Do you ever wonder if God is truly attentive to the world’s affairs?
Does He care about politics?
Does He care where we live and what we do with our time?
Are our concerns His concerns?
The book of Esther sheds light on these age-old questions. We’ve been studying Esther in our local women’s Bible study and I was blown away by the historical background of the book. I want to share it with you because I think it will charge you up. (Even if you hated history in high school, read on! I think there’s a treat in here for you.)
History 101: The Persian Empire in 3 Paragraphs
So, the whole story of Esther begins with a banquet hosted by The King of Persia, King Xerxes (a.k.a King Ahasuerus). He was a real, historical king who ruled the Persian Empire that stretched across most of the known world at the time. King Xerxes had extravagant wealth, unlimited power, and unrivaled pretension. Historians report that he made himself known as “King of Persia and Media“, “Great King”, “King of Kings” and “King of Nations”. He was a big shot.
Xerxes inherited the kingdom from his father, King Darius, who, like every carnal king wasn’t content with his vast empire: he wanted more land and more power. Darius had his eye on acquiring Greece. He led Persia into the First Persian War (492 – 490 B.C.) that included the Battle of Marathon. Surprisingly, Persia lost. (Legend has it that a Greek messenger named Pheidippides ran the 26.1 miles from the coast to Athens with news of Greece’s victory. This inspired the athletic feat that makes it onto countless Bucket Lists today.) At any rate, this battle was extremely significant because it indicated to the Greeks that Persia could be beaten.
King Darius came home from the battle hoping to return to Greece to reverse the embarrassing loss. But, homeland trouble arose and he died before he could teach Greece a lesson. His son, King Xerxes, inherited the responsibility of finishing the job.
How this connects to the book of Esther:
When we open the book of Esther and read about the lavish feast for the “armies of Persia and Media and the nobles and governors of the provinces”, we are entering history around 483 BC when King Xerxes was preparing to return to Greece. He was sharing his riches and glory in order to gather support, build an unbeatable army, and prepare his expedition.
That’s the famous scene in which Queen Vashti refuses the King’s command that she parade in front of his drunken friends.
Shortly after these martial feasts, we meet a Jewish orphan girl named Esther who is taken into the King’s harem and eventually selected as the new queen.
The rest of the book of Esther records the surprising and significant way God used Esther to preserve His people from annihilation, ultimately keeping His promise to provide a Messiah, the Savior of the World.
The story of Esther is an unforgettable demonstration of God’s undeniable involvement in our lives, even when we cannot see Him in obvious ways.
What’s NOT in the book of Esther:
At the same time that Esther is becoming Queen, King Xerxes is leading his massive army back to Greece to fight the Battle at Salamis. He set his throne up on the cliffs by the sea in order to watch his impressive ships and record the heroic deeds of his generals. He was bound to win. But, in an unexpected turn of events, Persia lost to Greece. Again.
Historians call The Battle of Salamis, “The Battle that Saved Western Civilization” and “one of the most significant battles in human history” because it stopped the Persian advance. This demoralized Persia and made a way for Greece to grow in power. Eventually, Alexander the Great rose to power in Greece and swept over the entire Persian Empire, changing civilization forever.
The impact was huge…
“If the Greeks had lost at Salamis, the ensuing conquest of Greece by the Persians would have effectively stifled the growth of Western Civilization as we know it. This view is based on the premise that much of modern Western society, such as philosophy, science, personal freedom and democracy are rooted in the legacy of Ancient Greece. Thus, this school of thought argues that, given the domination of much of modern history by Western Civilization, Persian domination of Greece might have changed the whole trajectory of human history. It is also worth mentioning that the celebrated blossoming of hugely influential Athenian culture occurred only after the Persian wars were won.”
Why This Applies to You and Me, Today:
When you google “King Xerxes” or “The Persian Empire”, you’ll read about The Battle of Marathon and The Battle of Salamis. What a significant time in history! Entire kingdoms were shifting. Civilization as we know it was being shaped. The details of these battles are the big headlines of ancient times.
The story of Queen Esther is a mere subplot on history’s timeline – if it’s mentioned at all.
Yet, when you read the book of Esther, the kings and battles that historians call “the major pivot point of human history” are merely a subplot to God’s record of history.
While the battles were raging and the kings were struggling for power, God was quietly – yet profoundly – at work to preserve a small, insignificant people group and to save the world in His own way.
How much more did this affect civilization?
God’s ways are different than our own.
The headlines that we believe are newsworthy may not be as big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.
Instead, the people and circumstances that we overlook – the small and the ordinary – may be the ways in which God is shaping history, influencing civilization, and changing the world one kingdom at a time.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
9For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9
Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” Revelation 11: 15