The extended scepter
Esther 5: He was pleased to see her, the king extended the gold scepter in his hand.
The first great hurdle for Esther is getting an audience with King Xerxes. It sounds crazy to us, but in that kingdom Xerxes is treated like a god. Even his own queen can come into his presence only when summoned. If she or anyone else breaks that rule they can be put to death. However, the king, himself, can grant a sort of “instant reprieve” if he wants to simply by extending his scepter to the uninvited person. Xerxes is just a man, and, apparently, a rather insecure one at that, but that’s how it is in his kingdom. Esther tells Mordecai that she hasn’t been summoned by the king for more than a month, and, in light of what happened to the previous queen when she didn’t come when summoned, Esther is taking a real risk here. However, it’s a necessary one. If Xerxes is unworthy of such deference, there is a King who is King of kings who is worthy of all that and more. However, his relationship to me is so much better than that of Xerxes to his subjects. In fact, I have a standing invitation to come into his Presence any time. This King extended the scepter to me and everyone else long ago, declaring his throne room open for all who will come.
Take Away: We have a standing invitation to enter the throne room, let’s take advantage of it.
The first beauty pageant?
Esther 1: He wanted to show off her beauty to the guests and officials.
Honestly, I don’t know what to do by way of “devotionally blogging” from much of the book of Esther. In spite of the seriousness of the threat to the people of God, portions of the story read like a TV sitcom. Xerxes throws a big drinking party, and after seven days of drunken revelry he gets the bright idea of putting his wife, Queen Vashti, on display for his guests. Vashti, who’s been having a party of her own, is insulted and refuses to come to be looked over by a bunch of drunks. So, instead of impressing all his buddies with what a manly man he is to have such a beautiful wife it appears that in spite of Xerxes ruling a vast kingdom that here at home it’s the hen that’s ruling the roost. Xerxes is so upset that he calls in his “expert advisors.” These “yes men” agree with him that it just won’t do for women to refuse to do their drunken husband’s bidding and suggest that Vashti be banished from ever seeing the king again (this is supposed to be a punishment, right?). Then, to replace her, they’ll have a beauty contest to pick a woman even more beautiful than Vashti to take her place. Xerxes goes along with his (obviously all male) board of advisors. Now, the story is ready for the lovely Jewess Esther to enter the picture. Again, not much devotional material here, but it is an interesting read.
Take Away: What can I say? Sometimes powerful people do dumb things.
God has always had a people
Esther 1: This is the story of something that happened in the time of Xerxes.
Throughout history there’s been more than one attempt to destroy the people of God. It seems that the enemies of God’s think that if they get rid of his people they’ll get rid of him too. That’s mistaken in two ways. God is God, and killing his followers won’t kill Him, in fact, it will only make him angry. Second, God always has a people. Even when evil has the upper hand, by God’s mercy, there will be at least a remnant that will survive and extend his story to the next generation. In the story of Esther, we see God intervene and spare all his people. To this day, the Jews celebrate this event which is called “Purim.” One of the main characters in the story is Xerxes who rules Persia 465 years before Christ is born. Included in his vast kingdom is the exiled people of God. In spite of the pitiful picture of Xerxes in Scripture, he is, at least early in his career, a pretty successful king winning major battles and taking even more territory. Late in his reign history pictures him pretty much as he is said to be in the book of Esther: self-centered, drunken, and foolish.
Take Away: It’s such a privilege to be counted as one of God’s people.