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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:The Orphan Who Became the Queen
Text:Esther 2:1-18 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Providence

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

89 - Within Thy Temple, Lord  

273 - From Out of the Depths I Cry

290 - O Lord, My Inmost Heart and Thought

452 - Have Thine Own Way, Lord

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Pastor Ted Gray
The Orphan Who Became the Queen”
Esther 2:1-18
When I was in high school, I had a part time job at Bamberger’s Department Store. Bamburger’s was on the high end as far as department stores go. It was no Walmart or Kmart. My job was to unload the trucks that backed up to the loading docks and then haul the merchandise off to the various departments in the store.
One of the things that always amazed me was both the amount of cosmetics and the variety of cosmetics: there were eyeliners, powders, mascara, lipstick and all sorts of perfumes. I would haul load after load of cosmetics to the cosmetic department.
And when I got to the cosmetics department I saw the second thing that amazed me. Maybe it just amazed me because I was a 17 year old boy, but the women would be there getting their faces applied with makeup, trying on lipstick, tweezing their eyebrows, sampling perfume, and whatever other things women do at that those makeup counters in high-end department stores.
But although I might have been surprised at the amount of cosmetics that I had to haul off of trucks and bring to the cosmetic department at Bamberger’s, Esther, had she lived in our day, would have thought nothing about it. Because as you can see from verse 12, the young women who were selected to come before King Xerxes had to first complete twelve months of beauty treatments, six months with oil of myrrh and six months with perfumes and cosmetics.
All the carts of cosmetics that I hauled off the trucks in the loading docks at Bamberger’s were nothing compared to all the cosmetics described here in Esther Chapter 2. From what I've read, Persia and India along with Arabia, were famous for their aromatic perfumes which they exported, so it is not surprising that full use of them was made at the royal harem of King Xerxes.
However, there is a big difference between those women applying makeup at a cosmetic counter and Esther undergoing beauty treatments in Persia so long ago. The women in the mall that I saw when I worked in the department store were there voluntarily. It was a great pleasure for them to go and “beautify themselves” at the cosmetic counter.
By contrast, Esther, in the words of verse 8, was taken to the king’s palace and entrusted to Hegai. When the search was made for beautiful young virgins for the King, there was no way for a beautiful young virgin like Esther to say, “No way! I don’t want any part of the King’s harem.”
An Immoral and Pagan Culture
As a Jew in a Persian world, Hadassah – renamed Esther – entered a culture that was incredibly immoral and pagan. Often this chapter is portrayed as a chapter where young women eagerly try out for a beauty pageant with the grand prize being appointed the next Queen of Persia. Undoubtedly there were some young women who did view the contest exactly that way.
But this pageant wasn’t based on anything outside of the King's physical satisfaction. When the advisers to King Xerxes say in verse 4, “Let the girl who pleases the king be Queen instead of Vashti,” they are speaking about the physical pleasure of the King. That is why the verse goes on to say, this advice appealed to the King, and he followed it.
From verse 14 it is clear that each contestant was required to spend the night with the King. Verse 14 describes how in the evening the woman would go to the palace and in the morning would return to another part of the harem under the care of Shaashgaz instead of Hegai. The reason: Hegai had oversight of the virgins; Shaashgaz had custody of the concubines, meaning they were no longer virgins.
Verse 2 gives the criteria for the harem: “Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king”  The criteria? The young women chosen – the girls – were beautiful, young, and they were virgins.
Esther as a Victim
Not only was Esther taken into a very immoral situation, but she was also the epitome of a victim. Esther is often portrayed as the winner of the pageant contest, Miss Persia, if you will. But in reality, Esther is the portrait of a victim.
Verse 5 describes how Mordechai had been taken captive from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. The same was true for Esther’s family. She was an exile, a minority among the Persian people.
Not only was she exiled from her homeland, but she had no father or mother to give her support. Verse 7 describes how Mordechai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died, so she was greatly blessed by her cousin. But the love of her cousin, precious as it was, was not the same as the love of the mother and father who had died.
Not only was she an exile, and not only was she an orphan, but she was also given attention because of her form and features. After telling us that her Hebrew name was Hadassah, verse 7 goes on to tell us that she was also known as Esther, which means star, and that she was lovely in form and features. Or as the ESV translates it: The young woman had a beautiful figure and was lovely to look at.
A young woman who is especially attractive may find some real advantages to her looks. But she may find that her looks bring her the wrong type of attention. It was that wrong type of attention that Esther’s good looks brought her as she was taken to the King’s palace.
Yet, just as God was at work behind the scenes of the drunken feast that led to the deposing of Queen Vashti in chapter 1, so also God was behind the scenes of this “beauty pageant” in Persia. Esther came to a place of power in Persia, not because of her form and features but because of God’s grace and God’s work of providence in even a very sensual and immoral beauty contest.
Gracious and Discreet
By God's grace Esther was also gracious and discreet. It was by God’s grace that there was something which set Esther apart from all the other beautiful young women. There was something that caught the eye of Hegai, the eunuch who had charge of the harem. Verse 9 simply states: The girl pleased him and won his favor.
This was true, not just for Hegai, but for everyone who saw her. Verse 15 states: When the turn came for Esther … to go to the king, she asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the harem, suggested. And Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her.
And, of course, the same was true when King Xerxes first met Esther. Verse 17 describes how the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.
Why was that? What really set Esther apart from all these other beautiful young virgins? God was at work, and He worked His grace in Esther’s life in such a way to bring her to a position of power and influence, all for the protection of His chosen people. Through the process of God’s providence, His grace was evident in the way Esther related to others.
As Esther related to others, whether Hegai, the king, or those at work in the palace, she exuded a gracious attitude. Have you ever met someone who was beautiful on the outside, but inside had absolutely nothing? That was not the case with Esther. Verse 9, in Hebrew is literally, “She lifted up grace before his face.” That’s why Hegai was so attracted to Esther. That is also why the king and everyone else was drawn to her; grace radiated out from her.
And that’s exactly how the New Testament tells us we should be. Colossians 4:5-6 says, Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
There is to be something different about us as God’s people –  a graciousness that wells up from within and shows by the way we speak, by the way we view others, by the way we act, that we are not like the world, but instead that we have the grace of Almighty God at work within us.
Another noteworthy characteristic that we see in Esther is her discretion. Proverbs 11:22 observes, Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion. Young men, you might find a true “Miss America” - or in this case a true “Miss Persia” in the looks department - but the Bible is blunt in saying that a gold ring in a pig’s snout is more beautiful than any “Barbie doll” look, if that beautiful woman has no discretion.
The word translated “discretion” comes from a Hebrew word meaning to taste. The concept is that by tasting you know what is good and what isn’t. Discretion means having the ability and wisdom to judge right from wrong. It means having understanding and godly wisdom. It also includes knowing when it is better to be silent than to speak. Esther certainly understood that part of discretion.  Verse 10 states: Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so.
There is a time to be quiet, even about your Christianity. I knew a godly woman who wanted to volunteer in a local hospital so that she could be a witness. And a witness she was! Every person she saw she tried to convert. She was shocked when after just a few days the hospital personnel office told her they no longer wanted her as a volunteer.
There are times when we have to let our actions speak louder than words. There are times when words would drive someone away while a Christ-like attitude will fuel their interest until they approach us. As 1 Peter 3:15 says, …Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…
No one will ever ask you for the hope that is within you if you do not have Christ living in you, through saving faith in Him. Only then will His grace be evident in you by the way you live, speak, and relate to others.
True Beauty Comes from Within
From Esther’s conduct we see that true beauty comes from within.  Esther’s real beauty came not from all the beauty treatments and special foods, but from within. God’s grace radiated out from her. That’s always the case with true beauty; it springs from within; it is not only skin deep. Proverbs 31:30 says: Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
We see the same truth in the New Testament. 1 Peter 3:3-4 speaks to women of every age: Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.
Esther had the gentle and quiet spirit, but quite a number of commentators point out that she did not object to the food served to her. She was not like Daniel and his friends who, when captured by the Babylonians, refused their food in obedience to the Old Testament dietary laws given by God.
Esther has at times been portrayed darkly, even by Christians, because she slept with the King before she became the Queen, she married a heathen which is prohibited by Old Testament law (Deuteronomy 7:3), and she took advice from Hegai, another non-Jewish pagan. Furthermore, she was silent about her faith and we never read that she prayed for wisdom and guidance for the situation she was in. So some Christian writers are very harsh on Esther.
But others point out that Esther, in the words of verse 8, was taken to the king’s palace and entrusted to Hegai. They would defend her actions, even for sleeping with the king, for in their view she had no other choice. It was forced upon her.
I’m thankful that we do not need to stand in judgment on Esther. Rather, we look at the biblical record and rejoice that God overrules evil. As He does so, He can work through unusual, and even very immoral circumstances, for the good of His people. And in the process, God often uses “little people” to accomplish His great plans.
God’s Care and Protection for His People
Esther and Mordecai were low on the status pole of Persian culture. From verse 5 we know that Mordecai was a descendant of King Saul of Israel. Kish was Saul’s father; Shimei is perhaps best known as the one who called down curses on David when David was fleeing from Absalom. Mordecai seemed to have some influence, because he sat at the city gate, which was a privilege, but he was still far down on the social and political scale.
Esther’s Hebrew name, Hadassah means “myrtle” which is a fragrant shrub. Her Persian name, Esther, is derived from the Persian word for “star” or “Ishtar”, the Persian goddess of love. She was further down on the social scale than her cousin, Mordecai. She was not only an exile, but an orphan. She was a young woman in a world where women were sex objects. In this case, an object for the physical pleasures of a corrupt king.
Often we, like Mordecai and Esther, seem small in the eyes of the world. We are, for the most part, not influential people. As Christians we are not regarded highly by the world. As Paul told the Corinthians, in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29: Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
Yet God, who cares for orphans and widows, will protect and preserve His people even though they may be nobodies in the eyes of the world. When someone is orphaned or widowed, we may think about them and help them initially, but so often that care seems to trail off as we get busy with our lives. Yet God has a special place in His heart for widows, orphans, and those who are downtrodden with other problems. Psalm 68:5 describes the Lord this way: A Father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling.
In the Old Testament God provided for widows through the laws of gleaning, and through the requirement of a brother to marry their widowed sister-in-law. In many ways, God showed His concern for widows and orphans through the Old Testament laws. The same is true in the New Testament church. In Acts 6 we read how deacons were appointed in the church to look after the material needs of widows. In the pastoral letters we read of the importance of looking after the welfare of widows and orphans. Likewise, James stressed the importance of care for widows, as he wrote in James 1:27: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
However, the account of Esther entails far more than God’s care for an orphan who became Queen of Persia. As we will see in the chapters to come, Esther was placed in a position of power so that the Jewish people – God’s people in the Old Testament – would have their lives spared from the evil plot of a man named Haman.
The application for us is that just as God brought good out of the sordid events in Esther’s life, He will work with His providential care through the events in our life and culture for our good. The story of Esther’s life reminds us that God is true to His promise to redeem, protect, and persevere His people as He works out all things for their good. As the Heidelberg catechism puts it:
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood – (as He did also for Esther) – and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.  (Partial answer to Question 1).
That was true in Persia so long ago. It has been true throughout all history. And may you and I be greatly encouraged in knowing it is certainly true for whatever events and circumstances you and I face today. Our faithful God is always at work with His perfect will, “behind the scenes,” turning even the most painful circumstances into good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28). Amen.
                                                  - bulletin outline -
Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she
had neither father nor mother. This girl, who was also known as Esther, was lovely
in form and features, and Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her
father and mother died. – Esther 2:7
                             “The Orphan Who Became the Queen”
                                                    Esther 2:1-18
I.  God’s providence in protecting His people is evident in His grace to Esther who was:
      1) Taken into an immoral, pagan culture (2-4, 8, 14)
      2) The portrait of a victim: exiled, orphaned, given attention because of her form and features (5-7)
      3) Gracious (9) and discreet (10)
II. Observations:
     1) True beauty comes from within (9; Proverbs 31:30; 1 Peter 3:3-4)
     2) God often uses “little people” to accomplish His great plans (5-7; 1 Corinthians 1:26-29)
     3) God, who cares for orphans and widows, will protect and preserve His people (17;
          Deuteronomy 10:18; Psalm 68:5; 146:9; James 1:27)
III. Application: Just as God brought good out of the sordid events in Esther’s life, He works
     through the events in our life and culture for our good (Romans 8:28; Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Ted Gray

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