Sovereign in the silence, II
Here’s how Esther begins: “Now 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 citadel” (v. 1-2 ESV).
This king reigns over the vast Persian Empire where numerous Jews live as exiles. King Ahasuerus soon throws a massive party. The Bible says, “… in the third year of his reign he gave a feast for all his officials and servants. The army of Persia and Media and the nobles and 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” (v. 3-4 ESV).
It’s common for a biblical book to begin by describing the glory of a king. The difference between Esther and most other books, however, is that Esther opens by describing a glorious king who isn’t God.
King Ahasuerus is so full of himself that he has a banquet to display his own wealth and glory for half a year. Think about that. Here’s a king who launches an extravagant party for himself. And as if the first banquet isn’t enough, King Ahasuerus throws an after-party.
“And when these days were completed, 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” (v. 5 ESV).
I mean, this is a book of the Bible, and so far, it reads like a self-centered story of a human king. How in the world are we supposed to see God through these words? The Bible continues describing the excessive pomp of King Ahasuerus as it reads, “There were white cotton curtains and violet hangings fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rods and marble pillars, and also couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and precious stones” (v. 6 ESV).
Not only does King Ahasuerus throw a party for six months, he celebrates with golden couches on precious stones. The author of Esther clearly desires us to recognize the king’s great wealth and glory among the people. But his party isn’t complete without an excessive amount of alcohol.
“Drinks were served in golden vessels, vessels of different kinds, and the royal wine was lavished according to the bounty of the king. And drinking was according to this edict: ‘There is no compulsion.’ For the king had given orders to all the staff of his palace to do as each man desired” (v. 7-8 ESV).
The cups are believed to have come from the Temple itself. The one destroyed in 587 B.C. by King Nebuchadnezzar. And they’re individually unique. But verse 8 further reveals the king’s excessive expectations and demands. The Bible informs us that King Ahasuerus feels the need to create an edict, commanding his people to drink as much as they desire. The passage ends with these words: “Queen Vashti also gave a feast for the women in the palace that belonged to King Ahasuerus” (v. 9 ESV).
In these verses, we read about a king who is selfish, powerful, materialistic, and controlling. We read about a king who owns a magnificent palace. We read about a king who is incredibly tied to the things of this world, unwilling to walk away from its comforts.
I’m reminded of the parable Jesus shares of a rich man in Luke 12:16-21. The man produces a vast number of crops, but he becomes greedy. He decides to tear down his barns and build larger ones. And he tells his soul to be merry and delight in possessions without any care for God. The passage ends by saying, “‘So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God’” (v. 21 ESV).
Jesus also says, “‘For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?’” (Matt. 16:26 ESV).
We may not throw extravagant parties in our royal palaces with golden couches. But how often do we struggle to realize that our worth is not in what we own? How often do we become so consumed and enamored by our own accomplishments and possessions that we fail to worship God as He rightly deserves?
The late Puritan John Owen describes it as having “living affections to dying things.” It’s like the rich young ruler who walks away from Christ because possessions consume the affections of his heart (see Luke 18:18-30). Only in Christ do we find a treasure worth living and dying for. And this is something King Ahasuerus neglects to recognize while throwing a party for his own splendor and glory. But how often do our lives tell a similar story?
So, yeah. That’s how Esther begins. It seems like King Ahasuerus is running his own show. Displaying his own glory. But God is working behind the scenes. And the queen mentioned in verse 9 is about to rise to the surface, revealing even more of God’s hand. After all, He is sovereign in the silence.