No matter how untimely or difficult the events of your life become, which are played out on the stage of your own experience, don't miss the very practical truth that's right now parading across a Persian stage that God is backstage.
In fact, he's written the script. His hand is in the glove of history, but listen, it's in the glove of your history too. Do you remember the Old Testament story of Esther? On the surface, Esther's life is a real Cinderella story. She moves from obscurity and a humble position to the position of queen. But as Stephen takes us behind the trappings of her newfound royalty, we'll discover that things aren't nearly as good as they seem.
That's often the case, isn't it? When you'll look a little deeper into the lives and cultures, there's usually some pain and hardship, even in the best stories. This is wisdom for the heart. Keep listening as Stephen Davey opens God's Word to Esther in this message called, The Curtain Rises. Over many centuries, the book of Esther has caused a great deal of heartburn in the church. That's because God has never mentioned one time in this entire drama. Martin Luther, the reformer, didn't like the book of Esther at all, as a matter of fact. He said it included, and I quote, too many heathen unnaturalities.
And it does, by the way. John Calvin, the reformer, never preached a sermon from the book of Esther, nor did he include it in his commentaries. In fact, for the first 700 years of church history, not one commentary was produced on the book of Esther. The Jewish people, on the other hand, revered the book, as you can well understand and imagine. For centuries, we've understood that the absence of God's name in the book of Esther is one of the major points of the book. The point is this, even in the shadows, you discover that he is the shadow sovereign. Esther, in fact, has become one of the greatest revelations of the providence of God in scripture, that God fulfills his purposes as he manages the events of world history. J. Vernon McGee used to say it this way, that providence is the hand of God in the glove of history.
I like that. Now, I want you to think, as we begin today, I want you to think of Esther as the retelling of God's providence sort of in the form of a play, a dramatic play. Maybe think of it as if you're attending a major musical production. I don't know about you, but my wife and I enjoy plays, and we don't see nearly as many as we'd like because of time, but maybe you've been to a play or a musical. One of the last ones my wife and I enjoyed was our daughter's senior play at Wake Christian Academy last year. Charity landed a role in the production, Little Orphan Annie, and of all the characters she could have played, of all the characters she could have played, my daughter played the rather unsanctified sassy brazen young woman who, with her boyfriend, tried to get ahold of the ransom promise by claiming to be the long-lost parents of Annie. So the curtain rises, and my daughter comes out on stage in high heels and fishnet stockings, smacking her chewing gum and talking with a sassy New York accent.
I had people come after me and go, man, I never saw a charity like that before. I said, me neither. Somebody said, wow, what great acting. I said, I don't know.
When she comes home, she's on restriction. That was a little too good for me. Maybe you've attended a play, and the usher handed you the playbill. And so while you're waiting while the orchestra's tuning up, you're reading over the introduction.
You're reading the bio of the actors and who they're playing. You read over the summary of each scene to get a feel for where this is going to happen. And then the house lights dim, and the curtain rises. As the curtain rises, in Esther chapter 1, you're immediately struck as you would be at a play with the setting. And what a setting is given to us here. We'll just call this scene number one and entitle it a lavish reception.
Look at verse 3 where we left off. In the third year of his reign, this is Ahasuerus, the Greek king Xerxes. Remember Ahasuerus is a throne name like Pharaoh or Caesar. He gave a banquet for all his princes and attendants, the army officers of Persia and Media, all the nobles and the princes of his provinces being in his presence. And he displayed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor of his great majesty for many days. As a matter of fact, for 180 days. This is a six-month banquet. He had to have had a lot of money.
He was rich. And paying for this reception wasn't nearly as difficult for him as you paying for your daughter's wedding reception that lasted an hour or two, right? Only the best for your daughters, right? Right? I happen to think that Smithfield's Barbecue is the best, okay? So we're headed.
Well, that isn't on the menu here. In fact, you need to know that this is not some kind of extravagant banquet just to eat food. The third year of the reign of Ahasuerus corresponds historically to the great war council of 483 BC held at the palace of Susa. It was at this council where the king met with the leaders of his vast empire to convince them that they could all successfully march upon and defeat the Grecian empire.
Greece and Persia are the two superpowers of this generation. And so this banquet is intended to prove beyond any shadow of a doubt to his subjects that he was everything he boasted he was, the king of all the earth, so one inscription read. So after 180 days of putting on the dog, so to speak, Xerxes now throws open the doors to include everybody else in the palace.
Look at verse five. When these days were completed, the king gave a banquet lasting seven days. That's a week for all the people who were present at the citadel in Susa. That is the interior palace from the greatest to the least. And it took place in the court of the garden of the king's palace. So all the administrative staff, his chief of staff, his family, his friends, they're all invited to this final climactic week, seven days where he rolls it all out.
This is the finale. In fact, some of the details are given to us of his wealth and the luxury of this setting, this scene. Look at verse six. There were hangings of fine white and violet linen held by cords of fine purple linen on the silver rings and marble columns. We've uncovered the fact that these columns came from Solomon's temple. He goes on to talk of couches of gold and silver. The Hebrew construction indicates these are not plated with gold or silver.
These couches are solid gold and solid silver sitting out in the courtyard on this mosaic of precious gems that are listed here. And by the way, you ought to know that the Persian word for garden is paredida. The Greeks took that word, transliterated it for themselves, and it would be pronounced paradises. We've taken that word from the Greeks and transliterated it and pronounce it paradise.
This was paradise. And if you had any doubt, Ahasuerus is the king of paradise. So this is the banquet of the century. And anybody who is anybody got an invitation. He has gathered all the dignitaries, the leaders, all the generals, all the admirals, all the powerfully connected movers and shakers in his kingdom. By the way, which stretches from Africa to India. If you were an outsider looking on, Ahasuerus seems every bit the undefeatable, powerful, commanding sovereign that could defeat Greece and any other empire on the planet.
Certainly he can command the greatest army the world has ever known. And then with subtle irony, you discover that this great king cannot command his wife. So as we leave the lavish reception of scene one, scene two opens with what we'll simply entitle a lascivious request. Would you notice the comment, by the way, first back in verse nine that informs us that Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the palace which belonged to King Ahasuerus. So somewhere else on that incredible palace grounds, she's holding a banquet. Now the reception then of Xerxes would have been, according to the custom here, for men only. Historians believe that she was giving this banquet for the household staff and also all of the wives of the king and his concubines.
He had 360 of them. The word Vashti means desirable. There are some Hebrew scholars that believe it was a pet name. It was an honorary title for one of his favored wives.
Now watch what happens on the last day of all this feasting. Verse 10 informs us, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commands these seven eunuchs who serve him, verse 11, to bring Queen Vashti before the king with her royal crown in order to display her beauty to the people and the princes for she was beautiful. And now we know from history that the Persian women were not required to cover their faces with veils. As the queen, one of the queens, perhaps the favored queen of the kingdom, she's already appeared in public more than likely at some point in time during the six months reception as well as other state functions. People have seen her. They would already have recognized the beautiful face of this favored wife.
So what's going on? The Jewish midrash, it's a commentary that goes all the way back to the second century, explains that the queen was being commanded to actually arrive unclothed, decorated only by the crown jewels. Now I'm embarrassed to have to tell you that. What was actually going on, in fact, we're going to be embarrassed together a few times in the book of Esther as we take it at face value, but there's just no way to sanitize it. That's why verse 10, by the way, gives us the added insight. This happens, the king requests this, when his heart was merry with wine. That's a long way of saying when the king was drunk.
And we can be fairly confident that most, all of his guests were drunk along with him. Herodotus writes this about the Persian culture. He said it was so promiscuous that it was common for powerful and influential men to parade their wives and their concubines unclothed in order to show them off to one another to compete in this manner.
You say, how wicked is that? Ladies and gentlemen, we're not very far away. This is Daytona Beach during spring break. This is Mardi Gras. This is tied up with the promise that whatever you see and do in Vegas stays there. This is the local gentleman's club where everyone but a gentleman will go. This is the billion dollar pornography industry.
This is the bachelor party you should have walked away from. The spirit of the hazardous is alive and well, ladies and gentlemen. This isn't just for way back there in Persia. Frankly, you might expect a hazardous to demand what you just demanded in this culture, this pagan heart of his. He had 360 concubines and several wives order around. He would expect that from this kind of man. He wants his guests to envy and admire everything about his life. And so he's selected this to be the grand finale. What you do not expect is verse 12.
But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's command delivered by the eunuchs. I love that the main attraction. There's the queue.
She refuses to come out on stage. And everybody just sort of, you know, winds their watch. Not sure what's going to happen. All of a sudden you have the supreme commander, you know, showing off for six months that he can command the empires of the world. And yet at this moment, he can't command his wife. Verse 12 continues.
Then the king became very angry and his wrath burned within him. Now pretend you're in the audience. There's a commotion backstage. You hear loud whispering and everybody can hear the whispering. Something's going on.
Something obviously wrong. And then the messenger who left to go out to bring the queen back, he comes back in without her. Can you imagine that messenger going over to the king and leaning down and whispering in his ear, she's not coming. His face turns red and then purple.
He has been denied. But wait a second. I am the king of all the earth.
I love this scene. The queen in the other room is saying, uh-uh. It ain't going to happen. Or however you say that in Persian, I don't know.
You're dreaming. Alexander White, the 19th century Scottish pastor who wrote wonderful character studies of both Old and New Testament characters said this of Queen Vashti. The sacred writer makes us respect the queen amid all her disgusting surroundings. The brave queen refused to obey the royal order. Her beauty was her own and her husband's.
It was not for open show among hundreds of half-drunk men. We need to just stop and admire this woman. At this moment she is displaying unusual character. She's standing up to a man who's known throughout history as being brutal. But she's also risking everything else, all the pomp and the glitz and the glamour and paradise. She's willing to walk away from paradise rather than become a sexual pawn for a little insecure man. She's willing to sacrifice her crown for the sake of her character and we're going to be introduced next time to a woman who's willing to sacrifice her character in order to win the crown. So early on in this dramatic presentation, you're faced with the question. What's your character worth?
Can you be bought? How far are you willing to go to win praise and be part of the crowd? Have you ever lost anything for doing something right? Maybe a passing grade. Maybe a sales contract. Maybe a relationship.
Maybe a job. I want you to take heart from this dramatic presentation played out on the stage of history. It will cost Vashti everything.
She will disappear from the annals of history. But back to the story. We've got a problem. The king has a, actually he's got a big problem on his hands. He's supposedly able to command the greatest empire on the planet. He's supposedly able to command the greatest army on the face of the earth. He's just been slam dunked by his wife in front of all the dignitaries, in front of all the admirals and all the commanders and all the generals, all the leaders that he's been trying for six months to convince them to follow him into battle. Now what he should have done is order a big pot of coffee and drink it all, sober up and go apologize. But he doesn't do that.
Scene number three opens and we'll call it a ludicrous reaction. Now seven men come on stage. Verse 13 tells us these are the wise men who know the law and understand the times. We're told at the end of verse 14, these are the seven princes of the kingdom.
They had access to the king's presence and sat in the first place in the kingdom. These are his closest confidants. You see what's happening.
He gets up, he excuses himself and he leaves and he's going to try to make it look like it's something to do with the law. Let me take you to verse 16. The first thing they do here is they butter up the king's wounded ego.
Notice the exaggeration. In the presence of the king and the other princes, Memuchen, that's one of the seven wise men. He said, Queen Vashti is wronged, not only the king but also all the princes and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus.
Man, this is worldwide. Now notice, for the queen's conduct will become known to all the women, causing them to look with contempt on their husbands by saying, well, hey, King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought into his presence, but she did not come. Never mind what he asked her to do. So verse 18, the ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen's conduct will speak in the same way to all the king's princes and there will be plenty of contempt and anger. In other words, we're all in trouble with our wives. Our wives hear about this, oh my, skillets will be flying, laundry piling up, dishes in the sink.
We don't even want to go home. So we've got to pass a law. Please pass an edict. Pass it quickly.
We've got to stop this national disaster before it gets out. Here's their brilliant advice, verse 19. Let a royal edict be issued. Let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media.
It can't be revealed. That Vashti, notice he's dropped the word queen already, that Vashti may no longer come into the presence of King Ahasuerus. Let the king give her royal position to another who is more worthy than she. Interesting. When the king's edict, which he will make us heard throughout all the kingdom, great as it is, then all women will give honor to their husbands, great and small.
How many of you guys are thinking this is a great idea? I like this book. Wow. The king even further clarifies the edict. Look at verse 22. That every man, here's the edict, that every man should be the master of his own house.
Can you imagine some guy getting this in the mail? Oh, man, this is what I've been needing. This is what I've been missing.
Can you see him taping it up on the window by the kitchen sink and then one on the living room wall and then putting one on the dash of the minivan? And any time the little wife disagrees, ah. But what about ah? Memorize it, honey. This is crazy. How many of you guys are still saying, but let's give it a shot. What do you say? Yeah, I'll frame it. No.
If you've been married longer than two days, you don't put verses up around the apartment. Submit. But no. You don't legislate honor. You earn it. The king wants respect from a woman he doesn't respect. He wants honor from a woman he has just dishonored. And he says, you know, I want to skip all that stuff. I'm going to make it an edict.
I want it now. And the edict of the king, by the way, only backfires. These seven guys and the king, they want to contain this embarrassing situation.
But guess what? By sending out the edict via royal mail, the pony express, which they invented, the king does nothing more than publicize it throughout the kingdom. They're all afraid that all the women of the kingdom are going to stop obeying their husbands as soon as they hear about Vashti's disobedience. Yet by sending out this royal edict, they actually ensure that every woman hears about it. These guys are really a first class job.
Bright. No wonder the Jews throughout the ages have howled with laughter at the foolishness of this king and these other insecure men who must still be under the influence of the king's wine. No.
No, they've sobered up by now. But they are, and I want you to get this, they are under the influence of the king of king's will. God is moving history along. No matter how untimely or difficult the events of your life become, which are played out on the stage of your own experience, don't miss the very practical truth that's right now parading across a Persian stage, that God is backstage. In fact, he's written the script. His hand is in the glove of history, and listen, it's in the glove of your history too.
No matter how helpless you might feel as your own drama unfolds, God is managing every scene. He might be hidden in the shadows backstage. He might not have published a play bill that explains what the scene is all about. Don't you wish he did? He didn't. But he's running the show.
It's his show. One author writes don't fall into the trap of thinking that God is asleep even when it comes to nations or that he sits in heaven wringing his hands when it comes to some godless ruler who makes rash or even foolish decisions. This is the wonder of God's providence working behind the scenes bringing out of even the most carnal and pagan secular of settings a decision that will set his perfect plan in place. You know what Esther chapter one is all about? Esther chapter one simply shows us how God arranges for a position to be opened up in the greatest kingdom on earth. A position that's going to be filled in just 16 verses by an orphan named Esther.
A girl who will become a queen who will influence the king in order to rescue the people of God. Thanks for joining us today here on Wisdom for the Heart. Steven Davey is working through a series from the book of Esther.
Today's message is called The Curtain Rises. You can learn more about our ministry on our website which is wisdomonline.org. You'll notice that we've posted the complete archive of Steven's 35 years of Bible teaching. We also post each of these daily broadcasts so if you ever miss it on the radio you can go to our website to keep caught up. The archive of Steven's teaching is available on that site free of charge and you can access it anytime at wisdomonline.org. In addition to equipping you with these daily Bible lessons we also have a magazine that includes articles written by Steven to help you grow in your walk with God. We focused on things like the rapture and the tribulation, a biblical perspective on pain, issues related to the family and many more. The magazine also has a theologically rich daily devotional which will help you spend time in God's word every day.
We send Heart to Heart magazine to all of our wisdom partners but we'd be happy to send you the next three issues if you'd like to see it for yourself. You can sign up for it on our website or you can call us today. Our number is 866-48-BIBLE. That's 866-482-4253. Thanks again for joining us today. Be with us for our next Bible lesson next time here on Wisdom for the Hearts.
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