Today on Truth for Life with Alistair Begg we're going to learn about a surprise surprising turn of events in the book of Esther. The Israelites faced annihilation at the hand of the Persians, but rather than being destroyed, they enjoyed a great victory. So how'd that happen?
We'll find out. Alistair is teaching from the opening verses of Esther chapter 9. The Jews lived under constant threat.
The Jews gathered together in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahazuerus. 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. That's what they are being freed to do. These people have determined that they are going to annihilate you. We have created a second edict which allows you to prevent your annihilation.
And the way you will prevent your annihilation is by killing them. That's why you will be free to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them. Now, this is very, very important, because a superficial reading of this passage may say that the Jews then were just free to go out willy-nilly and do whatever they fancied doing.
No, what is undergoing here is strategic. After all, the Jews were in Persia not by choice but by conscription. They were not aggressors. They were worshiping God. They were going on with their lives. They were opposed because of their worship of God in large measure, because they wouldn't be participants in so much that went on around them.
And they were hated. And Haman is at the forefront of the opposition. He's now gone, but the threat remains. So I want to underscore the fact of this notion of 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. Again, I say to you that unless we get under the burden of what was represented here, we will be tempted to operate in the context of twenty-first-century moral morass, whereby we don't have the political guts to call anything wrong, to call anything right, to call the wrong people, the wrong place. Oh, you couldn't ever possibly say that, because nobody knows what's wrong, nobody knows what's right. Therefore, everybody must be a little bit right and all a little bit wrong.
Therefore, we've got nothing really to say. Well, you don't want somebody that's refereeing the game this afternoon at half past four, do you, working on that basis? Well, it looked wrong to me. Oh, it looked right to me. I think it was in. I think it was a touchdown.
I don't think it was. Who's to say? Let's just shut it down. Let's everybody. Let's have twelve touchdowns.
Let's have no touchdowns. It's in play. It's out of play.
It's ridiculous. There's no game. No goalposts. No game.
No twelve-yard line. No way of knowing where you are. Now, the way I got to this in my own thinking, to try and help me—because I find this unsettling as well. Don't misunderstand me. But Life is Beautiful, the movie that starred Roberto Benigni, which is one of my favorite movies, as it turns out. Not that you care.
Help me with this. If you have not seen—is it what is in Italian—La Bella Vita, then you need to see it. The Jewish community are divided as to whether it was a right way to handle the Holocaust or wrong.
I can speak to that. All I know is it made a tremendous impact on me. And there are certain scenes that are actually indelibly fastened in my brain, such as the scene when Roberto Benigni and his boy are on the bicycles, and they go down over the cobbled squares into the town, and they come on the dubbing of Nazi slogans on the walls. And the son says to the dad, Why does it say, No Jews or dogs allowed?
And the father, not wanting to crush his son by the reality of what is there on the wall, makes light of it, purposefully to save his son from the implications of it. And he says to them, Everybody does what they want to do. He says, You see that hardware store over there? They don't let Spanish people in there. Spanish people and horses are not allowed in there. And he says, You know, there's a store over here as well, and I have a Chinese friend who has a kangaroo. And we were going to go in there, and they told me, No, no Chinese, and no kangaroos. He says, So you see, son, people do what they want to do.
Some people don't like Jews and dogs, some people don't like Chinese and kangaroos, and some people don't like Spanish and horses. That's really all it is. He's trying to safeguard his boy from the reality, because you only go a moment or two before the trucks come, before the division takes place, before the girls are set away by themselves, before you have that classic scene where Roberto is running behind the truck shouting, Is there somebody called Dora here? Is there a Dora here?
She's Italian. She's my wife. She's called Dora. And eventually her face appears from the morass of humanity, and he identifies her and he shouts to her, Get off the truck, Dora! Jump off the truck, Dora!
As soon as you can! You fast forward, and he comes back out of the emaciated condition of the hard enslavement of the camp, and his boy is hidden up in the rafters. You remember, he keeps him up there. And his boy dangles his legs over the side, and he says, Daddy, they make soap and buttons out of us. They make soap and buttons out of us. Now, when you get that, you're starting to approximate to the context in which the second edict says, You go and take care of that situation. Our failure is often because we are just as unprepared to recognize the gravity and demonic nature of what it means to live in a sinful and rebellious world, where men are utterly opposed to God and his goodness. And finally, the ultimate judgment of God awaits us. It has been imported into time in the atonement of his son. But in the ongoing events of life, it is perfectly obvious that there are occasions in which these kind of events unfold in the providence of God.
Hence the great reversal. There is also a great restraint—and I want to mention it, because I never got to it last time. And the great restraint is very straightforwardly there in the repetition of a simple phrase in verse 10 and in verse 15 and verse 16. And that phrase is, And they took no plunder. They laid no hand on the plunder.
Well, they don't need to tease this out. The reason that it's there, I think, is straightforward. If they had taken the plunder—which they were justified in doing, according to the edict, incidentally—verse 11 of chapter 8 says you're allowed to take the plunder.
There's a history to this that you have to do on your own. You remember in chapter 3, Haman was described as the Agagite, and we mentioned in passing that that was significant. The reason it was significant was because Agag was the king of the Amalekites, and in 1 Samuel 15 we have the record of Saul being told to destroy the Amalekites. He's told, destroy the Amalekites and don't take the plunder. He doesn't destroy the Amalekites, and he does take the plunder. So Esther says, We're not gonna do it like Saul did it before. We're allowed to take the plunder, but we won't take it, but we will destroy these folks. That's the significance of the ten sons of Haman. Nobody would be able to say, The reason the Jews did what they did was so they could get our stuff.
So they could just have aggrandizement, so that they could just take possessions. They would be able to say to their children, when their children said, Dad, why didn't you take the man's sword? I mean, you defeated him. Why didn't you take him? That would have been a nice sword. We could have had that in our family room.
It would have looked good. Why didn't you take his rings? Why didn't you take his bracelets? Son, I could have, but that wasn't why we did what we did. Well, why did you do what you did? Because these people threatened our lives, our further existence, and would have taken you in a moment if I had allowed them.
But I didn't do it to get stuff. There's another whole train of thought here, isn't there, about the nature of possessions. It makes me think of Gehazi, or Gehazi, remember? Naaman.
That's it, isn't it? Is Naaman? I shouldn't do this. But anyway, remember, yeah, Naaman wants to get healed, and then Gehazi lies about things and takes the stuff, thereby causing the question to be raised, Are you doing this for the right reasons or for the wrong reasons? You've got it in the story of Abram as well with the king of Sodom, where the king of Sodom back in around Genesis 14 says to Abram, You can have a bunch of stuff as well. And Abram says, No, I don't want any of your stuff. I serve the God of heaven. I've made a vow to the God who possesses everything in the universe, and I won't take even one of your sandals—not one of them. And I'll tell you why.
So that you will never be able to say, I made Abraham rich. I'm not gonna muddy up what's going on. I'm not gonna go on TV and tell you that I can heal you, because I really just want to fly in a private plane. The restraint is clear, and the rejoicing is great. We have to leave rejoicing for later on, but let me just get you started on it. It's really wonderful. I'm looking forward to talking to my Jewish friends this week, because I want to get pure and very clear in my mind. I have a sneaking suspicion that it's a wonderful occasion, and this feasting and gladness and holiday and the gifts going to one another.
It's a lovely thought, isn't it? Essentially, what has happened is that God has turned the curse into blessing. Somebody said to me a few Sundays ago, You know, I think the best psalm to summarize what's going on here in the great reversal is Psalm 30. And I said, You know, I think you're right.
And I looked it up, and I'm more convinced that this person was right. This is what Psalm 30 verse 11 says, You have turned from me my mourning into dancing. You have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever. This is kinda like Mordecai's psalm, isn't it? You have turned from me my mourning into dancing. And don't you love the way Jewish people are able to dance when they have weddings and everything? It's not like kinda corny Gentile dancing. It's really—it's always—it's sorta good, you know?
It makes you want to be Jewish. You see, Mordecai and Esther and their holding hands, they're not gloating over the destruction of their enemies. They're not hanging scalps up on the wall and going, Look what we did to those people. No, they're holding hands and saying, You know, I used to sit at the gate of the king's palace.
I was dressed in sackcloth. I'm the prime minister. I'm in charge of this whole place.
How in the world did that happen? This is God's doing, and it's marvelous in our eyes. Sing with me. You see, it's the song of deliverance.
If we had time, we could advance this. I could point out to you that the notion of the ten sons hanging there was representative of the curse that is represented in those who hang upon a tree, for cursed are those who hang upon a tree. It is an expression of the curse of God.
You can read it in Joshua chapter 10 and elsewhere, and then you fast-forward into the book of Galatians, and you encounter the notion of Jesus, who becomes the cursed of God and who hangs upon a tree. Why would this sinless man be cursed of God? I thought the wages of sin is death. But he was sinless. Therefore he had no sin, therefore no death, therefore no curse, unless, of course, he took the curse so that we might enjoy the blessing, which is the story of the gospel. So that the deliverance is a comprehensive deliverance. Do you know that, deliverance? Do you know the things we sang about this morning?
I mean, did they really express your heart, or are you really just a big jumble of jigsaw pieces? One of the first times I got in trouble as a boy was for joining the library. How can you be in such a family that you get in trouble for joining a library?
That's a strict mother. I joined the library. Go to your room.
The problem was I joined it without asking her, and I'm not allowed to do things if I didn't ask. I understand that, so that's fine. But the book I got out, I remember, was Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe. Great story. And at one point, remember, Robinson Crusoe was shipwrecked, he's on the island, Man Friday, he's not involved, he's got a fever, his life has been a complete shambles, and in the context of all of that deprivation he reaches into a chest, and out of the chest he pulls out of a Bible. Pulls out a Bible. And he fastens on Psalm 50 verse 15, which says, Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will answer you. Daniel Defoe knew what he was doing.
He was a Presbyterian minister, actually. Have you ever called upon God in the day of trouble? And for those of you who believe, don't let's be so glib about things that we affirm a notion of the providence of God which skates thinly over the realities that we face. Even the song we sang this morning, and it was written by my friend, you know, Brenton Brown, "'Cause in your presence all my fears are washed away."
Hmm. I'm not convinced of that one. I guess I must have spent a lot of time not in God's presence, because I can wake up at night with all kinds of fears. And I know that ultimately, when they're set within the framework of God's overarching providence, there is no basis for fear.
We understand that. But I haven't discovered that all my fears are washed away. Have you? Some of you have faced things this week that have just struck fear into your core. And the evil one comes to you and accuses you and says, you know, if you were really in his presence, then you wouldn't have any of those fears. That's neither true to life, nor is it true to the Bible. You would say, well, I should just be singing, you know, great is thy faithfulness, the sun is out, the sky is blue, there's not a cloud to spoil the view, great is thy faithfulness.
But the thing that makes great is thy faithfulness so great is that verse 22 of Lamentations 3 comes after, the previous verses of Lamentations 3. And you can read them for yourself, because we must stop. But he says, I feel like I'm eating gravel. I am oppressed. I am overwhelmed.
I'm devastated. You just go through a whole litany of these things. This is my experience. And then he says, But then I started thinking about things, and I remind myself, the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. So they're new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.
But I feel like I'm eating gravel. Great is your faithfulness. But my life is spiraling in a downward cycle. Your mercy's never come to an end. The history of the doctrine of providence is filled with all kinds of mysterious elements. The underlying reality is this, that God knows what is best for his children. And he knows you, and he loves you, and he cares for you, and his heart toward you is rich in compassion and vast in power.
And the name of the Lord is a strong tower, and the righteous, you can go and run into it, and it's safe there. That is something for each one of us to meditate on today throughout the day. You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life with an important reminder of God's providence and his love.
Alistair will return in just a moment to close today's program. Truth for Life is entirely listener-funded. The teaching you hear on this program is brought to you each day because of Truth Partners. These are listeners like you who give each month to help cover the cost associated with distributing Alistair's teaching. It's their faithful donations that make it possible for people all around the world, for all of us, to freely access Alistair's online teaching library, his blogs, and articles. It's also because of their generosity that you can purchase a large selection of books and Bible study materials from Truth for Life at cost. So if you are one of our Truth Partners, on behalf of listeners all around the globe, thank you. And if you've been listening to this daily program for a while, but you've not yet taken the next step to become a part of the team that supports it, why not make today the day? It's quick and easy to sign up online and become a Truth Partner.
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But why does that give us hope thousands of years later? As you read the book With a Mighty Triumph, you'll learn why Christ's resurrection is the bedrock of Christian faith. This is a book that examines the Apostle Paul's logic in 1 Corinthians, as well as the evidence surrounding the bodily resurrection of Jesus. In this book, you'll learn how this understanding is the basis for all we anticipate about our own resurrection. Request the book With a Mighty Triumph today when you become one of our new Truth Partners.
You can also request the book when you give a one-time donation at truthforlife.org slash donate. Now here's Alistair to close with prayer. Father, thank you. Thank you that you are the God of Providence. We recognize that blind unbelief is sure to err, and try your works in vain. That we cannot get to these things from the position of detached curiosity. That only when we humble ourselves before your mighty hand, only when we come in childlike trust, will we begin to get an inkling of the mystery of your dealings with us. And be able to affirm, when the thing is upside down, when the picture doesn't fit our design or our desire, that we then are going to have to either change you to fit our picture, or we're going to have to submit ourselves to you and to trust you with the picture. Achieve your purposes in us and through us, O God, we pray, for your name's sake. Amen. I'm Bob Lapine. Once the Israelites were safe, you would think that they would want to forget the trauma and stress of the battle they had just experienced, but as we'll hear tomorrow, it was important for them to remember. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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