King of kings
King of Kings
THESIS: The powers at be are not as much in control as they think
Today we are starting a new book of the Bible, and we’re calling this study of the book of Esther, “The Hidden Hand of God.” You’ll see as we go throughout the series why it’s called that.
- We want to understand its place in the Story of God. If scripture is the story of redemption, we want to know where Esther fits in the timeline. This is our goal today.
- Secondly, we want to see what the original author meant to communicate to his original audience through the story of Esther about who God is and how they should respond to Him.
- And lastly we want to understand how Esther points to Jesus. We celebrated the resurrection of Jesus just last Sunday, and after God raised him from the dead, the book of Luke tells us how Jesus spent the next 40 days with his disciples: “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” And “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted for them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures.” That means Jesus took time, before he ascended to heaven, to carefully show his disciples how the book of Esther pointed to him. So that’s one of our goals over the next 8 weeks.
So, three things: Where does Esther fit into the story of God? What does this story tell us about who God is and how we should respond to Him? And third, how does this story point us to Jesus?
Before we jump into the history of Esther, I want you to think a little bit about your own history. Think back through your life to some of the major moments in your life, good or bad, that shaped who you are today.
Looking back over my life, I never imagined I would be a pastor, or start a church. So when I ask myself the question “how did I get here?”, one answer would be Music. Most recently I worked at a church as a musician, and over that time through conversations and prayer came to be interested in starting a church. How did I come to be on staff at a church in music? I was involved in music ever since I was 8. My family sang quite a bit when I was young; I was in several bands from high school on up. That all happened because my parents were musically inclined, and taught their children the value of singing and music. That happened because their parents taught them to be interested in singing and music. So I’m a pastor today because my grandma liked to sing, right?
What about your story? How did you end up where you are? In the city you live in? At the job you have? With the friends you have? I really wish we had the time to go around to every one of you and hear you talk about your life..
We all have a story to tell, and every story has an author. The question is, are you the author of your own story? Or is God? Is my story made up of decisions my family and I made? Or did God have a hand in every step of the story?
The argument I’m going to make as we tackle the book of Esther is that not only is God the author of our story, he’s also the main actor. God is the leading role in human history.
To answer our first question, where Esther fits in the story of God, let’s imagine we are looking at Google maps. We’re going to start with Google earth view from outer space.
The story of the people of God as the nation of Israel begins in Genesis 12. God spoke to a man named Abram, and told him to pick up his family and move; God said he would make Abram’s family into a nation – that they would increase in number and influence, and be a blessing to all the other nations of the world.
Abram would become Abraham, and his family would grow to become the nation of Israel. By the time you get to the book of Exodus, the nation has grown to somewhere around 2 million people in slavery under the rule of a pagan king. One person designated by God as the representative of his people, named Moses, walked into the throneroom of a pagan king and asked for deliverance for the people of God.
And what you see in the book of Exodus is miracles, supernatural acts of God, the plagues; Moses throwing his shepherd’s staff on the ground and it became a snake; water into blood; crossing the Red Sea; God speaking to Moses like a person talks to a friend. It’s incredible.
Then the people get out in the wilderness to Mt Sinai, and hear God’s voice and see his fire; they feel the earthquake when he speaks, and they are paralyzed with fear. God’s presence is real, it’s visual, it’s audible, and he is there to establish his covenant with them and lead them to their own land; that if you follow me and no one else, I’ll be your God. The promise made to Abraham continues through you. But the people beg Moses to ask God to stop talking to them. And so God grants them their wish, and starts speaking through prophets instead of directly.
And in the following generations as the people move into the Promised Land and you go through the books of Joshua and Judges and Ruth, God’s presence slowly begins to withdraw – no pillar of fire, no more food from heaven, fewer amazing visible signs of his glory... only a few sporadic miracles here and there.
By the beginning of the book of 1 Samuel, there are a few miracles, and by the end of 2 Samuel they have all but stopped completely. In fact, Samuel is the last person to whom God is said to have been revealed. Solomon is the last person to whom God is said to have appeared. Elijah is the last person, in 1 Kings, through whom God does a public miracle, and right after that miracle, God’s voice becomes the sound of a low whisper, and it’s the last time in the rest of the Old Testament that the Lord said anything to anyone.
About 100 years later, one of Israel’s kings prays for a miracle and that’s the last one. Shortly after that is the last time an angel does something on earth. By this point in Israel’s history, the only thing left of God’s presence is the temple. Then in 586 BC, the Babylonians swept in and destroyed even that.
And after the Temple is destroyed, there is only one mention of the fire of God, and it refers to God’s judgment instead of his presence. The prophet Ezekiel mourns that the glory of the Lord has departed, and by the time we get to the story of Esther, God is not mentioned even once.1
So if you were reading the Bible chronologically, the question that lingers by the time you get to the book of Esther is this: Is God with us or has he left the building?
I wonder how many of you have asked that question. Jodi and I have had a few of these moments in the last couple of years, where we looked at our situation in life and wondered if God got interrupted by something or someone else with a bigger problem came by, and he had left our story unfinished or forgot what he was doing.
The author of Esther is writing to a group of Jewish people who are wondering if God has forgotten them. They knew their sin was bad. God promised he would remove them from the Promised Land if they broke the covenant with him, and he had kept his word. They were carried off to exile in Babylon, and once again were a nation in a foreign land.
So that’s the where Esther sits in the story of God – in a dark moment in Israel’s story at the beginning of what we call the 400 years of silence between the Old Testament and the New Testament, and it seems like God has left the building.
Esther 1:1 These events took place during the days of Ahasuerus, who ruled 127 provinces from India to Cush. 2 In those days King Ahasuerus reigned from his royal throne in the fortress at Susa.
Ahasuerus is the way the Jews pronounced this king’s name. Xerxes is how the Greeks pronounced it. We will use those names interchangeably as we go along, because Xerxes is easier to say than Ahasuerus. :)
Xerxes’ father was Darius the Great, and Darius was a conqueror. He expanded the empire to the North, the South, and the East, but as he tried to go West and take over Greece, he ran into trouble – and that trouble was called Sparta. The movie 300, while not entirely accurate, portrays some of this story. In 490 BC, Darius lost at the Battle of Marathon, even though his Persian army had outnumbered the Greeks massively.
Upset about his defeat, he came home and determined to make an even larger army to try again. But he died before he could get things together, and his son Xerxes vowed to pick up where his father had left off.
3 He held a feast in the third year of his reign for all his officials and staff, the army of Persia and Media, the nobles, and the officials from the provinces. 4 He displayed the glorious wealth of his kingdom and the magnificent splendor of his greatness for a total of 180 days.
You’ve been to a party before, right? Not for 180 days, I’d bet. This six-month feast was specifically for all of his leaders and nobles and military from all over his kingdom to rally their support for him wanting to finish his father’s business against the Greeks, and show that he had the financial firepower to finish the job. He took three years to build up an army that would massively outnumber the Greeks, promising to take care of them if they joined. The extravagance of this king is off the charts, and he has paraded everything in front of his military officials to express his endless wealth and power.
An inscription written by King Xerxes shows how he referred to himself: “I am Xerxes, the great king, the king of kings, the king of the provinces with many tongues, the king of this great earth far and near, son of king Darius the Achaemenian.” Quite a guy. But he’s not done yet.
5 At the end of this time, the king held a week-long banquet in the garden courtyard of the royal palace for all the people, from the greatest to the least, who were present in the fortress of Susa. 6 White and blue linen hangings were fastened with fine white and purple linen cords to silver rods on marble columns. Gold and silver couches were arranged on a mosaic pavement of red feldspar, marble, mother-of-pearl, and precious stones. 7 Drinks were served in an array of gold goblets, each with a different design. Royal wine flowed freely, according to the king’s bounty. 8 The drinking was according to royal decree: “There are no restrictions.” The king had ordered every wine steward in his household to serve whatever each person wanted.
At the end of this six-month massively expensive feast, the King holds a 7-day employee-appreciation party. I won’t spend much time on this, but the only other building in all of the Bible that is described in this much detail is the Temple. When Alexander the Great captured Susa 200 years later, they found 1,200 tons of raw gold, and 270 tons of gold coins. I don’t know if you noticed this, but it doesn’t mention gold silverware or jewelry. God and silver couches!
Meanwhile, 9 Queen Vashti also gave a feast for the women of King Ahasuerus’s palace.
I remember several years ago when President Bush was coming through Iowa, Jodi and I went to see him. And there’s something about being in the presence of the President, whether or not you agree with his politics, that is attractive. It’s why we are so drawn to athletes and famous musicians or TV personalities if we see them in public. Even if you don’t care about those things, there are people that we admire.
These days, we have people we call “influencers” who use social media to make a name for themselves – maybe it’s through comedy, or home decor, or marketing a product, or dancing, or whatever.
We are drawn to people with influence. And there’s something about reading this chapter seeing the King’s influence and wealth that we’re kind of drawn to. There’s a part of this that makes us wish we were there to see it. I mean, gold couches???
But don’t you think the reason we’re drawn to those things is because those people seem to be in control of their lives? They seem to have things all in order, because money gives you control, right? You’ve said it. I’ve said it. We say it like this: “If you get paid the bonus this year, we can buy the camper. If you get paid this week, we can do this. If I pick up an extra job on the weekends, we can take the vacation.” I’m not saying any of that is sinful, but the point is, we attach control to money. And when we see someone with a lot of money, it looks like they are in control.
The king has put on display for six straight months the immense wealth of his kingdom to declare to his entire kingdom – I’ve got this. Dad couldn’t get it done, but watch me.
I won’t read it all again, but on the last day of the employee-appreciation party, the king is completely sloshed and calls for his servants to bring in Queen Vashti. He had shown off his greatness for six months, and withheld only one thing from his military. And now, in the privacy of his palace, he saved his most prized possession for last.
And yes I use the word possession intentionally. Don’t think of the Queen as someone who was a close friend of the King, or that they even like a normal husband and wife relationship. She was a woman who had pleased him greatly in all of the ways, and quite possibly was even a gift from another king. She and all other women would have been viewed as property… again pointing to the glory of the king.
It’s not difficult to pick up on this because, when to his surprise and horror Vashti refuses to parade herself in front of the king’s drunken staff, the king doesn’t go directly to her to address the problem – he calls in the seven advisors closest to him and says, in verse 15 – what does the law say I should do with her?
For the original Jews reading this, they would have chuckled a little bit when they read this. It’s kind of funny that this powerful man really isn’t as much in control of his life as he thinks.
This king who appears to sit on top of the world, who with a snap of his fingers can send the world's most powerful military into battle, whose palace is described in incredible luxurious detail - gold and silver and precious stones all part of this magnificent garden in the center – this self-proclaimed king of kings who can give the invitation and all people from from 127 provinces with their own languages stream to his imperial city to feast with him – this flamboyant king can manage the largest empire the world has ever seen ultimately doesn’t have control, and with one tiny word “NO”, he looks like a fool and his world comes unraveled.
For the Jews reading this back when it was written, and even to you and I today, there is something larger at play here in chapter 1. There is a comparison being made as you read. Throughout scripture, God is the one who is king of the whole world and ever since his words “let there be light”, his control and authority extend over all of his creation.
This picture of Xerxes, even the description of his palace is meant to remind you of God.
In Genesis 2 God’s presence among humans is described as a garden having abundant gold, silver, and precious stones. In Exodus 26-30, God’s dwelling place with humans is the tabernacle or temple, the center of which is described as having gold and silver and precious stones. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God has sent out the invitation to people from every tribe, every language, and every nation to join him at a glorious, heavenly feast that will last much longer than 6 months, and welcome us into our new home, the new Jerusalem which is described as having an abundance of gold, silver, and precious stones.
And what the author is setting up for us that the power and wealth and majesty of King Xerxes is just a parody, an imitation of the true King. You know, you’ve seen those caricature artists that draw pictures of people. I grew up on the east coast, so I would often see this at the beach. But what the artist draws is meant to make you laugh.
The largest and most powerful visible kingdoms of the world, both in Xerxes day, and in our day, are laughable caricatures in comparison to the kingdom of the one true God.
Maybe as you look around our world today, it looks like powerful people in powerful kingdoms are running the show. Maybe to you it looks like kings and queens and presidents and prime ministers and CEO’s do what they want, and you see them living in luxury off the backs of their people who they keep in poverty. You see military powers exerting themselves on helpless people, political machines working to cover up scandals, make unethical deals, and disguise ulterior motives and agendas. Or maybe it’s not even on that scale. Maybe it’s people in your family who just have to control things, no matter who they run over or hurt in the process.
Meanwhile we stand here looking at the sky wondering why God isn’t doing anything about this! Is he with us or has he left the building? Does he see this? It’s so tempting for us to give up on the invisible kingdom.
The author of Esther asks us to look at the world through the eyes of faith and understand that the things of power you see, like Ahasuerus’s six month party, are pathetic little banquets in the grave when you think about it from an eternal perspective. The reality is that all the governments of earth, including our own, who seem to be running the show are not as powerful as they appear. In fact, they are buffoons compared to the Sovereign Lord who not only rules, but controls all things!
One day, 400 years after King Xerxes was good and dead, and his kingdom a footnote in the archives of history, the true King of kings would arrive on earth, not in a massive display of firepower and gold and wealth, but as a baby in a manger. He would live among a corrupt and oppressive and powerful government and barely mention a thing about it, even allowing himself to be openly humiliated and crucified by it. But even in his crucifixion, God was orchestrating human history to show that in fact
God is the leading role in human history.
Praise God for who he is.
Confess that we’ve admired lesser kings. People we’ve considered powerful. Sought wealth as control.
Thank God that he has invited us to HIS feast; to HIS kingdom by grace through faith.
Government – rule with godly wisdom; seek your face; reject evil
- Bryan Gregory, Inconspicuous Providence: The Gospel According to Esther (New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2014), 15-16
- John Piper, Providence (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 18
- Karen H Jobes, The NIV Application Commentary: Esther (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 24
- Ibid, 26
- Radu Cristian, https://www.ancient.eu/Darius_I/, April 10, 2017, accessed April 6, 2021