TWO COURAGEOUS WOMEN, Part 4

Divine Appointment

Chapter 3 of Esther is a chapter in the life of a Jew that has been repeated many times in history. As we study this whole incident, we can substitute the name of virtually any Jew-hating world leader for Haman. Pharaoh, Hitler, Louis Farrakhan, and every Middle Eastern politician have all hated, or continue to hate, Jews and Israel. How many times in history has a despot sought to wipe Israel off the map? In the case of Esther, a man by the name of Haman was able to gain Xerxes’ ear so as to pass legislation that would kill every Jew within the Persian Empire. This incredible law, sealed with the king’s signet ring, could never be revoked; even the king himself could not revoke this law.

We will see that Xerxes, king of the greatest empire was played for a fool by Haman. We will also see what real courage looks like in how Queen Esther acted.

1. Esther’s dilemma

By now, Esther had found herself in a bit of a quandary for the following reasons:

  • Esther had kept her nationality a secret from the King;
  • The King had been ignoring Esther, suggesting he had grown bored with her;
  • Her people had been ordered exterminated by the very government of which she was a part;
  • Anyone, including the Queen, who came before the King uninvited to question his decisions could be put to death.

In spite of these obstacles, Esther made the only choice she could: to stand with her people:

And if I perish, I perish. (4:16)

2. Faithfulness to God, 3:1—6

a. Haman, verse 1

Here we are introduced to the villain of the piece. This was several years after the elevation of Esther to the queenship.

After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles.

Where did this man, Haman, come from? He is described as the “son of Hammedatha, the Agagite.” Haman was a descendant of Agag, the Amalekite king, an enemy of Israel back last seen in days of King Saul. The Amalekites were ancient enemies of Israel, and here we see some more “divine providence” in action, only this time in reverse. King Saul had been commanded by God to completely destroy the wicked Amalekites, but we read this in 1 Samuel 15—

This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ (verses 2, 3)

But I did obey the LORD,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king.” (verse 20)

Because of Saul’s rebellion, the kingdom was taken from him and given to David, but the consequences of Saul’s rebellion reverberated down to Esther’s time, in a whole other country! Had Saul obeyed God’s Word, the threat to the Jews in Persia would have never been. Decisions carry consequences, and now God is about to clean up Saul’s mess.

b. Mordecai’s refusal, verses 2—6

Everybody inside and outside of the palace to was to bow down before Haman in respect. Only one man refused to “bend the knee,” Mordecai, Queen Esther’s older cousin. He refused to honor Haman, effectively refusing to obey the King Xerxes direct command. It is possible that Mordecai knew about Haman’s ancestry, although that’s speculation. But we do know that Haman was not impressed with Mordecai’s stance.

When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, 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. (verses 5, 6)

So Haman was not satisfied with killing only Mordecai but was determined to succeed where Saul failed. Haman would see to it that all his enemies would be destroyed. Incidentally, “haman” means “small person.”

3. Reaction to evil, 3:7—4:3

a. Request granted, 3:7—11

Turning to the occult for guidance, Haman chose the day to begin his plan for the systematic annihilation of the Jews in Persia. He went into to see Xerxes, and here is now he described the Jews:

There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they 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 give ten thousand talents of silver to the king’s administrators for the royal treasury.” (verses 8, 9)

Haman wasn’t altogether wrong in his assessment of the Jews, but he certainly lied about their not obeying the laws of the land! They had peacefully co-existed with all the people of the Persian Empire for over 70 years without incident. There was nothing but pettiness involved in Haman’s scheme. And the people of Susa knew that this law was ridiculous:

The couriers went out, spurred on by the king’s command, and the edict was issued in the citadel of Susa. The king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was bewildered. (verse 15)

The church, like Israel of old, has often been accused of being “different” from the rest of the world. And that is the way it’s supposed to be. God’s people are supposed to be different, adhering to a different standard of living. That causes small people, like Haman, to hate God’s people and to work against them and their interests.

Xerxes, like all potentates of his day, had little regard for human life, went along with Haman’s plan. Of course, he didn’t know that Esther was a member of the nationality he had condemned to death.

b. Grief expressed, 4:1—3

When the decree was made known throughout the Empire, Jews went into a period of “mourning.” Mordecai tore his clothes and put on his “mourning attire,” sackcloth, and sprinkled himself with ashes. Whatever good fortune and good favor the Jews had experienced in Persia was, apparently, evaporating, and Mordecai didn’t know what to do about it.

4. Courageous action, 4:4—5:8

a. Panic and uncertainty, 4:4—14

When Esther’s eunuchs and female attendants came and told her about Mordecai, she was in great distress. (verse 4)

The Queen was safe and secure in the palace of the King, so she had no clue what was going on, and was likely embarrassed by Mordecai’s performance. She wanted an explanation, and got one from Mordecai, who was busy, once again, formulating a plan: the Queen should go in and beg Xerxes to reverse the law.

Esther must have been torn; it was not possible to do what Mordecai suggested:

…any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives. (verse 11)

We wonder where the “providence of God” is now! It was all over the place in the early parts of the story of Esther, but now the situation looks hopeless. Appearances can be deceiving. God is still working in the background, whether we can see him or not. What we can see, though, is one of the most courageous women who ever lived.

Mordecai made it clear to her that even though she’s the Queen, even she was not safe. So Esther, in a change of pace, came up with a plan of her own:

Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” (verse 16)

Mordecai, the “man with a plan,” had none. So it fell on Esther’s shoulders to do something. She did what she should have done: she asked for prayer, though that word is not used it is certainly implied. Christians can learn a lesson from her courage. She would never ask of others what she was unwilling to do herself. Esther had been born for this very moment.

b. Courageous action, 5:1—8

After three days of prayer and fasting, Esther made her move. But she did so only after she had prepared herself in every way:

When he saw Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased with her and held out to her the gold scepter that was in his hand. So Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter. (verse 2)

She and her people fasted and prayed, and we are told in verse 1 that she got all dressed up to go in and see the King. She was beautiful and she took full advantage of everything she had to persuade Xerxes to come over her way of thinking.

The King saw her and, his heart skipped a beat. For whatever reason, he had been ignoring her, but now she approached him and got his attention.

What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given you.” (verse 3)

Earlier, we wondered where God was in this story. Now we know! He is still working, in stealth mode, as it were. Xerxes had just given his Queen a blank check. But Esther was clever; she had a plan given her by the Lord. Her plan was audacious, but she was the only person who was able to save her people.

If it pleases the king,” replied Esther, “let the king, together with Haman, come today to a banquet I have prepared for him.” (verse 4)

In fact, Esther had a couple of banquets where Haman was specifically invited. And this made the little man very happy:

I’m the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the king to the banquet she gave. And she has invited me along with the king tomorrow.” (verse 12)

Little men do that; they boast about being smooth with women. He had a meal with the Queen one day, and he’s going back for supper the next. But he has no idea that Esther is using him to accomplish God’s purpose for His people.

In the meantime, this little fellow, so jealous of Mordecai, listened to his wife’s advice:

Have a pole set up, reaching to a height of fifty cubits, and ask the king in the morning to have Mordecai impaled on it. Then go with the king to the banquet and enjoy yourself.” (verse 14)

If that isn’t a Freudian thing!  This reveals the height of Haman’s hatred for Mordecai, the Jew. He was full of resentment and bitterness. But the Queen liked him, and that was what was important to short Haman.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd
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