Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss says the story of Esther will lead you to this question:

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Do you become like your environment, like the culture around you? Do you take up the coarse speaking, the flirting ways of women of the world, or do you keep your wits about you and say, “I’m different”?

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. It’s Tuesday, June 10.

Do you ever feel the pressure to conform to the people around you? Do you think there would be more or less pressure if you suddenly became a queen? Well, here’s Nancy to help you think about that in a series called Esther: God’s Woman at God’s Time.

Nancy: We’re picking up today in chapter 2 of Esther, verse 12. Esther has been taken into the king’s harem in the palace—not a desirable place, but we’re seeing that God is there with her, that God’s providence is ruling and overruling and working behind the scenes even when she doesn’t realize it.

Esther and the other women are being taken through a routine, a regime, to get them prepared to go in to the king. We pick up at verse 12.

Now when the turn came for each young woman to go in to King Ahasuerus [or as some of your translations say, King Xerxes (same person)], after being twelve months under the regulations for the women, since this was the regular period of their beautifying, six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and ointments for women—when the young woman went in to the king in this way, she was given whatever she desired to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace (verses 12-13).

So twelve months of beauty preparation, then she goes from the harem to spend the night with the king.

In the evening she would go in, and in the morning she would return to the second harem in custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch, who was in charge of the concubines. She would not go in to the king again, unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name (verse 14).

This is a passage that we tend to maybe overly romanticize in some way or have fantasies about this great beauty contest. I’ve even heard people make jokes and tell funny stories about all these women in the harem. I want to just say there’s nothing funny; there’s nothing amusing; there’s nothing romantic about this scene.

In fact we see here—and the Scripture does it in very careful wording—but if you think about what’s going on, this is a very degrading treatment of women. It pictures the dehumanization of women that is characteristic of pagan culture where the light of the Gospel has never been.

As I read this passage, it sounds like what you’ve heard about Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion with its flamingos, its gardens and the "Playmate of the Year" contest. It’s not a pretty picture. It’s dehumanizing.

Josephus, an ancient historian, estimates that there were some 400 or more young women who were rounded up for this routine, to go through this process. This was a horrible atrocity.

Once these women had been with the king for one night, they became his concubines. They belonged to him. They could never marry. They spent the rest of their life in prison in his harem.

By the way, this stands in such contrast to what we read earlier in chapter two about Mordecai’s treatment of Esther. He was pure toward her. He took her into his care when she was orphaned. He adopted her. He was tender. He was concerned. He was thoughtful toward her. That’s the biblical way for men to care for women.

You’ll often hear non-Christians talking about how Christians put women down, put them in their place. I want to tell you there is nothing more reprehensible and dehumanizing to women than the ungodly, worldly way of looking at women.

It’s the difference between the Christian view of women and the pagan view of women, the Christian treatment of women and the pagan treatment of women.

In the pagan treatment of women, women are viewed as they are in this passage, as sex objects, as toys for personal pleasure, to be used and then thrown away. That’s the way our whole sexual revolution has caused women to be viewed and treated. This is not something that has set women free. This is something that has made women prisoners.

It’s something that should break and grieve our hearts. The Christian view of women—don’t let anybody tell you that Christians put women down. It’s not true.

Now some Christians may, but the Christian view, the biblical view, is that a man is to be faithful to one woman, that he is to cherish her. He is to love her. He is to care for her as he does for his own body.

It’s wherever the light of the Gospel has gone in our world that the role and the view and the treatment of women has been elevated.

So we see here this very pagan, secular way of treating women.

When the turn came for Esther the daughter of Abihail the uncle of
Mordecai [that makes Esther and Mordecai cousins] who had taken her as his own daughter [when her turn came], to go in to the king, she asked for nothing except what Hegai the king’s eunuch, who had charge of the women, advised. Now Esther was winning favor [there’s that word again] in the eyes of all who saw her (verse 15).

So Esther complies with the requirements placed on her for the beauty treatments in the king’s harem. We saw that in the last session. But she does not take advantage of any further favors that she might have received. She asks for nothing when she goes into the king. She takes Hegai’s advice. “Whatever you think I need, that’s what I’ll take.”

Here’s a picture of, I think, simplicity, contentment. Again she stands out from the other women. She’s different. As you think about what Esther has been through at this point she could have understandably responded to this dramatic change of her circumstances in one of two ways.

First of all, one day she’s an orphan in a foreign land. The next day she’s a potential queen in the king’s palace with seven personal maids and all the amenities that you could want. This reversal in fortune could have gone to her head and made her a spoiled brat, a spoiled beautiful brat. Nothing worse, is there?

Or on the other hand, the prospect of being taken into the king’s chambers—presumably she was not given an option—that prospect could have caused her to respond in terror and fear.

But we don’t see her doing either. Now again, there’s a lot we don’t know; there’s a lot we’re not told. But as this story unfolds, I think you see on the part of this woman a response of quiet trust, meekness and submission, balanced with courage and faith, and speaking when it’s time to speak. We’ll see that.

But she illustrates, I think, the principles in 1 Peter chapter 3 where we’re told, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment” (verse 3, NIV). Esther had plenty of that. She was physically beautiful. We’re told that. So she had a beautiful form and shape. She was beautiful to look at.

But that’s not where her true beauty came from. Instead Peter tells us, “[Your beauty] should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful” (verses 4-5, NIV).

I think that’s how Esther made herself beautiful there in the palace, saying, “I’m in a lousy set of circumstances, but by God’s grace I’m not going to let it turn me into a lousy woman. I’m going to let God make me a beautiful woman and use me against this very ugly, dark backdrop to represent His beauty and His glory in this harem in this palace.”

Peter goes on to say these women who were holy women “were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear” (verses 5-6, NIV).

I think that’s what we see in Esther. It’s not that she never experienced fear. Certainly she did as a young teenage girl being taken into this circumstance, later on having to approach the king and risk her life. Certainly she had fear, but she didn’t give in to fear.

She had the fear of God that protected her from the fear of man. So we see a woman who is truly beautiful in the truest and purest sense of the word.

You think about yourself in your workplace, in your difficult marriage, in your difficult school environment. Some of you are university students; you’re on secular campuses. I guarantee—and you know it better than I do—that’s not a godly environment that some of you are living and working in.

So the question is, do you become like your environment, like the culture around you? Do you take up the coarse speaking, the flirting ways of women of the world? Or do you keep your wits about you and say, “I’m different”?

Esther is a Jew. She doesn’t fit into the Persian Empire. She keeps her identity. She preserves her purity and her heart. Even as she’s being forced into this untenable and awful set of circumstances, she is being kept, she is being favored by God.

How do you do when you go into that workplace, when you go into your campus? Are you becoming like the women around you: coarse jesting, foolish, unwise, immoral? Or are you keeping a godly heart, developing a godly heart, being a contrast to the world around you?

When Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign, the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti (verses 16-17).

Something stood out in Esther. As I read this book, I just find myself saying, “What is it? What is it?” This king, who could have any woman in the Persian Empire, had shared his bed with the most beautiful women in the land. Why was Esther not just another playmate—pardon the term—for the king?

There was something about her that made her stand out. Ultimately, it was God’s providence. It was God favoring her. The king’s heart is in the Lord’s hand.

  • God had a plan for His people.
  • God had a plan for the world.
  • God had a plan for us, to give us a Savior.

What He did for Esther in that palace was a part of that plan. What happens in your life is not disconnected from God’s great, eternal, vast, redemptive plan. Things that are taking place in your life may have ramifications and implications centuries down the road, should the Lord tarry.

You don’t know what kind of picture God is painting, what kind of tapestry God is weaving and how your life may be a part of it.

The king gave a great feast for all his officials and servants; it was Esther’s feast. He also granted a remission of taxes to the provinces and gave gifts with royal generosity (verse 18).

Already Esther’s life is bringing blessing to the kingdom in ways she never could have predicted, never could have anticipated. Here again you see God’s providence. We’re going to come back to that word again and again and again in this book.

You see, God putting Esther into the palace was not an afterthought. It was not a reaction to Haman’s cruel plot. We haven’t gotten there yet, but most of you are aware of that. God is the God who sees before and makes provisions.

God goes out ahead and plans a way. So God put Esther into the palace before Haman ever even rose to power.

You don’t know why God is doing what He’s doing. But God knows. So look for evidence of God’s providence around you. And when you can’t see it, which most of the time we can’t, then trust that He is at work. He is planning. He is preparing. He is orchestrating. He is weaving this great plan, and you get to be a part of it.

Leslie: A lot of listeners have been hearing this story of Esther all their lives but never with the kind of detail Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been providing. The stories we grow up hearing in church have a lot more relevance today than we might realize. Nancy will be right back with more teaching from Esther.

Today’s program is part of a series Esther: God’s Woman at God’s Time. If you’ve missed the early programs in this series you can hear them at ReviveOurHearts.com or for something more permanent, order the series on CD.

Our team was inspired by the teaching of Nancy to write a devotional study guide that will encourage you to relate to the story of Esther in new ways. It will lead you through some questions so you can apply the teaching to your life.

We’ll send it to you when you make a donation to Revive Our Hearts. You can do that online at ReviveOurHearts.com, or call 1-800-569-5959.

A group of women have been listening along to this series called Esther: God’s Woman at God’s Time and one of them has a question about one of the themes of this study: trusting God’s providence.

Would you say that fear is the opposite of providence because if you’re really trusting God and really are believing in His providence, would the opposite then be fear?

Nancy: If there is no providence, then we have every reason to be terrified because this whole world is chance and out of control, and we ought to be scared to death.

But if there is a God who is the Creator, who is wise enough and smart enough and loving enough and good enough and able to control every aspect, item, atom, event of His creation, then why would I fear?

So I think when we do fear, it’s evidence of the fact that we’re not trusting that God is sovereign. We either don’t know it, or we don’t believe it, or we have forgotten it. But fear can’t coexist with faith.

Faith eradicates fear, and faith is based not on some feeling I have, but on the reality of who God is and His promises, His character, His sovereignty.

Does that mean that if we’re trusting God’s sovereignty and God’s providence we can just march in to the king and feel bold and not have any apprehension about doing so? I think Esther probably did have apprehension, but only to the extent that she didn’t know what God was going to do.

So any apprehension we do have—if we knew what God knows, there would be no fear. If we really knew God and knew what He was going to do, the more we know about God, the less fear there will be. So the less we know about Him the more we fear, the more we waver.

Then there’s growth too. This is a little similar to the question someone asked me earlier: If your life is grounded in God, does that mean that you will be emotionally stable, you’ll be free from fear, you won’t have the ups and downs?

And I said, “Well, it’s a matter of growth. I’m more grounded in God’s ways today as a result of spending weeks in the book of Esther than I was before.”

As a result, I’m finding myself responding more to life’s circumstances with greater confidence in God, greater stability, less sense of going, “Oh, yikes. What are we going to do?”

So the more we grow, the more we know God, the more stable and grounded we will become, the less fearful.

So there’s a process. The person who has just come to know God, who doesn’t have a track record with God, who hasn’t seen God demonstrate His providence over and over and over again, that person, though a committed believer who loves God, may still have a lot of fears. But the more you grow, the more you know, the more you trust.

As we read in Psalm 9:10, “Those who know your name will put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.”

Holly Elliff: I think there’s a sense, too, in which, like Paul who said, “The more I am weak, the more I am strong.” There’s a sense in which you relax into the fact that you cannot control it or change it.

As you release yourself into God’s control, then what happens is that He infuses His strength to live out His life through you. So you encounter those circumstances with no more strength than you had before, but a lot less fear than you had before because you’re aware “this is not me” in this circumstance.

I think Esther probably had to get to the point where she knew full well that she was totally in God’s hands. But that gave her the freedom to do what she needed to do in dependence on Him.

Nancy: I experience that a lot in this ministry. Rarely, if ever, do I do a conference or a recording session where I’m teaching the Word of God where I do not feel in the days leading up to that time enormous temptation to fear.

I wouldn’t think of myself really as a fearful person. But I know it’s an awesome thing to hold the Word of God. I know that people’s lives are at stake. It’s just a huge responsibility.

I feel so weak, so needy, so inadequate of doing what God has called me to do. If I just went on my own feelings and emotions, I would not get on the platform; I would not get in front of the microphone. There would be a lot of fear.

But what I do is, I come before the Lord and I give Him my fear; I give Him my weakness; I give Him my inadequacy. I say, “Lord, I cannot do this without You. But I know and I strengthen my heart in what I know to be true. I counsel my heart according to the truth.”

If I forget how to do that, I have friends who do know how to do it for me. They help me. They say, “Tell your heart the truth. Has God called you to do this?”

“Yes.”

“Has God given you His Word? Has God given you His spirit? Will God give you His grace and His strength and His power?”

“Yes, yes, yes.”

And so I go in the strength of the Lord.

Paul says, “I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling when I proclaimed Christ to you.”

It is an awesome thing to know you’re taking the Gospel to people’s lives. Who is adequate for these things? Who is adequate for raising your kids? Who is adequate for whatever God has called you to do? None of us.

So being strong in the Lord doesn’t mean being strong. It means being naturally weak, which we are whether we realize it or not, but being strong in His strength, taking His strength.

So as we get to know the providence of God, the character of God, the promises of God, as we have a track record with God . . . We hear this woman saying, “I’m almost 80 years old and God has been so faithful.” I listen to that and I’m in my mid-40’s and I think, “God is going to be with me as He has been with her.”

So we encourage each other in our faith. You see how God gets some other mother through her issue with her teenage kids and you say, “God can help me, too.”

So we read the Scripture, we see each other’s lives, we counsel one another according to the truth of God’s Word. We stand together and we say to people, “I’m weak now. Will you help lift up my arms in this battle?” We do it together as a community of faith.

So it’s not that we don’t have fears. It’s that we walk into those fears as Esther did into hers and we say, “If I perish, I perish.” There were times—and some of you have heard me share this before—early on in the radio ministry when I really did not know if I was going to make it. I felt for many months like I was going under something major and was maybe not going to come out and survive it.

The way I used to counsel my heart was to say, “You know what? It doesn’t matter if I come out alive. It doesn’t matter if I survive this. What does matter is that I’m doing what God has called me to do. I will go by faith and by God’s grace and in His strength. God will give me courage. I will encourage my heart in the Lord—that’s to take courage in God—and by God’s grace I will do this.”

You come to the place where you lay down your life and you say, “It doesn’t matter whether I come out bloodied or wounded or whether the king yells at me.” I don’t mean it doesn’t matter. But it’s not of ultimate significance.

The outcome is: Has God been glorified? Have I obeyed God? If God is glorified by my being weak, then I choose weakness and still go boldly in the name of the Lord.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss will be right back to pray that we will choose faith over fear. Over the course of the next several programs, we’ll see how God chose Esther for a special job at a special time and she resisted fear enough to obey.

We want to encourage listeners to fearlessly obey God in our generation. There’s a verse from the book of Esther that asks, “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” That is the theme verse for True Woman ’08, and we believe now is the time for women to come together and affirm God’s unique calling on them.

We believe now is the time for women to ask God for revival in their homes and churches. That’s why we’re teaching and empowering women to live out a biblical picture of womanhood at True Woman ’08.

Hear from John Piper along with Nancy, Joni Eareckson Tada and many other speakers. Worship with Keith and Kristyn Getty. Make your plans to be in Chicago October 9-11. For more details on True Woman ’08 visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

The story of Esther teaches us how to say “no” to worry. Find out why tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts. Here’s Nancy.

Nancy: Lord, we worship You for Your providence. We thank You for that which we cannot understand. We trust that You are working in the circumstances and seasons of our lives—younger women here, older women here in many different life seasons and circumstances, but You are at work to fulfill Your great purposes. Help us to trust You, to submit to You and to be true godly women wherever You place us. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Child: Revive Our Hearts is an outreach of Life Action Ministries and my mom is a true woman.

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