Esther: The Orphan Queen
September 11th, 1983 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-11-83 7:30 p.m.
Well, God be praised for you wonderful, wonderful musicians: our orchestra, our choir, our song leader, all who share to make the service of Jesus beautiful and praise-worthy. And may the Lord no less bless the great multitudes of you who share this hour with us on radio and on television. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing once again a message on the Bible’s amazing women. The sermon tonight is entitled Esther, the Orphan Queen. I thought we might read together the heart of the book. Turn to Esther, the book just before the poet books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs. Turn to Esther, about the middle of your Old Testament, and in the Book of Esther chapter 4. And we shall read beginning at verse 13 to the end of the chapter. This is the heart of the book: Esther chapter 4, verses 13 through 17. Now all of us together:
Then Mordecai commanded to answer Esther, Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews.
For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?
Then Esther bade them return Mordecai this answer,
Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.
So Mordecai went his way, and did according to all that Esther had commanded him.
The Book of Esther is one of the most dramatic portrayals of character in literature, and it is told with great, moving precision. It was the inspiration of some writer, unknown to us, who depicted this beautiful and marvelous character, Esther. We are told in the book the purpose of its writing. In the [ninth chapter, next to] the last chapter, it says that these days of Purim—this is in verse 28—these days of Purim shall not fail from among the Jews, nor the memorial of them perish from their seed [Esther 9:28].
The singular is pur. In the twenty-fourth [verse], “Haman…devised against the Jews to destroy them, and cast pur, that is, lot, to consume them” [Esther 9:24]. “Wherefore—verse 26—they call these days Purim after the name of Pur [Esther 9:26]. In Hebrew, the plural is im, i-m, im.
I have been asked many times: “Why do you say cherubim, instead of cherubum? Why do you say seraphim, instead of seraphum? Well, I’m just saying what the Hebrew is. In Hebrew, plural is im, cherubim, seraphim. And it sounds a whole lot better to me than cherubum or seraphum. I just like it better.
Same thing about pur, pur is the singular for “lot,” and purim would be the plural for “lots.” And we will see why the lot was cast in the unfolding of the story. And throughout all of their generations, the Jewish community observes the days, the feasts, the Purim, which is toward say, February, the first part of the year.
Now let us start with it. First of all the king: the dramatic book begins with him. In the first verse of the first chapter, “Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus….” [Esther 1:1]. There is a great possibility that Ahasuerus is a title more than it is a personal name, such as Pharaoh. Pharaoh is a title. Czar is a title. Kaiser is a title. Czar is Caesar in Russian, and Kaiser is Caesar in German. They are titles.
So Ahasuerus is a title. His name was Xerxes, and in Herodotus and in Plutarch we are introduced intimately to this Persian king Xerxes. He was one of the most fabulous of all of the rich potentates of the East. He presided over a vast empire from India to Egypt. He is the one that after he had conquered Egypt assailed Greece and that story is dramatically told by Thucydides and Herodotus and other of those marvelous Greek historians.
He was a sensual and extravagant monarch. Do you remember the story in Herodotus? When the storm blew his pontoon bridge away that he had erected across the Hellespont, he commanded his soldiers to whip the waters with iron chains. He is also the king who built a beautiful golden throne overlooking the Bay of Salamis. And Thucydides commanded the Athenian fleet, and of course, as you know, defeated the Persians there in the Salamonic Gulf. Do you remember this famous poem about Xerxes?
A king sat on a rocky brow
Which looks over sea-born Salamis;
And ships, by thousands, lay below,
And men of all nations–were his!
He counted them at break of day–
But when the sun set, where were they?
[“The Isles of Greece,” by Lord Byron]
The Battle of Salamis forever broke the power and the threat of the Persian monarchy over the West, toward the west.
Well, this is the king. His name is Xerxes, and his title is Ahasuerus, and he is the monarch of the great Persian Empire. Now apparently this story begins when Ahasuerus, when Xerxes has just conquered Egypt, and he returns to Shushan, his palace in Persia, in Iran, flushed with victory. His eyes are ablaze with the glory of triumph. And it says here that in Shushan he throws, he presents, he shares in a banquet, a majestic banquet of one hundred eighty days [Esther 1:1-4].
Now brother, that’s some feast! That’s about half a year gormandizing, stuffing yourself, one hundred eighty days they are having a feast in Shushan, the palace. Now, not only were they feasting with all of the vittles, and food, and delicacies that the empire could provide, but wine flowed like a river [Esther 1:7]. So it says, “On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine…” [Esther 1:10], he came to the conclusion that they lacked one thing, and that was women; they didn’t have any women in the feast.
So this drunken monarch commands in verse 11 Vashti the queen, “… to show the people and the princes, and that drunken mob, her beauty; for she was fair to look on” [Esther 1:11]. I can translate that into modern vicious, rude, crude language. The drunken king sent command to his beautiful queen, Vashti, to put on a striptease, a belly dance. Drunk! Now had that been Herodias, or had that been Salome, either one of them [Matthew 14:6]—or a thousand others like them—would have been delighted to respond.
This is a noble woman, Vashti. It says here that while they were making that feast, Vashti the queen made a feast for the women in the royal house [Esther 1:9], and it doesn’t say she served wine. They were not drunken, and it was not a spectacle and an affront to God, what Vashti was doing. But when the king commanded her to come and to exhibit her beauty before those drunken noblemen, she refused [Esther 1:10-12]. And I forever, I think this is a marvelous tribute to Vashti. Well, being an Oriental king and being world without end, being the lord and dictator and summation of all the destiny and the lives of all the people, all he had to do was just to pronounce the word and divorce her and dethrone her, which he did [Esther 1:13-22]. And it pleased all of the drunken noblemen around him that he did such a thing to Vashti. So the king is there without a queen [Esther 1:21-22]. Now that introduces us to the king, to Ahasuerus, to Xerxes.
Now when we come to chapter 3, we are introduced to his prime minister, whose name is Haman [Esther 3:1]. Now Haman became a favorite in the presence of the king, and through the king he commanded that everyone was to bow and do obeisance and reverence whenever Haman approached, or whenever Haman passed by [Esther 3:2]. Now, there was at the gate of the palace an official, a lower, petty official of the king named Mordecai. And when Haman came by all of the people bowed and did reverence to Haman, except Mordecai [Esther 3:2]. And he just stood up the straighter. He refused to bow, and it made Haman furious! In verse 5, it says, “When Haman saw that Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence, Haman was full of wrath” [Esther 3:5]. He seethed on the inside.
I have a beautiful bronze in my study. It’s right there in front of me on a beautiful stand. It’s of William Tell and his little boy. He has his hand…his arm around his little boy. I visited Altdorf in Switzerland just to visit the town of William Tell. Do you remember that story? The canton at that time was under the aegis of Austria. And Austria had a tyrant over the canton named Gessler. And Gessler put his hat on a pole in the middle of the town of Altdorf and commanded that everybody that passed by were to bow down before his hat on the pole in the middle of the town. And the story, you remember, William Tell refused to bend a knee before Gessler’s hat. And they put him in chains, to sentence him to death. And then for the fun of it, why, somebody said to Gessler, “He’s a wonderful archer and he loves his boy. Have William Tell put his boy in front of him and at a distance shoot an apple off of his head.” The story of William Tell; don’t have time to finish that. Anyway, it’s the same kind of a thing. You’re to bow down. You’re to do obeisance and reverence to Haman when he passes by.
And little people demand great revenge. Not only did Haman seethe at the refusal of Mordecai to bow before him, but somebody told Haman, in verse 4, that Mordecai was a Jew [Esther 3:4]. Then, in verse 6, when he found that Mordecai was a Jew, he sought to destroy all the Jews throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus, even the whole nation to which Mordecai belonged [Esther 3:6].
Now that is something! And how did he go about it? Well, he’s full of superstition. Man, man, so many people like that, who are not friends with God and on good terms with God. They are superstitious; they are inanely, insanely, absurdly so!
There’s not a newspaper, I am told, in America that would dare print an issue of its paper without some astrological column in it. People by the thousands and the thousands go by astrology: all those astrological, zodiacal columns. It is inanity! When you don’t know God, don’t ever think you are going to pull yourself away from the mystery of the world about us and beyond us. You will just fall into some kind of aberration, like divination, or astrology, or fortunetelling, or omens—all kinds of idiotic superstitions.
Well, Haman was that way. So in order to bring to pass his fury to destroy the Jews, why, he thought he would cast lots to find the day—in divination—that would be favorable to the destruction of the nation. So they cast lots, pur, purim, they casts lots for the day on which the entire race of the Jewish people was to be destroyed. And the lot fell on the thirteenth day of the last month of the year, the twelfth month of the year: Adar [Esther 3:7].
Now, Haman then went—after he had picked out the day for the destruction of the nation—Haman went to the king. And he said to him in chapter 3, verse 9: “I will pay you ten thousand talents of silver in order to bring about this annihilation, this assassination, this destruction of all the people of Mordecai. I will give you ten thousand talents of silver” [Esther 3:9]. Now, according to Herodotus, that is two-thirds of the entire year’s tribute of the whole empire of Persia. Well, how was he going to do that, ten thousand talents of silver?
In the same way that Hitler did it; this thing that Hitler did wasn’t something new to the world. Man, they have been doing that ever since there has been a Jew walking on the face of the world. Hitler financed the advancement of his Nazi party by confiscating the property of the Jews! Now he may have incidentally hated them, but mostly he wanted to finance the promulgation of his Nazi regime, and he did it, to start off with, by the destruction of the Jewish people, millions of them in the Nazi world, and that’s what he did.
In the thirteenth verse it says here, “And he is to take the spoil of the Jews for a prey” [Esther 3:13]. Now the king listened to Haman. He was his favorite, and it says here in verse 15 that the king and Haman sat down to drink [Esther 3:15]. They made the deal, they shook hands on it, and they sat down to drink. Man! I never heard of such a diabolical thing. Well, Haman is on his way now to glory, to the throne of gold. There is only one thing that bothers him. Every time he goes to the palace, every time he comes out of the palace, there sits Mordecai in the king’s gate, chapter 5, verse 9, and he refuses to bow [Esther 5:9].
So he goes to Zeresh his wife, and he complains to Zeresh about Mordecai [Esther 5:10-13]. And Zeresh, his wife, depend upon a woman to think up the most disastardly things that a man wouldn’t even think of himself—boy, man can they do it! In verse 14:
Then said Zeresh his wife: Let a gallows be made of fifty cubits high—that is 75 feet tall—Let a gallows be made fifty cubits high, and tomorrow speak thou unto the king that Mordecai may be hanged thereon: then go in merrily with the king unto the banquet. And the thing pleased Haman.
And he built a gallows 75 feet tall on which to hang Mordecai when the thirteenth day of the twelfth month comes to pass [Esther 3:7], and the whole nation is assassinated [Esther 5:14].
All right, that’s Haman. Now briefly, we must continue; briefly, about Mordecai. In the second chapter we are introduced to Mordecai, verse 5: “In Shushan the palace there was a certain Jew, whose name was Mordecai.” He was a Benjamite, and his family had been carried away to Babylon in the captivity when they took Jeconiah, king of Judah [Esther 2:5-6]. Well, this Mordecai, what was the matter with him that he didn’t bow? The reason he didn’t bow was the same reason I wouldn’t bow. I have a religious conviction against it! There is one Lord God who is in heaven and before Him alone would I bow. That is why Mordecai didn’t bow. He was a child of the King—as we sang—he was a believer in the true God, and he refused to give such obeisance and worship to a man. He was a Jew.
Now he must have been a wonderfully kind and gracious man for he brought up—verse 7—he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter: for she had neither father nor mother… and her father and mother were dead. And he took her for his own daughter” [Esther 2:7]. Now that means they were cousins, Mordecai and this child Esther, who is an orphan. And he took Esther and he brought her up as his own daughter. And it was Mordecai who said to Esther in the passage you just read, “Esther, if you do not be used of God to bring deliverance to your people,” Mordecai was a believer in the purposes of the Almighty, “if deliverance does not come from you, it will come from some other place” [Esther 4:14].
Mordecai believed that the Jewish race and people were indestructible, and the Bible avows that again and again. When the end time comes, the Jew will still be here [Matthew 24:34]. He will be in heaven when we glorify Jesus. He will be here in the millennium. He is here through all of history. God says he will be, and he will be. I haven’t got time to expatiate on that. You never saw a Moabite in your life, or a Jebusite, or a Hittite, and you never saw anybody who ever saw—anybody who ever saw anybody who ever heard of a Jebusite or a Hittite or a Moabite or an Ammonite, or any of those “-ites.” But God said the Jew will be here when He comes back to the earth, and he is. Now Mordecai believed that. Mordecai was a Jew who believed in the immutable, and eternal, and unfailing promises of God.
Now Esther: Esther, whose name was Hadassah—in Hebrew that’s “myrtle”—and she was given a Persian name, Esther, which means “star.” It’s like Greek; astēr is “star” in Greek. Well, Esther is “star” in Persian, and it says here that “the maid was fair and beautiful” [Esther 2:7]. And in verse 15 of that second chapter, it says: “And Esther obtained favor in the sight of all them that looked upon her” [Esther 2:15]. I have copied out Matthew Henry’s comment on that verse. Matthew Henry wrote over three hundred years ago, for over three hundred years his commentary is one of the sweetest and finest ever written. Matthew Henry commented: “Her wisdom and her virtue were her greatest beauty.” Then he naively adds, “But it is an advantage to a diamond to be well set.” Isn’t that all right? When I read that in Matthew Henry, I thought of a comedy show: A wife asks her husband, “What does Betty Grable have that I don’t have?” And he replies, “Nothing, dear. It is just that she is has it arranged just a little better.” Esther is beautiful. She is fair, and she obtained favor in the sight of all them that looked upon her.
Now, God—isn’t this an unusual story?—the name of God is never in it. God the Lord is never named, and yet, all through it you can see His hand. Now I want to show that to you. It starts in the casting of pur, in the casting of lots [Esther 3:7]. Is it just an accident that the lot fell on the last month of the year? That gave them time to prepare for the slaughter and the assassination. That’s the hand of God; the lot fell on the thirteenth day of the last month [Esther 3:13]. I want you to look again in the sixth chapter, at the first verse, “On that night could not the king sleep….” [Esther 6:1]. Well, what’s the matter? He had been sleeping every other night, that night he could not sleep. Well, why that night? That night, that particular night, the king couldn’t sleep.
All right, look again; they brought a scroll of the records of the chronicles and they read them before the king. And in that scroll, at that place, there happened to be written how Mordecai had saved the king’s life [Esther 6:2]. Well, how is it come to pass that they have that scroll, and they opened it at that place, and it describes what Mordecai had done to save the king’s life? Oh! I want you to look at what happens when Esther, at the banquet, in verse 6, points to Mordecai. And Esther said, “The adversary and the enemy that seeks to destroy our people is this wicked Haman” [Esther 7:6]. Then Haman was afraid before the king. Well, what’s the matter with Haman? He’s afraid. Isn’t that a strange thing? When men are evil and vile, they are, by every providence of life, afraid! “The wicked flee when there is none to pursue” [Proverbs 28:1]. And this Haman is afraid [Esther 7:6]. Why? That’s God! You never get away from Him, never, ever; that’s God.
There is judgment in this earth, and Haman felt it when Esther pointed to him and said, “The enemy and the adversary of my people is this wicked Haman!” And Haman was afraid [Esther 7:6]. And then, of course, I think it was the Lord God through this king who—nobody ever accused the king of being dilatory in his tactics, or in his actions, or decisions—when the king learned what Haman had done, he commanded and they hanged Haman on the gallows that had been prepared for Mordecai [Esther 7:10].
Now, the last: Esther. Esther, she is one of the most magnificent examples of majestic womanhood to be found in human literature. Esther: she and Ruth are the two women who have books in the Bible named for her. Esther; why Esther, so noble? It is in the passage that we read together. Mordecai says:
When they find that you are a Jewess, you like your father’s house and like your people will not escape. And who knows but that thou are come to the kingdom for such a time as this.
And she was capable of the greatest sacrifice, and devotion, and consecration, and commitment. She said:
Tell Mordecai to fast and to pray and to intercede and to remember, and I will go in before the king which is against the law to do: and if I perish, I perish.
And that beautiful, noble, orphan queen lay down her life in behalf of her father’s house and her father’s people.
Opportunity for service comes to all of us—all of us. Oh! But you say if I were a queen like Esther, “I’d shine for Jesus. I’d take advantage of the opportunities, and I’d do great things for God.” Or you would say, “If I were a king like David, oh, what things I’d do for God!”
“But I’m not a queen, I’m a kitchenmaid.”
“And I’m not a king, I’m a clerk.”
If God wanted to make you a queen, He could have done it as easily as to make you a kitchenmaid. If God had wanted you to be a king, He could have done it as easily as He makes a daily laborer out of you. God has a purpose for each one of us [Ephesians 2:10]. God made me in a certain way, with a certain purpose, with a certain opportunity set before me. And God has made you, you just as you are, and He has set an opportunity before you. And each one of us, in God’s sight, are as precious and as equal as any other of us—a king or a slave, a queen or a kitchenmaid—all of us alike created by the omnipotent hands of God. And there are opportunities of service that God places before each one of us. Each one of us has an assignment in the holy, omnipotent will of God. And when I do my part in my way, I am as beloved and acceptable before God as the most famous of all of the servants in the kingdom of heaven.
I think of the marvelous story in the fifth chapter of 2 Kings, one of the most beautiful stories, one of the most doctrinally meaningful in the Bible. It’s the story of Naaman the leper who washed in the Jordan River and was clean [2 Kings 5:1-14]. That whole story came to pass from the word of a little maiden slave girl that the Syrian bands had captured in Israel. And she worked as a slave for Mrs. Naaman in the palace in Damascus. And it was the word and the testimony of that little slave girl that made possible that marvelous story of Naaman the leper [2 Kings 5:2-4].
I think of the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts; Dorcas, whom Simon Peter raised from the dead [Acts 9:36-42]; when Simon Peter went to Joppa, they showed him the garments that Dorcas had made—the little clothes and the little dresses that she had made for children and for the poor, Dorcas [Acts 9:39]. Or I think of Priscilla: God’s wonderful Bible teacher. She taught the most eloquent preacher who has ever lived, Apollos, who I think wrote the Book of Hebrews. Priscilla taught him the way of the Lord [Acts 18:26-28].
Great God in heaven! I haven’t time to begin to start to commence the marvelous ministries of humble people in the kingdom of heaven: a mother, teaching a little child, and that child becomes God’s great servant; or the kind testimonies that have brought many of us to the Lord Jesus. If I were to pause and say let’s spend the rest of the night, and let’s stand up and tell and testify as this dear Mrs. Patterson did about how we came to know the Lord, I have something that I venture to say—there would be nobody in divine presence who would stand up and say, “It was such and such great mighty world figure that brought me to Jesus.” Without exception, it would be somebody the world never heard of: your mama, so precious and faithful, or a humble country preacher, or a Sunday school teacher. That’s God. That’s the Lord. “We are come to such a time as this” [Esther 4:14], it’s a time of greatness; it’s a time of mightiness. And time can go along, and go along, and go along, and seemingly to us, have no meaning, but in it are the arches of the temple of God. It’s the fabric out of which the kingdom is made.
And our Lord, I pray for me—and I pray for you, and I pray for us, that as God opens doors before us, we may enter in with great faith and great consecration, to speak the word, to do the deed, however humble, however self-effacing, unostentatious, but blessed of God for such a time as this. Now may we stand together?
Our Lord in heaven, how grateful we are beyond words to say it that God hath given the mighty things of the kingdom to babes, to little ones, not only in years, but in disposition and heart and life; humble people. How dear we are to Thee, precious in Thy sight. And our Lord, in our assigned places may we be faithful to Jesus. O God, may we not fail Thee in those little, small, insignificant, and humble ministries, but in God’s sight they make up the power and force of the kingdom. To speak a word, a kind gesture, a prayer, an invitation, a witness, a testimony, a beautiful deed, a lovely life; O Lord, make us like that.
And while we wait and pray for you, a family you to put your life with us in the circle of this dear and wonderful church, “Pastor, this is God’s time for us and we are coming.” A couple you, or just you, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, “This is God’s call for me, pastor, and I am on the way.” May heaven attend you and angels bless you as you come. And thank Thee, Lord, for the sweet, precious harvest You give us tonight, in Thy wonderful name, amen. While we sing our song, a thousand times welcome, while we sing.