I want to say at the start that I understand it can be hard to sit there and be engaged. I’ve been there. I want to challenge you, however, to lean in and listen. The events we’re talking about here may be some 2500 years in the past but they have amazing significance today.
Plus, the book of Esther is an amazing book. It is a true work of literature. There is a heroine, suspense, irony, reversal, and surprising coincidences. Basically everything you’d want in a story.
The book of Esther tells “the story of events surrounding the rescue of the nation of Israel from the threat of extinction while it was in exile in Persia… The more profound and universal purpose of the story is to explain how God’s providence can protect his people.”
Whoever you are, wherever you come from, and no matter where you are spiritually, this year has likely brought many challenges to you. I believe the book of Esther offers some much-needed perspective on things.
As we saw the last two weeks, God’s people are in exile, under the reign of king Ahasuerus. Ahasuerus, as the King of Persia, has a ton of wealth. So he shows his wealth by having a party for 180 days (1:4). With that much partying it is no wonder that he seems to be somewhat of a drunk and pushover. However, it appears that he’s trying to combat his pushover persona (but not his potential alcoholism!) with the help of his friends and so he makes an example of his wife Vashti who did not obey his every whim.
In Herodotus’ Histories, it says that that the “king of Persia could do anything he wished.” And so, that’s what he did. He gets rid of his old wife and throws a lavish beauty pageant to find the most beautiful and pleasing bride in the kingdom (2:2-4). In somewhat of a Cinderella story, the king “fell in love” with Esther or at least more than all the other women and so he put the royal crown on her head and made her queen (v. 17).
Israel is in Exile. God’s people are not in the Promised Land. They have a foreign ruler. And can you imagine, that ruler was allowed to do “anything he wished.”
We too are in exile, we too are not home. It may be different than Esther’s exile but we are in exile too. We see this truth in Scripture in various places. For instance, 1 Peter 1:1 talks about us being “elect exiles” and verse 17 tells us how we are to conduct ourselves throughout the time of our exile. First Peter 2:11 says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” Philippians 3:20 reminds us “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Hebrews 13:14 says that “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”
So, just as Esther was in exile, we as Christians are in exile too. This book is relevant and has a lot to encourage us in the midst of the challenges of exile.
More and more our exile is a very visible reality. The Public Religion Research Institute did a study on religious affiliation in America. Here are their findings:
“The American religious landscape has undergone substantial changes in recent years… One of the most consequential shifts in American religion has been the rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans… In 1991, only six percent of Americans identified their religious affiliation as ‘none,’ and that number had not moved much since the early 1970s. By the end of the 1990s, 14% of the public claimed no religious affiliation. The rate of religious change accelerated further during the late 2000s and early 2010s, reaching 20% by 2012. Today, one-quarter (25%) of Americans claim no formal religious identity, making this group the single largest ‘religious group’ in the U.S.”
The study also found “about two-thirds (66%) of unaffiliated Americans agree ‘religion causes more problems in society than it solves.” They also “reject the notion that religion plays a crucial role in providing a moral foundation for children.”
It is not just America, however, that is becoming increasingly less affiliated. The Church in America also has less and less commitment.
One recent study conducted by Barna Group for the book Faith for Exiles found that out of the around 1,500 people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine that grew up in the church (as Christians) the majority no longer go to church. 22% are now considered “ex-Christians.” 30% may identify themselves as Christians but they no longer go to church. 38% describe themselves as Christians and have attended church at least once in the last month but do not have the core beliefs or behaviors associated with being a disciple of Jesus. Only 10% were found to be regularly involved in the life of the church, trust in the authority of Scripture, affirm the death and resurrection of Jesus, and express a desire for their faith to impact their world.
Dedicated Christians are more in more considered odd. Christians are more and more on the fringes of society. If things don’t change, these trends will just continue in the future. The reality of our exile status will be felt more and more.
So, friends, Esther has a lot to teach us about our exile. Let’s go to the first scene…
1. Haman’s Plot (Ch. 3)
Scene 1 starts with Haman, the antagonist or bad guy of the story, being promoted (3:1). It seems like he’s promoted because the beauty pageant was his idea.
Haman soon became furious at a Jewish man named Mordecai because he would not bow down to him. But instead of just taking it out on him, Haman wanted to destroy all the Jews throughout the whole kingdom (3:5-6). So, we see a big problem introduced in the plot.Read More…
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45).
“And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22 cf. 24:9, 13; John 15:18-21; Mark 13:13; Rev. 2:10; Heb. 3:6).Read More…
How can we know if our motives are gospel-focused or not? In the below video I outline a way to filter out motivations that are not gospel-focused.
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
but with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2).
When we see gray clouds we know a storm and rain are probably coming. Proverbs leads us to see other connections and correlations from other phenomena and make other important deductions. Just as if we see gray clouds we know rain is coming, if we see pride we know disgrace is coming.
Disgrace follows pride like dessert follows dinner; one comes then the other. Superiority then scandal, self-importance then shame. Disgrace follows pride as surely as two follows one. There’s a sequential relationship. If one is not humble there will be humiliation.
The prideful person, however, may not even see or experience the humiliation though. They may further puff up against the pain rather than confront their inadequacies.
The arrogant are in the dangerous place of not seeing their own ignorance. If we see ourselves as superior, we aren’t in a good place to see our own stupidity. Those who think they stand then should take heed lest they fall (1 Corinthian 10:12).
What is the solution? Humility.
We should be willing to admit we are sometimes wrong. We have done wrong and been wrong in the past, we should know that this could (and will) happen in the future too.
Christianity gives a basis for humility. It teaches us repeatedly that we don’t always get it right. And Jesus said, blessed are the humble who know that truth (See Matthew 5:5ff).
Christians should be willing to listen, willing to learn. We should be humble because our Lord Jesus has called us to humility. We don’t know it all and we should admit that truth.
“With the humble is wisdom.” Those who know they don’t know, are in a good place to know. If we realize what we don’t realize, we are open to realizing.
Pride → disgrace.
Humility → wisdom.
 Christian behavior is not based on knowledge alone, that leads to pride and destroys others, even those for whom Christ died; Christian behavior is based on love grounded in the knowledge of Christ. We tend to think we know all we need to know to answer all kinds of questions—but sometimes our humble hearts can help us more than our proud minds. As Eugene Peterson has said in his paraphrase of the Bible, the Message: “Knowing isn’t everything. If it becomes everything, some people end up as know-it-alls who treat others as know-nothings.” I appreciate what Richard Baxter said, “If we have any knowledge at all, we must needs know how much reason we have to be humble; and if we know more than others, we must know more reason than others to be humble” (The Reformed Pastor, 144). I also appreciate this from Thomas à Kempis: “What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? …I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God” and neighbor?” (The Imitation of Christ).
 Proverbs also tells us repeatedly that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.”