Hello, and welcome to Lechem Panim.
Winning Things— I don’t know how many of you have every won anything before. Winning things can be exciting. Once I remember entering a contest for a Canon digital camera. And I actually won, which absolutely made my week! It is fun to win things. And sometimes that desire to win things can be intoxicating; even addictive.
I've never played the lottery before. And I don't think it is a right way to use the money God has given me. But sometimes it appears on the news, especially when there is a record-breaking jackpot. And a lot of people are interested in that event. And many many people buy lottery tickets just so that they can have a chance of winning that money. Now the chances of winning are astronomical! They say you have better chances of getting struck by lightning. Now I think my odds would be better. Chances are, I’d get struck by lightning twice; probably. But you know, it doesn't matter how impossible those odds are, when the winner is announced those people who have entered are glued to that announcement. Because no matter how small their chances are, there is a chance. A chance of their lives being changed in one single moment. When your number is called.
The Ultimate Win— What if the prize was more than money? What if it was also a relationship; the chance of being married to a wealthy or good-looking person? You know, it’s fascinating how many people are captivated by the royal family. Well, have you ever imagined what it would be like to be somebody like Kate Middleton, instantly ushered into an enormous amount of wealth and into a relationship with another person; and more than that, into Royalty!? What would it be like to have your name called, for you to be chosen?
Women’s Lives Forever Changed-- Well that is the situation that Esther has found herself in, whether she wanted it or not. She has been chosen from 50 million people to be a part of a harem of 400 girls. And the way the King (Ahasuerus) is going to choose his next queen is by having each individual woman spend a night with him in his bed. And the one who pleases him the most will be made queen. Now just think about what this would mean for Esther; being made to enter into the bed of a gentile king. And Esther is often criticized for this. Yet what we must realize is that this is completely out of her control. There's no such thing as women's rights. Ahasuerus made that pretty clear in his dealings with Vashti in chapter 1. Women were to remain subject to their husbands as the rulers of the household. And if women were to be subject to their husbands, how much more so to the will of the king. Esther is made to enter into a relationship that she knows is unholy. Yet she cannot resist. And so she also must prepare herself for her one night with the king. And King Ahasuerus clearly spares no expense in preparing these girls for their special one night with him. It says in…
Esther 2:12 (ESV)— 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--
Princess Diaries— Now there's a movie that I remember watching with my wife a long time ago called Princess Diaries. Some of you may remember it. The story centers around a young girl who finds out that she is a princess and her journey towards becoming a queen; and the whole beautification process and learning that she has to go through in order to prepare herself to be queen. Everything from her hair being cut and straightened, eyebrows being waxed, makeup being done. Learning how to wave like a queen; walk like a queen; have the mannerisms of a queen; how to eat right at the royal table. And it takes time; time for her to go from being an ordinary, messy teenager to being an extra-ordinary, royal woman. And that is part of the humor of the movie, watching her as she tries to become this whole new person.
Preparing for Royal Life-- And in many respects, this is the exact same thing that Esther had to go through. She is being prepared for royal life. She is learning how to operate within a royal court. And more than that, she is beautifying herself. The text says that the women were given twelve months to beautify themselves. That’s a lot of Maybelline, Loreal Paris, and everything else. Well, what is going on during those twelve months? The text says that they spent six of those months with oil of myrrh and another six months with spices and ointments for women--.
Cosmetic Burners— One of the unique things that archaeologists have found in Lachish in Israel are some cube-shaped spice burners. And these were originally thought to be used for burning incense during religious rituals. However, now it is believed that what these actually are are cosmetic burners used by women therapeutically and for hygienic purposes. A woman would take oil of roses, oil of cloves, or essence of musk (scents that are still being used today by the way) and place them in the cosmetic burners and heat them in the fire. Just wearing a robe that she would drape over her body like a tent, she would crouch over one of those burners and let that aroma cover and perfume her and scent her clothes. And one very famous archaeologist cites this passage as a biblical example of this very common ancient practice, which would make sense because aromatic oils and spices were actually Persia’s major export. Persia was known for it. Remember the Magi who came to see Jesus, whom many scholars believe came from Medo-Persia? Two out of the three gifts they brought were aromatic oils (Frankincense and Myrrh).
One Night-- Now this entire year of preparation is for one night; that first encounter with the king that each girl will have (as indicated in verse 12). And now that year is over; and each girl is preparing for her special night with the king. And it says of each woman in…
Esther 2:13 (ESV)--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.
They have prepared themselves physically and now each girl has the privilege of picking out those things she is going to adorn herself with to make herself stand out.
Dress for the Job You Want-- Now you know that piece of wisdom, “Don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want to have.” Well that applies here. These girls want to make themselves look the part. And more than this, it is believed that these women were also allowed to keep whatever they chose. So you can imagine that each woman is trying to pick out the most expensive; the most elaborate; the most queenly things she can find. And you can imagine the spirit of competition; the bickering; the squabbling over who has the best whatever. This is all about who is the most beautiful; who has mastered the art of seduction better. I mean, talk about an uncomfortable environment. And yet what is amazing is that Esther keeps clear of all of that, as we will see. Now the text says of each woman…
Esther 2:14a (ESV)— 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.
Concubines-- Ok, now what is going on here? We have mention of another second harem, another eunuch (Shaashgaz), and suddenly this word concubine. What is a concubine? Well a concubine is like a wife, but of lower status. They were women who were [officially recognized as the king’s mistresses]. And this is what most (if not all) the women became after their one night with the king. Remember, Ahasuerus is not choosing one woman. He is choosing one Queen. After these women lost their virginity to the king during their one night, they became his concubines. And in fact [Each woman’s first night with the king was her initiation as a concubine.] And this is who that second harem is for; for those women who had become concubines. And what this meant was that she could never return to her family; she could never marry. She went to the king's harem of concubines [where she would spend the rest of her life in luxurious but desolate seclusion...The woman would not even see the king again, unless he asked for her by name.] The text says…
Esther 2:14b (ESV)--She would not go in to the king again, unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name.
Old Dreams Died-- Now I think it is important for us to understand the position that Esther has found herself in. Was it really a good thing for her to be chosen to be a part of this glorified beauty contest? Would she have seen it this way? I think sometimes we forget exactly what this would mean for her in that context. No hope of having a normal marriage between her and a man who would keep himself only for her; small chance of ever even seeing him again; small chance of raising a family of her own; and little chance of ever getting to see her friends and loved ones ever again. A new place; a beautiful and rich place, yes; but a place of isolation and loneliness among other women who most likely operated with a very different value system. Before we think she hit the jackpot too quickly, we must realize that every dream Esther ever had up until this point as to what her future would look like and her future relationships would look like have all died, as she is thrust into an environment and a situation she probably never would have chosen for herself. And yet she trusts God. And we will see just how much He is involved in all of this and how much He will take care of her as she moves in step with Him.
A Present Trust in Christ-- And you know, maybe things have taken a sudden turn in your life recently. Maybe your future that you at least had a general idea of what it would look like has suddenly either changed or become very uncertain. What we learn from Esther (and really the entire Bible) is this; and I want you to remember this; write it down; engrave it in your memory. It doesn’t matter where life takes you. What matters is that wherever that might be, you are hand in hand with the Savior. God is less concerned about destinations than we think. He is more concerned about how we walk with Him. And for Esther that was in a relationship of faith and trust. And so I want to encourage you today (to encourage myself) to learn to walk in that relationship of faith and trust. If we can do that, we can have a peace that surpasses all understanding no matter what circumstances or trials life throws at us. Let us trust in Christ 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.