Deuteronomy Summary

Deuteronomy Summary: As I said last week, we’ll be studying the book of Joshua in Sunday School. Let me give a little background for that.

Originally I thought that studying through the book of Judges would be helpful. I see parallels to the situation today in Christ’s church with what the Israelites experienced under the Judges.

But as I studied and talked with others, I thought it would be best to start with Joshua. You can land in the book of Judges without teaching Joshua but we’d probably miss some things. So, I thought we might as well start with Joshua.

But then I further noticed that the book of Deuteronomy really has bearing on the circumstances we see later in the books of Joshua and Judges – really, even in the books of Ruth and Samuel and Kings.

So I’m going to take this lesson just preparing us for the book of Joshua by studying the book of Deuteronomy.

You might wonder if I might as well start at Genesis. Well, that would be interesting and I’m sure helpful. But we’ll just stick with Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy really stands as a good summary of all that has happened to Israel from Genesis through to the end of Numbers.

So this is where we’ll start. Deuteronomy. The “second (deuteros) Law (nomos)”.

This book is not narrative. I’m not quite sure what kind of writing it is. Some suggest that it’s patterned after legal documents. As if Yahweh is legally renewing his covenant with his chosen people, Israel.

Yet, even though it’s not a narrative, Moses does set the scene for us. Let’s read Deu 1:1-5.

1:1 ¶ These be the words which Moses spake unto all Israel on this side Jordan in the wilderness, in the plain over against the Red sea, between Paran, and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Dizahab. 2 (There are eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of mount Seir unto Kadeshbarnea.) 3 And it came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first day of the month, that Moses spake unto the children of Israel, according unto all that the LORD had given him in commandment unto them; 4 After he had slain Sihon the king of the Amorites, which dwelt in Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, which dwelt at Astaroth in Edrei: 5 On this side Jordan, in the land of Moab, began Moses to declare this law, saying…

So, picture Israel. You can look at the map section in your Bible. Its west border is the Mediteranean Sea. Its east boundary is the Jordan River. The Jordan runs north from the Sea of Galilee to the south, emptying into the Dead Sea. Jericho is just a little north of the Dead Sea. Right across the Jordan to the east is the modern-day nation of Jordan. In Old Testament times that was the land of the Amorites. Now, the Jordan valley is flanked to the east and west by hills. But down in the valley is where the sons of Israel were. They hadn’t crossed the Jordan yet. They’re on the east side of the Jordan, in the land they had just captured from the 2 Amorite kings. They can look over the Jordan and see Jericho. They can see the land which God had promised to them and their fathers. They’re so close.

In verse 2 we’re reminded that the way from Horeb (a.k.a. Sinai) to Kadesh-barnea was only 11 days. Kadesh-barnea was where the Israelites were supposed to enter Canaan. But they rebelled. And so instead of entering the land in 11 days, it took them – verse 3 – 40 years! Before they could finally enter the land though they needed to – verse 4 – slay two Amorite kings: Sihon and Og.

They did that. And now finally the people are ready to enter the land. But Moses isn’t going to enter. The Lord was angry at him and wouldn’t allow him to enter. So he just needs to encourage Joshua to lead the people in there. But Moses isn’t going to address Joshua alone. Moses, this godly leader who had led the Israelites these 40 years, he has a number of things on his heart to communicate to his people. Important things. Things God wants him to say. Moses has a message. And we can summarize this message like this: Love God and Be Blessed.

Deuteronomy is a book of 34 chapters. There’s no way I could cover this book chapter-by-chapter in one message. So I’m going to be teaching the content of this book without specifically referencing or even turning to the individual passages. So you can just listen and take notes if that would help you follow the message.

Alright, so Moses’ message is Love God and Be Blessed. But an Israelite may have asked, “why should I love God?” Moses gives a number of reasons, but he starts off by giving a history of God’s gracious dealings with Israel.

He starts off with Israel going down to Egypt and being oppressed. So God granted Israel a miraculous deliverance from Egypt. He brought them through the Red Sea. We’re also reminded that Amalek viciously and mercileslly attacked them after that episode. Remember Haman?? Amalek to Agag to Haman. Anyway, after Amalek, God brought Israel to Sinai – or as Moses calls it in this book, Horeb.

At Horeb, God appeared to Israel on the mountain in fire and darkness and thick gloom with trumpet blasts. It was terrifying. So Israel asked for a mediator. They could not stand to hear God’s voice and see God’s presence. So God commended the people’s reaction and made Moses the mediator. God gave Moses his commands that Moses was then to command Israel. But while God was giving his commands to Moses, Israel got together and made an idol! Unbelievable. So Moses had to leave his mediatorial work and come down from the mountain and deal with his people. In the process he angrily broke the original tablets containing the 10 Commandments. And God himself was so angry at the people that he wanted to destroy Israel and make a new nation out of Moses. But Moses loved God’s people and interceded for them. He even had to intercede for his own brother, Aaron. So the Lord listened to Moses and turned from his desire to destroy Israel.

Eventually God told Israel to leave Horeb and travel north to Kadesh-barnea, which was somewhere along the southern boundary of Canaan. God told Moses that Israel should go up from there and attack the Canaanites. But the people actually approached Moses and asked if they could send some spies to figure out the best way to go up into the land. Moses says that that request pleased him. The question is whether that request pleased God. I’m not sure. That’s just something to think about. But at any rate, the spies go up. They scope out the land. They bring back a report. And in Deuteronomy Moses emphasizes the good report which the 2 spies brought back. The people hear that report but they still rebell and refuse to trust God. So God is angry with them and forbids the unbelieving men from entering Canaan. The people make some effort to confess their sin and obey God, but it’s too late. God has spoken. But the people go up anyway and get turned back by the Canaanites.

The book of Deuteronomy then gives one meager verse to their 40 years of wilderness wanderings. I get the sense that Moses really didn’t want to think very much about that disappointing time in Israel’s history.

But then finally the word comes from the Lord. Go up! Pass northeast through Edom! But don’t attack them. Pass north through Moab! But leave him alone. Pass north through Ammon! But don’t touch his land. OK, now pass through to the Amorite Sihon! Ah, yes, you can attack him. I will give him into your hand. Continue on and attack Og the Amorite! His land is yours.

Yes, the Ammonites and Moabites hire Balaam the false prophet to curse Israel. But God turned it into a blessing. Yes, Baal-peor happens. That was where Balaam advising Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel. Balaam told Balak to tempt the Israelites with foreign women who would commit immorality with the Israelites and lead them astray to follow after false Gods. And God had to deal with the Israelites for that sinful situation.

But now, Israel is on the plains opposite Jericho. God brought them all the way there. He didn’t leave or forsake them. But that’s the past. Israel needs to do right — now and into the future. They need to Love God and Be Blessed. That’s Moses’ message to them as they’re on the verge of entering the land that God promised to them.

So Israel needs to love God. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 – “Hear O Israel…You shall love the Lord your God.” But how would Israel know if they were loving God? Jesus – the very God of the Israelites in the Old Testament says this in the New Testament. “If you love me, … keep my commandments.” Listen. We can’t and Israel couldn’t walk in the disobedience of our hearts, all the while claiming to love God. Throughout the Scripture, loving God is linked to the degree of your obedience to him. Now, don’t get me wrong. Obeying God never brought people into a relationship with him. That’s impossible since our obedience to God is always so imperfect and incomplete. But obedience to God grows our relationship with him. Pastor has mentioned a godly man of old who would say something like “If you want to know God, mind him.” There’s no question that this is the case. Israel needed to love God by obeying him.

Now, we’ve mentioned this matter of having a relationship with God. We New Testament believers enter into this relationship with God through faith. The same actually was true of individual Old Testament saints as well. They came to know God by faith. Romans 4 tells us that this is how Abraham and David understood their relationship with God. But you know, in Deuteronomy we’re told about a momentous event in which the whole nation of Israel was brought into a special relationship with God. It happened at Mount Sinai or Horeb. God mentions this event several times in Deuteronomy. God views this event as a covenantal occasion. He made a special covenant with the nation of Israel. He took them to himself as a special people. And he was to be their one and only God. It was as if God took Israel as his wife. It’s a very special tender relationship that they had. Does this help your understanding of all these Laws that God gives to Israel? God didn’t just come on the scene and start barking out orders to Israel. He brought them out of bondage in Egypt. He took them unto himself and swore that they alone would be his people. These commandments to Israel can really be viewed as something like wedding vows.

And you know, when Israel obeys these reasonable requests from their God, they will experience tremendous blessings. I’d advise you to just read through this book and note the number of times God promises blessing for obedience. Love God and Be Blessed is Moses’ message in this book, after all. How would Israel be blessed for loving God? Israel’s land will yield abundant produce. Their enemies will flee before them. Their animals and wives will not be barren. They will have no diseases. They will have abundant money and livestock and rain. Really, God plainly states that there will be no poor people among them – they’ll all be rich. All the nations around them will marvel at them because they have such a close relationship with God and have such just and wise laws. Blessing…upon…blessing!

Now, as this nation prepares to enter the land of Canaan they have a few commands that stand out above and beyond the rest. One such command is the one that says they need to destroy the nations. Well, not all the nations, actually. Just the 7 nations in the land of Canaan are the ones that need to be destroyed. The other nations they can offer terms of peace to. And if they don’t accept the terms of peace then the Israelites would destroy the men in that nation but leave the others alive. Not so with the 7 nations in Canaan! The Israelites were to utterly destroy man, woman, and child — and anything else that breathed — in those nations.

This might be one of the most difficult commands in the whole Old Testament to come to terms with. God really wanted the Israelites to destroy even innocent women and children? Yeah. God says that if even the ones who seemed most innocent were allowed to live, then they would teach God’s people Israel to follow after other gods and repeat the same sins that these 7 nations committed. These 7 nations were so evil that God had a special plan for their destruction. God says that they do everything – every thing – that he hates. They even sacrificed their children – the ones we don’t want to see die – they sacrifice their own children to demons! This all might be hard to accept. But it is God’s mind on the matter. And we always do well to just believe what God has to say without trying to wiggle out from under its uncomfortable truth.

Now, these 7 nations were stronger and larger than Israel. It wasn’t an easy thing they were setting out to do. But God promised victory. If Israel obeys, God will destroy these nations before them and give to Israel all their stuff – houses filled with good things, cisterns, vineyards, olive groves, everything they could want. That is, if they love God.

Now, you might wonder why God chose Israel over these other nations. Positively, God chose them to keep his promises to their fathers – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Negatively, God says he certainly didn’t choose them for either of the following reasons – their size (they were smaller than all nations) or for their righteousness (he gives them their history of rebellion as proof).

The second big bold command that comes to our attention multiple times – scores of times – in this book is that Israel needs to worship God alone. This makes sense. God took this nation to himself in a relationship very much reminiscent of the marriage covenant. It makes sense then if God is the husband that Israel — the wife — would be faithful to him alone.

What does this look like? Negatively, they need to stay away from worshipping idols. Again, this is one big reason they need to completely destroy the nations across the Jordan in Canaan. Idolatry is contageous. Israel needs to rid the land of it ASAP. And Moses speaks of this urgent matter constantly in the book of Deuteronomy. The Israelites must not immitate the pagans in any way. They were to be totally holy and separate from the evil that characterized the pagans – especially their idolatry.

You know, even the way that God appeared on Mount Horeb should have taught Israel to not construct idols. Moses says in Deuteronomy that when God appeared to them on Horeb they didn’t see a form at all. They heard a voice from heaven. But God didn’t appear as a man. He didn’t appear as a bird, or a fish, or a lion. This was intentional. He appeared as fire – something that really is quite difficult to make into an idol. And so because God revelaed himself without a form but he did utter his voice – because of that, Israel needed to pay attention to God’s WORDS, not his form. Don’t focus on his FORM, Israel! Focus on what he had to say to you from heaven.

What did he say anyway? What are the words that Israel must obey and thereby be blessed? Well, we mentioned two broad commands. Worship God alone and destroy the 7 nations who are especially sinful and who will influence you to idolatry against the true God of heaven.

But the book of Deuteronomy consists of 34 chapters! There’s a lot more to God’s commands than these two areas – worshipping God only and destroying the nations. I’ll mention a few things. God gives Israel rules about what to do in the case of immorality. He tells Israel what to do when a murder is committed. He gives instructions about what to do with a habitual and hardened disobedient child. He commands them to build a railing on top of their roof to prevent people from falling off. Israel must eat only clean animals. When they find a mother bird with a nest of eggs, they can take the eggs but not the mother. When they eat a young goat they were not to boil it in its mother’s milk. God tells them whom Israel should accept to fight in their battles. He tells them that when they enter the land they will sacrifice ONLY in the place the Lord will chose. God forbids them from cross-dressing. And what I’ve just mentioned now leaves out a number of other commands that he gives Israel.

And you can’t find a flaw in any of these commands. There’s nothing immoral or unrighteous in these laws. Even if we don’t quite understand them or think them a little out-of-step with the way we live our lives – you can’t find a flaw with these commands. And that’s exactly why Moses tells Israel that the nations will be jealous of the nation of Israel. Because they have a God who is so near and who gives them such righteous statutes. That’s right. Moses did not say, “Yeah, I know these laws are a little embarassing and kind of out-of-step with the mainstream thinking of this day. But, you know, just kind of deal with it and it’ll be alright.” No. Moses says with a straight face that these laws are going to cause the nations around them to covet the relationship they have with their God. That is… if Israel actually obeys these laws.

And not only obeys them. But another big theme of Deuteronomy is that Israel needs to constantly teach their children God’s commands. They’re supposed to teach when they’re sitting, standing, walking, and lying down. They need to know God’s commands well enough to teach their children.

(Summary of Obedience) So these laws are righteous. Obeying them doesn’t bring Israel into a relationship with God – God did that at Horeb. But obeying these laws were to help the Israelites maintain their relationship with God. Obeying would show that they Love God. And as they love God by obeying him they would Be Blessed with all the blessings we already mentioned.

But Israel had a choice. They could choose whether or not they were going to obey. We’re going to see those choices played out in the coming weeks and months as we study through Joshua and Judges. We see the foundation begin to chip in Joshua.

For example, one of the Israelites disobeys God and takes something under the ban. In that case Israel did not love God. And as a result Israel was not blessed. She’s defeated right after that by the people of the tiny city of Ai.

Later on, the Gibeonites pretend to be a people far away and they seek to make a treaty with Israel. That wasn’t supposed to happen. And Joshua did not seek the Lord about it. So Israel got into a treaty with some of the inhabitants of Canaan. This was a violation of one of God’s commands to them.

But the worst comes in the book of Judges. Joshua dies and when he does, Israel starts seriously spiraling out of control. They cannot or will not conquer their enemies, as God commanded them. As a result they’re tempted with idolatry like God told them would happen. And so God gives them over to their enemies.

Wait, what?! Gives them over to their enemies? I thought Israel was supposed to be the head and their enemies the tail. I thought Israel would lend but not borrow. The enemies were supposed to come against Israel one way and flee before them seven ways! Yes. But that only happens – those blessings – only happen when they Love God.

And you know what? Even in the book of Deuteronomy, God knows that Israel is going to disobey. He holds out blessings for obedience. And yet in the next or even the same chapter that he gives promises of blessings for obedience, he also tells them that he knows they’re going to disobey.

God points to their track record of disobedience. From the day Moses brought the people out of the land of Egypt they’ve been stiff-knecked and hard-hearted. They provoked God to anger to such an extent at Horeb that he would have utterly destroyed the whole nation, including Aaron. Remember the rebellion they commited at Kadesh-Barnea? And that generation – just read through the books of Exodus and Numbers – they’re complaining all the time and acting as if God hates them and isn’t powerful or loving. They’re completely faithless. And without faith it’s impossible to please God. And so God was not pleased with that generation. He let them die in the wilderness.

So that’s the previous generation. But what about the current generation? The generation that was about to enter the land? Moses makes this statement in Deuteronomy 31:27 – He says to the generation about to enter the land of Canaan – “For I know thy rebellion, and thy stiff neck: behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against the LORD; and how much more after my death?” Even that generation had been rebellious against God. And Moses fears what they will do when he’s gone.

And the consequences for not loving God are so severe. Just like the blessings for obeying God were numerous and beyond your wildest imagination, so too are the curses for disobedying and not loving God.

Israel would be defeated before their enemy. Their property ripped from their hands. Their wives violated by other men. They would experience life-threatening diseases. They would experience pestilence and mildew and terror. Their children would be taken from them while they can only look on as its happening. They’d be driven mad with these sights and experiences.

And you know, this was not what God wanted for his people… My family reads the Scripture at night before bedtime – about a chapter a night. We just read through the book of Revelation at the request of one of our children. You can guess which one – the one that can talk. And so now we just started in the book of Genesis. As we were reading Genesis 1, I was struck by this simple fact. God’s default mode – if you will – is to bless. God blessed man in the beginning. God blessed the Sabbath Day. He enjoys blessing people and things. He is a good and blessing God. And yet sin brings to light a whole new side of God. Sin is completely anti-thetical to God. He can’t bless sin. He can only punish and destroy it. And so, in Deuteronoy God warns Israel that this will happen – that he needs to punish sin. He even gives Moses a song to teach the people so that when they do turn from God they will have this song as a testimony against them.

And the ultimate consequence for Israel’s disobedience, even stated here in Deuteronomy, was that God would have to cast Israel out of the land. They will get to the place where they’re practicing the abominations of the nations they were supposed to utterly destroy. And just like God had to drive out those nations, he would have to drive out his worldly people who acted like those nations.

So, that’s bleak. And yet God gives a ray of hope, even here in this book. He says that when Israel sins against him to the extent he needs to drive them to other lands where they’ll worship idols — he says that after that happens he will bring them back to their land eventually. And that’s actually what we saw in Ezra and Nehemiah – the Jews came back to their land.

So, Israel is standing on the plains. They see the Jordan over which they will soon cross. They see Jericho, which they’ll attack and conquer in just a few days or weeks. And Moses is reminding them of the blessings that await them if they only love God and obey him. He also warns them sternly about failing to love God. Moses and God himself want Israel to live long in that land. The only way to receive this blessing of long life in God’s land is to love God.

We’re a lot like Israel. We don’t enter into a relationship with God through Law. We do so through a covenant. We have the New Covenant, whereby our sins are forgiven. While Israel had the Old Covenant given at Sinai. And God desires for us now to love him – to obey him in what he’s commanded us. The commands for us are different than for Israel in some ways. The blessings are different. But God still desires us – his New Testament people – to love him. Being free from the Law doesn’t mean we’re free to not love God. Jesus tells us that we must abide in him. And — as Jesus says — this is the only way we’ll be blessed and bear much fruit.

So, may the Lord help us to Love God and Be Blessed.

Esther 10 NLT

Esther 10 NLT: The very brief 10th chapter tells us that Mordecai was great. The king advanced him. He was second only to the king in the most powerful empire of his day. He found favor among his kinsmen. He sought the welfare of his people.

You walk away from the 10th chapter almost wondering if perhaps the book should be called “the book of Mordecai”! Really, he’s the closest thing the Jews experienced to a king since the days before the exile when they lived in the land under a monarchy.

Do you remember when we studied the book of Nehemiah? By the end of that book we were left yearning for a great ruler like Nehemiah to shepherd God’s people. And I think the same is true with the book of Esther.

We’re left with this kingly character caring for God’s people. And we’re supposed to long for that final and ultimate King of God’s people, the Messiah. Someday he’ll return.

Throughout this message we’ve heard about God’s Providential Peripety regarding the Jews of Esther and Mordecai’s day. But there will be a time in the future when Christ returns and brings about the final and ultimate “reversal of circumstances” for his people.

Now, we’ve just recently studied Ezra, Nehemiah, and now Esther. When did these books take place?

They all happened after the exile – sometime in the 500s and 400s BC. The exile of course was when the Jews were expelled from the land because of their unfaithfulness to God.

But of course that means that they were originally in the land at some point. Wouldn’t you like to hear how the Jews came to inhabit that land in the first place?

Well, I hope so! Because that’s what we’re going to start studying next week. We’ll be starting a study in the book of Joshua.

Until then, let’s look for and be thankful to God for any and all sudden or unexpected reversals of circumstances he brings our way. Let’s thank God for his Providential Peripety.

Esther 9 Sermon

Alright, now before we start into this Esther 9 sermon, we’ve seen Haman’s edict written and sent out. Then we saw the reaction to it. Likewise, we’ve seen Mordecai’s edict written and sent out. And we just saw the reaction to it. But what’s left to see? Both edicts are authorizing some serious conflict and destruction. And that’s what we finally see played-out in 9:1-5.

Esther 9 Commentary (1-5)

9:1 ¶ Now in the twelfth month, that is, the month Adar, on the thirteenth day of the same, when the king’s commandment and his decree drew near to be put in execution, in the day that the enemies of the Jews hoped to have power over them, (though it was turned to the contrary, that the Jews had rule over them that hated them;) 2 The Jews gathered themselves together in their cities throughout all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus, to lay hand on such as sought their hurt: and no man could withstand them; for the fear of them fell upon all people. 3 And all the rulers of the provinces, and the lieutenants, and the deputies, and officers of the king, helped the Jews; because the fear of Mordecai fell upon them. 4 For Mordecai was great in the king’s house, and his fame went out throughout all the provinces: for this man Mordecai waxed greater and greater. 5 Thus the Jews smote all their enemies with the stroke of the sword, and slaughter, and destruction, and did what they would unto those that hated them.

The text mentioned that the Jews attacked those who “sought their hurt”. So, I’m trying to picture the scene. I’m not sure if the enemies still gathered themselves together to fight the Jews, based on Haman’s original edict. Remember, that still wasn’t revoked because it was written with the king’s authority. Or did the Jews seek out their enemies who were in hiding throughout the kingdom? Whatever the case, the Jews themselves gathered together. And whether they attacked groups of enemy fighters or whether they had to search for and find those who had been hostile to them in various ways, the Jews attacked and destroyed their enemies – the ones who would have liked to see the Jews themselves destroyed. And no one could stand before them. Why? Because the peoples feared them.

Even the government officials joined hands with the Jews and assisted in the fight. Why? The text says that they were afraid of Mordecai. Let this sink in. Powerful government officials all over the kingdom feared Mordecai – this previously inconsequential Jew living in the capital of Shushan; this man who just that year had faced near-certain death. But now rulers are fearing him. The people, great and small, feared the Jews and their leader.

So, we have some general information about this 13th day of the 12th month. But how many people are we talking about dying here? Let’s read 9:6-12.

Esther 9 Commentary (6-12)

9:6 And in Shushan the palace the Jews slew and destroyed five hundred men. 7 And Parshandatha, and Dalphon, and Aspatha, 8 And Poratha, and Adalia, and Aridatha, 9 And Parmashta, and Arisai, and Aridai, and Vajezatha, 10 The ten sons of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews, slew they; but on the spoil laid they not their hand. 11 ¶ On that day the number of those that were slain in Shushan the palace was brought before the king. 12 And the king said unto Esther the queen, The Jews have slain and destroyed five hundred men in Shushan the palace, and the ten sons of Haman; what have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces? now what is thy petition? and it shall be granted thee: or what is thy request further? and it shall be done.

The writer intentionally notes that the Jews didn’t take any spoil. Greed wasn’t their motivating factor. The edict issued by Mordecai told them that they could take the spoil if they wanted to. But they didn’t do it. The Jews were simply trying to defend their lives against their enemies.

Now, it says the Jews killed 500 men in Shushan including Haman’s 10 sons whom he bragged about before. Honestly, if I was king Ahasuerus I’d be a little concerned, I think. Maybe I’m not thinking right. I mean, I know that the Jews are in the right and they’re defending themselves. And I’m all for that. But I’m just a little apprehensive of all the death and destruction. But you know who wasn’t, at all? Ahasuerus wasn’t! Did you hear his statement to Esther? He’s impressed that the Jews have it in them to defend themselves! I can imagine the new admiration this brutal pagan monarch now has for the Jews. He’s like “Wow! 500 people in Shushan alone? What have they done throughout the rest of the kingdom?!” And then you can sense his enthusiastic elation and excitement – almost like a little kid – and he asks Esther what she would like further from him. He’s completely on her side. So, what does she ask? Read 9:13-15.

Esther 9 Commentary (13-15)

9:13 Then said Esther, If it please the king, let it be granted to the Jews which are in Shushan to do to morrow also according unto this day’s decree, and let Haman’s ten sons be hanged upon the gallows. 14 And the king commanded it so to be done: and the decree was given at Shushan; and they hanged Haman’s ten sons. 15 For the Jews that were in Shushan gathered themselves together on the fourteenth day also of the month Adar, and slew three hundred men at Shushan; but on the prey they laid not their hand.

Does Esther’s request strike you as ungodly? She asks for a one-day extension of the Jews’ ability to defend themselves and to destroy their enemies. You know, I think she’s doing right. This is how things worked in the Old Testament when God’s people were a national entity and God’s command was to destroy the enemies. The New Testament believer is told now that we don’t wrestle as individual believers against flesh and blood. We are a kingdom of priests, yes. But — just like it was for Christ on this earth — our kingdom is not of this realm. We’re told on the personal level to not take our own vengeance. So, is Esther’s additional request a godly one? I think it was for her. It would have been completely appropriate for an Old Testament believer to seek the welfare of her nation through the permission to defend against those who would try to destroy that nation.

She adds to this her request to hang Haman’s 10 sons on the gallows. And so that happens. They were dead already, so I guess this was just a symbolic gesture.

So the Jews in Shushan killed about 800 people between the 13th and 14th days of the 12th month. So we know what happened in Shushan. But Ahasuerus’ original question still stands unanswered – What happened in the rest of the kingdom? Let’s read 9:16-19 for the end of the action in this story.

Esther 9 Commentary (16-19)

9:16 ¶ But the other Jews that were in the king’s provinces gathered themselves together, and stood for their lives, and had rest from their enemies, and slew of their foes seventy and five thousand, but they laid not their hands on the prey, 17 On the thirteenth day of the month Adar; and on the fourteenth day of the same rested they, and made it a day of feasting and gladness. 18 But the Jews that were at Shushan assembled together on the thirteenth day thereof, and on the fourteenth thereof; and on the fifteenth day of the same they rested, and made it a day of feasting and gladness. 19 Therefore the Jews of the villages, that dwelt in the unwalled towns, made the fourteenth day of the month Adar a day of gladness and feasting, and a good day, and of sending portions one to another.

The Jews outside of Shushan killed 75,000 of their enemies. But again, their motivation wasn’t greed. They didn’t take the spoil. But they only had one day – the 13th of the 12th month to do their work. Whereas the Jews in Shushan had two days – the 13th and 14th of the 12th month. The Jews in Shushan then rested on the 15th day while the Jews elsewhere rested on the 14th day. The Jews today typically celebrate this feast on the 14th day only. Though there are some exceptions.

At any rate, we reached the end of the action of this story. The rest (9:20-10:3) is a conclusion to the whole narrative. It basically explains how this historical event that we just studied through is the reason that the Jews celebrate Purim and have done so for 2500 years now. Haman sought to destroy all the Jews. But in the end his plan was turned right back on him so that he was the one who was destroyed.

Esther 8 Sermon

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.

Peripety

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.

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

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

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

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

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…

Esther 2 Sermon

As we begin this Esther 2 sermon we need to remember, the king issued this edict when he was very angry. I wonder what happens when he cools off. Let’s read 2:1-4.

What happens when the king cools off

2:1 ¶ After these things, when the wrath of king Ahasuerus was appeased, he remembered Vashti, and what she had done, and what was decreed against her. 2 Then said the king’s servants that ministered unto him, Let there be fair young virgins sought for the king: 3 And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, that they may gather together all the fair young virgins unto Shushan the palace, to the house of the women, unto the custody of Hege the king’s chamberlain, keeper of the women; and let their things for purification be given them: 4 And let the maiden which pleaseth the king be queen instead of Vashti. And the thing pleased the king; and he did so.

It’s almost as if Ahasuerus was having second thoughts. That’s kind of surprising to me. He’s such a superlative man – extreme and extravagant. But it seems like he almost regrets what he decreed in his burning anger. And yet he did issue a decree. So Vashti could not come into his presence again. Because we all know that a law of the Medes and Persians cannot be revoked. So while the king is hesitating, his attendants encourage him to follow-through on his decree. And that idea pleases the somewhat forlorn king. So the king had officers throughout the kingdom collect all the young beautiful women and bring them to the royal harem in Shushan. And verse 4 states the main objective – “let the maiden which pleaseth the king be queen instead of Vashti.” So the search is on. Who will be the lucky one to take Vashti’s place? I’m glad you asked. Because in the next section we’re introduced to a really good candidate. Let’s read 2:5-8.

Who will take Vashti’s place?

2:5 ¶ Now in Shushan the palace there was a certain Jew, whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite; 6 Who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captivity which had been carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away. 7 And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter: for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid was fair and beautiful; whom Mordecai, when her father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter. 8 So it came to pass, when the king’s commandment and his decree was heard, and when many maidens were gathered together unto Shushan the palace, to the custody of Hegai, that Esther was brought also unto the king’s house, to the custody of Hegai, keeper of the women.

Who’s the first character we’re introduced to? Mordecai the Jew. For some reason a number of commentators think everyone knew that he was a Jew. I don’t think they did. We are told he’s a Jew, but I don’t think that was common knowledge. At any rate he’s from the tribe of Benjamin. And his ancestor Jair was taken in the exile with king Jeconiah. And we’re supposed to love this man Mordecai. He’s a selfless father figure. He’s raising his deceased uncle’s daughter – his cousin – whose name is Hadassah. Well, that’s her Jewish name. But that’s a secret to everyone. She goes by Esther, a nice Persian name. And this girl is beautiful. So, with this royal decree to collect beautiful young women, Esther was chosen to go to the harem for a chance to be the new queen of Persia. So she’s placed in the custody of Hegai. What happens to her while she’s there? Let’s read 2:9-11.

What happens to Esther under Hegai’s watch

2:9 And the maiden pleased him, and she obtained kindness of him; and he speedily gave her her things for purification, with such things as belonged to her, and seven maidens, which were meet to be given her, out of the king’s house: and he preferred her and her maids unto the best place of the house of the women. 10 Esther had not shewed her people nor her kindred: for Mordecai had charged her that she should not shew it. 11 And Mordecai walked every day before the court of the women’s house, to know how Esther did, and what should become of her.

So Esther really finds favor with Hegai. He treats her very well. And all the while she’s managing to keep her identity hidden. Is that OK? Sometimes you read through a biblical story and you wonder if whatever’s being described is good or bad. Why are we left to wonder? Because the writer often doesn’t come out and tell you plainly whether it’s right or not. But this is when you need to think of the rest of Scripture and come up with a conclusion. So in this case, does the rest of the Bible commend identifying with God’s people? Or does it seem OK to deny your association with them? Daniel was commended for not eating the king’s un-kosher food because he was Jewish. His three friends wouldn’t bow to the idol because they were Jewish. Moses forsook his Egyptian upbringing to experience suffering with God’s people. So I think we’re supposed to look at Esther’s conduct and be a little uneasy about it. How does a godly girl fit in so well with the godless culture around her? How is it that her Jewish identity, which would certainly include moral norms as well as a number of ceremonial practices, how does that go unidentified for very long?

Now, we’re not supposed to get too upset with Esther. I mean, the text states that she was just doing what she was told. And I think a little contrast to Vashti is intended here. But Esther’s just obeying her adopted father Mordecai. OK, so let’s get angry at him. Well, I think verse 11 is meant to soften us even further to him. He was so concerned with Esther. He walked by the harem daily to see how his adopted daughter was doing. He loved her. He wanted the best for her. Was his love a little misguided? Should he have told her to reveal her identity? It’s easy for me to say yes. And yet, this is what happened – Esther obeyed Mordecai and concealed her identity.

Alright, so there was a pretty involved vetting process in this beauty pageant. Read about it in 2:12-14.

The beauty pageant

2:12 ¶ Now when every maid’s turn was come to go in to king Ahasuerus, after that she had been twelve months, according to the manner of the women, (for so were the days of their purifications accomplished, to wit, six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with sweet odours, and with other things for the purifying of the women;) 13 Then thus came every maiden unto the king; whatsoever she desired was given her to go with her out of the house of the women unto the king’s house. 14 In the evening she went, and on the morrow she returned into the second house of the women, to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s chamberlain, which kept the concubines: she came in unto the king no more, except the king delighted in her, and that she were called by name.

So, true to Ahasuerus’ superlative nature, these girls all underwent a full year of purification with oils and perfumes. There are probably some health benefits to these practices and we could probably explain them and such, but I think the point is again that this is over-the-top and very much in keeping with Ahasuerus’ character. So when the 12 months was done the girl would take whatever she needed with her to the king’s room for her one night with him. It’s nice that the Bible doesn’t say much more about that. And then in the morning the girl would go into the harem for the concubines. So she didn’t go home. She was an unofficial wife of the king. Unless, of course, he chose her to be queen.

And one day Esther had her turn with the king. Let’s read about that in 2:15-18.

Esther’s night with the king

2:15 ¶ Now when the turn of Esther, the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her for his daughter, was come to go in unto the king, she required nothing but what Hegai the king’s chamberlain, the keeper of the women, appointed. And Esther obtained favour in the sight of all them that looked upon her. 16 So Esther was taken unto king Ahasuerus into his house royal in the tenth month, which is the month Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign. 17 And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti. 18 Then the king made a great feast unto all his princes and his servants, even Esther’s feast; and he made a release to the provinces, and gave gifts, according to the state of the king.

Esther was so beautiful she didn’t need to bring anything with her. But she did take the advice of Hegai – again we see her submissive spirit in opposition to Vashti. The text says Esther found favor with everyone who looked at her. And that included the king. He loved her and made her his queen. Now what would you expect Ahasuerus to do in response to the crowning of his new queen? Yep, he had a feast! I’m not sure how long it lasted this time, but it was lavish as usual.

So, Esther is queen. Esther, the lowly Jewish girl. The former orphan. Providentially placed by the God who is unusually silent throughout this book to be queen of the most powerful opulent empire in the world. What an unlikely turn of events. If you think that’s unlikely, you should see what happens next. We won’t read the details, but in verses 19-23 we see Mordecai in the gate. Yes, he was in the gate – the place where official business was conducted and judicial verdicts rendered. How did he get there? I’m thinking that Esther appointed him. At any rate, he’s there and it puts him in the position to overhear two of the king’s servants plotting to assassinate the king. And Mordecai, the law-abiding Jew reports this plot against his new in-law the king to his adopted daughter, Esther. Then Esther reports it to her new husband, Ahasuerus. And Ahasuerus investigates and discovers that Mordecai was right. The king hangs the perpetrators. And Mordecai’s heroic deed is written in a book… and promptly forgotten. What a story!

So in these first 2 chapters we’ve seen God Providentially Placing His People. He removed one queen in order to allow another queen – Esther – to take her place. He allowed Mordecai to be in Shushan to begin with and then to be in the gate to uncover the plot and have his name written down in a book. And we’ll see as the story unfolds in the next few weeks that these placements were crucial for the survival of the Jews. So, God Providentially Places His People.