ESTHER 1:1 – 3:15 and ACTS 26:1–32
We now look at the life of Esther who lived in a very similar timeframe to both Nehemiah and Ezra. The book opens by stating that it is taking place at the time of Ahasuerus. This is difficult to pinpoint because many of the kings of Persia went by that title. There were some who were friendly to the Jews while others who proved to be adversarial. Many believe this Ahasuerus to be the same one who showed benevolence to both Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezr 7:21, Neh 2:4). The Restoration era benefitted from men like Ezra who was a priest and Nehemiah who was a high ranking civil servant. In this Book of Esther we will see two other examples of key people who helped to shape this Restoration period. Each one is vital in helping to understand the kind of people and ministries that will stand prominent in this great last day revival. Each Book (Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther) sheds light which can prove instructive if we allow its message to be planted within us. The Book of Esther will give a glimpse of who God is even though He is never referred to in this Book. We will see a powerful portrayal of the Holy Spirit as seen in Mordecai. Esther will show that any person can come into favor which will lead to a position of greater influence to the king. The faithfulness of this one person will save a nation and a people. Finally, we will see the scheming and conniving of Satan as demonstrated through Haman. Let’s look at this familiar Biblical story through the lens of the Holy Spirit so as to gain key insights for our day.
The occasion in the first chapter was a grand feast that was made for the benefit of nobles, the powers of Persia, princes, and servants. The king showcased his kingdom and its riches. At the end of the 180 appointed days the feasting still continued. Vashti, the current queen made a feast for the women of the kingdom and functioned in her role in the hosting and providing of hospitality. There came a time when the king called for Vashti to be brought before him and those who were gathered at the palace. He wanted her to appear in her royal apparel for the purpose of displaying her beauty. For some reason Vashti refused to come forth. This was highly insulting to the king and he wasted no time in expressing his wrath and disdain for her act. This act was not only insulting to the king but it affected the whole of Persia because this incident would come to be known by all. If the queen could dishonour her husband then this precedent could be established in every home throughout the realm. This act of rebellion did pave the way for an opportunity for another woman to come into favor with the king. Before going forward in this narrative let’s consider some modern events which parallel’s this scene.
In the 1960’s in the USA there began the women’s liberation movement. It was a time when women began to assert themselves beyond the restraints of Biblical boundaries. Many women sought to act like Vashti in not honouring their husbands. The primary reason for this was due in large part to men not honouring their wives in a proper way. In any case this revolt led to the breakdown of homes and push for equal rights. The fruits of this movement are seen in its devastation upon homes, marriages and churches today. Is it any wonder there is such an uptick in divorces and all other matters of moral breakdown? The spirit of Vashti is at work today and must be countered. Fortunately, we see such a remedy in the life of a godly woman whom we are about to be introduced too. Her name of course is Esther.
As a result of Vashti’s rebellion to the king a decree went forth throughout the kingdom. Vashti would no longer have access to the king while at the same time a search would be undertaken for someone to take her place (vs 19). King Ahasuerus had some wise counsellors surrounding him. They recognized that immediate action needed to be taken otherwise new precedents would set in. By taking this immediate action the women of the kingdom would know that the kind of action that Vashti took would not be tolerated. They knew immediately the sentiment of the king and so this would help neutralize a potentially damaging situation. It is too bad this was not done in the early 1960’s. What we saw in the 60’s was a culture that was deteriorating and reflecting the kind of behaviour that Vashti was projecting. The king sent a message throughout the whole kingdom on this matter of Vashti and it quickly neutralized her demeaning action.
“Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.”
The king’s wrath over the matter of Vashti began to settle down. He now determined to find fair virgins throughout the kingdom who could possibly be brought in to take her place. This was a recommendation that came from his advisors which he was agreeable too. This would consist of a delegated task of appointed leaders who would search throughout their jurisdictions for qualified virgins. They then would be brought to Shushan the palace and committed to the care of Hege, the king’s chamberlain, who was the keeper of the women.
In this particular area was a man by the name of Mordecai who was a Benjamite. Just like Ezra and Nehemiah he was acquainted with Babylon. He came up out of Babylon while having the responsibility of looking after his Uncle’s daughter who was named Hadassah. (Esther) She was fair and beautiful to look upon. Her mother and father were dead so Mordecai took Esther to be like a daughter. It appears that Mordecai was able to help Esther in being brought to the king’s house. She found immediate favor with the keeper of the women and thus attained special privileges. She found favor along with a few other women as she was being promoted amongst the others. Mordecai, made sure that she said nothing of this to anyone else which was the proper thing to do. Mordecai must have felt or sensed that Providence was at work so he took great care in not allowing anything of the flesh to get in the way. He also checked daily at the court of the women’s house to see how she was faring.
There was a preparation process that Esther had to go through so as to be able to come before the king. It represents a process that we as believers must appropriate as well. It says in verse 12 that there were 6 months with oil of myrrh and 6 months of sweet odours which made up the purification process. There is a combination of unpleasant experiences that helps to enlarge our capacities in coming to know God. Though pain and suffering is never pleasant it does help to give a greater acquaintance of who God is. There are aspects of God we can never come to know any other way. We need to be clear that God does not cause sickness, suffering or pain but He can allow it to happen. Esther had 6 months of myrrh which speaks of a work of meekness and death. This process more than likely involved a dying to areas of self so that she might become more pleasing to the king. This was followed by 6 months of pleasant odours. There are seasons and times of refreshing that God brings that helps to give bring forth a needed balance in our lives. Do you remember Nehemiah 8 when there was the weeping and heaviness concerning sin when Ezra read from the Law? Do you remember how it changed in a moment when Ezra now said to rejoice and let the joy of the Lord become your strength (Neh 8:8-10)? We see a similar situation here with Esther. What Israel came to experience as a nation in Nehemiah 8 is being worked out at a personal level through the life of Esther. Once this period of purification was over she and the other women would be brought before the king and then positioned in the house of the king afterwards (vs 13). If the king delighted in her she would be called upon again, otherwise she would come in no more.
The time came for Esther to come before the king. The women could bring with them anything from the house of women when they approached the king. Esther only required that which was given to her by Hegai, who was the keeper of the women. It is clear that her trust was in the Lord and not in any other external. In no time the king came to love Esther and showed great favor towards her. He placed the royal crown that Vashti forfeited upon her head and made her queen in her stead.
There was an incident taking place at the king’s gate that Mordecai took note of. It was a conspiracy amongst two of his chamberlains to murder Ahasuerus the king. For some reason they were very wroth with the king which caused them to conspire against him. Once again we see Providence at work as Mordecai became privy to their plans. He notified Esther and she reported this to the king making clear that it was Mordecai the Benjamite who had brought this matter to light. As we shall see, this will have great significance as the narrative goes forward. It is so important that we serve the Lord faithfully day by day. We never know how God may one day use an event or situation to be a matter of significance later on. Mordecai was consistent in all that he did; his consistency helps to uncover a plot that spares the life of the king in the short term but will later spare a kingdom and a people in future days to come.
As this chapter begins we are introduced to a man who goes by the name of Haman. He is a notable character and one we need to give some attention to. He had a high ranking position within the kingdom having been recently promoted. He was given reverence by all other servants at the gate but Mordecai would not be numbered among them. Here we have a man (Haman) who gives us a picture of Satan as well as the latter day antichrist. He demands and thrives on being worshipped. He looked upon Mordecai and saw a Jew who would not give this honor to him. What we see here is also a picture of the last days when the False Prophet will demand the worship of the Beast (Rev 13:15). Mordecai stood his ground and did not yield even at the potential cost of his life. Mordecai’s defiance was noticed by the others and they asked as to why he would not bow? This only infuriated Haman all the more. In fact, Haman wanted to destroy the whole of the Jewish people that were known at that time (vs 6).
Haman took this opportunity to approach the king with the suggestion of destroying a people who laws and ways of living were different and contrary to theirs. He stated that if this were to continue it would not bode well for his rule. Haman put himself into position to oversee this effort and the king was only too happy to oblige (vs 9-11). The king sealed the matter with his ring and everything was set to be put into motion. The king allotted people and silver for the carrying forth of this command. Haman at this time is on top of the world. What could possibly stop or thwart his efforts? He and the king sat down to drink together but the city itself was perplexed. There was a stirring taking place that something sinister and of great consequence was about to take place. There is another interesting note to consider. The heathen King Ahasuerus gives his full support behind this mischief but it is not with full knowledge. We see something similar when the three presidents that surrounded the king sought to take Daniel out by way of his devotion to God (Dan 6). The King gave full commandment for the law to be enacted that could take Daniel’s life but it was without full knowledge. In both cases we see Providence intervening in the affairs of men whereby the tide totally changes. This insight may help us when we observe the world leaders who are on stage in our day. God can turn their hearts and use them in ways we may not be able to appreciate.
The main concern for us is that we learn to walk humbly and circumspectly before God each and every day of our lives. This will help to ensure that we be in the right place at the right time so that God can move without hindrance. It has been said before but certainly bears repeating. Favor is crucial and it comes to those whose lives are pleasing unto the Lord. It comes from a consistency in one’s commitment to God rather than just hoping and trusting that it will come. There is a price to pay for favor as we saw in chapter two with Esther. She could not just approach the king straight away. There was a process, a process she submitted to which greatly enhanced her qualities and character that proved highly pleasing to the king. May our lives bring such pleasure to the King of Kings as well.
King Agrippa gave permission to Paul to speak for himself. Paul motioned with his hand to try and settle down the crowd and audience as he began to speak. Paul opens by expressing his gratitude in having an opportunity to speak before King Agrippa. He appeals to the kings understanding of laws and customs which helps to set the tone of his defence. He also asks for his patience as he skilfully lays out his case. He was being charged of many things by the Jews and he wanted to make sure he had opportunity to methodically present his version of the matter. His initial statement reflects his upbringing. This helps to give Paul more credibility seeing that he was once a strict adherent to the Jewish cause. His reputation was known so he is acquainted with those who are now pressing these unjust charges before him. It is someone like Paul who can prove most effective in this because he was one of them. He is now a primary threat to their cause. Paul reiterates his involvement in the punishing of those early believers who preached Christ; consenting to the death of many of them. He had great authority given to him to punish, discredit and even put to death those would promote the cause of Christ. He was in that frame of mind when he approached Damascus at the time of his encounter with Christ. There were other witnesses to this great light that shone about him although he was the only one to hear the voice of the Lord. In verses 14-18 the Lord Himself speaks to Him and tells Saul (Paul) what he must do. He also makes clear what he is being called to do. His mission is now being redefined by Christ; he will open blind eyes from darkness unto light under the anointing of the power of God. He was also authorized to preach on the forgiveness of sins. The conversion that Paul encountered would be a picture of the message that he would bring to others. We see Paul on one day heading towards Damascus to persecute the church and the next day becoming the primary messenger on its behalf.
Paul then emphasizes to Agrippa that there was no way he could disobey the heavenly vision (vs 19). It is important to note just how dramatic and sudden his conversion was. It really is like night and day. If someone like Paul could be changed then there is no limit what God can do in others. Before Paul’s Damascus conversion there would be no one who ever think that such a thing could happen to him. This is the power of the Gospel and it sends the message to us that we are not give up on people. This should help us to appreciate our own salvations as well. To become born again is a miracle and an act of faith. The way that Paul laid out his arguments had to be pretty convincing to those who were listening, especially those with an open mind.
Paul went on to say that this changed his life and ministry. Since that time he could not help but preach Christ, His resurrection and forgiveness of sins and that people had to repent. It was for these reasons why the Jews caught him in the temple with intentions of killing him (vs 21). Paul continued to minister even during his current capacity as a prisoner. It was about this time when Festus began to mock Paul by saying that by much learning you have become a mad man. Festus was keen on trying to court the favor of the Jews so his outburst probably was catering to them. At the same time Festus probably did not yet know how Agrippa was interpreting Paul’s speech.
Paul was in no way flustered; he used this to his advantage by quickly addressing Festus and then by-passing him in appealing to Agrippa. Paul was a man who had a great presence of mind. He knew his fate rested in Agrippa, not Festus so he brought his focus squarely into his lap (vs 26). Paul was bold and unashamed and directly implied that Agrippa knew exactly what he was talking about. He also stated that everything he said and did was done openly and not in some hidden fashion. He then uses a great technique that will now put the king on the defensive. It is a technique that Jesus used on many occasions; he directed a question to the king. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? It was not a challenge it was an honouring question based on the measure of authority and anointing that was upon him. I am sure Paul could understand some of his body language which helped to indicate where he stood. It is at such a time when was able to solely focus upon Agrippa and no one else. It was the opinion of Agrippa that mattered. Agrippa did not directly answer Paul’s question but he did say that you “almost persuade me to be a Christian”. Once again Paul took initiative from that statement by pressing further in saying that it was his hope that all would become Christians who were able to hear his voice. Soon after Paul had finished his speaking, Agrippa, Festus, Bernice and a few others consulted amongst themselves and determined that Paul did nothing worthy of death or even imprisonment. Agrippa even stated that he would have been set free if he did not appeal to Caesar but it was God who determined this course for Paul. His life was spared and he now was about to set course for Italy.