Summary: This sermon looks at the lessons learn from Esther's life
The Book of Esther takes place nearly 2500 years ago in the city of Susa, just north of the Persian Gulf, and East of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is modern day Iran. The exiles from Judah had spent nearly 70 years as captives of the Babylonians. After Babylon’s defeat by Persia and King Cyrus, he began to set those captives free. (2 Chron. 36:23) The first wave of Israelite exiles returned to Jerusalem to begin rebuilding the city, its walls and the Temple. The story of Esther covers a 10 year period between the first wave led by Zerubbabel and second wave led by Ezra. But not all of the Jews returned to Judah. Others remained in settlements throughout the Persian Empire. Life was hard in Judah, think post-Katrina, while life for the Jews in Persia, now the world’s dominant economic and military power, was much more comfortable in many of the magnificent cities of Persia. In addition, the culture of Persia was considered the most advanced of its day with an enhanced legal system, modern postal system and wealth flowing through the empire raising the standard of living for most. Many of the Jews who chose to stay did so because they were accumulating wealth as evidenced by the gifts they sent back to Jerusalem. They also had increasing power as evidenced by Esther’s influence on public policy. Even moreso, what we see in both the stories of Daniel and of Esther today is that those Jews who stayed behind had the opportunity to be witnesses of the one true God.
That leads us to our first lesson from Esther: Heroes take advantage of the opportunities placed before them. Erwin McManus in his book, ‘Seizing Your Divine Moment’ writes, “What if you knew somewhere in front of you was a moment that would change your life forever, a moment rich with potential, a moment filled with endless possibilities? What if you knew there was a moment coming, a divine moment, one where God would meet you in such a way that nothing would be the same again? What if there was a moment, a defining moment, where the choices you made determined the course and momentum of your future? How would you treat that moment? How would you prepare for it? How would you identify it? Moments are as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sands of the sea, any one of them could prove to be your most significant divine moment… However mundane a moment may appear, the miraculous may wait to be unwrapped within it. You rarely know the eternal significance of a moment. When a moment is missed, you have a glimpse at an opportunity lost. When you dream, you look to a moment still to come. Yet the only moment that you must take responsibility for right now is the one in front of you… There may well be many moments waiting behind this one, and though the most significant moments of your life may still be moments away, the moment you are in right now waits to be seized…” Esther seized her moment by taking advantage of God’s timing, place and opportunity afforded her.
It happened like this. King Xerxes was in the 3rd year of his reign which began in 486 BC and was a man focused on power, money and sex. He had a violent temper and often acted without thinking. The Book of Esther begins with Xerxes holding a grand festival lasting for over 6 months designed to exhibit the power and wealth of his Kingdom. At its conclusion, he held a 7 day feast filled with food and drink. By the 7th day, he was quite drunk and called for his beautiful queen, Vashti, to come and parade before his guests. She was offended by his request and promptly refused. Now in those days refusing a command of the King was tantamount to writing one's death sentence. Mercifully, Xerxes instead signed a decree that she never appear before him again. Her house is taken away and probably everything she owns as well. At the urging of his counselors, he holds a beauty contest to choose a new queen. The historian Josephus records that 400 virgins were brought to the palace to live for a year before the contest. Hearing of the decree, Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, brings her before Hegai, the eunuch in charge of the king's harem. Hegai is immediately taken with Esther and gives her 7 maidens, the best part of the house of women to live in, and all the perfumes and ointments a girl could dream of! When she appears before the king, Xerxes is also captivated by her and selects her to become the Queen of Persia. (Esther 2:17). Esther’s Jewish heritage is not revealed.