Topical Scripture: Esther 1
Thesis: God is right now orchestrating events to protect our future.
Persuade: To trust him with your problems today
Perhaps the most perplexing theological issue Christians face today deals with sovereignty and free will. Put in short form, the question I am so often asked is: if God know the future, do we have freedom to choose? If we have such freedom, is God still in charge? The one option makes us robots, puppets on divine strings; the other makes God subject to our will. Neither feels right to us.
This question has become much more practical since September 11. Why did God permit such atrocities in our country? Did he cause the attacks? If not, did he allow them? Or is he subject to our choices and free will?
Is God in control in your life? Or are you? With the problems you face right now—health issues, financial questions, family concerns—is God sovereign? Or is he not?
There’s another way to face the issue, a third option. To explore it, I’d like us to walk together through a favorite OT book, the book of Esther. Let’s learn who holds the future, from a person who experienced God’s sovereignty in a way which will relate directly to every one of us.
Welcome to Esther
First, a few introductory facts. One: God is present, whether we see him or not. Esther is one of two OT books which never mention the name of God, the other being the Song of Solomon. Not a single time is his name cited in the book. This fact so perplexed Jewish readers that many did not feel the book should be included in their OT canon.
Two: God is sovereign, whether we understand him or not.. Esther is all about the providence of God. For reasons we’ll discover as we study the book together, God’s name is never mentioned but his power is made evident at every turn. When God seems silent, he is not. He is sovereign in ways we do not see or understand.
Three: God can use every one of us. The fact that the book was named for a woman, and features her as its primary hero, bothered many in the Jewish community as well. That fact should tell every one of us that God values us all, and has a plan for every life here tonight.
Four: God cares for his own. Esther describes the last great crisis facing the Jewish nation in the OT. After Assyria and Babylon came the genocide plotted by Haman. God’s answer to this crisis shows his answer to ours.
Consider these biblical promises we can claim right now: “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4.19); “But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze'” (Isaiah 43.1-3).
The book deals with the Jewish community still living in Persia after the Babylonian Captivity was ended. In 586 BC Babylon enslaved Judah and transported most of the nation to their country. In 538 Cyrus, king of Persia, destroyed Babylon and freed the Jews. The first group of exiles returned to Israel under Zerubbabel at that time. In 458, a second group returned under Ezra; in 432 the last group returned under Nehemiah.
The events of Esther occurred between 538 and 458. In fact, the date of the first Purim is stated in Esther 8.12: “the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar.” This was March 7, 473 B.C.
So, before 458 B.C. the Jews remaining in Persia were threatened with genocidal extinction. God responded to this terrorist threat in exactly the way he responds to our problems today. Esther will show us how.
The first “coincidence”
Coincidence has been defined as those times when God prefers to remain anonymous. Here’s the first such “coincidence” in the book.
The king is introduced first (1.1). Xerxes was the son of Darius, who was himself the son of Cyrus, the liberator of the Jewish nation. Xerxes ruled Persia from 486 to 465 B.C. In the third year of his reign (483 B.C.), he gave a great party for the military leaders and political nobles of the entire nation. For 180 days he showed them his wealth; then he gave a great banquet.
This was a way of showing his leaders his own might and significance. Today, the Sultan of Brunei’s opens his palace and its grounds for his annual birthday celebration for the same reason.
All this occurred in Susa, the winter residence of the Persian kings. Banquets will become very important in the book. Ten are described. The king gave his own, allowing people to choose any wine they might drink, and even the goblet they might wish to use. Queen Vashti gave her own banquet as well (v. 9).
These banquets lead to the first crisis and coincidence in the book. The inebriated king commands his seven eunuchs to bring his queen before his guests, so that he might display her for them. Some think verse 11 indicates that Xerxes meant Queen Vashti to wear only her crown, to appear nude before them. For whatever reason, she refused (v. 12).
Xerxes consulted his legal counsel. They replied:
“Then Memucan replied in the presence of the king and the nobles, ‘Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the kind but also against all the nobles and the peoples of the provinces of King Xerxes. For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women, and they will despise their husbands and say, ‘King Xerxes commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come.’ This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen’s conduct will respond to all the king’s nobles in the same way. There will be no end of the disrespect and discord” (vv. 16-18).
With this conclusion:
“Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also let the king give her royal position to someone else who is better than she. Then when the king’s edict is proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest” (vv.19-20).
And this result:
“The king and his nobles were pleased with this advice, so the king did as Memucan proposed. He sent dispatches to all parts of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in its own language, proclaiming in each people’s tongue that every man should be ruler over his own household” (vv. 21-22).
Here is the chain now set in motion:
Esther will be chosen queen.
Haman, the king’s chief adviser, will plot the destruction of the entire Jewish population in Persia.
Esther will appeal for her people; Haman will be executed, and they will be spared.
But none of this could have happened if the king had not become drunk at his own banquet, and his queen had not refused his request to be displayed before his guests.
God’s lessons for us
God hits straight licks with crooked sticks. He can use any event for his glory and his will. Other biblical examples include Joseph in the dungeon; Moses’ murder of the Egyptian soldier; Daniel in the lion’s den; and John exiled on Patmos. Most of all, the death of the Lord Jesus on the cross demonstrates this. Satan thought he won, when he lost most of all.
So ask God to use your events, your problems for his glory and your good. Claim Romans 8.28.
God is in charge of tomorrow, today. Here he is already planning his response to Haman’s attack on the people. If these events had not begun here, Esther could not have been in place by the time the attack came. She spent twelve months simply being prepared to meet the king for the first time (2.12). Then he had to choose her, and fall in love with her. The entire process from Vashti’s fall to her coronation took some four years (cf. 2.16). Then she had to muster the courage to stand before him on behalf of her fellow Jews.
God knew all that would happen in the future, for there is no such thing as the future with him. He began planning for this crisis four years before it occurred.
So know that he is already planning for tomorrow, today. He’s in charge. He’ll tell you what you need to do. And when he does, know that he knows more than you do. Know that he sees the end, the result, right now. Be obedient to his will and his word today, and one day you’ll understand why.
Who is your Haman? What is your crisis? Stay faithful to the last word you heard from God. Put the future in his hands. They are strong hands, indeed. Esther is proof.