I invite you to open your Bibles with me to the book of Esther. Esther, chapter 7, beginning in verse 1. Esther is in the Old Testament – Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job. Esther 7, beginning in verse 1. If you do not have a Bible with you this morning, please feel free to take one from the pew in front of you and leave it open as we read and study God’s word together.
Last week, we saw the beginning of the downfall of Haman. After the Jew Mordecai refused to bow down before him, Haman – second in command of the whole empire – convinced the king to let him send out an edict to destroy all the Jews throughout the kingdom. However, this was not enough for Haman. Mordecai still refused to bow, so Haman had a spike 50 cubits (or 75 feet) high built on which to hang Mordecai. He arose early in the morning to speak with the king about gaining permission to kill Mordecai.
The conversation did not go as planned. Instead of killing Mordecai, Haman found himself dressing Mordecai in royal robes and leading him around the city on a royal horse, proclaiming, “Thus shall it be done for the man whom the king wishes to honor.” Utterly humiliated, Haman heads home mourning and complains to his wife and friends. No sooner had they begun to speak then the king’s eunuchs arrive to bring Haman to the banquet Esther has prepared for him and the king.
Last week, we heard the beginning of Haman’s downfall, but this morning, well, let’s listen together. But before we do, please take a moment to pray with me.
Father, may your Word be our rule, Your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.
These are the very words of God from the book that we love:
So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king said again to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O King, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me – that is my petition – and the lives of my people – that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace, but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen. The king rose from the banquet in wrath and went into the palace gardens, but Haman stay to beg his life from Queen Esther, for he saw that the king had determined to destroy him. When the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman had thrown himself on the couch where Queen Esther was reclining; and the king said, “Will he even assault the queen in my presence, in my own house?” As the words left the mouth of the king, they covered Haman’s face. Then Harbona, one of the eunuch’s in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Thus endeth Haman.
There is a bit of poetic justice in Haman’s death. This whole drama started back in chapter 3 because Haman was angry that a Jew refused to fall down before him and now Haman is killed for inappropriately falling down before a Jew, Esther. Additionally, Haman’s wife Zeresh claimed that “If Mordecai, before whom your downfall has begun, is of the Jewish people, you will not prevail against him, but will surely fall before him.” The downfall of Haman is both metaphorical and literal in this case. Another fitting aspect of Haman’s death is that he is killed on the very gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. His plot to destroy one of God’s people rebounded upon him for his own destruction. Or, in the words of the Bard, he was ‘hoist on his own petard.’
This is the night of the second banquet that Queen Esther has prepared for the king and Haman. And for the third time, the king asks her to name her request and petition. This third time, Esther finally answers and her response is expertly crafted, because she knows the kind of man Ahasuerus is.
King Ahasuerus is the kind of man who would not bat an eye at the death of hundreds or thousands of nameless people. History tells us of his ruthlessness and cruelty. The book of Esther reveals his willingness to hand over his signet ring to a man bent of the destruction of not a person, but a whole people. Even if we think the king somehow misunderstood what Haman was asking, he was still willing to authorize the enslavement of people without a moment’s hesitation. Ahasuerus is not the kind of man to be stirred by appeals to his humanity. But if he perceives there to be an attack on his honor or his power, the king is swift and brutal. Remember Vashti. The king would not be troubled by the death of the Jews as a people, so that is not where Esther fixes his attention.
Instead, she keeps his eyes fixed on her. Her tone is personal – If I have won your favor, O King, instead of ‘if I have won the king’s favor.’ When she states what is happening, she begins first with herself – her own danger, the threat to her own life – and then includes the plight of all the Jews. This is not a selfish statement, but a smart one. But fixing the king’s eye on her, she tells him that this attack is an attack on the king himself. Attack the Jews, you attack the queen, attack the queen, you attack the king. And as Esther states, “no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” This is damage to the king.
Esther’s speech works. Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman.” Then Haman became terrified before the king and queen.
Esther response creates curiosity in the king and then rage as he discovers that the man who threatens the life of his queen is Haman, second in command of the empire. In rage, the king leaves. Whether he goes to try and collect himself or to take a moment to rearrange his perception of the world, we don’t know. But Haman evidently sees Ahasuerus’ face and knows he has little time if there is a chance to save himself. He stays and pleads with Esther for his life. It is interesting that he assumes she has the power to give him his life and even more shocking that he would imagine she would have the inclination to save him. Haman throws himself at her feet and pleads for his life.
The king returns and things get dicey. He misinterprets Haman’s falling on the couch as sexual assault and Haman’s fate is sealed. Almost. The king is filled with rage, but being Ahasuerus needs a little help to see what to do. Then Harbona, one of the eunuch’s in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.”
It is ironic that Haman is convicted and killed for something he is not guilty of, not for any of the many things he is guilty of. He isn’t killed for ordering genocide, but for supposedly assaulting the queen. Unsurprisingly, no one bothers to correct the king when he misreads the situation. Instead, Haman is sentenced and killed and the anger of the king abated.
Thus endeth Haman. Through precise timing (the king comes back at just the right moment to misinterpret Haman’s actions) as well as the courageous and delicate work of Esther, Haman, the enemy of the Jews, falls.
Was there ever any doubt that God would deliver his people?
Esther’s faithfulness plays a significant role in the deliverance of God’s people. Her actions matter. However, Esther’s plan by itself was not what turned around the fortunes of God’s people. The book of Esther is written in such a way that we are meant to see the king’s sleepless night as the hinge upon which the whole book turns. When Esther and Mordecai were sleeping, when they were doing nothing to bring about deliverance, God was working, God was turning life around for his people. God’s action is the hinge, but on either side of that hinge – in chapter 5 a couple weeks ago and in our scripture this morning – we have the work of Esther. It was God who delivered the Jews from destruction, but God’s sovereign work included a place for the work of Esther. Her work was meaningful and significant, no doubts there, but it is only God who saves and delivers.
Here at the banquet, a moment where everything still seems to be hanging in the balance for the Jewish people, there was no reason to be afraid. We hearing this story, just like the Jews long ago, could listen with confidence that God would ultimately deliver his people. It was possible to be certain that Haman would not triumph, not because we have confidence in Esther’s cunning, but because we have confidence that God keeps his promises to his people.
All the way back in Genesis 12, God declared to Abram that those who blessed him and his offspring would be blessed, but those who cursed him would be cursed. The downfall of Haman is the part of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abram. Haman assaulted the descendants of Abraham and, as Zeresh rightly stated, Haman would not prevail against them, but would surely fall before them. Our confidence in God’s deliverance comes from God’s character as the God who keeps his promises. We might need patience to see exactly how God will deliver his people, but God’s commitment to do so is never in doubt.
God does not change. God always keeps his promises. What confidence this should give us! It should give us great hope for our children. The promises made to them in baptism are not simply our commitment to raise them to the best of our ability. Our parenting is frequently flawed. Our children inherit our sins and weaknesses. They reflect us, in beautiful and in very broken ways. If our children’s spiritual destiny rested solely, or even primarily, in our hands, they would have little hope of finding God. But our God has not only committed himself to us, but to our children as well. Acts 2:39 says that God’s promises are for those who were born near to God (Jews) and those who were born far off (Gentiles), for us and, it says, for our children. In baptism, God makes promises to the baptized and God always keeps his promises. This truth should give us confidence and courage as we work to raise our children to know the Lord.
God as a promise-keeping God, not only to Esther and the Jews in their peril in Persia, but to us, the people of God today, should be a source of incredible hope. God’s character should give us hope for our churches. We do not have hope for the church because of the vast wisdom of our elders, the great passion of our deacons, or even the gifts and abilities of our pastors. If our hopes for the church rested on these things, we might as well shut the doors right now. We might be able to draw a nice crowd and have fancy programs with the right staff and assortment of gifts, but we could not manufacture a ministry that creates real, lasting, significant spiritual change in the lives of men and women for the sake of the gospel. Only through the power of the Holy Spirit are hearts turned toward God. Only by the power of God through the cross of Christ can women and men be saved. Our confidence rests on the fact that God has promised to build his church and that the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. So we work, we preach the gospel, care for the sick, feed the hungry, release the oppressed, and love one another with boldness, knowing that God who began this good work will bring it to completion.
Despite everything that was stacked against them, God delivered his people. They had a ruler who was an amoral fool and a vice-ruler who was wicked and vindictive. They were a powerless people trapped and used in the vicious machine of the Persian empire. There was plot after plot to destroy them. Yet all of that was not too much for God. Through divine intervention and through the faithfulness of people like Esther and Mordecai, God kept his promise to deliver his people. God delivers and God keeps his promise.
Lastly, God’s faithfulness should give us confidence in our own lives, in our own battles with sin. Our hope is not in our progress, our fortitude, or personal strength. The farther along we go in the Christian life, the greater the depths of sin we see in our own hearts. Yet, we can have hope that we will grow in godliness. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Our hope is built on the God’s promise to send the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts in ways that we will bear fruit for God’s kingdom. So as we struggle, as we pray, as we work, as we rejoice, we can do so with confidence that God will work and will bring his work to completion in us.
The whole weight of the Persian empire did not stop God from keeping his promises. Haman was brought down. As Psalm 1 says,
Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread
or sit in the seat of scoffers,
But their delight is in the law of the Lord
and on his law they meditate day and night,
They are like trees planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
So God has promised and so it will be. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.