Esther 1:1-12 - Darius Shows Off The Glory Of His Kingdom
We just celebrated Thanksgiving with family and friends over the last several days and many people are now worn out from all the preparation and entertaining. We may have had a lot of fun but now life can get back to normal. Hopefully over the holiday none of us experienced too much tension or conflict as the pressure was on to set the table and as we interacted with a larger group of people.
How quickly celebrations can turn sour.
How quickly parties can take a turn for the worst.
How quickly a cheerful mood can become melancholy.
How quickly a knee jerk reaction in anger define much of our future.
All of these things we will see in our text this morning.
Our text this morning begins in the third year of the reign of Ahasuerus (3). He is better known by his Greek name Xerxes which means ‘ruler over men and hero's’. Ahasuerus began to rule over the kingdom of Persia after his father, Darius the Great, died and he inherited great wealth and a massive kingdom.
After taking over the throne from his father Ahasuerus spent several years putting down revolts in Babylon and Egypt because they had tried to free themselves from Persian rule. Now that those revolts had been dealt with successfully Ahasuerus celebrates these victories in Susa with his nobles, governors, officials and military leaders for 180 days. Th is a time when Ahasuerus rewards those who helped him to suppress these revolts and he also uses this time to plan for his invasion into Greece.
Ahasuerus’ military success is emphasized in the beginning of this book when we are told that he ruled over 127 providence’s. We are meant to see that in just three years Ahasauerus’ kingdom is larger than the kingdom his father had ruled over. We see this in Daniel 6:1 when we read, “It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom 120 satraps, to be throughout the whole kingdom.”
Do kings rule only by the strength of their might? Are the events in this world random? Do the strong rule over the weak or is there a sovereign God who is at work behind the scenes who is accomplishing His will in all of these things? Do kings rule by their whims and make decisions based only by the counsel of the few men around them or is God still in these situations and ultimately directing things?
At first glance we will see the glory and power of Ahasuerus and his kingdom. But we will soon see that the LORD is ultimately in charge of all things at all times. The Bible shows us that the LORD is sovereignly working to accomplish His will even centuries before things happen. Let me give you an example.
About a century before the events that we are looking at this morning (486-465 BC), Daniel had a dream in which there were four great beasts (Daniel 7:1-7). He interpreted each of these beasts to be different kings who would come and rule over Israel (Daniel 7:17).
Two years after that dream Daniel had another dream in which he saw a ram who was very proud and powerful. This ram was connected to a city named Susa (Daniel 8:1-4). Daniel interpreted the ram to be a prediction of the kings of Media and Persia. Let’s look at Daniel 8:1-4,
In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar a vision appeared to me, Daniel, after that which appeared to me at the first. And I saw in the vision; and when I saw, I was in Susa the citadel, which is in the province of Elam. And I saw in the vision, and I was at the Ulai canal. I raised my eyes and saw, and behold, a ram standing on the bank of the canal. It had two horns, and both horns were high, but one was higher than the other, and the higher one came up last. I saw the ram charging westward and northward and southward. No beast could stand before him, and there was no one who could rescue from his power. He did as he pleased and became great.
Daniel’s dream was interpreted in Daniel 8:20 when we read, “As for the ram that you saw with the two horns, these are the kings of Media and Persia.” In these things we see that the LORD is sovereign over the kingdoms of this world. He is the one who raises up kingdoms and their leaders and it is the LORD who removes kings and topples kingdoms.
Having considered this, let’s now consider our text for this morning. Our text is Esther 1:1-12,
Now in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne in Susa, the citadel, in the third year of his reign he gave a feast for all his officials and servants. The army of Persia and Media and the nobles and governors of the provinces were before him, while he showed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor and pomp of his greatness for many days, 180 days. And when these days were completed, the king gave for all the people present in Susa the citadel, both great and small, a feast lasting for seven days in the court of the garden of the king's palace. There were white cotton curtains and violet hangings fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rods and marble pillars, and also couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and precious stones. Drinks were served in golden vessels, vessels of different kinds, and the royal wine was lavished according to the bounty of the king. And drinking was according to this edict: “There is no compulsion.” For the king had given orders to all the staff of his palace to do as each man desired. Queen Vashti also gave a feast for the women in the palace that belonged to King Ahasuerus.
On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha and Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, to bring Queen Vashti before the king with her royal crown, in order to show the peoples and the princes her beauty, for she was lovely to look at. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's command delivered by the eunuchs. At this the king became enraged, and his anger burned within him.
The Puritan Thomas Manton once wrote, “A garment which is too long trails in the mire and soon becomes a dirty rag; and it is easy for large estates to become much the same. It is a hard lesson to ‘learn to abound’ (Phil. 4:12). We say such a one would do well to be a lord or a lady; but it is a harder thing than we think it to be.”
I can think of no better introductory thoughts than these from Thomas Manton for a text such as ours today. The book of Esther begins with words that are meant to captivate us by the size and affluence of this massive kingdom which was the largest empire at the time.
It is tempting to come to our text this morning and be captivated by the size of this kingdom, the success that had been achieved, the authority and power that is wielded from the throne in Susa, and the wealth that is possessed. Because of all these things we do not initially see just how hard it is to ‘learn to abound’ as Thomas Manton says.
There are three observations that we immediately become aware of in these opening verses. First, Ahasuerus’ kingdom is vast. Secondly, Ahasuerus’ throne was set up in a fortified city named Susa. Thirdly, king Ahasuerus was known for his massive banquets and drinking parties.
It will not take us long to observe that much of what we see here is pretty shallow. Behind the fortified city, behind all the precious stones, behind the great halls of the palace and the golden cups that are never empty of wine, there are problems that become evident.
This kingdom has its problems. We see that the king who ruled over 127 providence’s and who commanded all the top general’s and military leaders needed many counselors to know how to respond to a domestic issue. We see that this king did not send one eunuch to bring her to the party, he sent seven eunuchs with a command that she come before the king and she still refused. The kingdom that had put down the revolts of Babylon and Egypt faced an even bigger problem when queen Vashti disobeyed an order of the king.
David Firth in his commentary on Esther puts it bluntly when he says, ‘Ahasuerus is clearly a powerful king, but he is also a buffoon who is driven by the combination of a desire for wine and a desire for honor.’
David Strain in his commentary paints a similar picture when he says, ‘...suddenly, and very publicly indeed, Ahasuerus’ power, and might, and influence, and prestige and resources and money, are revealed as the empty things that they really are. With one lash of his pen, the author of the book of Esther paints Ahasuerus for a fool. He has given himself to the pursuit of glory, but the most basic realities of life elude him. His marriage is a sham. Hos power is not total after all; his sovereignty is not absolute. His wife shrugs off the command of mighty Ahasuerus. And everybody sees it.’
As we consider the book of Esther we realize that being a lord, a lady, a king, or an official in a high position is harder than we think it to be. So few people in this story fill their roles in these positions well with the exception of Esther and Mordecai.
Wealth does not make one wise. Authority and power does not ensure everything will be a success. Wine does not keep one happy forever, privilege does not guarantee another’s loyalty, and every feast must come to an end. Sometimes, as is the case, it will come to an end abruptly and unhappily. All of these beautiful things that we see in this text will quickly turn out to be a garment that is so big it is dragging the floor and collecting mire. It quickly becomes a dirty rag.
Let me give you some examples from the book of Esther. We will soon see that it is hard to be a ruler. Despite all the kings power and authority he is quickly enraged and his anger burns within him when his wife Vashti disobeys one order. In Esther 1:12 we read, “But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command delivered by the eunuchs. At this the king became enraged, and his anger burned within him.”. The man who could rule a kingdom, could not rule his anger.
In this story, men who wield the greatest power and authority find that all of it is resting upon such a fragile foundation. They can win battles and conquer land but they fear that everything will be undone by a single act of disobedience. For example, in Esther1:16-17 we read, “Then Memucan said in the presence of the king and the officials, ‘Not only against the king has Queen Vashti done wrong, but also against all the officials and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. For the queen’s behavior will be made known to all women, causing them to look at their husbands with contempt, since they will say, “King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, and she did not come.”’”
In this story, men who are quickly exalted to power and given so much, can hardly find a reason to rejoice if there is just one person does not honor them. We see this in Esther 3:1-6 when we read, “After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagtite...And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury. But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone. So, as they had made known to him the people of Mordecai, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus.”
In this story, we will find that this king who seems to be so generous in his celebrations with the people of Susa had actually isolated himself from seeing any real issues that the people were experiencing. We read of this in Esther 4:1-2 when we read, “When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and he cried out with a loud and bitter cry. He went up to the entrance of the king’s gate, for no one was allowed to enter the king’s gate clothed in sackcloth.”
Spurgeon talks of how difficult it is to be a person of power in this way, “It is hard to carry a full cup with a steady hand. High places are dizzy places, and many have fallen to their eternal ruin by climbing aloft without having the grace to look up...A man may have so much in this world that he misses the next. His robe may trip him up in the race for the heavenly prize, and he may fall victim to the wealth he idolized. Alas, for the poor rich. Living sumptuously every day, and yet often strangers to the deep and peerless joy which belongs to those who, in the deep waters of poverty, find a boundless bliss in trusting in God.”
As we come to the book of Esther we read about the size, the power and the glory of the Persian kingdom and we may wonder if God is present and able to accomplish His will in places like this? Can God get squeezed out when government becomes so big and powerful? Can God still accomplish His will when the authorities are kept behind fortified cities, when their power seems to be entrenched and their decisions so quickly become the will of the land? Is the LORD sovereign over Israel and all of the world?
In the book of Esther we find that God is present. He is able to accomplish His will even in places such as this. He rules over secular kingdoms. He is present in the midst of fortified cities and behind closed doors. He is there among the counselors of this world directing their decisions and intervening as He chooses.
There are so many practical observations that we could make about this text but let me highlight probably the most important one.
This text reminds us to have an eternal perspective. It reminds us to heed Spurgeon’s words, “...many have fallen to their eternal ruin by climbing aloft without having the grace to look up...A man may have so much in this world that he misses the next. His robe may trip him up in the race for the heavenly prize, and he may fall victim to the wealth he idolized. Alas, for the poor rich.”
Ahasuerus inherited this kingdom from his Father Darius the Great. Death overcomes everyone and when they die they will leave everything behind to another. Sometimes the inheritance is increased but most of the time it is quickly lost. Eventually, all inheritances will be lost. Our text today reminds us of a kingdom that was once great but is now nothing more than a small excavated site of ruins.
Consider how our text begins, “Now in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne in Susa, the citadel…”. All of these verbs are in the past tense. Even Xerxes the Great died and was no longer on his royal throne. This great Persian empire is no more but God has continued to preserve His people throughout all the ages.
We mentioned Daniel 7 earlier and it would be good to notice that in Daniel’s vision the LORD raised up nations that were to come. All of them would rule for a time and then they would be replaced by another. Consider Daniel 7:17, “These four great beasts are four kings who shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.”
Daniel says that these kingdoms arise from the earth and they will all perish. Born of the dust they must also return to the dust from which they came. But there is another kingdom that is not of this world. And the people of this kingdom are not made citizens by natural means. If they were made citizens by natural means then it too would eventually come to nothing. Consider John 1:12-13, “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
When Jesus met with a man named Nicodemus He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” Then Jesus also said to Nicodemus, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”
Jesus said that He was the King who was to come and then He was killed and placed in a grave. But three days later he rose from the dead and proved that His kingdom is an eternal kingdom and He now reigns forever. All of those who have been born of water and of the Spirit will see this kingdom in all of its glory. The kingdoms of this world will come to nothing and the glory of these kingdoms will come to nothing. Their glory will become nothing when compared to Christ’s eternal kingdom. One way of considering this is similar to what we see happened to the glory of the first covenant when it was surpassed by the new covenant with its better promises.
Consider 2 Corinthians 3:7-11, “Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.”
Let me conclude with one final thought. The kingdoms of this world do not simply fade away as if the Law of Entropy takes over. Just as God brings kings and kingdoms into power, He also removes them from power. Consider Daniel 7:23-27,
“Thus he said: ‘As for the fourth beast,
there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all the kingdoms, and it shall devour the whole earth, and trample it down, and break it to pieces. As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise, and another shall arise after them; he shall be different from the former ones, and shall put down three kings. He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. But the court shall sit in judgment, and his dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and destroyed to the end. And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.’
There is nothing which is evolutionary or random in this universe that has been created and sustained by a Sovereign God. When the saints suffer they should remember that God will preserve His people and reward them in the end. Because of these things we do not rule as the Gentiles do as they lord their authority over the people. Rather we humbly serve others as we will see that Mordecai and Esther will do later in this letter.