Esther 2:1-9 - Worldly Concerns Lead to Worldly Choices
Read Esther 2:1-9
We indicated when we began to look at Esther the last time what the context of the book was. It takes place in Shushan where the Persian King had his winter palace. The southern kingdom of Judah had been defeated in 586 by the Babylonians and many had been taken away into captivity. The Babylonians were in turn defeated by the Persians in 539BC. Under a decree of the Emperor Cyrus a return of Israelites was allowed for the purpose of rebuilding the Temple. The rebuilding, however, was not completed till 520BC. The story of that rebuilding is told in Ezra and Haggai. We are told of subsequent returns to Israel under Ezra (458) and Nehemiah (445). The events of the book of Esther take place between the first return (538) and the return under Ezra (458), around 484/472.
This story, in other words, speaks of life among those who did not return. We suggested that whilst this book has a powerful lesson for us of the over-ruling of the divine providence in the affairs of the people of God in hard days, major lessons are to be found on the negative side. Here are people not being what they should be. These are people who have not returned. They have become too comfortable in the pagan social life. It is not insignificant that there is no reference here to God or His revelation. There is little evidence of real piety. Indeed where some piety is implied in the actions of the main Jewish characters, that implication seems quite strained. It all brings home to us some serious questions: Do you get too comfortable in an ungodly situation? You want to avoid awkward conflict in the world, and perhaps really do wish to see the cause prosper, but will you be content to remain mute?
How many believers become dull in spiritual things? Has the prevailing secular society blunted our edge without any persecution? We appreciate our religious freedom – but are we taking it for granted when we don’t use it to the full? So, the events of Esther become very challenging. We have to live in a world in which the faith has been marginalized in society. How will we survive if the faith is marginalized also in the Church? Well, we saw last time how we had to be aware that in that time in Persia there was evidence of compromise among those who had not had the concern to return to the homeland from the captivity. We also observed of Queen Vashti how her resistance to being used as a beauty object was commendable. It showed, given how Esther so readily went in to the frame to replace her, how the children of this world can be in their generation wiser than the children of light. It is amazing how unbelievers can often act better than believers. It is no doubt a cause of thanksgiving to the Lord that our poor efforts may still be turned to the good of the cause. That does not commend bad actions of course. Ultimately, however, the Lord’s sovereign providence will prevail.
Let us go on in this story. We focus on the actions of Mordecai and Esther in this 2nd chapter (5-9).
1. Compromising Actions
We are told about Mordecai in verses 5-7 of chapter 2. He was a Benjamite (verse 5) who had been taken into captivity at the time of Jeconiah [or Jehoiachin] around 597BC (verse 6). His name is not a common Hebrew name, being derived from Marduk, chief god of Babylon. His name seems to indicate an element of assimilation with the pagan culture, a strong element – and cautionary one – in this story. He had brought up Esther, who had lost her parents. She was his cousin (verse 7). We are told specifically, that after her parents died he treated her as his own daughter (verse 7). She was taken by him to the king’s palace for the contest to replace Vashti as Queen (verse 8).
In view of this we have to ask: How are we to view Mordecai’s position in this? The answer is, with considerable disquiet. Why? Well, he should never have allowed it to happen. We might even say that he should have been prepared to die rather than put his ‘daughter’ into a harem of the pagan king Xerxes. The fact that this was something voluntary doesn’t make it any better, but maybe even worse. It’s interesting that one of the great problems which both Ezra and Nehemiah had to deal with was intermarriage with the heathen. We have this in Ezra 9:10-12 and Nehemiah 10:29-30. It caused huge heart-searching, huge traumas among the returned Israelites. Here it was even more degrading. Either she would be queen or else confined to a miserable life in the king’s harem. Either way Esther would be in a very compromised situation. How could she keep the Sabbath in that household? How could she refuse to bow before the king? How could she maintain spiritual life, cut off from the other people of God? How could she bring any children up in the fear of the Lord? No, this was not good. There is a distinct contrast here, you see, with the young men of earlier days who refused the king’s delicacies for religious, pious reasons (Daniel 1). In that case God gave the young men blessing and knowledge and good health above all the others who had compromised in the face of the ungodly requirements. By contrast in Esther we have a compromise in a fairly big way.
2. Cautionary Lessons
Now, you can understand how important this is for us. We are in an ungodly society. We face pressures to go along with things in this world. We have lost so much sharpness when it comes to distinctives of the faith. How come Mordecai/Esther fell into such sin? It could be argued that they shouldn’t have been in Shushan. They should have been with God’s faithful people seeking to rebuild the life of the Kingdom of God back in Israel. But no, they found a comfortable material life in exile. They had accepted the values of the land. Mordecai thought he was doing his best for Esther. What was he thinking? He was thinking of their being well off and comfortable. There is no evidence this was done to advance the Kingdom of God.
We can make the same mistake in our society. We have largely lost the idea of the covenant. We have compromised in so many ways in our society. If you ask people what they most want for their children it will be health and prosperity and comfort. That is all very well. Yet we put great stock on that, notwithstanding that our system had become so secularised. We have come to share the values of society around us. The priorities are good education, good career, and good homes. Sadly there has been a failure to develop distinctive covenant Christian education. Sadly there has been a diminishing of the priority of the claims of Christ in relation to our children and home life. This has been evident in marriage. Inter-marriage with the heathen was a great sin according to the law of God: “Nor shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son. For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods; so the anger of the Lord will be aroused against you and destroy you suddenly” (Deuteronomy 7:3-4). The New Testament also clearly teaches that believers ought only to marry fellow-believers: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-15). This does not apply only to marriage partners, but it has clear application there. I know that we cannot draw a direct comparison between the heathen spouses of Persia or the days of Ezra/Nehemiah with Church-going but non-professing spouses of our day. Nevertheless it must be best for the good of the cause that converted people only marry ‘in the Lord.’ That is a far greater encouragement to spiritual life both in the spouses and their children than otherwise.
The cause of the Lord has surely been undermined by a want of clarity and care in such things. From whatever pressures it comes, compromise is an enemy of clear Christian profession. It is all-too-easy for us to be submerged under the spirit of the age to the detriment of clear Christian witness. This at least is a lesson from this part of Esther. We are to think on priorities and stick to these, whatever, the cost or inconvenience. Are we prepared for the cost of discipleship and separated Christian living in our neo-pagan day in which we can all-too-easily slip in to the unsanctified ways of the world? The priorities of your life? Is it building a faithful and consistent Christian life? Is it being distinct in an indistinct age? Is it glorifying Jesus? Is it maintaining the doctrine, worship, government and fellowship of the Church? Have you marginalized faith in your life? These are searching questions for us today.