As always, let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Esther 1. We started a new sermon series last week, and most of the sermon was background information. It was more teaching than preaching, but, of course, whenever you begin a new study sometimes that’s required. We’ll be reading Esther 1:10-22.
He began playing tennis seriously at the age of 12. By the time he was 21, he was ranked no. 1 in the world and considered a rising star. In 1946, 1947, and 1949 he as the U.S. national professional singles championships. Many thought he was the best tennis player that ever lived, and many admired his grace and athleticism. But it was his derision and eventual humiliation that firmly fixed Bobby Rigg’s fame.
In 1973, within the milieu of the women’s liberation movement, Riggs proclaimed, “Any half-decent male player could defeat even the best female player.” In a media extravaganza, Bobby Riggs, age 55, came out of retirement to play against the top female of the day, Billie Jean King. The match was dubbed the “Battle of the Sexes,” and 30,472 fans crammed into the old Houston Astrodome while an estimated 50 million people watched on television.
It didn’t last long. In 3 straight sets, Billie Jean King defeated the boastful Riggs. Despite her victory, it didn’t settle much. In the opening chapter of Esther, an unplanned battle of the sexes occurred, also. Let’s see whether it settled anything:
10 On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha and Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, 11 to bring Queen Vashti before the king with her royal crown, in order to show the peoples and the princes her beauty, for she was lovely to look at. 12 But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command delivered by the eunuchs. At this the king became enraged, and his anger burned within him.
13 Then the king said to the wise men who knew the times (for this was the king’s procedure toward all who were versed in law and judgment, 14 the men next to him being Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, who saw the king’s face, and sat first in the kingdom): 15 “According to the law, what is to be done to Queen Vashti, because she has not performed the command of King Ahasuerus delivered by the eunuchs?” 16 Then Memucan said in the presence of the king and the officials, “Not only against the king has Queen Vashti done wrong, but also against all the officials and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. 17 For the queen’s behavior will be made known to all women, causing them to look at their husbands with contempt, since they will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, and she did not come.’ 18 This very day the noble women of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s behavior will say the same to all the king’s officials, and there will be contempt and wrath in plenty. 19 If it please the king, let a royal order go out from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes so that it may not be repealed, that Vashti is never again to come before King Ahasuerus. And let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she. 20 So when the decree made by the king is proclaimed throughout all his kingdom, for it is vast, all women will give honor to their husbands, high and low alike.” 21 This advice pleased the king and the princes, and the king did as Memucan proposed. 22 He sent letters to all the royal provinces, to every province in its own script and to every people in its own language, that every man be master in his own household and speak according to the language of his people.
“Gracious God, we pray for Your help as we turn to this ancient book, as very 21st-century people, that You will help us to ask the question “What?” concerning its content, “So what?” concerning its implications, and “Now what?” concerning our follow-through, so that we might increasingly become the people that we believe ourselves to be – at least want to be – and that Jesus might be everything in us and through us. For it’s in His name that we pray. Amen.”
It was 10 o’clock in the evening when the 1,200 guests began to arrive on March 10, 1883. They were coming to the home of William and Alva Vanderbilt, which was located at 660 5th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan – a residence known as the Petit Chateau. It was on the northwest corner of 5th Avenue and 52nd Street, across the street from William’s parent’s home known as the Triple Palace – a residence that occupied the entire block between 51st and 52nd Streets on the west side of 5th Avenue.
William and Alva had not been allowed to be part of New York City society. At that time, Caroline Astor was the head of NY City’s elite, a group known as “The 400.” And Caroline Astor didn’t think that wealth that had been earned, as had the Vanderbilt’s, was as prominent as wealth that had been inherited. In fact, she found railroad money distasteful. Well, Alva decided that she would beat Mrs. Astor at her own game, and so she threw a masquerade ball – whose chief impact was to raise the bar on social entertainment in NY to heights of extravagance and expense that had not been previously seen.
The night was unbelievable. They ate dinner at 2 o’clock in the morning. Little late, don’t you think. They even hired the chefs from the famous Delmonico restaurant. They feasted and danced the night away, and the party ended the next morning around 7 o’clock. The ball had an estimated cost of around $6 million dollars.
Now, you take that and round it up to the 10th power, and you have the party that King Ahasuerus threw. Instead of an 8–9-hour party, you stretch it out over 6 months. You’ve heard of the G7; this was the G127. King Ahasuerus had invited 127 rulers and nobles and generals from the vast Persian Empire, and the only law, the only rule, the only edict for this party was “there is no compulsion” (v. 8). Basically, it was drink as much as you want. Eat as much as you want. Party as much as you want. And in that environment, there was no mention of God, no thinking about God, no prophet came to the front (like Daniel), no priest stands up, no man of God offers a word or a message, and we see the first thing that happens when God isn’t a part of our lives.
In the case of King Ahasuerus, it seems apparent that he went for “as much as you like.” It’s difficult to read the next verses without acknowledging the fact that his judgment seems impaired by the alcohol in his system. Because here, in a display of his pride and his bravado, he issues a command for the presence of his queen. And we’re told that the reason that he wanted to do this, in verse 11, was “in order to show the peoples and the princes her beauty, for she was lovely to look at.” And so, it’s very important to understand this – this is not a nice husband saying, “We’re having a lovely time up here in the men’s grill, and we would love for you just to come down and meet the fellas before they all go home.” It’s not like that at all. No. This is Mr. Big. For Xerxes, bigger is better. Everything is an indication of his majesty and his might and his significance. And so, he says to his servants, “Go down and bring the queen up here. Make sure she has her crown.” What he’s planning on doing is a show-and-tell for his friends. But it’s not just any old show-and-tell.
Some commentaries suggest that there’s a distinct possibility that when it actually says that she should come “with her royal crown,” that that was all she was to come with. Listen to what Chuck Swindoll says. Nobody says it quite like Chuck Swindoll. He writes, “In the midst of an unsavory scene she was brave enough to say ‘No.’ Submission does not mean that a wife is a sexual pawn in the carnal desires of her husband. It was never God’s design that a wife submits to her husband’s evil desires. In King Ahasuerus’ case this took the form of desiring to display her before those who would have nothing in mind but lust. What he asked was not submission, but sexual slavery.” So, in other words, he was breaking the bounds of propriety in every way – whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. But there’s a picture of the depravity of man’s mind apart from God.
But this didn’t just happen in an instant. This wasn’t an accident. There’s a progression here, and I want us to see it. See if you think this is accurate. First of all, we’re told that his condition (v. 10) was that it was “on the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine.” That’s shorthand, obviously for “he was drunk.” He then issues his edict, sends for his wife, she refuses to come, and his reaction at the end of verse 12 is that he “became enraged, and his anger burned within him.” And if you’ve read all of Esther, then you know that this is something of a recurring pattern for this fellow. In Esther 7:7 – a different context mind you, but still the same guy – we read, “And the king arose in his wrath from the wine-drinking.” See, there’s a correlation here between his intake and his output. His condition: the wine had gone to his head. His reaction: he lost his temper. He was enraged. It’s a bad combination: a big ego, an inordinate interest in alcohol, and a quick temper.
It’s an unfortunate reality – one that we can be forgiven of, of course – but many of us have learned the hard way just how, in a moment of foolish passion, you can alter your life forever? He was “merry with wine.” He was mad that his wife refused his request. He listened to some bad counsel, and he took some actions that would have devastating effects. Diminished discernment, and that leads to diminished dominance.
This is a man who dominated the world. He rules the world’s armies. He’s going to attack Greece with somewhere between 500,000-1,000,000 men, and an entire navy. He’s dominated Egypt. Twice, he defeated Babylon. He’ll eventually defeat Leonidas at the Battle of Thermopylae, but not before losing almost 150,000 men to the 300 Spartans that held the pass. If you’ve seen the movie The 300, this is that battle. This guy is a man of power. This guy has dominated everybody, but watch how his power diminishes. It begins in verse 15. King Ahasuerus turns to his advisors, turns to his wise men, turns to his counselors and asks, “According to the law, what is to be done to Queen Vashti, because she has not performed the command of King Ahasuerus delivered by the eunuchs?”
Now, listen, there’s nothing wrong with seeking the advice and counsel of others. In fact, the Bible says that we should seek input from others. Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” Proverbs 12:15 says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” And Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” So, there’s nothing wrong with seeking counsel. The question is: What are the qualifications of those that you deem to be your counselors? Seeking advice is fine, but what kind of advice are you getting? Is it godly, or is it secular? Is it wise and biblical, or is it feel-good and trendy? Look at the advice that’s given to him. It begins in verse 16 and continues through verse 19:
Then Memucan said in the presence of the king and the officials, “Not only against the king has Queen Vashti done wrong, but also against all the officials and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. For the queen’s behavior will be made known to all women, causing them to look at their husbands with contempt, since they will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, and she did not come.’ This very day the noble women of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s behavior will say the same to all the king’s officials, and there will be contempt and wrath in plenty. If it please the king, let a royal order go out from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes so that it may not be repealed, that Vashti is never again to come before King Ahasuerus. And let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she.
That’s funny and sad, all at the same time. You know, there are a lot of things that the Bible doesn’t tell us. I wish the Bible told us how things went when Memucan got home.
[Wife] “Hey honey, how was the business conference at the king’s palace?”
[Memucan] “Oh, it was great. I got to help craft some new legislation for the empire.”
[Wife] “Really, that’s wonderful. What’s it about?”
[Memucan] “What’s what about?”
[Wife] “The legislation – what does it address?”
[Memucan] “Oh, marital relationships. But honey it won’t impact us ‘cause you’re so great.”
[Wife] “That’s great. Hey dear, could you come here and give me a hand. I have a load of laundry that needs to be folded.”
[Memucan] “Sure thing, honey, anything for you, dear.”
King Ahasuerus goes from dominating on the battlefield to being dominated on the home front. He takes the wrong advice and ends up deposing his very own wife – the queen. Now, listen, for those of you who find your pro-feminist juices rising let me just say: be careful. This book, in 21st-century Western culture, has become a pro-feminist tract. There’s no question here that we can say that Queen Vashti is a woman before her time. But if we were to think for a minute that the reason that this detail is in here is in order that we might advance that cause of women, then we’d go wrong.
No. Something is going to happen in the empire, and the Jews are going to be threatened with extermination, and God needs a person in a position of influence and authority to save His people. And out of the stupidity of men, who plot with fleshly minds, they just opened the door for Esther. Gemini Cricket, that’s good stuff. Don’t tell me God’s not behind the scenes always working, even in the midst of a pagan agenda.
You see, some of us are so stuck on the idea that God ought to be doing miraculous, supreme, engaging, transformative, manifest interventions. And we miss the fact that there is as much providence in the crawling of a spider up a wall as there is in the unfolding drama that is contained here in the book of Esther. Dora Greenwell was an English poet. One of her poems was set to music by William J. Kirkpatrick, and in 2006 a contemporary version of that song was sung by Aaron Shust. It contains the following phrase:
I am not skilled to understand
What God has willed, what God has planned;
I only know at His right hand
Stands One who is my Savior.
Loved ones, that’s security. That’s biblical theology. That’s not some superficial, feel-good notion. That’s through the dangers, through the toils, through the snares, when I see through a glass darkly, when the waves overwhelm me, when I find myself set aside on the ventures of life, there’s a ton of stuff I don’t know, and I’m not skilled to understand it, and I’m not even supposed to understand it. But I understand this: that at God’s right hand I have a Savior. And if you don’t have that, then you need that. Because what’s our only hope in life and in death? That we’re not our own but belong body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior, Jesus Christ.
O gracious God, we thank You for the Bible and for the opportunity to study it together, to read it on our own, and to ponder these things. There are many of us and our lives seem to mirror Esther 1 – no mention of God. We go to work, we go to school, we volunteer, we play golf and travel with our friends, we do all of the things that make up our day, but You’re not mentioned. Father, forgive us. Help us to realize that we constantly live in the presence of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Look upon us in Your mercy, we pray. And thank You that we can be confident that even when we are unable to understand many of the details – when we don’t understand Your hand, as it were – that we can trust Your heart. May the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be our portion, today and forever. Amen.