Esther - Providence Demonstrated
Please read through the book of Esther before reading this study. It is best to do this without interruption. After reading the book of Esther read it again with our article by your side.
Ro 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Paul very clearly states the Old Testament was written for our learning. We are to learn patience, and we are to learn comfort, so that we can have hope. Hence, any student of the Bible who fails to study and understand the Old Testament will not learn all they need to accomplish this important goal. In Romans 5 Paul clearly tells us that tribulation works patience, patience works experience, and experience will work hope. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 Paul states that all Scripture "is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." If we really believe what God is saying it would also include the Hebrew manuscripts. However, we must study these manuscripts with the understanding of "right division." When we keep the correct dispensational setting with the correct people we will have an effectual Bible study.
The book of Esther will instruct us on truths about the non-intervention providential care of God. It is the book of Esther which will lay out for us how God operates through freewill choices we all make. Amazingly, it will all be done without any intervention in the physical realm. The purpose of the book is to confirm the providential care of God over His people. It is vital to see this, for herein lies the significance and permanent value of the book. The great thing here is the fact of providential preservation - "providential" as distinct from what we call the "miraculous." We are meant to see providential overruling as distinct from supernatural intervening.
The word "providence" comes from the Latin "provideo," which means that I see a thing beforehand (pro = before; video = I see); hence, the root meaning of providence is foresight. Foresight always engenders activity in correlation to that which is foreseen, hence, providence has procured the meaning of activity arising from foresight. Strictly speaking, there is only One who has foresight, and He alone is able to act on the basis of foreknowledge. Providence, in its one absolute sense, is the Divine foreknowledge and the Divine activity which arises; it implies then that God alone has absolute power.
It is this which we see confirmed in the book of Esther. The crisis about which the book is written is providentially expected and then providentially overruled just at the critical moment. No miraculous intervention is resorted to. All the events recorded are the outworking of occurrences in their natural sequence. Yet, while there is no miracle recorded, the whole thing, in its ultimate meaning, is a mighty miracle - the mighty miracle whereby a sovereign God allows freewill to take place, and does nothing to influence or change it and still accomplishes the prepared outcome without the need for using any interference! This, then, is the lesson which this particular book written "aforetime" is to teach, so that we can have comfort and hope in all of life's trials. We are to learn this lesson so that we can have patience in life's circumstances. It allows us to have a total dependency upon our Lord and Saviour.
It is this which explains why the name of God does not occur in the book of Esther. This non-mention of God in the story has been a problem for many. Martin Luther went so far as to say that he wished it did not exist. Many others have disputed its right to a place in the Scriptures. However, I assert that if God had been specifically mentioned in the story, or if the story had unequivocally expounded that it was God operating through providence, the dramatic force and moral impact of the story would have been reduced. We are meant to see in the typical outworking of events, without breaching human freewill and without suspending the everyday ongoing of human affairs, God's hidden power unsuspectedly but infallibly governs all things! Therefore, the central spiritual message of the book, that amid the shadows God stands keeping watch upon His own, cannot be lost in the specifics. Esther will show clearly that God sees and knows and cares for His people. He may be out of their sight, but they are never out of His sight. Notice how God states this to Israel:
Ps 121:4 Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
A Feast and Choice
Royal banquets, on an massive scale like that which is recounted in Chapter 1 of Esther, were not rare among the Persians. Testimonials by ancient Greek authors leave us no doubt about this. Royal state seems to have reached its highest grandeur in the great Persian Empire, and sumptuous banquets were a noted feature in the life of the Persian court. Such a lavish feast and display as here depicted would be much to the taste of the vainglorious and ostentatious Ahasuerus.
The occasion of this huge festival gathering is most likely to have been a summoning together of all the chief men of the kingdom, and especially of the satraps, to contemplate upon the intended expedition against Greece. The King's order that Vashti either leave her women guests and cause a breach of royal etiquette among the women, or that she should come and immodestly display herself before a vast company of intoxicated revellers, was a cruel outrage which would have disgraced for life the one whom the King should have protected. Hence, Vashti's rejection was audacious and fully justified. Without doubt it would have a sobering effect upon the King and the high lords of the realm. Therefore, it is not surprising that when the King's high council of wise men came to judge the matter, they determined that Vashti must forfeit her royal diadem. These things, at first glance, seem far from having any connection whatever with the as-yet- undreamed-of peril to the Jews which was to head up through the anti-Jewish hatred of Haman, who at this time has not risen to public prestige. Yet these things were being so overruled as to sub-serve the unsuspected Divine preparation for that which was to come later.
About four years slip away (compare 1:3-4 with 2:12,16) between the end of Chapter 1 and Esther's being elected Queen - which is the principal happening in Chapter 2. During this time Ahasuerus has undertaken his expedition against Greece, and has returned ingloriously frustrated. Hence, he is more disposed to turn his thoughts from uneasy war failures to the pleasures of the seraglio.
Esther, the Jewish orphan girl, daughter of the deceased Abihail, and cousin of Mordecai, is now selected to become Queen. Verses 7,9,15, leave us no doubt that Esther must have been a most beautiful young woman. Verses 9,15 also suggest a winsome nature. The process by which the selection was made was in full accord with Persian and Oriental custom. Esther's Hebrew name was Hadassah, which means myrtle, while the Persian name Esther, which was given to her, means a star. We note that Mordecai instructed her not to make her Jewish parentage known (2:10), presumably lest it should occasion prejudice or intrigue against her. That such prejudice could have been aroused against her is shown by Chapter 3:4.
Mordecai himself was employed in the service of the royal court; in Chapter 2:5, where he is first mentioned, we are told he is a resident in "Shushan the Palace." No one who was not connected with the royal service would have been permitted to reside in those jealously guarded precincts. In 2:19,21 we see him fulfilling a regular duty at "the King's gate," and in 3:2 we see him counted among "the King's servants" which served at the gate. In 6:10 we see that the King himself knew him as "Mordecai the Jew, that sitteth at the King's gate." Had not Mordecai been there on royal service, the palace guards would have summarily dispatched him on his refusing to obey the decree regarding Haman.
Another five years have passed by the time we reach the middle of the third chapter. A new person, Haman, appears on the scene. Haman has risen in the King's favour to have become grand vizier of the realm. The King has even instructed that every knee shall bow to him. But while others bow the knee, Mordecai declines. Unlike the Persians, who esteemed their King as the very image of God, Mordecai will not yield to any man the adoration which belongs to God alone, the God whom he believes. He cannot yield any more than Daniel could to King Darius. Haman's fury at this results in the edict for the butchering of all the Jews in the Persian empire on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month.
From the fact that Haman is actually designated "the enemy of the Jews" (8:1; 9:10,24), and from his words to the King about the Jews as a race, and from the fact that it was when he had learned Mordecai's Jewish nationality that he decided to make his revenge the occasion for a general anti-Jewish massacre, we infer that Haman was a hater of the Jews before ever Mordecai's refusal of homage had stung his pride.
The awful decree for the liquidation of the Jews was duly proclaimed (3:12-15). Chapter 4 records the grief and mourning of Mordecai and the Jews, Mordecai's appeal to Esther, by Hatach, one of the King's chamberlains, and Esther's brave decision to risk her life in an appeal to the King. The risk arose from the Persian law that whoever entered unbidden into the King's inner court paid the death penalty (4:11). We also need to note Esther had not been called in for a whole month (4:11), which most likely indicated a cooled regard towards her, so the risk she ran was of the most serious kind. However, we see she was willing to take the risk, saying:
Es 4:16 Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.
At this point in the history of the book, providence of God is unmistakable. Mordecai's words: "who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" are really the key to the whole book, and reveal his sudden perception of the unseen anticipation underlying Esther's strange elevation to the throne. Furthermore, his words, "if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place," reveal his unshakeable faith in the God of his fathers, and in the indestructibility of God's people. Esther's appeal to Mordecai for a three days' fast for her among the Jews is really a plea for prayer, and a casting of herself on the mercy of God in the matter (fasting in the Old Testament is a symbolic or type form of prayer).
On the third day Esther enters the inner court, and stands opposite the gate of the King's throne-room so as to attract his notice. The King is sitting on his throne at the time, looking down the vista and through the open door, where he surprisingly sees his beautiful wife. His extended sceptre assures Esther that any breach of etiquette is excused. The King, then realizing that only some grave concern could have brought Esther, reassures her with the words: "What wilt thou, Queen Esther? It shall be even given thee to the half of the kingdom." Esther then asks that the King and Haman should come to a banquet for them later that day.
By having a banquet which she knew the King loved, she would make the more certain of his favouritism towards her, and at the same time ensure the presence of Haman himself when she exposed his sinister plot. Haman would thus be vulnerable, as he would not be able to deny the truth of the accusation, nor would he dare to contradict the Queen in the very presence of the King, nor would he get any opportunity of misrepresenting the matter to the King in the Queen's absence. However, when the feast came, Esther, for unknown reasons, did not take advantage of the moment, but she promised to make her request known at another banquet to be given on the following day.
Again we see the providence of God displayed here. During that day the gloating Haman caused the gallows to be prepared for Mordecai; and during that night the sleepless King determined that the same Mordecai should be exalted before all the people! God's unseen care and foresight prepared the time for Esther to speak.
A Reversal of Fortune
The opening of Chapter 6 brings about a new turn of events. The crisis which has been providentially awaited is now wonderfully overruled. With the skill that only God has, "He that sitteth in the heavens" turns the tables on the wicked, and delivers His own people. Just as the Psalmist states, the wicked are ensnared in their own devices!
The King cannot sleep, and his night drags on. He calls for the chronicles to be read to him. He hears how a plot against his life was foiled through the timely action of Mordecai, and is surprised to find out that Mordecai has not been rewarded. He resolves that Mordecai should be rewarded without delay. The night changes into morning. King Ahasuerus asks who is in the court, and learns that Haman is there. Unknown to the King, Haman had come for the earliest possible interview with the King, to obtain permission for the hanging of Mordecai. Ahasuerus asks Haman: "What shall be done unto the man whom the King delighteth to honour?" Haman, presuming that he himself is the man in the King's mind, and that he is the prospective candidate for still further preferments, swells with self-congratulation, and then makes the following proposal:
Es 6:8 Let the royal apparel be brought which the king useth to wear, and the horse that the king rideth upon, and the crown royal which is set upon his head:
9 And let this apparel and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king's most noble princes, that they may array the man withal whom the king delighteth to honour, and bring him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaim before him, Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honour.
Haman's proposal lays bear his immeasurable egotism, his thirst for the praise of men, and his inconsequential idea of greatness. It is at this point that he hears the King say: "Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as thou hast said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew." We can almost see the subtle gleam pale from Haman's eyes. The swollen bubble of pride and arrogance suddenly bursts. We can see a sickening pall turn his heart cold. We can imagine that for a few age-long seconds he stands, dumbfounded, before his royal master; then he very slowly withdraws, with leaden footsteps, to exalt Mordecai in the very way which he, Haman himself, had so stupidly proposed. "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh. The Lord shall have them in derision." The utter irony of it! Haman, through his own stupid conceit, has trapped himself into publicly exalting and parading the very man for whose death warrant he had come to apply, and for whom he had already presumed to prepare the gallows!
The Doom of Haman
Chapter 7 tells of Esther's second banquet to the King and Haman. It is a much changed Haman who now sits uneasily at the royal board. His mind is all the more disturbed because his "wise men" and his wife Zeresh have said to him: "If Mordecai be of the seed of the Jews, before whom thou hast begun to fall, thou shalt not prevail against him, but shalt surely fall before him." However, Haman does not realize how quickly his end is coming. In the King's sleepless night, the exaltation of Mordecai, and the chagrin of Haman, and now the obvious good will of the King, Esther recognizes the control of God, and knows the moment to speak has come. The King again asks her what her special request is, and he is amazed to learn it is a plea for her life to be spared! "Oh King, if it please the King, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request: for we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish." Ahasuerus looks upon the lovely face and form of his wife and asks: "Who is he, and where is he, that durst presume in his heart to do so?" Esther then replies: "The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman." It is at this moment the King sees through Haman's hypocrisy. Rising from the banquet, the King strides agitatedly into the palace garden. Haman, in a frenzy of cowardly terror, oversteps the bounds of etiquette, and falls upon Esther's couch, pleading with her to spare his life. The King re-enters and finds him thus, he then speaks words which immediately cause the attendants to remove Haman, with his face covered - the face covering being a Persian custom to indicate that a person was no longer fit to see the light. Without delay, Haman is sent to his doom. Before another sunrise sheds its light over Shushan, the corpse of Haman dangles aloft on the very gallows which he himself had caused to be made for Mordecai. The tree which Haman had selected was in the grounds of his own house (7:9); and it was here he was made to swing before the horrified gaze of his own family.
The wicked Haman foreshadows "the man of sin" who is predicted to appear and take prominence at the mid-point of Daniel's 70th week. Haman is a type of the "man of sin" in six ways.
1. In Esther 7:6 Esther brands him as "wicked Haman." It is also clear that the numerical value of the Hebrew letters which make up this title is 666, the number of Antichrist (Rev.13:18).
2. Haman's power. With meteoric rise he outranks all his confederates. The opening verses of Chapter 3 tell us that his place was set up above all the princes in the realm, and a royal decree was issued that every knee should bow to him. This foreshadows the "beast" of Rev.13, which receives its power and eminence from the dragon.
3. Haman's pride. We can see him boast of his glory and riches to Zeresh, and to his friends in Esther 5:11. We see his conceited exasperation when Mordecai withholds homage (5:13). We can see him planning to ride the King's own horse, clad in the royal apparel, wearing the crown royal, and being borne ostentatiously overhead amid the adulations of the people (6:7-9). Hence, Haman is a forepicture of that coming "man of sin" who, as Paul says, "opposeth, and exalteth himself above all that is called God."
4. Haman's hate. Four specific times he is designated as the "enemy of the Jews" (3:10; 8:1; 9:10,24). Five times he is called an "Agagite" (3:1,10; 8:3,5; 9:24). Recent discoveries have shown that Agag was a territory adjacent to Media, however, this word "Agagite" connects Haman with the Agagites mentioned earlier in the Scriptures. Agag was King of the Amalekites (1 Sam.15:8) who were descended from Esau (Gen.36:12). Amalek is always Israel's enemy (Exodus 17:16; Deut.25:17-19). But there was to come a Star out of Jacob and a Sceptre out of Israel which should bring destruction to Amalek (Num.24:17-20), even as Paul says that Christ shall yet smite the Antichrist (2 Thess.2:8). The coming "man of sin" will be the latter day Haman. He will be history's supreme Jew hater.
5. Haman's plot. He makes Mordecai's conscientious resistance the occasion for a contemplated annihilation of the whole Jewish race. With untruthful guile he works toward this through his political power, so that the Jews are plunged into great sorrow and suffering (Chapters 3 and 4). Moreover, the Antichrist, the evil "prince" of Daniel 9, will plunge the world, and the Jews specifically, into the "great tribulation" by a political betrayal (Dan.9:26-27).
6. Haman's doom. While he is in power he is indeed terrible, but he only lasts a few years (compare 2:16 with 3:7); and his end is as sudden as it is ironic. One day he vaunts himself, the next day he hangs by his own rope. Furthermore, all his posterity perish with him, for in Chapter 9:7-14, we find Haman had ten sons who were hanged along with him. Just as suddenly and ironically will the coming Antichrist perish (2 Thess.2:8). He who has overcome men by supernatural wonders will himself be overcome by a bigger wonder still! Moreover, as Haman had ten sons who perished with him, so the final form of Gentile government, at the end of the present age, is to be that of "ten kings" who reign for "one hour" through whom Antichrist works, and who perish along with him (Dan.7; Rev.17). Haman, then, is a grisly significant figure.
We can state with equal confidence that Mordecai is a foreshadowing of the faithful Jewish remnant which will be preserved during the Lord's Day to enter into the millennial kingdom. We can see this in four specific ways:
1. His refusal to bow to Haman. When the King's servants asked Mordecai: "Why transgressest thou the King's commandment?" He "told them he was a Jew" (3:4) so that his refusal was clearly because of his Jewish faith. He would not yield to man that which is due God alone, even as the faithful Jewish remnant during the Lord's Day will not bow to the beast nor receive his mark upon them.
2. Mordecai typifies the Jews of the Lord's Day in his bitter mourning, fasting, and weeping, which becomes shared by thousands of other Jews, and which foreshadows that preparation of penitence which will finally lead the Jews to "look upon Him whom they pierced," and own Him as their King.
3. He typifies the Jewish remnant in his marvellous deliverance. As he was delivered, so will his brethren of the future be. The seventh chapter of Revelation shows us the sealing of the Jewish remnant before "the wrath of God" is poured upon the earth. They are sealed and saved.
4. Mordecai foreshadows the remnant in his wonderful exaltation. The closing chapter of Esther shows him exalted above all his peers, made the grand vizier of Persia, and next to the King and Queen! Even so, through the faithful remnant will the Jews and Jerusalem take the supreme place among the nations in the coming kingdom of David's greater Son.