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Sowing and Reaping

August 27, 2017 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Esther

Passage: Esther 7:1–8:8

Introduction

One of the outstanding features of Esther is that the author is a masterful storyteller. He does a great job building suspense but also developing the characters in the story. I feel like I really know them. In particular he has done a tremendous job of painting Haman as the evil villain that you just love to hate. Therefore, chapter 7 is exciting because justice is finally served for this ruthless, egotistical man. You can almost here the munchkins singing, “Ding, dong the witch is dead.”

And so God gives a great victory in this chapter but only after a very difficult and stressful process for Esther. Remember that Esther had to cross several significant hurdles in order to save the Jews. First she had to survive entering the king’s throne room uninvited, which she did when Ahasuerus raised his scepter. But she still had a long ways to go. 

Sometimes we can think that all Esther really had to do was show the king how evil Haman’s decree really was. He would be horrified by the injustice of genocide, and he would destroy Haman and save the Jews. But it should be clear by now that Xerxes has no sense of justice. He has no problem with genocide. He already signed off on one with apparently little thought. 

Therefore, Esther has to find a way to appeal to the only value that really mattered to the king—his own interest and ego. And this is no easy task because the king had already tied his ego to Haman’s plot by putting his seal on the decree. 

Esther has quite the uphill battle, but we will see today that she wasn’t just some ditzy beauty queen. She was up for the task, and she manages the situation with incredible courage, wisdom, and shrewdness. 

But we also must not forget the hidden character in the story. Yes, Esther has a great plan that she carries out masterfully, but Psalm 127:1 states, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” Therefore, Esther’s plan does not ultimately succeed because of her cunning but because of God’s blessing. 

Therefore, don’t lose sight of either side of the equation. Esther prayed, and she planned. And God answered her prayers.

This section begins with 7:1–6 where…

God shines a light on Haman’s wickedness (7:1–6).

Context:

It’s important to remember that a lot has happened in the past 36 hours or so. It was just the day before that Esther risked her life to appear before the king and invite him to a banquet. God granted her favor with the king and Xerxes and Haman immediately came to the banquet. The king asked Esther what she wanted, but rather than asking directly, she asked him to prove his commitment to granting her request by agreeing to come to another banquet the next day. And he did.

That night Haman and Ahasuerus didn’t sleep. Haman was up building gallows for Mordecai, and God kept Ahasuerus awake so that he could be reminded that he owed Mordecai a favor. Therefore, the next morning rather than killing Mordecai, Haman had to lead him through the town square honoring him. He went home in shame. But while he was still grieving over the turn of events with Mordecai, Xerxes’ men came to his house and rushed him off to this banquet. It’s in this busy context that Esther prepares to lay it all on the line through her carefully constructed plan.

Principal:

We are going to see that Esther embodied the principal of Proverbs 25:15. “By long forbearance a ruler is persuaded, and a gentle tongue breaks a bone.” She doesn’t come to banquet with guns a blazing and just unload. No she carefully leads him to her perspective. 

There is an important lesson here for all of us, especially in the context of the church where our goal should never be to just make a point with each other when we see a fault. No, we want to lovingly lead each other to truth and godliness. There are times for being blunt and direct. But if you really want to edify, there is a lot of value in learning to use gentleness to “break a bone” as this verse says. That’s exactly what Esther does. 

Ahasuerus’s Offer (vv. 1–2):

Just like the previous day, Ahasuerus, Esther, and Haman probably enjoyed an elaborate meal. Afterwards they reclined on couches together, and even though the king didn’t sleep the night before, he is thoughtful enough to again ask what Esther desires, and for the third time, he offers her anything she wants up to half the kingdom. The time has come for Esther to lay it all on the line and let the king know what is on her heart. 

Esther’s Request (vv. 3–4):

But again she has to do so very carefully. Just railing about the ruthlessness and injustice of the decree would mean nothing. Ahasuerus had no problem with genocide, and he didn’t care about the Jews. And he had signed Haman’s decree; therefore, a direct attack on the decree would be an attack on the king. 

No Esther must appeal to the king’s personal interest, and the way she does so is by describing the decree as an attack against his queen, which of course meant it was an attack against the king and his ability to defend his family.

She begins in v. 3 by asking if she had found favor in his sight. The king would have to say yes. He had offered her up to half the kingdom 3 times in the last 2 days. And then she leads her request by asking for her own life. This would have certainly grabbed the king’s attention. How dare someone threaten the life of his queen? Do they think Ahasuerus can’t protect his own house? 

Then Esther uses his interest in her as bait to create concern for her people. She says, “We have been sold, my people and I.” And she drives home the brutality that is intended for them by quoting directly from the decree. The queen was “to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated.” 

There is some question regarding how to understand the final statement. The NKJV takes it as an appeal to Xerxes’ wallet. Basically, what you will be paid to have this deed done is far less than the value of my people to your kingdom. This maybe what she meant, though she may simply have been saying that it wouldn’t be worth troubling the king if they were just being sold into slavery. 

Ahasuerus’s Rage (v. 5):

Regardless, Esther has said that there is a brutal plot in place to kill the queen, which was a major challenge to the king’s power. She has his ear, and he is furious. He responds in v. 5 with three short and biting questions. You can feel the rage. 

Esther’s Accusation (v. 6):

Esther has the king where she wants him, and she answers with her own brief and biting statement that continues to build tension. She describes the unnamed rival as the “adversary,” the “enemy,” and as “wicked.” Esther was learning how to make a political speech. And then she drops the hammer by naming Haman. 

The narrator then tells describes the king’s rage through the eyes of Haman. He can see the king’s blood boiling, and he knows that his anger is directed squarely at him. He is “terrified.” And so Esther’s speech had done the trick. It captured the king’s emotions and directed his anger squarely at Haman. There is still a long ways to go, but God is working.' In the next section…

God humiliates Haman and blesses Mordecai (7:7–8:2).

Ahasuerus’s Anger and Haman’s Humiliation (7:7–8):

Upon hearing Esther’s accusation, the king storms out of the banquet and goes to the garden. Obviously, he is angry, but he also has a lot to process. He wants Haman dead for threatening the life of his queen, but his name was also on the decree. He needed a moment to process the situation and think of a way to get rid of Haman without looking like a fool.

At the same time Haman’s mind is spinning fast. He could see in the king’s eyes that “evil was determined against him.” And so in desperation he turns to Esther and pleads for his life. In so doing he commits a major breach of palace protocol. No one but the king was ever to be left alone with a member of his harem, but Haman stays back with Esther. Not only that a man was not to come within 7 steps of a woman in the harem, but in panic Haman falls on the couch where Esther is reclining and probably grabs her feet. 

Just as he is doing so, Xerxes returns to the room. It was probably obvious that Haman had no intention of assaulting the queen, but he had crossed a line, and Xerxes had his excuse to kill him. And so the king’s guards covered Haman’s head symbolizing that his judgment. 

Haman’s Humiliation (7:9–10):

The irony of the story continues because Harbonah, one of the king’s eunuchs who was also mentioned in chapter 1, speaks up with an idea about what to do with Haman. It seems that Harbonah has seen enough of Haman that he is eager to get rid of him to. He points out the gallows that Haman had built and adds that they were built for Mordecai, whom the king had honored that very day. Harbonah was glad to see Haman’s scheme turned against him.

Ahasuerus sees where Harbonah is going with this, and commands his men to hang Haman on the gallows. What a turn of events for Haman. Only 24 hours earlier, he was full of pride, and he was eager to show off his power by ruthlessly killing Mordecai. 

But God despises that kind of pride, and he makes a very clear statement to that end with how he humiliates Haman. First, he humiliates him by making him glorify Mordecai. And then Haman is ultimately humiliated when he is hung as a traitor on the gallows he built for Mordecai. 

We see in living color the warning of Galatians 6:7. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” Anytime a sinner claims the glory only God deserves, he mocks God, but God will not be mocked. And Haman reaped what he sowed.

But there is also a positive side to this principle, which is illustrated in 8:1–2, which tell us of…

Mordecai’s Promotion (8:1–2):

Notice that on the very same day, Xerxes seized the wealth of Haman, “the enemy of the Jews,” and handed it over to Esther. And Esther brought Mordecai before the king because Esther apparently told the king that this Mordecai, whom the king had honored earlier in the day, was actually her cousin and adopted father.

And with v. 2 the role reversal of Haman and Mordecai comes full circle. The king gives Mordecai the signet ring he had previously given to Haman. Mordecai takes Haman’s position as second in the kingdom, and then Esther gives Mordecai charge over the house of Haman.

Application:

Again, God is not named, but the coincidences are just too great for them to be a matter of chance. God put down Haman, and God elevated Mordecai. And so again, I want to direct our attention to Galatians 6:7–8 and just remind us all that God sees everything we do whether anyone else sees it or not. 

This should be very sobering to the person who lives as if God is not real or is uninvolved. Maybe there is someone here who lives as if you are your own god. Like Haman, you think that you are on top of the world and that you can get by with anything. You are mocking the sovereignty of God by not submitting to his authority. 

You need to understand that just because God has not acted yet, does not mean that he won’t. God will not be mocked, and you will receive the consequences of your rebellion. Verse 8 goes on to say that you will reap corruption in the form of God’s judgment in hell. That is unless you repent before God and receive salvation. 

Maybe you see today just how sinful you are and that you are accountable to God. I pray that you will also see that there is mercy with Christ because he took our curse on himself (Gal 3:13). He bore our punishment when he was crucified on a tree. And if you confess your sin and trust in what Jesus accomplished, you can be delivered from judgment and receive mercy. I pray that you will do that today. If you have more questions, please ask after the service. 

But Galatians 6:7–8 is also very significant to those of us who are saved because it reminds us that in eternity God will reward every act of service. Sometimes we are serving in the shadows or fighting for holiness, and we feel like no one notices or like it just makes life harder.  And sometimes like Mordecai we feel the hatred of the world because of our identification with God. Be encouraged because God sees how hard you are trying. He sees every sacrifice. God will make everything right. He will not leave any of it unrewarded. You will “reap everlasting life.” Praise God that we can rest in that hope. 

Well, it has been a very eventful day for Ahasuerus, Esther, and Mordecai. But the Jews are still scheduled for genocide, and Esther must make one more appeal. Notice finally in 8:3–8 that…

God defends the Jews (8:3–8).

A moment ago I skipped over the end of 7:10. The king had been very motivated to deal with Haman’s plot earlier in the day; however, once Haman was dead, “the king’s wrath subsided.” He had defended his honor, and now he was ready to move on with life. He quickly forgot about the genocide that was coming in 11 month. But Esther hadn’t forgotten, and so she prepares to make one final appeal, probably on the same day.

Esther’s Plea (vv. 3–6):

This is a tough one to make because Esther has done everything she can to win the king’s favor, and he has done a lot for her. But she can’t bear to let the Jews be destroyed, and so she does the only thing she knows to do. She falls at the king’s feet and makes an emotional plea on behalf of the Jews. 

Again the kind showed her favor by raising his scepter. It seems that this is a very different scenario from chapter 5. She is not making a second uninvited appearance because they were probably already together handling all of the fallout from the day. It’s more likely that he holds out the scepter as a symbol of favor and to invite her to stand. 

And it’s important that we not miss the significance of the king’s favor. This is not your typical marriage relationship with some level of equal rights. Xerxes is the king, and Esther is essentially his property. It is only by the mercy of God that he continues to look so kindly on her.

And so Esther stands and makes her appeal. And again she can’t appeal to the king’s sense of justice. Her only card to play is his favor toward her. You could boil vv. 5–6 down to this. “Dear Ahasuerus, if you love me and you want to me to be happy and not sad, then please do this for me.”

Again, we shouldn’t miss the significance of what she is asking. As v. 8 says, Medo-Persian law said that a decree signed by the king could not be revoked. There was no way to quietly make Haman’s decree go away. No, it would take real humility on the part of Ahasuerus to renege on his earlier decree. And humility was on short supply in the palace of the king. Esther was asking for a lot, and the only thing the king gets in return is Esther’s happiness.

The King’s Favor (vv. 7–8):

But God doesn’t need much. Again, he proves the principle of Proverbs 21:1. “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” God turns the heart of the king just enough.

Ahasuerus doesn’t sound thrilled about this. He recites everything that he has already done for Esther, but with a sort of resigned apathy in his voice he tells Esther and Mordecai to write a decree in defense of the Jews. Like he did with Haman’s decree, he doesn’t want to bother with details. He just pushes the responsibility to Mordecai and Esther and trusts them to act wisely.

But even though the king is rather apathetic about all of this, it is a very important step in the book. The king has said that Esther and Mordecai can send out legislation to counteract the original decree. The Jews will not be forced to just sit back and accept their destruction. 

Now this doesn’t mean the drama is over. As v. 8 says, a royal decree could not be revoked, and that includes the original one. Therefore the enemies of the Jews can’t just be told they are no longer free to kill the Jews and take their stuff. Esther and Mordecai are going to have to come up with a wise plan, and the Jews are going to have to defend themselves. But the king’s seal is now on their side, and that is huge.

So what should we take from this account? I’d like to make two closing applications.

What’s the Point?

God’s sovereignty should inspire confidence and wise planning.

If anything stands out about the story of Esther, it is the fact that God is in control. He manipulates people and circumstances masterfully to accomplish his good purpose. And Esther ought to serve as a powerful reminder of our dependence on God. Again, Psalm 127:1 states, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” We can do nothing apart from him. 

But this doesn’t mean that we do nothing. When Esther appeared before the king that first time, she had well-conceived plan for winning the heart of the king. And she courageously followed that plan down to the last detail. And that’s the pattern that we see throughout the Scriptures. 

No one believed stronger in God’s sovereignty than Paul, but speaking primarily of his evangelistic efforts and strategy, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” Paul planned meticulously, and he worked very hard to reach people for Christ all while understanding that God ultimately gives the increase. And we could cite similar examples regarding pursuing spiritual growth and every sort of practical matter. 

But sometimes when we have a hard time keeping both sides in view. Very often when a big challenge arises, we immediately put all the pressure on ourselves. “I have to fix this.” We never pray, we never cast our cares on God, and we never submit to his will. That’s a problem because we are wrong anytime we live as if God is not present, and the Scriptures command us not to be anxious. We’ve got to look to God and rest in him.

But sometimes we have the opposite struggle. Some pressure comes, and we a deer in the headlights, so to speak. We just freeze, and we hope that God will fix it. Instead, we’ve got to learn to relax, knowing that God has a plan, and it’s going to be okay. And then we’ve got to get busy evaluating the situation and trying to discern what steps God wants us to take. And then we’ve got to get to work doing whatever we ought to be doing to resolve the situation. And what a blessing it is to know that we can work with confidence knowing that God has plan, and he will direct us into it. And so like Esther, let’s be people who plan wisely and work hard because we trust the Lord.

God will preserve his people.

When I read about Haman’s demise, I can’t help but be reminded of a promise God made to Abraham, the father of the Jews,  over 1500 years before the events of Esther. Genesis 12:3 states, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” In other words, God promised to defend the Jews and to send his Messiah through them because he is the one who brought worldwide blessing.

But Haman didn’t believe God. He thought he could destroy the Jews, and like so many before and after him, God cursed him for cursing the Jews. God will protect his people. Martin Luther was asked once what proof he had of God’s existence. He replied, “The Jews.” He was right. God is still keeping that promise. 

And this is our God. Now the church is not Israel, but we are his people, and God says over and over that no one can pluck us out of his hand or keep us from reaching glory. God will sustain us through trials. Just as certainly as God was not going to let Haman destroy the Jews, he will not let us be destroyed. He will build his church. He will protect our faith, and he will bring us to heaven. And so we can rest in him. Praise God that he is in control.

More in Esther

September 10, 2017

Remember God’s Works

September 3, 2017

God Is Our Defender

August 20, 2017

God Is at Work