest, moral ground and said, “No way, honey.”

How did Xerxes respond? He responded how you would think a self-absorbed, materialistic, sexually driven man would. She bowed out, and he blew up. He must have thought, “How can my woman deny ME?” “How dare she not fulfill my word.” “The gall of her embarrassing me in front of all my friends.” Men.  Please sit up and take note.  The Scriptures call you to be submissive to the Lord and love your wife selflessly and sacrificially,  and your wife is called by the Lord to be submissive to you (Eph. 5:22-28).  However, this is not a blank check. There are boundaries concerning acceptable behavior.  If you ask her to engage in a morally and spiritually wrong activity, she has every right to act like Vashti until you come to your senses.

I admire Vashti’s guts. Talk about courage.  Talk about a woman of principle and modesty. Talk about a woman who understood the difference between the priceless concept of dignity versus the cheap concept called degradation. She had self-worth and it wasn’t for sale. She wasn’t some type of animal vying for a trophy before some drunken educated bums. She had class. She wrote the book on these admirable terms, but it cost her. Standing for truth and what is right is always costly, but it is the high path one must take to be able to live with oneself while also challenging others.  In this fashion, Vashti sets the stage for the arrival of another brave woman. Her name? Esther. And she will arrive at the right time to fulfill God’s purposes.  But in the meantime, King Xerxes was in melt-down mode like all small-minded, selfish people.  While in his buzzed state, he thought everything he held dear was slipping away from him; God, however, worked overtime in the marital dysfunction to establish future function in the lives of many others.

But before we get to God’s way through the marital mess, we must check out man’s solution to the “problem.”  It’s called . . .

Scene 4: The Proposal (Esther 1:13-22)

What follows is, well, comically ironic. The big, bad, billionaire King Xerxes can control his empire but can’t control his morally principled wife.  For 187 days, his power and prestige were on full display in the prolonged party; however, in a flash, this all evaporated when his wife chose not to cow-tow to his wicked whims.

So, in a drunken stupor, King Xerxes turned to his drunk advisors regarding how to address this breach of protocol caused by the Queen.  He should have stayed at home and worked it out in private, but weak, incompetent rulers, like Xerxes, are known for dragging the sordid details of their lives into public view. That’s what Xerxes did.

13 Then the king said to the wise men who understood the times-- for it was the custom of the king so to speak before all who knew law and justice, 14 and were close to him: Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media who had access to the king's presence and sat in the first place in the kingdom—

Xerxes didn’t surround himself with truly wise men.  They might have known the law, but they didn’t realize justice or injustice when it stared at them in their faces.  Note to self: nations in decline, like ancient Persia, have morally compromised leaders who drag all of their marital and family issues out into the public domain for all to see.  They also surround themselves with people who will tell them what they want to hear to preserve their perverted power.

These “wise” counselors posed the question du jour:

15 "According to law, what is to be done with Queen Vashti, because she did not obey the command of King Ahasuerus delivered by the eunuchs?"

Memucan, “the Marvelous,” as I’d call him, had the “profound” analysis and answer:

 16 And in the presence of the king and the princes, Memucan said, "Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king but also all the princes, and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. 17 For the queen's conduct will become known to all the women causing them to look with contempt on their husbands by saying, 'King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought in to his presence, but she did not come.' 18 And this day the ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen's conduct will speak in the same way to all the king's princes, and there will be plenty of contempt and anger.

Do you think this wise man was worried about how his wife might respond? Yeah, I do.  His thinking logically flowed from the greater to the lesser, from the Queen to all women. His thinking could easily be paraphrased into our vernacular: “If this woman can get away with this level of disobedience to the demand of her husband, then this cancer will spread to all women, and the next thing you know, we will not be in power anymore.”  Remember, this was a drunken advisor offering drunken analysis.  Instead of being logical, he was emotionally and misguided.

What should Memucan have said? “King Xerxes. May you live forever. Oh, wise king, you should have never asked your wife to come and strutt around your drunken party.  You have degraded her, not she, you.  You must humble yourself, go to her privately, and seek her forgiveness for your unreasonable request.”

That’s not what the wise man said.  He spoke like a fool. Here is what Memucan “the Marvelous” said the king should do.  His advice couldn’t have been more wrong:

 19 "If it pleases the king, let a royal edict be issued by him and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media so that it cannot be repealed, that Vashti should come no more into the presence of King Ahasuerus, and let the king give her royal position to another who is more worthy than she. 20 "And when the king's edict which he shall make is heard throughout all his kingdom, great as it is, then all women will give honor to their husbands, great and small."

Or, in other words, let’s make an example out of the Queen. Let’s nuke her role as the Queen, and that way, all women will cower before the men of the kingdom.  Right. Mistreating the Queen in this fashion wasn’t the way to instill respect in wives but to instill disrespect.  How ironic: the men wanted respect from the very women they didn’t protect or respect.  These men needed to attend an ancient version of Dennis Rainey’s Family Life Conference to learn how to treat women.

How did the King process this counsel in his buzzed-out brain? Did he stand up and defend his wife, or cave to the pressure of godless men who didn’t even know his wife? Read on, and you’ll see:

 21 And this word pleased the king and the princes, and the king did as Memucan proposed. 22 So he sent letters to all the king's provinces, to each province according to its script and to every people according to their language, that every man should be the master in his own house and the one who speaks in the language of his own people.

What planet was he from? He thought doubling down on treating his wife harshly to garner her respect would cause all women to fall in line and respect the men of the empire. Talk about a misguided leader, along with his above-their-pay-grade advisors.  What is valid in all this political, marital mess and mayhem is what we read in Proverbs, a book written by a truly wise and godly king:

“The king’s heart is like the channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Prov. 21:1). 

The out-of-control carnality of Xerxes and his band of boozed-up “brothers” was never a match for the hand of God Almighty.  While their thinking was impaired, God’s thinking was laser-focused on working in and through the debauched debacle to create a situation where He would ensure His people stepped onto the world scene to accomplish His way and will.

Let’s briefly drill down into this as we step back from the story and offer some practical insight.  We’ll call this . . .

Wrap Up: The Practicum

Why is this chapter included in the inspired biblical text? Good question.  Put differently, what is the over-arching authorial intent of talking about the godless exploits of King Xerxes as seen in his lavish and lurid parties, which culminated in him disgracing himself and his wife? Knowing the sovereignty of God and understanding the fact that it is true, as King Nebuchadnezzar stated, “the Most High in the kingdom of men, gives it to whomever He will” (Dan. 4:17),  leaves us with a motif I believe the ancient author wove carefully into this intriguing chapter:

Carnal conflicts set the stage for your entrance to advance God’s purposes and plans.

You might need to hear that again.  Let it sink into your soul, especially if you are facing a carnal conflict:

  • someone is vying for your job
  • someone is testifying falsely about you.
  • someone is trying to take your right to work away from you because of a moral stance you took.
  • a godless mate is attempting to cast you in the most negative light to get the children in a divorce.
  • some siblings are saying and doing mean things to keep you from enjoying your part of your parents will.
  • Someone wants you to get off the bus.

How should you view your current conflict?  You should view it through the eyes of the sovereignty of God.  No matter how bad things have been, how bad they are, or how bad they will probably become, rest in the fact that your loving Lord is silently working to bring you out of the shadows and into the light so you can accomplish His will of pushing back evil when the time arises.

Sometimes, His will takes place on a bus.  Suddenly, you are faced with a moral and spiritual decision. Will you be intimidated and exit the bus and please the maniacal masses? Or,  will you courageously sit and please not only your Lord but also all those your decision will have a positive, profound impact on?

If it’s time for you to sit, then sit.

If it’s time for you, like Esther, to stand, then stand  . . . and watch God move out.

[1] Source: G. Peter Fleck in The Blessings of Imperfection, Christianity Today, Vol. 34, no. 9.

[2] Max Lucado, You Were Made For This Moment (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2021), 21.