Posts Tagged 'providence'

TWO COURAGEOUS WOMEN, Part 5

Divine Deliverance

As has been noted, even though the name of God is not mentioned anywhere in the book of Esther, his hand is plainly seen throughout. Nowhere is this more obvious than in chapter 6, where every verse displays God’s overruling providence and His unfailing care for His people. God’s work isn’t always clearly discerned. Sometimes He works “under the radar,” unnoticed and unappreciated until much later. In the story of Esther, God is behind the scenes, but He is moving all the scenes He is behind.

For all intents and purposes, Haman has gotten his way. He had manipulated the king of Persia to pass an irrevocable law that would kill all Jews living in Persia. This petty, little man hated the Jews so much, and in particular one, Mordecai, that he had a 75 foot gallows built in his courtyard, on which to impale Queen Esther’s older cousin.

It look as though this evil plan was destined to succeed. Haman had planned his revenge on the Jews carefully. However, Haman hadn’t planned on God.

1. A surprising turnaround, Esther 6:1—14

a) Tossing and turning, verses 1—6

The fact that the king of Persia had a sleepless night seems like a small thing, but God uses small things to do big things. This was the night between Esther’s two banquets. The king just couldn’t get to sleep, so he wanted to have his history read back to him.

It was found recorded there that Mordecai had exposed Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, who had conspired to assassinate King Xerxes. (verse 2)

Only God has such a sense of humor. His hand, which may have been obscured during Haman’s plotting and scheming against Mordecai and the Jews, is now clearly seen in this turn of events. When the king was reminded about what Mordecai had done for him, the king immediately wanted to make sure he had been rewarded for his brave act. His attendants informed the king that nothing had yet been done for Mordecai.

b) When God smiles, verses 7—14

Here’s where we see the funny side of God. The king wanted to make sure Mordecai was honored above all else in the empire, and he called in Haman to make that happen! Remember, Haman hated Mordecai because Mordecai refused to honor him; now the sandal is on the other foot: the king had told Haman to publicly honor Mordecai and make sure everybody else did, too.

So Haman got the robe and the horse. He robed Mordecai, and led him on horseback through the city streets, proclaiming before him, This is what is done for the man the king delights to honour! (verse 11)

Haman, as humiliated as he was, did what the king had told him to do. We can only imagine how he felt! Instead of leading Mordecai through the streets paying him honor, Haman had planned to impale him on the gallows. God has turned the tables on this disreputable man. This reminds us of 1 Samuel 2:8,

He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.

This is such an important lesson for believers to latch on to. If ever there is a reason to remain optimistic and positive in the face of less-than-ideal circumstances, this is it. If ever there is a reason to continue trusting in God no matter what, this is it! Those who would honor God, He will in turn honor.

Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small. Though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness He grinds all.

Contrasting these two men reveals much about their character. After his experience of exaltation, Mordecai went right back in humility to his accustomed station at the king’s gate. He did not, like Haman, demand that everybody who passed by bow before him. In contrast, Haman went home in shame.

Haman rushed home, with his head covered, in grief, and told Zeresh his wife and all his friends everything that had happened to him. His advisers and his wife Zeresh said to him, Since Mordecai, before whom your downfall has started, is of Jewish origin, you cannot stand against him— you will surely come to ruin! (verses 12, 13)

This bunch of people were cold comforters, indeed! Here is a good example of NOT to be encouraging. With their words still ringing in his ears, Haman was informed by some messengers that the banquet was ready and that he was expected. Haman probably had no appetite by now.

2. Evil exposed, Esther 7:1—8:2

a) Haman’s downfall, 7:1—7

Once more, at the banquet, the king offered his queen a “blank check.”

Queen Esther, what is your petition? It will be given you. What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.” (verse 2)

In her response to the king, she admitted a startling thing: she identified herself for the first time as one of the condemned. Her statement is as poetic as it is startling:

If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request.  For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated. (verses 3, 4a)

The king must have sat back and stared at her in stunned amazement! The literal Hebrew shows the utter desperation of her request—“…my life as my request and my people as my request…”

Just days earlier, Haman was on top of the world, but now his downfall was complete:

An adversary and enemy! This vile Haman!” (verse 6)

Haman was “dumbfounded.” When God works on behalf of His people, you may be sure His work is perfect, and God had been working silently in the background. It may not have seemed like it, but God was watching over His people. His words to His people have been vindicated for centuries, as they will continue to be:

See, it is I who created the blacksmith who fans the coals into flame and forges a weapon fit for its work. And it is I who have created the destroyer to work havoc; no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me…” (Isaiah 54:16, 17)

b) Haman’s execution, 7:8—10

So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai. Then the king’s fury subsided. (verse 10)

Poetic justice had been done. Haman was quite literally hoisted by his own petard! The king was not only the arresting officer, he was also the judge and his judgment was swift. Haman was executed that same night on the very gallows he had prepared to execute Mordecai on.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. People reap what they sow.

Nobody simply “gets away with it.” Jacob, who was God’s man, thought he had “gotten away” with deceiving his father by dressing up like his brother, Esau, so as to trick his blind father into giving him what was rightfully his brother’s blessing. One day when Jacob was old, his whole brood of sons deceived him as he had deceived his father. Galatians 6:7 is an unalterable law of the universe that even a man of God cannot escape. Haman, enemy of God and God’s people certainly never stood a chance.

3. The final blessings, Esther 8, 9

a) A promotion, 8:1, 2

With the cat almost all out of the bag, it was up to Mordecai to let it all the way out. The king found out he was a Jew, so now he fessed up and revealed that the Queen was is cousin. The king was completely nonchalant about this and what followed was Persian custom:

The king took off his signet ring, which he had reclaimed from Haman, and presented it to Mordecai. And Esther appointed him over Haman’s estate. (verse 2)

Esther was the one who had been wronged, so it was in her power to recompense Mordecai. Haman’s property, including his position, had been confiscated and the king gave it all to Mordecai, but Esther had the final word. Mordecai was given a grand promotion; he assumed Haman’s position in the government.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. (Luke 1:42)

b) A new decree of life, 8:9—12

Much work had to be done. Artaxerxes’ law was still on the books and technically could never be revoked.

The king’s edict granted the Jews in every city the right to assemble and protect themselves; to destroy, kill and annihilate the armed men of any nationality or province who might attack them and their women and children, and to plunder the property of their enemies. (verse 11)

No time was wasted in getting this new decree proclaimed throughout the Empire. It provided a way of escape for ever Jew. If they receive the message in time, and if they believe it, they can save their own lives.

This whole incident is a magnificent illustration of salvation and reminds us of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:11—

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.

As surely as Artaxerxes had put the Jews under a death sentence, so every human being is under a death sentence, not because of their nationality but because every human being is a sinner. And just as surely as Artaxerxes could not change the law, so God cannot change his law in this matter. This law is spelled out succinctly in Ezekiel 18:4—

The one who sins is the one who will die.

Since that includes everybody, nobody can escape and God isn’t changing His law for anybody. But just as surely as Artaxerxes made a way of escape for the Jews, so God has made a way of escape for the sinner! And it is up to those of us who know God’s new decree to get the word out to the lost: Be reconciled to God!

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20)

God has made a way to save sinners. All they have to do is believe God’s Word and come to Him. The Jews in Esther’s day had to recognize the king’s new decree as being genuine; they had to believe that King Artaxerxes was now on their side.

b) A new feast, 9:17—32

Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor. (verses 20—22)

The struggle lasted hours or at most a day and the Jews were now safe forever within the Persian Empire. In commemoration of their deliverance, of the Jews ridding themselves of their enemies, Mordecai sent out another proclamation, establishing a new Jewish feast, Purim. It is celebrated down to this very day, usually sometime in middle-to-late March.

In the feast of Passover, another Jewish feast, Christians see a very special meaning for themselves: Christ is our Passover lamb, sacrificed for our sins. He is our salvation. In the feast of Purim, we see how God keeps us and protects us. He does this in so many amazing ways through His providence and His sovereignty.

God will certainly keep Israel as He keeps the Church, and as He keeps individuals who belong to Him. God keeps us either directly, through miraculous interventions in our lives, or, more often, God keeps us providentially, in a thousand and one ways we may never notice. One this is certain, there are no coincidences. So keep your eyes open and you may witness the wonder of God’s providence at work in your life!

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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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