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Esther 7 & 8:7:1 NOW the king and Haman came to drink wine with Esther the queen. 2 And the king said to Esther on the second day also as they drank their wine at the banquet, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to half of the kingdom it shall be done.” 3 Then Queen Esther answered and said, “If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be given me as my petition, and my people as my request; 4 for we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed and to be annihilated. Now if we had only been sold as slaves, men and women, I would have remained silent, for the trouble would not be commensurate with the annoyance to the king.” 5 Then King Ahasuerus asked Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who would presume to do thus?” 6 And Esther said, “A foe and an enemy, is this wicked Haman!” Then Haman became terrified before the king and queen.
7 And the king arose in his anger from drinking wine and went into the palace garden; but Haman stayed to beg for his life from Queen Esther, for he saw that harm had been determined against him by the king. 8 Now when the king returned from the palace garden into the place where they were drinking wine, Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was. Then the king said, “Will he even assault the queen with me in the house?” As the word went out of the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face. 9 Then Harbonah, one of the eunuchs who were before the king said, “Behold indeed, the gallows standing at Haman’s house fifty cubits high, which Haman made for Mordecai who spoke good on behalf of the king!” And the king said, “Hang him on it.” 10 So they hanged Haman on the gallows which he had prepared for Mordecai, and the king’s anger subsided.
8:1 ON that day King Ahasuerus gave the house of Haman, the enemy of the Jews, to Queen Esther; and Mordecai came before the king, for Esther had disclosed what he was to her. 2 And the king took off his signet ring which he had taken away from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai. And Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman.
3 Then Esther spoke again to the king, fell at his feet, wept, and implored him to avert the evil scheme of Haman the Agagite and his plot which he had devised against the Jews. 4 And the king extended the golden scepter to Esther. So Esther arose and stood before the king. 5 Then she said, “If it pleases the king and if I have found favor before him and the matter seems proper to the king and I am pleasing in his sight, let it be written to revoke the letters devised by Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, which he wrote to destroy the Jews who are in all the king’s provinces. 6 “For how can I endure to see the calamity which shall befall my people, and how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?” 7 So King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther and to Mordecai the Jew, “Behold, I have given the house of Haman to Esther, and him they have hanged on the gallows because he had stretched out his hands against the Jews. 8 “Now you write to the Jews as you see fit, in the king’s name, and seal it with the king’s signet ring; for a decree which is written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s signet ring may not be revoked.”
9 So the king’s scribes were called at that time in the third month (that is, the month Sivan), on the twenty-third day; and it was written according to all that Mordecai commanded to the Jews, the satraps, the governors, and the princes of the provinces which extended from India to Ethiopia, 127 provinces, to every province according to its script, and to every people according to their language, as well as to the Jews according to their script and their language. 10 And he wrote in the name of King Ahasuerus, and sealed it with the king’s signet ring, and sent letters by couriers on horses, riding on steeds sired by the royal stud. 11 In them the king granted the Jews who were in each and every city the right to assemble and to defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate the entire army of any people or province which might attack them, including children and women, and to plunder their spoil, 12 on one day in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month (that is, the month Adar). 13 A copy of the edict to be issued as law in each and every province, was published to all the peoples, so that the Jews should be ready for this day to avenge themselves on their enemies. 14 The couriers, hastened and impelled by the king’s command, went out, riding on the royal steeds; and the decree was given out in Susa the capital.
15 Then Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal robes of blue and white, with a large crown of gold and a garment of fine linen and purple; and the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced. 16 For the Jews there was light and gladness and joy and honor. 17 And in each and every province, and in each and every city, wherever the king’s commandment and his decree arrived, there was gladness and joy for the Jews, a feast and a holiday. And many among the peoples of the land became Jews, for the dread of the Jews had fallen on them..
Before we go into the sermon proper, I want to make on brief textual comment: In v. 8 we see Haman’s pleas for mercy interpreted as an assault on Esther. Since he has been assaulting her all this time, that is appropriate. What we may see here is what Solomon did when his mother Bathsheba interceded for Adonijah. Bathsheba was in fact asking for something that was extremely detrimental to both herself and Solomon’s kingdom. Solomon responded by executing Adonijah and protected His mother. Perhaps the king is worried that Esther would actually be foolish enough to think Haman is repentant and promise to spare him. Maybe that’s why he immediately orders his execution.
The fact of the matter is, Hebrews 6 warns us that a person can and sometimes does reach a point in his life where it is impossible for him to repent. Proverbs 2 tells us that, if one continually reject wisdom, one might fall into calamity and God will refuse to hear one’s cries for help. The message of Haman’s futile pleas for mercy is to repent while there is still time.
Also, in verses 1 and 3 of chapter 8, notice that Esther reveals her identity in relationship to Mordecai, and bows to the king. Here both of the two problems we’ve discussed in chapters 2 and 3, hiding one’s identity and rebellion against authority, are addressed.
As a pastor, teacher and even as a Christian, my life has been radically affected by the writings of the New Testament and Pauline scholar Nicholas Thomas Wright. Wright is, in our generation, probably the pre-eminent defender of the historical Jesus against the Jesus Seminar and other organs of unbelief. But while his historical apologetics are outstanding, the ethical and theological insights which result from his work are even greater.
One of the interesting questions, which Wright presses home against those who would try to explain Jesus and the origin of the New Testament Church in naturalistic or new age terms, is: Why did Jesus’ followers celebrate and teach that God had won the victory?
After all, as conservative Jews, all of Jesus’ followers had been raised to expect and pray for God to win the victory. The victory over the pagans who were oppressing them. The victory over the curse of death itself through the resurrection. They probably weren’t quite sure how these two victories were to be related to one another, but those were their expectations of victory.
So why did Peter and John and others claim that God had won the victory? Why did they celebrate as if it had already happened? Paganism was still the dominant religious and political force in the whole world and even in Palestine. The curse of suffering and misery and ultimately of death continued unabated. Yet these followers, whose leader had himself suffered a humiliating and especially cursed death at the hands of pagans, had the audacity to openly claim the victory of God. In Jesus, God had won His victory.
In Esther we have a story about God’s victory over pagan enemies. We have just read about how the tables were turned on Haman the Agagite. And in this story we can’t help but hear themes that are taken up and fulfilled in the Gospels.
Haman has been the accuser of the Jews before the king. Like Satan accusing Job in Heaven, Haman has brought charges against all of God’s people. And like Satan, even though there was a grain of truth in Haman’s accusation, he overstepped himself.
Haman sat down and ate and drank with the king and queen. In so doing he ate and drank judgment against himself. Like Judas, whom Satan entered when Jesus gave him a morsel, Haman was exposed at that banquet of wine.
Haman had been plotting to hang Mordecai on a structure-literally a tree or wood-75 feet off the ground. That seems extremely high, and it was probably placed on a building or maybe on the city wall.
It would probably be helpful to consider why Haman would want to use such a contraption. Victory over one’s enemies is good, but public victory is better. By impaling Mordecai high up there he would demonstrate to everyone in Susa what happens to those who oppose him.
Furthermore, it allows Haman, in a sense, to do harm to Mordecai even after he is dead. Remember, according to Deuteronomy 21.23, the corpse of an executed criminal could not be hung on a tree until sundown, but had to be taken down and properly buried, because anyone hung on a tree was especially cursed. Why? What was so bad about being hung up when you were dead?
It was bad because it exposed you to be devoured by the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. We see this in 1 Samuel 20. After King David had seven of Saul’s family executed and hung on trees we read that the mother of two of those men took action:
And Rizpah the daughter of Ariah took sackcloth and spread it for herself on the rock, from the beginning o f harvest until ti rained on them from the sky; and she allowed neither the birds of the sky to rest on them by day nor the beasts of the field by night.
Hanging corpses outside is a free meal for the wild animals. When David heard what Rizpah had done he responded by burying the corpses. Burial represents rest and faith in the resurrection. To have one’s corpse devoured represents the curse of God.
Now, in a city like Susa, you probably don’t want wild dogs and other four-footed creatures running around loose looking for a dead body to eat. But birds are not so dangerous, so it makes sense to hang some executed criminal up high as a sort of grim birdfeeder. That’s the public spectacle which Haman wished to make of Mordecai. And if Mordecai had suffered that fate, it would have been especially significant to the Jews because it would have been a manifestation of the covenant curse. “Just as it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.'”
But think about what happens: The very means which Haman devised to destroy Mordecai became the means of the salvation of Mordecai and all the rest of God’s people. The plan and instrument to kill Mordecai became, in God’s plan, the instrument to save Mordecai from his enemy. God has given Mordecai the victory.
So now Mordecai is back on track. He is finally following in the footsteps of Joseph and Daniel. He has been exalted to the king’s right hand and given glory, honor, and power. God has given Mordecai the victory.
By God’s doing, Esther and Mordecai are triumphant. Mordecai not only receives Haman’s office, and the king’s signet ring, but also all Haman’s wealth. God has given him the victory.
Except that the victory is still not won yet.
Esther and Mordecai and all the rest of God’s people are still just as doomed as they were before. They are still sentenced to die at the end of the year. If we read through this too fast we might miss the tension that is present for Esther and Mordecai and the rest of the Jews. God has given them victory, yet they are still under the world-wide decree of death.
Look at chapter 10, verse 3:
Then Esther spoke again to the king, fell at his feet, wept, and implored him to avert the evil scheme of Haman the Agagite and his plot which he had devised against the Jews.
So as far as Esther is concerned, the battle is not over yet. Her work is not yet done. She has brought about the defeat of the enemy, the accuser of God’s people, but the king’s own death sentence remains in effect.
And, according to verse 8, the king cannot simply revoke his own decree. The decision of King Ahasuerus is irrevokable. His word will not return to him void. The law of death remains in place.
So what is to be done?
The law of death cannot be simply annulled. But, with Mordecai exalted to the king’s right hand, the law of life, through Mordecai, can set the Jews free from the law of death. Mordecai, as the king’s newly-designated ruler of the nations, can craft a new law which not only save the Jews from the old law, but give them victory over their enemies.
And he wrote in the name of King Ahasuerus, and sealed it with the king’s signet ring, and sent letters by couriers on horses, riding on steeds sired by the royal stud. In them the king granted the Jews who were in each and every city the right to assemble and to defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate the entire army of any people or province which might attack them, including children and women, and to plunder their spoil, on one day in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus.
So now, in the third month of the year, the tables have been completely turned, not because the old law has been revoked, but because a new law has been issued which cancels out the old law. In fact, it actually uses the old law to serve the Jews. It gives them a single day to destroy all their enemies.
So here is the picture in Esther. There is a sin in the first month of the year, the month of Nisan, which brings condemnation on all of God’s people. Then in the third month of the year, salvation is declared to all God’s people. This salvation is declared for all the rest of the months of the year, until finally war is waged against the enemies of God’s people. Not until then is the victory fully won.
So the victory of God for Mordecai and Esther and all the Jews is delayed until the end of the year. Between the third month and the twelfth month, people hear the decree of the king and are confronted with a basic decision: Do we want to side with God’s people (perhaps even become part of God’s people) or do we want to side with Haman the Agagite?
In theory, the battle was still undecided. The enemies of the Jews whose hatred blinded them, could still gather weapons and muster mercenaries in the hopes of destroying God’s people. But the people of God had a guarantee that they would win, that God would give them the victory. Esther 8.15&16:
Then Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal robes of blue and white, with a large crown of gold and a garment of fine linen and purple; and the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced. For the Jews there was light and gladness and joy and honor.
Mordecai had already, in himself, received a victory and experienced the defeat of his enemy. Now he served the king; and in his victory, because of his newly bestowed power and position, everyone could know that the Jews were certain to win the final victory. To be sure, there is still a battle to be fought. A real battle. But Mordecai’s position before the king guaranteed the vindication of the Jews and the defeat of their enemies. His past vindication against the enemy is the promise of the future vindication of all God’s people. Indeed, in a sense they have already been vindicated by the king’s vindication of Mordecai. Haman had condemned all the Jews because he condemned Mordecai. By justifying Mordecai the king has justified all the Jews.
So even though the victory is still future, all those who are of Mordecai’s people can anticipate the victory now. They even hold a feast and a holiday in celebration of this future victory that has been given to them in Mordecai’s victory over Haman.
And everything about the book of Esther leads us to see that the scope of this victory is also pointing to something beyond Mordecai. Again, we’ve discussed several times how the King and his kingdom seem to represent God and His ways. Here we have another : Remember that one of the first things mentioned in the book of Esther is a royal tent in the king’s garden. This tent is made of linen, just like Mordecai vestments, and the colors are identical.
Now to any Hebrew reader, I think this would be significant. When God had the Tabernacle built, his royal tent, He also had Aaron and his sons, as his ministers, invested with special clothing. And the clothing in which Aaron is dressed is identical to the material making up the Tabernacle. Any good commentary which compares Exodus 36:8 to 39:1 will show you this. Once more we have an indication that the writer of Esther knows and wants his readers to know that King Ahasuerus represents God. The king’s exaltation of Mordecai represents God’s exaltation of Mordecai. Mordecai as the king’s minister is also God’s minister.
Because God has exalted Mordecai, the Jews are themselves exalted even though they have not yet personally experienced exaltation over their enemies. It is enough that a fellow son of Abraham has been exalted for them to celebrate. They are confident that because of Mordecai’s access to the king, they will win the victory. That is exactly what happens: The fear of the Jews falls on all the nations because of Mordecai’s new position.
And so we know that we can and will be vindicated because God has vindicated Jesus our Lord and exalted Him to His own right hand. We live in the time between the God’s initial victory and God’s final victory. We have a representative before God’s throne who has been vindicated from all His enemies, including Satan and even death. Jesus victory means our victory. We can have hope. We can even celebrate that triumph ahead of time in the Lord’s Supper.
That’s a very simple message. Esther is laying out for us the two-fold vindication of God’s people, first in a representative, and then in the public victory of the rest of them.
But in light of what we learn in the Gospel, perhaps we need to complicate the message of Esther just a bit.
You see, it seems real close to what we know, to see the enemy of God’s people destroyed by the very means by which he planned to destroy their representative and advocate. And it gets even closer when we think of the implications of the way in which Haman planned to destroy Mordecai. He wanted to hang Mordecai on a tree.
But here the parallelism suddenly switches track, doesn’t it. Mordecai never hung on that tree as a public spectacle under God’s curse did he? “Just as it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.'” No, only Haman ended up there.
We constantly notice in the Hebrew Scriptures how the seers, prophets, priests, judges and kings prefigure Christ. We talk rather easily as how the covenant-keepers prefigured Jesus in their triumphs. Let’s not forget that Jesus died the death of a covenant-breaker. He as the representative of God’s people was himself treated like the enemy of God.
In Joshua 10, we have a similar story in which Joshua defeats five Canaanite kings and their armies. Joshua even calls on the heavenly bodies to aid him by stopping in the sky and giving him more time. And after he captures these five kings, and puts his foot on their necks, he kills them and hangs them up on five trees, signifying that they are cursed by God. Finally, he takes them down and puts their bodies in a cave and put large stones over the entrance. We are told, in verse 27, that the stones are there to this day.
But the greater Joshua, that was Jesus’ name in Hebrew, he had a chance to call on the heavenly hosts to aid him against his enemies, but he refused. The greater Joshua was a king who ended up dead and hanging on a tree. The greater Joshua was himself put in a cave with a stone rolled over the entrance. He won a greater victory than the first Joshua precisely because he bore the curse. As the one who bore the curse for us, those who suffer the curse tell us something about Jesus.
Think of Jesus as a young man searching the Scriptures. As God, Jesus was omniscient, of course, but Luke says quite clearly that Jesus as a true human being learned as he grew. As Jesus read the stories of how God saved his people, how did He come to realize that the way in which God would have him save His people would include suffering and death? I think part of the answer lies in the fate of Haman in the book of Esther. Jesus saw that Mordecai was saved by the very means by which Haman had planned to destroy him. Jesus took it one step further. To save his people from their sins, he allowed himself to suffer under the curse, trusting that God would use the curse to vindicate Him and defeat Satan’s accusations.
Now, if that seems too much of a stretch, consider Revelation 11 where we read about two witness. Now these two witness may represent Jesus himself, or his followers. But the point here is that they are obviously the people of God. And in Revelation 11.7 through 9 they are not only killed, but they are refused burial so that their bodies are a public spectacle. Then in verse 10 we have what is as direct a quote as you could want from the book of Esther:
And those who sell on the Land will rejoice over them and make merry; and they will send gifts to one another….
With slight changes due to going from Hebrew to Greek, that’s a quote from Esther 9.22 where the way in which the Jews celebrated Purim is described. You see, the fate of wicked Haman is given to us as an example for the saints.
And after that initial victory, the vindication of Jesus, the way in which the people of God pursue the final victory seems to change significantly. Stephen testifies before the Sanhedran and ends up being stoned to death as a lawbreaker. What is the result? The Gospel breaks out of Judea and triumphs in Samaria and elsewhere. James is put to the sword. What is the result? Saul the convert becomes Paul the Apostle and begins planting churches.
Paul himself pursues a very similar path to Joseph and Daniel and Mordecai. He is eager to witness before kings and magistrates. He even appeals to Caesar so that he can bear witness before all of Rome. He even wins converts in Caesar’s household. But something’s different. Joseph, Daniel, and Mordecai were all raised up before the king. Was Paul raised up before Caesar?
It doesn’t happen in the New Testament, and we know from history that Paul was actually put to death by Caesar. But following Jesus, the curse of death signifies that the Apostle truly was exalted before the real King of Kings.
We live between the third month and the twelfth, between the vindication of Jesus and our own vindication when we will be “openly acknowledged and acquitted in the Day of Judgment” (to quote from the Westminster Shorter Catechism). And how do we pursue victory between those two points in time?
By bearing the cross.
If we trust Jesus, we will trust him to bring victory in our suffering. There are times in history when Christians can experience victory the way Mordecai did, but often it happens in a different way. The way of service, witness-bearing, and even suffering.
So let’s close in prayer, asking God to give us faith and patience, that we might be willing to suffer with Jesus in order that we may be glorified with Jesus.
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