Esther is one of the last books written in the Old Testament. It was written about two and a half thousand years ago. We don’t know who the author is. There’s no internal evidence for who wrote this book. Perhaps it was Mordecai, her cousin, who penned it. We know, ultimately, God, the Holy Spirit wrote the book of Esther.
Jews, in particular, love the book because it shows the beginning of the Feast of Purim, which we’ll get to in a few weeks. Christians, however, have not known what to do with the book.
The events take place in Susa. That was in Iran, so away from Jerusalem, away from the temple, away from the priesthood, away from the presence of God on the earth.
The question arises: is God working in history just in Jerusalem or in other nations? Is God just present in the temple or is he, to some degree, also present elsewhere? This great story of Esther shows, yes, God is at work in nations beyond Jerusalem, even pagan, godless nations like this Persian kingdom. God looks after his people – even in these situations.
Xerxes the Great
Xerxes was the great Persian king. He towers over human history at that time. He is, at this point, in his mid-thirties. He is commented upon at quite length by a man named Herodotus. He was a Greek historian. He’s actually called “The Father of History.”
“This is the Ahasuerus,” or Xerxes, “who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces.” He ruled from Sudan to Pakistan to Greece. He is the most powerful man on the earth. There’s no one who rules as Xerxes rules.
His father, Darius, was a legendary king, ruled some thirty-six years, was a man who expanded his empire by taking over, conquering, and assimilating multiple nations. So, they are a kingdom that spans multiple nations and peoples. They have different races, different ethnicities, different languages, and different religious convictions.
Xerxes, if he had any religious devotion, it would have been Zoroastrian, so they are pagans.
Kings were considered like gods. They would have multiple wives. In addition, they had an enormous harem, and so the palace would include an entire section just to house all of the women who were there to please the king. It was believed if you had many wives and a huge harem and lots of children, it showed the greatness of the king and the kingdom.
Xerxes come to the throne as a spoiled, rich kid who grew up in the palace, never worked a day in his life. He didn’t go to war, he didn’t fight, he didn’t work, he didn’t struggle. According to custom, he didn’t meet his father until he was five. In that day, men conceived children; they didn’t raise children.
Some of you may ask, “How did Xerxes get his edicts out into these various cultures and nations? How did he enforce, if not impose, his will?” Well, they created the first postal system, and as he would give decrees, it was like a word from God, and it was believed that he was a god-man.
Sound familiar? He called himself the king of kings. Sound familiar? And it was believed that he spoke with the voice of the sun, and that when he said something, it was inerrant, it was perfect, it was to be immediately obeyed. Sound familiar
The Party to End All Parties
So, what’s he going to do with all his power and wealth? Is he going to care for widows, orphans, and those in need? Is he going to look after young girls who could be abused? Is he going to make sure all the orphans are cared for? No.
Here’s what he does. The end of verse 3: “He gave a feast for all his officials and servants. The army of Persia and Media and the nobles and governors of the provinces were before him.” He threw parties, huge parties.
How long do you think this party lasted? This is crazy. “While he showed the riches of his royal glory and the splendour and pomp of his greatness for many days.” 180 days.” That’s a party! How many of you are like, “Yeah, I partied one time for six months! I don’t remember it, but I hear it was amazing.” Alright? Six months!
Why? Why does he do this? Because he loves people, because he’s nice, because he’s generous? No. “He showed the riches of his royal—” what? “Glory.” There’s a worship word. Here’s what it’s all about: “Everyone, came see the glory of the king. He’s high, and exalted, and seated on a throne.” Sound familiar?
Over in another room, another portion of the palace, is Queen Vashti. She’s got all the women. When no women are present and no rules are in place, men become animals. Amen? What they’re doing is despicable, deplorable, disgusting, and depraved, and there are women there, but these are women who are getting used and abused.
Xerxes was a perverted man. Vashti was originally married to his brother. This is his sister-in-law. He stole her. He thought she was attractive so he stole his brother’s wife and, in addition, he thought that his brother’s daughter was attractive, and so he stole her too, and he married the mother and the daughter, his sister-in-law and his niece.
Herodotus says that the last fifteen years of his life he hardly tended to matters of state. He was totally consumed with the harem and all the women who just met all of his desires.
God is never mentioned once. It’s a “godless” book. God never appears. God doesn’t speak. No prophet speaks on God’s behalf. No angel shows up. The heavens don’t open and God delivers a word personally. There are no miracles. There’s nothing supernatural. There’s no mention of Jerusalem, and the temple, and the presence of God. There’s no mention of the priesthood and the sacrificial system for sin. There’s no quoting of other books of the Bible. There’s no giving of God’s laws. No one repents, no one prays. There is no action from God or to God that is revealed anywhere in the entirety of the book of Esther. It’s this stunningly curious omission.
God is silhouetted through the book of Esther. God works in Esther not through his visible hand of miracle, but through his invisible hand of providence. We know that history is not circumstance, or chance. It’s governed by providence. God rules and reigns over all peoples, times, and places.
For those of you who have felt like the story of Esther feels: God is at work in your life as well. You may never hear his voice. You may never see his face in this life. The angel may not come. The healing may not occur. The prayer may not be answered. Yes, the voice of God may not thunder down, but God is active, and present, and at work in the lives of his people, even those who are far away from him as they were.
Jesus Is a Better King
Here’s the good news: above Xerxes, there’s another King. This is not the only book of the Bible. It’s part of the storyline that leads to a greater King. Above Xerxes, there’s another throne, and seated on it is another King named Jesus. And Jesus is our King, and unlike Xerxes, he got off his throne. He didn’t invite us just to come and sit around him. He first came down to dwell among us. Jesus is a better King.
Here’s what Xerxes says about himself from an inscription that the archaeologists uncovered: “I am Xerxes the Great King, the only king, the king of all countries which speak all kinds of languages, the king of this entire big and far-reaching earth.” Xerxes thought he was Jesus. Jesus is a better King.
Xerxes was the son of Darius, but Jesus is the Son of God. Xerxes never tasted poverty nor humility, but Jesus tasted both poverty and humility to identify with us. Xerxes used his power to abuse women, but Jesus used his power to honour women. Xerxes spent his entire life being served, but Jesus spent his entire life serving others. Xerxes killed his enemies with an army of millions, but Jesus died for his enemies, saving billions.
Xerxes sat on a throne in Susa, but Jesus sits on a throne in heaven. Xerxes was the most powerful man on earth, but Jesus made the heavens and the earth and he rules over all creation. Xerxes said he would rule wherever the sun set, but only Jesus made the sun and rules over all of creation.
Xerxes died and today, no one worships Xerxes as god; but Jesus conquered death and today, billions worship Jesus as the only God. Xerxes thought he was a man who became god, but only Jesus is God who became a man. Xerxes’ kingdom had subjects from many nations, but Jesus’ kingdom has joyful worshipers from every nation. Xerxes threw enormous banquets, but the one Jesus is preparing for us makes his pale in comparison. Xerxes’ kingdom came to an end, but Jesus’ kingdom has no end. Xerxes declared himself king of kings, but he died. He stood before and was judged by the one and only King of kings, the Lord Jesus Christ.