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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson

Esther 5: 9-14: The smallest parcel

 “Haman went out that day happy and in high spirits. But when he saw Mordecai at the king’s gate and observed that he neither rose nor showed fear in his presence, he was filled with rage against Mordecai. 10 Nevertheless, Haman restrained himself and went home.Calling together his friends and Zeresh, his wife, 11 Haman boasted to them about his vast wealth, his many sons, and all the ways the king had honoured him and how he had elevated him above the other nobles and officials. 12 ‘And that’s not all,’ Haman added. ‘I’m the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the king to the banquet she gave. And she has invited me along with the king tomorrow. 13 But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate.’14 His wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, ‘Have a pole set up, reaching to a height of fifty cubits, and ask the king in the morning to have Mordecai impaled on it. Then go with the king to the banquet and enjoy yourself.’ This suggestion delighted Haman, and he had the pole set up.” NIV

I believe Billy Graham once said this, ‘The smallest parcel I ever saw was a man wrapped up in himself.’

Today’s passage suggests what a little man Haman was – a little man in a big position – and it does so with a touch of humour and irony. Verse 14 reminds me of the story of Jezebel maliciously obtaining Naboth’s vineyard for her sulking husband. Haman might have to await the allotted time to have all the Jews slaughtered, but he could surely arrange for Mordecai’s demise ahead of schedule? They proposed Mordecai should be hung on extra high gallows to make mean-spirited Haman all the more happy!

We have here a wonderful pre-figuring of the cross. The devil had ‘’gallows built’’ for Jesus, but he ended up being destroyed by the very instrument designed to crucify the Lord:

‘’Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death’’ (Hebrews 2:14,15).

As David cut off Goliath’s head with Goliath’s sword, so Jesus effectively used Satan’s own weapon on him.

PRAYER: Lord, we again marvel at your ways, and we rejoice in your victory.

Esther 5:6-8: Riding for a fall

“6 As they were drinking wine, the king again asked Esther, ‘Now what is your petition? It will be given you. And what is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.’Esther replied, ‘My petition and my request is this: If the king regards me with favour and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfil my request, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet I will prepare for them. Then I will answer the king’s question.’”NIV

Even when wicked people seem to prosper, the rug can be pulled from under them at any moment (see Ps.37).

We don’t know why Esther didn’t make her request at the first banquet, but we can see that God must have been guiding her. The story is full of dramatic effect, and the set up for Haman’s fall is even greater. He must have been revelling in being the king’s right hand buddy, and getting to go to all these parties with him (see verse 12). But he was reading things all wrong. His ‘come-uppance’ was awaiting, just around the corner.

‘’Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall’’ (Proverbs 16:18).

‘Poor Haman was basking in false glory, boasting about false wealth, enjoying false happiness, and resting on false confidence. He did not realise that the shadow of death was over him. But is he much different from the proud unbelievers of this day who build their lives on illusions?’ Warren W. Wiersbe: ‘With the Word’, p.275.

Esther 5:1-5: The king’s bounty

On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the palace, in front of the king’s hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne in the hall, facing the entrance. When he saw Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased with her and held out to her the gold sceptre that was in his hand. So Esther approached and touched the tip of the sceptre.Then the king asked, ‘What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given you.’‘If it pleases the king,’ replied Esther, ‘let the king, together with Haman, come today to a banquet I have prepared for him.’‘Bring Haman at once,’ the king said, ‘so that we may do what Esther asks. So the king and Haman went to the banquet Esther had prepared.” NIV

For many years, upon re-reading this passage, it has caused me to think about our standing before God in Christ. As we come to Him, dressed in’’royal robes’’ of righteousness which He Himself has provided, He is ‘’pleased’’ with us. He welcomes us into His intimate presence, and we may approach Him. Furthermore, He is so generous in His offers to us. Think about the many, and varied, promises God makes in His Word to those who seek Him in prayer. True, there are also conditions to be fulfilled by us, but our great King of all kings is more than generous – even more so than this pagan king.  Our God is a prayer-answering God, and the very tone and atmosphere of today’s reading is intended to show us that the fasting and prayer were effective. This was a remarkable answer.

‘Thus having had power with God and prevailed, like Jacob, she had power with men too. He that will lose his life for God shall save it, or find it in a better life…

God can turn the hearts of men, of great men, of those that act most arbitrarily, which way he pleases towards us. Esther feared that she should perish, but was promised that she should have what she might ask for, though it were the half of the kingdom. Note, God in his providence often prevents the fears, and outdoes the hopes, of his people, especially when they venture in his cause. Let us from this story infer, as our Saviour does from the parable of the unjust judge, an encouragement to pray always to our God, and not faint, Lu. 18:6-8. Hear what this haughty king says (What is thy petition, and what is thy request? It shall be granted thee), and say shall not God hear and answer the prayers of his own elect, that cry day and night to him? Esther came to a proud imperious man; we come to the God of love and grace. She was not called; we are: the Spirit says, Come, and the bride says, Come. She had a law against her; we have a promise, many a promise, in favour of us: Ask, and it shall be given you. She had no friend to introduce her, or intercede for her, while on the contrary he that was then the king’s favourite was her enemy; but we have an advocate with the Father, in whom he is well pleased. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace.’ Matthew Henry.

PRAYER: Thank you Lord for the many encouragements to our faith in your Word. Please teach us to pray, and forgive our prayer-lessness.

Esther 4:15-17: Rising to the challenge

15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 ‘Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.’17 So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther’s instructions.” NIV

Jesus taught that if you try to save your life you will lose it. But if you choose to lose it you will in fact find it.  It seems to me that Esther:

  1. Acted honourably. Mordecai had raised her as if he were her father, and she honoured him as if he were. She obeyed him. (But note the mutual submission – verse 17);
  2. Spoke wisely. She called first for an absolute fast. Desperate times may call for desperate measures. This applies in the spiritual realm also. Only after this total fast, lasting three days and nights, would she approach the king: ‘’When this is done…’’ (16). Fasting may often be a preparation for something. ‘Among the Jews, fasting was always associated with prayer; so we can understand that Esther and the Jews of Susa would be both fasting and praying – praying that Xerxes would respond favourably to Esther’s plea that the Jews be spared.’ Tom Hale:‘The Applied Old Testament Commentary’, p.774.
  3. Dared greatly. There was nothing reckless about what she did. She was well prepared spiritually. But when the moment called for it, she was prepared to break the law, and even die if necessary. Numerous saints have followed in her footsteps over the centuries.

‘For Christians today, the book of Esther has a special spiritual application. Like Esther, we are intimate members of the family of the King. We too are instruments to be used for saving thousands – millions – of people doomed to destruction. Are we, like Esther, willing to risk our lives to save them?’ Tom Hale.

PRAYER: Lord God, help us to live with a due sense of the seriousness of these times, and of our responsibility before you. Deliver us from complacency and spiritual unreality.

Esther 4:9-14: Tell it like it is

“9 Hathak went back and reported to Esther what Mordecai had said. 10 Then she instructed him to say to Mordecai, 11 ‘All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold sceptre to them and spares their lives. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.’12 When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13 he sent back this answer: ‘Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?’ NIV

When Esther received her intel from Mordecai, via Hathach, she explained her predicament. No-one, male or female, was to approach the king unbidden, on pain of death. This applied even to the queen, and she had not been sent for in ‘’thirty days’’ (11). The only exception to this case was if the king extended ‘’the gold sceptre’’ (11) to the approaching supplicant, as an act of mercy.

So now it was time for Mordecai to tell Esther the unvarnished truth. ‘Look, if you go to the king you may die. But if you don’t, you will die anyway, and the rest of us! If you try to save your life you will lose it. Don’t think you will escape because you are the queen. God will raise someone up to save the Jews, but you will have missed your destiny.’ He wanted Esther to understand that she had been given her position for this very moment in history. So what was she going to do with it?

‘We may be quite sure that God will carry out his plans – with us, if possible; if not, in spite of us, to our utter loss. We should look upon our position as a sacred trust to be used for others. We are created for good works, which God hath prepared for us to walk in.’ F.B.Meyer: ‘Devotional Commentary’, p.212.

We too would die; we would be consumed by the ‘’blazing fire’’ holiness of our Heavenly King, if He did not extend to us ‘’the gold sceptre’’. But in Jesus He does. Whenever we approach God we may do so with boldness and confidence because of the cross. As a hymn says, ‘Oh the welcome I have found there.’

Esther 4:1-8: Go and do like wise

“When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly. But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it. In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.When Esther’s eunuchs and female attendants came and told her about Mordecai, she was in great distress. She sent clothes for him to put on instead of his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. Then Esther summoned Hathak, one of the king’s eunuchs assigned to attend her, and ordered him to find out what was troubling Mordecai and why.So Hathak went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate. Mordecai told him everything that had happened to him, including the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the royal treasury for the destruction of the Jews. He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict for their annihilation, which had been published in Susa, to show to Esther and explain it to her, and he told him to instruct her to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people.” NIV

Mordecai knew that he had been the catalyst for Haman wanting to wipe out all the Jewish people. It wasn’t Mordecai’s fault that Haman was as he was, but he must have felt badly about it. Mordecai’s wearing “sackcloth’’ was a genuine expression of his grief. There was no pretence about his actions. But I think it was maybe also a way to get Esther’s attention. He desperately needed to get a message to her to use what influence she had with the king:  “…he told him to urge her to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people’’ (8).

I would want to say to the church, ‘Go and do likewise.’

‘Thou art coming to a King,

Large petitions with thee bring.

For His grace and power are such,

None can ever ask too much.’

By the way, thinking about verse 2, I want to add that it’s not like this with our King. As someone wrote:

‘All your anxieties, all your cares,

Bring to the mercy seat, leave them there.

Never a burden He cannot bear,

Never a Friend like Jesus.’

PRAYER: Lord, may your church rise to the challenge of this hour. Help us to see the privilege and opportunity to come into your presence and intercede.

Esther 4:1-3: You can take religion a bit too far you know!  

When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly. But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it. In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.NIV

The Jews were facing a desperate situation, and it called for an urgent and serious response. The response it received from them was equal to the magnitude of the problem. There was a spiritual battle to be fought and the people faced it with spiritual weapons, including fasting. Mention fasting to some Christians and they respond like you’re some sort of weird extremist. ‘You can push things a bit too far you know!’ There are no doubt churches where it’s a bit like the king’s court. There’s no room for the expression of grief, sadness lament. It has to be all joy (or at least, you have to feign it). You could draw a crowd for a band and a knees up, but not nearly so many would turn up for a knees down. Prayer is hard work and prayer meetings are not widely popular. The devil has a vested interest in ensuring this is so.

During the last year (2020) the world has faced a serious problem. Hundreds of thousands of people have died. That’s hundreds of thousands of souls swept into eternity. I can’t help but ask the question whether many of us in the church have been playing instead of praying? There are answers to be found on our knees and nowhere else. There are ‘kinds’ which do not come out except by prayer and fasting. Yet we devote hours to trivia. May God have mercy on His own people, the church, as well as on our land and world.

On new year’s day 2021 we thank God for the science, and the scientists who have made a vaccine possible. We are right to be grateful for this dawning of hope. But in the short term a desperate crisis rages. Thankfully, it’s not too late for there to be an urgent and serious response from the people of God.

Who will rise (or rather, bend) to the challenge?

Esther 3:10-15: Careless and callous

“10 So the king took his signet ring from his finger and gave it to Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. 11 ‘Keep the money,’ the king said to Haman, ‘and do with the people as you please.’12 Then on the thirteenth day of the first month the royal secretaries were summoned. They wrote out in the script of each province and in the language of each people all Haman’s orders to the king’s satraps, the governors of the various provinces and the nobles of the various peoples. These were written in the name of King Xerxes himself and sealed with his own ring. 13 Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews – young and old, women and children – on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. 14 A copy of the text of the edict was to be issued as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality so that they would be ready for that day.15 The couriers went out, spurred on by the king’s command, and the edict was issued in the citadel of Susa. The king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was bewildered.” NIV

‘Through this one girl-life God was about to save his people, though He was all the while hidden from view. The peculiarity of this book is that there is no mention of the name of God; but there is no book in the Bible more full of the presence and working of God for his own. His name is clearly in the water-mark of the paper, if it do not appear in the print.’ F.B.Meyer: ‘Great verses through the Bible’, p.173.  It’s good to again be reminded of this as we read through this third chapter. It ends on a callous note:

‘’The king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was bewildered’’ (15b).

The poor people were like sheep without a shepherd. Sadly, such heartless, careless leadership is not an isolated case. Many in history (and still it is the true today) have suffered at the hands of callous leaders. How can these people comfortably enjoy their outrageous wealth while their people languish in a swamp of need and difficulty? But there are many who raise their glasses at the table of the callous. Life is cheap to them. They issue their orders and people disappear into gulags, salt mines and foul, primitive prisons. Many are removed from the world altogether. Meanwhile, the tyrants sit down and propose another toast.

Nevertheless, God is here in this scene, even if He is not mentioned, and His intervention will soon be evident. F.B. Meyer goes on to say: ‘Do not dread the foe, be not fearful nor dismayed, as he draws his net around thee; God has prepared a way of escape, so that thou shalt be able to bear it. In the meanwhile, rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him; trust in the Lord; wait for the Lord; be silent to the Lord. He is more far-seeing, his plans more far-reaching, his help more certain, than all the stratagems of evil. God laughs at them. Into the pit they have dug, thine enemies shall fall.’

The king’s ‘’signet ring’’ (10) was the symbol of royal authority. It was used as a stamp to seal official documents. This was duly given to Haman. He now had the permission he needed to carry out his wicked schemes.

But we need to remember that there is a higher authority, and in this we rest, even when events seem bewildering.

Esther 3:7-11:Living counter-culturally  

“7 In the twelfth year of King Xerxes, in the first month, the month of Nisan, the pur (that is, the lot) was cast in the presence of Haman to select a day and month. And the lot fell on the twelfth month, the month of Adar.Then Haman said to King Xerxes, ‘There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will give ten thousand talents of silver to the king’s administrators for the royal treasury.’10 So the king took his signet ring from his finger and gave it to Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. 11 ‘Keep the money,’ the king said to Haman, ‘and do with the people as you please.’NIV

I remember a conversation I had with a godly man from another nation. He was an intelligent guy, studying at a university. He told me frankly that in his country, the only way to get ahead was by bribery. So Christians (in fact anyone) who would not go along with this system were stymied within it. Well, they say ‘Money talks.’ Whether or not it was a form of bribery, Haman offered to pay for the killings out of his own personal fortune (9), so that it would cost the king nothing. As it happened, Xerxes showed no interest in having Haman’s money, and gave him the authority to go ahead (not realising that by doing so he was sentencing his own wife to death).

‘Prejudice is the dislike for all that is unlike’ said Israel Zangwill. I read once how some birds will attack and kill other birds of a different plumage. There is something about difference which can both attract and repel. People sometimes fear those who are different. Haman painted a picture of the Jews as a threat to the king’s ‘’best interest’’ (8). He also mixed lies together with truth in his portrait. It was true that the Jewish people lived a ‘’separate’’ life, and had ‘’different’’ customs. But it was false to portray them as bad citizens – those who ‘’do not obey the king’s laws’’. As God’s people in the world, Israel was called to live counter-culturally under the reign of God. The same is true for the church now, in all the places where we too are ‘’dispersed and scattered’’.

From earliest times, the Jews cast lots in order to discern God’s will. In Persia, the lot was called a ‘’pur’’. It’s plural form was ‘purim’. ‘Purim’ became the name of an annual Jewish festival that celebrated the Jews’ deliverance from Haman’s plot (see Esther 9:20-28). Tom Hale explains: ‘The day chosen was eleven months away; this would give Haman plenty of time to make preparations for the killing of the Jews. It would also give time for the Lord to carry out His plan to save them. Once again we see the Lord’s hand in every circumstance; it is He who alone controls the lot (Proverbs 16:33), and it was He alone who would determine the fate of the Jews.’ ‘The Applied Old Testament Commentary’, p.772.

‘From Pharaoh to Hitler, every leader who tried to destroy the Jews has tasted the wrath of God. No race is perfect, including the Jews, but no race should be singled out for oppression as they have been. God’s covenant with Abraham still stands (Gen.12:1-3).’ Warren W. Wiersbe: ‘With the Word’, p.274.

Wiersbe also points out that everything about Haman was hateful to God (Prov.6:16-19), but He did not interfere with his evil deeds. Effectively, he gave him enough rope to hang himself. ‘Haman’s sins would ultimately destroy him and be used by God for the good of Israel’ (pp.273/274).

PRAYER: Even when we can see little but evil in the headlines, help us to know Lord that you are always there, and ultimately your purposes will triumph.

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