Esther 5 – The Road to Christmas Kept Open
Read: Leviticus 26:40-45; Ezekiel 36:16-32; 37:24-28 Sing: Psalm 46:1,3,5; 107:1,17
How must we read the Bible? What must we look for when we busy ourselves with the Word of God? The answer to these questions is very important; so important that our Lord Jesus Christ busied himself with it more than once. One time when he was faced with the stubborn unbelief of the Jews, he spoke these memorable words, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”(John 5:39,40)
On an occasion after his resurrection he met up with two men who were travelling to the village of Emmaus. (Luke 24) Though they were believers, they were baffled by all that had happened recently and couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Their Master had died; what were they to make of the rumors that he had risen from the dead? Steeped in sorrow, they mused about the Word of God as they possessed it in the Old Testament, but they could not place the events in light of it. They believed the Scriptures but they failed to see the connections. They lacked the key that truly opens up its great treasures. Then Jesus said to them “How foolish are you, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (vv.25,26) Luke adds these words “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (v.27) Only when we look for Christ do we begin to understand the Bible, and only when we search for him will we learn what God wants us to know. Thus, our faith is strengthened and our comfort grows.
The Lord gave us the book of Esther to show us how he kept the road to Bethlehem open.
God Blesses Esther’s Courage (Esther 5:1-8)
Things were tense in the Persian Empire. Very tense! Xerxes’ decree that all the Jews had to be killed was a threatening cloud over God’s covenant people. At Esther’s request, the people held a fast.
Did she ask for her people’s prayers? Was the fast a means to beseech the Lord to be merciful and to bless her resolve? We simply do not know. The book is silent about Esther’s faith and commitment. That is why we should not speculate about it. What we can say is that she showed a lot of courage. You cannot fault her sympathy and compassion for her countrymen. She was willing to put her own life on the line to save her people. You do not necessarily need faith for that. History tells of many people who showed great courage and put their life at risk for others though they did not serve the Lord.
After the fast ended, Esther went to visit the king. That took courage. From archeological sources we know that when Persian kings sat on their thrones they had an executioner standing behind them. Armed with an axe, it was the executioner’s duty to immediately put to death anyone who approached the king without his permission. Esther also recalled what Mordecai had told her in the previous chapter when she wavered about speaking on her people’s behalf. “Do not think that you will escape the massacre, Esther,” her cousin had said. “If you remain silent at this critical time, you and your father’s family will surely perish, if not by Haman then certainly from another quarter.” The Jews would never forgive her for failing to come to their aid.
So she went! She really didn’t have much choice, but if we observe the manner in which she went we see a woman of fortitude and dignity. She dressed her best, putting on her royal robes which identified her as the queen of the empire. This tells us that even if Esther trusted God and coveted his blessing, it didn’t mean that she could be careless in her approach. Sometimes when people speak about God’s providence and government they say, “Well, the Lord is in full control; nobody can resist his will. Whatever he has decreed will happen.” That is said to exempt them of their accountability, and absolve them of doing what they can and must; it is not a confession of faith. Trusting in God and acting responsibly don’t exclude each other. Making the most of the situation by being cautious and using your head is not wrong!
Esther knew what she was doing. To succeed, to be received by the king to make her petition known, she needed to present herself at her best. Therefore she wore those royal robes – a silent reference to her high position and a strong appeal to her husband that she’s the woman he wanted to marry exactly because she’s got more than good looks and a nice figure. She is the queen and she is a woman that can support him in the affairs of state. She has abilities and talents and is not afraid of making decisions (as the rest of the chapter relates). She did what she could to make a good impression and see what happened! The king saw his wife as she stood there in the court, directly in front of the throne room and he was pleased with her! No doubt, Esther still had a special place in his heart. As she stood there, dressed as his queen, he was struck by her regal personality and grace. He held out his scepter, indicating his willingness to grant her an audience, even though she came unannounced and against the palace rules.
Esther must have felt very relieved. The worst danger was over. She touched the tip of the scepter to show her deep thankfulness for Xerxes’ pardon. She waited, no doubt with a pounding heart, for the king to speak. Xerxes must have known that his wife had something very important on her mind. She wouldn’t go against the stringent palace rules which demand her immediate execution unless there was something worse that she feared. That’s why he said, “What is your request, Queen Esther?” It is the first time we read that she was addressed like this! It shows that her careful preparations had not missed their mark. Xerxes was proud of his queen. He loved her very much. So much so, that he was willing to give her whatever she asked, “Even up to half the kingdom”! We must not take that literally but as an exaggerated manner of speaking that promised any reasonable request would be fulfilled.
Esther had done her homework; she came well-prepared. She did not just blurt out what was uppermost on her mind. Imagine if she had. With the king’s attendants present, only one needed to run to Haman to tell him what he had heard and then Haman would have all the time to prepare himself. He would put his devious mind to work salvaging. That’s why Esther said, “If it pleases the king let the king, together with Haman, come today to a banquet I have prepared for him.” That took courage! This round-about approach is another proof of Esther’s strong character and careful preparation. She needed to get the king and Haman together. She did not want anyone else to be there when she made her request known.
The king immediately obliged. “Get Haman!” he shouted. As soon as he arrived, the two of them went to Esther’s banquet. While they enjoyed a glass of wine, the king again asked Esther what her request was and he repeated his promise of giving her whatever she asked. Esther again stalled for time. Some commentators claim that she was planning to make her petition known but lost her courage at the last moment. They base that on her initial answer when she mentioned her request and petition. We do not know if that is the case. It could well be! Standing eye to eye with the two most powerful men in the empire would be daunting! They had together agreed that the Jewish people should be destroyed and had made that known via an irrevocable edict. It would not surprise us if Esther backed off at the last moment. Nevertheless it is unlikely.
Esther did not rely on sudden impulses but knew what she was doing. She followed a definite plan. The Lord was closely involved and he furnished her with the courage she needed. It was his blessing that everything went so well. We often don’t think of that, when we are faced with difficult decisions and trying circumstances. When our initial fear makes room for optimism and our concerns seem to be a lot worse than they should be, we tend to forget that it’s only the blessing of the Lord which achieves what we hoped and labored for. That’s the case here! It was the Lord who blessed everything Esther undertook and that included the need of that second banquet.
God had much more in mind than to keep the road to Christmas open. He not only has mercy on whom he wills but also hardens whom he wills. He not only wanted to preserve the Jewish nation but also intended to destroy Haman. That is why that second banquet was necessary! Yes, the Lord blessed Esther and why did he do that? Was it because of her faith? Was it because she showed no concern for her own life because she wanted to save God’s covenant people and to assure the coming of Israel’s and our Saviour? No.
That’s why we must look elsewhere. Remember what we read in Leviticus and Ezekiel. It is because of God’s covenant faithfulness and his holy Name that the Lord blessed Esther’s actions. It is because of his promise to his servant David, that one of his sons will be the Messiah/King who will rule God’s people for ever. This King will save his church for all time, not only from human oppressors like Haman but from our spiritual enemies, the devil, the world and our own sinful nature.
That’s the reason, the main reason, that Esther’s courage was blessed! This book is not a novel full of suspense and a happy ending that allows us to glory in what people do or don’t do. This book proclaims the work of God who used people to come to his goal, so that the road to Christmas remained open and the Saviour was born. Our Saviour, who will give his life for the sins of his people and bring the blessings of God’s salvation to the ends of the world.
That remains God’s goal, also after Christmas, Good Friday, Easter and Pentecost. His goal is to gather a church in the unity of the true faith and to call people from every nation to the blessings of the gospel. Thus he will propel this world to the day of Christ’s return, when the entire creation will be full of the knowledge of the Lord. We sometimes wonder. We look at the people who have all the power and who make the news and we may say “How will the church be preserved? How will God’s kingdom ever come? When will the day of Christ arrive?” But the Lord says, “Don’t be afraid of man! Don’t be impressed by the great ones of this earth! Love and trust me! The hearts of kings and prime ministers are also in my hand. I will direct them like watercourses wherever I please.”
God Softens Xerxes’ Heart (Esther 5:1-8)
What made the king so willing to grant Esther’s request? What made him so keen and eager to do so? Some might say “Willing? Keen and eager? Xerxes didn’t have a clue what Esther would ask him. Did his willingness to receive her and his promise to give her whatever she wanted have anything to do with the matter at hand? Is it not too strong to say that God softened his heart?” Well, let’s start at the beginning to find out.
It happened more often that an unannounced visitor was received by the king. Esther said as much in chapter 4:11. It was an exception though; it happened very rarely! People didn’t want to risk getting beheaded. Besides, even though Esther was the queen of the empire, she wasn’t the only wife of king Xerxes. The fact that she had not seen him for 30 days underlines that. Persian kings usually had four wives and many concubines as well so Esther faced a lot of competition for the attention of her husband. Consider also that Xerxes was a ruthless dictator whose will was law. He was known for his unpredictable moods and love of power, not for his concern about others. All of that made the chance of getting to see him unannounced slimmer. That is why Esther’s reception remains an exceptional event. Do not say “Well, Esther wasn’t just anybody. She was his wife whom he loved!” Remember Vashti? What did Xerxes do with her when she did not cater to his whims? He dropped her completely, even though he loved her. Xerxes was a man who gave orders, who only knew how to please himself. That is why it could only have been the hand of the Lord that inclined the king’s heart to be so accommodating.
There’s more, for it was one thing to be received into the king’s presence without prior permission but quite another to be offered up to half of his kingdom! Earlier it was mentioned that this expression should not be taken literally. It was quite a declaration nevertheless! The king made this statement two times, which clearly indicates that he was willing to grant whatever his wife would ask. That, too, underlines the change which God worked in his heart.
Granted, the king did not know what Esther’s request would be, but his answer gave her a virtual blank cheque. Why would Xerxes, a known egomaniac who definitely was not known for his selflessness, give such a blanket promise before the request was even made? There’s no other answer but that the Lord brought this about. He blessed Esther’s willingness to risk her life for the sake of her people! He gave her all the encouragement she needed. That is further stressed by what follows. When Esther invited the king and Haman to her banquet, Xerxes immediately complied without asking why. There was no effort to find out more about this invitation. Haman was immediately summoned to the palace “so that we may do what Esther ask[ed].” (5:5)
This was abnormal and unheard of! The sole ruler of the mighty Persian Empire put himself and his most important minister at the service of his wife. And that’s not all! When Esther postponed her request for the second time and invited the two to another banquet the next day, we don’t hear a murmur of dissent! Was that normal, even if you allow for Xerxes’ love for his wife? How come he didn’t say, “Now listen Esther, my time is precious. I’ve got a lot to do and attend to. Why don’t you tell me what’s on your mind? Just get it over with and I will take steps to grant your request.” That is what you would expect from a dictator! It is how things would have gone if the Lord had not intervened. The change of heart in Xerxes served the very important purpose of bringing about what God had planned.
No, we are not going to fantasize or try to read the king’s mind. All we can conclude is that Xerxes’ attitude was abnormal, to say the least. It goes right against what you expect from a tyrant who was used to having everyone dance to his tunes. Asking, almost begging his wife to make her request known, even two times! Putting himself and his second-in-command at her disposal while everything else took a back seat is remarkable! It is very comforting as well, for it tells us that no matter how powerful a man is and how much he is opposed to God and his people, man remains as wax in the Lord’s hand.
God’s purpose will stand and he will do all that he pleases! That’s the consolation we receive and may live from, also today, when we look up with fear to the high and mighty that live for their own glory and have no time for the Lord and his people. Many of them persecute God’s children and are out to destroy the church. They conspire together to rid this world of the last vestiges of the Christian religion. It is to no avail, however, for “the One enthroned in heaven laughs.” (Psalm 2:4) He remains in full control, even over the hearts of his enemies. When necessary he bends and softens them so that his church is preserved, in Esther’s days and ours. Xerxes’ change of heart was necessary to assure the continuation of God’s covenant people and the coming of Christmas. If necessary, the same will happen in our times. Even though Satan and his followers will do their utmost to eradicate her, the book of Revelation tells us that there will be a church to welcome Christ at his second coming.
The Lord Sets Haman up for a Fall (Esther 5:9-14)
God not only preserves his people but will also destroy his enemies. That’s the dual thrust of the gospel. The Lord will not only be glorified in the salvation of his saints but also in the destruction of his enemies. Yes, he even sets them up for that. That is why Romans 9:22 speaks of God’s enemies as the objects of his wrath, who are prepared for destruction. In the last part of our chapter we see one example of how God does this.
Haman left the banquet in high spirits, his chest swollen with pride. His festive air was rudely shattered when he saw Mordecai, the Jew whom he hated. Mordecai refused to give Haman the honour due him, which caused Haman’s blood to boil! He was filled with rage, barely able to restrain himself until he got home.
Full of his own importance, drunk with pride that only he was invited to dine with the king and queen, he badly needed an audience. That is why he called his friends and wife together to croon about his importance and wealth. What a sickening picture! Hear the man brag and boast about his riches, the size of his family and his high position under Xerxes. From extra-biblical sources we know that being a good soldier was the number one requirement in Persia to be successful but that the number of sons you had was a close second. Each year the king awarded the man who had the most sons with many gifts. Haman could not get enough of tooting his own horn. “And you know what,” he added, “I’m the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the king to the banquet she gave. And she has invited me along with the king again tomorrow.”
Then he remembered Mordecai; that annoying Jew! Haman blurted out “All this does not give me any satisfaction as long as I see that Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate, completely ignoring me and despising me with absolutely no regard for my person and position.” His audience could not have agreed more; they were all cut from the same cloth. “Get rid of him,” they advised. “Don’t let him spoil your happiness. You know what you should do? Build a gallows and make it so high that it can be seen from afar. When you meet with the king tomorrow get his permission to hang Mordecai on it. Once that’s arranged, go to the banquet and you’ll have the time of your life!”
What a brilliant idea! Haman jumped for joy. He did not waste any time, but had the gallows built immediately. He could not wait! Tomorrow would be a most wonderful day! First he would eliminate that despicable Jew and then he’d have a great time with the king and queen. He must have wondered why Esther invited him and, given his colossal ego, he would have dreamt about getting even more fame and power. Who could say what great surprises lay in store for him!
Great surprises were certainly in store, but not at all what Haman imagined. As a matter of fact, it would turn out to be a dreadful day for him because the Lord’s plans were completely different than Haman’s. Not only was God busy overturning Haman’s murderous plot, but he was also going to avenge himself on Haman by setting him up for a great fall. That is why that second banquet was necessary. Instead of gaining Haman more honour and power, the feast would cause his death.
The gospel has a double-edged message. That is why Zechariah the priest, when told that his son John the Baptist would prepare the way for the Messiah, not only exulted in God’s grace but in his judgment as well. He sang of him who showed his mercy and remembered his Holy Covenant, but also rescued his people from the hand of their enemies. (Luke 1:67-79) Mary did the same when she was informed that she would become the mother of Christ. She said, “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful”. But she added “He has scattered those who are proud… He has brought down rulers from their thrones”. (Luke 1:51,52,54)
We tend to forget God’s judgement, and are inclined to restrict the gospel to the salvation of sinners. Yet the flip side of the gospel is the destruction of God’s enemies. The Lord will be glorified in the redemption of his children but also in the condemnation of his enemies. The Jews in Persia feared Haman. Was he not the man who had manipulated Xerxes to exterminate them? We can also be afraid of those whose desire for power and pride shows no limits, who want to get rid of Christ’s church because they hate God and his gospel! Yet, the Lord reveals that he is in charge. He often lets his haters get away with a lot and everything seems to go their way. All looks set to promote their glory. But only for so long; God intervenes in his good time. The higher their position and the greater their pride, the more humiliating and severe their downfall will be.
During Esther’s time, God’s covenant mercy was confined to one nation. Only the Israelites were his people and they enjoyed his protection against their many enemies. This was not because they were always so committed to the Lord, but because of God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises. The Christ had to come! The survival of the Jewish nation was so important because Israel was the womb from which the Messiah would be born. Yes, he was born and what’s more, he suffered and died. He shed his blood for sinners. Not just for the Jews but for every nation under the sun. Thus, the promise to Abraham was fulfilled that a church would be gathered out of every tribe and tongue and that all the nations would be blessed in him.
That is why the Lord has so much patience and he does not destroy his enemies immediately. There is also salvation for people like Xerxes and Haman when they repent and believe, but God’s patience does not last indefinitely. When the time of grace has run its course, God’s judgment will fall on all who despise him and persecute his children. Therefore, be of good courage! Esther 5 tells us that the road to Christmas remained open. That’s why the Lord intervened in the lives of Esther, Xerxes and Haman. We may trust that the Lord is also in complete control today. Despite the opposition and hatred against him and his people, the return of Christ is a sure event. Let’s look forward to it, not with fear and trepidation, but with love and trust. Then our redemption will be complete and our journey will be over. God will be glorified in the salvation of his saints and in the destruction of all his and our enemies. Come, Lord Jesus!
1. What does the book of Esther teach us about Christmas?
God Blesses Esther’s Courage
2. Fasting is not a common practise among us today. What was the purpose of fasting? What did it involve? For what reasons might one fast today?
3. The phrase “Let go and let God” is used by many Christians. It seems to imply that the believer ought to sit back and wait for God to execute his will rather than to pray and then act in faith. How should believers respond to life’s challenges? Is “Let go and let God” a phrase that we can live by?
4. What do Leviticus 26:40-45 and Ezekiel 36:16-32; 37:24-28 say about the LORD’s motivation to act in favour of his children? Does he still act for those reasons today?
God Softens Xerxes’ Heart
5. If God is in full control of everything, “even over the hearts of his enemies”, then why do terrible things still happen? Is God the author of evil?
The Lord Sets Haman up for a Fall
6. May we pray for the downfall and destruction of our enemies? e.g. Psalm 109
7. Why was Esther’s second banquet necessary for God’s plan?
8. Modern Christianity evangelizes with “God is [only] love.” Why is this an empty message? In the late 1700’s you would typically hear “fire and brimstone” sermons, where preachers tried to scare people into heaven. Why is this also not an appropriate evangelism technique?
9. Pride comes before a fall. Where else do we see this in the Bible?
10. Haman’s desire for revenge stemmed from his pride. Is that where the need for revenge always comes from? Is there ever a time when we are allowed to avenge?
11. “The road to Christmas” has been travelled; what is the focus of God's providential hand today?
12. Do we still see God’s hand in world events today? Give some examples.
13. What role does God’s providence play in this chapter?