Welcome to Truth for Life where today we begin a study in the Old Testament book of Esther. This is a story about a beautiful Jewish girl who becomes the queen of Persia. It's a thrilling tale of political intrigue, suspense, and deliverance. What does that have to do with God or with us in the 21st century?
That's what Alistair Begg is about to explain. Verse 1 of Esther chapter 1. Now, in the days of Ahazuerus, the Ahazuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia, over a hundred and twenty-seven provinces, in those days when King Ahazuerus sat on his royal throne in Susa the citadel, in the third year of his reign he gave a feast for all his officials and servants. The army of Persia and Media and the nobles and governors of the provinces were before him, while he showed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor and pomp of his greatness for many days—a hundred and eighty days. And when these days were completed, the king gave for all the people present in Susa the citadel, both great and small, a feast lasting for seven days in the court of the garden of the king's palace.
There were white cotton curtains and violet hangings, fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rods and marble pillars, and also couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother of pearl, and precious stones. Drinks were served in golden vessels, vessels of different kinds, and the royal wine was lavished according to the bounty of the king. And drinking was according to this edict. There is no compulsion. For the king had given orders to all the staff of his palace to do as each man desired.
Queen Vashti also gave a feast for the women in the palace that belonged to King Ahasuerus. Thanks be to God for his Word. We pray briefly. Our God and Father, we pray for your help, as we do routinely, because we actually believe ourselves to be tremendously in need of it, both to be able to speak and to listen, certainly to understand, to obey your Word, to live in the light of its truth. And so, beyond the voice of a mere man, may we hear from you, the living God. For it is to you alone we listen. And in the name of your Son we pray.
Amen. One of the delightful things about becoming a grandparent, as many of you know, is that you're able to go back and read some of the old stories all over again. And there is something quite wonderful, isn't there, about that little introductory phrase? Well, here, as we come to Esther, we might begin by saying, Once upon a time there was a beautiful Jewish girl who became the queen of Persia. That's actually the story. It's a kind of Cinderella story—not quite rags to riches, but certainly a radical transformation in the life of this young Jewish girl, pretty as she was. The story is set against the background of an attempt led by one man, an evil villain by the name of Haman, to try and exterminate the Jewish population, the entire Jewish population, from the Persian Empire. The Persian Empire in ancient days was the greatest empire, probably before the arrival of the Roman Empire. And Persia ruled over Palestine for some two hundred years. I don't want to spend any time at all on the history and geography of it.
It's easy for you to do that. Any good commentary will help you. A good Bible study guide will help you. But just so you know, if you were bumping into the book of Daniel or Ezra or Nehemiah, then you will discover that they all relate to this particular period in time and, in certain aspects, to the exact geography that is contained here. Esther is one of only two books in the Bible that is named after a woman. The other one, of course, as you know, is Ruth. And in Ruth we are given a glimpse of the domestic life of a village. If you like, we're given a glimpse of life lived under God in the context of poverty, of eking out an existence. And here in the book of Esther, we're at the entire opposite end of the social spectrum.
Here we are taken into the grandeur and extravagance of the palace, the royal palace, of this particular king. And if you are not already nudging the person next to you and saying this, it probably will come somewhere along the line. So I might as well address it for you. That is, you're saying to yourself, What possible relevance is there in spending our time as dwellers of the twenty-first century digging into the events that were taking place two and a half thousand years ago in Persia, what is modern-day Iran? And that, of course, is a good question.
That's the question that any sensible person should be asking. But it's really a question about the nature of the Bible. And when we study any book of the Bible, and particularly one like this, as we come to the details that are provided for us in the canvas, it is important, as we've said so many times, that we see the details in light of the big picture. And so I want to spend some time—considerable time, actually—making sure that we don't leave anybody behind in this class that is about to begin on the book of Esther. And the way to be left behind is to fail to understand the big picture.
At our Elders' Meeting, we are always reading a book. The book we're reading at the moment is by Christopher Ash, and as we went through a chapter this past Wednesday on the nature of biblical interpretation, we were struck by a number of comments made by the author, one of which is as follows. When we are doing our Bible interpretation, we are not in a playground having fun and making it mean what we want it to mean, and caring little if others make it mean something else. When we're doing our Bible interpretation, we are not in a playground having fun, interacting with the text, bringing our horizon to the biblical horizon, trying to fuse them, and essentially ending up with a product which says, This is what this means to me, as if what it means to the individual is necessarily synonymous with what it means. The real test of biblical interpretation is not the discovery of what it means to me but is the discovery of what it means. So, says Ash, we are engaged in the life and death business of discerning the meaning that is there. This, of course, is a very contemporary concern. If you are a political aficionado at all, you know that the very same thing is happening in relationship to questions of the Constitution. Are we dealing with meaning as it is there, or is meaning what we make it to be?
As we deal with the issues of history, are we dealing with historical record, or are we just interacting with it and making it mean something? Well, you see, the Bible is not like any other book. Because the Bible is the living word of the living God. That's the claim that the Bible makes for itself.
It is a book that understands the readers, as the readers seek to understand the book. And every book of the Bible is God's Word. And the events that are recorded in the books of the Bible are in the books of the Bible because God wants them to be. You say, well, that's very straightforward, isn't it?
Well, it is straightforward to say it is quite a thought to grapple with, isn't it? That all of the events that we read in our Bible, the reason we have them as the Bible is because God has given it to us, and the reason that the events are there is because he wants them to be. Now, Paul, who was once Saul of Tarsus, when he writes to the Roman Christians of his day, he makes this very point. And in verse 4 of the fifteenth chapter of Romans, this is what he says, For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. There is a hope that stands the test of time. There is a hope that faces the beckoning grave. There is a hope. Where is this hope? Where is this hope to be found? Well, it is to be found in the one of whom the Scriptures speak, namely, in Jesus. For in him, says Peter, we are born again to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. So, when we read, for example, an ancient account like this, it is absolutely vital that we're aware of the fact that God is working everything out according to a unified plan of his own, beginning in eternity and moving to eternity.
That in itself is an awesome thought as well. But that, again, is what the Bible says. Let me take you, as it were, to two ends of the spectrum. If you turn for a moment to Ephesians chapter 1, you can look at these verses, and then you can come back to them on your own, which I hope you often will do. Those of you who take notes, not everything is absorbable in the immediate, is it?
You need to come back to it. And I'll just try and point out to you what I have in mind here. When Paul writes to the Ephesians, he begins with this glorious statement of what it means for them to be in Christ. And although he's going to say to them, and this all became the reality for you when you heard the word of truth and when you believed, he says, But although that was what happened to you in a moment in time—which is the same as has happened to you if you are a believer today, you'll say, There was a period in my life, there was a day in my life, there was a time in my life where all the pieces of the jigsaw fell into place. And somebody told me what I was supposed to do to trust and to believe and to repent and so on, and I did all that.
But later on, as I began to look back down the corridor of time, I said, This whole thing started way beyond that evening or way beyond that month or way beyond that encounter, and that's what Paul is writing about in Ephesians 1. And so he says in verse 5, He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ. Now, notice this phrase, according to the purpose of his will. According to the purpose of his will. God has a will. God has a purpose. God is executing everything according to the purpose of his will. It then goes on—you can read it all the way through—and then verse 9, making known to us the mystery of his will—you see it?—according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ. How do we understand the mystery of his will? How do we understand his purpose? Well, it is set forth in Christ—notice verse 10—as a plan for the fullness of time to unite all things in him, things in heaven, and things on earth.
So, we stand way back now from Esther—we're not even touching Esther for the moment—and we say, Now, we're going to read this book that has to do with this evil villain called Haman, a little Jewish guy called Mordecai, beautiful girl called Esther, and an egotistical rascal called Ahasuerus. And before we delve into the details of this, what do we need to know? Well, we need to know that God, the author of the book and the one who has retained all the details for our consideration, has a unified plan in all of history, and his plan is ultimately to unite all things in and through the work of his Son Jesus. That is why the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, are emphasized again and again and again. Because the climax of the purpose of God, the mystery of his will, is in the person and work of his Son. That's why, when we began to study the Gospel of Mark, as some of you may recall, we paused purposefully in the fifteenth verse of Mark 1. Because there Jesus says, remember, the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is near, repent and believe the good news. What was he saying? He was saying, God has been unfolding his plan and purpose throughout all of the ages of time, and this now is coming to fulfillment here in this great denouement, which is in my life and in my teaching and in my death and in my resurrection, in my ascension and in my return. When you think about some person stepping onto the stage of history and actually saying that, you say to yourself, that is an unbelievable claim for any individual to make, unless, of course, he really was the one mediator between God and man—the man Christ Jesus. So, all of that to make this point, that the pictures and the promises and the symbols of the Old Testament are all to be understood as pointing to the fulfillment of God's plan. So if you get yourself in a bit of a mess, let's say in the book of Leviticus, and you say, I don't understand what all this is about, about washing these utensils and cleaning all this stuff and fiddling with all this stuff.
Just stand far enough back from the painting. You'll get it. God is working everything out. He is putting together a people that are going to be distinguishable from all the nations of the world. They're going to be marked out. They're going to be marked out by certain symbolic gestures on their part.
They're going to be marked out as those who are trusting in the promises that he has given to them for forgiveness of sins. But if you get too close to all the pots and pans, then you might get yourself in a real mess. So, for example, let me give you one from here, since we're going to study Esther. Look at verse 6 of chapter 3 of Esther. Here we have the evil villain coming in, as I have decided to call him, Haman. He's really annoyed, as we'll discover as the story unfolds, with little Mordecai, because Mordecai, the Jewish man, is not going to have any of Haman's nonsense.
He's not going to bow down to him, he's not going to salute to him, he's not going to do any of that stuff. And Haman is not pleased. And so, Haman thinks, Well, I could kill him. And then it says, But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone. I'm not just going to kill Mordecai, he says, I'm going to kill the whole lot of them. And that's what verse 6 says. So as they had made known to him the people of Mordecai, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahazuerus. In other words, he says, I will exterminate the entire Jewish population that is existing in the Persian kingdom.
That's what he was going to do. We say, Well, that's a sort of extravagant thing. How are we supposed to understand that?
Let me tell you. You need to go back to Genesis chapter 3 and verse 15. In fact, you need to go back to Genesis chapter 3 and verse 15 again and again and again, so as you don't lose your place throughout the Bible. I say to you that if you can get your head around Genesis 3.15, you're never actually going to understand the Bible. You will never understand what's taking place.
It is a pivotal point of reference, because God is speaking to the serpent in the garden of Eden, and he says to the serpent, … I will put enmity between you and the woman, hostility and conflict, and between your offspring and her offspring. He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. In other words, this isn't going to be a 50-50 fight.
You will be able to do certain things, but it will only affect his heel. He ultimately will crush your head. Now, what is he talking about here? This is called, in theological terms, the proto euangelion. It is the beginning of the story of the good news, that there is going to come somebody, a seed of the woman, who will deal with this usurper, this one, who is in conflict with the very purposes of God. So from the very beginning of Genesis, you realize that there is a battle that is going on here—that the work of God, the purposes of God, the plan of God for redemption are being opposed at every point. And so you find that there are characters all the way through the Old Testament who are essentially seeking to do the devil's work. And Haman is one here in the book of Esther. Herod is another one in Matthew. What is Herod doing when he decides to slaughter all the male children born in the area aged two and under?
What is he seeking to do? To exterminate the line from which the Messiah will come, the one who will crush the serpent's head, so that there is this phenomenal conflict which runs all the way through the story. And that's what gives significance to what this evil character is going to try and do.
Because think about it. If Haman had been successful in his plan—and he comes close, as you'll see if you read the story on—if he had been successful, the Jewish people as a whole would have been destroyed. The saving work of God promised in and through the descendants of Abraham would have come to an end. There would have been no fulfillment in Christ. There would have been no gospel. There would have been no church.
There would have been no reason for me to preach or for you to listen. That's what makes this so significant. So that even the apparently minor details of the Old Testament stories are all part of the purpose of God in redemption, a purpose to unify all things in and through the person and work of his Son. That is why, ultimately, it leads to the United Nations, where black people, white people, yellow people, green people, Scottish people, all kinds of people will be gathered around the throne of God, and they will declare with untraveled tongues that salvation belongs to the one who has crushed the head of the serpent. So what is happening in the book of Esther is that God is preserving his people, for it is out of those people that his Messiah is going to come.
Therefore, he's going to make sure that in the details that appear on the canvas, he has his people in position. Because, as Jesus explained to the lady at the well, salvation is from the Jews. What was he saying?
Simply that. She had a question about the worshiping of God on Gerizim with the Samaritans, or worshiping God in Jerusalem. He says, A time is coming, and what has now come, when those who worship the Father will worship him in spirit and in truth. And he says that salvation is from the Jews.
And it is. And God's purposes for his people remain. And that's the whole significance of Romans chapter 11. And you can read that some morning when you—at three in the morning, when you're having difficulty, it'll help you.
Well, I spent a long time on that, but I'm telling you it's really important. And that is to understand the big picture. God is doing something far vaster than the Persian Empire, far more significant than the British Empire, the American Empire, or any empire that's still to come. Do you believe that? That in the economy and purposes of God, you are, in Jesus, caught up in this great cosmic adventure? Instead of salvation being some little sort of personal thing, you know, just me and my little salvation? No, no, lift up your eyes.
Look, this is terrific. You're listening to Truth for Life. That is Alistair Begg helping us see the big picture of the Bible so we can better understand Esther's story. Alistair often tells us how important it is to understand the whole Bible. And it's our pattern at Truth for Life to teach the Bible verse by verse, because we trust entirely in its authority and sufficiency. We know God's Spirit will work through the teaching of His Word to convert unbelievers and deepen the relationship between Jesus and those who already believe.
That's the mission you're supporting every time you donate to Truth for Life. And today when you give, we want to say thank you by inviting you to request what we think is an insightful book. This is a book that this is a book that invites us to think about God in a different way. It's called 12 Things God Can't Do. It's a book that walks through the attributes of God by discussing what God will not do instead of thinking about what He does. For example, God will not change.
He can't change. The Bible tells us that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So in a world that is changing continually and in a way that for many of us causes some sleepless nights, the book 12 Things God Can't Do reminds us that God remains constant, reliable, and unchanging. When you learn more about the things God can't do, you'll discover that you sleep a little better. And actually the full title of the book is 12 Things God Can't Do and How They Can Help You Sleep at Night. Request your copy of the book 12 Things God Can't Do when you give a donation online today at truthforlife.org slash donate or call us at 888-588-7884.
I'm Bob Lapine. Did you know God's name is not actually mentioned in the book of Esther? So how do we know that this book truly belongs in the Bible? Listen tomorrow to find out. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
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