Esther 6 – God’s Providence Turns the Tables
Esther 6 – God’s Providence Turns the Tables
Sing: Ps. 33:3,4; Ps. 75:1,4,6
In Lord’s Day 10 we confess the providence of God. This confession is an indispensable part of the gospel of salvation. It proclaims that God is sovereign and in full control of all that happens, including what is caused by sin and its horrible consequences. Imagine if that wasn’t true! What if God was just a spectator when it came to evil and its results; that he was powerless against it?
Would we not be constantly swayed by doubts? Would we still be sure that God could keep his promises? Would we not have to wait till Jesus’ glorious return before we could be absolutely sure that Satan and sin had been defeated? If the Lord did not govern the realm of sin, there could not be any peace, and the ‘joy of faith’ would be a misnomer. What could we rejoice in if the outcome was a perpetual question mark? There would be no assurance that the Lord’s purpose would be fulfilled, no matter what. That is why God’s providence is such a comforting doctrine. It allows us to “have a firm confidence in our faithful God and Father that no creature shall separate us from His love; for all creatures are so completely in His hand that without His will they cannot so much as move.” (Heidelberg Catechism, LD 10, Q&A 28).
It is this comforting doctrine with which we are confronted in our text. Satan had done his homework. Via Haman and Xerxes, he had ensured the complete destruction of God’s covenant people. Had the king not given his approval to Haman’s wicked plan to exterminate all the Jews? It was only a matter of time! In another 10 months, Israel would cease to exist. Then the Messiah would not come either, for he could not be born from the womb of Israel, as the son of David, the King of his people. If this occurred, God would no longer be God and his promises would fail. His almighty and ever present power would turn out to be not “almighty” at all and not “present everywhere” either.
At the opening of Esther 6, things looked very grim. Haman’s plan to hang Mordecai on the gallows was only a few hours from reality and with Mordecai out of the way, who would provide the necessary leadership for the Jews? Esther, perhaps? Her position was also very vulnerable! Yes, she was queen and the king had agreed to meet with her and Haman, but was she truly guaranteed a positive response to her request?
Xerxes had said her request would be granted, but he had not even heard it yet! Had he himself not signed the decree to kill all the Jews? Was such a decree not irrevocable? That’s why everything hung in the balance. The LORD intervened once again and in a very dramatic manner. He could have put an end to Haman’s life and so averted the immediate danger. That’s how the Lord sometimes works. But as a rule, he works through human agencies and via every-day human experiences. His providential rule is not restricted to earthshaking events and miraculous happenings; the day-to-day matters of human life are also completely in his hands. That is what makes the future of God’s people so certain and secure. Then and now! If we live by faith we can be sure that ultimately all God does is for our good.
That is hard to believe sometimes. In certain situations we can detect God’s goodness, but in many others we have our questions, don’t we? We look to the future and wonder what it will bring for this world, for God’s church and for us as families and individuals. Will there ever be peace in the Middle East? Will the local congregation remain faithful to the Lord and grow in love to God and each other, or will there be troubles and dissensions? What about us, personally? We all know that there are illnesses that will not be reversed and we live in a world where we are assailed from every side. How can we move on with confidence? What gives us the certainty, that no matter what happens, we are safe in the hollow of God’s hand?
Our certainty is in God’s providential government and the belief that God’s reign stands in the service of his plan of salvation. That no matter what we face, we may rest secure in his love in Jesus Christ. Our God literally uses every event to bless his people. We don’t see that, as a rule. We often have our misgivings when things look dangerous and scary. We wonder how the powers of sin and evil can ever be turned and employed for the wellbeing of God’s church. The Lord says in Isaiah 46:10 “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.” He mentions these words in the context of his promised salvation for Zion, his catholic church. We also hear that gospel in Esther 6.
Xerxes’ Sleeplessness is Providential (Esther 6:1-4)⤒🔗
The king could not sleep. Now, what is so important about that? Didn’t that happen more often? Do most people not suffer from insomnia from time to time? Kings aren’t immune to that. As a matter of fact, they might suffer more from it than ordinary people. They’ve got a lot on their mind. Xerxes ruled one of the greatest empires the world has known. He was a man with many enemies, who had to be prepared against attacks from outside and rebellion from inside his realm. Add to that the many other matters of state that required his constant attention and you can imagine that the man was weighed down with many responsibilities and unknown dangers. What was so important about Xerxes’ sleeplessness that it needed to be recorded in the Holy Scriptures?
The two words “That night” make all the difference. Why are these words emphasized? To point out that it was the night before the day in which important things were going to happen, things that would not spell much good. Mordecai was going to be hanged; the leader of the Jews was going to be eliminated. How would that affect God’s covenant people? It was also the day that Esther would make her request of the king, to save her people from the hands of their enemies. How would that go? Would the king grant that request? Would he take back a Persian law that could not be revoked?
See, that is why that sleepless night found its way into the Bible – it did not happen by chance. A sleepless night is not something we usually pay much attention to, but here we had better! There was nothing coincidental about it. From the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, we could paraphrase verse 1 as follows: “The Lord took sleep away from the king that night.” God saw to it that Xerxes could not sleep. We are given no reason why sleep fled from him, but the Lord made sure that it was exactly this night that the king could not sleep.
As we keep reading we see that the first four verses of this chapter are full of God’s providential intervention.
Why did the king order the book of the chronicles to be read to him? Were there not other means to wile away the time? Did he not have many other diversions at his beck and call to occupy himself with? The book of the chronicles was the official record of all the important events during a king’s reign. At this point Xerxes would have been king for ten years and you can imagine that his glorious conquests would have occupied many pages. Xerxes did not lack in self-esteem and his secretaries would have known how to inflate it by making much of his victories and likely keeping his defeats to the barest minimum. After all, Xerxes was an absolute ruler and you would not want to get on his wrong side. It did not take much to suffer his anger and pay dearly for it, usually with your life.
That brings us to another ‘coincidence’, as we tend to call them. Why didn’t the reader choose to read a portion that sang the glories of Xerxes? Why did his fingers stop when he got to Mordecai’s role in exposing the assassination attempt of Bigthana and Teresh, two of Xerxes’ bodyguards? Do you see the hand of the Lord in all these events? Do you realize that nothing was coincidental here? These were not chance happenings! This was not the result of fate or luck, but was a powerful demonstration of God’s providence. This allows us a look behind the veil that normally separates our actions from God’s intentions.
In our text things were far from normal. The future of God’s people, the reliability of his promises and the certainty of our salvation were all at stake! Here God gives us a glimpse behind the scenes so that we are comforted by his providence which envelops the most mundane matters of life. A sleepless night and the temporal diversion of consulting a book; just happening to read precisely that event which jolts the mind of Xerxes and occasions the beginning of a complete turn-around in the life of God’s covenant people, are all providential.
When the king heard of Mordecai who saved his life, he asked “What’s been done for that man? Has he been honoured for his deeds?” “Nothing has been done for him,” the king’s attendants replied. This was abnormal; unheard of! Services to the king were immediately rewarded, and what a service this was! Saving Xerxes’ life! Do you see God’s providence again? He saw to it that this event was forgotten for almost 4 years, for he needed it at this particular time to thwart the attack of Haman on Mordecai. The king jumped into action. Who is in the court? Which of his close confidants is already up and about and ready to do his bidding?
Do you see how a seemingly unimportant event can lead to great and fundamental changes? Do you see how Xerxes’ insomnia was used by our Lord to set into motion a complete reversal of Satan’s plans? Do not forget the background of the book of Esther! This is not a novel about palace intrigues and personal vendettas where the good people win out over the bad ones in the end, this is covenant history! We read of a decisive moment in the struggle between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, where this struggle came to its head in Amalek’s hatred of the Jewish nation. Here the nations were represented by Haman and Mordecai.
If Haman’s plan were to succeed, the gospel would be a fraud and God could no longer be trusted. Salvation would be a pipedream and religion a waste of time. That is why the Lord intervenes. It is also why we are informed of his providential, all-powerful government, which overrules the most wicked attacks and plots of the devil and his followers and turns them to the good of his children. Let us not forget this! We cannot always draw a direct line between what we experience and how it will benefit us, but that doesn’t mean God is absent from our life!
Sleepless nights still serve God’s purpose. All that we face and struggle with also serve God’s purposes, including our illnesses and fears, our concerns and problems. As a rule our Lord fulfills his purposes by means of these very human experiences. That is why we don’t have to panic, but we may trust that whatever we go through will be used for our good! What peace that provides and what joy it gives when God’s children may believe that all their adversities will be turned to their advantage. That is how it happened in our text; everything was guided by the Lord so that his goals would be reached.
Haman’s Humiliation is Providential (Esther 6:5-13)←⤒🔗
As we read on, we see more of God’s providence. Haman’s humiliation is also part of God’s purpose. It is not only the preservation of the Jews that has God’s attention but also the destruction of his enemies. What a destruction that will turn out to be! The Bible informs us that it is God who “brings one down, [and] he exalts another.” (Psalm 75:7) But Haman exalted himself. Certainly, it was king Xerxes who had made him Prime Minister, but Haman was so full of his own importance that he used every occasion to feather his own nest. Arrogant and proud, totally selfish and always busy inflating his ego, the man was a walking billboard of Proverbs 16:18 “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:4 also fits him like a glove: “The LORD works out everything for his own ends – even the wicked for a day of disaster.” The higher you rise the deeper you fall. That is exactly what God’s providence teaches us as we see what happened to Haman.
Haman had arisen quite early. This day was going to be one of the best of his life. You can be rest assured that his invitation to the queen’s banquet must have put his mind into overdrive. What would that banquet yield him in honour and respect? Why would the queen only ask him, aside from her husband? Did his future ever look bright! That is why he arrived so early at the palace. There was one matter that had to be dealt with first; there was one thing that caused him much irritation and anger and spoiled the happy thoughts that swirled through his head. Mordecai had to be eliminated and then everything would be simply marvellous. First he needed Xerxes’ approval. “Just a formality,” Haman would have thought. Little did he know how the Lord used his providence to set Haman up for complete destruction.
When the king’s attendants told him that Haman was in the court, Xerxes said “Bring him in!” Then he asked Haman “What should be done for the man the king delights to honour?” What timing, and what a demonstration of God’s overall government! Haman was so full of himself that it didn’t even cross his mind that the king might be speaking about someone else. “Who does the king like better than me? Is there anyone in the empire who’s closer to Xerxes than me? Of course not! Here’s my chance! Whatever I want is mine for the asking!” he thinks.
Haman does not even notice that the king’s question is a little strange. If Xerxes intended to honour Haman he would have said “Listen, Haman I want to honour you but I don’t really know how.” That’s what pride does! It makes you blind like a bat! It only makes you think of yourself. What’s stranger yet is that the king doesn’t mention Mordecai’s name! Why didn’t he say “Haman, I just found out that Mordecai hasn’t been rewarded for saving my life and I’ve got to make up for that. What do you suggest? How must we honour him?” It was God’s providence ensuring that Mordecai’s name was not mentioned, to prevent Haman from doing damage control. Do you see how the Lord was at work here? He was determined to trip Haman up in his vanity, to humiliate him, not only in the eyes of the people of Susa but especially before Mordecai.
Haman did some quick calculations. He was absolutely sure the king had him in mind, but what must he say? He was already very rich and his position in the empire made him as close to the king as possible. To ask for a promotion was out of the question. He could not go any higher. What then? There was only one thing left – to share in Xerxes’ royal glory, to be honoured in an almost similar way as the king with the royal robe and royal horse. Haman saw himself being led through the city streets, dressed and treated like the emperor himself, sharing his prestige, power and stature. Was the king aware of Haman’s outrageous request? It’s not said, but he agreed immediately. “Go at once... and do just as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew... Do not neglect anything you recommended,” Xerxes says.
Haman must have felt as if the sky had fallen and the ground had sunk from beneath his feet. What a humiliating experience! What a complete reversal from what he had expected! Determined to elevate Mordecai on the gallows, he now had to elevate him to one of the highest positions in the empire. There was no way out as you did not trifle with the king’s orders. So Haman dressed Mordecai in royal garments, seated him on one of the king’s horses and personally led his enemy through the streets of the city, calling out in a loud voice, “’This is what is done for the man the king delights to honour!’”
How did Xerxes know that Mordecai was a Jew, as verse 10 tells us? Did he not sign a decree that all the Jews had to be exterminated? Why would he now heap one of the highest honours upon him? It is not said. What we do know is that Haman had not told the king which people he wanted to exterminate – chapter 3:8 speaks of “a certain people”. It is unknown why Haman had kept this information from the king. This lack of knowledge is likely why Mordecai’s Jewish origin did not pose a problem for Xerxes. What about chapter 3:13, where the Jews are mentioned by name? Most commentators suggest that Haman had the details of the dispatches written after Xerxes had signed the decree. Whatever the case, Mordecai’s Jewish roots did not prove an obstacle for the king to honour him.
Haman must have been devastated. The day had been so promising. Now everything looked grim and hopeless. What a humiliating experience! What a complete reversal of all his hopes and aspirations. He rushed home, filled with grief and self-pity, but his day only got worse. When he told his wife and friends what has happened, they only added to his fears and forebodings. “You cannot stand against this Mordecai,” they said. “You will surely come to ruin!” How did they know that? It was his Jewish origin that did it. Why? What made them so certain that Haman’s humiliation was only the beginning of his destruction?
Was it perhaps because they knew enough about the history of Israel? Was it because they were vividly reminded of the power and protection of Israel’s God? Was it because they realized that Amalek’s efforts to rout the Jews never succeeded? Was it because the covenant faithfulness of the Lord had never let his people down yet? Haman had no time to react to this council since the king’s eunuchs were at the door to whisk him away to Esther’s banquet. The way verse 14 is written is ominous; it sounds as if the eunuchs have come to arrest him.
The next chapter tells us that Haman’s fears and the predictions of his family and friends were well-founded. Who can stop the hand of the Lord and thwart his purposes? Haman was humiliated in order to prepare him for his complete destruction. God’s providential rule determined all the events related in our text, to reverse the evil course set for God’s covenant people, and to inflict God’s wrath on Haman. Haman personified the seed of the serpent, whose ultimate aim was to prevent Christ from coming and to rob God’s promise of salvation of its truth and fulfillment.
Our world is full of Hamans! People who are so steeped in their hatred against the Lord and his church that they will do anything to destroy God’s people. Most times they are not stopped from executing their wicked plans. Does that mean that God’s providence has changed? No, it does not. We must not forget, however, the progress in the history of salvation. In Esther’s time, there was no Christmas yet; today, Christ has come! In him all the promises of the Lord have been and will be fulfilled. He has obtained an eternal salvation by shedding his blood for all who believe. This salvation can never be undone! That is the great difference between our time and the book of Esther. Satan is not able to undo the work of Christ. A church is being gathered from every tribe and nation and God’s promise to Abraham is gloriously fulfilled. Even the death of God’s children cannot prevent their redemption, but brings them home to Christ.
That does not mean that the Hamans of this world will escape their punishment. Certainly not! Also today, the truth remains that those who exalt themselves will be brought down. In most cases that will not happen until Jesus returns. Then Babylon, the city that stands for sin, pride, and hatred against God’s church will be totally destroyed. Though it elevated itself to the heights of heaven it will be humbled to the depths of hell. What has not changed is that our time is in God’s hand. No one can separate us from his loving care. We see that in God’s providence in the elevation of Mordecai.
The Honouring of Mordecai is Providential (Esther 6:12)←⤒🔗
The text is very brief about Mordecai. Nothing is said about his reaction after Haman executed the king’s command. And after Haman led Mordecai around the city, proclaiming that this was the way Xerxes delighted to honour him, Mordecai returned to his usual place at the palace gate. Why is that? Does the surprising turn of events not give him a marvelous opportunity to take revenge on his enemy? Perhaps he realized that was not the purpose for which the Lord had elevated him. Personal revenge may not be pursued by God’s covenant people. “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:19)
Mordecai’s elevation was much more than an individual matter. In God’s providence it had to prepare him for the task the Lord had in store for him. That is why he received such great honour and authority. It set him up for what was to come, for there was a lot more to follow. Haman’s humiliation was only the beginning. There was the imperial decree to exterminate the Jews, a decree that may not be ignored and could not be revoked under Persian law. How could God’s people be comforted with this edict still in force? How could their future be safe and secure when their extermination had been officially decided? That was God’s purpose here. He was concerned about his covenant people and he wanted to come to the day of Christ. That is why Mordecai was elevated. Not for his personal glory but for the glory of God who wants to gather a church from among the Jews first, but also from among all the nations of the earth.
We don’t know much, if anything, about Mordecai’s faith and we should not speculate about that. Many commentators claim that his elevation was occasioned by his commitment to the Lord. That is not the point here because it has not been revealed to us. If need be the Lord may elevate anyone to an honoured and powerful position if it serves the wellbeing of his people. The Bible gives us more than one example that even blind heathens were elevated by the Lord in order to benefit his covenant children. Just think of King Cyrus, the first emperor of the Persian Empire. Isaiah 45:1-6 even calls him God’s Messiah, that is, “his anointed one”. It was Cyrus whom God used to allow his people to return to Canaan.
In our times as well God’s providence raises up men whom he is pleased to use for the good of his church. He does not always use believers, let alone committed believers! When it comes to the future of his church, the Lord avails himself of whomever he chooses. What does that means for us today in a world full of Hamans? What does it mean in a religious climate that does not promise much good for God’s church? It means that his purpose will be fulfilled and that we can be glad and thankful when the Lord raises up men who stand up against the wickedness that seeks to drown the church of Jesus Christ.
Xerxes, Haman and Mordecai are long gone. The Lord used each one to benefit his covenant people. In his providence he directed all the events of our chapter in such a way that his goals were reached. The Jewish nation did not cease to exist. Mordecai was elevated so that Christ could be raised to the highest position in the universe for the wellbeing of his church. He purchased the church of God with his own blood, assuring us that no-one is able to prevent our salvation.
That is why we are so confident, in a world where much takes place that can make us fear the worst. The Lord will still exalt and bring down whom he wills. He does that because his covenant promises remain true, no matter what happens. That is why our life is safe and our future secure. That is why we can rejoice, even when our earthly journey runs to an end. Christ assures us of the victory! In Revelation 7 we read about the innumerable multitude of the redeemed, with no-one missing. There all who trusted in God and his gospel will be elevated to the apex of honour and power. That is when we will always be with the Lord as his dearly beloved children and will reign with Christ for ever and ever.
1. Pondering the future might often alarm us and cause us to worry. Is there any point in thinking about the future? May Christians worry?
2. How can we move forward with confidence? Find texts that give us the certainty that God controls both good and evil, and directs them for our benefit.
Xerxes’ Sleeplessness is Providential←↰⤒🔗
3. What causes our sleeplessness? Does God keep it from us for a reason? How can Christians deal with insomnia? (Not the chronic illness.)
4. Is there “luck”? To encourage someone, what might we say instead of “Good luck”?
Haman’s Humiliation is Providential←↰⤒🔗
5. Haman’s family and friends may have declared it was impossible to stand against Mordecai because God’s covenant faithfulness had never yet let his people down. But the Israelites were in exile. Does that not appear as God letting his people down?
6. Today we do not often see obvious signs of God’s intervention in the evil plans of men. Has the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ changed how God works? If so, why and how?
The Honouring of Mordecai is Providential←↰⤒🔗
7. Revenge. Is there ever a time that we may take it? Is reporting someone to the police not a form of revenge?
8. King Cyrus is a Biblical example of a heathen that God used to benefit his covenant children. Can you give some more examples? Can you think of some modern examples of heathens whom God has used for the good of his church?
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