Wine, Women, and Self
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Wine, Women, and Self

Esther 1:10–2:4  (ID: 2958)

King Ahasuerus may have ruled Persia, but in the book of Esther’s first chapter, he loses his head because of alcohol, then loses his queen because of his impulse to exploit her beauty. Alistair Begg contrasts the king’s foolishness with the Bible’s warnings against alcohol abuse and encouragement to practice self-control. Nevertheless, the king’s foolish decisions fit into God’s sovereign plan to coronate a new queen and preserve His people during their exile.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Esther

The Unseen God Esther 1:1–10:3 Series ID: 11703

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn with me to the Old Testament, to the book of Esther, where we’ll read a selection of verses. We’ll read from 1:10 to begin with:

“On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha and Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas”—if you’re looking for names for your grandchildren, I suggest you steer clear of this—“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 show the peoples and the princes her beauty, for she was lovely to look at. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command delivered by the eunuchs. At this the king became enraged, and his anger burned within him.”

The writer then tells us that he inquired of his wise men as to what he ought to do. Their answer was “You should issue legislation.” And in verse 19, this is what they say: “‘If it please the king, let a royal order go out from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes so that it may not be repealed, that Vashti is never again to come before King Ahasuerus. And let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she. So when the decree made by the king is proclaimed throughout all his kingdom, for it is vast, all women will give honor to their husbands, high and low alike.’ This advice pleased the king.”

Now go to 2:1:

“After these things, when the anger of King Ahasuerus had abated, he remembered Vashti and what she[’d] done and what had been decreed against her. Then the king’s young men who attended him said, ‘Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for the king. And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom to gather all the beautiful young virgins to the harem in Susa the citadel, under custody of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women. Let their cosmetics be given them. And let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.’ This pleased the king, and he did so.

“Now there was a Jew in Susa the citadel whose name was Mordecai…”


We pray, gracious God, for help, that as we turn to this ancient book as very twenty-first-century dwellers, that you will help us to ask the question “What?” concerning its content, “So what?” concerning its implications, “Now what?” in terms of our follow-through, so that we might increasingly become the people that we’ve been singing that we believe ourselves to be—at least want to be—and that Jesus might be everything in us and through us. For in his name we pray. Amen.

I woke up this morning,
Realized what I had done.
I [sat] alone in the cold gray [morn];
I knew I’d lost my morning sun.

I lost my head, and I said some things.
Now come the heartaches that the morning brings.
I know I’m wrong, … I couldn’t see.
I let my world slip away from me.

… Hey, did you happen to see
The most beautiful girl in the world?
And if you did, was she crying …?
Hey, [did] you happen to see
The most beautiful girl [who] walked out on me[?][1]

Now, don’t look alarmed. This is not autobiographical. That was Charlie Rich from a long time ago. Those of you of a certain vintage understand that. The rest of you are saying, “He has finally taken leave of his senses.” No. I’m gonna call that song “The Song of King Ahasuerus,” à la 2:1. And I’ll try and explain to you why.

Look at the beginning of the second chapter: “After these things, when the anger of King Ahasuerus had abated, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her.” We said last Sunday morning, in introducing this book, that what we’re dealing with here is essentially a historic novella. It is a short story. It is historical. It has the qualities of a good little novel about it. There is a horrible character called Haman. There is a kind of love thread which runs through it. There is a beautiful queen. There is a deposed queen. There is an enigmatic little character known as Mordecai the Jew. It really is quite super.

And I commended it to you—if you haven’t done your homework, you needn’t put up your hand and acknowledge it—but I suggested to you last time that it would be good for each of us to read the story through at least a couple of times. Because in order to really do justice to providing instruction from this book, it almost demands an awareness of the totality of the story. In some parts of the Bible, you don’t really need that. The progression, the linear progression of things, whether it is in a New Testament letter or even in a study of some of the Psalms, you can simply say, “This is verse 1, and as we get to verse 2, then we can understand and go along.” But in actual fact, in this kind of literature, the impact of this story as a story lies in its narrativity. It lies in the narrative nature of the way in which the information is conveyed—that there is, if you like, a literary quality to the story that is vital to the way in which we understand it, so that if I were simply to go, as it were, verse by verse through the text of the first chapter, we would pick up things and understand them, but I actually may rob the story of something of its impact. That makes perfect sense, doesn’t it, in relationship to any other short story? I mean, if you’re reading stories with your children or your grandchildren, the reason for the story is you read the whole story, especially if it is a short story. Otherwise, if you don’t really get the plot, if you don’t get the characters, then bits and pieces of it will mean very little to you.

Now, we noted last time that the events recorded in the book of Esther are in accord with the events recorded in the entire Old Testament. And we said they are recorded because God wanted them recorded. I want to add to that this morning and say, “And they are recorded in this particular fashion because God wanted them recorded in this particular fashion.” What you have here is history as story more than history as chronicle. I think you understand that. So, in other words, it’s not just a list of dates and places—“And on this day this happened, and this day that’s happened”—but in actual fact, the story, the drama, is woven through this literary piece.

And Paul, you remember, in Romans 15, he says all the things that were written in the past were “written for our instruction” so that “through endurance and … the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope”[2]—the hope that is found in and through the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Messiah, who comes from the line of his people; a people who, at this point in the fifth century, many of them have chosen to remain in Persia, even though Cyrus had offered to them an opportunity for repatriation. Some chose to go back to Jerusalem; others chose to stay. And Jeremiah had given instructions a hundred years before to the people of God living in an alien place as to how they should conduct themselves.[3] And as we said last Sunday morning, Daniel gives us an insight into that. The book of Nehemiah gives us an insight into it. And here, it is also so in this lovely story of Esther.

The King Lost His Head and the Queen Her Crown

Well, my first point goes under the heading “The King Lost His Head and the Queen Her Crown.” All right? That is my attempt to summarize the end, or the second half, of chapter 1. Those of us who were here last Sunday night advanced the ball a little from the morning. Some of you, if you really care, will have to get the recording of that or just go online and watch it for your help. “The King Lost His Head, and the Queen Lost Her Crown.”

Now, the Persian empire was in many ways glued together by laws and rules and edicts. It’s not uncommon in everyday parlance to hear somebody make a statement or make a demand and then follow it up by saying, “However, that’s not the law of the Persians and the Medes” or “the Medes and the Persians.” And you may actually have used that without realizing where it comes from. Well, that actually it comes from here, at least in the biblical record. And the edicts extended to all kinds of details. And that becomes apparent as you look down here and see 1:8: “And drinking”—we’ve just been told that the “drinks were served in golden vessels … of [all] different kinds”—“and drinking was according to this edict.” So there’s an edict about drinking. And what is the edict? “There is no compulsion.” “There is no compulsion.” What does that mean? It means that the guests could drink as much as they liked or as little as they liked, and they could drink when they liked.

If you saw Mrs Brown, the story of Queen Victoria following the death of Prince Albert—much of it set in the beauty of Scotland, I hasten to add—and the part of Queen Victoria played by Judi Dench, if you remember any of the eating scenes there, you will get some kind of idea of what’s involved in this little statement. Because no one touched any cutlery until the Queen did, no one ate or drank until the Queen did. If she drank, they drank. If she didn’t, they didn’t, and so on. If she stood up to leave, the meal was over, and everybody had to leave. Well, that would be the way it would work in this: that the people were there for this big banquet, they had all the provisions made for them so that they could enter into this opulent and very lavish feast, and routinely it would be that every time the king went for it, everybody else would go for it. So he issued an edict: “You don’t have to do that. You can drink as much as you like, or you can drink as little as you like.”

Now, in the case of the king, it seems apparent that he went for “as much as you like.” He went for the “as much as you like” program. Because it is also difficult to read the ensuing verses without acknowledging the fact that his judgment seems at least to be a little impaired, that his decision-making has been unduly influenced by the impact of the alcohol in his system. Because here, in a display of his pride and his bravado, he issues a command for the presence of his queen. And we’re told that the reason that he wanted to do this, in verse 11, was “in order to show the peoples and the princes her beauty, for she was lovely to look at.” And so, it’s very, very important to understand that. This is not a sort of nice husband saying, “We’re having a lovely time up here in the men’s grill, and we would love for you just to come down and meet my friends before they all go home.” It’s not like that at all. No. This is Mr. Big. For this Ahasuerus guy, bigger is better. Everything is an indication of his majesty and his might and his significance. And so he says to his boys, “Go down and bring the queen up here. Make sure she has her crown.” So, what he’s planning on doing is a show-and-tell for his friends. He’s gonna let them ogle his wife.

The Jewish commentaries around this suggest that there is a distinct possibility that when it actually says there that she should come, and come “with her royal crown,” that that was all she was to come with.[4] So, in other words, he was breaking the bounds of propriety in every way—whether that’s true or not. Because Josephus, the Jewish historian, records the fact that it was a violation within the code and ethics of Persia for a man’s wife to be the occasion of observation, approbation, on the part of any other men.[5] And if you think about Mideastern or Eastern dress, no matter what you might think about these things, it certainly covers up a lot of potential difficulty, doesn’t it? It saves from a lot of harm.

And it is in that context that he issues this command, so that they may be able to observe her beauty, see her beauty, because she was good to look at. Now, okay, you can say he was proud of his wife. She was good-looking, and that was fine. But there’s a progression here, and I want to point it out to you. See if you think this is accurate. First of all, we’re told that his condition in verse 10 was that it was “on the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine.” “With wine.” It would be fair to translate it “On the seventh day, when the wine had gone to his head…” All right? When he’s not totally out of control, but he’s sufficiently knocked off balance. And the writer wants us to understand the part that is played here.

So his condition is that his heart is “merry with wine.” He then issues his edict, sends for his wife, she refuses to come, and his reaction at the end of verse 12 is that he “became enraged, and his anger burned within him.” He was “enraged, and his anger burned within him.” Now, again, this is where reading on in the story will be of help to you, because if you have done, you’ll say, “Well, that seems to be something of a recurring pattern for this fellow.” And it is. And I’ll show you where, if you just go to 7:7, in a different context—and we don’t need the context for the moment; I just want you to notice the point. Esther 7:7: “And the king arose in his wrath from the wine-drinking.” He “arose in his wrath from the wine-drinking.” In other words, the writer wants us to understand that there is a correlation here between his intake and his output. What he’s taken into himself is in some way influencing what is coming out of him.

It’s not our purpose to stop here and give a dissertation on the uses and abuses of alcohol and the way in which it’s addressed in the Bible. But let me just say a couple of things in passing. Number one, wine is the principal drink that is mentioned in the Bible. You don’t have 7UP or anything like that in there, right? So, when you read the Old Testament, an evidence of God’s blessing is found in the production of grain, of wine, and of oil. Find it again. The trilogy comes again and again—for example, in the book of Deuteronomy: “And God blessed his people, and they were the beneficiaries of it, and they saw the evidences of it in the grain and the wine and the oil that they enjoyed.”[6] It is therefore one of God’s good gifts—a good gift which the psalmist tells us, at least in Psalm 104, has the capacity to “gladden the heart of man.”[7] It’s one of the capacities that is there in this.

At the same time, the Bible warns that when taken to excess, it can lead men and women astray—Proverbs 20:1. And when you move from the Old Testament into the New, you find that, for example, the apostle Paul, while he encourages Timothy to drink wine for his stomach’s sake,[8] warns the Ephesians against becoming debauched as a result of their imbibing of too much wine: “Do not be drunk with wine”—Ephesians 5:18—“wherein is excess, which leads to debauchery, but instead be filled with the Holy Spirit.”[9]

Our purpose is not to discuss this, but let’s just lay this down as axiomatic: that Paul is making it absolutely clear for the Ephesians and for the church at all times that there is a huge no-go area when it comes to the issue of a Christian being controlled by anything other than the Holy Spirit. There is no legitimacy—no legitimacy—in the Scriptures given to us to be out of control. The only out-of-control that it envisages is being so filled with the Spirit of God that we’re out of control, as it were, with love and affection for God and with the good news that is then conveyed.

His condition: the wine had gone to his head. His reaction: he lost his temper. He was enraged. This is a bad combination: a big ego, an inordinate interest in alcohol, and a quick temper.

Do you realize how in a moment of foolish passion you can alter your life forever?

Now, he clearly wants to benefit from those who are his counselors. And so his question is straightforward. And you’ll find it there in verse 15: he says, “According to the law…” You see? It’s all about the law. “What edict do we have about this?” “According to the law, what is to be done to Queen Vashti, because she has not performed the command of King Ahasuerus delivered by the eunuchs?” And they say, “Well, what needs to be done here is the issuing of legislation.” And so verse 19 and 20, which we read earlier; we needn’t reread it. But, “Let a royal order go out; let it be written among the laws of the Medes and the Persians”—notice the phrase—“so that it may not be repealed, that Vashti is never again to come before King Ahasuerus.”

Now, just think about that for a moment. Do you think if his heart hadn’t been merry with wine that he would have gone for that edict? Do you think if you’d said to him in the morning when he got up and he’d gone out for a walk, “You know, by the time you get to midnight, you’ll have banished your queen from your life forever. You’ll never see her again. She’ll never be anything to you again.” He would have said, “That’s not possible. She’s my queen.” He did it. How did he do it? He had a fat head, he drank too much, he had a horrible temper, and he took bad advice. That story is repeated again and again and again. That’s not the point of the passage, but it is a point that ought not to be missed as we read the passage.

Do you realize how in a moment of foolish passion you can alter your life forever? He was “merry with wine.” He was mad. He said, “What?” They said this. He was weak willed. He said, “Okay.” He could have said, “You know, I shouldn’t have asked my wife to do that. That wasn’t proper. It wasn’t proper as it relates to the law of the land, and it wasn’t proper as it relates to her and her beauty and the esteem that I have for her. Why would I want my wife to do that? Why would I…” He could have said all that, couldn’t he? But he didn’t. No, he said, “Fine. Let it be done.”

It’s amazing, isn’t it? He spent all of this time explaining what a big shot he is. I actually think it’s quite funny. I don’t know if you do, but, you know, his dominion extends from India to Ethiopia, over 127 provinces. His banquet lasts for six months. The people are in there from all the surrounding places. He’s got nobles and governors and the army of Persia and the army of Media. He’s got all the pomp. He’s got all the ceremony.[10] No one’s in any doubt. This guy’s a big guy. He’s a big deal. Oh yeah! Nobody else is gonna be able to pull off this banquet. Do you see how powerful he is? There’s no limit to his power! He goes to the ends of the earth, the ends of the then-known world. He has control of everything—except what? Except his jolly wife!

That’s funny! That’s funny to me: “I’m in control of everything. Would you get my wife?”

“She says she’s not coming.”

“What’re you talking about? I’m the king of the universe. She’s coming!”

“No, she isn’t.”

And then—and I think this is funny too: that he’s placed in the unenviable position of creating legislation to impose on others what he had been unable to achieve himself. So he issues an edict so that the men in his little world will not be subjected to the same thing as himself. He thinks that his edict is gonna achieve for them what he couldn’t achieve on his throne? That’s funny!

Now, for those of you who find your profeminist juices rising in this little story here, I want to tell you: sit down and stay steady. This book, in twenty-first-century Western culture, has become for many a profeminist tract. Some of my own friends have written in that vein. There is no question here that we can say that Vashti is, if you like, a woman before her time. But if we were to think for a minute that the reason that this is in here and the reason that this story is in here is in order that we might advance that cause, then we’ll go immediately wrong.

No, what we are discovering here is the way in which Esther eventually becomes the queen alongside Ahasuerus. And so the writer is explaining the events that unfolded that brought this to pass. Once again, I have to say to you that it is imperative that we stand back far enough from the drama so as not to miss the wood from the trees. This is how it was that he was going to get an improved model—another one, another queen—who, according to verse 19, “is better than she.”

The Search for a New Queen

Well, that’s how chapter 1 ends, and then we have to go into chapter 2. We’ll just make a stab at chapter 2, and then we’ll stop.

So, first of all, the balance of chapter 1 explains how the king lost his head and the queen lost her crown. And then, the search begins for a new queen. Or, if you want another heading, you could say, “Now we have a beauty pageant to outdo all beauty pageants ever come up with.” “After these things, when the anger of [the] King Ahasuerus had abated, he remembered Vashti and what she had done.”

Now, here’s something you need to know. Did you know that the battle of Salamis and the campaign of Thermopylae in the fifth century—the campaign of Persia against Greece—was one of the great military campaigns in the entire history of the world? Hands up, all those who knew that. Three people—four, five, six, seven. Anyone over in this section? Good. I feel much more comfortable over here. ’Cause I hadn’t a clue about that, I must say. And I thought I was fairly educated, but apparently not. When I read that there was a battle, I said, “So there was a battle,” then I read this battle is one of the most significant military campaigns in the entire history of the world, and I said, “How did I miss that?”

And also, I didn’t know that it took place in between chapter 1 and chapter 2. So that if you go immediately from chapter 1 to chapter 2, you need to keep in the back of your mind—which is why I’m telling you this—that there’s a three-year gap. Because Mr. Big, the king, Ahasuerus, after he has now deposed Vashti, goes out to lead the forces of Persia against the Greeks. And then you can read the history. You can read it in the history of Herodotus, in The Histories. You’ll find it there. There’s no point in me, you know, going on about it, because I didn’t know much about it myself, and you can read the same books as me.

But I think it’s important. Because the campaign began with some success and ended with great disappointment. So, here you have this man—“If I ruled the world, every day would be the first day of spring,”[11] you know, that kind of guy. He’s back at his house after these things. “When the anger of King Ahasuerus had abated, he remembered Vashti and what she[’d] done and what had been decreed against her.” Don’t you think he sat somewhere in his royal palace, squeezed his eyes closed, and saw again that six-month banquet, that extravaganza, all that eating and drinking, and all his ego fanned into a flame? Now he comes back, hasn’t made much of a conquest at all against the Greeks—bruised in his ego, saddened by his past.

And I say to you again: fifteen minutes in the wrong company, imbibing the wrong material, making the wrong decisions, may have a lasting impact on our lives. You read it in Ecclesiastes: “There was a man all alone; he had neither [brother or sister].”[12] It’s a picture of the sadness and the emptiness of someone who has pursued everyone and everything, and particularly his own agenda, to the expense of the living God.

No, there is a wealth here in this opening verse. It’s a verse that leads us to the encouragement of these young men, verse 2, the king’s men, who had attended him, presumably trying to pick up his chin from his chest—said, “Well, listen, why don’t we just do a thing? We’ll call it ‘The Search for Miss Persia,’ you know. We’ll call it… We’ll call it something. ‘Persia’s Got Talent.’ We’ll come up with something. But we’ll scour around, we’ll get… Don’t you worry, king. We’ll get it sorted out. Hegai, the king’s eunuch, he’s in charge of the women, and we’ll bring them in, and we’ll get it going.”

And then it says, “This pleased the king, and he did so.” It’s the same as verse 21: “This advice pleased the king …, and [he] did as Memucan proposed.” He’s a bit of a vacillator, isn’t he? He apparently doesn’t have much of a mind of his own. It’s good to take advice. It’s important to know your mind. So, he is influenced for the deposing of Vashti. He’s now influenced in the strategy for the discovering of this model replacement.

A Story of Providence and Deliverance

Now, we’ll have to stop, and so we stop, as it were, prematurely in the narrative. But let me finish it in this way: by constantly trying to remind ourselves of what it going on here. The story of the book of Esther is the story of God’s providence and is the story of deliverance. It is the story of how, in the same way that God dramatically, manifestly, miraculously intervened to bring his people out of Egypt, as they walked through, with the sea piled up on either side of them, they were in no doubt what God was doing. He was achieving a purpose. They did not understand that what he was doing was he was bringing all things into conflation, into confluence with one another, according to the eternal purpose of his will, where he was going to unite all things in heaven and earth in Christ Jesus.[13] If you’d said to anybody walking through the Red Sea, “Do you know that’s what happened?” they’d say, “No, I don’t know what you’re talking about at all.” But when you read your Bible backwards, you realize that’s exactly what God was doing. He was preserving his people, because out of his people was going to come the Messiah. Out of the people was going to come Jesus. And in the same way, here in fifth-century Persia, amongst some of his people who have decided not to go back to Jerusalem, he’s doing the same thing.

If we try and examine the small events of our histories in the immediacy of what’s happening, we will almost inevitably go wrong. Because we only see bits. We only see part of it. The providence of God is a great mosaic.

But he is accomplishing his purpose by providentially overruling natural events, not supernaturally interfering with the mechanism of the world. Right? He’s capable of both. He doesn’t choose always to stand the sea up. He’s never parted the sea for me once in my life. I’m not anticipating that he will. But he has worked providentially in the details of my life. He determined my DNA, and yours too. If you’re pretty, you’d better not be proud. You can be proud if you’re pretty at seventy, because you’re responsible for your face, but you can’t be proud if you’re pretty at seventeen, ’cause you have no part in your face. If you’re bright, there is no place for arrogance. God made you that way. He ordered your steps, the boundary of your habitations.[14]

And that’s exactly what he’s doing here. Who’s in control of the decision to have a beauty competition? From a human perspective, the young fellows. The king accedes to it. It’s a good idea. That’s all it is. Who was responsible for the deposing of Vashti, the queen? The king! He did it. He didn’t do it because he was preprogrammed to do it. He did it ’cause he wanted to do it. And what we discover is that if we try and examine the small, immediate events of our histories in the immediacy of what’s happening, we will almost inevitably go wrong. Because we only see bits. We only see part of it. The providence of God is a great mosaic.

And when we find ourselves in circumstances that appear upside down, you’ve gotta sing to yourself. You sing to yourself, “Even the bad times are good.” Right? You remember this one? Let’s show you how old I am. This is theology according to the Tremeloes. All right?

There are times in this life of mine
[That] I think … the sun forgot how to shine
But as long as you’re always there,
It don’t bother me, ’cause why should I care,
When all I’ve gotta do
Is run to you?

[’Cause] even the bad times are good.
[As] soon as I get to you, baby,
[I] just gotta hold [you].
And even the bad times are good.[15]

You say, “He’s lost his mind again. He’s done it again.” No, no. This is my mind. This is the way it works. I’m sorry I have all these songs in there. But I said to myself, “Listen, the name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run into it, are saved.[16] He guides his flock like a shepherd, he gently leads those who are young, and he gathers the lambs close to his heart.[17] I get it! Even the bad times are good. As soon as I get to you, Jesus, I’ve just gotta hold you. And even the bad times are good.”

You see, some of us are so stuck on the idea that God ought to be doing miraculous, supreme, engaging, transformative, manifest interventions. And we miss the fact that there is as much providence in the crawling of a spider up a wall as there is in the unfolding drama that is contained here in the book of Esther.

Say, “Well, you can’t just quote all these ridiculous songs.” The hymn writer keeps us. The hymn writer will always keep us. That’s why we need hymns. We so badly need good hymns. Because when we come back to this, we’re gonna see that God is most present when he appears to be most absent. That’s one of the themes that runs through the book: that he is unmistakably involved, mysteriously involved, in the details behind the scenes.

And if you are wondering about these things today, if you’re saying to yourself, “Well, I don’t know where I fit in this thing—God, Jesus. I mean, I came, but I don’t know…” George Weigel wrote, in the introduction to this book entitled The Light of the World, Weigel says this: that the present society—present American society—is stuck because it views humanity as a “cosmic chemical accident,” existing “with no intentional origin,” with “no noble destiny,” and so with “no path … through history.”[18] A “cosmic chemical accident,” “no intentional origin” (don’t know where I came from), “no noble destiny” (don’t know where I’m going), and therefore, I have no pathway through history.

Here’s the Christian worldview, from the lips of a lady in the nineteenth century— Dorothy Greenwell, I think her name was, daughter of a manse:

I am not skilled to understand
What God has willed, what God has planned;
I only know at His right hand
Stands One Who is my Saviour.[19]

Loved ones, that’s security. That’s biblical theology. That’s not some superficial, feel-good notion. That is through the dangers, through the toils, through the snares,[20] when I see through a glass darkly,[21] when the waves overwhelm me, when I find myself set aside on the ventures of life, there’s a ton of stuff I don’t know, and I’m not skilled to understand it, and I’m not even supposed to understand it. But I understand this: that at God’s right hand I have a Savior. And if you don’t have that, then you need that. Because what is our only hope in life and in death? That we’re not our own but belong body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.[22]

Well, we’ll come back to this. Read on ahead.

O gracious God, we thank you for the Bible and for the opportunity to study it together, to read it on our own, to ponder these things. And we know that you speak to us, because we’ve discovered this before in ways that may not be dramatic and peculiarly obvious. Sometimes it’s just in the stillness of our own minds, as the Word of God reverberates there, we realize that we do need a Savior, that we don’t know what our path is through life. It seems right to us, but then we read in the Bible, and it says there is a way that seems right to someone, and in the end it leads to death.[23] And then we say, “Well, everybody’s going this way. It must be okay.” And then we read the Bible, and it says there is a broad road that leads to destruction, and many people find it, and there is a narrow road that leads to life, and few there be that find it.[24]

Look upon us in your mercy, we pray. And thank you that we can be confident that even when we are unable to understand many of the details—when we do not understand your hand, as if were—that we can trust your heart.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be our portion, today and forever. Amen.

[1] Rory Bourke, Norro Wilson, and Billy Sherrill, “The Most Beautiful Girl” (1973).

[2] Romans 15:4 (ESV).

[3] See Jeremiah 29:4–7.

[4] T. Megillah 12b.3.

[5] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 11.6.1.

[6] Deuteronomy 7:13 (paraphrased).

[7] Psalm 104:15 (ESV).

[8] See 1 Timothy 5:23.

[9] Ephesians 5:18 (paraphrased).

[10] See Esther 1:1–4.

[11] Leslie Bricusse and Cyril Ornadel, “If I Ruled the World” (1963).

[12] Ecclesiastes 4:8 (NIV).

[13] See Ephesians 1:10.

[14] See Acts 17:26.

[15] Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio, “Even the Bad Times Are Good” (1967).

[16] Proverbs 18:10 (paraphrased).

[17] Isaiah 40:11 (paraphrased).

[18] George Weigel, foreword to Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times; A Conversation with Peter Seewald, by Benedict XVI (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2010), x.

[19] Dora Greenwell, “Redemption,” in Songs of Salvation (London, 1874), 4. Language modernized.

[20] See John Newton, “Amazing Grace” (1779).

[21] See 1 Corinthians 13:12.

[22] The Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 1.

[23] See Proverbs 14:12.

[24] See Matthew 7:13–14.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.