Alfred Place Baptist Church

2:21-3:2 The Humbling of the People of God

Esther 2:21-3:2 “During the time Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, became angry and conspired to assassinate King Xerxes. But Mordecai found out about the plot and told Queen Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai. And when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were hanged on a gallows. All this was recorded in the book of the annals in the presence of the king. After these events, King Xerxes honoured Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honour higher than that of all the other nobles. All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honour to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honour.”

There are hundreds of verses in the Bible which don’t contain the name of God. There are many chapters in the Bible where the name of God is absent. There are even books in the Bible in which we can’t find the name of God, one is the Song of Songs while the other is this book of Esther. The Babylon of King Xerxes operated without reference to the living God, and this is deliberately reflected upon by the absence of God’s name from this book. However, the Lord himself is conspicuously present in every incident related here. More than anywhere else in the Bible the hand of Providence is seen in Esther.

God in his providence looks after our world; he rules and governs it according to his holy will so that nothing happens in this world without his appointment. We usually characterize God’s providence in three ways, [i] that all of his works are utterly holy, in other words God isn’t responsible for anything wicked that happens to us or for the evil men do; Jehovah never does anything out of malice or mere caprice; God is light and in him is no darkness whatsoever – without a single atom of darkness. [ii] Again, when we talk of God’s works of providence everything that touches our lives, even as gently as a feather stroking our cheek, comes from the Lord’s immense wisdom. He is the only wise God our Saviour who knows our state and maturity and futures. [iii] Again, his providence must be extraordinarily powerful if we limited his operations to governing all the actions of the 6,000 million people alive on our planet today. This is what the providence of God is, utterly holy, immensely wise and extraordinarily powerful in controlling everything his creatures are and do, and that is how the Westminster Shorter Catechism defines it, “God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions” (Question and Answer Eleven).

1. THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD EMBRACES EVERY WORD WE HEAR.

Mordecai was the loving foster father of the new Queen of Persia, Esther. He had been involved in the life of Babylon all his life since his family had refused the opportunity offered to them fifty years earlier of returning to Jerusalem. He had become a minor court official, maybe a magistrate, in Susa the citadel where Xerxes, the king and emperor of Persia, the most powerful man in the world, lived. It is hard to be sure about the exact spiritual condition of Mordecai and Esther. One could hardly call them vibrant growing believers, but they were both on a learning curve and the providence of God was controlling the lives of these two people in spite of their many compromises. In fact God’s decrees extended to the smallest details of the life of Xerxes himself as well as of Mordecai and Esther.

Jehovah Jesus once said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:29-31). Was that a joke? Of course not. It was a vivid unforgettable saying, replete with deadly seriousness. God really knows the number of hairs on our heads. He knows how many come away in your brush each morning. There is nothing God doesn’t know; there is no senile forgetfulness in the Ancient of Days. Nothing happens which God has not decreed. The fall of the Twin Towers; the slow falling from power of our present Prime Minister Tony Blair; the fall of a single sparrow – you were driving along a country lane and suddenly a bird flew out dodging and diving in front of your car, and though you slowed down and hoped it would zoom over a hedge you hit the sparrow. There was an imperceptible thud and your last glimpse of it was in your rear view mirror lying lifeless on the tarmac. That sadness did not happen by chance. Even that insignificant creature could not fall if God had not decreed it to happen. God’s providence upholds a speck of dust floating in a beam of sunshine. He numbers the gnats above the surface of the creek, the flocks of starlings going to roost under the pier, and all the movements of the fish and lobsters and sea-anemones in Cardigan Bay. He controls the meteors and the tracks of the comets, as well as the tear that falls from your eye. When a fall comes to someone in your own family how much more can we be assured that God is in control. The grave does not fill by accident. Peter’s sin at the fireside did not happen in a vacuum. Remember what Thomas Watson said, “God always has a hand in the action where the sin is, but he never has a hand in the sin of the action.”

I want to show you from this passage how we can see that the little circumstances of daily life, as we put them together, betray their origin in the providence of God. The story picks up like this, that one day Mordecai overheard some gossip to the effect that two of the king’s own officers, men called Bigthana and Teresh, eunuchs who guarded the entrance to the king’s private quarters, were seething with hatred towards Xerxes and were plotting to assassinate him. Mordecai heard this on good authority; we don’t know how he came to possess this information but he passed it on to his foster daughter, Queen Esther, and she told her husband. The king investigated the story and found it was true and so Bigthana and Teresh were executed. However, Mordecai didn’t receive any recognition at all for saving the king’s life, but even that momentary ingratitude was a display of the providence of God, though Mordecai didn’t know at the time.

I ask you, was all of that chance, nothing but bad luck for the would-be assassins and good luck for the king? Is everything around us simply by chance – in our world and in our solar system and in the universe as it is? Wouldn’t believing in that require a far greater stretch of faith than believing in a sovereign Creator, the God of providence? “In the beginning was luck, and luck pulled a trigger and set in motion a chain of events that eventually brought about the Sermon on the Mount, and the symphonies of Mozart, and Shakespeare, and the world wide web, and penicillin, and Einstein, and you, and me.” Can you believe that all of human history, especially the life of Jesus Christ, is due to mere chance, and that even now it is simply good fortune that has brought us together to listen to this theme at this very moment? You ‘touched wood’! No, the God who created all things, is the same God who sustains you and all things and guides us all in his providence.

Let me tell you of the other assassination plot in the Bible that came to nothing. The apostle Paul had a sister, and her son loved his uncle Paul. One day the teenager has melted quietly into the shadowy alcoves of Jerusalem’s narrow street when he overhears a plot to assassinate his beloved uncle (Acts 23:16) . . . Listen to the 24 year old Charles Haddon Spurgeon preaching on this incident in the Surrey Music Hall on April 11, 1858. “Paul goes into the temple, and the Jews rush upon him in a moment to kill him. They drag him out of the temple, and the doors are shut against him. They are just in the very act of killing him, and what is to become of poor Paul’s life? Five minutes longer and Paul will be dead, [we will have no letter to the Romans, or to the Ephesians or any of his letters at all. What base impoverishment for the whole world!] when . . . up comes the chief captain and his armed guard and delivers Paul. How was it that the chief captain knew of it? Very probably some young man of the crowd who knew Paul and loved him, ran to tell him. But why was it that the chief captain was at home? How was it that this soldier was able to drop everything for a boy and come at a moment’s notice? How was it that he came at all? This victim being killed was only a Hebrew, a man that was good for nothing. How was it that he came in the nick of time, even though the streets were full, there being a mob about Jerusalem? How did he come to the right street? Say, ‘It is all chance!’ I laugh at you; it is providence. If there is anything in the world that is plain to any man who thinks seriously, it is certain that

‘God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform.’

So understand that the running of the young man, and his arrival at that precise time, and the coming of the chief captain at the exact moment, just proved the punctuality of divine providence. If God has a design that a thing shall happen at twelve, and you have appointed it for eleven, it shan’t happen till twelve. If he means it to be delayed till one, it is in vain for you propose any earlier or any later times. God’s punctuality in providence is always sure, and very often apparent.” So the Bible is saying that everything that moves moves in God; the running of a boy through the streets of Jerusalem and his bursting into an army commander’s office, and the captain’s speedy response to the message was all in the all-controlling God, as was the overhearing of a plot of two disgruntled guards in the royal palace in Susa. Nothing can live or move without God for in him we live and move and have our being.

One of you says, “Preacher, you seem to be a fatalist!” No, far from it. There’s just this difference between fate and providence. Fate is blind; providence has eyes. Fate is blind, a thing simply must be; it is just a bow shooting an arrow at venture. It must fly onward, but has no target. Remember how Dr. Salim Haddad saw a careless Muslim driver in the Arab Emirates knock down a girl. Salim ran across to see if he could help and the driver’s first words to Salim were, “The will of Allah!” to be met by Salim’s scorn for his contemptible attempt to shift the blame for his wretched driving onto his god. Fate is blind; not so providence; providence is full of eyes. There is a design and purpose in everything, and an end to be answered. All things are working together, and working together for the good of them that love God. Things are not done because they must he done, but they are done because there is some holy, wise and powerful reason for it. It is not only that the thing is because it must be; but the thing is because it is right it should be. God has not arbitrarily marked out the world’s history – “Xerxes shall reign for so many years.” God has set in place all the surges and the boundaries and the pillars building Xerxes’ empire.

There is another characteristic of providence that we have to recollect, that even the thoughts of men are under God’s hand. Now, thoughts are things which generally escape our attention when we speak of providence. But how much may depend upon a thought. Sometimes a president has had a thought which costs a nation many a dead soldier. Beyond a doubt, every imagination, every passing thought is under the hand of God, and turning over the pages of history you will often be struck when you see how great a thing has been brought about by an idle word. Depend upon it that the will of a king, the thought of a ruler, the desire of an emperor and every purpose of a prime minister is immediately under the hand of God.

Take an instance, that the promised Messiah is going to be born at Bethlehem, but his mother late in her pregnancy is living at Nazareth, so surely he will be born there? That must be a dead certainty. No, not so. Caesar has had a sudden whim; a fancy has entered his head. All the world shall be taxed, and more than that, Caesar will have all the people go to their own cities for the census. “No not that! Where’s the necessity for all that movement throughout the empire? What a stupid idea of Caesar’s!” If he’d had a parliament, they’d all have voted against him. They’d have said, “Why make all the people go to their own cities for your census? Take the census where they live. Surely that will be abun­dantly sufficient.” “No,” says he, “it is my will, and Caesar cannot be opposed.” Some think Caesar is mad but the wise God knows what he means to do with Caesar. Mary, great with child, must take a laborious journey to Bethlehem; and there her child is born and lain in a manger. Without Caesar’s funny idea we shouldn’t have had the prophecy fulfilled that Christ will be born at Bethlehem, and our very faith in the Messiah might have been shaken. Thank God for that whim of Caesar’s. So that even the will of the most powerful of men, the tyranny of an absolute monarch, the despotism of the tyrant, are all in the hand of God, and he turns it whithersoever he pleases to work his own will.

So it is our firm belief that he who wings an angel guides a sparrow. We believe that the God who upholds his sovereign throne amidst the splendours of heaven maintains his reign also in our dark earth. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to our Saviour. We believe that there is nothing above us, beneath us or around us which is not according to his own counsel and will – the Lord has made up his mind that things should be thus, and while we’re not fatalists, we would earnestly persuade you to believe this truth, amply set forth in the Bible, for example in Daniel chapter four and verse thirty-five, “He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No-one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’” God has decreed all the things that come to pass. He overrules all the things that are of the world and the devil for his own glory and for our good as Christians. Two men planned to assassinate Xerxes and Mordecai overheard what they were going to do and he had this thought, “I think I’ll warn the king.” And in our own world where we battle with terrorists who would make ‘dirty bombs’ and destroy great cities isn’t this a great comfort to know that the Lord knows their plotting today?

2. THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD EMBRACES EVERY MAN WE MEET.

The third chapter of Esther introduces us to a man called Haman who had risen to become one of the most influential figures in the Persian empire, second only to Xerxes himself. Yet this man was filled with the most pathological malice towards the Jews of Babylon. Hatred plus power are a fearful combination. We see it in Muslim suicide bombers today; they will kill themselves if they are able through that action to kill also many total strangers.

What do we know of Haman the leading antagonist in this book? He was “the Agagite” (v.1). What does that mean? Agag was the king of the Amalekites, the descendants of Amalek, the grandson of Esau. There was enmity between Israel and Esau and between Israel’s descendants and Esau’s descendants. When the children of Israel were moving on their exodus to the promised land the Amalekites attacked them and a crucial battle took place. If Israel had lost they would have been slaughtered (this was nine hundred years before the time of Mordecai). But they had looked to God; Moses had stood on a mountain seeing the battle where Joshua was leading the people of God against Amalek. You might recall a hymn of William Cowper, “What various hindrances we meet in coming to the mercy seat.” In one verse he comments on that incident like this;

“While Moses stood with arms spread wide, success was found on Israel’s side:

But when through weariness they failed, that moment Amalek prevailed.”

The two men sustained Moses through his intercession, holding his arms up to heaven and God gave his people victory over the Amalekites. Then God spoke to his servant to underline that this was a feud that would never end: “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.’ Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. He said, ‘For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation’” (Exodus 17:14-16).

Again there is an incident recorded in the first book of Samuel chapter fifteen concerning King Saul, the son of Kish. Now recall that that very name is in Mordecai’s family tree in chapter two and verse five, “Mordecai . . . the son of Kish.” King Saul was commanded by God to destroy the Amalekites and all their property, but Saul defied God. He refused to execute King Agag and Saul kept the best of their possessions for himself. That decision was an absolute disaster for Saul and the people, and later on an Amalekite got his revenge on Saul when he claimed he was the one who had killed the king.

So we are introduced to Haman and we are emphatically told that he was “the Agagite” (verse one) and this fact is repeated in verse ten, “Haman the Agagite’. Don’t forget it! And then again in chapter eight and verse three, “Haman the Agagite”; and again in chapter eight and verse five, “Haman the Agagite”; and again in chapter nine verse twenty-four, “Haman the Agagite.” Five times the author of the book of Esther reminds us who this man was, one of the leaders of a people whose desire was to destroy the people of God generation after generation. What you have here is not simply rivalry between two tribes, rather we are meeting a hostility which characterizes our fallen world while life and thought and being last or immortality endures. It is a war between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. We are caught up in that holy battle today.

So King Xerxes made this Agagite, Haman, the virtual prime minister. See how this is also underlined in the first verse of chapter three; we are told that Xerxes honoured him, and elevated him to high position and gave him a seat of honour higher than that of all the other nobles, and all the royal officials were made aware of this. Each one of them knelt down before him. There was not one who didn’t pay honour to Haman. All of them obeyed King Xerxes in doing this.

So we are told of Haman the man, his lineage and tradition, and we are told of his office as virtual prime minister of Persia and the respect and honour that was to be given to him, but then we are told this, “But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honour” (v.2). Mordecai rained on Haman’s parade by refusing to bow down. The man was the Prime Minister, but Mordecai would not kneel as he went in and out of the citadel. The king had commanded that everyone should kneel before him, but Mordecai would not kneel before him. People expostulated with him day after day urging him to show respect, but Mordecai kept standing up refusing to bow down. Obviously Mordecai would have always bowed to King Xerxes as he came and went. The people had no need to speak to Mordecai about his duty to the king, but he wouldn’t bow to Haman. Finally they reported this to Haman and he saw it for himself, that solitary figure standing up and looking away when he passed by, and Haman was enraged.

What do we say about Mordecai’s conduct? It has been pointed out against Mordecai that “It is still part of eastern courtesy to bow in recognition of age and honour . . . and while obeisance was given supremely to God and the king, suppliants bowed when seeking favour, as Jacob to Esau, or when expressing indebtedness as David to Jonathan [and later in this book Esther prostates herself before the king]. Mordecai stubbornly refused to submit for any reason to Haman” (Joyce Baldwin, Esther, IVP, 1984, p.72). Was it arrogance? We are not told this but it is possible I suppose, yet he is shown to be a loyal subject of the king – too loyal at times. Nor are we told that there was any personal history between these two men. We’re not told that Mordecai was a good judge of character and that he knew Haman to be a wicked man. Did he have something of George Fox the founder of the Quakers about him, the man who refused to take his hat off in anyone’s presence, not even the king’s, because all men are equal? No it was not that, because Mordecai bowed to Xerxes. How are we to judge Mordecai’s response?

Let us say that we believe that in this refusal to honour Haman is an awakening of some religious conviction in Mordecai, that his action was covenantal, that Mordecai knew the word of God and he was, after his recent misjudgment concerning the marriage of his step-daughter Esther, now taking a serious stand quite literally in solidarity with Jehovah his God. Mordecai would not be like too many of the rest of his people in Babylon and forget the words of God in Genesis that the seed of the serpent would always be seeking to destroy them and the promised Seed of the woman, God’s great Deliverer. Mordecai was refusing to make peace with the serpent. He had not forgotten God’s warnings about Amalek. Hadn’t God spoken of this, for example, in Deuteronomy twenty-five and the last verses of the chapter, “Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and cut off all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. When the LORD your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!” (Deut. 25:17-19). But they did forget. Even King Saul forgot and immediately God rejected him as king. It was left to the prophet Samuel to crush this particular seed of the woman in killing Agag at Gilgal, but here in Babylon the same fight is going on. Here is the same enemy and the same challenge to obedience. Israel’s survival depends on resolute resistance to Amalek.

In other words, “what we have in Persia in 483 B. C. is a historic repeat of exactly the same agenda, Israel versus Amalek, Saul versus Agag. Here is Mordecai, the Jewish descend­ant of Saul (see 2:5). And here is Haman, the Amalekite descendant of Agag. Will Mordecai make the same mis­take as Saul? Will he spare the inveterate enemy of God and refuse to impose the covenant ban on him? No, Mordecai would stand firm. While it was not his place to kill the Amalekite (as it was with Saul and Joshua and Samuel), Mordecai showed great courage in refusing to bow to Haman. As a magistrate he knew full well the cost of disobeying the command of a Persian king. He was obviously prepared to suffer that, to put his own life on the line, rather than go against God.

“For those who insist on asking whether Mordecai was right in refusing to honour Haman, the reply is, yes, he was right. He was theologically astute. He understood the biblical ethic of giving ‘honour to whom honour is due’ and God has made it very plain that honour was not due to Amalek. Mordecai followed exactly the same ethic as the apostles. He knew that a man’s duty to obey the governing authorities has limits. We are obliged to obey rulers in all areas of their God-given mandate; but once they im­pose laws that clash with the authority of God, laws that force us to compromise our loyalty to God, then human government has to be dis­obeyed (Acts 4:19). Xerxes’ command that men should honour Haman the Amalekite by bow­ing to him created an ethical dilemma for Jews. It was contrary to God’s covenant oath. Maybe Xerxes the Gentile did not know that, but Mordecai the devout Jew did. So Mordecai was morally bound to refuse Haman.” (Peter Bloomfield, Esther, Evangelical Press, 2002, pp.61&62).

I will tell you that the God of Israel became incarnate and one day he met one who was like an angel of light, a powerful prince, the god of this world, the seed of the serpent. This ruler of the world’s darkness showed Jesus all the glories of the kingdoms of the world and offered them to him. They could all be his if he only bowed down to this ultimate Amalek. No more suffering before him; no whipping and no nails; all he had to do was honour the devil. “Just recognize his satanic power . . . just an outward action . . . keep the loathing in your heart. If you bow down before me then glory and fame will be yours for ever. If you refuse then it’s the cross.” There was no choice was there? The real question was, “Who is going to be God? Who are you going to serve?” The reply of our Lord was, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only” (Lk. 4:8). God alone shall determine all my action.

So Mordecai put his life in jeopardy. How easily it would have been to have pleaded the example of Jacob and David and bowed down to this mighty ruler, but he knew he could not do it with a clear conscience. God had put Haman the Agagite in office to test Mordecai’s faith and now he knew that his duty was clear. His God would be in control of all that was to happen. Mordecai could trust God. That was his peace, and that will be our peace when we must stand alone.

3. GOD’S PROVIDENCE EMBRACES EVERY THREAT WE MIGHT FACE.

Finally we are told of Haman’s reaction to this; “When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honour, he was enraged. Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes” (vv. 5&6). This was no knee-jerk reaction, no sudden explosion of angry exasperation. Haman was filled with vehement determination to wipe them all out. One man only? No! That would be pathetically inadequate. Ten? A hundred? A thousand? Ninety per cent of them? No, the whole lot! Haman was a spiritual son of Lamech who cried, “If Cain is avenged seven times then Lamech seventy times seven!” Haman planned genocide, to exterminate every member of the Old Testament people of God in the whole nation.

Haman would bring his gods on his side to achieve this. The people of Babylon believed that the gods assembled together in the first month of the year to fix the fates of men, and so what Haman did was to cast a lot – the pur – hence the word Purim (Esther 9:26). Perhaps twelve coloured stones were put in a jar and it was shaken vigorously, there would be various incantations and then one would be taken out – “Ah, the twelfth month, Adar. The gods have chosen that month in which vengeance shall begin.” But God’s providence even reaches to that act because we are told in Proverbs chapter sixteen and verse thirty-three, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” God decreed that the intended destruction would be almost a year away, so there was much time for the people of God to pray and protest, but not endless time; never endless time except in heaven or hell.

Then Haman went to the king and he told Xerxes that he had some terrible news for him of a law-breaking race living in the land; “‘There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will put ten thousand talents of silver into the royal treasury for the men who carry out this business.’ So the king took his signet ring from his finger and gave it to Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. ‘Keep the money,’ the king said to Haman, ‘and do with the people as you please’” (vv. 8-11). What Haman had said about this “certain people” was a mixture of truths, half truths and downright lies. He assured Xerxes that the consequences of this destruction would certainly be to the king’s profit. He promised the king ten thousand talents of silver – 345 metric tons! That would be two-thirds of the annual revenue of the Persian Empire. That was at least how much Haman expected to get by looting the houses and taking possession of the lands of all God’s people.

How were the people of God living in the empire? They had been told by Jeremiah what their lifestyle in Babylon must be; “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper’” (Jer.29:4-7). There seems to be every indication that that is how they lived, hard working members of the community, well respected citizens. My reason for believing that is found in the last seven words of chapter three; “but the city of Susa was bewildered” (v.15). “Put all our Jewish neighbours to the sword? Their children play with our children. We go to their weddings and they come to ours. Kill them all?” Bewilderment!

But do you see how the king received the statement? This was the man whom Mordecai hoped they could make alliance with, the one who would be the defender of the Jews. See his obscene readiness to give Haman the go-ahead to destroy the whole race. Isn’t that response worse than Haman’s request? Where was the interrogation? “Who are these people? What have they done? What are their strange customs? Which of my laws have they flouted? What is their abominable behaviour? Why have none of my civil service warned me of them before today?” He had investigated the report he’d received on two guards alleged to be intent on assassinating him, but here are 200,000 men, women and children facing a brutal death and there’s not a peep, just the carte blanche to Haman to slaughter them all. He’s pulling the signet ring off his finger, pouring the molten wax onto the order signing the death sentence of vast numbers of law-abiding, tax-paying, prosperous members of society before Haman has finished speaking. “O don’t think about the money . . . ho, ho, ho,” he murmurs to Haman, but we are sure that soon he’ll be expecting a big fat cheque from Haman.

The man is a monster, and since his time there have been many like him destroying peoples all over the world. We’ve seen genocide in Rwanda and in the Balkans and in the southern Sudan as I speak. Why should we be shocked at Xerxes acceding to Haman’s request? Don’t we believe the Bible’s bleak diagnosis of the human condition? “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the Lord search and test the mind” (Jer.17:9). We will live our lives in the midst of a generation whose hearts are incurably treacherous. Every one we meet with no exceptions until we enter heaven is in this condition. The Saviour sends us forth as sheep amidst wolves. Were it not for an earlier grace in the world (which in our land is rapidly evaporating), and the activities of the powers that be like the police, the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit and the presence of the church as salt and light in the world then this world would be hellish indeed. It is from that fearful power of sin many of you need to be saved.

What sort of God is there in heaven? Who is the God of providence? The Bible says that there are things that our God hates. If God were simply a God of unconditional love he would be a monster. He must also hate if he is to be the holy Lord. Proverbs chapter six and verses sixteen to nineteen says this; “There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” Behold Haman and Xerxes! They are the objects of the divine detestation. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. And you? Are there things in your life which God hates? Will you one day be a sinner in the hands of an angry God?

So all the planned genocidal engineering was put into motion. Dispatches were sent out throughout the land, “with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews – young and old, women and little children – on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month” (v.13). This was made known to the entire population so that they could prepare for the night of the long knives.

What was the only hope of the people of God? That their God knew about this and cared for them. They’d better plead his merciful name. For too long they have been living like the Babylonians, prospering like them, enthusing with their enthusiasms, zealous for the things the Persians were zealous about, giving their lives for the glittering prizes of Susa. What a wake up call this was! What a summons to seek the Lord, turn from their sins, cry to him for his mercy. What a clarion call came from the knowledge that within a year they’d all be dead, young and old, women and children, none spared . . . all in the grave.

So what happened? The opening verses of the next chapter tell us; “When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly . . . In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes” (Esther 4:1-3). What greater hope can there be for a people under certain judgment that to cast themselves in repentance on the mercy of God. Who knows what he will do? No one else can deliver. There was no possibility of their raising an army, or forming an alliance with Egypt to defend themselves. The arm of the flesh would fail them. Let everyone cry mightily to God. Let all of us cry earnestly to Jehovah Jesus that we too might be delivered from principalities and powers and from the enticements of the world, the flesh and the devil. Let us plead the name of the Lord Christ, that God will exalt him by saving many from the first and second deaths that certainly lie before us all in our own Babylon should we die without Christ.

25th February 2007 GEOFF THOMAS