Sermon preached on Esther 7 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 11/03/2013 in Novato, CA.
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Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
Esther – “To Be Destroyed, to Be Killed, and to Be Annihilated”
We continue our sermon miniseries through the key women in the Bible, and we come today to Esther. Esther brings us yet into another new period in Biblical history. In the last two messages, we’ve been studying the time of the kings in Israel. First during the united monarchy, then in the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Sadly, due to their sin, each nation was destroyed and brought into captivity. This was due to their persistent sin and rebellion against God, by which they broke their national covenant with God. The northern kingdom of Israel was conquered and captured by the nation of Assyria. The southern kingdom of Judah was conquered and captured by Babylon. Eventually Babylon was itself conquered and captured by the Medes and the Persians, and so these Jews in Babylonian captivity then came under Persian captivity. All of this led to the Jewish Diaspora — Jews scattered all over, outside of the Promised Land. Many of these then found themselves under the control of the Persians. And yet the Persians gave a lot more freedom to the Jews. They eventually let the Jews who wanted to, return to Jerusalem and the Promised Land and rebuild it, under Persian government still of course. And yet, not every Jew just picked up and left when that happened. Many had made new lives for themselves outside of the Promised Land. Many were content to stay put. As a Jew at that time, what did it mean to not go back, to stay living among pagans? It may have made you feel that God was very distant. It may have made your religion seem far away as well. Well, in this interesting book of Esther, God’s name is not even mentioned at all — it’s probably a literary tactic to help you feel like they probably did — that God seemed distant, even though he wasn’t. Yet, we can read this book and clearly see God’s work behind what is going on. The heroes of this story, Esther and Mordecai both at points imply that they recognize God’s control in all of this as well. And so this is a book that highlights God’s providential care for his chosen people, even when God might seem far away.
Let’s begin then with a summary of the story of Esther up to this point. Esther is a book that you really want to know the whole story. The basic story is this. It starts out in chapter 1 with the Persian king Ahasuerus throwing a big feast. During the party, after the king had drank a lot of wine, he calls for his beautiful wife to come and be paraded before all the people at the party. He wanted to show off her beauty. Well, she evidently took offense to this, and doesn’t come. So, the king gets upset and basically decides to banish her from his presence, and strip her title as queen. Then the king gets lonely, and so in chapter 2 a huge beauty contest of sorts is held to find him a new queen. In God’s providence, Esther, a Jewish girl, is selected. We learn that this Jewish girl was an orphan who was adopted by her relative Mordecai. Mordecai at first instructs Esther to not reveal her Jewish identity. So, the King evidently is not aware of this detail of his new queen. As for Mordecai, we are also told that he was a Benjamite who was a son of Kish and a son a Shimei. That would make Mordecai related to the former king Saul as well. Both Esther and Mordecai are the heroes presented in this book, of course God being the ultimate hero. Mordecai begins to shine in chapter 2 as well when he discovers a plot against the king’s life, and reports it through Queen Esther, successfully saving the kings’ life.
Mordecai’s genealogy becomes especially relevant in chapter 3, when the main villain of the story is introduced. His name is Haman, and we are told that he is an Agagite. Right away, him and Mordecai get into it. Haman is in the political leadership, and Haman seems to crave attention and prestige, but Mordecai won’t give Haman the honorary bows. Well, the background to both Haman and Mordecai is in their genealogies. We mentioned Mordecai’s family connection with King Saul. King Saul’s big failing in the Bible is that God sent him on a battle to wipe out all the Amalekites, and not take any spoil either. Saul did not fully obey. He is painted as not finishing the job. He did take some spoil, and he also left their king alive. Their king was Agag. That’s right, Haman is an Agagite – a descendant of the people whom Mordecai’s ancestor was supposed to take out – but didn’t. The rivalry lives on here. But to be clear, the conflict goes back earlier than with King Saul and King Agag. The reason why God had ordered Saul to wipe them out, stems back even earlier than that. During the time of the wilderness wandering, when the Israelite people were coming out of Egypt, the Amalekites attacked their rear guard and started picking off all the weak Israelites straggling along in the rear. You can read about this in Exodus 17 and Deuteronomy 25. This caused God to say this to Israel: “The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation, Exodus 17:16. And he later commanded Israel that they were to, “blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven, you shall not forget,” Deuteronomy 25:17. So, this was an age old battle. Not just a failure of King Saul. But also a charge for Israel to be used by God to bring judgment on these godless Amalekites who had so viciously struck God’s people when they were fleeing from Egyptian slavery.
And so that conflict continues in this story. Haman is infuriated with Mordecai’s lack of bowing to him, and so what does he do? He tries to engineer genocide! He goes to the king and asks for permission to completely wipe out a troublesome people. Haman doesn’t say which people this was, nor did the king ask, but the king evidently trusted Haman, and gave him his royal signet ring, and so Haman scheduled a day when all the Jewish people would be put to death! At that news, the Jews start mourning, but Queen Esther at first is unaware from her queenly place of privilege that this is happening. Eventually, she finds out from Mordecai what is going on. Mordecai tells her to go and appeal to the king for help. But at first Esther is scared. The Persian law did not allow people, including the queen, to go uninvited to the king. If you did, you would be put to death, unless the king graciously lowered his scepter to you. So it was a big risk, and especially as Esther adds, that at that point the king had not called for her in 30 days. That’s where see Mordecai’s faith. In chapter 4:13, Mordecai assures here that help would come from the Jews from another place, if she wouldn’t help. But that if she didn’t help, it would not be good for her. Surely, Mordecai has an unspoken but implied faith in God here, at least in some degree. Mordecai challenges Esther with those classic words in 4:14, “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” Well, Esther accepts the challenge. She acknowledges that she might die, but she calls for Mordecai and the other Jews to fast for three days, and that she and her maids would do the same, then she would go to the king. Again, no reference to God, but surely the fasting reference is an expression of Esther’s faith and religion. Surely she would have prayed during that time.
And so in chapter 5, Esther takes her life in her hand and bravely goes before the king. But in God’s providence, she finds favor in his sight, and he holds out the golden scepter to her, saving her life. He then generously offers to grant her virtually any request. But instead of giving the request, she invites him to a feast, him and Haman. Feasts are a huge part throughout this book, by the way, which only draws out the significance of her fasting all the more. So, Haman and the king come to Queen Esther’s feast. The king again asks for her request, and she again invites him and Haman to another feast the next day, where she assures him that she will finally make her request known to him. The king again agrees. Well, Haman goes home, but on the way home sees Mordecai again, and his fury heats up again. Based on his wife’s suggestion, Haman decides to build gallows and ask the king the next morning to have Mordecai hung on it. Well, that night, in God’s providence, the king couldn’t sleep. So, he has his servants read him the royal records — probably a good way to put you to sleep! But as he is doing that, he sees in the record that Mordecai had saved his life and no reward had been given to him yet. So, then the king has Haman be the agent in honoring Mordecai around the city — Haman had actually come to ask the king to have Mordecai hanged when the king asked Haman to do this! Coincidence? Only if we don’t recognize God’s providence here! Praise the Lord!
Well, that essentially brings us to our passage for today. The king and Haman are now assembled later that same day to Esther’s second feast for them. The king asks Esther again what is her request. Again he promises to give it to her, up to half his kingdom. Look at verse 3. She finally makes her request, buffering it with the appropriate humility. She reveals her request in verse 3, “Let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request. For we have been sold, my people and I, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated.” Here, Esther ultimately makes her identity known as a Jew. She pleads for her life and for the life of her people. Notice, how she expresses the severity of the issue. She goes on to say that if she and her people were just being sold into slavery, then she wouldn’t have bothered the king. That’s an interesting statement, given that it was a big deal in Israel’s history that God had saved the Jews from slavery in Egypt. That was a big enough concern for God to take up. But this goes to show that an even worse threat is here. God’s chosen people, the promised line of the Messiah, was at risk. And so Esther asks for her life and the life of the people. She makes this request to a pagan king.
And this pagan king grants her request. Most immediately, he puts the villain Haman to death. But the book goes on to show how an even greater victory comes. You see, the law had already been signed to allow for this day which the Jews would be put to death. The Persian kings couldn’t revoke a law. But he was able to add additional laws. And Esther works with him to have a new law passed that allowed the Jews to legally take up arms to defend themselves that day and attack their enemies. And Esther then had the king pass a second day where the Jews were allowed to do the same thing. And so the book describes not only how the Jews were spared, but how they also were able to wipe out so many of their enemies. This is the picture we find in the Scriptures of reversal. Jesus said the first will be last and the last first. It looked like the Jews’ doom was sure, but God used Esther, and Mordecai, and even this pagan king, to turn the tables on Haman and the other enemies of God’s people. The reversal with Haman was that he was hanged on the very gallows he intended for Mordecai, verse 10. And the reversal with the rest of the enemies of God’s people are when the Jews could defend themselves and fight back against the other enemies, not just for one day but for two.
You see that is what Haman was. He was an enemy of God’s people. Look at verse 6. Esther says of Haman that he is their adversary, and enemy, and that he is wicked. That’s important to note. Haman set himself as an enemy of the people of God. He wasn’t the first, and he won’t be the last. As he comes in the line of the wicked Amalekites, we realize this is a battle that had been going on a long time. But we ultimately realize it was a battle that was bigger than Haman or the Amalekites. You see, what’s behind all of this is that age old enemy. That serpent of old, the accuser of the saints, the devil. The one who in the garden tempted the first woman. And we remember God’s prophecy that came out of that. That one of the seed of the woman would be raised up to crush the enemy. To smash his head. But the prophecy also said that the seed of the serpent would strike the heal of the seed of the woman. Haman is one of those seeds of the serpent. All through the ages, the serpent of old has been trying to stop God’s people. Here, Satan again tries a tactic to keep the promised Messiah from coming. If he could wipe out the Jews here, then the promised line of the Messiah would be destroyed. Satan tried to use Haman in this way. Haman in his pride thought he could do it. Mordecai in his faith was confident he could not. And Esther was providentially in the right place at the right time and acted in faith to be an instrument of salvation. And she even was used to bring a pagan king into God’s providential plan, that through this pagan king God would preserve his people. And he would preserve the line of the Messiah. Surely, Esther was not specifically in that line, though she was a Jew. But she was used to save the Jewish people — her people. And so that meant God used her to save the line of the Messiah!
And it’s in the Messiah where the battle is ultimately won. All through the ages, there have been battles like this between Satan and God’s people. He tried to wipe out all the Jewish boys back in Egypt through Pharaoh. He tried to wipe out the Jews here with Haman. He would try again to wipe out the newborn Messiah by Herod killing all the babies in and around Bethlehem at Jesus’ birth. Many other similar kinds of battles have taken place of various sorts. Battles where Satan is afflicting and accusing and trying to destroy God’s people and their faith. But God is faithful. He preserved the line until the Christ would be born. And now in the Christ he has already dealt the decisive victory against Satan. Now in Christ, through his death and resurrection, he has cast Satan out of heaven, and bound him from deceiving the Gentiles like he did in the past. Yes, Satan is still allowed some measure of activity. Even now he prowls around like a roaring lion. But his days are numbered. A decisive blow has already happened by Christ at the cross. Soon, Christ will crush Satan under our feet. That final victory will come on the day of Christ’s return. Then he will cast Satan forever into the eternal lake of fire.
But until that great day, we go forth with boldness, even as the different battles rage on. Why? Because we have Christ our king. Christ our king has stolen away all the accusations that Satan could make against us, silencing them by what he did at the cross. Put on that gospel armor, the strength of Christ, given to us for this battle. Our life right now is very much like life in Persia at that time for the Jews. They didn’t dwell in the Promised Land. They lived in and among the pagans. They had temptations to live like them. To compromise, to even hide their identities. Surely God seemed so distant. We can relate to such a life! But in such a situation, we are to be servants for Christ. To stand up as his gospel soldiers. To identify ourselves to the world as those who are Christian. To trust that God is in control, even through the normal providences of this world. That even through the most unexpected sources he is working out his Romans 8:28 agenda and his Matthew 28 agenda. See God’s hand in it. Look beyond the coincidences. Rise to the occasions given to you in serving God.
But realize it is a battle. There are Hamans in this world. And so we go forth in battle, but let us do it boldly. Boldly, because we have Christ as king. As we think about how Esther finally made her request to king, there is a big call for us to prayer. Think about it – we don’t need to be afraid to go before God with our requests as uninvited Esther was, not knowing if she’d be welcomed. No, we have a standing invitation and audience before our heavenly father. We are told to draw near the throne of grace with confidence for the sake of Christ. And think about it — if this pagan king could find favor in beautiful Queen Esther and grant her this request, then surely God will find favor in us because we come as those beautified by Christ, washed clean by his own blood. It is our king himself who gave the analogy of the persistent widow bringing her requests to the unjust judge. Jesus said the unjust judge would finally give her justice, just to not be wearied any longer by her. And so if an unjust judge would grant such requests, and if a pagan king would grant Esther’s request, know for sure that God will “avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to him, though he bears long with them.”
Another application that comes from this is that we need to identify the enemies. Esther, in just the right time, identified Haman here as the enemy. Too often we are too slow to identify the enemies of Christ’s church. We said it last week with Jezebel — we can’t tolerate the Jezebel’s in our midst. Christ calls us not to. Yes, there is a way we still must hold out grace to Jezebels, calling them to repentance. We must also be wise to make sure that we aren’t calling someone a Jezebel who isn’t a Jezebel. Well, the same thing goes with the Hamans. We must have wisdom and grace operating in all of this. But, Esther rightly identified Haman here in verse 6 as the foe and enemy, the wicked Haman. The church must still do so today. It can be a temptation to shy away from such thing, not wanting to be confrontational. But, I think of Paul at the end of 2 Timothy, how he did this very thing — he mentioned by name some who had stood against him and called them out on it. For example, he mentioned Alexander the coppersmith who did him much harm, and he warned the brothers to beware him, for he resisted Paul’s words. The difference with the Jezebels and the Hamans, however, is that the Jezebels are the forces of Satan that we find working within the church. The Hamans are the ones that are those outside church who are attacking it. But make no mistake, it’s still Satan behind both such attacks.
How true all of this would have been for Israel even before — when they lived in the safe confines of the Promised Land. Even then they had the threat of foreign enemies that were opposed to them. But this threat was from the Hamans when they were not living in the Promised Land, had no king themselves to lead them, and they probably felt very vulnerable. Well, this is much like our situation. We live today in Persia or Babylon so to speak. We live outside of our truly heavenly Promised Land. As we live as Christians in a fallen world, there will be unique temptations when the Hamans of this world threaten us. We can be tempted to hide our identity and just blend into the unbelieving world around us. Or we be tempted to compromise, in order to gain more allies. Or we can be tempted to doubt God is with us. These are just a few of the challenges of living as a child of God in a godless world.
And so the battle with the enemy rages on in all of this. But we will overcome Satan because we are in Christ. He has overcome and so we will overcome. Let us trust in him. And let us express that trust in faith. And through prayer. Believe your Lord and Savior. See his strength. Trust in him, until that day when we feast with him in that Great Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Amen.
Copyright © 2013 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.