Haman convinced the king of Persia to issue an decree to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews in the empire. Mordecai convinced Queen Esther to go to the king to beg for mercy and to plead with him for her people. At first she hesitated, because to go before the king uninvited was to risk your life. But Mordecai convinced her and she took her life in her hands and went to the king. Instead of killing her, the king was intrigued. What did she want? But instead of making her request immediately, she invited the king and Haman to a banquet. Then, at the banquet, she asked them to another banquet the next day. And then, at the second banquet, she accused Haman of wanting to kill her and her people. When the king heard her accusation, he was furious and went out of the room. Meanwhile, Haman threw himself before Esther to plead for mercy. At that moment the king returned and accused Haman of now trying to molest his wife.
And so, Haman was taken away to be killed; and Mordecai took his place as the king’s right hand man. And though the initial decree to destroy, kill and annihilate the Jews could not be revoked, the king allowed Esther and Mordecai to issue a second decree granting permission to the Jews to defend themselves. And when the Jews heard the news, they began to celebrate. Their weeping because of Haman’s wicked decree was turned into joy because of Esther and Mordecai’s decree.
And so we come to verse 1 of chapter 9 which sums up what happens next. So, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the enemies of the Jews throughout the empire had hoped to overpower the Jews, because Haman’s decree gave them permission to destroy, kill and annihilate them. However, the tables were now turned and the Jews got the upper hand over those who hated them. They got the upper hand because Esther and Mordecai’s decree gave them permission to defend themselves and to destroy, kill and annihilate anyone who attacked them and their families.
As I said: verse 1 sums up what happened next and it’s a kind of heading for chapter 9. So, what’s chapter 9 about? It’s about how the the tables were turned and the Jews got the upper hand. The book of Esther is a book about reversals. Haman and those who hated the Jews was on their way up, but then their fortunes changed and they were killed. Mordecai and all the Jews faced annihilation, but then their fortunes changed and Mordecai was promoted and the Jews destroyed their enemies.
How did this happen? Someone who does not believe might say it happened by chance. It was a lucky break for the Jews! But those who believe in God and who believe that he rules over all things and he determines all things know that nothing happens by chance and that everything happens according to God’s most holy and perfect will. And so, though the Lord is not mentioned in this book, believers know that he’s the one who turned the tables to bring down his enemies and to raise up his people. The Lord is always at work, working all things together to fulfil his most holy and perfect will.
And one of the lessons we can learn from this book is that though God sometimes appears to be absent from our lives, he is never absent. We sometimes despair when things are not going our way. We wonder why God is not with us to help us. We wonder ‘Where has God gone?’ and ‘Why won’t he help me?’. However, even though God sometimes seems to be absent, the truth is that he is always with his people and he’s watching over us continually as he was watching over his people in the days of Esther and Mordecai. He does not slumber. He does not sleep. He does not go on holiday. He does not take a break. He’s always watching over his people and he sees our comings and our goings both now and forevermore. And, of course, he’s not just watching us as an indifferent observer. He’s watching over us in order to help us. And when the time is right, he comes to help his people. Do you remember how David puts it in Psalm 40?
I waited patiently for the LORD;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the LORD.
All through the psalms and through the Scriptures we read the same thing. So, what happened in the days of Esther and Mordecai was not a one-off. This is not something God did once and never again. This is what God does again and again for his people. He sees us in our need; and, at just the right time, he comes and raises us up.
And he’s always willing to help us like that, because Christ died to reconcile us to God. Christ died to make peace between us. And so, God is no longer our enemy, but he’s our God and he’s our help and strength and refuge. And so, we should always trust in him. Though God sometimes seems to be absent, he’s never absent, because he’s always with his people.
Verses 2 to 19
But let’s move on with the story. According to verse 2 the Jews assembled in their cities throughout the Persian Empire to attack those seeking their destruction. So, as I said last week, they were not given the right to attack anyone they liked, but only those who attacked them. They were given the right to defend themselves. And we’re told that no-one could stand against them and the people were afraid of them. In fact, the nobles and other leaders helped them because they now feared Mordecai, who had been appointed as the king’s right-hand man and Prime Minister over the whole empire and his reputation spread throughout the provinces and he became more and more powerful. What a turn around! Haman had wanted to kill Mordecai. He had built gallows on which to hang him. At one point in the story, Haman went to see the king to ask permission to kill Mordecai. But now Haman was dead and Mordecai had taken his place.
We’re then told in verse 5 that the Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword; and they did what they pleased with those who hated them. Again the author is emphasising that they only attacked their enemies and those who wanted to kill them. In Susa, where the king lived, they killed 500 men. They also killed the ten sons of Haman. And then the author notes for us that the Jews did not take any of the plunder for themselves. That’s important, but we’ll come back to it.
Someone reported to the king the number of people who had been killed in Susa. He seems to have been impressed by the number, because he said to Esther, ‘What have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces?’ In other words: If that’s what they managed to do in Susa, what must it be like throughout the empire? And then he asks Esther what she wants to do now. So, what is your petition? What is your request? I’m willing to grant it to you. And Esther perhaps surprises us, because she asks the king to give permission to the Jews to attack their enemies in Susa for one more day. Also, she wants the bodies of Haman’s sons to be hanged on gallows. And the king agreed to her request. The bodies of Haman’s sons were hanged and the Jews were given permission to attack their enemies for the extra day and a further 300 men were killed. The author once again notes that they did not take any plunder for themselves. That’s what was happening in Susa. Throughout the rest of the empire, the Jews managed to kill 75,000 of their enemies. And again the author notes that they did not take any plunder for themselves.
They attacked their enemies on the thirteenth day of the month and they rested and celebrated on the fourteenth day. But in Susa, they attacked their enemies on the thirteenth and fourteenth days of the month and they rested and celebrated on the fifteenth day.
Verses 20 to 32
That’s their victory over their enemies and how they celebrated afterwards. In Susa, they celebrated on the fifteenth day; in the country, they celebrated on the fourteenth day. But whichever day it was, it was a day of joy and feasting and a day for giving presents to each other. And in fact, it became an annual festival.
And so, we read in verse 20 that Mordecai recorded these events and sent letters to all the Jews throughout the empire to say they were to celebrate both days every year. Like our annual Remembrance Sunday, they were to keep this annual festival to remind them of the time when they got relief from their enemies and their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning was turned into a day of celebration. Mordecai wrote to say they were to observe the two days as days of feasting and joy and of giving presents to one another and gifts to the poor. So, everyone — rich and poor — was to celebrate.
And the Jews agreed with what Mordecai proposed and this new annual festival was called Purim. Verses 24 to 28 summarise for us the origin of the festival and how it got its name. So, Haman the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against them. He cast ‘the pur’ or we might say ‘the lot’ for their ruin and destruction. That is, he cast the pur to determine which day they should attack the Jews. And the pur fell on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month. But when the plot came to the king’s attention, he gave orders that Haman’s wicked scheme should come back on his own head. And so, because Haman cast the pur, the annual festival was given the name Purim. It was established to remember the time when Haman cast the pur against the Jews, but he did not succeed.
According to verse 27, the Jews took it upon themselves to establish this custom. That means this festival is different from the other festivals they celebrated each year such as the Passover and Day of Atonement which God commanded them to keep. And it’s clear from verse 28 that this was to be a perpetual custom which should never cease.
And verses 29 to 32 make clear that the idea of making this an annual festival came from both Mordecai and Esther.
I said last week that what the Jews did to their enemies should not be regarded as an act of terrorism or genocide or ethnic cleansing. It was an act of judgment, because God was using the Jews to punish the wicked for their wickedness. The Bible scholars refer to this kind of thing as a holy war, because a holy God was using his people to punish the wicked. And that’s why it was important for the author to note that the Jews were only given permission to attack their enemies and to defend themselves from those who hated them. You see, one of the rules for holy wars in the Old Testament was that there were only two reasons for going to war. The first reason for going to war was in order to conquer the Promised Land. And the second reason for going to war was for the Jews to defend themselves against other nations who were attacking them. And that’s what was happening in the days of Esther.
And another rule for holy wars in the Old Testament is that no-one was to profit from the war. And so, if someone was called up to fight a holy war, they were not to receive any payment or salary. Furthermore, they weren’t normally allowed to take any plunder. So, do you remember the story of Achan in the days of Joshua? After the walls of Jericho collapsed, the Israelites were told not to take any of the plunder. But Achan kept some things for himself and God was angry because of it. And this rule was necessary, because if they were allowed to take the plunder for themselves, then they might have been tempted to attack more and more nations in order to make themselves rich. But they were not to go to war for their own benefit; they were only meant to go to war in order to execute God’s judgment on the nations. And that’s why the author is careful to note three times that the Jews did not take any plunder when they defended themselves against their enemies. This was not an act of terrorism, but it was a holy war against the wicked.
And when Esther asked the king for permission to continue the holy war for an extra day, she was doing what God had commanded his people to do. You see, Haman was descended from the Amalekites, who attacked the people of Israel after they escaped from Egypt. And in Deuteronomy 25 the Lord commanded his people to blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. So, destroy Amalek the king of the Amalekites and everyone descended from him. And that included Haman and all those who sided with him against the Jews. And so, in obedience to God’s command to wipe out the Amalekites, she asked the king to let them continue their holy war for one more day. And she asked for Haman’s sons to be hanged on the gallows because this was a sign that God’s enemies are under God’s curse.
Last week I said that what the Jews did to their enemies foreshadows the great and terrible Day of Judgment when Christ will come as King to judge the living and the dead and to punish his enemies for their wickedness. But these holy wars in the Old Testament also foreshadow the good news of the gospel, because when Christ the Saviour came into the world the first time, he came as a warrior to fight a holy war on our behalf and to save us from our enemies. But our enemies are not flesh and blood. They are not other people. Our true enemies are spiritual enemies. Our true enemies are death and Satan and sin.
And so, we were once held captive to death, because we all die. In the Garden of Eden, God warned Adam that if he ate the forbidden fruit, he would surely die. And he took the fruit and now everyone dies. And until Christ came into the world as our mighty warrior it seemed there was no escape from death.
And we were held captive by Satan, because he kept us under his tyranny by blinding us to the truth about God and about salvation. Just as he deceived Adam in the Garden, so he deceives the whole world.
And we were held captive by sin, because sin was once our master who ruled over us and who bossed us around. It told us what to do; and everything it wanted us to do is evil.
We were once held captive by death and Satan and sin. But then Christ our Saviour came into the world as a mighty warrior to fight a holy war on our behalf in order to defend us and to rescue us from death and Satan and sin by laying down his life on the cross and by rising from the dead afterwards.
By laying down his life, he has paid for our sins in full so that all who believe in him are set free from death which is the penalty for sin. And so, though we die, and our bodies are laid in the ground, we know that one day we will be raised to live with God forever in body and in soul. And so, he rescued us from death by dying for our sins.
And Christ who died was raised and exalted to heaven where he rules over all. And from this throne in heaven, he sets us free from the tyranny of the Devil by calling us into his kingdom and by enabling us to respond to his call. And so, he rescues us from Satan’s grip.
And from his throne in heaven, he pours out his Spirit on his people. He fills us with his Spirit to sanctify us and to enable us to fight against sin and to do God’s will more and more here on earth. And so, he rescues us from the power of sin in our life. For those who believe in Christ, sin is no longer our master, but Christ has become our master.
And so, Christ the Saviour is a mighty warrior and he has fought on our behalf to defend us and to rescue us from death and Satan and sin. And that’s why we must all trust in the Lord Jesus, because if we do not trust in him, then we are still under the power of death and Satan and sin.
If you’re not yet a believer, you may think you’re free, but sin is your master and it makes you do what is evil so that every moment of every day you’re only increasing your guilt before God. And you may think you’re free, but Satan is holding you under his power; and he holds you under his power by deceiving you and making you think that you’re fine without Christ; and that you will not die because of your sins. But he’s deceiving you. And you may think you’re free, but there’s no escaping death, because the wages of sin is death and everyone who sins dies and then they face the judgment of God.
If you’re not yet a believer, you may think you’re free, but you’re not free until your yield your life to Christ and trust in him as the only Saviour. And so, I say to you: If you have not already done so, now is the time to repent and believe. Turn from your life of sin and rebellion and trust in Christ as the only Saviour of the world. Turn to God in prayer and ask him to save you from death and Satan and sin for the sake of Christ who died and was raised.
And if you trust in Christ, then you should do as the Jews did and celebrate his victory on your behalf. The Jews agreed to hold an annual festival to remember and to rejoice. But now Christians gather every week to remember and to rejoice. And so, every Sunday we gather together to remember what Christ our mighty warrior has done for us and how he has defeated our enemies on our behalf. He has turned our sorrow into joy and our mourning into a day of celebration. And so, every Lord’s Day we gather to rejoice and to celebrate what Christ has done for us. And so, if you’re grateful to God for what Christ has done on your behalf, make sure you’re here each week to remember and to rejoice and to give thanks to God for Christ your mighty warrior and Saviour.
But before we finish, there’s still chapter 10 to deal with. It’s a very short chapter and so it won’t take very long. But it’s a significant chapter. Verses 1 and 2 tell us about King Xerxes and verse 3 tells us about Mordecai. And so we read that King Xerxes imposed tribute throughout the empire. In other words, he imposed tax on the people.
And that’s a reminder that God’s people at that time were still living under the power of a foreign king. Because of their sin and rebellion, God had sent his people into exile to be ruled over by a foreign nation. Though many of the Jews were given permission to return to Jerusalem, many of them remained in exile and all of them were still under the authority of the foreign king. And Mordecai — who, along with Esther, had done great things for the Jews — was only ever second-in-rank to the foreign king. And with someone like Xerxes as king, who knows what might happen in the future, because Xerxes was far from being a good king. And at the beginning of the story, he had given orders for young women in the empire to be taken from their homes — kidnapped — and brought to the palace to be his concubines. And he was willing to sign and seal Haman’s wicked decree calling for the destruction of the Jews. He was not a good king.
But the good news of the gospel is that believers now live under the reign of the Lord Jesus Christ. And the Lord Jesus Christ is mightier than Mordecai, because there’s no-one above him: he’s the King of kings and Lord of lords. And the Lord Jesus Christ is better than Xerxes, because he reigns over us with justice and righteousness and goodness. Being just and righteous, he never does anything wrong. Being good, he reigns over us for our good. And since he rules over his people for our good, then we should never be afraid. We should never be afraid, because we know that Christ our King will always help us. And we should pray for his kingdom to come so that more and more men and women and boys and girls around the world will repent and believe and be added to his kingdom and come under his just and righteous and good rule and give him the honour and praise which he deserves.