Esther Courage When It Counts The book of Esther compliments the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, all dealing with the time of the return from Babylonian captivity. The events in this book took place during the days of King Ahasuerus (485-465 BC). Chronologically, these events actually fall between Ezra chapters 6 and 7. Cyrus had allowed some of the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple, but many Jews remained scattered throughout the 127 provinces of the Persian Empire. While Ezra and Nehemiah record the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple, the book of Esther shows how God was also with the Jews who had remained in the Persian provinces. Although the book of Esther does not mention God, or any miracles, God’s presence and work in this book can not be denied. Providing more than an account of the origin of the Feast of Purim (celebrated by the Jews to this day), the book of Esther is a great testament to the providence of God and to his faithfulness in bringing about his promises. Let’s consider some lessons we can learn from Esther, and from the book that bears her name. Decisions Made In Anger (Esth. 1-2) King Ahasuerus made a feast in the third year of his reign. This feast lasted 180 days, allowing all of the princes from all the provinces to attend. It ended with a seven-day feast, in which everyone was invited. On the last day, when the king was drunk, he called for his wife Vashti to come before the people and the officials in her royal crown to show off her beauty. Vashti refused the king’s command. “Therefore the king was furious, and his anger burned within him” (v. 12 – NKJV). He asked his wise men what should be done to Vashti for her refusal to obey the king. The men stated that she had done more than refuse the king. Her example would embolden all wives to despise their husbands. Their advice was that he give a royal decree that Vashti should come no more before the king, and that her royal position be given to another who was better than she (v. 19). Royal decrees could After the king calmed down, and had time to think about what not be revoked or he had done, he missed his wife (2:1), but it was too late. Decisions altered (Esth. 1:19). made in anger are often regretted. Things said in the heat of the moment have lasting consequences. Indeed, “let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20, see also Prov. 14:29). The king’s servants suggested that women be gathered from all over the kingdom, and that the one who pleased him be the new queen. One of these young women was named Esther. She was an orphan who had been raised by her cousin Mordecai, a Jew. Esther won the king’s favor and he made her his new queen. Upon Mordecai’s request, she did not tell anyone that she was a Jew (vs. 2-20). In his place in the king’s gate, Mordecai learned of a plot against the king. The plot was reported to the king, the men were executed, and the matter was recorded in the chronicles (vs. 21-23). Courage When It Counts (Esth. 3-4) The king promoted a man named Haman to second in command, and seated him above all the princes. All the servants were commanded to bow and pay homage to Haman, but Mordecai refused. When Haman found out, he became furious, but instead of taking it out on Mordecai, he plotted to take it out on all of the Jews. After casting lots, he decided that the best time to destroy them would be in twelve months (vs. 1-7). 2 Haman went to the king and told him that a people existed in his kingdom who did not obey his laws, and that it would be best for the king to get rid of them. Haman did not identify who they were. Blindly trusting Haman, the king gave him authority to take care of the matter. Haman drew up a royal decree (which couldn’t be altered), stating that all of the Jews were to be annihilated on the 13th day of the 12th month (vs. 8-15). When Mordecai found out, he sat in front of the king’s gate and cried out in sackcloth and ashes. Esther sent clothes for him, but he refused. He sent back a copy of the decree and asked Esther to do something about it. Esther reminded Mordecai that it was against the law for anyone who was not summoned to go before the king. The penalty was death. The only exception was if the king stretched forth his golden scepter (vs. 1-11). “Then Mordecai commanded to answer Esther, Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king's house, more than all the Jews. For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (vs. 13-14). Upon hearing these words, Esther decided to risk her life for the sake of her people. She asked that the Jews pray and fast for her (vs. 15-17). It took great courage for Esther to agree to go before the king without being summoned. She was putting her life on the line. God has not called upon us to follow a path of ease and comfort. The Christian’s heritage is one of victory, but it is not without challenges and conflicts. The Lord calls upon us to overcome fear with courage. “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (Josh. 1:9). “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7). Equally important is that we have courage when it counts. As the popular saying goes, “Timing is everything.” Mordecai had the wisdom to perceive that this was probably the very reason that Esther had become queen. Why else would an orphaned Jew win the heart of King Ahasuerus? God had brought her to this position because her people needed her. Mordecai understood it; he just had to get Esther to understand it. This was her moment. She could not afford to let it pass. Pride Goes Before the Fall (Esth. 5-6) Esther bravely approached the king on the third day. Her beauty found favor in his eyes, and he was willing to grant her request. She invited the king and Haman to a banquet that she had prepared. At the banquet, the king asked Esther what she really wanted (knowing that she would not have risked her life to invite him to a banquet). She told him to come to another banquet the following day and she would tell him (vs. 1-8). Haman left the banquet a happy man, until he saw Mordecai. He became furious, but kept his composure. At home, he reminded his wife and friends of his riches and honor, but said that this was nothing as long as Haman couldn’t be happy Mordecai was still alive. They suggest that he build a gallows for until everyone honored him. Mordecai 75 feet tall, and “turn him in” to the king in the morning If our happiness is (vs. 9-14). dependant upon others “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit liking/honoring us, then we before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). In his pride, Haman was setting a trap will always be as miserable for himself. as Haman. 3 That night the king could not sleep. He had a servant read the chronicles to him. In the reading, he was reminded of the time that Mordecai foiled a plot against his life, and upon asking, learned that nothing had ever been done to honor Mordecai. At that very moment, Haman came to the king’s court to ask permission to have Mordecai put to death. Before Haman could ask the king, the king asked him for advice: “What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour?” (6:6). In his pride, Haman assumed the king was talking about him. He said that a royal robe should be given to the man, then a great prince should lead him on horseback through the streets proclaiming his honor. The king told him to go and do this for Mordecai. We can only imagine the indignity that Haman felt. He had gone to ask permission to have Mordecai killed, but ended being commanded to personally give Mordecai the honor that he wanted for himself. Afterward, he went home and cried in shame. His wife and friends told him that he would certainly fall before Mordecai the Jew. At that moment, the servants showed up to escort Haman to Esther’s banquet (vs. 12-14). We Reap What We Sow (Esth. 7) At the banquet, the king again asked what Esther wanted. She pled for her life and the life of her people, telling the king that they had been sold to destruction. The king demanded to know who would dare to do this to his wife and her people. One can almost see Haman choke on his wine as Esther pointed and said, “The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman!” (v. 6). The king was furious, realizing that Haman had taken advantage of him, and that his royal decree could not be changed. While he walked into the garden, Haman pled for his life. He threw himself across Esther’s couch to plead for mercy. The king walked back in at that moment and accused Haman of being so bold to make an advance on the queen while he was still in the house. His servants laid hold of him and covered his face. Then, one of the eunuchs pointed out the gallows that Haman had built for Mordecai. “Hang him on it!” was the king’s reply. The Bible declares the certainty of reaping what we sow. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). Haman sowed hate, prejudice and merciless destruction. In the end, this is what he received. Hung from the very gallows that he had constructed for the object of his hate. Providence (Esth. 8-10) Mordecai was promoted to Haman’s vacated position. He and Esther wrote a royal decree allowing the Jews to protect their lives. Mordecai’s popularity had caused people to fear the Jews and they helped them (9:3). As a result of Esther’s courage, and Mordecai’s influence, the Jews were saved from Haman’s wicked plot. Although God’s name is not mentioned in the book of Esther, His providential work and protection can not be denied. What is providence? Homer Hailey identifies providence as “the working of God through His provision in the natural and spiritual realms; it is a working control in both which neither violates the sovereignty of the human will nor the divine natural and spiritual laws” (Prayer and Providence, 114). We understand that God is all-knowing and all-powerful. Providence is when God exercises these attributes for the fulfillment of his divine will in a way that violates neither the laws of nature nor the freewill of man. * Insert text box “How Was Esther…” after this paragraph. How was Esther able to save the Jews? Vashti wouldn’t have risked her life to save the Jews. She was dethroned, which left a vacancy 4 for Esther to fill. Esther did not reveal that she was a Jew. The king failed to reward Mordecai, but recorded his good deed in the chronicles. Haman chose a day 12 months away, allowing enough time to foil his plot. Mordecai convinced Esther to risk her life to save the Jews. Esther’s beauty won the favor of the king, he granted her wish. She asked him to come to two banquets, which allowed time for the following events to occur. In his pride, Haman built enormous gallows, visible from the king’s palace. The king couldn’t sleep that night; was reminded of Mordecai’s good deed. Decided to honor Mordecai, had Haman help him, Haman was shamed. Esther exposed Haman at the second banquet. His gallows were pointed out to the king, who had Haman hanged on them. Mordecai was given Haman’s position, used it to save the Jews. God was behind the scenes, pulling everything together for the salvation of the Jews. Later, in the “fullness of time,” when everything came together just right, “God sent forth his Son” for the salvation of mankind (Gal. 4:4). Conclusion Esther is a hero among God’s champions of faith. Her courage in the face of death gained deliverance for her people. The book of Esther is the answer to a trivia question: “What is the only book in the Bible that doesn’t mention God?” However, if this is all that we ever get out of the book of Esther, we have lost out on one of the richest books in the Bible. Nowhere else do we have such an abundant narrative wrapped up in such a concise account. The great themes of faith, courage, integrity, pride, restitution and providence all set against the backdrop of the salvation of the entire Jewish race. Why isn’t God mentioned in the book of Esther? If we can’t see God at work in this book, we won’t be able to see Him at work in our lives today. Questions Why did king Ahasuerus need a new queen? What was significant about the royal decrees of the Medes and Persians (1:19)? Why did Haman plot to kill the Jews? How did Mordecai react to this plot? Why was Esther hesitant about approaching the king with Mordecai’s request (4:11)? Why does pride go before the fall (Prov. 16:18)? Identify some ways that Haman showed his pride. What is providence? Thought question: The fate of the Jews appeared to be hopeless, yet Mordecai told Esther that if she didn’t go to the king on behalf of the Jews, that deliverance would arise from another place (4:14). Why do you think Mordecai believed this? 5 References Cited: Hailey, Homer. Prayer and Providence, Religious Supply, INC. Louisville, 1993 Sidebar: Refusing To Compromise The book of Esther contains the accounts of two people who refused to compromise. Queen Vashti refused to allow herself to be put on display (1:11-12). The king commanded her to come before his guests so he could show off her beauty. She refused to allow herself to be made an object for the viewing pleasure of men. She paid a price for this decision, but she did the right thing. Unfortunately, some Christians today are unwilling to follow her example. It is becoming more common to see sisters in Christ compromising the principles of modesty and shamefacedness (1 Tim. 2:9) for the sake of fashion and popularity. Some of today’s fashions are purposely designed to make one a sexual object. It is impossible for a woman to profess godliness (1 Tim. 2:10) while wearing the “attire of a harlot” (Prov. 7:10). Mordecai refused to bow and pay homage to Haman, as the king had commanded all his servants to do (3:2). His fellow servants tried to talk some sense into him, confronting him about this matter every day. The easy thing would have been for Mordecai to have bowed before Haman, but he couldn’t. Why not? Because Mordecai was a Jew (v. 4). What difference did that make? Jews were not allowed to bow before or serve anyone other than the Lord (Ex. 20:3, 5). When Haman learned of Mordecai’s refusal, he became furious. Instead of taking it out on Mordecai, he planned to take it out on all of the Jews. God turned this plot around and, in the end, Mordecai was exalted above the very people that had begged him to compromise his principles. Some people believe that compromise is a legitimate means of gaining respect and influence. On the contrary, a willingness to compromise one’s principles actually displays a lack of character. According to the Lord, salt that has lost its flavor is good for nothing (Matt. 5:13).
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