It is easy for people in positions of power to think that they are really something special. To put it in the famous words of Anchorman Ron Burgundy, “I don’t know how to put this, but I’m kind of a big deal.”
I had a friend who was elected to state government at a very, very young age. I knew him in later years — years after he had gone through some very difficult life adventures that humbled and broke him and brought him to Christ. But he told me about his first days in the State House. He said, “One day I was walking through the corridors and into the senate chamber where George Washington resigned his command of the Continental Army before the Congress, I could hear my footsteps echoing off the marble floors and walls and said within myself, ‘Man, you have really made it, you are big (expletive deleted).’”
Xerxes probably said this, and not just to himself! It is what most rulers of size and import say to themselves, if not to others either by their words, action or attitudes. This is what it looked like in Persia in 483 B.C. …
1:1 This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush: 2 At that time King Xerxes reigned from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, 3 and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present.
1:4 – For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty.
Perhaps your Bible version says Ahasuerus rather than Xerxes, Ahasuerus being the Jewish name for the same person. His empire stretched from India in the east (modern West Pakistan) to Cush (which would be the entire Nile region of northeast Africa). Susa was a sort of second capital city, a summer hangout just to the north of the Persian Gulf (which today would be in southern Iran).
The 180 days was likely a six-month planning time of all his military brass as they prepared for a war effort against the newest big boys on the block — the Greeks — who had beaten the Persians (and Xerxes’ father) at the battle of Marathon. Xerxes’ huge fleet would win the battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, but lose two other decisive land battles, retreating back to Persia while suffering the loss of a vast portion of his forces to sickness and disease. All of this was right before Esther became queen in 479 BC. But back to the immediate text …
5 When these days were over, the king gave a banquet, lasting seven days, in the enclosed garden of the king’s palace, for all the people from the least to the greatest who were in the citadel of Susa.
6 The garden had hangings of white and blue linen, fastened with cords of white linen and purple material to silver rings on marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and other costly stones. 7 Wine was served in goblets of gold, each one different from the other, and the royal wine was abundant, in keeping with the king’s liberality. 8 By the king’s command each guest was allowed to drink with no restrictions, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.
9 Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the royal palace of King Xerxes.
The second banquet listed that went on for seven days was a total drink-fest for the entire population, so you know nothing good was going to come of that! Queen Vashti also had her own banquet going on for the women. I don’t know what they were exactly doing and drinking, but I’m guessing it was more than a quaint tea party.
Reading the portrayals of the palace setting with descriptions of the gardens, furnishing, goblets, etc… Don’t act like you’re not impressed! (more Ron Burgundy).
Being impressed, putting on a big frontal display. It is the way the world works, and it is not a good thing. And that leads to a first point to be made about our study at the beginning of Esther…
There is nothing about the kingdoms and systems of power in this world that naturally orient them toward goodness and justice.
Do I need to argue this point to prove it? We need not look far—either at the people in power or those seeking to gain it—that self-aggrandizement and bluster and power-mongering yields success. Jesus recognized this human gravitation and said to the disciples that his followers should be different …
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
We sometimes hear the term “American Exceptionalism” used, and this is something different than the surface idea that many apply to this—a picture of the big #1 foam finger that essentially chants “USA, USA!” … a bragging that we are the best. Rather, it refers to how our founding fathers, among all the peoples and governments ever established, did put forward the best and most biblically-oriented (though admittedly still flawed) system of governance that gave consideration to this principle (recognizing God / understanding the nature of man), and founding it upon God-given rights while limiting and restraining the powers of government. This was done by dividing authority into branches of accountability and checks and balances, understanding the proclivities toward centralization and expansion of power. And hence American democracy is “exceptional” (unique) among systems devised. But it is still flawed and draws to itself an inordinate number off self-serving ideologues.
So even at its best, earthly government is often a mess, and that is why we look to a greater kingdom, inevitably putting us between two worlds.