Esther and the delivering power of God
There are many places in the Bible that refer to the delivering power of God. One of these places is also the book of Esther. I would like therefore to take some time today to have a look at this book and the lesson that it offers.
1. Esther 1,2: The background
The events that are described in the book of Esther happened when the people of Israel were captive to Babylon. The place of the story is Shushan, the city where the king of Persia and Media, the king Ahasuerus1, used to live. This king after he put away his first wife, the queen Vashti2, he was searching for a new wife to become the queen. To find a new wife for the king, a competition was organised where women from all over the kingdom came to Shushan with the purpose to be the ones that would fulfil the empty place of the queen (Esther 2:1-4). Among those women was also Esther, a Hebrew girl that was brought up by Mordecai, one of the captives that had been carried away from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (Esther 2:5-7). Finally, this girl after she obtained first the favour3 of "Hegai the custodian of the women" (Esther 2:9), second the favour "of all who saw her" (Esther 2:15) and finally and most importantly the favour of the king himself (Esther 2:17), gained the competition. So Esther became the new queen. However, after she was commanded accordingly by Mordecai, she did not reveal to anyone that she was a Jew. So no-one, not even the king, knew Esther's nationality.
2. Esther 3: the problem starts
Though thus far everything seems to be fine, Esther 3:1 introduces a new person whose coming brought big problems. Esther 3:1-6 tells us about this person and the problem that was caused:
Esther 3:1-2, 5-6
"After these things king Ahasuerus promoted Haman, the son of Hammedatha THE AGAGITE, and advanced him and set his seat above all the princes who were with him. And all the king's servant who were within the king's gate bowed and paid homage to Haman, for so the king had commanded concerning him. BUT MORDECAI WOULD NOT BOW OR PAY HOMAGE. ......... When Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow or pay homage, Haman was filled with wrath. But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone, for they had told him of the people of Mordecai. INSTEAD, HAMAN SOUGHT TO DESTROY ALL THE JEWS WHO WERE THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE KINGDOM OF AHASUERES - the people of Mordecai"
Starting from the end of the passage, it seems that we are in the beginning of a really big problem. Haman, the man whom the king had advanced "above all the princes that were with him" i.e. the man that was essentially second in command, was angry with Mordecai, because the latter did not bow to him. For this reason he wanted to destroy the whole nation of Mordecai i.e. all the Jews. Though it is evidently paranoiac that Haman wanted to destroy a whole nation because one man did not bow to him, there are more spiritual insights into his actions than what a first glance reveals. Really, since this great kingdom to which Haman was second in command, extended from India to Ethiopia (Esther 1:1) we can understand that no Jew would survive if Haman realised his intentions. Now if this happened, then the question is of whom Christ would be born? God had promised initially to Abraham (Genesis 17:7 and Galatians 3:16) and later to David (Psalms 132:11-12 and Acts 2:30) that of them he would raise up Christ. However, if Haman's intentions were realised then no promise regarding Jesus Christ could be fulfilled and the whole plan of God regarding salvation would fail. Haman's intentions therefore were not simply paranoiac but absolutely devilish. It was the Devil who was acting behind Haman, trying to cancel the coming of Christ by destroying his whole nation, exactly as some centuries later he tried through Herod to kill him before it was possible to accomplish his mission. To summarise therefore, the first problem concerns the promises of God regarding Jesus Christ. Here we have a man who has put in his mind to frustrate those promises by killing all the Jews. The question is: will God be able to defend His promises? Generally: are the promises of God unbreakable or they can be broken in the will of the whatever man, even if this man is second in command in the largest kingdom of his time?
Though in the above we exposed the problem, we have not yet said anything about the cause of the problem. Really, some of us may wonder why Mordecai did not bow to Haman, showing respect to him. At the end of the day, Haman was second in command, the man next to the king. Why therefore Mordecai did not pay homage to him as the king had commanded (Esther 3:21)? Was he that proud? The answer is negative. The reason that Mordecai did not pay homage to Haman will be understood if we pay attention to the fact that the text says that Haman was an AGAGITE. This means that he came from Agag, a king of the Amalekites4, which in turn means that he himself was an Amalekite5. What's wrong with this? The wrong is that because the Amalekites fought with Israel when the latter was in its way to the promised land (Exodus 17), they were pronounced by God as ENEMIES to Him. Exodus 17:14-16 very plainly tells us:
"Then the Lord said to Moses, "Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven." And Moses built an altar and call his name, "the Lord is my banner" for he said, "Because a hand was lifted up against the throne of the Lord, THE LORD WILL HAVE WAR WITH AMALEK FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION"
Haman therefore being an Amalekite, was one with whom God was in war. Thus Mordecai had two choices: i) to honour Haman, the enemy of God, thus dishonouring the Word of God or ii) to honour the Word of God and deny to pay homage to Haman. Really no one can say that stands for God when he is ready in the first occasion to compromise with the Word of God. The only way to know God is through His Word and the only way to stand for God is to stand on what His Word says. Mordecai made up his mind not to compromise with the Word of God and pay homage, by bowing to an enemy of God. In other words, he decided to stand for God, trusting that God would deliver him as His Word promised6. The second therefore question that seeks answer is: will God be able to deliver Mordecai, a man that stood for Him? More generally: is God able to deliver us out of any danger when we decide to trust in Him and to stand boldly on His Word, or we are just exposed to men's desires and "power"?
To answer the above questions, we need to read the remaining of Esther.
3. Esther and Mordecai
After Haman made up his mind to destroy all the Jews, he needed to fix a date for it, and to obtain the permission of the king. Esther 3 tells us that he fixed the date on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month (Esther 3:13) and that, after he pretended that the Jews did not keep the king's laws [they had God's law] and offered to the king a large amount of money [10,000 talants of silver] he finally obtained the approval of his plans (Esther 3:8-10). The command regarding the destruction of the Jews was written under the guidance of Haman himself, and was sent out into all the king's provinces causing great sorrow to all the Jews (Esther 3:12-15, 4:3). Mordocai himself was so sorrow that "he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city" crying "with a loud and bitter cry" (Esther 4:1). Esther, who still did not know anything about the decree, was very sad when she was told that Mordecai, her adopted father, was very sorrow, and sent one of her servants to him to learn the reasons (Esther 4:4-6). Through this servant, Mordecai made known to her what had happened, asking her also to go to the king and plead him for her people (Esther 4:7-9). As we may remember Esther, being the queen, had no small position in the kingdom. However, she was initially reluctant to do what Mordecai asked her since it was not permitted to anyone to go to the king uninvited (Esther 4:10-12).
One would expect that since Esther the queen, was reluctant to help, there was not even the slightest possibility for Mordecai and the remaining Jews to escape from Haman's wrath. However, the things are not like these. FOR though Esther was reluctant, the promises of God on which Mordecai stood, did not depend on Esther but on GOD. He was responsible to find a way out. Certainly Esther was a very good possibility and that's why Mordecai asked her. But the thing that Mordecai asked her to help does not mean that his trust was in her and not in God. See his reply to Esther's reluctance:
"Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king's palace any more than all the other Jews. For IF YOU REMAIN COMPLETELY SILENT AT THIS TIME, RELIEF AND DELIVERANCE WILL ARISE FOR THE JEWS FROM ANOTHER PLACE, but you and your father's house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"
Mordecai trusted in God. The question in the latter part of his reply, shows that he was aware that GOD brought Esther to the kingdom for this difficult time. That's why he asked her to help. However, when he saw that she was reluctant, he told her that even without her help, God was able to deliver the Jews "from another place". It is really amazing how much Mordecai trusted in God.
Following his lesson, we should also trust in God and not in men. Jeremiah 17:5-8 makes known in advance what will happen if we put our trust in men and what will happen if we put our trust in God.
"Thus says the Lord: "Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when good comes, but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land which is not inhabited. Blessed [i.e. happy] is the man that trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of draught, nor will cease from yielding fruit"
From the one side we have the man that trusts in men and whose heart departs from the Lord and from the other side we have the man that trusts in God. The one is like a shrub in the desert and the other like a tree planted by the waters. The one inhabits in a place that is not inhabited, while the other by the river i.e. by a place full of life.
Returning now to Mordecai, his reply changed Esther's mind, who now decided to help:
"Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai: "Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. AND SO I WILL GO TO THE KING, WHICH IS AGAINST THE LAW; AND IF I PERISH, I PERISH!" So Mordecai went his way and did according to all that Esther commanded him."
On the third of those days Esther finally went to the king. According to Esther 4:11, she could have died having gone there uninvited, except if the king held out to her his golden sceptre. Verse 2 tell us what finally happened:
"so it was, when the king saw queen Esther standing in the court, that SHE FOUND FAVOUR IN HIS SIGHT, and the king held out to Esther the golden sceptre that was in his hand. Then Esther went near and touched the top of the sceptre."
God during the competition brought Esther into the favour of the king and made her a queen (Esther 2:17), just for this difficult time ("for such a time as this"). Now, when the time for Esther to play her role arrived, God again brought her into the favour of the same man, and she was not put to death having gone into his court uninvited. In this visit to the king, Esther invited him and Haman to a banquet that she would prepare for them that afternoon. When they went there, another banquet was arranged for the next afternoon (Esther 5:3-8). As we will see, the time from the one banquet to the other, was really very critical.
4. The time from the one banquet to the other
The invitation of the queen to another banquet the next day made Haman very joyful (Esther 5:9) since it was really a great honour to be feasting with royalty. However, his joyfulness turned to wrath when at the entrance to the palace he saw Mordecai, "and that HE DID NOT STAND OR TREMBLE BEFORE HIM" (Esther 5:9) As it is clear, despite the critical of the situation, Mordecai was not willing to give up and pay homage to Haman. He continued trusting in God and His Word. He continued to believe that God would deliver him and his nation. However, Haman's wrath drove him even further. When he returned to his home, apart from his joy regarding the invitation of the queen, he also confessed to his wife and friends his wrath for Mordecai. Then, his wife and friends made a suggestion to him:
"Then his wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, "Let a gallows be made, fifty cubits high, and in the morning suggest to the king that Mordecai be hanged on it; then go merrily with the king to the banquet." And the thing pleased Haman; so he had the gallows made"
As it seems the situation became even worse for Mordecai. Haman was not going to wait until the day that was defined for the destruction of the Jews, to see him dead. He wanted this to happen much earlier and in fact the next morning!! Evidently, if God was to bring deliverance to Mordecai he had to do it that night. And that's what He did:
"That night THE KING COULD NOT SLEEP. So one was commanded to bring the book of the records of the chronicles; and they were read before the king. And it was found written that Mordecai had told of Bigthans and Teresh, two of the king's eunuchs, the doorkeepers who had sought to lay hands on king Ahasuerus. Then the king said, "What honour or dignity has been bestowed on Mordecai for this?" And the king's servants who attended him said, "Nothing has been done for him."
Sometime after Esther became a queen and before Haman's evolution to second in command, Mordecai had protected the king against a conspiracy, planned by two of his doorkeepers, Bigthans and Teresh (Esther 2:21-23). Though this was written in the chronicles i.e. in the official diary, nothing was done as a honour to Mordecai. However, this was not accidental since it was through this not honoured act that God would bring deliverance to him, exactly at the time that he needed it most. So, just in the night that was supposed to be the last night of Mordecai, "the king could not sleep". Though it is not said explicitly, the results will show that this was divinely planned so that he can stay awake and do the things that followed7. The first of these things was to ask for the book of the chronicles to be brought to him. As we already know, this book contained also the record of Mordecai's act. However, this was certainly not the only record in this book. In contrast, a diary like this, might very well have hundreds of entries. Nevertheless, in that night there was one entry absolutely necessary to be read and finally it was this entry that was read. This entry was no other than the entry regarding Mordecai and the good that he did to the king, and for which he was not yet honoured!! After the king heard this record and that Mordecai was not yet honoured guess what happened? He decided to honour Mordecai the next day!! So when the morning came and Haman arrived to ask the king to hung Mordecai, an unpleasant surprise was waiting him:
"So the king said, "who is in the court?" Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the king's palace to suggest that the king hung Mordecai on the gallows that he prepared for him. The king's servants said to him, "Haman is there, standing in the court." And the king said, "Let him come in." So Haman came in, and the king asked him, "what shall be done for the man whom the king delights to honour?" NOW HAMAN THOUGHT IN HIS HEART, "WHOM WOULD THE KING DELIGHT TO HONOUR MORE THAN ME?" And Haman answered the king, "For the man whom the king delights to honour, let the royal robe be brought which the king uses to wear, and the horse on which the king rides, and the crown royal which is set upon his head. Then let this robe and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king's most noble princes, that he may array the man whom the king delights to honour. Then parade him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaim before him: "Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honour!"
Haman said all these things, thinking that it was he that the king wanted to honor. BUT....................
"Then the king said to Haman, "Hurry, take the robe and the horse, as you have suggested, and do so FOR MORDECAI THE JEW WHO SITS WITHIN THE KING'S GATE! Leave nothing undone of all that you have spoken." So Haman took the robe and the horse, arrayed Mordecai and led him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaimed before him, "Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor!" Afterward Mordecai went back to the king's gate. But Haman hurried to his house, mourning and with his head covered."
Do you remember how it started? It started with Mordecai in the king's gate and MOURNING for the evil that Haman planned against him and his nation. But see how it ended up: it ended up with Mordecai, the man that trusted in God, riding the king's horse and wearing the king's robe, and with Haman, till then second in command, proclaiming before him and returning to his home "MOURNING"!! However, this is not the end of the story. There is more that happened during the banquet with the queen. During this banquet Esther revealed to the king her nationality and that Haman planned to destroy her whole nation. When the king heard this, he became very angry (Esther 7:7-8), and when the kings in those days became angry with someone then, except if he had God in his sight, the prospects for his life were very unpleasant! This was true for Haman as well, whose gallows finally was to be used personally!:
"Now Harbonah, one of the eunuchs, said to the king, "Look! the gallows, fifty cubits high, which Haman made for Mordecai, who spoke good on the king's behalf, is standing at the house of Haman. " THEN THE KING SAID, "HANG HIM [Haman] ON IT!" SO THEY HANGED HAMAN ON THE GALLOWS THAT HE HAD PREPARED FOR MORDECAI. Then the king's wrath subsided"
As it is obvious the roles of Mordecai and Haman were reversed. Haman, the second in command and the man that planned to destroy the whole Jewish nation and to hung Mordecai, ended up hanged in the very gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai!! Moreover, as the last verse of the book of Esther (Esther 10:3) tells us, Mordecai, the man that trusted in God, was made "second to king Ahasueres", in other words he was made second in command, taking the place of Haman!! Finally though the thirteenth of the twelfth month was defined as the day that the Jews were to be utterly destroyed, the king not only cancelled this command but also REVERSED it. Under the new command:
"the king permitted the Jews who were in every city to gather together and protect their lives - to destroy, kill and annihilate all the forces of any people or province that would assault them, both little children and women, and to plunder their possessions, on one day in all the provinces of king Ahasueres, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar."
Really what a great delivering God He is. Mordecai the man that trusted in God, started mourning, and under the threat to be hanged by Haman, but he ended up, glorified by his very enemy, and taking his position as second in command. Similarly, the Jews started "weeping and wailing" (Esther 4:3) and they ended up feasting (Esther 8:17) and with their enemies destroyed (Esther 9:1)
On the contrary, Haman the man that trusted in his own power, started as second in command, joyful, and preparing to hung Mordecai but he ended up, mourning and eventually hanged in the very gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai!
Finishing this brief study of the book of Esther, we could say that its lesson is the same lesson that is offered by many other portions of the Word of God i.e. that the Word of God is a steadfast Word, a Word that cannot be broken despite the human and devilish power that may be exercised to the contrary. Indeed, those who, as Mordecai, trust in Him "shall not be ashamed" (Isaiah 49:23) but they "shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of draught, nor will cease from yielding fruit" (Jeremiah 17:8). To conclude therefore:
Psalm 37:3-7, 9, 11
"TRUST IN THE LORD, and do good; Dwell in the land and verily you shall be fed. Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, and he shall bring it to pass. He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noon day. Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him;........those who wait on the Lord shall inherit the earth.......the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace."
1. This name was rather a title (like Pharaoh, Char etc.) than a proper name, and it meant "the venerable king". According to: Sir Henry Rawlinson, Professor Sayce, The Encyclopaedia Britannica, and The Century Encyclopaedia of Names (see: The Companion Bible, Kregel Publications, p. 618) the same also happened with the words "Artaxerxes" (it means "the great king") and "Darius" (it means "the maintainer") that appear quite a few times in some parts of the Scripture that refer to the captivity to Babylon.
2. See Esther 1 for details.
4. For more on Agag see I Samuel 15.
5. Josephus also in his Antiquities, calls him Amalekite.
6. See for example: II Chronicles 16:9, Psalms 18:2-3, 30-31, 22:4-5, 25:2-3, 32:10, 35:9-10, 119:170 etc.
7. This of course does not mean that every time that I cannot sleep there is a purpose that I should stay awake!.