When we read the book of Esther, are we to think of Mordecai and Esther as heroes? God used them to save his people, but what are we to make of some of their moral decisions? Did God approve of their behavior? We'll hear the answers today on Truth for Life. Alistair Begg is teaching from the book of Esther.
We're in chapter 2. 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 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. Yesterday I had occasion to pick up Vogue magazine, because there was nothing else there, so it was Vogue, and I always have to have something to read, so it was there I picked it up. And I came upon an article by a lady, a famous fashion writer in Britain, Sarah Mauer, and she wrote an article concerning Casey Ledger, the Olympic swimmer for the United States, who has just been signed to the Ford Modeling Agency—to the male Ford Modeling Agency. So she is the first woman to be signed as a male model. Okay? That's the first thing you should know. In the article, this is what Ledger said. Ledger refuses to be pinned down by what she sees as old-think categories of gender. Now, here we go.
I happen to be a woman, sheer luck of the biological roulette. 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. Now, my purpose is not to wag eloquent on this or even try to, but let me give you a flavor as the article finishes. This is how the article finishes. It's quoting 1969—I was seventeen, some of you weren't even born—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. 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."
I never noticed that myself until now. 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 spectrum… 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. You want to live the next two decades here in America as a Christian? Then you better start learning to stop thinking in majority terms. You must start to think in minority terms.
For genuine, Bible-believing, affirming gospel Christianity is in the minority—significantly in the minority. Don't be alarmed. Why? Because of the story of Esther. What is the story of Esther? That God is preserving a people in the midst of an alien environment so that they might be a witness to his name. Their job was not to take over Persia. Their job was not to bring down the government. Their job was not to shout at the moon and cry the blues.
Their job was to learn what it meant for them to affirm their faith in an alien environment. Now, you say, well, can we get back to the story now? Okay, that's fine, yeah.
All right. She was an orphan, she was adopted, she was attractive, and she was amenable. She was amenable. She was apparently amenable to this whole idea. Now, if you want a little discussion over coffee, you can talk amongst yourselves, say, was it right for her to be amenable? And you can throw in, was it right for Vashti not to be?
Or was it wrong for Vashti to be? And right for Esther to be, and so you can go on all around, all through lunch and into afternoon tea, discussing it. And it's awkward.
It's difficult. When you read the part here, it's obvious that she comes into the group, and immediately the fellow who's responsible for them, he takes a shine to Esther, he fast-tracks her, he gives her her beauty treatments right up front, he gets her on the dietary plan that they obviously have, he assigns her seven personal maids from the palace, and when it's her turn to go into the king, he coaches her accordingly. And off she goes.
And it works out pretty well. In fact, she wins the prize—first prize. She's the queen. So she was amenable, and then the last thing to notice is that she was approved, or she was accepted. Yes, she was accepted. The king loved Esther, verse 17, more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins. So he set the crown on her head and made her the queen instead of Vashti.
And then he was so excited about it, he had the big feast, Esther's feast, and then he went about the business of pouring out his generosity on the provinces by way of tax relief and so on. Well, here she is. We know, because we've read on, at least some of us, that she's now in a position to be able to help her people. But do you think that's what she was thinking about? I doubt it very much indeed. You're sensible people. You can figure this out.
There's no indication of that at all. No, she's an orphan. She's been brought up by her cousin. There's a beauty pageant. She enters it.
She's got a good chance, and she comes out on top. Now she's the queen. It's going to be a chapter or so before her cousin says to her, who knows, but you came to the kingdom for such a moment as this.
I mean, the whole reason that you're actually here is for something far more significant than that you can wear a crown on your head. But as we've said all the way through, in the immediacy of things, the providences of God are seldom self-interpreting. And no matter what we say about that, would you agree that it isn't necessary for us to approve of the path that she's taken? Do you understand that distinction? We recognize that God is providentially in control of the drama that is taking place in her life. We affirm that. The Bible makes it clear. But we don't have to say that the decisions that she made along the way were all good decisions.
Because I don't think they were. Do you think that the average Jewish mother would be thrilled to find out that her hadassah was sleeping with an uncircumcised pagan king? As a Jew? No way. Do you think that the average Jewish father would be thrilled to know that his hadassah had gone undercover in Persia and refused to let anybody know about her kindred or her background or about her identity?
I don't think so. I pointed this out so that we might recognize that these events are not as tidy as we might wish. And we ought to be encouraged, because the events of God's providence in our lives are not as tidy as we might wish.
Review your life and realize that not all your decisions were good ones, not all your plans were selfless, and yet God in his providence has brought you to this day. And we need to stop, so let's just notice that Mordecai's pragmatism really works to his good here, whether we like the idea or not. In verse 10, he had commanded Esther to conceal her Jewish identity. He was a pragmatist. He decided, It's better if you go undercover.
I don't think anything is going to be served at the moment by you coming out and declaring yourself. He then puts himself in the right place to observe the proceedings. In verse 11, he is walking in front of the court of the harem in order to learn how Esther was and what was happening to her. In verse 22, it is his position at the king's gate that is mentioned twice in the closing verses that gives him the knowledge of an assassination plot, which allows him to use that as an opportunity to curry favor with the king. Webb, in addressing the awkwardness, as he puts it, of trying to decide some of the questions that are raised by the actions of Esther and Mordecai, has a wonderful sentence where he says, They may be heroes, but they are at best heroes of questionable morality and orthodoxy.
Heroes, yes, but of questionable morality and orthodoxy. They are not possessed of the same propriety and boldness of Joseph or of Daniel. And when we come up against this and begin to think these things through, we realize why people have largely ignored the book of Esther. Calvin apparently never preached a sermon on it in all of his ministry. Luther regarded it with real hostility. Luther did not like the Jewish nature of it. Luther had problems. What's the problem?
Well, we've just come full cycle to where I began. Remember I said at the beginning, it's very difficult to tell these stories in the proper way. Not difficult to tell the story. It's difficult to tell it in the proper way.
And here's where it goes wrong. When we look to anyone other than God himself as the hero, who is the hero in the story of Joseph? God. Who is the hero in the story of Naomi? God. Who is the hero in the story? Moses.
Esther. It's God. God in his providence has granted to each of these individuals a little place in the unfolding drama. But if we're not determined to tell of God as the first and the last, as the alpha and the omega, when we tell these stories, then we should just leave the stories alone. Because they will just end up being moralizing. They'll just end up being, you know, Esther did a good thing and you should too, or he did a bad thing and you ought not to do a bad thing.
And that would be perfectly fair. Except that's not what we're supposed to learn. What we're supposed to learn is that we look past the examples of Esther and Mordecai to a God who even in their dubious responses, even in their questionable orthodoxity, in their questionable morality, is ordering all things according to the eternal counsel of his will. So we find a God who is committed to the welfare of his people, working out all things even when he is apparently most hidden. And I say to you again, loved ones, this biblical worldview is one whereby we affirm our trust in the unspoken lessons of an unseen God. And to go back out into the weak and do that and say that, in a world that is largely deist or pantheist, is very quickly to be regarded as strange and weird. It's okay to be regarded as weird for our view of the world as given to us by the Bible.
Some of us have managed to be regarded as weird and difficult for less virtuous reasons, and we ought to repent of that. In talking with these fellas, these guys both in the various movies here, I was just saying to them, you know, how thrilled I am that they are in that environment to live for Christ, to affirm these things, and to do so in a way that recognizes that for them to do so is not whistling in the dark, it's not putting on rose-colored spectacles, it's not pretending that things are other than they actually are. But it is simply to bow beneath God's majesty, to rest in his sovereignty, and to live in the security, which is the birthright of all who belong to him. And when you look down at the final sentence of chapter 2, and you read, and it was recorded in the book of the Chronicles in the presence of the king, you say to yourself, well, there's an apparently inconsequential little sentence. No.
If he hadn't written it down, he couldn't have read it when he was suffering from insomnia, and if he hadn't read it when he was suffering from insomnia, then he would never have known what Mordecai did. Are you bowing beneath God's majesty? You take your identity and your sexuality and say, God, you put me together like this. Now, because you put me together like this, I'm gonna have to live as you have made me within the moral framework of what you have ordained is in and out. That may seem really hard to do, but I'm gonna do it, because not only will I bow beneath your majesty, but I will rest in your sovereignty. I don't want to believe for a minute that I am a random collection of molecules, just a product of biological roulette. I can't believe that.
I can't sleep at night with that. But I want to find security in who you are and in your love for me and in your care for me. If you're prepared to do that, you discover that God is gonna meet you more than halfway, because he's the one who actually inclines your heart. Whether the decisions we make are good or bad, God is still in control. You're listening to Truth for Life, that is Alistair Begg reminding us of the great comfort found in God's providence.
Keep listening in just a minute. Alistair will be back to close today's program with prayer. I hope you are benefiting from these encouraging lessons from the book of Esther. If you've missed any of this study, you can catch up online. All of Alistair's teaching can be heard or watched for free on our website or through the mobile app if you're listening elsewhere today.
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You can also request the book when you give a one-time donation at truthforlife.org slash donate. Now here's Alistair to close with prayer. Father, thank you.
Help us not to put into this story what isn't there and help us not to leave out what is obviously there. We bow down before you. You are a good God. We bow in the awareness of the mystery of your will that you have chosen so that in the fullness of time in Jesus everything might be united in him, things in heaven, and things on earth. Help us to hang on, Lord, the way your people hung on in 5th-century Persia, in the awareness that you are God. And we pray in Christ's name. Amen. I'm Bob Lapine. When we fail to obey God, there will be consequences and those consequences can affect others. The ramifications can extend to future generations. Find out more when you join us tomorrow. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
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