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The Contest and the Crown

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey
The Truth Network Radio
June 21, 2021 12:00 am

The Contest and the Crown

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey

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June 21, 2021 12:00 am

Esther is the epitome of a prodigal saint. She abandons God to compete for the fleeting pleasures of fame and fortune . . . and she wins, too. But in this message “The Contest and the Crown,” Stephen reminds us what she loses in the process.

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The prize is the crown and the wealth, the butlers and the maids and the money and the clothing and the food. We're going to leave a back-breaking life for life in the palace. Almost all of these women will never get past a one-night stand with the king.

They will live forgotten, sequestered lives away from everyone for the rest of their life. One commentator called the harem of the king's luxurious desolation. There was a time in ancient Persia when the search was on for a new queen. Involved in the process was an orphan named Esther. In some ways Esther appears to be the epitome of a prodigal saint.

She joined in the competition for the role that would bring her fame and fortune and she wins. But in today's message called The Contest and the Crown, Steven reminds us of what Esther loses in the process. We're looking at more of Esther's story today on Wisdom for the Heart.

Our Bible teacher Steven Davey is going through a series from Esther and he's calling this message The Contest and the Crown. A Christian magazine that I subscribe to recently featured a number of humorous things, comments on the subject of love and romance. Maybe you can identify with a single woman who got tired of looking for Mr.

Right, the kind of guy that would treat her with kindness and flowers and act like a gentleman. She finally gave up and just placed an ad in the classified with her phone number and above her phone number she simply had written, husband wanted. The next day she got a dozen calls from women who said, you can have mine. I didn't think that was funny either.

I'm glad you agreed with that. What kind of messages are kids picking up on love and romance and marriage? A member in our flock sent this to me some time ago. This is what kids say about true love. Janet, a third grader, was asked how true love happens. You know, what starts it? And she said, well, no one is really sure how it happens, but I think it has something to do with how you smell. It's pretty good, huh?

I remember when my daughter was around 12, my youngest daughter is now turning 18 this month. We were driving somewhere in the truck and I said, honey, have you ever been kissed? And she said, no, sir. Of course, she probably knew it was a loaded question and didn't want what came next. But I said, well, that's great.

That's fantastic. Then she had it. But I got to say, one time in first grade Sunday school here at Colonial, a boy tried to kiss me after class. I said, in church?

In class? He tried to. Yes, Daddy, he did.

He tried to. I said, what did you do? She said, I punched him in the stomach. And I said, you punched him in the stomach in Sunday school in the class? She said, yes, I did. I said, that's great. Keep it up. Kids were asked about the following.

Here's a question. How do you make your marriage work? How do you make your marriage work?

I love this little Ricky said, tell your wife she looks pretty, even when she looks like a truck. I wonder where he learned that. What kind of home he gave her. Another question, how do you decide who to marry?

Good question. How do you decide who to marry? One boy said, well, you got to find somebody who likes the same stuff.

Like if you like sports, she should like it too and she should keep the chips and dip coming. And all the men said, and maybe it's that kind of response that led one little girl to answer the question this way. How do you decide who to marry? She said, well, no person really decides before they grow up who they're going to marry. God decides it all the way before and you just find out later who you're stuck with. And all the women said, they were even.

You know, I find it fascinating no matter where you go in the world, no matter what culture, things like gifts and chivalry and flowers and maybe even a little perfume have a part in the culture of romance and it ought not end at or on the wedding day. I have warned you that this study is coming. Chapter two in the book of Esther. It's a graphic portrayal of anything but romance and chivalry and kindness. If we are to understand this in its proper context, there is no way and I've warned you, we will not be able to get past this chapter without treating it correctly. And that means we cannot sanitize it.

We cannot soften the edges. It's the next act in the drama of God's Providence. It's played out on a stage in ancient Persia, in a winter palace of the king. And when the curtain closed on the first act, which was chapter one, the king goes off to war.

Between chapter one and chapter two are several years where the king musters the largest army that's ever been mustered before on the planet. And he goes off to conquer Greece. That's what his father failed to do but I will succeed where my father failed and so he marches off to conquer Greece. In fact, one inscription that has been excavated gives us his intentions and it was to conquer Europe from one end to the other. Western civilization would not be what it is today had that ancient king of Iran won in that battle. But the Greeks routed his army, demolished most of his navy even though Ahasuerus had a much superior army and navy and eventually he boards a remaining ship and he kind of slinks back into town and he finally makes it to his palace in Sousa.

He is sullen, he is angry, he is dispirited. And the curtain rises then with the spotlight on the defeated king. Notice verse one of chapter two. After these things, that is after he returns to Greece or from Greece, when the anger of King Ahasuerus had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her.

Now here's what's happening. In order to set the scene, you need to understand that the Hebrew construction of this text strongly implies that Ahasuerus is blaming those seven men for the advice they gave him to get rid of Vashti. What we do know is that Vashti, who had been wearing the crown, now she's gone.

Some scholars believe that she was beheaded. And you can almost see Ahasuerus regretting the advice of these seven nobles and maybe he's sharpening their sword for them. And so this inner circle comes up with this idea, listen, oh great king, why don't we throw an empire-wide beauty contest and we'll find you somebody to take Vashti's place. What makes it all the more remarkable is according to Herodotus, the Greek historian who lived and wrote decades, just decades, about 20-25 years after these events took place, he informs us that Persian custom required that the queen be related to one of the seven noble families. A concubine can come from anywhere but one of the queens.

One of the wives had to be related to these seven men, these guys who are already in trouble and they're not going to mention that because that will be seen obviously as self-serving. That's why against all Persian custom and tradition, you have now God telling us, informing us that in spite of all the intrigue and the scheming and the drunkenness and the pride, he is setting the stage so that indeed a common girl can become the queen. Verse 3, here's the plan. Let the king appoint overseers in all the provinces of his kingdom. Remember that stretches from Africa to India. They may gather, here are the qualifications, every beautiful young virgin to the citadel of Susa, the winter resort, to the harem, into the custody of Haggai, the king's eunuch who is in charge of the women who let their cosmetics be given and then let the young lady who pleases the king be queen in place of Vashti and it pleased the king. Surprise, surprise. Listen, to the citizens of Persia, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Anybody can apply. This would have been the talk of every village and every city. Who do you think is going to win the crown? Thousands would have been waiting for the attendants to arrive and say, I can wear that slipper.

Why not? The prize is the crown and the wealth and the butlers and the maids and the money and the clothing and the food. You're going to leave a back-breaking life for life in the palace. Almost all of these women will never get past a one-night stand with the king.

They will live forgotten, sequestered lives away from everyone for the rest of their life. One commentator called the harem of the king's luxurious desolation. Why would Esther and Mordecai risk so much? We're given some clues in the next few verses. In verse 5, you'll notice, now there was at the citadel in Susa a Jew whose name was Mordecai. Notice the lineage, the son of Jair, the son of Shema, the son of Kish, Benjamin, who had been taken into exile from Jerusalem with the captives, who had been exiled with Jeconiah, king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, had exiled. What this tells us is that Mordecai's family tree actually includes royalty. But what's revealing in the text is that Mordecai's name doesn't bear any hint of that kind of lineage or history. His name is simply the transliteration of Mardukkah. That's the name of the chief Babylonian god, Marduk. Why hasn't he returned to Jerusalem, which Jews have been allowed to do all the way back to the great-grandfather on the Hazaras?

What's he doing here? And even more troubling, what's Mordecai doing running around named after a pagan god? We're not told. But there are those, and I would agree with him, that point out the fact that he's from the lineage of the former royal tribe, and the key word is former. Jerusalem was a place where his family had lost their bid for power. In fact, you notice one particular name that might have stood out to you, Shema, when David was running for his life from Absalom. Shema was the man that came out and threw rocks at David, cursing him.

Solomon, the son of David, will put Shema to death. All that may answer why Mordecai didn't return to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was a place where his family had lost their bid for power.

Jerusalem represented for them shame and defeat. Now, before we get all hot and bothered, you know, about Mordecai's secrecy and his compromise and all that stuff, I can't help but wonder how much of a secret is our own relationship to Jesus Christ in the neighborhood, on the campus, at work? Have you ever had the thought, you know, if God really wants them to know I'm a Christian, he'll get them to ask me? Do you ever notice nobody usually asks? I can't tell you how many people have said to me over the years something like, you know, I'm not very good about talking about Christ. I just live it. I just live it. There's a two-syllable Hebrew ancient word for that is pronounced cop out.

Cop out. Has it ever occurred to you that no one will ever get saved by watching you? Faith comes not by watching. Faith comes by what? Hearing the word of God.

You have to have communicated to you the gospel of God whereby someone can come to faith in Christ. And, of course, he isn't very much of a testimony here in the book of Esther until later on. And I think one of the wonderful things about this book is how Mordecai will eventually come to terms with his Jewish heritage and lineage and, I believe, trust in the sovereignty of God, and we're going to get there later.

We've got to hurry, though, because we're going to get through a lot even today. The main character steps out on stage in verse 7. Look there. He, Mordecai, was bringing up Hadassah, which is Esther, his uncle's daughter, for she had no father or mother. Now, the young lady was beautiful of form and face, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter. Now, this time we have both names.

We have the Hebrew name Hadassah, which refers to the flower, the petals of a flower, and we also have Esther. Evidently Esther was orphaned when her parents died, and Mordecai, although only about 15 years older than her, brings her into his family, and then Mordecai gets wind of this contest. Mordecai is a schemer, okay? Understand that about this man. He's bright. He will one day be elevated to the CFO of the kingdom, history records for us.

His name will even appear in an inscription excavated centuries later. This is his chance to climb the ladder of success. He knows Esther is incredibly beautiful. He's been beating suitors away from her door now for probably several years. Now he has a chance to fully capitalize on her beauty.

Notice verse eight. So it came about when the command and decree of the king were heard, and many young ladies were gathered, this is the first wave, to the citadel of Susa into the custody of Haggai, that Esther was taken to the king's palace into the custody of Haggai, who was in charge of the women. And I can think of at least three good reasons why Esther is not going to win.

She's an orphan. In other words, she has no family connections that might impress the royal staff. Marriages, not concubinage, but marriages were political alliances.

They were ways the king could get a leg up, increase his might or his wealth or his power or his influence. She could provide him nothing along that line. If she were to wear the crown, it would mean nothing. Second of all, the competition is fierce.

Did you hear me say 1,460? I mean, the palace is swimming with beautiful women. Esther is not the only girl who will turn heads. Thirdly, she's a Jewess. At best, she would be a concubine. That's why you read in verse 10 that Esther did not make known her people or her kindred, for Mordecai had instructed her that she should not make them known.

And she is in full compliance with that. And Mordecai is effectively saying this. If you read it between the lines, he's saying, Esther, the God of Israel is way over there in Jerusalem.

He is his past tense. God may have made you a Jewess, and there's nothing you can do about that, but that isn't going to do you any good out here. Out here, Esther, we live by our wits. Out here, we're not. And it's up to us. Esther is just us. And this is our chance. Nothing could be further from the truth as it relates to his perspective, for God is already at work in ways that Mordecai and Esther could never manufacture.

Never. Look back at verse 9. Esther pleased Haggai. He's the chief administrator in this contest.

He's probably hating his life right about now. And she found, notice this, favor with him. The word favor is the Hebrew word chesed. It's the same term used throughout the Old Testament for the covenant fidelity of God for his people.

See, God may be invisible, but God is turning all of their hearts toward what ultimately will be his will. Now, notice what happens in verse 9. So he quickly provided her with her cosmetics. In other words, the Avon lady is on standby here just for her and food. Gave her seven choice maids from the king's palace and transferred her and her maids to the best place in the here within a matter of hours. I mean, she's been transferred to her private suite. She's got a staff. I mean, these girls are trying to get beautiful. She's got seven assigned personally to her for this makeover.

She's got it made. I love look at Mordecai, verse 11. Every day, the schemer Mordecai is walking back and forth in front of the court of the harem to learn how Esther was and how she fared.

He's biting his nails. What he doesn't know is that he didn't need to do anything. In fact, God's going to use his sinful ambition to set up what God wants to do. Verse 12. Now, in the turn of each young lady came to go in to King hazardous after the end of her 12 months under the regulations for the women. I mean, you had to go through 12 months before you could meet the king. For the days of their beautification were completed as follows. Six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and cosmetics for women.

Can you imagine that? You thought your wife took a long time to get ready. This is 12 months. Add to that the fact that these contestants, the historians record for us, were being schooled in court customs, royal etiquette. One author said they're being taught what to say and how to say it. They're going to have to learn the vocabulary of the court.

They're coming from all different kinds of dialects and languages. And in 12 months, now you see it doesn't really sound that long. In 12 months, they have to be transformed from a common peasant girl or girls into potential candidates to become the queen of Persia. Listen, as unfortunate as it is, Esther is not heading for her one night stand with the king against her will.

She does not have the brakes on. She's got her best outfit on. She's going in fully compliant. Verse 16 says, so Esther was taken to King of hazardous to his royal palace in the 10th century. Verse 17, the king loved Esther more than all the women. And she found favor and kindness with him more than all the virgins so that he just as brashly and rashly as before he set upon her the royal crown and made her queen instead of Vashti. But you know, after you understand the context and the setting, this victory is now a lot more hollow, isn't it?

And for me to accurately expound the text, it has to be. Nobody in the flock jumps up and down and says, hurrah, Esther won. She's Miss Persia.

Isn't that exciting? She gained the position of queen. But you need to understand, she did not gain a husband.

How far from it? She said, But the text says in verse 17, the king loved Esther more than all the women. Did you notice it doesn't say the king loved Esther instead of any other woman?

He loved her more. The text never says. And after the crowning of Esther, a hazard said, Let the harem go home. No verse 19. Look there.

When the virgins were gathered together, the what? The second time Mordecai sitting at the gate. Wait a second. The second time.

Yes, the second wave. But you think and say, But wait, Esther's won the crown. Stop the contest. They had the verb for this indicates that this is a new gathering. This is not a regathering of the ones that are already been gathered. This is new. This had nothing to do with the contest.

This had to do with the ever expanding harem of the king that will continue to expand until about 10 years from now, when someone will slip into ironically his bedroom and cut his throat. So here's the point. God works his will through faithful people, and he works his will in spite of unfaithful people. Aren't you glad for that? I don't know about you, but I don't step up to God and say that God, I'm faithful. Do your will through me. I don't pray that way. Lord, I am unfaithful. I am sinful.

Would your grace use? That's the perspective. We understand that his providence is unstoppable.

His will will be done. You can either join it with joy and gratitude and obedience and surrender, or you can fight it. You can pull away from it.

That will affect your life as well. Have you ever thought about the grace of God and how it meets you even at your point of sin, that even then he's gracious? This is the doctrine, by the way. We don't spend a lot of time on it because we want to tell everybody to be good people, right?

We do. Don't go out there and sin. I'm not defending or suggesting sin. But when you understand the doctrine of grace correctly, this is what led people to tell Paul, you're off your rocker. You tell people that, even when sin abounds, grace abounds more, Romans five, people are going to go sin. And Paul will come back around and say, that's not what I mean.

God forbid that. You know what Esther 2 strikes me as? Esther 2 is drenched with utter depravity, yes, and sinfulness and disobedience. But it is also drenched with the grace of God. As I studied this text, his grace was the perfume I smelled. His kindness toward Esther, so strong. You see, have you ever thought about what happens if Esther loses? Let me show you what happens to the losers. Look at verse 13.

Notice the process. The young lady would go into the king in this way. Anything that she desired was given her 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, to the custody of Shazgaz, the king's eunuch, who was in charge of the concubines. She would not go into the king unless the king delighted in her, and she was summoned by name.

Did you catch that? She goes in, and she's referenced as a woman, a young lady, a virgin. She comes out, and she's referenced forever from that point on as a concubine. She is relegated to a life of luxurious desolation, never to be called upon again unless the king remembers her name, and kings were not in the practice of remembering names.

They were in the practice of adding names. Here's the grace of God in spite of Esther's disobedience and her secret and her immorality and her faithlessness to the covenant. Here is the grace of God. It is the grace of God that God turns the heart of this dirty old man to choose her to be queen.

Why? So she can win the contest? So she can wear the crown? So she can be Miss Persia? How shallow.

No. So that she could be in her divinely appointed place according to the providence of God for such a time as this so that a remnant will be spared, so that God's covenant promise to keep a people for himself will be fulfilled, so that from that people a savior will be born who will die on the cross for you and me so we could be redeemed and then one day with him rule and reign in the coming kingdom. That's why. This is one piece of the puzzle. This is the grace of God, and I want to tell you that the life of satisfaction and joy will be a life that doesn't test providence. It trusts providence. It gets out of bed in the morning and says, Oh Lord, I want to align myself to whatever it is you're going to do. I don't want to resist.

I want to follow you. This is my divinely appointed place. You there for such a time as this. Is there any other response to this kind of gracious God who meets us and our acts of faithfulness and who still meets us in our faithlessness and that his providence will still be continued and he gives us opportunity after opportunity to align ourselves in submission back to the father, just as he will do with Esther and Mordecai. Can we do anything less in response to what we've sung about his amazing grace and his amazing love than that? What an important challenge from God's word today here on wisdom for the heart. Stephen Davey is our Bible teacher for this daily program.

The lesson that you just heard is called the contest and the crown. Stephen is also the pastor of the shepherd's church in Cary, North Carolina. In addition, he's the president of shepherd's theological seminary. If you or someone you know is interested in pastoral ministry, I encourage you to consider studying with Stephen and the world renowned faculty at shepherds. We have students from all over the country and from other parts of the world, and we've trained pastors who are serving all over the world.

You can learn more about shepherd's theological seminary at Here at wisdom international, we'd enjoy the opportunity to hear from you. You can send us an email if you address it to info at You can also call us. Our number is 866-48-bible. That's 866-482-4253.

We're in the office each weekday. Many of our listeners prefer corresponding by mail, and we're happy to hear from you that way as well. Our address is Wisdom for the Heart, P.O. Box 37297, Raleigh, North Carolina 27627. Once again, that's Wisdom for the Heart, P.O.

Box 37297, Raleigh, North Carolina 27627. Please take a moment and let us know what God's doing in your life. We'd be encouraged to hear from you. I'm Scott Wiley, and I thank you for joining us today. We'll be continuing through Esther next time, so join us for that here on Wisdom for the Heart.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-01 23:29:18 / 2023-11-01 23:39:52 / 11

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