Esther 1:13-22 - The King Acts Upon Worldly Wisdom
Our text this morning is found in Esther 1: 13-22,
13 Then the king said to the wise men who knew the times (for this was the king's procedure toward all who were versed in law and judgment, 14 the men next to him being Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, who saw the king's face, and sat first in the kingdom): 15 “According to the law, what is to be done to Queen Vashti, because she has not performed the command of King Ahasuerus delivered by the eunuchs?” 16 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. 17 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.’ 18 This very day the noble women of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen's behavior will say the same to all the king's officials, and there will be contempt and wrath in plenty. 19 If it please the king, let a royal order go out from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes so that it may not be repealed, that Vashti is never again to come before King Ahasuerus. And let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she. 20 So when the decree made by the king is proclaimed throughout all his kingdom, for it is vast, all women will give honor to their husbands, high and low alike.” 21 This advice pleased the king and the princes, and the king did as Memucan proposed. 22 He sent letters to all the royal provinces, to every province in its own script and to every people in its own language, that every man be master in his own household and speak according to the language of his people.
Last week we discovered…
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 our knee jerk reactions in anger can define much of our future.
All of these things have just happened to Ahasuerus. The party abruptly came to an end and casual drunken conversations have now taken a turn towards the seriousness of Queen Vashti’s actions.
Where will Ahasuerus turn for wisdom and guidance in this situation?
Will the ensuing conversations help or hurt?
Will the counsel he is given be godly or ungodly?
Will his response restorer his relationship or will it result in a permanent separation?
In the aftermath of this event Ahasuerus finds himself surrounded by the ‘wise men who knew the times’ (13). We are told that these men were versed in the law and in giving judgment (13). We are told that these men ‘saw the kings face, and sat first in the kingdom’ (14). In other words, these men had the kings attention and they would often give him counsel.
One of these men, Memucan, was the one who gave the king the counsel that would determine the kings response in this moment. He said,
“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. 17 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.’ 18 This very day the noble women of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen's behavior will say the same to all the king's officials, and there will be contempt and wrath in plenty. 19 If it please the king, let a royal order go out from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes so that it may not be repealed, that Vashti is never again to come before King Ahasuerus. And let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she. 20 So when the decree made by the king is proclaimed throughout all his kingdom, for it is vast, all women will give honor to their husbands, high and low alike.”
This morning I’d like to make some observations about the counsel that the king is given. First, It would be hard to over emphasize the important role that counselors have in our lives.
When wise counsel is given to a ruler the people are well served. When bad advice is given to the king the whole kingdom suffers.
When family and friends act upon good godly council there will be progress but if they act upon bad counsel there will be trouble.
Who are you receiving your counsel from? Who has your ear when you are receiving advice?
Let me encourage you in three ways. First, do not receive counsel from the wicked. Secondly, surround yourself with wise biblically oriented believers. Third, seek counsel from the Lord through the scriptures and through prayer. Consider Psalm 1:1-2, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night.”
Recently I read through 1st and 2nd Samuel. One of the things that I discovered was that King David often surrounded himself with godly people who could help him through difficult moments. When you look at David’s life you see that there are some things to consider.
Sometimes David would give a command and those around him would try to convince him that it was a bad idea. For example, when David wanted to take a census his general tried to stop him because it would be evil in God’s eyes.
Then there was a time when David gave an order to have Uriah killed and on that occasion the general remained silent and obeyed the order.
Thirdly, there were times that entire groups of men would counsel David to do evil and he would have to reject that counsel. A couple times his men told him to kill Saul. They even said, “God has delivered Saul into your hand this day”.
Fourth, sometimes God would use humble women to keep David from sinning. I am thinking about Abigail who kept David from murdering Nabal and his entire family.
These things helped me to see that none of us are capable of being right all the time in the counsel we give to others. And those who counsel us are not always giving us good biblical advice even if they love us and had given us good counsel before.
One of the ways you can see this is when a denomination or a pastor preaches well for a number of years and then slowly begins to preach error. Often the people continue to listen to what is said without questioning it. Therefore, we need to be in the Word of God and prayer.
Unlike David, we see in Esther that Ahasuerus is not a godly man. Nor is he surrounded by godly counselors. Ahasuerus is attracting like-minded people around him. For example, there is not even a hint of a debate about what should happen to Queen Vashti. It is bad advice, but it will be unanimously accepted. These men are not going to try to help Ahasuerus’ and Vashti be reconciled. They don’t want to see this marriage succeed. these men are in agreement as to the scope of the problem.
Secondly, these men all agree about the scope of this problem and what the reaction of the other women will be when they hear of Vashti’s disobedience. They believe that there will be universal contempt towards their husbands. These men believe that their wives will say something that we all have said at some point, “Why should I honor my spouse”, or “Why should I honor my parents?” or “Why should I honor my boss?”
Without the counsel of God’s word we may respond to these situations in lots of ways that can ruin marriages and relationships. Empires, democracies and families that operate apart from the truth of the scriptures will eventually run into these types of problems.
This makes me pause for a moment and ask myself, “Is contempt and wrath a problem in our society, in our homes, or at our jobs?” Could the root cause of this be because God’s Word has been ignored and rejected?
Thirdly, these counselors were well trained in the law and judgments of Persia but they did not know what true piety looks like and true piety could not be produced by Persia. Memucan says, “This very day the noble women of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen's behavior will say the same to all the king's officials, and there will be contempt and wrath in plenty.”
Worldly nobility (Persian nobility, American nobility, Southern nobility) which is separated from true godliness is easily undone. Worldly nobility can quickly turn to contempt and anger. Worldly nobility quickly disappears in men and women if it is not of God. Worldly nobility has a form of goodness but under the right circumstances it will be revealed as a godless and graceless nobility.
Let me draw your attention to the words ‘the noble women of Persia and Media’. We will see that Esther, who was a Jewish girl chosen by God, would display true nobility. Only grace, only the called, only the chosen, only those who have the Spirit of God can display true nobility and piety. The Persia and Media couldn’t produce nobility and piety through laws and judgments.
Again we must ask, “Do we see true piety and godliness in our homes, our churches or in our society? If not, does this mean that our ‘nobility’ has a form of godliness but no true ennoblement by the Spirit of God? Does this mean that we are seeking the counsel of men and not drawing near to God in prayer? Does this mean we are seeking piety through the law and not by the grace of God?
Fourth, Memucan offers a solution for this dilemma. He says, “...let a royal order go out from him (the king), and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes so that it may not be repealed, that Vashti is never again to come before King Ahasuerus.”
Godliness will respond to these situations with love, with service, it will seek reconciliation and it will forgive. Worldly wisdom will do the exact opposite. Worldly wisdom will make proclamations, institute laws, make long complicated contracts, it will make ultimatums, it will slam the door of future opportunity shut.
Fifth, notice that not only will queen Vashti not be allowed to see the king again but it was decided that she would be replaced and her position as queen will be given to another. Memucan said, “Vashti is never again to come before King Ahasuerus. And let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she.”
In this fallen world advice like this is all too common. Consider the advise that is often given to two believers who are in an argument, or to two friends who have a disagreement, or to a husband and wife who have come to the end of hope for a happily ever after together. Listen carefully and you will hear things like this said to them:
“You deserve more than what your getting out of this relationship.”
“You should just move on with your life because you can find someone better.”
“You can’t be expected to forgive them for this.”
“It is time to move on with your life and never look back.”
There may be some who would say, “I don’t hear that counsel being given to others.” But let me ask you a question, “What counsel do you give yourself in the depths of your own heart?” Are you preaching the truth of God’s word to yourself or are you living by the laws of the land of this fallen world? Are you quick to respond well to godly counsel or do you find yourself excusing yourself or rejecting it altogether?
Sixth, Memucan believes that the issue will be resolved if the king will follow his counsel. We read, “So when the decree made by the king is proclaimed throughout all his kingdom, for it is vast, all women will give honor to their husbands, high and low alike.”
A couple of years ago Chad Gregory taught a Sunday School class called ‘Love and Respect’. In it we discovered that a man’s greatest need is to be honored and that a women’s greatest need is to be loved.
Vashti did not feel loved when the king wanted to show her off as a prized trophy. The king felt dishonored when Vashti refused to come to the party. This put them on the ‘crazy cycle’.
There is only one way to get off of the ‘crazy cycle’. Men need to choose to love their wives. And the wife needs to choose honor their husbands. A godly counselor would have counseled the king to love his wife and get off of the ‘crazy cycle’ that was destroying this relationship.
There is a moment in any disagreement when everything hinges on the next word spoken and the next action that is taken. This moment is a decisive moment in this situation. The king speaks and acts here in a way that will end this relationship.
The king accepts this worldly advice and proclaims it throughout the kingdom. It becomes the law of the land. It is the new law that is given at the gate of the city, it is spoken at the square of every town, it is adopted into every home and it is taught in every school. Consider what this new law was, “He sent letters to all the royal provinces, to every province in its own script and to every people in its own language, that every man be master in his own household and speak according to the language of his people.”
It has been said, “...sensual persons have seldom any clear and elevated thoughts of God. Men given to pleasures can taste meats and drinks, but not doctrines…Learned men are to be respected when they express opinions upon a subject which they understand; but when they are known to be without grace and spiritual light their opinions upon divine truth are not to be regarded”1
We should not expect that great wisdom and godly discernment would be seen in this moment from these men. These men have given themselves to pleasure, to meats and to drinks. Ahasuerus would have done well to have not regarded this counsel.
While considering these things I am reminded of Proverbs 14:33, “Wisdom rests in the heart of a man of understanding, but it makes itself known even in the midst of fools.” By the sovereign hand of God the LORD will use all of this foolishness to display His Wisdom.
We have seen things happen in this story that are all too familiar to us in this fallen world. We have seen Queen Vashti refuse an order of the king because she did not want to be treated like a trophy wife. As just another of the king’s possessions.
When this happened she was quickly removed and never allowed back into the kings presence. She would be replaced, new laws would be written and life would eventually return to normal.
What if God treated us this way. What if God, who is holy, righteous, and perfect were to quickly discard us as Ahasuerus did Queen Vashti? Who does the LORD listen to when the Accuser (Satan) comes to make a charge against us? Is there an advocate who intercedes for us in heaven? Does the kingdom of God operate differently than what we have seen so far in the book of Esther?
In Proverbs 25:5 we read, “Take away the dross from the silver, and the smith has material for a vessel; take away, the wicked from the presence of a king and his throne will be established in righteousness.”
You and I have sinned against the LORD so how are we going to be allowed into the presence of the King? When we sin will we be thrown out and never allowed to see the King again?
The kingdom of God is entirely different than the one we have seen in Persia. The kingdom of God is different than the one operating in Washington D.C. The kingdom of God is completely different from how we see most communities, homes, business’ and relationships functioning.
We are sinners; Christ has taken our condemnation. We are disobedient; but Christ’s obedience now saves us. We had been cast out of the garden; but Christ came into this dark and barren land to seek and save the lost. We like to make laws and lord our positions over others; but Christ came to serve us and die for sinners.
The worlds celebrations have shown us…
How quickly celebrations can turn sour.
How quickly celebrations can take a turn for the worst.
How quickly a cheerful mood can become melancholy.
How quickly our knee jerk reactions in anger can define much of our future.
This morning we gather together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and as we do this we are reminded that God has called us to come into His presence with boldness as we have been clothed in the righteousness of Christ. We are clothed with the nobility of Christ. We do not draw near to this table because of some beauty that we possess apart from Christ. We are called to come to remember the beauty of Christ and all that He has done for us.
The prideful cannot celebrate this feast. The unrepentant have no place at this table. But every sinner who has come humbly and repentantly will not be cast out.
1Flowers from a Puritan’s Garden, Dwellers in Marshes, p. 151