Unseen God | Hidden Hope Found in the Book of Esther PART II | Imperfect Glory | Esther 2
September 13, 2020 Speaker: Christopher Rich Series: Unseen God: Hidden Hope Found in the Book of Esther
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Esther 2
Christopher Rich – September 13, 2020
Unseen God | Hidden Hope Found in the Book of Esther
PART II | Imperfect Glory | Esther 2
Introduction | Hope in Darkness
Good Morning Welcome to Mercy Fellowship where we are Saved by Jesus Work, Changed by Jesus’ Grace, and Living on Jesus’s Mission. Today we are continuing our series walking the through the book of Esther called UNSEEN GOD: Hidden Hope Found in the Book of Esther. Thank you for joining us!
How do we faithfully navigate difficult circumstances? What does it look like to engage with the world when darkness seems to cover like a cloud all aspects of life. How do we preserve when we are powerless especially if and when the powerful in the world seem to be erratic at best and evil at worst. When we are in challenging chapters of our individual or collective stories where do we find hope? How do we process the darkness we face or even the darkness we participate in either willingly or because those with power over us have inflicted damage, pain, or even abuse. It’s darkness we dread and light we long for. We want suffering, difficulty and oppression to end AND we want joy, justice, flourishing, and glory to reign. That is a good desire. We all desire glory because we are all created to reflect glory. Yet when we search for glory in ourselves what we find will always be fleeting at best. Struck with reality, we can easily experience fear with our imperfect selves and surrounding, when we are called to faith found in a perfect God. One who knows our story and is working out all things for good for His glory and our Joy. One who is with us in our darkest chapters and is able to both change our perspective, destiny, and circumstances. As we seek to process the pain, trauma, and seeming senselessness of our lives and culture we are often (in the rearview) able to see God’s hand active in and through our path. I hope this can give us greater confidence in Him when He seems to be distant, Unseen God. Let’s find hope in Esther Chapter 2.
PART I | Esther Found | Esther 2:1-11
Esther 2:1-11 | After these things, when the anger of King Ahasuerus had abated, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her. 2 Then the king's young men who attended him said, “Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for the king. 3 And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom to gather all the beautiful young virgins to the harem in Susa the citadel, under custody of Hegai, the king's eunuch, who is in charge of the women. Let their cosmetics be given them. 4 And let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” This pleased the king, and he did so.5 Now there was a Jew in Susa the citadel whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish, a Benjaminite, 6 who had been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had carried away. 7 He was bringing up Hadassah, that is Esther, the daughter of his uncle, for she had neither father nor mother. The young woman had a beautiful figure and was lovely to look at, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter. 8 So when the king's order and his edict were proclaimed, and when many young women were gathered in Susa the citadel in custody of Hegai, Esther also was taken into the king's palace and put in custody of Hegai, who had charge of the women. 9 And the young woman pleased him and won his favor. And he quickly provided her with her cosmetics and her portion of food, and with seven chosen young women from the king's palace, and advanced her and her young women to the best place in the harem. 10 Esther had not made known her people or kindred, for Mordecai had commanded her not to make it known. 11 And every day Mordecai walked in front of the court of the harem to learn how Esther was and what was happening to her.
The end of Chapter 1 we have a newly “single” king without a queen after He propositioned to have he exhibited like a stripper at bachelor party and she “shocker” refused and he lost his mind in response. This created significant void to be filled both relationally and positionally. Chapter 2 picks up 4 years later,. IN the interim time Ahasuerus occupied himself (and his whole country) by gathering up the largest army the world had seen or know at that time to march against to attempt to conquer Greece. I say attempt, because with all his military power they failed in part because of the battle of Thermopylae (300 Movie). Now He’s back home, licking his wounds and stewing remembering “better times” with Vashti. Only there is little remorse and less repentance. In fact, he doesn’t see his error or take ownership but instead is gaslighting history as he remembers “what she had done” and what was against her. Volatile and violent, his court wants to calm him down. Rather than addressing the emptiness of his soul they attempt to fill his sexual appetite. The “wise men” and young counselors come up with a plan on how to “replace” the queen and please the king. Typically, a queen would come from a noble or prominent political family, but here they mix it up. We’ve already drafted all the young fighting men from across the empire for your war what if we draft all the nation’s beautiful young women for your bedroom? We’ll prepare them for months in a variety of ways, then after you’ve had them you can pick the one that ‘performs’ the best as queen. The king is not a strong clear leader, but who is easily swayed and manipulated by those around him (which we’ll see numerous times in Esther) loves their idea and makes it so.
Some “lucky” girl from one of the 127 provinces, is going get to be Queen, what could go wrong. I’d love to characterize what happens next like a national government run “casting call” going out to select several contestants for “Persian Bachelor.” But it’s a lot darker than that. This isn’t a collection of volunteers or vapid influence seekers. These are daughters with hopes and dreams of full lives who are taken either by pretense or force by government officials, ultimately be used and abused by the king and his court in by a state sanctioned multicontinental human trafficking program. Power used not to cultivate flourishing of all but to decimate communities, disgrace and defile daughters all to delight one despotic dictator. But there is a chance to be queen, surely that provides some hope. We’ll see a bit later how high the stakes really are.
It is in this intense national cultural moment that we move from the king’s court of power and privilege to a local minority “family” who has already endured great suffering. There is Mordecai, who is a Jewish man living in Susa, part of an exiled marginalized people in a harsh place. He can trace his family to King Saul but his current circumstances are less than noble. He is raising his cousin Hadassah/Esther, as if she was his own daughter (v7). We now met Esther who the text is clear has an attractive figure and striking appearance read “eligible for the King’s Queen contest” In giving her Hebrew name first the author is showing us the nature of her divide and complex identity, she is Hebrew/Jewish as a primary identity but is in a place where Persian culture is preeminent. She has already endured great tragedy and trauma as both parents have died. This brings up several questions and conflicts to attempt to reconcile. Why were they still there in the first place, it had been at least a generation since the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem (see Ezra-Nehemiah) did they like Persia or lack means to leave? We don’t know. Where they faithful and devout? She has no clear religious practice or stated devotion to the God of the Bible. Did Mordechai attempt resist or willing give Esther over to the harem? I’d like to think I’d fight to the point death to protect anyone of my daughters. But we don’t know what they did, we do know Mordechai was aware of what was happening (he was guard) AND we know ultimately they were completely powerless. He clearly didn’t have a Liam Neeson moment in TAKEN where he goes on a rampage against the capital guard or hidden Esther. If fact the only hiding that happens is Mordechai telling Esther to conceal her nationality seemingly for the purposes of self-preservation. Maybe they should have been martyred, but instead they did what so many do in the face of oppression and obstacles they did what they had to survive. Often world “Dying is easy… living is harder.” We rarely have substantial control over our circumstances in the face great power. We say we won’t back down but we make thousands of small and big compromises to engage with the world around us. We live in obscurity and we can at times endure a lack of care or even abuse from those with more power and we wonder why. Some of us have very dark chapters in our lives sometimes this is caused by our own sin and brokenness and sometimes it is the wickedness or sin of others that harm and hurt us. Both produce pain, shame, and stain us with sin, both need healing, purity, and hope. We can begin to see hope when we remember the story isn’t over.
Favor in a time of Fear and Isolation – Esther has been taken, she’s a victim but she is also finding a way forward. She has “won” favor with Hegai (Headmaster of the Harem) and experiences “blessings” for it. She has been “promoted” given the best food, even given women “under” her. In terms of the impending “competition” she has some advantages. Sometimes “faithfulness” looks less like holiness and more like survival. She is given the best position in the worst place a girl could be. It reminds me of the “favor of Fleas” Corrie Ten Boom talked about in the concentration camps so they would be left alone to have a Bible Study. She doesn’t know it yet but the favor she’s been given isn’t just to lessen her suffering or increase her chances of flourishing but are to protect and serve others. Mordecai is close to Esther, but he knows little of what she is dealing with, unable to counsel or encourage her, and powerless to provide help. There is building tension, anxiety, and fear as the contest begins in earnest and the stakes become clear.
PART II |Esther “Wins” | Esther 2:12-18
Esther 2:12-18 | 12 Now when the turn came for each young woman to go in to King Ahasuerus, after being twelve months under the regulations for the women, since this was the regular period of their beautifying, six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and ointments for women— 13 when the young woman went in to the king in this way, she was given whatever she desired to take with her from the harem to the king's palace. 14 In the evening she would go in, and in the morning she would return to the second harem in custody of Shaashgaz, the king's eunuch, who was in charge of the concubines. She would not go in to the king again, unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name. 15 When the turn came for Esther the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her as his own daughter, to go in to the king, she asked for nothing except what Hegai the king's eunuch, who had charge of the women, advised. Now Esther was winning favor in the eyes of all who saw her. 16 And when Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign, 17 the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. 18 Then the king gave a great feast for all his officials and servants; it was Esther's feast. He also granted a remission of taxes to the provinces and gave gifts with royal generosity.
Now that the nation’s daughter’s been taken from their homes, put in a harem, given a year to prepare and beautify themselves the intimate details of the selection process are revealed. Over the course of several months, one-by-one, scores of pagan Persian women would spend a night alone with the king. They could bring whatever they thought would help entice and pleasure him the best. Far from an innocent series of introductory first dates, these evenings were “auditions” where the king would decide who “delighted” him the best. Each had but one shot to be queen. Those who were “tried” and found lacking or just failed to win the kings favor as “best” one night stand wouldn’t be freed to return home, given a second chance or even a second thought. There wasn’t hope of better future or promise of freedom it was either win or slavery.
Queen or Concubine – You either where either declared the singular winner or demoted to a secondary harem to be forgotten. You either get a lifetime of royalty and (hopefully) delight (unless you somehow displease the king later) OR a lifetime of slavery and defilement. That is a great distance in destinies. Night after night young women after young women had their virtue taken, fate sealed and shame secured.
They gave ‘their best’ (or had it taken) and found it wasn’t good enough for this king so they were not only defiled but shamed and damned to a living hell as a forgotten concubine. When we have shame, when we have failed to meet real (or imagined) standard I think we can begin to think God acts like this king. We have one shot to be good, not just good, but perfect, and we’ve blown it or been found less than. In shame, of sin we’ve done or done to us, we can think God the King is already displeased with us. Some of us are settling for being concubines enslaved to a world, others, or ourselves that seek to use us and abuse us for their own joy with little concern for our flourishing. We feel the condemnation. Maybe we think we’ve “won” God’s favor and actually succeeded, but somehow believe we are either at the whim of a King like Xerces who could flip on us at a moment or somehow we can find a way to fail later. We feel the constant pressure to perform. Neither will bring peace, both are a form of slaver imposed eternally or internally.
Won Favor - It is in this highly competitive environment where Esther, a Jewish virgin, “found favor” with the king who crowned her queen. It’s hard to read this and say “be an Esther” Without a hint of “Daniel like” civil disobedience, she goes all in to win a Persian game “Sex Survivor” with the prize of being named “New Queen” won with the price of her virginity given out of wedlock to a gentile. She could practically black out a bingo board of OT taboos. We like to think all of life a collection of choices that are either good and bad, but sometimes in the darkness of a broken world we are only given the choice between bad and worse. We wonder why those are all the choices we have an if God is or will somehow redeem us or our story. Is there purpose in our pain or hope in less-than lives. Esther is an example and experience some victory. The King was so moved by her, it says he loved her “more than others” she is compared to many and found in his eyes to be the best. She gains his favor says she “won” his grace. the court celebrated with a great feast and the country experienced a generous reduction in taxes. She began her “reign” as queen as popular figure as people enjoyed some common grace from her winning the king’s favor. Earlier it says she won the favor of all who saw her. She experiences favor, position, kindness, but the text is clear it’s based on her appearance (cannot control) and her performance (can control). She wins.
PART III |Jesus is Most Glorious!
Where is Hope? God’s hand can be found in the details of what is happening in the story both explecitaly and as a contrast to the evil seen. Esther is an example but not THE example. In Esther, and in our lives/world there are only imperfect people able to engage and that God uses to achieve His purposes. Where Esther will be used as an imperfect heroin to temporarily save her people from destruction, God did send a perfect servant perfect hero who’s mission is to secure an eternal salvation for His people. The gospel is not go out and win favor, be the best, and achieve victory, that’s not good news! The Gospel is of mercy and grace of God NOT getting what our performance deserves (our sin) and getting victory we didn’t earn (His grace given to us) Praise God our favor and grace are not determined with how we win His favor but how he won over death and gave us grace we did not earn or deserve! Praise God we don’t rely on our performance, with our one night, one opportunity to ether be royal heir or relegated to hell.
Romans 10:11-13 | 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to sham.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Mordechai – He was near but powerless and didn’t know what was happening. Our God is near, knows our story, and is powerful to engage an intervene. Some suffering has been allowed and some chapters are hard and dark, but we know the story ends with no suffering, wholeness, and healing. All through Jesus.
We all appreciate beauty and strive for glory. Yet God’s perfect hero didn’t come in glory and beauty. But homely humility.
Isaiah 53:2-5 | 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
According to Isaiah He was without form of majesty that we should regard him. However, He has promised to return with great glory. While other pursuits of glory will leave our expectations unmet, Jesus is exceedingly glorious and able to truly satisfy. When we rest in the glory of Jesus, we do not worry about coming before the king to win His favor. We draw near the throne of grace with confidence God is pleased with us in Christ.
King Xerces His officers are sent on a mission to steal women/girls from their families killing communities and destroying hopes and dreams. Jesus is sent by God on a mission of life and fullness John 10:10 | The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
For King Ahasuerus he takes these women at their best and says “I’ll use them and let them suffer for my pleasure and cast them aside with shame forgetting them forever.”
Jesus sees us in our shame and at our worst and says “It’s my pleasure to gather people from every nation who have been forgotten and bring them into a place of grace and glory.”
Evil kings seeking glory through power and pleasure will take a nation’s sons, drafting them for his wars and daughters, defiling them as his whores.
It is our King Jesus’ pleasure to use His power to make the defiled pure and draft exiles and orphans into a nation of citizen-saints who are heirs as Son and Daughters in a glorious forever Kingdom.
Are you seeking glory? Good! Do you have shame and are in need of healing and hope, good.
Find glory that satisfies, healing that covers shame, and hope now and forever when you Trust Jesus!
More in Unseen God: Hidden Hope Found in the Book of Esther
November 22, 2020Unseen God | Hidden Hope Found in the Book of Esther PART IX | Restoration Seen | Esther 9-10
November 15, 2020Unseen God | Hidden Hope Found in the Book of Esther PART VIII | The Last Word | Esther 8
October 18, 2020Unseen God | Hidden Hope Found in the Book of Esther PART VII | Justice Revealed | Esther 7