Esther 07+08


Haman persuaded the king to issue a decree to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews in the Persian Empire. Mordecai persuaded Esther to go to the king and to beg for mercy and to plead with him for her people. And so, Esther took her life in her hand — because normally the person who entered the king’s presence uninvited was killed — and she went to the king. And instead of killing her, the king was willing to listen to her. What was it she wanted? What was her request? She must want something to risk her life like that. So what is it she wants? And do you remember how Esther took her time? Instead of making her request known straightaway, she invited the king and Haman to a banquet she had prepared. The king agreed and he and Haman went to Esther’s banquet. And during the banquet, while they were drinking, the king once again asked Esther what she wanted. What was her request? And she once again took her time and instead of making her request known immediately, she invited the king and Haman to come to another banquet on the next day. Then I will answer the king’s question and tell you what my request is.

Chapter 7

It’s now the next day; and it’s time for the banquet. And so, we read in verse 1 that the king and Haman went to dine with Queen Esther. And, once again, while they were drinking, the king asked the queen what she wanted. What is your petition? What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted. I said before that he’s probably exaggerating, but promising her up to half the kingdom shows his willingness to be generous and to give Esther what she wants. So what is it?

And remember: the whole book has been leading up to this point. This is why Queen Vashti had been banished by the king. This is why the king had begun a search for a new queen. This is why Esther had been taken from her home and brought to the palace. This is why she had been made queen. The Lord God Almighty — who rules and reigns over all that he has made — had placed Esther in the royal palace for this time. And so, gathering together all of her courage, she made her petition and request known to the king. She said: ‘If I have found favour with you, O king, and if it pleases your majesty, grant me my life — this is my petition. And spare my people — this is my request.’

And, of course, she has to go on and explain what she means because the king really has no idea what she means, because up until now Esther has kept her Jewish identity a secret. I said on a previous Sunday that some of the commentators criticise Esther for not making her Jewish identity known straightaway. I think they’re wrong to criticise her. But in any case, when it mattered most, when the right time came, she was prepared to identify herself with her people whose lives are now in danger because of Haman. And so, she was willing to identify with her people and beg the king for her mercy and to plead with him for her people.

And so, she goes on to explain that she and her people have been sold for destruction and slaughter and annihilation. I’m not sure why the NIV has translated her words that way, because really she’s quoting Haman’s decree which said that the Jews should be destroyed, killed and annihilated. She’s quoting Haman’s decree, word for word. And she adds that if they’d been sold as slaves, she wouldn’t have said anything to the king. She would be prepared to put up with that and to endure it instead of disturbing the king over it. But since she and her people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated, then she has to raise it with the king.

‘Who is he?’ the king wants to know. ‘Where is the man who has dared to do such a thing?’ He wants to know who has sold Esther and her people in this way. And if this was being made into a movie, wouldn’t it be great to see Haman’s face at this point? Did he realise that she was talking about him? If so, we would be able to see the penny drop and the fear begin to spread across his face. But perhaps he did not realise yet that she was talking about him. And so, what a surprise to hear his name mentioned in the next line. Who is he? Where is the man? ‘The adversary and enemy is this vile Haman.’ One of the commentators (Jobes) offers another translation to convey how her words are like shots from a machine gun: ‘A man hateful and hostile! This wicked Haman!’

‘Then Haman was terrified before the king and queen.’ One moment he was eating and drinking, enjoying himself as guest of the queen. Now the queen has accused him of trying to kill her and her people and he’s terrified because the king is in a rage. The king got up and went out into the palace garden. We don’t know why he went out, but perhaps he wanted time to think about what to do next. But while he was out of the room, Haman fell down before Esther to beg her for mercy. Now, the historians tell us that in the Persian Empire men were not allowed to be alone with the queen. And so, if the king left the room, then Haman was meant to leave the room too. Furthermore, when the king was present, no man was allowed within a few feet of the queen. And so, when the king returned, he not only found Haman alone with his wife, but he found Haman lying on the couch where Esther was sitting. And so, if he was angry before, he’s even angrier now. And his servants knew what to do, because they immediately covered Haman’s face, which was a sign that this man was condemned. And the king commanded his men to hang Haman on the gallows which Haman had built for Mordecai.

Do you remember that I mentioned last week that the book of Esther is a book about reversals of fortune? Haman had been on the way up, because the king had elevated him above the other nobles and officials in the empire. He had become Prime Minister of the empire. But his fortune had changed and this rising star was now tumbling downwards. It began when the king couldn’t sleep and when he read in the record of his reign that Mordecai had once saved his life, but had not yet been honoured. And in the morning the king commanded Haman — who hated Mordecai — to honour Mordecai. And now the reversal is complete, because Haman not only lost his position as the king’s right-hand man, but he lost his life.

Chapter 8

And Esther and Mordecai and all the Jews had been on the way down, hadn’t they? Their fate had been signed and sealed and they were due to be destroyed, kill and annihilated by their enemies throughout the empire on a day set by Haman. They’d been on the way down, but their fortune has been reversed and they’re now on the way up. So, look how chapter 8 begins. The king gave Esther Haman’s estate. So, everything that once belonged to Haman was given to Esther. And Mordecai was brought into the presence of the king. Up until now, Mordecai only ever got as far as the king’s gate. But now he’s brought right into the presence of the king. And the king took off his signet ring — which signified the king’s authority and which he once gave to Haman — and he presented it to Mordecai. And Esther appointed Mordecai over Haman’s estate. And so, Mordecai, who life was once in danger, has now been raised up to take Haman’s place. And if you glance down to verse 15, you’ll see that it says Mordecai left the king’s presence, wearing royal garments of blue and white and a large crown of gold and a purple robe of fine linen. Back in chapter 6, when the king wanted to honour Mordecai, he got to wear these things for a day. He was treated like a king for the day. But now he’s able to wear these sort of clothes permanently, because he’s become the king’s right-hand man. Haman, who was once lifted up, has now been killed, whereas Mordecai, who was once going to be killed, has been lifted up.

But there’s still a problem, isn’t there? And it’s a massive problem. Haman might be dead, but his decree to destroy, kill and annihilate the Jews still stands. So, in verse 3 of chapter 8, Esther pleaded with the king, falling at his feet and begging him to put an end to Haman’s evil plan. ‘If it pleases the king’, she says in verse 5, ‘and if he regards me with favour and thinks it the right thing to do, and if he’s pleased with me, let an order be written….’ She wants the king to overrule the previous law. But things are never straightforward, are they? Every empire or every nation has its own way of doing things and there’s always a law or constitution or something which makes getting things done difficult. And the problem in this case is that the laws of the Medes and Persians cannot be broken. They cannot be overruled. They cannot be repealed. Once a law has been passed, it can’t be changed.

But it’s always the case — isn’t it? — that there are ways around the rules. And the way around the rule that the law of the Medes and Persians cannot be broken is for another law to be passed which contradicts it. So, verse 8: ‘write another decree in the king’s name on behalf of the Jews as seems best to you and seal it with the king’s signet ring.’ That’s what you should do: write another law which contradicts the first. And at once the king’s secretaries were summoned to write down Mordecai’s orders to be published throughout the empire. And Mordecai tells them to write down an order in the name of the king granting permission to the Jews to assemble and protect themselves. So, they were given the right to destroy, kill and annihilate any armed force of any nationality or province that might attack them. The text mentions women and children too. It’s not entirely clear whether this means the Jews had the right to attack any armed force that attacked them and their wives and children, or whether it means the Jews had the right to attack any armed force and their wives and children who attacked them. It’s probably the latter: the Jews were given permission to attack anyone who attacked them as well as the wives and children of those who attacked them. And they were given permission to plunder the property of their enemies too.

And they were given permission to do this on just one day: the same day mentioned in the earlier decree. So, the earlier decree said the Jews should be destroyed, killed and annihilated on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month. And in this second decree, the Jews were given permission to defend themselves on the same day. That was the order and the couriers rode out on their horses to publish it throughout the empire.

And according to the end of verse 15, the city of Susa held a great celebration. And for the Jews, it was a time of happiness and joy, gladness and honour. And wherever the decree was published, there was joy and gladness with feasting and celebrating. There’s another reversal, because back in verse 3 of chapter 4, we read in that in every province where Haman’s decree was published, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. But now, because of Esther and Mordecai, there is feasting, not fasting, and there is joy, not weeping and they’re celebrating, not wailing.

And right at the end of the chapter we’re told that many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them. Well, it wasn’t so much fear of the Jews, but fear of the God of the Jews. They realised that the Lord, the God of the Jews, was a great God who was able to do great things to save his people and to conquer his enemies.

Application 1

Some of the commentators discuss whether Mordecai’s decree creates a moral problem for us. Was Mordecai right to give the Jews permission to destroy, kill and annihilate their enemies and the wives and children of their enemies? How can this be right?

There are perhaps two things to say in response. Firstly, Mordecai’s decree did not give the Jews the right to kill people indiscriminately, but only those who attacked them and their families. So, according to verse 11, they were given the right to protect themselves and to destroy, kill and annihilate any armed force and their families that might attack them. The decree also gave them the right to plunder the property of their enemies. And so, when their enemies rose up against them, they were given the right to fight back against their enemies. They weren’t allowed to kill anyone else, but only their enemies.

And the second thing to say is that whenever we read this kind of thing in the Old Testament, we need to remember that these things are always acts of judgment. They are not acts of terror or genocide or ethnic cleansing or any other such thing. There are always acts of judgment. So, throughout the Old Testament, God uses one nation to punish another nation. When God brought his people into the land of Canaan, he commanded the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites, because the Canaanites were a wicked people; and God used the Israelites to punish them for their wickedness. And many years later, God used the Assyrians and Babylonians to punish the Israelites, who had turned away from the Lord. And now God was going to use the Israelites again in the days of Esther and Mordecai to punish his enemies, because whoever rose up to destroy, kill and annihilate the Jews was an enemy of God.

And so, whenever we read this kind of thing in the Old Testament, we need to remember that these things are always acts of judgment. And these acts of judgment which we read about in the Old Testament foreshadow the great and terrible Day of Judgment which is coming on the whole world, when Christ the King will come in glory and with power to judge the living and the dead, everyone who has ever lived. And on that day, he will condemn his enemies — men and women and boys and girls — everyone who lived their lives in rebellion against him and who did not believe in him or submit to him as their King and Saviour. He will condemn them and he will punish them for all that they have done wrong. On that great and terrible Day of Judgment, he will judge the nations with justice. And he will not spare his enemies. He will not show them any mercy. If he finds them guilty, he will send them away to be punished forever.

And so, whenever we read this kind of thing in the Old Testament, we need to realise that these things are recorded to show us why we all need to repent and believe. We need to turn away from our sin and rebellion and we need to trust in Christ the Saviour for the forgiveness of our sins and for peace with God, because the only way for us to be saved from the coming judgment of God is to repent and to believe in God’s Only Begotten Son, who died to reconcile sinners to God.

God offers us mercy in this life. And so, because he is merciful and kind, he sent his Son to bear the punishment we deserve. And because he is merciful and kind, he sends us preachers to proclaim the good news of the gospel and to warn us of the judgment to come. And because he is merciful and kind, he’s willing to pardon anyone who repents and believes in his Son. And so, God is merciful towards us in this life. But once the Day of Judgment comes, he will show no mercy to those who did not believe the gospel and who did not trust in his Son. There will be no mercy then; but there is mercy now. And because God is gracious and merciful and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, he is patient with you and he calls on you to repent and to believe so that you will not be condemned, but will be pardoned and brought into the presence of God in the life to come where there is perfect peace and rest forever.

Application 2

And having thought about God’s judgment, let’s now think about the Saviour. The Jews were in danger of being destroyed, killed and annihilated because of Haman’s decree. But Esther was prepared to risk her life by identifying with her people in order to save them. We’ve seen before how she risked her life when she entered the king’s presence uninvited. And, at that time, the king spared her. But she risked her life again when she made known to the king that the Jews were in danger and she was one of them.

And who knows? Perhaps if she had remained silent, no one would have discovered that she was a Jew and she would have survived. In chapter 4, Mordecai had suggested that her Jewish identity would have been discovered even if she remained silent. But perhaps Mordecai was wrong. Perhaps she wouldn’t have been found out. Perhaps if she said nothing, she would have remained safe in the king’s palace. However she had become convinced that she had to do something. She had become convinced that God had placed her in the palace to speak up for her people. And so, she was prepared to go to the king and to identify herself with her people, who had been condemned because of Haman’s decree. She risked her life when she identified with her people. And because she spoke up, her people were saved.

And in this way she foreshadows God the Son, because he was prepared to identify with us when he came to earth as one of us. He is God the Son, the eternal God. But he took to himself our humanity when he came to earth as one of us. And the reason he became one of us, taking to himself a body and soul likes ours, was so that he could take our place on the cross and suffer in our place the punishment we deserve.

But, of course, whereas Esther only risked her life, the Son of God gave up his life. He gave up his life on the cross to pay for our sins; and he shed his blood to cleanse us from all our guilt. He became one of us so that, by his death, he could save us from the coming Day of Judgment and from God’s wrath and curse in this life and the next. He became one of us so that instead of being condemned and punished forever, we could receive forgiveness and the hope of everlasting life. And he comes to us in the preaching of God’s word and he calls on sinners everywhere to trust to him for forgiveness and for peace with God and for the hope of everlasting life in God’s presence.

If he had not come, we would have been like the Jews in Persia, where there was great mourning, because the day of their destruction was near. But now that Christ has come, there is happiness and joy, gladness and honour for all who believe, because he came to bring us salvation and eternal life.

And if you’re a Christian, if you’re trusting in Christ the Saviour, then you can rejoice and be glad, because he has paid for your sins with his life. And that means no further payment will ever be demanded from you. God will never ever punish you for your sins, because Christ has been punished in your place and he died to reconcile sinners to God and to create peace between you and God forever. And so, in this life, you can go to God and seek his help, because he’s no longer your enemy, but he’s your God and your Father. And you don’t need to fear the Day of Judgment, because on that day you will not be condemned, but you will be acquitted and declared to be not guilty, but righteous in God’s sight. And you’ll be invited in to join the rest of God’s people who have gathered around God’s throne where there is everlasting joy and gladness and feasting and celebrating forever.