Esther 7 Sermon

Esther 7 Sermon

Enjoy this Esther 7 sermon: Just as Haman receives this awful news — that Mordecai the Jew will be the death of him — the king’s messengers come and quickly whisk him away to Esther’s second banquet. Let’s read about it in 7:1-8.

To the banquet

7:1 ¶ So the king and Haman came to banquet with Esther the queen. 2 And the king said again unto Esther on the second day at the banquet of wine, What is thy petition, queen Esther? and it shall be granted thee: and what is thy request? and it shall be performed, even to the half of the kingdom. 3 Then Esther the queen answered and said, If I have found favour in thy sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request: 4 For we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish. But if we had been sold for bondmen and bondwomen, I had held my tongue, although the enemy could not countervail the king’s damage. 5 Then the king Ahasuerus answered and said unto Esther the queen, Who is he, and where is he, that durst presume in his heart to do so? 6 And Esther said, The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman. Then Haman was afraid before the king and the queen. 7 And the king arising from the banquet of wine in his wrath went into the palace garden: and Haman stood up to make request for his life to Esther the queen; for he saw that there was evil determined against him by the king. 8 Then the king returned out of the palace garden into the place of the banquet of wine; and Haman was fallen upon the bed whereon Esther was. Then said the king, Will he force the queen also before me in the house? As the word went out of the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face.

The king and Haman are sitting there. Is Haman looking around nervously? Is he wondering where Mordecai might spring from and bring about his demise? It doesn’t say. But I imagine he’s not real care-free at this point. Then the king asks the 3rd time what Esther’s request is. Have you ever heard a preacher that said something more than 3 times in a row? He said it over… and over… and over… and over… and over? Oh, that’s 5 times. It might just be me, but when someone repeats something over… and over… and over again – that’s 3 times – on that 3rd time I’m ready for him to conclude. I’m ready for a resolution. So Ahasuerus asks his question the 3rd time. I don’t know about you but I’m ready for an answer. At Esther’s 1st banquet she simply delays revealing her request. Not at this banquet. Now she’s ready to make her request known. She reveals that her people are in danger of destruction. She even says that if they were simply sold as slaves she wouldn’t even bother the king about it – showing some respect to him and his time constraints and duties. So when the king hears about this you can feel his blood pressure start to rise. I can imagine he grits his teeth, his face perhaps starting to turn shades of red, and says, “who is he and here is he who would do such a thing?!” Esther points to Haman as the culprit. Haman apparently had no idea that Esther was a Jew. So the king angrily storms out of the room while Haman stays to beg for his life from Esther. When the king returns he finds Haman falling on the bed where Esther was sitting. And in another humorous misunderstanding, Ahasuerus thinks that Haman is trying to sexually assault his queen! So the servants cover Haman’s face. Let’s read 7:9-10 for the end to this episode.

Gallows for Haman

7:9 And Harbonah, one of the chamberlains, said before the king, Behold also, the gallows fifty cubits high, which Haman had made for Mordecai, who had spoken good for the king, standeth in the house of Haman. Then the king said, Hang him thereon. 10 So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then was the king’s wrath pacified.

Up ‘til now Ahasuerus had no idea that Haman had built a gallows to hang Mordecai on – Mordecai, the defender of the king. The king apparently himself sees the sweet irony of the situation and says very tersly – “hang him on it.” And just like that, Haman is dead. And Ahasuerus’ wrath which can be such a source of destruction is turned so that it’s actually working for the good of the Jews.

What an incredible turn of events! I know Christmas has passed. But I want to quote a Christmas song that I thought of regarding these chapters of Scripture. It’s called “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” and it was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He’s lamenting injustice in the world throughout the song. The kind of injustice we’ve seen from the plots of the wicked Haman against the defenseless innocent Jews. But at the end he says this, “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men.’”

God – the God of the Jews in the book of Esther, our God – He’s not dead. He’s not asleep. In the end he’ll punish the wrong and he’ll cause the right to win. Sometimes injustice won’t be punished until the judgement day. And yet sometimes in God’s providence we don’t need to wait until the end. Sometimes he brings about swift justice in this life. And the result? Well, in the case of the Jews we’ll see some of this “peace on earth” that Longfellow writes about. But that’s for next week.

For now, we can look for and be thankful for God’s Providential Poetic Justice.

Esther 6 Bible Study

Esther 6 Bible Study

As we start this Esther 6 Bible study,  Haman is now on his way to the palace. Walking through the streets. Entering the gate. Right into the outer court. But he is unaware of what’s been happening with the king that night. Let’s read about it 6:1-5.

What keeps the king awake

6:1 ¶ On that night could not the king sleep, and he commanded to bring the book of records of the chronicles; and they were read before the king. 2 And it was found written, that Mordecai had told of Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s chamberlains, the keepers of the door, who sought to lay hand on the king Ahasuerus. 3 And the king said, What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this? Then said the king’s servants that ministered unto him, There is nothing done for him. 4 And the king said, Who is in the court? Now Haman was come into the outward court of the king’s house, to speak unto the king to hang Mordecai on the gallows that he had prepared for him. 5 And the king’s servants said unto him, Behold, Haman standeth in the court. And the king said, Let him come in.

Verse 1 makes me laugh. The king couldn’t get to sleep. Did he want to sleep? Yeah, I imagine he did. Now these days when we can’t sleep we might reach for some supplement or medicine or herb. We might even read a book. Dr. Oats last week recommended Systematic Theology books. Ahasuerus – not surprisingly – didn’t have one of these. And so he reached for a second best – a book wherein were recorded all the proceedings of the kingdom. And civil happenings are often not very interesting. So the king thinks this might put him to sleep. But it didn’t! Why? Because he actually found something interesting in there. He found that this man named Mordecai had saved his life! This thwarted-assassination would have happened probably over 5 years ago. And so he needs some help remembering if anyone ever did anything to honor Mordecai. No, nothing had been done. Apparently Ahasuerus hears some stir in the outer court as Haman enters. So he has Haman enter his room. Apparently the golden scepter rule doesn’t apply to Haman for whatever reason.

Now don’t miss the sweet irony here. This is exhilarating. You should be at the edge of your seats. Mordecai’s life hangs in the balance. Haman has come to see to it that that balance is tipped to Mordecai’s destruction. And Haman does this right at the time when king Ahasuerus not only knows who Mordecai actually is – but now the king has his heart set on honoring this man… whom Haman wants dead. We need to keep reading! 6:6-11.

Here comes Haman!

6:6 So Haman came in. And the king said unto him, What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour? Now Haman thought in his heart, To whom would the king delight to do honour more than to myself? 7 And Haman answered the king, For the man whom the king delighteth to honour, 8 Let the royal apparel be brought which the king useth to wear, and the horse that the king rideth upon, and the crown royal which is set upon his head: 9 And let this apparel and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king’s most noble princes, that they may array the man withal whom the king delighteth to honour, and bring him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaim before him, Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honour. 10 Then the king said to Haman, Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as thou hast said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew, that sitteth at the king’s gate: let nothing fail of all that thou hast spoken. 11 Then took Haman the apparel and the horse, and arrayed Mordecai, and brought him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaimed before him, Thus shall it be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour.

Misunderstandings and miss-communications are a commonplace of literature. I think that’s because they’re a commonplace of every day life. No matter whether you lived in Esther’s day or ours, these things happen.

I remember when Lori and I were on our honeymoon in Nova Scotia. It was New Year’s Day. And the cabin owner came by and told us they were “letting the polar bears out today.” We looked at each other and agreed we should go. On the way there I said to Lori in all earnestness, “boy, I would think it wouldn’t be very healthy to be a polar bear.” Lori turned to me as if I was crazy. She asked why I would even wonder something ridiculous like that. I started to feel a little hurt by her apparently callous response. UNTIL – I discerned she and I were thinking that we were going to see two very different types of “polar bears” that day. So I let the secret lie until we got to the lake shore. And shortly after we arrived, the countdown started. And then there they came! The polar bears! A bunch of big Canadian men running into the freezing cold water. Meanwhile… Lori was still looking for the polar bears. You know, the kind with claws and white fur? You’re laughing – or at least you should be!

And now you know how we’re supposed to take this interchange between Haman and Ahasuerus. They’re talking past each other. And it’s humorous. Ahasuerus asks for Haman’s advice here. And he’s also trying to find someone to whom he can delegate this task. The king asks Haman how he should honor a certain individual. Of course, Haman can think only of himself, and so he thinks up a marvelous extravagant plan involving horses, royal garments, and a herald! I can imagine Ahasuerus watching Haman as he gives this detailed plan of how the king can honor him. Haman ends. And Ahasuerus maybe leans forward and says, “That sounds good. Go and do that… for Mordecai!” Ahasuerus has no idea of the enmity between Haman and Mordecai. Oh, to see the look on Haman’s face! And what about when he’s being forced to lead his mortal enemy around and issue his proclamation before him? What a sight that would have been!

This truly is the turning point of the whole book. Up until now the situation for the Jews has been looking worse and worse. And now – just when Haman was going to request the execution of Mordecai – it’s Mordecai who triumphed over Haman. As I said at the beginning of this message, this scene is the apex toward which the story has been building. Now there’s nowhere to go for the enemy of the Jews besides DOWN! Let’s read the next scene as we descend the mountain in 6:12-14.

The enemies are going down

6:12 ¶ And Mordecai came again to the king’s gate. But Haman hasted to his house mourning, and having his head covered. 13 And Haman told Zeresh his wife and all his friends every thing that had befallen him. Then said his wise men and Zeresh his wife unto him, If Mordecai be of the seed of the Jews, before whom thou hast begun to fall, thou shalt not prevail against him, but shalt surely fall before him. 14 ¶ And while they were yet talking with him, came the king’s chamberlains, and hasted to bring Haman unto the banquet that Esther had prepared.

I love how humble Mordecai is. He just simply returns to work. He probably wouldn’t have known anything about how this developed – how it was that his mortal enemy came and honored him. I guess Mordecai just didn’t think too much about it. He just goes back about his business. But Haman on the other hand certainly does think about what just happened. And he’s grieving about it. So he again calls his wife and friends together. Remember, last time they suggested that he build a 75 foot high gallows upon which he might hang Mordecai. But this time their counsel is different. I imagine that Haman was again looking for some consolation. But he would not be receiving it from this group this time. This time, they give him an ominous and morbid warning. If Mordecai is a Jew and he’s starting to prevail over you, he’s going to be the death of you!

 

Esther 5 Sermon

Esther 5 Sermon

Let’s open our Bibles to the 5th chapter in the book of Esther for this Esther 5 sermon. We’ll be studying the 5th, 6th, and 7th chapters today. I’ll give this message the title “God’s Providential Poetic Justice”. Poetic justice happens in literature when good wins and/or evil is punished. And that’s just what we see in chapters 5, 6, and 7.

These chapters are full of action. I think they’re actually the most enjoyable part of the entire book. This episode has a striking flow to it. Have you ever noticed it? Chapter 5 starts with Esther facing death at the hands of the king if he doesn’t hold out the scepter to her. Then there’s a banquet. Next Haman talks with his friends and family. And those three scenes all serve to get us ready for the climax scene – in which Mordecai is honored instead of Haman. The rest is downhill, so to speak. Haman again talks with his family and friends. There’s another banquet after that. And finally, it’s not Esther who’s facing death at the end. Rather, the wicked Haman faces death by the king’s command.

So before we delve into the story, we’ll just take a minute to bring us to where we are in the story. Ahasuerus is king of the Persian empire. His wife, Queen Vashti surprises everyone by disobeying the king. He puts her away and seeks another queen. Esther, by God’s providence, is crowned queen in Vashti’s place. Mordecai – Esther’s adopted father – is also seen in the king’s gate. All seems well with these two Jews – Oh yeah, and don’t forget that no one knows that they’re Jewish at this point.

But then we see some major conflict in the story. Haman – a mortal enemy of the Jews – comes into power under Ahasuerus. Mordecai refuses to bow to him and reveals his reason – he’s a Jew. And so Haman schemes to destroy not only Mordecai but all the Jews on the 13th day of the 12th month. Ahasuerus gives this scheme his approval without any sort of investigation. Mordecai hears of Haman’s edict and laments publicly. He urges Esther to go before the king and plead for her people – the people she wasn’t identifying with at Mordecai’s insistence. Esther faces a crisis – will she identify with God’s people, the Jews and risk death? Or would she keep her identity a secret and… risk death? By faith, Esther chooses to identify with God’s people. So she, Mordecai, and all the Jews in Shushan fast for 3 days. On the 3rd day of that fast, Esther decides that it’s time for action. Let’s read about it in 5:1.

Esther 5 Commentary (1)

5:1 ¶ Now it came to pass on the third day, that Esther put on her royal apparel, and stood in the inner court of the king’s house, over against the king’s house: and the king sat upon his royal throne in the royal house, over against the gate of the house.

So Esther puts on her royal garments. And she takes her stand where the king can see her. This is the moment of truth. She will die, unless this rather volatile king chooses to have mercy on her. Let’s read how Ahasuerus reacts in 5:2-3.

Esther 5 Commentary (2-3)

5:2 And it was so, when the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, that she obtained favour in his sight: and the king held out to Esther the golden sceptre that was in his hand. So Esther drew near, and touched the top of the sceptre. 3 Then said the king unto her, What wilt thou, queen Esther? and what is thy request? it shall be even given thee to the half of the kingdom.

Who knows what caused Ahasuerus to respond with such mercy. Well, ultimately we know it’s the sovereign — yet unseen — God of the Jews. But humanly-speaking, what softened Ahasuerus? We could think of several possibilities. Maybe he wasn’t as fierce as Esther originally imagined. Or maybe Esther was exaggerating his brutality in her mind when she was talking with Mordecai. Maybe Ahasuerus saw Esther’s beauty combined with her royal clothing and he was reminded that she was the one he hand-picked out of countless other women from his kingdom. And maybe his heart was moved with compassion. Maybe he sensed that something was really troubling her and was moved to assist her. We don’t know why. But we do know this — Esther found favor in his sight. Just like Joseph – himself, a Jew in a foreign land – found favor in the eyes of all who were around him. How did that happen? In Joseph’s case we’re told that God was with him. And that’s the same thing that’s happening here. God – though unseen and unmentioned – is with Esther.

And because of that, Ahasuerus is inclined to hear his queen’s petition. And he makes a big bold promise – to the half of my kingdom it shall be given! It’s hard to tell if that’s hyperbole or if there would be some limititation to what the king could actually grant to individuals. But at the very least we can take this statement as an indication that he is well-disposed towards Esther and ready to do whatever she wants him to do.

So now’s the time, right? Esther should just tell the king about Haman’s plot and get it over with! Is that what Esther does? No. Let’s read 5:4.

Esther 5 Commentary (4)

5:4 And Esther answered, If it seem good unto the king, let the king and Haman come this day unto the banquet that I have prepared for him.

You might wonder if Esther is a little nervous and trying to delay. I thought that at first. But I don’t anymore. Why? Notice the tense of Esther’s verb at the end of verse 4. “The banquet that I … HAVE PREPARED…” – It’s a past kind of thing. This banquet was prepared. Esther planned this out. She wasn’t just trying to bide time. She wasn’t halting when it came to executing the plan she conceived-of while fasting to the unmentioned God. She took care of her waffling back in chapter 4. If she perishes, she will perish. That’s her resolve. And now she has her plan. She’s putting it into action. And all the pieces just need to fall into place. This will be fun to watch.

Let’s just notice one other thing in this verse. Esther had the banquet all prepared. She knew full-well that she might die at the king’s hands. But she went ahead and made her plans and executed them anyway. The attitude in her heart was like James in the New Testament says, “If the Lord wills, we will live, and also do this or that.” And we see in verse 5 how Ahasuerus responds to this invitation.

Esther 5 Commentary (5)

5:5 Then the king said, Cause Haman to make haste, that he may do as Esther hath said. So the king and Haman came to the banquet that Esther had prepared.

Ahasuerus — never one to pass up a banquet — is favorable to this suggestion of Esther’s. And did you notice who else Esther invited besides the king? She invites Haman! What?! The enemy of her people? Oh yes. Just wait. Let’s read what happens at the banquet in 5:6-8.

Esther 5 Commentary (6-8)

5:6 And the king said unto Esther at the banquet of wine, What is thy petition? and it shall be granted thee: and what is thy request? even to the half of the kingdom it shall be performed. 7 Then answered Esther, and said, My petition and my request is; 8 If I have found favour in the sight of the king, and if it please the king to grant my petition, and to perform my request, let the king and Haman come to the banquet that I shall prepare for them, and I will do to morrow as the king hath said.

This is the second time Ahasuerus asks Esther’s petition. The suspense must be killing him! And Esther keeps leading him on. I can imagine the conversation going something like this. Esther: “OK, I’ll tell you my petition and request…” Ahasuerus: “Oh good! Finally!” “If I’ve found favor in your eyes…” “Yes, go on!” “And if you’re pleased to grant my petition…” “I am, please continue!” “Well, you and Haman can come to my second banquet tomorrow. Then I’ll tell you what my request is.” I can imagine all three of the attendants with a smile on their face. Ahasuerus gets to attend another banquet. Esther by this point knows that to some extent she has the king in her hand. And Haman? Well, we see how he’s feeling in 5:9.

Esther 5 Commentary (9)

5:9 ¶ Then went Haman forth that day joyful and with a glad heart: but when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate, that he stood not up, nor moved for him, he was full of indignation against Mordecai.

Haman, I’m sure, was just beaming as he left Esther’s 1st banquet. He was invited to attend a private party of the royal couple. What could bolster his ego any more than that? His elation – however – comes to a complete halt when he sees Mordecai sitting in the king’s gate. Mordecai – that Jew, that mortal enemy! Mordecai – the one who refuses to bow to Haman!… Ah yes, but Mordecai – the one who, along with his entire race – will be exterminated soon. But not soon enough! Haman wished Mordecai would be dead sooner. But he composes himself and goes home in verse 10. And he does what any humble sane man would do to calm his homicidal rage… he calls together his wife and his friends and brags about himself to them! Let’s read 5:11-14.

Esther 5 Commentary (11-14)

5:11 And Haman told them of the glory of his riches, and the multitude of his children, and all the things wherein the king had promoted him, and how he had advanced him above the princes and servants of the king. 12 Haman said moreover, Yea, Esther the queen did let no man come in with the king unto the banquet that she had prepared but myself; and to morrow am I invited unto her also with the king. 13 Yet all this availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate. 14 Then said Zeresh his wife and all his friends unto him, Let a gallows be made of fifty cubits high, and to morrow speak thou unto the king that Mordecai may be hanged thereon: then go thou in merrily with the king unto the banquet. And the thing pleased Haman; and he caused the gallows to be made.

It seems like Haman was trying to console himself about Mordecai’s disrepect. He tried his best to build himself up – not only in his own eyes but in the eyes of those closest to him. He boasts of his wealth and of how many children he has. He boasts of his promotion by Ahasuerus. And the latest reason to brag – he was invited to a special VIP banquet for only him, the king, and the queen! But I can see Haman’s countenance fall as he envisions Mordecai the Jew sitting – not standing as he ought to be – sitting in the king’s gate.

This reminds me of old king Ahab, one of the kings of the northern tribes of Israel. Do you remember how he pouted when Naboth – based on religious principle – refused to sell Ahab his vineyard? Now, Ahab had a wife. Do you remember her name? Jezebel. She has become the classic example of an ungodly woman in Scripture. And you probably remember that Jezebel hatched a plan to get Naboth’s vineyard for her husband. What did that plan involve? It involved the removal of the person who was in the way of the king’s happiness. She planned for the unjust execution of Naboth, the man of religious principle.

And here, too, in the book of Esther we have something similar happening. Mordecai won’t bow to Haman out of religious principle. That enfuriates Haman. Haman goes home and eventually pouts to his wife. And his wife, along with his friends, form a plan for him to rid himself of his problem. Make a gallows 75 feet high. 75 feet! Take the tallest man in our assembly, clone him 10 times, and stand all of his clones on his shoulders — and you still won’t get 75 feet. This seems unnecessarily tall to me. But of course sinful human wrath and vengeance can get pretty out-of-control. And that’s just what Haman wants – an extreme end to this foe of his who refuses to bow to him. So rather than wait until the 12th month for Mordecai to be killed along with all the Jews, Haman plans to prematurely kill Mordecai. There’s no earthly reason to think he’ll fail. Haman has the king’s ear and utmost respect. Esther’s plan is unfolding far too slowly, it seems. What if Haman kills Mordecai before Esther is able to fully make her plan known to the king? This feels tense! It should. The climax to the action of chapters 5-7 is coming.

Esther 4 Sermon

Esther 4 Sermon

As we begin this Esther 4 sermon, we realize that so far this story is what literary folks would call a tragedy. Mordecai started off well. He was in the gate of the city, a place of prominence. But because of his religious convictions he opened himself up to satanic attack. And now not only was he in imminent danger of destrcution, but so were all his people. And their destruction seems certain. How does Mordecai react to these terrifying realities? Let’s read 4:1-2.

Esther 4 Commentary (1-2)

4:1 ¶ When Mordecai perceived all that was done, Mordecai rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and cried with a loud and a bitter cry; 2 And came even before the king’s gate: for none might enter into the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth.

Mordecai mourns loudly and publicly. If there was a time when he wanted to conceal his identity as a Jew, now was not it. His reaction would have let everyone know who his people were. So, he wanders through the city to the gate – where he worked. But he can’t come into the gate because the king didn’t want mourners to get near to him – they couldn’t enter his gates with signs of mourning.

Verse 3 then tells us that this wasn’t the reaction of Mordecai’s only. It was one shared amongst all the Jews everywhere throughout the empire. Then we see Esther’s response in 4:4-6.

Esther 4 Commentary (4-6)

4:4 ¶ So Esther’s maids and her chamberlains came and told it her. Then was the queen exceedingly grieved; and she sent raiment to clothe Mordecai, and to take away his sackcloth from him: but he received it not. 5 Then called Esther for Hatach, one of the king’s chamberlains, whom he had appointed to attend upon her, and gave him a commandment to Mordecai, to know what it was, and why it was. 6 So Hatach went forth to Mordecai unto the street of the city, which was before the king’s gate.

So Esther hears about the edict. And it grieves her exceedingly. She very lovingly sends clothes to her adopted dad to replace the ones he tore but he was so grieved he wouldn’t accept them. So Esther wants to understand what exactly is going on. She knows it’s something bad, but she doesn’t know the whole story. So Esther’s servant goes out to talk with Mordecai. Let’s read what he says in 4:7-8.

Esther 4 Commentary (7-8)

4:7 And Mordecai told him of all that had happened unto him, and of the sum of the money that Haman had promised to pay to the king’s treasuries for the Jews, to destroy them. 8 Also he gave him the copy of the writing of the decree that was given at Shushan to destroy them, to shew it unto Esther, and to declare it unto her, and to charge her that she should go in unto the king, to make supplication unto him, and to make request before him for her people.

Did you catch that last part? Mordecai wants Esther to go into the king and make request before him for her… what? People. Note the change in approach here. Mordecai was the one who kept telling Esther to keep her people secret. Now, for the first time, he’s telling her she needs to plead for her people and thereby reveal her identity to the king. Esther responds in 4:10-11.

Esther 4 Commentary (10-11)

4:10 Again Esther spake unto Hatach, and gave him commandment unto Mordecai; 11 All the king’s servants, and the people of the king’s provinces, do know, that whosoever, whether man or woman, shall come unto the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is one law of his to put him to death, except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden sceptre, that he may live: but I have not been called to come in unto the king these thirty days.

Esther makes an excuse. “Hey, I can’t go in there. Don’t you know my husband’s violence and quick temper? He even has a law that if I go in there without permission he might kill me…unless of course he holds out the golden scepter.” Her excuse is understandable, given Ahasuerus’ explosive character. And I’m inclined to sympathize with Esther. That is, until Mordecai cuts through her excuse with hard reality in 4:13-14.

Esther 4 Commentary (13-14)

4:13 Then Mordecai commanded to answer Esther, Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews. 14 For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?

Mordecai tells Esther she can keep silent if she really wants to. And it’s at this point we see Mordecai’s faith in the God who goes unmentioned in this book. He’s convinced that God will rescue the Jews from this plot. But he says that if Esther keeps silent, she and her father’s house will perish. She’s not impervious to the king’s law, even in the palace. They will discover she’s a Jew and they’ll kill her as well, while God ultimately finds someone else to deliver his people. But, Mordecai adds, who knows whether Esther came into the kingdom for such a time as this – to deliver her people. This is big pressue for this girl. How will she respond? This is a crisis moment. Will she identify with God’s people and face possible death? Or will she keep her identity hidden, enjoying the passing pleasures of this life for a season? Let’s finish with 4:15-17.

Esther 4 Commentary (15-17)

4:15 Then Esther bade them return Mordecai this answer, 16 Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish. 17 So Mordecai went his way, and did according to all that Esther had commanded him.

In the midst of this dark dark scene we have a ray of hope. Esther calls a fast for 3 days. After that time she’ll approach the king, which may result in her demise. But she looks at death at the hands of her king and husband on the one hand… and on the other she looks at separation from the God of her fathers, and still the real possibility that she’d be found to be a Jew and exterminated with them. Maybe she takes a hard gulp. Maybe a wave of peace washes over her countenance as she stops trying to live in two worlds. And she utters her famous words of surrender to the Lord – She says she’ll do what she knows to be right. And “if I perish, I… perish.” She didn’t count her life as dear unto herself.

Esther’s name isn’t mentioned in the so-called “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11. She’s one of those whom the author of Hebrews had no more time to mention. But if God would have superintended for her to be mentioned by name in that chapter I imagine he would have said something like this: “By faith, Esther approached the king, fully aware that he might put her to death. By faith she determined to lose her life in order that she might gain it. She identified with the people of God and refused to enjoy the passing pleasures of this life. By faith the king responded by…” Well – we’ll talk about his response next week.

May the Lord help us to Live by faith in the unseen God.

Esther 3 Sermon

Esther 3 Sermon

In this Esther 3 sermon we’re going to see the two protagonists in this story – Esther and Mordecai – Live by faith in the unseen God.

This is our 3rd lesson in the book of Esther.

The first lesson we did an overview of the entire book. It was there that we noticed that God leads his people providentially. In the book of Esther God wasn’t in the business of working direct noticeable miracles. In fact as we noted God isn’t even directly mentioned in the book of Esther. I was reading a book this week. And it made the point that King Ahasuerus’ name is mentioned over 100 times in this short book, while the name of God is conspicuously and unprecedentedly absent. What are you supposed to make of that? Again as we saw before — I think the point is that even though God is not mentioned, he’s still active in the lives of his people. But he’s active not with signs and wonders to be observed. Rather, he’s active behind the scenes. Providentially. And isn’t that how you experience him today? He’s not parting the sea for you to walk through on dry ground. These days he orchestrates engineers and city planners to build a bridge over that sea. And yet, he’s behind it all when it comes down to it.

Then last time we saw the introduction to the book in chapters 1 and 2. It was there we noticed some element of humor. Does it shock you that God authored a book in his Bible that’s intended to be somewhat funny? If you’re inclined to not see any humor in the book of Esther you’re going to miss the message God has for you. Now, I have a dry sense of humor as you might have caught onto. I know, it’s hard to believe. There, that’s an example of my humor… Well I work at the library at Maranatha Baptist University. One day I saw a note from our library system that e-mailed one of my student workers telling her she had a book due in a few days. So I responded to her saying something like “return this immediately.” I know it’s hard to see it, but I actually intended that to be funny – again, dry sense of humor and poor execution of it to boot. Why was it funny to me? Well, who can describe such things? Let’s not even try. But here’s what I want to point out. I “encoded” that message, if you will, as a joke. How did my student respond? She did wonder if I was being humorous. But she decided to interpret my weak attempt at a joke as a command. And so she brought the book back and wondered why I was so adamant that she bring it back immediately… Now, what do I intend to highlight with that example? Simply that if you misinterpret the type of writing we have here you will miss the message. My student took my joke which was intended to cause a laugh. And she interpreted it as a command and acted accordingly. So we do need to recognize that there are elements of humor throughout this book. You can’t escape this fact if you read any commentary on this book. They all agree there’s humor in it.

How can there be humor in this book? Because the recipients of the book know the end from the beginning so to speak. They know that their people were delivered from Haman and Ahasuerus. By the way, I read another commentary this week that called Ahasuerus a “playboy”, a “dunce”, “obtuse”, portrayed “satirically”, and one who “is held up to ridicule every time he enters the action.” Not my words. The words of a very accomplished literary and Bible scholar. So the Jews could have seen humor in this book precisely because they know who wins in the end. This isn’t the Holocaust. Certainly there’s no humor in the Holocaust where millions of Jews actually did perish. In contrast, in this book, the plot of the Jews’ enemies never materializes, very thankfully. So we can find humor in this book without shame.

So anyway, last time we saw the introduction to the book. And in it we saw all the glory and splendor of the ancient Persian empire. We had long extravagant parties. The details of the scenery in the palace and court were extraordinary and lavish. The king Ahasuerus – remember that name sounds something like “headache” in Hebrew – the king was powerful and had everything he could need. Although he was missing one thing – namely a wife that would obey him. Vashti doesn’t give her reason for disobeying her husband the powerful and fearful yet ridiculous despot. So we won’t guess why she disobeyed. And we’ll take that silence to indicate that this whole scene intends to show us the behind-the-scenes weakness of this king who seemed to be on top of the world. Yet, he couldn’t keep his own house in order.

But this disobedience by Vashti also providentially allows for Esther to enter the scene. Esther is obedient and honorable in many ways. And so is her adopted father Mordecai. And yet, we see both of them hiding their Jewish identities. This gives us some pause concerning their godliness. But we have plenty of reasons to love these two characters and cheer them on.

So finally Esther in God’s providence becomes queen of the most powerful empire in the world. And at the end of chapter 2 we see Mordecai in the gate – in a position of some authority. Things are looking positive for these two. I wonder if that will last. Let’s read 3:1-3 to start to find out.

The Jews’ good fortune ends

3:1 ¶ After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him. 2 And all the king’s servants, that were in the king’s gate, bowed, and reverenced Haman: for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence. 3 Then the king’s servants, which were in the king’s gate, said unto Mordecai, Why transgressest thou the king’s commandment?

So, Ahasuerus promoted Haman. Well, what’s the big deal? Did you catch whom Haman descends from? What group was he a part of? He was an Agagite. Agag was an Amalekite. Let’s try to remember some biblical history here. I mentioned parting the Red Sea earlier. Well, as you know, there is in the book of Exodus a time when God parted the Red Sea and the children of Israel walked through on dry ground. They were escaping the Egyptians — after God gave them deliverance from that oppressive nation. After Israel got through the Sea they went to Mount Sinai to receive the Law. But between those two points – Red Sea and Mount Sinai – they were attacked by a group known as the Amalekites. This group was actually some of the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother. This is the scene in which Joshua fights Amalek while Moses holds up his staff. And at the end of that scene God promises to have war with Amalek from generation to generation and to blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Later when king Saul was over Israel God wanted to punish Amalek. He wanted Saul to utterly destroy all that belonged to Amalek, even his posterity which included this king named Agag. But Saul didn’t obey. He allowed Agag to live and certainly didn’t carry out the utter destruction that God had planned. In fact the prophet Samuel had to kill the captive king of Amalek because Saul wouldn’t do it. And certainly some of Agag’s progeny lived on. And that’s how we have Haman now. So Haman was a descendant of the mortal enemies of God’s people. And now he’s promoted by King Ahasuerus to a place of supreme power. This doesn’t bode well for the Jews…

And notice that the king commanded that all bow to Haman. But did Mordecai? No. In fact he refused to do so even when prompted continually by the king’s servants. They ask him in utter disbelief – “Are you really disobeying the king?” Mordecai was not one to stir the pot. He’s no common rebel looking for any excuse to disobey even secular authority. After all, he’s the one who uncovered the conspiracy on Ahasuerus’ life in the last episode. So this is very unusual for Mordecai – to not obey the king’s command.

People who study this book make a big deal about Mordecai’s possible reasons for not bowing. Some wonder if he was just being stubborn. Others think he had good reason to not bow. Does the text say something about his reason for refusing to bow? Let’s read 3:4-6.

Why Mordecai doesn’t bow

3:4 Now it came to pass, when they spake daily unto him, and he hearkened not unto them, that they told Haman, to see whether Mordecai’s matters would stand: for he had told them that he was a Jew. 5 And when Haman saw that Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence, then was Haman full of wrath. 6 And he thought scorn to lay hands on Mordecai alone; for they had shewed him the people of Mordecai: wherefore Haman sought to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus, even the people of Mordecai.

So the king’s servants keep asking Mordecai why he won’t bow. This constant questioning finally reveals something very interesting to all those around. Mordecai wouldn’t bow, why? He told them he was a Jew. Isn’t that interesting how sometimes we might be tempted to kind of minimize our association with God’s people? And sometimes God needs to put some pressure on us in order to evoke a confession from us – “yes, please stop bothering me, I’m one of them”. Have you ever had a situation where something you do is bizarre and noticeable to all around you and the only reason you do it is because you’re a Christian? You didn’t do it before you were saved. And it makes you stick out like a sore thumb. Mordecai, because he was a Jew, could not bow to one of the Jews’ mortal enemies. He was under the Old Covenant. And for him as a Jew he would not bow to an Amalekite. So, I’m not inclined to think his motives were wrong. I tend to think Mordecai was acting based on religious principle.

And you see how the enemy of God’s people reacts to someone acting on religious principle – genocidal rage! Haman is a pure villain. We’re not supposed to feel any sympathy for him at all. Don’t identify with him. That’s not why he’s in this story. He was completely opposed to God’s people. If Mordecai knew the Jews’ history with the Amalekites and Agagites, then you can be sure Haman also knew of this historical conflict. And so when Haman hears that Mordecai won’t bow to him he’s filled with rage. But see, at this point Haman could have reported Mordecai’s disobedience to the king’s command. Justice could have been carried out on Mordecai in a lawful and orderly fashion. And really, I think Mordecai would have probably lost his case. The king commanded everyone to bow to Haman. And Mordecai refused. He was in the wrong, legally-speaking, and could have been prosecuted. But Haman is no law-abider. He takes matters into his own selfish hands. He seeks to destroy Mordecai and yet he doesn’t stop there. Haman heard that Mordecai was a Jew. So Haman hates the idea of retaliating against Mordecai alone. He wants to destroy all of the Jews throughout the kingdom of Persia.

Let me just broaden our thinking for a moment. If Haman’s plan goes through he will destroy all the Jews everywhere in the kingdom. Remember, that kingdom spanned from India to Ethiopia. What small nation is included in that? We just read about it in Ezra and Nehemiah. Yeah, the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem would feel the wrath of the enemy if Haman’s plan goes through. This is a big deal with far-reaching consequences… The destructive tendencies of the enemies of God’s people are marvelous in a very bad way. So, Haman is filled with genocidal rage. He wants to destroy the Jews. What’s his next move? Let’s read 3:7.

Haman’s next move

3:7 ¶ In the first month, that is, the month Nisan, in the twelfth year of king Ahasuerus, they cast Pur, that is, the lot, before Haman from day to day, and from month to month, to the twelfth month, that is, the month Adar.

Here’s what I think this is saying. Haman was seeking “wisdom” to know when to execute his genocidal plan against the Jews. So he cast Pur or the lot. Casting lots was something practiced even by good characters in the Bible. And the understanding was that even when the lot is cast to help people decide what to do, it’s decision is ultimately and providentially from the Lord. That’s according to Proverbs 16:33. This isn’t to say that we ought to be casting lots today to figure out how to order our lives. I’m just trying to explain how this worked in those days.

So Haman casts a lot to discern when to destroy the Jews. And I think what that last line means is that the lot somehow indicated that the 12th month was the time to do it. That’s the month Adar. So with this time frame now in mind, Haman goes to the king with his plan. Let’s read 3:8-9.

Haman tells the king his plan

3:8 And Haman said unto king Ahasuerus, There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king’s laws: therefore it is not for the king’s profit to suffer them. 9 If it please the king, let it be written that they may be destroyed: and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to the hands of those that have the charge of the business, to bring it into the king’s treasuries.

Haman proposes the destruction of the Jews. Only he doesn’t mention them by name to Ahasuerus. Haman only mentions their reportedly-lawless behavior. This proves that they’re incompatible with the king’s realm and rule. So they need to be destroyed. And if this alone was Haman’s proposal it may not have gone far. But he sweetens the deal with basically a bribe. He offers the king 10,000 talents of silver. 1 talent weighs 75 pounds. We’re talking then about 750,000 pounds of silver. Today this would amount to something like $220 million USD. $220 million to destroy all the Jews. Haman offers to pay this much to the folks who carry out this unjust task. Well, how does this “noble, wise” king respond? Read 3:10-11.

The king responds

3:10 And the king took his ring from his hand, and gave it unto Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the Jews’ enemy. 11 And the king said unto Haman, The silver is given to thee, the people also, to do with them as it seemeth good to thee.

Did you see how much thought the king gave to this momentous decision? Hardly any. He just takes his ring off, symbolizing his authority to carry out this order, and gives it to Haman. And then he says something very interesting. “The silver is given to thee.” But I thought Haman was the one who was giving the silver. That’s right, he was. So what the king is really saying is “The silver is yours. And just like the silver is yours, and because you’re going to line my pockets with it, the people – whomever they may be – are yours to do with them whatever you want.” So much for nobility from Ahasuerus. Apparently he didn’t read the proverb in Scripture that says it’s the glory of a king to search out a matter. Because he didn’t even so much as ask a single question to Haman. He’s really going to allow Haman to exterminate a whole people group without so much as a question? Not wise. And yet that’s what happened.

Isn’t it frustrating when wicked men are promoted to positions of power and from those positions they oppose God’s people? It sometimes doesn’t take much for them to win over incompetent, thoughtless authorities to carry out their wicked plans on the godly. And Haman wastes no time in carrying out his satanic plan. Read 3:12-15.

Haman carries out his plan

3:12 ¶ Then were the king’s scribes called on the thirteenth day of the first month, and there was written according to all that Haman had commanded unto the king’s lieutenants, and to the governors that were over every province, and to the rulers of every people of every province according to the writing thereof, and to every people after their language; in the name of king Ahasuerus was it written, and sealed with the king’s ring. 13 And the letters were sent by posts into all the king’s provinces, to destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish, all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, even upon the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to take the spoil of them for a prey. 14 The copy of the writing for a commandment to be given in every province was published unto all people, that they should be ready against that day. 15 The posts went out, being hastened by the king’s commandment, and the decree was given in Shushan the palace. And the king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city Shushan was perplexed.

So we’re still in that first month. I believe this is the month in which Haman started casting lots. The same month he approached the king with his genocidal plan. In this very month he quickly gathered all the king’s scribes together to write out this edict. This edict has full authority. It’s sealed with the king’s ring. And it goes to everyone in the empire – to the lieutenants, governors, and rulers – in descending hierarchical order. And this edict is brutal – notice the three words used to describe the destruction of the Jews – destroy, kill, cause to perish. And Haman wants everyone everywhere to be involved in this. He wants them to be ready against that day.

On to our Esther 4 commentary…