The Tables are Turned!April 21, 2010, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Pastor Daniel Tan (Esther 8:15-9:19) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Esther
Preached at a Bilingual (Mandarin-English, Sunday) service
Sermon on Esther 8:15-9:19
The citizens of Feldkirch, Austria, didn’t know what to do. Napoleon’s massive army was preparing to attack. Soldiers had been spotted on the heights above the little town, which was situated on the Austrian border. A council of citizens was hastily summoned to decide whether they should try to defend themselves or display the white flag of surrender. It happened to be Easter Sunday, and the people had gathered in the local church.
The pastor rose and said, “Friends, we have been counting on our own strength, and apparently that has failed. As this is the day of our Lord’s resurrection, let us just ring the bells, have our services as usual, and leave the matter in His hands. We know only our weakness, and not the power of God to defend us.” The council accepted his plan and the church bells rang. The enemy, hearing the sudden peal, concluded that the Austrian army had arrived during the night to defend the town. Before the service ended, the enemy broke camp and left.
Yes, brothers and sisters, in the Scripture passage we had just read, the Jews likewise were facing their enemies who were about to carry out the King’s edict planned by Haman to attack and destroy them. But in a sudden twist of the narrative we are told that the tables were turned and instead the Jews got the upper hand over those who hated them. I hope you still remember my previous sermon on chapter 6 which I entitled “The Night the King Could Not Sleep”. I had highlighted that the night the King could not sleep was the turning point for the fate of Mordecai. The King’s insomnia had lead to a series of coincidences that they not only preserved Mordecai’s life but caused the reversal of his status to receive the highest honor he could have ever imagined in the kingdom of Persia. Coincidences may just be God’s way of remaining anonymous. So, in actual fact it is God who is behind the scenes who causes the reversal to happen. But chapter 6 only marks the beginning of reversal of Mordecai’s personal fortune, what about the fortune of his people, the Jews, living in Susa and various parts of Persia? Surely, the reversal of Mordecai’s personal fortune must be an indicative of his people’s fortunes as well. And this is exactly what the author wants to highlight in today’s chapter. In other words, the personal victory of Mordecai over his enemy, Haman, will lead subsequently to a corporate victory of his people over those who hated them. Thus, in the beginning of chapter 9 the author comments that: But now the tables were turned and the Jews got the upper hand over those who hated them. I therefore entitle today’s sermon: The table are turned!
God’s providential care is founded on His covenant promise to His people.
(a) The providence continues:
So, in actual fact, today’s sermon is a continuation of my previous one on chapter 6, the theme of God’s providential care. In chapter 6, I had stated that it is neither Esther nor the King are to be spotlighted as the cause of the reversal. Instead, it is God who is behind the scenes who causes the reversal of Mordecai’s fortune to happen. So, again in today’s chapter, though God’s name or His presence is not actually mentioned, the fact that the author’s comments in verses 2 and 3 that “the fear of the Jews had fallen upon all people” and that “the fear of Mordecai had fallen upon them” both serve as one more instance of God’s low profile role in this book. In other words, it is the fear of the Jews and the fear of Mordecai that tip the balance of power and allow the great reversal for the Jews to overpower their enemies who hated them. And once again who is behind these scenes that caused the fear of these people? It is God’s providential hand at work! In chapter 6, I had already highlighted two important aspects concerning God’s providential care. One is that in our darkest days, we can trust God for His providential care even when God seems absent. The second point is that God’s providential care will prevail despite human’s effort to thwart it. In today’s sermon I just want to add on one more important aspect, that is: God’s providential care is founded on His covenant promise to His people. Let us now analyze the text to substantiate my statement.
Now, eleven months after Haman had cast lots, the ill-fated day for the Jews had finally arrived. It was the 13th day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar. It was the day the enemies had authority from the King’s edict to attack and destroy the Jews as planned by Haman. This edict could not be changed. However at the influence of Esther and Mordecai, a new decree by the King had also been issued. This new edict allowed the Jews on that same day not only to defend themselves but could even slay those who hated them and wanted to destroy them. So, we see on this same day one edict is now pitted against another edict, both given by the King himself. Thus, the Persian governing authorities were caught between these two contradictory orders. They could hardly carry out both. So, they must choose to support one decree over the other. In the end they chose to support the new decree with reasons fully explained by the narrator: No one could stand against the Jews because the people of all the other nationalities were afraid of them. And all the nobles of the provinces, the satraps, the governors and the King’s administrators helped the Jews, because fear of Mordecai had seized them. Mordecai was prominent in the palace; his reputation spread throughout the provinces, and he became more and more powerful.
Had Haman still been in power, the people would have believed that they could attack the Jews without harm coming to them. And the government would have been behind their attacks, approving it and perhaps helping in it. But now that Haman had fallen and Mordecai had come to power, the people feared to oppose Mordecai’s power. In other words, Mordecai is feared by all ranks of people, without any need for a King’s command to order it. This is in sharp contrast to Haman in chapter 3 where the King needs to pass the order for all royal officials to kneel down and pay honor to Haman. Previously Mordecai has only been labeled ‘the Jew’ (e.g. 6:10), but now we see that he is described as ‘the man who became more and more powerful’. Thus, the government now stood with Mordecai, so various government agents helped the Jews instead of their enemies.
The reversal of fortunes of the Jews may be summarized by using the following schematic diagram:
The Tables are turned: The Jews overpowered their enemies
The fear of the Jews had fallen on The Jews were assisted by all the
all people of other nationalities nobles and government officials
They recognized and feared the power and influence of
Mordecai who was great with increasing prominence
The Providence of God: “The Night the King Could Not Sleep”
God has completely turned the tables!
(b) The Inviolability of the Jews:
As their representative, Mordecai’s rise to power is only the beginning of reversal for the Jewish people. As I had mentioned before, his personal victory must lead subsequently to corporate victory for the Jews in Persia. Whether it is a personal reversal of fortune or the collective reversal for a group of people, in the biblical literature it is God who is often identified as the One who brings such reversal. He turns darkness into light, mourning into rejoicing, defeat into salvation and death into life. In the lives of God’s people in the Old Testament time, such reversals happened in the lives of individuals such as Joseph, Daniel, Hannah, etc. Reversals also happened to God’s people as a group from wilderness to Promised Land, from exile to return. In fact, in all the episodes of holy war in the Old Testament the text explicitly involves God. When the people of Israel first fought the Amalekites, Moses stood on the hill overlooking the battle, holding the staff of God raised to heaven (Ex. 17:8-16). During the period after the Conquest, the LORD raised up judges, who delivered Israel from oppression when the Spirit of the LORD camp upon them (e.g. Judg. 2:16-18). Saul and David were charismatic kings upon whom God’s Spirit rested. All of these people acted as agents of God working to preserve the identity and survival of the Jews as God’s people in the midst of the hostile gentile environment. This resilience of the Jews is what biblical scholars called “the inviolability of the Jewish people”! The clearest hint of their inviolability in the book of Esther is found in 6:13 where Haman’s wife and his advisers note that Haman cannot succeed against Mordecai. Their reason is based upon the fact that Mordecai is a Jew: “Since Mordecai, before whom your downfall has started, is of Jewish origin, you cannot stand against him—you will surely come to ruin!”
Another hint of the inviolability of the Jews is found in 4:14, where Mordecai asserts that assistance to the Jews would derive from another source if Esther failed to intercede with King Ahasuerus to save their people. Whatever this “another source” is to be found, Mordecai knows that assistance for the Jews will certainly appear. As I had explained in my previous sermon that the coincidences of the narrative in the book of Esther, especially in chapter 6, were by no means due to pure chances. These coincidences of the plot in fact demonstrate the truth of Mordecai’s assurance: assistance for the Jews indeed would appear. In today’s chapter we see that the powerless and low social status of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire is radically altered: the fear of the Jews had fallen on all people of other nationalities. The author of the book of Esther thus affirms the belief that, despite the great dangers which threaten the Jewish communities living in foreign land in exile, the Jews are inviolable.
But what makes the Jewish people inviolable? It is because of God’s covenant promise to them! The tables were turned for the Jews of Persia because of the ancient covenant God had made with their ancestors on Mount Sinai in Moses’ time. In fact even prior to the Mount Sinai event, God had already made a covenant with Abraham by affirming that: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants…to be your God and the God of your descendants after you…I will be their God”(Gen. 17:7-8). And on Mount Sinai God through Moses once again reaffirms His covenant promise with the people of Israelites by saying that: “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession” (Ex. 19:4-5). God’s covenant promise that “I will be your God and you will be my people” has been echoing and re-echoing throughout the lives of the people of Israelites since their nation was founded. God’s assurance to them is that “If you listen carefully to what (I say) and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you” (Ex. 23:22). Thus in the mind of the narrator, the reversal that happened to the Jews in Persia serves as a proof, that even in their darkest days, God’s people could trust in the providential care of a covenant God who had promised to help them and to be with them forever.
(c) The enemies of the Jews are destroyed:
As the tables were turned, we read that: The Jews got the upper hand over those who hated them. The Jews assembled in their cities in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus to attack those seeking their destruction. No one could stand against them. Precisely who these enemies are is unclear. There is however a hint of certain hostility against the Jews as seen in Mordecai’s instruction that Esther is to keep her ethnicity secret (2:10, 20). And this coupled with Haman’s anti-Semitic plot which has already been dispatched to all the King’s provinces, results in even a wide spread hatred against the Jews. Thus, on the day of Adar 13, the Jews need to gather themselves in their localities to attack all those who attempt to harm them. This may look an offensive attack mounted by the Jews, but their actions are strictly defensive for they do not instigate the fighting. They do take offensive action, but such action would have been necessary against enemies acting upon a decree that licensed their complete extermination. We are told that on this day of battles (Adar 13), the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred men in Susa where the King lives, and 75,000 enemies throughout the rest of the Persian Empire. When one reads the account of the bloodshed, it is important not to lose sight of the murdering attempts of the enemies. They are not ordinary townsmen, but enemies of the Jews who had fully expected to overpower the Jews on the day selected for the genocide. Someone astutely puts it: The Jewish victory in the battles is equivalent to a successful insurrection in the World War 2 in Warsaw ghetto where 75,000 Nazis’ S.S. troops were killed.
Furthermore, in the two days’ battles either in Susa or in the rest of the King’s provinces, we are told that the Jews did not touch the plunder. That is, they took no spoils from those they killed. The King’s decree in fact allowed them to plunder their enemies, but they chose not to do so. The reason that the Jews take no plunder from their enemies is not at all clear. Commentators have suggested that one of the rules of ancient holy war was that the plunder must not be taken. But throughout its history, their ancestors failed in many times in disobeying God’s command by taking the plunder. King Saul was disqualified as Israel’s king and God’s agent on earth because he had failed to execute holy war properly in obedience to the LORD’s command. So, in the book of Esther, the author’s three times emphasis that the Jews did not lay hand on the plunder suggests that their battles against those who wanted to destroy them was understood as holy war. These battles were not to be seen as an opportunity for looting and personal gain. Their attacks were not motivated by greed but solely by the need for self-preservation.
But how is one to view Esther’s request for a second day on Adar 14 to continue the killing in Susa? Given the stipulations of Haman’s decree, the Jews’ enemies could not lawfully have attacked them on this second day. In other words, the enemies were only allowed lawfully to attack the Jews on Adar 13.
So, was Esther’s request for extension overkill? Some commentators have seized on her request as being bloodthirsty. But we must note that her request was limited to Susa and not to all the surrounding provinces. She did not ask for a new edict, or for a license to do as she pleased. Instead, she operated within the confines of the edict Mordecai had already designed. This means that the same rules and restrictions would apply. The Jews were not to initiate random attacks, but to defend themselves against those who attacked them and their families. Her request was to focus on the remaining opposition in Susa. Three hundred more enemies were killed in Susa on Adar 14 seems to indicate that there were still plenty of enemies out there waiting to mount an attack.
Esther’s second request that the bodies of the ten sons of Haman be hanged upon the gallows is also morally troubling. But we must know that the ten sons of Haman, they are not, in fact, executed. Rather, they were killed in the battle on Adar 13, implying that they were among the attackers.
Furthermore, the public display of an enemy’s body was not at all unusual in the ancient world. Such was the fate of King Saul and his three sons, who were humiliated in this way by the Philistines, as recorded in 1 Samuel 31:1-13. Esther’s act was designed to discourage others who might try to imitate their treachery. It also sent an unambiguous message that Haman’s cause had no future. So, again, Esther’s second request was completely in line with her concern for the safety of her people.
In actual fact, the author makes no attempt to exonerate Queen Esther or to justify her request. The two days of battles on Adar 13 and 14 apparently served as an explanation of the two days of Purim celebration by the Jews in the mind of the author. When Haman’s decree with the approval of the King to destroy the Jews was issued in the city of Susa, Mordecai and the Jewish community mourned and lamented together. But now with the tables turning, the Jews instead of being overpowered by their enemies, they together with Mordecai have assumed a new status of honor and dominion. Thus, the victories of the great battles of Adar 13 and 14 call for the celebration of the Jewish community. But most importantly, the Jews understood that these are the days wherein God gives them rest from their enemies. In other words, Purim does not celebrate human power, the victory of the Jews over their enemies, but is to acknowledge with gratitude that it is God who delivers them and gives them rest from their enemies. So, if the second day of killing happened because of a darker side of Esther’s character, the author does not attempt to vindicate her. Perhaps, the author is suggesting that no one is worthy to wage true holy war in God’s name. Esther is certainly not flawless and so is Mordecai. However God can still use person with imperfect character to fulfill His covenant promise to His people, scattering throughout the Persian Empire. In other words, God’s promise cannot be frustrated. His purpose may include human agents, but its success does not depend on who those agents are or what they do.
Yes, brothers and sisters, the book of Esther shows how God fulfilled His covenant promise through providence instead of miraculous intervention. God works the same way today as He did in the book of Esther. We live in an age when miraculous displays of God’s might are not the usual way He does thing, yet we are called to believe in His power and presence. In the Old Testament time, we see that Israel occupies a protected and privileged place within God’s purposes. But with the coming of Jesus Christ, God’s ancient covenant of Mount Sinai with Israel is now consummated in His own Son. We too now are children of God with God’s sovereign purposes in our lives. God has indeed made a covenant with those in Christ that cannot be thwarted by even the worst life brings against us. Jesus Christ Himself has promised to be with us and to be our help forever. Thus, we can face threatening circumstances with hope only because of God’s new covenant in Christ.
So, brothers and sisters, do you need the tables to be turned in your lives? Sometimes we too are faced with impossible situations, times when we feel as though we are in desperate that needs deliverance. We feel despair when we have lost a loved one, or the stress that comes with a financial crisis, or the pain of the illness that we have to endure, or the relationship that turns soured, or the anxiety about the future, or fighting a battle with loneliness and depression. In any circumstances, we must trust God’s providential hand is at work. He and His Son Jesus Christ can turn the tables in our lives, turn our sorrow into joy, and the ashes of mourning into the beauty of celebration. The author of this book is in fact inviting us to hear the Esther’s story and to respond to it with faith. The significance of this book for the faith of Jewish people is well said in the words of Robert Gordis,
“Anti-Semites have always hated the book, and the Nazis forbade its reading in the cremation and the concentration camps. In the dark days before their death, Jewish inmates of Auschwitz, Dachau, Treblinka, and Bergen-Belsen wrote the Book of Esther from memory and read it in secret on Purim. Both they and their brutal foes understood its message.” This unforgettable book certainly enhances the Jews’ belief of their resistance to annihilation. In fact, the book of Esther not only serves as a record of their past deliverance, but also a prophecy of their future salvation.
Like the story of Esther for the Jewish people, our journey to faith requires pondering the events that happened in our lives, searching for God in His veiled presence, and choosing to see His active presence. In other words, we should look beyond the veiled presence of God to the greater reality that can be uncovered through searching for Him in our life events. Our personal response to the mystery of the veiled presence of God in our lives is indeed a faith-creating and a faith-building one. Visions and revelations might come and go, but the veiled presence of God is a constant that may not be seen and felt, but will always sustain His people in good, bad and ugly time. This is the precious truth that Esther’s story celebrates. Likewise, we celebrate the victory of Christ for us. His cross and His resurrection is the pivot point of the greatest reversal of history, where our sorrow has been turned to joy!
Esther 8:15–9:19 (Listen)
15 Then Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal robes of blue and white, with a great golden crown and a robe of fine linen and purple, and the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced. 16 The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor. 17 And in every province and in every city, wherever the king's command and his edict reached, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a feast and a holiday. And many from the peoples of the country declared themselves Jews, for fear of the Jews had fallen on them.
9:1 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 the mastery over them, the reverse occurred: the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them. 2 The Jews gathered in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus 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. 3 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. 4 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. 5 The Jews struck all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them, and did as they pleased to those who hated them. 6 In Susa the citadel itself the Jews killed and destroyed 500 men, 7 and also killed Parshandatha and Dalphon and Aspatha 8 and Poratha and Adalia and Aridatha 9 and Parmashta and Arisai and Aridai and Vaizatha, 10 the ten sons of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews, but they laid no hand on the plunder.
11 That very day the number of those killed in Susa the citadel was reported to the king. 12 And the king said to Queen Esther, “In Susa the citadel the Jews have killed and destroyed 500 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.” 13 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.” 14 So the king commanded this to be done. A decree was issued in Susa, and the ten sons of Haman were hanged. 15 The Jews who were in Susa gathered also on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and they killed 300 men in Susa, but they laid no hands on the plunder.
16 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 75,000 of those who hated them, but they laid no hands on the plunder. 17 This was on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and on the fourteenth day they rested and made that a day of feasting and gladness. 18 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. 19 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 on which they send gifts of food to one another.