CDPCKL · The Bachelor: Persia (Esther 2:1-18)

The Bachelor: Persia (Esther 2:1-18)

Last week, on “Echoes of a Far-Away Country”: 

King Xerxes of Persia: “I want to be called ‘the Great’, like my father was, and his father before him. Whatever shall I do to accomplish this? I know! I shall conquer the Greeks! Everyone, come to my party. Let’s get really really drunk and then plan our military strategy! Oh, and by the way, as a special treat allow me to present to you my Queen Vashti, for she is lovely to look at!” 

Queen Vashti: “No! I do not want to see you.” 

King Xerxes: “Fine! I did not want to see her anyway! And I never want to see her again! And, from now on, men are in charge!” 

Men throughout the empire: “Honey, did you hear that? King Xerxes says I’m in charge from now on!” 

Women throughout the empire: “Mmph! Oh! Okay, if the king says it, it must be true! Oh, is your dinner too spicy again? So sorry, I don’t know why that keeps happening!” 

And now there’s some theme music, with footage from the show: Xerxes making a speech, men fighting in the streets, Xerxes chasing a bunch of terrified scantily-clad young women around a bedroom —I guess this show must be rated 18+? — then a shot of a man dancing on top of a long pole. Oh, no, wait, he’s not dancing, he’s twitching…I guess we’ll find out what is going on there when we get to that part of the story, and, ah, here we are: “skip intro”, *click-click* — 

[1] Later when King Xerxes’ fury had subsided, he remembered Vashti — *longing sigh* — and what she had done — *angry sigh* — and what he had decreed about her — *regretful sigh*. 

Which makes life uncomfortable for the king’s personal attendants: it is dangerous to attend a king in a mad mood who has a history of making bad decisions. So they come up with a life-saving idea — life-saving for them: “Hey! Your royal highness! We have an idea: 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 we bring them to you, one by one, and you…cubalah. And if you don’t like, you swipe left and they go back into the harem, you don’t have to see them again if you dowan. But if you like, you swipe right, and that one becomes queen instead of Vashti. And let this be called…Operation Tinder. No? How about…Persia’s Got Talent? Ooo, wait, I know: The Bachelor: Persia.” 

And for some unexplained reason this advice appealed to the king and he followed it. 

Now, if you are not familiar with the Book of Esther, by this point you might be wondering why this story is in the bible. Because isn’t the bible supposed to be about God and his people and stuff like that? But so far the Book of Esther has been like an advertising brochure for life in the ancient Persian empire. Men, do you like to drink wine and make impulsive life-changing decisions? Come to Persia, let King Xerxes show you how! Do you like to rule your women with an iron fist? Come to Persia, let King Xerxes lead the way! Ladies, do you suspect that your men are secretly insecure and afraid of you? Come to Persia, where King Xerxes has made it obvious that men are insecure and terrified of women! 

…what does all this have to do with God and his people? 

Well, the pilot episode of this Limited Series introduced the main antagonist, which is the immensely powerful but childishly insecure King Xerxes. Now, in Episode Two, we meet the main protagonists: 

[5] 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. 

Ahhh, yes! So this is why this story about ancient Persia is in the bible: Xerxes is the grandson of Cyrus “the Great” who conquered Belshazzar of Babylon. Belshazzar of Babylon is the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, who had conquered Jerusalem 100 years before Xerxes was born. When Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem, he took God’s Jewish people and scattered them throughout all the lands of his Babylonian empire. So when the Persian empire conquered the Babylonian empire, the kings of Persia inherited the descendants of all those Jewish exiles. That is why the Book of Esther is in the bible: there are Jewish people — God’s people — living in the Persian empire. 

And one of them is this man named Mordecai, whose great-grandfather had been carried into exile 120 years earlier. And, apparently, King Xerxes’ drunken decision in the pilot episode is going to affect Mordecai’s life in some way, that is how good story-telling works. 

“But hang on!” one of you is going to say, “Didn’t Cyrus ‘the Great’ tell the Jews they were all allowed to go back home to Jerusalem like…60 years before this? What is this man Mordecai still doing here in Persia?” 

Ohhhh, you clever bible scholar, you! Yes: 60 years earlier Cyrus “the Great” did tell the Jews they could go home and rebuild their city and its temple. And about 42,000 Jews did go home at that time. They laid a new foundation for the temple — and then the local Persian governors got suspicious, revoked their building permits, and the whole project fell apart. 

So, it appears that a lot of Jews stayed back in the Persian empire, waiting to see what is going to happen to Jerusalem. After all, by this point they are all third and fourth generation immigrants. It would be a lot to risk: uprooting your family and moving back to a faraway country you have never even seen before — especially to live in a city without walls, open to anyone who might want to attack. 

“Mmmm, yes, a lot to risk,” one of you might say. “But didn’t God command his people to return and rebuild? He did not tell them to weigh the risks and then follow their conscience, he said, ‘go home!’ So isn’t Mordecai disobeying God by staying back in Persia?” 

Ohhhh, you…are onto something there. Because the writer does suggest that Mordecai is not an especially powerless man: he could probably return to Jerusalem if he wanted to. 

For instance, we are told that his great-grandfather was among those taken captive with Jehoiachin king of Judah: so his great-grandfather was some kind of Jewish nobleman. 

We are also told that Mordecai lives in the citadel of Susa: in the administrative center of the city, which means that Mordecai holds some kind of official position in the Persian court. 

And we are told his name is Mordecai, which means “Worshiper of Marduk,” a Persian god. Now, that, by itself, does not mean anything, because it was common for Jewish exiles to have a Jewish name and a pagan name. But the writer does not tell us Mordecai’s Jewish name. 

Is he trying to suggest that Mordecai has gotten just a little bit too comfortable in Persian society? 

Perhaps. But the writer does not tell us explicitly that Mordecai is being disobedient. 

So all we can really say is…it’s complicated. Mordecai is disobeying God’s command by refusing to return to Jerusalem and help with the rebuilding. But he is also obeying God’s commands by not taking unnecessary risks with his family’s future. Right? 

Because he does have a family to care for, by the way: 

[7] Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah — that is her Jewish name — whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This young woman, who was also known as Esther — that is her Persian name, Ishtar, after a Persian goddess — this young woman had a lovely figure and was beautiful. 

…and this is where we say, “Uh oh.” Because that means she is exactly the kind of contestant for The Bachelor: Persia that the king’s men are looking for. 

Oh, and, by the way, Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died. 

So it seems Mordecai did not have children of his own. It seems he did not even have a wife. But he adopts his younger orphaned cousin anyway. Why? Was he the last family she had left? Or was she his last chance to have a family? 

Some scholars have suggested that Mordecai himself was a eunuch: it was very common in the ancient empires for high government officials to be eunuchs. If this is true, then this could be an additional reason why Mordecai is reluctant to return to Jerusalem: even if he went back, even if he helped rebuild the temple, by God’s law he would never be allowed to enter it and worship. His only hope would be that his adopted daughter Esther might someday return, and marry a good Jewish man, and worship God alongside her husband on Mordecai’s behalf. 

But other scholars have suggested that Mordecai adopted Esther so that she could become his wife — in this way, Mordecai would be acting as a kind of kinsman-redeemer to preserve his uncle’s family line, which was also a common practice at the time. 

In any case, the point is this: one way or another, Esther is Mordecai’s future. 

In the meantime, [8] when the king’s order and edict had been proclaimed, surprise, surprise: many young women matched with him! and were brought to the citadel of Susa and put under the care of Hegai, the eunuch in charge of the harem. 

Now, to be clear, these contestants did not volunteer to appear on The Bachelor: Persia. Basically, the king’s edict created a Tinder profile for every young woman in the empire, and then the king’s men just went from taman to taman swiping left and right. And what choice would any father have? Remember, this is King Xerxes’ new, progressive, egalitarian Persia, where tolerance is commanded and resistance is futile. 

And, surprise, surprise, Esther also matched with the king, and she was taken. 

But this is not really a surprise, is it?  The writer already warned us that Esther is the ideal contestant. And Esther lives in the citadel of Susa: Mordecai’s apartment is right there in the shadow of the king’s palace. And when the king opens his Tinder app, do you think he is going to overlook the notification that says, “Congratulations! You have a new match .8 kilometers away”? Of course not. 

And…now, here is an uncomfortable thought: if Mordecai had taken the risk of obeying God’s command to go home to Jerusalem, Esther might not have been taken. Yes, King Xerxes had set the “Discovery Settings” on his Tinder to maximum distance, but even he would be less likely to pursue a match 1,500 kilometers away. 

Mordecai has just discovered that, like King Xerxes last week, he has a lot less control over his life and his family than he thought he did. It would have been better for him to trust God, give up his career and make the risky move back to Jerusalem. He thought he was guaranteeing a stable, prosperous future for his family by remaining close to the center of power…it turns out he was living in the lion’s mouth. And now all of his hopes for faithful God-worshiping children or grandchildren have been destroyed. 

So Esther ends up in the king’s palace, entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem. But [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. 

So that is encouraging! in a backwards kind of way. I suppose if you get kidnapped into a reality show it is better to have some help than be left to manage on your own? 

Now [10] Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so. 

And this is also a bit odd. The Persian empire really prided itself on being a progressive, tolerant, multi-ethnic society, and there is no evidence that Jews were especially unpopular. 

So it seems that Mordecai’s instruction for Esther is part of his larger strategy for how to be successful in the Persian empire. And that strategy appears to be centered around the idea of “fit in as much as possible.” Which means, in this case, do not act like a Jewish person. 

For instance, the Jews were not supposed to eat the kinds of unclean foods that were very popular in the Persian court. But if Esther goes in there insisting on a special diet, she will be perceived as some kind of annoying foreign diva, right? So Mordecai says, “eat what they give you.” 

The Jews were forbidden to wear certain kinds of textiles that were very popular in Persia. But if Esther goes in there demanding a special wardrobe…! So Mordecai says, “wear what they wear. Don’t make a fuss.” 

This is, most likely, how Mordecai has been able to advance in his own career: by breaking God’s laws in public, and perhaps asking for God’s forgiveness in private. And this is how he has raised Esther. 

But despite his personal philosophy of “don’t make a fuss”, Mordecai cannot help making a little bit of a fuss: 

[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. 

At the beginning of this episode, Xerxes was distressed by the loss of Vashti. He regretted his foolish decision, but it was too late for him to undo it. 

Here, Mordecai is distressed by the loss of Esther. He regrets his foolish disobedience, but now it is too late for him to do anything about it except use his court connections to pass messages back and forth. 

Meanwhile, King Xerxes’ new Tinder app works exactly as advertised: after completing a ridiculous level of beauty treatments, each virgin was allowed to bring anything she wanted with her in her one chance to impress the king. And if he swiped left, she ended up back in the harem, where she would not return to the king unless he was pleased with her and summoned her by name. 

Now, according to one ancient historian, Xerxes swiped left 400 times. That is 400 names to remember! And can you imagine Xerxes remembering any of these names well enough to call a young woman back? 

And if he did not summon her by name after some time, did she get to go back home? Of course not! She belongs to the king now, even if he doesn’t remember her. So these young women were condemned to live out the rest of their lives in lonely luxury, surrounded by hundreds or perhaps even thousands of other women, but without the love of a husband or children, essentially: without a future. 

And, by the way, just in case we are tempted to think that the ancient Persians were horribly patriarchal and sexist, I have to tell you they were equal-opportunity kidnappers: another ancient historian tells us that king’s agents used to round up 500 good-looking boys every year, so they could be castrated and…offered the chance to serve the Persian nobility. 

So…it could be argued that these girls got a better deal than the boys. 

How delightfully progressive and egalitarian! 

Anyway: [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. 

But didn’t this reality show begin in the third year of his reign? What has Xerxes been doing? Did it really take him four years to swipe left on 400 contestants? 

Well, this is where we have to remember our recap of the pilot episode: Xerxes was planning to conquer Greece so he can be called “the Great”. 

That is what he has been doing for the last four years. He has been busy starring in a film opposite Gerard Butler and 300 Spartan warriors. And Xerxes was the bad guy in that movie! — at least, from the Greek perspective. Now, what is often forgotten is that Xerxes actually won that war, he did burn Athens just like he said he would. But he could not sustain his occupation, the Greeks refused to be colonized. 

And so here, four years later, Xerxes is back in Susa: a failure. He is, finally, Xerxes “the Great”…Xerxes “the Great Loser”! 

And it is interesting to note that, according to one ancient historian, after his disastrous defeat in the west, Xerxes returned home and consoled himself with his harem. He went home and played the sole male contestant in his exclusive new reality show, The Bachelor: Persia, where he has been swiping left, swiping left, swiping left… 

But then, suddenly, [17] the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and he finally swiped right: he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. [18] And to the great relief of his personal attendants, 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. 

But how did Esther win the king’s favor and approval more than any of the other virgins? After four years and at least 400 beautiful women, what quality did Esther have that made the king attracted to her more than to any of the other women? 

Well, last week the writer told us exactly what Xerxes was looking for: someone else who is better than Vashti. And what was Vashti’s problem? Lack of submission. Xerxes has been looking for a wife who will always do what he says, who will never shame him in public. 

Apparently, Esther is that submissive, agreeable young woman. And the writer has given us several clues that this is her character: first, she had not revealed her nationality. Why? Because she was submitting to Mordecai’s instructions. Then, when she first arrived backstage for the talent show, she pleased the chief eunuch and won his favor. Why? Because the chief eunuch knew Xerxes wanted a submissive woman, and he would have been very happy to finally find one. And then, when it was Esther’s turn, she asked for nothing other than what the chief eunuch suggested. Why? Because this is a young woman who knows how to avoid making a fuss, just as Mordecai raised her to be. 

And there are some modern feminist scholars who are very critical of Esther for this quality. They say she should have spoken up! She should have joined Vashti in saying, “No! I will not see you! What you are doing is degrading to women, King Xerxes!” These feminist scholars say that, by remaining silent and submissive, Esther was actually supporting the patriarchy: she became one of the oppressors in this oppressive system. And these scholars are very critical of whoever wrote the Book of Esther: they claim that his purpose was to hold up Esther as an example and say, “See, ladies? Be submissive like Esther and you too will be like a queen to your husband!” 

But that feminist critique is…profoundly oppressive, to be honest! It is not fair to judge a young girl from 2,500 years ago according to our amazingly egalitarian values. When we read scripture, when we read any kind of ancient literature, we need to be very careful to interpret what is going on through the standards of that time, not of our time. 

The writer of this book is not trying to promote Esther as a wonderful example of submission. He is actually deeply troubled by the corruption of Persian society, and he is deeply troubled by Esther’s wordless submission to that society. At the same time, he knows that it would be cruel to start moralizing about what Esther “should have done”. It is only the most tone-deaf of preachers who would stand up at this point and say, “Esther should have dared to be a Daniel!” 

— for those of you who are unfamiliar: Daniel was a Jewish man who served in the same Persian empire about 60 years before Esther was born. Daniel — and his friends — were famous for standing up for their beliefs, risking death several times to do so. 

But Daniel’s situation, his gifts, his opportunities were different from Esther’s: it would not have been fair for the writer to compare them. As is often the case in scripture, the writer basically says: “This is the level of obedience that God wants from his people. This is the level of obedience they actually achieved. This gap is the measure of their unfaithfulness…but are you so certain you would have done any differently?” 

We need to be very careful as we read and judge these ancient children of God. It is right for us to tell the truth and say, “What they did was disobedient. They could have done more.” At the same time, we need to tell this truth humbly: we do not fully understand all the pressures they were under, and we cannot assume that we would have had more courage than they. 

So, is it good or bad that Esther was so submissive? Is this evidence of kindness or compromise in her character? 

The writer does not tell us explicitly what we are supposed to think. So all we can really say is…it’s complicated. 

And, by the way, I do want to acknowledge I have been guided by two women scholars in this response to those modern feminist critiques. For every book of the bible we read through together, I purchase four or five commentaries to help me in preparing the sermons. This time two of them were written by women who are highly respected in their fields, and it has been wonderful to read their gracious reflections on the challenges that Esther faced. 

 

And now some contemplative closing music plays while the credits roll, and: ”next episode in 4…3…2…” *click* 

And this is where we sit back and wonder what this episode is supposed to mean. That was the story, but what is the underlying message? How are we supposed to apply this to our lives today? 

Well, the pilot episode introduced us to the antagonist, the “bad guy” in the story: a powerful but insecure king. And we saw how his insecurities led to a frustrated outrage which let to a law that turned the men of his empire into bullies, petty tyrants over their own households. Through that episode we learned that seeing bullies through God’s eyes — and laughing at their silliness — helps to resolve our own insecurities, which helps protect us from becoming outraged bullies ourselves. 

Today, Episode Two introduced us to the protagonist, the “good guy” in the story: a less-powerful but just as insecure man, a civil servant in the king’s court. And we have just seen how his insecurities led — not to outrage! he does not have the power for that — to a quiet self-protective disobedience of God’s commands. Now, Mordecai is not a “bad guy”, he is a good, kind, generous man, a family man with a solid career! who — like many of us — tends to hide his greater disobedience underneath an obedient, submissive mask, a mask that failed to protect him from the consequences of his disobedience. 

So, in a way we could think of these first two episodes as twin episodes, mirror images: antagonist and protagonist, setting the scene for the story to come. As things stand now, these two men have more in common than it might appear on the surface: they are both insecure, and inclined to acts of self-preservation that backfire on them. So, if the lesson of the pilot episode was, ”learn to laugh at tyrants, because they are hilariously not in control!” then the lesson of this second episode is its mirror-image: “learn to laugh at yourselves also, because you are also hilariously not in control.” 

The tyrants of our world are tiny in the eyes of God. That is why they are hilarious! 

But so are we. 

As God’s people, we are precious to him, of course! But we are also stubbornly ridiculous little children so much of the time, telling our Creator that we know better than he does how our lives should run. 

And so much of the time our Father finds himself saying to us, “Sayang! I told you not to eat the chili, but you ate the chili anyway, and now you are crying and angry at me? You say I don’t love you, you say if I loved you, your mouth would not be on fire. But what can I do? If I let you eat the chili, you angry and say I don’t love you, but if I don’t let you eat the chili you angry also same! 

“Sayang, I do love you, but it is hard for you to fully experience my love when you are in constant pain from disobeying me! So please believe me when I tell you that if you start obeying my loving commands for you, the pain will go away and you will experience my love more fully! 

“I know you are not yet old enough to fully understand, that is why I’m just asking you to trust my judgement. Trust my love for you, and one day you will understand.” 

So this is going to be our practical application for today: let’s start by learning to laugh at ourselves. Because we really are very silly. 

 Ut again — perhaps, just like last week — we might be thinking, “Really? What practical effect is that going to have on our lives?” 

A very practical effect, actually! Let me explain: 

Last week we discovered that insecurity leads to outrage, and outrage turns us into bullies. Therefore, if we do not want to become bullies, we must get rid of our insecurities. Learning to see bullies as insecure children in the hands of an angry God helps remove our insecurities, our fear of them, which helps protect us from responding to them with outrage. 

In the same way, now, we have discovered that insecurity also leads to rebellion against God, and rebellion against God also turns us into bullies! After all, what greater tyrant can there be than the person who claims to know more than God? Last week King Xerxes tried to force his will upon every woman in his empire — but this week Mordecai tried to force his will upon God! Now, you tell me: which one of those is the greater and more arrogant act of attempted tyranny? 

Therefore, if we do not want to become bullies ourselves we must get rid of our insecurities. And learning to see ourselves as insecure children in the hands of a loving God will help remove our insecurities, our fears that God does not have our best interests at heart — which then helps protect us from responding to him with a bullying disobedience. 

The Book of Esther is all about how to live under the power of bullies, how to respond to bullies, how to trust God when we are being bullied. And, as we are discovering, it is complicated! In real life there are relatively few simplistic, yes or no, clearly right or clearly wrong situations. But there are principles that our Father wants us to learn, principles that will result in some very practical changes in our lives. 

Now, last week, as we were closing, we admitted that most of us are not dealing with tyranny at a high political level. Most of our daily experience is with petty tyrants: insecure bosses, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, friends, acquaintances, husbands and wives. How are we supposed to respond? 

Last week the first principle we learned was this: do not respond by becoming a bully yourself. Instead, make sure you belong to God through Jesus Christ. You cannot force a boss to stop being outrageous, but you can make sure — by God’s grace — that you do not respond with outrage, and that you do not become a bully to others. 

But we did not really have time to dig into the practical details of that first principle, nor were we ready. This week, now that we have finished Episode Two, we can go a little further. 

So…look: most of us do not have the opportunity to become tyrants at a high political level. But we all have daily opportunities to become tyrants at a very petty level: in our workplaces, in our friendships, our families, our marriages. Outrage is one obvious way that bullies are born. But what we have learned today is that even very good people become bullies when they live in disobedience to God. A man like Mordecai, who has a kind and generous and quiet character, becomes just as bad a bully as Xerxes when he decides that he is going to rely on his own human wisdom to raise his family. When bad men like Xerxes are outraged, the people under his authority get hurt! but when good men like Mordecai are disobedient, the people under his authority also get hurt. 

So what does our Father want us to do, then: pack up and move to Jerusalem? 

No. That is not what God requires from us, his New Testament people. But even Mordecai’s Old Testament disobedience was not really centered around whether he went back to Jerusalem or not; if it had been the writer would have said so more clearly. After all, it is complicated: there could have been good, practical reasons why Mordecai was unable to travel. 

However, in his Persian home away from home, Mordecai should have been living as one of God’s people, he should have been living the values of Jerusalem in the city of Susa. He should not have been hiding his identity, he should not have been just going along to get along, and he definitely should not have been teaching his family to do the same! 

So this is what our Father wants us to do: he wants us to live the values of Jesus’ kingdom in the cities of this world. He wants us to trust his judgement and obey him, even when his imstructions sometimes do not make immediate sense. 

For instance, regarding this question of modern sexual ethics: more and more we are being told that it really does not matter who people have sex with and how and when as long as there is proper consent. What, really, is wrong with homosexuality? What is wrong with polyamory, or a casual hookup culture? What is wrong with sex before marriage as long as two people love each other? 

Well, God’s Word tells us that homosexuality, polyamory, casual hookup culture and sex before marriage are destructive to individuals and to whole societies. And God’s Word admits that the relationship between sex and culture is complicated, that is why it is so hard to draw a scientific line from “poor sexual ethics” to “the collapse of society”. So this is an area where our Heavenly Father says, “I know you cannot really see how these consequences are linked to these causes, but I am telling you they are linked. So please, for your own sake, obey me in this!” 

Besides, even a small grasp of history combined with common sense tells us that what God’s Word says in this area is true. After all, King Xerxes invented the world’s first and most exclusive Tinder app, and it is easy for us to see how degrading it was to women. Well, today, we live in a world with millions and millions of King Xerxes, all swiping left and right in the most casual hookup culture that has ever existed! — so why isn’t it obvious, why is it so hard for us to admit that our modern system must be millions and millions of times more degrading to women than Xerxes’ system was? 

We are, of course, going to keep on talking about these things. 

But for now I want to close with this Good News: there is hope for Mordecai and for Esther. Mordecai screwed up, big time! In a way he is a worse loser than Xerxes “the Great…Loser” because he knew better than Xerxes what God required of him, and still he did not do it. But still there are two flickers of hope even here amidst the wreckage. 

The first flicker of hope is this: Mordecai is not the first of God’s people to lie and, through his lies, put his family in danger. Almost 2000 years earlier, Abraham told his wife to lie — twice! — and she was forced to become the wife of a pagan king — twice! — and God rescued her — twice! So we now we know that Mordecai’s disobedience is not beyond the possibility of God’s redemption. 

The second flicker of hope is found in verse 9, where the writer says that Esther pleased Hegai the eunuch and won his favor. 

In our language that sounds nice, but it’s not that special. In the original language, however, this word translated “favor” here is the Hebrew word that means “God’s everlasting covenant love for his people”. 

Now, is the writer saying that Hegai the Persian eunuch suddenly felt an everlasting covenant love for Esther? Of course not! The writer uses this heavily freighted theological word here because he knows that it will stand out in the sentence like an unexpected light in the darkness. It is here to catch the reader’s attention so that we say, “Hold on, that word doesn’t quite fit here. What is ‘God’s everlasting covenant love’ doing here in the degrading horror of a pagan king’s harem — ohhhhhh, I get it…” 

Even in a pagan king’s harem, Esther is not beyond God”s love. 

She is still is a daughter of God, a member of God’s covenant people. Maybe she was too submissive. Maybe she should have told Mordecai, “No, I am going to tell everyone my nationality and family background.” Maybe Mordecai should have made more of an effort to move back to Jerusalem. And maybe I should not have compromised at this certain point in my life. And if I had obeyed my Heavenly Father in this one other thing I knew I was supposed to do, could I have avoided this terrible consequence all these years later…? 

We could all drive ourselves crazy with these thoughts of what if, couldn’t we? So what, then, shall we say in response to these things? 

Just this: If God is for us, who can be against us? [32] He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? [33] Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. [34] Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. [35] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword or Persian harem? 

[37] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. [38] For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, [39] neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Amen. 

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