Esther 05+06


The very existence of God’s people is in danger because Haman persuaded King Xerxes to issue an order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews throughout the empire, an empire that stretched from India to Ethiopia. When the Jews, including Mordecai, heard the news, they fasted, wept and wailed. Mordecai then sent word to Esther in the palace to ask her to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and to plead with him for her people. She sent word back that normally anyone who goes into the king’s presence uninvited is put to death. In other words: It’s not that simple, Mordecai. But Mordecai sent word back saying: ‘Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?’ He was saying: Maybe this explains why these things happened to you. Maybe this is why you were taken from your home. Maybe this is why you were brought into the king’s palace. Maybe this is why you were made to marry the king. Maybe this is why you became queen. Maybe these things happened so that you’d be in the right place at the right time to save your people from annihilation. And so, Esther agreed to do what Mordecai said. But first she asked Mordecai to gather the Jews in Susa to fast for her for three days. She and her maids will do the same. And after that, she will go to see the king. And if I perish, I perish.

So, that’s where we’ve got to in this story. Today we’re going to study the two chapters we read a moment ago.

Chapter 5

There hasn’t been a lot of action in this story. Vashti was removed as queen. A search was made for a new queen. Esther was chosen. Haman was exalted by the king, but Haman was also angry because Mordecai would not bow down to him. And so, Haman came up with his plan to have all the Jews destroyed, killed and annihilated. And Mordecai and the Jews fasted, wept and wailed. All of that took place over several years. So, there hasn’t been a lot of action. And certainly there hasn’t been any fast-moving action. If this story was made into a movie, many people might complain that not a great deal was happening. However, what action there is really slows down in chapter 5. If it were a movie, this next part would be filmed in slow motion. Listen to what the author wrote in verse 1: ‘On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the palace, in front of the king’s hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne in the hall, facing the entrance.’ If he were in a hurry, the writer could have said that Esther stood before the king in the royal hall. But the reason he stretches it out is to build tension. What’s going to happen? What’s going to happen to Esther? Will she perish? Will she survive? He’s building tension. And then he tells us in verse 2 that when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court…. Again, he’s stretching it out, building the tension. What’s going to happen next?

And then all the tension is released, because he tells us that the king was pleased with her and held out to her the gold sceptre, which was the sign not to kill her. The commentators tell us about a picture which archeologists have uncovered from around this period of history showing one of the kings of Persia sitting on his throne with his royal sceptre; and nearby there’s a soldier with a large ax in his hand. And no doubt all it would take is one word from the king, or even one look from the king, and that soldier would use his axe to cut down whoever had come into the king’s presence. But, for now at least, Esther is safe.

‘What is it?’ he asks. ‘What is your request?’ In other words: You’ve obviously come here because you need something from me. What is it? ‘Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given you.’ He’s probably exaggerating, but it’s an indication that he’s willing to give Esther whatever she wants.

And once again the action slows down. This time, it’s Esther who slows things down with her words. Instead of rushing in with her request, she takes her time. ‘If it pleases the king,’ she begins, ‘let the king, together with Haman, come today to a banquet I have prepared for him.’ That’s it. That’s all she asks for. The existence of her people is in danger. She had taken her own life in her hand when she approached the king uninvited. And yet, that’s all she asked for! What’s going on? That’s perhaps what the king is thinking. And perhaps he’s intrigued, because he immediately gives the order to bring Haman at once so that they may do what Esther asks. And perhaps he’s thinking that once they’re at the banquet, then she’ll let him know what she really wants. I say ‘perhaps’ because we don’t really know what the king is thinking. And we don’t really know why Esther took this approach. The commentators speculate on her reasons and her thinking, but the truth is that we don’t really know what she was thinking or why she did things this way. However, she presumably had some kind of plan in mind, because it’s clear that she’s already prepared the banquet. This is not something that just came to her in a flash when she stood before the king. This is something she had thought about and planned.

Anyway the king and Haman went to the banquet. And as they were drinking wine, the king again asked Esther what she needed from him. What’s your petition? What’s your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted. He knows she needs something, but what is it? He’s anxious to find out.

And once again Esther slows everything down with her words. The king is in a hurry. He said: Bring Haman ‘at once’! But she’s taking her time. So, look at verse 7 where it says that Esther replied: ‘My petition and my request is this: If the king regards me with favour and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfil my request, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet I will prepare for them. And then I will answer the king’s question.’ She’s in no hurry. But if she piqued the king’s interest before, no doubt he’s piqued even more now. What is it she wants? What can it possibly be? And if he’s anything like us, perhaps he’s going over in his mind all the possibilities. Could it be this? Could it be that? What could it be? Well, he’ll just have to wait, because she’s not going to say anything more until the next day.

Meanwhile, Haman headed off home. According to verse 9 he was feeling happy and he was in high spirits. After all, he and he alone had been asked to join the king at the queen’s banquet. So, he was their honoured guest. And doesn’t this show how high he had risen in the world? However, then he saw Mordecai at the king’s gate and he couldn’t help noticing that Mordecai once again refused to bow down before him. I explained before that his refusal to bow down to Haman probably goes back to the time when the Israelites escaped from Egypt in the days of Moses. And the Amalekites, who were Haman’s ancestors, attacked the Israelites. And because they made that unprovoked attack on the Israelites, they became Israel’s ‘forever foe’. And so, because Haman was one of Israel’s ‘forever foes’, Mordecai refused to bow down to him. Haman’s happy mood and high spirits left him and he was filled with rage. However, he restrained himself and went on home.

At home he called his friends and wife together and began to boast about himself. He boasted about his vast wealth; and about his many sons; and about all the ways the king had honoured him; and how he had been elevated above the other nobles and officials. And that’s not all, he boasted. ‘That’s not all.’ ‘I’m the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the king to the banquet she gave. And she has invited me along with the king tomorrow.’ That’s his moment of triumph. But there’s one thing that spoils his happy mood: and it’s that Jew Mordecai.

Well, his wife and his friends know what to do. Build a gallows, 75 feet high. So, make it really big. And ask the king in the morning to have Mordecai hanged on it. So, while Esther is preparing a banquet, you can prepare a gallows. And then, afterwards, go with the king to the dinner and be happy. And their suggestion delighted Haman and he did just what they had said.

Chapter 6

Let’s now turn to chapter 6 which begins by telling us in verse 1 that that night the king could not sleep. We’re not told why he could not sleep. It occurred to me that he may not have been able to sleep because he was wondering what Esther wanted. However, we don’t really know if that’s the case and we certainly don’t know if that was Esther’s plan. But even if it was Esther plan to keep him awake, she could not have foreknown what would happen next. So, what happened next? When he couldn’t sleep, he ordered someone to bring him the book of the chronicles, which was the record of his reign. And he ordered someone to read it to him. Isn’t that what we sometimes do when we can’t sleep? We get a book and read for a while, hoping that soon we’ll feel tired enough to sleep. Anyway, as this book was read to him, they came to the part where it recorded the time when two men plotted to assassinate the king, but Mordecai had discovered the plot and exposed the would-be assassins. We read about that plot at the end of chapter 2 and I said at the time that it will become important later. Well, this is where it becomes important. ‘What honour and recognition has Mordecai received for this?’, the king wanted to know. The kings of Persia were normally very careful to reward anyone who did a good deed or who proved to be a loyal subject. It was a wise policy, because if the people in the empire know that their loyalty will be rewarded, they’re likely to remain loyal to the king. But it turns out that on that occasion nothing had been done for Mordecai. Though he had foiled a plot against the king, he had not been rewarded. And the king was determined to put that right now.

But he wants some help to decide what to do for Mordecai. And it turns out that Haman has just arrived. Haman, you’ll remember, has come to ask the king for permission to kill Mordecai. But before he gets a chance to make his request to the king, the king asks him what should be done for the man the king delights to honour. Haman is so vain he thinks the king is talking about him. His attitude is: Who else is there that the king would want to honour? So, as he thinks about the king’s question, he’s thinking about what would he — Haman — like the king to do for him? He can’t ask for promotion, because he’s already second only to the king. So he suggests that a royal robe should be put on this person by one of the king’s princes; and let him ride through the streets on one of the king’s horses; and let someone shout: ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honour!’ So, let him be treated like a king for the day. That’s Haman’s dream.

But, of course, the king was not talking about Haman when he asked about how to honour the man the king delights to honour. He was talking about Mordecai. So, go at once, Haman, and get the robe and the horse and do just as you said for Mordecai the Jew. Don’t leave any of it out. So, put the robe on him. Lead him through the streets. Proclaim: ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honour!’ Treat him like a king for the day.

And Haman did what the king commanded. We’d love to know what he said to Mordecai. We’d love to know what Mordecai said back. We’d love to see Haman’s face as he led Mordecai around the city. And we’d love to see Mordecai’s face as he looked down on Haman from on top of the king’s horse. But we can only use our imaginations, because the author doesn’t tell us.

Afterwards Mordecai returned to the king’s gate, and Haman rushed home. Remember that he had gone out that morning to ask the king for permission to kill Mordecai. His wife and friends are expecting him to come home and tell them that Mordecai is dead. But instead he comes home with the news that the king has honoured Mordecai. And his wife and friends can now see clearly. They can see clearly. ‘Your downfall has started’ they tell him. You were once a rising star in the empire. But now your downfall has begun. You’re on the way down. And we can’t save you. And we can’t save you, because it turns out you’ve been messing with the wrong people, because Mordecai is a Jew. And so, you can’t stand against him.

And you see, it seems that they know, or they have noticed, that there’s something special about the Jewish people. It seems they know, or they have noticed, that the Jews are under divine protection. And since they’re under divine protection, you will surely come to ruin, Haman, for trying to wipe them out. And while they were still talking to him, the king’s men arrived to hurry him away to Esther’s banquet.

Application 1

‘Your downfall has started’. Those are the words Haman’s wife and friends said to him. And those words highlight one of the features of this book, because this is a book about reversals of fortune. Things happen in this book which reverse the fortunes of people. So, here’s Haman who was once on the way up. He was a rising star. He was elevated by the king and placed above all the other nobles in the land. But then something happened. Something happened and his fortunes were reversed and he began to fall. We’ve all seen videos of those stunt aeroplanes that shoot straight up into the sky, higher and higher and higher. But then the plane seems to stall and its nose dips down and the plane rushes downwards back to earth. That’s Haman. Shooting up past his colleagues to become second only to the king. But now he’s begun his descent.

On the other hand, Mordecai and the rest of the Jews were on their way down, because the decision had been taken. The order had been issued. They were to be destroyed, killed and annihilated. Their fate had been signed and sealed by the king. But — and we haven’t seen this yet, but we will see it — very soon their fortunes will be reversed and they will begin to ascend. In fact, if you glance forward to verse 1 of chapter 9, the writer says:

On the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, the edict commanded by the king was to be carried out. On this day the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, but now the tables were turned and the Jews got the upper hand over those who hated them.

The tables were turned; and the Jews got the upper hand.

So, one of the features of this book is that it’s a book about reversals of fortune. The Jews were going to be destroyed, killed and annihilated, but the tables were turned and they then got the upper hand. Haman was a rising star, but then the tables were turned and he then began to fall. Instead of killing Mordecai, he had to honour him.

And what was the turning point in Haman’s life? What event marked the beginning of his reversal? It was a simple thing. The king couldn’t sleep. One night he went to bed and he couldn’t sleep. As I said before, perhaps he couldn’t sleep because Esther had intrigued him. However it seems unlikely that that was her intention. After all, how could she have known that her request would keep the king awake? But even if she had intended to keep him awake, there was no way for her to know that he would get out the record of his reign and read it. And there was no way for her to know that he would read the record of what Mordecai had done. And there was no way for her to know that the king would decide then and there to reward Mordecai. There was no way for her to know. But that event — the king’s sleepless night — was the event which marked the beginning of Haman’s downfall.

And the king could not sleep because of the Lord. The reason I say that is because, although the Lord is not mentioned in his book, we believe he’s always working in the world to bring about his most holy and perfect will. And it was his will to save his people; and it was his will to bring down the enemies of his people. And because it was his will to turn the tables, the Lord was the one who ensured that one night the king could not sleep. And the Lord was the one who ensured that he would get out and read the record of his reign. And the Lord was the one who ensured that he would read about Mordecai. And the Lord was the one who ensured that then and there the king would decide to honour Mordecai. It’s the Lord who does these things, because he’s the one who controls all his creatures and all their actions. As the Proverb says, he’s the one who holds the king’s heart in his hand and he’s able to turn it in whichever way he wants.

And because he controls all his creatures and all their actions, he’s able to work through his creatures and through the ordinary things we do to fulfil his plan. So, in order to bring Haman down, and in order to save his people, he did not need to send thunderbolts from heaven or cause earthquakes to take place. All he had to do was keep the king awake for a night. But God can work through these ordinary events in order to bring down the proud and the wicked and to lift up his humble people.

And this shows us how great our God is, because he’s able to use small things, like a sleepless night, to accomplish great things, like the salvation of his people when they’re in trouble and the destruction of his enemies. And so, we ought to worship him, because there is no other god like him, who controls all things including the smallest details of our life. There is nothing that is outside of his control.

Application 2

But let me also say that we tend to assume that powerful people like Haman will always succeed. After all, isn’t that how the world so often works? The powerful, the strong, the mighty, the rich, will rise. They will succeed. They will triumph, whereas the weak will be crushed. That’s often how the world seems to work.

However, in the story of Esther, the mighty Haman was humbled, and Mordecai and the Jews were saved. In fact, not only was Mordecai saved, but he has promoted and became very great in the empire. The fortunes of Mordecai and Haman were reversed; and it was the Lord who brought it about.

And in the book of Daniel, which was also written during the time of the exile, when God’s people were living under the power and authority of the Persian king, God revealed that all the mighty kingdoms of the earth will come to nothing. They will be destroyed. And in the end, there will only be one kingdom which lasts. And it will last forever. And it’s Christ’s kingdom.

And so, we need not fear when mighty people like Haman rise up to attack the church of God, and when whole nations oppose the church. We need not fear that the church will be crushed and removed from the earth. We need not fear, because our God is the one who controls the whole of history; and, in the end, every earthly kingdom will be destroyed and only Christ’s heavenly kingdom will last. And so, those of us who believe and who belong to his heavenly kingdom need not be afraid when the wicked rise up and become powerful, because in the end they will be destroyed, but all who trust in Christ the Saviour will live with him forever in his everlasting kingdom.

Application 3

And the final thing to say is that the reversals of fortune which we see in the book of Esther foreshadow the great reversal of fortune which took place outside Jerusalem two thousand years ago. The Lord Jesus was arrested and beaten and whipped and crucified and his dead body was placed in the tomb. It seemed that the Devil had triumphed over him. It seemed an unbelieving world had triumphed over him. It seemed that death had triumphed over him. But then something happened. The Lord Jesus, who died, was raised. He was raised from the dead and exalted to God’s right hand in heaven. Death was defeated. Those who killed him were defeated. The Devil was defeated. They were defeated; and Christ the Saviour was exalted to heaven. And now he calls on sinners everywhere to bow before him and to submit to him as their king. And whoever bows before him and submits to him as their king receive forgiveness for their sins and for all that they have done wrong; and they receive the free gift of eternal life and the sure and certain hope that, though they die, they will be raised to live with God forever.

And so, here’s another reversal of fortune. Before a person believes in the Saviour, that person is destined for condemnation and for eternal punishment away from the presence of God. But by believing in Christ, that person is now destined for the resurrection and eternal life in the presence of God. And so, if you have not already done so, now is the time to believe. Now is the time to put your faith in Christ for salvation, because whoever believes in him receives the hope of the resurrection and eternal life in the presence of God.