Choosing a Compliant Heart
I recently read a delightful, non-fiction book, Bears in My Kitchen, published in the 1950’s about a United States Forest Ranger. It recounts the life of one brave ranger in the wilds of several western US National Parks through the eyes of his wife, Margaret Merrill. The stories are funny and touching — porcupines and bears for pets, helping a Dust Bowl migrant worker deliver a baby. Sometimes the stories are heart stopping –driving a 1930’s era car next to an unseen cliff in a snowstorm, times of total isolation or even terrifying — battling forest fires, tracking escaped criminals.
What impacted me most about this autobiography was the character of the author/wife. Mrs. Merrill was originally from Berkeley, California, just outside the busy and cosmopolitan San Francisco. Even though she loved the mountains, there was no way to prepare for the primitive conditions and the required sacrifices it took to live and work there. Because of her husband’s knowledge, his way of doing things had to prevail in virtually all areas of their mountain life. Although at times frustrated or confused, the author never doubted or insisted on her own way and was able to highlight her husband and his profession with confidence and love. She depicted the essence of what I hope we can choose for ourselves this week – a compliant heart.
Compliant is not a word used very often these days. It is defined as, “a yielding, as to a request, wish, desire, command or proposal; submission; a disposition to yield to others; obedience (to a command or precept); execution (of the conditions of a contract).”1
Compliance is not easy. When I married my husband I went through changes, big and small. I changed my last name. (Which for some of you seems logical, but for a prideful journalist who had already established a writing name, it was a struggle.) I acclimated myself to camping which my family never did when I was young. Instead of simply hiking along well-trod mountain paths, we now took the-road-never-taken, the path-to-who-knows-where, and the occasional impassible-trek-over-the-mountain-which-is-there.
Time for reading alone often gave way to reading aloud. I got rid of some music and knick-knacks from days gone by. “Let’s go visit So-and-so” no longer meant calling and seeing if they were available Friday night. With Mark, it meant popping in right this moment because we were in the neighborhood … often times with great results. But not always. (By the way, now we only drop in unexpectedly when we know for sure the people enjoy that.) Yet, we were establishing a unique marriage and family and I chose to comply with his leading.
Esther’s situation for learning compliance is much more difficult than what most of us would ever have to face. God was beginning to move among the Jews still dispersed abroad (Ezekiel 36:19), and He was molding a compliant Esther to do it.
Today we look at two men God placed in Esther’s life who will test and grow her choice to have a compliant spirit.
A. First, we have a picture of Ahasuerus:
- Read Esther 2:1-4. We already met this king of Persia in the first chapter, but here we have another perspective. Historically, Ahasuerus may have just come back from war with Greece, which ended in crushing and embarrassing defeat.2The king’s fury has quieted and the word for “remembered” or “contemplated” means that something specific was weighing on the forefront of his mind. He may even have been daydreaming. Vashti is forever banished, and now he’s mulling over “what she had done and what had been decreed against her.” (NASB) Whether from lustful motives or that the king simply longed for Vashti’s company, it seems there was some regret and reconsideration of her case in his mind.
- Read II Corinthians 7:10. How does having an ungodly sorrow affect circumstances, relationships and attitudes around us?
B. Read Esther 2:5-7. This is our first introduction to Mordecai, Esther’s cousin. We find he is a Jewish descendent of the Benjamite, Kish who was taken captive under Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.
- Look up Ezra 1:1-5 and read the decree of King Cyrus and the first wave of Jews to leave Persia to return to Judah and Jerusalem to rebuild the temple.
- In Ezra 2:64-65 we find that only 49,897 Jewish people chose to return at that time.
- Reread the second half of verse five in Ezra 1. Has there been a time in your life when God asked you to do something but a friend or family member in a similar situation wasn’t led in the same way?
C. Scripture doesn’t tell us the name of Mordecai’s wife, or if he even had one. All we know is that he chose to be a foster dad, raising his young cousin, Hadassah, whom we know by her Persian name, Esther. It isn’t clear how young Esther was when her parents died and she came to live with Mordecai.
Read James 1:27. What kind of sacrifices might Mordecai had to have made in order to care for Esther?
A. Read Esther 2:8-11. We know from earlier in the chapter that the king’s advisors developed a plan to bring in the most beautiful, eligible young women so that the king could choose a new queen. Some commentators term this a “beauty contest,”3 but that implies a winner, prizes, congratulations, condolences and the losers head home. This collecting of contestants, however, was in reality a forced slavery. There may have been dozens brought to the palace because the Persian realm was so vast. Once placed in the harem, women in this culture were no longer free but they were secondary wives or concubines of the king.4
B. Hegai was the eunuch in charge of the women. This is actually the third man who will have a huge impact on Esther’s choices, now and later. Immediately, Hegai saw potential in Esther. The exact wording in the Bible was that “the young lady pleased him and found favor with him.” (NASB) Was it that she found favor with his personal tastes in women? No. Hegai knew the king. He knew what the king liked in women. In setting Esther aside for special treatment, he was taking the chance that she was the one to best please the king – a choice which would most likely look good on his record, too.
- Read Matthew 25:14-30 keeping in mind the three servants and their knowledge of their Master.
- How has better understanding a co-worker, a boss, a husband or a pastor enabled you to help and serve them better?
C. Even though no longer under the direct authority of Mordecai, we get an idea of what a close relationship Esther must have had with him and how obedient she was. Mordecai instructed her not to tell people in the palace that she was Jewish. He didn’t ask her to lie. He wanted people to keep their assumptions that she was simply a Persian.5 She voluntarily chose a spirit of obedience and compliance, continuing to place herself under Mordecai’s umbrella of spiritual protection as she transferred her living quarters to the palace.
- Read as many of the following texts as time allows. Note the emphasis on submissive obedience: Numbers 27:18-20; Deuteronomy 28:1; Joshua 1:17; 24:24; Judges 3:4; I Samuel 15:22; II Thessalonians 3:14; Hebrews 13:17.
- Who has the Lord placed in authority over you? How are you living in compliance to that authority?
A. Esther was placed into a situation she didn’t choose. Just the thought of preparing for one night with a man who would then compare you to several, perhaps dozens of others and decide whom is the best holds unbelievable stress and pain. But it is because she had no choice over circumstances that we can see a new choice emerging. Read Esther 2:12-15. To whom did Esther listen and what was the result?
B. Earlier in the chapter, it was noted that Esther was “beautiful of form and face.” (NASB) She must have looked amazing. But one commentator I read implied that Esther’s only asset was her beauty. In Genesis 24:16 we learn about Rebekah’s beauty. In Genesis 12:11-13 and 20:2 we see Abraham lying not once but twice about the beautiful Sarah being his sister instead of his wife. (When your wife is 90 and you feel the need to lie like this, she must be gorgeous!) In I Samuel 25 we read that Abigail was “beautiful in appearance.” But in each of these cases, their beauty went far deeper. Helpful Rebekah, trusting Sarah, intelligent Abigail, these three women were models of compliance and were called beautiful. All of us have met women who were beautiful but once they opened their mouths and showed their real character, they suddenly became quite common or even ugly.
- Meditate on the lives of these three women.
- In what ways can you be more beautiful for the Lord?
C. My sister challenged me recently on the idea of Esther finally coming before Ahasuerus. She suggested that I think about it in association with my relationship to Christ — a King most worthy, a King above all kings, before whom we are precious and chosen. (Colossians 3:12; I Peter 2:9) However, the analogy does not perfectly fit because we as believers have full access to the throne of the Father through Jesus’ atoning work on the cross (Ephesians 2:18; 3:12). But think about this, if we were to come before Him face to face – physically – tomorrow, what would you take with you to present to the Lord?
A. The king loved Esther more than he loved all the other women. She found “favor” and “kindness” with him.
- Read Esther 2:16-20. It’s interesting to think about how Esther was able to secure the king’s heart. We know the ways of kings are in the hands of God (Proverbs 21:1). But her year of preparation must have included more than cosmetics, spices and oils. Being compliant means preparing our hearts for the One for whom we belong. Esther would not have had access to Scripture, and once in the palace she would no longer hear the Torah read. But most likely she would sing memorized Psalms, or remember stories told about God’s work among her people.
- Read Psalm 145 as well as Psalm 10:17; 27:4; Philippians 4:4-13; I Timothy 4:15. Use these verses to meditate and prepare your heart for the Lord’s current work in your life.
B. A happy man is a generous man, and Ahasuerus proves this. A banquet, a holiday and gifts were the result of his finding Esther. And we discover that Mordecai was then sitting at the gate of the king. Ahasuerus’s original request created a dilemma. Vashti’s decision created confusion. Esther’s choice to be compliant produced abundance and joy. (Note: We also read “the virgins gathered together the second time” which is probably the final rounding up of the women selected from the farthest parts of the realm – a little late, so it seems.)
C. In verse 20, Esther is still choosing to obey Mordecai but not just in keeping her heritage a secret. The text says, “…for Esther did what Mordecai told her as she had done when under his care.”
- Read Daniel 1:4-21 and all of chapter 3. My daughter is currently in a musical called, Cool in the Furnace – which I remember watching and then listening to on my record player as a little girl. (Yes, it’s one of those, I-feel-old moments.) It’s based on the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. One song from the musical is, “It Pays to Remember What You Learned At Home.” Like Daniel and his friends, Esther knew that in such a spiritually devoid place, she would have to stand firm on the teaching under which she had been raised by Mordecai.
- What did you learn as a child or as a new Christian that has continued to support and uplift you?
A. Read Esther 2:21-23 along with Genesis 19:1; 23:10, 18; Deuteronomy 17:5; 21:19; 22:15, 24; 25:7. These passages give a picture of the job Mordecai would have had “sitting at the king’s gate.” (NASB) To sit at the gate meant being a judge, an arbitrator, a mediator, an interpreter of the law.
B. Not only would he hear many cases of dispute within the area, but he also would be in a good listening post, of sorts, as hundreds of people from throughout the kingdom would pass him daily. Overhearing a plot to assassinate the king, he immediately reported the news to Queen Esther. He could have ignored the plot – a pagan king who stole from him his beautiful daughter, didn’t he deserve to die anyway? Or he could have had the attitude of not wanting to get involved. Instead, like Esther, Mordecai chose to have a compliant heart. Read Romans 12:17-21. Is there a wrong attitude in your life toward a person or situation that needs attention?
C. This one choice of Mordecai’s will prove vital later on in Esther.
- Read Deuteronomy 30:19-20; Job 36:10-11; Psalm 25:12.
- Can you pinpoint a time in your life when one choice changed much more than you at first understood?
This idea of choosing a heart of compliance is far deeper than I could have imagined when I started this study. To yield, to submit, to obey, puts us in very vulnerable positions. But the key is to whom are we being compliant? I loved reading Psalm 145 this week. I hope you did, too. Did you feel an amazing sense of joyful strength resulting from walking in humility? This psalm, for me, depicts the results of yielding to the Lord. I want my choices to count. I want to “feel the Lord’s pleasure,” as Eric Liddell said about his amazing, God-given running ability.
So, the question is, will I commit to choosing to be compliant when my living or financial conditions are radically altered? My husband and I are celebrating eight months of his new business and things have been extremely tight. What’s your situation? Is it cultural difficulties, working through this year’s homeschooling curriculum, doing without accustomed things, suddenly making decisions alone?
For those who know this hymn, “May the Mind of Christ, My Savior”, please sing along with me. For those who are unfamiliar with the tune, simply read these words as you would a psalm.
May the Mind of Christ, my Savior, live in me from day to day, by His love and power controlling, all I do and say.
May the peace of God dwell richly in my heart from hour to hour, so that all may see I triumph only thro’ His power.
May the peace of God my Father rule my life in everything, that I may be calm to comfort sick and sorrowing.
May the love of Jesus fill me as the waters fill the sea; Him exalting, self abasing – this is victory.
May I run the race before me, strong and brave to face the foe, looking only unto Jesus as I onward go.
May His beauty rest upon me as I seek the lost to win; and may they forget the channel, seeing only Him. 6
1. American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster, 1828.
2.David Guzik, Study Guide for Esther 2, www.blueletterbible.org.
3. J. Vernon McGee, Thru The Bible With J. Vernon McGee, Vol. II (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982) pp. 553 -554.
4. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Complete and Unabridged in 6 Volumes (Hendrickson Publisher, 1991) Esther 2.
6. Kate B. Wilkinson, “May the Mind of Christ, My Savior.”
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