In the book of Esther, even when Haman, the Persian leader and the enemy of the Jews, was out of the picture, the edict he had put in place to destroy the entire Jewish population remained irrevocable.
The threat of annihilation was still in place. Today on Truth for Life, we'll find out how God made the impossible possible. Alistair Begg is teaching from Esther chapter 8. Verses 3–6 describe the way in which Esther pleads. Esther pleads, verses 3–6. And she pleads because the Jewish population were still under the domain of an edict that was fast moving towards its expression.
Now the floodgates of emotion have opened up. She fell at his feet, and she wept, and she pleaded with him to avert the evil plan of Haman the Agagite. Now she recognizes that the king signed it into law, but it's not in her best interest to say, to avert the plan that you signed into law.
Let's just stick with Haman for the time being, the evil man who was an opponent of the Jews, and she falls at his feet. She's asking the king to do the impossible. She's asking him to revoke the irrevocable. And from verse 3 to verse 4, she collects herself, and she plays upon her relationship with the king. That's really what she does.
She relies upon both his self-interest and the relationship she enjoys with him. And the rhetoric in her questions, her twofold question, is absolutely crucial. She says, Listen, verse 6, 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? Verses 3–6, Esther pleads. Verses 7 and 8, the king responds. He responds to Mordecai and Esther as a single entity. And essentially what he says is, Look, I've done my part. That's verse 7. Behold, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and I had him hang for you. I got rid of your enemy, and I gave you his estate, and as far as I'm concerned, everything is pretty well sorted.
He says, You know, if you want, you could do something. You could, I guess, write another edict. You could write it, verse 8, in the name of the king. You could seal it with the king's ring, because I've given it to you, Mordecai, and once you do, it cannot be revoked.
You know, old habits die hard, don't they? This is quite a character. You would think that after the mayhem that ensued when he took the fifth the first time, where Haman came and inveigled himself and said, You know, I could write an edict. And he said, Yeah, whatever, go and write an edict. And then he suddenly realized that he's trapped by the edict, that he took his hands off the steering wheel and allowed the man to write, and yet here he is. He's going to do it again. He apparently really doesn't care about his kingdom.
I think that's the fact. He cares about himself, he cares about his power and prestige, his authority and his significance. He knows that he's unable to revoke the previous edict—that goes back to verse 19 of chapter 1—but he is prepared to back the writing of a contradictory edict, so that it's going to be edict versus edict. And may the best edict win.
That's exactly what happens. So 3–6, Esther pleads, 7 and 8, the king responds, verses 9–14, the decree is issued. Now, I'm going to leave you to do some of the hard work in comparing verses 12–15 of chapter 3 with verses 9–14 of chapter 8. After all, you've got to do something for your homework. I can't do everything for you. But I think you will thoroughly enjoy seeing for yourselves the way in which the narrator masterfully weaves this account together by using the direct relationship between language that related to edict number 1 and language that relates to edict number 2.
I'll point out just a little for us to get you started. But what he's doing is he's causing us to put our finger, as it were, back in chapter 3, when this second edict now is written in order to render the first edict obsolete. It can't be removed from the statute books.
It has to stand. But the second edict can nullify it. Because what Mordecai's edict is about to do is to reverse Haman's by giving power to those from whom the power had been taken in the issuing of the first edict. In other words, it was just going to be a great annihilation, a pogrom, a destruction, with Jewish people being unable to do much to help themselves. And so, the edict is very, very clear, isn't it? And the king allowed the Jews, verse 11, who were in every city to gather and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate. You recognize the language from chapter 3?
That's edict number 1. Haman says, I want you to issue an edict so that the Jews may be destroyed and killed and annihilated. Mordecai says, That's good language. We can use the same language. We'll just write it in the same way. So we're going to be allowed to destroy and to kill, annihilate anyone who comes against us. And this would be true of any armed force, of any people or province that might attack them, children and women included, and to plunder their goods. And this to take place on that very day when edict number 1 was to be put into effect.
So in other words, it is exactly edict versus edict. Now, some of us will be tempted to stumble over this statement, this statement of defense. And Deborah Reid, in her wonderful little commentary, in a helpful sentence, which I picked up this week, says, The text needs to be interpreted as it stands rather than be watered down to accommodate modern moral standards.
Okay? So the text needs to be interpreted as it stands. How is it written? It's written in light of the Old Testament principle. Which principle? An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. That principle is not about gaining unlimited retribution against an enemy. But it is about ensuring that punishment for a crime matches the damage done by the crime and doesn't supersede it.
So it's actually a protection in going over the top in retribution. And when you read the Old Testament, it comes out very clearly. If you understand the activities of modern-day ethnic Israel, you must read it in those same terms.
They share none of our concerns. They and other parts of the world are bemused by our Western culture that fails to match the crime with the punishment. So, for example, somebody steals two hundred thousand dollars, and eventually, when it's gone through the legal system for months and months and months, the person will probably end up spending some months in a place that he doesn't really want to spend the months. But when he comes out, the person against whom the crime was committed is still out two hundred thousand dollars.
Now, from this perspective, Boyo should not be lazing around for twelve months, but he should be working and keep working until he's paid back the two hundred thousand. That way, the punishment would match the crime. And it's interesting, isn't it, in light of where we began with the notion that we've got to get these TV series resolved, and while retribution is too big of a biblical concept for me, nevertheless, says Sarah, the cumulative impact of these people's wrongdoings has to somehow or another be resolved. It's gotta get sorted. That's the frustration that is part and parcel of so much legality and illegality within our Western world.
But here, no problem. And so the decree was issued in Susa, verse 14. Verse 15 of chapter 3, and the decree was issued in Susa. Decree number 1, decree number 2. Verses 3–6, Esther pleads.
7 and 8, the king responds. 9–14, the decree is issued. And 15–17, the Jews celebrate.
The Jews celebrate. At the end of chapter 3, following the first edict, you will recall that chapter 3 ends, and the city of Susa was thrown into confusion. People met with one another and realized what was before them, and understandably so. Now, in the issuing of edict number 2, the city is rising up in celebration.
Then Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal robes of blue and white with a great golden crown. If only Kull and the gang had been around! He could have just walked out onto the street and said, Celebration time! Come on! Right?
And it'd be like every wedding reception of the last twenty-five years. And he's just a picture of Mordecai and Esther going crazy in the street, he's got his robes on, and the whole thing is fantastic! It's so masterfully written!
It's a great story! Chapter 3, complete confusion, despair, mourning, sackcloth, weeping, fasting. Chapter 8, joy, light, gladness, honor. Who brings about changes like this?
In a city, in a life, in a home, in a heart, only God, only the unseen God, who is at work in these great absences. That's what makes it pulsate. That's what makes the joy.
That's what makes it all that it is. Mordecai previously couldn't even go into the king's presence. He sat out of the gate, and his dress was sackcloth. Now he comes out of the king's presence, and he is wearing royal robes. Previously, the cries in the city were cries of despair and confusion, a loud and bitter cry—chapter 3 or chapter 4—and now the celebration and the joy. In chapter 4 and verse 3, the people are mourning, fasting, weeping, and lamenting. In chapter 16 of chapter 8, there is light, there is gladness, there is joy, there is honor. Do you get it? Mourning, fasting, weeping, lamenting—light, gladness, joy, honor.
What a transformation! And in fact, it had such an impact that, according to the final sentence of the chapter, there were some who out in the country, either for fear of themselves or because they always wanted to be on a winning team or because they had genuinely decided that this Jewish community had an answer to their questions, a number of them declared themselves Jews. And that's there for your follow-up. Well, how should we end?
Someone says, as quickly as possible, how should we end? There's so many lines that flow out of this, but let's just take one as our conclusion. The flavor of Christianity is joy. The flavor of Christianity is joy.
You say, well, that's… No, it is. What was the message of the angel? I bring you good news of great joy, which shall be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. Good news of great joy.
Psalm 16, the psalmist says, in your presence there is fullness of joy, and at your right hand there are pleasures forevermore. Joy, in one sense, is the flag flown high from the castle of our hearts, because the King is in residence. When you go to Buckingham Palace, if the flag is there, if the royal standard is there, you know that Her Majesty is in residence. And the Christian population has a flag. It's not the United States flag.
That's the United States flag. The Christian population has a flag, and on it says joy. And when we teach our children about joy, we always teach them Jesus first, others next, and yourself last.
But do you think that our contemporary culture has even an inkling of that? That the thing that marks the Christian is joyful celebration. Joyful celebration! You remember the man who was coming home from church, and he saw a donkey looking over the fence with his big, long gray face. And he says to the donkey, he says, You must have been at church today as well. Robert Louis Stevenson writes in his journal, I have been to church today, and I am not depressed.
It's remarkable, you know, that he finally got through a service without going, Oh, man, that was brutal. Joy! Surely, if there is unmitigated joy ensues in fifth-century Persia, the rejoicing of the Christian population today ought to more than match the rejoicing of the Jews in Persia. Says Martin Lloyd-Jones in his little book Spiritual Depression, In a world where everything has gone so sadly astray, we should be standing out as men and women apart, people characterized by a fundamental joy and certainty, in spite of conditions, in spite of adversity.
That's so very important, isn't it? Because it's not a superficial joy that says everything is great, because everything isn't great. It's not a superficial approach to life that says, But that doesn't really matter.
Yes, it matters. But it is a deep-seated conviction that even through the tears, even through the sadness, even through the pain, even through the cancer, even through the loss, even through the divorce, even when I think that all my options are done and there is no chance left, that in that and in there, there is a joy that is unspeakable and is just full of God. When the hymn writer fastens on that in a hymn that begins through all the changing scenes of life, the hymn writer says, Of his deliverance I will boast, Till all that are distressed, From my example courage take, And soothe their griefs to rest. Of his deliverance I will boast, To all that are distressed, From my example courage take, And soothe their griefs to rest.
We're supposed to be a means of that happening. When, in the early 80s, we used to sing a song based on Isaiah 61, we sang, He gave me beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for a spirit of heaviness. Isaiah 61 is the passage that Jesus read. I've been anointed to preach good news to the poor, to deal with those who are brokenhearted and disheartened, and to discover a joy that is found in him alone.
Because Jesus then says to them, And today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. While our time is gone, let me just end with a question. Are you sorted? Are you sorted?
Have you got these big questions sorted? Who God is, why he has come in the person of Christ, what this joy means, how it is found in repentance and faith? That's why we're studying the Bible, because it's a book about Jesus, introducing us to him and telling us a story that is just so unbelievably good that if you ever understand it, you'll think it isn't true.
Or it's so unbelievably good that if you ever really understand it, you'll say, How could it ever possibly apply to me? Well, what happens is, he takes all of our rags, of our moral righteousness or our moral corruption or our religious indifference or our religion's affectations, and he grants to his robes that clothe us with the credentials necessary to live as his ambassadors and to die as his friends. And if you ever laid hold of those robes, you'll know for sure that you don't deserve them. If you think you deserve them, you probably don't have them. But if you haven't, you'll know you don't deserve them, because it's about grace, not about earning. It's a great story.
Still got a couple of chapters left. You're listening to Truth for Life. That is Alistair Begg with a message he's titled Celebration Time.
Alistair will be back in just a minute. We just learned today how important it is to study the Bible in order to know who God is, why Jesus came to earth, and how to find the deep joy that Alistair described. That's our passion at Truth for Life, to teach the Bible so God's spirit might work through God's Word to save people. It is by God's grace and your faithful support that the Gospel message is proclaimed every day of the year on this program. All of Truth for Life's content is made possible because of Truth Partners. These are listeners like you who pray regularly for the ministry and who give each month.
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Call us at 888-588-7884, or you can sign up online at truthforlife.org slash truth partner. One of the ways we say thank you to our Truth Partners is by inviting them to request monthly resources, books we recommend. Today we're recommending a book that'll get you excited about the upcoming celebration of Easter. It's titled, With a Mighty Triumph, Christ's Resurrection and Ours. Triumph is not a word that most of us use every day, but it's a perfect description of Jesus' victory over death. And the book With a Mighty Triumph celebrates Christ's resurrection. You'll discover how Jesus being raised from the dead shapes everything about us, how we worship, the peace we have, the certainty we have about our own future resurrection. This book draws from the writings of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 to unpack why the resurrection of Christ is vital to our faith and how our lives should be completely transformed by the knowledge that one day we'll also be raised to a new creation. Request your copy of the book With a Mighty Triumph today when you sign up to become part of our Truth Partner team.
You can also request the book when you give a one-time donation at truthforlife.org slash donate. And I want to take a minute here to encourage those who support Truth for Life with your prayers and your donations. I want to share with you a portion of a letter we received recently from a new believer.
She wrote to us and said, my husband and I are so very grateful for your daily teaching and thankful to God for enabling and encouraging the teaching through the Holy Spirit to stand for the truth of the Bible and for using Truth for Life for such a time as this. We know that when God's Word is heard it does not return void and we are so grateful for how he uses Truth for Life to reach so many. Now here's Alistair to close today with prayer. Now gracious God look down upon us and help us, because we have to think these things out, and some of us are aware of being at the end of a road that seems to have no more options left, no more exits on the freeway left to us. Before us just seems to gap a great empty—just stand a great emptiness. Help us to find that the Lord Jesus, Savior, stands in between us and that great yawning emptiness, with his arms stretched open wide, to gather us up in his embrace and to clothe us with the robes of his righteousness. Fulfill your purposes, we pray, in us and through us for your son's sake. Amen. I'm Bob Lapine. Enjoy your weekend. On Monday we'll learn what happened when a planned day of destruction finally arrived. How did the Jews defend themselves without becoming just like their Persian enemies? The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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