WONDER WOMEN — ESTHER
by Pastor Mike Fortune
July 16, 2011
Katie Davis Homecoming Queen
- Still need saving (Esther 2:12-14; Hebrews 13:4)
- Fast and pray (Esther 4:15-16; 1 Corinthians 7:3-5)
- Intercede for others (Esther 8:5-6; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
Four years ago, Katie Davis was homecoming queen at her high school in Brentwood, Tennessee. She had a yellow convertible and planned to study nursing in college. But those plans changed. Today, she's in Uganda, sharing her home with 13 orphaned or abandoned girls, ages 2 to 15. Davis is the legal guardian or foster mother for all of them, and hopes to one day adopt them (for more see: http://www.npr.org/2011/07/09/
The great Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar first attacked Jerusalem and dragged the nation of Israel into Babylonian captivity in 605 BC. As the prophet Daniel prophesied, the next superpower to rise would be Medo-Persia who with the help of King Cyrus and later Darius the Great who stretched her borders over 3k miles from India to Ethiopia. In an attempt to expand even further her borders, chapter one verse three of Esther reveals that in the third year of King Xerxes reign (also known as King Ahasuerus), in 483 BC, he invited over a period of six months all the military officers of Persia as well as the princes and nobles of the provinces to strategize what Daniel 11:2 predicted and what history confirms as an unsuccessful attempt to expand the kingdom into Greece and further. Three years after that, probably right after his return to Shushan or Susa, then the primary capital city 200 miles east of Babylon, he chose Esther from among all the virgins in 127 provinces that had likely been collected in his absence to be the next queen in 479 BC.
But how the king chose her to be queen isn’t the way Uncle Arthur’s bedtime stories describes. So if you don’t want your children to hear the unedited story of Esther yet, I won’t be offended if you choose to leave early because the message today could be rated PG-13. Not because I’m trying to be irreverent or sensational, but because rightly read and understood, this story is not tame. Or easy reading for anyone in the beginning or end. So let me give you a bit more background to Esther while you parents with young children think about staying in the sanctuary.
Although Esther follows after Nehemiah in the Bible, the harrowing events described inside occur according to Esther 3:7 in the twelfth year of King Xeres reign in 474 BC which is about 30 years before Nehemiah finally returned with the third group of exiles to rebuild the city walls of Jerusalem in 445 BC. This is significant because were it not for Esther’s heroism, there may not have been any Jews left alive to return to Jerusalem thus preserving the true worship of God. While fifty thousand of them eventually did return (Prophets and Kings, p.598), hundreds of thousands of Jews decided to stay in Persia and Mordecai’s parents were apparently some of them. According to Esther 2:6, they had been taken captive in the second of three attacks launch by Nebuchadnezzar on Jerusalem in 597 BC. Verse 7 adds that Mordecai had a very beautiful and lovely young cousin, named Hadassah, which means myrtle. When her parents died leaving her an orphan, he adopted her and changed her Jewish name to a Persian one meaning star—Esther. The root of her name is where we get the word star or asteroid today.
We don’t know who wrote the book of Esther. Some suggest Ezra or Nehemiah since they worked in the courts of the Persian kings and would have been familiar with the details of her story. Others say Mordecai with his access first as gate keeper and later as prime minister accurately wrote it. What we do know is whoever did, probably witnessed the events from close up because the archaeological evidence discovered so far matches both the story details and Persian customs of extra-Biblical references. Archaeologists have unearthed Xeres’ palace of Susa near the western border of Iran matching many of the specific descriptions from the Bible and historians. One of the most exciting discoveries was when a cuneiform tablet housed today in the Berlin Museum was discovered with the name Marduk on it—which is the Babylonian transliteration of Mordecai. This tablet describes an influential counselor by that name in the court of Shushan in the time of Xeres.
Last summer (July 31, 2010) we studied the Gentile wonder woman Ruth. But this summer we’re studying Esther—the only other book in the Bible named after a woman. Specifically, a Jewish woman. I think it’s interesting that even in the Old Testament, in an especially patriarchal dominated time, God was at work in the lives of Jewish and Gentile women. Long before Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28 that the Gospel does not allow for divisions among Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female because we are all one in Christ Jesus, God was already stirring the pot that way. And even though Esther was a late addition to the canon of the Bible in part because God’s name doesn’t appear inside at all, this book is full of good theology about God. Esther is all about living for God in such a time as this—not really talking about it. Even after making mistakes and the consequence for her actions ratchet up higher and higher, she chooses to allow God to use her beauty and influence for good not evil. And like I tell Lydia, you have to decide if you’re going to use your beauty and gifts God’s given you to do the same things. Katie Davis obviously already understands this. And I hope all of us will too when we’re done this morning.
You guys ready for the real story of Esther? Buckle up. The previous queen has been vanquished but not killed. Probably because she was the daughter of a powerful advisor or ally all because she refused to participate in a drunken orgy demonstrating the power and beauty of the Persian empire before its leaders (cf. Esther 1:7,11). But an exhaustive search for her replacement has been made. And Esther was immediately identified among the chamberlains or literally eunuchs as the next queen. Before being selected, her Jewish foster father Mordecai tells her not to reveal her true identity. And she doesn’t. Which perhaps made it easier for her to hide her morals as well. Turn with me to Esther 2:12-15 to see point number one: Even Wonder Women need saving.
“12 Before each young woman was taken to the king's bed, she was given the prescribed twelve months of beauty treatments—six months with oil of myrrh, followed by six months with special perfumes and ointments.13 When it was time for her to go to the king's palace, she was given her choice of whatever clothing or jewelry she wanted to take from the harem.14 That evening she was taken to the king's private rooms, and the next morning she was brought to the second harem, where the king's wives lived. There she would be under the care of Shaashgaz, the king's eunuch in charge of the concubines. She would never go to the king again unless he had especially enjoyed her and requested her by name.”
Does everyone understand what’s happening here? Undoubtedly, our bedtime story tellers were correct in highlighting Esther’s beauty and loyalty. Esther 2:20 says, “Esther continued to keep her family background and nationality a secret. She was still following Mordecai's directions, just as she did when she lived in his home.” Raising children to obey their parents and do what they ask pleases God.
But notice in doing so, like 77% of teens today according to Josh McDowell in his book Right From Wrong: What You Need to Know to Help Youth Make Right Choices, she caves into the peer pressure of premarital sex. True love waits but she didn’t wait. She didn’t flee immorality as 1 Corinthians 6:18 would say later. If Esther was pure in heart, she wasn’t pure in action. She basically slept her way to the top and became queen because Xeres liked her most. That’s how beauty pageant queens won back then. And that’s why we’re reminded that even Wonder Women need saving. Which is point number one this morning. Even people with good hearts and loyal characters who do good things for others need saving. We know this is true because Hebrews 13:4 says, “4 Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage. God will surely judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery.”
A week ago today, on July 9, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge arrived at Santa Barbara Racquet and Polo Club in southern California continuing their North American post wedding tour. Non-royals forming four teams spent $50k to play polo against The Duke and $100k to play on his winning team all which benefited their charity foundation. Everyone interviewed said “There’s no way they’re going to give him a free ride just because he’s royalty. Everyone here plays to win.” But William took the cup scoring 4 of the 5 goals to win 5-3 and Catherine awarded the trophy to her husband and his teammates with a loving kiss before William and crew hoisted the 14 lb. Tiffany Cup high overhead. And then they flew off into the sunset via helicopter. But even if this new accessible, affable, and let’s face it – lovable royal couple supersedes all the good things William’s mother Princess Diana did, they will still need a Savior. We all do. Esther included. But I talk to people all the time who think they’re pretty good. They’re a good soccer mom or a hard working dad. They’re caring grandparents and involved grandkids loyal to the family representing them well. But we forget how costly sin is. That grace is not cheap. It cost the life of the Son of God. If our mistakes were no big deal, Jesus wouldn’t have died. But he did. Because they are.
Premarital sex is a sin because God is pure and faithful. As His followers, we are called to be pure and faithful too. 1 John 3:3 says, “All who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.” Verse 7 & 8 add, “Dear children, don't let anyone deceive you about this: When people do what is right, it shows that they are righteous, even as Christ is righteous. But when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning.” God takes all sin seriously. This one especially because it does so much damage by undermining trust and healthy sexuality between men and women and their children and grandchildren for years to come. The good news is God takes redemption just as seriously! He paid the price for our sin. And Esther’s. 1 John 3:5 says, “Jesus came to take away our sins, and there is no sin in him.” Though our sins are like scarlet, God makes them white as snow. So choose well and wait for true love that is patient and kind and gentle and long suffering. Just because 77% of your friends won’t wait doesn’t mean you can’t. With God, all things are possible!
And even if you don’t and did have premarital sex, don’t forget to forgive and live because God paid the price for your sin. He still wants you to pray and fast and intercede for others. Because all things can work together for good if you love God. You too can ride off into the sunset happily ever after if you say yes to Jesus in such a time as this. It’s true, wonder women need saving. But what’s also true is real wonder women admit this. And stop living the way they used to. And by God’s grace with His help, they start living a new way for their new groom, Jesus Christ. To become a Christian, Ellen White says in Steps to Christ that you pray, read, and share. I think to stay Christian, you do the same things. And Esther’s redeemed life clearly demonstrates these truths. Turn with me to Esther 4:15-16 to see what I mean. “15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai:16 "Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will do the same. And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king. If I must die, I must die."
Obviously, Esther still loved God. And wanted to live for Him. She had been taught to fast and pray to God and had apparently even taught her maidservants to do likewise. Especially with a crisis looming. Long story short: Haman, the king’s racist prime minister was according to the historian Josephus a descendant of Agag king of Israel’s enemy the Amalekites. When Mordecai refused to bow down and worship him as Persian custom allowed for dignitaries, for some reason Mordecai refused to do so even though Jews bowed before Kings like David did before Saul in 1 Samuel 24:8 and like Abraham bowed before the Gentile Hittites in Genesis 23:7.
Well, Mordecai’s supposed insubordination launched an investigation into his race and religion and resulted in the concocted conspiracy Haman needed to secure their genocide. Had he been successful, the true worship of God would have been exterminated from the planet not just the Persian empire. And Esther quickly grasped the seriousness of this crisis. Which, by the way, is how God uses the seals and trumpets in Revelation as well. As wake up calls to the people inside and outside his kingdom. To start living for Him. Which leads us to the obvious point number two: Wonder women fast and pray. Do you?
It’s not required by God. Jesus’ critics asked Jesus why John the Baptist’s disciples fasted and prayed but Jesus’ did not in Luke 5:33, but Jesus replied there was no need to while He was with them. But that after He was gone, even his disciples would fast and pray. But even in Jesus’ day, some followers of God fasted and prayed. because it was obviously one way to worship. Luke 2:37 says of Anna, a much older Wonder Woman we’ll be studying later, “That she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” She was fasting and praying for the coming of the Messiah. But 2 Samuel 12:16 says David fasted and prayed for the health of his child. Ezra 8:21 says when the Jewish exiles finally did return to Jerusalem that before they did, they fasted and prayed for traveling mercies. 1 Samuel 7:6 says Samuel fasted and prayed in repentance for forgiveness on behalf of the people. And This is what Esther was doing with her maidservants and what she was asking Mordecai to ask all the Jewish people in the Persian empires to do as well.
She knew you can always fast and pray before making important decisions. The key is not to let anyone else know you’re doing so. Because fasting and praying is supposed to be an extremely personal thing between you and God upon whom you’re depending for guidance and help. Jesus said in Matthew 6:16-18, “But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Paul and Barnabas did so before appointing elders for the church in Acts 13:2-3 and 14:23. But you can fast from things besides food. 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 makes this clear. I’m just reading God’s PG-13 word this morning! “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
Did you know you could fast from sex? But that’s what it’s saying! So if you can fast from food and sex, perhaps when we’re praying for wisdom, guidance, jobs, health, traveling mercies or a very series crisis in our lives, we could pray and fast from other things too. Like sports on TV. Or wifi. Or dessert. Or shopping. I don’t think it really matters what it is. As long as we replace whatever it is with more about Jesus. Esther is about living for God without evening mentioning God by name. Fasting helps us do that.
Wonder Women fast and pray. Point number two. But they also intercede for others and this is point number three. Esther 8:5-6 says, “5 If it please the king, and if I have found favor with him, and if he thinks it is right, and if I am pleasing to him, let there be a decree that reverses the orders of Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, who ordered that Jews throughout all the king's provinces should be destroyed. 6 For how can I endure to see my people and my family slaughtered and destroyed?” You have to re-read Esther this evening after our picnic with purpose to catch all the drama taking place here. Esther 3:9 says Haman actually bribes the king with 10k talents of silver which in today’s money translates to way over $6 million—a huge increase in the king’s treasury especially after his unsuccessful war in Greece. But apparently, the King gives Haman permission to launch this first Holocaust of the Jews without accepting the bribe.
And after praying and fasting, Esther walks uninvited into the thrown room of the king which was punishable by death. Esther 4:16 records that she decided, “If I perish, I perish.” But like the King of the universe who delights in us when we come to Him and call the Sabbath a delight, Xeres extends his scepter preserving Esther’s life and eventually with it, the lives of all the Jews scattered among the Persian empire.
Esther 7:9 says the 75’ gallows that Haman built in his backyard to impale Mordecai was instead used to impale Haman and his ten sons. Esther 8:4 says Esther went back into the throne room of the king a 2nd time uninvited and the king holds out his scepter again and issues a decree that went by horseback within a month that the Jews could defend themselves and kill, slaughter, and annihilate anyone of any nationality or province who might attack them or their children because of Haman’s decree. So on the day Haman chose first, the Jews killed 500 of their enemies in Susa. And after Esther asked the king for permission to kill more, they killed 300 of the Jews’ enemies the next day. Esther 9:16 says all told 75k of the Jews’ enemies from all the various provinces died. And because Esther 3:7 says Haman cast lots to determine the day when his genocide would occur, the Jews called the festival Lots or Purim celebrating their deliverance to this day.
When we read the unedited stories of the Bible, sometimes they turn our stomachs. And they remind us that we live in a broken world full of wreckage and ruin. But at the same time, they remind us that we serve a God who is unafraid of entering this broken world of collateral damage and redeeming those who want to be redeemed in it. And the coolest part of this carnage is he wants to use us to intercede for others and this is point number three. Even though we aren’t perfect. Even though we all have sinned and fall way short of the glory of God, God can still use us. Just like he’s using Katie Davis in Uganda. How does that happen? Like everything else, by God’s grace. Would you read one last Scripture with me out loud in conclusion?
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NIV) says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” May God gives us the courage and strength to live for Him in such a time as this.