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The Book of Esther #2
The Book of Esther #2
Esther 2:1-2:23
 
Have you ever had a problem that you tried to fix but you just ended up making it worse? In trying to fix a problem that he had on the job, a young man had an accident and created a much bigger problem for himself. Here’s what he said in the insurance report explain his injuries, including a broken nose:
 
“I am a bricklayer by trade. On the day of the accident, I was working alone on the roof of a ten-story building. When I completed my work, I discovered I had about 500 pounds of bricks left over.
 
Rather than carry them down by hand, I decided to lower them to the ground in a barrel by using a pulley, which, fortunately, was attached to the side of the building at the tenth floor. Securing the rope at ground level, I went to the roof, loaded the 500 pounds of bricks, then went back down to the ground and untied the rope, holding it tightly to insure the slow descent of the 500 pounds of bricks.
 
You will note in block 11 of the accident reporting form that I weigh 135 pounds. Due to my surprise at being jerked off the ground so suddenly, I lost my presence of mind and forgot to let go of the rope. Needless to say, I proceeded at a rapid rate up the side of the building. In the vicinity of the fifth floor, I met the barrel coming down. This explains the fractured skull and broken collarbone.
 
 
I continued by rapid ascent, not stopping until the fingers of my right hand were two knuckles deep into the pulley. Fortunately, by this time I had regained my presence of mind and was able to hold tightly to the rope in spite of my pain.
 
At approximately the same time, however, the barrel of bricks hit the ground, and the bottom fell out of the barrel. Devoid of the weight of the bricks, the barrel now weighed approximately 30 pounds. I refer you again to my weight in block number 11 of the accident reporting form.
 
As you might imagine, I began a rapid descent down the side of the building. In the vicinity of the fifth floor, I met that barrel coming up again! This accounts for the two fractured ankles and lacerations to my legs and lower body. The second encounter with the barrel slowed me enough to lessen my injuries when I fell into the pile of bricks, and fortunately, only three vertebrae were cracked.
 
I am sorry to report, however, that as I lay there on the bricks, in pain and unable to stand, watching the empty barrel ten stories above me, I again lost my presence of mind  and let go of the rope. and I lay there watching the empty barrel begin its journey back onto me.  This will explain my broken nose.
 
When we last left our study of the book of Esther, Ahasuerus, the king of Persia, had a problem and in trying to fix it, he, like this bricklayer created pain for himself.
 
 
 
You will remember from last week that the king threw a 6 month party trying to convince the rulers of the 127 provinces under his control to join him in overcoming Greece. 
 
He then invited anyone and everyone to come to a final 7-day party. At the height of the celebration, Ahasuerus called for his wife, Queen Vashti to come in and parade her beauty before all these drunken men.
 
She refused. In his anger, the king listened to the advice of his counselors, took away Vashti’s place as queen and banished her from his presence forever.
 
The nobles of the provinces liked the king’s “take charge” attitude and agreed to support Ahasuerus in his quest to invade and conquer the territory of Greece. Ahasuerus thought that he had fixed the problem and gained everything that he wanted.
 
Around 481 B.C., he gathered the forces of his empire against Greece, only to be defeated. Ahasuerus came back home in disgrace. He’s hurting. That’s where we pick the story back up today.
 
As we did last week, I want to tell you the story and then draw from it some lessons. 
 
Throughout this chapter, we are going to discover people who had a need and tried to deal with that need by covering it up – acting as if it didn’t exist.
 
Does that sound familiar? How many times have you tried to deal with a problem by putting it in the closet?
You didn’t want to admit it. You didn’t want to face it. You figured that the consequences of revealing it were just too dangerous or painful. Better to deal with the pain that you have now than face the potentially larger pain that revealing the problem might bring.
 
The only way to find a resolution to a problem is by facing it. That’s true of a marriage problem, a work problem, a financial problem or a sin problem. Ahasuerus was unwilling to deal with his problem in the right way. Let’s see what happened.
 
As I said, Ahasuerus is hurting. He’s lonely, depressed, discouraged and probably afraid that someone is going to use the opportunity to overthrow him. Who do men go to when they are hurting? Either their mothers or their wives.
 
Chapter 2:1
 
At least 3 years have passed since that night at the banquet when Ahasuerus had gotten so mad at his wife. His anger is over now, and he wishes that he could go back and change things. He really would like it if he could just fall into the arms of Vashti so that she could comfort him.
 
But that stupid law that he had made, the law that could never be changed, said that she could never again see his face. That meant that he could never again see her face either. Sure, he had plenty of harem girls and servants that he could have gone to for comfort and encouragement, but none of them understood him like Vashti did. He felt like he was doomed to live the rest of his days in misery.
The king’s royal advisors were getting worried. They saw how depressed the king was, and they figured that the king might try to do something drastic to get Vashti back as queen. Yes, the law of the Persians and Medes was unchangeable, but the king could always make a new law to overcome the old law. And if Vashti came back into power, she might use that power to get revenge on them for advising that she be deposed.
 
So the king’s royal advisors came to him with an idea.
 
verses 2-4
 
Do you ever feel like saying, “Well, duh” when you read certain parts of the Bible? “King, let’s gather up the most beautiful young women in the world, make them even more beautiful through cosmetics and beauty treatments, and have them compete for your favor so that you can choose one of them to be the new queen.”
 
Of course, he’s going to like that advice! He quickly set things in motion to begin plans for the first “Miss Persia” beauty pageant. And all the advisors breathed a sigh of relief. They had successfully used trickery to cover up their political problem by getting the king to use pleasure to cover his emotional problem.
 
This is where we are first introduced to Esther and her cousin Mordecai.
 
verses 5-7
 
Esther was a Jew living in a foreign land. She was a descendant of those Jews who had come to Babylon as captives when Nebuchadnezzar invaded her land.
 
Now there are some things that are important to keep in mind about Esther. 
 
- Esther was an orphan
 
Her parents had died when she was young. So she, like the king had experienced pain.
 
- Esther was loved
 
She was loved by her cousin Mordecai who had taken her in and treated her as his own daughter. She was also loved by God even though she had chosen to live in a place where she was outside of His will.
 
- Esther was unaware
 
She didn’t know what was going on in the palace as she did her daily chores. She did not know about the agony of the king, or what was getting ready to happen. As far as she knew, she was going to live out the rest of her life as a commoner in this land.
 
Esther also did not know what was going on in heaven. She did not know that she was a part of God’s plan to save His people. She did not know that God was working in her mundane life at that very moment.
 
Can I give you a word of encouragement? Whether you see Him or not, God is working in your life right now, at this very moment to accomplish His glory.
Regardless of the pain that you have endured or the mistakes that you have made or just the boring routine that seems to go on endlessly, God has a plan that He is working out for your life.
 
You may be tempted to think that you are beyond God being able to use you, but as Chuck Swindoll says, the beautiful message of Esther is hope…hope “for anyone who has ever experienced brokenness, for anyone who has ever been crushed by life, for anyone who has ever felt that his past is so discolored, so disjointed, so fractured that there is no way in the world God can make reason and meaning out of it. … Here was a little girl who must have cried her heart out at the death of her parents, … yet who years later would become key to the very survival of her people, the Jews. God and God alone can do such things – He, in fact, does do such things, working silently and invisibly behind the events of history.”
 
Never give up hope. Watch for God’s working in your life.
 
One more thing these verses tell us about Esther.
 
- Esther was beautiful
 
 The text says that she was “lovely in form and features” (vs. 7). She had a nice shape to her body, and she had a beautiful face.
 
Because of her beauty, it would make sense for Esther to do everything she could to become a part of this contest. But this was not what she wanted. She wanted to continue living life as she had always known it under the care of her cousin.
She didn’t get what she wanted. When you’re beautiful, you stand out in a crowd. Someone had noticed her beauty, told the officials about it, and they came and made her part of the pageant by force.
 
Verse 8
 
Though this had never been a part of her plan, she did not fight it. She decided to have a good attitude about it. Both because of her attitude and her physical beauty, the servant who was in charge of the harem took a real liking to Esther and treated her with special kindness.
 
She got the best beauty treatments, the best food, the best living quarters and seven servants to provide whatever she wanted.
 
While Esther was enjoying the good life, Mordecai was going through torture. He had raised Esther. He had watched her grow into a beautiful woman. The more beautiful she became, the more worried he became. If they had shotguns back then, Mordecai had his locked and loaded sitting on the front porch. He knew the hearts of men.
 
He wasn’t going to let them near him. So long as Esther was under his roof, he could protect her. But now, she was gone. He did the only thing he could do. He stayed as close as possible so that he could keep in touch with her.
 
Verse 11
 
 
And every time that he got to talk with her, he asked her the same question: “Have you told anyone that you are a Jew?” At some point before Esther was taken to the palace, Mordecai gave her very specific instructions.
 
Verse 10
 
She was not to reveal her nationality. Maybe there was some prejudice toward Jews among the people that were there, and Mordecai was afraid that Esther would be treated badly. The text does not explain why Mordecai gave her these instructions, but Esther was faithful to obey the instructions. So once again, there was a cover-up because of possible negative consequences.
 
While Esther was there at the palace, she and all the other women went through a long process of beautification.
 
Verse 12
 
For 12 months, these women were pampered and prepared for the day that they would come into the presence of the king. Some of those women must have needed a lot of work. Their preparation involved perfumes and cosmetics. Everything was focused on outward beauty so that they could cover up their physical flaws and overcome their feelings of inadequacy.
 
It sounds a lot like today’s society. Everywhere you look, you are bombarded with the society’s conception of what beauty looks like.
 
“I smiled the other day when I came across the results of a survey which found that 15% of the women questioned tinted their hair, 22% wore false eyelashes, 38% periodically wore wigs or hairpieces, 80% wore rouge or some kind of facial cosmetics, 93% used nail polish, 98% wore some kind of eye makeup, and 100% voted in favor of a resolution condemning any kind of false packaging.”
 
By the way, it’s not just women who change things in order to make themselves look more attractive. In 2011, 9.2 Million procedures, 91%, or 8.4 million were women but 9%, or 800,000 were men. 
 
In my opinion, using cosmetics and in some cases, having cosmetic surgery is okay.  In fact, I highly encourage it!  But it becomes a problem when we focus more on the beauty of the body than we focus on the beauty of the heart.
 
It is a great indicator of the self-esteem and image problems that we have today.  We’ve never learned to value ourselves as men and women of God and find our self-worth in our relationship with him. 
 
When we start to compare our physical characteristics with those of other people and either demean ourselves or exalt ourselves because of things that none of us have control over, that becomes a problem too.
 
Some people can never be satisfied with themselves because of what they consider a flaw in their physique.
 
 
Cindy Jackson was that kind of person. In 1987, she began the process of reshaping how she looked. She had her upper and lower eyes done, her lower eyes redone, two nose jobs, three chemical peels, a fat transfer into her face from her buttocks, a fat transfer into her lips, nose and mouth lines, as well as dermabrasion over most of her face.
 
She’s had three face-lifts, her teeth reshaped and liposuction in her jaw and from her waist to her knees. In all, she’s had 14 full scale operation incorporating 52 cosmetic procedures .
 
Paul said, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content.” Men and women, God made you just the way you are and just the way He wanted you to be. And there is a reason for that. He has a plan for you just as you are. He considers you beautiful just the way you are. Yes, keep yourself clean and presentable and attractive, but don’t think that you have to measure up to society’s standard in order for God to call you beautiful!
 
Unfortunately, Esther and the rest of the women weren’t trying to measure up to God’s standard. The king’s standard was what they wanted to reach. They knew that the day was coming when they would have their one opportunity to catch the king’s eye and win his heart.
 
verses 13-14
 
After a year’s worth of beauty treatments, each woman would come to the king for one date. She got one chance to win his heart – all or nothing. So there were no limits, sexual or otherwise to what she was willing to do in order to become the next queen.
She met him, spent the night with him, and then returned to the harem. If he liked the way that she looked, if she was good in bed, and if the king remembered her name the next morning, then she might get to have a second date with the king at some point in the future. Otherwise, she was destined to live out her days as a part of his forgotten harem.
 
Esther’s turn finally came. As careful as she had been to hide her nationality from others, she could not hide it from herself. She was a Jew – one of God’s chosen people. As such, she knew the law and that what she was being told to do was wrong. The law said that she was not to marry someone who was not a Jew or have sex outside of marriage.
 
What was she to do – compromise her values or risk persecution or even death? In thinking of this question, I am reminded of another Jew who was forced to make much the same decision before a pagan king. I am reminded of Daniel. He had the king’s food put before him and refused it.
 
Esther had the king’s food put before her and ate it. He was told not to pray to God and thereby compromise his values. He chose to be faithful to God.
 
Esther was told to do whatever it took to win the king’s heart no matter how immoral or degrading. She did not take the same pathway as Daniel. She compromised. Whatever she did must have worked.
 
Verses 17-18
Daniel rose to power in Babylon through keeping his integrity. Esther rose to power through conformity and compromise.
 
The year-long search was over! The king had found his bride. It was time for a celebration. The king set the crown on Esther’s head. She was now Queen Esther. Esther was supposed to be happy. Everyone around her was happy. The king had declared a holiday and was passing out lavish gifts to everyone.
 
As much as Esther tried to celebrate with everyone else, there was something inside her telling her that what she had done was wrong. She was ashamed of herself. How could she be proud of being queen when what she had done to get there was so wrong? While everyone else was celebrating, Esther was trying to cover up that there was something painful going on inside of her.
 
There was something going on in the kingdom too.
 
Verses 21-23
 
Not everyone was happy with the king and how he was running the kingdom. Two of his officers were upset about something and were working on plans to get rid of Ahasuerus through assassination.
 
Mordecai, Esther’s cousin found out about the plot, told Esther who then passed it along to the king making sure that he knew who had told her. The king investigated it, found it to be true, and the conspirators were dealt with swiftly.
 
 
Here it says that they were “hanged on gallows” or “hanged on a tree”. That probably would be best understood to mean that they were skewered on a pole and left there to rot as a warning to anyone else who might think about trying something similar.
 
They got their reward for their actions, and in the presence of the king, the whole thing was written down in the records of the empire.
 
That brings us to the end of this portion of the story. Ahasuerus is happy again. Esther is now queen. The bad guys are dead. Mordecai is a hero, unsung as yet, but that will be fixed later on in the book. And all appears to be well in the kingdom. Appearances can be deceiving. More about that next week.
 
For today, let’s see if we can draw some lessons for our lives from this story of events that happened so long ago.
 
THE LESSONS
 
1. Covering Up Your Pain Produces Regret and Scars
 
Someone has said, “Pain is inevitable; misery is optional.” In the life that we live, there is going to be pain. Ahasuerus was dealing with some pain because of a poor decision that he later regretted. He dealt with his pain by covering it up with pleasure. How many husbands and wives have done the same thing? Rather than dealing with the pain that their marriage is going through, they look for someone else to cover up the pain.
The right thing for Ahasuerus or any spouse to do would be to seek forgiveness and work to find a way to restore the relationship.
 
Other people seek to cover pain by indulging in alcohol, drugs, immorality, overeating or even workaholism. It’s difficult to understand pain, especially pain that we’ve done nothing to deserve like the pain that Esther felt at the loss of her parents. Our task is not to understand pain. Our task is to accept it from God’s hand and trust that the God who controls all things will use even our pain to work out His ultimate plan.
 
Author Marshall Shelley, who suffered the deaths of two of his children, writes: “Even as a child, I loved to read, and I quickly learned that I would most likely be confused during the opening chapters of a novel. New characters were introduced. Desperate, seemingly random events took place. Subplots were complicated and didn’t seem to make any sense in relation to the main plot.
 
But I learned to keep reading. Why? Because you know that the author, if he or she is good, will weave them all together by the end of the book. Eventually, each element will be meaningful. At times, such faith has to be a conscious choice. Even when I can’t explain why a chromosomal abnormality develops in my son, which prevents him from living on earth more than two minutes. . . .even when I can’t fathom why our daughter has to endure two years of severe and profound retardation and continual seizures. . . . I choose to trust that before the book closes, the author will make things clear.”
 
 
2. Covering up your identity produces confusion and compromise.
 
Esther and Mordecai covered up who they were. They didn’t want anyone to know that they were Jews. So when a tempting situation came along, it was much easier for Esther to give in. Had she had a clear understanding of who she was, it would have made it easier for her to do what was right regardless of the situation.
 
You and I have an identity. We are Christians, children of God, bought by the blood, residents of heaven. We can choose to be like Esther who walked through life with a timidity about her fearing how others would respond if they found out who she was. Or we can choose to be like Daniel who had a clear understanding of who he was and wasn’t afraid to let it be known.
 
3. Covering up your flaws produces insecurity and superficiality.
 
Esther spent a year trying to cover up her physical flaws with perfume and makeup. She didn’t even need all that. The Bible clearly says that she was already beautiful.
 
But when she was surrounded by all those other beautiful women, she started noticing her flaws and she began to get a little insecure. When she was told that she needed all those external enhancements to her beauty in order to survive in that dog-eat-dog environment, she succumbed to a superficial view of life. She feared that she would be rejected by the king.
Each of us have flaws – both external and internal. We refuse to let others see them because we are afraid that they might reject us. The thought of others seeing us just as we really are – whether that be faces without make up or hearts without pretense – frightens us.
 
Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where everyone felt comfortable just being themselves and where they didn’t feel like they hide behind anything in order to get others to accept them? Church is supposed to be that world. This is supposed to be a welcoming place where all people of all races and all pasts and all income levels can come and sit down beside each other to worship God.
 
Esther knew that she had flaws. She felt like she needed to cover them up. You have flaws too. But the wonderful thing is that you don’t have to cover them up in order to be acceptable to God. You can’t cover them up anyway. He can see through any makeup no matter how thickly you apply it. In fact, He can see all the way down into your heart. He loves you and accepts you just the way that you are. You don’t have to make yourself beautiful to Him.
 
4. Covering up your sin produces anger and judgment.
 
Two disgruntled servants sinned against the king in trying to assassinate him. They tried to keep it a secret, but they were discovered. Their punishment was death. Esther sinned against God by having sex with Ahasuerus and marrying him. Her punishment was shame.
 
Every single character in this story and every one of us is a sinner. No amount of makeup can hide that and no cosmetic surgery no matter how drastic can change that. Your sin will one day produce God’s judgment in your life. You can try to cover over that sin with good works or by blaming someone else for it, but God has already seen the you that you don’t allow anyone else to see. You can’t deal with sin by hiding it. The only way to deal with sin effectively is to expose it to God.
 
Maybe you’ve never thought of Esther in the terms that I have presented her here today – a flawed sinner who compromised her values and made mistakes.
 
Maybe it makes you a little uncomfortable to think of her that way. You’d rather think of her as the great role model that she is usually presented as. I’m sorry if I’ve busted your bubble and taken Esther down from the pedestal that you had her on. But now that she is down from that pedestal, we can identify with her a little bit better.
 
I have a bit of trouble identifying with someone who is perfect. I can easily identify with someone who is flawed in her character. I have messed up just like Esther did.
 
But Esther’s story isn’t over. Neither is mine. Neither is yours. There is time for you to change. Whatever pain you have endured, whatever part of your identity you have ignored, whatever flaws you have hidden, and whatever sin you have committed, you don’t need to hide them anymore. Be authentic with yourself. Be authentic with God. He can handle whatever you are willing to expose to Him.
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