Esther

Esther 3-4

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. 2 All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor. 3 Then the royal officials at the king’s gate asked Mordecai, “Why do you disobey the king’s command?” 4 Day after day they spoke to him but he refused to comply. Therefore they told Haman about it to see whether Mordecai’s behavior would be tolerated, for he had told them he was a Jew. 5 When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged. 6 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.

We’re now introduced to Haman, who’s office is like that of a Prime Minister. He is set above everyone else aside from the king and queen. Haman means ‘magnificent one’. Mordecai, who we learned earlier was most likely an official of some sort due to his interaction at the city gate, refused to show honor to Haman the Agagite. Why? There are 2 options here. The most obvious is that because of his religion, Mordecai wouldn’t bow to anyone other than God. However, there is actually no law or rule that Jews cannot bow down and show respect to authority or rulers, but they should never worship anyone other than God. The other reason goes back several hundred years to when the Israelites were coming up out of Egypt on their way to the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 25 speaks about other laws they are to follow and then in verses 17-19 it says, Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!”

Then, in 1 Samuel 15:20 we read an account of king Saul, “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.” Agag, who’s descendants were called the Agagites were sworn enemies of the Jewish people and survived the ‘total destruction’ of the Israelites as they inherited the land God had promised them. Haman is a direct descendant of Agag. As verse 4 states, the reason Mordecai gave for not bowing to Haman was that he was a Jew. Upon learning of Mordecai’s heritage, Haman picks up with the ancestral war path and decides to not just kill Mordecai, but all the Jews in every province of Persia.

7 In the twelfth year of King Xerxes, in the first month, the month of Nisan, the pur (that is, the lot) was cast in the presence of Haman to select a day and month. And the lot fell on the twelfth month, the month of Adar. 8 Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “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. 9 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.” 10 So the king took his signet ring from his finger and gave it to Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. 11 “Keep the money,” the king said to Haman, “and do with the people as you please.”

12 Then on the thirteenth day of the first month the royal secretaries were summoned. They wrote out in the script of each province and in the language of each people all Haman’s orders to the king’s satraps, the governors of the various provinces and the nobles of the various peoples. These were written in the name of King Xerxes himself and sealed with his own ring. 13 Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews—young and old, women and children—on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. 14 A copy of the text of the edict was to be issued as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality so they would be ready for that day. 15 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.

The call to destruction of the Jews issued by Haman is almost identical to the command given by God to wipe out the name of Amalek. They were to utterly destroy them; men, women, children and livestock, not leaving anything but devoting it all to destruction (1 Sam. 15:3). The one thing they were not to do was plunder their goods. Interestingly, Haman does not use his ancestral hate for the Jewish people as his basis for wanting them destroyed. He goes to the king offering to pay a ransom to kill them because they ‘don’t follow the kings laws’. As usual, Xerxes makes a decision on a whim and then goes on to merriment without thinking of the consequences.

Proverbs 16:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but it’s every decision is from the Lord”. Even though Haman decides to cast lots (or roll the dice) to see which day of which month he will destroy the Jewish people, God is the one who decides what those dice will land on. The day that the decree went out in Susa was the 13th day of the first month… the day before all the Jews would celebrate Passover. How interesting that this edict of death came just prior to the celebration of remembrance of God’s saving them from their slavery in Egypt. Passover starts on the 14th but then is celebrated for an entire week. No doubt as the decree went out across Persia’s vast empire that celebrations everywhere were dampened by the news. The law was final, sealed with the kings ring, and could not be revoked.

4

When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly. 2 But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it. 3 In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes. 4 When Esther’s eunuchs and female attendants came and told her about Mordecai, she was in great distress. She sent clothes for him to put on instead of his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. 

5 Then Esther summoned Hathak, one of the king’s eunuchs assigned to attend her, and ordered him to find out what was troubling Mordecai and why. 6 So Hathak went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate. 7 Mordecai told him everything that had happened to him, including the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the royal treasury for the destruction of the Jews. 8 He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict for their annihilation, which had been published in Susa, to show to Esther and explain it to her, and he told him to instruct her to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people.

The edict against the Jews is issued in Susa and Mordecai, one of the first to learn about it as he stood at the gate of the city where announcements were posted, was distraught. He throws himself at the mercy of God and identifies publicly with the Jewish people by mourning through the city. He may have felt remorse for being the cause of the problem but as we see in verse 12 he was a man who believed in God’s protection for His people. When Esther hears the news she wants to talk to Mordecai personally but he cannot come into the gate wearing sackcloth. Interestingly, Mordecai again shows his siding for his people by refusing to remove his clothes of morning to speak to Esther. But even amid the sorrow Mordecai can see God’s providence in that a Jew is now queen of Persia and asks her to leverage that power to save her people.

9 Hathak went back and reported to Esther what Mordecai had said. 10 Then she instructed him to say to Mordecai, 11 “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for 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. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.”

12 When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13 he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “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.”

17 So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther’s instructions.

Esther is at first afraid to do what Mordecai suggests – she fears for her own life over those of the people. Mordecai is very direct with her and after being reminded of God’s sovereignty in all things she decides to make sure it is God’s will for her to speak to the king and tells Mordecai to fast and pray. God’s promises to the Jewish people were ongoing and this must have been a factor in Mordecai’s confidence that God would deliver them.

***

Application questions:

1. Have past grievances against you ever caused you to gossip against that person or take action against them? Haman’s hatred of Mordecai stemmed from something done to his ancestors, but in that culture this was common place. It was just as if they had originally fought with each other. As followers of Christ we have been forgiven and therefore should forgive those who trespass against us. Christ says it this way in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

2. How do you, or have you responded when given news or hardships that affect your future? Does that hardship negate God’s promise of salvation to you? Just as Mordecai leaned on God’s promise that the Israelites would someday bless the world through the line of David, we can lean on the promise that God will never leave us nor forsake us. If we are in Christ we have been sealed for the Day of Salvation, and nothing can take that from us. “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:9

3. How will you react next time a fellow believer gives you truth that may cause you discomfort but is for your ultimate good? Esther is a great example for us. She was fearful for her life, but took the words of Mordecai and used them for strength instead of ignoring him. She could have easily just brushed him off, but she knew her God. She knew the promises and the history of Israel just as well as Mordecai, and she banked on the fact that God was in control of her situation and that Mordecai was there to help her. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition of vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” – Philippians 2:3-4

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