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Choose your enemies wisely - Esther 7:1-10

This is a sermon by Peter Birnie from the evening service on 1st August 2021.

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Esther 7 v 1-10 “Choose your enemies wisely” (Slide 1)

Intro: When I was a teacher there was a big difference between my first year of teaching and my tenth year of teaching in how I treated defiant students. (Slide 2) In my first year, a defiant student would really rattle me, deliberate rudeness in class or an outright refusal to follow instructions would get me nervous and I would feel huge pressure to work out the right thing to do. By year 10 though, when a student dared to attempt rebellion in my classroom, things had changed. Even in the best attempts at defiance I had time to look around the classroom, snigger a little bit to myself and then squash the puny efforts very quickly. And I was actually quite a gentle teacher – there were some teachers who took this to an art form, some teachers that when you heard them do a particular laugh, you put your fingers in your ears because you knew that a badly behaved student was about to get demolished.

In Esther chapter 7, Hamaan is that student. Apart from the gospel accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection, I don’t think there is anywhere in the bible where we see more clearly the God of Psalm chapter 2 in action (Slide 3). The God who laughs at his enemies and then rebukes them in his anger, the God who scoffs at those who would try to rebel against him and then terrifies them in his wrath. At the beginning of the chapter Esther and the Jews are under the death sentence, and a gallows stands outside evil Hamaan’s house with Mordecai’s name on it, but by the end of the chapter, it is Hamaan hanging humiliated and dead. Uncomfortable though it may be, can you not almost hear God laughing throughout this account? 

Yes, God’s name is never mentioned in the book, but Esther 7 puts in front of every one of us a choice we all make and it is a choice I hope will ring in your ears as you go out of this place tonight; Are you choosing God as your defender or as your destroyer? Are you an Esther or a Hamaan? There is no question of more importance that anyone has ever asked or answered. Some of us are messing around in front of the almighty God and thinking it doesn’t really matter – let tonight be the night when that stops, when we flee his anger and run to him instead for the full salvation he offers.

 

                  1) The Sovereign God relates to Esthers as a defender (v1-7)

(Slide 4) Because the Sovereign God relates to Esthers as a defender. Esther is in a very weak and vulnerable position in verses 1-7. It is D-day and she is about to confront the king with her true identity as a Jew, with the news that the King Xerxe’s name is on the order to destroy her and her people, and with the truth that Hamaan, the king’s drinking buddy and seemingly loyal right-hand man, is the architect of her trouble. Back in chapter 4, Esther had voiced her predicament accurately when she said to Mordecai “I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” Whatever direction Esther looks in right now, death seems to be on the horizon. Hamaan and Xerxes together sealed the fate of the Jews during a drinking session back in chapter 3 and it is “as they were drinking wine on the second day, the king asked again, Queen Esther, what is your petition?”    

Tense stuff. But because there is a King in heaven, and because that king’s character is full of holiness and mercy and righteousness, Esther’s answer to this drunken, dangerous, proud earthly king is absolutely correct. Esther’s humble answer is full of need and of boldness (Slide 5).

It is full of need; ‘Grant me my life, and spare my people – this is my request.’ Esther’s own life, the existence of the Jews in general, and the protection of the line from which the promised sin-crusher would one day arise are what is at stake in the answer to this request. And yet all Esther has done is to plead – she hasn’t tried to reason or argue or manipulate, she hasn’t even tried to establish the importance of her life or anyone elses’ (she says that if they had merely been sold as slaves she would have kept quiet rather than disturbing the king). Esther has simply admitted her helplessness and need.

And it is this that convinces me that Esther’s hope is now very much placed in God alone as her defender – because after all, King Xerxes has already shown himself in his dealings with Vashti to be a foolish and proud ruler who simply will not lose face in front of his people. Esther’s strategy is surely doomed to failure when it comes to a king like this – what will he care for the pleadings of a woman when it will call his laws and his advisors into question? Esther has had plenty of mess and compromise and sin and shame in her life up to this point. But God has been working to stir her to remembering who she really is, to remembering the people and the God that she belongs to. And so Esther puts her hope in God as her defender and she voices her helpless need.

But then she is also very bold. Because when in verse 5 the King’s response is to ask “Who is he? Where is he – the man who has dared to do such a thing?” Esther doesn’t hold back at all. The woman whose life was so full of compromise now leaves the king no room for compromise. “An adversary and enemy! This vile Hamaan.”

(Slide 6) Have you ever noticed how defensive people get about their pet dogs? I can just about understand it when it is a beautiful, gentle, good-natured animal but when it is a snarling bundle of muscle and they are still kissing it and arguing its case I am utterly confused. Hamaan is like Xerxes’ guard dog – and even though he is a snarling vicious mix of aggression and hostility, for some reason Xerxes thinks he is great. Esther points her finger straight at Hamaan and forces the king to make a choice. His queen or his guard dog? Esther the Jew or his drinking buddy Hamaan? “The king got up in a rage, left his wine and went out into the palace garden.”

 

(Slide 7) Only a few chapters ago we couldn’t learn anything positive from Esther at all – instead we had to be warned by her sin and her compromise, by her silence and her bending to the desires and demands of the sinful world around her. But in chapter 7 many of God’s people sitting here tonight, we should feel shamed and stirred by the actions of Esther. The situation she was in was more dangerous than anything we have to endure and yet the boldness and risk-taking that she embraced was far greater than what we regularly choose to embrace.

There are people in our lives we still haven’t explained the full gospel to because we are a bit afraid. There are places in our lives where we are still living in disguise rather than living open gospel-shaped lives. There are convictions in our lives that come straight from God’s Holiness that we keep silent.

But rather than going away and pulling up our socks and trying to be far more courageous, what we actually need to do is to fix our eyes once more on the God who is in heaven – yes like the book of Esther he may seem absent at times (certainly the people around us live as if he is) but the Almighty God is absolutely present with his people and for his people. His character is such that he defends the needy and answers the bold. If you are feeling your weaknesses and lack of Christian courage very keenly right now then you are in the perfect position to run to God and plead for his help. He can give you what you need to boldly act in gospel-shaped ways that you could never have imagined. God acts towards Esthers as a defender, and what a defender to have on your side! 

People always want practical steps to take from sermons so how about this one; Perhaps the first action that any Christians here tonight need to take is to go home, open your diaries and write in, in permanent ink, the times and dates of the prayer meetings that your own local church is putting on. I just don’t understand why they aren’t as full as Sunday mornings – I can’t imagine where people get their confidence from to try to live for God in a hostile world without corporate prayer. The prayer meetings remind me that I am as needy as Esther, but that the God who is in control can make me just as bold.     

                      2) The Sovereign God relates to Hamaans as a destroyer (v6-10)

Esther has chosen well. She has left herself in the hands of the God who defends his needy people. (Slide 8) But in verses 6-10 we see that Hamaan is in exactly the opposite position and it is a terrible position to be in because the Sovereign God relates to Hamaans as a destroyer.

(Slide 9) Sin has done in Hamaan what it always does in human hearts, it has made him hard towards God and his people, and it has made him proud of his own strengths and achievements. If there were no King in heaven but only the kings of this earth then the Hamaans of this world would do very well – and up to chapter 5 verse 14, Hamman was doing very well indeed. Powerful and successful, Hamman not only thinks he doesn’t need God, but even worse by showing his hatred for Mordecai and God’s people as a whole, Hamaan boldly shows that he despises God himself. In human terms, Hamaan is a terrifying man (A Himmler type figure) who seems able to decide matters of life and death for those around him. 

 

But there is a King in heaven. And he is the Psalm 2 God – Hamaan needed to pay attention to truths like these in Psalm 2 v 10-12 (Slide 10); “Therefore you kings be wise; be warned you rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling. Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”

Death does stalk these pages of the bible (just as death stalks every one of us each minute of our lives), but Hamaan, though he looks so authoritative and frightening, he is not the master of death and is just as much at its mercy as Esther, Mordecai and the rest of the Jews at this point with sell-by dates pronounced on their heads.

 

Well actually, Hamaan is in a far worse position than Esther – Esther has committed herself to the God who can and will defend her (Blessed are all who take refuge in him), but Hamaan has put his confidence in himself, refused to serve the true God, and as a result the true God’s wrath does indeed flare up in a moment, verse 7; “Hamaan, realising that the king had already decided his fate, stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life.” This proud, hard man is reduced to desperate pleading for his life with one he had previously condemned to death, pleading to the extent that he falls on Esther’s couch, sealing his fate.

 

It all happens so terribly quickly – “they covered Hamaan’s face” and in just 2 short verses, Hamaan is dead, impaled on the gallows he had set up, hanging right beside his house, his family, his friends. Hamaan had set himself against the God who laughs at his puny enemies, he had chosen to relate to God as his destroyer, and his destruction is complete.  

 

 

                          3) The Sovereign God relates differently than Xerxes’

(Slide 11) Where we must finish this evening is at a place that is of supreme importance in your life. If you believe and accept what God’s word is saying to us in Esther chapter 7, then your life could change forever from this point.

 

The Sovereign God relates to people differently than King Xerxes does. The Sovereign God relates differently to people than anyone else does. In what way?

 

Where King Xerxes changes his mind depending on how much alcohol he has drunk or how beautiful the person is speaking to him at the time, where he is swayed by people, and influence, and money, and romance and circumstance, the sovereign God is absolutely fixed in how he will treat you and me.

 

And that is all because of another scaffold that changed everything (Slide 12). The cross of Christ, where Jesus was hung as a substitute, where the blood of Jesus was shed as a payment, where the body of Jesus was taken so we could be given his righteousness, that gallows marks a victory …  where sin was paid for and where death itself was put to death.

 

 

 

If you approach God as an Esther, going to the cross boldly in humility and need and faith (no matter what sinful, compromised mess you have in your history or your present) then the Sovereign God has fixed his dealings with you as your defender. He won’t change his mind. He won’t be persuaded by anything to go back on his word.

(This position before God should change every moment of our lives, every decision we make, every risk that before we might have avoided; when we know God is fixed as our defender we can live boldly as Christians in this world full of aggression and anger towards Jesus).

 

Death itself has been hung on the cross, yes the consequences of it are still being felt but like Esther and Mordecai, the source of the threat has already been dealt with, and soon all of its impact will be mopped up too. The gospel allows us to be full of need and yet to be bold and confident because Jesus has done it all!

 

But if you continue to approach the Sovereign God as a Hamaan, ignoring the cross in pride and rebellion and apathy (no matter what good deeds you have in your history or what wonderful achievements you have in your present) then the sovereign God has fixed his dealings with you as your destroyer.

 

He won’t change his mind. Apart from the cross of Jesus Christ there is no hope for those who keep themselves as opponents of God and his people. This position is a frightful one to be in and if you are there then Hamaan’s terror in front of the king and queen in verse 6 is nothing compared to the terror that is waiting when you take your final breath and when you have to face the true king and try to explain your rejection of his ultimate authority and your refusal of his infinitely expensive offer of salvation by the blood of his son hung on that cross. So run to Jesus Christ this evening. Run tonight with your pride and hardness and compromise and sin and bow down at the cross – and the almighty God who laughs at his enemies will be your certain refuge for eternity.

 

 

 

 

 

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