The book of Esther illustrates the providence of God — how He works through people and situations to effect His plans and purposes for the good of His people.
The great reversal
In this chapter there is a great reversal: the powerless are given power.
Chapter 3 had recounted how Haman and his allies had thrown lots every day for a year to pick the best day for the annihilation of the Jews. As superstitious pagans, they’d put immense effort into divining the ‘lucky day’ for their plan of ethnic cleansing to be put into effect, and by this means they’d selected the thirteenth day of the twelfth month.
(Esther 3:7-9, 13) In the first month, which is the month of Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, they cast Pur (that is, they cast lots) before Haman day after day; and they cast it month after month till the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar.
Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king’s laws, so that it is not to the king’s profit to tolerate them. If it please the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed, and I will pay 10,000 talents of silver into the hands of those who have charge of the king’s business, that they may put it into the king’s treasuries.” …
Letters were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with instruction to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.
And now, in chapter nine, we see how God effected the great reversal on that very day which the pagans had picked as their lucky day:
(Esther 9:1) Now in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day of the same, when the king’s command and edict were about to be carried out, on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred: the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them.
The Jews gathered together in their cities. They understood that strength in numbers was important. They knew they needed to stand together. And as Christians we need to stand together in spiritual warfare.
(Philippians 1:27-28) Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.
As Christians, we fight spiritual battles. But as a racial and political entity, the Jews had racial and political enemies who had planned a holocaust to exterminate them. We Christians don’t fight physical battles; but the Jews were at this point fighting a physical battle against their enemies.
On the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, rather than wait for their enemies to ‘bring it on’, the Jews take the initiative. They turn the tables on Haman’s cut-throat mob. They kill 500 men in Susa the capital city and 75,000 men across the rest of the Empire from Ethiopia to India.
When Ahaseurus the psychopath hears that 500 men including the ten sons of Haman have been killed in Susa, he is not distressed by the carnage. The report of the city’s death toll doesn’t restrain Ahausuerus, rather, it excites him! It make him keen to know how much carnage was happening in the rest of the Empire!
And he invites Esther to make one more request. At this point (for some commentators) Esther has her darkest hour. She asks for one more day to clear up in the royal city. They’ve cleared up the citadel; now they need to clear the streets. And she asks that the dead sons of Haman be hung up on gallows. You will recall that Haman had already been hung on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. Now Haman’s sons have been killed, and Esther is asking King Ahasuerus to have their dead bodies hung up on gallows. This would mean putting them indubitably under the curse of God — cursed is him who is hanged on a tree.
Esther is not being sinful here; the commentators who call it Esther’s darkest hour are wrong. There is history behind this, just like there is always a backstory in the victim’s account of domestic abuse.
Haman was descended from Agag the Amalekite (Esther 9:24). The Amalekites and Israel had a long history from the time when Israel was making its way through the desert. The Amalekites had attacked the Israelites when they were faint and weary. And because of the merciless and cruel conduct of the Amalekites, Moses had commanded the Israelites to blot out the Amalekites:
(Deut 25:17-19) “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you [the women, the children, the elderly and the infirm], and he did not fear God. Therefore when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.”
But Israel had not been obedient to that command of God. God gave that command to signal to his people from that time onwards: “I love My people and I will not ignore those who are their enemies. I care if anyone threatens the survival of my people! I care about My people more than anything else!”
Fast forward to the time of King Saul. (Did you know that Mordecai and Esther were related to King Saul? — cf 1 Sam 9:1-2 and Esther 2:5) King Saul, the first king of Israel, had had the opportunity to deal the Amalekites a decisive blow. God had instructed Saul:
(1 Sam 15:3) “Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”
But instead of chopping off the head of Agag king of Amalek as he ought to have done, Saul let Agag live and he took as plunder the Amalekites’ valuable livestock. Samuel the prophet rebuked King Saul for his disobedience. And God took the kingdom away from Saul.
So God and the Jews definitely had unfinished business with Amalek.
The great restraint
Esther understood the biblical principle of holy war. She knew that you only made war against those who God told you to make war against. God had proscribed certain groups of people, and them and them alone were Israel to fight. So Esther was not making war on the Amalekites out of blood vengeance or spite; she was making war on them because they were God’s enemies.
Furthermore, the original edict signed by King Ahasuerus, Haman the Amalekite and his friends were empowered to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day … and to plunder their goods. And the second edict empowered the Jews to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, children and women included, and to plunder their goods (Esther 8:11-12).
But chapter 9 tells us three times that when the Jews destroyed the people who would have annihilated them, they did not touch the plunder. They showed great restraint in not taking any of the Amalekites’ goods. In contrast to what the Amalekites would have done to them had the first edict been put into effect, and in contrast to what King Saul had done, they did not touch the plunder of the Amalekites.
For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:2-3)
Abusers are the children of their father the devil. So it is not surprising that they share one of his favorite tactics — accusation. And one of the very common charges that abusers level at their victims is something like this: “You never keep friends. Your friendships never last. You always reject them eventually. Or they reject you when they see how weird you really are.” Ever heard that line? I have. Plenty of times.
Of course the goal behind this lie is to make the accused feel worthless. If you believe this wickedness is true then you are going to see yourself as a person no one wants at best and at worst, someone who just uses people for a time and then dumps them. This is the kind of lying fog that helps abusers keep their victim under control. If they are in fact incapable of maintaining a friendship long term, no one is going to come to their aid if they ask, right?
If you are a true follower of Jesus Christ, then the words quoted above from Isaiah 53 are going to be applied to you at some point. You will be despised and rejected by men, acquainted with grief. Others will see you as having no form or majesty, rather, you are a person who repels others and from whom they hide their faces. Sounds a lot like the very stuff the abuser tells us about ourselves.
Also, if you are a genuine, real-deal Christian, then some, if not many, of your relationships ARE going to fall apart. As you grow in Christ, superficial friends, some of whom claim to be Christians, are going to withdraw from you. Or you may well have to withdraw from them. We are, after all, not to be bound together in intimate relationships with unbelievers or with so-called “brothers” who live like the devil (see 1 Cor 5). It happened to Jesus frequently:
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6:66-67)
The real question becomes, you see, not why you experience broken relationships, but why is it that the abuser seems to be so popular with others?
One of the worst abusers I have ever known in my years as a pastor frequently launched this accusation at me — “you never keep relationships.” Of course I have many relationships with real believers who I have been close friends with for decades, but over the years I have indeed had to confront hypocrites and they almost always turn on anyone who tells them the truth. Yet this fellow who loved to revile us and make these accusations always managed to remain popular. How? He was like seaweed waving in the tides. He would take whatever position on issues that brought him the most favor and cost him the least. So he was the “go-to” man of the wicked and enjoyed popularity. Then he would level his accusations — “you never keep relationship. You dump people. You are too harsh. You hurt them.” That is how it goes.
It is all lies of course. It is the poison from those fangs that Paul says lie behind the lips of the evil man. Don’t believe any of it.
The misdiagnosis is deadly. If a doctor diagnosed cancer as the common cold, he would likely be sued for malpractice. When counselors misdiagnose an abusive marriage as simply requiring a higher level of commitment by the abuse target…they generally seem to refuse to admit error and stand by their original misdiagnosis of “if only you would have…” (by Joe Pote)
The original cancer analogy can be found at this post: The relational cancer of abuse is not like the common cold. Joe’s comment can be found in the comment section of this post – here.
Binding the strong man
Esther is in the cockpit of the battle between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of Our Lord, and at this part of the story she is facing possibly the greatest part of the battle.
Hamaan, the antichrist figure, was hoist on his own petard. He has been trying to eradicate the Jews but he is caught in his own trap. Hamaan is a type of the great dragon in Revelation 12 waiting for the woman to give birth to the child when just as he was about to pounce, the child was spirited away.
Reversal of fortunes — poetic justice
Jesus’ being hung on the Cross spelled the embarrassment, the failure, the ridicule of all of His enemies:
He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:15 ESV)
In a prefigurement of this, Hamaan this antichrist figure is put to open shame. King Asheuerus has Hamaan hung on the guillotine which Hamaan had built to kill Mordecai. And the King gives Esther all the goods of the house of Hamaan. She was originally a nobody — an orphan taken as a sex-slave into the King’s hareem and sequestered from the world — and now she owns all of Hamaan’s wealth!
Esther tells the King what Mordecai was to her: how he had brought her up and earnestly cared for her even from a distance while she was in the hareem. This makes the king feel even more gratitude to Mordecai, so he exalts Mordecai to be his prime minister.
But the Jews were still in danger. The law of the Medes and Persians cannot be revoked, and the edict for the annihilation of the Jews still stands. Esther bravely takes another initiative: she falls at the King’s feet pleading for him to revoke the edict. She is under less tension because she herself is no longer in danger, so the dam bursts — she weeps. She intercedes with emotion… and the King reaches out the royal sceptre, giving her permission to speak. So she masters her emotions and use courtly language to beg for her people:
“If it please the king, and if I have found favor in his sight, and if the thing seems right before the king, and I am pleasing in his eyes, let an order be written to revoke the letters devised by Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, which he wrote to destroy the Jews who are in all the provinces of the king.”
And with all her diplomatic courtly language, her passion still comes through:
“For how can I bear to see the calamity that is coming to my people? Or how can I bear to see the destruction of my kindred?”
Her intercession is successful; reversal of fortunes now comes to all the Jews, the people of God.
Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther and to Mordecai the Jew, “Behold, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and they have hanged him on the gallows, because he intended to lay hands on the Jews. But you may write as you please with regard to the Jews, in the name of the king, and seal it with the king’s ring, for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s ring cannot be revoked.”
So Mordecai composes another law, a law that contradicts the law which Hamaan had written. This law empowers the Jews to gather and defend their lives against all their enemies. At each point Hamaan’s edict is undone by Mordecai’s edict.
It is a picture of how the law of sin and death is undone by Jesus the Messiah.
In the light of a king’s face there is life, and his favor is like the clouds that bring the spring rain. (Proverbs 16:15)