VBS 2021: Living Upright in a Topsy-Turvy, Upside Down World (Esther 9:1-5)
“He that is Last Shall be First”
Topsy Turvy 2021 VBS
Is it just me or do you also feel that our country is becoming more anti-Christian? If our society is not becoming more antagonistic to Christianity, it seems to becoming more apathetic to Christianity. Yet, in some quarters, it does seem to be more antagonistic. At one time, the most obvious differences between churches of Christ and the religious world was our insistence that baptism must be for the forgiveness of sins and that we must worship God with our voices rather than mechanical instruments of music, which will be our sermon next week. Protestant churches largely could not care less about our perceived idiosyncrasies.
But, in our world today, there are two issues, moving forward, that will strike the world, not just as idiosyncrasies but as down-right narrow-mindedness and bigotry: our conviction that leadership in the church and in worship must be limited to men (this will be a sermon in August) and our conviction that homosexuality, consensual or otherwise, is still sinful. When many people hear that, they will turn their ears off to the Gospel message that could have saved their souls.
“If there is one thing proud people resent, it is being upstaged. If there is one thing powerful people resent, it is nonconformity. If there is one thing spineless people resent, it is convictions” (Hamilton, 541).
Despite what this world, this country, is coming to, we still need to stay faithful to Jehovah God by remaining faithful to His Son, Jesus Christ. We need to stay humble toward God and stay humble toward our fellowman. Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matt. 23:12).
If we try to justify ourselves in the eyes of God, He will humble us by expelling us from His presence. But if we humble ourselves in this life, He will exalt us, perhaps in this life, but surely in the life to come (Luke 18:14).
You and I don’t always live up to God’s expectations. But we do so with pure hearts and pure motivations. We take God’s word seriously, even if it means sometimes the world tramples over us. The apostle Paul promises us that “if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).
The story of Esther is a story of two individuals who remain faithful to God in the midst of a society that could easily ignore their religious convictions but could, just as easily, turn against them because of their religious convictions.
Ruth and Esther, two biblical books whose protagonists are women, move in opposite directions. Ruth is a Moabitess who marries an Israelite and moves to Judah. Esther is an Israelite who “moves” to Persia, marries a Persian, and lives and dies outside of Palestine. Ruth and Esther are considered together by the Jews in a group of books called the Writings (Kathutim) which are otherwise known as the Megilloth (“scrolls”). These books are read at the Jewish festivals each year. Ruth is read during the Feast of Weeks, comparable to our early summer months, May-June. Esther, of course, is read during the Feast of Purim, comparable to our late winter months, February-March.
But, of course, Esther is a story of a strong faith in a young virgin Jewess girl and an equally strong faith in her uncle, Mordecai. They find themselves in the Persian Empire, reigned over by King Ahasuerus, who reigned from 486/5 to 465/4 B. C. King Ahasuerus is mentioned, at least once, in every chapter of the book. Even though God is not mentioned in the story (at all!), we see His providential hand at work throughout the book. At almost every turning point in the story, we could ask the question, “What if this had happened instead of that…”?
We see God working to preserve His people in a pagan land, not because they are somehow uniquely special to Him, but because He has to bring Jesus into the world and He had chosen the descendants of Abraham through whom to accomplish that object.
God had promised Abraham back in Genesis 12:3 that He would curse those who curse Abraham and his family. Haman does his best to curse the Jews. When Mordecai refused to bow before Haman - a bow, not as a sign of respect for one in a position of authority but a bow as a sign of spiritual homage or adoration - Haman decided with the help of friends, to destroy all the people of Mordecai, to destroy all the Jews (3:6).
Haman and his friends cast “lots,” the word in Hebrew is “pur” to decide what day they were going to influence the king to allow them to exterminate, to annihilate, the Jews. The “lot,” “pur” fell on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, Adar, and permission was given to seize their plunder (3:13). Jesus makes reference in His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane that the world hates His disciples (John 17:14). The world hated Jesus, the epitome of love, and we cannot hope to live a more loving life than Jesus and escape persecution, if we stay faithful to the truth of God.
Mordecai refused to bow before Haman (3:2) because that was a violation of the Law of Moses. But, Jeremiah had also commanded the Jews, when they were being overtaken by the Babylonians, that they needed to seek the welfare of and pray for the prosperity of their new, albeit pagan, homeland (Jer. 29:4-7). Consequently, when Mordecai had the opportunity to report an assassination plot against King Ahasuerus, Mordecai reported it, without any suggestion, hint, or hope that it would save his life one day. He did it because God commanded it, because it was the right thing to do.
Thus begins, what might be considered the theme of the book of Esther, found in 9:1, in the NASV: “the day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, it was turned to the contrary so that the Jews themselves gained the mastery over those who hated them.” The Persians’ world, Haman’s world, turned “topsy turvy” when they tried to attack and kill God’s people.
There was even recognition among the Persians that there was something unique about the Jewish people, uttered no less than by Haman’s wife herself at 6:13: “If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of Jewish origin, you will not overcome him, but will surely fall before him.” It is the most absolute statement in the whole book that history as a whole, at least until the coming of Jesus, has a pro-Jewish shape to it, and it is surely ironic that it comes, not from the Jews themselves, but from their enemies, the wife of their chief antagonist. I am reminded of Rabbi Gamaliel’s statement about Christianity in Acts 5…
“Stay away from these men,” Gamaliel advised the Sanhedrin, “and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God” (Acts 5:38-39).
The end of chapter 8 may be decisive for the outcome of the book of Esther and the fate of the Jews, but it is what follows in 9:1–19 that ties up the loose ends and brings the main action to its final point of rest.
THE JEWS SLAY THEIR ENEMIES WITH THE SONS OF HAMAN - 9:1-19:
The thirteenth day of the twelfth month was the day which Haman’s superstitious advisors had said he should select as the most fortunate for their deed (3:13; 8:12). The month Adar is roughly February / March. This would be the year 473 B. C.
Verse 1 - The reversal of expectations…
On verse 2 - cf. 8:17 - “fear of them”
On verse 3 - The officials had received Haman’s edict (3:12-13). Then they received Mordecai’s (8:9). They choose to side with the Jews. “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Prov. 16:7).
On verse 6 - Map of Susa - Susa, inhabited as early as the 4th millennium B. C., had been the center of Elamite civilization. It was large and prosperous. The city was taken over by the Babylonians and the Assyrians. The Law Code of Hammurabi was found in the capital in 1900. In 646 B. C., the city was destroyed by the Assyrians under Ashurbanipal but rebuilt and then taken over by Cyrus of Persia in 539 B. C. Darius I (522-436 B. C.) made Susa the winter palace for the Persian monarch.
On verses 7-10 relative to Haman’s sons being killed, compare 7:10 with 8:11. The law had said that sons will not be put to death for the sins of their fathers, nor vice versa (Deut. 24:16). Here, I would presume that Haman’s sons were part of the group of Persians who wanted to kill the Jews.
The king’s edict allowed the taking of the plunder (8:11), but the Jews did not do so. “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; Or the Lord will see it and be displeased, And turn His anger away from him” (Prov. 24:17–18). This illustrates that the jews did not kill Haman’s sons for their own profit.
The king now goes to Esther to share information with her (vs 12)!
On verse 13 - This is the day Haman had set to annihilate the Jews (3:13, the 13th of Adar). It led to an awful slaughter of seventy-five thousand of their enemies. The sons of Haman have been killed (9:7-10, 12). Now, their bodies are to be impaled and displayed publicly (cf. Deut. 21:23).
On verse 15 - 300 men killed; earlier over 800 (vs 12). These were from the lower parts of the city, suggesting perhaps they were lying in wait. No wonder Esther asked for an extra day!
On verse 19 - The crisis that breaks in chapter 3 is not totally resolved until 9:19, where the last of the enemies of the Jews have been destroyed. Now, the paleness of death which hung over the Jews at 3:7-4:17 is replaced with the exaltation of Mordecai, feasting, rejoicing, and sharing food and gifts. Earlier the Jews had fasted; now they are feasting. Earlier, Mordecai was wearing sackcloth; now he is dressed in royal colors. What made the difference? “Whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” “He that is faithful over a few things will be made ruler over many things.”
THE TWO DAYS OF PURIM MADE A FESTIVAL - 9:20-32:
On verse 21 - Later, the Jews will call the 14th day of Adar, “Mordecai’s Day” (2 Maccabees 15:36).
On verse 23 - Caring for the poor was part of the Law: Lev. 25:25, 35; Deut. 15:7, 11; 24:14; Isa 58:1; Ezek 18:5-9; Zech. 7:10.
On verse 26 - “Pur,” in the Persian language, signifies “lot”; and the feast of Purim, or lots, has a reference to the time having been selected by Haman through the decision of the lot.
The festival was to last for two days, in accordance with the two days’ war of defense they had to maintain. There was a slight difference in the time of this festival; for the Jews in the provinces, having defended themselves against their enemies on the thirteenth, devoted the fourteenth to festivity; whereas their brethren in Susa, having extended that work over two days, did not observe their thanksgiving feast till the fifteenth. But this was remedied by authority, which fixed the fourteenth and fifteenth of Adar.
The book of Esther, as other biblical books, were written on vellum in the form of a roll. The names of the ten sons of Haman are written on it in a peculiar manner, being ranged, they say, like so many bodies on a gallows. The Jewish reader must pronounce all these names in one breath. Whenever Haman’s name is pronounced, they make a terrible noise in the synagogue. Some drum with their feet on the floor, and the boys have mallets with which they knock and make a noise. They prepare themselves for their carnival by a previous fast, which should continue three days, in imitation of Esther’s; but they have mostly reduced it to one day.
Passover and Purim, standing back to back in the festival cycle, testify to two complementary aspects of a single reality: the choice of Israel, which had its beginning historically in the call of Abraham. Passover celebrates the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt and Purim celebrates the deliverance of the Jews out of the hands of the Persians.
AHASUERUS’ GREATNESS, MORDECAI’S ADVANCEMENT - 10:1-3:
Great principles of truth and righteousness, his greatness rested on a firm foundation.
“The tempted, the anxious, the fearful, the discouraged may all find new hope and good cheer in the knowledge that our heavenly Father is faithful. He will ever be true to His pledged Word. The hard-pressed sons of the covenant may be sure that He will never remove His loving-kindness from them nor suffer His faithfulness to fail. Happy is the man whose hopes rely on Israel’s God; He made the sky, And earth, and seas, with all their train; His truth forever stands secure; He saves the oppressed, He feeds the poor, and none shall find His promise vain” (Isaac Watts, in The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer).
Esther teaches us that it is possible to be “in” the world and not be “of” the world, to be “in” Persia but not be “of” Persia.
Take home message: God loves you. God cares for you. God provides for you. God is faithful in all that He does. That’s why we worship Him! Be faithful to Him and His Law.