This Mother's Day, we looked at a strong woman in the Bible. We explored the faith of Esther, and how she was able to save the Israelites from destruction.
This message is based on Esther 7:1-10. To read now, click here.
If you were brought up in the Church, I’m sure you’re familiar with this story of Esther. However, if you became a Christian later in life, you might not be terribly familiar with Esther. It’s a story that’s taught in every Sunday School, but rarely in Bible Studies or Sermons. Our reading this morning from chapter 7 is the turning point of the story. It is here that Esther reveals why she had boldly approached the king without being called. Before we get there, I’ll fill you in on the rest of the story…
The story takes place in Persia, during the time of King Ahasueus, better known as King Xerxes, Xerxes was King in Persia from 486 to 465 B.C. The story starts with the king throwing a great banquet for all of his officials and nobles. In those days it wasn’t uncommon for a party to last days, and this one was no exception. This one lasted a full week. On the last day, when everyone is feeling pretty good, and I’m sure more than a little inebriated, the king ordered Queen Vashti to appear so he could show off how beautiful she was. She refused, and the King was very upset because her refusal made him look like a fool in front of all his officers and nobility.
The king was so upset that he later met with his advisors to figure out what to do about her. The advisors were concerned that the queen’s actions might undermine the authority of every husband in the land. If she gets away with publicly standing up to her husband, what’s to stop other women from standing up against their husbands? It was decided that Vashti should never again appear with the king and a decree was sent out that the king was looking for a new queen.
A man named Mordecai lived in Susa, the capital, who was a Jew. Mordecai had raised his cousin, Esther, since the death of her parents. Esther was a very beautiful girl, and she was taken to the palace with many others to be considered for the new queen. After a year’s beauty treatments in the palace, she was brought before the King, and sure enough, she was selected to be the new queen. Mordecai suggested it might be best if she didn’t reveal that she was a Jew.
As the story progresses, Mordecai discovers a plot by two of the king’s officers to kill the king. Mordecai told Esther and she informed the king, giving Mordecai credit for discovering the plot. Remember this, it will come up again...
Every story has its villain, and in this story, it’s Haman. Haman was a very trusted official of the king, and he wanted everyone to know how great he was. Every time he passed through the city gates, he required everyone to bow to him. Haman thoroughly enjoyed his power and flaunted it wherever he could. However, Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman, and this really infuriated Him. Haman was so upset that he went to the king and persuaded him to make a decree for all the Jews in the kingdom to be destroyed on a certain day. Haman figured he could wipe out Mordechai, and all the rest of his people, too.
Obviously when Mordecai heard about this, he was deeply upset and tore his clothes and put on sack cloth and ashes. He sent a copy of the decree to Esther and urged her to go to the king to get him to reverse this decree. After all Esther was a Jew, meaning she would be killed, too.
This presented quite a dilemma for Esther. No one, not even the queen, could approach the king without being sent for. The penalty for just showing up and dropping in could be death. The only way around this was for the king to extend his gold scepter to the person to spare his or her life. It had been over thirty days since the king had sent for Esther, and she had no idea how he might respond if she tried to see him.
After asking all the Jewish people in Susa to pray and fast for three days, Esther put on her royal robe and stood in the inner court of the palace, in front of the king’s hall. When the king saw Esther, he was pleased and extended his golden scepter to her. The king smiled and asked, “What is it Queen Esther? I will give you up to half of my kingdom if you were to ask for it.” Esther’s reply is not what we expected, she didn’t approach him and beg for mercy. Instead, she told him, “If it pleases the king, let the king, together with Haman, come today to a banquet I have prepared for them.” So that night the king and Haman enjoyed themselves at the little feast Esther had prepared. And when the king asked again what Esther wanted, she replied, and this is just a paraphrase, but she said, “This is such a little celebration, would you and Haman come back tomorrow night and I will prepare something even more elaborate real banquet.”
Now Haman, perhaps the most evil person in entire kingdom, went his way with a smug little smile on his face. He was not only the king’s trusted advisor, but now he was being honored by the queen as well. It just doesn’t get any better than this. Then it happened. As he went through the city gates, there was Mordecai, again refusing to bow down. This was more than he could take. He went home to his wife, who was almost as wicked as he was—and shared with her his disgust with Mordecai. “After all,” Haman says, “look at who I am. I am the only person in the kingdom invited to dine with the king and the queen.” She suggested that, “It’s about time to put an end to this. Go build a gallows seventy-five feet high and go ask the king in the morning to have Mordecai hung on it.” So Haman had the gallows built and looked forward to the morning, when he would get rid of that dastardly Mordecai once and for all.
The story gets better, you see the king couldn’t sleep that night, so he sent for someone to read from the book of the history of his own reign. When they got to the part where Mordecai uncovered the plot to assassinate the king, the king stopped him and asked, “What did we do to honor and recognize this man?” He checked the books and didn’t find anything, they never did anything to recognize Mordecai.
So the king called for Haman and asked him, “What should we do for the man the king wishes to honor?” As arrogant as Haman was, he thought the king was referring to him, so he replied, “Give him one of the royal robes and put him on one of the king’s finest horses and parade him through the streets proclaiming, ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights in honoring.’”
“Good,” replied the king. “Go get Mordecai and put the robe on him and put him on the king’s horse and you parade him throughout the city.” Can you imagine how upset Haman was at this turn of events. He was going to ask the king to kill Mordecai, instead, the king asked Haman to give him the greatest honor. He ran home to tell his wife what happened, and before he knew it, it was time to join the king and queen for the banquet. That’s where we joined the story in our reading this morning.
They again have a wonderful meal, and at the end of the meal, the king again asks Queen Esther what was her request. This time, she spoke up, “If I have found favor with you, O king, and it pleases your majesty, grant me my life and spare my people. For I and the rest of my people have been sentenced to death.”
Furious, the king asks, “Who is the man who has dared such a thing?” “The adversary and enemy is this vile Haman.” Well, the next day Haman himself is hung on the seventy-five-foot gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. There is still a problem, once the king makes a decree, it can’t be reversed. So the decree to kill the Jews stood. But the king made a second decree commanding the Jews to defend themselves against their enemies, and they were saved. Mordecai is given Haman’s old position as trusted advisor. And that’s the end of the story.
The Feast of Purim, one of Jewish feast days, is the remembrance of how the Jewish people were saved from this attempt to destroy them. Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Adar, the sixth month in the Jewish calendar. So the story of Esther is very important story.
Yet, it seems to be almost a secular story. There is no mention of God anywhere in the Book of Esther. The Torah, the Jewish law, isn’t even alluded to; we don’t see a great deal of emphasis on prayer. Why is this story included in the Bible? I think there are couple of good reasons. First, the book is full of moral principles. We see the triumph of good over evil. The role of women is brought out. Remember the story begins with the men proclaiming that every man should be the ruler of his household. Vashti had to be punished, or every woman might be tempted to disrespect their husband. Yet Esther is the hero of the story. She saves her entire people from certain destruction. She even get’s all of Haman’s property after his death. We even see the consequences of pride as Haman looses everything.
Another reason, perhaps God’s absence might be the most important part of the story, because it is quite clear that God is very present in every detail of the story, even if He’s not mentioned. In a series of what seems to be circumstances, it becomes clear that God is directing everything that happens: Esther is chosen queen, the plot to kill the king, the king’s inability to sleep. All this together shows the hand of God at work. God is very much present. Even though He’s not mentioned, we see his hand guiding the story – Esther is chosen queen, The plot to kill the king, the kings inability to sleep.
I think that’s the lesson for us. Before the fall, Adam and Eve walked with God in the cool of the evening, and they talked. There was no doubt that God was with them. Jacob wrestled with God, Moses saw God on Mount Sinai, and they spoke. There was no doubt that God was with them. But we haven’t had any such physical manifestations. We’ve never actually seen God. And though we speak to him daily, He’s probably never answered us verbally.
God relates to us more like He related to Esther. He takes care of us. He provides for us. And He guides us daily. The sum of the circumstances in our lives point to the reality that God is present. He’s not just with us when we’re being particularly religious, when we’re here in church, or when we’re reading the Bible or praying. He’s always with us. Always guiding things, always working. We can trust in that. We can trust in Him. We don’t have to worry. He’s here.
We will probably never see His face, at least here on earth, and we will probably never verbally hear His voice, but we can know that His presence is very real, by examining the so called coincidences in our lives.