ESTHER – THE BOOK OF MYSTERIES
The book of Esther is a page-turning story of romance and palace intrigue set in the days of the mighty Persian Empire. A Jewish maiden, elevated to the throne of Persia as its queen, is used by God to preserve His people from annihilation. But mysteries abound in the book. To start with, the characters all seem to be wearing masks and hiding their true characters and intentions. How appropriate for our time!
And where is the name of God in the book? As the narrative unfolds there is no mention of prayer, or the Covenant or any of the other great truths of Jewish religious life - which of course has made the book a very controversial addition to the Hebrew scriptures.
Even the title of the book, Megillah Esther, or scroll of Esther, suggests this idea of mystery. The word megillah comes from the root Hebrew word galah, meaning “to reveal,” based on galal (“to roll”). So when the megillah is unrolled, it unveils something previously concealed. And the name of the heroine, Esther, consists of three consonants “s-t-r”, which designate the word “hidden” in Hebrew. So we can translate Megillah Esther to mean “Revealing the Hidden.”
As we retell the story of Esther this year, 2021, we will discover once again that the book is filled with prophetic power and wisdom. Perhaps the greatest mystery is: who is Esther herself – what is she really like? That is our quest as we listen again to this wonderful story.
1: The Global Empire of King Ahasuerus
Reading from Esther 1
Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus (this was the Ahasuerus who reigned over one hundred and twenty-seven provinces, from India to Ethiopia), 2 in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan the citadel, 3 that in the third year of his reign he made a feast for all his officials and servants—the powers of Persia and Media, the nobles, and the princes of the provinces being before him— 4 when he showed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the splendor of his excellent majesty for many days
The Book of Esther opens by introducing one of its main characters, King Ahausuerus, who presides over a vast empire. He has brought all his nobles and officials to his capital in Shushan and given them a dazzling display of wealth and power.
In the very first verse we are told that Ahasuerus rules over 127 provinces; it’s an important point for we know that in scripture numbers have significance. The numbers 12 and 7 indicate completeness and perfection. And there is another place in scripture where that number, 127, appears.
If we go back to Genesis, we find that this was the age of Sarah when she died. According to the book of Hebrews, both she and Abraham died without receiving the promises God had given them. But they died in faith, seeing those promises from afar off, being assured of them and embracing them. Did Sarah foresee that one day her descendant, Queen Esther, would rule over 127 provinces?
2: The Second Banquet and Other Paired Events in Esther
Reading from Esther 1
And when these days were completed, the king made a feast lasting seven days for all the people who were present in Shushan the citadel, from great to small, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace.
Why does nearly every event in Esther occur twice? Here we have a large banquet followed by a smaller one, there are two “virgin pageants,” Esther holds two banquets, goes twice to the king, and two decrees are sent out. Could this be suggesting that the story is to be read on two levels: on a literal level, the level of realpolitik and the power struggles of this world; and the other a symbolic, spiritual level? Think of the setting of the story: An all-powerful king is enthroned in an “inner room,” which one must not enter – or risk death – without meeting certain strict requirements and wearing royal robes … these are all shadows and types of the temple, and of our own protocol of coming to God in his throne room. There is also the courier system of the Persian empire which seems to echo another world where heavenly messengers come and go at the bidding of the King.
3: Vashti’s Setting Aside and the One “Better Than She”
Reading from Esther 1
On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded seven eunuchs, 11 to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing her royal crown, in order to show her beauty to the people and the officials.
12 But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command brought by his eunuchs; therefore the king was furious, and his anger burned within him. Then the king said to the wise men who understood the times: 15 “What shall we do to Queen Vashti, according to law?
And Memucan answered before the king and the princes …19 If it pleases the king, let a royal decree go out from him, that Vashti shall come no more before King Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she.
Queen Vashti is set aside because she would not come at the command of the king, when she was called to display her beauty to the representatives of the nations. What, then, is the nature of the one who is better than she?
Reading on from Esther 2:5-7
5 In Shushan the citadel there was a certain Jew whose name was Mordecai the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite…. 7 And Mordecai had brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter, for she had neither father nor mother. The young woman was lovely and beautiful.
For the first time, we meet with two Jewish figures: Mordechai, who is a man of noble lineage, a Jerusalemite, and Esther, the orphan girl whom he had adopted. They were part of the Jewish community that had remained in the region after the Babylonian exile. Under her uncle’s care Esther had grown up into grace and beauty.
When she is introduced in the story, she is actually given two names. Esther was her Persian name, meaning “star”. Her Hebrew name was Hadassah or Myrtle, signifying a lovely shrub that grows in hidden, sheltered places, where its small white blossoms send forth a pure fragrance.
The fact that she is identified by both Gentile and Jewish names is a major clue to her true identity.
4: Did Esther Abandon Her Faith to Marry the King?
Reading from Esther 2
After these things, when the wrath of King Ahasuerus subsided, he remembered Vashti, what she had done, and what had been decreed against her. 2 Then the king’s servants who attended him said: “Let beautiful young virgins be sought for the king; 3 and let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, that they may gather all the beautiful young virgins to Shushan the citadel. 4 Then let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.”
This thing pleased the king, and he did so. So Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign. 17 The king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she obtained grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins; so he set the royal crown upon her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.
A beauty contest was launched in Persia to find Vashti’s replacement. Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us that there were many as 400 women involved in this competition. But how could a young Jewish girl possibly take part in this? Over the centuries many have criticized Esther, suggesting that she compromised her morals and abandoned her faith in order to become the queen of Persia, going to the bed of a Gentile king to whom she is not married.
But this gathering of “every beautiful” virgin was NOT a voluntary program, and we need to remember some other realities in Esther’s life. She was orphaned and had suffered great loss at a young age. She was part of a minority in a foreign land and was forcibly taken from her home and people to the King’s palace. And, even when gifted with a royal position, there was perhaps still incredible hardship and loneliness.
5: Why Does Esther Hide Her National Identity?
Reading from Esther 2
20 Now Esther had not revealed her family and her people, just as Mordecai had charged her, for Esther obeyed the command of Mordecai as when she was brought up by him.
Why does Esther keep her nationality and ethnic identity a secret - or, more accurately, why does Mordechai command her to do so? What makes this even more puzzling is the fact that Mordechai declares openly that he is a Jew.
Nor is there is any indication that the king would have held her Jewish identity against her. We are even told that he loved Esther; the great Hebrew word ahav, not used lightly in the scriptures. But the fact that Esther finds favor in the sight of all who saw her may have reminded Mordechai of the story of Joseph in Genesis.
Just as Joseph had been sold against his will, so Esther is taken against her will. Just as Joseph - a stranger in the land to which he has been sold - succeeds in all his endeavors because God is with him, likewise Esther - a young girl exiled from her homeland - finds favor in the eyes of all around her. And just as God raised Joseph to the position of second-in-command to Pharaoh, so He caused the crown to be placed on Esther's head.
So, Mordechai wondered, if perhaps Esther could bring benefit to the Jews through her position, just as Joseph had been sent ahead by God, and rose to greatness in order that many souls might be saved alive. Mordechai sensed that God had a mission for Esther, and who could know for which opportunity she had reached the position of royalty?
6: The Rise of Haman
Reading from Esther 3
3 After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him and set his seat above all the princes who were with him. 2 And all the king’s servants who were within the king’s gate bowed and paid homage to Haman, for so the king had commanded concerning him. But Mordecai would not bow or pay homage.. 5 When Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow or pay him homage, Haman was filled with wrath. 6 But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone, for they had told him of the people of Mordecai. Instead, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus.
Haman is a sharp contrast to Mordecai. He has climbed to power in a despotic monarchy, is arrogant, cunning, totally oblivious of the good of the subjects, using his position for his own advantage. Why does Haman hate Mordechai so much?
The root cause of Haman’s hatred is pride – the original sin. When Mordecai refuses to bend the knee to Haman, all Jews in the kingdom suddenly find themselves in mortal peril. For, according to Haman’s perverted notion of personal dignity, he scorned to sacrifice only the one who had offended him. Rather, it could be satisfied only by a bloodbath into which a nation should be plunged!
But this is also the craftiness of an ancient enemy. Haman, was a direct descendant of King Agag, the Amalekite, from the nation which from the beginning had been bent on the annihilation of God’s chosen people. The satanic spirit of Amalek can be seen in the inexplicable hatred of Jews throughout the ages, the vendetta against those who are the “apple of God’s eye.” Under the surface of the book there is a cosmic battle hidden.
7: Justifying Genocide
Reading from Esther 3
In the first month, which is the month of Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, they cast Pur (that is, the lot), before Haman]to determine the day and the month, until it fell on the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar.8 Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from all other people’s, and they do not keep the king’s laws. Therefore it is not fitting for the king to let them remain. 9 If it pleases the king, let a decree be written that they be destroyed, and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those who do the work, to bring it into the king’s treasuries.” 11 …And the king said to Haman, “The money and the people are given to you, to do with them as seems good to you.”
Haman consults the fates through the use of a lottery in order to determine the most favorable date to destroy the Jews; he believes he has access to a higher controlling power. But how does he get the king to agree to his plan of genocide?
It is still impossible in a civilized society to justify a crime of this scope; therefore if something so evil is planned it must be presented as something good and desirable. Using crafty manipulation, Haman omits to actually name the people he is targeting, their numbers, or how he plans to deal with them. He justifies taking action against them through the use of half truths, subtly insinuating they were a source of evil in the matter of keeping the law.
Now while it was true that the Jews' laws were 'diverse from those of every people,' it was not true that they did not 'keep the king's laws.' In all their long dispersion the Jews have been remarkable for two things: their tenacious adherence to their own law, and their obedience to the law of the country of their sojourn.
And so, the lives of thousands of law-abiding citizens are tossed to Haman’s hand.
8: The Decree of Annihilation
Reading from Esther 3
12 Then the king’s scribes were called on the thirteenth day of the first month, and a decree was written according to all that Haman commanded—to the king’s satraps, to the governors who were over each province, to the officials of all people, to every province according to its script, and to every people in their language. In the name of King Ahasuerus it was written, and sealed with the king’s signet ring. 13 And the letters were sent by couriers into all the king’s provinces, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their possessions.
When Mordecai learned all that had happened, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city. He cried out with a loud and bitter cry. 3 And in every province where the king’s command and decree arrived, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.
For the first time since the exile in Egypt, the entire Jewish people is threatened with total destruction. Perhaps the Jews, having been exiled for their sins, and scattered in the nations, no longer enjoy any special providence. Perhaps they are now helpless in the face of the political forces that the Hamans of this world are adept at manipulating.
But there is something remarkable here in a small detail we could almost miss. The Jews have been brought into mortal peril precisely on the eve of the festival of their greatest deliverance: Passover, when the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of the Israelites spared them from the execution of judgment.
Moreover, the decree of annihilation is sent out in the first month of the year, Nisan, but it will not take effect until the twelfth month, Adar. Perhaps Haman’s occult powers are not as great as he thinks.
9: Esther’s Peril
Reading from Esther 4
Mordechai gave Hatach, Esther’s attendant, a copy of the written decree for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her, and that he might command her to go in to the king to make supplication to him and plead before him for her people. 9 So Hathach returned and told Esther the words of Mordecai.
10 Then Esther spoke to Hathach, and gave him a command for Mordecai: 11 “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that any man or woman who goes into the inner court to the king, who has not been called, he has but one law: put all to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter, that he may live. Yet I myself have not been called to go in to the king these thirty days.” 12 So they told Mordecai Esther’s words.
Hathach, the confidential go-between, tells Esther of the insane decree for the destruction of the Jews, and of Mordecai’s request that she should appeal to the king. In turn, Esther reminds Mordechai of what he, and everyone in the empire knows, that any one who came unsummoned into the presence of the king was liable to death. She adds, what Mordechai did not know, that she herself had not been called to go to the king for a month.
The danger Esther faces is very real. Josephus tells us that around Ahasuerus’ throne stood men with axes, ready to execute any who dared to approach the king uninvited.
We can marvel at how clearly Esther sees, and how calmly she tells Mordecai, the tremendous risk which following his counsel would bring. She has given up many things and endured much suffering in her marriage to the Gentile king - but now she is being asked to perhaps sacrifice her life. Note that she does not refuse. She simply puts the case plainly to Mordechai. ‘This is how things stand. Do you still wish me to run the risk?’
10: Mordechai’s Great Reply to Esther
Reading from Esther 4
13 And Mordecai told them to answer Esther: “Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
Here we have Mordecai’s great reply to Esther. It is very striking that he makes no attempt to minimise the peril to Esther. Even though he loves her as a daughter, he is exhorting her to take a course which may bring death, and he expects her to be willing to do it, Moreover, she is not even being given an assurance that her sacrifice is needed. Mordechai does not say “Esther, we cannot be saved without you.” Rather, he insists that, whether or not she acts, the Jews will be preserved – not just kept safely, but enlarged and raised to a new greatness.
Mordechai’s confidence that the Jews would be saved can only mean that he has looked beyond all the present political maneuvering, and believed in a King of Kings who was watching over His chosen people. But Mordechai’s certainty that deliverance would come also involved the idea that individual Jews are called to become part of the divine plan. The suspense does not lie in whether or not God will save the Jewish people, but in how He will do it, and in whether individual members of the nation will live up to their responsibilities.
Lastly, Mordechai raises the thought of God’s purpose in giving Esther her position. Behind his words lies the conviction that it is God who is the source of all gifts of position, possessions, or abilities, and that His purpose in giving them goes far beyond the happiness of the receiver. They are bestowed for use in carrying out His great purposes of blessing in the earth.
And so he says to Esther: perhaps this is the very reason you have been elevated to the throne - for her brethren's sake, not for her own. Perhaps, also, this is her own chance for greatness. Who knows – mi yodea?
11: Esther: Courage and Faith on Fire
Reading from Esther 4
15 Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!”
Esther rose to the occasion, and responded with swift determination to Mordechai’s challenge. She resolved to defy the king’s law, reveal her Jewish identity, and confront the second most powerful person in the empire. She knew that when she sought an audience of Ahasuerus uninvited she would be taking her life in her hands. Yet she spoke her quiet words with resolute calmness: “If I perish, I perish!”
In these immortal words she dismisses all personal hopes for her future and declares her readiness to die on behalf of her brethren. Esther is of the same stock as a Miriam, a Deborah, or a Ruth, and the same fire burned in her - utter devotion to Israel and entire consecration to Israel’s God.
As Esther realizes and accepts that her life is not her own, this becomes the turning point in her narrative. We watch her beginning to act with courage, confidence and authority. She takes the initiative in planning her approach to Ahasuerus to plead for her people, and gives the command that all the Jews should fast for three days.
And so, at this point, we are left hanging in suspense. Will Esther survive going before the king without an invitation?
12: A Beautiful Picture of Intercession
Reading from Esther 5
Now it happened on the third day that Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, across from the king’s house, while the king sat on his royal throne in the royal house, facing the entrance of the house. 2 So it was, when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, that she found favor in his sight, and the king held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther went near and touched the top of the scepter.
3 And the king said to her, “What do you wish, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given to you—up to half the kingdom!”
4 So Esther answered, “If it pleases the king, let the king and Haman come today to the banquet that I have prepared for him.”
And here now, at the center of the book of Esther, at this heart-stopping moment, we have an unforgettable picture which represents symbolically the inner reality of intercession. At the end of the great pillared hall, on his magnificent throne, the king is seated in the full consciousness of his majesty. It is from here that he wields all power over his vast empire. The queen, clothed in royal dignity and radiant with sacrificial love, appears at the entrance to the throne room. As she does so, the king’s heart is overcome by her beauty. He extends to her the golden scepter, and she approaches near to him, finding favor and acceptance. He addresses the queen by her royal title and promises to share his kingdom with her. Up to this time Esther had been a queen in name; now she was a queen in deed and truth.
The king was doubtless aware of the enormity of the risk Esther had taken in appearing unbidden in his presence. And after hearing words of such encouragement, we expect Esther to instantly utter her request. To our surprise, Esther merely invites her husband to come to a feast that she was arranging that day. The tension and suspense are heightened, especially when Haman is included in the invitation. But we also notice Esther’s words: The banquet that I … HAVE prepared…” .
With her life hanging in the balance, she had already prepared a banquet for the king. O courageous faith!
13: Another Delay – Which Changes Everything!
Reading from Esther 5
5 Then the king said, “Bring Haman quickly, that he may do as Esther has said.” So the king and Haman went to the banquet that Esther had prepared.
6 At the banquet of wine the king said to Esther, “What is your petition? It shall be granted you. What is your request, up to half the kingdom? It shall be done!”
7 Then Esther answered and said, “My petition and request is this: 8 If I have found favor in the sight of the king, and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, then let the king and Haman come to the banquet which I will prepare for them, and tomorrow I will do as the king has said.”
So mysterious – still Esther does not reveal her request, despite the king urging her to do so and repeating his vast promise. Another delay is brought forward, and it will change the whole course of events. The king would by now be wondering intensely what great thing would cause Esther first to appear before him unannounced, and then cause her to delay revealing it twice. Such a scenario might even keep him from sleeping, and in fact that is what happens.
That night, we are told, the king could not sleep. It also happened to be the night that Haman was plotting to murder Mordechai. What does the king do for his insomnia? He does not call for music or song, he calls for a book; the chronicles of the empire. But there are 127 provinces— of which shall he read? He chooses the record of Shushan the royal city, but its record is lengthy. There were a million chances against it but he chooses the section which contains the story of the discovery of a conspiracy by Mordecai!
The king’s desire for sleep is gone and now he is in haste to act. He says, "This man, Mordecai, has done me good service! Has he been rewarded?" "No." Then cries the impetuous monarch, "He shall be rewarded at once!” And who should be standing at the door but Haman - and thus it was Haman who was made to lead Mordecai in state through the streets of Shushan.
14: Esther’s Prayer for LIFE
Reading from Esther 7
1 So the king and Haman went to dine with Queen Esther. 2 And on the second day, at the banquet of wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request, up to half the kingdom? It shall be done!”
3 Then Queen Esther answered and said, “If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request. 4 For we have been sold, my people and I, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. Had we been sold as male and female slaves, I would have held my tongue, although the enemy could never compensate for the king’s loss.”
The monarch has waited, and has even asked three times, for the prayer which Esther is now at last about to offer before him. The queen knew that the time had come for her to speak. And what was her request? It was a prayer for LIFE.
Was ever so unexpected a request presented as this? A queen high in favour, at a royal banquet, to ask that her life should be spared, and her kindred delivered from an unjust and violent end? She adds that if it had been slavery that threatened them she would have been silent. Her scattered people were used to hardships, and had been trained to quiet submission.
But, she says, the case was one of greater, even of supreme extremity. They were sold in the words of the decree, "to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish." Her prayer is really intercession. This is the language of Esther: "Let my life and my people be given me:… for we are sold, I and my people. How heroically she united herself with her people and made herself their advocate.
15: The Great Denouement
Reading from Esther 7
5 So King Ahasuerus answered and said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who would dare presume in his heart to do such a thing?” 6 And Esther said, “The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman!”
The great denouement and unmasking now occurs. Esther’s posture of passionate pleading is exchanged, and we can imagine her drawing herself to her full height and extending her arm to point a finger of denunciation at Haman. Truth and goodness, which had been oppressed and overturned, now recover their standing. In the transparency of her integrity, utterly innocent of self-seeking, the queen stands as a monument to righteous indignation, filled with courage to rebuke evil and expose the cause of a great wrong.
The charge fell like a thunderbolt on the culprit; a deadly fear seized his heart. There he stood convicted, speechless and trembling.
9 Now Harbonah, one of the eunuchs, said to the king, “Look! The gallows, fifty cubits high, which Haman made for Mordecai, who spoke good on the king’s behalf, is standing at the house of Haman.” Then the king said, “Hang him on it!” 10 So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the king’s wrath subsided.
Not only are Haman’s plans foiled, but they result in an outcome that is the exact opposite of what he intended. He is hanged on the very gallows he had erected to hang Mordechai.
BUT we still do not have an answer to our question as to why Esther delayed bringing her petition to the king, not once but twice. The key to unlocking this mystery lies in the fact that the events in this section of the Book of Esther are intimately connected with the Jewish Passover. While Haman relied on the timing of the divination of dice, or the purim, Esther was conscious throughout of the divine deliverance that had taken place for her people at this time.
She had fasted during the 14th-16th Nisan, and prepared her first banquet for the king on the late afternoon of the 16th Nisan. But she wished to delay her disclosure to King Ahasuerus by one day and make her request on the 17th Nisan. Why was that? Because that was the historic day when God had destroyed the Pharaoh and the Egyptians army in the Red Sea. In other words, Haman was hanged on the gallows on the same day that Pharaoh and his hosts, the enemies of Israel, had perished.
This makes it very evident that Esther relied on the word of God and the Exodus narrative as divine revelation, and as her guide through the darkness of an imminent holocaust event. And thus she is completely vindicated as a devout, Torah-observing Jewess.
16: Esther’s Decree
Haman’s death has begun the process of salvation for the Jewish people. But although the enemy has been unmasked, the Jews are still subject to the decree of death. The next scene takes place 50 days after Passover, the 6th day of Sivan – Shavuot. Reading from Chapter 8:
3 Now Esther spoke again to the king, fell down at his feet, and implored him with tears to counteract the evil of Haman the Agagite, and the scheme which he had devised against the Jews. 4 And the king held out the golden scepter toward Esther. So Esther arose and stood before the king, 5 and said, “If it pleases the king, and if I have found favor in his sight and the thing seems right to the king and I am pleasing in his eyes, let it be written to revoke the letters devised by Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, which he wrote to annihilate the Jews who are in all the king’s provinces. 6 For how can I endure to see the evil that will come to my people? Or how can I endure to see the destruction of my countrymen?”
7 Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther and Mordecai the Jew …8 “You yourselves write a decree concerning the Jews, as you please, in the king’s name, and seal it with the king’s signet ring; for whatever is written in the king’s name and sealed with the king’s signet ring no one can revoke.”
Here we see Esther is clothed with a new level of authority by the king; she herself can authorize decrees that affect all the inhabitants of the empire. So on the 23rd day of the month, she and Mordechai prepare a new decree that brings about a legal reversal: whereas the first law was authorizing the destruction of the Jews, the second gave them the right to defend themselves against anyone who would try and kill them.
17: The Mystery of Freewill and Divine Sovereignty
Reading from Esther 9
Now in the twelfth month, that is, the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day, the time came for the king’s command and his decree to be executed. On the day that the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, the opposite occurred, in that the Jews themselves overpowered those who hated them. 2 The Jews gathered together in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus to lay hands on those who sought their harm. And no one could withstand them, because fear of them fell upon all people.
And so, at the end of the story, there is a great reversal; death is turned to life and sorrow to joy. In the marvelous drama enacted at Shushan, we have another manifestation of the Power and Glory of God, working not by outward miracles, as in the overthrow of Pharaoh, but in the methods of His Providence, working behind the scenes, and yet accomplishing all things according to the good pleasure of His will.
The story of Purim celebrates the fact that the world is not run by random chance. Rather, in the events of our personal lives, and in the issues that concern the nations, there is a most wonderful cooperation of the divine and the human. Man is free and responsible, God is sovereign and all-pervading. The characters may do as they wish – but it is God’s wisdom that establishes the outcome. The king's wealth and power, Haman's pride and cruelty, Esther's beauty, the long past services of Mordecai, even the king's sleepless night, are all threads in the web, and God is the weaver.
Amid the clash of contending interests and worldly passions His high purpose steadily advances toward its end, protecting His people, and establishing His kingdom rule of truth and justice in the earth.
And so in the Book of Esther we learn much of God’s sovereign power and mercy – but we learn another truth of inestimable value. Esther had "come to the kingdom for such a time as this." God will not accomplish His kingdom purposes without the intercession and sacrificial love of His faithful people.
Was there ever such a time as this? Did the nations and Israel ever so need the intercession of the Church? We know that we have free access to the throne of the King of kings. Esther was not called; we are invited. She went in against the law; we have many assurances. Ought we not then to "come boldly to the throne of grace"?
There, on that throne, is Christ Himself; He is the fount of all mercy and love, and holds the sceptre to us! In swaying that scepter Christ can overcome all the designs of our enemies. The danger seemed great to the company of Jews in the Persian empire, but in one brief hour the darkening cloud had disappeared.
And it is as the End-Time Church takes up this royal role of intercession, she is prepared as a Bride, the crown jewel of God’s kingdom.
[The theory advanced in Reading 16, that Esther’s second intercession before the king took place on the day of Shavuot is the personal interpretation of the author, but it can be justified from the narrative.]
With thanks to MacLaren and Spurgeon for inspiration for the central sections of the text