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For Such a Slime as This

Though God may seem absent, his power comes through our sin, failure, and imperfection.


Our text this morning is in the book of Esther chapter two. Normally people tend to go to chapter 4, and that's often the only thing you hear from the book of Esther. But I want us to read chapter two, beginning in verse 1.

Read Esther 2:1-18

Esther is a strange book. It doesn't even mention the name of God anywhere in the entire book. You find in it no miracles, no prophets showing up to deliver God's word, there are no plagues sent from heaven. There is not one prayer breathed anywhere in this book. As a result, it has been largely ignored, sometimes altogether disregarded. If you go to The Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem, Esther is the one book from the entire Old Testament that isn't found—not even a fragment—in the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Qumran community. John Calvin didn't include Esther in his biblical commentaries, and he only referenced it once in the Institutes. Though Martin Luther included it in his Bible, he was very ambivalent about it. "I am so great an enemy to Esther that I wish it had not come to us at all, for it has too many heathen unnaturalities," he wrote in Table Talk. If you look into Adrian Rogers, the great Baptist preacher's library of sermons, you will find only one sermon ever preached from the book of Esther in all his years of ministry. As if that weren't strange enough, in the Veggie Tales version of Esther, it's the only one in which Bob the Tomato never appears.

Esther's moral compromises

Now, the truth is we are uncomfortable with this book. We're alright with that part where Mordecai tells her, "You've come to the kingdom for such a time as this, it's time for you to stand up and to be counted and to make a decision." But the rest of it is just strange. Frankly, it lacks the moral clarity of, say, Daniel. Daniel was written in roughly the same period, the period of the exile, and Daniel is so clear, so clean. He and the Hebrew children refuse to eat the king's food. Not only does he admit he is a Jew, he demands concessions to his Jewishness. He won't bow to any other God. When a law is passed that you cannot pray, it doesn't affect him one bit. There is not even a description in the text of Daniel agonizing over whether or not to do it. He just goes home as usual, opens up his window and prays like always, and he's willing to face the consequences.

Esther lacks that kind of devotion. Her real name is Hadassah but she goes by Esther, a corruption of the name of a false deity. She doesn't admit she's a Jew. She and Mordecai have grown so comfortable in Persia that even though under the decree of Cyrus the Jews were allowed to return back to their homeland, they don't go. They like it here where they've got indoor plumbing, running water, and shopping malls. It's comfortable. She never seems to pray. She joins the harem. In fact, the way we read that in the text, coming right after that description of Mordecai, it really suggests that it's Mordecai that encourages her to enter into this beauty contest. And this is no ordinary beauty contest. I mean, she's taken in to the harem and not only does she not refuse the king's food, she's given the best of the king's food for at least a year. She's put on a beauty regimen. I think Esther is the only woman in the Bible where it tells us she had a great body. It talks about her figure. She is so enticing, so alluring, so appealing, so attractive in that night she spends with the king that she wins his favor and he makes her queen. And that is strange to us.

I think we want to read into the text that somehow it was her purity and her chastity that won the king over, but I really think that's not what kings like Xerxes tolerated. This one night with the king was intended to be precisely what we think it was. And as the story develops in the book, when the edict of death is put out over the Jewish people and Mordecai sends the message to Esther that she has to finally make a decision, she doesn't want to do it. Her decision to finally step up and go to bat for her people is really not one of moral courage; it's more one of desperation. Her choice is either certain death or potential death, so she chooses potential death—maybe this will work. That's hardly the kind of moral courage that we typically admire. With her going in and spending the night with the king, her reticence to stand on behalf of her people, it's really no wonder those uptight guys at Qumran didn't include her book in the Dead Sea Scrolls. They were uncomfortable with it. We are comfortable with moral clarity. We like a Daniel.

I remember when I was a kid in vacation Bible school, we used to sing a song about Daniel. "Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone, dare to have a purpose firm, dare to make it known." What would you sing about Esther? "Dare to be an Esther, dare to please the king, wear cosmetics, watch your figure, and you'll be a queen." It's a strange book, I tell you. If all we knew of Esther was her decision to champion the cause of her people, we might be comfortable with her, but the truth is we know too much. We know her past. We know her compromises. We know her shame at identifying with her people. We know that she's comfortable in Persia more than she is back in her homeland. All of those factors color our understanding of her decision.

Our moral compromises

Now, I'll confess to you, I can relate to Esther's imperfections and more compromises. I understand it. When I'm ready to sit in judgment on Esther I remember certain things that I've done. For instance, when I read about the contest that she entered, I can't help but think of a contest that I once was a part of. Here's what happened. Tonia, my wife, and I were going on a cruise and we were going with some friends of ours who are missionaries in Brazil. This young lady came up to us and said, "I'm the social director on the ship and I would like to invite you to sit at the captain's table." It was a white glove affair and we were ready to go to dinner. We got the word that there was a medical emergency on the ship and the captain couldn't have dinner with us, but go ahead, she said, and have the meal. There were five other couples in addition to the four of us, and we got to know each other really well.

There was this one real fiery redhead woman in the group She and her husband were from New York. She was kind of a take charge person. We had all gone to the theater on the ship to see the show and at the end of it they said, "We're going to have a game that's called the Newlywed-Not so Newlywed game." Every cruise had this game where they'd bring up couples— usually a newlywed couple, a 10-year couple, a 25-year couple, and like 50-years plus couple. They asked them questions and they had to match answers. They said, "We want couples to volunteer," and this redhead grabs my arm and said, "Let's volunteer and pretend that we're married." Before I knew it she had her hand up and the guy says, "How long you been married?" She said, "Ten years." The next thing I know I'm being dragged up there and on the way she's whispering in my ear, "Any question that requires a man's name use my husband's name and any question that requires a woman's name answer Tonia," and she goes through the whole thing real quick, she tells me how to answer.

They take her into this back room and they ask her the questions and the ones they asked were mostly ones we anticipated. They did ask a few I'd never thought of. Like they asked, "What habit of yours annoys her the most?" So I said, "Picking my nose." And she got it right! Now, that troubled me a little bit. We got them all right. We won the competition. We didn't miss a question. Now, Tonia and I have a video of this and if you watch the video, I'm wearing this blue shirt and there are massive sweat stains all over it because I have this guilty conscience. We're pulling this ruse on everybody like we're married and we're not. And we win the thing and they give us a prize and everybody said, "Way to go, you guys really know each other well." And I am just dying. Little did I know that they would play that video on the in-cabin televisions for the next 24 hours on a continuous loop, and even people who weren't there saw it. Now, this presented a real problem as Tonia and I were walking around the ship holding hands. I'm getting dirty looks from people like, "What kind of a man are you?" And here I am, a Baptist preacher. Two little ladies pulled Tonia aside on an elevator and they said, "He's married, you know." I look back at that, I said, "What was I thinking?" In the name of some joke … I just felt awful.

Well, imagine that multiplied many times over. Sometimes we get to the place where we have to trust God that he's going to use us in spite of our broken past. Esther has nothing to brag about back there. She's a lovely young lady in many ways no doubt, but she's really in a mess. She's not where she ought to be. She's not doing what she should have done. She's not characterized as a woman of prayer or of the Word. She's just chosen to be the queen, and her life is messy. I've learned this after years of living and pastoring: everybody's life is messy.

God's sovereignty in our compromise

You know, there are three kinds of messes. There's either the mess that you made, or you're living in the mess that somebody else made for you, or you're just living in the messiness of the fallen world—the tragedies, the circumstances that follow bad decisions, sinful choices, and tragic circumstances. These things don't define you, but they goad you, they prick you, they prod you, they force you into a place of desperation so dire that you have no recourse but to cast yourself completely on the will of God and reach that point where you say, "If I perish, I perish. I have nowhere else to go but to the Lord." The reality is that we often don't live life well until it's been shattered. We are far less open to God when we think we've got it all together, when we think somehow we've accomplished, we've achieved, we have attained what we need to do. But you've got to trust that God's going to use you, not because of what you've done, not because of your goodness. God uses you in spite of your broken past. Not only that, you've got to trust that he's going to use you in spite of your imperfect place.

Here she is in Persia. She really isn't supposed to be there. God had prophesied that he would raise up his servant Cyrus who would return the people to the land, and Cyrus had done that some 70 years before this takes place and yet there are still Jews in Persia. They still live there with those comforts. Most sermons on Esther focus on that phrase, "For such a time as this." If you do any research on sermons on Esther, most of them will be called, "For Such a Time as This." But I think it's really the preceding phrase that catches my attention. When Mordecai says to her, "Who knows but that you've come to the kingdom for such a time as this." The kingdom? Whose kingdom? Who is king of this kingdom? He's not talking about the kingdom of God. It's not that Esther has submitted herself to the lordship of her sovereign Creator, the Master of the entire universe. It's that she is in a strange kingdom with a foreign and pagan king, and Mordecai says, "Who knows but that you've come to this king, to this kingdom, to this place where otherwise you ought not to be." Who knows? But here you are for this time. And God is big enough, he is sovereign enough that he can use even our tragic circumstances, even our bad decisions, even our sinful choices, even the dire circumstances of our life. He is using those things to accomplish his purpose and his plan.

I grew up down in western Kentucky, way out in the boonies on the Trigg Country-Christian County line, hunting and fishing, and it was with great sadness that when I was 15 we were moving to Detroit where my dad had accepted the pastorate of a church. Now, we'd been in a tiny little church with three deacons, and here we are going to a metropolitan area and we moved to 8 Mile and Van Dyke. Now, if you know Detroit, well, if you know Eminem, if you've ever seen the movie 8 Mile, that's where I'm from. Eminem and I actually went to the same high school. But I remember my first day at Lincoln High School. I was angry at my dad, I was upset with God, I did not want to leave all the friends that I had made throughout my childhood, and suddenly I'm going somewhere. Other students were asking me questions like, "Did you wear shoes to school in Kentucky?" And they were making fun of my accent and I was clearly the odd guy out. I had to go sit in a classroom where I didn't know anybody. I made it through those first three class periods and then lunchtime came. Oh man, where do you sit in a lunchroom? You don't know—where's the off-limits tables? You don't want to intrude on anybody's territory. I remember in the back of the cafeteria there were a couple of open tables, and I thought, I'll go there and just hope I'm not on anybody's turf. No sooner did I sit down with my tray, a group of kids walked in and they surrounded me. And one of them spoke up, "Hey, you're at our table." And I looked up at him and all the rest of them, I said, "Look, I'm brand new, today's my first day. If you would be so kind as to let me sit here today I won't bother you tomorrow." And he said, "You're from the south." I said, "Yeah, I'm from the south." He said, "Where in the south are you from?" I said, "I'm from Kentucky." He said, "Really, what part of Kentucky?" I said, "Down in western Kentucky." "Where in western Kentucky?" I said, "Well, I'm from Christian County." "Christian County, near Hop Town?" Now, only people from Hopkinsville call it "Hop Town." I said, "Yeah, that was the county seat, I lived out in the country." He said, "You live anywhere near a place called Newstead?" I said, "Yeah, I lived three miles up the road from Newstead. I lived at a little place called Julian." He said, "Julian, yeah, I know that." He said, "Would you happen to know a guy there that lives at Newstead by the name of Wink Roberts?" I said, "I sure would, he was a deacon in my dad's church." He said, "That's my uncle." I said, "You're kidding." He said, "No, man, glad to meet you, my name is Rick Roberts." And I want to tell you, I was in. These were the cool kids. These were the musicians. These were the guys that everybody else wanted to be with. And from that day on—I was a sophomore—they took me into their group, they were kind to me, they opened doors for me, they became lifelong friends. I learned that day, that a sovereign God was saying to me, "Wherever you go, I go before you. Sometimes it's going to be where you ought not to be but I will be there."

God's glory in our brokenness

You know, the thing about the book of Esther is that God is not explicitly seen. He's not mentioned. There's no prayer to him—even when Esther decides that she's going to do what she can to go to the king and save her people. She tells Mordecai to tell all the Jews to fast. Isn't it odd she doesn't say, "And pray"? But God is simply hidden. It's as though the author is intentionally keeping God obscured, eclipsed, hiding in the shadows. You need to understand that just because you don't see God in Esther that doesn't mean he's not there. And if there's anything you need to learn to trust, it's that you can trust that God is with you in spite of your dim vision. Sometimes your vision will be dimmed by your own sinfulness, sometimes by the circumstances, sometimes by the pain and grief that envelops you. But God does some of his best work in the shadows, hidden from view, obscured by the dim vision on those whom he is dealing with. I think for every Daniel who sees a clear vision of the Son of Man, there are a thousand Esthers who come stumbling, staggering, reluctantly dragged into the will of God by desperation and a lack of alternatives. I have often found myself in the same place where Esther lands. I've got nothing else to do. There's nowhere else for me to go. The choice for me is true, complete, and utter failure or potential failure but trusting in God. And I turn to him and I say, "Lord, I don't understand why this stuff has happened, I don't understand how you are at work, I don't understand why you've allowed this grief into my life. I don't know, Lord, why you allowed me to make bad choices. I don't know any of that but I know I have nowhere else to go."

Just yesterday I left here and went home to my office where I was meeting with a young father who is dealing with grief. His wife was pregnant, and she carried their baby to near full-term, about 38 weeks. During the day at work she felt the baby move that morning. By that night when she got home she realized she hadn't felt the baby move for a while. Panicked they went to the doctor. The doctor found no heartbeat and they discovered something that had they known it earlier they could have saved the baby's life, But the umbilical cord was knotted not once but twice, and the baby's oxygen supply had been cut off and they lost the baby. She had to then give birth to that child, little James.

Both me and our church are trying to walk with them through that grief. I had an appointment with that father yesterday, and as I talked to him and he began to talk to me about trying to see what God is up to, I noted in him that something was missing. I'd talked to him several times before. He is a church member of another church. I asked him point blank: "Do you know for certain that you're going to heaven?" He said no, he didn't. I shared with him the gospel. I told him about what Christ had done on his behalf and I explained to him the difference in temporal faith and intellectual faith. I explained that saving faith is a commitment of one's life to Christ, a receiving of what he has done on your behalf. I watched his face light up, right there in my office. He prayed the most beautiful prayer, calling on the name of the Lord for salvation, repenting of his sins and putting his faith and trust in Christ alone.


Can it be that our God is so great and so big that in his sovereignty he can use the death of a baby to save his father? If you don't believe that, what's your alternative? Choose which God you're going to believe in: The God who feels bad for you, he emotes with you, he sympathizes with you, he just can't do anything to help you; or the God who is so big that he can take the tragedies, the sorrows, even the sinful choices and decisions of your life and still weave them into the fabric of his purpose and plan for your life so that he gets glory from you anyway? That's the God who is hidden in Esther and yet displayed everywhere in Esther.

Isn't it true that God never seemed more absent anywhere than at the cross itself? Jesus hanging there, broken and shattered, God's own Son cries out in desperation, questioning why the Father has deserted him, with nowhere else to go but to commend himself into the hands of the God who has let him die. Though God may seem absent, that is where he is most gloriously displayed. I mean, just read God's pattern throughout the Scripture. He is a God who is so great that in his providence he uses a lying Jacob, and a lecherous Judah, a disobedient David, and a dying thief. He takes a murderous religious zealot like Saul of Tarsus and transforms him into a champion of grace, and then pierces his flesh with a thorn. It's the providence of God that reminds a displaced Kentucky teenager that he is sovereign on 8-mile too. It's a providence that weaves the searing loss of a child into the beautiful fabric of his father's new birth. It's the providence of God that comes today to the chaos and filth of Syrian refugee camps along the Syrian border as Baptist missionaries descend on that place, telling them the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. To think that the chemical weapons and the bombs of an evil dictator can be used by a sovereign God to drive them to a waiting Savior—that's the God of Esther.

That's the God we serve. It's the God that has brought you through everything in your life—your failures and tragedies and grief and bad decisions and sinful choices. He has brought you to this moment so that you may come to him in your imperfect place and with your broken past, and you can know that the King of Kings holds out not a golden scepter but a bloody cross, and see that he is not hidden in the shadows but on his throne.

Hershael York is pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky, as well as professor of Christian Preaching and dean of Southern Seminary's School of Theology in Louisville, Kentucky.

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Sermon Outline:


I. Esther's moral compromises

II. Our moral compromises

III. God's sovereignty in our compromise

IV. God's glory in our brokenness