The book of Esther is full of stories about people whose lives didn’t turn out as planned, so I want to end this series by touching on two of them: King Xerxes and Queen Vashti.
Xerxes had big shoes to fill. His father, Darius the Great, was an administrative genius, a visionary architect/builder, and famously benevolent toward the diverse people groups under his sovereignty. A convoluted family tree resulted in Darius naming Xerxes his successor before Xerxes showed any competency for the job. He hired bodyguards that tried to kill him and advisors that misled him. He ignored people that actually gave him sound counsel—like his uncle who said don’t invade Greece. Xerxes substituted indulgent excesses for diplomacy, like his six-month show-off-and-tell-fest for his officials and heads of the 127 provinces he ruled (Esther 1:3-4). His deficiencies marked the start of the empire’s decline.
People alternately deride Vashti as a diva or praise her for preserving her dignity. IMO, she was a type of sacrificial lamb. Born into royalty, she knew protocol, the king’s power, and the impropriety of his command for her to appear at the end of a seven-day, city-wide feast that Susa was reveling in. (That happened right after Xerxes’ six-month party.) Extrabiblical sources hint that Vashti was commanded to appear wearing only her crown. Her “no” cost her dearly. She lost her royal status. If she was banished instead of beheaded, she never saw her children again. But she may have preserved the dignity of all women in the largest empire of its day.
With all they had, what did they lack?
Xerxes only partially realized his dreams. But Vashti’s dreams were completely stripped from her. So what can we learn from these two royals?
IMO, it’s the need for grace.
We need the greatest grace when our dreams die. When life shatters at our feet. When the darkness of Saturday shrouds the promise of light on Sunday.
Praise God that He never runs out of grace and never tires of giving it to us! He waits for our distress call and is ready to reshape the shards of our life into something new and singularly beautiful.
Ironically, grace may be hardest to grasp when we need it most.
When we’re shattered, we default to a poverty mentality. We yearn for a smidgen of hope. We pray for a glimmer of light. We settle for skosh as sustenance. Why? It seems inappropriate or inconceivable to believe that God truly has much more in mind for us.
Grace is difficult. It’s given with no strings attached. We don’t deserve it, so we can’t demand anything from it. But we can receive it.
2 Peter 1 talks about grace in terms of the precious promises we already have and the rich reception we’ll get in heaven. Xerxes’ six-month spectacle will look like a beggar’s bread line compared to God’s heavenly welcome for us. Peter describes it using an intensified word structure that means “an overabundant, lavish supply of whatever is needed for accomplishing a grand objective.”
When I read that, how can I doubt God? He never does anything halfway.
The doubt doesn’t rest with God per se but rather with His timing.
A banquet in heaven is great, but rent is due now. Eternal unity sounds fantastic, but when will God kickstart family reconciliation here on earth? If His timing isn’t mine, when will He act—if at all?
Friend, if you’ve ever entertained such thoughts, I lovingly urge you to rebuke them, give them to God, and remember your past. Recite when God’s perfect plan took your breath away.
Here’s one example from my life.
By necessity (not choice) I had to move cross country. The first day of that four-day trek, I had to drive from northwestern Oregon to the southwestern border of Idaho. Between those two points are multiple mountain ranges, national forests, and mega-miles of zero civilization. Due to bizarre circumstances, my trip started four hours later than planned. Not good. (Read: hours of travel after sunset.) Have you ever driven through dense forest or mountains at night? It’s pitch dark with zero visibility an inch beyond your headlights. As I strained to see the road, I prayed for God to provide light. It seemed like a ridiculous prayer. The two-lane highway was deserted, and the next town was more than an hour away. Suddenly a silver 1960s Airstream camper appeared ahead of me. When my low beams hit its aluminum frame, the camper became a floodlight. Brightness ricocheted everywhere—illuminating both lanes, the highway’s narrow berms, the slopes and forest on both sides of me. I followed that Airstream for more than two hours until it exited the highway … close to the Idaho border.
Xerxes’ and Vashti’s lives underscore that we can have what they didn’t. We can trust in the God of grace who turns messes into miracles and pierces darkness with light. Hallelujah!
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