Esther 2:1-18TRC Sermon
Good morning, my name is Justin Owens. I’m one of the Elders here at Three Rivers Church. Before we get started I want to take a moment to remind you of something. Our mission is for God’s glory to disciple the nations by being and producing radical followers of Jesus Christ. One of the ways that we carry out that mission is by doing life together in groups we call Radical Life Groups. One of our Radical Life Groups, led by Mark & Lauren Estes meets off campus all but one Sunday per month, and typically the last Sunday of the month they join us here in person for corporate worship. They meet during the same time that we are meeting now, and when we have it functioning properly they join us via livestream. There are some strategic reasons they do life together in this manner, this is not the time or place for me to expound on all of those. Jon Palmer, another one of our Elders, is a member of that group. The members of that group are covenant members of TRC, and when we welcome you at the beginning of the service we reference that we have groups that intentionally meet off-campus and are still covenanted together with us on mission for God’s glory. We are the church collectively. If you want to learn more about that group, or you are interested in starting a Radical Life Group, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or one of the other Elders.
Now, this week we will be looking at Esther 2:1-18. Let me pray and we’ll get started.
Last week we began our study on the book of Esther and looked at chapter 1. It’s important to set the stage before we read the text this morning so that we can accurately understand all of what’s going on. As Mitch mentioned last week, the name of God is never mentioned in the book of Esther. Not one time. Amazing right. No single mention of the name of the Lord, no mention of a word from God, no “thus saith the Lord” moments. And yet we have this book in our Bibles for a reason, and it was written in the way that it was for a reason.
In Esther we see the providence of God on full display as He works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (Rom 8:28). The providence of God is a key, or maybe better said THE key theme of this book. Tony Evans defines the providence of God this way: “Providence is the miraculous and mysterious way that God weaves events together behind the scenes so that His sovereignty over the world is carried out.” (The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, page 479)
The events of chapter 2 take place 3-4 years after the events of chapter 1. In chapter 2 we are introduced, finally, to Esther. It’s approximately 4 years after chapter 1 that Esther goes in to the king. We learn that Esther and Mordecai, more on them later, are Jews living in the city of Susa, the summer capital of Persia. How did they end up here?
Because of their disobedience and failure to repent, Judah was conquered by the Babylonians in 587 BC. Israel had been conquered by Assyria prior to that. Many of the Jews, those not killed, and with minimal exception, were deported to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. These exiles are eventually scattered throughout the kingdom in various places in various ways for various reasons. The Lord through Jeremiah had told the exiles to settle in the land of their exile, get married, have kids, and to seek the welfare of the city; and then after the time of exile they would return to the land of Judah (see Jeremiah 29).
In 539 BC Cyrus the Great, ruler of Media and Persia, conquered Babylon and issued a decree allowing the exiles to return to their land. Many returned, and many did not return and remained where they had settled.
Ahasuerus ruled from 486-465 BC. So somehow in all of this, Esther and Mordecai’s ancestors were exiled to Babylon, and eventually settled in Susa, remaining there after the return of some to Jerusalem.
All of this background helps us to understand the place of Esther in Redemptive history. For a more in depth look at the ideas of biblical theology and redemptive historical narrative, read Graeme Goldsworthy’s book According To Plan. As Mitch often says, I feel like I’m cheating you here. There’s so much I’d love to teach about biblical theology and how to understand where things fit in the grand narrative of all of Scripture and redemptive history, but if I don’t move on we’ll never get past the intro and into the text for today. And you don’t want to be here for 3 more hours. So get that book and read it, it will bless you and be a helpful resource for you as you continue to study the Bible.
One quote before reading Esther 2:1-18. This is from Landon Dowden in his commentary in the Christ-Centered Exposition series called Exalting Jesus in Esther: “Here, then, is a good point at which to remind ourselves of something important regarding the study of Esther: unknowns are OK. Though we do not have all the information we may want in the Bible, we have all the information the Lord wants us to have for now and all the information we need.” (Exalting Jesus in Esther, page 34)
Now let’s look at the text for today. [read Esther 2:1-18]
Whew… did that make you a little uncomfortable? It did me, I think it should make us a little uncomfortable. And I’m sure it made the original readers uncomfortable. Imagine being in their shoes, this is not a story of heroic faith and bravery in the face of a pagan king (like that of Daniel). We are introduced to Esther and told that she is taken into the king’s harem.
So let’s start looking through this narrative and figure out what’s going on. “Some time later… when [his] rage had cooled down…” All that took place in chapter 1 not only angered the king temporarily, but apparently it created a rage in him that took time for him to cool down. Based on the timeline this was probably around 3 years after the events of chapter 1. We see in verse 16 that Esther is taken into the king’s presence in the 7thyear of his reign, the events of chapter 1 were in the 3rd year of his reign. And Esther spent a year undergoing the required beauty treatments. So this rage that happened in the king took awhile to cool off.
In verses 2-4 one of the things I want us to notice is the attitude of Ahasuerus. Is he primarily concerned about the welfare of his people and his kingdom? Is he concerned about having a queen to rule with him for the good of the land? No! He seems primarily concerned with his own personal pleasure and power.
That fits with what we learned about him in chapter 1, and what we’ll see throughout this book. King Ahasuerus is primarily concerned with displaying his greatness, drawing attention to himself, and doing what pleases him no matter how it effects other people. He has no regard here for the women that will be caught up in this crude plan of how to choose the next queen. It’s all about him and his pleasure.
You’ll notice that there is a word missing (not like omitted from Scripture, you’ll see what I mean) in verse 1. The word “he”. It says at the end, “what was decided against her.” If he was being faithful and honest he would have said, “what HE decided against her.” He doesn’t take that blame though. To quote Landon Dowden again, “We can have regret and we can have remorse, but we do not have repentance until we acknowledge our responsibility in what is wrong.” (Dowden, page 52)
Ahasuerus takes no responsibility for this situation.
Finally in verse 5 we are introduced to a Jew. Up to this point the author has been setting the stage for what will happen. We are introduced to Mordecai and Esther in verses 5-7. It appears from his lineage that Mordecai is related to Saul, the first king of Israel. And his ancestors are taken into Babylonian captivity when King Jeconiah is deported by Nebuchadnezzar. The existence of Mordecai and Esther in Susa is evidence of God’s providence to preserve His people. They had survived in exile.
Commentators I read noted that Mordecai is not a Jewish name. We don’t know why he has this name, remember unknowns are ok, but it’s important to note that his name isn’t of Jewish origin and likely has connections to some pagan deity or theme from Babylon or Persia. The reason that’s important to note is because the original audience would have raised their eyebrows at a Jew named Mordecai, not exactly setting him up right off the bat to be a hero in this story.
However, we learn that his uncle’s daughter is without a mother or father and that he adopts her as his own daughter. Her name is Esther. A redeeming quality of Mordecai is that he was caring for an orphan in his family, as he should have.
Again, we don’t know why they are living in Susa, whether it’s through their actions or the choices of their ancestors. We do know that they were living there and had not chosen to go back to the Promised Land, if they had been able to, which we don’t know for sure.
Think about all that Mordecai and Esther had experienced. Their ancestors were exiles who had been taken from their home in Jerusalem. They lived in a foreign and overtly pagan land. A land where things were not designed to promote faith in Yahweh. Esther’s parents are dead. Mordecai has taken his orphan cousin to be his adopted daughter and raise her. Not exactly a fairy tale story so far.
So will these Jews living in Susa be heroes of the faith who bravely stand up like Daniel and defy a pagan king? Will they be like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and experience a great miracle of God like being rescued from being cast into the fire because they refuse to bow down to the king? Will they cry out like the prophets of old, “Hear the word of the Lord…”?
No… Esther is taken into the harem. Kind of anti-climactic right? No vision from God, no message from angels, no heroic standoff with the pagan king and his advisers… Esther is taken into the harem. Into what some have referred to as a beauty contest. It’s not exactly that, but that’s a tame way to refer to it I guess. And does she resist being taken? Does Mordecai resist her being taken? We don’t know. We aren’t told that.
All of this should make us uncomfortable. This is not THE point of this passage or this story, it’s A point though. Here we see the demeaning of women, demeaning other image bearers, heaping shame upon those taken into the king and sent to live in the other harem with the other concubines. All for the purpose of pleasing the king. No regard for the women involved. It should make us uncomfortable.
Contrast this with what we see in creation, in the Garden of Eden. Eve, a helper alongside Adam. Created in the image of God alongside Adam. Dignity.
Contrast this with how Jesus treated women, or how He treated the vulnerable. Bestowing dignity and respect. Healing and helping. Not using others for His own personal pleasure or power.
This is why we are concerned about issues related to human dignity. It’s an image of God issue, a character and nature of God issue. How we treat others matters greatly to God.
As we think about Esther and Mordecai, we should be struck by the difference in how their lives are described, or maybe better said not described. No mention of great faithfulness, no mention of prayer or seeking the will of the Lord. But what we will see throughout this book is ordinary acts of ordinary people, and these people are probably just trying to get through the day doing the best they can. And through all of this we see the beautiful display of God’s faithfulness, His providence, and His care for His people. His faithfulness is not dependent on Esther or Mordecai. He is faithful because that’s who He is. Not only do we see a robust display of God’s providence in Esther, we also see a robust display of God’s faithfulness. God keeps His word.
We also see the devastating and long-lasting consequences of sin. Mordecai and Esther are where they are because of other peoples sin. Esther is even put in a place where most women that go before her end up shamed and isolated. Used for someone else’s pleasure and purposes. We say at TRC that sin kills. And that sin is atmospheric, meaning the consequences are never isolated to just you as the one who sins.
Moving on in the story, we see a key phrase repeated. Esther gained favor. This is mentioned in verses 9, 15, and 17. Esther gained favor. There was obviously something different about her. Not just her looks (which was why she ended up in the harem). But there must have been something intangible about her. Maybe it was her attitude and apparent humility (she didn’t see to take anything of value when she went into the king but instead took only what Hegai recommended she take, and we aren’t told what that was). Maybe it was just the pure favor of God working in the hearts and minds of those who view her favorably. Maybe it was a combination of all of those things. Either way, Esther gains the favor of Hegai, she gains the favor of all who saw her, and she won more favor and approval from the king than any other woman.
This immediately makes me think of 2 other areas in Scripture. One is Joseph in Genesis. He was unjustly sold into slavery by his brothers, yet gained favor where he served. He was later unjustly thrown into prison and yet gained favor there too. Eventually he’s elevated to 2nd in command in Egypt. Favor.
The other is Jesus. We are told in the gospels that Jesus grew in stature and favor with God and man.
One way of looking at what happened to Esther here is that she is caught up by a corrupt world system. Whether she is complicit or not, we don’t really know. The point is, she ends up caught up in this crude plan to satisfy the king. In the midst of this, her behavior leads to her gaining favor and differentiating herself from the others involved.
It’s possible for us to live in such a way that we are noticeably different from the world around us. And we can do that, and should do that, in a manner that is as peaceable as possible, as loving as possible, and points those we live around toward Jesus.
We can move forward in faith even when we are unsure of the outcome. Mordecai and Esther didn’t have some big revelation from God about how all of this would turn out. They didn’t know that she would actually be chosen to be the queen. They didn’t know that a day would come when she would have the opportunity to save the Jewish people. From what we know, remember unknowns are ok here, from what we know they seem to have moved forward as best they could for the circumstances they found themselves in.
To wrap up the story, we see that Mordecai had instructed Esther to keep her ethnicity a secret. We aren’t told why. We can infer from this, and from other sources like Nehemiah and Ezra, that there was a negative attitude toward the Jewish people that would become more apparent later in this book. It becomes more than just a negative attitude and is actually a hostile attitude. Esther obeys and keeps her Jewish identity a secret.
In the end, Esther is chosen to be the queen. Despite all the circumstances, Esther is now the queen and as we’ll see she is in a position to one day save the Jewish people. Much of what she experienced would not have been acceptable to the Jews. She is taken into the harem, where she is prepared for one night with the king, to be one more in a line of conquests for him. And yet God in His providence gave Esther favor, she stood out, something is different about her, and God through this pagan and crude way of finding a new queen puts Esther into this place of being queen.
Ultimately she is not given this position for her own benefit (she doesn’t know that yet). But she’s given this position against all odds to eventually be in position to save God’s people. Just as God kept His word delivered through the prophets that judgement would come, He also kept His word that He would preserve His people.
This section of the story ends with another party. Esther’s feast, that really seems to be all about how great and powerful Ahasuerus is…
What a story… Pagan pleasure, Jewish exiles, a lot more information we wish had been included…
And yet, favor bestowed by God in the midst of it all. God’s providence on full display, orchestrating events to ultimately deliver His people.
This is messy. And I feel like we can all probably relate to the messiness of all this. Our lives are messy. We don’t always make the right or best decisions, and yet in Christ we are favored by God. Christ takes our shame and gives us His righteousness! We see and know that Romans 8:28 is true, God is working all things together for His glory and our good. Our good!
Now before we wrap up this morning I want you to see a contrast between King Ahasuerus and Jesus:1) In Ahasuerus we see extravagance, opulence, sin is celebrated, a king desperate to show off how great he is.
In Jesus we see a King who left His throne in heaven to seek out the least of these, who left His riches to serve the lowly, who laid down His life for the sake of others.2) Ahasuerus creates shame by using people for his own pleasure and his own ends.
Jesus bestows dignity on others. He actually takes our shame upon Himself so that we might be clean.3) Ahasuerus lavishes gifts to ultimately bring glory to himself.
Jesus lavishes the best gift of all upon us, He forgives us, cleans us up, and adopts us into His family. He gives of Himself to create for Himself a pure bride.
So what do we do with all of this?1) Remember that sin has consequences.
Mordecai and Esther suffered the consequences of other peoples sin, and their own. Sin never satisfies, and sin is atmospheric. Sin only produces death, it never gives life.2) Know that in Christ we are forgiven.
For those who repent and believe in Jesus, we are forgiven and made clean. He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins when we confess them, repent of them, and believe in Him. We have been forgiven! If you haven’t experienced the forgiveness found in Jesus I invite you today to repent and believe!3) Move forward in bold faith, even when we can’t see the end.
Don’t let your past hold you back from faithfulness to Jesus today. The good news for us in Christ is that our past failures and compromises with the world don’t’ preclude us from future faithfulness.4) Trust God.
Over and over again He has proven Himself faithful. He made a way for His people to be delivered, even when they didn’t know they needed that to happen. He preserved His people. He fulfilled His promises. He came and dwelt among us, living a perfect life, dying in our place for our sin, rising from the grave, and ascending to the right hand of the Father where He awaits the day of His return to restore all things. God can be trusted.5) We worship.
What other response could we have but to worship! The Lord is faithful, He is sovereign, and He works all things together for our good in Christ. Praise the Lord!