Poetic justice comes in the final chapters of Esther. The first part of the book is filled with uncertainties, gray areas, and small wins, but chapters 7-10 bring a series of quick, decisive breakthroughs and injustices undone. Haman’s schemes turn against him. The Jewish diaspora has a future paved, commemorated in the feast of Purim. This is the Persian word for “lots,” as in, casting lots, which was one way of discerning the divine will (see “Esther” by Barry G. Webb in ESV Global Study Bible). What was Haman’s original purim, lots cast to choose the date of his edict against the Jews (3:7), now decides the date of Purim (9:1: “but now the tables were turned”). God’s will was being worked in secret and is finally brought out into the open.
This discussion will refresh us on the main themes and lessons from the book as we wrap up our discussion series.
When was the last time you hoped for a breakthrough?
read Esther 7:1-8:5; 9:20-22
7:1 So the king and Haman went to Queen Esther’s banquet, 2 and as they were drinking wine on the second day, the king again asked, “Queen Esther, what is your petition? It will be given you. What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.”
3 Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. 4 For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king.”
5 King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is he—the man who has dared to do such a thing?”
6 Esther said, “An adversary and enemy! This vile Haman!”
Then Haman was terrified before the king and queen. 7 The king got up in a rage, left his wine and went out into the palace garden. But Haman, realizing that the king had already decided his fate, stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life.
8 Just as the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was reclining.
The king exclaimed, “Will he even molest the queen while she is with me in the house?”
As soon as the word left the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face. 9 Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs attending the king, said, “A pole reaching to a height of fifty cubits stands by Haman’s house. He had it set up for Mordecai, who spoke up to help the king.”
The king said, “Impale him on it!” 10 So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai. Then the king’s fury subsided.
8:1 That same day King Xerxes gave Queen Esther the estate of Haman, the enemy of the Jews. And Mordecai came into the presence of the king, for Esther had told how he was related to her. 2 The king took off his signet ring, which he had reclaimed from Haman, and presented it to Mordecai. And Esther appointed him over Haman’s estate.
3 Esther again pleaded with the king, falling at his feet and weeping. She begged him to put an end to the evil plan of Haman the Agagite, which he had devised against the Jews. 4 Then the king extended the gold scepter to Esther and she arose and stood before him.
5 “If it pleases the king,” she said, “and if he regards me with favor and thinks it the right thing to do, and if he is pleased with me, let an order be written overruling the dispatches that Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, devised and wrote to destroy the Jews in all the king’s provinces.
9:20 Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, 21 to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar 22 as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor. (NIV)
Take a few moments to reflect on the Scripture. Share some insights, questions, or points that strike you. Then read the following.
Faithful presence to the end
Recently we talked about the idea of faithful presence. The Bible holds out examples like Esther and Mordecai who, rather than flee from the world, enter into the institutions, communities, and messes around them seeking the good of others while keeping faith in God.
Let’s look at some of the ways Esther does this in her final scenes of the book.
Esther appeals to the king. Importantly, she identifies herself with the Jews, risking her position and life because of the edict against them. But she frames her appeal to the king as a loss to him: “Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people…” (v. 3). She also says the edict will cost the king: “If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king” (v. 4). “With this exaggerated comparison, Esther, like Haman, appeals to the king’s self-interest: If he were to make the Jews his slaves, he would at least have their free labor. By killing them, he will lose a valuable asset” (Webb). She also boldly calls out Haman in front of the king: “An adversary and enemy! This vile Haman!” (v. 6).
If the timing of some scenes seem too good to be true, this is only because we’re told the highlights. In the background of the vindication of Mordecai are the three years between his saving the king’s life and it finally being noticed. There is the anguished uncertainty over the edict. Sometimes God’s work becomes crystal clear. Often it’s less so, and only visible in hindsight.
- What are the approaches Esther uses to appeal to the king? What does this say about her awareness of her environment and the people in her life?
- What compels people to risk their all for something, like Esther does?
As we wrap up our series in the book of Esther, it’s helpful to recap the book’s main lesson about God: “The book of Esther is in the Bible to show us that the hiddenness of God is not the absence of God. Even though God is not even mentioned in the entire book, he sovereignly and mercifully preserves his people in the midst of adversity” (Webb).
While God is never mentioned, many of the scenes and timing are so fortuitous as to rule out mere coincidence. The book as a whole reorients us to expect God to be working in hidden ways.
Barry Webb also says this about the purposes of the book:
Therefore, while the immediate purpose of the book of Esther was to explain why all Jews everywhere should celebrate Purim (a festival not prescribed by the Law of Moses; see Esther 9:26–32), its deeper and more significant purpose was to demonstrate that the postexilic Jews—even those outside the Land—remained the chosen people of God. Through them, God was still committed by covenant to accomplish his plan of worldwide redemption and new creation. They were therefore protected by his quiet yet overruling sovereignty from all pagan attempts to destroy them until the “fullness of time,” when Israel gave the Messiah to the world (Galatians 4:4).
- Discuss this observation by Barry Webb: “Esther and Mordecai show great initiative and courage. Their actions are obviously significant. The providence of God does not negate the responsibility of people to act with courage and resolve when circumstances require it.”
- Drawing on the book of Esther, what are you discerning is the call to action in your own life?
- How could the hiddenness of God reorient you in daily living?
- In Jesus, we can see God in human dimensions. In what ways might Jesus coming into the world mean God is less hidden?
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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com. Th