You know, sometimes things in life just don't work out the way we plan. Take, for example, the case of Mack and Virginia Metcalf.
In the year 2000, they won the Powerball Lottery in Kentucky, and their one-time payout was a whopping $65.4 million. Well, Mack quit his job as a forklift operator. Virginia quit her factory job, and they prepared for a life full of mashed potatoes and gravy.
But things didn't go exactly the way they planned. First, they got divorced, and then Mack was arrested for DUI. He was sued and had to pay Virginia $850,000 of child support. He developed a huge drinking problem. And in 2003, three years after winning the lottery, he died of alcohol-related disease at the age of 45.
Things didn't go a whole lot better for Virginia either. Police found a dead man in her house from a drug overdose. Family and friends filed multiple suits against her to try to get some of her money.
And in 2005, authorities found her dead body lying in her home where it had been undiscovered for weeks. Hey, what did we say earlier? It's tragic, but sometimes things in life don't always go like we planned. Well, today we're going to begin a four-part series in the Old Testament book of Esther, and in part one of our series, this is exactly what we want to talk about. We want to talk about, as followers of Christ, how we should react when things in life don't go the way we planned, when they don't go the way we hoped. And the title of part one of our study of Esther is God Knows What He's Doing.
So we're ready to dig in, but just before we do, we need a little bit of historical background because understanding the historical setting of the book of Esther is critical to understanding the book itself. And so there are five critical dates in history that I want to share with you that we need to know. Are you ready? Okay, here we go. Back to class. Here we go. Back to history.
Here we go. Number one, date number one, 586 B.C. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon captures Jerusalem, burns it to the ground, and carries basically every Jew in Jerusalem and Judea back to Babylon. Date number two, 539 B.C., 50 years later, Cyrus the Great and the new Persian Empire conquer Babylon. And Cyrus was a particularly benevolent conqueror who, among other things, allowed the Jews that had been taken captive to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple. The Bible tells us only 42,360 Jews took him up on this.
The other hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands stayed in the Persian Empire. You say, why? Well, because Jerusalem was burned to the ground. Jerusalem's walls were torn down. Jerusalem, how the houses were torn down, and the Jewish people had become prosperous over the 50 years that they had been in captivity. Why leave that prosperity to go back to a desolate city?
Everybody with me? That's why when we progress in the Book of Esther and we talk about all the Jews that are in the Persian Empire, that's why they're still there. Number three, date number three, 490 B.C., Cyrus' successor, King Darius, invades Greece and is defeated at the Battle of Marathon. He returns to Persia, Darius does, and is determined to raise an even bigger army to go at Greece one more time. But in the meantime, he dies and his son Xerxes ascends to the throne, who he is also obsessed about destroying Greece and offending his father's defeat. Now the Book of Esther, the events of the Book of Esther happened during the reign of this king, King Xerxes. Date number four, 483 B.C., Xerxes' second year. In this year, Xerxes starts to assemble in his capital city, Susa, the greatest army, the largest army ever collected in the history of the world up to that point to attack Greece again. And we know from Persian history that it took three years for him to assemble this army. During that time, princes and nobles and soldiers were all streaming into Susa, his capital city.
And of course, he had to feed all these people and he had to entertain all these people. Finally, date number five, 480 B.C., Xerxes reinvades Greece, he defeats the Spartans, the 300 Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae. You all have seen the movie.
Yeah, the 300, you've seen the movie. Alright, well that's when this happened. He defeats them, then he goes on and conquers Athens and burns it to the ground, but his fleet was crushed at the Battle of Salamis just outside Athens.
And he, in his seventh year, Xerxes' seventh year, was forced to withdraw and go back to Persia with his tail between his legs, defeated just as his father Darius had been. Now, all you folks at Bethesda, are you still awake? Everybody awake here? Alright, you guys are loud and you're still with us?
Here, you guys okay? I mean, I know we glaze over when we do history, but y'all with me, right? Okay, now with these five dates and this historical background under our belt, we are ready to tackle the book of Esther. So here we go, Esther chapter 1 verse 3, In the third year of his reign, 482 BC, Xerxes gave a banquet for all of his nobles and officials.
The military leaders and princes and nobles of all the provinces of Media were present as well. For a full 180 days, Xerxes displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty. Now, we understand what the book of Esther is telling us here in chapter 1, right? We understand that Esther 1 verse 4 falls during the three years when we know from Persian history that Xerxes was assembling his big army in Susa.
As we said earlier, all of these people needed to be fed and they needed to be entertained. And so verse 4 of chapter 1 tells us that Xerxes threw a 180 day ongoing continuous party for all of these nobles and all of these soldiers. The point is that everything Esther chapter 1 says fits perfectly with the facts of Persian history as we know them.
Now, let me summarize what happens next. At one of these parties, Xerxes decided to show off the beauty of his wife, the queen. Her name was Vashti. And so he commanded her to get dressed up and come in before all the nobles so they could see how beautiful she was. Well, Vashti refused. And by doing so, she humiliated the king in front of all of his nobles and all of his friends. Now you say, well, Lon, why in the world would she refuse? Well, friends, how in the world do I know?
I don't know why she didn't come. But I'll tell you this, we know from history that Xerxes had a vile temper. For example, on the way when he was marching to Greece, we know that he had some engineers build a bridge over a river and an unexpected flood came and destroyed the bridge and he got mad at them and executed them all right there next to the bridge they had built.
It wasn't even their fault. But the point is this is not the guy you want to make mad. She not only made him mad, she infuriated him. She enraged him and so he threw out his queen. End of chapter 1.
Chapter 2, verse 1. Later, when the anger of King Xerxes had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done. Then the king's servant said, let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king and let the girl who pleases the king become queen instead of Vashti.
This advice pleased the king so he authorized it. Now it's very important to look down in verse 16 of chapter 2 where we're told that chapter 2, this search for the new queen, took place in the seventh year of Xerxes reign. That is between chapter 1 and chapter 2, the Bible tells us there is an interval of four years. But because we're such great history students here at McLean Bible Church and because we are so on top of Persian history, we know what happened during those intervening four years, don't we, class? Yes, in year 5 of Xerxes reign, we know that he invaded Greece.
In year 6 of his reign, we know that he was defeated. And in year 7 of his reign, we know that Xerxes returns to Susa with his tail between his legs, feeling sorry for himself, wanting some female companionship, and so he starts looking for a new queen. Once again, we see that the events of Esther 2 also fit perfectly with the facts of Persian history. You say, Lon, wait a minute, stop a second.
I've heard you say that three or four times now, how Esther fits with the facts of Persian history. I mean, that's great, but what's the point? I mean, what's the big whoop? I mean, why do you keep repeating that? Why is that so important?
Oh, it is important. Friends, listen, if we can't trust what the Bible says about Persian history, how do we know that we can trust the Bible when it says things about Jesus Christ, or about the resurrection, or about heaven, or about hell, or about how people get to heaven or hell? My friends, the trustworthiness of the Bible is an all or nothing deal. The Bible is either completely trustworthy at every point, or it is completely suspect at every point. And as we have seen today, when we take the events of the book of Esther, and we compare them and lay them beside the facts of Persian history, what we find is that the Bible passes the test once again with flying colors. Amen?
Alright, now, back to our story. Esther 2, verse 5. Now, there was in Susa a Jew named Mordecai. Mordecai was a middle-aged man, maybe 50-ish, and he was a bachelor. You say, how can you be so sure of that?
Because the Bible says that for one solid year, he sat in the city gates and never went home, and no married man could have ever got away with that. That's how I know that. Alright, so, amen.
Thank you very much. Alright, verse 7. And Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had raised, because she had no father or mother. This girl, who was also known by her Persian name, Esther, was lovely in her form and her features. This is Bible speak for saying that this woman was drop-dead gorgeous.
You got it. Now, verse 7. And Mordecai had raised her as his own daughter when her father and her mother had died. And when the king's order had been proclaimed, many girls, that is that he's looking for a new queen, many girls were brought to the citadel of Susa and placed under the care of Haggai, who was in charge of the king's harem. Esther also was taken to the palace, by the way, by Mordecai, and entrusted to Haggai. And immediately Esther won Haggai's favor, and he provided her with beauty treatments and special food and seven personal attendants and moved Esther into the best place in the harem. Apparently, this new queen process in Persia was a lot like trying out for American Idol, and Haggai was a lot like Simon Cowell.
If he liked you from the beginning, you already had the inside track. And he liked Esther. Verse 10.
But so far Esther had not revealed her nationality, that is that she was Jewish, because Mordecai had told her not to do so. Now, before a girl's turn to go in and see King Xerxes, she had to complete 12 months of prescribed beauty treatments. Hey, this is the invention of the spa. Aren't you glad you know that? This is where it started. And when it came Esther's turn, she was taken to King Xerxes, and Xerxes was more attracted to her than to any of the other women he had seen. So Xerxes immediately set the royal crown on her head. He said, that's it. I don't need to see any more women.
We're done. And he made her queen instead of Vashti. The Bible says the minute he saw Esther, Xerxes went, va-va-va-voom. You say, how do you say that in Persian? Va-va-va-voom.
And faster than you can say Persian rug, Esther found herself as the queen of the mightiest empire in the entire world. How cool is that, huh? Now, we're going to stop right there. We'll come back and pick up the story, Lord willing, next week. But we're going to ask the question right now that I know you're dying to ask, that all of you at our campuses and on the internet are dying to ask, so are we ready?
Prince William and Loudon and Edge, all ready? Good. Okay. Come on now. This is a Memorial Day weekend. So what?
Which means it's got to be good. All right. Here we go. Come on now.
One, two, three. So what? It's good. You say, all right, Lon. So what? You say, I understand the story of Esther, you know, and this is really great.
And I'm really happy to know where the spa was invented. But other than that, what difference does any of this make to my life? Well, we're going to talk about that. You know, if you have ever read the book of Esther, you know that God is in the process here of working out a great deliverance for the Jewish people, the people of Israel. And you also know if you've read the book that the central player in this deliverance is this young Jewish woman named Esther. Without Esther becoming the queen of Persia, God's plan for saving his people breaks down and the entire Jewish race may have been annihilated.
Now, that would have been tragic, but far more important than that, it would have also meant there would have been no Jewish race to produce the Messiah and that would have been eternally tragic. Now, without Esther becoming the queen of Persia, therefore, this whole thing falls apart. Even Mordecai, with all of his manipulative skills and all of his scheming ability, he could never have saved his people if Esther had not been the queen of Persia.
So let's think for a moment. In order to get Esther to the throne, what did God have to do? Well, he had to do two things. Number one, he had to get Esther to the city of Susa so she was there and available for tryouts. And number two, even before that, he had to get Esther to Mordecai who raised her as a godly cultured woman who made sure that she showed up at the queen tryouts, who made sure she got through the screening by telling her wisely not to reveal her Jewish heritage and who no doubt continued to advise her during all 12 months of her beautification process.
So here's our question for today. Just how did God get Esther both to Susa and to Mordecai? Well, the answer is found right here in the Bible. Esther chapter 2 verse 7 says, And Mordecai had taken her in as his own daughter when her father and her mother had died. The answer is that God got Esther to Susa and he got Esther to Mordecai through the death of her mom and her dad. Now, we don't know for sure how old Esther was when her mom and dad died, but since the same verse, Esther chapter 2 verse 7 says that Mordecai raised her, I think it's reasonable to assume that Esther was a very young little girl when this happened. And man, you talk about a devastating blow to Esther. Man, you talk about things not going the way Esther planned. I mean, after losing her mom and losing her dad, she now gets shipped off to some distant relative, an old bachelor in a strange city where she has no friends, where she knows nobody at school, where she's a complete stranger to everything. I mean, little Esther must have felt like her entire world was coming to an end.
And folks, we need to stop right here at Esther chapter 2 verse 7 long enough to see the incredible amount of pain and heartache that's written between the lines of that verse. Hey, but what about old Mordecai? I mean, don't forget about him and all of this. Mordecai, here he is, a middle-aged bachelor. Mordecai makes his bed when he feels like it. Mordecai washes his laundry when he feels like it. Mordecai actually washes the dishes when he feels like it.
And Mordecai burps whenever he feels like it, thank you. And then suddenly into his life comes a child. Not just any child, a girl child comes into his life.
He's got no wife to assist him in raising this child. Man, you talk about things not going the way that Mordecai planned for his life. Hey, that happened also. And yet, even though Esther nor Mordecai could see it at the time, look here, can't we see that God knew what he was doing all the time? Huh? Can't we see that God was using what looked on the human level like tragedy, the death, huge tragedy of Esther's mother and father that God was using this to work out his perfect plan? Look, not only for the deliverance of the Jewish people, but also for the personal benefit of Esther and Mordecai.
Hey, think about it. Esther became the queen of the most powerful empire on the face of the earth. And Mordecai, when we read chapter 10, we're going to discover, became prime minister of the most powerful empire on the earth, second in command only to King Xerxes himself. Hey, you know, God did this very same thing for Joseph. You remember the story of Joseph, I hope. God used some really awful circumstances in his life. Rejection and betrayal by his brothers. He was sold into slavery.
He was thrown into jail unjustly. And God used all of that to get Joseph right to where he wanted him to go, to being the prime minister of Egypt. Hey, he knew what he was doing in the life of Joseph. And what about Ruth? God did the same thing with her. You remember that her husband died and her father-in-law died and she followed Naomi back to Israel and they lived in abject poverty. The Bible says that it was Orpah and Ruth, right? And they were married to the two sons of Naomi. Those two boys were named in Hebrew Melyon and Chilyon, which means in Hebrew, weekly and sickly. Now why in the world you would name your children weekly and sickly? I have no idea. But weekly and sickly died.
Yeah, they did. And Orpah said, look, you know, God bless you two, you other ladies. I'm not going anywhere.
I'm staying right here in Moab with all my friends and all my neighbors and everything. And Ruth said, no, Naomi, I'll go with you. Your people will be my people.
Your God will be my God. They went back to Bethlehem. They were refugees. They were living in poverty.
Ruth was out in the field picking up grain that the harvesters had dropped on the ground. That's how they were eating and along comes Boaz. Oh yeah, Boaz. Boaz was rich. Boaz was handsome. And Boaz was godly.
And best of all, Boaz was available. Yeah. And he saw Ruth and he went, va-va-va-voom. Say, how do you say that in Hebrew?
You say it the same way you do in Persian. Va-va-va-voom. And he married Ruth and suddenly Ruth finds herself the wife of a godly man, a wealthy man, a wonderful man. And she also becomes the great grandmother of a fellow named King David and the great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother of a fellow named the Lord Jesus Christ. The point I'm trying to make here, my friends, is that in every single one of these cases, God knew exactly what he was doing. God was so far ahead of Esther. He was so far ahead of Mordecai. He was so far ahead of Joseph and so far ahead of Ruth that it wasn't even funny. And here's the key.
When they trusted God and when they gave God time to finish what he was up to in their life, indeed, he proved every time he knew what he was doing. Now, let's talk about you and me, shall we? Many of us here, if not all of us here, have had things happen in our life that resemble what happened to Esther. We've had tragic things happen and painful things happen and hurtful things happen. And maybe some of us even walked in here today with some of this kind of stuff going on in our life. And we turn to God every time and we say, God, why?
Why are you letting this happen to me? As a loving God, why are you doing this to me? And God's response to us in every case is to point us to the promises that he's made to us in the eternal Word of God. Jeremiah 29, 11, for I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans for good and not for evil to give you a future and a hope. Promises like Romans 8, 28, God works. What's the next word? All. Ooh, that's a very important word. God works all things together.
What for? Good to those who love him. And friends, I'm here today on behalf of God to assure you that God is so far ahead of you, just like he was so far ahead of Esther and Mordecai and Ruth and Joseph.
He is so far ahead of you and me that it's not even funny. I'm here to assure you that God knows what he's doing with you and with me exactly like he knew what he was doing with them. It's just that in our puny human logic and wisdom, we can't see it right away. We can't see it at first any more than Esther or Mordecai or Joseph or Ruth could see it. But hey, remember what Yogi Berra said.
What did he say? It ain't over till it's over. And nowhere is that more true, my friends, than when it comes to how God runs our lives, which means that it's too soon for you and me as followers of Christ to question God. It is too soon for you and me to impugn God. It is too soon for you and me to accuse God of breaking his promises to us.
Friends, it ain't over yet. Esther had to wait till it was over before she could decide whether God had kept his promises to her, and he had. Joseph had to wait till it was over before he could decide whether God had kept his promises to him, and he had. Ruth had to wait till it was over before she could decide if God had been true to his Word to her. And friends, you and I have to wait until it's what? Over.
Before we make that same decision. You know, many of you know my dad came to Christ a week before he died. But you may not know exactly how I ended up in the hospital down in Charlottesville a week before he died and was able to lead him to Christ. Actually, what happened was I was here in Washington, and on a Thursday night, I got a call from my mom in Charlottesville with her hair on fire telling me, Your dad's in the hospital. Your dad's on his last leg. Your dad's about ready to die.
You need to drop everything and get down here right away. Man, I went running around. I had to work that weekend at giant food. I had to get people to move my shift around. My manager got mad and yelled at me.
I had to get people to replace me teaching Sunday school. It was crazy. I jumped in the car.
I headed down there as fast as I could go. Hey, let me just say, if you're going down 29, be careful of Madison County. You better slow down. I'm warning you. Take it from someone who knows.
Madison County. Slow down. Man, I came running into the hospital and my dad was sitting up in bed eating a banana. I was so mad. Oh, so mad. I thought, Lord, you let that woman do it to me again. Now, if you don't have a Jewish mother, you don't get that.
But if you got a Jewish mother, you understand what I'm talking about. And I was so upset at her. And then the Lord said to me, Well, Lon, you're here. Why don't you talk to your dad?
I'm like, Oh, yeah, good point. So I started talking with my dad and the next day I got down on my knees with my father on his knees in the hospital next to his bed with my arm around his shoulder. And he asked Jesus Christ into his life.
Now, here's the rest of the story. Four days later, on Wednesday, my dad had his fourth massive heart attack in the hospital, went into a coma, never came out and was dead a week to the day after I prayed for him. But do you see, my friends, that if my mom had waited until my dad was really desperately sick, I would never have been able to share with him, would never have been able to talk to him. One week after it happened, I was able to look back and say, Oh, my gosh, Lord, you knew exactly what you were doing.
Get me down there early, didn't you? Listen, friends, this doesn't always happen in a week that we can look back and see this. And it doesn't always happen in a month that we can look back or even in a year that we can look back and see it, but it always happens. Friends, you wait till it's over. You trust God, and you give God time to finish what He's up to in your life, and God promises you that every time you and I will end up confessing that He knew exactly what He was doing the entire time. It's too soon to question God. It's not over. It's too soon to impugn God.
It's not over. Let Him finish what He's up to. And friends, may I remind you in closing, God never says oops.
He makes no mistakes. Trust Him. Let's pray. Heavenly Father, thank you for speaking to us deeply from the Word of God today. You know, there are many of us here who are struggling with things going on in our life that we don't understand, that we don't like, that we don't get any more than I'm sure Esther got it when her parents died and she got shipped off to Mordecai.
But Lord Jesus, I pray that from her story and that of Joseph and that of Ruth and thousands of others like them, you would teach us today that you make no mistakes, that you know what you're doing in their lives and in our lives, and that our job is not to question you. Our job is not to debate with you. Our job is not to impugn you.
Our job is to trust you and give you the time you need to finish what you're up to in our lives. And so, Lord, change the very way we live and the very way we react to things that confuse us and hurt us and that we don't like, all because we were here today and we sat under the teaching of the eternal Word of God. We pray these things in Jesus' name.
What do God's people say? Amen. Hey, have a wonderful holiday weekend. God bless you guys. See you. Amen.
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