We start our new series on the book of Esther and today’s passage serves as the background to the rest of the book. In terms of personal revelation it would be a little hard to get something to apply to yourself but even in this passage there are some helpful things to keep in mind when tackling the rest of the book.
The people of God are in exile and the setting of this particular story is in Persia under the rule of King Xerxes. Xerxes is a man of extremes and is very unstable emotionally. From today’s passage we are told that he is a man that holds a six month long party for his rulers and lets the wine flow continuously. On the other end he is also the man who divorced his wife Vashti because of her refusal to obey his commands to come into his presence as he entertains his guests.
The temptation is to over spiritualize this passage when nothing really sticks out to us and I want to remind you that the best way you can start to interpret the text is to begin with the words that are presented to you. What does the passage actually say? The temptation is to talk about how this passage is about Jesus because we have been conditioned to say it as a our default answer but in this case this passage is most definitely not about Jesus!
So what can we get from this passage then? To begin, here is a glimpse of the character of Xerxes through historians that studied him:
"This is the king who ordered a bridge to be built over the Hellespont, and who, on learning that the bridge had been destroyed by a tempest, just after its completion, was so blindly enraged that he commanded three hundred strokes of the scourge to be inflicted on the sea, and a pair of fetters to be thrown into it at the Hellespont, and then had the unhappy builders of the bridge beheaded. This is the king who, on being offered a sum equivalent to five and a half millions sterling by Pythius, the Lydian, towards the expenses of a military expedition, was so enraptured at such loyalty that he returned the money, accompanied by a handsome present; and then, on being requested by this same Pythius, shortly afterwards, to spare him just one of his sons—the eldest—from the expedition, as the sole support of his declining years, furiously ordered the son to be cut into two pieces, and the army to march between them. This is the king who dishonoured the remains of the heroic Spartan, Leonidas. This is the king who drowned the humiliation of his inglorious defeat in such a plunge of sensuality that he publicly offered a prize for the invention of some new indulgence. This is the king who cut a canal through the Isthmus of Athos for his fleet—a prodigious undertaking. This is the king whose vast resources, and gigantic notions and imperious temper made the name of Persia to awe the ancient world. Herodotus tells us that among the myriads gathered for the expedition against Greece, Ahasuerus was the fairest in personal beauty and stately bearing. But morally he was a mixture of passionate extremes. He is just the despot to dethrone queen Vashti for refusing to expose herself before his tipsy guests. He is just the one to consign a people like the Jews to be massacred, and then to swing over to the opposite extreme of sanctioning Jewish vengeance on thousands of his other subjects."
On a personal side note, I like the first line that describes Xerxes temperamental response to disappointment when he orders the water to be whipped three hundred times; take some time to imagine the look on his people’s faces when they hear that order! As hilarious and disturbing as these accounts are, Xerxes is the ruler of a large empire but the truth is that this empire will only last as long as God allows. In this period the ruler of the known world is an unstable emotional man and the people of God are at his mercy but it is in this unlikely of circumstances that an unlikely hero emerges for a timely salvation of God’s people. No matter how powerful or how corrupt the people in charge are, God will deliver His people and establish His Kingdom!
TIPS AND TRICKS