Let’s open our Bibles to the 8th chapter of the book of Esther for this Esther 8 sermon. We’ll be covering the last 3 chapters in the book of Esther in this lesson.
There’s a literary term called peripety. Here’s its definition — “the sudden or unexpected reversal of circumstances”. I thought that this term describes pretty well what’s happening at the end of the book of Esther. So, I’ll call this message “God’s Providential Peripety”.
The story of mankind
Have you ever thought of the history and future of mankind as a narrative – a story? How does the Bible present the past, present, and future of mankind? How would you classify that “story”? What kind of story is it? Some might say it’s a “tragedy”. There’s some truth to that. God created Adam and Eve alone in his own image. They were given a dignified place in God’s creation. They were the apex of the creation week. And then, tragedy! They disobey God and fall from their state of perfect obedience. They chose unwisely. They were tested and they failed. And our race has both experienced and perpetuated the consequences ever since. So in this sense, the story of mankind is truly tragic.
Jesus Christ changed it all
But thankfully it doesn’t end there. Jesus Christ entered the picture and died for the sins of mankind by shedding his blood on the cross. And so now anyone who trusts Christ experiences a full reversal of the consequences of Adam’s sin. Any one of Adam’s children can be restored from the tragedy which his sin started. So the picture of our human race is no longer a tragedy. It’s actually a comedy. Not that everything is just a great laugh for us now. But this is what a literary comedy is – the character (mankind in our example) starts off doing well. Then he falls. And finally he’s restored.
Restoration of man
But let me ask you this – for people who trust Christ to save them – are we put back in the same state in which Adam found himself originally? Will we be put back in the garden to tend the earth and manage the creatures? Will we be able to sin and fall out of God’s grace? Will Satan be around in the end, able to tempt us to turn from God? The answer to all those questions is “no”. We have something far better. We’ll be with a countless number of saints and angels praising the Christ who died for us. We’ll never sin again. Sin won’t even enter into the picture. What we have in Christ is far better even than what Adam had before the fall.
Jesus Shall Reign
Isaac Watts captures this dynamic well in his hymn Jesus Shall Reign. One of the stanzas says this. Speaking of Christ, he says, “In Him the tribes of Adam boast More blessings than their father lost.” And that’s exactly the case. In the comedy that is the story of man, mankind doesn’t just go back to what it was before the fall. No. We’re bestowed with incredible unimaginable blessing-upon-blessing from an all-merciful, all-generous, loving God.
The situation was bad for the Jews
Now, you’re asking, “what does this have to do with the book of Esther?” Well, we’ve come to understand that this book itself is a comedy, literarily-speaking – just like the overall story of mankind. The book of Esther started off as a tragedy. The Jews were catapulted into positions of prominence throughout the Persian Empire. But then one of their mortal enemies, Haman, was promoted to a position of power and influence. From that position, Haman plotted the complete destruction of the Jews. And the plot looks like it’s sure to succeed. It’s just one more step until the Jews’ story becomes a complete tragedy.
Things got better for the Jews
And yet we see the situation turning for the better. Esther decides to petition the king and reveal her people despite the peril that puts her in. She and all the Jews in Shushan fast to the God who is largely silent in this book. Nevertheless, we see the silent answer to Esther’s desperate prayer. Esther reveals Haman’s wicked plot to Ahasuerus, who then orders the swift execution of Haman on the gallows – the gallows he made originally in order to kill the Jew Mordecai.
Back to equilibrium
And that’s where we ended last week. It’s wonderful! The Jews are put right back into the position they were before that rotten old Haman came on the scene. Yes, but we’re not done yet. In this book we don’t see the Jews back at their pre-Haman existence for long. No, we see them soar to new heights of blessing and honor and success. I actually expected this part of the book to be a little boring at one point. That was before I actually studied it. Now it’s thrilling to me to read.
Esther gets Haman’s estate
For example, in verses 1 and 2 of chapter 8 we see the king give Haman’s estate to Esther. Mordecai comes before the king and receives the signet ring which the king had previously given to Haman. These two lowly Jews are exalted even higher than they were to begin the story. But that’s not all.
That pesky edict
And yet, before we see the blessings in store for the Jews we need to take care of one minor detail. Well, the edict that Haman wrote with the king’s authority? The one authorizing the destruction, the annihilation, and the killing of all the Jews? Yeah, it’s still in effect. And so Esther approaches the king in 8:3-8.
8:3 ¶ And Esther spake yet again before the king, and fell down at his feet, and besought him with tears to put away the mischief of Haman the Agagite, and his device that he had devised against the Jews. 4 Then the king held out the golden sceptre toward Esther. So Esther arose, and stood before the king, 5 And said, If it please the king, and if I have found favour in his sight, and the thing seem right before the king, and I be pleasing in his eyes, let it be written to reverse the letters devised by Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, which he wrote to destroy the Jews which are in all the king’s provinces: 6 For how can I endure to see the evil that shall come unto my people? or how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred? 7 Then the king Ahasuerus said unto Esther the queen and to Mordecai the Jew, Behold, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and him they have hanged upon the gallows, because he laid his hand upon the Jews. 8 Write ye also for the Jews, as it liketh you, in the king’s name, and seal it with the king’s ring: for the writing which is written in the king’s name, and sealed with the king’s ring, may no man reverse.
When did this scene take place? It may have happened right after Haman was hung and his stuff given to Esther and Mordecai. Maybe it was the same day. Maybe it was a little later. But whenever it happened, Esther, Mordecai, and the king were all together in the same place at the same time.
Now, Esther remembers Haman’s decree, which is still in effect. And when it’s carried out in just about 9 months it will have devastating consequences on Esther’s people. So Esther comes to king Ahasuerus – apparently with Mordecai – and falls on her face. It’s serious. And she asks the king to save the lives of her people. Notice her concern for her people. She’s not afraid to identify God’s people as her very own. And the way she says it is kind of poetic – in a Hebrew sort of way. Maybe you just thought it was wordy. Well, it is. But I think it’s designed to be such. She says if what she’s about to say pleases the king and if she has found favor in his eyes – then she basically rephrases that sentence – if the king wants to implement my idea and if he’s pleased with me. So, “if the king likes my idea and he likes me” And “if the king likes my idea and he likes me”. That’s what it amounts to. Why does she phrase it like this? Well, I don’t know all the reasons probably, but I do know that Ahasuerus talks like that in this story. Remember phrases from him such as “what is your petition? it shall be granted. and what is your request? it shall be done.” Did you notice the repetition in that kind of question? Apparently this was normal — at least in the Persian court. At any rate, after Esther’s introduction to her new request she asks the king to reverse Haman’s wicked plot to exterminate all the Jews. And then she ends with a rhetorical question put somewhat poetically once more. “How can I endure the evil done to my people? How can I endure to see the destruction done to them?”
What’s Ahasuerus’ response? He points to the fact that he just previously ordered the destruction of Haman for the simple fact that he raised his hand against the Jews. Therefore, verse 8, Esther and Mordecai can write whatever they want in the king’s name to all the people in his land. Of course as we all know, such a writing, sealed by the king’s signet ring, can’t be revoked. And that’s a comfort to know that Esther and Mordecai can write an irrevocable letter to all the land for the Jews’ defense. However, what would they not be able to do as a result of that? The king’s command can’t be revoked, right? Well, was Haman’s letter written in the king’s authority with his signet ring? You know it was! So they can’t just revoke that edict.
Write another edict
But they can write something that would overpower that edict. And that’s just what we see in 8:9-14. Let’s read it.
8:9 ¶ Then were the king’s scribes called at that time in the third month, that is, the month Sivan, on the three and twentieth day thereof; and it was written according to all that Mordecai commanded unto the Jews, and to the lieutenants, and the deputies and rulers of the provinces which are from India unto Ethiopia, an hundred twenty and seven provinces, unto every province according to the writing thereof, and unto every people after their language, and to the Jews according to their writing, and according to their language. 10 And he wrote in the king Ahasuerus’ name, and sealed it with the king’s ring, and sent letters by posts on horseback, and riders on mules, camels, and young dromedaries: 11 Wherein the king granted the Jews which were in every city to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish, all the power of the people and province that would assault them, both little ones and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey, 12 Upon one day in all the provinces of king Ahasuerus, namely, upon the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar. 13 The copy of the writing for a commandment to be given in every province was published unto all people, and that the Jews should be ready against that day to avenge themselves on their enemies. 14 So the posts that rode upon mules and camels went out, being hastened and pressed on by the king’s commandment. And the decree was given at Shushan the palace.
Does the wording here sound faintly familiar? It should. It actually shares multiple phrases with a scene in chapter 3 starting in verse 12. Do you remember that? It’s where Haman writes his edict to destroy the Jews. It’s very fitting that now Mordecai is doing just what Haman did, only for the good of God’s people – not for their destruction. Let me note some other similarities and differences between what Haman did and now what Mordecai is doing.
Back in 3:12 Haman wrote on the 13th day of the first month. And in 8:9 we’re now over two months beyond that – on the 23rd day of the 3rd month. That’s less than 9 months away from the date that Haman’s original edict was to go into effect!
8:9 tells us that Mordecai wrote to the Jews as well as to the satraps, governors, and princes. It mentions his addressing the Jews again in verse 9. Of course Haman didn’t write to the Jews. He wanted to destroy them. He was writing to those who would be opposed to the Jews. Mordecai is addressing those folks, too. But he’s also directly addressing his people — the Jews.
Now, 8:11 starts the content of Mordecai’s edict. The Jews are given authority to assemble on the 13th day of the 12th month (Adar) and defend themselves. Instead of them being destroyed, killed, and annihilated like Haman wanted, now the Jews themselves are the ones who are given authority to do that to others. Oh, OK. So they can just go out on a murderous rampage? No. They’re restricted to attacking only a certain group of individuals. Did you catch which group that is? The people who would assault them. So they were exercising self-defense. People were planning to attack them. That’s the truth. Haman’s letter was still around and had roused all the Jews’ enemies to be ready for this day. But now the Jews were authorized to defend themselves against such attacks. They were the recipients of this royal decree. They were to be ready. This message went out throughout the kingdom just like Haman’s did.
Reactions to the edict
Now, do you remember what happened in chapter 3 after Haman’s edict went out? There was a reaction across the kingdom – both in Shushan the capital and really everywhere else that there were Jews. What kind of reaction was it? Happy? No. It was a mournful reaction. What do you suppose the reaction is to this edict issued by Mordecai? Let’s read 8:15-17.
8:15 ¶ And Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal apparel of blue and white, and with a great crown of gold, and with a garment of fine linen and purple: and the city of Shushan rejoiced and was glad. 16 The Jews had light, and gladness, and joy, and honour. 17 And in every province, and in every city, whithersoever the king’s commandment and his decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a good day. And many of the people of the land became Jews; for the fear of the Jews fell upon them.
Remember the kind of clothing Mordecai put on when Haman’s edict was issued? Sackcloth, right? What is he wearing now after his edict goes out? Royal apparel and a crown of gold.
And the Jews lamented and mourned when Haman’s edict went out. How do they react now? With light, gladness, joy, and honor in verse 16. Joy, gladness, a feast, and a good day (holiday) in verse 17. What a complete reversal of circumstances! What peripety!
And it’s not a simple restoration for the Jews to how they were before Haman’s plans. No, now they’re in a far better position. Those enemies that hate them will be out of the picture in less than a year. Two of their own – Esther and Mordecai – are in positions of supreme authority and will see to it that their people are treated with equity.
And did you catch one of the most amazing comments in this book? It’s right at the end of this scene we just read. Many people in the empire… became Jews. If you’re like me you can read through the whole Old Testament and miss short simple statements like this. This is significant. This was God’s plan from the beginning for Israel – that they would be a nation of priests mediating between the Gentiles and God. Isaiah said that they were to be God’s witnesses. The nations should have been able to look at Israel and be lead to her God. Unfortunately all-too-often throughout the Old Testament, Israel was disobedient to her calling from God. But in the book of Esther here you see it happening. The fear of the Jews fell upon the people. You know, there was a time when that fear fell upon a prostitute who lived in a pagan city. That city’s name was Jericho and that prostitute’s name was Rahab. She heard of God drying up the Red Sea and subduing kings before the Israelites. And she feared. And she sought for peace with that nation and their God.
Now, let’s keep looking at the reaction to this edict. Do you remember what the narrator told us happened in the city of Shushan when Haman’s edict went out earlier in the book? The city was in confusion. How is the city reacting now that it sees Mordecai’s edict? The city of Shushan rejoiced and was glad. Proverbs 11:10 tells us “When it goeth well with the righteous, the city rejoiceth: and when the wicked perish, there is shouting.” And that’s exactly what we see played out here in this part of the book of Esther.