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Remember God’s Works

September 10, 2017 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Esther

Passage: Esther 9:18–10:3

Introduction

This morning, I plan to conclude our study of the story of Esther. If you have enjoyed Esther, I hope you will be motivated to dig into the rest of the OT, because the OT really is fascinating. To be fair, some of the OT is difficult to understand and sometimes we have a hard time seeing the relevance of things like genealogies, details of the Law, or scathing rebukes of Israel. 

And it is true that the NT should be primary in our study because we meet Jesus in the NT, and the NT reveals the gospel, the law of Christ, and the doctrine of the church. But 2 Timothy 3:16 says that all Scripture is inspired and profitable. And there is so much that we can learn from the OT about God, his ways and about how he wants us to live. We have seen that in Esther, and I hope you are motivated to read more. 

But I hope you won’t just be motivated to read, but that you will also be motivated to study the OT well. This is important because the OT is more distant from our context than even the NT is. Take time to understand historical context because it’s really hard to understand much of the OT if you don’t have a grasp on where it falls in the OT timeline. You also need to consider theological context. Where does this book fall in the progress of revelation? What is different and what is the same for the original readers and for us. If you want help with these things, I’d encourage you to pick up a good study Bible because it can provide some very helpful context without taking a lot of your time. And so study the OT because it is understandable and profitable.

That being said, let’s consider the conclusion of Esther. We ended last week at Esther 9:17, and Israel had just won an overwhelming victory. God turned the 13th of Adar from a day of slaughter against the Jews into a day of incredible victory. The remainder of chapter 9 tells us how the Jews rejoiced over their victory and how they instituted the Feast of Purim to commemorate their victory. Chapter 10 then closes the book by describing Mordecai’s continued reign alongside Ahasuerus. 

Rather than going verse by verse through this section, my outline consists of four truths that the author emphasizes repeatedly in this section. But to really grasp these truths we do need to understand them in their context, so I’d like to briefly lay out the structure of the text and then focus on these four themes.

Structure of the Text

Explanation of the Two Days (9:18–19):

After God gave the Jews such an incredible victory they spontaneously celebrated the next day. These verses tell us why people in different regions celebrated on two different days. 

Remember from last week that the original decree was for the conflict to take place on the 13th of Adar. God blessed, and so Esther asked the king for a second day of fighting on the 14th for the Jews living in Susa. As a result, the Jews living outside of Susa celebrated on the 14th day. However, since the Jews in Susa were still fighting on the 14th, they celebrated on the 15th. But regardless of the day, it was a time of incredible joy and celebration for everyone.

Mordecai’s Decree (9:20–22):

These verses probably jump a few months. God gave the Jews a great victory, and they enjoyed a great celebration. And Mordecai saw the significance of what God had done, and he knew that it was very important for future generations to never forget what had happened. 

Now Mordecai is not a prophet or a king in Israel, but God had placed him in a powerful position, and so he used it to send out a decree urging Israel to make this an annual celebration.

Verses 23–28 then describe how the Jews responded to Mordecai’s decree with the…

Institution of Purim (9:23–28):

Verse 23 indicates this is what they already intended. They had celebrated once, and they agreed that they should make this an annual event. And vv. 27–28 add that the whole nation agreed with Mordecai and affirmed that they expected all future generations of Jews to observe this feast so that they would never forget what God had done on behalf of his people. 

In between, vv. 24–26, which are the most important verses of the section because they explain why they chose to name the feast Purim. They summarize what God did for the Jews, and they give an inspired record of what God most wanted them to remember about the events of Esther.

Verses 29–32 follow with…

Esther’s Decree (9:29–32):

This section tells us that Esther sent out her own decree, probably alongside Mordecai’s decree. It doesn’t tell us specifically what she wrote, but I imagine that she probably told the story of what God had done from her perspective.  

This would have been very important because the Jews are spread out over a vast empire. Most of the people had little knowledge of what was going on in Susa. There was no television or internet, so when Haman’s decree reached them, they didn’t have any context for understanding it. The same goes for Mordecai’s counter decree allowing the Jews to defend themselves. 

But if the Jews were going to celebrate Purim appropriately, they needed to know the incredible details of their deliverance. Most likely, the decrees of Mordecai and Esther in this chapter told the story of what God had done so that the Jews could appreciate the greatness of their deliverance. I would imagine that the author of Esther leaned very heavily on these decrees when he wrote this book.

Finally, 10:1–3 wraps up Esther by describing…

Mordecai’s Reign (10:1–3):

The book ends by telling us how life returned to normal in the Persian Empire. Verse 1 tells us that Ahasuerus continued to collect taxes. That’s about as normal as it comes isn’t it? Governments always collect taxes. 

But v. 3 tells us that something was very different from what it had been when the story of Esther began. Mordecai was now at the king’s right hand. And he continued to defend the Jews and look out for their best interest throughout his time in the capitol. 

That’s a basic synopsis of text. With that in mind, I’d like to focus on the major themes that the Holy Spirit led the narrator to emphasize. This is important because they tell us what God really wants us to see and remember from the story of Esther.

The first truth that stands out is that…

God is sovereign over the affairs of men. 

We shouldn’t be surprised that this would come up again, because we have seen it over and over throughout the book. But it comes up again at the center of the passage when the narrator explains how Israel chose the name Purim for this feast. 

It is striking that Israel chose to name the feast after what seems to be a rather minor detail of the story. But we see in vv. 24–26 that this name captures God’s role in the story while leaving him unnamed.

Verses 24–25 remind us of the role that the Pur played in the development of the story when… 

Haman sought the favor of the gods (9:24):

These verses take us back to chapter 3. When Haman was preparing to make his request for the destruction of the Jews, he needed to pick a day to carry out his scheme, and he used the Pur, or lots, to pick a day. The Persians would cast lots through rolling dice. 

Of course, the reason your throw dice, or in our day draw straws, the goal is to remove the human element in the decision and to let fate or chance determine the decision. And from what we know of Persian culture, we are safe to assume that ultimately, Haman was seeking the will of the gods. He wanted to chose a day when the gods would give him favor “to consume them (i.e., the Jews) and destroy them” (v. 24). 

And so the lot fell on the 13th day of the month of Adar. And Haman believed that chance, which was ultimately in the hands of the gods, had led him to this day when the Jews would be destroyed. 

But if anything ought to be apparent in the story of Esther, it is that chance or fate or the will of pagan gods does not rule over history. Of all of the incredible ironies in Esther, none stands out more than the fact that the day which “fate” chose for the destruction of the Jews turned out to be a day for their deliverance and the destruction of their enemies.

Notice in v. 25…

God demonstrated that he rules the world, not fate or mystical powers (v. 25–26).

The narrator reminds us of how Esther pled for the Jewish people and how God demonstrated his power in the great reversal of fortunes that took place in this book. Rather than receiving favor from the gods, Haman and his sons were hung on the gallows. 

And so v. 26 notes that the Jews decided to name the feast after the lots which Haman cast. Purim is simply the plural form of Pur. And again, God is not named, but this name is full of significance because it mocks Haman’s worldview. Haman thought the world is ruled by fate and mystical powers. 

But the story of Esther proves that this is not so. Our universe is not a product of chance sprinkled in with some touches of supernatural power that influence a few things here or there. By choosing this name, the Jews were saying that God is sovereign over the affairs of men. 

This was quite the declaration for the Jews to make in a world were they were surrounded by polytheism. They were saying to the world and to every generation of Jews that followed them that there is a God in heaven. He is one, and he rules over all.

Aren’t you thankful for this reality? Our world is nuts. These massive hurricanes are a powerful reminder that we are very small and that mankind doesn’t have nearly as much control as we like to think that we do. And even where people do have control things are crazy. The division in our nation and the conflicts around the world are very disconcerting. And we haven’t even begun to discuss the craziness in our own little worlds—in our families, at work, and with our health. 

All of these things are incredibly disturbing if they are all random. But Esther reminds us that chance or fate do not govern the world. There is a higher throne than any power on earth. God rules over every detail of this universe including the smallest details of your life. Praise God that we can rest in him and we can trust him that he will do what is right.

The second theme that emerges from this section is that…

God will judge the wicked and bless the righteous. 

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the story of Esther is a powerful testimony of the truth of Galatians 6:7. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” God couldn’t make this principle more clear than he does through contrasting fates of Haman and Mordecai.

Again, vv. 24–25 describe how…

God cursed Haman (9:24–25).

When you look at how the narrator puts these two verses together, it’s obvious that he really wants to drive home how God cursed Haman. He calls Haman “the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews.” And he closes v. 24 by noting his evil desire to curse the people of God by wiping them off the face of the earth. 

But God promised Abraham that he would curse the enemies of Israel, and Haman reaped what he sowed. As v. 25 says, his evil scheme “returned on his own head.” And Haman and his sons, died in shame and were hung on gallows as a testimony to all people of the foolishness of opposing God. 

And I would be remiss if I didn’t challenge anyone here today with Haman’s worldview. Maybe someone is here who thinks that you are your own lord. You know that God commands you to repent and be saved, but you don’t want to. You know that Jesus demands that you obey his will, but you would rather do your own thing. You may not be attacking God like Haman did, but you aren’t submitting your life to him or at least not all of it. 

You need to understand that God will not be mocked. You will reap what you are sowing. You need to bow before Christ today and say “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” You may need to be saved and receive for the very first time the grace that is available in the cross. 

If you are saved, praise God that you will never face God’s wrath but that security was never intended to produce apathy about sin. Sin has consequences, and you need to run to Christ for mercy and resolve to put off that sinful pattern that has been dominating your life.

But praise the Lord there is also a hopeful side to this them, because while Haman was cursed…

God blessed Mordecai (10:1–3).

One of the great themes of Esther is how God reversed the fortunes of Haman and Mordecai. Haman got the gallows built for Mordecai, and Mordecai got Haman’s glory, his position at the king’s right hand, and he even ruled over Haman’s wealth.

And the book closes by noting how Mordecai used this favor to continue looking out for the good of the Jews. I’m sure that v. 3 had to be incredible encouragement to the Jews at a time in their history when they were very weak and under pagan authority. 

As Mordecai obeyed God, God blessed him. And they could be confident that as they obeyed God he would bless them also. And just as God continued to look out for the Jews through the reign of Mordecai, God would continue to look out for them in the future. God wasn’t going to abandon them. 

This is still true of us. Hebrews 6:10 states, “God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name.” You cannot do better with you life than God can. And when you reach glory, if you are in Christ, and you receive the rewards of your service, I promise that you will not regret any act of obedience or service to Christ. God will make all of them worth it. So don’t lose heart. Obey God, and serve God.

The third theme of this section is that…

God is able to turn bad things into good things (9:22).

This verse summarizes the incredible reversal that took place in the story of Esther. When Haman’s decree went out, there was “sorrow” and “mourning” because the Jews’ enemies seemed to have won the day. They would be allowed to kill the Jews and plunder their property. 

But God is able to take very bad things and bring about a good end. This is exactly what God did for the Jews. Not only did they survive the 13th of Adar, they were able to eliminate a whole host of people who probably had been a threat to their wellbeing for some time. As v. 22 states, their sorrow was turned to joy, and their mourning into a holiday. 

And the Scriptures give us example after example of how God loves to take very bad things and turn them into something he can use for his glory and our good. The greatest example of this is what God did in the crucifixion of Christ. Satan wanted to thwart the plan of God, and he inspired evil men to conspire together for the execution of Christ. And when Jesus died, Satan thought he had won his greatest victory. But in actuality he was carrying out the eternal purpose of God. And God used his evil plot to accomplish the greatest good that has ever been done. Jesus provided redemption for any who will call on the name of the Lord. 

But God does this in so many other ways as well. Romans 8:28 states, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” The idea behind this verse is that life is often very hard and painful. But God is able to take all of the dark agonies of life and use them to bring about what is ultimately good for his people, namely our spiritual growth.

Maybe you find yourself today trying to feel your way around in the darkness. Life is hard, and you can’t see what God is doing. Take comfort in the fact that even though you cannot see, God can. He has a plan, and he is able to take the darkest of circumstances and use them for your good.

The fourth theme of this passage is that…

We must remember God’s good works.

The Purpose of Purim (9:28):

Verse 28 is very clear about why the Jews instituted this feast. Esther, Mordecai, and their generation understood that they had experienced a special deliverance of God. And they knew that it was vitally important that future generations remember what God had done so that they would continue to give thanks to God for his deliverance. 

But maybe even more important, they needed to remember so that they would have faith that God would be able to deliver them in their times of distress and that God would be faithful to them also.

It’s interesting to note some of the details about how that generation celebrated God’s deliverance and how they expected future generations to do so. 

The Details of Purim.

Verse 19 states that during that first feast, the people spontaneously throughout the kingdom had a day of “gladness and feasting.” They made it a “holiday” and sent presents to each other. And v. 22 states that the Jews expected these features of the feast to continue. Purim was to be a “holiday” marked by “feasting and joy” and “sending presents to one another and gifts to the poor.” 

Of course, celebrating makes sense, but we might be surprised that sending gifts was part of the celebration. There is real significance to this. The word translated presents in vv. 19 and 22 is the Hebrew word manoth, which is the plural of manah, which of course is rich with significance from the wilderness wanderings and the manna God provided. 

Psalm 16:5–6 are helpful for appreciating the connection between the events of Esther and sending gifts. Verse 5 reiterates that God determines the course of my life not fate or chance, and everything he does is good. He is my portion. He gives a good inheritance. 

Therefore, when the Jews sent presents or “portions” to each other, it was a statement that God has given me a good portion, and I want to celebrate that by giving a portion to you. Therefore, giving gifts was a way to testify of the goodness of God and to call both the giver and the receiver to remember God’s goodness. 

It’s worth noting that Jews continue to celebrate Purim to this day. Every year when the feast rolls around, usually between late February and March, Jews gather at their synagogues to hear the book of Esther read. They even shake noise makers every time Haman’s name is mentioned signifying how the memory of the Amalekites is to be destroyed. They also continue to send gifts to each other and to enjoy a celebratory meal. I think it’s also worth noting that Jews observed this holiday while in the Nazi concentration camps. Copies of Esther were illegal in the camps because the story’s significance for those people. But many times the Jews would recite the story from memory as a reminder that God had been faithful to them in the past, and he will remain faithful to the end. 

And we also need to be good about remembering the works of God. Of course, on the most basic level that’s what we do every time we observe the LS. We remember the death of Christ. 

But there are so many other works of God that we need remember. And remembrance is very important for a number of reasons. We need to remember the works of God to honor him. And we also need to remember so that we never begin to think that we are something because we all have that tendency. We reach a level of comfort by the grace of God, and we forget how God brought me to this point. He led me to make good decisions, and he sustained me through hardship. Instead, we begin to think that everything I have is by my power and discipline. Remembering keeps us humble. 

But maybe above all else, remembering the works of God is very encouraging. There have been many times where I have needed to make a big decision, and I am nervous about doing the wrong thing. It’s such a blessing to look back on my life and to see all of the ways that God has led and brought me to a much better place than where I would be if had gotten my way. And when I remember how God has led in the past, it encourages me to lean on him again knowing that he will continue to be faithful. 

Don’t forget what God has done in your life. Write down the ways that God has answered prayer. Rehearse them to yourself and tell them to your kids. Don’t ever stop celebrating what God has done. And don’t ever lose heart that he will always be the same God, and he will remain faithful as he quietly works in the shadows.

More in Esther

September 3, 2017

God Is Our Defender

August 27, 2017

Sowing and Reaping

August 20, 2017

God Is at Work