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by Berit Kjos
The Shepherd's Way
The Triumph of Patient Submission to God (Esther 1-8)
"Can a woman forget her nursing child,
And not have compassion on the son of her womb?
Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you.
"See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands..."Ã‚Â Isaiah 49:15-16
The unthinkable had happened! King Ahasuerus, the mighty ruler over the vast Persian Empire had been humiliated in front of officials from his 127 provinces that stretched "from India to Ethiopia"! On the seventh day of his lavish celebration, he had sent for his beautiful wife, Queen Vashti. But she was busy and refused to come.
The king was furious! To counter this public insult, his "wise men" suggested that he dispose of his queen and find "another who is better than she." Soon a message was passed throughout the empire inviting beautiful young virgins to compete for the royal position. The king would choose his replacement
Today we might frown on such lofty display of royal power, but God used it to save His people. For behind the scenes, a deadly battle was being fought. A major player in this drama was Mordecai, a third generation exile from Israel. His grandfather, Kish, was among the first Jews to be "carried away" to Babylon decades earlier -- a tragic consequence of their rebellion against their Lord.
Mordecai's much younger cousin, whom he had raised as his own daughter, was the sweet and beautiful
An evil plot serves God's eternal plan
While Esther lived inside the royal compound, Mordecai spent his days waiting and pacing near the king's gate, hoping to hear from her. That's just where God wanted him, for one day he overheard an angry conversation between two doorkeepers plotting to harm the king. Mordecai told Queen Esther, and she warned the king -- giving credit to Mordecai. Court officials confirmed the threats, and the two men were hanged. The event was documented in the royal chronicles -- then quickly forgotten.
"I will give you the ... hidden riches of secret places,
Ã¯Â»Â¿Ã¯Â»Â¿That you may know that I, the Lord... Am the God of Israel."
Hatred for Jews can't block God's love for His people
"King Ahasuerus promoted Haman... and set his seat above all the princes who were with him." The fact that Haman was an Amalekite -- from a nation that had repeatedly tried to annihilate Israel -- would hardly matter to the king. But Mordecai was alarmed. So when everyone else bowed to Haman, Mordecai refused.
In other words, he was flaunting the "politically correct" rules of his times! And Mordecai's Jewishness didn't help lessen the offense. Furious at such lack of submission, Haman determined to "destroy all the Jews." His complaint to the king was a deceptive blend of facts and lies -- not unlike some of today's media messages:
"There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from all other people’s, and they do not keep the king’s laws. Therefore it is not fitting for the king to let them remain. If it pleases the king, let a decree be written that they be destroyed...."(3:8-9)
The king agreed and gave Haman his official "signet ring." "The money and the people are given to you," he said, "to do with them as seems good to you."
Before long, a new law was written "according to all that Haman commanded." Then letters were sent "into all the king’s provinces, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, little children and women, Ã¯Â»Â¿in one day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month... and to plunder their possessions." The masses must be prepared to join in the massacre.
When Mordecai heard the tragic news, he tore his clothes and "cried out with a loud and bitter cry." Esther, too, "was deeply distressed" and sent a servant outside to seek counsel from Mordecai. He sent back a "copy of the written decree for their destruction" and encouraged her to appeal to the king on behalf of her people.
"Do not think," he warned her, "that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (4:13-14)
Trusting her only true Source of wisdom, she answered,
"Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!"(4:16)
"Show me Your ways, O Lord... Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
for You are the God of my salvation; on You I wait all the day."
Esther's patience points to God's wise timing
After the fast, Esther dressed in her royal robes and walked into the inner court where the king sat. "What is your request?" he asked. "It shall be given to you."
"If it pleases the king, let the king and Haman come today to the banquet that I have prepared for him," she answered.
Later that same day, the three feasted together, and the king repeated his question. But all Esther asked was that they meet again for a second "banquet" the next day.
Notice her amazing patience. The request on her heart was a matter of life or death for her people across the empire, but she knew she must wait. There was no need to hurry as God unveiled His perfect plan! She didn't know what He would do in the next 20 hours. But she would soon marvel at two special events that were essential to God's perfect victory.
First: As Haman was leaving the royal premises, he ran into Mordecai. Raging at this despicable Jew who refused to "tremble before him," Haman rushed home. To soothe his hurts, he quickly gathered his friends to tell them about the honors granted him by the king.
"Queen Esther invited no one but me to come in with the king to the banquet," he boasted, "and tomorrow I am again invited by her, along with the king. Yet all this avails me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate."
They all agreed that Mordecai must die. "Let a gallows be made," they told him. "...suggest to the king that Mordecai be hanged on it; then go merrily with the king to the banquet." Satisfied, Haman ordered the gallows to be built. After all, he had the authority. The king's signet ring was on his finger.
Second event: The king couldn't sleep that night! An inner nudging prompted him to call for a servant to help him check "the book of the records." There, among recent entries, he discovered that Mordecai had saved his life! Such valor deserved a reward! Yet, nothing had been done for him!
What wonderful timing! What a great God we serve! And what a perfect moment for Haman to arrive with his devious suggestion: Hang Mordecai on the new gallows built just for him.
But before Haman could speak those words, the king asked him, "What shall be done for the man whom the king delights to honor?"
Of course, the arrogant Haman assumed that he would be the public hero. After all, "whom would the king delight to honor more than me?" So he listed all the things that he would want: a royal robe, a horse that the king had ridden, a parade through the city, etc.
But the king had a different plan. "Hurry," he said, "take the robe and the horse, as you have suggested, and do so for Mordecai the Jew who sits within the king’s gate! Leave nothing undone of all that you have spoken." (6:10)
Poor self-centered Haman. Now he had to honor Mordecai with a royal robe, horse, and parade in spite of his bitter hate. As soon as he finished this painful task, he rushed home "with his head covered."
"He who digs a pit will fall into it." Ecclesiastes 10:8
When Haman arrived that evening for Esther's second banquet, angst had replaced his arrogance. And he had reason to fear when the king turned to Esther with his usual question, "What is your request...? It shall be done."
Notice how Esther's gracious answer demonstrates faith, courage and loyalty both to God and to His chosen people -- the beloved nation He had taught, disciplined, and was even now restoring:
"If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it pleases the king, 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."(7:4)
Shocked, the king asks, "Who is he, and where is he, who would dare presume in his heart to do such a thing?"
Esther answered, "The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman!"
"Then the king arose in his wrath" and went outside, while Haman begged Esther to save his life. When the king returned, Haman had "fallen across the couch where Esther was." The enraged king asked, 'Will he also assault the queen while I am in the house?'"
That same moment, one of the eunuchs who may have heard the conversations, said, "Look! The gallows, fifty cubits high, which Haman made for Mordecai, who spoke good on the king’s behalf, is standing at the house of Haman."
"Hang him on it!" said the king.
"So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai."
Man's conspiracy highlights God's supremacy
The crisis was not yet over, so again Esther appeals to the king, tearfully imploring him to block Haman's deadly plot:
"If it pleases the king, and if I have found favor in his sight... let it be written to revoke the letters devised by Haman... which he wrote to annihilate the Jews who are in all the king’s provinces. For how can I endure to see the evil that will come to my people?"(8:5-6)
Then King Ahasuerus told Esther and Mordecai, "Indeed, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and they have hanged him on the gallows because he tried to lay his hand on the Jews. You yourselves write a decree concerning the Jews, as you please, in the king’s name, and seal it with the king’s signet ring; for whatever is written in the king’s name and sealed with the king’s signet ring no one can revoke."
So the royal scribes wrote a new law "according to all that Mordecai commanded." It was sent to the Jews, governors and princes of all the provinces from India to Ethiopia... to every people in their own language, and to the Jews in their own script and language."
"The Jews had light and gladness, joy and honor. And in every province and city, wherever the king’s command and decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a holiday. Then many of the people of the land became Jews..."(8:16-17)
"For I will set My eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land; I will build them and not pull them down, and I will plant them and not pluck them up. Then I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to Me with their whole heart." Jeremiah 24:6-7
Note 1: King Ahasuerus is often referred to as Xerxes I, the son of King Darius who helped re-establish the Jews in Israel. Ahasuerus ruled the vast empire which reached to the borders of Greece in the northwest, to Ethiopia in southwest and to India in the east.
Note 2: Whenever ancient Israel rejected God's Word and turned to idols, God withdrew His hand of protection over His land. Again and again, they were ravaged and oppressed by surrounding nations. And when they repented and turned back "with all their heart", God forgave and restored. Finally, after pagan idols desecrated His holy temple, He allowed Babylon to conquer their land, destroy Jerusalem and exile most of their people. See Chart: Old Testament Cycle
"As for me, I trust in You, O Lord.... My times are in Your hand."
"Show me Your ways, O Lord... Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; on You I wait all the day."
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