Esther 7 & 8 – The Lord’s Covenant Faithfulness Displayed
Sing: Ps. 19:6; 89:1,12; Ps. 98:1,2
The message derived from the book of Esther can easily become: “Don’t be proud and arrogant like Haman, but humble and courageous like Esther and Mordecai. Do not give in to sin for that leads to your downfall but aim for righteousness that assures you of life.” This approach has nothing to do with the gospel, however, for you may live a high moral life and yet be a stranger to God. You may have to struggle against all sorts of sins and yet be loved by the Lord. The Christian religion is not a philosophy that tells you to stick to some golden rules for a long and happy life. Rather, it is the good news of God’s love for sinners that calls for your repentance so that you live for the Lord. Of course morality is not an indifferent matter! The fruit of the gospel will also be seen in shunning evil and cultivating what is good but that is not the core of the gospel. The core of the gospel is to love the Lord and your neighbour, be thankful for God’s grace, live for his praise, and desire to be a blessing for your fellow man.
Without faith it is impossible to please God. That means without a childlike trust in the Lord and his gracious promises, you will never live in peace and your thankfulness will never get close to what the Lord is after. That is why Scriptures were not given to help us live decent lives first of all, but to make us wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ! Only when faith is present will the gospel train us in righteousness so that we may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. In other words, we will benefit from the Scriptures and studying them when we concentrate on Jesus Christ. We must always look for him because he is the key, the only key that opens up the treasures of God’s Word.
When our first parents rebelled against God, the Lord had every right to disown them. But he didn’t! Why? We don’t know. We cannot understand it. It was his grace and love for sinners that moved him to maintain his covenant. Every time that covenant was disregarded and broken, the Lord made sure that there was a remnant left, with which he continued. He wanted to come to the New Creation, where he and his people would live together in perfect love. There, his name would be glorified in the salvation of sinners and his people would enjoy eternal happiness and bliss.
This New Creation is why God saved Noah and his family while the rest were destroyed. That is why he called Abraham to make him into a great nation. That is why he set his love on Israel and delivered them from Egypt and gave them his law, promising to bring forth the Christ. He would not only be their Saviour, but the Redeemer of all nations. It is this covenant faithfulness of the Lord which provides the background to the book of Esther.
God’s Faithfulness Shown in the Destruction of the Enemy (Esther 7)
Esther 7 opens when the king and Haman were dining with Queen Esther for the second time. Once again, Xerxes asked the now-familiar question “What’s up Esther? What’s bothering you? Tell me! I will give you whatever you ask!” Esther knew that this would be the day; she couldn’t postpone her petition again. Xerxes was not a man you could keep on a leash. That is why she gathered all her courage and informed the king about what filled her with fear and dread. See how she does that? She did not blurt out “You and Haman have signed a decree to kill all the Jews! And that means that I will also be put to death. Why did you do that, Xerxes? Don’t you care for me anymore? Do I mean so little to you?” That approach would get her nowhere. The most it might produce would be the king’s assurance that her life would be spared, that she would receive an exemption. What about her countrymen?
Don’t forget, Xerxes was an absolute ruler! He did as he pleased and was not known to take criticism well. Remember what he did to Vasthi when she refused to submit to his orders? He divorced her and sent her into exile. That is why Esther followed a different tack, a very wise one at that. She must have done her homework well. She knew exactly how to broach the delicate subject; not by criticizing the decree, nor by mentioning Xerxes’ name, who had signed it into law. Instead she appealed to his generosity and vanity.
First she showed her submission. Esther addressed Xerxes as king and then pleaded for his favour and called for his protection. “Grant me my life!” she said. “Spare my people,” she added. What a brilliant move! What diplomacy and tact! What a terrific choice of words!
Xerxes and Haman had no clue what Esther was going to ask. They were completely in the dark about it. That is why they never expected what they heard. The king must have been flabbergasted! What was his wife talking about? Spare her life? Which scoundrel dared to touch his queen? And what did she mean with “her people”? Again, both Xerxes and Haman did not know that Esther was a Jew. She had consciously kept that to herself on her uncle’s orders. But Esther wasn’t finished yet! “I and my people have been sold for destruction and slaughter and annihilation,” she continued. That is at stake! My life and the life of my people!
Esther then apologizes for making this petition and request. “I would not have bothered you with anything less, O king. Even if we were to be sold as slaves, I would have kept quiet about that. For I know that you have a lot on your mind. I wouldn’t dream of disturbing you with such trifling matters. But when my life is in danger and the life of my people, it’s a different thing. Am I not your wife and the queen of your empire?”
Esther’s brilliant approach in this very sensitive matter had the desired effect. The king was fuming! “Who is the man that wants to kill you?” he yelled. “Where is the villain who has determined to commit such evil?” Apparently the king didn’t even think of the decree to exterminate the Jews. Even though he had signed it himself, he had left the matter completely to Haman. That is why his question as to who had contrived this great evil was genuine and not put on. He had no clue and he wanted to know! His honour had been offended. Fancy anyone conspiring to kill his wife, as well as her people! That was preposterous! Nobody would get away with that!
Esther’s mention that she and her people had been sold for destruction is explained by most commentators as referring to Haman’s offer to put ten thousand talents of silver into the royal treasury, if the king gave him permission to kill all the Jews. But the king had said “Keep your money! I don’t want it!” Instead we must explain “sold” to mean, “Consigned to destruction or placed under a curse.” That is how it is used in Deuteronomy 32:30 and Judges 2:14 where the Lord “sold” his own people to their enemies because of their sins. That gives us a clearer focus of what is really at stake. Haman was not out for personal revenge, first of all, but he wanted to destroy God’s covenant people and put them under the curse of Amalek. He wanted to annihilate them completely so that the seed of the serpent would prevail!
We wonder what went through Haman’s mind. Did he know what Esther meant? Was he aware that she referred to his murderous plan? Well, he didn’t have to wait long, for when the king asked who this evil person might be Esther pointed her finger at him and said “The adversary and enemy is this vile Haman!” Haman was terrified. He knew this spelled his death sentence! No person got away with intending to kill the king’s wife. He realized that his life wasn’t worth a dime anymore! There was only one thing left to try; one small, one very small chance to save his hide. The king had gone into the garden, fuming with anger. He needed to come to grips with what he had just heard and with what he must do. After all, the truth must have started to sink in that he had approved Haman’s edict. He also knew that such a decree was irrevocable. The Persian constitution gave a lot of power to its kings but the one thing even he couldn’t do was play fast and loose with the law.
That is why Xerxes needed time to get his confused thoughts in order. How could he get himself out of this quandary? The dilemma was solved when he re-entered the banquet hall. During his absence Haman had approached Esther. Falling on his knees before or partly upon the sofa on which the queen reclined, he begged her to save his life. The king almost exploded! What on earth is going on? Would Haman stop at nothing? Did he have the audacity to molest the king’s wife as well? In the royal palace? Xerxes shouted for his bodyguards, who rushed in and knew exactly what to do. Harem protocol prescribed that no man but the king could be left alone with the queen. Haman should have left the chamber as soon as the king went outside, but in his despair he could think of nothing but getting a reprieve. Haman could expect no mercy from Xerxes; if looks could kill, Haman would have been dead. So he threw all caution to the wind and pleaded with Esther to intercede for him, all to no avail. The king’s attendants covered his face with a cloth, a custom applied to any criminal condemned to death.
Harbona, one of the king’s eunuchs suddenly remembered the high gallows which Haman had built for Mordecai. Mordecai, the man whom the king had greatly honoured that same morning by having him paraded through the city dressed in royal robes; the one who had prevented the king’s assassination. Harbona’s information gave Xerxes a brilliant idea – hang Haman on his own gallows! It was done immediately. Only when Haman was executed did the king’s fury subside.
Does it not sound like a purely human drama? Don’t palace intrigues and personal ambitions often result in the sudden demise of those who are caught in undermining the position of the king or the stability of the nation? Yet the Bible was not written to relate human dramas. Yes, they are a part of Scripture, but they do not determine its purpose. That purpose is the drama of Genesis 3, the struggle between the two seeds; the battle between God’s covenant faithfulness and Satan’s efforts to prevent the coming of Jesus Christ. That is what we must keep in mind as we ponder our text.
The Lord used Esther and Xerxes as his instruments as he displayed his covenant faithfulness in the death of Haman, the enemy of God and his people. The man who attempted to apply the curse of complete destruction, was now himself cursed on a tree. That is what is meant by ‘gallows’. In Persia they did not hang criminals but impaled them on a stake. This death underlined God’s curse on Haman (cf. Deuteronomy 21:23). So we witness in the death of Haman God’s display of covenant faithfulness.
God’s covenant faithfulness is not only displayed in love and protection for God’s people, but also in cursing and death for his enemies. There is a great difference between Esther’s time and ours, though. In the Old Dispensation Israel was commanded to utterly destroy the Amalekites because of their evil intentions to annihilate the people of God. Israel did not do that, so the Lord himself took care of that in the death of Haman. In the New Testament, God’s wrath does not demand the death of his adversaries, at least not immediately! This is not because God’s wrath has been swallowed up by his love, as some people claim. Nor is it because God’s covenant now only knows of blessing and has no room for his curse. Rather, it is because the cross of Christ has been erected! The stake on Golgotha makes all the difference!
God’s wrath has been suspended; his curse against sin has been stilled! The cross proclaims that God is faithful and the seed of the woman has come and conquered. No enemy can prevent the salvation of God’s people! That is why the gospel of forgiveness must now be preached to all nations. The church is no longer confined to Israel but is now gathered from every tribe and tongue and people.
Haman, as a tool of the serpent, conspired to revenge himself and his people on the Jewish nation. By aiming at their total destruction, Amalek would have won and Israel would have perished. If Haman had had his way, Jesus Christ would never have come. That would have spelled the end of the church’s salvation and of God’s covenant faithfulness. The Lord executed his wrath on Haman and he fell under God’s curse. Not because he was a greater sinner than many others, but to display and to prove that the Lord keeps his Word. You can rely on his Word and you can build your life on his covenant, not only for yourselves but for your children as well.
Let us cherish the covenant faithfulness of our God under which we and our children may live. If you build your life on his promises you will never be put to shame. If you believe the gospel and live in humble faith, you will never be disappointed. Even the enemies of God and his church cannot touch you. We are assured of this by the cross of Christ, for there the serpent suffered his total defeat. That is why all his opposition cannot prevent the redemption of God’s church. Therefore this gospel must be preached to all creatures, even to the Hamans, as long as it is the time of grace.
No, this doesn’t mean that God’s wrath is no longer a reality. Rather, it’s greatest terror has been suspended until Judgment Day. All who keep refusing to bow before God, all who keep opposing the gospel of grace and harass believers, will then face the curse of God without any restraint. For God’s covenant retains its two sides of blessing and curse. Let none of us misinterpret his boundless compassion and patience as if his wrath has mysteriously disappeared. For outside the cross of Christ there is nothing but wrath and curse. Only the blood of Jesus assures us of salvation.
God’s Faithfulness Shown in the Preservation of His People (Esther 8)
Haman was executed; the immediate danger was averted! There was, however, still that irrevocable decree. How would the Jews be saved from destruction? How would God’s covenant faithfulness continue, if their extermination was not reversed? The king did not seem to lose any sleep over it. He was happy that Haman had been put to death. “The king’s fury subsided” says verse 10. That shows he was more concerned about getting rid of Haman than in doing something about his satanic plot. Sure, Xerxes felt for his wife and to show her his favour he gave her Haman’s estate as compensation. He also elevated Mordecai to the position Haman had occupied. Esther had told Xerxes that Mordecai was her uncle and the king then gave him the signet ring that allowed Mordecai to act on Xerxes’ behalf. Esther’s uncle also became her attorney, for she put him in charge of her newly acquired assets.
All of this is only introductory. Esther knew that her task was not finished yet, not by a long shot! About two months elapsed between Mordecai’s appointment in 8:2 and Esther’s renewed petition in 8:3. No doubt, there was a lot that needed to be arranged with Mordecai as the new prime minister and Esther taking possession of Haman’s estate. Now it was time for further action, for Haman’s decree still hung as a threatening cloud over the Jewish people. So, one day, Esther gathered new courage and went to see the king. Falling at his feet and crying uncontrollably, she begged him to put an end to Haman’s evil plan. The king extended his scepter to indicate his willingness to listen and Esther did not waste any time. She had done her homework once again. She was aware of the force of Persian law, and realized that the decree could not be ignored, annulled or reversed. She was very wise as well. She knew that Xerxes had signed the edict but she did not mention that. She put all the blame on Haman! No doubt, this approach assured her of a willing ear. Xerxes’ pride and vanity would not have taken it lightly if she had placed the blame on her husband. A king like Xerxes wouldn’t like to be reminded of his own foolishness in decreeing the death of a people to which his own wife and his new prime minister belonged.
There was only one way to eliminate the danger, and Esther knew exactly how to go about it. “Oh, king,” she said, “If you regard me with favour, please let an order be written that overrules the letters which Haman had made up and sent to destroy the Jews.” She added, “How can I bear to see disaster fall on my people, and witness the destruction of my family?” This was a brilliant move, not only because it was the only solution to an otherwise hopeless situation but also because it prevented the king from losing face. Haman got the blame and the king was exonerated. That is why Xerxes did not hesitate. He reminded Esther and Mordecai of what he had already done for them and then gave them complete freedom to implement the idea. “Write a decree in my name,” he ordered, “and use your own words. Seal it with my signet ring.” Once done there would be no turning back, the order would carry the force of law.
No time was wasted. Royal scribes were summoned to the palace and wrote down exactly what Mordecai dictated to them. The date was still eight months away from doomsday. This allowed plenty of time for the Jews to take counter action. Written in the various languages of the empire, the letters were then sent by mounted couriers to all the provinces.
These verses almost read like a copy of what was written when Haman’s orders were dispatched to the four corners of the empire. (3:12) Yet there’s a telling difference. This time, the Jews are also mentioned. Mordecai made sure that his countrymen would get these instructions first hand. What were the contents of this second edict? How were the Jews to be rescued from certain death?
The king granted the Jews the right to assemble themselves and take defensive measures. They received permission to kill anyone who dared to attack them and were allowed to plunder the assets of their enemies. What was the day they were allowed to execute these rights? The 13th of Adar! The same day Haman’s soothsayers had decided upon after casting the lot, telling him that the gods had earmarked this day as the ideal time to perpetrate his wicked plan. Oh, the irony of God! The mysteries of his providence! The certainty of his counsel and the faithfulness of his covenant promises!
We can easily focus on the actions of Biblical characters, and lose sight of God’s work. It is also tempting to assume that Esther and Mordecai acted in great faith. Many commentators go to great lengths to underline that both of them had an unconditional trust in the Lord. Their conclusion is that he rewarded their faith and trust by this complete reversal. That is speculation, however; something the Bible does not mention at all. Esther’s and Mordecai’s way of life wasn’t very faithful, was it? Wishing to become the wife of a gentile monarch and scheming to show off her feminine beauty wasn’t exactly living a God-fearing life.
Was there no faith at all in Esther and Mordecai’s heart? We simply do not know, so leave that to the Lord. We do not, however, ascribe the preservation of the Jewish nation to them. That was solely God’s work, exclusively due to his grace. He displayed his covenant faithfulness there. He saw to it that the wholesale destruction of his people was not realized.
The Lord used Esther and Mordecai and their courage and craftiness, yet it wasn’t their doing but the Lord’s. God’s work was not because of their piety but because of his faithfulness. You witness that in the way Mordecai was dressed. His royal garments indicated that God wouldn’t allow his people to be destroyed. Esther and Mordecai’s important positions were necessary for the future of Israel to remain open, so the seed of the woman would come.
In Susa, the royal residence, people danced and sang in the streets. What a relief! Haman gone and Mordecai in his place! The Jews were elated. In every part of the empire they celebrated this sudden and happy turn of events. So much so, that many Gentiles joined the Jewish people. Was it a religious conversion? Was it because they wanted to belong to Israel’s God?
Again, we must be careful. The text mentions that fear was their motive. That doesn’t exclude a spiritual change of heart but it doesn’t guarantee it either. Let it suffice that the “fear of God” had come upon them. Just like Haman’s wife and family knew enough about Israel’s God and his faithfulness to his people that they had foreseen his downfall once the king had endowed Mordecai with great honour. That is where we must also put the emphasis! The Lord is faithful to his promises! Then and now! He assures his people that the serpent and the serpent’s seed will not win. The future belongs to the seed of the woman, whom we know as Jesus Christ!
That did not and does not mean that all covenant members will be saved. Circumcision and baptism were and are not automatic entrance vouchers into the kingdom of heaven. It’s faith that unlocks the door to salvation. It is responding to God’s gracious love that identifies a person as his child. Though this new decree saved the Jews from physical death, it didn’t guarantee their eternal redemption. When the Saviour finally arrived, there was only a small remnant that put their trust in him.
Also in our times there are millions of baptized people, yet the church is only small compared to that multitude. God’s patience is great and his compassion almost endless. No person is out of reach for his grace. That’s why the gospel is still proclaimed and that’s why the Lord sends faithful preachers to every corner of the globe with the glorious message of forgiveness and renewal. There is a divine promise that everyone who turns to him in true repentance and faith will not die but receive eternal life.
Treasure this gospel and trust in God’s covenant faithfulness, for then you’ll never be disappointed. Then you are safe! Always! What if you doubt? What if the pressures of life get the better of you? What if your sins get you down and you despair of ever being able to overcome them? Then you should look at the cross! Then you should call to mind God’s covenant faithfulness when he rained his wrath against sin, against your sins, on his own beloved Son so that you should never come into condemnation. When you think about that, when you let that blessed truth sink in, then you say, perhaps with a choking voice, but you say it all the same “Thank you Lord for such love! Thank you, for such faithfulness! Be merciful to me, for Jesus’ sake.”
1. “… Without a childlike trust in the Lord and his gracious promises … your thankfulness will never get close to what the Lord is after.” Is there a standard of thankfulness that we need to achieve for salvation? How does the Law fit into this?
God’s Faithfulness Shown in the Destruction of the Enemy
2. Does the way in which Esther worded her concerns to Xerxes give us any practical ideas on how to approach one another with concerns?
3. Esther appealed to Xerxes only because her life, and the life of her people, was in danger. Should we admonish and correct fellow believers only for issues that place their spiritual life in danger?
4. God’s curse on the Amalekites is shown by the fact that Haman was hung on a tree. This reminds us of Jesus, who also was hung on a tree. How are these two trees related? Do we each have a tree?
5. Israel sinned by not completely annihilating the Amalekites. Yet God in his covenant faithfulness ensures the task is completed by another (Xerxes). What comfort and encouragement does that give us when we fail in a task God sets before us?
God’s Faithfulness Shown in the Preservation of His People
6. Where do we see God’s work of providence in Esther 7 and 8?
7. Esther is characterized in this outline as very wise, diplomatic and tactful. Is there evidence to suggest that she was naturally this way? Do we sometimes underestimate how powerfully God can work through us, despite our weaknesses?
8. Our text states that many people became Jews out of fear. Would these people have been true believers?
9. Is there a difference between legislating Christianity as a state religion (like Constantine around 300AD) and legislating Christian morality? What benefit is there in either of these, especially with regard to salvation?