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The Story of Esther, 4th and Final

October 14, 2009

[Again, an adaptation of the sermons I preached on the entire book of Esther in the Fall of 2004].

Review so far:

Act I:  The King who couldn’t Command his Wife, 1:1-2 2

Act II:  Star Search for a new Queen, 2:1-18

Act III:  Intrigue in the Kingdom:  2 Secret Plots

Act IV:  For Such a Time as this, 4:1-17

Act V:   A Feast fit for a King (and his henchman), 5:1-7:10

Today:

Act VI: The Final Reversal & God’s Faithfulness, ch. 8-10

With the elimination of Haman, the most immediate threat to Esther and the Jews has been dealt with decisively .  However, there remains the not-so-small matter of an earlier irrevocable decree of the king calling for the complete annihilation of the Jews on the 13th of Adar.

Once more, the Queen will step to the fore.  Her growing faith in the providence of God gives her the courage to once again appear before the king to make another request, one that will forever rescue her people from the Persians.

Xerxes’ readily grants Esther’s request and gives to her and Mordecai his permission to affect a change in the situation.  They do so not by changing the previous decree (which was not “doable” in Persian law), but by writing another royal decree to stand alongside the first.  This second decree gave to all Jews everywhere the right to protect themselves if attacked on the 13th of Adar.

So here, then, is how the Scriptures record that fateful day (9:1ff.):

On the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, the edict commanded by the king was to be carried out. On this day the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, but now the tables were turned and the Jews got the upper hand over those who hated them. . . . The Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword. . . They also killed . . . 10 the ten sons of Haman son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews. But they did not lay their hands on the plunder [this last phrase shows the godly motivation of the Jews here].

When Esther apparently felt that a second day was needed to “mop up” the remaining loyalists of Haman in Susa, Xerxes also granted this as well (9:14).

When all this was accomplished, a feast day of celebration was established called “Purim.”  This was obviously drawing from the fact that Haman had used the pur, or the lot, to determine when best to attack and destroy Mordecai and Esther’s people.  Yet, in his gracious providence, God had completely overturned/reversed Haman’s plans.  The reversal of fortune for both he and the Jews could not have been more complete.  And the demonstration of God’s faithfulness was also as comprehensive as anyone living then could have imagined (5 reversals in chapter 8 alone).

For some, though, the bloody ending of the Esther story creates a moral problem.  For example, one man (whom I normal value for his opinions) writes

The tragedy [of the ending of Esther] is that the sheer, protective goodness of God should meet with such a shoddy response from his people, whereby a providence of grace became a reign of terror (A. Motyer).

This is to misunderstand the place of Esther in sacred history and also to ignore the fact that the Bible does teach a theology of warfare.  Here are its major points:

1) Warfare is simply necessary in a sinful world.  Good and evil exist and therefore conflict between them exists.

2) God is a Warrior:  “The LORD is a warrior; the LORD is his name” (Exodus 15:3; I love the Caedmon’s Call song on this theme!).  As such. . . .

3) The Israelites did not decide on the appropriate time to initiate war. God revealed to them, in a variety of ways, when and whom they were to fight. Joshua 5:13–15 narrates a theophany in which God, the warrior, appears to Joshua and gives him the battle strategy for the defeat of Jericho.

4) The sacred nature of warfare in ancient Israel is revealed also in the people’s very march into battle. The ark of the covenant was the Israelites’ most potent symbol of God’s presence. During times of peace it was lodged in the most holy place in the tabernacle (or, later, the temple). At times of war, however, the army took it with them.  The ark, representing God’s presence as divine warrior, took the lead as the nation marched to war.

5) The location of the ark in the Israelites’ camp is a further indication of its role as the symbol of God’s presence as warrior. The ark was situated at the center of the camp, the place where the tent of the human war leader would normally be found.

6) Perhaps the best known characteristic of OT sacral war is that Israel does not rely on a large army or powerful weapons (remember Gideon?). In fact, the nation is not expected to have many troops. . . . Why fight with fewer soldiers and with less effective weapons than one’s opponents have?  To do so is to acknowledge that victory results not from human skill or resources, but only from God’s power and will. As the psalmist expressed it:  “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:7a).

7) Perhaps the most difficult aspect of Yahweh war for modern readers to understand is the cherem (the Hebrew term for the giving over of things and/or people to total destruction). This is a difficult word to translate, but it expresses the idea that all the booty and the prisoners of war are the property of Yahweh. After all, Yahweh is responsible for the victory; he deserves the spoils. This means, on the one hand, that all the spoils (the precious metals and other treasures) are placed in the temple treasuries. On the other hand, it means that all the prisoners of war – men, women, and children – are executed. Sinful people who do not atone for their sin by sacrifice are destroyed because of their wrongdoing.  Key to keep in mind here is that no sinner receives injustice from the hands of the holy God.

8) The exilic and post-exilic prophets speak about the future with hope. Daniel 7, for instance, speaks of ‘one like a son of man’ who appears on the clouds of heaven, the chariot of God the warrior (*cf. Pss. 18:7–15; 68:4, 33; 104:1–3; Nah. 1:3). Zechariah 14 also looks into the future and announces the coming day of the Lord (see Eschatology), when the Lord ‘will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle’ (Zech. 14:3). It is with this expectation of coming liberation that the OT ends.

9) After a period of prophetic silence, the New Testament picks up the story.  Jesus is the divine warrior, the one whom the Old Testament expected, but he has heightened and intensified the battle. The warfare has now been elevated, and the weapons for this war have changed. Jesus battles evil in the person of spiritual powers and authorities. It is, however, still a battle—part of God’s plan of warfare against evil, begun in the Old Testament. The military language used to describe Christ’s redemptive acts in passages such as Eph. 4:7-13 and Col. 2:13-15 makes this clear.

10) But this is just the start of Christ’s work. Christ’s victory over Satan is definite but not finally realized.  A crushing blow was rendered at Calvary, but the final blow awaits Armageddon. Thus, the Book of Revelation describes the return of Christ (whose name is Faithful and True) riding a white horse and leading the armies of heaven. Here the final battle, which includes vultures eating dead bodies and blood  is bloodier than anything in the Old Testament (19:11-21). This is the final battle, the final reversal when God decisively and forever defeats the forces of evil and rewards his people with the Kingdom.

Thus, the theme of divine warfare is a pervasive and important one in biblical theology. It is found throughout the biblical narrative (not merely in the OT). However, the Bible never glorifies warfare or violence in themselves. Warfare is–as Isaiah calls other of God’s actions–God’s ‘strange’ work (Is. 28:21) in which he judges evil. The purpose of Yahweh-war is the eradication of evil and the punishment of sin. Its climax is the final judgment.

Most importantly, then, you want to be on the side of the Divine Warrior and not against Him, when He returns!

All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10).

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