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Tonight and Monday morning I’m going to speak on a theme which I’ve given a title to. The title is “Portrait of a Queen.” I’m going to take my thoughts from the book of Esther. Tonight I’m going to speak on the theme, “The Queen God Is Seeking.” On Monday morning I’ll speak on the theme, “The Queen Meets the Challenge.”
First of all, I need to say a little bit about my approach to the book of Esther. I came to know the Lord in a dramatic way personally in an army barrack room of the British Army in July l941. This brings it home to me that within a few months I will have known the Lord for a full 40 years. Shortly after that, the British Army transferred me to North Africa and I spent the next three years in the deserts of North Africa, Egypt, Libya and the Sudan. In that situation I had no church, I had no chaplain, I had no Christian fellowship for 90 percent of the time. The only sources of spiritual life I had were the Bible and the Holy Spirit. Looking back I realize it was tough but it was very blessed. During that period in the desert I read the Bible through a number of times. The Holy Spirit interpreted scripture for me in a marvelous way.
I came from a background of really no knowledge of the Bible, a little bit of Biblical history. I didn’t have any previous knowledge of the doctrines of salvation, I hadn’t ever sat under preachers who interpreted the Bible in a spiritual way. I was totally dependent on the Holy Spirit. I’d have to say, looking back during those three years, the Holy Spirit gave me the basic foundational knowledge of scriptural truth which has kept me going ever since although, of course, I’m continually adding.
This way of looking at the book of Esther that I’m going to present to you tonight came to me the in the desert which was really a kind of miracle because many of you are used to hearing preachers who understand typology and will present types and patterns and so on. I’d never heard a preacher like that in my life. I want to make it clear this is a very individual approach to the book of Esther, I’m not saying it’s the only way and I’m not even saying it’s the best way to interpret the book but it’s the way that’s been real for me for nearly 40 years. I’m going to focus on two or three main characters in the book: the King, Ahasuerus, the king of the Persian Empire; Mordecai the Jew who sat in his gate; and Esther who became the queen.
All through I’m going to use King Ahasuerus as a picture of another king, Jesus Christ. It said in the book of Esther that Ahasuerus was a king of kings, he ruled over other kings. Jesus is called also the king of kings. I’m aware that in many areas the character of Ahasuerus fell far below that of our Lord Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, I believe in many ways he’s a vivid picture in this book of the King of kings.
I’m going to take Esther as a picture of the bride of Christ, the church, but the church particularly in her role as a queen. Let me mention a book that has blessed me and many others, I have no direct connection with the book. It’s by a writer named Paul Bilheimer who I understand is now over 80 years old. It’s called Destined For The Throne, it’s a short, simple book. It’s not heavy theology. It’s theme is the church of Jesus Christ is in training to share the throne with Christ as his queen throughout eternal ages. And that we will not understand much of what happens in our lives as Christians unless we realize we are already being trained to rule.
So that’s the way I’m going to look at Esther, as a picture of the church, the bride of Christ, who’s going to become queen and share the throne of the universe with her Lord, the bridegroom, throughout eternity.
Before I turn to the book itself, I would like to read two passages that speak about Christ as king and the church as his queen and his bride. The first passage is found in Psalm 45. I’m reading from the New American Standard Version which is, incidentally, why I have my glasses on. You might not see the connection but I can read the King James without my glasses because I know it by heart! The version I have of the New International Version has got large enough print for me to read that also without my glasses. This version, the New American Standard, is very small, very compact, very nice to travel with but the print is a little small. So we’re going to start at the first verse of Psalm 45. I’d better notice this but I’m going to start with the opening phrases.
“For the choir director...”
In Hebrew that’s ?la menasayach?. ?Menasayach? itself is a fantastic word because it’s connected with a word that means a choir director, it means victory and it means eternity. It’s one of those fascinating Hebrew words that says so much in one word.
“...according to Shoshannim...”
Shoshannim is the name of a certain type of melody and it means either roses or lilies. Then it says:
“...a Maschil, for the sons of Korah...”
The word maschilmeans something that’s very skillful musically. So it’s got a rather elaborate title, this psalm, all of which leads us to anticipate it’s going to say something striking. And it’s theme is the king. Then it begins as follows:
“My heart overflows with a good theme: I address my verses to the King...”
King with a capital “K” in this version. It’s the king, the king revealed in human history as Jesus.
“...my tongue is the pen of a ready writer...”
And then begins these passages extolling and lifting up this glorious and beautiful king.
“Thou art fairer than the sons of men: grace is poured upon thy lips: therefore God has blessed thee for ever.”
Note the “therefore.” God blessed Jesus not because he was a favored son but because he deserved it. And the first way in which he deserved it was the grace of his lips. “Grace is poured upon thy lips: therefore God has blessed thee for ever.” You remember that when men were sent to arrest him they listened to him speaking for awhile and went back without arresting him. And when the temple rulers said, “Why didn’t you arrest him?” they said, “No one ever spoke like this man.” They were arrested by the grace of his lips.
Then we see him as a mighty conquering king, verse 3:
“Gird thy sword on thy thigh, O mighty one, in thy splendor and thy majesty. And in thy majesty ride on victoriously for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness...”
Not for national pride of aggrandizement as most earthly kings go to war.
“Let thy right hand teach thee awesome things. Thine arrows are sharp; the peoples fall under thee; thine arrows are in the heart of the king’s enemies. Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever, a scepter of uprightness is the scepter of thy kingdom. Thou has loved righteousness and hated wickedness: therefore God, thy God, has anointed thee with the oil of joy above thy fellows.”
Notice the second therefore. And again we see the blessing of God the Father upon Jesus was not favoritism, there was a reason. The reason this time is “thou has loved righteousness and hated wickedness: therefore God has anointed thee with the oil of joy above all thy companions.”
Let me point out two things. First of all, if you want to be anointed with the oil of joy, follow Jesus as your pattern. Love righteousness and hate wickedness. Secondly, let me point out that in matters of righteousness and wickedness there’s no neutrality. If you love righteousness you have to hate wickedness. You cannot compromise in matters of wickedness. If you do not hate wickedness, you do not love righteousness.
And then this beautiful picture of his garments, verse 8:
“All thy garments are fragrant with myrrh, and aloes, and cassia...”
A little later on in the picture of the queen we’ll come again to the word myrrh and notice it.
“...out of ivory palaces, stringed instruments have made thee glad.”
Verse 9 introduces the queen.
“Kings’ daughters are among thy noble ladies: at thy right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.”
So the queen, the bride, is singled out from all the other ladies. There are many honorable ladies present but she stands at the king’s right hand attired in the purest gold.
Then there’s a word to the one who is to become the queen.
“Listen, O daughter, give attention, and incline your ear; forget your people, and your father’s house; then the king will desire your beauty: because he is your Lord; bow down to him.”
That’s somewhat in line with what Ron Milton was telling us. If you once get a vision, you’ll leave things behind. Forget where you came from, forget your father’s house. Don’t look back to the past because your future is in your relationship with the king. If you’ll give your heart to him and bow down and worship and serve him, that’s the way of life. Verse 12:
“The daughter of Tyre will come with a gift; the rich among the people will entreat your favor.”
The daughter of Tyre represents really the commercial world. The prediction is that the world commerce will come and serve Christ and his queen. Verse 13:
“The king’s daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is interwoven with gold. She will be led to the king in embroidered work: the virgins her companions who follow her will be brought to thee. They will be led forth with gladness and rejoicing: they will enter into the king’s palace.”
We’ll stop there and not consider the last two verses. Here’s a picture of the king in his beauty, his majesty, his strength; and a picture of the bride who is to be queen, clothed with tremendously beautiful and costly garments, privileged to stand in the unique place at his right hand. Now that’s just a scriptural basis for the symbolism that I’m going to be using in Esther.
Let’s turn also to the book of Ephesians in the New Testament. Ephesians 5:22–27. This speaks about two things: the relationship between husband and wife, but also the relationship between Christ and the church as his bride. And it brings out the same basic principles. It starts with the natural but moves to the spiritual.
“Wives, be subject to your own husband, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church: he himself being the savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her by his sacrifice on the cross; that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle, or any such thing: but that she should be holy and blameless.”
Again, that’s in line with what Ron said about visions. I wonder if you have a vision of what God plans for his church, his bride. If you have that vision it will change the way you live. You’ll have a vision that God can bring us into a place where we’re truly holy, we’re blameless, we’re glorious, glorified with his glory bestowed upon us out of his love and grace.
It’s a high calling to be a queen. As many of you know, I come from a British background. And Britain still has a royal family. I’m neither pro nor against monarchy, that’s not my point. But as a Britisher, I would like to say that for many years now the royal family in Britain has been a tremendously stabilizing influence in that country. Especially the present queen has gained the respect and the love of almost all her subjects regardless of political affiliation.
I can remember many years ago when I was at Eton College—and Eton is just across the river Thames from Windsor where the castle is where the royal family resides. Many Sunday afternoons we Eton boys would go up to Windsor castle and stand there in front and two little girls in pink dresses would come out and wave to us. That was Elizabeth and Margaret. At that time, there was no prospect that either of them would become heir to the throne. And then, of course, things happened with Prince Edward and his abdication and all that. And Elizabeth stepped onto the throne. But even in those days one got an impression of how they were being groomed for royalty. They were taught everything: how to wave, how to stand, how to smile. Especially with Elizabeth, her whole life was directed toward being able to take a place of royalty.
So it’s not a little responsibility to be destined to be a queen. It affects everything about you from your earliest years. I believe all that should be true of the church. It’s not a little responsibility that we are destined to be the queen. The queen of the universe throughout eternity, it’s a staggering thought.
Now, with that in mind, I want to turn to the book of Esther and I’m going to start reading a number of passages. It will make it easier for you to appreciate what I’m going to say if you’re familiar with the book in some measure. And if you’re not, you’ll just have to get along as best you can here this evening but I would like to suggest that before Monday, if you’re going to be back on Monday for the second installment, you take time to read at least the first five chapters of the book. It won’t take you very long. I’m going to begin with the opening verses and the first section that I’m going to speak about I entitle “The Two Banquets.”
“Now it took place in the days of Ahasuerus...”
The New International Version calls him Xerxes.
“...the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia, over a hundred and twenty-seven provinces [dominated the entire Middle East]: in those days, when King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne which was in Shushan the capital, in the third year of his reign, he gave a banquet for all his princes and attendants; the army officers of Persia and Media, the nobles and the princes of the provinces, being in his presence: when he displayed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor of his great majesty for many days, one hundred and eighty days, and when these days were completed, the king gave a banquet lasting seven days, for all the people who were present in Shushan the capital, from the greatest to the least, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace; there were hangings of fine white and violet linen, held by cords of fine purple linen and silver rings and marble columns: and couches of gold and silver, on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and precious stones. Drinks were served in golden vessels of various kinds, and the royal wine was plentiful according to the king’s bounty.”
The Hebrew says “according to the hand of the king.”
“And drinking was done according to the law, there was no compulsion, for so the king had given orders to each official of his household that he should do according to the desires of each person.”
Now I’m going to ask my wife to supplement that to me and I’ll pass it on to you, verse 8, with the New International Version because it comes out a little more clear.
“By the king’s command, each guest was allowed to drink in his own way, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.”
Which, I think, makes it a little more vivid.
Now, here’s where I’m going to take a flight of fancy and I hope you’ll be able to follow me, I’m not tying you down to this as the authorized and final interpretation of the book of Esther. Here we have this great king of kings and he has two banquets. The first one is a very lengthy affair that lasts 180 days. Have you ever been invited to 180 day banquet? I tell you, they did things in a big way!
Let me make an observation. We tend to think, you know, that humanity is progressing, things are getting better. That’s not the Bible picture. In the book of Daniel we have the four great Gentile empires portrayed: Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. Incidentally, this revelation was given to King Nebuchadnezzar in a dream, and in a dream he saw an image. When he woke up he couldn’t even remember the dream. But it was God’s view of the course of Gentile empires. Really, it’s almost comical how little real significance God attaches to it. It was an image seen in a dream and the man who dreamed it forgot it and had to have it interpreted by Daniel. But, in the course of these four empires in the image that was seen in the dream, it starts at the head, the top, and goes down to the feet, the bottom. That’s because of history, in God’s view, it starts with a head of gold, it moves down to a breast of silver, to loins of bronze, to legs of iron and feet of iron and clay. In other words, it’s getting baser and cheaper all the way down. That’s exact opposite of the teaching which is assumed today in most places in the Western world that we’re progressing, everything is getting better and bound to go on getting better. That’s not what the Bible teaches. That’s just by the way.
All right, but I was saying that they did things in a big way in those days. You’ll never find any king that will have 180 day banquet. I’ll challenge you all the days we’re alive, there will never be one. People don’t think that big today. But this 180 day banquet was only for the top brass. It was for the princes, the commanders, the governors. Now, to me, this represents the past history of the universe when God is dealing with angels and archangels and all sorts of tremendous superior and powerful beings. And it’s gone on a long, long while.
Then comes this feast of seven days, this banquet which, to me, represents the gospel dispensation—very brief in the life of the whole course of history. One of the things that the gospel continually emphasizes is there’s just a little while. While you have opportunity, it’s not going to last long. You say it’s lasted nearly 2000 years. In Psalm 90 it tells us in God’s sight 1000 years is as a day. And it comes even further down, it says it’s like a watch in the night. The whole period of 24 hours was divided into day and night, 12 hours each. The night was divided into four watches of three hours each. So 1000 years in God’s sight is no longer than three hours now. In other words, in God’s sight it’s just a very brief fleeting moment. It says that now in the end of time Jesus appeared. It wouldn’t be the end of time by our view of time but in God’s view of time it’s the end.
Now this gospel banquet was different. It was very intimate, it wasn’t for people from far but it was just for the people right at hand. The king invited them right into his palace gardens. And he put on everything for them. The gardens were beautiful enough but then think of the place being decorated with white and violet linen held by cords of fine purple linen on silver rings to marble columns. Picture this whole place filled with marble columns with silver rings and these beautiful linen hangings of white and violet suspended everywhere. Then the couches, the seats were made of gold and silver. The floor was a mosaic pavement with porphyry which is a red stone, marble, mother-of-pearl and precious stones. Where have you ever walked on a pavement that was precious stones?
Then the drinks were served only in golden vessels. How many of us have drunk out of golden vessels? And they were just according to everybody’s individual tastes. There was no compulsion, however much you wanted, whatever kind of wine you wanted, that was what you got.
That, to me, is like the gospel. It’s for everybody, it’s not just for the mighty, it’s held in the setting of unique, intimate beauty and loveliness. Everything is the best, nothing is less than silver. And you’re catered for as an individual. It’s just the kind of wine you want in the vessel of your selection. You can have red, you can have white, you can have sparkling wine, you can have it ice cold or you can have it room temperature. That’s the gospel, to me. It’s the riches of God made available to the poor, the underprivileged, the people who never had got into the king’s palace before. Everything is done for you as an individual. God knows the number of hairs on your head, he knows your taste, he knows your weaknesses, he caters for you individually.
Now at the close of this second banquet the king had planned a special climax. He was going to bring out his queen in her royal attire, present her to the people and let them all admire her beauty. But at that point, things didn’t work out. We’ll read the next verses. Verse 9:
“Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the palace which belonged to King Ahasuerus.”
Now here’s the queen. The king is having his banquet, the queen is having her banquet. I want to say to you right now that to me, Vashti is a picture of a church that God will reject. The other, Esther, is the picture of the queen that God will receive. And we notice that there’s a kind of separation. Vashti is in the king’s palace but she’s doing her own thing. She’s got the women and she’s so busy with her own program that when the summons comes she turns it down. Let’s read.
“On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, to bring Queen Vashti before the king with her royal crown in order to display her beauty to the people and the princes, for she was beautiful.”
Let me observe there, I heard somebody say once that Vashti was right to refuse because she was going to be asked to make some kind of indecent display of herself. I don’t believe that. I’ve lived in the Middle East and I think I know pretty well the mentality of the men of the Middle East. I’m not saying that they would be above an indecent display of some kind of woman but believe me, no self-respecting Middle Eastern male would ever make an indecent display of his wife. He would have no self-respect left. So I cannot accept that interpretation that says that Vashti refused because she didn’t want to expose herself. And there’s no suggestion of it in the text. Verse 12:
“But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command delivered by the eunuchs. Then the king became very angry and his wrath burned within him. Then the king said to the wise men who understood the times—for it was the custom of the king so to speak before all who knew law and justice, and were close to him: Carshena, Sethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media who had access to the king’s presence and sat in the first place in the kingdom—[the king addressed this question to them] According to the law, what is to be done with Queen Vashti, because she did not obey the command of King Ahasuerus delivered by the eunuchs? And in the presence of the king and the princes, Memucan said, Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king but also all the princes, and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women causing them to look with contempt on their husbands by saying, King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought into his presence, but she did not come. And this day the ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s conduct will speak in the same way to all the king’s princes, and there will be plenty of contempt and anger. If it pleases the king, let a royal edict be issued by him and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media so that it cannot be repealed, that Vashti should come no more into the presence of King Ahasuerus, and let the king give her royal position to another who is more worthy than she. Then all the women will give honor to their husbands, great and small. This word pleased the king and the princes, and the king did as Memucan proposed.”
And then the remaining verse tells us how this edict setting aside Queen Vashti, removing her from the position of queen was distributed throughout the whole Persian empire.
Now, permit another little flight of fancy. We have here in this story seven eunuchs who summoned Queen Vashti and then we have seven princes. Now, whenever I meet the number seven in scripture my mind immediately is open to the thought that here is something about the Holy Spirit, for the number seven is specifically connected with the Holy Spirit. In Revelation 4, John the revelator saw the seven Spirits of God as seven lamps of fire burning before the throne. Now I see both the eunuchs and the princes as pictures of the Holy Spirit. The eunuchs were sent to summon the queen. Why eunuchs? Because they had no personal sexual interest in the queen. And so always in eastern monarchies the men charged with looking after the monarch’s women were eunuchs. That made sure there was nothing that could happen that would dishonor the king or his women.
So I see the Holy Spirit typified here as the seven eunuchs. And I also believe this is the Holy Spirit’s picture of himself. It’s interesting to go through the Bible and find the Holy Spirit’s self portraits. He’s always very modest. And in that sense, the Holy Spirit has the attitude of a eunuch toward the bride. He does not covet the bride for himself. His whole desire is to bring the bride to Christ. There’s no jealousy, there’s no possibility of any clash of personality or interests. He never speaks of himself, he never exalts himself. Whenever he has the attention of the bride he always focuses it on the bridegroom. When people tell me that the Holy Spirit has been moving powerfully among a certain group or in a certain area, one question I always want to ask is was the focus of it all on Jesus? If it wasn’t, I doubt whether it was the Holy Spirit.
So, Queen Vashti had her big opportunity. The eunuch came with the king’s invitation. It was also a summons. Maybe that upset her. Do you think the king has the right to summon his queen or just to ask her? That’s a burning issue today. I hope you’re beginning to see that the issue is very, very contemporary. If you don’t, you’re living with blinkers over your eyes. I don’t know whether Vashti said, “Who’s the king to give me orders? I’ve got my own party. Why should I break my party up for the sake of the king? I don’t believe in any of this old fashioned nonsense about the headship of the husband. I take charge of my own life. If there’s anything between us, it’s a partnership.” Well, she turned down the invitation which was also a summons.
The next person who appeared was a prince. He didn’t appear. The next person who intervened. The seven princes also typify the Holy Spirit but the Holy Spirit pronouncing judgment. Did you know that the same Holy Spirit who invites, if you refuse the invitation, will pronounce judgment? The judgment was very final. Never again is this woman to come into the presence of the king. Take the crown from her and set it aside until a more worthy woman comes. Do you think that applies to our contemporary culture? Would you say that it represents an attitude that is prevalent in many sections of the church today? If I were to use the phrase women’s lib would it have any relevance to what we’ve been looking at?
I’ve just been with a group of Charismatic leaders from many backgrounds, Catholic and Protestant. And several were sharing of the conditions in their particular section of the total church. Some of the revelations were amazing. I was amazed by some of the statements made by Catholic brothers as to what’s going on amongst the nuns in the Catholic church. Now there are nuns and nuns. Some are beautiful ladies totally dedicated to Christ and his church. Others are in the vanguard of women’s lib advocating premarital sex, freedom even for priests and nuns to enjoy sex in any version they like; heterosexual or homosexual. This is not theory. Because of the mixed audience I cannot speak of some of the things which have been brought to my attention.
And, of course, in many other sections of the church we have what I would call the challenge of women asserting their right to leadership in exactly the same way as men. One of my characteristics is that I am not a woman hater. In fact, that’s never been my problem! As the Frenchman said on the ship in the rough sea when they asked if he had breakfast he said, “Au contrare—on the contrary.” You think that one over and you’ll understand the full meaning of it. People say to me, “Are you a woman hater?” I have to say, “On the contrary.” I’ve been married twice. My first wife who was known to many of you, died. I now have a second wife. I was going to say a brand new wife but I’m not sure whether that... You know, you can talk to her, many of you knew my first wife Lydia. I don’t think there was anybody that knew Lydia would ever say she was suppressed! Both my first and my second wife share with me in public in my ministry as you’ll see on Sunday night, if we minister to the sick, Ruth will be with me. So don’t misrepresent me or misunderstand me.
I believe that the attitude of Vashti very vividly portrayed an attitude that is prevalent in our contemporary culture and in many sections of the professing church. It’s an attitude which despises authority, especially male authority. In fact, as you know, in the Presbyterian church of the United States, if I’m not mistaken, they want to produce an edition of the Bible which leaves out any sex oriented words such as God the Father, or God the Son. God is going to be a person. There’s a certain hatred of male authority and I use the word hatred by deliberate choice. It’s very, very prevalent. As I look at this story we’ve read, it’s typified by Vashti. It’s exactly like that section of the church: they’re having their own banquet, they’ve got the women together. Never mind the fact that it’s in the palace that belongs to the king, they’re doing their own thing. They’re serving notice on the heads of the church, “Don’t bother us with your summons. We’ve got our own program.”
Let me point out to you just briefly then in the closing book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, we have the picture of two women, each representing very clearly what you might call a religious group. The one is called the harlot, the other is called a bride. The great enemy of the bride is the harlot. Let’s look in Revelation 17 for a moment. We’ll read just the first six verses.
“And one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, Come here, I shall show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality, and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.”
Now, in this context, immorality is primarily spiritual. It’s spiritual harlotry, it’s harlotry in which those who were originally committed to Jesus Christ as Lord have turned away into other illegal relationships. But such spiritual harlotry, in the long run, nearly always produces actual sexual immorality as well. And it’s certainly very true with the kind of group I’ve been speaking about. Verse 3:
“He [the angel] carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls [all essentially somewhat in a context of religion], having in her hand the gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality, and upon her forehead a name was written, a mystery, “BABYLON, THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. And when I saw her, I wondered greatly.”
We need to bear in mind that there is a deep unchanging hatred in the spiritual force which this woman represents that is directed against those who maintain their commitment to Jesus Christ. What more vivid language than that could be used? She was drunk with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.
In the Old Testament there’s probably one figure more than any other, one female figure that typifies this spiritual force. It’s the figure of Jezebel. And it’s always impressed me for years that on Mount Carmel the prophet Elijah could handle 850 false prophets but he ran from one woman, Jezebel. But Elijah was a realist. He had no doubt as to what Jezebel would do to him if she could get hold of him.
I want to suggest to you those brothers and sisters who, like me, are committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we better be aware of the inner attitude of this opposite spiritual force. Its aim is genocide. This is the century of genocide. We’ve seen an attempted genocide of the Armenians. At this time the attempted genocide of Cambodians. In World War II we saw the attempted genocide of the Jewish people. There’s another genocide on the agenda, the genocide of the Christians. This force will never rest content until Christianity and its representatives have been eliminated from the face of the earth. That’s what we’re dealing with.
Let’s look at the other picture, Revelation 19:7-8. A voice is heard in heaven.
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready. And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.”
On the one hand the emphasis is on immorality and impurity. On the other hand the whole emphasis is on cleanness and purity. That’s the bride.
And then in Revelation 21:9-11, just another brief picture.
“One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came, and spoke with me, saying, Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God.”
That’s the glorious church in which Ephesians 5 speaks.
“Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal clear jasper.”
The whole emphasis is on the beauty of purity and holiness. So there’s the contrast. One woman a harlot, the other a pure bride; each representing a major religious group. What’s the difference? It’s not a difference of doctrine, it’s not a difference of spiritual experience. We can’t say of the one group, they speak in tongues and of the other group, they don’t. The difference is indicated by the title. One is a bride, the other is a harlot or a prostitute. What’s the meaning? The bride has maintained her commitment to the bridegroom. She has not deviated. The prostitute has deviated from her first commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ.
The final issue in the church is going to be simple. Is Jesus Lord? Does he have absolute authority over his church to say and do what he will? It’s not going to be decided by whether people speak in tongues. I want to serve you notice that speaking in tongues is no guarantee that you’ll go to heaven. You cannot find a sentence in the Bible that says that. Heaven is for people who are committed to the Lordship of Jesus. My personal conviction is all such people before the age closes will be speaking in tongues even if they don’t know what they’re doing! But that’s not the dividing line. The dividing line is what is your relationship to Jesus Christ?
Let’s go back for just a little while to the book of Esther. We’ve seen that the judgment pronounced on Queen Vashti was that she was to be banished forever from the king’s presence, to forfeit her crown. The reason given was that her conduct would affect the women of the whole Persian empire, that is, Vashti the queen became corrupted, that corruption would spread through her to all the women. It seems to me that this is true of the church. The spiritual condition of the church for better or for worse will affect the condition of the nation, even the unbelievers.
It seems to me that in the Song of Solomon we have two alternative pictures of the church which we’ll look at in a moment. The one is a wall on which battlements are built, the other is a door which has to be boarded up. I believe those are the two possibilities for the church. If the church is fulfilling her God appointed function, she’ll be a wall with battlements that keep out the forces of corruption and rebellion and iniquity, and preserve the life of the nation as salt is a preservative. And Jesus said to his church, “You are the salt of the earth.” But if the church fails in that function, it will become a door letting in all the forces of corruption and God will decree that that door will be boarded up.
Let me show you that picture in Song of Solomon 8. I’d like to commend to you also this particular version of that particular book, Song of Solomon. In many ways I prefer the New International Version but for the Song of Solomon I do not know a better version than that of the New American Standard. We’re just going to look at two verses, Song of Solomon 8:8–9.
“We have a little sister, and she has no breasts; what shall we do for our sister on the day when she is spoken for? [when she comes to the age of marriage] If she is a wall, we shall build on her a battlement of silver; but if she is a door, we shall barricade her with planks of cedar.”
Those are the two options. The church that serves as a protecting wall to the nations, keeping out the forces of corruption and iniquity and lawlessness, will have battlements of silver built upon her. She’ll be honored by God. But when the church ceases to be a wall and ceases to keep out the forces of corruption and instead becomes a doorway that admits them, God’s judgment is barricade that door up, close it off, don’t let it continue to function. Those, I believe, are the options before the church. If we will continue to function as a wall, God will strengthen us with battlements of silver. But if we become a door to all the forces of lies and corruption, immorality, rebellion, God will barricade that church over and it will cease to function. God will take away the crown. Those are the options.
Now let me look for a moment as I close this message tonight at the picture of the new queen who takes the place of Vashti. And of course, her name is Esther. We’ll go back now rather briefly to chapter 2. After Vashti had been set aside there was a pause, there was a while while the king recovered his composure. Then it was decided that a new queen must be found and messages were sent to all 127 provinces to bring the most beautiful young ladies to the palace with the possibility of becoming queen. That was rather—my mind sometimes makes these things quite vivid. I see a mental picture of messengers going out all over this vast empire saying, “Bring out your most beautiful young women because one of them is going to become queen.” And when I see the excitement that prevails in the Miss America and Miss Universe contests, I think it’s comparatively small compared with that excitement. Here’s the permanent option of becoming the queen of this vast empire.
And then spiritually I see God’s agents out all over this world looking for a queen. I wonder if you can see it that way? I wonder if that’s your view of what’s happening in the world. Many, many things are going on but one thing that’s going on in the midst of it all is God is looking for a queen to share his throne with. There’s a lot of activity with God’s invisible agents all over this earth looking for the queen.
Now, as you know, one of the young ladies that was presented was Esther. We’ll read chapter 2, beginning at verse 5.
“Now there was a Jew in Susa the capital whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite, who had been taken into exile from Jerusalem with the captives who had been exiled with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had exiled. And he was bringing up Hadassah, that is Esther, [two different names for the same lady] his uncle’s daughter, for she had neither father nor mother. Now the young lady was beautiful of form and face, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter. So it came about when the command and decree of the king were heard and many young ladies were gathered to Susa the capital into the custody of Hegai, that Esther was taken to the king’s palace into the custody of Hegai, who was in charge of the woman. Now the young lady pleased him and found favor with him. So he quickly provided her with cosmetics and food...”
What is the translation for food there? With beauty treatments and special food. I’m sure you ladies think that’s a more exciting translation!
“He gave her seven choice maids from the king’s palace, and transferred her and her maids to the best place in the harem.”
Now here we have another eunuch for the same reason, of course. His name was Hegai. He was in charge of all the women. It was his business to prepare the women and present them to the king. To me, another beautiful picture of the Holy Spirit. That’s the Holy Spirit’s function, to take the queen and prepare her. And he immediately singled out Esther as the most likely candidate. So he gave her the best place in the harem and he gave her seven maidens just to attend on her. How would you feel if you had seven maidens just attending you, looking after your every need? Well, I believe that’s what the Holy Spirit does. When we become candidates for that position, he takes us into a special place and he takes special care of us. He gives each of us seven maidens but we don’t always recognize the maidens because he works in our lives in various ways. Things happen that frustrate you or disappoint you and you don’t realize that was one of the Holy Spirit’s maidens attending on you, just attending to that area in your character that needed a little massage and a little beauty treatment! You tried to shake it off and get upset and say, “Why did God let that happen to me?” The answer is because you’re being prepared to be a queen. Things happen to people prepared to be queen that don’t happen to other people. They have tests and pressures that don’t come maybe to ordinary people. But behind it all is Hegai and he knows what pleases the king better than any of those young ladies.
And events proved that he was right in his choice or his estimate. Now we read just a little bit more about Esther’s preparation and then we close the message for tonight. We go to verse 12 of chapter 2.
“Now when the turn of each young lady came to go in to King Ahasuerus, after the end of her twelve months under the regulations for the women—for the days of their beautification were completed as follows: six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and the cosmetics for women—then the young lady would go into the king in this way: anything that she desired was given her to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace. In the evening she would go in and in the morning she would return to the second harem, to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the concubines. She would not again go into the king unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name. Now when the turn of Esther, the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai who had taken her as his daughter, came to go into the king, she did not request anything except what Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the women, advised. And Esther found favor in the eyes of all who saw her.”
Let’s talk a little bit about the preparation of the women. You see, there wasn’t a quick thing, it took twelve months before any woman was prepared. So, don’t expect the Holy Spirit to do everything in the first six weeks after you’re converted. Or that you make the dedication of your life to the Lord. And then there were two different kinds of preparation. There was myrrh and there was these beauty ointments. What does myrrh speak of always in the Christian life? Suffering. Remember the three kings from the east who came to Jesus as a baby and brought myrrh, spices and frankincense and gold. Myrrh, frankincense and gold. Gold signifies royalty, frankincense signifies worship, myrrh signifies suffering. So they predicted the three aspects of the life of Jesus.
So here it’s not always beauty treatments. Six months is with myrrh, six months with sweet fragrant spices and ointments. Is that true of experience? I think it’s very naive for Christians to imagine that everything they experience will be enjoyable. Those of you that have been Christians at least a year, just let me ask you this question. Has there been any myrrh in your treatment? I can see there has. Don’t think that something has gone wrong. Myrrh is an essential part of preparation. There’s a French proverb which says, “To be beautiful, you have to suffer.” That’s true. You can be pretty without suffering but you can’t be beautiful. There’s a great difference. Some people who are not really pretty are beautiful. I’m reminded of something that’s very close to my heart. About a year ago Ruth and I were in East Africa in Kenya. We met there one of my oldest friends and brothers in the Lord, an African evangelist named Silas Owibi. Completely black, I mean, as black as black. There are different colors of different tribes in Kenya but he belonged to the ?Lua? tribe which is the blackest of the blacks. We first met Silas, my first wife and I, in l958. It was a very remarkable meeting. I had driven our little Morris station wagon to an African market and I’d gone in to buy some groceries while my wife Lydia sat in the other seat besides the driver’s seat and waited for me. And this very black African with a smile that split his face from ear to ear and showed the most brilliant white teeth, while I was away walked up to my wife and said to her, “A sister in the Lord, I believe.” Now that was very unusual in Kenya in l958. He told me that Lydia, who was never at a loss for an answer, said to him, “Yes, are you baptized in the Holy Spirit?” Thus began a friendship that has lasted to the present day.
Sometime near the end of her life when Lydia was struggling for her health she would say, “I wish Silas were here to pray for me.” She had such faith in his prayer. And by the amazing providence of God, when the Lord took Lydia home, Silas was there. He was one of the last people that saw her. I was so deeply occupied by the situation I didn’t have very much time for what was going on, but when we were back in Kenya this time, Silas was telling his people, his African Christians who followed his leadership, what Lydia and I had meant in his life and the life of his wife, and brought tears streaming to my cheeks. Then he described how he saw Lydia just before the Lord took her. She was very sick, struggling for her breath, but Silas said, “She looked so beautiful, I just wanted to go with her.”
That’s the difference between being pretty and being beautiful. A person at death’s door is not pretty. But there’s something much more than prettiness, it’s beauty.
But beauty never comes without suffering. You cannot be the bride without the myrrh. Thank God it isn’t all myrrh. It’s beautiful spices as well but God balances them out. So if it’s myrrh in your life right now, just bear in mind it’s part of the preparation for being a queen. If you weren’t going to be a queen it wouldn’t matter so much. But a queen goes through special preparations and disciplines that others don’t.
Then it says here in the 12th verse:
“And when the turn of each young lady came to go in to King Ahasuerus, after the end of her twelve months under the regulations for the women...”
I’m rather glad this translation uses the word regulations. A lot of Charismatic Christians wouldn’t like the word regulation. “Well, brother, I’m free. Don’t bring me into bondage. Don’t make any rules for my life. I just obey the Spirit.” Well, in my little parable it’s the Spirit that’s made the regulations! Hegai was the one who made the regulations. And if you didn’t submit to regulations you didn’t ever get presented to the king. So bear in mind there is a place in the spiritual life for regulations.
And then, this is the final point I want to make. When the turn came for a young lady to go in, she could ask for anything she wanted. Any perfume, any jewels, any dress. If she wanted a dress of pure gold it was hers for the asking. Any hairstyle she wanted. How would you respond in that situation? What singled Esther out was this: she said, “Hegai, you know the king better than I do. You tell me what to wear.” That’s a really searching question. Are we going to make our own choice about what pleases the king? Are we going to choose our own hairstyle, our own adornment? Or are we going to wear nothing but what the Holy Spirit provides? That’s why the king approved, because Hegai knew the king’s taste. The Holy Spirit knows much better than we do what pleases the king. A lot of people today are trying to adorn themselves, they’re making their own choice of spiritual attire. It’s partly the Spirit and partly the world. They don’t really blend. One of the hardest things for religious people is to be natural. But if you can be natural in the Holy Spirit, you’ll be beautiful. Remember his aim is to beautify, to make you fit for the king. Don’t struggle against him, don’t tell him he’s old fashioned. He isn’t. He’s right up to date, believe me.