Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: In this crazy messed up world, even when you can’t see it, God is there.

Leslie Basham: That’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss explaining what theologians refer to as God’s providence.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: He’s always alive, always active behind the scenes hidden many times, but always, always, always at work on behalf of His people and His glory.

Leslie Basham: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Thursday, June 5.

You’ve been hearing us talk about True Woman ’08, the national conference for women October 9-11 in Chicago. The theme verse for this conference is “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this? (Esther 4:14).”

That verse comes from the exciting story we’re about to explore. Hollywood couldn’t offer anything better than Esther: God’s Woman at God’s time.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: I’ve been so excited about my own study of Esther over these last years and then these last weeks as we were preparing for these recordings.

Let me just give you a little bit of background. I think her story is basically familiar to most of us. But you’ll remember that Esther was a young Jewish woman who lived in the capitol of the Persian Empire about 450 years before Christ.

Now, about 100 years earlier as discipline from God for their sin, the Jews, you remember, had been deported from their homeland in Jerusalem to Babylon.

For 70 years they were captives in Babylon. Then after 70 years, the Babylonian Empire fell to the Persians; and God put into place a king, a pagan king, King Cyrus who gave the Jews freedom to go back to their homeland.

At that point about 50,000 Jews returned. Now that seems like a lot except that it was really just a small percentage of all the Jews who were living in Persia at that time.

The rest stayed behind in Persia. They had lived there now for generations. They’d become assimilated into the culture. A lot of commentators, as you read about the book of Esther, believe that those who stayed in Persia were out of the will of God, that they had become secularized, that they were not pursuing God.

I think that’s certainly true of many of them. But God still had a plan for His people, the Jewish nation, and God intended to bring through the Jewish people a Messiah into the world.

Now God has a plan, but Satan always has a counter plan. And in this case, God’s plan was challenged by a man named Haman. Haman was an enemy of the Jews. We’ll learn why as we get into this passage. And Haman rises to the second position in the land, the position of Prime Minister, Prime Minister of the empire.

And with the backing of the king whose name at that time was Xerxes, King Xerxes, Haman determines that he is going to exterminate the entire Jewish race, the whole population.

The Jews, as you might imagine, are thrown into a tailspin. "What do we do?" The whole situation seems hopeless.

But just at that point God raises up a woman, a young woman, probably just a teenager, a woman who has an unlikely background to ever do anything great for God, a woman who would come out of a series of unbelievably difficult circumstances. God raises up this woman whose name is Esther to be His instrument of saving the Jewish people.

It’s an amazing story. It’s a story of courage. It’s a story of faith. It’s a story of the providence and the plan and the power of God.

As I’ve been studying this book, I’m just amazed at how many similarities there are between the culture in the Persian Empire 2,500 years ago and our culture here in the United States in the 21st century.

Both of these cultures, the Persian Empire and our culture, are obsessed with wealth. You see:

  • alcoholism
  • power
  • entertainment
  • sexual immorality and promiscuity
  • physical beauty being exalted
  • false religions
  • people who are wicked being raised to great high positions of power
  • very little awareness of God’s reality, very few people who really believe there’s a God who makes a difference

It’s challenging for us as it was in Esther’s day to live as a child of God in a world that doesn’t recognize God. And I think this book gives us some helps as we seek to do that.

Now I want to encourage you over these next weeks . . . We’re just going to take our time with the book of Esther. We’re not going to hurry through it. It’s ten chapters. We’re going to take several weeks.

I want to encourage you to be reading the book of Esther for yourself. Read it over and over and over again as I have over these past weeks. As you do, I want to encourage you to look for three things, three themes or threads through the book of Esther.

First you will see that there is a battle between two kingdoms. First you have the kingdom of man, and then you have the kingdom of God.

  • The kingdom of man which is natural.
    • The kingdom of God that is supernatural.
  • The kingdom of man is visible. It’s what you can see.
    • The kingdom of God is invisible.
  • The kingdom of man is earthly.
    • The kingdom of God is heavenly.
  • The kingdom of man is a kingdom of darkness.
    • God’s kingdom is a kingdom of light
  • The kingdom of man is temporal. It’s vulnerable to being overthrown.
    • But the kingdom of God is eternal. It will never ever be overthrown.

As Daniel said to King Nebuchadnezzar decades earlier, he said, “The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed. . . . It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever” (Daniel 2:44).

So as we read this book, look for the battle between those two kingdoms—the kingdom of man and the kingdom of God.

Then number two, look for contrasts between two sets of characters in the book of Esther. There are two sets of characters and they are as different as night and day. The one set is King Xerxes or as it’s written in some of your translations King Ahasuerus, same person. King Xerxes and Haman who was the second in power in the land.

King Xerxes and Haman—they are one set and they represent the kingdom of man, the kingdom of darkness. And they demonstrate characteristics of those that belong to the kingdom of darkness. They are evil men.

Now before we’re too harsh on Xerxes and Haman, I have to confess to you that as I’ve been studying this book, I’ve found myself many times seeing myself, my own heart, in Xerxes and in Haman. I see some of their characteristics that lurk deep within my own heart.

So as you read ask the Lord to show you, “Are there characteristics of darkness? Are there characteristics of these two men Xerxes and Haman that have come into my own heart?” God will expose our hearts as we study those characters.

Now there’s a contrasting set of characters in the book and that would be Mordecai and Esther. Mordecai and Esther—the other two key characters. They represent in a sense the kingdom of God. Their story represents a battle between those two kingdoms, between good and evil, between the forces of God and the forces of Satan.

Now I’ll be quick to say that Mordecai and Esther have flaws. They are not perfect individuals and there is a lot of debate between commentators as to whether they were really godly people at all. Some commentators will say that they had been totally secularized.

I think within this book there’s some evidence to believe that yes they had been somewhat secularized but also they had a heart for God. They’re certainly not like Xerxes and Haman, and they demonstrate a lot of godly characteristics.

However, the fact is, the Jews of that day were living in a backslidden condition. I think that’s what makes God’s intervention and God’s deliverance and God’s protection all the more amazing and the fact that God would choose to use imperfect instruments to accomplish His purposes.

That makes me feel like maybe God could even use me. He can! If we think we have to have arrived, we have to be there, we have to be totally spiritually mature before God can use us, we’ll probably never be used. But God takes, He chooses, He uses imperfect instruments to accomplish His purposes.

The fact is, whether Mordecai and Esther and the Jews were where they should have been spiritually or not, they were God’s chosen people as we are God’s chosen people as believers.

And we see that God still cares for them; He works on their behalf to protect them, to deliver them from their enemies. And he uses them to show His power and His glory to their enemies.

Keep in mind that ultimately as you study all these characters, Esther is not the hero of this story. God is. And that’s the third thing I want you to look for as you read the book of Esther. Look for God. Look for God in this book.

Now interestingly, Esther is one of only two books in the Bible in which God’s name does not appear one time. The other book of course would be the Song of Solomon. And so some would say, “Where is God in this story?”

But I want to tell you as you read it, as you study it, as you meditate on it, God is everywhere in this story. You can see His fingerprints in every chapter. Look for Him and you will find Him.

Here are some of the things you’ll find as you look for God. You’ll find His faithfulness—His faithfulness to His covenant and to His people even when they are unfaithful. You’re going to see God’s sovereign control over every circumstance, every situation and every affair of man.

God is in control of King Xerxes and wicked Haman. He’s a God who holds the king’s heart in his hand. God always gets the final word. That’s what you’ll see in this story.

You’ll see the providence of God. One Bible dictionary says, “The providence of God is the continual care which God exercises over the universe which He has created.” That’s God’s providence. You’ll see God’s providence everywhere.

You’ll see that God has a plan and that nothing can thwart God’s plan, that God will deliver His people. God ultimately will fulfill His purposes in this world.

This story as I’ve studied it, meditated on it, has helped me to recognize the unseen hand of God in my life always there, always at work.

And I want to just remind you even when you cannot see God, you can’t see what He’s doing in your marriage, in your classroom, in your workplace, in your church, in this crazy messed up world. Even when you can’t see it, God is there. He’s always alive, always active, behind the scenes unseen, hidden many times, but always, always, always at work on behalf of His people and His glory.

So God gave us this incredible story inspired of God so we could marvel at His providence, so we could marvel at the masterful way that God orchestrates and weaves together every detail and circumstance of our lives and of this whole universe.

Now verses 1 and 2 of Esther chapter 1: “In the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne in Susa, the capital.”

Let’s stop there and just see what we’re reading about here. This is the Persian Empire. It was a vast empire that spanned from India or present day Pakistan actually on the east, all the way to what is called Ethiopia on the west. This would be the upper Nile region that includes present day southern Egypt, all of Sudan, northern Ethiopia—a large empire. It might have been as many as 100 million people in that day. This is a huge empire.

Now Susa was the winter residence of the Persian kings. Some of your translations will say “Shushan”, same thing. Susa is what the ESV calls it. Susa was roughly in the center of the empire. It’s in present-day Iran. That’s where Susa was. You’ll remember that both Daniel years earlier and Nehemiah years later served kings in Susa probably in this same palace.

Then you see the name of the king three times in these first two verses, Ahasuerus or as some of your translations say, King Xerxes—same man. Ahasuerus was his Persian title. It means “high father” or “venerable king.” He was known as “Xerxes the Great.” That’s his Greek name.

We’ll use those two names interchangeably throughout this series. My translation says Ahasuerus. I’ll more often call him Xerxes because that’s a little easier to say when you’re saying it a lot of times. But same person.

He ruled over the Persian Empire from 486 to 465 B.C. before the time of Christ. He was the sovereign ruler over most of the known world in that day. No question, the most powerful man on the face of the earth at that time. He was proud; he was wealthy; he was controlling.

And this first verse tells us that Xerxes reigned, verse 2, “He sat on his royal throne.”

He’s a man who wielded absolute authority. Authority. He made numerous decrees throughout this book, and those decrees were considered binding. They were ultimate. He was the final and last word. No one could overrule him. He was an ancient playboy really.

There’s a Greek historian named Herodotus who was born about the time that Xerxes became king. So he was almost a contemporary of Xerxes. And Herodotus described Xerxes as impatient, hot tempered, and lecherous. He was known in history for his temper, for his horrible fits of rage, and for cruelty. He was driven to control.

A couple of illustrations that I read stood out in my mind just to give you a picture of what kind of man this is that Esther ended up married to. At one point Xerxes tried to seduce his brother’s wife. When she refused, he ended up having incest with her daughter and then arranged for her whole family to be murdered.

He was a cruel man. He was a wicked man. He was an evil man. There was a business man in the kingdom who gave Xerxes 11 million dollars in our money today to wage his war against the Greeks.

And then having given all this money, the man had five sons who were soldiers. He asked Xerxes if one of the sons could stay at home to help his dad. Xerxes had that son cut in half and then sent the two parts of his body back to his dad and said, “Here. You can have him now.”

  • He was a cruel man.
  • He’s a vengeful, vindictive man.
  • Here’s a man who has armies.
  • He has power.
  • He has authority.
  • He has wealth.
  • He has influence.
  • He has possessions.
  • But there’s one thing he doesn’t have, and that’s self-control.
  • He has a lust for power.
  • He’s controlled by his temper. You’ll see his anger surfacing throughout this story.
  • He has a drinking problem.

As I read about Xerxes, I think about women who’ve written to us at Revive Our Hearts or women who turn in prayer cards at our Revive Our Hearts conferences. Some women are married to a man somewhat like Xerxes—angry men, cruel men, vindictive men.

There are going to be some powerful helps and insights into the ways of God as you think about men maybe in your life or men that you know.

I have to say there are those of us who have some of Xerxes in our own heart. We find we struggle with our temper, with self-control issues. It may not be to the extent that Xerxes did, but we see issues of self-control in our own lives.

As you think about these kinds of wicked, difficult people, sometimes it seems like that’s who’s running the world—pagans, angry, evil people. Sometimes it seems like that’s who's running our lives. There are women married to men like this. There are bosses like this. There are institutions being run by people like this.

Sometimes in His providence God allows ungodly people to be in charge. We need to recognize that. At those times we feel helpless to do anything about it. It’s easy to lose hope or to think nothing will ever be any different.

You just look at some of the people in high places in government. That’s when it’s important to remember that God is still the King over all the earth according to Psalm 47:7. God rules. He reigns. He’s still sovereign. He’s always at work.

God is able to rule and to overrule over the decrees of even wicked men.

Now there are times when it seems that the wicked prosper, and God lets them prosper for a while. But you’ve got to remember the final chapter hasn’t been written yet. You have to look forward to the end of the story and realize that their prosperity is short lived. They will not go on forever.

In this first chapter we’re going to see Ahasuerus, Xerxes. He’s bigger than life. I mean, he is so present. He is so controlling. And you say, “Where is God?” I just want to tell you, God is there unseen but active. He's at work still on His throne.

So Xerxes is a man of great authority. We also see in this first chapter that he has great affluence and great arrogance. These are some of the words that came to my mind as I read chapter 1.

Look at verse 3. “In the third year of his reign he gave a feast for all his officials and servants.”

Now, this isn’t the last time you’ll read about a feast in the book of Esther. In fact, there are eighteen references to feasting or banquets in the book of Esther. In the first three chapters you’ll see that the king has some banquets. Then in the middle chapters you’ll see that Esther has some banquets. And then in the last three chapters, you’ll see the Jews feasting and having their banquets.

There’s quite a contrast between the king’s banquets at the beginning and the Jews’ feasting at the end of the book. The king’s feasts that you find in these first couple of chapters were absolutely meaningless; whereas, the Jews’ feasts at the end of the book had a purpose. They were celebrating the redemption of God.

The king’s feasts at the beginning of the book you’ll find no reference, not one, to joy or to gladness. Now, you’d think feasting should be accompanied by joy and gladness. But you know when the world parties, it really doesn’t have anything to be happy about.

King Xerxes’ feasts had no reference to joy or to gladness; whereas, in the last three chapters when you read about the feasts that the Jews had at the end of the book, there are many references to joy and to gladness. They were celebrating with gladness of heart because they had something to celebrate. We’ll see what that was.

And then the king’s feasts in the beginning of the book, they started in feasting but ended in sorrow. When you come to the end of the book you find that the Jews started in sorrow, but they ended in feasting.

You see God turns mourning into gladness for His people.

So we see in verse 3 of chapter 1 that King Xerxes gave a feast for all his officials and servants. “The armies of Persia and Media and the nobles and the governors of the provinces were before him, while he showed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor and pomp of his greatness for many days, 180 days (verses 4-5).”

You see the affluence? You see the arrogance? He’s showing off.

“And when these days were completed,” verse 5, “the king gave for all the people present in Susa, the citadel, both great and small, a feast lasting for seven days in the court of the garden of the king’s palace.”

And then verse 6 goes on to describe the incredible opulence of the palace and of this feast and of the whole surrounding. So here is a six-month feast, a six-month exhibition of the king’s splendor and wealth. And all the “who’s who” of the empire come to the feast.

Now, we don’t know if they all came at once or they came in shifts, but there were governors, there were military brass, there were business and civic leaders. There were cabinet officials, generals, political leaders. Historians think that this feast was probably for the purpose of planning and gaining support for a war that Xerxes wanted to wage against the Greeks, which in fact he did do after this chapter.

And during this time he’s showing off his riches, maybe trying to prove that he has the resources needed to wage this war against Greece. The whole event, the whole six months is climaxed by a massive banquet for all the people in the capital city.

It’s a week of partying, a week of drinking in the most opulent setting possible. And you see the king’s pride, the king’s arrogance. He has everything. He’s got authority. He’s got affluence and he’s arrogant. He wants everybody to see all that he has.

Well we’ll see that that pride eventually led to the breakup of his marriage because pride always leads to a fall. And yet that pride of that human king became a setup for God to demonstrate His power and His kingdom which rules over all the kings, all the kingdoms of this earth.

Leslie Basham: Perhaps that king reminds you of someone you know. Or perhaps if you’re honest he reminds you of yourself. I hope you’ll stay with us through this series to hear how God used this arrogant king for His own glory.

The series is called Esther: God’s Woman at God’s Time. Our team has created a Bible study inspired by Nancy’s teaching through Esther. It will help you see elements of this story you may have never thought of before. It will help you evaluate your own actions.

Do you see some of the king in your life? Do you see some of Esther? This study guide will assist you in making this more than a story but part of your life. When you make a donation to Revive Our Hearts we’ll send you the study called Esther: The Exile Queen.

You can donate at www.ReviveOurHearts.com or by calling 1-800-569-5959.

Esther found herself in a situation a lot of women can relate to. How do you handle an alcoholic husband? That’s tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

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

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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