Hello, and welcome to the show today. You know, in recent days I have been reflecting on the uniqueness of Christianity amongst the many other religions of the world. There are many religious works today, each offering differing (and often mutually exclusive) worldviews; meaning they make claims that are at opposition with other worldviews; and therefore you have to choose (you can’t have it both ways). And so you have to evaluate which religion (or religious work) is true based on a set of criteria. And for many it is enough that the religious book in question be the cause of some kind of special emotion or experience that they have while reading it. For others, it is that the philosophy of the book resonates with them, challenges them, or aligns with one’s own set of beliefs held even prior to picking up the book. But virtually none of these books has anything to offer that is independently verifiable historically or scientifically. And those that try are often shown later to be erroneous and false. That is, until we come to the Christian Bible. One of the key things that separates the Bible from every other religious book is that it ties itself to known history. Every page bleeds with the challenge “come and check this out. Here is what REALLY happened; here are the facts.” Even Jesus, the embodiment of the Word of God, begs people to come and check out the facts; to have faith, yes, but not a blind faith, but rather a faith that rests on the sufficiency of the evidence. He always gave people a sign (whether it was a healing, a miracle of nature, etc.) that showed that He is who He claimed to be. And that formed the foundation for their (hopefully) then coming to put their faith and trust in Him. And the Bible is the same way because it is His Word. The Bible offers to us not just a set of beliefs we should ascribe to, but a history of God Himself interacting in time and space with His people; performing real miracles; doing real things. And then it invites us to (based on the evidence) to place our faith in Him. The first seventeen books of the Old Testament are historical. The first 5 books of the New Testament are historical, by which I mean they are meant to be read (primarily) as history. And I think what God might be trying to say to us is that before you get into poetry, into prophecy, into instruction and teaching, you must first come to grips with the understanding that I have acted in time and space with real people in real places and my entire Word is historically accurate and worthy of your trust.
And I want to emphasize this as we enter into this first chapter of Esther because the author begins not with “Once upon a time” or some other vague backdrop, but with a number of key historical markers that help his readers to understand where exactly this story took place in known history and who specifically we are talking about. He says…
Esther 1:1-3a (ESV)— 1 Now in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, 2 in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne in Susa, the citadel, 3 in the third year of his reign he gave a feast for all his officials and servants.
Xerxes is Ahasuerus-- Now we see that the first name given to us in the book of Esther is that of the King, Ahasuerus. Ahasuerus is the name many of us have in our Bibles, which comes from a Hebrew transliteration. But we know him in history primarily by his Greek name, Xerxes. Ahasuerus is none other than the mighty Xerxes.
Cyrus Conquers Babylon-- Now let’s back-track a tad. You will remember from last week that not too long before this, Cyrus (king of Persia comes to power). Israel had been in exile to Babylon, but then Cyrus conquers the Babylonian empire; and what is incredible is that he does this without a fight. Remember in Daniel chapter 5 we see the Babylonian king Belshazzar throwing a drunken party using the vessels of gold and silver stolen from the temple in Jerusalem. And the fingers of a human hand appear and write on the wall “Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. (Dan. 5)”. And Daniel reveals to Belshazzar that God is going to immediately bring his kingdom to an end. And He does. That very night (the night of October 12, 539 B.C.) the army of Persia waded up the waters of the Euphrates River through the canals of the city of Babylon and took the city. And in fact Belshazzar was such a terrible leader that Cyrus was actually welcomed by the Babylonians as a liberator. And so all the lands previously under Babylonian rule (including Jerusalem and Judah) now fell under the control of the ever-expanding Persian empire.
Darius and the Beginning of the Persian Wars-- Now after Cyrus died, the throne went to Cambyses and then to Darius 1 (the Great). And Darius the Great goes on to conquer Greece in 550 B.C. and following. But Greece is never totally conquered. In fact later they fight back relentlessly against Persia, defeating them at the battle of Marathon in 490 B.C., that famous battle where a man ran 26 miles, which is where we get our distance for modern-day marathons. And Darius is furious at having lost this battle and therefore swears revenge. However, on his way back to try to crush the Greeks and gain revenge, he dies, leaving the duty of crushing the Greeks to his son, Xerxes, who comes to power in 486 B.C. Now despite strong advice not to go to war with Greece again, Xerxes decides to ignore that counsel and in 481 he is finally able to set out; and does so with a massive army. Persia (the largest empire in history; now with a population of around 50 million people) puts on a massive military display, boasting hundreds of thousands if not close to a million soldiers. So this battle against the Greeks should be no contest. However, unbelievably, the Greeks are able to repel Xerxes. And there are some very famous battles you may remember from your history class when you studied the Persian War. The Battle of Thermopylae (the battle of the 300 Spartans); the Battle of Salamis, where the Greeks annihilate the Persian navy, Persia losing around 300 warships.
Eventual Defeat by Alexander the Great— So there is constant fighting between Persia (the reigning world empire) and Greece, the next major world empire. And Xerxes continues fighting (mostly unsuccessfully) until Alexander the Great finally comes on the scene and defeats Persia for good.
Important Backstory-- Now the reason this whole backstory is so important is because unless you understand what historical events are going on in the background, you won’t really get what this feast (or feasts) is about. [In the book of Esther, the Persian war against the Greeks, takes place between chapters 1 and 2 of the book. It would be included in the “after these things” (2:1).] So this banquet in chapter 1 is more than just a banquet. It is a war-related banquet. How do we know this? Who is at this banquet?
Esther 1:3b-4 (ESV)— The army of Persia and Media and the nobles and governors of the provinces were before him, 4 while he showed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor and pomp of his greatness for many days, 180 days.
Building Support-- [The time (483 b.c., the third year of Xerxes’ reign), and the presence of the army, suggest that Xerxes may have been building support for his invasion of Greece (preparations c. 483–480; the Battle of Thermopylae took place in 480).] So Xerxes/Ahasuerus is getting ready to march against the Greeks. But remember there are those who don’t think he can or should do this; and so he throws this massive banquet to display his greatness and kind of get everyone hyped up into believing that he can do it. And so this is not just a “let’s get our groove on kind of party.” There’s purpose behind it. To show that he is all-powerful and in complete control and able to do whatever he wants to do. That is how the book opens up; with a king thinking he’s in absolute control. And yet, as we will see, he is humbled in some amazing ways.
And by the end of the book we discover that it was never him who was in control of history, but God. History is His Story. And nobody can thwart His plans or His purposes. And the same is true for you and for me today. We can have assurance in the midst of all this craziness going on in the world today because we know that behind the scenes the hand of God is moving, working all things together for His glory and our benefit. Let’s give thanks to Him for that today. Amen.
Rev. Cameron Ury graduated from Asbury University in 2007 with a B.A. in Bible and Theology. From there he continued his studies at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, MS. It was there that he met his wife Tanya, who graduated from WBS with her M.A. and M.Div. degrees. Cameron and Tanya got married in 2009. Cameron then graduated with his M.Div. degree with a pastoral concentration in 2011.
After shepherding churches in both Mississippi and Ohio, they joined the ministry team at Renton Park Chapel in January of 2018, where Cameron serves as Senior Pastor and Teacher.
Cameron is also the founder and host of Lechem Panim, a weekly radio show that airs on KGNW 820AM "The Word Seattle". The ministry of Lechem Panim is centered around leading people into the life-giving presence of God in and through Bible study, prayer, and active discipleship with the aim of ministering to a world that is in desperate need of the healing touch of Jesus Christ.