Sermon – January 24, 2021

Esther by Jean-François Portaels, ~1869

Esther 1 – The Problem of Human Power (mp3)

Esther is a strange book. Out of the 66 books of the Bible, it is the only one not to mention God, or use his covenantal name. It mentions nothing of the law, Torah, the history of the Jewish nation, or its hope for the future. Yet, this is part of its beauty and genius. Esther desires to show us how God’s power, even when unseen and unspoken, is still stronger than the mightiest of men. While it seems, on its surface, to be simply a story of how a feast came to be celebrated, we will hopefully see that it is much more than that. Let us begin by today looking into Esther 1, and how humans wrongly relate to power.

1. Humans love power displayed
Ahasuerus’ party was amazing, and meant to be. It was meant to dazzle the eyes and the stomach. It was a way to show off his grand opulence, and he does so in a way that is enticing to most humans. The only other place we really get such a description of such magnificent settings is in descriptions of God’s temple; a temple that is now defunct, God’s glory no longer present. So, the question is put to us, who is more powerful, more glorious – Ahasuerus or God? What we see, or what is unseen?

2. Humans use power to dehumanize
While the debate over morality vis-à-vis Ahasuerus and Vashti is somewhat unhelpful, it is clear that Ahasuerus simply sees his wife as another vessel for his glory. She is nothing more than a pretty cup or a nice golden couch. Power, in human hands, tends to dehumanize others, for almost all others are just a means to an end, and not an end in itself. Such dehumanization is just another form of idolatry, it makes those who wield the power into a cheap form of God. Again, the comparison comes to us: who is more powerful – Ahasuerus or God? What we see, or what is unseen?

3. Humans’ use of power is daft
The solution to the problem of Vashti is mismanaged and bungled from the start. It publicizes the problem instead of keeping it quiet, draws attention to Ahasuerus’ failings, and is unlikely to have the effect the seven wise counselors desire. It is a comedy of mismanagement and poor decision. Comedy like this, in such a serious book, laden with serious topics, might seem out of place. But it is the only right reaction to humans fighting against God’s power and will. Indeed, such fighting provokes God’s laughter.

4. Humans’ love of power is deranged
We live in an age of conspiracy, but the true and lasting conspiracy isn’t new, but radically old. It is the same conspiracy that was introduced in the garden and plagues mankind even today. It is the lie that what we see is power; what surrounds us, what we can feel, touch, taste, smell, feel – that is true power. The book of Esther seeks to dismantle that notion (as does the rest of Scripture). The power of God, even at his weakest, even when he is not there (!) is stronger than man at his strongest. Let us choose carefully where we put our trust.