Monday, October 17, 2005

Xerxes and Esther

King Xerxes threw a six-month party for all his nobles. At the end of this he threw a huge, seven day, bash for everyone in the capital city. During this finale, he wanted to show off the greatest treasure of the kingdom, his queen. But she insulted him by refusing his summons and was removed from her position of privilege.

Some would say this request was lewd and inappropriate and should have been denied. However, I don't think this was the nature of the request. Isaiah 62 talks about the church's glory being made evident as a crown of beauty in God's hand. 1 Corinthians 11 tells us that the glory of a man is his wife and man is the glory of God. Ephesians 3 tells us that the work that God is doing in the church to bring her to glory is to reveal His wisdom to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places. I think this indicates that Jesus is going to do with his bride what Xerxes was trying to do with Vashti: demonstrate his glory by the way in which his queen is dressed.

In time, a search was made for a new queen. One of those included in this search was Esther, a Jewish captive whose family was taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. After 12 months of preparatory treatments, it was Esther's turn to go before the king. She asked the king's adviser, Hegai, to dress her to please the king.

In a similar way, the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit purifies believers and makes them ready for the heavenly groom. The things we go through, the ways we respond, the decisions we make under His guidance, all make us ready for that last day. We are to be washed and without spot or wrinkle when we're presented to Christ (Ephesians 5:27). We are to be diligent in our pursuit of righteousness in order to be blameless in His sight (2 Peter 3:14). We are to repent under his reproof and so acquire garments of white (Revelation 3:22).

That night Esther captured the king's heart and was made queen. In celebration, the king threw another party. Traditionally this was called a Banquet of Wine, which was the betrothal feast in Middle Eastern cultures. During the party, the groom would pour a glass of wine and set it on the table. This symbolized the pouring out of himself for the bride; offering all he had for her. Later, she would go to the table and drink it, symbolically saying 'Yes, I accept. My life is sustained by you. We are one.'

Some years later, Haman, an enemy of the Jews, rose to a place of prominence in the court. Through this position of authority, with the king's ascent, he was able to pass a law to kill all the Jews in the land.

Similarly, Satan seeks to destroy God's people, and does it in the bounds of God's authority. Remember the stories of Job, Peter and Jesus, who all were harassed by Satan, with God's permission. I believe God allows strategic threats of the enemy to force the queen into her place of intercession before the king.

Esther learned of Haman's plan, prepared herself to meet the king and went to stand in his presence. When the king saw her, his heart was moved. He raised his scepter to her, granting her an audience. He watched her as she approached the throne, stunned by her loveliness. By the time she reached him, he was ruined. He was a man in love. The king invited her to presume upon her positional authority: what is your request? Up to half the kingdom. Rather than responding with her intercessory burden, Esther invited him, along with Haman, to a Banquet of Wine.

It is here that the idea of bridal intercession begins to be revealed. Outside, the Jews are distressed. They're going around in sackcloth and ashes. They're weeping and fasting. However inside, near the heart of the king, the bride is reminding him of their romance. She's reminding him of that first Banquet of Wine, the intimacy they share and renewing her commitment to him. Standing opposite to Vashti's refusal to be seen as his bride, Esther is actively creating an environment, in the presence of his nobles, in which she can be seen as his and his alone.

After the feast, the king again asked her what she needed. Esther does a remarkable thing. Once again, rather than interceding, she invited the king and Haman to another Banquet of Wine the next night. She took full advantage of her prerogative to stir the king's heart. Her request is secondary, for she's coming to grips with the fact that the king's heart is ravished for her. He will take care of the issues as they present themselves. So plans are made for the next night, where she promises to let the king know what is on her heart.

The king knows that there is something on her mind, but he's pleased with her approach. The next night, he again invited her to presume upon her standing and offers up to half the kingdom. This time Esther responds by telling him of the plan to destroy her and her people. She's careful not to reveal too much or say who it is. She just lets the reality sink in and let the king's anger build. The king is outraged. Who would dare to threaten his bride? Haman.

It's here that the wisdom of including Haman in the celebration becomes evident. He's had two nights to observe first hand the romance and affection between the king and queen. The previous night he went home and bragged to his friends and family of his position near them. All of a sudden the tables have been turned and he realizes the serious trouble he's in. The king is so distraught, he leaves the party to think. Haman is terrified and pleads with the queen for his life. On his return, the king immediately orders Haman's execution.

I believe all this is a prophetic story of our relationship with God. First, He's a joyful God who enjoys throwing parties. He's looking for a bride who will prepare herself to stand before him in the glory that He's bestowed upon her. He gave himself and poured himself out for us, to bring us into a relationship with him. Finally, He strategically allows problems into our lives. In the words of Psalm 23: 'You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.' This gives us an opportunity to grow in our understanding of our position before him. Also, it provides Satan an opportunity to see the mutual love between us and be terrified.