Some months ago our teaching team made up of Joshua, myself, Elizabeth and Mark decided that we should preach through the book of Esther. In the 25 plus years I have been here, no one has ever preached even one chapter from the book of Esther that I can remember. No one has ever led a Bible study on Esther that I can remember either.
We knew jumping into it – this series would come with some unusual challenges re: interpretation and application. But because Paul says in Romans 15:4, “For whateverwas written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” And then later in II Tim. 3:16, “Allscripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” We knew God would make it worthwhile, and that He had sovereign reasons for leading us to wade through it.
It may be that one of the reasons we needed to wade through this book together is the Holy Spirit wanted to highlight the dangers of undue veneration and undue minimizing. Let me try to explain:
In the body of Christ – some of us have had a tendency to venerate both Esther as an individual and the book of Esther. This veneration is a result of many influences. One for sure is a movie a fairly well known itinerant preacher and author helped produce some ten or more years ago that unduly romanticized the story of Esther. Other influencers have been books written or sermons given that have put Esther and Mordecai on pedestals they were never meant to be on, and that made much of things like Esther’s relationship with King Ahasuerus that was never meant to made much out of.
So what does it mean to venerate someone? Well the dictionary defines it like this:
To regard with great respect; revere. Synonyms: reverence, worship, adulate, hallow, deify, idolize, hold sacred, exalt, etc
New Testament writers often refer to certain Old testament men and women as models to us of godliness or faith or righteousness. None of them ever refer to the characters in Esther. In Hebrews 11, not so godly folk like Gideon, Samson and Rahab the harlot are held up as examples to us for their faith. No mention of Mordecai or Esther in that long chapter.
It is my conviction that God chose Esther and Mordecai primarily because they were available and useable in a time of history where the bar of spiritual vitality among the Jews was very low, but the stakes for their survival was very very high.
Now I’m certain Esther and Mordecai are heroes to the Jews, as are many others down through their long history who have risked their lives for the survival and protection of their people. That’s all well and good.
The primary hero of Esther is God. Even though never mentioned, He is the one orchestrating the various turns of events for the protection of His people, whom He has never forgotten, and whom He will never forsake.
That being said, and back to the Teaching Team – the apostle Paul said to the church in Corinth in his second letter, chp. 2, vs. 17, “For we are not like many, peddling (or corrupting) the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.” Paul’s preaching and teaching was not merely a product of sound communication, great education and Bible exposition skills. He never had ulterior or unclean motives for what he taught or preached. He feared God, and was very aware that Jesus the Head was listening to every word that came out of his mouth.
Our teaching team covets your prayers as we try to follow his example. So why don’t we pray right now before we jump into chapter 5 of Esther. (pray)
While it is unclear to what degree Mordecai and Esther loved God with their whole hearts, souls, strength and minds, they did show some level of faith and desperate dependence upon God in chapter four. Once Mordecai learned of Haman’s edict to destroy all the Jews in all the king’s provinces he, instead of trying to organize some kind of resistance or perhaps trying to flee and hide – Mordecai humbled himself before God and man with sackcloth and ashes. Once Esther learned from Mordecai of this horrible edict to destroy all the Jews, and after wrestling with his exhortation to her to consider her providential placement as queen at this pivotal time in history, she also turned to fasting for three days and ordered that her maidens and all the Jews do the same – after which she promised she would approach the King regardless of whether that resulted in favor or her death.
Yes it is true God was never mentioned in chapter four as the object of their fasting. But why else would they fast for three days? Who but God could or would respond to their fasting and mourning? Who but God could turn this dire situation around? The very purpose of fasting down through the ages is to demonstrate our weakness and our desperation for God to do what only God can do.
Well one of the things that often results from times of sincere fasting and waiting upon God is revelation, hearing God’s voice or at least receiving a strong sense of guidance. Joshua spoke to that last Sunday when he pointed to Mordecai’s insight after he had humbled himself with sackcloth and ashes in ch. 4. into why Esther was appointed as King Ahasuerus’s Queen at this specific time.
Now after everyone’s three days of fasting, Esther has a plan – perhaps also from revelation from God. Let’s read about it in ch. 5, starting with vs. 1. (read vs. 1)
Before this three day fast started – Queen Esther was focused on the fact that King Ahasuerus could have her immediately executed if she dared enter his court without invitation. I mean after all this is a King known for his extreme behavior as a result of his drunken binges. He was known for his arrogance. And when Haman suggested he make an edict to authorize destroying every Jewish man, woman, young person and child in his whole kingdom, many of whom probably contributed greatly to his kingdom’s prosperity, the King said yes without batting an eyelash! He was given to impulsive actions – giving no consideration to the consequences of such actions. So before fasting, the last thing in the world Esther dared to do was enter the King’s courts uninvited.
So the author of Esther by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit brings our attention to the third day of this three day fast in vs. 1. Something has changed in Esther’s spirit. Now she puts on her royal attire and walks right in to the inner court of the King and stands there courageously. The King is the same king I’ve just described. But she is different.
And now all of a sudden she receives one of the most precious gifts any of us can obtain in this earthly life. Let’s see what it is in vs. 2 (read it)
Favor – especially from a King or someone in significant authority over us when a crisis is looming is a wonderful thing. Proverbs 16:15 speaks to this, “In the light of a king’s face is life, And his favor is like a cloud with the spring rain.” Proverbs 19:12 says, The king’s wrath is like the roaring of a lion, But his favor is like dew on the grass.”
In arid lands like where much of the Old Testament is played out, clouds that bring much needed rain and dew on the grass when the rains have stopped are precious indeed. Favor is like that. Favor can literally turn one’s life and destiny around and open doors that would have never opened without it.
This is not the first time we have seen Esther receive favor. In chapter 2, after Queen Vashti was banished and all the virgins in King Ahasuerus’s kingdom began to be rounded up to select a replacement for Vashti, vs. 8 tells us that Esther was among those brought to the palace of the King and placed under the care of a eunuch called Hegai. After being under his care for a while, vs. 9 tells us, “Now the young lady pleased him and found favor with him.” A little while later we are told in vs. 15 that her favor was expanding, “Now when the turn of Esther, the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai who had taken her as his daughter, came to go in to the king, she did not request anything except what Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the women, advised.; And Esther found favor in the eyes of all who saw her.” Then in vs. 17, we see she even found favor with the King, “The king loved Esther more than all the women, and she found favor and kindness with him more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.” In chapter four, Mordecai instructed Hathach – one of the king’s eunuchs to go back and instruct Esther to “go in to the king to implore his favorand to plead with him for her people.”
Now in chapter five we see that favor being granted to Esther. After this initial favor was granted to Esther, we are going to find her several times reminding the King of this favor and basing her requests of him on that favor. Let’s look at the first instance of this in the next six verses (read vs. 3-8).
Basically what we are seeing in this book is the very destiny of the Jews in Ahasuerus’s kingdom depended upon whether favor would be granted to a young woman named Esther. If favor was granted to her, the Jews would live. If not, they would be slaughtered. So while we do not want to unduly venerate Esther, let’s be careful that we do not minimize her value and contribution either.
Favor truly is a wonderful thing. Most of us in this room do not need it from a King or President or even a Governor. But we need it in the marketplace; we need it in our neighborhoods; we need it with the merchants we deal with; we need it with the IRS; we need it with financial institutions; we need it with strained relationships with members of our families or extended families; we need it in the midst of overwhelming responsibilities that seem almost unbearable at times, etc.
So what was it about Esther that marked her as one whom so many people in King Ahasuerus’s kingdom including the King himself granted favor?
Well the only thing that is really emphasized about her character in these first five chapters is her submission to or respect for the authorities in her life. First and foremost we see it with Mordecai, and I think it is important to realize that if she had not submitted to and respected Mordecai’s authority over her, she probably would not have succeeded in bringing about a change in the king’s edict.
Let’s look at a couple of passages that bear that out:
First in ch. 2 vs. 10, “Esther did not make known her people or her kindred, for Mordecai had instructed her that she should not make them known. “ Now once Esther had been in the palace and began to feel secure with Hegai the eunuch over her, she easily could have let down her guard, and in the right (or wrong) moment revealed her ancestry and ethnicity. I mean everyone likes to be understood and appreciated for who they are. But she chose to honor Mordecai’s instruction and keep it a secret.
Vs. 15 – “Now when the turn of Esther, the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai who had taken her as his daughter, came to go in to the king, she did not request anything except what Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the women, advised.” Now she is under the authority of another and she seemingly gladly and fully follows his instruction or advice.
Now let’s look at vs. 20 of ch. 2. “Esther had not yet made known her kindred or her people, even as Mordecai had commanded her; for Esther did what Mordecai told her as she had done when under his care.” Esther evidently for all of her growing up years lived under Mordecai’s roof and care. He was not her real father, but she respected and submitted to him as if he was. And the author in this verse emphasizes her obedience to Mordecai’s orders.
In vs. 22 of ch. 2, it could be implied that when Mordecai learned of the plot to assassinate the King, and told Esther, he also told her to tell the King, which we know she did.
So while Esther is never held up to us in the New Testament or anywhere else in the Old Testament as a model to emulate, in this regard, she is in the same company as young Joseph in Egypt or young Daniel in Babylon, both of whom God granted favor due to their godly character, and their unwillingness to be corrupted by the godlessness around them.
Easily once Esther got out from under Mordecai’s roof, and was daily around all of those other young ladies in the King’s harem, she could have longed for their approval more than Mordecai’s. She could have listened to their opinions, more than Mordecai’s or Hegai’s. But she appears to have withstood the peer pressure that I’m sure was thick in that harem.
Only people who have learned to submit to authority can be trusted to exert authority over others.
I find it very interesting that even with Jesus as a young boy, Luke tells us in Luke 2:51 that after his parents found him in the temple, he gladly returned home with them, “and He continued in subjection to them;” and then in vs. 52 Luke adds, “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Jesus, though fully God, was also fully human, and thus in need of favor from God to accomplish His mission and fulfill God’s purposes for Him. In His early years, it was His willing subjection to His parents among other things that opened a door for the favor of God to be poured out on Him.
One thing I know from tracing the theme of favor in the scriptures this past week, is God wants to pour out favor on His people. There are huge problems in our society to solve; huge needs to meet; huge chasms or divides to bridge; and God’s favor in many cases will be the deciding factor on whether we see breakthrough in these areas or not.
Do you ever ask for favor? Hosea ch. 12 says Jacob wrestled all night with the angel of the Lord for it. Moses in Exodus 33 & 34 and Numbers 11 prayed for it. Moses in Psalm 90 prayed for it.
Paul in II Corinthians 1:10, 11 says this, “And He (God) will yet deliver us, you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.”
(waiting on God for words, prayers, testimonies)