Today on Truth for Life, we're continuing our study in the book of Esther. We've reached a point in the story where Queen Esther and her cousin Mordecai have quite incredibly convinced the king of Persia to issue a new edict, one that allows the Jews to defend themselves against their enemies.
Alistair Begg takes us through these remarkable events. 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 mastery over them, the reverse occurred. The Jews gained mastery over those who hated them. The Jews gathered in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahazuerus to lay hands on those who sought their harm. And no one could stand against them, for the fear of them had fallen on all peoples. All the officials of the provinces and the satraps and the governors and the royal agents also helped the Jews, for the fear of Mordecai had fallen on them.
For Mordecai was great in the king's house, and his fame spread throughout all the provinces, for the man Mordecai grew more and more powerful. The Jews struck all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them, and did as they pleased to those who hated them. In Susa the citadel itself, the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred men, and also killed Parshandatha and Dauphin and Aspatha and Poratha and Adeliah, Aradatha and Permashta and Arisei and Araday and Vizatha, the ten sons of Haman, the son of Hamadatha, the enemy of the Jews. But they laid no hand on the plunder. That very day the number of those killed in Susa the citadel was reported to the king, and the king said to Queen Esther, In Susa the citadel the Jews have killed and destroyed five hundred men, and also the ten sons of Haman.
What then have they done in the rest of the king's provinces? Now what is your wish? It shall be granted you.
And what further is your request? It shall be fulfilled. And Esther said, If it please the king, let the Jews who are in Susa be allowed tomorrow also to do according to this day's edict. And let the ten sons of Haman be hanged on the gallows.
So the king commanded this to be done. A decree was issued in Susa, and the ten sons of Haman were hanged. The Jews who were in Susa gathered also on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar, and they killed three hundred men in Susa, but they laid no hands on the plunder. Now the rest of the Jews who were in the king's provinces also gathered to defend their lives and got relief from their enemies and killed seventy-five thousand of those who hated them, but they laid no hands on the plunder. This was on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and on the fourteenth day they rested and made that day a day of feasting and gladness. But the Jews who were in Susa gathered on the thirteenth day and on the fourteenth, and rested on the fifteenth day, making that a day of feasting and gladness.
Therefore the Jews of the villages who live in the rural towns hold the fourteenth day of the month of Adar as a day for gladness and feasting, as a holiday, and as a day in which they send gifts of food to one another. Well, thanks be to God for his Word. We pray, gracious Father, that as we turn to some of these truths that stand unchanged, echoing down to us here—events that took place so long ago and so far away—we earnestly ask for your help to be able to consider them and to be considered by them and to be instructed and changed. Help us, Lord, we pray, to this end, for your Son's sake.
Amen. Well, as we come back to our studies in Esther, as we move towards the close of our studies in Esther, we're aware of the fact that throughout the book, really, to this point, the odds have been stacked heavily in favor of the enemies of the Jews. And now, at the end of chapter 8 and into chapter 9, we discover that the Jews enjoy a great victory, as in a very dramatic fashion the tables are turned. And the reverse that occurs is set out very straightforwardly for us in verse 1 of the passage.
Nothing happens concerning God except through him and by his will. That, of course, is a great and comprehensive statement to make, because we're not making it simply about our personal lives, but we're actually affirming it in relationship to the nations and actually in relationship to cosmology itself—to the entire movement of the planets, to the existence of science and history and geography and all the sides—that when we affirm that in the answer that we give, we're saying far more than simply God is on the side of those who have come to trust in him. That stands in direct contrast to many in our culture—and you may be one of them, you may have come today—just to consider these things, or you're not even sure why you've come. But if you think about your life, you perhaps don't see it in those kind of terms.
You may think of your life as just a big jigsaw puzzle, and the bits and pieces haphazardly fit together every so often. But there's no real rhyme or reason to it. There's no overarching purpose or plan. There's no obvious pathway through life.
There's no significance to one's origin. There's no ultimate destiny towards which one is moving. That kind of contemporary flavor of thinking is directly challenged by what we've been discovering in Esther. And what we're discovering in the twenty-first century has been iterated throughout the years. In the seventeenth century, John Flavell wrote a book called The Mystery of Providence, and in part of that he makes the observation, What a world of rarities are to be found in Providence! With profound wisdom, infinite tenderness, and incessant vigilance, it has managed all that concerns us from first to last. And so we're discovering that in the course of events that from one perspective appear to be coincidental and entirely random, and yet are so obviously simple and natural that there is a higher hand at work beyond and in and through all these things.
And although God's name is never mentioned, as we've noted each time, nevertheless, he is accomplishing his purposes. And that, I think, comes across, if we're looking for it, in the absences of his name—now let me just point out this to you now while I'm thinking about it—where it says that the fear of Mordecai had fallen on them. And then it says that the fear of the Jews had fallen on them. This idea of the fear of the Jewish people falling on the surrounding culture makes one say, Well, what fear was that? And what does it mean it fell on them? And if it fell on them, where did it fall from? Was it something that they engineered? Was it something that they did? And everyone said, Oh, I'm scared of the Jews. No, they responded to the political circumstances, but when they went to their bed at night, they said, You know, it's a strange sensation that I get. I've never felt this way before.
And I don't know what, really, to make of this guy Mordecai, but he seems to be incredibly influential. You see, God is at work, speaking even in the silences. So let me try and help us through this in a way that we were unsuccessful in doing last time. But we need to start where we were with what we're referring to as the great reversal. The great reversal. You will notice that the verb reverse actually occurs in our text towards the end of verse 1. When they were expecting to master the Jews, the Jews mastered them. And so he says, the reverse occurred.
The Jews gained mastery over those who hated them. The narrator is very specific about the occasion in which this took place. He identifies this day in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day. Then he comes back to the notion of the day by pointing out, on the very day.
So it's important that we understand this. And that takes us back, at least some of us, to chapter 3. Because it was back in chapter 3 that the author records for us that Haman took a long time determining what would be the best day to kill the Jews. We're told in chapter 3 and in verse 7 that at the beginning of the first month in the year, in the twelfth year of the king, which was five years or so after the events in chapter 2, they began to cast lots every day. They conducted a kind of lottery every day, and they did it day after day. And they went for twelve months doing this in order that they might discover what is the lucky day. They wanted to be sure that they chose the absolute correct day, and they investigated it. And eventually they decided. If you've traveled in China, you will know—and I say this without any disrespect to the Chinese population—but if you've traveled in China, you will know that there are many occasions in which they are concerned that they find the lucky day. If they're arranging a marriage for one of their children, they will often conduct all kinds of investigations to make sure that this day is the right day. And there are other parts of the world that are equally engaged in that.
Actually, America is not too far from it. If you're a horoscope reader, you're engaged in it yourself. If you happen to be, unfortunately, believing that your life is just a jumble, that you're another brick in the wall, you'll be tempted in the morning to look in and see what's supposed to be happening to you. And you may even have determined that such-and-such a day is a lucky day, and another one is an unlucky day. Well, look here back at chapter 9 and see how lucky this day was for them.
Right? They were very, very concerned that they would get the right day, and they chose this particular day. It's all recorded for you there in chapter 3.
You can read it for yourselves later on. Now we come to chapter 9, and the writer says, 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 that very day. It would have been remarkable if it had happened in the same month. Frankly, if it had happened in the same year, people would have said, isn't it amazing it was only earlier this year that they spent a long time deciding when they would kill the Jews? And would you believe it? Look what's happened.
What a great reversal! The language is emphatic here. The verb that is used points this out clearly. The ESV helps us by saying, When the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain mastery over them, the reverse occurred, and the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them. So they had said a day when they would overpower the Jews, the day dawns, and the Jews overpower them.
I'm going to leave you to work much of this out for yourselves. You're students of the Bible by this time. You can enjoy these little flashbacks along with me, if you would like. But if you flashback to verse 11 of chapter 5, or verse 9 of chapter 5, as you think about great reversals, you have the record of Haman emerging from the banquet with the king and Esther the queen, and on that day he went out joyful and glad of heart. And despite the fact that he saw his nemesis, little Mordecai, at the gate, he managed not to get derailed by that, because he was on top of the world looking down on creation. And he went home, and he brought his friends and his wife Zerush, and he spent the evening letting everybody know how fantastic he was and how terrific everything else was. And you remember he recounted to them the splendor of his riches, the number of his sons.
It's interesting, isn't it? You know, the number of his sons. When I read that in chapter 3, I said, Well, why does it say the number of his sons? Why don't it just say his sons? You get to chapter 9, and I just read the list for you. But they're actually listed there in the text of history in two columns, to make the point. He said, You know, my sons are my crowning glory. Hey, look at your sons.
We just hang them up on a pole. This is a great reversal, from exaltation to devastation, and in Mordecai's case, from obscurity and apparent irrelevance to the most powerful man under the king in the entire nation. He starts off as, There was a Jew named Mordecai who sat at the king's gate.
Doesn't sound like much, does it? What a great reversal when you get to chapter 9, and you read in verse 4, as we did, And Mordecai was great in the king's house, and his fame spread throughout all the provinces. For the man Mordecai grew more and more powerful. You see, what Zerush, on the second occasion when Haman came home, what Zerush told her husband would happen to him, in particular, has now happened to the Jews in general. At the end of chapter 6, she said to her husband, If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him. And Haman must have said to himself, I don't think so.
But it's happened. He's dead and gone, the problem remains, and now those whom he represents are brought underneath the jurisdiction of the Jews. You see, the real emphasis here—and it is just the big idea, which is the big idea, really, of the whole passage, so if we only got this, then we would have enough—and that is that God reverses things, that that which seems apparently impossible to take place happens under the jurisdiction of God.
That that which people on the first day of the first month would have said is going to result in the destruction, the killing, and the annihilation of the Jewish population would have said, There's no way to reverse this. The law of the Medes and the Persians is such that it is irreversible. It has been written down, it has been decreed, it has gone throughout the entire kingdom. Therefore, they're done.
There's no way you can fix this. And then, of course, we have a mediator, and Esther steps in and speaks on behalf of the people, and a second edict is set in place to countermand the first edict. But even then, we're left saying to ourselves, Well, we don't know whether edict one or edict two is gonna win out when we get to the thirteenth day of the month of Adam. And now here we are. And we make the wonderful discovery. Now, I think it is of vital importance, because of the nature of what is said here. Because even in the public reading of this, as well as in the private reading of it, there are little phrases in this that just make you just kind of wriggle a little, don't they? And they destroyed them, they killed them, and they did as they pleased to those who hated them. Don't you find yourself saying, like, Oh, wait a minute?
Yeah. Now, I think part of that is because we just don't understand the gravity of the context in which the second edict was issued. For the Jewish people were living under the threat of extinction. Although Haman was gone, the anti-Semitic, oppressive opposition to the Jewish population in Persia was endemic.
I mean, if you think of Haman as Hitler, you can take Hitler out, but as long as his views have permeated the consciousness of a nation, then his removal will be insufficient to prevent the holocaust that will inevitably come. And that is what we discover is confronting us here. And if we misunderstand the extent of the anti-Jewish sentiment, then we will almost inevitably find ourselves standing back from this and saying, you know, I don't know quite how to countenance this. This is one of the difficult passages of the Bible.
I don't know what to say. No, number one, we need to realize that they lived under constant threat of this. That the Persian population that it embraced with joy the notion of the annihilation of the Jews would have had this on their calendar. They would have been looking forward to it.
Now, in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar on the thirteenth day of the same, they would say to one another, I put this on my iPad, the equivalent of. You know, I have it flagged, because I'm looking forward to it. It's gonna be a great day. We'll finally deal with the Jews. We'll get them out of here. We never want them here in the first place. I don't know who brought them in, but we'll make sure that they go out.
Feet first. That's the extent of it. And so we're told that the Jews, verse 2, in this great reversal, gathered in their cities throughout all the provinces. Now, that verb there, gathered, means gathered. But it actually connotes the idea of working on a united front, that they gathered together.
They realized that if they try and operate on a kind of ad hoc, individualistic basis, the chances are many of them really will be destroyed. That the strength will be found in their numbers, although their numbers are small in the vastness of Persia. But nevertheless, if they are together in the project, then they have a better chance than they have on their own.
We understand that. Nehemiah understood it. That's why when you read Nehemiah, you have this wonderful picture of the Jews working on the wall side by side, each in front of his own house, each person taking their part, joining hands, as it were, in the venture. We often say in our team meetings that we're all better together than any one of us is on our own.
It's absolutely true. And that principle runs all the way through the Bible. So, for example, when Paul writes to the Philippians, he says that he is rejoicing with them, and he is praying for them that he might find them. This is what he says, standing firm, in one spirit, with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel. In other words, he doesn't view the Philippian believers as living in splendid isolation from one another. He views them as having been united with Christ and therefore united with one another in Christ.
And so that's why he writes to them as a church. He conveys this notion—a notion which runs through the people of God all the way, and right through to us. That's why we're all better together in singing. I can hear my voice when I'm singing, but it doesn't sound much good.
Well, your voices sound terrific when I listen to you. And when you have sent yourself from the choir, which you are, then your voice is missing. And someone fails to derive the encouragement that would be there if they could hear you singing God's praise. In the same way, if I isolate myself from the gathering together for the proclamation of the Word of God, I devalue the opportunity by my absence. I'm not coming just to get blessed. I'm coming in order that we might give glory to God, in order that we might encourage one another, and so on.
I leave you to work that out for yourselves. The Jews lived under constant threat. The Jews gathered together in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. If you jump forward to verse 16, where it talks about them in the king's provinces, you'll notice the phrase, They also gathered. Notice the phrase, To defend their lives. To defend their lives and get relief from their enemies. It's very, very important that we get this—that what the Jews do in this context is operate within the framework, in accord with, the edict.
And the edict was perfectly written, verse 11 of chapter 8. The people went throughout the community, saying that the king allowed the Jews, who were in every city—now, notice the phraseology—to gather and defend their lives. So the issue is self-defense. And don't be misled by the notion of preemptive strikes. Because a preemptive strike may be done in self-defense. If you're old enough to remember the seven-day war, you remember that the success of the Israelis in the seven-day war was on account of their preemptive strike. They drove the Arab nations back into the wilderness, because they went fast and under cover of darkness.
Why did they do that? Because they were aggressors? No, because they were under threat. Because their intelligence proved that if they didn't go first, they were dead men.
They would be driven out of their territory. So the idea of a preemptive strike does not necessarily set aside the notion of a righteous self-defending response. You're sensible people.
Think it out. You're listening to Truth for Life. That is, Alistair Begg with a message he's titled, The Tables Are Turned.
We'll hear more tomorrow. Well, Easter is right around the corner. And do you ever wonder what our lives would be like if Jesus had stayed in the grave?
The Apostle Paul took a long, hard look at the implications of this question. His writing in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 is explored in a book called, With a Mighty Triumph, Christ's Resurrection and Ours. This is a book that unpacks the certainty we have in the resurrection, but it also considers five descriptions of what our life would be like if Christ had not risen from the dead. There are people who believe in the spiritual message of Easter, but who reject the historical reality of the empty grave. The bottom line is that there is no true hope without the resurrection. Find out why Jesus' victory over death is so vital for our faith. Request your copy of With a Mighty Triumph today when you give a donation. To support the teaching you hear on Truth for Life, go to truthforlife.org slash donate or call us at 888-588-7884.
I'm Bob Lapine. We're so glad you've joined us today. How did God's people defend themselves without becoming like their Persian enemies? What can we learn from their approach? Join us tomorrow as we find out. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
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