Unseen God | Foolish King | Esther 1
March 15, 2020 Speaker: Christopher Rich Series: Unseen God: Hidden Hope Found in the Book of Esther
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Esther 1–1
Christopher Rich – March 15, 2020
Unseen God | Hidden Hope Found in the Book of Esther
PART I | Foolish King | Esther 1
Introduction | When do we need hope?
Good Morning Welcome to Damascus Road where we are Saved by Jesus Work, Changed by Jesus’ Grace, and Living on Jesus’s Mission. Today we begin a new series walking the through the book of Esther called UNSEEN GOD: Hidden Hope Found in the Book of Esther. Thank you for joining us!
When do we need hope? Is it when everything is going well in our lives or in the world, where the present seems pleasant and a clear vision of a flourishing future is in sight? Is it when we are led by strong and tender leaders whose virtue, caring character, and defense of justice is plainly visible to all? It is when we have a secure sense of self and we know we are valued and respected in our context even when we bring our full selves to the table? Or...
Is it when those with favor are more interested in self-preservation and vengeance than liberty, justice, and mercy for all? Is it when evil is not only plotting and desires destruction, but also has the means and influence to cause great harm? What about when the issue isn’t external to our environment but is internal to the core of our being? What about when we know in our actions or attitudes, we have fallen short. We’ve sinned or failed, and we wonder “Am I still redeemable? Is there any hope for me or my life to turn around? Am I still in God’s grace?” It is these moments of external, or internal, darkness when we individually or collectively need hope the most, to give us patience and endurance in the present and to give us a promise of a better future. The more intense the darkness, fear, or hopelessness the greater and more dramatic we want it answered. We want a miraculous sign/vision/prophetic word, we want a dramatic turn of events or circumstance, we want a hero to save or lead us, we want justice for our enemies, and we want mercy and grace for our short comings. Yet most often what we see or experience is silence from God or spiritual dryness. When we look for leadership, or in the mirror, all we see are ordinary/imperfect (even morally bankrupt) people. We want comfort but we are instead confronted with world events or personal circumstance which are too overwhelming to process and which we are powerless to change. Why does hope appear to be absent when it is most needed? How do we find hope and courage in broken world when God is not seen, heard, or felt?
The Old Testament Book of Esther is unique in the entirety of the Bible in that there is no mention of the God of the Bible. No people pray to Him seek His will or intervention. There are no declarations of devotion to Him and there is no supernatural vision from Him. There are no miracles which reveal His actions for His people and there is no prophetic voice to reveal His purposes to His people. Does that mean He is not present with His people and faithful to His promises for His people? No! The God of Esther is an UNSEEN GOD, but He is not an absent or inactive God. Hope has been Hidden in the ordinary, the imperfect, and even in the wicked, but it is still present waiting to be Found in the Book of Esther. It is in Esther, where we are reminded that often God works in seemingly ordinary ways through clearly imperfect people. Through coincidences in various circumstances, cunning in the face of challenges, and courage in the face of crisis we see glimpses of the present and active work of the clear hero. This hero is not only the hero of Esther, but of all History and of our individual stories. While there are fools, villains, victims, and complicated characters used to avert genocide and apply justice, there is only one true hero in this account and it’s not Esther! In the grand narrative of scripture, Jesus is THE perfect hero who comes to save His people, defeat evil, bring justice, give grace, and bring hope for a prosperous forever future. Esther is a small story that is part of a greater story given to show us God is good to preserve His people, fulfill His promises, and provide us with hope in the midst of overwhelming circumstances.
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. - Romans 15:4
We call this hope hidden because unlike the explicit theology of a New Testament epistle, or the extraordinary account of God saving His people in with a miraculous mighty hand in Exodus, God’s work to save is implied in the ordinary and coincidences and His active presence is obscured by His apparent absent. Yet great hope is present, and it is waiting to be found in various themes found in Esther including:
Hope in Ordinary and Extraordinary People – Without the apparent presence of a perfect hero all we are left with are imperfect and even immoral people. Because of sin, all God has to work with are imperfect people. Yet great influence is granted or allowed which ultimately serves God’s purposes. While God uses imperfect people, only He is the perfect Hero.
Hope in Circumstances and Coincidences – Proverbs 16:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” Where we see and experience coincidences and random chance impacting outcomes and circumstance both large and small, there is actually a God who is actively engage in the affairs of this world. This means we do not have to fear the cold random acts of an unfeeling universe, but we can have comfort in a God who works out all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His Purpose (Romans 8:28).
Hope in a Godless Society – Like Esther, Mordecai, and the Jews in Persia, Christians today are elect exiles in a world opposed to the rule and reign of God. We do not have a royal king in governmental power, we do not have a divine prophet as a direct conduit of God’s revelation and will, and we do not have an earthly kingdom to call our own. We will struggle with morally complex issues, engage in a hostile, politically charged climate, and at times have little or no control over the course of our lives and human events. Yet we know we are citizens of an eternal kingdom where Jesus rules and reigns with righteousness and Justice. We have been given the Word of God and the Holy Spirt to reveal and guide us in the will and way of God until we are finally home reunited with God the Father.
Hope for Sinners – Perhaps the greatest hope hidden in Esther is found in God’s enduring grace to His people who desperately need it. Israel, as the people of God, had been walking in disobedience and sin and they were wondering “are we still inside of God’s grace and mercy?” Have sinned beyond the ability to be covered by God’s forgiveness. Can we be restored? We have been faithless to Him, but will He remain faithful to what He has promised to save and redeem His people? Is there hope for us? This is answered both in God acting to preserving the line of the promised savior regardless of the innocence (or lack thereof) of His people AND in God reversing the fortune of people who had been living under decree of destruction. The climax of this story, a dramatic reversal of destiny that should give great hope to all who hear and receive the good news of the Gospel. The Gospel is a reversal of destiny from ordinary sinners destined for wrath being changed to adopted royalty by the extraordinary work of Jesus in our place taking the darkness of our sin and death on the cross and giving us the hope, life, and light of his righteousness in resurrection.
PART I |Boastful Banquet | Esther 1:1-9
Esther 1:1-9 | Now in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, 2 in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne in Susa, the citadel, 3 in the third year of his reign he gave a feast for all his officials and servants. The army of Persia and Media and the nobles and governors of the provinces were before him, 4 while he showed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor and pomp of his greatness for many days, 180 days. 5 And when these days were completed, the king gave for all the people present in Susa the citadel, both great and small, a feast lasting for seven days in the court of the garden of the king's palace. 6 There were white cotton curtains and violet hangings fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rods and marble pillars, and also couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and precious stones. 7 Drinks were served in golden vessels, vessels of different kinds, and the royal wine was lavished according to the bounty of the king. 8 And drinking was according to this edict: “There is no compulsion.” For the king had given orders to all the staff of his palace to do as each man desired. 9 Queen Vashti also gave a feast for the women in the palace that belonged to King Ahasuerus.
Boastful Banquet (v1-9) – King Xerxes/Ahasuerus - Drunk, egotistical, reactionary, inconsistent, insecure, sex crazed, easily manipulated, consumer, paranoid and anxiety ridden. More overgrown frat boy than faithful servant leader, this King of Persia might as well be straight out of central casting for unstable decadent dictator. Pagan in spiritually with his allegiance pledged seemingly to himself alone, his authority and even his folly and weaknesses are used by God to both protect His people and punish evil. Ahasuerus (Xerxes) ruled a kingdom which spanned from Africa to central Asia. This was a massive empire made up of a diverse people groups, cultures, languages, but united under the power of the king who ruled with an iron fist. It was a big kingdom ruled by a small king. Possessing substantial authority was not enough for him, he needed to flaunt it. Military Mighty is on display, political power is wielded, and Earthly wealth shown in extravagance. He has the army, officials, and his money all in front of him arrayed to show him the most glory. It uses the words glory, pomp, splendor. A six-month season of national feasting, which would put a Rio carnival to shame, was capped off with a week-long party in the capital city. Who is invited? EVERYONE!! I mean who wouldn’t want this? Maybe you don’t like to be the center of attention but to clearly possess great wealth, power, and influence in the world would be intoxicating. We are made for glory to desire and experience enjoyment, but when it’s directed exclusively for ourselves it becomes empty.
Why do these details matter? These a rare occurrence in the Bible to give this type of detail on the setting and scene. There is an attention to detail that makes whatever pintrest board you’ve made for your home remodel look lame. Opulent to the extreme down to the floor tile. With no expenses spared, everyone had a personal gold goblet (different kinds) and there were no limits observed, when it says “everyone could drink with no compulsion it was pulling back the order that people had to drink when the king did so all the partying wouldn’t be because they had to but because they wanted to. This might seem nice but is was to give the party an air of authenticity. Ordered authenticity. The details and micromanagement over every act and behavior is not a king leading with freedom and power but with weakness and insecurity. It was all to feed the foolish desire for glory of one man. This is the jumping off point for a narrative of what life was like in this place and for these people. In this land and under this king are the exiled people of God. People are not led by a loving king of integrity but a prideful little man of insecurity. When things seem good and it’s party time it doesn’t seem to matter much but when there is trial and difficulty this type of self-centered and self-serving leadership can be greatly discouraging. It has the appearance of “fullness” when in fact it is incredibly empty. When it faces challenges, it is exposed as weak.
PART II |Royal Refusal and Demeaning Decree | Esther 1:10-22
Esther 1:10-22 | 10 On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha and 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 show the peoples and the princes her beauty, for she was lovely to look at. 12 But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's command delivered by the eunuchs. At this the king became enraged, and his anger burned within him.13 Then the king said to the wise men who knew the times (for this was the king's procedure toward all who were versed in law and judgment, 14 the men next to him being Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, who saw the king's face, and sat first in the kingdom): 15 “According to the law, what is to be done to Queen Vashti, because she has not performed the command of King Ahasuerus delivered by the eunuchs?” 16 Then Memucan said in the presence of the king and the officials, “Not only against the king has Queen Vashti done wrong, but also against all the officials and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. 17 For the queen's behavior will be made known to all women, causing them to look at their husbands with contempt, since they will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, and she did not come.’ 18 This very day the noble women of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen's behavior will say the same to all the king's officials, and there will be contempt and wrath in plenty. 19 If it please the king, let a royal order go out from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes so that it may not be repealed, that Vashti is never again to come before King Ahasuerus. And let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she. 20 So when the decree made by the king is proclaimed throughout all his kingdom, for it is vast, all women will give honor to their husbands, high and low alike.” 21 This advice pleased the king and the princes, and the king did as Memucan proposed. 22 He sent letters to all the royal provinces, to every province in its own script and to every people in its own language, that every man be master in his own household and speak according to the language of his people.
Royal Refusal and Demeaning Decree (v10-22) – Drunk with power, his own sense of self-importance, and alcohol, Ahasuerus wants to show off his queen (likely only) wearing her crown as an objectified trophy to his court. He wasn’t honoring her as his princess with dignity he was exhibiting her as his property for a group of degenerates. Drinking is “under no compulsion” but the Queens presence is. What happens next is what begins to expose the weakness of this king/kingdom. Queen Vashti publicly refuses to acquiesce to this exhibition and Ahasuerus’ fragile ego is enraged. He is supposedly able to be in control of an entire empire but is unable to control his emotions. This refusal matters. Why? She is an influencer, a trend setter. How she reacts will have an impact on the culture of the rest of the kingdom. People magazine would have a profile. The King is incredibly insecure and given to instability and easily influenced. Insecurity can be contagious. The rest of the frat guys are like “if your wife doesn’t listen to you then whose wife will listen to anyone? There is fear a great feminist backlash. Women will start to see their husbands in contempt #IrefuseMyKing #IStandWithHer will start trending, “Well behaved women don’t make history.” Under foolish counsel, the king strips Vashti of her title and issues an irrevocable national decree given to all women requiring them to unquestioningly respond to their husbands as kings of their domiciles. This will actually serve to high light what happen to everyone in the country. The reaction is laughable, on purpose.
When insecurity is paired with power the response to resistance is domination. We all like to kick and thrash when we don’t get our way. When leaders are unstable, we are easily unsettled because we don’t know who we are going to get. How do you react when your sense of self is challenged? When you’ve stepped in it?
If every fool wore a crown, we should all be kings. – Welsh Proverb We are all foolish kings. While we are of great value and worth, we are not meant to be kings and queens of our own kingdoms. In foolishness, we believe our greatest flourishing will come in rejection of God’s authority rather than in humble response to it. The king is counselled to reject this queen in order another who is “better than she” we read this section and it makes us cry out for one who is “better than he.” We all need a better king! Where is Hope?
PART III |Jesus is the Better King |
Psalm 95:3 | For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.
JESUS IS THE BETTER KING - In Jesus, we have a king whose arrival into history was exceedingly humble, a baby born to a poor family. He lived in obscurity for years. His ministry was to the marginalized and His Kingdom is built with the foolish of the world to shame the wise. Coming not to be served but to serve, King Jesus is who we want in charge. Because He is a better than us!
Jesus kingdom is big, but it has no limits it extends beyond any geographic and cultural borders we have erected and it spans across time. His kingdom has peace and righteousness. Isaiah 9:7 | Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.
Jesus Military might, political power, and wealth are both infinite and eternal. They are without equal! He is the Lord of Host (God of Angel Armies). He is the King of Kings (there is no ruler or authority above King Jesus) He owns the cattle on a thousand hills and his riches are immeasurable.
2 Cor 8:9 | For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
Jesus displays His identity and character with humility and service. He didn’t come to be served but to serve. When Jesus throws the last part/meal with His disciples he doesn’t demand they’re parade around for his pleasure instead he humbles himself and washes their feet.
Jesus uses sober wisdom and is not driven to drunken whims. Far from insecure or given to instability. Jesus loves perfectly and He is our rock than cannot be shaken or broken.
Jesus cover our shame and vulnerability. Jesus knows our sin, our shame, he knows us in our nakedness. He doesn’t call us out to be exposed and exhibited to a group of cackling on lookers who don’t see us a people but as property. He endures the cross for us because he despises our shame. Jesus does not desire to expose our weakness or shame. Rather, He clothes His bride (The Church) in His righteousness and will present us Holy and without blemish. Ephesians 5:25-27 | 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
Confess to God where you have desired your kingdom over His. Ask the Holy Spirit to grant you repentance from foolishness and to give you new desires for God’s will in your life. Pray “Your Kingdom Come on Earth as it is in Heaven” and that His kingdom would reign first in your heart. Praise Jesus for being a King who establishes a better Kingdom now and forever. Trust Jesus!