Esther 2:10-23 - One Compromise Leads to Another
Read Esther 2:10-23
We have suggested that Mordecai’s complicity with or encouragement of Esther to enter the ungodly world of the palace was ill advised. It is true that truly godly exiles took positions in the King’s palace. Daniel earlier, and Nehemiah later. It is true that Jeremiah had told the exiles to make the best of their situation (Jeremiah 29:10-14). That didn’t mean that they were to get comfortable in the fashionable world of the heathen. They were not to forget Jerusalem, their roots, nor the law of their God. When you look at near-contemporaries like Daniel and Nehemiah, you could hardly accuse them of forgetting the Lord and His law. We don’t read here in Esther about the Jews refusing to eat the king’s delicacies, or of praying 3 times a day with their windows open towards Jerusalem, as we read of young men in Babylon and of Daniel a generation earlier. You don’t read here of them being agitated about the state of the walls of Jerusalem, as Nehemiah was a generation later.
You can’t help but feel that here were people who should have returned to Judah when they had the opportunity (something Jeremiah spoke of) and should not have settled in so comfortably to the Persian society of the day. We might ask: Was this resort of Esther to get in to the harem of the King Xerxes ‘of the Lord.’ We cannot say it is. It is directly contrary to the law of God. True, it was used of the Lord for the deliverance of the people. But then, so too was Rahab’s lie in concealing the spies in Joshua 6. She is mentioned in the cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11. It is her faith that is commended, however, not her lies. The Lord may bring about a good result though men use wrong means. Rahab’s lie cannot be said to be approved of God. By the same token, neither can the actions of Esther and Mordecai. They may well have been true believers (though they are not mentioned in Hebrews 11 nor anywhere else in the New Testament). If so, they are rather deeply compromised and this book must be seen as a cautionary tale rather than as exemplary actions. It was a compromise for Esther to enter the King’s ‘beauty contest,’ and for Mordecai to encourage her in it.
We pointed out above that this sort of marital arrangement she entered into was contrary to the law of God. It was the sort of arrangement troublesome in Ezra/Nehemiah day afterwards. Christians ought to marry “in the Lord.” It does happen of course that a husband or wife may be converted afterwards, in which case the exhortations of Peter apply: “Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear” (1 Peter 3:1-2). And of Paul: “For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:16).
This case in Esther was different, though; because she entered this arrangement voluntarily, and it was against what was forbidden the Jew. There is a lesson of course for the New Testament believer to be careful about relationships. But there is here
1. A Lesson in Compromise
And we notice here how one compromise leads to another. Not only is Esther encouraged, or not discouraged, from the wrong relationship in the eyes of God, she has to compromise something else too: “Esther had not revealed her people or family, for Mordecai had charged her not to reveal it” (10, see also verse 20). What was the idea here? It was that her ‘advance’ to a position of importance be not hindered. It is one thing not voluntarily to disclose all the details of your life when it is not necessary to do so, it is another to embark on a positive ploy of concealment to advance personal ambitions or hide religious affiliation/faith. Of course the exiles were ‘up against it’ in Babylon/Persia. They had to make the best of their involuntary captivity. But concealment of religious orientation? That was not the case with the exemplary Shadrach, Meshack and Abed-nego. It was not the case with Daniel, though he did attain a high position. But there was no denial of Jewishness, nor of religious practice. They knew full well he worshipped his God (6:5). Despite the decree of Darius forbidding the worship of any but Darius, he continued his custom since early days of praying to the Lord three times a day, with the window open towards Jerusalem (6:10). Indeed, Daniel was deeply respected for his integrity and up-frontness (6:14). But here there is a strategy of muteness.
It is a powerful lesson for us. We tend to be mute about our faith; we tend to say little or nothing even when we have opportunity to speak for the Lord and of our own experience of the Lord. Rather than hide, we must confess. Especially in a society becoming so alienated from the ways of God and truth. The tendency will be to become mute. We must resist the Mordecai factor. However, we have to get a balance. We have to be wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove. We will learn to speak tactfully, and respectfully, and wisely. We don’t need to say all at once. We don’t need to invite a violent reaction. But we mustn’t be scared to speak out for the faith and for our Lord.
It is true that it is more difficult in some situations. We think of the Christians in China or Saudi Arabia. We are conscious that in some situations it is dangerous to profess openly. That is all the more reason to profess privately. This is obviously what has happened in China, given the growing number of Christians in that atheistic country. You would have to act wisely in places like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, or Northern Sudan, or North Korea. However, ultimately, even in the hardest case testimony is to be borne to Christ and truth even if it means the fiery trial of persecution.
This is not impressive, this action of Mordecai and Esther. And as for ourselves, we tend to be far too reserved in saying just what we are – if so be you are a Christian. If you are not of course, that is a priority for you! We may feel awkward. But then, let us remember when the honour of Christ is at stake our feelings are a minor matter. Easier said than done? Surely. But necessary for all that. There is here also,
2. A Lesson in Providence
We have quite a ‘mixed bag’ here, what with a wicked king and believers clearly out of step with the Lord. We must never use the inconsistencies and compromises of others as reason for us to be careless about our own lives and witness. We are each responsible for a clear witness to the truth in our own generation. Though they were not consistent and clear, yet the Lord over-ruled. Esther is given favour in the eyes of the King and he takes her as queen (Esther 2:15-18). Again, Esther seemed more comfortable about a pagan feast than the heathen former queen Vashti. This is not very impressive. It is a shame when unbelievers show more conservatism and moral fibre than professed believers do! Another striking providence, though, relates to the position of Mordecai, who takes a place “within the king’s gate” (19). Perhaps on account of Esther he seems to have become a palace official. At any rate he is able to overhear a plot against Xerxes and tell Esther of it (20-22), to the fatal discomfort of the conspirators (23).
Now, we have observed that one of the features of this book is the absence of any reference to God. We are not warranted to state that the personalities here are necessarily godly people. We have already suggested that much of the trouble that arises here arises from a want of real faithfulness, especially in (a) becoming comfortable in the alien social life; and (b) not being where they should be – back in Jerusalem building the godly commonwealth there. I believe this is largely a cautionary tale. However, God is there/here even when He seems most withdrawn. That is a lesson here and an encouragement for us in our desperate days. There is an over-ruling hand. God does not forsake even His seriously erring people. That does not excuse going on in the erring ways. But it means that even our worst efforts will not thwart His purposes. Only, we need to remember that we are answerable to Him for all deeds done in the body. It ought to cast us upon the Lord in penitence. And cast us upon the Lord to seek grace to live consistently in this world, seeking to build the kingdom and testify clearly to the truth of God, the law of God, the principles of His word, so that in an alien environment we may shine as bright light and not as, frankly, rather dim ones like those who had remained in Shushan, albeit they were still not outside His good ordering of events for the ultimate good of His cause.