God Provides Deliverance

Preliminary Note: Last week I had this section under a heading entitled “Ethics:” “we would judge Esther as below the original norm of the scriptural intent of marriage and sexuality. Mordecai as a facilitator of Esther’s compromise for the sake of political power does not give us confidence that he had the moral and spiritual nerve, of either Daniel or Joseph. That judgment at the individual level of personal responsibility before God seems to me to be justified.” I do not change my basic understanding of the ethical issues involved, but am less convinced that Mordecai was the willing “facilitator” of this situation. Chapter 2, verses 3 and 8, are set in a framework and could well be interpreted as an officially provoked gathering of young women from all the provinces effected by an aggressive action on the part of the officers appointed for that purpose. Mordecai had to consent to this when Esther had been officially designated as one of the young women to be brought to the palace for training in protocol and cosmetics. He showed great concern to know about her welfare (2:11) and decided to use her presence there in a strategic way and told her not to reveal that she was a Jewess (2:10). This element of a surprise revelation of her ethnic connection became an important advantage in the events that followed.

Introduction: (4:1-6) – Mordecai’s response to the decree as penned by Haman is one of intense mourning, for the intent is extermination of the Jewish people. Wherever the Jews learned of this decree, the response involved a change in raiment, a symbolic posture of supplication, and vocalization of deep distress. Like their fathers before them, these sons of Jacob were calling to the God of the covenant to preserve them. The first mention of ashes is in Genesis 18:27 where Abraham is interceding for Sodom. He recognized the state of utter dependence he had before God in referring to himself as “but dust and ashes.” The next time it is used in a sense of personal mourning occurs when Tamar, raped by her half-brother Amnon, went out from him and put ashes on her head and tore her garments. In connection with Job’s great lamentation, ashes are mentioned four times. That the use of sackcloth and ashes was seen as an act of submission, supplication, affliction of soul, and repentant worship forms the background of God’s rejection of it when done hypocritically from a heart that is selfish and focused on merely externals (Isaiah 58:5). During the exile, Daniel went to the Lord “to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes” the blessing of God on the people according to the promises made through the prophet Jeremiah. He was in a position of deep confession and repentance for the entire nation even as he recalled the gracious intervention of God in their behalf. Perhaps Daniel’s prayer reflects the petition that Mordecai would have raised on this occasion:

“O Lord, according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee,

 let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from the city Jerusalem . . .

Because for our sins, and for their iniquities of our fathers,

Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us. . . O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations,

and the city which is called by thy name;

for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses,

but for thy great mercies” (Daniel 9:16-18).

Esther was informed by her royal entourage of what Mordecai was doing, but she did not know the cause at this time. When she sent clothes to him to replace his sackcloth, presumably so that he might enter the king’s gate, he refused to accept them. She sent the eunuch appointed to attend to Esther to find out from Mordecai the cause of this time of concentrated mourning and supplication.

I. – 4:6-9 – Hathach, the Messenger ordered by Esther, goes to get information from Mordecai.

A. Mordecai told the messenger everything including the monetary aspect of the event and provided a copy of the written decree.

B. He also sent a message that Esther must go to the king “and beg his favor.”

C. Hathach, a faithful messenger, did all that Esther and Mordecai instructed him to do.

Hathach the Eunuch is a steward, one that is required to serve faithfully with another person’s property. He is first a steward of the king in taking care of Esther. So faithful is he in this charge that he also serves as a faithful messenger for Esther herself and for all those connected with Esther’s affections and their well-being. His work as an accurate and faithful messenger is a vital element in this entire story.

We also are stewards in a life and death matter. We have the gospel that will communicate the certainty of death for those who do not repent of sin and trust in Christ as the redemption and reconciliation before God’s awful throne of justice. To those that hear and receive, the message is one that communicates eternal life.

Even as the transcript of the decree was provided so that Esther might know precisely what was at stake, so the revelation of the gospel must be known with certainty and clarity, for there is only one gospel and only one Jesus and failure of knowledge at this point is fatal.

II. – 4:9 – 11 – Esther sends Hathach back to Mordecai with a recitation of the dangers involved in his request

A. Again Hathach serves as messenger of what is at stake. It does not appear at all that he resented being “commanded” for he knew what his call was and to whom he must answer.

B. The message reflected the danger of entering before the king without being called. The law was that any so bold as to intrude into his presence apart from his prior desire for their presence was worthy of death. Who could consider their desire and their time to be equal or above that of the king?

C. If such an event occurred, the king had the immediate power of life or death; life would be given, as it were, by the extension of the golden scepter.

Esther, however, had not been called for thirty days.

We know the end of the story, but at this point, Esther could see only the real possibility that to fulfill Mordecai’s request could be immediate death for her. She had no call to come.

The gospel sets forth calls of two kinds: one is a general call that goes out to all that hear setting forth the universal truth that all who repent of sin and believe in Christ will receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life. None need fear who heeds that call that he intrudes unwarrantably on the prerogatives of God; two, the effectual call that is internal actually brings about the response of the sinner to the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:22, 23). Before Ahasuerus there was no general and universal call, but only a general and universal exclusion. Coming to him could mean death for the king’s desire was secret until that time. The King of the gospel has given a previous declaration of life to all that desire to come and an irresistible call to life to those on whom his love has rested from eternity (Ephesians 1:4, 5; Romans 8:29, 30).

III. – 4:12-14 – Mordecai responds with increased urgency

A. Again, the faithfulness of the messengers is significant. It seems now that more are involved, for the pronoun “they” is used. Perhaps those surrounding Esther were hearing the content of these messages, realized that this would affect the life of Esther herself. They had grown to love her and desired to do all they could to preserve her life.

B. Mordecai sends a stern message, filled with the realities of the situation.

Under the provisions of this general proclamation your presence in the palace will not save you.

If you do not take advantage of the present possibility of speaking for your people and become thus an agent of deliverance, deliverance will arise from elsewhere, but you will have forfeited both your opportunity and will not have saved your life.

Mordecai points to the fact that our times and situations are overruled by divine providence. His statement reflects the reality of our ignorance as well as confidence that God establishes means for the accomplishing of his will through a long and patient arrangement of persons and events to carry the freight of his will. “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

This event is a microcosm of providential arrangement within the macrocosmic reality of the whole witness of Scripture from creation to consummation—fall, judgment, promise of mercy, call of Abraham, establishing and protecting the physical seed of Abraham, through the incarnation and crucifixion of Christ. Esther was established through all the events that led to this moment as one upon whom the entire scheme of redemption depended. It is quite feasible that, if executed as written, this decree of destruction would extend to those Jews that had begun the work of re-establishing themselves in Israel.

IV. 4:15-17 – Esther Consents and asks for sympathetic participation

A. Esther is convinced by Mordecai’s perception of what is at stake. We have seen a transformation take place in Esther during this time. When she entered the king’s court we see her as still having a great dependence on Mordecai: “For Esther did the commandment of Mordecai, like as when she was brought up with him” (2:20). Now she is commanding her servants in the palace and remonstrates with Mordecai about the rules of the court in relation to his earnest request.

B. Esther prompts a massive movement of earnest interest in her behalf. Again, for his purpose, the author avoids saying that this was a time of concentrated prayer in intercession before the Lord, in order simply to focus on the external human activity involved in this remarkable series of events. In light of what follows, the reader is pressed by the narrative to acknowledge that a preternatural influence guided these remarkable details.

C. Esther acknowledges that her only duty is for the right and the intervention for the sake of her people. She must not be concerned about self-protection but must throw herself into the conflict, at the peril of her life, on the side of justice. Looming in the background, of course, is the Jewish consciousness of themselves as the peculiar people of God bound to him by a divinely initiated covenant. “Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish” (4:16).

V. The Aftermath

A. Esther gains favor – Esther went uninvited into the presence of the king and he held out his scepter to her; She invited him and Haman immediately to a banquet, to which the king responded positively and quickly. Esther requested another time of feasting with the king and Haman the next day, to which the king responded favorably.

B. Haman lays the ground for his own destruction –  Haman, though filled with pride over such honors given him, still fumed over the refusal of Mordecai to bow and scrape. He decided, therefore, to go beyond the general destruction of the Jews, already established for some months in the future, and give vent to a personal vendetta against Mordecai. On the advice of his wife and friends, as evil as Haman himself, he had a gallows constructed, 75 feet high, on which he would have Mordecai hanged the next day.

C. Mordecai honored – In the very time of his greatest pride and greatest agitation over the posture of Mordecai, Haman prescribed a manner of giving a public manifestation of esteem to an individual, thinking of his own exaltation. Instead, Mordecai received the public parade of honor with Haman leading his horse and announcing to the people the esteem in which Mordecai is held by the king. Haman’s wife and advisors discern immediately that all of this will result in the destruction of Haman.

D. Haman destroyed – Time for the second banquet had arrived. It is revealed to the king that Haman has plotted the destruction of the Jews, the people of herself and Mordecai. With a rush of outrage, the king left the banquet hall to gather his wits, Haman fell before Esther to beg for mercy. As he does so the king re-enters the hall and sees Haman falling on the couch where Esther is and interprets it as an assault on her. Informed by one of his eunuchs that a gallows had been prepared upon which to hang Mordecai, the king commanded that Haman be hung immediately.

E. The protection of the Jews – The former proclamation could not be rescinded, but a second proclamation permitting the Jews to defend themselves was given. It allowed the taking of plunder, but the Jews, on the day of confrontation, took no plunder though they routed their enemies completely. Mordecai and Esther declared that this victory should be celebrated in perpetuity as “days of feasting and gladness, day for sending gifts of food to one another and gifts to the poor” (9:22)

VI.  Esther a Type of Christ in certain points

A. Esther was commissioned to give safety to those who had been brought to ruin and condemnation by the law. Christ was born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those that were under the law, that is, the curse of the law. (Galatians 4:1-4)

B. Esther forfeited her personal favor with the king and present safety in order to make request for the safety of her people, those of her own kin. Christ left the glories of heaven, emptied himself of that splendor, took to himself our nature, in order to appear before God for us (Hebrews 2:10-11)

C. Esther effected the destruction of the one who had worked a verdict of death for the Jewish people. Jesus destroyed him that had the power of death (Hebrews 2:14, 15)

D. Though Esther entered before the king dependent solely on the immediate whim of the king, Jesus, having completed his work entered before the sovereign of the universe on the basis of his righteousness and his completed work of redemption (Hebrews 1:3b, 8, 9).

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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