Esther: Maximising Ministry Potential
The Book of Esther, chapters 1-10
One of my most memorable films must be “The Sting” starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman. It was great—the bad guys set a trap for the good guys but end up falling into it themselves. The tables get turned and the good guys come out ahead.
One of the most exciting stings in all literature is a true story preserved in the Bible. It has romance, lots of action, a plot with more twists than a treacherous mountain road. I am talking about the Old Testament Book of Esther.
5 primary characters. Three are positive models and two are people not to emulate. Let’s start with the bad guys: King Xerxes and Haman. We’ll go a little bit Panto here, so when you hear their names, let me hear you ‘boo’.
King Xerxes, is ruler of the known world. Focused on money, sex and power Haman is the villain, and second in command to the king
Then we have two queens: Queen Vashti: a woman of character and conviction; involved in the opening scene, and, Queen Esther: who has both inner and outer beauty; and goes through an identity crisis. For their names, I want to hear you say ‘aaah’.
And a good guy, a strong believer in God is Mordecai: Stepfather of Esther; a man of integrity and faith, so your response to hearing him mentioned is ‘bravo!’.
King Xerxes was leader of the most powerful nation on earth. He had just lost a military battle so he decided to throw a huge party to cheer up. Probably bigger than the one the Chapel had last year, because it had fifteen thousand guests. When I was younger, a good party lasted all night but this king was a major party animal and his ones lasted for 7 days.
So while Xerxes and his friends painted the town, Queen Vashti had a more dignified get-together inside the royal palace, but on the last day, King Xerxes commands his wife to get dressed up then come out and parade in front of all his drunken buddies. Queen Vashti tells her drunken husband to go fly a kite. She wasn’t terribly interested in being ogled at by a bunch of leering men.
Well, this ticked King Xerxes off and he banishes her from the kingdom and we don’t hear from Queen Vashti again.
A couple of years later, Xerxes wants another Queen. His friends (chapter 2) advise him to hold a Beauty Contest, because that’s how deep a man he was. Mordecai, hears about this and tells his beautiful stepdaughter Esther all about it. When the king sees Esther, he halts the event and Esther becomes his wife. She is now Queen of the entire Persian Empire. By the way, no one knew she was Jewish, but here we begin to see the invisible finger of God at work behind the scenes.
Queen Esther gets her stepfather Mordecai a government job – some things never change! One day, sitting outside the doors to the king’s palace, he overhears two disgruntled men planning to assassinate Xerxes. Mordecai sends a note to Esther so she could warn the king. Esther tells the King, and credits Mordecai. Xerxes executes the two conspirators killed, and it is all noted in the official royal records. Keep this detail in mind because it will come up again later.
Fearful, the King has a massive cabinet reshuffle in which an obnoxious politician named Haman is promoted to be his right hand man (chapter 3). Haman is a slimy character and as we trace his family tree through the pages of Scripture we discover his ancestry is Amelikite. The Amelikites were decedents of Esau and enemies of God’s people (see Exodus 17:16).
Way back, God told King Saul to completely destroy the Amelikites (1 Samuel 15), but he disobeyed. Because he let the Amelikite king Agag live, Saul lost his kingdom. Now, 700 years later, Saul’s sin is still causing problems for God’s people — a reminder that we must deal decisively with sin in our life, or it keeps tripping us up, and affects generations to come.
Haman demanded everyone literally bowed down before him if he walked by. And everyone did – except Mordecai. Being a Jew, Mordecai was committed to bow only before God.
Exodus 20:3–5: “You shall have no other gods before me…You shall not bow down to them or worship them…”
Mordecai got under the skin of Haman. When he found out that Mordecai was a Jew, he schemed to destroy all Jews scattered throughout the Persian Empire. He is anti-Semitic and puts together a plan for an ancient holocaust.
Haman bribes King Xerxes to get a decree to destroy, kill, and annihilate all the Jews – young and old, women and children – on a set day in February.
Mordecai hears about this, stops eating, weeps and wails loudly, and puts on sackcloth and ashes, to show he is in mourning. Sackcloth made of goat or camel hair and coarse and uncomfortable, made any wearer miserable. Queen Esther hears about her stepfather’s mourning and sends someone to find out what’s going on.
Mordecai asks Esther to use her position to take a stand on behalf of the Jews –
Esther 4:8: “Please go into the king’s presence and beg for mercy and plead with him for our people.”
Initially, she was afraid. No one knew she was Jewish, and she knew how easily ex-queen Vashti had been dispatched. You couldn’t just walk into the king’s presence. It had been about 30 days since they had spoken and the law stated you had to be summoned by the king. In fact, the king could put someone to death if they did not follow exact etiquette.
When Mordecai hears Esther’s hesitancy, he made a convincing closing argument in 4:13–14: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”
Mordecai is saying three things to Esther.
- You can’t escape the coming holocaust! They will find out that you are Jewish, and that will be that.
- If you don’t act, God will send someone else because he is God and he loves his people, and he has plans for us, even if you choose to keep silent.
- God has put you exactly where He wants you for such a time and this is your purpose in life! This is what God has made you to do!
Esther’s faith and courage return and she instructs all Jews to spend three days praying and fasting. Notice she knows she needs help, and acknowledges she must wait on God’s intervention. Then she courageously risks her life to go uninvited to see King Xerxes:
**Esther 4:16, “If I perish, I perish.” **
Her heart is beating fast, she approaches the royal chamber, she swallows hard and walks inside. When the King sees Esther he smiles and says, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? I’ll give you up to half of my kingdom if you want it.”
Talk about things being prepared for you by God! Esther tells the Xerxes that she would like him to bring Haman to a banquet she has prepared. He does, and after pudding, he again asks Esther what she wants. Role the suspense music – she asks him to bring Haman to another feast the next day, and then she’ll tell him.
Haman was feeling pretty important about now — invited to eat with the king and queen two days in a row! Esther 5:9 says that he went out “happy and in high spirits.” But, as he walks through the palace he spots Mordecai at the front gate, who dos not even acknowledge him as he passes by. Haman is incensed, rage overwhelms him, but he manages to keep things under control because he knows the King’s decree would soon be the end of this pesky Jew.
Not one for modesty, Haman gets all his friends together, tells them about his rapid rise in power and prestige, and then in his speech he says:
“I’m the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the King to the banquet she gave. And she has invited me along with the king tomorrow. But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate.” (5:12–13)
His wife and his friends suggest he erects scaffolding that is 75 feet high and to ask the King to hang Mordecai from it. Haman has it constructed, and he can hardly sleep that night knowing he would finally be rid of Mordecai.
But the plot thickens. Someone else cannot sleep that night; King Xerxes. Because he was restless, he tells a servant to read from the official records, just like the Chapel Council minutes do for most of us, but the reading reminds him about how several months earlier, Mordecai had saved his life, and he is embarrassed to discover he had forgotten to reward him.
Haman arrives about that time, eager to be first in line to talk to the King about hanging Mordecai. He is summoned in and he is ecstatic, because he is about to be rid of Mordecai sooner than he thought!
The King asked Haman, “What should be done for the man the King delights to honour?”
He is sure the King was talking about him so says (Esther 6:8–9), “Have them bring a royal robe the King has worn and a horse the king has ridden…and have him led around the streets by one of the King’s most noble princes…” Haman was milking it!
The King liked that idea and told Haman get the robe and horse and get them Mordecai the Jew! He couldn’t believe it! He obeyed but with attitude. Soon though, all the Jews would be killed.
That night Haman comes to the second banquet. Once again the King asks Esther, ‘what do you from me?’.
“If I have found favour with you, O King, and if it pleases your majesty, grant me my life – this is my petition. And spare my people – this is my request. For I and my people have been sold for destruction and slaughter and annihilation.”
The king now understands that she is Jewish and that he has unknowingly signed the Queen’s own death warrant! He asks her, “Who is this man who has dared to do such a thing?” Esther calmly replied, “The adversary and enemy is this vile Haman!”
Haman falls out of his chair, the King flies into a rage, and Haman starts begging Esther for his life. The King sees Haman touching Esther as he pleads, when protocol was to stay at least seven paces away from the Queen. Haman is dragged from the room and hung on the very gallows he built for Mordecai, and in an even stranger twist, the King provides soldiers and weapons to all the Jews, so they can defend themselves. The “Sting” was now complete! Because of Esther’s stand, her people were now saved!
What a story! What lessons to learn!
- Even though Vashti had a bit part, she had courage to take a moral stand, knowing they would have been compromised had she walked into that room full of drunken men. Will we always take the moral high ground? Even if it costs us?
- Mordecai took a Spiritual Stand. He had surrendered his life to God, and he was unwilling to worship anything, or anyone else. Not an easy stand to make either. Are you man or woman enough to take a spiritual stand today? Do you have enough courage to believe in your heart that Jesus died for your sins and that He rose again? Do you have enough courage to stand up and be counted as a Christ-follower? Do people around you even know that you’re a Christian? Have you been hiding your holy heritage? Let’s be like Mordecai and speak up for what we believe.
- Esther took a positional stand. With help, she understood God had put her in a position to make a difference. She demonstrated extreme courage and faith by doing something that could have caused her own death. The great lesson from this story is that God has placed each one of us in positions where we can influence others for good. Don’t ever think that you are insignificant. God has put you where you are to make a difference. Created on purpose, for a purpose.
- And we need to recognise the sovereignty of God. Though God’s name is never mentioned in this book, He is evident behind the scenes. A “coincidence” is simply a time where God has chosen to act anonymously. He may be invisible, but He’s invincible. His will, will be done. He brought Esther to Persia, he gave her beauty so she could stop the beauty contest dead in its tracks and become queen. He placed Mordecai in the right place at the right time so he could discover the plot to overthrow the king. He used Esther’s banquets to give her hubby such heartburn he could not sleep, He made sure Haman was in the palace at just the right time for Mordecai to be honoured.
Look for evidence of His leading. Expect to see Him at work in the ordinary and you will be overwhelmed at how many times you find Him. There are no coincidences with God! Life is filled with appointments, not accidents. God is at work in the intricate weavings of our fragile human decisions. God is touching life in every scene and God has chosen to work out His plan today through faithful men and women like Vashti, Mordecai and Esther who maximise their ministry potential by taking a stand morally, spiritually, and positionally.
Before the Soviet Union broke apart, Premier Khrushchev was speaking before the Supreme Soviet and being very critical of Josef Stalin. While he was speaking someone from the audience sent up a note: “What were you doing when Stalin committed all those atrocities?”
Khrushchev shouted, “Who sent up this note?” No one said a word. “I’ll give you one more minute to stand up!” Still no one moved.
“All right, I’ll tell you what I was doing. I was doing exactly what the writer of this note was doing – exactly nothing! I was afraidr to be counted!”
Are you afraid to be counted? Or, are you willing to stand up morally, spiritually, and positionally as you recognise that God has sovereignly placed you exactly where He wants you, for such a time as this? Amen.