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The Book of Esther #1
The Book of Esther #1
Esther 1:1-1:22
 
A rather weak-willed husband who was having some trouble getting his wife to submit to him went to a psychiatrist to get some help. He was advised by the psychiatrist to assert himself. "You don’t have to let your wife henpeck you. Go home and show her you’re the boss. After all, a man’s home is his castle."
 
The husband took the doctor’s advice. He rushes home, slams the door, shakes his fist in his wife’s face, and growls, "From now on, you’re taking orders from me. I want my supper right now, and when you get it on the table, go upstairs, and lay out my best clothes. Tonight, I’m going out with the boys, and you are going to stay at home where you belong. And another thing, guess who’s going to comb my hair, give me a shave, and tie my necktie?"
His wife says calmly, "The undertaker."
 
The people of Israel, like this husband, wrongly thought that they were the ruler of their home too. They tried to assert that authority, not against a man but against God. They wanted to control their own destiny, doing things their own way, setting up and worshipping their own false gods.
 
God didn’t let them get away with it. He sent the Babylonian army to invade the land and to take many of the Israelites for them to be resettled in Babylon and the surrounding provinces. Because the Israelites refused to willingly submit to the authority of a good God over their lives, they were forced to submit to the authority of a pagan king.
After 70 years living in exile, Cyrus, a Persian king who had no reason to submit to God’s authority did and released the Israelites to return to Israel so that they could rebuild the temple and settle in the land.
 
In 538 B.C., a man named Zerubbabel led a group of 42,360 Jews back to the land to begin that process. Eighty years later, Ezra, the high priest brought 1500 men with him back from exile. And finally, in 445 B.C., Nehemiah led another group of Jews on the treacherous journey to the Promised Land so that they could re-build the protective wall around Jerusalem.
 
Three different trips and three different opportunities for the children of Israel to go back to the land God had given them. But some chose not to return to Israel. They had gotten comfortable in Babylon – the place of their captivity.
 
Many if not most of them had been born and grown up in Babylon. It was the only physical home that they knew. Those who had come there from Israel in the deportation were old now. A return trip to Israel would be treacherous. There was a lot of re-building to do. Re-building took energy – something that they had in short supply at their age.
 
It would be much easier to just live out the rest of their lives in the land that they had come to know as home. Israel was where they were supposed to go, but Babylon was where they chose to remain. They should have gone back to Israel.  But hey didn’t. 
 
 
 
The Old Testament book of Esther is the story of what happened to the people of God as a result of that decision to disregard God’s authority and live according to their own rules and their own ideas. Do you know any people like that? The book of Esther fits right in with our society today.
 
But Esther is also the story of how God, in His sovereignty which is his ultimate rule over the affairs of men, can take even the rebelliousness of man and accomplish His overall plan.
 
In the story of Esther, there are 5 main characters – King Ahasuerus, Queen Vashti, Esther, Mordecai and Haman. I want to introduce you to the first two characters today.
 
By the way, y may have noticed that I didn’t list God as one of the main characters in the book. That’s because God’s name is never mentioned in Esther. In fact, it is one of only two books in the Old Testament of which that is true.  The Song of Solomon is the other. 
 
In fact, there aren’t even any prayers to God or any record of anyone praying in the book. But God still has a role. His role is behind the scenes, orchestrating the free-will actions of the players with the result that seemingly impossible situations, insignificant facts, and evil people all work together to write the conclusion that brings God glory.
 
There may be some here today who feel like your life is out of control. It may be because you have rejected God’s authority in some area of your life. That rejection either has or will send your life into a tailspin.
Regardless of your acceptance of it, God is still in control. You are a participant in God’s plan, and God’s plan will be achieved. How you respond to His authority determines whether you get to bask in His blessing or suffer His judgment.
 
For some of you, it may be that you are trying to do everything according to God’s plan, willingly submitting to His authority, and yet things still seem to be going haywire. Regardless of whether you can see it, God is in control. Keep on being obedient. In the end, you will see how all the confusing pieces fit together into a beautiful picture.
 
As evidence of that fact, we have the story of Esther. My goal is to examine one chapter of the book each week for the next 10 weeks. We begin today with chapter 1. And what I want to do, since many are unfamiliar with the book, is tell the story and then try to draw some very practical lessons from it. 
 
The first thing you notice in the story of Esther is
 
1. The power
 
verses 1-2
 
Now we learn quite a lot right off the bat.  We learn there is a king whose name is Ahasuerus or Xerxes and that he rules over a vast kingdom.  In fact, it stretched from India to Egypt. That means that it would have included Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel and many other countries along the way. All this, he ruled from his palace in the capitol city of Shushan, which would be in modern day Iraq. He had inherited this kingdom from his father, Darius 1.
Like a lot of children who inherit great wealth and power, he didn’t really grasp what he controlled and wanted to control more. One area he did not yet control was Greece. Greece was a powerful foe. Ahasuerus’ father had attempted to conquer Greece only to be defeated.
 
If the son was to be successful where the father had failed, he was going to need the support and resources of the whole kingdom. Ahasuerus’ plan for getting that support was to bring the nobles and officials of all the provinces to the capitol and party with them.
 
2. The Party
 
verses 4-9
 
Ahasuerus was doing much the same thing that company executives would do if they were trying to get wealthy businessmen to invest in their company. They would invite them to their base of operations, give them a tour of the beautiful home office, introduce them to their best and brightest employees and then wine and dine them with a catered party in which no expense would be spared.
 
Ahasuerus kept up this display of the glory and majesty of his kingdom for about 6 months – nobles and princes coming and going throughout that whole time period.
 
At the end of that 6 months, he threw the party to end all parties. It’s kind of like that final flurry of fireworks right at the end of a 30-minute fireworks show.
This party was a little different from the previous six months because it wasn’t just for the nobles. It was for everyone, including all the common people. It was as if Ahasuerus was using this another evidence of his control over his people.
 
He was so secure in his position that he was willing to let even the most common person come into the capitol, intermingle with all the nobles without fearing any attempt on his life or anything embarrassing that one of these commoners might say or do. He wanted to present an image of a king that everyone loved, trusted and would be willing to do anything for - a king that had the complete loyalty and unquestioning obedience of his people.
 
3. The Problem
 
On the last day of this party, everyone was in good spirits. The wine had been flowing freely, everyone drinking as much or as little as they wanted. Ahasuerus knew that his plan was working. Everything that he’d ever wanted was about to come to pass. All the other nobles were right on the edge of signing on the bottom line to invest in his great quest to stretch the boundaries of the kingdom.
 
There was one more thing that he was sure would cause them to step over the edge and commit themselves – something that the party had been missing - women.
 
According to verse 9, the king’s wife, Queen Vashti had been having a party with all the women while the men were doing their thing. Persian custom said that men’s wives were not to be seen by other men. This was especially true of the queen.
Though the text doesn’t say it, I wouldn’t be surprised if the women’s party wasn’t also part of his plan. Maybe he figured that if he couldn’t win over the men, his wife would win over their wives, and they in turn would convince their husbands to go along with Ahasuerus in his goals of conquest. She was his plan B if plan A went bust. As it turned out, plan A was working perfectly.
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But at this point, the king makes a fatal mistake:  Without checking with his wife to get her permission, Ahasuerus decided to add one final twist to the plan.
 
Look at verses 10-11
 
The king sent some of his servants to get Queen Vashti to come and parade in front of that crowd of drunken men. He knew that those men, especially since their own self-control was dulled with wine, would lose all remaining self-control once they saw the queen, for the text says that “she was beautiful to behold”.
 
But the problem was, as we see in verse 12, she refused to go along with his command. 
 
Verse 12
 
Can you imagine how that played out?  “The king says to his guests, ‘I have a real surprise for you. I want you to see my queen. She is going to stand before you with the royal crown upon her head. She is very beautiful.’
 
In a few minutes one of the servants whispers in the king’s ear, ‘We’ve got a little problem.  She won’t come.’
Can you imagine the king having to get up and say, ‘I’m very sorry, gentlemen, but we will have to change the program of the evening. Our main attraction did not arrive. The queen will not be here after all.’
 
That started the buzzing throughout the banquet. The guests began to say, ‘What kind of a king is he that he cannot even command the queen?’”
“Do we dare to trust him to lead us into battle if he cannot even control his own wife?”
 
Imagine the embarrassment that Ahasuerus must have felt. With the queen refusing to do what the king asked, he was about to lose any chance of a commitment for military action out of the 127 provinces.
 
So the king, who is used to getting his way in every situation, realizing all that is at stake and all that he is about to lose, loses control of his temper.
 
Look at vs. 12
 
This king who is bent on controlling the world, loses control of the situation and loses control of himself. Immediately, Ahasuerus tries to take back control of the situation. He calls together his chief advisors and asks them what they think he should do. One guy by the name of Memucan speaks up and makes it clear that things are much worse than the king imagines.
 
Look at vs. 16-18
 
According to Memucan’s take on things, it wasn’t just a military conquest that was on the line. The whole kingdom was on the line.
If the king didn’t do something fast, and something drastic, there was going to be chaos in every home in the kingdom. Vashti’s actions would spark a revolt of all women throughout the empire. It would be the first women’s liberation movement.
 
I mean, I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine what it would be like if my wife didn’t do what I told her to do! Can you??
 
So the king issues
 
4.  The Proclamation
 
verses 19-20
 
Memucan’s proposal had two parts. First, Vashti was never to come into the king’s presence again. And second, she was to be replaced as queen by someone who was more deserving than she – in other words, someone who would be more willing to listen to and obey every instruction from the king.
 
Now, remember, before you go home and decide to follow his example, Ahasuerus is mad. When we’re mad, we all say and do things that we later regret.
 
Depending on those actions, once we have calmed down, we can go back to that person that aroused our anger, seek their forgiveness and see the relationship restored.
 
For Ahasuerus, forgiveness and restoration were not an option.
 
 
 
Look in the middle of vs. 19
 
No law in the Persian Empire was changeable or erasable. Knowing this, you would think that the king would have been very cautious about any law that he made. But he was so mad, and the stakes were so high that he went along with Memucan’s idea.
 
verses 21-22
 
Reconciliation between Ahasuerus and Vashti became an impossibility as soon as his signature was placed on that law. No matter the consequences or how he felt about it later, there was no changing it.
 
All that mattered to him at that moment – more than love or companionship or pleasure – was his reputation and being in control. The proclamation went out to all 127 provinces in every language of the whole empire to make sure that there was no one who misunderstood – by order of the king, “every man should be ruler of his own household”. After all, a man must be in control at home because a man’s home is his castle.
 
That brings us to the conclusion of chapter one. King Ahasuerus is back in control, or so he thinks. Queen Vashti has been deposed, and the scene is set for the entrance of Esther in chapter 2. We will look at that next week.
 
So what do we learn from this first chapter? 
 
The first lesson we find is
 
 
 
1. You Can’t Control Life.
 
Ahasuerus thought he could. Everything around him – the palace, the servants, the wealth, the army – it all seemed to be crying out that he was in control. He did not realize the truth of Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.”
 
 The reason Ahasuerus couldn’t control life is the same reason that you and I can’t. God is already in control. Instead of trying to control life, be thankful for it. Use life for the glory of God rather than your own glory. 
 
Here’s the second thing we learn:
 
2. You Can’t Control Circumstances.
 
Ahasuerus tried. He tried to make everything just perfect. While the circumstances were under his control and as he wanted them, then he was merry. But as soon as a circumstance came up that was unplanned and potentially damaging, he reacted in anger and with foolish decisions that he would later regret.
 
Vashti couldn’t control that the king sent for her when she least expected it. Esther, the young Jewish girl that we will meet next week, couldn’t control that she was born in a foreign land or that both her parents died when she was very young. But both women could and did control how they responded to their circumstances, and both chose to respond according to their convictions regardless of the consequences.
The story is told of a king in Africa who had a close friend with whom he grew up. The friend had a habit of looking at every situation that ever occurred in his life (positive or negative) and remarking, "This is good!"
 
One day the king and his friend were out on a hunting expedition. The friend would load and prepare the guns for the king. The friend had apparently done something wrong in preparing one of the guns, for after taking the gun from his friend, the king fired it and his thumb was blown off. Examining the situation, the friend remarked as usual, "This is good!" To which the king replied, "No, this is not good!" and proceeded to send his friend to jail.
 
About a year later, the king was hunting in an area that he should have known to stay clear of. Cannibals captured him and took him to their village. They tied his hands, stacked some wood, set up a stake and bound him to the stake. As they came near to set fire to the wood, they noticed that the king was missing a thumb. Being superstitious, they never ate anyone who was less than whole. So untying the king, they sent him on his way.
 
As he returned home, he was reminded of the event that had taken his thumb and felt remorse for his treatment of his friend. He went immediately to the jail to speak with his friend. "You were right," he said, "it was good that my thumb was blown off." And he proceeded to tell the friend all that had just happened. "And so, I am very sorry for sending you to jail for so long. It was bad for me to do this."
 
"No," his friend replied, "This is good!" "What do you mean, ’This is good’? How could it be good that I sent my friend to jail for a year?" "If I had not been in jail, I would have been with you."
 
Circumstances are going to come along that will be out of your control. Are you going to respond in peace because you have faith in the God of the universe, or are you going to lose control and react out of fear and anger?
 
3. You Can’t Control People
 
Ahasuerus tried. He tried to control the people at his party by showing them all his treasures including his wife. He tried to control them through alcohol. He was getting ready to try and control Greece through his military action against it. He tried to control his wife through his power as the king.
 
And he tried to control the relationship between every husband and wife in the entire empire through the unchangeable law of the Persians and Medes. I wonder what happened in the homes of the empire the first time that a husband said to his wife, “You have to submit to me. The king said so.”
 
People weren’t made for controlling. People were made for loving. Husbands, Ahasuerus was partially correct. According to God’s law which definitely cannot be changed, you are supposed to be the leader in your home. But that doesn’t give you the right to manipulate or control your wife through physical, mental or verbal abuse or any other means.
 
Wives, you don’t have the right to try and manipulate your husbands by refusing to fulfill their requests and meet their needs unless they meet some standard of your choosing. Scripture says for us as husbands and wives to submit to one another not to control one another.
 
Because we cannot control people, they are going to do things in our lives that hurt us and ruin our plans. When that happens, we have only two options. We can hold onto the hurt and the bitterness and try to use it as a means of controlling that person so that they will submit to us.
 
That’s what Ahasuerus did. When Vashti hurt him, he figured that he would hurt her back. Be careful; by his actions, Ahasuerus lost all possibility of ever enjoying her love again.
 
The other option is to give up your need for control and forgive them for the actions that they did in your life. Because of the unchangeable laws of the land, Ahasuerus did not have that option. You do.
 
4. You Can’t Control God
 
The whole book of Esther beginning with this first chapter is about people who try to control God. That may seem odd for me to say that since God is never mentioned in the book. But that is exactly how they tried to control Him – they pushed Him away.
 
When King Ahasuerus came up against the one thing that he could not control – namely his wife – he dealt with it by banishing her from his life. That’s what the Jews and Gentiles living in Persia did with God.
Since they found that God could not be controlled and be made to behave in the way that conformed to their ideas and their desires, they banished Him from their lives.
 
When the atheist Robert Ingersoll was delivering his lectures against Christ and the Bible, his speaking ability usually assured him of a large crowd. One night after an inflammatory speech, in which he severely attacked man’s faith in the Savior, he dramatically took out his watch and said, "I’ll give God a chance to prove that He exists and is almighty. I challenge Him to strike me dead within 5 minutes!" At the end of the allotted time, the atheist exclaimed derisively, "See! There is no God. I am still very much alive!"
 
After the lecture a young fellow said to a Christian lady, "Well, Ingersoll certainly proved something tonight!" Her reply was memorable. " Yes he did," she said. "He proved God isn’t taking orders from atheists tonight."
 
Some of us have been trying to control God by banishing Him from certain areas of your life. You’ve given Him your soul for His safekeeping, but you’re still trying to control many other areas of your life in your own way. That area could be your marriage, your job, your speech, your kids, what you do with your free time or any number of other things.
 
You may have tried letting Him handle things for a while, but He didn’t do things like you wanted them do. You got mad or disappointed, and so you became king of your own castle once again.
 
 
Whenever you try to push God out of the way and take back over the reign of your life, you will find yourself fighting against God rather than ruling with Him. Let Him be King of 100% of your life.
There may be others here that have banished God from every area of your life. You haven’t given Him any part of you. You are ruler of every province. When you try to control your own life, you will ruin it.
 
The first verse of chapter 2 says that after Ahasuerus anger subsided, “he remembered Vashti and … what he had decreed about her.” He missed Vashti. He regretted his decision. But all his regrets couldn’t change the unchangeable laws of the Persians and Medes.
 
A day is coming when you will look back at your life and the decisions that you have made and the direction that those decisions took you. You will remember this day and the opportunity that was before you to make Jesus the King of your life. You will remember that you chose again to banish God from your life or from control over every area of your life. You will regret that decision. But there will be nothing that you will be able to do to change it on that day.
 
That day is not this day. Today, you can put your life on the right pathway by turning over control of your life to the only One who can make it all work out beautifully. Will you do that today?
 
Let’s pray
 
 

 

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