THE POWER OF BEAUTY Based on Esther 2:5-18
By Pastor Glenn Pease
In its 4,000 years of history only one woman became Emperor of China with absolute power. She was Wu tes-t'ien. She got to the throne of China for the same reason Esther got to the throne of Persia. She was a startling beauty. As a young girl she was renowned
for her beauty, and the Emperor made her his concubine. Ordinarily a concubine like her would be relegated to secluded quarters, after the death of the Emperor. She would live her life out in quiet retirement. She was so beautiful, however, that the son of the Emperor
also desired her as a concubine. She was not only beautiful, she was clever. She bore him several sons, and then promoted them among the leaders as the legitimate heirs to the throne. She gained many political allies, and so maneuvered behind the scenes that when the Emperor suffered a crippling stroke, she was made Empress in 655 A.D. She was brilliant as well as beautiful, and was excellent in administration. She cut taxes, won a war,and had a united prosperous country under her long reign.
It is rare, but the fact is, there are many cases in history of women doing an excellent job of leading a whole nation. One thousand years before Esther, in 1520 B.C. Hatshepst became the first woman Pharaoh of Egypt, for 21 years she reigned, and glorious monuments exist to praise her success. When Julius Caesar marched into Egypt in 48 B.C. there was a vicious dispute going on as to who the next ruler should be. Should it be Pothinius or his sister Cleopatra. Cleopatra wanted to plead her case before Caesar, but she knew if she tried to get to him her brother would have his spies kill her. Nobody would dare interfere with a gift for Caesar, however, and so a beautiful oriental carpet was sent from her palace to Caesar. Imagine his surprise when the carpet was unrolled and a 19 year old girl stepped out to announce she was Cleopatra, the rightful Queen of Egypt. Caesar fell in love with her beauty, and she did become the Queen.
If you want to read of how Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Spain, England, and other nations, were all ruled by greatly honored women, you can find these fascinating histories in Mildred Boyds book, Rulers In Petticoats. My interest in these stories for our study of Esther is that they confirm what we see to be a major theme of this book, and that is, there is power in beauty. Women know it, and that is why one of the largest industries in the world is the beauty industry. Billions are spent each year by women who know their greatest asset is in looking beautiful. Brains and other qualities are also vital, but it is beauty that opens the door for these other gifts to get a chance to function.
Many modern women admit they use beauty to their advantage in industry. They say they dress in a deliberate attempt to win favor with those who have power, and thereby they are raised to positions of power themselves. If conflict is developing between them and a male boss, they can calm the waters by coming on with some feminine charm. In beauty contests there is nothing subtle and hidden. They are on open display to win prizes, prestige, and power by means of beauty. Many object to the whole emphasis on beauty as pagan perversion. They feel nothing is more secular than the parading of female bodies before the world.
The book of Esther, however, forces us to focus on this type of secular scene, for God in His providence uses just such a beauty contest to save his people. It was Esther's beauty that got her into the palace, and into a position of power where she could be used to save her people. No other quality but beauty could have gotten her there. King Xerxes was not looking for a female genius, or the best woman runner, or sports figure. He was looking for beauty. His demand for beauty was far beyond what is demanded for a Miss America or Miss Universe contest. His contestants had to spend one solid year doing nothing but beautifying themselves just to spend a night with him. After a year of using oils, spices, and ointments, they would be as soft and smooth as a baby.
Esther had to have been one of the most beautiful women to ever live. Out of all the beautiful girls of the Empire, she won the favor of Hegai, the keeper of the women. Verse 15 indicates she was also voted Miss Congeniality by the other girls, for she was favored by all who saw her. Now this really is a Cinderella story in that, aside from her beauty, Esther had all sorts of disadvantages. She was a poor orphan in a foreign land, and part of a minority group. Fortunately for her she had a relative who took her in when her parents died. Mordecai was her cousin, but he adopted her as his daughter. Here is a rare case of cousins becoming father and daughter.
Her Hebrew name was Hadassah. That is not a name known to us, but the largest Jewish organization of women in the world is called Hadassah, and they support the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. Esther was her Persian name and this has become more popular among Gentiles. Esther means star. Estelle and Stella come from the same root.
Take female beauty out of this book, and the star is gone. This poor adopted orphan would never have been heard of in history had she not been blest with beauty. Even with her beauty would she have won the contest with all her competitors had she not spent a year using all of the beauty aids available in her day?
The Bible puts you in a real bind if you are dogmatically against beauty aids, for they were part of the providential plan of God that saved the Jewish race. Dr. William Stidger, one of the great American preachers, and author of over forty books, comes on strong in favor or beauty aids. He writes, "As far as I am concerned.....there is something sacred in the everlasting passion women have for making themselves more beautiful. I have no sympathy with these reformers who find nothing more important to do than harangue women for using rouge, powder, clothes, and what have you, to make themselves more beautiful."
Certainly we can all agree, there is nothing spiritual or superior about being unclean, unkempt, and unpresentable for public viewing. All of us enjoy beauty, but like all good things, this too is so easily perverted. Conrad Hilton, the multimillionaire owner of the Hilton hotel's around the world, was once married to Zsa Zsa Gabor. He discovered that with her, beauty was a full time affair. She started at ten in the morning before her dressing table. He says it was a ritual with bottles, jars, and pots, both large and small.
It could have been the rite of ancient Aztex temple. After lunch and shopping it was back to the dressing table for more make-up, and agonizing decisions on furs and jewelry. Hilton learned first hand about the idolatry of beauty, and of how impossible it is to live with a woman who is obsessed with vain-glory.
So what we have in the power of beauty is another paradoxical power. It can drive you to the heights of virtue, or plunge you to the depths of vice. It can lead to one praising God for this gift, or it can lead to pride that competes with God. It has the power to produce stories of victory, or stories of vanity. One of the reasons women are so effective in taking the Gospel into all the world is there beauty. Beauty attracts, and if the attracter points to God, her beauty is a stepping stone into the kingdom of beauty, the kingdom of God. Many have the testimony of the poet-
The might of one fair face sublimes my love,
For it hath wean'd my heart from low desires;
Nor death I need, nor purgatorial fires.
Thy beauty-ante-past of joys above
Instructs me in the bliss that saints approve,
For Lo! How good, how beautiful must be
The God that made so good a thing as thee.
Is by the power of beauty that women have had their fair share of the control of history. By beauty the weak can master the strong, and Esther decides the course that the absolute monarch will take. The Biblical ideal of female beauty involves the mental as well as the physical. Brainless beauty is a joke. Prov. 11:22 says, "Like a gold ring in a swine's snout is a beautiful woman without discretion." In other words, a beautiful woman has to use the inside of her head as well as the outside to have any real power in her beauty. Capito wrote, "Beauty alone, may please, not captivate; If lacking grace, tis but a hookless bait."
Beauty can be superficial, and without depth, and this is what has led to the saying that beauty is only skin deep. Prov. 31:30 agrees when it says, "Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." So we come again to the paradoxical nature of beauty. It can be vain, but it can also be a great value. It is the paradoxical nature of reality that leads to so much overreaction, and imbalance in our thinking. Because everything that is good can also be bad, and perverted, so as to become a source of evil, there is the constant temptation of abandoning what is good to avoid that danger. All through history Christians have abandoned what is good, and left Satan free to use it as a tool for evil. Just as tanks abandoned on the battlefield will be used by the enemy to fight those who abandoned them, so beauty, when abandoned by Christians, will be used by enemy forces against Christians.
The value of studying the book of Esther is that it forces us to reevaluate our views on the secular realm of life. It forces us to look at beauty as a tool in the hands of God, and it forces us to ask questions about beauty, as it did about pleasure. What we find when we search the Scripture is that beauty is no minor issue in God's plan. It is basic and vital to the plan of God, and not just for the saving of Israel, but for saving all men from the pit of hell. It is no surprise that God is portrayed in the Bible as ultimate beauty. After all, He is the author of all beauty. Someone said, "God is not only the all-wise and all-powerful, but the all-beautiful." In Psa. 27:4 all that David longs for is to dwell in the house of the Lord and to behold the beauty of the Lord. The hope of all believers is to see the King in His beauty. When that great event takes place, we will all partake fully of His beauty, and become perfected, and be like Him.
The goal of God is that all the redeemed might be like Jesus. To be glorified is to be beautified with the beauty of Jesus. But beauty is not just the goal, it is a powerful element of the Christian life on the way to the goal. Three times the palmist says we are to "Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." The power of worship is in beauty. Beauty runs through the Bible, and we are called upon to behold it over and over. There is the beautiful robe, beautiful women, a beautiful situation, a beautiful heaven, a beautiful crown,
a beautiful gate, and even the beautiful feet of those who proclaim the Gospel. There are numerous beauties in the temple, and there is the beauty of wisdom.
Jonathan Edwards, one of the greatest American preachers, came to the conclusion, as he studied the Bible, that beauty was really at the very heart of all theology. We tend to think of beauty as a secular subject, but he made it the heart of his sacred theology. This man changed the course of history in America, and he made beauty the unifying theme of theology. He could see what most Christians never notice. God is beautiful, and all that He does is beautiful, and so the good and the beautiful are one. We could not love God if He was not beautiful. If He was only powerful, He could force us to do His will, but He could not force us to love Him. Love is a response we can only give to beauty. If we had no revelation of God's beauty in nature, or in the plan of redemption, we could not love God. God could only win man's love by the power of beauty.
It works the other way also. Man is ugly in sin, and so it would be hopeless for us to have fellowship with God, but Jesus became a man, and by the beauty of His holiness, and the beauty of His sacrifice, the way was opened for all to become beautiful, and, thereby acceptable to God. Grasping the loveliness and the supreme excellency of our Lord is the beginning of the victorious Christian life. Those who do not see the beauty of Christ will not have the motivating power to follow Him. They will be sidetracked constantly by the superficial beauties of worldliness. All the fruits of the spirit are expressions of the beauty of Jesus in human life.
Edwards said, "God is the foundation and the fountain of all being and all beauty." Sin is a deformity and lack of beauty. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That is, no one measures up to the beauty God intended for them. They are all defective. To be saved is to be restored to the place where you have the right to begin the process of beautification. The doctrine of sanctification is really a doctrine of beautification. To grow in Christlikeness is the same as growing in beauty. Beauty is the measure of God's presence, just as ugliness is the measure of God's absence. If a man is insensitive to beauty, and can see no beauty in life, or in people, he is alienated from God. The man who sees most beauty, and is full of appreciation for it, is the man closest to God.
When all beauty is gone, and all of life is ugly, that is when people take their own life, for the loss of all beauty is hell. In hell there will be no beauty, and in heaven there will be nothing but beauty. One's relationship to beauty in this life is the measure of the hell on earth, or the heaven on earth, that one experiences. The only way to get heaven on earth is to see the beauty of heavenly things, and the loveliness of God's way. Only those captivated by the power of beauty will be open to the working of God's Spirit. Edwards says that in the hierarchy of values, first is existence, and then excellence; first is being and then beauty. Anything defective in beauty is defective in being.
The ability to discern what is truly beautiful from what is only superficial beauty is the key to the abundant life. Jesus only used the word beautiful once in the New Testament record, and it was a warning about the danger of superficial beauty. In Matt. 23:27-28 we read, "Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Here is surface beauty. It has no depth, and is mere veneer.
Superficial beauty is Satan's primary method of deception. All men chose what they feel is beautiful. The first sin of choosing the forbidden fruit was made very attractive. All sin is made to seem beautiful. Satan does not expect anybody to be tempted by the ugly.
He knows God made man in His image, and so He knows man is made to select the beautiful, and shun the ugly. So he can only attract men to evil by making it seem beautiful. People chose folly for the same reason they chose wisdom. It looks good, and seems like the best way to go. The liquor adds portray the camaraderie of the bar. Sports
and sex, and all that seems adventurous is linked to this drug, for drunkenness is not attractive or beautiful. They never show the dead and twisted bodies of drunk drivers. They never show the ugliness of the vomit, and the awful agony of families ruined by drinking. Evil can only survive by using the power of beauty to attract.
God wants us to chose beauty. We are made to do so, and in Christ we are given the Holy Spirit, who will lead us to chose the highest in beauty. Christian morality and ethics are built around beauty. Whatever is truly beautiful, and by truly beautiful I mean lasting
beauty, is right. What is wrong is that which may have temporary beauty, but which leads to permanent ugliness. Christian maturity is growing in your discernment so that you can see the whole, and not just the part. Much of life is beautiful in part, but awful in the whole.
A poison snake is beautiful in part, as are poison berries, but they are not wise choices, for as a whole they are ugly and destructive. The power of evil lies in its use of superficial and partial beauty to entice men to chose the way of folly. Evil is a parasite which depends
on what is good for its existence.
This brings us back to Xerxes and Esther. It is because Xerxes lives for beauty and pleasure that God was able to use his choice for His own purpose. Pagan people, all through history, have chosen what they feel is beautiful. This does lead to great evil because of Satan's deception, but let us remember, the world is full of true beauty as well, and even evil men often chose what is good because of its beauty. Esther was a beautiful and godly woman. Her beauty went to the heart, and was not just skin deep. Her beauty would be attractive to most all men in history, pagan or Christian. The point is, Satan is not the only one in the beauty business. God's providence also works through beauty. The beauty of women is one of the key ways God has worked in history.
Esther in her day, and in our day, one of the great stories is that of Mei-ling, better known as Madam Chaing Kai-shek. Chaing Kai-shek was a Chinese war lord who was very successful in battle. One of the Christian families of China sent their daughter
Mei-ling to America to be educated. When she returned, she was active in the political and social affairs of the nation. On one occasion Chaing Kai-shek's path crossed that of Mei-ling, and for him it was love at first sight. He could not resist the charm and beauty of this Americanized daughter of the Orient. We cannot go into the details of the long five year battle to win her hand in marriage, but battle it was, for he was a godless immoral warrior living with a concubine, and she was a beautiful Christian. His love for her beauty
changed his history, and he became a Christian. He went on to become the Generalissimo of China, and together they did great things for the cause of Christ. It never would have happened without beauty.
What all this means is that we need to keep a dual perspective on life, and especially the secular life. Take beauty contest for example. Yes there is lust and perversion of beauty, but do not forget, God is not shut out of that realm of life. God is working through beauty, and often the winner of these contests is a dedicated Christian woman. She goes on to touch many lives for Christ, and all because she was beautiful.
Not all of us have the gift of beauty that attracts kings, generals, and wide popularity, but all Christians have gifts that are beautiful. All the gifts of the spirit are attractive, and they are designed to attract others. Every Christian is to be a light in a dark world attracting the lost to the Savior. Nothing is really finished until it is fully beautiful, and that includes us. God will never be done with us until we are perfectly beautiful. Beauty is our goal, and beauty is what we need to pray for. The more beautiful we are in every aspect of life, the more likely the providence of God will work through us to accomplish His purpose, for there is power in beauty.