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Providence (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
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February 22, 2023 3:00 am

Providence (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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February 22, 2023 3:00 am

Our choices can hold us captive. In a drunken moment, King Ahasuerus proclaimed an irrevocable decree that he later regretted but was powerless to change. How did his decision impact God’s plan and purpose? Find out on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.


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Sometimes we can find ourselves held captive by our own poor choices. We make a bad decision, and then we're stuck with the consequences. Well, in a moment of drunkenness, King Ahasuerus proclaimed an irrevocable decree that he later regretted. But he was powerless to change it. So how did his decision impact God's plan and purpose? That's what we'll find out today on Truth for Life.

Here's Alistair Begg. We're going to read from the book of Esther in the Old Testament. I invite you to turn there, chapter 2 and verse 1. After these things, when the anger of King Ahasuerus had abated, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her. Then the king's young men who attended him said, Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for the king, and let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom to gather all the beautiful young virgins to the harem in Susa the citadel under custody of Haggai, the king's eunuch who's in charge of the women.

Let their cosmetics be given them, and let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti. This pleased the king, and he did so. Father, with our Bibles before us, we pray that the Spirit of God will be our teacher, that beyond the voice of a mere man we may hear from you, that you will conduct that divine dialogue which is so mysterious to us, whereby you take your Word and you plant it in our lives and speak to us beyond ourselves and in a way that causes us to ponder the amazing interest that you have in us. Accomplish your purposes this day, we pray, for Jesus' sake.

Amen. Proverbs 20 and verse 1 reads, Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise. Now, those are the words of Solomon, a wise man, and we begin with them because it is very obvious in the reading of Esther chapter 1 that King Ahasuerus was led astray by his intake of wine. There is a very direct and obvious correlation between the extent of his imbibing and the angry outburst which led to the banishing of a queen whom he loved.

Now, I think it's fair enough to say that it must have seemed like a good idea at the time on that particular evening when passions were running high, when he was in the company of his friends and cohorts and those who served his purposes, especially in light of the fact that his pride had been so deeply wounded. It must have seemed like a splendid plan to issue a decree so that, according to verse 19, Vashti would never come before King Ahasuerus again. That was going to be the end of her.

We know nothing of her. She's banished, not only from his presence but from the biblical record. But when you come to chapter 2, now time has passed.

Some three or four years have elapsed, the historians tell us, and during that time he—that is, King Ahasuerus—had led what proved in the end to be an unsuccessful military campaign, an expedition against the powers of Greece. And he has now returned, presumably to his palace, and in my mind's eye I picture him now standing perhaps in the banquet hall that had been marked by all of that finery, all of that opulence, all of that gaiety, frivolity, and, yes, by the passionate outburst which had led to the departure of his queen. I wouldn't be at all surprised if he simply stood there in the absence of all of that, and as he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her, he must have said to himself, You know, things would have been so different in my life were it not for that moment.

If I had reacted differently to her response, she would still be here, and I would be able to enjoy her company. You see, his power in Persia was virtually absolute. That was the good news for him but also the bad news for him. What it meant was that he could turn his whim, which he had done in this instance, he could turn his whim into law, but since it was the law of the Medes and the Persians, the law became irreversible. And so what he did in banishing his queen meant that he was trapped by his own irreversible decree, so that he couldn't actually have her back even if he wanted. Some have been tempted to do that, and it is only one's pride that prevents the man from asking for his queen, his bride, to be returned.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if he had been propelled forward in time and been able to listen to the music that I enjoy if he wouldn't have been prepared to acknowledge that there was a direct correlation between the poetry of Johnny Mitchell and Paul Simon and his own heart response to his circumstances. So he may have stood in the middle of the banqueting hall and said, But when she's gone, me and those lonesome blues collide. The bed's too big, the frying pan's too wide. You see, because losing love is like a window in your heart. Everybody sees you're blown apart. Everybody sees the wind blow. It doesn't matter if you're born to play the king or pawn, for the line is thinly drawn between joy and sorrow.

Breaking up is hard to do. And the story here of this miserable king is actually a fairly miserable story. He is prepared to accede to the directives of these young men. They come up with a plan to cheer him up, to lift his spirits. Why don't we have a beauty pageant, they say? Let's round up all the beauties.

We can get another one for you, probably a younger model a little better. And we find he's there, passively relying on the wisdom of these characters. Glover, the historian, has a wonderful little passage where he says of this man, He had immense resources in gold and in manpower, and he failed. And at every point the chief source of Persian weakness seems to have been the fact that the man who had at last to decide everything was unequal to his task. The man who had the power to make these huge decisions and who at the end had the power of veto was unequal to the task.

In his own personal life, he made a hash of it. The story is duplicated, gentlemen, again and again and again throughout history. The pages of our newspapers, the diaries of our politicians—tragically, the circumstances of our pastoral leaders—are riddled with this story again and again. The power to proclaim the Word, and yet no power to prevent the issue.

There are lots of lessons could be learned from this. It's not our purpose this morning to pause on them, but let's just take for ourselves, gentlemen, one pithy exhortation to suffice. In observing the rash, wine-fueled stupidity of King Ahasuerus, here's the word. Don't be foolish, be faithful. Don't be foolish, be faithful. I was talking with a gentleman yesterday. I said, Are you going to such and such an event? He said, No, I'm not going to go to that event. This is not a man who professes faith in Jesus. I said, Well, why wouldn't you go? Isn't it a wonderful time? He said, It's a wonderful time if you want to spend at the end of the day when the conference is over hanging around carousing with people and going to bars and chatting up women. He said, I have no interest in that.

I have a wife that's on the test. You see, because the most important thing that a father can do for his children is love their mother, more than anything else. More than how much we provide for them, more than how much we are able to give to them in education, more than whatever legacy we may leave them. You can leave them everything and never have loved their mother unreservedly, and it will be a disaster. No, don't be foolish. Don't toy with these things in your mind. It's dangerous. Be faithful. Because remember, you made a promise, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish forever, only to be parted by death.

People come to me in the course of pastoral ministry. They've been mowing their marriages. Oh, it's terrible. You ought to hear about him.

You ought to hear about her. I listen for as long as I can stand it. And then I say, So apparently what you're telling me is that it's worse.

Is that it? They say, Yes. I say, Well, you signed up for worse. Get out. That's why no one comes to me for counseling. My style.

There's no sensitivity to it at all. You signed up for worse. It gets worse. He had a thirty-two-inch waist. Now he has a furniture problem. His chest has dropped into his drawers. It's worse!

Hey, we can get you a younger one. That's enough of that. Let's get back to the king. The plan of action is to be executed. And the decision, the suggestion made by these young men, as we're about to see in the future, has a significant impact on the way that this plot unfolds. But I want to say three things concerning the underlying doctrine here in this book. It is the doctrine of providence. I wanted to give you three words in relationship to it.

Now, the first word is clarity, the second word is mystery, and the third word is security. All right? When I was studying this week, those were three little subpoints that became a sermon. So here we are.

All right? So the doctrine of providence, as we've noted before from Louis Berkov, which you can get in the bookstore or download for yourself, is, by definition, the continued exercise of the divine energy whereby the Creator preserves all his creatures, is operative in all that comes to pass in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end. If you want it in a shortened form, the final statement at the end of Catechism question 2 reminds us that nothing happens except through him and by his will. Nothing happens except through him and by his will. Charles Bridges, commentating on the way in which this unfolds, says—I found helpfully, and maybe you will too—in inert matter, God acts by physical force, in brute animals by instinct and appetite, in intelligent beings by motives suited to their faculties, in his redeemed people by the influence of grace.

It's a very good and helpful statement, I think. How does God then work all things according to his appointed end? Well, it covers everything from inert matter all the way through to his redeemed people. Now, Solomon comments on this—not a comment on Ahasuerus in particular, but a general comment concerning the way in which God controls even the affairs in the lives of kings. And in Proverbs chapter 21, 1, this is what we read, The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD. He turns it wherever he will.

If you have directed streams around your property or just directed a hosepipe in a certain direction, you realize that you can interfere with it in that way. But here, this picture is of the way in which, although the king goes about his business, nevertheless, God's hand is involved in the matter. So let us be clear that this is clear. That's our first word, clarity. In other words, there's nothing sketchy or vague about this in the Bible. And it is the very fact that it isn't sketchy or vague that causes men and women to react to it so strongly—to react to it in unbelief. If, for example, tomorrow, in common conversation, you espouse to somebody over a coffee or driving in a car or taking a trip with somebody, that God actually works in everything according to his own eternal purpose and appointed end, it's almost inevitable that someone will immediately come back and say, Well, I can see how that could possibly be. And the phraseology that will be used is, You're not telling me that, are you? You're not saying that God did. You're not saying that God does. You're not saying.

That's what they usually say. And if we're fearful or confused, then we may find ourselves equivocating on the issue. But if we are prepared to submit to the clarity of the Bible, then we say, Well, actually, that is what I'm saying. I am actually confirming that fact. Jim Packer puts it very straightforwardly when he says, What we're talking about is purposive personal management—purposive personal management—with total hands-on control.

Wow, that's pretty tight, isn't it? So, in creation, God exercised his divine energy to bring the world into being, and in providence, he continues to exercise his divine energy to sustain the universe and to bring things all to their appointed end, which ultimately, as we saw in Ephesians 1, is when everything on heaven and earth will be united in and through the purposes as it relates to Jesus. It's important that we realize, too, that in affirming the clarity of the Bible in this, we do so in an environment where the responses of people are largely two. A certain group of people are deistic in their thinking, they're deists in their thinking. Essentially, the deist separates God from his world. At the most baseline, communicate-with-your-children terminology, the deist says, Okay, there was a God who made the world, but he's had nothing to do with it ever since he made it. He's not interfered with it, he's not engaged with it, he simply got it started.

He wound the watch up, he laid it on the vanity, and he walked away and left it behind. What we're saying is something very, very different from that, isn't it? Or, on the other hand, the reaction of pantheism. And many of our friends are actually pantheists without knowing it. The deist separates God from his creation. The pantheist confuses God with his creation. The pantheist actually says that God and creation are one and the same thing. That is why you will find your pantheistic friends, although they may not know the terminology, suggesting that if you look inside of yourself, you will be able to find God.

Why? Because God is his creation, and we are his creation, and therefore, in his kind of extreme expressions, a la Shirley MacLaine and so on of an old day, you know, out on a limb with Shirley, God is, you know, all around and in and on and through and so on. It all sounds really kind of jazzy when people like to say, Well, I'm a spiritual person, you know, but I wouldn't say that I'm a religious person. You say, Well, that's interesting.

We can talk about that some more. But if God is his creation, who created the creation? Pantheists have no explanation for the existence of anything. The Bible says, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

It doesn't start with a scientific explanation. The reason it doesn't start with a scientific explanation is because the only way that we can know God is by faith. The writer to the Hebrews says, Anyone who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is the rewarder of those who diligently seek him. That doesn't mean that apologetics can't help us to chip away at the often misguided views of our contemporaries.

But what it ultimately means is that anybody that affirms truth in God does so as a result of faith— a faith that is a gift from God by his grace and his goodness. That's why I quoted the children's hymn, All Things Bright and Beautiful. I was singing it to myself in the car just the other morning. All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful, The Lord God made them all. I sing that to myself regularly.

Remind myself, This is your world. You made this. You're not to be confused with this. You're not in the tree. You made the tree. You're not in the monkey.

You made the monkey. So, when we go out to our friends and we say, you know, we were studying the book of Esther. It's a very Jewish book.

It's about a lady, and some of our friends may say, I know about that. We say, well, what the real thing about this book is that God, the Creator, sustains everything by his power. There's clarity in it. But secondly and quickly, there is also mystery in it. There is mystery in it, in that God directs all things—he directs the heart of the king, if we stay with Proverbs 21.1—he directs the heart of the king without violating the nature of things.

Okay? Without impinging upon causality. What does that mean? In the case of Ahasuerus, it means this. Vashti was banished because of a free decision made by Ahasuerus. He was not a pawn on a chessboard being moved around by a divine chess player.

He was not dangling on the end of a puppeteer's string. He, in a moment of passion, fueled by his excesses, decided that since his pride had been wounded, he didn't want her as a queen anymore. That was his free decision. It was his free decision to accept the suggestion of his advisers that they would have, then, a beauty pageant whereby he would be able to choose for himself a new queen. He did that.

And when you read on in the story—which I hope, as I've suggested to you, you will do—you discover that there are these amazing little coincidences that somehow or another appear to be evidence of the overruling activity of God. So if your Bible is open, you could just flip forward to Esther chapter 6 and look at verse 1, where it says, On that night the king could not sleep. Why couldn't he sleep?

I don't know. It doesn't say why he couldn't sleep. He couldn't sleep. And so he apparently haphazardly gave orders to bring the book of memorable deeds, The Chronicles.

A real zinger, you know. Why don't you read me about The Chronicles of the Kingdom? But in actual fact, that was the book that allowed him to read about what had happened with Mordecai, to whom he will eventually come. Without that, he would not have known, and therefore he would not have exalted Mordecai to the position.

It's kind of mysterious, isn't it? Because what was actually happening was that God was ordering these events—not ordering them by interfering, as it were. I had somebody tell me not so long ago that they were trapped in an elevator, and they were supposed to phone their wife, and then the phone wouldn't work, and as a result of the phone not working, he couldn't get his wife out of a situation, and because he couldn't get her out of it, she actually became a Christian. And so he said, What an amazing thing it is that God stops elevators. I said, Okay, fine. But I went away. I said, No, yeah, he can stop elevators. But no, the elevator just stopped, man.

It stopped because it stopped. And in the economy and purposes of God, that causality was used in order to achieve a far higher end. God is ultimately in control of all things, even our bad decisions. He can use foolish choices to fulfill his purpose. You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life with the message he's titled Providence.

We'll hear the conclusion of the message tomorrow. You know, sometimes when we make a bad choice, we can fracture a relationship. We can find ourselves feeling lonely. It might be a fleeting experience or an ongoing struggle. Have you ever stopped to think about the fact that God is never lonely? Loneliness is not found anywhere in God's nature.

So what does that mean for us? Well, the book 12 Things God Can't Do explores a dozen different human attributes that are not found in God. And because they're not present in his nature, that's actually a source of great comfort or benefit to us.

Again, there's more in the book 12 Things God Can't Do. You can request your copy today when you give a donation online at slash donate or call us at 888-588-7884. I'm Bob Lapine.

We're glad you've joined us today. When you watch the news, the world can feel overwhelmingly wicked. How can you be sure that God is still in control of all things? We'll find out tomorrow on Truth for Life. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-22 04:26:36 / 2023-02-22 04:35:29 / 9

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