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Jun 2 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

May 14, 2017 – Esther chapter 1

The Time of Their Lives

(When introducing the Book of Esther,
I felt it was important to hear it first as a story.
For that reason, I began by reading the first chapter
from the Good News Bible, which begins . . .)

From his royal throne in Persia’s capital city of Susa, King Xerxes ruled 127 provinces, all the way from India to Sudan.
In the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his officials and administrators. The armies of Persia and Media were present, as well as the governors and noblemen of the provinces. For six whole months he made a show of the riches of the imperial court with all its splendor and majesty. Esther 1

Intro: Esther is the last of the Hebrew Scriptures’ books of history

In fact, it was possibly the last book to be written prior to the New Testament
– it also belongs to another special category:
• stories that reveal how God’s faithful people live in exile
• as such, Esther shares important features with Joseph (Ge. 37-50) and Daniel
◦ all three characters “found favor” with important people who assisted them
◦ all three experienced radical reversals with those who tried to destroy them
– these three stories also share a similar yet subtle theme
• and that is, the way events unfold is exactly the way life “ought to be”
• in other words, if Yahweh is God over all the earth,
◦ and if his people are faithful to him and do his will,
◦ then they should always win and their enemies should always lose

In spite of these common threads, each story has its own message
– that message is revealed in a defining verse

  1. Joseph
    • his survival through his trials is explained by the phrase, The LORD was with Joseph (Ge. 39:2, 21)
    • but the defining verse reveals the truth of his trials is, As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good (Ge. 50 20)
  2. Daniel
    • his survival as a faithful Jew is explained by the phrase, Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself (Da. 1:8)
    • but his defining verse explains how he maintained his orientation to God, . . . he had windows open toward Jerusalem . . . and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God (Da. 6:10)

– what is the message of Esther?
• a consensus today is that her story serves to explain the origin of Purim (a Jewish holiday)
◦ but that doesn’t explain how made it into Bible
◦ Esther did not make it into Dead Sea Scrolls
• someone discerned a spiritual message in Esther–a word of God revealed
◦ but that brings us to an unusual feature in this story
◦ God is never mentioned in Esther
(not even a generic reference or by a pagan-friendly term, as in Nehemiah; e.g., the God of heaven, Neh. 1:20)

God is not present in story of Esther

Not as a character on stage who speaks or acts
– not even as someone who is known, but absent or off stage
• we could read Esther as a secular story
◦ where we find fasting without prayer and feasting without praise
• God’s absence was not an oversight
◦ the storyteller had to work at keeping God out
– providence plays such an important role that there would be no story without it
• we could assume it was easy for them to see God’s providence
◦ but the fact is, they could not – the outcome of circumstances was uncertain
• their risks were real and deadly
◦ and God was hidden from the world of sense experience
◦ the same as he is hidden from our daily experience

So what is the message of Esther?

What is the defining verse of her story?
– if we were fatalistic (or we focused on her noble spirit) we might suggest, If I perish, I perish (4:16)
• otherwise, the obvious choice is, For Such A Time As This (4:14)
– let’s look into what sort of time it was
• we are given the broad outlines in this chapter
• the scene is depicted so clearly it could be considered a caricature

First, since the setting is Persia, it is a time of exile

The Jews were in a foreign land and language
– they were subjected to foreign rule, foreign culture, and foreign gods
– before we are halfway through the story, their very existence is threatened

Second, it was a time of opulence

Reading chpater 1 we are struck by the king’s “conspicuous consumption”
– there are three separate feasts in this first chapter alone
feast is, in fact, a key word in the story
◦ mentioned more times in Esther than any other book
◦ the closest runner up is Genesis where it occurs five times — in Esther it occurs nineteen times
• they celebrated indulgence
– one indicator of their opulence is the way wine flows through story
• specifically in verse 8 of this chapter
• also, the effect wine had on emotions:

the king was drinking and feeling happy (v. 10)
the king arose in his anger from drinking wine (7:7)

◦ stimulants change the brain
◦ they can both excite feelings and dull emotions

Third, it was a time of tidiness

What I mean by that is that everything was in its place
– we cannot speak to Persia’s society as a whole, but it’s clearly seen in the palace
• the king’s court is perfectly complete; everything is sevens
◦ a seven-day feast (v. 5)
◦ seven eunuchs over the king’s harem (v. 10) — all of them named
◦ seven princes/royal counselors (v. 14) – all of them named
• he had everything he could wish

Fourth, it was a precarious time

As well-balanced as the king’s court appeared,
– he himself was unbalanced
• was vulnerable to his own fits of rage
◦ and also, to the manipulation of others

Alexander Green, “[Xerxes] is presented throughout the book as the epitome of an unenlightened despot, who possesses power but little wisdom. We see how he cannot make a decision for himself by the fact that his advisers are forced to make all the decisions for him, from the unknown Memuchan in Chapter 1, to the villain Haman in Chapter 3, as well as to Esther and [Mordechai] in Chapters 5-7. Even the king’s young attendants are compelled to propose the obvious action that, after Vashti’s expulsion, he should seek a new queen (Esther 2:2)”

– this will shape the plot in a tragic way

The precarious nature of time illustrated in this chapter

From v. 2, where the king sat on his royal throne, royal is a key word
– here it is his royal glory, royal wine, the queen’s royal crown, and the king’s royal edict
• all this royalty is about to take a negative turn
• the king’s counselors will advise Xerxes to take from Vashti her royal position (v. 19)
– Xerxes had commanded the queen to present herself to his court
• treating her as object to display like all his other beautiful possessions
• but she refused (in spite of fact that she has no voice in the story)
◦ there is no acknowledgment of her as a person
◦ her reason for disobeying the king is not given, because it was not considered important

In a panic, the king’s counselors panicked and began to “catastrophize”
– “all” princes, “all” people, in “all” the provinces, “all” women would look with contempt on their husbands (vv. 16-17)
• if a woman could disobey king, what would a wife do who was married to an average man?
• they feared the repercussions once the queen’s defiance was broadcast
◦ the threat this raised called for damage control
– the counselors began, If it please the king — this is a hinge on which the plot will repeatedly turn
• remove her from her royal position
• since she refused to appear before king, well then deny her access to the king permanently

This was a time of the strategic suppression of women
– every effort was made by male rulers to “keep them in their place”
• that is, as objects and male possessions

Conc: In light of all of these indications of the times,

All Esther has to do to succeed in this environment was to be beautiful and compliant
– it turns out that her destiny demanded that she become more, much more

Yesterday, I experienced a moment of perfect timing. I was walking Kona, our yellow lab, down by salt creek. When doing this, I tend to scan the ocean just in case a whale spout might appear somewhere on the seascape. When I thought I saw two dolphin fins close to shore, we stopped and I stared at the water hoping to see more. Soon other dolphins appeared, and closer to shore than I had ever seen them. There must of been small fish there, because they stayed in that one area for at least ten minutes, diving and surfacing and riding waves (I counted six dolphins surfing the translucent green of one wave). The timing was perfect, because we arrived at that spot at the right moment and I happened to look toward the water in the first split-second that their fins broke the surface.

You wee, it is always “such a time as this”
– what looks to us like the normal stuff of life is our preparation time
– then one day all that preparation pays of and it is time to act 
• right now is also such a time
it is God’s kairos time breaking into our chronos time
◦ or to say it another way, eternity intersecting the present moment

But as for me, I trust in You, O LORD,
I say, “You are my God.” My times are in Your hand.
Psalm 31:14-15

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