Esther 5 & 6 - Man Proposes But God Disposes
Read Esther 5 and 6
You have probably heard that saying: Man proposes but God disposes. In a real sense that is what we find here at this point in the story told in Esther. Trouble has come upon the Jews, through Mordecai’s pride and stubbornness as much as any persecution from the nation among whom they were living. True, the people of God will often have to face persecution in the world. But let it be for righteousness’ sake rather than unnecessary provocations. For whatever cause, there is serious persecution threatened there in Persia and beyond. It would more of less mean extermination. On the face of it the reaction of Mordecai is what you would expect in the face of such threat: Fasting, humility before God, sackcloth and ashes (4:1-2). This is universal among the Jews (4:3). And Mordecai persuades Esther of the seriousness of the threat (4:13-14). In response she with her maids will fast three days, and she asks the same of Mordecai and all the other Jews (4:16). She also agrees to go to the king, though it is not told us what she intended to do when she did that. It was itself a dangerous ploy. Rather fatalistically she says: “If I perish, I perish.”
As we mentioned previously, there is not an abundance of confidence in the Lord here. There seems rather to be a weak spiritual state, notwithstanding the fasting. We may imply the attitude, “In God we trust” but it is not actually said. However, we move on to chapters 5 and 6 which are really all one narrative.
We have said before that in this book there is no direct reference to God, though that is not to say we do not see Him at work among these exiles, despite their compromised and weak spiritual position. We learn here strong lessons of the over-ruling providence of God. And although this encourages us for our own day in which we are as marginalized and in a sense as threatened as the Jews of Esther’s time, yet we cannot excuse compromise and weakness and must stir up ourselves to stronger faith, clearer testimony, greater strength of principle, and more reliance upon the Lord than these people actually show. But we can learn from these chapters from various details which reveal God’s over-ruling providence in the affairs of men. Consider first:-
1. Esther: Her worst fears are unfounded (5:1-8)
Esther has obviously been fearful about going to the king. She has been worried over the fickle autocratic king’s reaction. She might even lose her life. This influences her approach. What can we say of it? The first thing that strikes us is how her worst fears are unfounded. She is received by the King. She is asked to make a request. But why does she not make a direct plea for her life and the life of the Jews to be spared? Why is she not honest and candid? Three things might be said here:
(1) On the one hand there still appears to be a fearfulness and want of confidence in the Lord. We can often be like that faced with a situation in which we should be showing some candidness. Being candid is not the same as being rude and ungracious. There is no excuse for rudeness and ungracious words in dealing with some controversial or difficult issue of right and wrong with others. Esther here appears to be unduly ‘fearful.’ We have a similar example in Abraham. Remember how he went down to Egypt with Sarai and concealed her identity as his wife in order to avoid awkwardness or even death (Genesis 10:12-20). It is true that unlike Abram Esther did not lie her way out of her awkwardness – though she had concealed her Jewish identity up to this point and was continuing to do so. But we can just be too fearful and bear no witness to our neighbours and family and friends. There is a lesson here, then, in being strong in the Lord and seeking always to be honest and candid in dealings with the world, however intimidating it may be, and however understandable fearfulness is.
(2) In the second place there may be reason to suggest that she acted “wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove.” (Matthew 10:16). That was something Mordecai had not been. As long as it is not just a cloak for failing to be straight in witness or standing for righteousness, this may be a wise approach. A heavy hand is not necessarily the best approach in winning friends and influencing people for the righteous claims of truth. In this instance again we see the providence of God over-ruling for good in an amazing way. Let us understand, however, that whichever way you look at it, we are in a spiritual conflict. That was the case with the exiles in Shushan and under the Persian dominion. And in that context we must be wary of being too halting in our opinions and principles, wary of being too ‘tactical’ rather than direct and dependent upon the Lord to overrule for our good, as the One who works all things together for the good of His people.
(3) In the third place, the turn of events was surely not unrelated to the request she had made for fasting (assuming it involved prayer for her in the circumstances). Here is a crucial lesson for her and us: recourse to earnest pleadings with the Lord in facing the issues of life. We are not surprised things did not turn out as she may have feared, and will not for us when we have the ear of the Lord.
Frequently, then, our worst fear will prove unfounded, and in God’s goodness we will get a good response in speaking to people in the world about the Christ and the gospel when we are duly reliant upon the Lord.
2. Haman: His worst intentions are frustrated (5:9-14; 6:11)
Through Esther’s invitation Haman is invited to a special Banquet. Presumably in some way she was not yet sure about, she would expose Haman to the king. Whatever else this did, it appealed to Haman’s pride (5:11). But the matter of Mordecai rankled with him (5:13). What will he do with Mordecai? “Hang him,” says his wife. This pleased him (5:14). This, however, is going to be frustrated, as we see from the honouring of Mordecai by the king in chapter 6. What lessons are there here from Haman’s actions/attitude?
(1) We may think the worldly and powerful men can get away with sin and immorality and opposition to God, God’s law, and God’s people. It is not so. In a sense we see it in the case of Lord Browne and the exposure of his lies and lifestyle that brought about his resignation and Chief Executive of BP in recent times. We have seen it often enough with politicians in the past and present. God will have His way with those who trample over His law and His people. Haman proposed – Hang Mordecai! But God disposed – Elevate Mordecai, and let Haman be the instrument of that! This is almost an amusing turn which brings home the truth on Psalm 2: “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the LORD shall hold them in derision” (2:4). Yes, worldly man, God is not mocked! This is a lesson - and an encouragement to believers in such days of secular ascendancy as ours are.
(2) There’s also this lesson from Haman: Pride comes before a fall. That doesn’t just apply to unbelievers. It is a general rule. How proud Haman was. And how far he fell! But listen, this sort of thing can happen to Churches. It happened in the old Free Church after the Disruption of 1843. It was proud of its resources, of its collections and buildings and education; it was proud of its growth and influence. And when that happens – even, no, particularly in a Church, prepare for a fall. How does Paul put it? “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). It reminds us that however glad we might be with the ‘fall’ of the worldly persecuting person, we must beware that filled with pride in a Church context, we ‘fall’ from usefulness and blessing. That can only be avoided when we keep close to the Lord Jesus Christ and walk humbly with our God. We will all have to face judgement, temporal yes, as well as everlasting, something we will touch in moving on to chapter 7.
However, one more point here, briefly:
3. The King: God directs the hearts of kings (6:1-10)
There is a biblical proverb which applies in this situation: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes” (21:1). You see how that applies here in chapter 6. See it in his acceptance of Esther and in his sleeplessness that leads to his rewarding of Mordecai. It is a great lesson for our contemporary situation. Though the nation’s leadership seems so ungodly and powerful; though the influences of such leadership will very often be perverse; though the influences may by and large be malign, yet here is a truth: they are not beyond the directing of the Lord as and when He sees fit to direct them! We are therefore reminded here also of the sovereignty of God. The sovereignty of God is a glorious truth in an age like ours, not least, let it be said, on the occasion of a public general election. In such circumstances believers need to pray that it would please the Lord to move among those elected over them, that the nation might be spared the excesses of perversity and persecution but rather acknowledge Christ as the Head of Nations directing them in a better way for the good of His people. This is surely another lesson in this tale of the exile.