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God Is at Work

August 20, 2017 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Esther

Passage: Esther 5-6

Introduction

You may recall that the subtitle of our series in Esther is “God’s Quiet Hand of Providence.” I chose series this title because in the first 3 chapters of Esther, God is very quiet in the sense that there is nothing particularly divine about the story. There’s an elaborate banquet, Vashti’s rebellion, a beauty pageant, an assassination plot, and a genocide plot. It’s all very interesting, but if you don’t know the whole story, none of it seems to have any spiritual purpose. 

But in chapter 4, God’s shadow begins to move over the story. As Mordecai reflects on recent events, he begins to see what God might be doing. Maybe some of these seemingly random events were actually part of God’s will. Maybe as 4:14 says, God put Esther in the palace “for such a time as this.” He doesn’t know that for sure, but he is hopeful, and so Esther, Mordecai, and the other Jews in Susa fast together as they seek God’s favor when Esther appears before the king to plead for the Jewish people. 

Today we are going to study Esther 5–6. In these chapters, the narrator moves from merely hinting at God’s presence to clearly demonstrating his hand. The events of these two chapters are just too perfect for them to be a matter of coincidence. Yet the narrator still avoids using God’s name; instead, he lets us see God for ourselves through his obvious displays of wisdom and power.

Esther 5 and 6 divide into four scenes, each of which teach a valuable principle. Notice first in Esther 5:1–8 that…

God will be faithful to his people (5:1–8).

Chapter 5 opens with one of the tensest moments in the book. Mordecai had commanded Esther to plead with the king for the Jews. Since the king had not called Esther in 30 days, the only way she could do this was to appear before him uninvited, which was a capital crime, punishable by death. However, Persian law said that if the king could show mercy by raising his scepter. And so Esther committed to appear before the king, hoping he would show mercy.

Ahasuerus grants favor (vv. 1–3).

And so Esther, Mordecai, and the Jews in Susa fasted for three days. I’m sure those were very anxious days. When the third day came, and Esther prepared for her incredibly bold stand. 

It’s worth emphasizing that Esther had to do a lot more than just survive the initial encounter. This may have been the simplest step in the process. She would then need to show a very fickle, arrogant man that he had been played by Haman in way that would channel his anger toward Haman and not toward her. And then she would have to convince him to admit his foolishness to the entire kingdom by somehow retracting the initial decree. 

No man likes to admit he is wrong, especially not egotistical men who always get their way. When was the last time you actually heard a politician say, “I was wrong”? They can’t stomach doing it. And so Esther knew she had to tread very carefully and play to Ahasuerus’s personality. We are going to see that Esther developed a very shrewd plan to win the king’s approval.

Verse 1 states that she dressed in her “royal robes,” which was itself very shrewd. Esther planned to present herself as royal and worthy of an audience with the king, but not as a rival to his glory.

And so after Esther was dressed, she made a terribly lonely walk to the king. She would have caught the attention of everyone who saw her, and imagine the faces she got as people realized what she was doing. But she kept going until she entered the king’s presence and appeared in his line of sight. I imagine that the whole room went silent and every eye turned toward the king because Esther’s life was in his hands. 

Now we know that she was ultimately in God’s hand. Proverbs 21:1 states, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” And God turned Xerxes heart toward Esther, and “she found favor in his sight.” As a result, Xerxes raised his scepter and stopped his guards from grabbing Esther and carrying her to her death. 

Esther then approached the throne and humbly acknowledged Xerxes’ mercy by touching the scepter. Esther’s beauty had captured the king’s heart 5 years earlier, and it moved him again. And he surely knew that something very heavy must be on her heart for her to take such a dangerous step. And so he expresses generous favor in v. 3. This was probably a polite expression rather than a genuine offer, but it was still a strong statement. 

Esther hosts a banquet (vv. 4–8).

I’m sure that Esther’s heart was racing. She was still alive, but the situation was still tenuous. But she went ahead with her plan and in v. 4 with a deferential tone (“If it pleases the king), she invites Ahasuerus and Haman to come to a banquet she had prepared.

Again, this was shrewd. Esther had not seen the king in 30 days, and she needed to make a major request that would be somewhat humiliating for the king. She knew it would not be wise to make such a request in front of many people. She also knew that he liked banquets (there’s a lot of them in Esther), especially ones in his honor. And she wanted Haman there also so that when she made her request, the king could immediately act on his outrage.

God continued to bless because Xerxes didn’t want to delay. He closed shop for the day, grabbed Haman, and came to the banquet. And so the 3 of them enjoyed a grand meal and then drank wine. God continued to move Xerxes’s heart toward Esther. He was thoughtful enough to recognize that something must be on Esther’s heart, and he asks what it is.

Again, Esther is very subtle in v. 8. She shows great respect while also putting words in Xerxes’ mouth. Without even hearing her request, she asks him to commit to granting her request, by agreeing to come to another banquet the next day. She essentially says, “If you favor me, and you are going to grant my request, then prove it by coming to another banquet.” You might think how could he be so foolish, but Haman had basically used the same tactic. And so plans were made for another banquet, and Esther breathed a sigh of relief.

There was still a long ways to go, but God had answered Esther’s prayers. She was alive, and she had the king’s favor to the point that he was practically begging to do something for her. God had proven that the king’s heart really is in his hand. Sometimes we look at world powers, and they are so wicked and so full of arrogance. What a blessing it is to know that God is sovereign over the most powerful men, and how we ought to be motived to pray that God would move their hearts toward righteousness and wisdom.

This section is also a great reminder that God answers prayer, and he is faithful to his people. The Jews sought God for 3 days that he would keep his promises to Israel, and God kept his promise. 

And we can trust God also. Maybe you are afraid today because you are facing an overwhelming circumstance. You can trust God that he will not abandon you. He will do what is good. Maybe you need to take a step of faith, but you are afraid of how it will turn out. Trust the Lord and be courageous. 

Finally, as we think about this section, what a blessing it is to know that like Esther, Jesus made a courageous stand to intercede for us. He also took a very lonely walk up Mt. Calvary, though not in the robes of royalty but in utter shame and humility. And he didn’t just risk his life; he died in our place. 

But then he rose again, and now he stands before the Great King, and he continues to intercede for his children on the basis of his cross work. Praise the Lord that if we have accepted his gift of salvation, we now stand in his righteousness, and we know that he will forgive our every sin because every time we fail, he is before the throne pleading for us.

And so in vv. 1–8, God proved himself faithful. The story then follows Haman out of the banquet, and we see in vv. 9–14 that…

Pride and lust are never satisfied (vv. 9–14).

Notice first…

Haman’s Bitterness (vv. 9–10):

Verse 9 tells us that Haman left the banquet on top of the world. He was second in command in the Persian Empire, and he had just enjoyed an exclusive banquet with the royal couple. It seemed that he had won the heart not only of the king but also of the queen. For a man who craved glory, nothing could make him happier.

But worldly joys have a tendency to disappear suddenly and that’s exactly what happened to Haman. All of his happiness evaporated when he walked past Mordecai and Mordecai continued to give him a cold shoulder. In a moment his “glad heart” was replaced with “indignation.” 

We get a window here into how small and insecure of a man Haman was. He had just enjoyed an exclusive dinner. Only one man in the world had more power than him. But Mordecai’s stand was enough to throw him into a fit of anger. Isn’t that how pride and lust always work? Proverbs 27:20 states, “Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied.” We will always want just a little more, and that’s what we see here in Haman.

Verse10 adds that he “restrained himself” from lashing out against Mordecai, as if that was some grand accomplishment. But bitterness was stirring deep within him.

Verses 11–12 then go on to describe…

Haman’s Boast (vv. 11–12):

These verses are truly remarkable because of how shamelessly Haman boasts. Haman calls together his friends, and all he wants to do is talk about his greatness. Imagine getting that call at 7 pm. “Hey Fred, can you come over to my house. I’d like to remind you how great I am.” 

Haman gathers everyone around, and then he waxes eloquent about how rich he is and how many kids he has, as if they don’t already know these things. And then the capstone of his speech is his recent promotion and the banquet he had just attended. Haman was so full of himself.

But then notice…

Haman’s Dissatisfaction (vv. 13–14):

After Haman’s long speech about his greatness, he ends on a very empty note. None of these things mattered as long as Mordecai was alive. 

What a powerful statement of the emptiness in worldly pursuits. But how often do we buy the same empty promises? We enjoy some blessing—maybe we get a pay raise or a nice new toy. Or maybe someone says something very kind. And we feel so good about ourselves, but our eyes immediately turn to the next thing and happiness turns to discontentment. And we run in circles chasing the lie that things and opinions can satisfy. 

We need to remember, “the eyes of man are never satisfied.” The only place where we can find true peace and contentment is in Christ. If you came to church today dissatisfied with life, then run to Christ. People and circumstances will let you down, but if you are in Christ, you are adopted into the family of God, your sins are forgiven, and you have an eternal hope. You are rich in the gospel! Don’t let the ups and downs of life distract you from this reality. Of course, if you have never believed on Christ for salvation, I hope you will come to him today because your only hope of true joy is found in the gospel. Nothing else can satisfy like Christ.

Well, Haman was upset, and so in v. 14, his wife Zeresh steps to plate with a dark suggestion for her mopey husband. Haman should use his influence with the king to kill Mordecai immediately and to have him hung on gallows. 

Sometimes we think this is a reference to hanging someone, but gallows were typically a large stake on which they would impale a body usually post-mortem. It was a graphic display intended to humiliate the victim and to make a point. Zeresh really wanted to make a point with Mordecai because she proposes to make the gallows 50 cubits or roughly 75’ high. 

Naturally Haman loved the idea, and they went to work immediately. It seems that Haman was up all night having the gallows built so that he could be rid of Mordecai the next day. 

Of course this is a very troubling development in the story. And yet even as Haman was up that night putting his evil scheme into place, God was keeping someone else awake in order to foil Haman’s plot and to ultimately turn it against him.

The third principle I’d like us to see today is that…

God is accomplishing his perfect purpose (6:1–6).

This is a fascinating section of the story because so many “coincidences” come together just right to save Mordecai and to move the story toward its ultimate resolution. The first “coincidence” is that…

Ahasuerus can’t sleep.

It just so happens that the very night Haman is building the gallows for Mordecai, Ahasuerus can’t go to sleep. Of course, we know that God ultimately kept the king awake. Even in private quarters, the king was not safe from God’s influence. We see again that the king’s heart really is in God’s hand. And the coincidences continue. 

Ahasuerus chooses to read the chronicles.

He has a house full of women that he could have called. He could have done all sorts of things to deal with his insomnia, but he chooses to have his chronicles read. This was actually a good strategy if he wanted to go to sleep because the examples we have of this kind of writing prove that it was the kind of dull reading that could put you to sleep.

And this brings us to another coincidence.

The reader reads the section about Mordecai, and the king asks about it.

Of all the places this reader could have landed, he lands in a section from several years earlier regarding how Mordecai had saved the king’s life. And Ahasuerus is alert enough during this dull reading to recognize that nothing was said of Mordecai’s reward because he didn’t get one. 

This was a big deal. The Persian kings were known for giving generous rewards to those who served them well. It kept up morale, and it motivated people to serve the king. Therefore, Ahasuerus is very troubled by the fact that Mordecai had not been rewarded, and he is motivated to think of an appropriate way to repay this old debt.

This brings us to another coincidence.

Haman is standing in the court.

Again, Haman had been up all night building the gallows, and he was motivated to kill Mordecai before Esther’s second banquet. He wanted first dibs on the king that morning, so he arrived very early. At the same time, Ahasuerus is looking for an idea to honor Mordecai, and there stands Haman. And so he invites Haman to come into his quarters.

This brings us to another coincidence, which is also full of irony.

Haman’s pride serves to honor Mordecai.

Imagine what Haman is thinking as walks into the king’s presence. Mordecai is on his mind. But before he can get his request out, the king asks a seemingly random question about honoring someone. Again, Ahasuerus just happens not to name the person he wants to honor. But Haman, being the egomaniac that he is, immediately assumes the king must be thinking of him (v. 6b)

In a moment, we will get to Haman’s idea, but before we do, I want to drive home the significance of all of the coincidences in vv. 1–6 and how important they are to the overall story. At the end of chapter 5, Haman has Ahasuerus wrapped around his finger. He has already signed off on the decree to kill the Jews, and he is sure to let Haman kill Mordecai. Even though he has looked kindly on Esther, Haman is a significant rival for his ear. This situation is still bleak, but God is not done. He has a plan, and he is quietly at work in the shadows putting together this string of circumstances in order to save Mordecai and to reveal just how wicked Haman really is. He does it all without any of the characters realizing what God is doing.

Folks, we have no idea how often God does similar things in our lives. We are just living life the best we can and trying to face the pressures in front of us, but God sees so much more. He sees the whole picture, and he is moving us and our circumstances to accomplish his good will. 

We ought to be amazed at his wisdom and power. But we also ought to be encouraged by this reality. Maybe you came to church today with some heavy burdens because you have problems, and you feel, “It is my job to fix this.” But God looks at you and thinks, “I already have it worked out.” And so rest in him today. Trust that God has a plan that he will accomplish.

The fourth principle I want us to see is that…

God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (vv. 7–14).

Haman’s Dream (vv. 7–9):

Remember that Haman assumes the king intends to honor him; therefore, his answer reveals his greatest dreams. He doesn’t ultimately want more power or wealth. Of course, there’s no thought of doing anything for his family or anyone else. 

No, what Haman craves more than anything else is glory. His dream is to be paraded through town in the king’s robes and on the king’s horse and to have everyone see just how important he really is. Haman is an incredibly proud man. But the Scriptures are clear that God hates pride because no man can rival God’s glory, and God is about to burst Haman’s bubble.

Mordecai’s Moment (vv. 10–11):

I imagine Haman’s heart well up with excitement as he pictures himself in that glorious parade, but then his dreams come crashing down when Ahasuerus speaks up, and commands Haman to do everything he has said for “Mordecai the Jew.” 

As a side note, I think it’s interesting that Xerxes knows Mordecai is a Jew, but apparently he still has no idea that Haman’s plot concerns the Jews even though the decree that was sent out clearly named them. And obviously he knows nothing about Haman’s rivalry with Mordecai, even though every one in the gate knew about it.

Therefore, he loves Haman’s idea, and he thinks that Haman is just the right person to do this for Mordecai. It’s funny to think about all of the embarrassing details behind v. 11. Haman has to go find Mordecai, and I wonder how Mordecai reacted to the news. Did he say anything, or did he must give a slight grin that was full of significance? He surely knew how much Haman hated him and so did a lot of people in the court. I can just hear some of the ribbing that Haman took as he led Mordecai through the square. For an egomaniac like Haman, nothing could be worse. 

Haman’s Humiliation (v. 12):

Notice the contrast in this verse. When the parade was over, Mordecai seemingly returns to his station as if nothing had happened. Human glory didn’t matter all that much to him. But Haman was devastated, and he didn’t hide his shame. He runs home with his head covered, mourning as if his world were coming to an end. 

What a testimony to the principle of 1 Peter 5:5, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Folks, there is no quicker route to the wrath of God than to pursue the glory that only God deserves. In contrast, there is no quicker route to grace than to humbly acknowledge God’s lordship and my dependence on him. 

Of course that kind of humility is at the heart of saving faith. No one can be saved until he humbly acknowledges that he am sinner who deserves God’s wrath and then casts himself on the mercy of God that is found in the cross. The Christian life begins with this humble step. And it is to remain a life of humility forever. We can’t be reminded too often how small we are and how dependent we are on God’s grace. Maybe you need a dose of humility today. Maybe you need to humbly cry out to God for salvation. Maybe you need to acknowledge that you are not sufficient to live the Christian life or to overcome the challenges of life. Be humbled before God today, and rest in the fact that anytime we come to God in true humility, he promises grace.

Well, Haman went home not humbled, but certainly humiliated.

God’s Shadow (vv. 13–14):

Haman again gathers his friends and his wife, but his mood today was very different from the day before. And when he recounts the day’s events, their counsel is also very different from the day before. They could see that the day’s events were too much to be pure coincidence. They could see that the God of the Jews was clearly on the side of Mordecai, and they predicted that Haman’s plot would not succeed.  

Conclusion

And so a lot has transpired in these two chapters. Esther has survived her initial appeal to the king and seems to have his favor. And God has turned Haman’s plot against Mordecai on its head. And so whereas chapter 4 ended with the Jews desperately pleading for a miracle, chapter 6 closes with Haman fearing that God may be working on behalf of the Jews. Even though God’s name has not been mentioned, we see evidence of his hand everywhere and again we are reminded, that God is sovereign over the affairs of men, and he will be faithful to his purpose. Praise God that he is in control and that we can trust him to do everything that he has said.

More in Esther

September 10, 2017

Remember God’s Works

September 3, 2017

God Is Our Defender

August 27, 2017

Sowing and Reaping