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People are Difficult

Esther 2:8-18; 1 John 4:20


CIT: Esther prepares for King Xerses

CIS: Engagement is a process, not a moment

SO: The hearer will know God cares about relationships

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I want to share the upcoming Summer Schedule with you and ask you to consider taking a number to be one of the 100 people who will commit to bringing $100 on July 7, 2024, for $10K Sunday.

This new series is about relationships. It is called People are Difficult because if you desire to have Godly relationships with others. If you want to do what Jesus said in the sermon on the mount of “Loving your neighbor,” you must interact with people. There is a problem, though. People are difficult. They do not do what we want; they are inconsiderate and selfish. They hold you to the same criteria you have them to, except neither of you thinks that standard is excellent or absolute. 

Over the next few weeks, we will cover Dating, Parenting, Engagement, Friends, Marriage and Divorce. This series is not just a series for married people with children. These are God’s principles and plan for relationships. 

1 John 4:20 says, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.

God gave us one another to practice and grow in relationship with one another. He is preparing us for the ultimate perfect relationship with Jesus. 

Today I want to address a proper style of engagement.

1. Jews in Persia(Esther overview)

EXP: The Story Esther is a unique setting for a biblical story. Esther is a jew in Babylon or now Persia. The babylonian exile has ended and most of the Jewish people have returned home to Israel. But a faction of them remained in Persia. A lot of them, decided for their purposes to remain in the land, many of them had been born there and never knew an Israel that was not under control of Babylon. So she is somewhere that she probably should not be. It is the only book of the Bible that does not mention God specifically. However, you see his hand guiding the entire situation. Esther prays and her prayers are answered. The King of Persia is listed in our NIV as Xerses. He is at least one Generation down the line from Darius who was King in Daniel’s time. So they have been in Persia for a while, had ample opportunity to return, but many Israelites lived in Persia. 

The King Xerxes, was married to a woman named Vashti and she refused a command, many theologians agreed that she probably should have refused the king. But she did it in public and Xerses who is a leader with his council, told his council that Vashti’s public refusal would affect every marriage in the kingdom and she would never again get to see the King. So he did. He issued an order that could not be rescinded. But later he gets lonely and Vashti can no longer be his wife, so the council sets out to find him a new spouse. 

People from all different nationalities live in Persia and they seek out and bring him the best of the young women that Persia has to offer. King Xerxes is the first Bachelor. One of the women brought to him is Esther, a young jewish orphan under the care of her uncle.Esther’s story is significant because she will go on to save the life of every Isrealite in Persia.

ILL: The Bible is full of great stories. This book itself has so many great things to teach that I have taught it before as a multi-week series. But today I want to talk about the proper way to move forward from courtship and dating to engagement. Our society has a tendency to view courtship, engagement as an old antiquated system. Nowadays we date, have kids, move in together, and then talk about being engaged and maybe eventually we get married. 

That is not how relationships are supposed to work. 

When we say antiquated system, that means that in every culture on every continent, even in Babylonian times and before, people took marriage and relationship so seriously that they operated in a way that made commitment something that must be adhered to by everyone wishing to enter into a relationship with another person for life. It has really only been within the past 50-200 years that we (Western civilization) have veered from these norms. Up until then practices were pretty common and remained for people who had money even longer. Many view it as part of a patriarchal system and as oppressive to women. But here me out today. 

The current system is broken. I am not sure we can fix it all with a sermon, but I want you to know that asking for an engagement commitment is 1. Not new, 2. Not crazy, 3. Within your ability

APP: So I am going to pull some things from this story of Esther to give you a new context.

T.S.: Let’s begin. Esther has been chosen as a bachelorette and moves into the house.

2. Preparation (Esther 2:8-9, 12-15)

When the king’s order and edict had been proclaimed, many young women were brought to the citadel of Susa and put under the care of Hegai. Esther also was taken to the king’s palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem. She pleased him and won his favor. Immediately he provided her with her beauty treatments and special food. He assigned to her seven female attendants selected from the king’s palace and moved her and her attendants into the best place in the harem.

12 Before a young woman’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics. And this is how she would go to the king: Anything she wanted was given her to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace. In the evening she would go there and in the morning return to another part of the harem to the care of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the concubines. She would not return to the king unless he was pleased with her and summoned her by name.

EXP: When it matters who you marry, you will have criteria. Esther is summoned to the castle and placed in the care of the person who was in charge of all these potential wives. The Bible says she was beautiful and well liked. Then they did a makeover on her. Seven female attendants took her from maiden on the street to queen. Six months of beauty treatments and being bathed in oils and perfumes. Then make up. Then she had to go before the king when called. He would have one night to determine if she received a rose to the next round.

ILL: Babylon was a place of many cultures. We learned in other books how the Israelite men were taken through a similar ritual in order to serve in the kingdom. It was part physical transformation and part educational. There would be no learning queen on the job. Esther needed to be ready to fill the need as soon as the king demanded.

Esther’s engagement process looked like this:

  1. It took at least 6 months to be ready
  2. The people had to transform from what was to what is
  3. There was an organized, intentional process to marry the king (become queen)

ILL: Definition of Engagement is ‘a formal agreement to get married’

I think this scares us right we still feel that when we get engaged this is a no turning back point. Courtship should be where we learn about one another, but when it gets serious there are serious things to consider. Now we begin to align our lives to be ready to share with another.

Engagements involved some particular elements in previous times:

Ring - A ring is given to signify that the woman is spoken for. For men, this is the big ring. The guideline for this is 2 months salary for the engagement ring. Depending on the job, this can get expensive. A person once told me that in order to buy an engagement ring once you decide to propose, you should only order water at restaurants and put $3 into a jar every time. This will take less than a year to get the ring you need. 

Dowry - This is a payment from the bride’s family to the Husband or husband’s family. A dowry did a few things. It blessed the new couple, it always remained the property of the bride so if the husband died then the wife would have some support. It could be used to establish a new home or location for the family. It could be a way of sharing enterprises or business of both families. It was often viewed as an inheritance payment while the parents were alive for the girls. When the parents died the inheritance would go to the men then. In today’s egalitarian world this is not common. However, I have seen bridal parents pay down payments on homes, or give property inheritances to couples. I have seen shares of business or stock given as well. 

Commitments: The fact is that engagement is commitment of your full self and life. That is why it involves so much cost. It also involves so much preparation. 

Waiting Period: An engagement is a waiting period. When you make large life decisions there should be time for reflection. Both parties should consider the severity of their actions. Marriage is designed to be forever.

APP: We can see the preparation and detail that is being taken in order for Esther to marry King Xerxes. There is much to consider and what is clear is that this young woman is transforming herself to be in a marriage. The King is providing all the resources and being candid and weighing his commitment for a period of time.

T. S.: So now we have a problem. Absalom, hearing nothing from his father, good or bad, wants attention, then decides to seek vengeance against his father. He and his men and the people of Israel come for the Castle. Absalom is a problem-solver, if he gets no resolve he will make it happen.

3. The Marriage (Esther 2:17-18)

 Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. And the king gave a great banquet, Esther’s banquet, for all his nobles and officials. He proclaimed a holiday throughout the provinces and distributed gifts with royal liberality.

EXP: In the end the King finds himself smitten with Esther. She is the one. He places his crown on her head and has a wedding party. Eventually, because Esther went through this arduous process, she is able to save jews from a holocaust situation.

ILL: Too often I hear stories of people who met, began an intimate relationship, one of them at least usually had no intention of marrying the other. But then they got pregnant. They then meet parents, usually drama ensues. At least one person in the family dynamic expected some form of courtship/engagement process to take place. Then we wind up with family members we do not talk to. Finally after working through much drama the couple decides to make it official and then get engaged. At this point they are living together and have to work on a combined budget to even get a ring. Sometimes they have a formal ceremony, other times they get married at the courthouse and go back to business as usual. 

Now I want you to hear me, I am not your judge. Most of the story I told you above could be ascribed to my marriage. Our 20-something selves were not that bright. My question is if you could choose, which way would you like to do it?

APP: There are things I can confidently say to the church “follow my example” and then there are things I have to say to the church “follow God’s process”

T.S.: This series is about Godly relationships. People are generally difficult because we do not consider others and we cut corners to achieve what we want. I know this is a challenging series. It is challenging for me. But I have learned that when I started to do things God’s way, even if I started poorly, that he honors it and will begin to change my life, my marriage, my children, my job. The difficulty gets less, when I am doing things God’s way. 

God calls the church “the Bride of Christ” ; he calls Jesus “the bridegroom.” Our relationship with God involves this process where we are made in his image, we are transformed from who we were into the perfect bride of Christ. In heaven we will take part in the marriage supper. We are engaged to Christ. He is providing for our needs, he is showering us with preparation and he has already chosen us. To this end, why would we not want to practice a proper engagement. Maybe we would understand our relationship with Christ on earth more?

I want to pray for three groups today:

  1. There are some in this room who may be engaged or looking to be.
  2. I pray that God will give you pause and a mind to consider how to apply this teaching to your situation.
  3. Some of you have blown past engagement, went straight into marriage or just holding on to living together.

a. I pray that you understand that God is merciful and will walk with you in understanding. 

3.Some in this room did not have good examples to follow. Like us you ran into things and did the best you knew. Today we can take a moment and surrender our marriage and life to God. We can align our thinking with his so that we can understand how to be the bride of Christ.

  1. I pray today for salvation.