This week we have the thrilling conclusion of our sermon series, or as we’ve been kind of looking at it as a TV miniseries, Esther: God Remembers You. Previously on Esther: God Remembers You... Queen Esther finally toldKing Xerxes, or as we learned otherwise known as King Ahasuerus (or King Headache, as we learned last week), her request to save herself, her family, and the Jewish people from the evil plot of genocide of the vial Haman Agagite, enemy of the Jews. The king regards this as a personal attack on him and leaves the room in a rage. Haman begs Esther for his life groveling at her feet. As he is not supposed to be within seven paces of the queen, the king sees this and accuses Haman of molesting her. Haman immediately is executed on the gallows he had built to kill with the queen’s adopted father, Mordechai. The enemy is gone, but the problem has not been solved.The law ordering the destruction of the Jewish people across the Persian Empire is still in effect. This is where our story picks up today.
Esther 8:1-17 NIV
1 That same day King Xerxes gave Queen Esther the estate of Haman, the enemy of the Jews. And Mordecai came into the presence of the king, for Esther had told how he was related to her. 2 The king took off his signet ring, which he had reclaimed from Haman, and presented it to Mordecai. And Esther appointed him over Haman’s estate.
3 Esther again pleaded with the king, falling at his feet and weeping. She begged him to put an end to the evil plan of Haman the Agagite, which he had devised against the Jews. 4 Then the king extended the gold scepter to Esther and she arose and stood before him.
5 “If it pleases the king,” she said, “and if he regards me with favor and thinks it the right thing to do, and if he is pleased with me, let an order be written overruling the dispatches that Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, devised and wrote to destroy the Jews in all the king’s provinces. 6 For how can I bear to see disaster fall on my people? How can I bear to see the destruction of my family?”
7 King Xerxes replied to Queen Esther and to Mordecai the Jew, “Because Haman attacked the Jews, I have given his estate to Esther, and they have impaled [hanged] him on the pole [gallows] he set up. 8 Now write another decree in the king’s name in behalf of the Jews as seems best to you, and seal it with the king’s signet ring—for no document written in the king’s name and sealed with his ring can be revoked.”
9 At once the royal secretaries were summoned—on the twenty-third day of the third month, the month of Sivan. They wrote out all Mordecai’s orders to the Jews, and to the satraps, governors and nobles of the 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush. These orders were written in the script of each province and the language of each people and also to the Jews in their own script and language. 10 Mordecai wrote in the name of King Xerxes,sealed the dispatches with the king’s signet ring, and sent them by mounted couriers, who rode fast horses especially bred for the king.
11 The king’s edict granted the Jews in every city the right to assemble and protect themselves; to destroy, kill and annihilate the armed men of any nationality or province who might attack them and their women and children, and to plunder the property of their enemies. 12 The day appointed for the Jews to do this in all the provinces of King Xerxes was the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar. 13 A copy of the text of the edict was to be issued as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality so that the Jews would be ready on that day to avenge themselves on their enemies.
14 The couriers, riding the royal horses, went out, spurred on by the king’s command, and the edict was issued in the citadel of Susa.
15 When Mordecai left the king’s presence, he was wearing royal garments of blue and white, a large crown of gold and a purple robe of fine linen. And the city of Susa held a joyous celebration. 16 For the Jews it was a time of happiness and joy, gladness and honor 17 In every province and in every city to which the edict of the king came, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating. And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them.
The time of Mordecai having to send messages and messengers to communicate with his daughter, Esther, and the king are over. He is brought into the presence of the king. He receives all the honors he had ever earned and then some. Twice he saved the Empire and the king from traitors. First, it was the assassination plot. Now, it is from Haman.
Mordecai effectively takes over Haman’s role with the king’s signet ring giving him great power. Xerxes is very trusting to hand over so much power so easily. Mordechai then surpasses Haman by being dressed like royalty.
All this is great, but it doesn’t really solve the basic problem. Mordecai isn’t going to have much time to enjoy his new position with Haman’s edict and still in place.
Esther has had about all she can take. She fasted for three days and hosted banquets for the king two nights in a row. The time of greatest danger with Haman is over. Some of the pressure is off. This woman of great strength and determination collapses. She can hold out no more, weeping at Xerxes’ feet begging for a new order to be written to counteract the edict of Haman the Agagite.
Has that ever happened to you? In the midst of crisis you hold it all together. You take care of the people around you. You do this thing that terrifies you, and then it’s over, and you start shaking as the adrenaline leaves you. You didn’t have time to dwell on the danger, but now that’s all you can think about.
The king does not handle the problem by enacting a new law or reversing the old law himself, and maybe Esther is, maybe we are, disappointed with that. We have seen Xerxes make some poor choices, but the truth is that humans will disappoint us. The people we revere and admire will disappoint us. We worship them, but there is only one we are meant to worship. Listen to these verses:
- Exodus 20:3, “You were shown these things so that you might know that the Lord is God, besides him there is no other. Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other.”
- Isaiah 44:8, “Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and for tell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.”
- Isaiah 45:5, “I am the lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.”
- Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no name under heaven to mankind by which we
must be saved.”
If we look at any human for this, we will be disappointed.
However, despite our disappointment, the king does give Esther and Mordecai the power to do what they can. That power is limited because they cannot simply rescind Haman’s original annihilation order. That can seem a bit strange, but all over the United States there are laws on the books about the strangest things, many of which cannot possibly be enforced. Olivet Nazarene University compiled a list of the craziest laws that still exist in the United States left is the top one for each state.
- Alabama: It is illegal to wear a fake mustache that causes laughter in church.
- Arizona: It is illegal for donkeys to sleep in bathtubs.
- Connecticut: A pickle cannot be legally considered a pickle unless it bounces.
- Minnesota: A person may not cross state lines with a duck atop his or her head.
- Nebraska: It is illegal for a mother to give her daughter a perm without a state license.
- New Jersey: It is against the law for a man to knit during the fishing season.
- New York: Slippers are not to be worn after 10 pm.
- Wyoming: You may not take a picture of a rabbit from January to April without an official permit.
- Washington: The harassing of Bigfoot, Sasquatch or other undiscovered subspecies is a felony punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment.
- Oregon: It is illegal to go hunting in a cemetery.
So, Esther and Mordecai cannot remove Haman’s edict, but they can enact a new edict that mitigates its effect. The new edict orders the Jewish people to assemble and protect themselves through defense. They cannot attack. They can only defend. They are also allowed to plunder their attackers. Just like with Haman’s order, this is written in every script and language of the Empire, including Hebrew. There will be no excuse for someone not getting the word. The day is still many months away, but the first thing is that the Jewish people must dissemble. Strength in numbers, they must get together to prepare.
That is one of the reasons we assemble. One of the descriptions of the church in Scripture is “the assembly.” We assemble for encouragement, for strength. Not so much for physical protection, though in a manner of speaking when we help with meals or mowing someone’s lawn, or 101 other things, that is physical protection too. But the protection and encouragement we get is more spiritual and in our discipleship Journey. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
We all know that it is a rough world out there. We need a top up, a fill up of our spiritual gas tank. Remembering and praising God, remembering why we are living the ways of Jesus Christ. We can say, “Why do I need to go to worship? I can read the Bible and pray to God on my own.” You can. But if we use the metaphor of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, and we as the sheep… An isolated sheep is open to the attack of the Predator, being lost and dying of starvation, and depression brought on by loneliness. Last week we looked at 1st Peter 5:8, “Your enemy the Devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” There are so many things waiting to devour us. Isolated without the support of others, we are vulnerable.
As word reaches all the towns and villages of the Empire there is great celebrating and rejoicing and of course… another feast. This is the book of feasting and parties. It is a celebration and gratitude of God’s providence. The pieces miraculously fall into place. All the dominoes fall the right way. Mordecai and Esther were placed where they could have an effect. They had their role to play, just as we have our role where we have been placed.
So the new edict has been sent out. This is where in a normal TV miniseries the screen would fade to black, the end. But, maybe you would like to hear the rest of the story, maybe the epilogue that they show during the credits of the movie.
The attack does happen on the 13th day of the month of Adar, but it wasn’t enforced by the local governor’s because of the power of Mordecai and the new edict. The enemies of the Jewish people still try to attack, but the Jewish people were ready and were able to defend themselves. A lot of people died, but none of the Jewish people touch the plunder even though the law allowed it.
They repelled their enemies and on the next day they celebrated in feasting again. And that is how the Jewish festival of Purim was initiated. It is a yearly celebration of when the Jewish people got relief from their enemies. The tables were turned, and their sorrow was turned into joy. (cf. Esther 9:22). Mordecai ordered that the celebration include feasting and giving gifts to the poor. Really, it is not unlike what we do for Thanksgiving, one of the differences being that they celebrate this in late winter or early spring depending on the year.
And this is how the celebration happens each year:
- Hear the Megillah
Head to your synagogue to hear the whole Megillah. The Megillah, a.k.a. “The Book of Esther,” is the scroll that tells the Purim story. Listen to the public reading twice: once on Purim night, and again on Purim day.This year, that’s Wednesday night, February 28 and Thursday, March 1, 2018. Pay attention—it is crucial to hear every word. When Haman’s name is mentioned (Chabad custom is that this is only when it is accompanied with an honorific title), you can twirl graggers (noisemakers) or stamp your feet to eradicate his evil name. Tell your kids that Purim is the only time when it’s a mitzvahto make noise! The Megillah is read from a handwritten parchment scroll, using an age-old tune.
- Give to the Needy
One of Purim’s primary themes is Jewish unity. Haman tried to kill us all, we were all in danger together, so we celebrate together too. Hence, on Purim day we place special emphasis on caring for the less fortunate. Give money or food to at least two needy people during the daylight hours of Purim, March In case you can’t find any needy people, your synagogue will likely be collecting money for this purpose. At least, place two coins in a charity box earmarked for the poor. On Purim, we give a donation to whoever asks; we don’t verify his or her bank balance first.
- Send Food Gifts to Friends
On Purim we emphasize the importance of friendship and community by sending gifts of food to friends. On Purim day, March 2, send a package containing at least two different ready-to-eat food items and/or beverages (e.g., pastry, fruit, beverage) to at least one Jewish acquaintance during the daylight hours of Purim. Men send to men, and women to women. It is preferable that the gifts be delivered via a third party.
Children, in addition to sending their own gifts of food to their friends, make enthusiastic messengers.
During the course of Purim day, March 2, gather your family, maybe invite a guest or two, and celebrate with a festive Purim meal. Traditionally, this meal begins before sundown and lasts well into the evening.
The table should be festively bedecked with a nice tablecloth and candles. Wash for bread or challah, and enjoy a meal featuring meat, wine and plenty of Jewish songs, words of Torah and joyous Purim spirit. Sing, drink, laugh, have fun together.
Note: When Purim falls on a Friday, out of deference to the approaching Shabbat, we start the meal earlier, ideally before midday.
- Special Prayers
On Purim, we include the brief V’al Hanissim section in all the day’s prayers, as well as in the day’s Grace after meals. This prayer describes the Purim story and thanks Gd for the “miracles, redemptions, mighty deeds, saving acts and wonders” that He wrought for our ancestors on this day many years ago. In the morning service there is a special Torah reading (Exodus 17:8–16), describing the battle Joshua waged against Amalek—Haman’s ancestral nation—almost one thousand years before the Purim events unfolded.
On Purim, children—and some adventurous adults too—traditionally dress in costumes, an allusion to God’s hand in the Purim miracle, which was disguised by natural events. Make sure your children masquerade as good, cheerful characters, such as Mordechai and Esther. Dress up your kids before taking them to the synagogue for the Megillah reading. Many synagogues have a masquerade party, along with prizes for the children, during or after the Megillah reading. (http://www.chabad.org/holidays/purim/article_cdo/aid/1362/jewish/Purim-How-To-Guide.htm)
And now we have the whole Megillah, the scroll par excellence. The story of how God orchestrated all the events behind the scenes to allow the ordinary people of Esther and Mordecai to do extraordinary things. We are urged to do to the same.
Even small things can make a difference. This week your challenge, your mission… If you choose to accept it… We live in a world starving for hope. This week pray and ask God to show you someone who needs to be encouraged with the hope only Jesus can give. Purposefully encourage that person with either a text message, call, or a visit. Sometimes we just need to be reminded that we are not alone in our battles.
Next week, begins the season of Advent, the coming of Christ. We anticipate the return of Christ by remembering, really experiencing the first Advent of the Christ child. We will look at the extraordinary events that God orchestrated that allow the greatest light or greatest hope into the world. We will be starting our new sermon series, Fresh Eyes: Seeing Christmas in a New Light.