(Grateful acknowledgements to Anastasios Kioulachoglou)
2 Samuel 22:2-3, "And he said, The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; The God of my rock; in him will I trust: he is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, and my refuge, my saviour; thou savest me from violence."
There are many places in the scripture that refer to the delivering power of our loving Father. One of these places is in the book of Esther.
The Background of Esther
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 Ahasuerus, used to live. This king, after putting away his first wife, the queen Vashti (see ftn.2), 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 being chosen to fill the empty place of the queen (Esther 1). 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 favour 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 didn't reveal to anyone that she was a Jew. So no one, not even the king, knew Esther's nationality.
The Problem Starts
Though thus far everything seems to be fine, Esther 3:1-6 introduces someone whose coming brought big problems.
Esther 3:1-6, "After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him. And all the king's servants, that were in the king's gate, bowed, and reverenced Haman: for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence. Then the king's servants, which were in the king's gate, said unto Mordecai, Why transgressest thou the king's commandment? Now it came to pass, when they spake daily unto him, and he hearkened not unto them, that they told Haman, to see whether Mordecai's matters would stand: for he had told them that he was a Jew. And when Haman saw that Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence, then was Haman full of wrath. And he thought scorn to lay hands on Mordecai alone; for they had shewed him the people of Mordecai: wherefore Haman sought to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus, even the people of Mordecai."
Starting from the end of the passage, it would appear that a really big problem is about to begin. 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 didn't bow to him. For this reason he wanted to destroy the whole nation of Mordecai (i.e. all the Jews). Though it is evidently depravity that Haman wanted to destroy a whole nation because one man didn't bow to him, there are more spiritual insights into his actions than what a first glance reveals.
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 the 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 depraved but absolutely devilish. It was the spirit of the adversary that Haman had who was attempting to cancel the coming of Christ by destroying the whole nation, and again this evil spirit was attempting, some centuries later 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, the Messiah. 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 can they be broken by the will of man, even if this man is second in command in the largest kingdom of his time?
Though in the above we comsider the problem, we haven't yet said anything about the cause of the problem. Some of us may wonder why Mordecai didn't 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 then didn't Mordecai pay homage to him as the king had commanded (Esther 3:21)? Was he that proud? The answer is, no. The reason that Mordecai didn't 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 Amalekites (I Samuel 15), which in turn means that he himself was an Amalekite (Josephus also in his Antiquities, calls him Amalekite). 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, "And the LORD said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovahnissi: For he said, Because the LORD hath sworn that the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation."
Haman, therefore, being an Amalekite, was one with whom God was at war. Thus Mordecai had two choices: 1) to honour Haman, the enemy of God, thus dishonouring the Word of God or; 2) to honour the Word of God and deny to pay homage to Haman. No one can say that he 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; he would not 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 promised (II Chronicles 16:9, Psalms 18:2-3, 30-31, 22:4-5, 25:2-3, 32:10, 35:9-10, 119:170 etc.).
The second question that seeks an answer is: will God be able to deliver Mordecai, a man that stood for Him? More pointedly: 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 are we just exposed to men's desires and "power"? To answer these questions, we need to read the remaining of Esther.
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 didn't 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 sorrowful 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 didn't know anything about the decree, was very sad when she was told that Mordecai, her adopted father, was very sorrowful, and sent one of her servants to him to learn why (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 for 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, with God being in full control of all things at all times, things are not always what they appear at the time. For though Esther was reluctant, the promises of God, on which Mordecai stood, didn't depend on Esther but on GOD. It was for Him to determine the way out. Certainly Esther was a very good possibility and that's why Mordecai asked her. But just because Mordecai asked her to help does not mean that his trust was in her and not in God. We know this when we see his reply to Esther's reluctance:
Esther 4:13-14, "Then Mordecai commanded to answer Esther, Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king's house, more than all the Jews. For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art 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 Almighty 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 a sure witness to us how much Mordecai trusted in God.
Following his example, we should also fully 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 blessings we receive when we put our full trust in God.
Jeremiah 17:5-8, "Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD. For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited. Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall 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 fully 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 a place that is not sustainable (a place of death), while the other by the river (a place full of life).
Returning now to Mordecai, his reply changed Esther's mind, who now decided to help:
Esther 4:15-17, "Then Esther bade them return Mordecai this answer, Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish. So Mordecai went his way, and did according to all that Esther had 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:
Esther 5:2, "And it was so, when the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, that she obtained favour in his sight: and the king held out to Esther the golden sceptre that was in his hand. So Esther drew 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 arrived for Esther to be God's appointed vessel for His purposes, He 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.
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, "that he stood not up, nor moved for him" (Esther 5:9). As it is clear, despite the deadly situation, Mordecai was not willing to give up and pay homage to Haman. He continued trusting in God and His Word, through undying faith, that God would deliver him and his nation. However, Haman's wrath drove him even further. When he returned to his house, 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:
Esther 5:14, "Then said Zeresh his wife and all his friends unto him, Let a gallows be made of fifty cubits high, and to morrow speak thou unto the king that Mordecai may be hanged thereon: then go thou in merrily with the king unto the banquet. And the thing pleased Haman; and he caused the gallows to be 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:
Esther 6:1-3, "On that night could not the king sleep, and he commanded to bring the book of records of the chronicles; and they were read before the king. And it was found written, that Mordecai had told of Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king's chamberlains, the keepers of the door, who sought to lay hand on the king Ahasuerus. And the king said, What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this? Then said the king's servants that ministered unto him, There is nothing 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 an 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, 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 could stay awake and do the things that followed. 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 particular 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 realized that Mordecai wasn't 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 hang Mordecai, an unpleasant surprise was waiting him:
Esther 6:4-9, "And the king said, Who is in the court? Now Haman was come into the outward court of the king's house, to speak unto the king to hang Mordecai on the gallows that he had prepared for him. And the king's servants said unto him, Behold, Haman standeth in the court. And the king said, Let him come in. So Haman came in. And the king said unto him, What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour? Now Haman thought in his heart, To whom would the king delight to do honour more than to myself? And Haman answered the king, For the man whom the king delighteth to honour, Let the royal apparel be brought which the king useth to wear, and the horse that the king rideth upon, and the crown royal which is set upon his head: And let this apparel and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king's most noble princes, that they may array the man withal whom the king delighteth to honour, and bring him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaim before him, Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honour."
Haman said all these things, thinking that it was he that the king wanted to honour. But....................
Esther 6:10-12, "Then the king said to Haman, Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as thou hast said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew, that sitteth at the king's gate: let nothing fail of all that thou hast spoken. Then took Haman the apparel and the horse, and arrayed Mordecai, and brought him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaimed before him, Thus shall it be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour. And Mordecai came again to the king's gate. But Haman hasted to his house mourning, and having 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, until then second in command, proclaiming before him and returning to his house "mourning"!!
However, this is not the end of our instruction. 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 were put to their pre-ordained use:
Esther 7:9-10, "And Harbonah, one of the chamberlains, said before the king, Behold also, the gallows fifty cubits high, which Haman had made for Mordecai, who had spoken good for the king, standeth in the house of Haman. Then the king said, Hang him [Haman] thereon. So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then was the king's wrath pacified."
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 hang 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 "next unto 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:
Esther 8:11-12, "Wherein the king granted the Jews which were in every city to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish, all the power of the people and province that would assault them, both little ones and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey, Upon one day in all the provinces of king Ahasuerus, namely, upon the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar."
What a loving deliverer 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 hang Mordecai; but he ended up mourning and eventually hanged in the very gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai!
To conclude this brief study of the book of Esther, we can say that its delivering message is much the same message 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 that, 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:
Psalms 37:3-11, "Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday. Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil. For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth. For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be. But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace."
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