Yesterday’s message …
- Started a series on a book that I have avoided for 28 years: Esther;
- Continued a recent trend of devoting July to overlooked sections of the Old Testament; in 2014 it was “Lost & Found” from I Kings 17-19; in 2015 it was “On The Up And Up” from the Songs Of Ascent in Psalm 120-135; in 2016 it was “Crash Test Dummies” from Judges; and last year it was “Unhappy Campers” from Exodus and Numbers;
- Featured a sixty second teaching snippet from Dr. Michael Brown;
- Drew many connections between family dynamics, recovery, and the ancient story that is Esther;
- Landed at this bottom line: People control you when they can’t control themselves.
Here’s something that I know most of us if not all of us have in common: we’ve been around Control Freaks. Those people in our lives who – often with good intentions – do their best to control their environment, their situations, their surrounding, and … the behavior of their friends and their family. Your behavior. I’ve got more than a little of this in me, especially when it comes to controlling my environment & surroundings. Like I ALWAYS wear two pair of socks (at the same time, one for comfort, one for grown up look), I ALWAYS eat the same thing for lunch, I ALWAYS have a cup of water up here with me. This control gives me security, as in, if I can control THIS HERE, I can thrive OVER THERE.
But it’s really the other kind of CF that I’m really interestedin today – those who control the behavior of others. Some of you raised by parents who excelled at this … and now that you’re an adult, they still trying to control with some “helpful advice” or “just a suggestion” and it makes you want to cry out, “I’m 50!” Others of you work FOR or, more painfully WITH, someone like this. Your idea is always met with a better idea. That person who mistakenly believes that if they increase VOLUME in a meeting in will mask out little WISDOM is actually coming forth. You agree just to shut them up. Others of you are married to a CF – he or she is thoroughly unaware that they can’t change you because they keep trying to do just that. And then I bet that a few of you have kids who, from the youngest of ages, learned to manipulate you with threats and pouts and you didn’t know you were being played but now they’re 35 and living in your basement unemployed and that’s what’s going on. And the best of all CFs – whether parent, mate, sibling, coworker, or kid – are masters at making YOU feel responsible for decisions THEY made. That’s Control Freak Perfection & some of you know understand much better what is going on in your life.
And then, more than a few of you can’t really identify with what I have said so far because you’re not at the mercy of any CF because the CF in your life is YOU. All this time you thought you just had an abiding desire for everyone else’s best & now you discover it’s a little more complicated than that!
So now that you know all about CFs — AND you’re looking at your closest relationships with a lot more suspicion! – there is a story that I can’t wait to dig into. A story from a book that we include in the God-breathed library of the bible. And that is remarkable because our God is so emotionally secure that he inspires a book that BY DESIGN omits his name. Not even an OMG, not a “so help me God,” nothing. No God, nowhere, in a book in the bible. Whoda thunk it?
But here’s the situation as the book of Esther opens up. The year is 483 BC and the setting is Persia (modern day Iran). In Persia, there is still a smattering of scattered Jews. A large chunk of them had returned to Israel when King Darius let them return home (imagine the irony: Iran does Israel a NATIONAL FAVOR!). This is really an IN BETWEEN time in Jewish history … after a series of defeats, following a terrible exile, and discovering what it means to be Jewish in a land that does not recognize your God. In a land where, in spite of Darius’ favor, there is still a lot of hostility to that ragtag group of people who dare to claim that a) there is only ONE GOD and b) that ONE GOD has chosen this ONE PEOPLE GROUP as his. It’s a pagan, secular, vicious culture, which may well explain why the anonymous author of Esther keeps God’s name on the Downlow here.
Here’s what Dr. Michael Brown has to say: (VIDEO CLIP)
This sort of existence also led many of the Jews living outside the Promised Land to ask, “how can God be present when he seems absent? How can he rule when it looks like he is in hiding?” Again, more evidence of why not mentioning God’s name is not only necessary for safety, it is brilliant for insight. Because these are likely questions YOU HAVE ASKED today. Unanswered prayer. Cultural decay. Church ignored. Gender fluidity. A world that by all appearances has less to do with God than ever before. He’s not splitting the sea anymore, so what is he doing? Can he work when it is not obvious and spectacular?
What IS obvious as Esther opens up is that Xerxes, the King of Persia, has it going on. Look at 1:1:
This is what happened during the time of Xerxes,[a] the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush
That means from modern day Pakistan to the Sudan in Africa. The largest kingdom in the world, massive culture, powerful army, and this is the guy in control. And to celebrate his own massive-ness and how large and in charge he is, Xerxes throws a six month long party:
3 and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present.
4 For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty. 5 When these days were over, the king gave a banquet, lasting seven days, in the enclosed garden of the king’s palace, for all the people from the least to the greatest who were in the citadel of Susa. 6 The garden had hangings of white and blue linen, fastened with cords of white linen and purple material to silver rings on marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and other costly stones.
Opulence, detail, excess, all designed to make sure you know the size and scale and luxury of it all. Then my favorite detail from this half year long booze cruise:
7 Wine was served in goblets of gold, each one different from the other, and the royal wine was abundant, in keeping with the king’s liberality. 8 By the king’s command each guest was allowed to drink with no restrictions, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.7 Wine was served in goblets of gold, each one different from the other, and the royal wine was abundant, in keeping with the king’s liberality. 8 By the king’s command each guest was allowed to drink with no restrictions, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.
1:8 is really MANDATORY DRUNENNESS (a state in which, oddly, the Persians preferred to make their major decisions). Xerxes is SO MUCH IN CONTROL that he determines how much you are going to drink and the answer is a lot. He is so in control he will control when you’re out of control. CF!
But there’s more. After a little aside in 1:9
9 Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the royal palace of King Xerxes.
Xerxes does this in 1:10-11:
10 On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him—Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Karkas— 11 to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at.
Whoa. Control Freak, meet Trophy Wife! He wants to display her, as a prop, not so much for her beauty but so her beauty will reflect well on him (like Jay & Gloria?!). Now THAT’S manipulation. That’s control and I gotta tell you, Julie does this to me with her job all the time and it’s so frustrating!!
But, for real, some of you who have had parents who lived vicariously through your sports career know what I am saying. You were a display compensating for their insecurities. They control you so you will reflect well on them.
But … Persia, we have a problem. Queen Vashti does the unthinkable. Look at 1:12: READ Whooops! He controls, she resists. Unheard of, embarrassing, humiliating, but, ultimately, a thing between husband & wife. Xerxes & Vashti. A domestic affair. But it doesn’t stay that way for long. Because after Xerxes gets his advisors together, asking What should I do now?, the answer comes from a man named Memuca:
16 Then Memukan replied in the presence of the king and the nobles, “Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes. 17 For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands and say, ‘King Xerxes commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come.’ 18 This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen’s conduct will respond to all the king’s nobles in the same way. There will be no end of disrespect and discord.
THAT scalated quickly! We are supposed to note the buffoonery of the advisors and the absurdity of the escalation. It’s not a nation-wide “problem” unless you make it so. So they made it so. Then, more in 1:19-22: READ. (Pause at v. 19 – can we acknowledge that this punishment is EXACTLY what Vashti wants anyway?! Oh, I don’t have to see that leering, lecherous CF again? I’m in!).
19 “Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also let the king give her royal position to someone else who is better than she. 20 Then when the king’s edict is proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest.”
21 The king and his nobles were pleased with this advice, so the king did as Memukan proposed. 22 He sent dispatches to all parts of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in their own language, proclaiming that every man should be ruler over his own household, using his native tongue.
But look again at the command in 1:20 & 1:22: READ. You realize, don’t you, that the more you COMMAND respect they more you ensure you’ll never get it? The more you insist on it the more you demonstrate you don’t deserve it.
But look look look at the pattern: you’ve got MANDATORY DRUNK: Control Freak. You’ve got: Vashti Parade: Control Freak. You’ve got: everyone everywhere follow my rules for house dynamics & the battle of the sexes: Control Freak. And you’ve got to wonder why: why does this book that steadfastly refuses to mention God go to such lengths to chronicle Xerxes’ control freakery?
I wrestled with that question and then realized: Xerxes has a sneaking suspicion that in spite of his power & wealth & opulence & reach … he’s not really all that. He knows the world is not really HIS oyster; it’s someone else’s. A sense that there is an unseen, unnamed, sovereign force at work behind the scenes. He knows intuitively that he is outwitted and overmatched; that he is really out of control. Here’s why: People control you when they can’t control themselves. Yes! So much of your life just made sense! On the horizontal, relational level … now you know the reason your dad was so unreasonable in wanting a spotless garage is that he had that girlfriend on the side! The mom who mandated your music practice was coming to grips with her own musical failures & career disappointments. The co-worker who HAS to have the last word actually has a gambling compulsion that he’s trying to keep secret.
The spouse who tells you how to dress – to reflect well on him or her – is compensating for depression. The boss who micromanages is covering up a drinking problem. Preachers: the person at your church who complains about the music or the children or, God forbid, the sermon, and then it comes out they are a DVer at home. You … when YOU move from victim to villain in the CF stakes … it’s a classic way of deflecting attention and energy away from your own rot that you can’t control to the behavior of others which you mistakenly believe you can. People control you when they can’t control themselves. . Xerxes may have been an ancient example, but his story gets repeated & repeated & repeated.
It’s why I love this paragraph from AA’s Big Book: READ
REFRAIN and few know it better than those in recovery who have very likely been on both sides of the equation.
Can I let you know two things to decide if this gets very close to home? If you are living with or connected to a CF, here is your new favorite phrase: I am not responsible for your _______. They’ve convinced you that you ARE, I am just doing a better job of reminding you that you’re NOT. (AV for your DECISIONS, ANGER, HAPPINESS, OPINION, ADDICTION) And 2) Decide now: I’m not going to return the favor. I now see all the ways I’ve been manipulated and my temptation is to do the same in reveres, but nope, not here and not now. Rise above. People control you when they can’t control themselves.
Because in the bigger, biggest of pictures, you realize the sheer genius of a book that PROVES God’s activity by emphasizing his subtlety. Xerxes real out of control is the fact that God, in contrast to Xerxes’ flamboyance and opulence, is subtly in control, pulling the levers, arranging the characters. You may have noticed that in this first Scripture and first sermon from a series on Esther that one character yet to mention is … Esther. Yet Xerxes’ folly, his escalation of domestic incident into national policy, includes this hidden line in 1:19: READ someone better. And all that sets the stage for Esther’s appearance and, ultimately the deliverance of her people the Jews. In Persia. Where his name is not to be spoken, he is sovereign and on his throne. Not in your face. On his throne. Refusing to be controlled or manipulated by the people he made.
Yep, it’s what we do. But look what God did. Look how God’s kingship arrives on earth. I mean with Xerxes, there is a six month drunken bash, there is opulence, luxury, LOOK AT ME! That’s one kind of king. And the bible … the bible … in a line that stretches from Esther to Matthew … pictures a very different kind. Our king, the real kings, whose name WE SHALL MENTION BECAUSE IT IS JESUS is gonna come as a helpless baby born in a backwater town to a beleaguered people. Comes as an inviter and not a controller. Comes not in spectacle but in subtlety. Listen: if God is so emotionally secure he can inspire a book that won’t mention his name, then he will have his arrival on earthy announced by sheep & cattle rather than by a six month feast.
Admit that you are not in control. He is. Stop escalating, stop compensating, stop explaining, and start surrendering to the one who is so sure of himself that his sovereignty is behind the scenes.