Studies in Esther Part 2

INTRODUCTION

The previous article was an introduction to the Book of Esther. This book is remarkable in teaching the providence of God. We noted there are no extraordinary miracles or supernatural events. Rather, this book sets forth the glory of God in the mundane. As we study this book, we want to be careful to pay attention to the details and seeming incidentals. In this article, we wish to begin looking at the verses of the first chapter.


“Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus, (this is Ahasuerus which reigned, from India even unto Ethiopia, over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces:)”
(Esther 1:1)


This Ahasuerus that is mentioned, the king of Persia, is most generally believed to be Xerxes, and there are some arguments to be made for a couple of other kings, but this is the most likely. He reigned over Persia from 485 to 465 BC, until the time of his death.He “reigned, from India even unto Ethiopia, over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces.” We get a glimpse of the vast scope of the Persian empire at this time. In the reign of Darius over Persia, there were 120 provinces. So, if this is Xerxes, I believe he would have been after Cyrus (Daniel 6) since the Persian empire increased from that time to 127 provinces. Josephus reported the expansion of the Persian empire during the reign of Darius and Cyrus and Xerxes. He also reported that at its very peak, the expansion of the Persian empire was up to 360 provinces.We are given a glimpse, in this first verse, of the grandeur and the power of this earthly kingdom. The Persians were the world power at the time. This kingdom preceded the golden kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel’s vision. It would be the silver kingdom referred to as the Persian kingdom.

This verse gives us an idea about why there were so many Jews in Babylon, even though they had been released from their captivity and could have returned to their homeland. Many had chosen to enjoy the prosperity and the success they had and the lifestyle they enjoyed in the kingdom of Persia around Babylon rather than to return to their homeland. Their homeland of Palestine and Jerusalem lay mostly in ruins at this time. Even though the temple had been rebuilt, the wall was not yet rebuilt and to leave Babylon where they had homes and businesses, friends and family, would have been a pretty hard journey.

Here the Persian empire was growing, succeeding, and flourishing on its way to the pinnacle of power. It was very prosperous and a good place to live as far as your pocketbook was concerned. The Jews had chosen to stay rather than to go to Palestine, though they were free to go.


“That in those days, when the king Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan the palace, In the third year of his reign, he made a feast unto all his princes and his servants; the power of Persia and Media, the nobles and princes of the provinces, being before him”
(Esther 1:2-3)


Historically, King Xerxes was characterized as being “despotic, capricious, fickle, reckless of human lives and immersed in sensual pleasures” (Jamieson Faussett, & Brown, Bible Commentary, Vol. 1, p. 633). This is precisely his character throughout the book of Esther. He acts very much in accord with the picture that has been painted of him secularly.The king is here sitting on the throne of his kingdom in Shushan the palace. He instituted a feast for himself, attended by the nobles and princes. This large feast was for all of the important and notable folk that were around, those that were in positions of authority, delegated positions underneath the king and all of the royal people. It was a scene for the elite of high society.


“When he showed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the honour of his excellent majesty many days, even an hundred and fourscore days”
(Esther 1:4)


There was no real reason for this feast. It was not a normal observation of the people. There is no knowledge of a particular special occasion that was being celebrated. The feast was only for one purpose. King Ahasuerus was intent on making an exhibition and celebration of his own power and glory. He brought in all of his princes and important people so they could behold and celebrate with him what a great and powerful king he was. He made it for no other reason than his own personal aggrandizement.The feast lasted for 180 days. This was a continuous 180 days. It was lavish and the grandest production the kingdom could afford. The feast’s longevity shows us something of the indulgent nature of this king. This sort of indulgence is condemned by Solomon. “I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity. I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?” (Ecclesiastes 2:1-2). Solomon sought to pursue nothing but earthy pleasure and satisfaction, happiness and frivolity. He learned very quickly though that “behold, this also is vanity.” It is vanity. Solomon is condemning the very excess and pursuit of fleshly gratification these people were doing. These parties were well known for their drunkenness and indulgence in food and various other things.For an extended time, they were involved in this party. They were indulgent, excessive. The flesh must have been somewhat exhausted. If we indulge ourselves day after day in some extravagance, no matter how much we enjoy it, we seem to grow tired of it after time. We get weary of it. The flesh has to have some variety. Here was nothing but ease, revelry and all sort of partying for 180 days. I imagine there were quite a few folks that were becoming unhappy in this situation, but yet, they could not quit.

Excess and indulgence are likewise national sins of the United States of America today. It can be seen all around us. We want bigger, faster, more, etc. God’s Word says: “All the days of the afflicted are evil: but he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast. Better is little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble therewith” (Proverbs 15:15-16). Our society pursues fleshly gratification in all the means provided in this day. But the Bible says “He that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast.” Sin never satisfies but he that has found enjoyment and true happiness in God, “hath a continual feast.”

There was no real enjoyment at Ahasuerus’s feast, proving the proverb, “Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith.” It is better to have little with joy in God than to have a lavish feast of mere earthly things for many days. It is better to have a meager supply and fear God than it is to fare sumptuously every day.

The Bible tells us about the rich man and Lazarus. Lazarus sat begging for bread with the stray dogs, competing with them for dinner. But, “the rich man fared sumptuously everyday.” However, now he is “tormented” and Lazarus is “comforted.” That is still true today. That rich man is still tormented in that flame. He besought father Abraham that he would send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and cool his tongue. He is still wanting a drop of water. He has found no relief. Lazarus is still comforted today. He is still feasting today. True enjoyment comes from God and can only be had from Him.

Solomon said, “Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: as for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him, Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled. Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding” (Proverbs 9:4-6). The Persians were known for mingling their wine and strong drink and coming up with various concoctions of drinks that were heavily intoxicating. Here the wisdom of God says, “Come, eat of my bread.” Come and eat of My table and “drink of the wine that I have mingled.” True enjoyment is found through the enjoyment of God rather than the pursuit of fleshly gratification. We might find some things that for a time make us a little more comfortable, but we know that they perish with the using. The things of God are always satisfying and he that has a “merry heart” with God has a “continual feast,” rather than the party of Ahasuerus that was actually unsatisfying to its attendants.


“And when these days were expired, the king made a feast unto all the people that were present in Shushan the palace, both unto great and small, seven days, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace; Where were white, green, and blue, hangings, fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and pillars of marble: the beds were of gold and silver, upon a pavement of red, and blue, and white, and black, marble. And they gave them drink in vessels of gold, (the vessels being diverse one from another,) and royal wine in abundance, according to the state of the king”
(Esther 1:5-7)


After his 180 days of feasting ended, he proclaimed another seven days to feast and, this time, it is not only the princes and noblemen but it is extended to all the poor people. This is like a politician courting favor with the lesser class. I imagine he had an ulterior motive in this, even though it made him look good politically and socially to his people. It made a way for him to be sure of displaying his might, even to the very ends of his kingdom. Politicians love to come in and do a project or help out a rural community so that their names are attached to the project. They are visible doing their good deeds and they earn the praise of men.Notice, the king had 180 days for all his friends and only 7 days for all of his lesser folks in the kingdom. Notice also the great expense of the whole affair. No expense was spared. All of the royal fare was brought out. He put out his very best. Usually when we entertain some guests, we will try to put out the best that we have. We will hide the shabby ware that we use everyday and the king was doing no different. This king was wanting to make a display of his wealth and power and all his glory. He even let his peasants drink out of his golden vessels some of the very best royal wine he had.Mark here the great waste of his nation’s industry. The nation had afforded him a very comfortable living and this capital was spent for the king to search his own glory. How many long hours had been worked by his countrymen in order to produce the money or the vessels and all the things for him to enjoy with his friends. He is wasting the goods of his country. The Bible says, “for men to search their own glory is not glory” (Proverbs 25:27). The king was involved in self-exaltation. He was displaying and searching his own glory.

This sort of display is common even for men today. If they have a nice home or car, they want to display and show-off these things to others. If a young man is gifted with some athletic abilities, he wants to show-off what he can do. This king was doing this on a much larger scale. Feasting for 187 days is excessive and sinful.


“And the drinking was according to the law; none did compel: for so the king had appointed to all the officers of his house, that they should do according to every man’s pleasure”
(Esther 1:8)


We mark here the king’s generosity. He has already made a feast for 180 days and now it is the 7 days feast with the poor people around, but he is still being very generous to them. They were eating of the best that could be set out and they were drinking the best royal wine. They are using the best golden vessels. None were turned away empty-handed. No one went home hungry or thirsty. As much as they wanted they had. They were not restrained. However much wine, food and partying they wanted, they had.On the other hand, none was restrained and each did “according to every man’s pleasure.” They were not turned away but were given just as much as they wanted. No one made any reasonable judgment. A man could have drank himself to death and no one would have intervened in any way. They were not permitted to.This is typical of fleshly indulgences in the world. They are usually solicited or encouraged. When we consider some of the things in our youth we got into, that we should not have been in, there was usually someone there to help and encourage us into trouble. We will get into trouble enough on our own, but many times we will be encouraged into this indulgence by others. The king and his people were complicit in the sins of others.

The world may set no limits, but the Word of God certainly does. The kingdom allowed the men to drink until their hearts were content but this is not acceptable for the child of God. “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls” (Proverbs 25:28). If a city is “broken down, and without walls,” anyone that comes along, that is strong enough, will rule the city. They are going to overrun it. It has no means of defense and no protection. Whoever wants to set up government is going to do it; there is no resistance.

We are exhorted to exercise self-control. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). Consider the word underlying the translation “sound mind,” it means “self-control.” The Bible talks about soberness, temperance and self-control. A Christian is to rule his own spirit and bring his body into subjection. We should not be “tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine,” nor with every invitation of indulgence.


“Also Vashti the queen made a feast for the women in the royal house which belonged to king Ahasuerus”
(Esther 1:9)


The women were not exempt from the feasting. They had a party also. It was in accordance with the rules of decorum in that day, for the men to feast in one place and the women to feast in another.Vashti was the queen and in some exercise of authority over the king’s harem. Some of the historians have estimated there was as many as 360 concubines in the royal harem of king Ahasuerus. Even though she was the queen with some authority, she was very much subservient to the king. She was like the head servant, but she was still a servant. She was under the direction of Ahasuerus as an absolute monarch. So, she was at least acting with his leave if not with his direct command.


CONCLUSION


In conclusion, let us observe the providence of God in our text. The first notable event is the feasts of Ahasuerus. We can not find any just cause for the celebrations that take place. The record tells us it was in the third year of the king’s reign that he had this feast. Maybe this is because he felt there was no viable threat to his kingdom any longer.The timing of the feast is remarkable because this event facilitates the removal of Vashti as queen, which opens the way for Esther to be promoted. The promotion of Esther was necessary because God was going to use her to deliver the people of Israel.The timing is also remarkable because there was no great miracle or Divine intervention that prompted it. There was no hand that appeared and wrote on the wall. There was no prophet coming to the king, as Elijah did. There is nothing unusual that happens here. It is just the normal, ordinary course of things. This makes it so remarkable. We can see God throughout working, shaping, using all these events to effect His purpose and His glory.

Note His operation in ordinary agencies. Solomon said, “The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil” (Proverbs 16:4). God can and does use even the wicked devices of the world to bring about His purpose and His plan. Here we have a very wicked man, King Ahasuerus. This king is all about self, indulgence and success. He is a very wicked man. However, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithsoever he will” (Proverbs 21:1). God did not intervene in any miraculous way to change the course of events here but God is working through the normal progression of events. He is working all the time to bring about His will, purpose, good, and blessings on His people. We see His operation of providence in ordinary agencies working through Ahasuerus, the princes, the queen, and on all sides.

Lastly, there are two notable contrasts that I wish to draw from these verses. First, King Ahasuerus is the earthly king searching his own glory. He is going to great extents to be celebrated, congratulated and praised by men. Contrast that with the Heavenly King making Himself of “no reputation.” The earthly king did everything in his power to make a display and a show. The Lord Jesus Christ, the King of all kings, came to earth and He humbled Himself, was made in the fashion of a man, took upon Himself the form of a servant, and made Himself of no reputation. He did work some miracles and wondrous things. However, when He had a great feast He had the people sit down in the grass and He fed them with barley loaves and with fish. Later, at another feast, He washed the feet of the disciples.

The second contrast we see is the earthly king doing according to the state of the king (vs. 7). He is exercising all of his power and authority. He is wanting to do things to make a show. Contrast that with the heavenly King content behind the veil, working out His will all the time. It is amazing that some have stumbled at this book because God’s name does not appear in it. I believe that makes it more remarkable. What greater contrast does that set between this earthly king, who was doing everything for the promotion of his name. But God can simply let His name remain silent from these pages though He is seen all the time working, and exercising His will. Here we see a restraint on the part of God. He does not need to make a great show of Himself. He is content to work His own purpose behind the scenes. “Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known” (Psalm 77:19).

The Bible talks in many places about God’s wrath being “slow.” In fact, the Bible says, “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Ecclesiastes 8:11). We see that God’s wrath at many times is perceived as slow, but it is always sure. John Gill described it as a great, vast wheel that turned ever so slowly but always surely, moving on and forward. God has seen fit to conceal His name from this book and thereby make a greater statement, contrasting Himself against the earthly king and content to work out His will and purpose without some great show of power or intervention of Divine agency. “This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:23).

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