Hello, and welcome to the show today. We have been studying together the book of Esther; a marvelous book that has so much to speak to regarding the unique situations we are facing today. And last week we highlighted how Xerxes (or in our English Bibles: Ahasuerus) is preparing to march on Greece (which we know will be unsuccessful). And he throws this massive feast during which he is showing his army how great Persia is and (more importantly) how great he is; and he decides he wants to put his wife (the Queen) Vashti on display. So he commands that she be brought before them; but she refuses. And Xerxes reacts in the worst way possible (following the advice of his advisor Memucan) and banishes Vashti. So chapter one ends in brokenness. And soon after that Xerxes leads his army out of Persia to face Greece.
God’s Humbling of Xerxes-- Now Xerxes obviously had a pride problem. And if there’s anything we learn from scripture (especially the book of Proverbs) is that pride always comes before a fall. And if we don’t humble ourselves, God must find a way to humble us. And that is not a bad thing. Sometimes it is in our falling (after we have reached rock bottom) that we can then be in a position to receive God‘s grace. This is certainly what happened in the life of Xerxes. He had to go through a process of intense humiliation before he was prepared to receive what was for him one of God’s greatest graces in his life (Esther). And similarly in our own lives, before God can show us His primary objects of grace, He must first show us the grace of His humbling, so that we will be ready to receive those objects of grace. And really the instrument that God used to humble Ahasuerus was the Persian war against Greece.
Thermopylae and The 300— There was more than one battle, but one of the most significant battles was the Battle of Thermopylae. Xerxes remember had amassed this incredible force and they are marching to try to defeat Greece. And the King of Sparta, Leonidas, marches to Thermopylae with the 300 men of his royal bodyguard, gathering troops as they go (as many as they can) to meet the Persians. [The Greeks were not able to muster a large force immediately because of some religious prohibitions. In progress at the time were two major religious festivals. The first was the Spartan’s Carnea in honor of the Greek god Apollo; and the second was the famous Olympic Games.] So in other words, sports was distracting people from what was really going on.
King Leonidas no doubt felt some frustration as he marched with his 300 men. Who cares about the Olympics? Xerxes is marching right now to defeat us! Nevertheless, he amasses a force of about 7,100 men by the time they reach the pass of Thermopylae, which was nothing compared to the army of Persia (around 250,000 men). But the Greek’s advantage lay in the fact that although they were hopelessly outnumbered, the Persians had to enter through a narrow pass (kind of like a funnel). So suddenly numbers didn’t count for anything. And the Greeks fight valiantly and are able to even repel the Persian forces for a period of time. And these Greeks are tough; they are fearless; they are the fight-to-the-death kind of warriors. They believed themselves to be descendants of the demi-god Hercules; they thought he was their ancestor. And they strived to live up to that in the fierceness of their fighting.
Now this battle took place in the blistering heat of August. And just to let you know how fearless these guys were; during the battle (as the historian Herodotus records) a Spartan by the name of Dieneces is told that [the Medes were so many that when they shoot their multitudes of arrows it would block the sun light. Dieneces reportedly quipped, “Our friend…brings us right good news, for if the Medes hide the sun we shall fight them in the shade and not in the sunshine” (Persian Wars 7.226; LCL 3: 543).] These guys are willing to go to the grave before surrendering to Xerxes. And so Greece succeeds in repelling (at least for the time) the Medo-Persian forces, until they are betrayed by a Greek man who shows the Persian forces another way to get to them. And Leonidas and his 300 Spartan warriors are the only ones who stay to make that last stand. And they of course are killed. But the battle is so demoralizing for Xerxes that after they eventually defeated the Greeks, Xerxes had his men quickly bury the bodies of the 300 Greeks and 19,000 corpses of his own men (leaving only 1,000) so that his massive army would not know that they had just been obliterated by so few men. And they go on to sack Athens, but are then defeated by the Greeks at the Battle of Salamis. And Xerxes returns to Persia with his tail between his legs.
All this happens between chapters 1 and 2 of Esther. When the text says in verse 1 of chapter 2, “after these things”, all this has happened in between. So he and his army arrive home. And what is the first thing Ahasuerus wants to do?
Olympic Defeat— I remember once my wife Tanya and I were watching the olympics and there was man who was skying down the mountain making incredible time! And his wife is there supporting him and cheering him on. She was a professional sportswoman herself. And he crosses the finish line in place for gold. And they both watch as the other skiers compete, hoping that his time will not be beat. But finally, another skier beats his time. And realizing the gold has just slipped from his hands, he puts his face down on his wife’s shoulder. And she says to him, “It’s going to be ok.”
You know, you can be the toughest guy in the world, but when you fall, sometimes you need someone there to pick you up. Well that is how Ahasuerus is feeling.
Esther 2:1 (ESV)— 1 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.
Ahasuerus Wanted Comfort-- You see, Ahasuerus wants to crawl up into his palace, put his head on his wife’s shoulder and receive comfort from her. But there’s a problem with that. He had banished her just before he left!!! No more Vashti! And he can’t simply re-instate her because of the nature of the law of the Medes and the Persians, which could not be repealed. So his men come up with a brilliant idea. It says…
Esther 2:2-4 (ESV)— 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.
An Empire-wide Beauty Pageant-- So Xerxes decides to throw an empire-wide beauty pageant to select his new queen. Now this is ingenious because what better way can you come up with to help your nation forget that you were just beaten (royally) on the battlefield than telling your kingdom that you are going to select a woman from amongst them (it could be anybody) to be their queen. It’s kind of like the media does today. Major political scandal happens? Yeah, we can talk about that. But hey look what’s on! The Bachelor. Which lovely lady will he choose?! People tend to be much more interested in stars than in what people are really going through in and throughout the world. And that was the same in ancient times as well as today. Leaders are often masters of distraction. And it is no different here when Ahasuerus throws this beauty pageant. Welcome to The Bachelor; season 1; Persian edition, except we will see that Esther is a few grades above your typical Bachelor contestant.
The Star That Reveals-- The people want a star; and the people will soon be given a star Esther is the Persian word for star. But when we study and examine her story, we find that Esther is not the kind of star that distracts people from what is really going on; but is a star that illuminates and calls attention to it; and we will see this specifically later in how she will bring to light the dark plot of Haman the Agagite.
Esther 2:5-6 (ESV)— 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.
So Mordecai is [among the fourth generation of deported Jews.] His great grandfather Kish experienced the Babylonian deportation. And the text says in…
Esther 2:7 (ESV)--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.
So the first thing told to us about Hadassah is that she is an orphan living in the care of her cousin Mordecai.
Ally Playing Orphan-- Not long ago our daughter Ally discovered a new game; playing orphan. She likes to pretend that she is all alone and that she has no parents or grandparents. She likes to be little Annie I guess. The funny thing is I remember doing the same thing with my sister Bethany growing up. We loved to play orphans like the Boxcar children (if you remember them).
But in reality, being an orphan is tough. It is very difficult to lose your parents, no matter what age you are. Not long ago I took a trip back to the church where I had begun pastoral ministry years ago to help do the funeral for one of our dear friends who had died of lung cancer. And just recently I was reading a post from her daughter about how much she misses her mom, and how those feelings had been most recently triggered by a familiar smell that had brought back a flood of memories. And dealing with not only the initial pain of losing somebody, but the void they leave behind, is difficult. Now I know that we must all, at some point, lose our parents. But the earlier you lose them, sometimes it can be harder because they don’t get to see you arrive, if you know what I mean. Esther (for instance) would never experience the joy of having her parents share in her growing up, her engagement, her wedding, her first child, any of it (not to mention becoming queen). And that is especially painful. And you know I love how scripture doesn’t leave out the fact that while God is in sovereign control over the nations, He is also sovereign on a smaller scale in each and every one of our own individual lives. He is the Lord even in times of brokenness; and despite our brokenness (maybe even at times because of our brokenness) God can do amazing things in and through us. Just about everybody in scripture who was used by God in a mighty way had some kind of brokenness in their lives or situations. And Esther’s life is no exception.
Now I don’t know where you are today. Maybe you are dealing with brokenness in some way. Maybe you feel that that brokenness is your fault (like Ahasuerus no doubt did). Or maybe you feel that your brokenness is rooted in circumstances that were dealt to you and are completely outside of your control, as Esther probably felt. Either way, God has something to offer to you today. Not something that will automatically take all the pain away (though He does bring healing); but the assurance of knowing that He is in control and He can use even (I would say especially) our darkest circumstances to do the greatest things. But we need to trust Him and His plan, even when we might not see that overall plan yet (if ever). And we need to trust that God does love us and that He will neither leave us or forsake us. That is His promise to you and to me. So let us (in every way) trust in Him. 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.