Ultimate Poetic Justice: (and God’s Response to anti-Semitism)

Ultimate Poetic Justice: (and God’s Response to anti-Semitism) from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

A reporter was interviewing an elderly gentleman on his 100th birthday. “What are you most proud of?” he asked. “Well, “said the man, “I don’t have an enemy in the world.” “What a beautiful thought! How inspirational!” said the reporter. “Yep,” added the old man, “outlived every last one of them.”

Kevin Higgin’s observes, “Sometimes I think it would be wonderful to live life without any enemies, and then I realize that one day I will when the Lord Jesus returns… But until then we might as well get used to the fact that not everyone is going to like us, and in fact, many will even hate us. We all go through a wide range of emotions when it comes to those who would do us harm or have ill feelings toward us. Nowhere is this range of emotions better expressed than in the Psalms. There were times when David prayed for his enemies. Other times he asked God to destroy them. Sometimes he prayed for wisdom and guidance in the face of his enemies, and that God would keep him in the way of righteousness. Sometimes David asked why he had to suffer when he was in the right? On other occasions, David praised the Lord for victory over them, for his protection from them, for God’s provision when pursued by them. Sometimes David realised God was using his enemies to punish him for his sins. It can be draining coping with someone who seems out to get us. We can easily harbour feelings of hatred or bitterness and anger against people who wrong us, conspire against us or spread lies about us. At times like this we need to remember what Jesus said about loving our enemies. For the truth is, unless we love our enemies, we will sooner or later run out of friends… How do you respond to opposition, strife or hostility?  If you could find a way to overcome those who hate you, use you or abuse you, would you be interested? In today’s episode in the story of how God delivered his people from genocide in Esther 7, I believe the Lord gives us three simple principles that will help us too find victory over evil.

Let’s set the scene. Warren Wersbie observes, “When they arrived at Esther’s palace apartment, neither the king nor Haman knew that Esther was Jewish. Haman was probably still distressed because of the events of the day, but he composed himself and hoped to enjoy the banquet… Had he known the nationality of the queen, Haman either would have run for his life or fallen on his face and begged the king for mercy. God had warned Haman through circumstances, through his advisers, and through his wife; but the prime minister would not heed the warnings. Proverbs says, “The Lord detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished” (Proverbs 16:5).

God’s long-suffering led Haman into thinking he was safe. “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people’s hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong.” (Ecclesiastes 8:11)

God’s patience is not a sign he doesn’t care. Just the reverse. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

The first principle for defeating our enemies?

1. Esther’s Request: Entrust your Friends to the King’s Mercy

“So the king and Haman went to Queen Esther’s banquet, and as they were drinking wine on the second day, the king again asked, “Queen Esther, what is your petition? It will be given you. What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.” Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favour with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king.” (Esther 7:1-4)

Ever since the previous evening’s banquet, Xerxes had been waiting to hear the queen’s petition; so when the wine was served, he broached the subject. Of course, the statement “even to half of the kingdom” was a royal promise that wasn’t to be taken literally (see 5:3; Dan. 5:16; Mark 6:23). It simply meant that the king would be generous. Therefore, tell him what you want. During the previous twenty-four hours, Esther had probably rehearsed this speech many times; and now God gave her the strength to deliver it. Remember, she was taking her life in her hands, for if the king rejected her plea, that was the end. She made it clear from the beginning that she depended on the favour of the king.

She wasn’t trying to tell him what to do. She also said that her desire wasn’t to please herself but to please the king. This was good psychology, especially when dealing with a chauvinistic monarch like Xerxes. It was also wise on her part not to say, “There’s a man in your kingdom who plans to destroy all of the Jews” She focused her petition on the fact that her own life was in danger and asked the king to do something about it. Xerxes still loved his queen and didn’t want any harm to come to her.  But it wasn’t just the queen’s life at stake, her people were also in danger. This statement probably perplexed the king. Who were her people? Wasn’t she a Persian? Has she been keeping a secret from me? It was then that Esther reminded the king of the decree he had approved to wipe out the Jewish nation. In fact, her words are almost verbatim from the decree (Est. 3:13).
Xerxes was smart enough to put two and two together and understand that Queen Esther was a Jewish, and he had unwittingly consented to her murder! Esther continued by pointing out that the king had been paid to issue this decree (vv. 9-11).

“If it were only a matter of going into bondage,” said Esther, “I would have kept quiet. Why bother the king with that? But wholesale murder is something I can’t ignore.” Queen Esther bravely interceded for her people. How will the king respond?

“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. The Lord works out everything for His own ends—even the wicked for a day of disaster” (Proverbs 16:3-4).

Esther’s Request: Entrust your Friends to the King’s Mercy.

2. Xerxes’ Rage: Leave your Enemies to the King’s Justice

“King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is he—the man who has dared to do such a thing?” Esther said, “An adversary and enemy! This vile Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and queen.  The king got up in a rage, left his wine and went out into the palace garden. But Haman, realizing that the king had already decided his fate, stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life. Just as the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was reclining.” (Esther 7:5-8)

Try to imagine what’s going through the mind of King Xerxes. Without openly accusing him, Esther has implicated the king in genocide, and he was bound to feel embarrassed.
The king knew that he had impetuously approved the decree. But he didn’t realize that the decree was part of a conspiracy. He had signed the death warrant for his own wife! The king had to find a way to save his wife and save face at the same time. In an absolute monarchy, the king is looked upon as a god and can do no wrong. This is why ancient monarchs always had scapegoats available—people who could take the blame for the ignorance or inefficiency of the throne. (Things are not that different today.) Therefore, the king’s question in verse 5 implied much more than, “Who is guilty?” The king was also looking for somebody to punish. Xerxes had already received one surprise when he learned the nationality of his queen; and now he would be hit with another: His right hand man was the enemy who had plotted the whole thing.

Now we can begin to see why God directed Esther to delay her pleas: He wanted to give Xerxes opportunity to remember what Mordecai had done, that Mordecai was Jewish and that he deserved to be honored. If a Jew had saved the king’s life, why should the king exterminate the Jews? “The king got up in a rage, left his wine and went out into the palace garden” (7:7).

We’ve already noted that Xerxes was a man with a short temper (1:12); but on this occasion, his anger must have been volcanic. His masculine pride was hurt because he had misjudged the character of Haman. He had made a fool of himself by promoting Haman and by giving him so much influence. The king had also erred in approving the decree without weighing all the facts (Prov. 18:13). As a result, he had endangered the lives of two very special people—Mordecai, who had saved his life, and Esther, his beloved wife. No doubt the king walked to and fro in the garden, doing his best to control the anger that welled up within him.

No wonder Haman was afraid! He had been near enough to the king to recognize and interpret his every mood. He knew the king was about to become judge and jury and pass a sentence from which there was no escape. But for Haman, there was one remote possibility: the mercy of the queen. Perhaps he could appeal to her compassion and get her to intercede for him.

“The arrogant bully became, as usually in the face of disaster, a whining coward” With the king’s backing, Haman could strut about, demand respect, and give orders. But now that the anger of the king was against him, Haman’s true character was revealed. And all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Haman’s life back together again. What a paradox! Haman had been furious because a Jewish man wouldn’t bow down to him, and now Haman was prostrate before a Jewish woman, begging for his life! When the king entered the room and saw the scene, he accused Haman of trying to molest the queen. He must die.

After escorting Mordecai around the city, Haman had covered his head in humiliation (6:12); but now the king’s guards covered Haman’s face before his execution. Had Haman covered his head in humility and repentance, things would have been different, but he refused to listen to the warnings of the Lord. He was so full of pride and malice that he was blind to the dangers that laid ahead.

Esther’s Request: Entrust your Friends to the King’s Mercy.
Xerxes’ Rage: Leave your Enemies to the King’s Justice.

3. Haman’s Reward:  Depend Entirely on the King’s Grace

“Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs attending the king, said, “A pole reaching to a height of fifty cubits stands by Haman’s house. He had it set up for Mordecai, who spoke up to help the king. The king said, “Impale him on it!” So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai. Then the king’s fury subsided.” (Esther 7:9-10)

The conspicuous gallows Haman had constructed for Mordecai were ironically used in the execution of Haman.. In his pride, Haman had boasted too much; and his words came back not only to haunt him but also to hang him. The day before, Haman had led Mordecai through the streets dressed in royal splendour;

but now Haman was led through the streets with his face covered. It must have given courage to the Jews to know that God had delivered them from their enemy. “He who sows wickedness reaps trouble” (Proverbs 22:8).

Haman sowed anger against Mordecai, and he reaped anger from the king. Haman wanted to kill Mordecai and the Jews, and instead the king killed Haman. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked,” warned Paul. “A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7).

This unchanging principle of sowing and reaping is illustrated throughout the Bible. It applies to both believers and unbelievers. This law of sowing and reaping also applies to doing what is good and right.

“Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:8)

No good deed done for the glory of Jesus Christ will ever be forgotten. No loving word spoken in Jesus’ name will ever be wasted. If we don’t see the harvest in this life, we’ll see it in the world to come. Even a cup of cold water given in the name of Christ will have its just reward (Matt. 10:42; 25:31-46). Haman was hanged, then it says “the king’s fury subsided.” (Esther 7:10). The Hebrew word translated “pacified” is used in Genesis 8:1 to describe the receding waters of the Flood. The king’s anger was pacified when Haman made atonement for his own sins. Haman clearly deserved to die for his sins, as we do.

In God’s redemptive plan, we see here a type for our own salvation, our own deliverance. The wrath of God was pacified, was satisfied when Christ died in our place.

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world …  Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:1-9)

Mordechai and Esther neither boasted or gloated over the death of Haman. Though their adversary was out of the way, the crisis was not over; for the king’s decree was still in effect and could not be revoked. It was now the third month (Est. 8:9), and there were nine months to go before the fateful day when the Jews could legally be slain (3:13). How would God deliver his people? How would he use Esther and Mordechai?  Come back next week for the next thrilling instalment in God’s redemptive plan. In chapter 7, we have witnessed Esther’s request; Xerxes rage and Haman’s reward. And at the same time we have found three simple principles that will help us find victory over evil.

Entrust your Friends to the King’s Mercy. He is sovereign.

Leave your Enemies to the King’s Justice. Don’t become like them

Depend Entirely on the King’s Grace. There is no safer place to be

Let’s pray.

With grateful thanks to Warren Werbie’s commentary Be Committed: Ruth & Esther (Scripture Press) and sermons by Chris Talton “Speak up” and Kevin Higgins “Victory Over Enemies” on www.sermoncentral.com