Esther 7:1-4 “So the king and Haman went to dine with Queen Esther, and as they were drinking wine on that second day, the king again asked, ‘Queen Esther, what is your petition? It will be given you. What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.’ Then Queen Esther answered, ‘If I have found favour with you, O king, and if it pleases your majesty, grant me my life – this is my petition. And spare my people -this is my request. For I and my people have been sold for destruction and slaughter and annihilation. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king.’”
So we come to the final dénouement in this extraordinary episode in human history. Perhaps the triumph of good and the judgment of the wicked will seem somewhat of an anti-climax, but the alternative, you remember, would have been a holocaust of unimaginable horror. The seed of the serpent would have wiped out the Seed of the woman.
JUSTICE TRIUMPHED IN BABYLON.
Even in Babylon and with the obvious spiritual declension of God’s people justice did prevail. The powers that be are ordained of God; Paul says of the civil magistrate that, “He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Roms. 13:4). The place where the wheels of judgment begin to turn is a banquet in the royal palace and there are three people present in what seems a cozy tete a tete. They have been drinking a glass of wine together, Xerxes, his wife Esther the Queen, and Haman the prime minister. The king had been led along tantalizingly by Esther for two days and now he insists on knowing what is it that she desires. She must tell him and he will hold back nothing to satisfy her desires, in fact he offers her again half the kingdom. Now is the time for her to speak and so she begins in the most reverential tones, “If I have found favour with you, O king, and if it pleases your majesty, grant me my life – this is my petition. And spare my people – this is my request. For I and my people have been sold for destruction and slaughter and annihilation. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king” (vv.3&4). You see her growing wisdom? She pleads first for her own life; “someone intends to kill me, but you have the power to save my life.” Then she pleads for her people even though the king is offering her half his kingdom. There is no interest in anything like that. She wants preparations for a coming holocaust to be abandoned. Then she speaks so artlessly with even more respect saying something like this, “I wouldn’t have mentioned it to you if we were merely being sold into slavery. If every man, woman and child in the race to which I belong were to be set on the block in the slave marts of Susa and Babylon and sold to the highest bidder, if all the families were broken up not to see one another again, well, if knowing about that and having to change all that would disturb you – who are the king – then I wouldn’t have bothered to mention it. But our enslavement is not their intention; they have no plans to make money from our sale to put into your treasury. I am reporting to you the actual words of the dispatches that have been sent out to all your provinces (Esther 3:13) to destroy, kill and annihilate me and my own race.”
It was brilliantly done; one can imagine the king’s eyes popping out with astonishment. Someone was planning to murder his beloved wife and all her family? “‘Who is he? Where is the man who has dared to do such a thing?’ Esther said, ‘The adversary and enemy is this vile Haman.’ Then Haman was terrified before the king and queen.” (vv.5&6). The king rises in rage and leaves the room while Haman realizing that he’s as good as dead, pleads with Esther for his life falling on the couch where she was reclining. At that moment Xerxes returns and sees this action and chooses to believe that Haman was trying to violate his wife. The king’s servants put a bag over his head and he is led away to the gallows which Haman had erected to hang Esther’s beloved father Mordecai. It is only in his death and judgment that the king’s fury is propitiated, by the destruction of the man who would have killed his wife.
This scene is a very clear illustration of the word ‘propitiation’ in the Bible. It means placating or appeasing the wrath of a sin-condemning Judge. The word is applied to God’s wrath revealed from heaven against our unrighteousness. How can the holy God be reconciled to us wretched sinners? How can the estrangement between us, caused by our sin, be ended? The wonderful answer the Bible gives is that God’s own spotless Son Jesus Christ comes and takes our place. He bears our sin and our guilt, and he is punished completely for those sins of ours. It pleased the Lord to bruise him on Golgotha. God’s righteous anger against our sin has been utterly exhausted so that the outcome is that we are in God’s sight as if we were without sin. The guilt has all been dealt with. It is all condemned. It is all gone, remembered no more. The fury of the great King in heaven has subsided for God the Son has died on the cross, and we are ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven. On Golgotha justice in the proper condemnation of our sins has triumphed in the death that was visited on the Prince of life. He has utterly, voluntarily and freely given up his life to the wrath of God against our sins (for he had none of his own to make atonement for), and the result is that we can know the fellowship of the Holy One in heaven for ever. Let me test you all; has your guilt been dealt with by the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?
THE PEOPLE OF GOD WERE HONOURED IN BABYLON.
The enemy is punished, but that is in a sense negative; the majestic royal rectitude has been displayed. Where is the positive, the honouring and vindication of the righteous? We see it in three acts;
i] The estate of Haman, one of the richest in the whole empire was granted to Esther. No longer does she have to live in the royal harem but the magnificent dwelling place of Haman’s becomes hers.
ii] The royal signet ring is taken from Xerxes’ finger and is given to Mordecai, and Esther makes him the manager of Haman’s estate.
iii] The dispatches announcing the slaughter of the Jews are withdrawn. A new decree is sent out, written in the king’s name and sealed with the king’s signet. All 127 provinces receive it stretching from India to Cush in north Africa. The decrees are written in the languages of the different provinces so that all could understand them. The messengers take them on the fastest horses throughout the land. We are told that they “raced out, spurred on by the king’s command” (Esther 8:14). The Jews are further granted the right of self-defence against any who sought to kill them.
That night “Mordecai left the king’s presence wearing royal garments of blue and white, a large crown of gold and a purple robe of fine linen. And the city of Susa held a joyous celebration” (v.15). There was good news and rejoicing among the people of God throughout the land. In fact the book ends with Mordecai appearing to have become a second Joseph in Egypt, or a second Daniel in Babylon. “Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Xerxes, pre-eminent among the Jews, and held in high esteem by his many fellow Jews, because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews” (Esther 10:3). He seems to have become the greatest man in the vast Persian Empire.
The transformation all happened on one amazing day. It started in the wee small hours of the morning while all of Susa slept. The king, tossing and turning, finally called for his government books where he learnt that Mordecai’s report of the assassination attempt has gone unrewarded. At the beginning of daily business, about three hours later, Xerxes asked Haman what would he do for the man he desired to honour. Haman had arrived bright and early on that day on a mission. It was to request the king to hang Mordecai, but that was pushed to the back of his mind when the king asked how a man he favours should be honoured. Haman imagined that the king was referring to him, desiring to honour him, and he elaborated all the splashy applause from the city streets for himself. Then the king utterly deflated him in commanding him thus to honour Mordecai. Mordecai was the man Haman hated most in the world, and yet he was appointed by the king to celebrate Mordecai’ life in the exact manner he’d been suggesting for himself.
Later that very same day – yes it was all on this same day – Haman set off leading Mordecai in his ride of honour. Mordecai returned to the royal court while Haman went home crestfallen on this worst day in his life complaining to his wife and friends of all he had had to endure, but they began to move away from him foretelling his doom. Immediately the king’s servants arrive to bring Haman to Esther’s banquet. If things were bad on that day they were going to get far worse. Early that afternoon – that same day – Esther’s second banquet takes place, at the end of which Haman’s holocaust of the Jews was unmasked. Haman was led away and executed that day. In the late afternoon of that day the king gave Esther all of Haman’s property. Then Esther informs the king of her relationship to Mordecai who then joins them. The king gave Mordecai his newly reclaimed signet ring, and he is placed placed over Esther’s recently acquired estate. It was all on that same day. That evening Mordecai walked out of the palace wearing the royal garments, and the whole city of Susa rejoiced at the deliverance of the Jews. It all happened on one single day.
Aren’t there days in history which alter our perception of the world? Hitler marches into Poland. The Japanese bomb Pearl Harbour without warning. There is the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York on 9/11. Haven’t there been unforgettable days in your life; the day you started your new job, the day you met your future spouse, your wedding day, the day your children were born, the day they diagnosed a serious illness, the day of the major operation. Or consider again the day when you first were introduced to Jesus Christ, the Christian book you were given, the sermon you heard, the person you met. Think of the Christian apologist William Lane Craig who in the last month debated in the Westminster Central Hall in London with an atheist Lewis Wolpert before 2,000 people. How did Dr Craig become a Christian? It was a time when he was a student and asking the big questions of life, and finding no answers. Then in a lecture he sat behind a radiant happy girl which created much curiosity in his mind. She told him that she knew Jesus Christ as her personal Saviour. She said to Craig that the Lord Christ loved him too, and this truth just overwhelmed him. He had never heard the Christian message before. What a day! Now he is a research professor of theology. It all goes back to that one day when God put him behind a Christian student in a lecture for a certain course.
There was once a much married woman in a place called Sychar who went to a well to draw water and there she met the Lord Jesus Christ and he told her about herself, and the rest of her life was transformed from that one day. There was once an Ethiopian who was traveling back to Africa from Jerusalem when a Christian began to talk to him about the Bible which he could not understand. After that day he went on his way rejoicing. There was a day when a criminal was being executed, tortured to death and he look at the man being killed alongside him and he cried to him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” and the Lord said, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” What a day in the life of that man. That morning he left the city of Jerusalem, never to return to it again; that afternoon he talked with God the Son on Golgotha; that night he met with him in glory never to leave that blessed place. That morning he was condemned by men; that night he was acquitted by God in glory. One day! It all happened on one day. A Scottish preacher went to visit a dying women. She was hungry to know the gospel and he explained Christ to her and she believed upon him with joy. That night she died and went to heaven. He said about her, “What a day in her life! I met her first in a state of nature; I saw her enter a state of grace; that night she entered a state of glory.”
What can happen in a day both for good and ill! There was once a fearful snow storm in Colchester on January 6, 1850 so that a fifteen-year old boy named Charles Haddon Spurgeon, could not walk to his own church but rather popped into a Primitive Methodist Church in Artillery Street for the first time. There he heard a local man exhorting the small congregation from a text in Isaiah, Look unto me and be ye saved all the ends of the earth. He addressed the teenager, “Young man, you look very miserable, and you will always be miserable – miserable in life and miserable in death – if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.” And Spurgeon obeyed and was saved. What a day! What sort of day is today going to be for you? One of those wonderful days when grace and salvation become yours through your looking away to Jesus Christ and his becoming your own personal Saviour? May it be so. There will be another day which many men and women must meet. It will begin for them all in this world when they are in a mere state of nature, but it will end with them in hell, being in a state of condemnation. What a terrible day that will be, as it was for Haman and Judas and the rich man of Jesus’ parable. Better for them that they had never been born.
THE INFLUENCE OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD INCREASED IN BABYLON.
How did the triumph manifest itself? In a number of ways;
i] Evangelistic success. “And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them” (Esther 8:17). These people knew the power which mighty King Xerxes possessed. When he declared war on the Greeks all the able-bodied men were taken away despite their protests and they marched into battle in distant Macedonia. The laws of the Medes and Persians did not change, and yet here was a law that Xerxes himself changed. There was a 180 degree change in this legislation. First a law said at the end of the year they were to slaughter all the Jews, and then hot on its heels that they were not to slaughter them but rather the Jews had the right to protect themselves and slaughter those who were attempting to kill them. What an amazing people worshipping their God Jehovah. He must be some God to turn the heart of Xerxes around in a few days, and they feared the people. It reminds me of the judgment of God coming upon Ananias and his wife Sapphira in Acts 6; the lives of them both were taken away and Luke tells us, “Great fear seized the whole church and all how heard about these events . . . more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number” (Acts 5:11&14). The reverence and godly fear in which men newly held Almighty God was not a hindrance to evangelism, it was an encouragement to evangelism. If a fear of God fell upon this congregation many people would be added to our number. There will be no real change to our community without that.
ii] Enemies of the Lord were removed. Throughout the empire were ruthless men, filled with hatred for the people of God, who would not sleep until they were all killed, but the Jews who were not soldiers but shopkeepers and businessmen and farmers who yet were enabled to defend themselves and smite down their enemies. The people of God killed seventy-five thousand of them (Esther 9:16). You remember that this is an Old Testament theocracy in which church and state were united. Israel had a land with boundaries and human enemies who would invade and destroy them. Israel had an army and it had to defend itself. Today the weapons of the church’s warfare are not carnal but spiritual weapons, the shield is of faith and the sword is of the Spirit. That is the word of God our mighty weapon. Our enemies are the world, the flesh and the devil with all his legions.
75,000 slain in a day; how unusual, but not impossible if you think of how many were killed in Rwanda. If Haman’s desire had been fulfilled then probably half a million Jews would have been slaughtered. There were 127 provinces stretching from India to Ethiopia and in one city, Susa 800 fell. If there were on average 600 men intent on slaughtering the Jews in each province that would account for the 75,000 killed. An extra day was granted to them to ensure that all those who planned to murder them were killed. I know that in the Greek translation of Esther, in the Septuagint, the number is 15,000 and why that is the case no one knows. It is certainly true that 15,000 were killed but the Hebrew text is unequivocal stating that there were 60,000 more than that. There were no civil targets; only the armed aggressors were fought off and killed. There was a Jihad against the Jews, murderous men intent on credo-cleansing, but they were put to the sword in a fight. Then note that no advantage was taken of their rights to plunder. We are told in chapter nine and verse ten, “But they did not lay their hands on the plunder,” and in verse fifteen “But they did not lay their hands on the plunder,” and again in verse sixteen, “But they did not lay their hands on the plunder.” They could have; they had every legal right to do this for the new law had allowed them to “plunder the property of their enemies” (Esther 8:11). The Jews wanted everyone to see that this battle was over principles; it was not a fake hatred to take the possession of the Amalekites.
Then you also notice that the bodies of the ten sons of Haman were hung up in Susa, requested by Esther and authorized by the king. It was a public warning to the population of the citadel that no one must harm the Jews again. The King and Queen were adamant that anti-Semitism would not be tolerated while they ruled in the land. Would you have the bodies of the thousands of Jews who lived in Susa piled up at every crossroads? Was it fair to hang Saddam Hussein and to show some of the event on television so that the people in Iraq all knew that he had been executed? If Adolph Hitler had been hung outside the gas ovens of Auschwitz would anyone say that that was unfair?
Remember that the 75,000 were all the descendants of Amalek whom God has sworn, “I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven . . . The Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation” (Ex. 17:14-16). And what will God do to his enemies who refuse to bow before him and own him as their God? Would they not prefer to be hung on a gallows than be sent to the judgment Jesus says will come on them? “What will God finally do with the enemies of his covenant? Wouldn’t they prefer hanging anytime! Can we not see the emblems of the final judgement here? Just as death did not end it all for Haman’s sons, death will not end it for the godless anywhere. There is a judgment after death. There is in fact a second death implied typically by the hanging of the dead. Eternity in hell makes hanging look desirable! The great danger of letting human emotions affect our interpretation of Scripture is that sooner or later it compromises the whole gospel. God’s own perfect Son was hung up, not when dead, but while alive until he died! And not by something so kind as a rope, but by cruel metal spikes; and not as a deserving enemy, but innocent, standing in for the enemies and paying their penalty. If we feel at all uneasy at this then we should look at Calvary not Susa! Once human emotion gets into the door of biblical interpretation, it is a slippery path leading to the denial of final and ultimate justice: hell itself. If hell is denied then the cross of Christ is emptied of its glory, for there he bore the curse of hell for all his people” (Peter Bloomfield, Esther, Evangelical Press, 2002, pp. 140&141).
iii] The event was for ever commemorated. “the Jews took it upon themselves to establish the custom that they and their descendants and all who join them should without fail observe these two days every year, in the way prescribed and at the time appointed. These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family, and in every province and in every city. And these days of Purim should never cease to be celebrated by the Jews, nor should the memory of them die out among their descendants.” (Esther 9:27&28). It is commemorated by Jews even today. In synagogues the story is read aloud and whenever Mordecai’s name is mention there are cheers, and Hamam’s name is mentioned there is hissing, booing and feet are stomped. There are even special rattles making grinding noises. It is a time of merriment, and gifts are given to friends and to the poor.
Each Sunday we meet together to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. On the first day of the week he triumphed over our last great enemy, Death itself. He showed superior power, and he tells us that because he lives we shall live also. Every week we meet in the name of the one who lives who once was dead.
THE GREAT LESSONS TO LEARN FROM THIS TIME IN BABYLON.
i] What wonders are accomplished without miracles. The world loves being fascinated by an amazing event. “Jews demand miraculous signs,” said Paul, and today there is an itch to go to meetings where men announce they will perform miracles. Dr. Richard Dawkins informs us that should he see a substantial miracle whose only explanation was a work of God then he would become a believer. “But where are our miracles?” Of course I tell men that the single constant miraculous presence in our church is the Bible, an infallible book of truth that comes to us from another world, saying, down to its jots and tittles, the very things God wants us to hear. But I see God not just in the stilling of the tempest on Galilee and the floating axe-head but I see him quite as clearly in the history of Haman. There is a certain roughness in the opening of the Red Sea or the Son of Man appearing with the three believers in the burning fiery furnace but in the book of Esther God let everything go on in its usual way – just as it did in your life last week. God gave mind and thought, ambition and passion their full liberty, and he achieved his own glorious purpose saving his people and destroying his enemies. We look today to Iraq, or to a new Prime Minister being appointed in Britain, or the church in China, or the spread of AIDS, or the situation in South Korea and North Korea and the eye of faith will see God at work, God blessing and God judging, managing my own affairs, guiding and helping me. We need no miracles when surveying the wonders of God’s providence day by day.
ii] How safe are the people of God. How safe is this particular congregation; how secure it is now. There are times when we think everything is out of our control. We are trapped in a machine; some man or a woman can work havoc and destroy. There are times when the people of God seem to be in Haman’s power. There was an occasion when Nero said that he wished all his enemies had one neck and he could destroy them all with one blow. Haman seemed to have all authority, calling all the shots, and yet all the people of God were delivered. There isn’t a mention of one single Old Testament Christian being killed in the whole book of Esther. If God has built a bruised reed the whole world cannot break it. If God has lit a smoking flax then all the devils in hell cannot together extinguish it. The weakest lamb in the flock of Christ cannot be snatched out of God’s hands. If a living seed has been planted by the Spirit in your heart it can never be crushed
iii] The wicked will come to a certain end. Think of those great power structures today in our own land, the media, education, the City of London, the government, the unions, the publishers, the world of sport and entertainment. There are so few amongst them promoting the values and morals and teaching of the Bible. Such ignorance and disdain of Christ! We are so few! Everything seems to go as they desire, but God will summon them all to stand before him. You stand in opposition to God but you cannot stand against God, and you can never outwit him or outplan him. Cease your opposition. Hear the voice of the gospel which says, “Confess your sin and forsake it. Believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the great atoning sacrifice, and even you shall be saved.”
iv] We have a guardian so near the throne. When the people of God living in Persia discovered that in Susa next to the throne, and close to the heart of the king was one touched with the feeling of their infirmities, bone of their bones, and flesh of their flesh, ever living to intercede on their behalf, then what joy came to them. How safe they felt, and so it is with us, and ten thousand times better for we know him personally, our Saviour Jesus Christ, “And he is at the Father’s side, the Man of love, the crucified.” How safe are all his people; “if any man sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Our advocate pleads for us there. “Father I know what dangers surround that little church. Father that preacher is going through a tough time, that woman is battling with a bad depression, that student has a broken heart, so Father send the Spirit of comfort and assurance to them, heal and strengthen them. Father build the walls of salvation higher and doubly impregnable.” Heaven and earth shall pass away sooner than those who trust the Lord shall perish. They shall not be ashamed or confounded, world without end, Amen.
11th March 2007 GEOFF THOMAS