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The Characters of the Book of Esther: Ahasuerus (Xerxes I) March 30, 2008

Posted by roberttalley in Esther, Religion, Sermons, Sovereignty.


God’s Hand in World Affairs

Esther 1:1-2:18

The Bible makes it clear that from all eternity God had a plan. What is not always clear, is how wicked men, especially wicked rulers are used by God to fulfill His plan. We find in the book of Esther in the character of Ahasuerus an example of how God controls world affairs through the arrogant and sometimes foolish designs of wicked men.


God is accomplishing His purposes not in spite of Ahasuerus but rather He is using Ahasuerus to serve His own great purpose, that is, to protect the nation of Israel. This is the theme of the book of Esther. In Esther 2:15-18, we find that the heart of the king and those of his officers were in God’s hand.

He uses Ahasuerus’ political ambitions (1:3-8).

Ahasuerus (Xerxes) was a man of great ambition. He was a man who was used to controlling his own fate as well as the fate of others. Ahasuerus was a very determined man.

Since it was in the “third year of his reign” (483 BC), these festivities would have been just prior to his invasion of Greece, and just after his successful suppression of the Egyptian and Babylonian revolts. This feast is both a celebration as well as a political stunt to boost morale and support for his Grecian campaign after his father Darius the Great had failed in his quest to conquer the Greeks at the battle of Marathon. He was apparently successful because he invaded with a huge army and navy including ten thousand elite soldiers called the Persian Immortals. This is the army that the three hundred Spartans and their allies held off at Thermopylae.

He uses Ahasuerus’ impulsive character (1:9-22 and 2:15c, 17).

We see this in the Bible but we also know this from history. Herodotus tells how shortly after this great feast as Ahasuerus was gathering his army, a man with four sons said to him, I am going with you to Greece and my three youngest sons are going with you to Greece but I ask leave of you that my eldest son might stay here and not go into battle. Ahasuerus in anger said, your son will stay here and he had the eldest son cut in half and set the carcass on the two sides of the road for the army to march between.

After Ahasuerus reached Greece, he attempted to build two bridges over the Hellespont. These bridges were destroyed by a storm. In his anger Ahasuerus ordered that the waters of the strait be whipped three hundred times and then had fetters thrown into the water as a punishment for the storm.

This is the man that Esther is going to have to deal with in our story. We find, however, that God controlled and even used Ahasuerus’ impetuous ways for His purposes (Esther 2:15c, 17). God used his hastiness in deposing a queen and later in his method of acquiring a new queen to allow Esther to become Ahasuerus’ favorite in the harem.

Now Esther was beautiful but in a sense she was just another pretty face. She was lined up with all the other women in the harem. She ate at the same table with them. She dressed the same way they dressed. She acted just like them. Nobody knew she was a Jew. How did she gain favor with the king’s court? What made the king pick her out? They were all good looking. They could all smile. They could all flirt. The reason Esther ended up queen is because God put her there.

He uses Ahasuerus’ life circumstances (compare 1:3 with 2:12-16).

The fierce resistance of the Spartan-led army at Thermopylae offered Athens time to prepare for a decisive naval battle that would determine the outcome of the war. The subsequent Greek victory at the Battle of Salamis left much of the Persian Empire‘s navy destroyed and Xerxes retreated to Asia, leaving a force in Greece under Mardonius, who was to meet the Greeks in battle one last time. The Spartans assembled at full strength and led a pan-Greek army that defeated the Persians decisively at the Battle of Plataea, ending the Greco-Persian War and with it, the expansion of the Persian Empire into Europe.” (adapted from Wikipedia).

Wiersbe: “…all this activity – eating and drinking, dethroning the queen, issuing edicts, and losing the war – was part of God’s plan to rescue His people from annihilation.

We can use Ahasuerus (and the rest of the book of Esther) to learn some important lessons.

Tim Challies tells of looking at a book that his uncle had used that gave step-by-step instructions on how to properly butcher a deer and prepare the meat. This book had chapters on how to butcher cows, pigs, sheep, rabbits, raccoons and chickens. It wasn’t hard to recognize the portion on butchering a deer—those pages were covered in blood. Obviously his uncle had kept this book with him through the butchering process and had turned to it often. There were bloody fingerprints on the edges and drops of blood smeared across the pages. It looked well-used. Apparently it served as a good guide because his uncle managed to properly butcher the deer and prepare it for eating. The week we were there he was preparing a pit in which he could smoke the meat from the next deer that found itself in his crosshairs.

Tim goes on to explain how that there are some pages in our Bibles that are covered in blood, so to speak. They are pages that we use to proclaim or defend our faith; they are pages with verses that uplift and inspire; they are the pages with verses that people like to adapt as their “life verses.” We turn to these pages often and love to learn from them.

But then there is Esther 1-2. The two chapters we are looking at today have little or no blood on them. There is little evidence that we have learned from these pages and that we use them to bolster my faith. There is little evidence that we have used those pages to teach me more about the God I serve (Adapted from Tim Challies at  http://www.challies.com/archives/articles/bible-study/blood-on-the-book.php).

If I may, I would like to drop three drops of blood on these two chapters this morning before we close.

Even when those in power do things that harm us, God can work His purposes through them in us. Whoever He is using in our life, it is a part of His purpose (verse 42). Every political leader, every CEO, every leader of an organization plays in some way a vital part in God’s plan. Why? Because He orders it. In the story of Genesis, Joseph put it this way when talking to his brothers, “You meant this for evil but God meant it for good. We do not need to fear when the events of the day are going against us. We do not need to get even. We need to trust in God’s power and in His purposes.

God is not limited by our character in accomplishing His purposes. Proverbs 21:1says,“ The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” When bad men get worse and worse, God does not get frustrated. God is not limited by our cowardice, our bitterness, our laziness, our lack of faith, or even by our wickedness. He will accomplish His purposes, even if the character of every man and woman on earth was against them, we could not slow Him down for a second.

God shapes every circumstance to accomplish His purposes.

This is often hard for us to accept. Yet it is true and it is a necessary truth. It is the truth that keeps us from debilitating fear and worry, the truth that stands between us and a fatalistic or pessimistic outlook. God is in control is not a catch phrase. It is the truth. That is the message of the book of Esther.

Next week we will look at Esther herself and her reaction to the difficult circumstances in which God put her. 



1. merriam - April 18, 2008

the message for two weeks back

2. pastor l gaynor hunter - July 9, 2010

message foe week two

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