Esther 2:1-4 - King Ahasuerus Receives More Sinful Advice
Our text for this morning is found in Esther 2:1-4.
After these things, when the anger of King Ahasuerus had abated, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her. 2 Then the king's young men who attended him said, “Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for the king. 3 And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom to gather all the beautiful young virgins to the harem in Susa the citadel, under custody of Hegai, the king's eunuch, who is in charge of the women. Let their cosmetics be given them. 4 And let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” This pleased the king, and he did so.
Let’s consider how our text begins in Esther 2:1-2a, “After these things, when the anger of King Ahasuerus had abated, he remembered Vashti and what she had done done and what had been decreed against her. Then the king’s young men who attended him said…”
Chapter two begins with the words, “After these things…”. This encourages us to take a moment to remember what we have read in chapter one. Over the last two weeks we have considered the drama that has unfolded in the Persian Empire concerning King Ahasuerus and Queen Vashti. We have seen...
A celebration turned sour.
A party took a turn for the worst.
A merry mood quickly turned to rage.
Quick emotional reactions in anger can define our future.
Ahasuerus had thrown a massive party that lasted for 187 days. It all ends abruptly when, on the final day of the party, he sent seven eunuchs to bring queen Vashti and she refused to come. This made king Ahasuerus angry and he quickly implemented the counsel that was given to him by the counselors around him.
We saw how in moments like these we would do well to protect ourselves int three ways concerning these sort of things. First, we would be well served to seek the LORD through His Word and respond accordingly in these moments. Secondly, we would be well served in these moments if we had godly people who would speak the truth of God into the situation. Thirdly, we should not receive counsel from wicked, faithless, and godless people in these moments. If these three things are not present in our lives then things can go terribly wrong.
King David was often surrounded by people who could give him counsel. Yet, we find that David often sought the LORD and received encouragement from him on his own. For example we read in 1 Samuel 30:6-8,
“And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter of soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God. And David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Abimelech, ‘Bring me the Ephod.’ So Abiathar brought the ephod to David. And David inquired of the LORD...”
Jonathan Edwards was wise enough to do something to ensure that he was continually giving himself good counsel. Throughout his life he made 70 resolutions that helped him navigate wisely through all the complexities of life. Several of his resolutions would have helped Ahasuerus in the situation that he now finds himself in. For example,
Jonathan Edward’s 8th resolution was “To act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as he was, and as if he had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and to let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion confessing my own sins and misery to God.”
We will see in Esther 2:4 that Ahasuerus did not allow these events to produce godly shame in his life. Instead, we will read that it pleased him to do the wicked counsel that he was given.
Jonathan Edward’s 24th resolution “...was that whenever he would do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back till he came to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all his might against the original of it.
In Esther 2:1 we see that Ahasuerus does not do this. He is aware of no sin in his actions. All he can see is the sin of others. We read, “After these things, when the anger of King Ahasuerus had abated, he remembered Vashti and what she had done…”
Notice that here, unlike previously, Vashti is not mentioned as ‘Queen Vashti’.
Notice what we read next, “...when the anger of King Ahasuerus had abated, he remembered Vashti and what she had done done and what had been decreed against her.” (v.2)
I find it interesting that, as mad as King Ahasuerus was in that moment at the party, that there was a day when he could think of those events and not be upset. As furious as he was in that moment, there came a time when he wanted to see Vashti again. We are not told how much time had passed since those events but King Ahasuerus anger abated.
Remarkably, in that moment he could remember what she had done and not get upset. This desire to see Vashti again is not the result of blind ignorance about the events of that day. He does not remember Vashti in this way because he is filled with wine and his heart is merry. No, his mind is clear and he is able to remember what had happened.
Let’s be clear that it is not the gospel at work here in this moment. As time passed he began to miss Vashti. As a result, he began to consider the fact that he may want to see her again. But he has been ensnared by the words of his mouth and by the decree that he had made against her. He had given a royal decree that Vashti would no longer be queen and that she would never be allowed in his presence again.
This is a good reminder for a Christian to allow the gospel to bring true healing and reconciliation and not simply think that time can accomplish this. A Christians heart is under the influence of the Holy Spirit, it is guided by the Word of God, and of the grace of God is at work. These things can produce true healing and reconciliation with others that we have been angry with.
In a moment of rage it is all too easy to throw in the towel. It is so easy to say something that changes the relationship forever. But we need to realize that there will be a point when feelings of love and affection can return. God can perform miracles of restoration.
Consider Paul’s words to the Corinthians when he says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Apart from the grace of Jesus, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit being applied to us in these difficult situations we will see nothing more than a band-aid being applied over an infected wound that will not heal on its own.
Do you believe that the grace of Jesus, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit can help us in these most difficult situations?
There are times when we hear great decree’s like the one Ahasuerus made towards Vashti.
One spouse says to the other, ‘I want a divorce?’
One friend says to another, ‘I never want to see you ever again.’
A child says to a parent, ‘You are dead to me!’
One layperson says to another, ‘Either you leave this church or I will.’
These decree’s are powerful, emotional and often prove to be destructive. They are hard to forget, hard to heal, hard to move past. But the Word of God can bring healing. The grace of Jesus is sufficient to restore. The love of God can provide reconciliation. The fellowship of the Holy Spirit is transformational.
If, however, we are not convinced of these things then there will always be other advice that we can turn too. There will always be someone to encourage us to go in a different direction. There will always be a group of people who are ready to steer our conscience away from obedience to God. That is what we see going on here again in this Esther 2:1-4.
This particular moment could set the king on a better course but unfortunately there is no one around him to give him godly counsel. The king is once again surrounded by a group of people who give him worldly, carnal, wicked and ungodly counsel. The same men who fill the kings hand with wine, now fill his mind with a plan that will give him carnal pleasure.
This is what they said to the king, “Then the king's young men who attended him said, ‘Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for the king. And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom to gather all the beautiful young virgins to the harem in Susa the citadel, under custody of Hegai, the king's eunuch, who is in charge of the women. Let their cosmetics be given them. And let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.’”
Notice how verse two begins, “The kings young men who attended him said...”. It does not say that these men are older, wiser, prudent, astute, experienced, or judicious men. Here it was the young men who were going to give advice to the king.
If chapter one was the older officials and rulers who counseled the king, then chapter two gives voice to the younger counselors around the king. If chapter one gave voice to the career politicians, then chapter two gives voice to the staffers who worked closely with the king.
Not all young people lack wisdom, understanding, discretion and knowledge. But it is not the norm for a young person to possess these things in great measure. The king does not surround himself with men of wisdom. He has not cultivated an appetite for common sense, experience, insight, intelligence and sound judgment. The king is driven by pleasure, amusement, enjoyment, and gratification. Consider these verses that we have seen thus far in the book of Esther.
Esther1:10, “On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine…”
Esther 1:11, “The king commanded that Queen Vashti be brought before him because she was beautiful and lovely to look at.”
Esther 1:21, “This advise pleased the king...and the king did as Memucan proposed.”
Esther 2:4, “This pleased the king, and he did so.”
A young man will not often stand up to someone like Ahasuerus and speak the truth. This is especially true after we saw how the king responded to Queen Vashti. In Esther 4:11 we see that even Esther was initially afraid to come before the king unless he called her because she might die. We read, “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law – to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds our the golden scepter so that he may live.”
King Ahasuerus has no courageous and godly people around him in Esther 1 & 2:4 who are willing to risk their life until Ester arrives.
Since this king is driven by carnal pleasures he is given advice that will please him. The young men say, ‘Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for the king. And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom to gather all the beautiful young virgins to the harem in Susa the citadel, under custody of Hegai, the king's eunuch, who is in charge of the women. Let their cosmetics be given them. And let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.’
One commentator describes these verses in this way, “This is a highly organized, immoral beauty pageant that was designed to surround the king with the most beautiful women in the world so he could have a series of one night stands and name one of them his new queen. If you were a father who had a daughter who was beautiful, you had no say in the matter. If the overseer picked your daughter, she was destined to go to Susa for the hedonistic purpose of pleasing and pleasuring the king.”1
What kind of men would give such advice? Who would ever agree to such counsel? Sadly, we read at the end of verse 4, ‘This pleased the king and he did so.’
King Ahasuerus put the plan into action. Just that quickly the king has replaced sadness over Vashti with the promise of new pleasure, he soothed his discontentment with a plan that could be quickly implemented, he sidestepped a moment of remorse for the distraction of a palace full of pretty ladies. As a result, an opportunity for repentance and restoration with Vashti is quickly forgotten and a search for a replacement has begun.
Consider the words, “This pleased the king and he did so”. In these words we see that there is no godly shame in the heart of the king. Thomas Watson speaks of godly shame in his book, ‘The Doctrine of Repentance’, when he says, “Blushing is the color of virtue. When the heart has been made black with sin, grace makes the heart red with blushing. (Ezra 9:6)”
In Esther 2:4 we see that the king has no virtue and no grace that would make his heart red with blushing at the mention of doing such a thing. He is pleased at the thought of vanquishing Vashti and replacing her with one of 400 other ‘options’. This plan will be forced upon so many young girls against the wishes of their parents. All of this will be carried out without shame before the public for all the Empire to witness.
One commentator says, “We would never expect to find God sovereignly working out His plan and program in such a promiscuous and sensual environment. We would never expect God to be sovereignly overseeing these godless decisions. But God was overseeing this and was sovereignly working behind the scenes in order to work out His plan.”2
How would something like this influence an entire culture? Proverbs 10:17 gives us the answer to this question. It states, “Whoever heeds instruction is on the path of life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.” So far in this book there has not been one ounce of godly instruction. And all that is being done is leading everyone in the kingdom farther astray.
Our nation experiences these sorts of things as well. For example, this week a woman named Constance Ahrons died. She was 84 years old. Most of us have never heard of her but we see the effects of her work and philosophy all around us. She wrote a book that was published in 1984 called, ‘A Good Divorce’. She stated that a ‘good divorce’ added to someone's sense of well being; rather than subtracted from it. She convinced a generation of Americans that divorce was a good thing when the scriptures tell us that God hates divorce. By the end of her life she claimed that ‘A Good Divorce’ had become a popularized concept in our nation. She was right in her assessment3
In the book of Esther we will never see the king and this massive Persian Empire experience shame over their sins and repent. You and I do not really knows if we will get to see another Great Revival sweep across our nation. We can be sure of one thing. We have this moment as individuals and as a church to examine our hearts and to respond to the grace of God that is offered to us. We have this opportunity to be those who will lead this nation by our example. We can give godly advice to those who desperately need it.
Pastor Mark Vroegop speaks of this in his book, Dark Clouds and Deep Mercy. He says, “...it has been my experience (as a pastor) that many Christians are uncomfortable with the tension of the long rehearsing of pain combined with the appeal to God’s grace. We tend to hush the recitation of sorrow. However restoration doesn’t come to those who live in denial.” He continues by saying, “I wonder what would happen if more Christians confidently walked into the darkest moments of life and guided people in talking to God about their pain.”4
In our text, King Ahasuerus, and these young men that surrounded him, did not spend much time walking in this dark moment of sorrow and shame. They never considered talking to God. Instead they quickly eased the tension with a plan that was devoid of the grace of God.
Let us learn from their tragic mistake. Individually and corporately let us appeal to God for grace in the moments of our sorrow. Let’s not deny our sins and forfeit the blessing that comes through repentance. Let’s quickly go to talk with God about these things and encourage all those around us to do the same.
1Dr. David Thompson, Exposition of Esther, Esther 2:1-11.
2Dr. David Thompson, Exposition of Esther, Esther 2:1-11.
3Al Mohler, The Briefing, 12/10/2021 podcast
4Mark Vroegop, Dark Clouds Deep Mercy, p. 144-145