The Book of Esther #8
The Book of Esther
Changing the Unchangeable
Chippie the parakeet never saw it coming. One second he was peacefully perched in his cage. The next he was sucked in, washed up, and blown over.
“The problems began when Chippie’s owner decided to clean Chippie’s cage with a vacuum cleaner. She removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage. The phone rang, and she turned to pick it up. She’d barely said "hello" when "ssssopp!" Chippie got sucked in. The bird owner gasped, put down the phone, turned off the vacuum, and opened the bag. There was Chippie -- still alive, but stunned.
Since the bird was covered with dust and soot, she grabbed him and raced to the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and held Chippie under the running water. Then, realizing that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird owner would do …she reached for the hair dryer and blasted the pet with hot air. Poor Chippie never knew what hit him.
A few days after the trauma, the reporter who’d initially written about the event contacted Chippie’s owner to see how the bird was recovering. "Well," she replied, "Chippie doesn’t sing much anymore -- he just sits and stares.
“It’s not hard to see why. Being sucked in, washed up, and blown over is enough to steal the song from the strongest heart.”
Maybe Esther knew what Chippie felt like. She too had been sucked in, washed up and blown over. Her husband had signed the edict that if carried out would cause the destruction of her people. In doing so, he had unknowingly signed her death warrant as well.
Most people in a situation like Esther’s would have given up hope. It definitely looked like a hopeless situation. Esther, like Chippie, had just about lost her song. But as someone has said, “There are no hopeless situations; there are only people who have grown hopeless about them.” - Clare Boothe Luce.
Esther wasn’t one to give up hope. As we saw last week in chapter 7, Esther took advantage of her final opportunity and told the king about Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews. The king believed her and had Haman executed on the same gallows Haman had built to execute Mordecai.
It looked like everything was going to work out okay. But there was still some unfinished business to be worked out. Yes, Haman was dead, but his legacy lived on. The law that he had written and signed with the king’s signet ring – the law that commanded the destruction of the Jews – was still in place.
Any law written in the Persian Empire was unchangeable, irrevocable, set in stone for all time. You can almost hear Haman laughing from the grave. They could kill him, but there was no way that they could overcome his law. It was unchangeable.
Maybe you are dealing with a situation that looks unchangeable. It could be a spouse that just will not change no matter how much you pray and no matter how much you love them. It could be a child, still maturing or full grown that refuses to change their actions or attitude.
It could be a disease that doctors have said is incurable. It could someone that you know that refuses every attempt that you make to bring them to Christ or talk with them about spiritual things.
It could be a document – custody papers, credit history, debt, criminal record, job situation; things that from man’s perspective seem unchangeable. Be encouraged! This evening, I want to show you an unchangeable situation that God changed in order to let you know that God can change anything.
Let’s look at the story. It begins with
1. A Changed Heart - verses 1-6
When we ended last week, life had begun to turn around for Esther and the rest of the Jews. Things continued to get better.
Haman, who had hoped to confiscate the Jews’ property (3:13), now had his own property removed and given to, of all people, Esther, who in turn appointed Mordecai to oversee it.
Normally, the property of condemned criminals became the property of the king, but for some reason, Ahasuerus chose to change that custom and give the property to his wife.
With Haman now dead, the Prime Minister position was vacant. Ahasuerus could think of no one more qualified to fill that position than Mordecai. So not only did Haman lose his wealth to Esther; he lost his power to Mordecai. Everything that Haman had been counting on to give significance to his life and to be an unchanging security blanket for him was now gone.
In order for me to explain what I think happened next, I need you to understand that somewhere in this sequence of events, we must account for two missing months.
If you look back at 3:12, you find that Haman wrote his decree sentencing the Jews to death on the 13th day of the first month. All of chapter 4 happened on the 14th day of that month at latest.
Then remember, at the end of chapter 4, Esther called for and participated in a 3 day fast. It took place between chapters 4 and 5 and we are given no detail about those days.
That means chapter 5 through the first 3 verses of chapter 6 most likely happened on the 17th day of the month.
And then from chapter 6:4 through some point in chapter 8 would be the 18th of the first month. But if you look at 8:9, it is clear that the events being recorded are occurring in the 3rd month.
When did we jump from the first month of the year to the third month? I believe that the best possible place for these two months is between vs. 2 and 3.
The way verse 3 begins leads me to believe that we are on a different day from the one mentioned in verses 1 and 2.
In vs. 3, the king is now back on his throne. When Esther approached him, he had to extend his golden scepter to her to signal that he accepted her into his presence just as he had done in 5:2.
This wouldn’t have been necessary in vs. 1-2. Esther and Mordecai were already in the presence of the king.
Here’s what I believe happened. After the king took care of Haman and distributed Haman’s estate, he kind of let the issue drop for a while. The king had taken care of the immediate threat to Esther and Mordecai, but he had not as yet done anything about the overall destruction of the Jews.
Esther and Mordecai kept waiting for him to do something about the long-term problem, but Ahasuerus was slow to act. He wanted his wife protected, but he still had little interest in whether the Jews lived or died. It was not high on his priorities list. If he was going to deal with the issue, he was going to do so according to his timetable.
From his perspective, he had 11 months to figure out and implement a solution. He was not concerned that the Jews were suffering 11 months of emotional torment anticipating their destruction.
In the meantime, Esther got tired of waiting for the king to take the initiative and act in behalf of her people. So once again she approached the king in his throne room to petition him on behalf of her people.
Mordecai was now in the position that Haman had once occupied. He carried the same authority and had the same access to the king. Why wasn’t he the one to bring this request to the king’s attention? After all, it was the former Prime Minister that had put in the request that had started this whole mess.
Perhaps Mordecai felt that he had not been in the position long enough to gain the king’s full trust. Esther, on the other hand, had proved herself a person of wisdom and courage. She had a much better chance of getting a favorable response from the king than Mordecai did.
So Esther, down on her tear streaked face, appealed to the king to do something about this situation. Notice that she did not base her appeal on the foundation of right and wrong but on how the destruction of the Jews would affect her personally.
Look at vs. 6 again.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t some tears in her eyes and some pout in her lips as she made here appeal. This king with a calloused heart was moved to compassion by the cries of his wife. And his changed heart paved the way for
2. A Changed Law – verses 7-14
Ahasuerus was saying, “I’ve done all that I can do. I’ve destroyed the guy who came up with the plan, but I can’t think of a way to overthrow the plan. If you guys can think of anything, be my guest.”
Ahasuerus was not heavily involved in the affairs of the kingdom. He believed in delegating – maybe a little bit too much. It almost appears that he still would rather not be bothered with the Jewish problem but wanted instead to hand off that responsibility to someone else.
“Don’t bother me with the details of running a kingdom. I’ve got a banquet to go to.” The king had learned nothing from his impetuous actions up to this point. He handed off his signet ring to Mordecai just as quickly as he had given it to Haman and told him to do whatever he wanted to fix the problem.
Isn’t it wonderful when someone has a problem that no one knows how to fix and hands it off to you with the command for you to fix it? That’s the situation that Mordecai was in. What do you do when you have a law that can’t be changed? You write a new law.
Verse 9, 11
This edict, though it could not erase the old law, did a lot to help the Jewish people by giving them three rights.
First they had the
The first and third portions of this decree are easy to accept. But the middle one creates some problems if you are reading certain translations because instead of the phrase “would attack”, they use “might attack”.
Some have taken the word “might” in vs. 11 to mean that the Jews had permission to seek out any potential enemies and destroy them before they had a chance to attack the Jews. The proper translation, I think, is “would”.
Think of it like this: We have Sunday school greeters at each door every Sunday morning. Suppose I say to one of them, “Please be at the front door to greet anyone who might come there”. I’m simply telling the greeter to make sure that they are ready for people when they do come.
Another problem concerns whether or not Mordecai was giving permission for the Jews to kill the women and children of their enemies along with the soldiers.
Or was he saying that if they Jewish women and children were assaulted they had permission to resond?
The KJV and the NIV are ambiguous in whose women and children Mordecai was talking about. You could make a case for either way of reading it. The NAS says “including children and women.” They definitely take it to mean that the Jews were given permission to kill the whole family of their enemies.
If you were to go to the actual Hebrew, you would find it to be very ambiguous as well.
So which is it? I believe that Mordecai did indeed instruct, or at least give permission, for what seems like a horrible act.
The reason I believe this is because of the almost exact correlation between Mordecai and Haman’s decrees.
Turn to 3:12 and follow along as I read from 8:9 and following.
Do you see how close they were? In Haman’s decree, he gave instructions that all Jews were to be killed, including women and children (3:13). They are so similar in all other areas that it would make sense for them to mean the same thing in this area as well.
If Mordecai did word the new decree in such a way that the Jews could kill women and children, then he was following in the tradition of the Jews who invaded Canaan and were instructed to kill every living person without mercy (Deut. 2:34).
He was also following the example of Saul who was instructed to kill men, women and children of the Amalekites. It was because Saul did not follow these instructions and kill all the Amalekites that Haman was still a threat to them (1 Sam. 15:3).
Twice more (vs. 3 and 5), we are reminded that Haman was a descendant of Agag. This would seem to suggest that it is important for us to have this piece of information in our minds as we interpret the passage.
You have to remember that it was God’s chosen people who were at stake in this – not just those in Persia but in the whole empire including those living in Canaan. They had to be protected at all costs, because the Messiah would come through them eventually.
Mordecai wasn’t going after his personal enemies through this edict. He was going after the enemies of God’s people.
What was the urgency about getting the word out to the empire? (vs. 10) There were still 9 months until annihilation day. When you have good news, you get it out as quickly as possible. You don’t keep it a secret. You don’t send it by 3rd class bulk mail. You send it by overnight express.
It may be a long time before Jesus comes back. It has been a long time since Jesus came the first time. But that doesn’t mean that we have the right to sit on and keep to ourselves the greatest news of all time!
Though the month of Adar was 9 months away, the Jews were already suffering. There was emotional suffering (anxiety), and there was probably already physical suffering. Their enemies had been emboldened to start persecuting the Jews. They knew that the authorities were not going to come to the defense of the Jews, so there would be no penalty for harassment, theft, maybe even murder.
So first came a changed heart that brought about a changed heart, resulting in
3. A changed standing- verses 15-17
There is no record that Haman had gained any of these honors during his time as prime minister. They were the things that he had desired for himself from the king. Why was Mordecai honored in this way?
By the way, these were things that Mordecai had enjoyed for a portion of one day in chapter 6, but he had to give them back that time. Not this time.
Notice verse 16 and zero in on the word “light”.
The Jews had been living with a sense of gloom and darkness under the shadow of the edict of an evil man. But now, the darkness had been replaced with light. Throughout the New Testament, the message of the good news is described as light.
Jesus is the “Light of the world”, and so are we. The light of God dispels the gloom of darkness.
Sounds a lot like the early church in the book of Acts, doesn’t it?
Church Swindoll: “as she lay down that night, exhausted, she could hear the music and laughter from the Jews in the streets of Susa. … She smiled in the night and fell fast asleep.”
1. Positive change may not happen as quickly as you would like – don’t panic!
The only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for God to rescue him, and every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming. He eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect him from the elements, and to store his few possessions.
One day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky. It was just more than he could take. He was stunned with grief and anger. "God, how could you do this to me!" But the next day, he woke to the sound of a ship approaching the island to rescue him. How did you know I was here?" he asked in wonder. "We saw your smoke signal," they replied.
Will you still choose to serve and trust Him even if He chooses not to change your situation?
Keep Philippians 1:6 in mind: “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
2. Positive change may be motivated by different factors – get to know people.
The school system in a large city had a program to help children keep up with their school work during stays in the city’s hospitals. One day a teacher who was assigned to the program received a routine call asking her to visit a particular child.
She took the child’s name and room number and talked briefly with the child’s regular class teacher. "We’re studying nouns and adverbs in his class now," the regular teacher said, "and I’d be grateful if you could help him understand them so he doesn’t fall too far behind."
The hospital program teacher went to see the boy that afternoon. No one had mentioned to her that the boy had been badly burned and was in great pain. Upset at the sight of the boy, she stammered as she told him, "I’ve been sent by your school to help you with nouns and adverbs." When she left she felt she hadn’t accomplished much.
But the next day, a nurse asked her, "What did you do to that boy?" The teacher felt she must have done something wrong and began to apologize. "No, no," said the nurse. "You don’t know what I mean. We’ve been worried about that little boy, but ever since yesterday, his whole attitude has changed.
He’s fighting back, responding to treatment. It’s as though he’s decided to live."
Two weeks later the boy explained that he had completely given up hope until the teacher arrived. Everything changed when he came to a simple realization. He expressed it this way: "They wouldn’t send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?"
3. Positive change may require drastic action – it won’t be easy.
The new law didn’t remove the danger from the Jews but it did give them the opportunity to overcome the danger. It was going to take work.
4. Positive change produces mixed reactions – not everyone will be happy.
People will find out. Don’t expect everyone to applaud.
5. Positive change can happen – never lose hope.
Think about this: The rights provided for all the Jews were granted by the same man who earlier had virtually sealed their doom.”
Listen to Isaiah 35:1-2
As sinners, we had a law that was written against us. Death to sinners. This law was unchangeable, not because of the customs of the kingdom but because of the character of the King. God is holy. That is definitely unchangeable.
Because God’s character can’t change and neither can His condemnation of sinners, He wrote a new law. He wrote it with the blood of His Son. On the night before Jesus died, He passed around a cup, and He said, “This is a new covenant.” God’s new law superseded the old law and neutralized its effect on our lives. And because of that, positive change can happen.
I like this quote I came across recently: Though no one can go back and make a new beginning, anyone can start from now and make a brand new end. Carl Brand