Copyright © 1998, All rights reserved.
Our Church is called by the name “Christ the Sovereign.” We use chose this name, I would guess, because we believe that it is important to proclaim the crown rights of the Lord Jesus. After all, that is what “Christ” means. Jesus is called “Christ” because that is the Greek word for “anointed.” Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit. Anointing is the rite in the Hebrew Scriptures which is tied with appointing a person as King. To be anointed by God means to be appointed by God as His King. If you ever want to discuss the New Testament term “Jesus Christ,” or “Christ Jesus” with a young Christian or an unbeliever, tell them to translate it as simply “King Jesus,” because that is what it means. Jesus has been anointed as King. As the King of Kings. As God’s royal Sovereign.
But where do we see the Sovereignty of Jesus? Where do we see evidence that Jesus is reigning as God’s King over all the rulers of the earth. Do we see it in the White House? Do we see it in Washington. Did we see it demonstrated in the last election results? Did we see Jesus acknowledged as Lord? Did we see laws passed in accord with His righteous requirements?
To put it lightly: NO.
There was a time when, whether sincerely or hypocritically, whether from Spiritual motives or worldly motives, the kings and rulers of the Christian West and Christian East all acknowledged that their authority was derived from that of Christ the Sovereign. There are very few Kings left in the world, and still fewer who acknowledge where their authority comes from. We ourselves live in a 211-year-plus experiment in replacing Jesus with a new deity, We The People, from whom our federal government allegedly derives it’s authority. Like any false god, that idol has led to greater and greater slavery.
We live in a world in which the Crown of Christ Jesus is largely unacknowledged. We live in a world where, for most Evangelicals, the Crown is reserved almost exclusively for the age to come, or for the Church as opposed to the State. We live in a world where public life goes on largely in terms of other gods and other lords who have nothing to do with the True God, the Father, and the true Lord, His Son Jesus Christ.
In other words, we live in a world much like that of Mordecai and Esther.
Mordecai and Esther are in a very pagan environment. They have promises that have been given by prophecy, but they don’t know how and when they might be fulfilled. They know God is king, but they don’t have all that much evidence of it. They are far far away from Jerusalem and the Temple and the Land of Promise. True, the Temple is being or has been rebuilt, but according to Ezra 3 it is much smaller than Solomon’s glorious Temple. The Davidic dynasty which God promised would sit on His throne is at most a puppet regime for a pagan world emperor-a mere governor or one of his provinces.
As we consider our passage this morning, lets keep in mind that perhaps Esther was written for a time such as this.
It is often said that the story of Esther is primarily about God’s providential preservation of His people. If that is true, then the first chapter we read this morning is almost unnecessary. We don’t need really to know about Vashti’s downfall; the Biblical writer could have simply begun the story saying that the King Ahasuerus wanted a new queen. But the fall of Vashti is given to us as an important interpretive clue to the message of the book-a message that involves more than simply God’s providential preservation of His people.
Vashti’s story is given to us in a way that deliberately contrasts her behavior in losing her throne with Esther’s behavior in gaining the throne. Notice how chapter one easily breaks down into three major sections:
In verses 1 through 9 we have an incredibly sumptuous feast involving all the riches of the Kingdom.
Then, in verses 10 through 14, we have Queen Vashti refusing to submit to the word of the King as given through His officers, the seven Eunuchs.
Finally, in verses 15 through 22, we see that other officers, the seven wise men, decide on the fate of Queen Vashti and advise the king that he needs to depose her.
Now, notice how all that is reversed in the next chapter. After the king “remembers Vashti,” the king’s counselors, now devise a way to raise a new queen to the throne. Next we have the introduction of Esther and the arrangements for how all the young ladies are put under the charge of the king’s other set of officers, the eunuchs. Then finally we have the honoring of a new queen at a new feast in verses 17 & 18.
So chapter 1 and chapter 2 can easily be seen as mirror images of one another, deliberately contrasting Vashti and Esther. In chapter 1 we go from a feast, to the authority of the eunuchs as the kings representatives to the queen, and then to the authority of the wise men as those who pass judgment. Then, when the King remembers, everything is reversed: Wise men pass judgment, the eunuchs wield authority, and finally a new feast celebrates a new queen.
Look at chapter 2, verse 15: “Now when the turn of Esther, the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her as his daughter, came to go in to the king, she did not request anything except what Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the women, advised. And Esther found favor in the eyes of all who saw her.”
Now, the Biblical writer didn’t need to tell us about Esther’s manner of life here, unless it was important. It wasn’t simply Esther’s beauty, or the royal method of beautifying women, that won the king’s heart: it was Esther’s attitude toward the king’s officers. She submitted to the counsel of the king’s eunuch, who knew better than she did what would please King Ahasuerus. Vashti lost her crown by defying the word of the king brought to her by his eunuchs; Esther gained a crown by submitting to the tastes of the king as they were related to her by his eunuch. The issue here, brought out by the two contrasting chapters and women, is rebellion versus submission.
What this means, by the way, is that the entire modern tradition of making Vashti into some sort of feminine hero, is completely backwards. I trust I don’t need to stand here and tell you that wives are supposed be submissive to their husbands. It is incredible to me, not that recent Evangelical commentators would side with Vashti and make this story into some sort of accusation against King Ahasuerus, but that even extremely conservative Reformed people do the same thing. I remember reading an article by John Gerstner’s wife on how wives are supposed to submit to their husbands, and even she made out Vashti as being some sort of righteous person for refusing her husband’s and king’s command.
So let’s look at the rationalizations that are offered for condemning King Ahasuerus and condoning Vashti’s rebellion. First of all, people portray Ahasuerus’ order as some sort of immoral command. Give me a break. The king here is trying to honor Vashti as being the most important aspect of his domain-he culminates his celebration of his kingdom by presenting his bride. That’s exactly right! When Adam was given responsibility to guard and cultivate the garden, that was all determined by how he guarded and cultivated his wife. In the Song of Solomon it is very clear that the bride represents and personifies the garden. When Adam failed to guard his wife from the Serpent, he lost the garden as well. The same applies to Jesus. Jesus is king over all creation, but the renewal of creation under his reign will be determined by how the Church as His Bride is sustained and grows under his reign. Until the bride is ready to be presented spotless to God, the rest of creation will continue to labor under the curse. In chapter one, Vashti is treated as the center and representative of the kingdom. This is a perfectly Scriptural honor.
Some Bible notes try to cast the king in a bad light by saying that he was King Xerxes and relating some unflattering bits of history about that king. The NIV actually calls King Ahasuerus by that name. Well, I doubt very much whether King Ahasuerus was King Xerxes, and the Biblical writers could have used that name if they had intended to. Instead of reconstructing the King’s character from historical guesswork, and then importing those ideas into the inspired story, we need to evaluate the king from within the framework of the inspired story itself and the pertinent Biblical background we find elsewhere in the Scriptures.
From what we have in Esther, the king comes across in a rather good light. Yes, he was a pagan and he did have a harem. But think about it: All we can really say from that information is that this king, though born and raised a pagan as far as we know, was only as bad as David and Solomon. Furthermore, this king doesn’t make rash decisions but relies on the help of his counselors in passing judgment. This, of course, will bring evil if the king ever relies on an evil counselor, but it does reflect well on the king’s character that he does see that he needs help in ruling his kingdom. And in the case of these particular counselors in chapter 1, they are described in verse 13 as men who “understood the times.” Now that is the same language use in 1 Chronicles 12.32 to describe the sons of Issachar. I have heard whole sermons on that verse, talking about how Christians need to be like the sons of Issachar, understanding the times. There is no getting around the fact that this description of the king’s counselors is a high compliment.
Furthermore, also get an explicit statement of the King’s conformity to the Law of God. Look at verse 8 or chapter 1: “The drinking was done according to the Law, there was no compulsion, for so the king had given order to each official of his household the he should do according to the desires of each person.”
Now, this verse to me seems to be perfectly plain, but it puzzles many scholars of the Ancient Near East. You see, according to the laws of those ancient nations, when you were the king’s guest, you drank when the king drank. If the king wasn’t one given to much wine, then you didn’t drink much. If the king liked to get drunk, then you would probably end up drunk yourself because you needed to tip your cup every time he tipped his. That would be the normal law of the empire, and thus people get puzzled as to why this sort of drinking in verse 8 is described as “according to the law.” It seems that the king made an order which was precisely contrary to the law , by giving each person liberty both from the king’s drinking and from the official over him in his household.
The NIV tries to get around this problem by interpreting “according to the law,” as “by the king’s command.” But this seems redundant in the sentence, and without any other justification. The easiest and most natural way to understand this sentence is to remember that it is a part of the Hebrew Scriptures, even if the story does take place far from the things we usually read about in the Scriptures. When the Biblical writer says that the drinking was done “according to the law,” he means the Law with a capital L-the Law of God. He is telling us that, by the king’s special command, this feast conformed to the Law given by God for His feasts.
Listen to the Law of God regarding his tithes in Deuteronomy 14.26: “You may spend the [tithe] money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever you heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God, and rejoice, you and your household.”
This is the Law for the Ingathering of the tithe which, according to Deuteronomy 16 and Leviticus is especially associated with the Feast of Booths, when the seventy bulls were sacrificed for the seventy nations-foreshadowing the conversion of the gentiles.
This is what is meant by saying the drinking is being done “according to the Law.” This king, though a pagan, is doing things right. His feast is done right-he drinks with his subjects just like God does. His passing judgment is done right. Moreover, his decree which is sent out to all the nations contains an interesting clause; look at verse 22, the last verse of Chapter 1: So he sent letters to all the king’s provinces, to each province according to its script and to every people according to their language, that every man should be the master in his own house and the one who speaks in the language of his own people.
Basically, the king orders that, if two people marry, the wife needs to learn the language of the husband.
Now that last clause is really mysterious. Nothing in the book of Esther has much to do with a conflict over the use of language in the home. But if we keep in mind that the book of Esther is most likely an appendix to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, then it can be seen as quite relevant to the issue of intermarriage. In both Ezra and Nehemiah, the Jews who have returned to the Promised Land are guilty of marrying foreign wives. What was wrong with this? Contrary to popular opinion, marrying a foreign wife was not unlawful for a Hebrew man if she converted and became a Hebrew herself. What was going wrong with these marriages is told to us in Nehemiah 13.24: “As for their children, half spoke the language of Ashdod, and none of them was able to speak the language of Judah, but the language of his own people.
In the context of the conflicts in Ezra and Nehemiah, the decree of King Ahasuerus is quite important, even though he was certainly unaware of what God’s law required of the Jews. The King, by making this decree, is on the side of Ezra and Nehemiah.
Finally, I think some modern commentators assume the King must be in the wrong because it seems that divorce is a rather strong punishment for one case of disobedience. The misunderstanding here is that the Queen was not guilty of a private marital act of disobedience, but a public civil act of rebellion. The wise men’s concern for marriage in the empire should not make us forget the other aspect of her sin. Ahasuerus was not simply Vashti’s husband; he was her sovereign king. His orders to her came from government officers. This is not a private argument but a public act of lawbreaking.
And here is another source for the modern confusion regarding Vashti’s act. You see, we come from a heritage of regicide and rebellion, whether we know it or not. We don’t believe in royal power despite page after page of the Bible. Our English Reformed forefathers were called to the Westminster Assembly by the same government that killed it’s king. Our American Reformed forefathers took part in a war for independence that had no need for kings. I’m not saying it was wrong for the colonies to gain their independence from the British Empire, but we need to be aware that it in some cases involved a very rebellious attitude.
When I worked for Coral Ridge Ministries we did a lot of writing about America’s Christian heritage. A lot of this was great stuff and well worth remembering and recovering. However, sometimes I think some chaff got included with the wheat. Jennifer and I had a good friend who was sort of our expert-in-residence at Coral Ridge, and he claimed that one of the battle cries of the American revolution in 1776 had been “No King, but King Jesus!”
Now that is a really lame slogan. There is nothing truly Christian about it. Imagine if I started a campaign against the nuclear family and claimed that it was justified as on Christian grounds because there is “No Father but God the Father.” Would any of you find that persuasive? I hope not. According to Ephesians 3.14 & 15, the authority of God the Father doesn’t undermine the authority of human fathers as heads of their households but rather undergirds them. Likewise, the Kingship of Jesus does not undermine the authority of other earthly civil rulers, but rather undergirds them.
And the whole discussion of the wise men in Esther 1 shows us that these two things, political authority and husbandly authority are related. If you promote an attitude of rebellion towards political authority, you’re fooling yourself if you think you can expect those you influence to develop and attitude of submission in other areas of life. It just won’t happen. Vashti’s civil rebellion had obvious ramifications for households throughout the world. We find something similar in our own history.
I noticed that at least some of you own, Missing From Action: Vanishing Manhood in America by Weldon Hardenbrook. This is a very good book both on Biblical masculinity and the importance of father and husbands. Not only does it have some great Biblical advice on what kind of men we should be, it also contains a challenging survey of what happened in our cultural history to give us such distorted ideas about masculinity. It is especially interesting in his short chapter called “From Patriarch to Patriot,” in which he discusses how our colonial heritage of revolution greatly undermined the traditional roles for both men and women. The chapter really deserves to be a whole book, and I wish I had more time to talk about what he says. However, I’ll make do by simply summarizing Hardenbrook’s thesis.:
Hardenbrook argues that the principles which were often articulated to justify throwing off civil authority led inevitably to throwing off family authority as well. He quotes Jane Adams letter to her husband John Adams shortly before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. This future first lady told the future president that, if the writers did not give women their rights and make knew laws for them, that women would rebel against men.
I once met a man (let’s call him “Frank”) through a mutual admiration for the works of the notable “reconstructionist” author, David Chilton. In college I had read his Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt-Manipulators: A Biblical Response to Ronald J. Sider, which I still consider a great refutation of Christian socialism. Frank also admired that book a great deal. I remember him telling me that he could not go to a state university because that would mean benefitting from “stolen goods” (i.e. tax revenues for education). Frank made it clear that he considered “statism” (an idolatrous exaltation of the civil government) to be a real danger in the U.S., and he constantly talked of how the government was reducing us to slavery.
The last I heard of Frank, he had abandoned his wife in an entirely unbiblical divorce. But he never dropped his Christian rhetoric against “statism.” In fact, it turned out he had been engaging in various forms of tax rebellion, so that his ex-wife had to hire a lawyer just to make his past decisions did not put her in jail. Frank’s Christian profession has become entirely a masquerade to rationalize his rebellion against authority.
You see, if you promote political rebellion, you’re going to see other kinds of rebellion as well. Not only will wives rebel against their husbands, but husbands will refuse to meet their obligations to their wives. Because, the rebellion in Esther 1 is that of a queen against her king, we can easily see how the two are interrelated. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that they’re only interrelated in this one situation. If men want to see their wives properly submit to them, they need to demonstrate proper submission to the authorities over them.
Vashti rebelled and lost her crown. Esther submitted and gained a crown. Like the king, she too was willing to listen to counsel. In the case of Hegai the eunuch, she received some very wise counsel and in God’s providence was exalted to high position.
Why would a book about a pagan empire in which the Jews are one people among many begin with such an object lesson? I would suggest to you it is because in a time such as the age of Esther, and in a time such as this, we are tempted to despise authority.
And for very good reason: The authorities over us are almost invariably tyrannical and evil. We don’t see Jesus the Sovereign acknowledged as Lord and Christ by the rulers of the world. We don’t see the Word of Christ being obeyed by the officials who reign over us. We see babies being aborted. We see humanist propaganda being paid for with our tax money. We see things regulated by our local, state, and federal magistrates, that should be left free and freedoms permitted that should be regulated if not flatly prohibited by our magistrates. We pray for deliverance from this, just like the exiles in Babylon prayed in Psalm 137.
There’s nothing wrong with praying for these things. We should pray for these things. But, having prayed, one of the main lessons from Esther is that we should show that we trust God to vindicate us by submitting to the authorities he has placed over us. But Christ is Sovereign whether or not our present rulers acknowledge him as such. And our present rulers, as Paul says in Romans 13, just to mention one Scripture among many, are put in place by God whether or not those rulers acknowledge Who put them in power. If we believe that Christ is sovereign, if we believe that all authority comes from God, then we will submit to that authority. If we don’t, we will show the world that we don’t really believe Christ is the sovereign.
And then two things are liable to happen, just as they are mentioned in the case of Vashti. We will end up being punished by these rulers just as Vashti was deposed by the King. And this punishment will not be a form of martyrdom in which we can boast, but will be chastisement from the Lord.
Secondly, if we don’t submit to authority, we will see other authority undermined. If we don’t want to see more feminism and more rejection of parental authority, then we need to make sure we show ourselves submissive to authorities even if and especially if we disapprove of them.
But there’s also an upside to all this. If we do submit, then God will exalt us. What the Apostle Peter writes about young men in the Church also applies to other situations:
You younger men, likewise, be subject to elders; and all of you, clothe yourself in humility toward one another, for “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Therefore, humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.
He cares for you. God cares for you. Even in the midst of this present evil age and the trials we undergo at the hands of ungodly authority, God cares for you. Christ is Sovereign, just as our name proclaims. We can trust him to take care of us, both despite and even through ungodly rulers. So lets show we trust him, by submitting to the authorities over us.
And let’s pray that God will give us the humble trust in Him and His king Jesus, that is necessary if we are to be submissive to the rulers that He has put over us.
Copyright © 1998, All rights reserved.