The Nasty Nature of Political Posturing (Esther 2:19-23)

Though I never made a big deal of it and in fact never even once referenced it in church, I was heavily involved for a period of years in the inner workings of local and state politics. I’m not embarrassed to have done it and am not ashamed or anything of the sort. It is a worthy calling, and for me it was just that—something that found me far more than I found it.

I have often said that in those years of meeting many very interesting political personalities, I met some of the best and some of the worst people I have ever known. But it is true that there is a lot of posturing that goes on in those circles. Every state convention involved some people running for some sort of office within the party. And I began to see that too many of those involved were enamored with the process of politicking more than in truly serving in government in ways that truly served people. The whole thing was a continuous game for them.

I don’t know that there is anything worse than political consultants. These were the real troublemakers. They were being paid to help a candidate win, and it too often seemed that the rules were more like broad suggestions to them than firm parameters. It was an ugly business; it always has been and always will be, as it is the search for power and acclaim.

But political intrigue and posturing was especially bad in ancient societies like Persia. And we see that a plot to kill the king that was discovered by Mordecai …

2:19 When the virgins were assembled a second time, Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate. 20 But Esther had kept secret her family background and nationality just as Mordecai had told her to do, for she continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up.

21 During the time Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, became angry and conspired to assassinate King Xerxes. 22 But Mordecai found out about the plot and told Queen Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai. 23 And when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were impaled on poles. All this was recorded in the book of the annals in the presence of the king.

As Chris aptly described the palace of Xerxes, it was a lot like the Hugh Hefner Playboy Mansion—a very salacious place. Mordecai had a job at the king’s gate—probably something to do with legal judgments, as this was the place where business was transacted. And thus it was a place where the high-rollers of society gathered and mingled.

The two officials who became angry for some reason (perhaps the demotion of Vashti?) could be thought of as sort of secret service agents assigned to the palace and royal family. Through some unstated means, Mordecai is aware of the plot, tells Esther who tells Xerxes, leading to an investigation. The rumors are true, the two bad boys are turned into human popsicles, and credit is given to Mordecai and recorded in the official record (which becomes a part of the story later).

So Mordecai saves the king from assassination. As further illustration of the prevalence of such plotting in ancient societies, Xerxes would in fact BE ASSASSINATED in a very similar set of circumstances after about 20 years as the king. A commander of the royal bodyguard named Artabanus did it, along with killing the son of the king. But another son of Xerxes named Artaxerxes stepped up to kill Artabanus and his seven sons, all with the help of a prominent general who switched sides back and forth.

It was a mess. And you think our political process is a mess? Well, it sort of is. Would you take a job that has a 9% chance of you getting murdered while doing it?  We’ve have four presidential assassinations in 44 presidents, and there have been more than 20 plots and attempts! Yet it seems like dozens of people are vying to get this job—so many that they can’t even fit onto a single debate stage!

It seems like becoming the #1 political person in the country is the ultimate achievement, and so it is honored among men. Yet there is a higher calling than even this. God has called us to put first His kingdom and to be His servants. What is better: President of the United States and 4.4% of the earth’s population, or an ambassador of the King of Kings and Creator and Ruler of the entire universe?

We are such ambassadors, as it says in 2 Corinthians 5 … God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.

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Queen Auditions (Esther 2:1-18)

It did not take long for King Xerxes to miss his trophy wife. He became sad about it, and so the “wise guys” around him encouraged the king to get a new trophy by having a kingdom-wide contest to find the ultimate babe to become the next queen.

When we think of this audition, we might almost have some sort of picture in mind of a beauty pageant like Miss America or Miss Universe.  No.  This was very different. I’ll spare the details, but it involved a series of beautiful young women being forced into a harem, and then they were prepared over a long period of time to go one by one for a night with the king — let your mind go wild.

2:1 – Later when King Xerxes’ fury had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what he had decreed about her. 2 Then the king’s personal attendants proposed, “Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king. 3 Let the king appoint commissioners in every province of his realm to bring all these beautiful young women into the harem at the citadel of Susa. Let them be placed under the care of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women; and let beauty treatments be given to them. 4 Then let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” This advice appealed to the king, and he followed it.

5 Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, 6 who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, among those taken captive with Jehoiachin king of Judah.

The person in this family generational list that was deported from Jerusalem to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar was Mordecai’s great grandfather named Kish (another man of this name, also from the tribe of Benjamin, was the father of King Saul). This would have happened in 597 B.C., so well over 100 years before these events. 

7 Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This young woman, who was also known as Esther, had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died.

8 When the king’s order and edict had been proclaimed, many young women were brought to the citadel of Susa and put under the care of Hegai. Esther also was taken to the king’s palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem. 9 She pleased him and won his favor. Immediately he provided her with her beauty treatments and special food. He assigned to her seven female attendants selected from the king’s palace and moved her and her attendants into the best place in the harem.

10 Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so. 11 Every day he walked back and forth near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her.

12 Before a young woman’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics. 13 And this is how she would go to the king: Anything she wanted was given her to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace. 14 In the evening she would go there and in the morning return to another part of the harem to the care of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the concubines. She would not return to the king unless he was pleased with her and summoned her by name.

15 When the turn came for Esther (the young woman Mordecai had adopted, the daughter of his uncle Abihail) to go to the king, she asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the harem, suggested. And Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her. 16 She was taken to King Xerxes in the royal residence in the tenth month, the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.

You will recall that the earlier events of chapter one were in the 3rd year of Xerxes’ reign, and this is now the 7th year.  Xerxes’ planned war with Greece did not go well, as he was defeated twice by them and was now back home, feeling lonely and sad.

I share this to say that this time of waiting for Esther was an extended time, and certainly it was an introspective period for both Mordecai and Esther — wondering what God was doing, and where was He in these affairs — was He interested at all… had he given up on them?

17 Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. 18 And the king gave a great banquet, Esther’s banquet, for all his nobles and officials. He proclaimed a holiday throughout the provinces and distributed gifts with royal liberality.

And so we see the circumstances by which God set up Esther as the queen, in order to have her in a place to do His sovereign work on a grand scale.  It says in Daniel 2:21 that God changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others.  Not just kings, but queens as well, as this queen is going to have influence like a king.

We have in recent days made the points of application to say that, first, there is nothing about the kingdoms and systems of power in this world that naturally orient them toward goodness and justice. And then secondly, we note that we have to live within such fallen systems, essentially being caught between two worlds. And now, let us make two other points before closing for this week…

Being caught between two kingdoms, it is our challenge to navigate through this present one with the values system of the true and greater kingdom to come.

Frankly, Mordecai and Esther had not actually distinguished themselves as obedient to God. A number of Scriptures in the prophets had told the Jewish people to return to Jerusalem as a place of God’s blessing upon them in alignment with His covenant promises. Like a majority of the Jews, they had apparently become comfortable where they were (Mordecai actually apparently having some position of rank in government), rather than take on the more difficult challenge of totally relocating out of the familiar culture they had learned to comfortable live within.

Much is written to evaluate Esther’s disposition in the texts we have seen today. Did she willing go along with this beauty pageant thing? There are parts of the story where she seems to be just doing what she has to do. But should she have resisted along the lines of Daniel and his friends who refused to subject themselves to the pagan Babylonian system they were within?  The text is not clear in distinguishing this, but it is certain that she had no choice whatsoever but to conform to what was happening to her, at least not without grave consequences. Perhaps she saw this as the sad outcome of having not fully obeyed the Lord by returning to Jerusalem.

Therefore, in any event, that God positions Mordecai and Esther to profoundly serve Him is an encouragement to us to know that it is not too late for us, even as we may have to admit we have leaned too heavily upon the one foot that is in the kingdom of this world. It is not too late for us to more greatly value the things of the Eternal Kingdom in terms of our time, talents and treasures — the measurements of our hearts and values system.

We need to have an eye toward the world that is yet to come. God commends this attitude … In Hebrews 11, it says of the champions of faith… 13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.

We find success in our efforts to live wisely as we acknowledge and depend upon the sovereignty of God in the affairs of the whole world generally, and our lives specifically.

The most significant truth for us to remember is God’s faithfulness, even in times where He seems very absent.  The purpose of the book of Esther — for the Jewish people — was to remind and encourage them of God’s faithfulness in spite of the oft appearance of the greater strength of the nations around them.

And God’s faithfulness is as real to us today, as we are His people — the members of the Church of Christ. And we must recall that He is our God, that He is for us and has not abandoned us … that even in a crazy and upside-down world, He remains in control of the big picture of it all, and the little picture of us and our lives within it. This is living as a citizen of the greater Kingdom!