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The Book of Esther #9
The Book of Esther
Victory!
Esther 9:1-9:32
 
A little town in Alabama turned a tragedy into a triumph. “The major livelihood of the town was raising cotton. One year, just as it appeared that there would be a bumper crop, the boll weevil invaded, devastated the crop, and destroyed the economy of that little town.
 
“Farmers, however, are an ingenious lot, and these particular farmers were determined not to simply sit back and move into the poorhouse. One man got the idea of planting peanuts instead. (Boll weevils don’t like peanuts!) Another farmer decided to plant yet another kind of crop, and others followed suit.
 
Before long, bumper crops of peanuts and other produce began to repair the economy of this town. [The town became more prosperous than it would have ever been if cotton had remained its only crop.] Interestingly, the town later came to be known as Enterprise, Alabama.
 
And do you know what they did? They erected a monument to the boll weevil!”
 
It’s interesting, isn’t it, how something that has the potential be destroy us, can turn out to be a blessing?
 
That’s where we find the Jews tonight at Esther 9.
 
 
They came close to being destroyed by their enemy. You will remember that Haman convinced the king to sign a law that threatened to bring about the destruction of all the Jews living throughout the entire Persian Empire.
 
Esther, the Jewish queen, listened to the prompting of Mordecai and informed the king that the destruction of the Jews would mean her death too.
 
The king turned on Haman, and had him hanged on the 75-foot gallows Haman had constructed for Mordecai’s execution. The king then appointed Mordecai to fill the position that Haman had once held – Prime Minister – second in command in the whole empire.
 
With Esther’s help, and the king’s authority, Mordecai changed the destiny of the Jews. He could not erase the old law that had sentenced the Jews to death, so he wrote a new law that allowed the Jews to defend themselves, retaliate against anyone who attacked them and take the property of any defeated enemies.
 
Celebrations filled the streets because joy filled the hearts of the Jews and their friends. What had once been the certainty of death now carried at least the possibility of life. Tragedy really could turn into triumph.
 
All of us deal with tragedy at some point in our lives. It is how we deal with tragedy that determines whether it will destroy us or whether we will gain the victory over it. Someone has said that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I’m not sure if that’s true or not.
But I do know that if you are not dead, then you can get the victory over whatever is attempting to destroy you rather than living a tragic life of defeat.
 
Let’s see how the Jews took the possibility of victory in chapter 8 and turned it into the reality of victory in chapter 9.
 
1. The Power (vs. 1-4)
 
verse 1
 
Nine months have passed between chapters 8 and 9. The day that everyone had been anticipating since Haman had first published the Jews’ execution order 11 months ago had finally arrived.
 
At first, the Jews had been dreading this day. But with the death of Haman, the installation of Mordecai in his place, and the new edict that gave them the right to defend themselves, they felt confident about the outcome.
 
Much had changed in that nine months.
 
Verse 1b, 3-4
 
The Jews had friends in high places, and they knew it. So did everyone else. None of the officials in the kingdom were willing to do anything to harm the Jews. In fact, they did whatever they could to help them. There were two laws operating on this day – one opposing the Jews and one favoring the Jews. The officials could choose to follow either one and still be following the directives of the king. What tipped the balances in the favor of the Jews was that the officials were afraid of Mordecai.
They were afraid of what the consequences might be if they were found favoring the wrong side. The word was that whoever opposed Mordecai got what Haman got. 
 
The Jews went from being a hunted people to being the favored people because of Esther and Mordecai. Those who had been mistreated and powerless to do anything about it now held all the power. The king, queen, the prime minister and all the government officials were on their side.
 
What do those who have been bullied and hurt do when they suddenly get a hold of power? They get revenge.
 
Someone has said the most dangerous human being on earth is a prisoner who gets hold of a weapon.
 
Remember World War II and the death camps? Do you ever wonder what happened to the guards when the barbed wire was cut and he Allied troops swarmed in and the prisoners in the death camps were freed?
 
The Jews were now in a position of power. Legally and practically, they had the resources and the opportunity to totally destroy their enemies. Let’s see what they did with that power.
 
2. The Plunder (vs. 5-17)
 
Look at vs. 5-10a, 16
 
Even with all that was going against the enemies of the Jews, there were some that were so hateful and destructive that they still attacked.
And when they did, they were defeated. A total of 800 men (500 on 1st day and 300 on 2nd day) in Susa died, and 75,000 died in the rest of the kingdom.
 
You will remember from last week that the law enacted by Mordecai in chapter 8 gave the Jews the right to kill not only the men who attacked them but also their whole families – women and children included.
 
But in this record of the Jews’ victory over their enemies and the totals of how many people died, there is no mention of even one woman or child being killed. This could be because the total number of women and children who were killed was simply not recorded. It is a normal practice of Scripture to only include men when they were counting population (i.e. feeding of 5000, population of Jews who left Egypt, etc.).
 
Another possible reason for no mention of deaths among women and children was because the Jews restrained themselves and only killed the men who attacked them. I believe that this second option is the more likely of the two.
 
Here’s why.
 
Look at the last sentence in vs. 10 – “But they did not lay their hands on the plunder.”
 
Then look at the end of vs. 15  and the end of vs. 16. It was common practice for victorious armies to take whatever had once belonged to their defeated foes. Whatever they took was known as plunder.
Three times, we are told that the Jews refused to follow the custom and take for themselves the property of their enemies. This was true of the Jews in the capital city as well as in all 127 provinces of the kingdom.
 
Obviously, the Jews had some kind of agreement among themselves to leave the plunder alone. There are a couple of possible reasons that they did this.
 
One, they wanted everyone to know that their motive for attacking their enemies was not for their own financial profit but for their protection.
 
Secondly, if they were too hard on their enemies, they could have turned other people against them and then they would have had to deal with some new enemies.
 
But I think that notation about not taking the plunder is where we find evidence to believe they didn’t kill the women and children.  I think the plunder was left out of compassion for the women and children who were living.  If the Jews took the plunder, then the families of the dead soldiers would have nothing to live on.  Had they all been dead, there would have been no reason to leave it. 
 
The law gave them the right to kill women and children and to take the plunder for themselves. But they chose not to exercise either right. Instead they exercised mercy and self-control and deliberately restrained themselves from going farther than they needed to go. Their consciences did not give them the same rights that the law did.
 
Yes, they needed to protect themselves and gain the victory over their enemy. But it was not necessary for them to totally destroy their enemy. There was room for mercy.
 
Over against this example of mercy, compassion and restraint, there is an example of justice.
 
Look at vs. 11-15.
 
The king received the report that Haman’s 10 sons along with 500 other men in the city of Susa had been killed. At that point, you might expect the king to say, ‘That’s enough! Touch no one else!
 
But instead, he came to Esther and once more, using the same words that he had used several times before, he asked her what else she would like him to do for her. Esther’s response might surprise you.
 
You might be tempted to think of Esther as a soft, pampered, naïve young lady. But Esther knew what needed to be done. She who had bravely risked her life twice now in behalf of her people was willing to go the extra mile in order to insure their survival.
 
She asked for two things. She asked that the king allow the Jews to take a second day to finish the job that they had begun in the city of Susa and get rid of the last of their enemies.
 
And then she asked that Xerxes hang the now dead sons of Haman on poles just as he had done to Haman. Do those requests sound vengeful? I’m not so sure.  I see justice in that.   
 
 
The enemies who would be killed on the second day were probably ones who had attacked the Jews but had escaped the sword of the Jews. They were just mopping up unfinished business. And Haman’s sons were already dead from their attack on the Jewish people earlier in the day, so hanging them on the poles wouldn’t hurt them any further.
 
This action “was a way of saying publicly, ‘What these men and their father stood for will never be allowed again!’”
 
It was a way of preventing this from ever happening again so that no one else would have to die. It was justice for the family of the man who had plotted the Jews’ destruction and who had tried to carry it out even after his death.
 
Both mercy and justice were exercised on this day. And at the end of the day, the enemies of the Jews had been defeated. What do you do when you’ve defeated your enemies? You have a party.
 
3. The Party (vs. 18-26a)
 
Verses 17-18
 
When all the killing of enemies was over, the Jews celebrated with a day of feasting. The rest of this chapter tells us some details about this party. For one, it is celebrated on different days by country folk than by city people.
 
In the country, it was on the 14th day of the month, but in the city, it was on the 15th.
 
Remember, those are the days they were scheduled for execution.  They were able to turn them into celebrations. 
 
The second thing we know is that according to vs. 26, the celebration was known as the Feast of Purim.
This is because it commemorates the way that Haman originally came up with this day as the one lucky day on which his plan had its greatest chance of success.
 
If you remember, way back in 3:7, it says that Haman cast “pur” or lots. We would say that he threw dice over the calendar until the lucky number landed on the lucky day of the lucky month. Haman’s luck ran out when it ran head on into the providence and plan of the Almighty God.
 
The third thing we know about this feast is that Mordecai prescribed a certain way for them to celebrate.
 
verse 22b
 
They were to give gifts of food to one another making sure that they did not forget to include the poor in their gift giving. They were to make sure that what God rescued from evil men like Haman was not to be lost to starvation.
 
In their joy, they were to pay attention to those who were hurting all around them and help them share in the joy. That should be a message to us. When you are enjoying life and having a good time, spread the joy around.
 
Recognize that even when you have cause to rejoice, there are still hurting people near you. Pay attention to them. Try to find a way to increase their joy.
 
One more thing to pay attention to regarding this feast. Of all the feasts celebrated by the Jews, this is the only one that was instituted by the people rather than by God.
 
Verse 27
 
Because of that, it had a different character than any of the other feasts. This one is about man and his accomplishment rather than about God and what God has done for man. It is “more like New Year’s Eve in New York City or the New Orleans’ Mardi Gras than the Passover or Pentecost in Jerusalem.” The Jews were right to celebrate the victory, but they failed to acknowledge that the victory was God’s not theirs.
 
The victory was so great and the party so big that they wanted it to go on forever. They knew that they had to get back to everyday life, but they didn’t want to take a chance on forgetting what had happened there in those couple of days. So they put things in motion to make this celebration a permanent part of Jewish life.
 
4. The Permanence (vs. 26b-32)
 
Look at the 2nd part of vs. 26-28.
 
Why did they set this up as a permanent celebration? Things almost turned out very badly. I do my best to forget bad things in my life. But this very bad thing turned out to be a very good thing.
A tragedy turned into a triumph. This was not going to be the last time in the life of the Jews that they would be tempted to give up hope because things looked so bad. There were many hard times ahead.
 
By making this a perpetual feast, they would have at least a once-a-year reminder that there is hope.
 
There was another reason for this annual feast.
 
Verse 28
 
(emphasizing “every generation” and “descendants”)
 
The adults and children that had gone through this time would eventually die off. There was the real possibility that all that had happened here would be forgotten. But by instituting this feast, those parents propelled hope into the future for generations to come. When they faced hard times, they could look back at what happened here and be reminded that evil will be punished, good will be rewarded, and God can take the most hopeless situation and rescue his people.
 
One author says, “In the celebration today, everyone cheers the hero and heroine (Mordecai and Esther) and they boo and hiss and stomp their feet when the name of Haman is mentioned.”
 
Another says, “ To this day the Jews have never forgotten the man named Haman. They’re reminded of him each year at the Feast of Purim.
 
 
 
 
During the dramatic reading of the Book of Esther in a Jewish synagogue at the Feast of Purim, the congregation may be found taking the part of a chorus and exclaiming at every mention of the name of Haman, “May his name be blotted out,” “Let the name of the ungodly perish,” while boys with mallets will pound stones and bits of wood on which the odious name is written.”
 
THE LESSONS
 
1. Victory Needs to be Anticipated
 
What kind of outlook do you have on life – pessimistic or optimistic? You are a victor through Christ. He’s coming back to get you. What reason do you have to be pessimistic about the future?
 
A day is coming – anticipated by some and feared by many when God will get judgment on His enemies and set everything right.
 
Not everyone who anticipates victory will get to participate in victory. (Mt. 7:21ff – “Lord, lord…”) Make sure that you are on the winning team.
 
2. Victory Needs to be Regulated
 
The Jews had an opportunity to totally annihilate their enemies and the families of their enemies. They chose to exercise mercy instead of vengeance.
 
The way of the world is retaliation.
 
 
 
I came across this story regarding retaliation:  “The world retaliates.  I learned that many years ago. At the time, I was driving a little white Volkswagen Beetle. I had two small children with me, and I was trying to get out of the car in a close parking space. I had one child in my arm and was trying to help the other child out of the car when my door accidentally bumped the car next to me.
 
I did not chip the paint, but there was a tiny ‘ding’ on the other car. I looked around, wanting to apologize, but I didn’t see anybody. So I locked my car, took my children, and walked toward the discount store.
 
At the door, I encountered the owner of the vehicle who had been on his way out of the store and happened to see what I’d done. Well, from his verbal assault, you would have thought I wrecked his car. I tried to wedge in an apology, but it was clear he wasn’t in a listening mood.
 
Finally, when he’d finished venting his anger verbally, he stomped toward his car. I stood inside the store, watching him, knowing my turn was coming. And sure enough, when he got to his car, he took his door with both hands and went bang, bang, bang! leaving three major dents in my little Volkswagen. Why? … Because the world retaliates.”
 
All of us get hurt. And once in while the balance of power shifts enough that we have the opportunity to get back at those who hurt us. We are taught that the only way that the victim can get victory is by becoming the victimizer. Hurt those who hurt you.
 
But Jesus teaches us that we are to love our enemies, do good to those who hurt us and pray for those who mistreat us. Gain the victory through love and forgiveness not through revenge. Don’t lose control over yourself and take advantage of opportunities to get even.
 
3. Victory Needs to be Communicated
 
Vs. 20 – “Mordecai recorded these events” may signify that he sent letters explaining not only what happened but the whole series of events that had lead up to the day of victory. Those outside of Susa (and maybe even many in the city) may very well have had no idea why all these events had happened. The book of Esther may be the recording that Mordecai sent out. In a similar fashion, the disciples penned the Gospels to communicate the victory that was gained for us through Jesus Christ.
 
We have the opportunity to communicate victory to people also.  We have a book to share.  We have a story to tell.  Don’t keep victory a secret. That would be a shame and a sin.
 
4. Victory Needs to be Celebrated
 
Don’t allow the world to see Christians as a bunch of sour puss religious nuts. Let them see the joy that being a Christian brings. That joy will cause others to join our side.
 
5. Victory Needs to be Commemorated
 
Write it down. Tell the story of when you got the victory over sin, a situation or whatever. Don’t forget.
Pass it along to your children so that they will be able to receive hope from the things that you went through.
 
Make sure that you don’t give the glory to chance or fate. Make sure that you don’t attribute your victory to your own skill and ingenuity. Give the glory to God. Your goal in passing the story along is not to get them to idolize you but to get them to put their trust in God.
 
 
A lot of people get trapped between chapters 8 and 9. The new law that Jesus enacted through the cross makes victory possible for you. But you have been unwilling to take the steps that are necessary in order for that victory to be a reality in your life. You have never come to Him for salvation. You have never surrendered your will to His so that you can live in constant obedience to Him. Today could be your victory day. Today could be the day of your celebration. The work has already been done. All that you have to do is to join the winning team.
 
The cross was meant to be a tragedy, but it turned out to be a triump and it is our privilege to get to celebrate and share it with others.
 
Let’s pray.

 

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