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.

Esther 1 Sermon Bible Study

Esther 1 Sermon: We’ll be studying the first 2 chapters of the book of Esther today. These first 2 chapters serve as an introduction for the whole book. And what do we see in this introduction? We’ll see the opulence and luxury of the ancient Persian empire along with its hidden weaknesses. We’ll see the fall of one queen and the rise of another. We’ll see a king whom I can only describe as “superlative” – everything he does is exaggerated and extreme. We’ll see a humble lowly Jew being promoted to a position of some authority. Reversals of fortune. Bizarre extremes. All this and more await us in this introduction to the book. And ultimately we’ll see that God Providentially Places His People. So, let’s dive in! Read 1:1-4.

Esther 1 Commentary (1-4)

1:1 ¶ Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus, (this is Ahasuerus which reigned, from India even unto Ethiopia, over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces:) 2 That in those days, when the king Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan the palace, 3 In the third year of his reign, he made a feast unto all his princes and his servants; the power of Persia and Media, the nobles and princes of the provinces, being before him: 4 When he shewed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the honour of his excellent majesty many days, even an hundred and fourscore days.

So let’s take note of the setting. We’re in ancient Persia. And more specifically we’re in one of their several capitals which was named Shushan. This city today is known as Shush and it’s in Iran – on the western border between Iran and Iraq. And from this one city, this man named Ahasuerus reigned from as far east as India and modern-day Pakistan and as far west as ancient Ethiopia – Kush – the land just south of Egypt at that time. Needless to say, this is a vast amount of land. Today there are something like 20 individual countries occupying that land. And the text says this land was divided up into 127 provinces. The mention of all these things is supposed to impress us. We’re supposed to say “ooh” and “ahh”. But you can’t boo or hiss or rattle noise-makers yet because Haman hasn’t entered the story.

Well, if this doesn’t impress you, consider this next batch of proofs that this kingdom of Persia was opulent. This king Ahasuerus in the 3rd year of his reign has a huge feast. This man started reigning in 486 BC. And so the 3rd year of his reign would have been 483 BC. Since we just finished studying Ezra and Nehemiah, I’ll mention this. The story in the book of Esther occurs between Ezra 6 and Ezra 7 – after the Temple was constructed but before Ezra himself came to Jerusalem and stopped the mixed marriages. So, back to Ahasuerus. He’s actually in his early 30s when he throws this lavish party. And how long does it go on? 180 days! This is half a year. Now, we’re not told why he’s throwing this party. We know whom he invited – his advisers and the people in charge of those 127 provinces. But why? Well, from history we know that Ahasuerus was planning to attack Greece a few years later. Maybe he was gathering support and strategizing for that campaign. Maybe. But the reason isn’t specifically stated. All we’re told are the facts of how rich the kingdom of Persia is and how lavish their banquet was. So I think that’s what we’re supposed to focus on. Not why he’s throwing the party, but the fact that it’s happening and all the over-the-top details that are given concerning it. Well, I suppose everyone goes home after the half year, right? Well, they do. But king Ahasuerus isn’t done displaying his wealth and power just yet! Let’s read 1:5-9.

Esther 1 Commentary (5-9)

1:5 And when these days were expired, the king made a feast unto all the people that were present in Shushan the palace, both unto great and small, seven days, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace; 6 Where were white, green, and blue, hangings, fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and pillars of marble: the beds were of gold and silver, upon a pavement of red, and blue, and white, and black, marble. 7 And they gave them drink in vessels of gold, (the vessels being diverse one from another,) and royal wine in abundance, according to the state of the king. 8 And the drinking was according to the law; none did compel: for so the king had appointed to all the officers of his house, that they should do according to every man’s pleasure. 9 Also Vashti the queen made a feast for the women in the royal house which belonged to king Ahasuerus.

So the king has another feast! This time it’s only 7 days long. And the company there is a bit different. Now anyone who is in Shushan can come and dine. And what a spectacle they meet when they arrive! Did you see all the glorious details in verse 6? Beautiful hangings, rings, marble, beds, pavement. All these colors and textures. These people came from very ordinary places to attend this banquet. To see this splendor would have been breath-taking. And if the ornaments didn’t take your breath away, maybe the alcohol would. The king had the drinking “according to the law” or according to an edict that he apparently issued. Usually at such feasts there was someone who would tell all the guests when they could drink and when they needed to stop. But not at this party! The wine was flowing, by the king’s command.

And then we’re told that the king had a queen. Her name is Vashti. She’s holding a separate party for Ahasuerus’ concubines in another location. This is not to say that Vashti and Ahasuerus were apart for the half year prior to this 7-day feast. It’s just that during the time when Ahasuerus was holding his shorter 7-day feast, Vashti was with the ladies – well, particularly Ahasuerus’ ladies/concubines – in Shushan. And I think Ahasuerus had her off with the ladies for a reason. We’ll see it in a little bit.

So we’ve been shown all of the king’s riches and glory and splendor. He’s on top of the world. He has everything. What more could he show his guests? Ah, he’s been saving his most valued possession, if you will, for last. Let’s read 1:10-11.

Esther 1 Commentary (10-11)

1:10 ¶ On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, and Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven chamberlains that served in the presence of Ahasuerus the king, 11 To bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to shew the people and the princes her beauty: for she was fair to look on.

The king has partaken of some spirits and so he himself is in high spirits. I think that the king was probably not totally inebriated. But I imagine he was at least a little buzzed – his heart was merry with wine. So he’s at least happy. And he wants to display the rarest jewel of his kingdom in his eyes – his beautiful queen. Vashti is her name, which I understand meant something like “sweetheart.” So the king, never lacking pomp, sends not one messenger. Not two. But seven messengers are sent to the queen. This is a high occasion. After displaying all of his opulence and glory, Ahasuerus wants to showcase his wife as the grand finale. The attendants are waiting. King Ahasuerus sits back and waits for all the people to see his beautiful queen. There’s anticipation in the air. What happens? 1:12.

Esther 1 Commentary (12)

1:12 But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s commandment by his chamberlains: therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him.

What would this have looked like? I imagine it’s like one of those scenes in a drama or a movie where there’s a room full of people, everyone relaxed, some soft music playing in the background, maybe on an old-fashioned record player. Then someone stands up and says something completely inappropriate. And everyone gasps. The record player screeches to a halt. And all in attendance are looking shocked. I picture that kind of scene being played out here. We were expecting to see queen Vashti enter the room in all her splendor, flanked by the 7 eunuchs who were sent to get her. Instead the eunuchs return, tail between their legs as it were. Did they whisper to Ahasuerus the embarrassing news? However the message was delivered, the king was not happy. True to his nature he gets angry. And he doesn’t just get a little angry. He gets really angry. He was very wroth. His anger burned in him.

What a coincidence that this should take place at this time. Who would have guessed that the queen would disobey the king’s reasonable request. Now, some throughout the ages have made excuses for Vashti’s behavior. The rabbis have decided that Vashti declined to come because the king wanted her to come dressed in her royal crown… only. Nude, in other words. I don’t think that’s the case. Granted, Ahasuerus was surely an ungodly man. But I don’t think he’d want to put his own wife on display like that. Want proof? Well later on when Haman looks like he’s attacking the king’s new wife – I won’t say who that is at the moment… — Ahasuerus is incensed. So, are we really supposed to believe that Ahasuerus would want to expose the woman he married to everyone in the palace while when just one person is appearing to mistreat his wife he explodes with anger and comes swiftly to her defense? I don’t think so. Others point to the fact that Vashti and Ahasuerus were separated for such a long time. They say this fact tells us there was a problem between them. But again all we know is that Vashti held her own party for the 7 days of this shorter feast. She wasn’t holding her own party for Ahasuerus’ concubines during the half year party. So they were apart for perhaps 7 days. Maybe more. But they probably had not been separated for a half-year.

So I conclude that we’re really not given the reason behind Vashti’s disobedience. Why? Well, in literature the type of character Vashti plays is what is called a foil. She’s a minor character who is intended to showcase some fact about the main character. And in this section the main character is who? Ahasuerus. What does Vashti’s mysterious unexplained action teach us about Ahasuerus? We learn this – though Ahasuerus seems to have everything and seems to be nearly god-like, yet he’s just a man. He has everything he needs, oh, except things aren’t well at home and his wife just made him look like a fool. I think this turn of events is intended to actually make us laugh. With the Persian empire there’s this veneer of invincibility that’s just torn through by this one destabilizing act of rebellion. It’s funny! Especially for Jews who were being oppressed by this king and his empire.

OK, well if that doesn’t make you laugh, maybe how he handles this disobedience will. Read 1:13-15.

Esther 1 Commentary (13-15)

1:13 ¶ Then the king said to the wise men, which knew the times, (for so was the king’s manner toward all that knew law and judgment: 14 And the next unto him was Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, which saw the king’s face, and which sat the first in the kingdom;) 15 What shall we do unto the queen Vashti according to law, because she hath not performed the commandment of the king Ahasuerus by the chamberlains?

So Ahasuerus basically calls together his 7 counselors to figure out how to handle his marriage issues. Maybe he’s just weak in this area and wants to have other people tell him what he ought to do. Or maybe he really is that dense that he needs 7 people to help him figure out the next step. Or perhaps he really did see this as quite a big issue that called for a well-thought-out response. Whatever his purpose, he does get what he’s looking for. Let’s read 1:16-21.

Esther 1 Commentary (16-21)

1:16 And Memucan answered before the king and the princes, Vashti the queen hath not done wrong to the king only, but also to all the princes, and to all the people that are in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus. 17 For this deed of the queen shall come abroad unto all women, so that they shall despise their husbands in their eyes, when it shall be reported, The king Ahasuerus commanded Vashti the queen to be brought in before him, but she came not. 18 Likewise shall the ladies of Persia and Media say this day unto all the king’s princes, which have heard of the deed of the queen. Thus shall there arise too much contempt and wrath. 19 If it please the king, let there go a royal commandment from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes, that it be not altered, That Vashti come no more before king Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal estate unto another that is better than she. 20 And when the king’s decree which he shall make shall be published throughout all his empire, (for it is great,) all the wives shall give to their husbands honour, both to great and small. 21 And the saying pleased the king and the princes; and the king did according to the word of Memucan:

So one of the princes offers his advice to the king – send Vashti away and replace her with someone more worthy. His stated objective is that all the ladies in the realm of the king would respect their husbands. This is a noble cause – even biblically speaking. I don’t think this is meant to mock biblical roles in the home. I think what it is meant to do is to showcase the weakness and buffoonery behind all the pomp and splendor of this kingdom. I mean, Memucan the prince’s ideas are thoroughly selfish. He keeps mentioning the affect that this will have on the princes. Isn’t that convenient? He’s a prince himself. He further sees the need to bolster his superficially-strong but underlyingly weak empire – “for it is great” he insists. Is it really? And the fact that these great and mighty men can’t even get their wives to submit to them, I think to the Jews who would have first received this story, is pathetic – even laughable.

Verse 22 then describes the king sending a letter to all 127 of his provinces. The gist of the letter was that every man should be the master in his own home. It was translated into every language and script used throughout the vast multicultural Persian empire. Again, it’s laughable that this big strong empire needed to send out such a letter stating such an obvious fact.

On to our Esther 2 Commentary!

Esther Bible Study

As we begin this Esther Bible Study, let’s consider the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. In those books we saw a large group of Jews who returned to Judah and Jerusalem after the Exile. And we can imagine the kind of questions this group might have been asking – “Our fathers and we have sinned against God. We broke his covenant with us which he made with us at Mount Sinai. Are we still his covenant people? Has he rejected us because of our sin? Is he done with the Jews?” And what we saw is that no in fact God was not done with the Jews. They were still his covenant people. Even though they broke the covenant, he continued to keep his end of the bargain. The people who returned to Judah were in the land God promised them. They had the Temple once more. God sent prophets to encourage them to rebuild that Temple. They were sacrificing according to God’s commandments. So it was evident that God was still with them.

But what about the Jews who didn’t return to Jerusalem? Did you know that there were some who stayed back in Babylon and Persia? There were quite a few who did. Were they still God’s covenant people? That’s what the book of Esther seeks to answer. So this week and the next five weeks we’ll be studying the book of Esther and seeing what we might discover along those lines.

The book of Esther is a masterpiece of a book in our Bible. It’s the source of the modern Jewish holiday called Purim. That’s the holiday in which Jews get together and remember the deliverance they received from their enemies. Sometime usually in March all the Jews read this book in their synagogues and make a party of it. They read this very book we’ll be studying. And whenever they hear the name… Haman they boo, hiss, and rattle noisemakers in order to blot his name out. This is a book that I’ve heard the Nazis in Germany banned in the concentration camps. The Nazis apparently didn’t want the Jews to get any idea that they’d be delivered from the Germans’ wicked plot against them. This book is a great story. And it’s all the greater because it’s absolutely true and is profitable to teach us doctrinally, to reprove us, to correct us, and to instruct us in righteousness so that we can be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

So let’s dive-in to this wonderful book. I’ll state from the beginning that there are 5 main sections in this book. We have an introduction, 3 middle sections that develop and deliver the story, and then a conclusion that wraps things up. Let’s get a broad overview of each of these sections in this book.

Introduction to this Esther Bible Study

We’ll start with the introduction. That covers 1:1-2:23. What do we learn in the introduction? Let’s read 1:1-4.

Esther 1:1 ¶ Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus, (this is Ahasuerus which reigned, from India even unto Ethiopia, over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces:) 2 That in those days, when the king Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan the palace, 3 In the third year of his reign, he made a feast unto all his princes and his servants; the power of Persia and Media, the nobles and princes of the provinces, being before him: 4 When he shewed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the honour of his excellent majesty many days, even an hundred and fourscore days.

So we have a king named Ahasuerus. He throws an extravagant party for his nobles. And this party lasts for a half a year. King Ahasuerus comes across to me as a fairly extreme man. He does things quickly and decisively – or you could say hastily and thoughtlessly. He does what he does to the extreme – a party that lasts a half a year! This man is the king of Persia. He’s actually the one who came after king Darius whom we saw in Ezra. Darius is the one under whom the Temple was finally rebuilt. [explain chronology of the kings]

At any rate, king Ahasuerus throws this party for some elite folks in his circle of influence. Then in verses 5 through 9 he throws a party for everyone – not just the nobles – in the capital city of Shushan. This lasts for 7 days. At the end of this section we are alerted that the king has a queen and her name is Vashti. We see her holding a party for the women who belong to the king – probably the king’s concubines.

Now, even though these first 9 verses of this first chapter seem to paint a really rosy picture of Ahasuerus’ situation, he’s got a problem. What’s the problem? Well, verses 10 and 11 tell us that the king’s heart was merry with wine on the last day of the feast for the folks in Shushan. And in that merriness he wants his queen to come. I’m assigning the best motives to Ahasuerus. I think he’s shown all his royal bounty and the whole time the queen was entertaining other guests. So now Ahasuerus wants to show the people his beautiful queen. I don’t think there are any ulterior motives in his heart about this. Now, how does Vashti respond? Let’s read verse 12.

Vashti’s Response

Esther 1:12 But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s commandment by his chamberlains: therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him.

This is not a good situation. The queen publicly defied the king. King Ahasuerus then asks his wise men and counselors what he should do in response to this disobedience. One counselor in particular advises the king that queen Vashti’s disobedience could have far-reaching consequences. The counselor suggests that when all the ladies in Persia hear of this, they’ll be encouraged to disrespect their own husbands. So, the counselor thinks of a solution. It doesn’t involve executing Vashti or anything like that. It simply involves the king not allowing Vashti to come before his presence. And then the king will find someone more worthy of being queen in Vashti’s place. The king likes that idea and send letters throughout his kingdom declaring what Vashti did and how he handled the situation.

That brings us to chapter 2. The king comes out of his anger and remembers what he decreed concerning Vashti. Then he had overseers throughout his kingdom collect – probably by force – beautiful young virgins and bring them to his harem in Shushan. Let’s read about one such young lady in 2:5-7.

One Young Lady

Esther 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.

So now we’re introduced to two of the main characters in this story – Mordecai and Esther. Esther’s parents were out of the picture. So Mordecai selflessly raised her as his own daughter. And Esther was beautiful. So she’s brought to the harem by the king’s officials. And while she’s there she finds favor with the man in charge of the girls. He gives her whatever she wants, assigns attendants to her, and gives her the best place in the harem. I guess if you find yourself in this kind of situation, it couldn’t get any better than what Esther experienced.

Let me point out an oddity. Did you notice that Esther has two names? Her Jewish name was Hadassah. “Esther” is actually her Persian name. You ask, why would she need two names? Let’s read verse 10.

Why Two Names?

Esther 2:10 Esther had not shewed her people nor her kindred: for Mordecai had charged her that she should not shew it.

No one knew Esther’s Hebrew name. Why? Because she’s keeping her identity a secret. She’s hiding the fact that she’s a Jew. Why? The reason is perhaps somewhat noble. She’s simply doing what she’s been told. That’s in contrast to Vashti. What else do we know about Vashti beside the fact that she disobeyed? Unlike Vashti, Esther was obedient to her authorities. But that kind of puts the burden on Mordecai then. Why did he not want to reveal their Jewish identity? I don’t quite know. He probably thought they might get in trouble if people knew who they were. But whatever the reason, their identity can’t stay hidden for very long. Now, before we get a bad view of Mordecai, verse 11 talks about his extreme care for Esther. He was a man in a tough position. He wanted to protect his adopted daughter. In his mind apparently, hiding her Jewish identity would protect her. He’s trying his best. The question that’s left unanswered is whether it was right for him to do this. Maybe we’ll get the answer in the coming weeks as we study through this book in greater detail.

Now the day came when Esther had her turn to go in to king Ahasuerus. And it just so happened that the king loved Esther more than any other of the virgins. And he made her queen in place of Vashti. Now, there are two reactions to this turn of events. First, we should be amazed that a lowly Jewish girl became queen of the Persian empire! What an incredible chance happening! But second, I’m just a bit uncomfortable with the fact that a Jew would be able to fit in so well with this pagan crowd and their pagan king. What kind of Jewish norms did she have to compromise in order to find the acceptance she found? Just something to think about for now.

And after Esther is crowned queen, it just so happens that Mordecai is sitting at the king’s gate. And it’s there that he just happens to overhear a plot to assassinate King Ahasuerus – his new in-law. Mordecai then relays that information to Esther. Esther tells the king. The king conducts an investigation. And when he finds that Mordecai is right, he hangs the conspirators on a gallows.

So it seems like these two Jews are really having some good luck! Well, eventually their luck seems to run out. Let’s read 3:1.

“Luck” Runs Out

Esther 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.

Well, what’s so bad about this? Why would this indicate the Jews’ luck is about to change? Well, this Haman is an Agagite. Do you know who Agag is? He’s actually an Amalekite king. And he was king in the days of Saul, Israel’s first king. Saul was commanded to utterly destroy Agag. Did he do it? No, he didn’t. Samuel had to do it himself because Saul disobeyed. Here’s the point – Haman, who would turn out to be a most insidious enemy of the Jews, would not have been around if king Saul would have obeyed. But Saul disobeyed and so now Haman was born and is able to oppose the Jews.

So, this is bad news. Haman the Agagite is around. And even worse – he’s been promoted by the king! Everyone bowed to Haman. That was the king’s command. Everyone, that is, except Mordecai. Mordecai refused to bow to this man. Whether or not that was right of him is another story. I tend to think Mordecai was doing right by not bowing. Why? Read 3:4.

Take a Bow?

Esther 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.

What’s most important is that last verse. Mordecai gave the reason to his fellow citizens of Persia for not bowing to Haman. The last phrase of verse 4 – he was a Jew. So, Mordecai is finally pressured into revealing that he was a Jew.

Haman picks up on that fact. Now, Haman is a proud and arrogant man. We’ll see that throughout the story. He can’t stand the fact that Mordecai won’t bow and tremble and pay homage before him. So, Haman wants to destroy Mordecai. But, now he knows Mordecai’s people. So, Haman steps up his antagonism and wants to destroy all the Jews – not just Mordecai alone.

So Haman casts lots to determine when to carry out the destruction of the Jews. The lot somehow falls on the 13th day of the 12th month. Haman goes to the king, tells the king that there is a group in his kingdom who doesn’t obey the king’s laws, and asks permission to destroy them. King Ahasuerus rather mindlessly gives his permission. So, Haman writes up an edict declaring that all the Jews throughout Persia (Judah, too) must be destroyed on the 13th day of the 12th month.

The reaction is pure sorrow all across the kingdom. There was confusion in the capital city of Shushan. Mordecai himself put on sackcloth and mourned loudly in the street. News of this event reached queen Esther and she writhed in great anguish. So, she sends a messenger to Modecai to find out exactly why this is happening. And this leads to this really engaging correspondence between Esther and Mordecai in 4:6-16. We won’t read it for the sake of time, but what ends up happening is that Mordecai tells Esther that she must go before the king and ask him to deliver the Jews. She puts up some excuses as to why that would not be a good idea. So Mordecai needs to remind her that she is also vulnerable even in the palace. She is a Jew after all. And Mordecai tells her that if she doesn’t act, she’ll be destroyed and yet deliverance for the Jews will come from somewhere else. And then that famous line, “and who knows if you’ve attained royalty for… such a time as this.”

This is a real turning point I think for Esther herself. Would she identify with her people and bear the reproach and danger associated with that identification? And we know that she did. She’s ready to own up to her identity as a Jew and approach the king. And if she perishes, she says, she perishes. She tells Mordecai and the people to fast three days. She will also fast. And during that time she hatches a plan.

And here’s how the plan unfolds. Esther first comes to the king. Remember, she could be executed on the spot for coming in uninvited. But it just so happens that the king extends mercy to her and asks her what she wants. So she tells him she’d like to invite him and Haman to a banquet. The king commands for Haman to be brought quickly. At the banquet, the king again asks what Esther would like from him. She says that she’d like both of them to attend a banquet again tomorrow and then she’ll tell the king her request.

Haman, the arrogant and easily-flattered man that he is, goes away rejoicing that he had the great privilege of dining with the king and queen. But on the way to his home, Haman saw Mordecai at the gate. Mordecai as usual did not bow to him. So Haman became very angry once again. When Haman returned home he got together his wife and friends and was telling them all about his accomplishments and fame. He told them exuberantly how even queen Esther invited only him and the king to her banquet and that she invited him tomorrow as well! But all this seem worthless in his mind because that one Jew Mordecai won’t bow to him!

So his wife and friends suggest that he have a gallows constructed to hang Mordecai and that he should ask the king if he can hang Mordecai tomorrow before the banquet. Oh, Haman liked that idea. And so he had a gallows constructed and made his way to the palace.

But it just so happened that during the night the king couldn’t sleep. So what helps a king sleep better than having a book of records read aloud to him? So he’s lying there having this book of records read and the reader comes to where it was recorded that Mordecai saved the king’s life by uncovering that assassination plot we read about earlier. The king asks what has been done for Mordecai. The servants say that nothing has been done. So the king asks if anyone is in the court. Indeed, it just so happened that Haman was in the court on his way to ask the king if he could kill Mordecai. So the king summons Haman into his room.

The king asks Haman what he should do to the man he wants to honor. Of course the king is thinking of Mordecai. But Haman, the proud man, is thinking of himself. So Haman gives the king a great idea as to what he should do for the man the king desires to honor. So the king tells Haman to go do that for Mordecai. Haman is humiliated. He hurries home mourning while Mordecai just returns to the gate.

Now this was the turning point in the story. Up until this point the Jews are in grave danger. They’re going to be annihilated. But this reversal of fortunes in Haman being forced to honor Mordecai is the beginning of the end of that.

And Haman’s wife and friends even say as much. Read 6:13.

Haman’s In Trouble!

Esther 6:13 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.

Haman’s doom is sealed. He has begun to fall before a Jew. And this is going to be his end. You just wonder if Haman’s wife and counselors recall the promise made in the Old Testament to blot out Agag’s memory from under heaven. At any rate there seems to be no hope for Haman.

As Haman’s wife and counselors are speaking to him, messengers come to whisk Haman away to Esther’s second banquet. It is there that the king asks Esther again what her petition is. Now is the time! Esther asks that her people be saved from certain destruction. The fact that someone has plotted against the queen’s people seems to surprise and anger King Ahasuerus. Let’s read the rest of the exchange in 7:5-6.

The King’s Anger

Esther 7:5 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.

The king, true to his character, storms out of the room angrily. Meanwhile, Haman begs his life from Esther. But as he does this, he’s falling on the couch where Esther is. So when the king returns it looks like Haman is assaulting Esther. This enrages the king even further. Someone points out to the king that Haman constructed a gallows for Mordecai – remember? The Mordecai who saved the king’s own life?! So the king commands that Haman be hanged on the same gallows that he constructed to destroy the Jew Mordecai.

But we still have to deal with this edict that had been written in the king’s name to destroy all the Jews everywhere in the Persian empire on the 13th day of the 12th month. And basically, that’s what the rest of the book covers. Briefly, what happens is that the king allows Mordecai to write another edict stating that the Jews can defend themselves and destroy anyone who hates them. So when the 13th day of the 12th month comes, the Jews avenge themselves on their enemies, killing several tens of thousands throughout the kingdom. But they don’t take the plunder. They’re not using this as an excuse to get rich. They’re defending their own lives.

The rest of the book after that gives us a summary of the whole story and tells us that this is the reason the Jews celebrate the festival of Purim. And they still do to this day.

So, that’s the book of Esther in a nutshell. We’ll take the next 5 weeks to work through each chapter in more detail. But this gives us a good introduction to the plot and characters.

Now, it’s hard to teach a Sunday School class without mentioning the words “God” or “Lord”. But if you’ve been keeping track I’ve only said the word “God” 6 times in the introduction. And I haven’t mentioned the word “Lord” at all. Why, you ask? I was trying to do like the book of Esther does. Did you catch how many times the book of Esther uses the words “God” or “Lord”? 0 times. There is no direct reference to God anywhere in the book of Esther. There are veiled references, like when Mordecai tells Esther that if she doesn’t help the Jews, the Jews will be delivered from some other source. Or when Esther tells Mordecai to fast. In these situations, God is implied. But he’s not pictured as directly intervening in their situation at any time. He’s not sending prophets. He’s not rending the heavens and working miracles. God is conspicuously silent. And yet, he’s not inactive. There’s no doubt that God was behind all of these “chance happenings”.

What are we to make of this fact? God isn’t mentioned and yet his handiwork is written throughout this book. Can we apply this situation to our lives? As Christians in the church age after the passing of the apostles, we don’t have miracles. Don’t believe the ridiculous claims of gold dust flying around in some of these charismatic churches. God in this day is not typically in the business of working miracles. He wasn’t in that business in Esther’s day either. So how does God work today? Not through miracles, but through his providence. He arranges for his will to be done through normal, every-day circumstances. And because of this, sometimes it seems like he’s not there. Do you know what that’s like? To be beside yourself with some care or concern and to have God conspicuously silent? It’s very troubling. You can wonder if you’re truly God’s child. This is, no doubt, how the Jews of Esther’s day felt. “Are we really still God’s covenant people? He’s silent to us these days.”

But have you also experienced God delivering you from your trials – not through direct supernatural means – but through his normal ordinary every-day providence? Do you ever look back at such deliverances and marvel at how God orchestrated every piece to fall into place at the right time? Again, this too is what the Jews of Esther’s day experienced… So, the book of Esther should resonate with us. It’s a book about a God who is pretty much silent… and yet active. This silent God leads his people through normal – yet, sometimes amazing – circumstances and thereby shows them that they are still his people… So, the message of this great book is: God leads his people providentially.

Nehemiah 13 KJV Sermon, About, Explanation, Sunday School Lesson

This is our 16th lesson in our study through the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. And if you’re keeping track, today we’re on the last chapter of Nehemiah.

Next time I plan to have us overview the book of Esther. And then we’ll spend 5 more lessons studying through that book in its entirety. I’m excited about that study. I think we’ll learn a lot from a book that we might not know as well as we think we do.

Well, this study through Ezra and Nehemiah has been quite a ride, hasn’t it? We started back in Ezra chapter 1. There we saw the Persian King Cyrus issue a decree that allowed all Jews to return to their homeland. We saw a number of the Jews take advantage of Cyrus’ decree. And the descendants of the ones who didn’t return we’ll learn about next week when we study the book of Esther!

Once the people got to their homeland they gave a lot of money to the Lord’s work of restoring the Temple. But the people really seem to have lapsed in their dedication to see that work even start. In fact it appeared that God had to kind-of stir-up the hearts of the enemies around the Jews to frighten the Jews and thereby get them to start the work of rebuilding the Temple. So the Jews started rebuilding the Temple.

They rebuilt the altar and the foundation of the Temple – the ground upon which the Temple would rest. And when they had these two items completed they celebrated. They were so thankful for God’s mercy and providence in leading them back to the land and helping them start the work. They rejoiced so loud that others heard. These others certainly weren’t rejoicing that God’s work was being accomplished. And so these enemies opposed the work the Jews were doing. They hindered the rebuilding of the Temple. As a result, that work was stopped for over a decade.

The situation looked bleak. That is, until the prophets Haggai and Zechariah came and preached to the people. With renewed vigor, the leaders Zerubbabel and Jeshua led the people in rebuilding the Temple. Then they celebrated the completion of that Temple. They even celebrated the Passover there.

Then we have several decades of silence between Ezra chapter 6 and Ezra chapter 7. In Ezra 7, we finally see the namesake of this book – Ezra. He was a priest and scribe. He knew God’s word very well. And King Artaxerxes sends him and a group of Jews with him back to Jerusalem to – get this – make sure that the Jews are keeping the Law of God. What a perfect job for Ezra.

After an extended exposition of how he got to Jerusalem, he finally gets there and takes a little break for a few days. What did Ezra find when he got to Jerusalem? The people had been intermarrying with pagans. That’s what was happening in those decades since Zerubbabel passed off the scene. So the rest of the book of Ezra details how he dealt with that issue of disobedience among God’s people.

That brings us to the book we’re finishing today – the book of Nehemiah. You recall that the book started out with Nehemiah hearing that the Jews were not well as a people and that their city was desolate. So Nehemiah got permission from King Artaxerxes who gave him leave to come to Jerusalem. We’ll find out today that Nehemiah was there in Jerusalem for 12 years. What’s amazing is that within the first few months of arriving in Jerusalem, Nehemiah and the Jews managed to fend-off fierce opposition and to rebuild the walls.

After that the people started re-inhabiting Jerusalem. They also entered the city and made a number of resolutions and promises. Do you remember the promises they made? What was the nature of those promises? You could boil them down to what they were promising not to forsake. The Jews promised God that they would not forsake his word or his place of worship. In particular they promised not to forsake the Temple, not to treat the 7th day of the week as common, and not to marry pagans. Remember those three particulars for the rest of this lesson – Temple, Sabbath, Intermarriage.

Then last week’s lesson. Having made their resolutions, the Jews celebrated the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem. There was great joy and rejoicing. Do you remember that? The people had separated themselves from the pagans like Sanballat and Tobiah. They were paying their ministers for their sacred services and rejoicing in those ministers. To summarize Ezra 1 to Nehemiah 12, verse 47 ends on this note: “And all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel, and in the days of Nehemiah, gave the portions of the singers and the porters, every day his portion: and they sanctified holy things unto the Levites; and the Levites sanctified them unto the children of Aaron.” Wonderful. The Jews did right when Zerubbabel was around and when Nehemiah was in charge.

Nehemiah 13:1-2

So with those very happy facts in mind, let’s enter into Nehemiah 13. We’ll start by reading the first 3 verses.

On that day they read in the book of Moses in the audience of the people; and therein was found written, that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God for ever; 2 Because they met not the children of Israel with bread and with water, but hired Balaam against them, that he should curse them: howbeit our God turned the curse into a blessing. 3 Now it came to pass, when they had heard the law, that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude.

So this section starts off on a good note. The people are reading in the law again. It’s always a good thing to be reading God’s word. And they find a particular passage that reminds them that Ammonites and Moabites must not be allowed to enter the congregation. Why? Because almost 1,000 years ago when Moses was bringing the people up into the Promised Land, these two groups hired that old false prophet Balaam to curse the Israelites. But the God of the Israelites back then who was still the same God of the Jews in Nehemiah’s day, he turned that curse into a blessing. But because of this action, God forbade Ammonites and Moabites from entering the assembly of God’s people. So the Israelites kick out the “mixed multitude.”

Nehemiah 13:4-7

Now, is this a good thing? You say, “Well of course it is! They’re obeying God.” You’re right. But here’s my point. How did this mixed multitude get back in amongst the Jews? Remember that during the Jews’ New Year’s observance (ch 9) they separated themselves from all foreigners. Let’s read verses 4-7 for some help in understanding this concerning situation.

And before this, Eliashib the priest, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God, was allied unto Tobiah: 5 And he had prepared for him a great chamber, where aforetime they laid the meat offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the corn, the new wine, and the oil, which was commanded to be given to the Levites, and the singers, and the porters; and the offerings of the priests. 6 But in all this time was not I at Jerusalem: for in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon came I unto the king, and after certain days obtained I leave of the king: 7 And I came to Jerusalem, and understood of the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God.

OK, let’s try to piece together what happened here. Nehemiah originally arrived in Jerusalem in the 20th year of Artaxerxes. He returns to the king in the 32nd year. That would seem to indicate that Nehemiah was in Jerusalem for 12 years – maybe the whole time, maybe part of the time, I don’t know. But his presence was there for 12-some years. He left eventually. Maybe he thought his work was done. Who knows? We don’t know how long he was gone or why he returned. But some time had passed and Nehemiah, in Babylon, apparently wondered how the Jews were doing. So he came back. And what did he find? The obedient joy-filled rejoicers of Nehemiah chapter 12? No. He found a priest named Eliashib. He’s just a regular priest, not the high priest. We hear about the high priest at the end of this chapter. But Eliashib the priest did something really bad. He allowed an Ammonite to enter into the congregation of God. The name of that Ammonite? Yes, Tobiah, our old enemy. Why would Eliashib do such a thing? Note that the text says he was related to Tobiah. I wonder how that happened… The Jews haven’t intermarried with pagans again, have they?! We’ll see. But for now, the main issue Nehemiah discovered is that Tobiah, a most unholy and antagonistic enemy of God and his people, was given a room in the holiest building in the holiest place on the face of the world by a man who was supposed to be holy to the Lord – a priest. So does this situation give you an idea of the broader context? Does it make sense now why the people are needing to kick out the pagans all over again? Even a priest among the Jews let the pagans in. He gave him access to their most revered building.

Nehemiah 13:8-9

How do you think Nehemiah felt about this? How would you feel if you were him? Let’s read verses 8 and 9.

And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber. 9 Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat offering and the frankincense.

Nehemiah wasn’t indifferent about Eliashib’s profaning of the Temple by giving a pagan a room in that very Temple. It grieved him sore! He took appropriate action based on his holy grief. So he threw all of Tobiah’s household stuff out of the Temple and had the rooms ritually purified. Then Nehemiah returned all the things that had been cleared away to make room for Tobiah.

Nehemiah 13:10

Now, of course we all understand that Tobiah was allowed to reside in the Temple. We’re probably all bothered by that. But have you gone any further than that? Has it occurred to you that the Temple is a pretty happening place most of the time? With all the sacrifices and the ministers to offer those sacrifices, the place must have been continually busy. How was it that Tobiah could have found any extra room in the Temple with all of this activity going on? Let’s read verse 10.

And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field.

So the Levites and singers were gone. Where did they go? To their fields. Why did they return to their fields? Because the people weren’t paying them to minister. So here’s how I think Eliashib’s mind worked: “Well, the people aren’t paying us ministers, to the point that most of us have left the ministry and gone to work secular jobs. So these days the Temple is pretty quiet. There’s a lot of room, now that the Levites and singers are all gone. And Uncle Tobiah or cousin Tobiah or whomever he was to Eliashib – this guy is wondering if I could put him up in Jerusalem. There’s room here in the Temple. Surely, no one would notice. It’s not like there’s anything going on in the Temple these days anyway…” And so Eliashib let Tobiah the pagan Ammonite into the Temple. I assume Tobiah is one of the foreigners whom the Jews kick out earlier in this passage.

Nehemiah 13:11

So the Levites had to return to a life of farming. Is that such a bad thing? Let’s see what Nehemiah thinks. Read verse 11.

Then contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together, and set them in their place.

So Nehemiah finds fault with the rulers. Apparently it was they who should have been ensuring that the ministers were getting their pay. And what does he ask them? “Why is the house of God forsaken?” How/in what manner do you think Nehemiah asks this question? Narrative is interesting because it leaves a number of things unsaid. But at the same time it gives us clues and draws us into the story line so that we should get a pretty good idea of what’s going on. I imagine Nehemiah a bit bewildered. I can imagine the meeting between him and the rulers. He’s standing there looking at each one of them. The rulers are silent. Nehemiah asserts his question to them – “Why?” No response… Why is it such a big deal that the house of God had been forsaken? I mean, beyond the fact that God’s things ought never to be forsaken, there’s something else. Do you remember two lessons ago when the Jews were making their New Year’s resolutions? They wrote a number of promises and had everyone sign their name to it. Do you remember the last promise they made? They uttered this promise — “we will not forsake the house of God.” And what had they done now? They forsook the house of God. They broke their promise to God. And in this light, Nehemiah’s bewilderment is understandable.

Nehemiah 13:12-13

But Nehemiah doesn’t remain incredulous and bewildered at God’s sinning people. He acts to correct the wrong that had been done. Let’s read the details in verses 12 and 13.

Then brought all Judah the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries. 13 And I made treasurers over the treasuries, Shelemiah the priest, and Zadok the scribe, and of the Levites, Pedaiah: and next to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah: for they were counted faithful, and their office was to distribute unto their brethren.

So Nehemiah influenced all of Judah to start bringing the ministers’ salary to the Temple once more. Then he put some people in charge of distributing this pay to their brothers. I think it’s interesting that Nehemiah assigns one person from each ministerial group – a priest, a Levite, and a scribe. They had a reputation of faithfulness. So they could be trusted to carry out their office.

Nehemiah 13:14

This was apparently a fairly big burden for Nehemiah. The Jews had broken their promise to God. They indeed did forsake the Temple. Nehemiah had put his name to that document they all signed. I sense that he’s concerned about that – that a promise that he had signed on to had been broken. And so he talks to God about it. Read verse 14.

Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof.

Nehemiah was one of the ones who promised not to forsake God’s house. So he’s concerned that God remember his best efforts at getting the people to take care of God’s place of worship.

I haven’t given the message a title yet. This is kind of becoming my custom. But one reason I haven’t done so is really because I’m not quite sure what this last chapter intends to communicate to us. Is the message focusing on Nehemiah and his faithfulness? Should we be focused on the Jews who broke their covenant yet again with their God? Are we supposed to be yearning for a ruler of the Jews – perhaps a King of the Jews – who would take his people’s best intentions of not forsaking God and make these intentions an internal matter so that God’s people wouldn’t stray anymore? By the end of this chapter, God still has not forsaken his people, despite their awful forsaking of him. Are we supposed to be encouraged that God won’t forsake those with whom he’s entered into a covenant? The fact is that all of these ideas are probably in view here. Now, this is a jarring chapter. It’s one that starts on a very high and positive note. But then Nehemiah pulls the rug out from under the reader with the harsh reality of sin among God’s people. So what’s the message of this chapter?

Whatever else the passage may be aiming to communicate, I do know what I see here. I see a godly leader – Nehemiah. I see him correcting God’s sinning people. And so I think I can’t go wrong by pointing out that the activity of this chapter – and subsequently the title of this message – is “A godly leader corrects God’s sinning people.” Again, I’m guessing that there’s something deeper in view. But on the surface at least, this is what’s happening in this chapter. So, we’re seeing a godly leader correct God’s sinning people. Nehemiah did this when the people sinned by forsaking God’s house. Without even consulting Eliashib or Tobiah he threw the latter’s stuff out of the Temple. Nehemiah reprimanded the rulers for neglecting to ensure that the ministers were paid. Then he got God’s people to start doing right in that area and appointed those who could perpetuate that pattern of obedience.

Sometimes as a godly leader in a home or in the church or anywhere else, you’re going to need to make decisions that are unpopular. This fact probably doesn’t surprise you. When you know something is right to do and you have the authority to make sure it’s happening, sometimes you don’t need to form a committee to make sure everyone’s OK with you doing it. You just need to do it. And sometimes you need to confront those who should know better and should be doing right. But for whatever reason they’re not doing it. And in those cases a bewildered question like “why are you forsaking God?” is all you’ll be able to utter in your dismay.

Nehemiah 13:15

Well, I’m sure glad Nehemiah corrected God’s sinning people. But if you think his work is over, you need to keep reading. Nehemiah saw a few more things that were very disturbing. Let’s read verse 15.

In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals.

Nehemiah 13:16

The people were doing secular common work on the 7th day of the week. And what is Nehemiah’s response? He testified against them. This term has somewhat of a range of possible meanings. It can mean testify. It can mean admonish. It can mean warn. It can mean to bear witness. So what Nehemiah did was to verbally address these people and call attention to their sin. Now, who were the people who did wrong in verse 15? All we know is that these were some people in Judah. And they were breaking the Jewish Sabbath ordinance. But did you know that it wasn’t just the Jews who were involved in this? There were some Gentiles involved as well. Read verse 16.

There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem.

Nehemiah 13:17-18

These men from Tyre were selling on the 7th day of the week – even in the holy city Jerusalem. How does Nehemiah deal with these folks? He actually addressed not the men of Tyre but the men of Jerusalem. Let’s read verses 17 and 18.

Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day? 18 Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath.

Nehemiah takes his complaint to those in charge. He again asks a question to God’s sinning people – “What is this that you’re doing? You’re treating the Sabbath day as common!” The reasoning Nehemiah gives next is really thought-provoking. He appeals to them to do right on the basis of their fathers’ sins. One of the major reasons God sent Judah into Exile is that they would not observe his Sabbath days as he prescribed in the Law. God let the people return to their homeland only after the land had enjoyed some Sabbath rest. The last statement in Nehemiah’s confrontation of the people indicates that at least in his mind God’s wrath had already been kindled against the Jews. By sinning in this way they were adding to that wrath.

As a godly leader when you try to correct God’s sinning people, it is appropriate to point out to them their sin. Its right to point out what that sin has done to others in times-past. God’s wrath was spent on Christ, ultimately. But his wrath is still revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness.  It’s upon the sons who are characterized by disobedience. “Why”, you can ask God’s sinning people, “why are you acting like one of those toward whom God is wrathful?”

Nehemiah 13:19-22

But a godly leader doesn’t just admonish people to do right. He actually helps them along in doing right. Let’s read verses 19-22.

And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day. 20 So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice. 21 Then I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth came they no more on the sabbath. 22 And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should come and keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day. Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy.

So when it started getting dark before the 7th day of the week Nehemiah would have the gates shut. When the 7th day ended the gates could be opened. This should have settled the issue. And yet the merchants didn’t get the hint. So Nehemiah needed to be pretty direct with them. He was going to lay hands on those people if they spent the night outside the wall again! And I love the follow-up that Nehemiah states – “from that time forth they didn’t come again on the Sabbath.” Then Nehemiah had some of those Levites come who recently came back from their career as farmers. He made them gate keepers, so that Nehemiah wouldn’t need to be continually involved in this process of making sure that the Sabbath was observed to the specifications of the Mosaic law.

So as a godly leader, it’s appropriate to put up barriers that would help those who are under you to obey God and walk in his ways. As godly leaders an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you know that a certain friend or activity is a bad influence on those who are under your care then it’s appropriate to change their situation to avoid these things.

Now what was the big deal with keeping the Sabbath, you wonder? Well of course the Lord commanded the children of Israel to keep it in the Law. But also do you remember that this too was a promise that the Jews made to God along with their promise to nor forsake the Temple? Yes, the people in their New Year’s resolution promised to observe the Sabbath and not buy any wares on that day. But just like their promise regarding the Temple, they broke this promise as well. And Nehemiah doesn’t want to be associated with the rebellion. So he prays to God as we saw at the end of verse 22.

Nehemiah 13:23-24

So when Nehemiah was away the people did play. They forsook the Temple. They broke the Sabbath. What else could they possibly have done? I’ll give you a hint. It’s the same sin that Ezra confronted almost 30 years ago. Read verses 23 and 24.

In those days also saw I Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab: 24 And their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of each people.

So in opposition to God’s command that no Ammonite or Moabite should enter God’s congregation, some of the men had married these pagan women. And the product of these marriages was not wholesome. None of the offspring from these relationships held to a Jewish identity. They didn’t identify with God’s people. The Jews weren’t being an influence on the pagans. It was exactly the opposite. The pagans were influencing the Jews – and even how they raised their children.

Nehemiah 13:25-27

This was very troubling to this godly leader. I think it’s in this last section that we see the extent of Nehemiah’s desperation. Let’s read verses 25 through 27.

And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves. 26 Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel: nevertheless even him did outlandish women cause to sin. 27 Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to transgress against our God in marrying strange wives?

How is this for conflict management? What book out there is going to counsel you in your disagreements with others to strike them and pull out their hair? Stop and think about this. What did Nehemiah do? What was the content of his cursing? I doubt it consisted of vulgarity like we think when we speak of cursing. Was he calling down God’s judgment against them? Was it something a little less harsh? What about the striking? He got close enough to hit some of these people. Did he strike with an open hand – kind of like a slap? Or did he ball-up his fist and let it fly? Did he use a rod? Where was he aiming? For the face? The shoulder? The mid-section? And as for this pulling out hair, did the person whose hair was being pulled stand still? Was the person running as Nehemiah yanked some hair out of his head or beard? Really, this can be somewhat humorous to think about. But it certainly wasn’t a laughing matter with Nehemiah or those who married the pagan women.

I think that it goes without saying, but I’ll say it any way. I wouldn’t advocate this kind of action to us today. Nehemiah was in a different position than we are. But can we agree about something? It’s OK as a godly leader to get heated. If not, then what do we make of Jesus making a whip and driving people from the Temple? The zeal of the Lord can consume us. But be careful that it is the Lord’s zeal and not your own selfish zeal.

Nehemiah also makes the people swear that they won’t marry pagans again. And if you’ve followed the plot line in Ezra and Nehemiah this can be almost amusing. The people didn’t follow their first vow to not intermarry with pagans. They didn’t follow their second vow. What’s to say this new oath would be any more effective in stopping this aberrant sinful practice? Well, Nehemiah makes them swear anyway. What else can he do? Then Nehemiah reminds the people of a great king of old – Solomon. How does he fit with this situation? Well, remember that Solomon was one of the greatest kings in Israel’s history. God set his love on him even as a child. Do you remember that? In 2 Samuel 12 God sent Nathan the prophet to Solomon’s parents – David and Bathsheba. He let them know that God loved this child. So they actually gave him a second name – Jedidiah, which means beloved by the Lord. He’s the only one to whom that name was given. And God as you know gave Solomon great possessions and great wisdom. God even personally appeared to this man and let Solomon ask him for whatever he wanted. Solomon was a man who was loved by God. And yet how do we see his life end? He married pagan women. And what did they do to him? They turned his heart from the Lord. Nehemiah’s argument is: “If someone as favored by God as Solomon was caused to stumble by these foreign women, are you really going to fare any better?”

Nehemiah 13:28-29

The most irksome part for Nehemiah was that this transgression wasn’t limited to the lay people. The ministers were involved in it as well. Let’s read verses 28 and 29.

And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was son in law to Sanballat the Horonite: therefore I chased him from me. 29 Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites.

We saw an Eliashib at the beginning of this chapter. He was just a priest. This Eliashib that we just read about is actually the high priest. The former Eliashib was related to Tobiah. Who is this Eliashib related to? Sanballat. And actually it wasn’t Eliashib the high priest himself who did the wrong. It was his grandson. Nehemiah drove this man away. Why? Because, as Nehemiah states in his prayer, this young man had defiled the priesthood. Leviticus 21 tells us that the high priest needed to marry a virgin among the daughters of his people. Any one of the sons of the high priest could potentially become the high priest himself. So by marrying a pagan, this son of Joiada had defiled the priesthood and broken the rules concerning whom the high priest must marry.

There’s a time for godly leaders to separate from those who are doing wrong. But beyond that, Nehemiah made it a matter of prayer. This situation was so concerning to him that he turned from praying for himself to praying regarding these priests who defiled their covenant. His is not really a prayer for restoration. It’s a prayer that God would remember them for the evil they’ve done.

Nehemiah 13:30-31

Nehemiah ends this exhausting chapter with verses 30 and 31. Let’s read those.

Thus cleansed I them from all strangers, and appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business; 31 And for the wood offering, at times appointed, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.

Nehemiah catalogs what he did for God’s sinning people. He got rid of the foreigners. He appointed people to take care of the ministers. He arranged for those ministers to get the materials they needed to minister. And then he ends this entire book. I don’t know how to describe this statement he makes. How do we take it? It sounds – and I mean no disrespect to this godly leader – but it sounds pathetic. After mentioning all these mundane things he did – and knowing that his actions aren’t going to solve all the problems — he manages to utter “remember me, O my God, for good.” As a godly leader, there are times when the sins of God’s people will bewilder you. They will test your patience and sanity. They will bring you very low and humble you deeply. But however strong or weak is our cry, we can still take recourse to our God and trust that he truly knows our hearts and will remember us.

So, we’ve seen in this chapter that a godly leader corrects God’s sinning people.

You know, even after all of this sin and failure, the Jews were still God’s covenant people. They were in the land. They had the Temple. They had ministers and sacrifices, when Nehemiah was around, at least. And I think this was a question that was on the minds of the Jews after the Exile: “Are we still God’s covenant people? We broke the covenant. Has God abandoned us?” I think throughout the book of Nehemiah we’ve seen that God indeed had not abandoned his people. In particular, he hadn’t abandoned the people who returned to Israel. But what about those Jews who never returned to Israel? Were they still God’s covenant people? We’ll see if we can figure that out next week when we start studying the book of Esther.

Nehemiah 12, KJV Sermon, About, Explained, Sunday School Lesson

OK, now on to Nehemiah 12. And what do we have but more lists!

Nehemiah 12:1-11

So, what are these lists enumerating? Read 12:1.

Now these are the priests and the Levites that went up with Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua…

So we’re going back to the time covered at the beginning of the book of Ezra. But now we’re not talking about all the people – just the ministers – the priests and Levites who returned with Zerubbabel. The priests themselves are mentioned from the end of verse 1 to verse 7. Then the Levites who came originally are mentioned in verses 8 and 9. And verses 10 and 11 serve as a transition to the next list.

Nehemiah 12:10-11

Let’s read 12:10-11.

And Jeshua begat Joiakim, Joiakim also begat Eliashib, and Eliashib begat Joiada, 11 And Joiada begat Jonathan, and Jonathan begat Jaddua.

How is this a transition, you ask? This short list details the succession of high priests that lived from the days of Zerubbabel to the days of Nehemiah. And this list serves as a chronological guidepost so that as we read through the next two lists in this chapter we’ll kind of have an idea of where we stand chronologically.

Nehemiah 12:12-21

So for instance verses 12 through 21 comprise another list. It’s a list of the heads of fathers’ households among the priests. But from what time period? Ah, it says from the days of Joiakim. When was that? Well remember from verses 10 and 11 – he was the son of Jeshua. Remember Jeshua? The one who came with Zerubbabel at the beginning of the book of Ezra? OK. So I trust we see how verses 10-11 help us get a sense of where we are in the time line of history.

Nehemiah 12:22-25

Now, as we’ve said, verses 12 through 21 detailed some priests. And of course you can’t have priests without Levites. So verses 22 through 25 talk about Levites.

Nehemiah 12:22-23

And chronologically what time are we talking about here? Read verses 22 and 23.

The Levites in the days of Eliashib, Joiada, and Johanan, and Jaddua, were recorded chief of the fathers: also the priests, to the reign of Darius the Persian. 23 The sons of Levi, the chief of the fathers, were written in the book of the chronicles, even until the days of Johanan the son of Eliashib.

So, under the 4 most recent high priests, the chief of the fathers of the Levites were recorded. And that’s just like the priests, from verses 12-21, were recorded in the days of Darius the Persian. And further, the Levites were recorded in a book of chronicles until Johanan. So at some point either during or after Johanan’s high priesthood this practice of recording the Levites in a book of chronicles ended.

Nehemiah 12:24-25

And then those Levites who had been recorded are listed in verses 24 and 25.

Nehemiah 12:26

And here’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for – verse 26 – the end of the lists in these two chapters! Let’s read it.

These were in the days of Joiakim the son of Jeshua, the son of Jozadak, and in the days of Nehemiah the governor, and of Ezra the priest, the scribe.

I think this is just saying that some of the previous ministers he listed were active when Jeshua’s son was around and the others were active during Ezra’s tenure in Jerusalem.

So now I hope you have a better grasp on what these lists mean. We’ve gone through each one, not in great detail, but in as much detail as I think we need in order to be able to explain what each list covers. So we know the content of each list. But there’s a deeper question that we’d like to have answered, I think. Yes, we know the content of the lists, but… why are those lists there? Why did Nehemiah decided to include these lists? Well, there are a few reasons. One we kind of already saw. Nehemiah was interested in telling us who lived in Jerusalem. Remember? He stated that there were few people there. And then God put it into his heart to reckon the people by genealogy. And so he wanted to state the result of that reckoning and who exactly lived in Jerusalem after it was over. So that’s one reason for these lists. But there’s another reason. Did you notice the subtle shift in the contents of those lists? It went from just lay-folks to then enumerating the priests and Levites and gatekeepers, etc. What class would you group priests and Levites into in the Old Testament? They were ministers. So the focus of the lists shifts to ministers exclusively. Why?

Nehemiah 12:27

Let’s move on from the lists to a section of narrative and read verse 27.

And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites out of all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem, to keep the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings, and with singing, with cymbals, psalteries, and with harps.

So, there’s been all this building anticipation for ministers in those lists of chapters 11 and 12 all for this moment. We’re talking about ministers, ministers, ministers, they did this, they’re the sons of this great man in Israel’s history, they were appointed by that great Israelite king, etc. And now – the crescendo! Here’s why these people are so important. The people are finally dedicating the wall. You haven’t forgotten about the wall, have you? The Jews completed it in 52 days. Remember all the opposition? It was intense. But they got it done. Do you sense some parallels to how the Jews in the book of Ezra completed the Temple in the midst of intense opposition? So the people seek the Levites from wherever they’re living to come to the dedication. And the people are happy about this. They’re rejoicing. They want to celebrate with gladness, thanksgivings, singing, and all sorts of musical instruments. They want skilled musicians. And that’s just what they get.

Nehemiah 12:28-29

Read verses 28 and 29.

And the sons of the singers gathered themselves together, both out of the plain country round about Jerusalem, and from the villages of Netophathi; 29 Also from the house of Gilgal, and out of the fields of Geba and Azmaveth: for the singers had builded them villages round about Jerusalem.

So the singers come from all over the place – wherever they happened to be living.

Nehemiah 12:30

Well, that’s just the singers. What about all the priests and Levites we’ve been talking about? Read verse 30.

And the priests and the Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, and the gates, and the wall.

So, there are the priests and Levites. By the way, the singers probably would have been classified as Levites. But anyway, now we see the whole group of ministers there. And they’re engaged in some ministerial activity, as ministers tend to do. They’re purifying themselves and the people. And they’re purifying the gates and the wall that they’re about to dedicate. This is something only those priests and Levites could do. The non-ministerial folks couldn’t engage in this kind of ceremonial activity.

Nehemiah 12:31

Well, what do they do next? Let’s read verse 31.

Then I brought up the princes of Judah upon the wall, and appointed two great companies of them that gave thanks, whereof one went on the right hand upon the wall toward the dung gate:

Nehemiah brings some people up on the wall. Take that, Tobiah! Right? Do you remember Tobiah’s mocking earlier in this book? What kind of animal did he think would knock down the wall if it jumped up on it? A fox. A tiny little fox. Tobiah said that if such a creature were to jump up onto the wall it would break down the Jews’ stone wall. He had a great laugh about that. Well, who’s laughing now? There’s no fox up on that wall now. Rather, all the leaders of Judah are up on that wall. And it’s holding them pretty well. And notice who’s actually up there. The princes of Judah. I’m not sure if this is Judah to the exclusion of Benjamin. I think more likely Judah refers to the nation as a whole. So, all the leaders from both Judah and Benjamin are up on the wall.

Further, Nehemiah appoints two great companies that gave thanks. A number of translations take this to mean “choirs.” And that’s reasonable. So, let’s talk about the first large company. Where do they go once they’re up on the wall? They move toward the Dung Gate. Remember that that gate is on the city’s south side.

Nehemiah 12:32-36

Then verses 32 through 36 tell us a little bit about the composition of this first group. Half of the leaders of Judah were in this group. Additionally, there were some priests with trumpets. There was also a son of Asaph, the renowned singer of old. They even had musical instruments from David the man of God. And they had Ezra leading them on the wall.

Nehemiah 12:37

And lastly according to verse 37 this group went from the Dung Gate on the south north-east to the Water Gate. And we’ll see in just a few moments that they kept going north.

Nehemiah 12:38

So that’s the first group. What about the second group? Let’s read verse 38.

And the other company of them that gave thanks went over against them, and I after them, and the half of the people upon the wall, from beyond the tower of the furnaces even unto the broad wall;

Where did this group go? Our English translation here says this group went “over against them.” This phrase can also be translated as “opposite them.” Let me just say a word about how someone who doesn’t know Hebrew could get to the bottom of this matter. First, consult other good translations. I trust that this suggestion isn’t controversial in this assembly. You don’t have to agree with every translational decision that other good versions make. But you can respect their honest effort and perhaps gain from their labors. So that’s my first suggestion. And then, second, of course context is so crucial to helping us understand the Bible. Let’s consider the context of this passage. Remember, we’re talking about two large groups going up on the wall. One of the groups starts walking on the wall in a northeastern direction. The other group also starts walking. And they go in some direction, which is still a mystery to us. Then eventually – you don’t know this yet but – both of these groups end up in the same place. So picture the wall as a circle. The two groups start at the bottom of the circle. One group goes to the right and waits for the other group. So that other group would have to go what direction to meet that first group? The opposite direction. OK, I hope that’s helpful. So this second group starts on the south part of the wall and travels northwest.

Nehemiah 12:40

I mentioned that these two groups meet eventually. Where do they meet? Let’s read verse 40.

So stood the two companies of them that gave thanks in the house of God, and I, and the half of the rulers with me:

Ah, so the two groups meet in the Temple. Nehemiah is there. The leaders are there. There are priests with trumpets. There are singers doing what they do best.

Nehemiah 12:43

What’s the result? Verse 43.

Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced: for God had made them rejoice with great joy: the wives also and the children rejoiced: so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off.

The ministers and leaders – really, I think all the people – offered great sacrifices that day. Everyone was rejoicing. Did you catch how many times the word joy or rejoice is in this verse? I count 5 times out of 36 English words in that verse. Even the wives and little children rejoiced. And the result of that is that their joy was heard from afar. Now, remember back to the dedication we saw in the book of Ezra. The people rejoiced greatly on that occasion as well. At that point they were simply dedicating the foundation of the Temple. Perhaps their joy was a little premature at that time. Because what happened after they rejoiced at that dedication? The enemy immediately started opposing and discouraging the people and the work stopped for over a decade. So, having read Ezra, I’m inclined to wonder if some enemy is going to start opposing again. But you know what I discover? The enemy isn’t opposing anymore. They’ve been beaten back. The Jews don’t have to fear opposition from the enemy anymore. They have walls to protect their holy city. They have a Temple. They have a godly leader in Nehemiah and godly ministers to lead them in worshiping their great God. These are all causes for great unhindered joy and rejoicing!

Now, I haven’t given a title for the message yet. And we’re almost done with the lesson so I better give one soon here. The title of the message and I believe the message of the passage is twofold. The first part of the title is “Rejoice in the Lord.” That’s what the Jews were doing. Have you experienced some great deliverance in the last 365 days? Have you experienced some improvement in your situation? Has the Lord helped you to persevere through some trial? And you’re still among us. Has he been good to you in any way? Then, rejoice in the Lord. That’s the first part of this lesson’s title. Let’s move on to the last scene in our text for the second part.

Nehemiah 12:44-47

At first I actually wondered if verses 44 through 47 happened at the same time as the dedication of the walls. Now I’m pretty sure that they did. So if you have notes from our overview of Nehemiah you might have a note that says that Nehemiah was gone for 12 years. Cross that out and put in its place, “Paul made a mistake.” That happens when finite humans are trying their best to interpret God’s perfect word. At any rate, I think verses 44 through 47 happen very closely in time to the dedication of the Temple.

Nehemiah 12:44

Well, what happens in these verses? Read verse 44.

And at that time were some appointed over the chambers for the treasures, for the offerings, for the firstfruits, and for the tithes, to gather into them out of the fields of the cities the portions of the law for the priests and Levites: for Judah rejoiced for the priests and for the Levites that waited.

The Jews appoint people to supervise the places where the ministers’ pay would have been stored. Why were they now concerned that the ministers receive their just wages? The last phrase of verse 44 says that Judah rejoiced in their ministers. There’s that concept of joy again. The people rejoiced in the Lord and in their ministers.

Nehemiah 12:45

Why did they rejoice in their ministers? Verse 45.

And both the singers and the porters kept the ward of their God, and the ward of the purification, according to the commandment of David, and of Solomon his son.

The people rejoiced in their ministers – like the Levitical singers and the porters or the gatekeepers – because these ministers “kept the ward” or in modern English they served their God and they purified what needed to be purified. And they did this according to the biblical command of David and of Solomon in the Scripture.

Nehemiah 12:46

And verse 46 tells us this is the way it had been done for centuries, according to God’s command. So Israel rejoiced in their ministers. And that’s the second part of the message title – “Rejoice in the Lord and in his ministers.”

It’s often easier to rejoice in the Lord than to rejoice in his ministers. After all, his ministers are frail and weak. God is almighty. Ministers are subject to error. God is not. Ministers have the flesh and can fall and fail in really any number of areas to one degree or another. God never fails. There’s no darkness at all in him. He’s not tempted with evil. And so it’s easier to rejoice in the Lord than in his ministers. And yet we see here the Jews rejoicing in the Lord and in his ministers. Why the ministers? Not because they were perfect. Not because they were people persons. But because they were doing the best they could to carry out what God commanded to ministers just like them in his word so very long ago. Catch that. That’s why the Jews are rejoicing in their ministers. Because these ministers were trying their best to be biblical in carrying out their ministries.

You know, it’s possible to claim to be rejoicing in the Lord and yet to despise the ministers he’s given you. Whether we’re talking about situations at church, at home, or at school, in a Christian environment there are ministers of God all over the place – people who are serving you for God’s sake and because of what God has commanded them in his word. And you and I can far too easily act as if the minister is nothing. After all, God is all that matters. And in a sense that’s true. But God uses ministers as ones who deliver help and benefits to his people. Don’t shun the minister. Don’t despise him. Support him. Recognize that — where you are being served by someone who loves God and is trying to do his will as best he knows how — you are a recipient of grace through that individual. And rejoice in that minister and make every attempt to honor and encourage him.

Nehemiah 12:47

And that leads us to the last verse of this section. Let’s finally read verse 47.

And all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel, and in the days of Nehemiah, gave the portions of the singers and the porters, every day his portion: and they sanctified holy things unto the Levites; and the Levites sanctified them unto the children of Aaron.

This is wonderful. The people are giving what’s due to their ministers – to the singers, and porters, to the Levites, and to the priests, the sons of Aaron. This is how it should work — God’s people rejoicing in the Lord and in his ministers. And this necessarily takes the form of providing a living for these full-time ministers. What a happy ending. Jerusalem is completely rebuilt. The people have no fear of the enemies surrounding them. They have ministers who are serving according to God’s word. And they have a godly leader in Nehemiah to ensure all of this happens. Just one second. Look at the first clause of verse 47. When did all of these wonderful things happen? Back in the days of Zerubbabel, who was by that time gone for several decades. And in the days of Nehemiah. When those two were around things were good. You know, I wonder. Just like Zerubbabel, Nehemiah is going to have to leave his position of leadership in Jerusalem at some point. It’s inevitable. Remember, Nehemiah is still an employee, if you will, of king Artaxerxes. And remember back in the beginning of this book how Artaxerxes asked how long Nehemiah would be away? Nehemiah gave him a certain time frame. That means he’s going to need to leave Jerusalem at some point. I wonder what happens when he’s gone. Lord-willing that’s what we’ll see next Sunday when we study the last chapter of this book.

But until then, with God’s help, let’s make every effort to Rejoice in the Lord and in his ministers.