Let’s open our Bibles to the 5th chapter in the book of Esther. 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.