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Jan 24, 2016

The Queen of Beauty and Courage

The Queen of Beauty and Courage

Passage: Esther 1:1-10:3

Preacher: Eric Stapleton

Series: The Story

Category: God's Sovereignty

Keywords: persia, xerxes, amalekite; esther; sovereignty

Summary:

Who was Esther? Did she have a choice in her destiny? If God isn't mentioned in the book, what does he have to do with the story? What are the enemies of your soul?

Detail:

Today John is out town, so I get the opportunity to share the Word today. Originally we were supposed to be in chapter 19 of The Story called the return home but I got my weeks mixed up and I thought we be in the book of Esther so that’s what I had planned on doing so I’m sticking with my original plan so here we are. But it’s ironic because last week we were discussing Daniel and his buddies Shadrach Meshach and Abednego and how shining their light in a fallen world, in a God antagonistic world was to maintain godly standards which for them meant not bowing down to idols, it’s meant not compromising the laws of cleanliness in regard to types of food they might eat, and it also meant praying to their God when they were told not to. It meant being clear about who they were and whose people they were. And all the while I’m thinking on know, I’m preaching about Esther next week. And although the book of Esther doesn’t showcase God or his commandments what we have is the heroine who does compromise these very same things yet it appears that God still uses her to save his people. This was a hard one, I’m asking myself right away how I communicate this.

The book of Esther is located between the books of Nehemiah and Job and it is the last of five books in the Hebrew collection of historical books that we find in the Bible. We don’t know who wrote the book. Some think it was a Persian Jew I think this is likely. Something it was Mordechai a key character, Esther’s older cousin in the narrative.

Some, including Martin Luther believed the book should not be in the Bible because throughout the whole narrative the name of God is not mentioned, neither are any references to Jewish law or sacrifice or any of those things that I would have you know that Esther compromised. And by the way I’m actually not going to paint Esther to be a bad heroine. That’s not my point. Ultimately I just want to point to some things we can learn about God’s grace, second chances, and faith.

The setting of the story is estimated to be the fifth century BC (485–464 b.c.) During the reign of King Ahasuerus who is commonly known as Xerxes I Or Xerxes the Great.

This story actually takes place after the Jews, for the most part have returned to Jerusalem from exile. At this point the exile is over but many Jews decided to stay in Persia. I think this is interesting and maybe it is the reason why references to God are left out, all the religious people went back home. I think it points out God’s grace and sovereignty all the more.

So, I’m gonna tell the story in my own way by showcasing a series of characters to emphasize certain dynamics that are important I think in the story. But before that I should probably give you the skeleton version, a review of the book of Esther.

So, there was a king named Ahasuerus, the Greeks Call Him Xerxes the Great. He is the king of Persia and he has a big party that lasts 180 days and he gets good and drunk and summons his wife, the Queen Vashti, to dance for him. She refuses to come, the king loses face in front of all his nobles who advised him to banish her. So he does and then he has a beauty contest throughout the whole kingdom of Persia to get a new wife. A young woman named Esther selected. She is a Jew but her caregiver her older cousin Mordechai insist that she keep her nationality a secret. She becomes Queen and nobody knows that she is Jewish but Mordechai sticks by. Because he’s Jewish Mordechai will not bow down before the king’s right-hand man, a man named Haman who is an Amalekite, an enemy of the Jews. Haman gets so frustrated by Mordechai that he decides to get the king to make a law talking about how the Jews are people that just do not belong in Persia and need to be exterminated because they do not honor the laws of the Medes and Persians. The king agrees and so the dice is rolled in the day is determined when all the Jews throughout all the provinces will be killed and plundered. Yes, it happens that fast. The decree goes out and everybody knows because it is the law of the land and everybody knows when it is going to happen. It’s going to happen on March 24th. That is the day when all the people who hate the Jews are allowed and armed to kill them, on that particular day and not before. Mordechai realizes that he has to appeal to Esther, his younger cousin to try to save the day. He tries to convince her that she has been placed in royalty for such a time as this. This means she will have to reveal her identity and her heritage to get the king to help. She is taking quite a big risk. This is a big deal because the king cannot revoke his own law because he’s considered divinity and his divinity would be called into question he canceled his own law it implies that is not divinity. But Esther comes through and she convinces the king to make a law saying that the Jews are allowed to attack those who would kill them on March 23. And Haman, the Amalekite and his 10 sons are also killed, hung on the gallows that Haman had specifically designed for Mordechai. There is a lot of intrigue and reversals and a lot of finer points of the story that I’m not sharing today you really should read the book for yourself because it’s a good story, it’s a fun story.

I’m about to take dramatic license and I always want to be sure you understand that when I do a drama up here or something like, I’m not necessarily trying to portray things ‘the way they happened.’ The idea is to look at something from a different angle to gain an equivalent insight to the characters in the text.

 So what I did is I wrote some letters to the people in the story of Esther asking them about certain concepts that come out: Power, Beauty, Justice, God’s Sovereignty, and Courage. And got these letters back from some of the key characters

 

Xerxes:

You want to know about power? I am King Ahasuerus. You may have heard of me. I burnt down the city of Athens. The Greeks call me Xerxes. I am Xerxes, great king, king of kings, the king of all countries which speak all kinds of languages, the king of the entire big far-reaching earth. When I want to burn down a city I will burn it down in a big way. When I want to throw a party, I throw a big party. I threw a party that lasted six months long. We drink, we eat and do other things that nobility are entitled to. Who could be more noble than I. Why such a big party? Why not? Sometimes you need to have such an event not to celebrate a victory but just to take stock of all the abundance that the gods have granted us. Some said that I was drowning my sorrows because of my defeat in Greece. I say no, I wouldn’t want to frame it that way, not for six months I don’t. No it’s a celebration of all that I have, all that I rule. And what of it? My generals and I and my advisors get a little carried away with drink and what of it? All you can drink, all you can eat, all you can consume. As look out across all my people I am moved to pity of the brevity of human life, all you will not even be alive in a hundred years time. So, live for now! Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow, or the next day, you die.

Such a pity though. I loved her. Who? Indeed I cannot grieve her. I banished her, my formerly beautiful queen. It was just a joke really. But I am the king when I summon my woman I expect her to come. We had been drinking …. For six months and one of my advisors suggested that we summon the queen to dance for us. And one thing led to another and another advisor, said, “make sure she wears her crown.” And then another said, “make sure she wears only her crown.” Ha ha. It seemed funny at the time. I don’t remember if I actually gave the order to the eunuchs that way or not. It’s not the point. I AM THE KING. SHE WAS NOT THE KING! She should not have so lightly humiliated me by not obeying my royal command. I banished her. She was a powerful woman, Queen Vashti was beautiful and powerful. But not so powerful or beautiful as my new Queen Esther; not so powerful as to convince me to sentence seventy five thousand of my own people to death as Queen Esther did. That is power.

 

[Now I wanted to know how beautiful Esther was so I wrote to her beautician, now since it was a guy I made certain assumptions but maybe I was wrong:]

 

Hegai:

Do you want to know what is beautiful? Hello. I am in love. This might not seem like such an odd thing. Indeed songs are written about this type of thing often. But you see I am the king’s eunuch. It is assumed that I am not capable of falling in love. Indeed that is why I am hired to manage the king’s harem, the king’s women. And there are many things that I am not capable and will never know the pleasure of. I’m at peace with that. This is what our gods have deemed fit. But I am in love with Queen Esther. She is one in a million. I don’t think you understand. This is not merely my opinion. She was especially chosen from hundreds of thousands of women from the 127 provinces of Persia spanning from India to Ethiopia. She is that beautiful. And there is something different about her. We all know it now. She is a Jew, a defeated people. And it’s no wonder, the Jews only have one god as opposed to our many. What is a wonder is why our gods allowed Queen Esther such a triumph for her own people. Maybe they love her, too. Now, that is beautiful.

[Hey, why doesn't he give glory to Esther's God? Because nobody else did either. That's what happens when God's people don't give glory to God, nobody else does either.]

 

 

Haman:

Do you want to know about justice? It was my destiny to destroy the Jewish people. I am not Persian by birth. Like many of the other people of this kingdom, I was imported. I, Haman am descended from King Agag, an Amalekite. When that mongrel, incestuous race of slaves called the Hebrews stole out of Egypt hundreds of years ago, we Amalekites were right on their tails. They outnumbered us, so we attacked them in the rear where they were weak. We attacked their women, children, the stragglers and elderly to take away future generations. You can’t have future generations if you don’t have women. We were forward thinkers. My turn came. I came to power for such a time as this. Wipe them out I said. All of them, men, women, and children. Erase these Jews from our midst. I even paid from my own purse to see it through. I had the king’s edict on my side which could not be revoked. The destruction of the Jews was before me and the king and his beautiful new queen behind me. How was I to know that the queen was a Jew? Now I am destroyed, attacked from the rear by a woman. That is justice.

 

[I actually wrote to Mordecai asking about God's Sovereignty, how God shapes all events to His glory. I don't think Mordecai understood or maybe he doesn't believe in God.]

Mordecai:

Do you want to know about luck? You’re looking at it. My name is Mordecai. I am cousin to the Queen of Persia! Because of my age, many have supposed that I am Queen Esther’s uncle. Not so! I’m her cousin. And her name isn’t Esther, its Hadassah. Her parents died and I took her in. Homeliest thing you ever saw. Charming though and she had a lot of chudtzpah. I thought she was joking when she said she was going to be queen of the world someday. Oh, she meant it. Haddy grew up fast and the next thing you know she’s gone and entered herself in a contest to be…queen of the world. Here’s the kicker, she wins the beauty contest. I’m realizing that I’ve got to rethink this thing. I need to stay close to Haddy. Everybody in Persia thinks little homely Haddy is the most beautiful thing they ever saw. Haddy, my little cousin becomes the Queen of stinking Persia! All of a sudden I realize that there is something,  I don’t know, special, um, fortuitous, about this. Destiny, fate, serendipity or something even scarier that our Jewish forefathers thought up is shaping these events. Thing is, Haddy, Esther that is. By the way, that was my idea. “Change your name to Esther and don’t tell anybody you’re Jewish…ever.” Anyway, it turns out that there’s this anti-semitic, whack job named Haman who is really close to the king, decides he wants to kill all the Jews in Persia. I don’t even know why. Stinking maniac. He literally rolls the dice to decide which day he’s going do it, March 24th. That’s when it hits me! My little Hadassah, Queen Esther has been placed in royalty to stop this fiendish plot! Talk about luck!

Esther:

Do you want to know about courage? So would I. My name is Hadassah. I’m known as Queen Esther. I’ve always been told that I was beautiful. My cousin Mordy always teased me that I was going to be a beautiful queen someday. I never believed him. I never wanted to be here. Here I am. I’m not Persian. I wanted the life my parents had. I wanted to marry a Jewish man and have Jewish children. They died when I was young though. My cousin Mordy took me in. Everyone just assumed that he was my uncle. I agreed to enter the kings beauty contest because I hoped that maybe I’d be noticed by some Jewish man. But that wasn’t going to happen because Mordy said I should change my name to sound more Persian. I thought about speaking up but Mordy has looked out for me all these years. I didn’t want to be ungrateful. I know I’m Jewish and I know that I’m supposed to live like Moses said to, I’m not supposed to marry a foreign man or eat unclean things. But that’s what they made me do. I could have refused but they were treating me so special. I felt so adored. I’d never felt that way. The king’s eunuch was especially nice to me. He singled me out and practically rigged the contest so that I would win. I don’t know why. Mordy says it was luck. I don’t know about luck. I know about terror. One day I find out that there is a wicked man named Haman who hates my people and the way of life I gave up; he wanted to destroy everything. Here I was in the opulence of the palace and my people, my people who I left behind were going to be made to suffer. Who was I to do something about it? How could I plead to the God of our fathers when I had sinned so greatly? Many suppose that it was difficult for me to approach the king unbidden. No. It was much more terrifying to approach God. So fasted with my maidens and all the Jews in Susa for three days. During that time I found the courage to come up with a plan, a plan to tell the truth about who I am and what I stand for. It wasn’t me. I’m sure it looked like me and sounded like me but it wasn’t me that spoke to the king, “a foe and enemy is that wicked Haman.” That wasn’t me. That was courage. That was God.

Some days, very few of them, I can relate to Daniel, Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego. I feel like I’m being persecuted for taking a stand, warred against by the agents of evil with lies and temptations.

There are many others where maybe I feel like an Esther (as dramatized), that I’m enjoying what the world has to offer a little too much, maybe even on a sinful level. Maybe you’re there. Maybe you’re very comfortable and you don’t have any risks to take for the gospel or living rightly in God’s sight. Maybe there is a sinful habit that you can’t seem to shake. Maybe it’s just something that you don’t want to give up…a relationship, a media choice, or an attitude. Maybe you’re worried that God will never take it away.

For that I want to take a look at the bigger picture of this conflict. Let’s go back to Israel, persecuted by the Egyptians and set free in the book of Exodus.

Deuteronomy 25:17–18 (NASB95)

  17      “Remember what Amalek did to you along the way when you came out from Egypt,

  18      how he met you along the way and attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God.

Exodus 17:14 (NASB95)

  14      Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”

 

But this is not something that happened right away. This blotting out of Amalek.

1 Samuel 15:3 (NASB95)

    3      ‘Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’ ”

1 Samuel 15:8–9 (NASB95)

    8      He captured Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword.

    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 not willing to destroy them utterly; but everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.

We know that Samuel the Prophet comes along and does kill Agag because King Saul neglected to.

Agag…does that name sound familiar. So if Agag had children and they eventually formed a village or a tribe of their own what would that tribe or people be called?

Agagites.

Esther 3:10 (NASB95)

  10      Then 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.

Many scholars believe that this same Haman was indeed an Amalekite descended from King Agag. This is assuming that King Agag had kids of his own before he was cut to pieces by the Prophet Samuel.

It would seem that it should have been over when the Prophet Samuel cut down King Agag. It would seem that the sons of Simeon finished the job in King Hezekiah’s day as recorded in 1 Chronicles 4:42. It wasn’t though. Somehow, there was another Agagite that made into Persia with the Jews and he was named Haman.

Haman had ten sons,

Esther 9:13–16 (NASB95)

  13      Then said Esther, “If it pleases the king, let tomorrow also be granted to the Jews who are in Susa to do according to the edict of today; and let Haman’s ten sons be hanged on the gallows.”

  14      So the king commanded that it should be done so; and an edict was issued in Susa, and Haman’s ten sons were hanged.

  15      The Jews who were in Susa assembled also on the fourteenth day of the month Adar and killed three hundred men in Susa, but they did not lay their hands on the plunder.

  16      Now the rest of the Jews who were in the king’s provinces assembled, to defend their lives and rid themselves of their enemies, and kill 75,000 of those who hated them; but they did not lay their hands on the plunder.

But the Amalekites or the Agagites are never mentioned again after the book of Esther. The point of this is that despite man’s unfaithfulness and incompleteness, God still can see the work through. If not a king to do the job then maybe a queen.

God is a God of second chances, and thirds and fourths. If God is big enough to handle the Amalekites using the hands of people that don’t honor him publicly, maybe he’s big enoughfor the ‘Amalekites’ in your life, whatever they are—persecution, lies, temptations, disappointments and dare I say it, sins.

The book of Esther is such a contrast to the Book of Daniel. The setting is the same but in Daniel God is glorified by His key people publicly by Daniel and his cohorts and subsequently by the pagan kings—Nebuchadnezzar and Darius—and God saves those key people. In Esther, God isn’t glorified publicly by his key people, yet he still saves those people and everybody else. Are you getting it? You’re not saved by your puny acts of righteousness. God is glorified through them and He does reward them, you’re not saved by them. You’re saved because God is good.

Psalm 103:10–12 (NKJV)

10    He has not dealt with us according to our sins,

Nor punished us according to our iniquities.

11    For as the heavens are high above the earth,

So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;

12    As far as the east is from the west,

So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

 

1 John 1:9 (NASB95)

    9      If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Do you think that these Bible verses only have a one time use and then they don’t count for you anymore?

Even Esther who had compromised her faith and heritage, turned to God for help.

Esther 4:15–16 (NASB95)

Esther Plans to Intercede

  15      Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai,

  16      “Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.”

Hebrews 4:15–16 (NASB95)

  15      For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

  16      Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.