A Bad Example
This is a very interesting book, quite different from other books in the Bible. There are only 2 Bible books named after women: Ruth and Esther. Some people have objected to the book of Esther because it is the only book in the Bible where God’s name is never mentioned. There is no mention of worship or faith. There is no prediction of the Messiah. There is no mention of heaven or hell. Why is this one of the Bible books? Does it belong with the rest? I believe it gives us a deep understanding of God even though His name is not mentioned. In it we learn about His unsearchable judgments and His amazing ways. Rom. 11:33 We see the evidence of God’s sovereign will with which He controls men and nations.
You remember from our Daniel study that great King Nebuchadnezzar had to learn this the hard way by becoming like an animal for 7 years. Then he saw it and proclaimed the words in Dan. 4:35. So we can say that even though God’s name is not mentioned in Esther, we see the powerful evidence of His hand at work. God accomplishes His purposes in the greatest kingdom of the time through some seemingly insignificant people. God raises up nobodies - one of them a woman - to be in high places where He can use them to influence their world and rescue His Chosen People. The book without His name is an anthem to His power and glory!
I. The setting of the story
A. The book gets its title from the name of the beautiful Jewish girl whom King Xerxes chose to be his queen. We do not know who the author was, but we are quite certain he was a Jew because of the heavy emphasis on the threat to and rescue of the Jews. Probably the author was Mordecai, Esther’s uncle. It was probably written sometime between 460 and 331 BC, at which time the Medo-Persian Empire was conquered by the Greeks. The setting is in Susa, the Persian capitol, during the rule of King Xerxes, or Ahasuerus, as the Jews called him. He ruled from 486 to 465 BC. The main purpose of the book seems to be to record the reason for the festival of Purim which the Jews celebrate every year. It was to keep alive the memory of the deliverance of the Jewish people during the reign of Xerxes. This makes it similar to the books written by Moses that record the deliverance of the Jews from slavery in Egypt.
B. We must refresh our memories about the background history of the Jews. They had been taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar, and were scattered throughout the Babylonian Empire. We remember this from the book of Daniel. By the time of Xerxes and this story, the Babylonian Empire had been conquered by the Medes and Persians, and had become the Medo-Persian Empire. Scattered across this vast empire were many exiled Jews – or their descendants. In 538 BC King Cyrus had issued a decree that all the Jews who could should return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. But not all Jews went back to their country for one reason or another. Maybe many didn’t have the money or the health to take such a long trip.
C. Who are the characters in the story? It begins with a great king named Ahasuerus or Xerxes. He was a very powerful emperor, ruling over 127 provinces spread all the way from India to the Upper Nile region where Egypt and Ethiopia now are. The Persian Kingdom was made up of many diverse peoples and nations, including Israel. There is nothing on earth today as great. Susa, the government seat where the king lived, must have been a glorious center of wealth and learning. The second character is Queen Vashti, who was a strong-minded, independent-thinking woman. Haman was a wealthy and influential officer in the court of the king. He turns out to be deceitful, conceited and Anti-Semitic. Mordecai was a descendant of one of the exiled Jews, and a godly man who had adopted Esther. Esther, whose name means “star”, was an orphan whose parents were killed. She was chosen as Queen of Persia. Charles Swindoll has written a book entitled: “Esther, A Woman of Strength and Dignity.” This is a good description of Esther’s character.
II. The banquet
A. In the 3rd year of Xerxes’ reign he gave a banquet for all the important people in the capitol of Susa. This included the military leaders of Persia and Media as well as the princes and nobles of the provinces. The Medo-Persian Empire was a unity of 2 great empires, but the Persians were stronger and more powerful than the Medes, as seen in Daniel’s vision of the bear that was raised up on one of its sides. Dan. 7:5 It had “eaten up” great kingdoms to become the ruling empire of the time. King Xerxes was obviously a very proud and wealthy man. For half a year – 180 days – he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom, as well as the splendor and glory of his majesty to all these visiting dignitaries. Maybe it was like the inauguration of his reign after he had prepared his palace. It was a grand occasion lasting 6 months. No doubt it included loud music, wild dancing, too much eating and drunkenness. The archeologists have dug up inscriptions in which Ahasuerus referred to himself as “the great king, the king of kings, the king of this great earth.” He was obviously a very arrogant man.
B. The culmination of this 6-month celebration was a banquet lasting 7 days. All of those who were in the citadel were invited – probably thousands of people. It was held in the enclosed garden of the palace, which must have been huge. It was beautifully decorated with hangings of white and blue linen – an expensive cloth. The hangings or curtains were fastened with white and purple material, the color of royalty. They were fastened with silver rings to marble pillars. The couches were of gold and silver. Underfoot was a mosaic of porphyry marble, mother-of-pearl, and costly stones. The wine was served in gold goblets, each one differently designed from the others. There is nothing in our world today that can compare with this kind of extravagant wealth.
III. Too much drink
A. The king wanted everyone to be impressed by his liberality, so wine was served in abundance. The king had his royal wine cellars opened up so that there was more than enough for thousands to drink. And there were no rules to govern what or how much people drank. Each man could drink as much as he wanted. Of course, when there is an open door like this, most people drink too much and end up drunk. Were the wives there when there was all this drunkenness? NO! They were at a different banquet being given by Queen Vashti. Why weren’t the wives included in King Xerxes’ banquet? Was it the custom in those days to have prostitutes around when they gave an all-male banquet? Was Vashti’s banquet a reaction to this all-male affair by her husband? We don’t know. But for whatever reason, the women were having their own celebration.
B. By the 7th day the men were in “high spirits” from drinking too much wine. They were probably all pretty drunk by now. In this spirit the king commanded the 7 eunuchs who served him to go and get Queen Vashti. He wanted her to come before him and his guests wearing the royal crown. He wanted to impress the people with another of his “belongings” – a beautiful queen. When the king’s order was given to Queen Vashti, she refused to come! Why would she do such a daring, rebellious thing? Was it spoiling her banquet for her women friends? Was she unwilling to lower herself to be used as “entertainment” for all those drunken officials, somehow putting her in the category of one of the prostitutes? Was she wanting to let the king know that she wasn’t just a servant to be called? Whatever the reasons were, they were not satisfactory to the king who became furious and burned with anger.
C, What we have to remember is that this is not a story of God’s people. It is an incident that took place in a worldly setting. The king was showing off. They were eating and drinking to excess. They were probably doing immoral things. The queen was proud, too, and evidently quite independent. Maybe she was trying to impress the women at her banquet, that women don’t have to be subservient to their husbands. Judging from worldly standards, the king and queen each had a point. But the question was: who would come out on top before their guests, and who would be put to shame? Judging by Biblical standards, they were all off base. However, Vashti owed her allegiance and loyalty to her husband and king.
IV. The ripple effect of Vashti’s actions
A. We can understand the king’s anger. He was not in a very reasonable condition, having drunk too much. He had been shamed before his guests who were the governmental underlings. He had personally been snubbed by his wife and queen. I am amazed that he didn’t just order the she be executed. Maybe the law of the land didn’t allow him to kill the reigning queen. Anyway, King Xerxes was wise in the way he handled the situation. He turned to the wise men who understood the times and were closest to the king. There were 7 nobles there who, like Daniel, were next to the king in authority. It was customary for the king to consult experts. We saw that with King Nebuchadnezzar who often referred to his wise men. Xerxes asked his nobles what the law had to say about Queen Vashti’s actions.
B. Memucan seemed to be a spokesman for the group. It’s interesting that he didn’t really mention the law. He spoke from common sense. His sentence on Vashti seemed to have reflected the right of protection for the authority of the king and his nobles. It seems that Memucan and the others were defending themselves as much as the king. I think their main fear was related to the ramifications of the queen’s actions on their own marriages and families. The judgment on the queen came from the fact that she had done wrong, not only to the king, but to all the nobles and people of the kingdom. The queen’s negative response to the king’s summons had the potential of having a ripple effect that would finally fill the kingdom with rebellion. Prov. 19:13; 27:15 They felt that Vashti had “despised “ the king, and that this would cause all women in the kingdom to “despise” their husbands. In fact, the nobles were expecting their wives to respond to them the same way on that very day because they had sat at the queen’s banquet and heard her refuse her husband’s order. The outcome would be “no end of disrespect and discord”. I think Memucan was correct. This was a godly kind of wisdom in a pagan setting.
V. The banishment of the queen
A. Memucan went on to urge the king to issue a royal decree to be written into the laws of the Medes and Persians, never to be repealed. This is what took Daniel into the lions’ den. Dan. 6:8, 12 The decree he suggested was to banish Vashti from the king’s presence, and give her royal position to another – “someone else better than she” or maybe more obedient! This would cause a ripple effect down to all the women in the kingdom who would see that they must respect their husbands or be banished – or worse. This would probably be what we would call a divorce which would then allow the men to take new wives. Memucan and the others felt that then the women from the least to the greatest would respect their husbands as heads of families to be obeyed and followed.
B. King Ahasuerus and his nobles were pleased with this advice. So the king made the suggested decree and sent dispatches to each province. The decree was written to all the people groups in the kingdom in their own languages. The essence of the decree was that every man should be ruler over his own household. It seems that this tendency toward female liberation is not new. Women even then had the desire to fight for their rights and declare their independence. In some places in our world, women are still badly mistreated and abused. They do need more protection and consideration. But the Lord’s order is clear: husbands were appointed by God to be the heads of their wives and families. Eph. 5:22-24
Memucan’s suggestions were good solid advice. He seems to have been a wise man. It is very important to seek the advice of others when we need to make a serious decision. But as Christians we realize that the wise people who can help us most are those closest to the Lord who are faithfully studying God’s Word and being led in their lives by the Holy Spirit. It is certainly true, as Memucan said, that evil spreads like a ripple effect when you throw a stone in the water. However, good also spreads. A good example from a leader can spread down through all the followers and beyond. Of course, a bad example tends to spread even faster. And so we often hear from the media about some Christian leader who has failed and fallen, but we never hear about all the faithful, godly leaders. Let us decide with the Lord’s help to be a godly influence in our world. Titus 2:11-13
Enter the Queen!
In our last lesson we learned about the great 180-day banquet put on by King Xerxes or Ahasuerus. He was a very proud man, eager to show off his power and wealth. But you will remember that when he wanted to show off his Queen Vashti, like a prize cow or pig, she objected and refused to come when he summoned her. This was a great blow to his pride, and he became furious and burned with anger. When he asked his advisors what should be done to Queen Vashti for this disobedience and insult, they gave him some wise advice. They pointed out that if Vashti were left unpunished it would encourage all their wives and the women of the empire to rebel against their husbands. They proposed that the king should give the Queen’s position to another, so that all the women of the empire would see that they must respect their husbands. So the empire was without a queen and the king without a wife.
A. King Xerxes’ anger finally subsided and then he began to remember Vashti. Of course, being the emperor of a great empire, he could have any woman he wanted any time. But it seems that he longed for the companionship of a real wife and queen. Maybe he regretted the decision to banish her from his presence. But he had decreed and there was no way to reverse a decree of the Medes and Persians. Dan. 6:8, 12 This verse begins with the word “later”. So we want to ask, “How much later?” Is he thinking about Vashti the following month or year? We find our answer in the Bible and in history. Vashti was banished in the third year of Xerxes’ reign. Est. 1:3 He didn’t have a new queen until the 7th year of his reign. Est. 2:16 So 4 years had passed since Vashti had been banished.
B. So now we want to ask why King Ahasuerus didn’t get a new queen during those 4 years. What was he doing from 483 to 479 BC? History books tell us that during that time this king made an ambitious but disastrous attempt to conquer Greece. He probably realized that Greece was becoming a danger to his empire. We remember from our Daniel studies that the Grecian Empire would conquer the Medo-Persian Empire. So Xerxes tried to conquer Greece first. But he returned home in defeat. Now we see King Ahasuerus returning to his great palace, ashamed and defeated. And there was no queen there to comfort and encourage him. Perhaps for the first time he was lonely and longed for the companionship of a queen.
C. The king’s attendants saw the sadness and depression of their master. They made a proposal of what to do about it. They suggested that a search be made for beautiful young virgins. The king deserved only the best. It would be something like a beauty contest. The king’s commissioners were to bring these beautiful girls to the king’s harem at Susa. There they would be placed under the care of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who was in charge of the women. There they would receive beauty treatments. From among these beauties the king should choose the girl that pleased him most, and make her queen in Vashti’s place. King Ahasuerus liked this proposal of his attendants, and decided to follow it.
II. God’s choice of an orphan
A. We can imagine the excitement throughout the empire as girls competed, hoping to be selected as one of those who might be chosen by the king. They didn’t have to be of royal blood. They only had to be the most beautiful. Now Mordecai enters the story. Who was Mordecai? He was a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin who lived in the capitol of Susa. Mordecai’s great grandfather Kish had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar at the time that he took King Jehoiachin captive. II Kings 24:15 This was at the same time that Daniel had been taken captive. Dan. 1:3-4 However, Daniel was taken to Babylon while Mordecai’s great grandfather had been taken to Susa.
B. It’s interesting how God chose an orphan girl from a displaced family of exiles to serve Him in high places. Mordecai had a cousin whom he had brought up because she was an orphan. Her name was Hadassah or Esther. Hadassah means “fragrance” and Esther means “star”. She was like a fragrant star in God’s hand. She was lovely in form and features – a real beauty! Mordecai had adopted her as his own daughter when her parents died. Esther was endowed by God with beauty, and she had the joy of that gift. But it was not to be used for her indulgence or pride. It seems that Mordecai had raised her right because we don’t see any evidence in her of pride or haughtiness. He must have raised her to love the Lord and be humble in her beauty.
C. Following the king’s orders, many girls were brought to Susa and put under Hegai’s care. The historian Josephus wrote that there were 400 girls gathered for this beauty contest. We don’t know who brought Esther in with all the other girls. Maybe Mordecai suggested her, or maybe someone just noticed how lovely she was. However it was done, it was not known that she was Jewish. Est. 2:10 Did Mordecai agree with this decision for her to join this “beauty contest”? Did he see Esther’s potential to be an influence in this great empire? We don’t know. But it seems that he either initiated this decision or cooperated with it.
A. Esther was taken with many other young women to the king’s palace. I’m sure this was a great honor, but it must have seemed strange to the Jewish mindset. God had told the Jews not to intermarry and not to have sex outside of marriage. Esther was going to be asked to sleep with the king and maybe marry him – a pagan. But as the story continues we see what God is doing. The Lord is not legalistic. He is above His law and accomplished His purposes in His ways. This does not mean that we should disobey God’s commands, but there are situations in which God accomplishes His will in ways that seem unusual to us. Joseph had an Egyptian wife because it was God’s will for him to be in Egypt. Moses had a Midianite wife because it was God’s will for him to be in Midian.
B. We can learn something of the character and attitude of Esther in the following verses. We already know that she was lovely in form and features, but evidently she was also lovely in character. We can deduce this from the way Hegai responded to her. Of all the many girls under his care, he was pleased with Esther and favored her. I believe that she was modest and humble, unlike the other arrogant girls who were proud of their beauty and expected special favors. Hegai chose to immediately provide her with her beauty treatments and special food. Perhaps she requested a simple diet like Daniel did that would be better for her health and would not defile her relationship with God. Maybe the Lord had given her this chance to be selective by bringing her in favor with the one in charge. Hegai also gave her 7 maids and moved her into the best place in the harem. It must have been quite a change for this orphan girl. God had already begun to honor His daughter, one of His chosen people.
Read Esther 2:10-14
IV. Preparation time
A. Esther had not revealed her nationality – a captive Jewess – or her family background – an adopted orphan. I don’t know how she kept it secret, but Mordecai had forbidden her to tell anyone, and she was obedient to her “adoptive father”. I imagine that some of these girls made a big deal out of their noble family background, hoping to sway the decision in their favor. I think that Mordecai wanted Esther to be given an even opportunity and not be discriminated against because she came from the family of captive Jews. Mordecai was very solicitous of his adopted daughter. Every day he walked back and forth near the courtyard of the harem, probably hoping to catch a glimpse of Esther when she came outside. He had to wait a full year before he could find out the outcome of this contest. I am guessing that as he walked back and forth he was praying God’s blessing and protection on Esther and his people.
B. These girls, Esther included, had to have 12 months of beauty treatments before going in to see the king. They had 6 months of oil of myrrh and 6 months with perfumes and cosmetics. These must have softened and beautified their skin. The routine was that the girl, when she had completed the 12 months, could select what she wanted to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace. She would go to the king in the evening and spend the night with him. In the morning she would be taken to another part of the harem to be with the concubines. It seems that she would end up either as the queen or as the concubine of the king. After that, she would not return to the king unless he was pleased with her and summoned her by name. It all seems very strange to us. But then we have to remember that King Solomon long before this had had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Since he was a man of God, I think we can be sure that the Lord must have led Mordecai to allow Esther to be put in this situation.
V. Taken to the king
A. After a full year of preparation. Esther was taken in to King Xerxes in the 10th month of the 7th year of his reign. When it came time for Esther to go to the king, she showed her humility and modesty by not asking for anything special. I’m sure the other girls when given the chance, as all were, asked for extravagant & costly things. Esther just accepted whatever Hegai gave her or suggested. This shows the kind of training Mordecai had given her, and the kind of humble, submissive woman she had become. Notice how Esther won the favor of each person whom she came in contact with. First, there were the Commissioners who were seeking for beautiful girls. Then, there was Hegai, the king’s servant put in charge of the girls. Est. 2:9a Next, she won favor with everyone who saw her. Est. 2:15b Finally, the most important person favored her – the king! Est. 2:17a In the midst of all these arrogant, ego-centered women so proud of their beauty, she must have stood out like a rose among thorns.
B. 4 years had passed since Vashti had been banished, and still King Ahasuerus had no queen. I’m sure he had many concubines, but none worthy to be queen. When the king saw Esther and observed her ways, he was more attracted to her than to any of the other 399 women who had been brought to him. Esther won his favor and approval. So he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen in place of Vashti. He gave a great banquet for all his nobles and officials – Esther’s banquet. He proclaimed a holiday throughout the provinces to celebrate the crowning of his new queen. He distributed gifts with kingly liberality. This was no small work of the Lord! Now everyone in the Medo-Persian Empire knew about Esther. But only Mordecai and Esther knew she was a Jewess.
What is the likelihood that an unknown, displaced person from a despised, conquered race could become queen of the greatest empire on earth? King Ahasuerus didn’t know it, but he was like a channel of water in the hand of the Lord that He could turn in any direction. Prov. 21:1 In his book, “Esther, a Woman of Strength and Dignity”, Charles Swindoll gives us 3 points to think about. 1.) “God’s plans are not hindered when the events of the world are carnal or secular.” 2.) “God’s purposes are not frustrated by moral or marital failure.” 3.) “God’s people are not excluded from high places because of handicap or hardship.” God is at work. He will accomplish what He has planned. Isa. 55:8-11 But God wants to use His servants who love Him first of all and who live out humble and submissive lives, committed to do His will. Think of how the Father used the young, innocent Mary to be the mother of His Son. Think of how He chose a faithful carpenter named Joseph to be the guardian and protector of Mary and Jesus. And here in this wonderful story, God chose 2 nobodies to become Queen and Prime Minister of the greatest empire on earth. God can use us, too, if we give Him first place in our lives.
The Hero and the Villain
In our last lesson we learned about the loneliness and sadness of King Ahasuerus. He had come home from his wars with Greece in defeat and probably humiliation. Since he had decreed 4 years before that Queen Vashti be banished, he had no companion Queen to encourage and cheer him up. His advisors suggested that his depression be relieved by having beautiful girls gathered from all over the empire to have a sort of beauty contest. The purpose would be for the king to be able to choose from among them the one he liked the best, and crown her as his queen. The contest was held. It took a full year for these lovely ladies to become even more beautiful with special treatments. One of those chosen was Esther, the adopted daughter of Mordecai, a Jewish descendant of one of the exiles. She was beautiful in character as well as in looks. And she was the one who pleased the king the most. When we ended last week, the whole empire was celebrating the crowning of their new Queen Esther.
I. The assassination plot and the hero
A. Esther was now Queen and it seemed that everyone was happy and celebrating, but they weren’t. Because Satan is the prince of this world, he is always plotting ways to destroy God’s people. His hatred of God is passed down to his followers who hate God’s chosen servants. When the virgins were assembled a second time, perhaps for the celebration, Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate. Though Esther was now queen, she had told no one about Mordecai, her adoptive father, or about her people, the Jews. Mordecai had given her strict instructions not to reveal her background and nationality. Maybe the Lord had revealed to Mordecai that there could be danger to both of them if she told the king that they were Jews. Even though Esther was now the queen, she continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up. This is an indication of Esther’s character. She was kind, sweet, obedient and respectful. I’m sure this is one of the reasons that she was chosen by the king.
B. Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, no doubt staying as close as possible with the hope of glimpsing her at times as she came out with the king. Two of the king’s guards who guarded the doorway became angry with the king. Probably he did something they didn’t like. If we don’t take care of our anger right away, it could lead us to do something terrible in revenge because it gives the devil an opportunity in our lives. Eph. 4:26-27 These 2 servants of the king conspired together to assassinate him. What an awful plan that was! Probably they were discussing their plans as how to kill King Xerxes when Mordecai overheard them. They probably didn’t even pay any attention to him because he was just an unknown person to them. When Mordecai discovered the plot, he told Queen Esther and she reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai. When the report was investigated and found to be true, the 2 men were hanged on gallows. Psa. 7:14-16 Why didn’t the king reward the man who saved his life? We don’t know. But we do know that the whole incident was recorded in the annals – an important detail as part of God’s later plan. God doesn’t forget when others do!
II. Enters the villain!
A. So in our book, Mordecai was the hero because he saved the life of the king. For some reason, King Xerxes didn’t honor him at this time for what he had done. Instead, he honored Haman who turned out to be the villain. Haman was the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, which we will discover later is an important fact. It seems that King Xerxes was not a real good judge of character, or Haman was very clever at deceiving and misleading him. Probably he was a charismatic person who knew how to charm the king. At any rate, the king elevated him above all the other nobles. When Haman went in and out of the king’s gate, all the royal officials there knelt down and paid him honor as the king had told them to do. But Mordecai who sat at the gate refused to kneel before Haman. The royal officials asked Mordecai why he was disobeying the king’s command. Evidently he told them that he was a Jew and could not bow down before anyone but God. The others kept trying to persuade him to comply but he refused.
B. So the royal officials reported Mordecai’s behavior to Haman to see if it would be tolerated or he would be punished. As a Jew he could bow down only to God. Dan. 3:17-18 Because Haman was such a proud, arrogant and self-assured man, he became enraged when he saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor. When he found out that the reason was that Mordecai was a Jew, Haman decided to get his revenge, not only on Mordecai, but also on all of Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the Medo-Persian Empire. What would drive a man to want to kill all the Jews? We asked that question during World War II when Hitler tried to do the same thing. I don’t know Hitler’s secret reason for being anti-Semitic, but I think we find out Haman’s reason when we hear that he was an Agagite. In I Samuel we read about God telling King Saul to kill all the Amalekites. I Sam. 15:3 He disobeyed God and kept King Agag alive. I Sam. 15:9 Although Samuel later killed King Agag, this incident was never forgotten. The Agagites, named after King Agag, had hated the Jews all these years. Probably Haman had been taught that hatred as a child. Discrimination is a terrible thing. Let’s guard our hearts against it.
III. The evil plot
A. Haman set about to look for a way to destroy, not only Mordecai, but also all the Jews. By this time Esther had been Queen for 5 years, but Xerxes still didn’t know that she was Jewish. Haman decided to find a good date on which to annihilate the Jews. Since he was superstitious, they cast the “pur” or lot and it fell on the 12th month. So Haman decided that was a good time to carry out his murderous plan. That was something like reading the astrology column to find out what you’re supposed to do tomorrow. Then Haman went to Xerxes with his accusation. He told him that a “certain people” scattered in the provinces had customs different from all the other people. Well, so what? The Medo-Persian Empire was made up of a myriad of different people groups who had been conquered or brought as captives into the kingdom. It seems that their customs and religions were tolerated.
B. But then Haman told the big lie. It seems that a lot of people in this world depend on their lies to get them what they want. He told Xerxes that these people did not obey the king’s laws. He didn’t explain what laws they didn’t obey. Probably most of the Jews were law-abiding citizens like Mordecai, but if they followed the faith of their forefathers, they wouldn’t bow to another “god”, whether man or idol. Then Haman told the king that it was not in his best interests to tolerate them. It made it sound as though they were dangerous to the kingdom. King Ahasuerus must have really trusted Haman because Haman dared to ask him to destroy a whole people group. He told the king that he wanted him to make a decree – the kind that can’t be changed – to destroy all the Jews in the kingdom. Psa. 83:4 Haman offered to put 375 tons of silver into the royal treasury to pay for the work of exterminating all these people.
C. Why didn’t the king ask why he was willing to pay a fortune to get rid of the Jews? Why didn’t the king have the whole thing investigated? It seems like a repeat of the plot against Daniel to which King Darius agreed without investigating. It’s amazing that these great rulers could be so gullible. Their pride was their downfall! The king stupidly gave his signet ring to Haman. This gave Haman the power to use the ring with the king’s authority. He could write scrolls and then seal them with the ring to be sure that they were carried out. In other words, he could act in the place of the king. Then King Xerxes told Haman to keep his money and do whatever he wanted with the people. This is amazing! How could a king with integrity condemn a whole race of people without proof? We don’t know how many Jews were involved, but it was probably hundreds of thousands.
IV. The decree sent out
A. Haman wasted no time in getting the word of his deadly plot sent out all over the Medo-Persian Empire. He had the royal secretaries write out the decree in the script and language of each people group in the empire. The decrees were written in the name of King Xerxes and sealed with his ring, making them official. The dispatches went out to every corner of the empire with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews on a single day. Haman had convinced the king to do this awful thing in the first month of his 12th year as king. The pur or lot had been cast and showed the 12th month as the best time. So the dispatches told the people to kill all the Jews on the 13th day of the 12th month. That gave the Jews 12 months to be thinking about and fearing their “judgment day”. This killing included not only the men, but women and children as well. But why would the other people groups in the empire want to kill all these innocent people? I guess that some may have hated them because they were “different” as worshippers of the Lord God. Haman used the same tactics that Hitler had used back in the 1940s. We call it greed!
B. Many of the Jews in Germany were successful businessmen. They had big stores and businesses as well as expensive houses, and money in the banks. Hitler’s officials became rich by seizing the property and money of the Jews while following Hitler’s commands that they should be rounded up and taken to concentration camps to be killed. Haman, like Hitler, appealed to the greed of the other people in the empire by telling them that they could plunder the goods of the Jews, probably including their land and houses. The couriers went out to all the provinces including Susa, the capitol, to inform the people to get ready for the day of killing and plunder. The king and Haman sat down to drink and enjoy a job well done. Imagine the great evil they celebrated! We can understand Haman, who was filled with hatred, enjoying this victory. But what kind of king was Xerxes to agree to annihilate an entire people group in his kingdom with no sorrow? The two men may have been proud of their job, but the city of Susa was bewildered. Why would King Xerxes suddenly turn on all the Jews? What was the reason behind it? Or who was behind it?
I don’t know if you heard the news about 10 years ago about a man named Timothy McVeigh. He was found guilty of murder and condemned to death. What for? On April 19, 1995 he bombed the federal office building in Oklahoma City. That bombing killed 168 men, women and children, and injured hundreds more. Why would he do such a terrible thing? Why would terrorists destroy the World Trade buildings with the thousands who died there? Why do Muslim terrorists teach their children to be suicide bombers? Without Christ in our hearts, we can be full of hatred and discrimination like Haman was. He was bearing a grudge from centuries past. But what about us? Do we keep anger and hatred in our hearts from the past? Do we carry grudges and wish we could get revenge for what was done to us? God’s Word is clear that we must put away the past and forgive those who have hurt us. Eph. 4:31-32; Col. 3:8,12-13 The Lord will help us if we are determined to obey Him!
“If I Perish, I Perish!”
In our last lesson we learned about the hero and the villain. Mordecai was the hero who saved the life of King Ahasuerus when his 2 guards plotted to assassinate him. Haman was the villain who had wounded pride because Mordecai refused to bow down to him. When he found out that the reason was because Mordecai was a Jew, he decided to settle an old grudge while getting rid of Mordecai. His discrimination and anti-Semitism stemmed from centuries before when God ordered Saul to kill all the Amalekites including King Agag. Haman was an Agagite, a descendant of those Amalekites who survived and named themselves after King Agag. Haman cleverly tricked the king into believing that the Jews were a danger to his kingdom. King Ahasuerus foolishly gave Haman the permission to have all the Jews in the Medo-Persian Empire killed on a single day 12 months later. The edict was sent out to all the provinces of the empire. You can imagine the shock and fear this announcement caused that day in the capitol of Susa. The Jews and their neighbors could hardly believe that such a terrible thing could happen.
I. Mordecai’s mourning
A. When Mordecai heard about the decree and saw it posted around the city, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly. It was as if someone had died. Well, the edict said that all the Jews would die! In the Near East when people mourn, they show their sorrow and anguish by wearing sackcloth, sprinkling ashes on themselves, and crying out with loud voices. This prospect of the annihilation of all the Jews in Xerxes’ kingdom was worse than Hitler’s Germany. Aside from the few Jews who had returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, all the other Jews lived in various parts of the Medo-Persian Empire. This decree could eliminate most of the Jews in the world at that time. How Satan, who hates God and His chosen people, was rejoicing at that. He must have been proud of his servant Haman. He must have felt that the victory was his – as he did at the cross! But God had His secret weapon and the battle was not over!
B. Mordecai couldn’t go into the palace grounds because no one in sackcloth could enter the king’s gate. In every province where the edict was read, the Jews mourned with fasting, weeping and wailing. Everyone in Medo-Persia knew that once the king signed an edict it could never be changed. It looked like a hopeless situation. It seemed that there was no way out of this dilemma. They were all condemned to death. Meanwhile, Esther didn’t know anything about the edict because she lived a very sheltered life inside the palace walls. But then her maids and eunuchs reported to her about Mordecai’s sackcloth and his behavior. She didn’t know the reason for this, but it greatly distressed her. She sent clothes for Mordecai to put on instead of the sackcloth, but he refused the clothes. Then she sent for Hathach, the king’s eunuch who had been assigned to attend her. She ordered him to go and find out what was troubling Mordecai and why.
II. The truth comes out
A. Hathach went out to meet Mordecai in the open square outside the king’s gate. There Mordecai told Hathach the facts:
1.) He told what had happened to him – that he had refused to bow to Haman and had incurred his wrath. While he knew that he had done the right thing before his God, he probably felt guilty that his action had started this whole problem that now condemned his people.
2.) Mordecai told Hathach the exact amount of money that Haman had offered to pay to the royal treasury for the annihilation of the Jews – 375 tons of silver.
3.) Then Mordecai gave Hathach a copy of the text of the edict that had been sent out around the empire. He was to show and explain it to Esther.
4.) Mordecai told Hathach to urge Esther to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people. The time had come to reveal the secret – that Esther was a Jewess!
B. When Hathach reported to Esther, she must have been shocked by this terrible news. Unless someone did something, all the Jews in the kingdom, including Mordecai and Esther, would die on the 13th day of the 12th month. Esther heard and understood the danger, and the request of her uncle that she go to the king and plead for mercy. But there was a big problem. So Esther sent Hathach out to Mordecai again. She wanted him to know that it was no light thing he was asking. All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces knew the king’s law. His law said that any man or woman who approached the king without being summoned by him would be put to death. Isa.41:10, 13 It seems like a very harsh law, but I guess this was the king’s way of protecting himself from bothersome or dangerous intruders.
C. This law of the Medes and Persians regarding approaching their king, is a good illustration of the terrible presence of God Almighty. Anyone coming before Him without His call of love is condemned to death – not just physical, but eternal death! The only exception to this Medo-Persian law was when King Xerxes extended his golden scepter to the one approaching him. Then he or she would be spared because the king reached out his scepter of acceptance. What can cause God to extend His “royal scepter” to us and spare our lives? It is only when His Beloved Son, willing to lay down His life, approaches Him on our behalf. So it was with Esther. The king had not called her to come to him for a month. Now she was asked to be willing to lay down her life for her people.
III. “For such a time as this”
A, Mordecai received Esther’s explanation of the danger of going before the king. But He reminded her of several things.
1.) Just because she was in the palace did not mean that she was safe. Would she be the only Jew in the kingdom who would not die?
2.) If she decided to keep silent, God would surely send deliverance to the Jews another way. Mordecai had faith in God that He would deliver them somehow.
3.) But Mordecai reminded her that God would surely hold her and her family accountable for not acting when she could. Mordecai said that even if she didn’t die with all the other Jews, she and her father’s family would perish.
4.) Mordecai told Esther that probably the very reason she had come to this royal position was to be there as God’s instrument for just such a time as this.
B. Esther was convinced that she must do what she could to save her people. But she knew that she needed God’s help and protection. So she responded very wisely to Mordecai. She told Mordecai to gather all the Jews in Susa to fast for her for 3 days. While the word “pray” is not mentioned, it is assumed that to fast means to fast and pray. She promised that she and her maids would also fast and pray for those 3 days. Psa. 32:6,7 At the end of the 3 days she would go to the king, even though it was against the law. She said, “And if I perish, I perish.” Mordecai did what Esther requested, calling the Jews in Susa to fast and pray for 3 days. How wise we would be if we handled our difficult problems with prayer like this.
Read Esther 5:1-8
IV. The king’s acceptance
A. Esther kept her promise to go in before the king on the third day after the fasting and prayers. Her heart must have been pounding as she put on her royal robes. This could be the last day of her life. But she was willing to give her life for her people. Esther stood in the inner court in front of the king’s hall. King Ahasuerus was sitting on his throne facing the entrance. He could see someone approaching. He must have thought, “Who is this who dares to come to me without my request?” Then he saw that it was his beautiful, beloved Queen. Because he was pleased with her, he extended his gold scepter toward her. She advanced to him and touched the tip of the scepter. This was not an accident or a coincidence. The Lord had prepared and softened the king’s heart through prayer. The ways of kings are in the Lord’s hands. Prov. 21:1 When we approach God Almighty, He looks to see who dares to come to Him. If we are His beloved children, He extends His hand to us, and we can make contact with Him in prayer.
B. The king knew that Esther would not have dared to come uninvited unless she had a special request to make of him. He asked her what it was and promised to give it to her, up to half the kingdom. I’m sure that this was a kind of kingly custom to offer up to half the kingdom. Still, if she had asked for half the kingdom, he would have been required to give it so as not to be shamed before those listening. Instead of asking for anything for herself, she invited the king to come with Haman to a banquet she had prepared for them. Esther’s plan was very wise. Psa. 32:8 She wanted to be sure that the king saw her feasting Haman before she brought her accusation. Haman was highly favored by the king, so it would take great wisdom to show him the duplicity and evil of Haman. So the king sent for Haman who was delirious with joy at being invited to a private banquet with the king and queen.
C. While they were drinking wine and enjoying Esther’s banquet, Ahasuerus again asked Esther what her petition was. Once again he made his expansive promise of up to half the kingdom. Esther’s request and petition was another invitation to the king and Haman for another banquet the next day. I don’t know why she put it off, but I believe she was led by the Holy Spirit to do so in order for Haman to have time to humiliate himself before Mordecai. God has His special ways. He knows what He wants to accomplish in people’s hearts. We must be sensitive to His will so that we allow Him to do the work of humbling that is necessary for His glory to be seen. This story of Esther is an excellent example of this. Although God’s name isn’t mentioned, His moving, His will and His glory are clearly seen.
Mordecai and Esther were God’s people in God’s place for that very time. Suppose Esther had decided that she didn’t want to be involved in such a dangerous situation. She possibly could have hid her ethnicity and saved herself. But how could she then face the horrors of the death of Mordecai and all the other Jews? We must see that God has put us where we are, not only for our benefit, but also for His purposes in the lives of others, and for His glory on earth. But what if we don’t like the assignment God has given us? We can back out. We can ignore the needs of others. We can do what we want instead of what God wants. But if we do not take up the opportunity He has given, we will lose out ourselves, others will suffer, and God’s glory will be tarnished. Are we willing to say with Esther, “I will pray and I will go to do God’s will; and if I perish, I perish”? I Chron. 16:9; Isa. 59:15-16
Edward Everett Hale wrote:
“I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything;
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
The Tables Are Turned
In our last lesson the Jews throughout the kingdom of the Medes and Persians were in mourning. They had read the edict that Haman had persuaded the king to write. It was the death sentence of all the Jews in the kingdom. Esther, because she was sheltered in the palace, didn’t know about the edict. When she heard about Mordecai being clothed in sackcloth she sent Hathach out to find out what was wrong. Mordecai sent a copy of the edict with Hathach to show to Esther and also told him to tell her that she needed to ask the king for mercy. Esther sent word back that since she had not been summoned by Ahasuerus, she might be executed if she appeared before him. To this Mordecai replied that it was her duty to try to help her people, and God would punish her and her family if she didn’t. Esther agreed to go see the king, saying, “If I perish, I perish.” But when she went to the king he extended his golden scepter and accepted her, asking her what she wanted of him. Wisely biding her time, she said that she wanted the king and Haman to attend a banquet she had prepared. At the banquet, Esther again put off the confrontation with Haman and invited them both to another banquet the following day.
I. The gallows
A. Figuring that he was the favorite of both the king and queen, Haman went home that day in high spirits – until he saw Mordecai at the king’s gate. He thought that surely Mordecai would now bow to him out of fear since he had read the edict and knew that Haman was behind it. When Mordecai neither rose nor showed fear in his presence, Haman’s joy turned to rage. Prov. 14:17 However, he restrained himself from harming Mordecai and went home. At home he gathered his wife and friends to brag about himself – his wealth, his many sons, and all the ways the king had honored him above the other nobles and officials. And then there was the top honor: Only he had been invited to the banquet of the queen for the king and him. And she had invited him again for the next day. Foolish man! Little did he know that the noose was tightening around his neck! The God who was listening to his boasts was preparing a “humbling party” for him.
B. Then Haman told his wife and friends that all that he had gave him no satisfaction or happiness as long as he saw Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate, refusing to bow to him. I guess it wasn’t enough that he had already condemned Mordecai and all the rest of the Jews to death. Haman’s anti-Semitism and hatred of Mordecai and the Jews obviously came to him directly from Satan who bitterly hates God’s people. But Haman didn’t realize that he was on thin ice when he determined to wipe out God’s beloved. Haman’s wife and friends tried to make him feel better. They told him he could assuage his hurt pride and anger by building a 75-foot gallows. That’s the height of an 8-story building! Why must it be so high? Haman wanted Mordecai’s body to be seen for miles so that he would get his revenge. The friends told him to ask the king in the morning to have Mordecai hung on it, and then go to the queen’s dinner happy. So that night Haman had the gallows built, never guessing who would actually be hanging from it! Prov. 16:18
II. Discovery of an oversight
A. In this chapter we see the hand of God at work in the lives of unsuspecting people who never intended to do God’s will. God moves in them to cause them to accomplish what He wants. In doing it, God honors His faithful children. During the night in which Haman was having the gallows made the king couldn’t sleep. Sometimes God causes insomnia to get His messages across to people too busy to listen in the daytime. Dan. 2:1 Some people when they can’t sleep get up and read. So Ahasuerus got up and ordered the book of the chronicles to be read to him. In this book was recorded the record of events in his reign. While the person was reading and the king was listening, they came across the record of how Mordecai had exposed the 2 officers of the king who had conspired to assassinate him. Esther 2:22-23
B. With all the circumstances arranged by God, and the king’s heart in the palm of His hand, it was easy for King Xerxes to find Mordecai’s name in the record. The king recognized at once that here was the record of the man who had saved his life. But he had received no recognition or reward for doing it. It was a great oversight on the king’s part, and he realized how negligent he had been. Was it just coincidence that caused the king to have a sleepless night on this night, when Mordecai’s gallows was being built? Was it just coincidence that the king read about Mordecai in the chronicles? Remember that Haman had planned that day to be the day of execution for Mordecai. The king asked his attendants what honor and recognition had been given to Mordecai for his faithfulness in saving the king’s life. They affirmed his memory that nothing had been done for Mordecai.
A. Was it just coincidence that at that moment Haman appeared intending to request that Mordecai be hung on his gallows? There are no coincidences with the Lord. He is at work in His world, moving even His enemies to do His will. The king asked who was in the court. It turned out to be Haman who never did get the chance to open his mouth with his request about Mordecai’s execution. He probably had his arguments ready to convince the king that Mordecai was the worst of those hated enemies, the Jews. He would get the king to say that Mordecai must die in the morning. His pride assured him that the king would do anything he asked. How could he lose? But he didn’t count on the great personal Lord and Friend of Esther, Mordecai and the Jews. Psa. 2:4 The Lord was about to laugh out loud at the expression on Haman’s face and the bursting of his balloon of pride.
B. Ahasuerus was looking for someone to give him ideas about how to honor Mordecai. When he saw Haman he thought, “He always has good ideas.” So without mentioning the name of the man he was talking about, he asked Haman what should be done for the man whom the king delights to honor. Pride goes before a fall, and Haman’s pride led him right into a trap! How he regretted it later! In his pride, Haman thought that surely he must be the man whom the king wanted to honor. He thought, “Who is there that the king would rather honor than me?” So Haman’s suggestions were all made with himself in mind.
C. What would he like the king to do for him?
1.) He wanted one of the king’s royal robes put on him.
2.) He wanted to have the king’s horse to ride with the royal crest on its head.
3.) He suggested that the robe and horse be given to one of the king’s most noble princes.
4.) The noble prince should lead the horse through the city streets.
5.) Then he wanted the prince who was leading the horse to proclaim before him, “This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor.”
We can only imagine the swelling of Haman’s pride as he thought about this great honor that would come to him.
IV. Haman’s humiliation
A. Haman’s huge bubble of pride burst the next minute when the king said, “Go at once. Get the robe and horse and do as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew who sits at the king’s gate. Don’t neglect anything you have recommended.” Haman had built the trap! Now he was caught in it! Of course, he had no choice. He had to do what the king said. He could hardly try to get the king to execute Mordecai when he wanted to honor him! So Haman was confronted with his humiliating task. He must honor Mordecai whom he hated, who was a Jew which people he hated, who sat when he should have bowed to him! Outside Haman’s house stood a 75-foot gallows on which Mordecai should be hanging this morning. Instead Mordecai is in the king’s robe seated on the king’s horse being led through the streets by his greatest enemy, Haman, who was proclaiming before him, “This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!” God has said that those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be honored. Here is a perfect example of both! Prov. 29:23
B. After this, Mordecai humbly returned the king’s gate, but Haman rushed home, sick to his stomach and with his head covered in grief. Maybe he covered his head with a scarf or something to show his grief. II Sam. 15:30 Now his story was quite different from the one he boasted about the night before. When he told his wife and advisers what had happened, they made a very astute observation. They could see that Haman’s downfall had started before Mordecai in this strange turn of events. They said that since Mordecai was a Jew, Haman would not be able to stand against him but would come to ruin. They actually seemed to have a fear of the Jews and some understanding of their special protection and blessing from God. What did they know about Jews that made them come to this conclusion? They must have heard stories about how the God of the Jews had rescued them and fought against their enemies. That must have been a scary prediction for Haman to hear – and from his wife and friends! But it was God’s truth coming from the mouths of pagans. It only took a few hours before their entire prophecy was fulfilled! While they were still talking, the king’s eunuchs came to hurry Haman away to Esther’s banquet.
In his book entitled, Esther, a Woman of Strength and Dignity, Charles Swindoll states some important principles that apply to this whole episode with Haman and Mordecai. – and apply to our lives as well.
1.) “When all seems lost, it isn’t.” Mordecai was facing an impossible situation – his death and the death of all the Jews in the kingdom. Could it get any worse? Yes, actually it did get worse as Haman had his gallows built for Mordecai’s execution the next day. Does it seem some times like things can’t get any worse? All is not lost when we are on God’s side!
2.) “When no one seems to notice, they do.” Mordecai had courageously reported the attempt on the king’s life, but no one seemed to notice what he had done, except that the 2 conspirators were executed. Mordecai was ignored. But God had not forgotten! Heb. 6:10 Just as Mordecai’s faithful act had been recorded in the king’s chronicles, so what we do for God is recorded by Him. Possibly no one else notices or appreciates what we do, but God keeps track, and it will all come out sooner or later.
3.) “When everything seems great, it’s not.” Haman thought that he was on the top of the world. He was a personal friend of the king and queen. He had planned his revenge against the Jews who had killed his people long ago. He would see his personal enemy Mordecai hanged on a giant gallows. In his pride and selfishness he had everything going his way. Then God stepped in and turned the tables. We must be careful that we don’t live selfish, hateful lives. An accounting will come! Prov. 28:18
4.) “When nothing seems just, it is.” Mordecai had been honored by the king, but he didn’t demand a high position. He humbly returned to his place at the king’s gate. His time of exaltation would come later. God had promised blessing and cursing, depending on how the Jews were treated. Gen. 12:2-3 God’s justice would prevail. We may not find justice in this world, but we will find it for sure in God’s eternal home.
5.) “When God seems absent, He’s present” This whole story is proof of this point. I heard a story about a man who shipwrecked on an uninhabited island. He carefully built a little hut for shelter and put everything in it that he had salvaged from the shipwreck. One day when he came back from looking for food, he saw his little hut in flames. He had nothing left, and was broken-hearted. The next morning when he woke up he found a ship anchored off the island – the first ship he had seen in all the weeks he had been there. The captain told him, “We saw your smoke signal and came to rescue you.” Sometimes what we think is the worst thing that can happen turns out to be the best in God’s plan. He doesn’t turn His back on those who love His Son!
The Villain Exposed
Esther 7:1- 8:8
In our last lesson we learned how Haman had a gallows made on which to execute Mordecai. But on the very night that the gallows was being constructed, King Ahasuerus couldn’t sleep. When he called for the king’s chronicles to be read to him, he discovered that Mordecai had never been rewarded for uncovering the plot to assassinate the king. Just when Haman entered the palace in the morning to ask that Mordecai be executed that day, the king was looking for someone with good suggestions about how to honor a person who pleased the king. Thinking he was the one the king wanted to honor, Haman made a lot of good suggestions. Then he was hit by the bombshell! Ahasuerus wanted him to do all those wonderful things for his enemy Mordecai! After he spent the day parading through the streets honoring Mordecai, Haman went home bowed with grief. His wife and advisers recognized something miraculous in the way God had intervened for Mordecai. They told Haman that since he had tangled with Mordecai, who was a Jew, he had begun his downfall and would surely come to ruin. In a matter of hours Haman’s ruin came upon him.
I. “Spare my life”
A. King Xerxes and Haman went to dine with Queen Esther for the second time. Why had she waited and not informed the king the day before? The Holy Spirit led her to wait so that Haman could build his gallows, the king could read the chronicles and find Mordecai’s name, and Haman could be humbled by honoring Mordecai. Esther was wise because God gave her the wisdom to wait for His appointed time when everything would be arranged the way He wanted it. The king must have been curious by this time. What was this special request of Esther? Why hadn’t she told him yet? As they were relaxing and drinking wine, he asked her for the 3rd time to reveal her petition. Again he repeated that he would grant her the request up to half his kingdom.
B. Finally Esther knew that the time was right. She answered the king politely and with respect, but with a straightforward and honest answer. She said that her petition was to ask for her life, and her request was to spare the lives of her people. She went on to explain that she and her people had been sold for destruction, slaughter and annihilation. Evidently the king had forgotten the permission he had given to Haman to kill the Jews. Of course, when he agreed to Haman’s request he didn’t know that his beloved Queen was a Jew! Nor did he know that the man he had honored – Mordecai – was also a Jew. At the time that he had agreed to destroy all Jews in the kingdom he thought of them only as faceless enemies. Suddenly they were the people closest to him!
A. Esther told the king that if they were only to be sold as male and female slaves, she would have kept quiet. That distress would not justify disturbing the king – as if it were a small thing to be sold as slaves! But even if they had to endure slavery, at least they would have their lives. King Xerxes was furious! He asked, “Where is he? Where is the man who has dared to do such a thing?” Esther didn’t hesitate to identify him. The time had come! She said, “The adversary and enemy is this vile Haman.” Needless to say, Haman was terrified before the King and Queen. Suddenly he realized that he was not a favorite at all. He had been invited to the banquet to be revealed and condemned. He had no idea that the hated Jews had a representative in high places. Too late Haman recognized that Esther was a Jew. The king’s favorite was one of those he had condemned.
B. King Ahasuerus got up in a rage and left his wine to go out into the palace garden. I think it finally dawned on him how Haman had deceived him into believing that all Jews were seditious and his enemies. I think he was so full of rage that he had to get out of the banquet hall lest he kill Haman with his own hands, which would be an unkingly thing to do. Meanwhile, Haman knew from the king’s fury that his fate was sealed, so he stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life. My, how the tables had turned! All Haman’s dreams and plans had come crashing down around his feet. No doubt he remembered the words of his wife and advisers, that since Moredecai was a Jew, Haman would be brought to ruin. He had no idea that the Jews are God’s precious, chosen people, and those who touch His beloved ones will die for it sooner or later – and eternally!
III. “Hang him on his gallows!”
A. Out in the garden the king was no doubt feeling somehow ashamed and foolish as he remembered how easily Haman had fooled him into making a careless mistake involving the lives of thousands of people. The more he thought about it, the angrier he got. No doubt he was planning the best way to get rid of this deceiving man. His anger boiled over when he came back into the room and saw Haman falling on the couch where Queen Esther was sitting. Haman was begging her for mercy, but the king, in his anger, misread Haman’s intentions. He said, “Will he even molest the queen while she is with me in the house?” He may have thought that Haman, being a Jew-hater, wanted to harm the queen for revealing his evil intentions. The minute King Ahasuerus exclaimed these angry, accusing words, the servants standing by covered Haman’s face – a sign that he was condemned to death.
B. Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs attending the king, gave him some more interesting information about Haman. Harbona told King Ahasuerus that there was a 75-foot gallows standing by Haman’s house. The king must have wondered why Haman had such a big gallows. Harbona explained that Haman had built the gallows for Mordecai to hang on – the man whom the king had just honored because of his patriotism and faithfulness in saving the king’s life. That did not make the king any happier. He was now more furious than ever. Prov. 20:2 And he also knew now the best way to get rid of this deceiving, scheming anti-Semite. He said, “Hang him on it!” So they took Haman and hanged him on the gallows he had built for Mordecai. Psa. 7:14-16 Haman’s body hung far up in the air where everybody could see what happens to those who plan to harm God’s people. And so God’ justice was meted out. Finally with Haman hanging on the gallows, getting his just punishment, the king’s anger subsided. This is just a small taste of the way the Lord will turn the tables at the return of Christ when the persecuted Jews and Christians will be elevated to places of authority, while the evil persecutors are destroyed the way they wanted to destroy God’s people.
IV. “Haman’s estate is yours.”
A. The same day that the king had discovered Haman’s treachery and had him hanged, he gave Haman’s estate to Esther. This is what Haman had been boasting about to his wife and friends. As they had predicted, tangling with God’s people had brought him to complete ruin and death, Mordecai then came into the king’s presence because Esther had told King Ahasuerus that she and Mordecai were related. Mordecai was then elevated to take Haman’s place. Mordecai’s wisdom, patience, faithfulness and trust in the Lord finally paid off. The king took his signet ring, which he had taken back from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai. This automatically gave Mordecai the position and authority in the kingdom that Haman had had. Queen Esther then appointed Mordecai to be in charge of Haman’s estate. Prov. 13:22 Mordecai ended up with Haman’s royal position and his estate, while Haman ended up losing everything and on his own gallows. In one swift move of God the poor man sitting at the king’s gate because a very rich and influential man. Prov. 10:28; 22:22-23
B. But Esther’s work was not finished. Haman was done away with, but his edict still stood. Esther was not just concerned about her safety or revenge on her enemy. He purpose was to save her people. So once again she fell at the feet of the king weeping and begging him to put an end to the evil plan of Haman. The problem was that the edict had been approved by the king and it still stood. It could not be changed because it was part of the law of the Medes and Persians that could not be changed or revised. King Ahasuerus extended his golden scepter to Esther as he had done before, indicating that he would grant her petition. Prov. 21:1,2 She arose and stood before him. Esther spoke in a very respectful way. She said, “If it pleases the king…if he regards me with favor…and thinks it the right thing to do… if he is pleased with me…” Esther knew that though she was queen, she was asking a big favor from the king. She dared to ask because she knew the king found pleasure in her. After all, he had signed and sent out the edict. It would not be good to be critical of him.
V. “Write a new edict”
A. Esther did not ask the king to reverse or ignore his own laws. He could not change the decree that he had allowed Haman to send out because that would be unjust under the laws of the Medes and Persians. Dan. 6:8, 12, 15 Instead Esther asked him to overrule the decree. He could write a higher law that would change the situation of the Jews from victims to victors. Esther appealed to his sympathy, saying, “How can I bear to see disaster fall on my people? How can I bear to see the destruction of my family?” It’s interesting that she didn’t beg for her own life even though as a Jew she, too, could die.
B. King Xerxes spoke to Esther and Mordecai, who was now close as an advisor to the king. The king reviewed what he had already done to right the situation. Because Haman had attacked the Jews, the king already acted on their behalf. He had given Haman’s estate to Esther and had him hanged on the gallows. King Xerxes then told Esther and Mordecai to write another decree in the king’s name on behalf of the Jews. He told them to write whatever seemed best to them. Then they could seal it with the king’s signet ring. This was amazing! He gave Esther and Mordecai to write whatever they wanted on behalf of the Jews! I think one reason why he was so generous and magnanimous was because he felt guilty for going along with Haman’s scheme without even checking it out with others.
The Book of Esther teaches us in a wonderful way how God can change a seemingly impossible situation by turning the tables on evil and elevating His beloved ones. Sometimes when something looks like it’s the absolute end, it is actually the beginning. We may not recognize it right away, but later on we’ll see how God worked for us in answer to our heartfelt prayers. Think about the cross. Jesus’ followers were sure that all was lost when He was put into the tomb. The Romans applauded and the Jewish officials rejoiced. But three days later, He was alive again. What seemed like an ending was only the beginning. When the seminary professor thought the maintenance man surely couldn’t understand the Book of Revelation that he was reading, the simple Christian brother said, “I understand it. God wins!” Let’s never forget that in the end God wins! And when we are on His side, we win, too!
Triumph of the Jews
In our last lesson we studied about the downfall of wicked Haman who had plotted and planned to have Mordecai hanged on his 75-foot gallows, and all the Jews slaughtered in the 12th month. At the dinner she had prepared Esther revealed the fact that she and her people were doomed to death because of Haman. King Ahasuerus had given Haman permission to write this terrible edict that condemned the Jews in the whole Persian Empire. But the king didn’t know that his beloved queen was a Jew or that Mordecai, who had saved his life, was also a Jew. When he realized the treachery of Haman, the king had him hung on his own gallows. Next, he gave Haman’s big estate to Esther and she put Mordecai in charge of it. Then Esther made one more request, which the king promised to grant. He gave Esther and Mordecai permission to write a new edict on behalf of the Jews. So we saw how God turned the tables on evil and elevated His Chosen People.
I. Sending out the couriers
A. After King Ahasuerus had given permission to Esther and Mordecai to write a new edict, Mordecai wasted no time in sending for the royal secretaries. They wrote out the orders to the Jews and the government leaders in all 127 provinces of the great Persian Empire which stretched from India to Ethiopia. We see that Mordecai was now in a favored role close to the king. He actually replaced Haman who had been the king’s favorite. Once again the edict was written in the script and language of each people group in the empire, including the language and script of the Jews. Mordecai wrote the dispatches in the name of King Xerxes and sealed them with the King’s signet ring, which the king had taken from Haman and given to Mordecai. Then he sent the dispatches by mounted couriers on swift horses especially bred for the king. It probably took weeks or maybe months in some cases to reach some of the farthest points in the empire. This was very urgent information and it had to go out quickly.
B. What was written in the king’s edict? The edict sent out by Haman could not be changed according to the laws of the Medes and Persians. So this new edict didn’t cancel out the last one, but superseded it. It granted the Jews the right to assemble and protect themselves. If Haman’s edict had been carried out, the Jews would not have had the right to protect themselves and would have been slaughtered like sheep or pigs. Their enemies had been given the king’s permission to destroy, kill and annihilate the Jews as well as plunder them. Now the Jews were given permission to do the same to any enemies who chose to attack them. They could protect themselves by killing those who attacked them and their families. And they were given the right to plunder the property of their enemies. This was issued as law in every province so that the Jews would be ready on that day to avenge themselves. The day appointed for this was the 13th day of the 12th month. This was the day that Haman had found by casting lots – the pur. He was looking forward to seeing all the Jews annihilated on that day. But Haman didn’t live to see the tables turn.
Read Esther 8:14-17
II. Rejoicing of the Jews
A. The couriers who were spurred on by the king’s command raced out to the provinces. Those in Susa, the capitol, of course knew first. Mordecai left the king’s presence looking very different than he had before. No more sackcloth! Psa. 112:4 He didn’t have to wear the clothes of mourning now that the new edict had been issued. Mordecai was wearing royal garments of blue and white, a large crown of gold, and a purple robe of fine linen. It seems that he had been promoted to be second to the king, like Joseph and Daniel. The Jews in Susa went wild with joy! Psa. 97:10-12 The tide had turned! The victims had the chance to be victors. Besides, everyone now knew that their beloved queen was a Jewess, and their spokesman Mordecai was now Prime Minister.
B. What had been a time of mourning in anticipation and dread now had become a time of happiness, joy, gladness and honor. When the edict reached other cities the same thing happened there. Sorrow and sadness turned into gladness and joy. There was much feasting and celebrating in sharp contrast to the weeping and grieving that had been done after the first edict. Prov. 11:10 Suddenly the Jews became important and were found to be in the king’s favor. So hatred and discrimination turned to admiration. Other nationalities wanted to become Jews so that they could get into this class that was now favored by the king. Fear of and respect for the Jews caused them to want to be Jews. So the Lord will turn the tables for Messianic Jews and Christians when Christ comes! Those who have been hated and persecuted will be seen to be God’s favored people.
Read Esther 9:1-4
III. The 13th day of the 12th month
A. The 13th day of the 12th month on which the Jews were to be destroyed became their day of victory. That was the day when the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them and annihilate every person of Jewish blood in the entire empire. Since that is where all the Jews were, this might have wiped out the entire Jewish race, much as Hitler tried to do. However, because of God’s care for His chosen ones and the faithfulness of His servants, Esther and Mordecai, the tables were turned. The Jews got the upper hand over those who hated them. The Jews assembled in their cities following the king’s edict, and they fought their enemies. But there were 2 added elements. First, the people of the other nationalities were afraid of the Jews, evidently from hearing the amazing story of Haman’s fall and the rise of Esther and Mordecai. It was a situation similar to when the Jews first entered Canaan. All the people were afraid because they heard what the God of the Jews had done – how He had rescued them from Egypt and dried up the Red Sea for them to cross. Their fear made them weak. Psa. 71:24
B. Secondly, all the leaders – the nobles, satraps, governors, King’s administrators – helped the Jews out. Why? It was their fear of Mordecai. They could see that Mordecai had come into the second place in the kingdom with a huge amount of power given to him by King Ahasuerus. God had taken this unknown Jew who was destined for the gallows and placed him on the throne next to the king, as He had with Daniel and Joseph. Now Mordecai was prominent in the palace, his reputation had spread throughout the provinces, and he had become more and more powerful. God had exalted His obedient servant who had been faithful to Him in spite of the threats of Haman. So now the once despised Jews whom people were hoping to annihilate had 2 of the top positions in the empire. Queen Esther and Prime Minister Mordecai had unlimited power over the king through their influence. Suddenly the Jews had become a respected and honored minority who were feared by their enemies. II Sam. 3:1
C. None of this powerful influence could have taken place in Persia without the threat of death. God used Haman’s wickedness to bring about a crisis that led to the great change in the Persian Empire. In the same way, Joseph would never have been next to the king without first being sold as a slave and later being put in the king’s prison unjustly. Daniel would have never influenced 4 rulers of the Babylonian Empire and the Medo-Persian Empire without being taken captive to a foreign land. So God is at work though we may not understand His thoughts, methods and ways. Salvation could not have come to the lost like you and me without the suffering and death of Jesus, God’s Son. Isa. 55:9
Read Esther 9:5-17
IV. The Jews defend themselves
A. It seems that there must have been a lot of hard feeling, discrimination and hatred against the Jews throughout the Persian Empire. Maybe people had been persecuting them and just waiting for the chance to destroy them. They evidently had many enemies because when the day came for the king’s decree to be carried out, they killed 500 men in Susa with the sword. They also killed the 10 sons of Haman. No doubt Haman’s poisonous hatred had infected his sons, so they were among the foremost enemies of the Jews in Susa. Besides that, they no doubt carried a grudge because their father’s death was brought about by the Jewish Queen. Three times it says in these verses, “They did not lay their hands on the plunder.” But they had been given the right by the king to assemble to annihilate any armed force that attacked them, and to plunder their enemies. Why didn’t they take the plunder? This was a wise decision. If they took the plunder it would appear that they were like murderers who kill to get someone’s property. People could see that they were only seeking justice, not trying to get rich at their enemies’ expense. Lust and greed were not part of the picture.
B. When the king received the report of the deaths in Susa, he went back to Queen Esther. He told her that 500 men had been killed in Susa plus Haman’s sons. Then he asked what else she would request. Maybe it was hard for the king to see his subjects being killed, but if Haman’s edict had stood and been carried out, probably multitudes of Jews would have died, including women and children. Evidently the king was not angry over these deaths, but instead continued to extend his grace to Esther, asking her what more she wanted. Esther asked for 2 things: that the edict be extended one more day only in Susa, and that Haman’s 10 sons be hanged publicly. The king agreed to this request. Evidently there were not a large number of Jews in Susa so they had not been able to finish the job in one day. The following day they killed 300 more men. I think the public hanging of Haman’s sons was a warning to those who, like Haman, might plot destruction of the Jews.
C. It seems that only the men who were the Jews’ enemies were targeted by the Jews. No women or children were harmed. Haman’s edict had called for the annihilation of all the Jews – young and old, women and little children. Est. 3:13 He wanted to see everyone with Jewish blood be destroyed – even the innocent. The Jews fought only with their enemies who tried to kill them. And once again they didn’t touch the plunder. This meant that the families of the men who were killed still retained their homes, land and possessions. It was a merciful and wise thing to do. Meanwhile, the Jews throughout the provinces assembled to protect themselves and get relief from their enemies. 75,000 men were killed. This shows that the number of Jews in the Persian Empire must have been a million or more. All of this took place in the provinces on the 13th day of the 12th month. On the 14th day they rested and made it a day of feasting and joy. Once again God had rescued them!
I think it is very important to see below the surface of this killing of many people. King Ahasuerus’ decree did not stop the Jews from killing whole families. And it specifically said that they could plunder their victims. But the Jews had a higher standard that God had given them. They were given freedom to harm and take what they wanted, but they refused to use that freedom in the wrong way. So we as Christians have been given freedom in Christ, but we, like them, must be wise and use self-control. II Cor. 3:17;Gal. 5:13, 22-23; II Peter 1:5-7 Let us not use our God-given freedom in a wrong way. God has called us to a higher standard. We must not act or react like the men of the world do. We carry Christ’s name. Let us be sure to bring honor to that glorious name!
The Feast of Purim
Last time we learned how the new edict written by Mordecai and Esther was sealed with the king’s ring and sent out by courier to all 127 provinces of the Persian Empire. It gave the Jews the right to defend themselves and kill any enemies that came against them. They could have also killed the families of their enemies and plundered all of their possessions including houses and lands. The first edict by Haman instructed the enemies of the Jews to do that to them! But we saw that the Jews used restraint and self-control, destroying only the men who came against them, but leaving their property for their widows and children whom they did not kill. Evidently there was a lot of discrimination against the Jews in the empire. Haman had planned to use this anti-Semitism, that he knew was widespread, to annihilate the whole Jewish race. This is what Hitler did. He used the discrimination against Jews in Germany and taught the people his own anti-Semitism in an attempt to annihilate the Jewish race. Today the Jews still have enemies around this world who would like to drive all of them into the sea. But God is still in control as He was in Esther’s day.
I. Celebration on the 14th and 15th
A. On the 13th day of the 12th month when the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, the tables were turned and the Jews got the upper hand over their enemies. The victims became victors! This was because Esther and Mordecai had won favor with the king and he had allowed them to send out the new edict giving them the right to defend themselves on that day of “pur” chosen by Haman for their destruction. The Jews killed 500 men in Susa the capitol on the 13th day of Adar. But then Queen Esther asked King Ahasuerus if the Jews in Susa could have one more day because there were still many enemies there, probably due to the influence of Haman and his 10 sons. The king gave them an extra day to defend themselves. So the Jews killed 300 more men on the 14th. On the 15th they rested and had a day of feasting and joy. God had rescued them from death!
B. There were evidently millions of people living throughout the vast Persian Empire. When the Jews there received the edict, they assembled to protect themselves from the attacks of their enemies. The Jews killed 75,000 of them on the 13th day of the 12th month. So the Jews in the provinces celebrated their rescue from destruction on the 14th day. This is why rural Jews celebrated this day of joy and feasting on the 14th while the city Jews in Susa feasted on the 15th. Then Mordecai, who recorded all of this history, sent letters to all the Jews throughout the empire to have them celebrate every year on both days - the 14th and 15th days of the month Adar. They were to celebrate the relief the Jews got from their enemies when their sorrow was turned to joy and their mourning to celebration. Psa. 30:11-12 We can see why they were mourning, expecting all the Jews to die on that awful day. We still mourn over the 6 million Jews who were destroyed in Hitler’s “holocaust”.
C. I think their celebration was similar to Easter when the disciples mourned over Jesus’ suffering and death, and then their sorrow turned to joy when he arose from the dead – victor over Satan, death and hell, And we who love Him enter into His victory as we celebrate how He has saved us from eternal death and brought us into eternal life. Mordecai wrote to tell them to observe these special days as: 1.) days of feasting and joy; 2.) giving presents of food to one another; and 3.) giving gifts to the poor. Ezra 8:10-12 Now it sounds more like a combination of our Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was their Liberation Day, their 4th of July, their crossing of the Red Sea – their Day of Deliverance.
II. Review of the facts
A. The Jews promised to follow Mordecai’s instructions. I’m sure that they were so happy to have one of their own in the palace to help them that they eagerly agreed to whatever he wrote to them. The whole episode is then reviewed by the writer of this Book of Esther. First, Haman the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews, had plotted against them. We found out in an earlier lesson that the reason for his grudge against the Jews stemmed from an incident that happened long before. God had told King Saul to kill all the Amalekites who were enemies of the Jews. King Saul saved their King Agag in disobedience to the Lord’s command. The prophet Samuel then killed King Agag. Haman was a descendant of the remaining Amalekites who named themselves Agagites after King Agag.
B. I wonder if some of our discrimination comes from something done to our ancestors long ago. Are people today responsible for what their ancestors did hundreds of years ago? The story went on that Haman had cast “pur” or the lot to determine the right day for the annihilation of the Jews. The “pur” came up with the 13th day of the 12th month, the month called Adar. Next, when the plot came to the king’s attention through Esther, he issued orders that the evil scheme of Haman come back on his own head. As a result of that, Haman and his sons were all hanged on the gallows. So then we find out that the days of celebration were called “Purim” or “The Feast of Purim” from the word for lot which is “pur”
III. The custom of “Purim”
A. So the Jews established the custom that they and their descendants should observe these 2 days every year as the Feast of Purim. Notice that they also included those who would choose to join them, like proselytes to Judaism. These days of Purim should never cease to be celebrated by the Jews. God did not want them to forget the memory of this event. I wonder if they still remember it with the same devotion? Do they give the glory to God and worship Him in it? Or do they celebrate like many of us do on July 4th, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter without really remembering and glorifying God for what He has done? This is no doubt one of the reasons why God ordained the writing of the Book of Esther – so that the Jews would never forget what “Purim” stands for.
B. The story of “Purim” doesn’t have as strong a meaning for us Gentiles, but to the Jews it points to the time when God stepped in to rescue His people from complete annihilation. Since then, similar things have happened. Hitler was another Haman determined to destroy God’s people. These men were empowered by Satan who is determined to wipe out God’s covenant people. And the Muslim nations around Israel are planning for the time when they will annihilate every Jew. God will let His wayward people be disciplined, but never totally destroyed.
Read Esther 9:29-10:3
IV. The greatness of Mordecai
A. Queen Esther and Mordecai wrote with full authority from the king to all the Jews in all 127 provinces to confirm the making of the days of Purim as a holiday. By now the whole empire knew that their queen was a Jewess and that her cousin Mordecai was at the right hand of the king. They told the Jews to remember their fasting and their lamentation as they had cried out to God in their pain and trouble – facing the hopeless situation they were in. And they were to remember God’s intervention for them when there was no hope and no way out. They were to remember the miraculous way in which God had delivered them. Psa. 78:11-16 The Jewish celebration of Passover should be like this, as they remember how God miraculously rescued them from slavery in Egypt and brought them later into the Promised Land. Our celebration of Easter and our taking of Communion – the Lord’s Supper – should be like this. We have to remember how lost we were before we can fully appreciate how blessed we are!
B. King Xerxes was a very powerful man – undoubtedly the most powerful in the world at that time. He collected tribute or taxes throughout the empire to its distant shores – from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean. What a wealthy kingdom he must have had. All his acts of power and might were recorded in the annals of the kings of Media and Persia. But along with them was also recorded the greatness of Mordecai - the man who had humbly sat at the king’s gate for years, the man who had been condemned to die on the gallows of Haman. In the annals of the kings of the Medes and Persians there is a record of Mordecai, the Jew, who was second in rank to King Xerxes.
C. We often think of Joseph and Daniel as great men of God, which they were. We remember that they became second in the kingdoms where they had been taken as captives. But Mordecai, too, was a descendant of captives, and a great man of God who was made second in the kingdom of King Xerxes. He was preeminent among the Jews, and was highly esteemed by them because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for their welfare. In this book entitled, “Esther”, Mordecai was as big a hero as Esther was a heroine. Maybe the title should be “Esther and Mordecai”. It is the story of how God chose 2 nobodies to rescue his people – and to be a blessing to a great king and his empire.
In the end, God wins! Let’s never forget that certainty! Charles Swindoll concludes his book, Esther, a Woman of Strength and Dignity, with 3 principles.
The first principle: “When God wins, the people He uses are often unexpected.” We think, for instance, of David. King Saul was a tall, powerful, handsome man, but he wasn’t “a man after God’s heart”. God went to the sheepfolds to choose a young man who wasn’t even respected by his brothers. The sheep were his companions. But as he watched the sheep he talked and sang to God and became “a man after God’s heart”. Psa. 78:70-72 Think about God’s choices. Would you have chosen a prostitute to hide the spies? Would you have chosen a runaway, rebellious prophet to evangelize Nineveh? Would you have chosen a Christian-hating Pharisee to model grace and to write most of the New Testament? Would you have chosen a man who denied Jesus 3 times as the major spokesman for the early church?
The second principle: “When God wins, the qualities He looks for are humility and obedience.” God uses humble people. If we don’t believe that, we need to reread the description of Jesus in Phil. 2:5-8. Esther was obedient to Mordecai and the Lord. And after Esther became queen she was still not proud. And Mordecai just bided his time for years, being faithful to God and watching out for his adopted “daughter”, Esther. We need to check our attitudes. Phil. 2:3-5 If Jesus could humble Himself in obedience to the Father, is it too hard for us to humble ourselves in obedience to our Savior? Of course, this passage ends with Jesus being highly exalted. Phil. 2:9-11 So Esther and Mordecai were exalted because God could trust them with honor and glory. Today is our testing ground. Can the Lord trust us enough to someday exalt us in His kingdom?
The third principle: “When God wins, the message He wants to get out is a universal message.” Why did God elevate Esther and Mordecai to the highest positions in the kingdom? Of course, the main reason was so that they could help in God’s plan to rescue the Jews. But their influence spread far beyond the Jews. They were at the head of a great world empire. Like Daniel, God wanted to use them to influence the rulers of that empire and to bless the people in it. We read in Esther 10:3 that Mordecai, the Prime Minister, worked for the good of the people under him. How could they come to know about God unless someone told them? What about the people of our world? How can they know about our Lord? Mark 16:15 God is looking for unknown, humble and obedient people whom He can use to lead the way in His kingdom.