Anytime you've gone to see a play or a movie, there have been a lot of things going on behind the scenes that you didn't necessarily see but that contributed to the success of the production. God's providence is similar, and today on Truth for Life we'll take a closer look at how God is at work behind the scenes in the story of Esther. Esther chapter 2 verse 5, Now there was a Jew in Susa the citadel, whose name was Mordecai the son of Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish, a Benjaminite, who had been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had carried away. He was bringing up Hadassah, that is, Esther, the daughter of his uncle, for she had neither father nor mother. The young woman had a beautiful figure and was lovely to look at. And when her father and her mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter. So when the king's order and his edict were proclaimed, and when many young women were gathered in Susa the citadel in custody of Haggai, Esther also was taken into the king's palace and put in custody of Haggai, who had charge of the women.
And the young woman pleased him and won his favor. And he quickly provided her with her cosmetics and her portion of food, and with seven chosen young women from the king's palace, and advanced her and her young women to the best place in the harem. Esther had not made known her people or kindred, for Mordecai had commanded her not to make it known. And every day Mordecai walked in front of the court of the harem to learn how Esther was and what was happening to her.
Incidentally, it just made me think there of Moses and the bulrushes, and the way in which the passage of the family members was in proximity there, just watching out for Moses, and yet God was watching out for those who were watching out. Now, when the turn came for each young woman to go into King Ahazuerus after being twelve months under the regulations for the women, since this was the regular period of their beautifying—six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and ointments for women—when the young woman went into the king in this way, she was given whatever she desired to take with her from the harem to the king's palace. In the evening, she would go in, and in the morning she would return to the second harem in custody of Shazgaz, the king's eunuch who was in charge of the concubines. She would not go in to the king again unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name. When the turn came for Esther, the daughter of Abbahel, the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her as his own daughter to go in to the king, she asked for nothing except what Hegai, the king's eunuch who had charge of the women, advised. Now Esther was winning favor in the eyes of all who saw her. And when Esther was taken to King Ahazuerus into his royal palace in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign, the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight, more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. Then the king gave a great feast for all his officials and servants. It was Esther's feast.
He also granted a remission of taxes to the provinces and gave gifts with royal generosity. Now, when the virgins were gathered together the second time, Mordecai was sitting at the king's gate. Esther had not made known her kindred or her people as Mordecai had commanded her, for Esther obeyed Mordecai just as when she was brought up by him. In those days, as Mordecai was sitting at the king's gate, Binkthun and Teresh, two of the king's eunuchs who guarded the threshold became angry and sought to lay hands on King Ahazuerus. And this came to the knowledge of Mordecai, and he told it to Queen Esther, and Esther told the king, in the name of Mordecai. When the affair was investigated and found to be so, the men were both hanged on the gallows, and it was recorded in the book of the chronicles in the presence of the king.
Amen. Well, as we've just noted on the screen during the week, hundreds of children—some seven hundred and fifty or so—have spent the week learning one of the great Bible stories, one of the great stories from the Old Testament. And the plan for the teaching was very carefully prepared, and the teachers were also carefully prepared as they learned the story of how God sovereignly brought about the preservation of his people, and particularly of the part that was assigned to Joseph in the accomplishment of that purpose. The teachers, I think, would agree with me—although I haven't checked—that it is not difficult to tell these stories, but it is difficult to tell these stories properly. It is just as difficult to tell the stories properly when you are speaking to children as it is when you're speaking to adults.
The same thing is true in any kind of teaching opportunity, and it extends to the responsibility that falls to me. It's relatively easy to address a story like the story of Esther and to do so in a way that may be intriguing, at times alarming, whatever, and for certain bits and pieces to be picked up, and yet for people to walk out and not really have any idea about what was going on at all. Therefore, we have to, in our teaching, always say to ourselves—I say to myself—don't allow the main point to be lost in the details.
Don't allow the main point to be buried by an overactive imagination, either on your part or on the part of those who listen. Because it is a serious misuse of the Bible to make it disclose something that God has chosen not to reveal. It is equally serious when we fail to say what God has so clearly disclosed. And not least of all, in a book like this, which we've been trying to study now for a few Sunday mornings and we're trying to make progress today—a book in which the name of God is never mentioned, and yet a book in which we're learning how God is providentially at work, preserving his people as a witness for his name's sake.
That really is the story of Esther, the essence of it. There are variations on the theme, but it is making that clear to all of us who would understand. Here, in this particular account, we are learning that God works everything out in order that his people—those whom he has called to himself—might be a witness to his name. And we've been trying to teach one another and learn together that when God seems to be absent, he nevertheless is always present and is always working out his purpose. I think all of us now have a finger in Ephesians chapter 1 as we come back to Esther, so that we might realize exactly the magnitude of what is involved here. And we've been quoting these verses from Ephesians 1 to each other, haven't we? Where Paul, writing to Ephesians, speaks of the wonder of salvation, that he says that God is making known to us the mystery of his will—the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time to unite all things in him, things in heaven, and things on earth. Now, I went to see how Eugene Peterson had paraphrased that, and I found it quite helpful. You don't want to ever study from the message, but it's useful to have alongside a proper Bible.
This is how he paraphrases what I've just quoted to you from Ephesians 1. It's in Christ that we find out who we are and what we're living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everyone and everything. I found that very helpful.
I wanted to do you as well. Long before we ever heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, and he had designs for us. No wonder do you believe that. Or do you believe the sort of contemporary perspective that God is out there somewhere, and everybody in Cleveland is just desperately looking for him?
And apparently he's gone on a long vacation, and he's not coming back. And so you get these stories all the time in the newspaper and on the media, saying these people were looking for God up this mountain, or they're looking for him over in the wilderness, or they found him up a tree, or whatever it was, and man has just done this dreadful search, but he can't possibly be found. Now, you read your Bible, you find this the exact opposite. You've come along to Parkside this morning, and if you read the Bible, you will discover that it is the reverse of this—that God has designs on you, that he is already seeking those whom he chooses to save.
It's wonderful. And here in the book of Esther, this unfolds for us. And beginning at the fifth verse, we are introduced to—we might refer to them as the hero and the heroine.
Esther is largely passive in this. Mordecai is the one who is more active. And so we will consider them both, beginning with Mordecai himself. Now there was a Jew ensues at the citadel whose name was Mordecai. It's a great sentence. I really, really like this sentence—or half a sentence, is it? There's a comma there. Now, there was a Jew ensues at the citadel whose name was Mordecai. It just makes me want to read on. I want to say, Well, who is he? What's he doing? What kind of name is Mordecai? Where is Susa?
What's a citadel? Do you read your Bible like that? I hope you do. You don't read it like, No, there was a Jew ensues at his name of Mordecai. Blah, blah, blah, blah. These are people who read the Bible. They don't read any other book. They read the Bible. They're waiting for something to hit them. Oh, it didn't hit me.
What did you think was going to hit you? It's written in the English language. You understand verbs and adjectives, don't you?
Nouns, prepositions? Read the Bible the same way. Investigatively.
Imaginatively. Now, there was a Jew there. Well, why was he there? Well, we're told that his family had been swept up in the Babylonian invasion, which took place in 597 BC, when Nebuchadnezzar had come in, gathered up a crowd of people, and taken them away into exile.
Among them were folks like Daniel, who chose, along with his friends, not to defile himself with the king's food. Mordecai's family was part of that company. And it appears that Mordecai, like many second- or third-generation exiles, had a peculiar interest in his country's welfare. It's very interesting, isn't it? As Americans, we're in search of our roots, aren't we? We're saying, well, I meet people all the time. Anyone who tells me they're from Scotland, they always have had a castle. Yes, oh yes, I'm Scottish, and we had a castle.
Oh, you did? Well, you know, I've met a number of people. There are not enough castles to go around, unless you were all completely from the same family.
But it's fascinating. I say, well, when were you born? Oh, they said I was born in Minnesota. I say, well, I thought you said you were Scottish. Oh, well, I am, but my grandfather's great-grandmother's friend came over here, you know, to the Carolinas in the seventeenth century.
Oh, I see. And then they tell you all kinds of things about Scotland that you've never known, even though you grew up there. I have the embarrassing problem of being asked about the clan warfare in Scotland. I don't know a thing about it. Nothing about it at all.
And they always ask me, assuming that I would know. The first-generation people don't know. You have to be removed two or three generations, then you have to start looking around for it.
That's what Mordecai is doing. He's removed from it, but he's trying to figure out how to be a good Jew and a good citizen in Persia. How can I be a good Jewish boy and a good citizen?
That's a hard question, isn't it? It's the same question that we face as believers today. How can I be a good Christian and a good citizen? How can I live for Jesus and live in this community?
How can I live in such a way that I'm not an obnoxious character, that I'm not a down-in-the-mouth rascal, that I'm not always complaining and moaning and groaning, because things are not the way I expected them to be? Of course they're not. They weren't for Mordecai or for the rest who were there with him.
They were a minority, in a context that was overwhelmingly opposed to them. So we're told not only a little about his family background and context, but also about the fact that he has adopted his cousin. Verse 7 tells us that he was bringing up Hadassah. Hadassah is this girl's Hebrew name.
It means myrtle. She's better known by her Persian name, Esther, which means star. And we're given here essentially the elements of this girl who becomes queen. We learn, of course, that she was an orphan. She was an orphan. That her mother and father were gone at the end of verse 7 there, the middle of 7, she had neither father nor mother.
And so she was adopted by her cousin, who apparently was much older than her, or significantly older than her, enough to play the role, essentially, of father to her. She was an orphan, she was adopted, and still in verse 7 she was attractive. She was attractive. She had neither father nor mother, but she had a beautiful figure and was lovely to look at.
Well, we're beginning to build a picture of her, aren't we? She had a good figure, and she had a beautiful face. Not everybody who has a good figure has a beautiful face. Not everyone who has a beautiful face has a good figure.
She had both. There was a song a long time ago in the charts in England that made this point very straightforwardly. I don't know if you remember it, but you have to do it in a Cockney accent. But the refrain was, Nice legs, shame about a face.
Okay? And it went through, and every time it came by the same thing, Nice legs, shame about a face. So here we go in Esther.
Nice legs, nice face. She's the complete package. She's a star. So it's no surprise that she's included in the pool that is being fished now for a replacement for Vashti.
Because he's, you know, he's the king. He's got his scouts around, and she finds herself included. Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us that when the pool was finally brought together in the harem, it amounted to some four hundred women. So we're not talking here about a handful of folks.
We're talking about a significant number of people. And she is part and parcel of that. Verse 15 says that she was winning favor in the eyes of all who saw her. Clearly, her looks were significant in the providence of God.
Okay? So let's just say a couple of things. Good looks open doors. Good looks open doors.
If you deny that, you're not living in the real world. But not all the doors that good looks open should be walked through. And good looks are the result of the creative handiwork of God.
Therefore, good looks must never be the occasion of self-celebration. Because Psalm 139 tells us that we are intricately wrought in the womb of our mothers. That means that God actually oversees not simply the creation of a person but the creation of a personality, the creation of an identity, the creation of a physicality, the creation of it all.
And he has done so purposefully. So, in the case of Esther, he is responsible for how she looks. That's what the Bible says.
Now, let me ask you. Do you believe that? And if you believe that, please stop comparing yourselves and saying things like, If only I was taller, if only I was fairer, if only I was darker, if only I was whatever I was. You are what you are by the providential ruling of God.
And he don't make no junk. Right? Now, if you affirm that, realize that when you walk out into tomorrow affirming that truth, believing it and standing by it, you walk out into a world that is increasingly opposed to that notion. You don't have to go searching for this.
You just have to pick up magazines and lay them down. Okay? Now, what I'm trying to do myself and trying to help you to do is to realize that there is a direct connect between studying the story of fifth-century Persia and walking back out into the environment in which we all live our lives, and to learn how, as Mordecai had to learn, to be a good Christian in an environment that doesn't believe what we believe, so that we do not use such information as a battering ram. But we're not naïve either. And we realize that the story we have to tell—it's C. S. Lewis again, isn't it? I believe in Christianity as I believe in the rising of the sun, not simply because I can see it but because by it I can see everything else. So that Christianity then says, no, when we come to the issue of the identity of an individual, that individual is not there as a result of biological roulette. No matter what they say, God made them this way, with all of the pluses and all of the minuses and all of the challenges of human sexuality.
If that is not true, then we're lost. 1969, Mick Jagger appears on the stage in Hyde Park, wearing a frilly dress over his jeans. I don't know if you remember that. He looked absolutely ridiculous.
And everybody knew that he did, and there was a wholesale reaction to it in the British press. They said, What is this fellow doing? This is absurd. This article, May 2013, acknowledges, says, Listen, in the world of music and in the world of the arts, this frontier was being pushed back successfully forty years ago. They were doing for us what we needed done. And here's what we've discovered.
Fashion and music fought the battles for freedom and equality hand in hand. And so they do now. With same-sex marriage approaching widespread acceptance, and anti-discrimination legislation being steadily broadened to include hate crimes against transgender people, it's only right and natural—this is a fascinating phrase—it's only right and natural that visions—here's the phrase I wanted to note—that visions of a whole new spectrum of normality, of a whole new… Do you see the skillfulness of language? It's only right and natural.
No, it's not. That a whole new spectrum of normality. I think it's starting to evolve into something we haven't seen before. Really?
That's exciting. And it's here to stay. A compelling message from Alistair Begg. You're listening to Truth for Life.
We'll hear the conclusion of this message on Monday. If you enjoy learning from Alistair on our daily program, how would you like to study together with him while traveling the Mediterranean? Alistair is going to be the guest speaker on the Deeper Faith Mediterranean cruise that departs out of Rome, Italy at the end of August. It's a 10-day cruise that provides a great opportunity to learn from God's Word while enjoying God's creation as you explore some of the most beautiful, history-rich ports. You'll visit fascinating places like Naples, Palermo, Venice, Italy.
You'll spend a day in Corfu, Greece, as well as ports in Malta, Croatia, and Slovenia. Find out more or book your cabin at deeperfaithcruise.com. Now, do you ever find yourself restless, tossing and turning at night, worrying about personal problems or world events? The book we want to recommend to you today offers encouragement for those restless hours. The book is titled 12 Things God Can't Do and How They Can Help You Sleep at Night. Among other things, this book will remind you that God hears our prayers and is sovereign over the whole earth, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, because he can't sleep. Request your copy of 12 Things God Can't Do today when you give a donation to support the ministry of Truth for Life. Go to truthforlife.org slash donate or call us at 888-588-7884.
I'm Bob Lapine. Hope you enjoy your weekend and are able to worship with your local church this weekend. On Monday, we'll consider the question, are Esther and Mordecai heroes? What do we make of some of their moral decisions? Did God give them his stamp of approval? We'll have the answers for you on Monday. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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