Esther 1-2 - An Antidote to an Unjust World

Steve Viars January 1, 2000 Esther 1:

- This morning I’d like to begin, as I often do, by asking you a question:
- Is there anything happening in your life right now that you consider to be unjust?
- can you think of specific examples of injustice either in the way you are being treated personally, or in the world around you?....or is everything just a perfect picture of just and fair treatment?

- my guess is that we could get quite a discussion going about ways that people in this congregation right now feel like they are just not being treated fairly, or some situation in contemporary life just isn’t fair.

1)  I imagine that many here have some troubling stories to tell about your situation at work.
- someone made promises to you and they weren’t kept....
- or a superior spoke to you in a way that wasn’t fair...
- or a decision was made that wasn’t right....
- many people work in an unjust work environment every day, and you have to make decisions about how to respond to that kind of treatment all the time.

2) Someone else might have a story to tell from a friendship....
- maybe you were close to a person and you were becoming good friends....
- but then you found out that they had said something about you behind your back that was just cruel....
- or there’s been some kind of a breach in the relationship and you don't think the way they responded was fair....
- and it hurts because you opened yourself up to that person and now they’ve treated you that way...
- what they did just wasn’t right....

3) My guess is that many would have a story to tell about the family....
- my husband _________ (you fill in the blank)
- my wife _________
- my parents ________
- my kids _________
- what they do just isn’t right.....
- the way they treat me isn’t fair.....
- there’s a lack of justice and fairness in this home...

4) Someone else might take it an entirely different direction....
- when I raised this topic, you may have thought of something in our culture, or our country, or our community....
- where you just don’t think what is going on is right....
- and the question isn’t so much whether it is right or not, but how you and I respond when we think it’s not.

- I was talking to someone from a newspaper recently and he was telling me about some of the letters he’s been receiving from Christian people lately....
- and I’m going to quote what he said using a curse word, not because I believe in cursing, but because this is the reputation that many Christians have....
- he said that the letters often start out pretty well, but then the tine escalates and the anger builds and the concluding words seems to be.....and that’s the way it is, damnit!
- or we’re not going to take it any longer....
- we’re going to demand fair treatment or else.....

- someone gave me an article from the Porter County Times up in Valparaiso that illustrates what I’m talking about....
- cf. Zaring article....

- now the bottom line is, God’s Word has direction for us on how to respond to treatment that appears to be unjust.
- whether its something happening in your personal life, or your family, at your job, or even something you observe in the community, or the country, or the culture.

- with that in mind, I’d like to invite you to open your Bible this morning to the OT book of Esther.
- if you are new to studying the Bible, you’ll find that Esther is the 17th book of the Bible.
- Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus....

-  This is a book that has a very stark contrast between the lifestyles of those who had a personal relationship with God, and those who didn’t.
- and one of the interesting things is, that those who didn’t know God were the ones who had the power...
- and as a result the ones who did know God found themselves in all sorts of situations that were unjust....
- but the way they chose to respond is very instructive....
- and the way God eventually responded is very instructive as well.

- with that in mind, let’s read the first nine verses of Esther chapter 1.
- READ

- now, if you’ve been in our church before, you probably know what’s about to happen.
- its important, in interpreting any book of the Bible, to understand its background, or its setting...
- in other words, we believe in studying the Bible in its context....or, from the other side, we don't believe in taking the Bible out of context.
- we think that in order to properly apply God’s Word to everyday life, we have to first properly interpret God’s Word in its original setting.
- that means, my dear friends, that we have to know a little bit about history and geography.

- so we’re going to divide our time this morning this way:
I.  The Background of Esther’s Dilemma
II.  The Setting of Esther’s Dilemma
III.  The Solution to Esther’s Dilemma

- one other idea about our presentation this morning.....I’ve designed these next few minutes with the person who has never studied the Bible in mind.
- so if you’re new to studying God’s Word, please don't feel like....he’s about to talk about things that will make no sense to me because he only cares about people who have been studying God’s Word for a long time.
- actually, the exact opposite is true....
- people who have been studying the Bible for a long time won’t mind if I review a few things that are very basic because they want you to benefit from God’s Word like they have.
- so if my being concerned about you makes them have to hear a few things they already know....their love for you is greater than their love for themselves....
- we always want to try to present God’s Word in a fashion that everyone benefits.....

- so, we’re starting with:


I.  The Background of Esther’s Dilemma.


- Verse 2 tells us where this story began.....what was the city that was mentioned?  (Shushan).
- now, if you’ve studied the Bible before, you know that another book in God’s Word opens up in this exact same place....which one is it?  (Nehemiah)
- here’s a trick question...do the events in Nehemiah occur before or after the book of Esther?  (after...but let’s not get ahead of ourselves)

- let’s go back to Shushan for a moment....and work on a little bit of geography.
- we’re going to change this auditorium into a map of the land of the Bible.
- if your Bible has maps at the back, you might want to look at one of them to check us out.

- [establish north, south, east, and west]
- [work through bodies of water and locations on work map, using the auditorium floor as a guide]

- now, where did the book of Esther begin?  [Shushan]  -- where is that?  -- the capital of Persia [north of the Persian Gulf, east of the intersection of the Tigris and Euphrates River.

 

-  now that’s a little geography, now we need a little history.
- I’m going to tell the story of the OT in 5 minutes....

1) Skipping the first 11 chapters of Genesis for sake of time, the story of the nation of Israel begins in Genesis chapter 12.
- God came to a man and made a three-fold promise/covenant to him.
- the provisions of that covenant were, “land, seed, and blessing”
- I will multiply your seed into a nation, I will give you a promised land, and I will bless you”
- What was that man’s name?
- Abraham, and that took place in approximately 2100 BC  [see handout]

2) The rest of the book of Genesis tells about the next three great leaders, or patriarchs of Israel...and their names....
- Abraham.....Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.

3) At the end of the book of Genesis, the children of Israel found themselves living in Egypt...as a result of the famine.
- they were in bondage to Egypt for 400 years....
- and then God raised up a man to deliver them out of Egypt who’s name was....Moses.
- One of the key events during that time was the parting the Red Sea....and that took place in approximately 1445 BC

4) The next leader after Moses was named Joshua......
- and he actually led Israel into the promised land.

5) Next came the period of the judges....and after that the period of the kings.

6) Who was the first king of Israel?   Saul....and he reigned when approximately?...1040 BC

7) Who was the 2nd king of Israel? David....approximately 1000 BC

8) And who reigned after him?
- Solomon.
- very important was what transpired after Solomon....
- because the Bible tells us that the nation of Israel divided.....into the northern and southern kingdom.....about 930 BC
- the southern kingdom came up to the top of the Dead Sea...they were renamed Judah....and they kept their capital in Jerusalem (also at the northern point of the Dead Sea)
- the northern kingdom kept the name Israel....and they set up a rival capital, and even a rival system of worship in the city of Samaria  (middle way between Dead Sea and Sea of Galilee..a little to the left)....
- this is why in the NT times, the Jews hated the Samaritans....but that’s getting ahead of the story.

- now what we have is this...God’s chosen nation....the one He made all these promises to....was divided....was for the most part living in very sinful ways.
- so what did God do?

- 2 things...
1) Sent prophets to encourage his people to repent....
2) Allowed foreign nations to come in and conquer Israel as part of the judgment upon them.

- so first, Israel was invaded by Assyria.....722 BC
- Many of the OT prophets were writing during this time
- one of them was a man we studied a couple of years ago who had an interesting relationship with a fish --- what was his name?  (Jonah)

- then Judah (the southern kingdom) was invaded by Babylon.....that began in 605 BC
- Jerusalem eventually fell completely to Babylon in 586 BC
- by that time, a young man had been carted off to Babylon who’s life we studied last year.....
- do you remember his name?.....Daniel

- what nation eventually conquered Babylon?  (Persia)
- the Persian period of world history was 539 - 331 BC
- Persia allowed the Jews to go back to their homeland and begin rebuilding Jerusalem....
- that took place in three waves.....
- under Zerubbabel - 538 BC - Ezra 1-6
- under Ezra - 458 BC - Ezra 7-10
- under Nehemiah - 445 BC - Nehemiah

- the book of Esther takes place between those first two waves.
- and it explains what was going on in Persia, and how God’s people who were living there were doing.

- that’s the background of Esther’s dilemma.
- now let’s talk about:


II. The Setting of Esther’s Dilemma.


- so far we read about this man named Ahasuerus....
- who’s reign included 127 provinces....
- so the Persian empire was huge....

- let me ask you this --- was Ahasuerus a pretty humble man?
- no, he was full of himself --- keep that in mind.
- so he had been giving this ongoing feast....for 180 days, probably where different dignitaries from the various provinces could come for a feast for a few days with Mr. Big Britches.
- now things seem pretty normal until we get to verse 10...and now we’ve got quite a bit to read.

- read 1:10-12.
- now there are some things we know for sure about what just happened, and other things we can’t be sure about.
- we know the king has been drinking...
- and we know the king’s been bragging....
- and we know that the king wanted the queen to be brought out and put on display because of her beauty....
- and we know that the queen refused so now you have a public fuss going on between the king and the queen.

- what we don’t know is --- exactly what it was that the king expected the queen to do....
- some writers believe she was just being asked to come out and show her beauty...
- others believe she was being asked to disrobe in some way....
- some believe this was the beginning of lewd acts by drunken men....

- but please keep in mind that this book is a contrast between those who know God and those who don’t ---- regardless of who holds the political power....
- the bottom line so far is, there’s trouble in pagan paradise.

- now, let’s see what happens next.
- read 1:13-22

- so when you boil all of this down, you’ve got a war between the sexes...and a war over who is going to fulfill what role in a marriage....and how a husband treats his wife, and how a wife treats her husband.
- isn’t it amazing how there’s nothing new under the sun?

-  we still haven’t seen how Esther fits into all of this....read 2:1-7
- now, its possible to read this and miss the point.
- the way women are being treated like cattle is reprehensible....there’s no question about that....
- and the whole issue of multiple wives which was part of that culture is terrible...
- But what I’d like to ask you to especially notice is the difference between the family relationships of those who don’t know the Lord and the family relationships between those who do.
- already we’re seeing a contrast....and that contrast is going to continue 

- read 2:8-18

- now, that’s a lot more detail than we typically cover on a Sunday morning, but hopefully now we have the background of Esther’s Dilemma....this is the period of time when Persia is the world leader....
- and we also have the setting....
- the Persian king and queen have had a great fight which threatens to affect the male/female relationships throughout the empire.....
- and Esther, a Jewish woman, is chosen to be thrust right into the middle of that where she is now the new queen of Persia.

- Now you look at this whole situation and you say, this is unjust.
- these Persian leaders are proud....
- they are materialistic....
- they use people....
- they are shallow, focused on beauty and issues of the outer man.....

- does that sound familiar?
- are you called to live in a culture where you are sometimes around such individuals?
- every day.

- But now let’s talk about:


III. The Solution to Esther’s Dilemma.


- what is the point of this contrast between those who knew God [namely Esther and Mordecai], and those who didn’t.....and more importantly, what should that mean to you and me today?

A. The darker the culture, the easier it is for your light to shine.

- Friends, God’s people can either get mad about the injustice, and demand their rights in the midst of injustice, and make it their goal to reverse all injustices against them before the sun goes down....
- or they can seek the ministry opportunities that exist in the midst of that injustice.

- now, if your response to that statement is, “but...”, I would recommend that that’s not the best response.
- its true that the statement I just made at some point has to be balanced off....but its more true that there are great ministry opportunities that exist for God’s people in a dark and darkening world.
- does this whole message at some point have to balanced off?....yes.
- is there a point at which one must stand up to injustice?....yes.

- but there are many times when the best response to being treated unjustly is to choose to be God’s kind of person anyway.
T/F - God’s plan is not that all injustices against you be righted before sundown....
- Is that true or false.....it has to be true, or else they would all be righted before sundown.
- there is a real sense in which God allows injustice as a means of His people bringing glory to Him by choosing to be different.

- friend, we started the message this morning by asking you to think about unjust situations in your life...
- now can I ask you a hard question....
- when those situations come up, do you see them as opportunities for ministry....or do you chafe and complain and lash out so much that all ministry opportunity is lost?

- here’s another hard question....if you could be God for 24 hours and could change any circumstance in your life....would there be more injustice in your life or less?
- at the end of the day, would you be found praying for the person who is mistreating you, and living a godly life before the person who is mistreating you, and witnessing to the person who has been mistreating you....
- or at the end of 24 hours would that person have disappeared right off the face of the earth?

- see, which do we value more....being treated fairly, or seizing the ministry opportunities when we aren’t treated fairly.

- that’s what’s wrong with the “Christians are mad and we’re taking this country back” approach.
- it ought to be, yes we have some things that we are genuinely concerned about, but we’re focusing first and most on our response, even if we never get the injustice righted in this life.

- A second part of this solution to Esther’s dilemma is:
B.  Let your light shine first in your family relationships.

- isn’t it amazing that these two chapters could just have easily been written today?
- and what should that tell us?
- the issues don't change that much.

- and that should give God’s people a great amount of hope....because if you are trying to honor God in your family relationships,  it can really make a difference.

[develop --- the way men treat their wives, the way wives treat their husbands, parent/child relationships, friendships---- are you standing out in those areas?]
- could do an exegetical treatment of I Peter 2-3


C.  Remember that the story isn’t over until God says its over.

[develop --- what’s coming]


- the way Esther and Mordecai chose to relate to one another was a marvelous picture of godliness that that culture desperately needed.
- sometimes our insistence on getting our way right now causes us to miss an opportunity to let our light shine.

-

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video