Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Esther's Dilemma

Leslie Basham: According to Nancy Leigh DeMoss, in the story of Queen Esther, things are getting pretty desperate, when . . .

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: God picks the time that looks the darkest and seems the most hopeless to show His power and His glory.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, June 13.

The entertainment industry is ready to offer you fun anytime, anywhere. Of course, the Bible calls us to a life of deep joy, but there are times when it’s appropriate to mourn. Nancy will describe one of those times for tears as she continues in the series Esther: God’s Woman at God’s Time.

Nancy: If you were with us in the last series, you remember that King Ahasuerus and his prime minister, Haman, who was a wicked, ruthless man, have just issued an edict declaring the annihilation of the entire Jewish population in the Persian empire. This is a massive attempt to destroy God’s people and, humanly speaking, it seems as if their plan, their evil plot is going to work.

Now, isn’t it interesting that sometimes those who cause the greatest damage in this world and to the kingdom of God are clueless as to what they have done? They have no idea.

We come today to Esther chapter 3, right after this decree has been sent out by couriers throughout the entire empire. Verse 15 tells us, “And the king and Haman sat down to drink,” they sat down to have another feast, to have another party, “but the city of Susa [the capital city of the Persian empire] was thrown into confusion.”

Isn’t that a picture of what is happening around us? God’s people and our culture so many times are so confused, but those who are causing the damage are partying and playing and drinking—in oblivion as to what is happening.

By the way, I’m reminded of Proverbs 31:4-5, where it says,

It is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed, and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.

Doesn’t that apply here? It’s a foolish thing that King Xerxes and Haman are drinking, totally oblivious to the impact and the consequences of their actions. They’re stoned out of their minds, while the entire city is in utter confusion.

You say, “Why the entire city? It’s just the Jews who are going to be killed.” Well, don’t you think the city is wondering, “What in the world is going on to cause such hatred and venom against these Jews? And if it’s the Jews now, who will it be next?” So the whole city is in confusion.

Now, while this is all going on—the king and Haman are drinking, the city is in confusion—what is God doing? We need to remember that God was not taken by surprise. God was not caught off guard by Haman’s plot.

God never sat up in heaven and said, “Oh my! What are we going to do?” wringing His hands. God not only knew this was going to happen, but He had already gone before. What’s the word for that? Providence.

He had set in motion a plan to thwart Haman’s wicked intentions. God has positioned one of His servants, Mordecai, at the gate; and He’s positioned another one of His servants, Esther, as queen in the palace.

How did she get there? Persian kings didn’t marry Jewish women. But this king did. How? Why? Because God is in control. Because God is sovereign. Because the king’s heart is in the Lord’s hand [see Proverbs 21:1].

So remember that whatever evil surfaces in this world and in your life—in your world, in your workplace, in your home, in your school—remember whatever evil it is—against God, against His people, against you—you may be sure that not only does God know it before it happens, but He has ready the instruments to overrule that evil in His way and in His time.

So ask yourself, as a servant of God, “For what purpose has God placed me here in this position at this time?” God may have you in a classroom with godless professors, or in a workplace with profane co-workers, or in a home with an ungodly husband.

Ask yourself, “What is God’s purpose? Why has God positioned me in this place, at this gate, in this palace, in this circumstance, at this time?”

When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and he cried out with a loud and bitter cry. He went up to the entrance of the king’s gate, for no one was allowed to enter the king’s gate clothed in sackcloth (Esther 4:1-2).

Here is Mordecai the Jew, who grieves over this edict as soon as he becomes aware of it. Why?

Well, first of all, he’s thinking, “This is my fault. It’s because I wouldn’t bow to Haman.”

So he feels a sense of personal responsibility, of course. But he’s grieving over the plight of God’s people and the battle and the warfare that is taking place, and he does it in a public way—sackcloth and ashes, a sign of humility and contrition and brokenness and mourning.

He has no fear anymore. Now he has nothing to fear. I mean, the battle is raging. He has nothing to risk, nothing to lose. There is nowhere and none to turn to apart from God.

So he’s going for it—in the public place. He’s not just at home bemoaning this; he’s out there in the public place, clothed in sackcloth and ashes. He makes a public scene in the midst of the city—loud, bitter cries, sackcloth and ashes.

Mordecai can’t see what God is up to. He can’t see what God has planned. Nor can you when you’re in the middle of your circumstance, when you’re grieving and mourning.

But through faith and through faithfulness, Mordecai becomes an instrument through whom the will of God can be fulfilled. All he can see is the immediate crisis, which was enough to propel him to action; but what was going on with Mordecai and even with his grieving was really just one small piece of a huge, eternal picture and scheme.

Can you see how what you do in your life, how you respond, is just a piece of a much grander puzzle? The battle is not between Mordecai and Haman. The battle is between Satan and God, and when you side with God, when you respond to the crisis in a godly way, you’re becoming an instrument of God’s purposes being fulfilled in your little corner of the earth.

And in every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes (verse 3).

Now, let’s backtrack for a moment. These were third- and fourth-generation Jews living in Persia. Many of them were in a backslidden condition—maybe most of them. They had been exiled for their sin.

Some had returned to the land under Ezra, but most had not. These Jews had become secularized. They had become assimilated into the Persian culture. Many of them, no doubt, were Jewish in name only.

So God uses pressure. God uses the threat of persecution to do what? To turn their hearts—to revive their hearts, if you will—to give them a wake-up call, to help them see the wickedness of the culture they had gotten used to.

God wants to purify His people. He wants to remind them that they don’t fit in this culture. They don’t belong in this culture. They’re looking too much like it.

God wants to bring His people to repentance. He wants to preserve them and protect them, so He uses a wicked king and a wicked decree and a desperate situation, a crisis, to get the attention and the hearts of His people, to humble them.

When is the last time these people had mourned and wept and fasted? We don’t know, but it appears that it had not been for a long time. Now, in a crisis, they’re crying out to God.

As I was reading this passage yesterday, I thought of Psalm 130:1 where it says, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!”

There’s nothing like getting thrown into a pit that makes you cry out to God. When things are going fine, when everything is on an even keel, when everything is status quo, when we’re affluent and we have our needs met, we’re not as likely to cry out to God, are we, as when we end up in a desperate situation.

So this desperate situation is part of God’s plan to woo back the hearts of His people and to reveal His glory in the world. As we pray for revival in the church, in our country, in our culture, in our world, we may be praying for God’s chastening hand.

We may be praying for adversity, because in times of prosperity, when the stock market is up, when everything is going great, our hearts become complacent. The church becomes worldly.

Am I right? So God uses crises to make us aware of our need, to make us desperate for Him, and to turn our hearts toward Him.

Verse 4 of chapter 4 tells us,

When Esther’s young women and her eunuchs came and told her [what Mordecai was doing, making a public scene there out at the city square], the queen was deeply distressed.

That word deeply distressed means “to rise, to twist in labor pains, to have great anguish and pain.” She was very, very disturbed. She knew that something was majorly wrong, if I can say it that way.

So, not knowing what else to do,

She sent garments to clothe Mordecai, so that he might take off his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. Then Esther called for Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs, who had been appointed to attend her, and ordered him to go to Mordecai to learn what this was and why it was (verses 4-5).

She sends a messenger to find out what is going on. Hathach investigates the situation.

She cared for Mordecai, so she wanted to learn more. She wanted “to learn what this was and why it was.” It’s so important to notice that she cared enough to find out what was going on—to get involved, to investigate.

Which leads me to ask this question: Do you know what is going on in our culture and how it’s affecting the people of God? Do you have an understanding of the times? Are you knowledgeable about these culture wars, about what’s going on in our world that affects believers?

Or are you sticking your head in the sand, stuck in the “palace,” so to speak, of your church, your little Christian world, and “as long as we’re safe and okay, well, other people, Christians around the world can be being persecuted, the church can be in whatever kind of turmoil and condition, but we’re okay.”

Are you oblivious to what’s going on around you? The people of God around the world today are in great distress. Does that bother you? There are a lot of things to be concerned about. There are a lot of things to find out.

First of all, there are attacks on God’s people. There is the persecution of the church worldwide. If you don’t know something about that, you need to get educated.

The New Testament says, “Remember those in prison, as though in prison with them” (Hebrews 13:3). There are believers, who are our brothers and sisters, in other parts of the world who are being persecuted for their faith. You need to get out of the palace and find out what’s going on.

In our culture there are increasing laws restricting the free exercise of religion in the workplace, in the schools, in our communities. You need to know what’s going on.

Now, there’s no way to keep up with all of it, but you need to know about these trends and to realize that there are attacks on the people of God.

There’s something else you need to be aware of, and that’s even more subtle, and that’s the fact that the real problem is not what’s happening to the people of God but what’s happening in the people of God.

What’s happening in the church—the carnality, the worldliness of God’s people in the church—is what really is our great cause of distress. That’s our real problem.

I wish you could read—well, I don’t really wish it on you, but—there’s something very stirring about reading a lot of the emails and prayer cards we receive at Revive Our Hearts, at our conferences, through the radio ministry, with Christian women and some men pouring out their hearts about what’s going on in the Christian world among Christians. Let me just read some of them to you, things we’ve received from Christians.

This woman says, “I am a habitual liar. I need deliverance from food addictions.” This is a professing Christian.

Another woman says, “I have a poisonous hatred for my husband. He has lied, gambled, cheated, brought pornography into our home, yet outwardly lives as a responsible Christian.”

Women like this write and say, “My husband has a position of influence in the church,” and she says, “I have a hatred for him. I have no respect or trust for him. We have seven precious children, ages three to fifteen. I want them to be surrounded by love, but I am so filled with hate.”

Here’s a young woman who writes to us. She says,

My boyfriend and I met through the Internet. I lost my virginity to him. We have plans to get married, but he fears that I could have HPV.

I am so dull in my thinking that I don’t think that sleeping with him was wrong to begin with, yet I know what the Bible says and what I always grew up believing.

My boyfriend was a licensed pastor when he was younger, but he doesn't seem to think that we are doing anything wrong. He cites the Bible where it says everything is permissible but not beneficial.

I am so lost right now. I've shut myself off from the Lord for such a long time because I'm afraid I'll have to give up my boyfriend, whom I love more than life itself.

Is she confused or what? You say, “Well, she’s not in the church.” Yes, girls and young women and women like that are in the church, and it’s within the church that our young people have no concept of right and wrong.

The hook-up culture has come into the church, and our Christian young people, by and large, studies show—their lifestyles, their decisions, their beliefs—are no different than the non-believing young people outside the church in the world.

That should distress us, the fact that today people can be church members in good standing with broken relationships, with bitterness, with hatred, with marriages falling apart, and we don’t have the church coming around them, coming alongside and saying, “This can’t be.” We’re just letting it happen!

We’re seeing addictions, the cutting of body parts, abortions, these things within the church. Greed, living for the almighty dollar, not caring for the poor and the oppressed—this is within the church! And it should distress us. It is distressing.

I hear from Christian women from all backgrounds, but in the church—women you sit next to in church. You sing with them on the praise team. You teach with them in the Sunday school department. They go to your Bible Study Fellowship and your Precept classes.

They’re studying the Word. Some of them are teaching, but they’re involved in all kinds of immoral relationships, Internet pornography, Internet and email emotional affairs, lesbianism. These things are rampant in the church of Jesus Christ and even within those who are in positions of Christian ministry.

I’m not saying that to be harsh. I’m saying it should distress us.

We cannot expect the world ever to be godly. The world can’t be godly. It doesn’t have God. But for this to be the condition of the church—it should break our hearts. It should greatly distress us.

We can’t just sit in our little Christian ghettos, in our little Christian palaces and say, “My life’s okay,” as long as the people of God are in such great distress. That’s what the story of Esther is about.

It’s about a woman who says, “I’m willing to leave the comfort, the security, the convenience of my position as the queen, and I’m willing to do something, though it may cost me my life, about what’s going on among the people of God.” So Esther does something.

Hathach went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate, and Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the exact sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasuries for the destruction of the Jews. Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her and command her to go to the king to beg his favor [the thing she had at one time] and plead with him on behalf of her people. And Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said (verses 6-9).

So Mordecai sends back instructions for Esther to plead with the king on behalf of her people.

Now, Esther has been accustomed to obeying Mordecai. Remember that? Earlier on she did what he told her. She continued to live the way he had raised her even after she became queen.

But now . She wants to obey him, but she knows that it may cost her her life. she’s caught between a rock and a hard place. She respects Mordecai

So now the issue becomes, “Do I protect my life? Do I save my own skin? Or do I venture out, risk everything for perhaps the chance to save the lives of millions of my people?” That’s exactly what we see in verse 10:

Esther spoke to Hathach and commanded him to go to Mordecai and say, “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 out the golden scepter so that he may live. But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these [last] thirty days.” And they told Mordecai what Esther had said (verses 10-12).

So Esther’s first reaction is, “There’s nothing I can do. My hands are tied.”

She knows that she’s married to a man who’s violent. He’s unpredictable. He’s an angry man. He’s prone to fits of rage.

She knows how she got in that space—what he did to the first queen, Vashti—so she feels helpless. She feels powerless. Humanly speaking, what she’s being asked to do is impossible. It’s not only against the law, it just won’t work.

You may feel, in the situation where God has placed you, that you can’t do anything, that you’re helpless against the forces of evil. Sometimes they seem so strong and so overpowering and so overwhelming. Do you ever feel that way? Esther understood that.

Interestingly, for the first time, Esther, who has always found favor with everyone, is now in a place where she does not have the king’s favor. He hasn’t called for her in a month.

You know, humanly speaking, the timing couldn’t be worse. But God is in charge. God knows the timing. God is in charge. God has orchestrated the timing.

“In the fullness of time,” God brings about His purposes [see Galatians 4:4]. God picks the time that looks the darkest and seems the most hopeless to show His power and glory. You know why? So no human can take the credit.

This is another evidence of God’s hand and power at work—the fact that the timing is so absolutely bad. I mean, it just couldn’t be worse. But it’s an evidence that God has been orchestrating this, because God’s grace always shines the most brightly against the darkest backdrop.

We’re going to see that God has Esther just where He wants her. God has the king just where He wants him, Mordecai just where He wants him, and Haman—well, God is getting ready to take care of him.

God is not in a dither about all of this. God is in control. He’s orchestrating the circumstances to fulfill His purposes, not only in Esther’s life but in your life as well.

Leslie: Timing might be bad for some crisis you’re facing. Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been explaining from the book of Esther that God is still in control.

Would you come to understand God’s providence more by studying the book of Esther in your quiet time? Nancy’s been encouraging us to read the book during this series, Esther: God’s Woman at God’s Time.

To help you dig into this story, understand it, and make it part of your life, the team here has created a study guide called Esther: The Exiled Queen. You’ll read a lot of quotes from Nancy, take a look at the story from different angles, compare it to other Scripture, and apply it to your life.

When you make a donation to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts, we’ll send you Esther: The Exiled Queen. Ask for it when you call toll free 800-569-5959 or go online to www.ReviveOurHearts.com.

Sometimes the best witness you can have in a contentious world is to be quiet, but there are other times when you have to speak up. We’ll try to figure out the difference on Monday, looking at Esther’s courage to act and speak.

Be an active participant at your local church this Sunday, and then join us again for Revive Our Hearts.

Now Nancy’s back to close our time.

Nancy: Oh, Father, we do sometimes feel so helpless and so hopeless, and our hearts are distressed and disturbed as we see the condition of Your people—the great spiritual and moral need in the church and in the people of God today.

Yet sometimes we feel so helpless, so hopeless; what can we do? We’re just one person—just a mom, just a student—there’s nothing that we can do.

Yet You say, “I’ve put you there in that place, in that position, for a purpose,” and You choose to use the most improbable instruments so that You can get all the glory. Glorify Yourself through our lives and our circumstances this day, I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

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