Esther 1:1-22

I am on vacation this week and on vacation/reading week next week. So, the Daily Encouragement for these two weeks is material produced by the Airdrie RP Church (the Congregation I previously pastored) for its ‘Let’s Worship God’ Booklet. It is on the book of ‘Esther’ and was written by Rev. Johnny McCollum, minister of the Milford RPCI. I have done some slight editing.

Opening Prayer Thoughts

Praise God
Praise God for the privilege of public worship.  Praise God that, in Christ, we have a reward that is kept in heaven for us that can never perish, spoil, or fade. 1 Peter 1:4.
Acknowledge Sin
Confess the sin of looking too much at what we have on earth rather than the treasure we have in heaven.  Colossians 3:2.

Please ask the Holy Spirit's help as you come to his Word.
Please read Esther 1:1-22
V1-4. Setting the Scene.
Esther is a book of surprises. It's surprising because of where the story is set: not in Jerusalem, but in Susa, hundreds of miles away, deep inside idolatrous pagan territory. It's surprising because of who is in it: not fearless superheroes, but frightened, ordinary people. It's surprising because of the story itself: a tale of corrupt conspiracies and deadly danger. It will show us the disastrous effects of sin; both in God's enemies and in God's people. It's not the fairy tale people think it is.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all isn't what we see in the book; it's what we DON'T see. Feel free to flick through the chapters if you doubt me, but you will find that there are no references to God nor his works. No miracles, no prophecies, no fire and brimstone from heaven. No mention even of his name! God is apparently nowhere to be seen.
So, why did God give us a surprising book like this? Because our story is not so different. Just like Esther and the other Jews, we live in an idolatrous world and are surrounded by those who reject God. Just like Esther, we are confronted with the cataclysmic effects of rebellion. Just like Esther, the odds are firmly stacked against us. Wouldn't it be easier if God just did something? Couldn't he perform a miracle or write a message in the sky? Yet he doesn't. Sometimes it seems like God isn't there or simply doesn't care. Yet, God does work in the book of Esther. He works in surprisingly ordinary ways in the midst of the mess and even THROUGH the mess. We may not see him, but his fingerprints are all over it!
It's the same in your story. Yes, it's hard to follow God in a hostile world. Yes, it seems like everything has gone badly wrong. But look again: his fingerprints are all over it! We just need the faith to see.
V1-9. Ahasuerus Shows Off.
Winston Churchill, World War Two, UK Prime Minister, was a master of memorable insults. He once said about Clement Attlee, leader of the opposition Labour Party: "He is a very modest man...with a great deal to be modest about." Today we meet a man who was the polar opposite of Attlee: a very proud man with a great deal to be proud about. Ahasuerus, also known as Xerxes (the Greek version of his name) was the most powerful man in the world. Here's what he had to say about himself: "I am Xerxes, the great king, king of kings, king of countries containing many kinds of men, king in this great earth far and wide..." He wasn't wrong. He ruled over 127 provinces covering vast swathes of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe (v1). He commanded the most formidable army any of his enemies had ever seen. Xerxes was a proud man...with a great deal to be proud about. He was also a passionate evangelist. With great enthusiasm he spread the message of his own power, wealth and splendour. What better way to show that than by throwing a massive party? The guest list was a Who's Who of the Persian Empire: princes, governors, generals and nobles, and there at the top table, supreme over these prominent men was Xerxes himself (v3). Talk about a photo opportunity! There were 6 months of festivities, with every detail designed to display Ahasuerus' majesty. The wine was practically unlimited and no doubt the food was just as extravagant. The lavish surroundings would have made Buckingham Palace look grotty by comparison. Even the beauty of Ahasuerus' trophy wife tells us that this was a man to be feared and revered. Of course, this presented a problem for God's people. Imagine telling your children that God blesses those who follow him when they could see the wagons of wine being carted to the pagan palace. Imagine how hopeless they must have felt when this "King of Kings" set his wrath against them. Who could possibly bring hope to a situation like that?
V10-12. Ahasuerus Shows the Cracks.
The beauty of the surroundings is in stark contrast to the sleaziness of the revellers. Perhaps you can imagine the bravado at the top table: guests boasting over the size of their houses, boasting over the clothes in their wardrobes, even boasting over the women in their beds. Of course, Ahasuerus isn't one to be outdone. You can almost imagine him saying, "You think that's impressive? Wait until you see who sleeps in my bed!" It's grubby and it's sleazy; it's also the world we live in. So, the rather tipsy Ahasuerus makes a fateful decision. He summons his wife, the beautiful Vashti, to parade herself for the party guests. She is to come, without asking questions, in order to be ogled by the king's slobbering pals. It doesn't matter what Vashti thinks of this sleazy show; what the king wants, the king gets. In order to reinforce the point, he sends 7 of his finest men to make sure Vashti complies. Cue the first big surprise: Vashti says NO! This was a humiliation for Ahasuerus: the man who controls 127 provinces can't even control his own wife! Moments ago, he was dazzling senior officials with the food on the table; now he has egg on his face. Vashti wasn't a believer, yet by this simple act of defiance, she teaches God's followers a vital lesson. It is possible to say no. It is possible to resist. Those who rebel against God may hold all the cards, but they can never compel us to join them in their rebellion. Faithfulness to God IS possible. It's early days in the Book of Esther. Yet already God is inviting us to look at the kingdom of Satan and see that it's full of cracks. Things aren't as hopeless as they seem.
V13-22. Ahasuerus Shows Who's Boss.
Ahasuerus (or Xerxes as he's also known) has to do something. He has been humiliated in front of the most influential people in the empire. He has been publicly defied and he cannot risk others following in Vashti's footsteps. So, what does he do? He convenes the cabinet of course! I wonder if the long list of names in v14 is supposed to make us laugh. Ahasuerus has been disrespected by one individual woman and so he responds by gathering 7 of his finest nobles to dream up their master strategy for responding to this problem. It's a laughable overreaction! Even more laughable is the grand scheme they come up with. Imagine being a fly on the palace wall: "Let's send messengers to every corner of the empire, to Europe, to Africa, to Asia, and let's tell every single subject that the king is to be respected! More than that, let's tell every single wife that she is to respect her husband!" For one thing, it's counterproductive; it guarantees that everybody will hear about Vashti's snub and the King's weakness. For another thing, it's completely unenforceable; if Ahasuerus can't compel his own wife to obey him, he'll have his work cut out forcing others' wives to do the same. Yet, he has to do something. The great "King of Kings" can't just sit back and be disrespected. And so, he rants and he raves and he goes red in the face like a teacher who has lost control of the classroom. He might as well be shaking his fist at the sun and ordering it not to shine. There's a great irony in this passage. Ahasuerus is desperate to show who's boss, and that's exactly what he does – but not in the way he planned. We will soon see that God uses this drama to deliver his people and punish his enemies. Ahasuerus may have lost control; but the real King of Kings is calm, silent, and on the throne.

Sing with joy in your heart to God.
Psalm 139A. Link to the words. Link\ to it being sung.

Memory Verse.
It is a privilege to lay into our hearts and minds the light and truth of God's Word. 
Ephesians 2:4 – “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,”

Truth for the Mind and Heart.
Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 106 – What do we pray for in the sixth request?
Answer – In the sixth request (which is, And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one) we pray that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin, or support and deliver us when we are tempted.
This is taken from where you will find proof texts.

Thank God for whatever is on your heart.
Take care in Christ,
Rev. Dr. Andrew Quigley
Minister, Ottawa RPC