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God is Faithful to His Promise

Esther, Chapter 9

I recently delivered a message from the book of Esther about the faithfulness of God, who is sovereignly at work in our lives, sometimes in ways that are obvious, and sometimes from behind the scenes. If you know the story of Esther and Mordechai (see Esther Part 1and Esther Part 2), you will remember that it is an example of God at work from behind the scenes. It did not just happen that, when the king of Persia made an impulsive decision to divorce his wife, he selected a Jewish girl as his Queen. It did not just happen that Mordechai, Esther’s uncle, overheard a plot to assassinate the king and was able to get word to him through Esther to save his life. It did not just happen that the king was favorably disposed to Esther and welcomed her, uninvited, into his presence and granted her wish for two banquets. It did not just happen that the king couldn’t sleep one night – and it did not just happen that he turned to the account of Mordechai’s loyalty when he read the official records to make him drowsy. It did not just happen that there was a grand reversal of the future of Haman, the enemy of the Jews, and Mordechai, the advocate for the Jews. And, it did not just happen that the king was favorably disposed to Esther and Mordechai in granting a reprieve to the edict that encouraged people to massacre the Jews. In all of these events, God was at work behind the scenes.

There is one more act of God’s sovereignty from behind the scenes that brings final resolution to the story of Mordechai and Esther, and that drives home the truth of the faithfulness of God. In Chapter 9 of Esther, the King of Persia grants Mordechai and Esther the ability to make an edict that counters another edict that gave the citizens of Persia permission to attack and potentially annihilate the Jews who lived anywhere in the empire. This new edict gave the Jews permission to defend themselves, and even take the offensive against their enemies.

Now in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day of the same, when the king’s command and edict were about to be carried out, on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred: the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them. The Jews gathered in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus to lay hands on those who sought their harm. And no one could stand against them, for the fear of them had fallen on all peoples. (Est 9:1-2 ESV)

As the story unfolds, the Jews killed over 75,000 of their enemies over a two-day period. Now, this action has often been criticized by those who suggest that it was a heinous act of the Jews that was carried out at the command of the powerful Mordechai and his niece, the Queen. But I would like to suggest that it was really an act of God from behind the scenes to demonstrate his faithfulness to his word. Let me set this up for you.

This circumstance grew out of the conflict between Mordechai and Haman. Mordechai was a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin, a distant relative of Kish, whose son was Saul, first King of Israel (2:5). Haman was an Agagite – a descendent of Agag, an ancient king of the Amalekites (3:1). Saul and Agag  had a history of unfinished business. The first army to attack the new Hebrew nation after the Exodus was the Amalekites. They became the arch enemy of the Jews. As a result, Israel was instructed to blot out their name from under the sun.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” (Exo 17:14 ESV) – Ex 17:16.

To utterly blot out the memory of a nation is called holy war, when God’s judgment on a people who were so vile and godless that his sentence was total annihilation. God decreed that the Amalekites were under that sentence. In 1 Sam 15, Saul was given the opportunity to accomplish this sentence, but he failed. You will remember that instead of total annihilation, Saul spared the Amalekite king, Agag, and he took some of the spoils of war. He even spared some of the people (1 Chron 4:43). That failure cost Saul the throne, and the tribe of Benjamin the honor of the throne. Generations later – Mordechai and Haman – descendants of Saul and Agag, continue the ancient conflict. But this time, there is no failure. When the day of the conflict arrives, the Jews accomplish a great victory.

The Jews struck all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them, and did as they pleased to those who hated them.  In Susa the citadel itself the Jews killed and destroyed 500 men, and also killed Parshandatha and Dalphon and Aspatha and Poratha and Adalia and Aridatha and Parmashta and Arisai and Aridai and Vaizatha, the ten sons of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews, but they laid no hand on the plunder.(Est 9:5-10 ESV)

This last phrase is very important. Later in the story, this same phrase is repeated in vs. 15 and again in vs. 16. Here is the suggestion.  The terms of holy war specifically state that there is to be no plundering of the victims. You will remember this is the reason Achin and his family were judged following the annihilation of the people of Jericho (Jos 6). Even though the king gave them permission to plunder their enemies (8:11) when the day came, the Jews did not plunder their enemies. The suggestion is that Mordechai instructed the Jews that this was holy war. It is possible that those that the Jews killed were descendents of the Amalekites and that with this action, God’s declaration of holy war against the Amalekites in Ex 17:14-16 is fulfilled.

How faithful God is to his promises!!!

But lest we conclude that God is a tyrant, let’s reflect on the grand truth of the Bible. God provided for our welfare by carrying out holy war – not on us who are his enemies (Eph 2:1-3), but on himself through the sacrifice of his Son.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2Co 5:21 ESV)

Instead of wiping out his enemies, he made them his friends.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Eph 2:13-16 ESV)

The grand His-Story of the Bible is a marvelous unfolding of the truth of God’s faithfulness to his word.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (Joh 3:16 ESV)

If you have not already, won’t you bow and receive the gift of God’s grace extended to you? When you do, He will be faithful to his word. You will not perish but you will have eternal life.

Esther, Part 2

Over the years of ministry I have been fascinated by the many times that I have been tempted to take matters into my own hands, only to watch as the LORD turned the circumstance totally in the other direction. Most of the time this involved people who said or did something that was unethical, manipulative, or downright sinful, and responding in kind was my first impulse. When I resisted, (to my embarrassment I must confess that I did not resist in every case) I watched as the words of a mentor of mine came true, “Give people enough rope and eventually they will hang themselves.” I wonder if he was reading Esther when he learned that principle.

At my last post we left Esther at the entrance of the King’s chambers where she was about to request an audience with Xerxes in order to intercede on behalf of her people. You will remember that Haman, a high-ranking court official, convinced the King to issue an edict authorizing the annihilation of all Jews on the 13th day of Adar. In the providence of God, the King willingly welcomed Esther into his presence and inquired about her intentions. But instead of immediately explaining her request, she invited the king and Haman to dinner. Evidently the timing for making her request did not suit the queen during this occasion so she invited both the king and Haman to a second banquet the next day. It was during the 24 hours between these two banquets that the twist in the story occurs.

On his way home from the first dinner, Haman convinced himself that Esther invited him to a second dinner in order to bestow royal honors on him. But his joy and adulation were spoiled when he encountered Mordecai, who, consistent with his convictions, refused to bow down to him, an insult that ruined Haman’s fanciful expectation. When he complained to his wife and a few friends, he was advised to execute Mordecai. Gallows were immediately constructed to carry out the deed.

That same night, it just happened that Xerxes could not sleep. So, in order to make himself drowsy, he had the official court ledger read to him. It just happened that the court reporter read the entry where Mordecai discovered the plot to assassinate the king. When Xerxes inquired what had been done to honor Mordecai, he discovered that Mordecai had never been rewarded. At that moment, Haman arrived at the palace to request permission to have Mordecai hanged, only to be pre-empted with the king’s request for advice.

When Haman entered, the king asked him, “What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?” Now Haman thought to himself, “Who is there that the king would rather honor than me?” So he answered the king, “For the man the king delights to honor, have them bring a royal robe the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, one with a royal crest placed on its head. Then let the robe and horse be entrusted to one of the king’s most noble princes. Let them robe the man the king delights to honor, and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor! ‘” (Est 6:6-9 NIV)

Haman must have been delighted, only to be decisively crushed when the king subsequently said these words:

Go at once,” the king commanded Haman. “Get the robe and the horse and do just as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate. Do not neglect anything you have recommended. (Est 6:10 NIV)

Haman was humiliated and hurried home sulking and mourning. But he wasn’t home long when the king’s eunuchs arrived to escort Haman to Esther’s banquet, during which she revealed her national descent to the king and pleaded for her life and for the lives of her people. Furious at the circumstance, Xerxes stormed out of the room, which gave Haman the opportunity to plead for mercy before the queen by throwing himself prostrate on the couch where she was seated. Just then the king returned, and seeing Haman next to the queen, he assumed the worst and immediately ordered Haman’s execution for inappropriate advances toward Esther. Immediately, Haman was hung on the gallows he had built for Mordecai. The rope intended for Mordecai snapped the life out of Haman.

In a total change of heart, Xerxes issued a decree, reversing the command to slay the Jews, and further stated that if any Jew was attacked, he could defend himself and even retaliate. In the fighting that broke out, thousands of non-Jews were slain. Peace was quickly restored and from then to the present, that day has been observed as a day of Jewish celebration, a feast known as Purim, which means “lot”, the way Haman designated the 13th of Adar for his treachery.

So, the next time you are tempted to take matters in your own hands, remember Mordecai and Haman. God is the advocate of the righteous and the judge of the unrighteous. In the end, the wrong will fail and the right will prevail.

Esther, Part 1

Have you ever been in the right place at the right time? Maybe you are an athlete and during a game everything came together for you to make the winning shot, or to score the winning touchdown.  Maybe you are in a company going through reorganization and it just so happened that you found yourself in line for a key leadership position. Perhaps you were positioned just right in traffic to avoid a serious accident, or an investment hit the market at just the right moment. These types of experiences may be every day coincidences.  But in the scheme of God’s plan for humanity, there is no such thing as coincidence.  One of the most striking illustrations is the story of Esther.

Following the dedication of the Temple under the leadership of Ezra, Haggai and Zechariah, the Bible does not give much information on life in Jerusalem over the next 50 years. Instead, the story returns to Susa, where Xerxes, or Ahasuerus (Eshter 1:1) is reigning over the Persian Empire. As the story begins, the king assembled the government officials for a six month period during the third year of his reign. During a seven-day banquet, featuring drinking and partying, the king summoned his queen, Vishti, so he could display her beauty to his guests. Such “trophying” was beneath the queen’s dignity and she promptly refused – which raised the ire of the king who immediately banished her from his presence.  When the king sobered up he realized that he had no queen, so a kingdom wide search began, and Esther, a Jewish maiden,  just happened to be chosen the new Queen of Persia.

During the process of selecting a new queen, Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, spent many hours near the gates of the royal palace, in order to learn of Esther’s welfare. One day he overheard a conversation by two guards during which they were planning to assassinate the king. Mordecai  promptly reported the plot to Esther,  who forwarded the message to the proper authorities. The two guards were hanged and Mordecai was given credit in the official records of the kingdom for saving the life of the king.

But Mordecai was did not fare well with the officials of the kings court. Haman, a trusted and elevated official, insisted that the populace bow to him when he would pass by, a gesture that would acknowledge this person as being divine.  As a devout Jew, Mordecai could not and would not make such an acknowledgement, much to the displeasure of Haman. Knowing that Mordecai was  Jew, Haman devised a devious plan. Haman convinced the king that all Jews were a hindrance to the kingdom and he assured the king that enormous financial gain would be realized by confiscating their property. The king promptly agreed and gave Haman the power to make a royal decree, that on the day of the 13th  of Adar, all Jews in Persia were to be annihilated.

Where ever the decree was read, the Jewish population of Persia responded with fasting and prayer, including Mordecai. One day, when he appeared at the palace gates in sackcloth and ashes, Esther, who did not know of the decree, came to him with new clothes. That is when Mordecai reported to the queen of the edict and the coming day of destruction for all Jews and challenged her to go to the king in order to plead for mercy. (Up until this time, it was not known that Esther was a Jew.)  Understandably,  Ester’s response was one of fear.  It was a very dangerous act to appear before the king without being summoned.  Even for the queen, it was immediate death to appear unannounced.  Here is where the most well-known passage from the book of Esther is found.

Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”  (Est 4:13-14 NIV)

Esther’s selection as Queen of Persia now takes on a new perspective. Surely, God had strategically placed her in that position to intervene for her people in the court of Xerxes.  Surely, God would give her favor before the King. In the providence of God, Esther was in the just the right place at just the right time in order to preserves the lives of millions of God’s people.

The story will continue at my next post.

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