The God of Reversals

Good morning.  My name is Phil Human and I’m one of the pastors here at Journey.  And today we are in week five of a six week series on an Old Testament book – meaning the events took place before Jesus was born – and the name of the book is Esther.

And one of the most important things to understand about the book is that it describes God working behind the scenes in the lives of people.  The author of the book skillfully makes God the hero of the story without ever naming him.

Isn’t it weird to think that God would include a book in the bible that doesn’t mention him?  Well, frankly, God knows there are times when it feels that way to us.  When we wonder where God went?  And this book is meant to encourage us with a reminder of God’s faithfulness – God is always at work – always.  Even though sometimes it is behind what can be seen.

And I would like to propose to those of you who might be here for the first time that there is a God who is so loving and kind that He has been working behind the scenes in your own life to bring you to such a point that perhaps you are ready, maybe for the first time in your life, to discover what God is really like.  To discover the real Jesus.

We like to say here that when you discover the real Jesus you will find him irresistible.  And our prayer for you is that someday soon you will come to think highly enough of God to trust him with the day to day operations of your life.

That’s our definition of faith, by the way.  Faith is thinking highly enough of Jesus to trust him with your life.   And when we come to that place, then we receive from God an eternal kind of life, and he begins to change us into different kinds of human beings.

This morning, we are coming to a pivotal moment in the story of Esther.  And what we will see today is that God is the God of the great reversal.  And we will end our time this morning by talking about Jesus’ role in the greatest reversal ever pulled off.

When I think of a great reversal, I can’t help but think of football.  And when I think of great football reversals – I can’t help but think about this play – Nebraska against Oklahoma in 2001.  It’s grainy, but it’s also 17 years old – but let’s enjoy this great reversal in Nebraska football history.

Today we are going to read about a series of reversals in the book of Esther – and then talk about the greatest reversal in history – that, if properly understood – would want us to stand up and shout yeehaw!  WooHoo!  With as much energy as those guys.

A quick recap.  Esther is a Jewish girl living in Persia in about 475 BC.  She is married to the King of one of the greatest kingdoms the world had ever seen.  Although Esther is Jewish she has kept her nationality under wraps, per the direction of her uncle – a man named Mordecai, who raised Esther when her parents died when she was young.

At this point in the story, we find Haman, the second in command to King Xerxes, has hatched a plan to rid himself once and for all of his peoples arch enemy – the Jews, by convincing the King to sign into law an edict allowing the Jews to be killed on a certain day in the year.

Upon learning of this sordid plan, Mordecai challenges Esther to step it up and intervene on behalf of her people.  Although she had kept her nationality a secret these past five years in the palace, Esther decides to make a bold move and appear before the king uninvited, which could cost her her life unless the King pardons her.  She asks Mordecai to tell all the Jews living in the city to fast for her for three days in preparation, and her famous words to Mordecai were, I will approach the King and “if I perish I perish.”  We pick up events here in chapter 5.

On the third day of the fast, Esther put on her royal robes and entered the inner court of the palace, just across from the king’s hall.  If I may point this out, that although these events take place 500 year before Jesus dies, the bible has a stubborn way of introducing the idea of the importance of three days.  Jonah was in the belly of the whale – as good as dead- for three days before he was brought back to life, so to speak.

Esther and her people are as good as dead but – as we shall see – are brought back to life on the third day.  Jesus was in the tomb – dead – three days before being brought back to life.  If one wants to read the story of Jesus into the story of Esther, one will not have to look very hard to find similarities.

Here – we find Esther – she has put on her Royal clothes – she is claiming her authority as the queen of Persia.  And she stands outside the court, undoubtedly mustering all of her courage.

The king was sitting on his royal throne, facing the entrance. When he saw Queen Esther standing there in the inner court, he welcomed her and held out the gold scepter to her. So Esther approached and touched the end of the scepter.

By the way – there are many reliefs from this time period that show the King sitting on his throne with his scepter in his hand.  Like this one.  And behind him – as you can see in this rendition – men with swords.  His bodyguards there to take care of any uninvited guests.

Then the king asked her, “What do you want, Queen Esther? What is your request? I will give it to you, even if it is half the kingdom!”

This was an idiom, obviously.  If you read the New Testament Herod offers the same thing to Herodias’ daughter who danced before him.  Half the kingdom shall be yours.  Meaning – I am favorably disposed to you, tell me what you want.

And Esther replied, “If it please the king, let the king and Haman come today to a banquet I have prepared for the king.”

The king turned to his attendants and said, “Tell Haman to come quickly to a banquet, as Esther has requested.” So the king and Haman went to Esther’s banquet.

And while they were drinking wine, the king said to Esther, “Now tell me what you really want. What is your request? I will give it to you, even if it is half the kingdom!”

Now just two chapters ago – in chapter 3 – we find the last time Haman and Xerxes were drinking together it was to celebrate the decree to eliminate “a certain group of troublemakers”, as Haman put it.  Haman never did reveal the nationality of the people he wanted to murder.  And Xerxes cared so little about his people he never asked.

Here they are drinking together, – and here is the first reversal – it is to plant to seeds that will lead to the salvation of her people.

Esther replied, “This is my request and deepest wish. If I have found favor with the king, and if it pleases the king to grant my request and do what I ask, please come with Haman tomorrow to the banquet I will prepare for you. Then I will explain what this is all about.”

Maybe it feels weird that Esther wouldn’t just come out with it.  Why two banquets?  Well let’s remember that Xerxes had 180 days of partying in chapter one.  So two days is nothing, but it does convey to the King that what Esther wants to talk about is very serious.  And this delay heightens the tension in the story – both for us and Xerxes and Haman.  And it also introduces a time period of 24 hours where everything that has been done will be reversed.

Haman was a happy man as he left the banquet!  And why wouldn’t he be?  He is “In like Flynn with the Queen and King.”  He is second in command of the empire – the most trusted advisor to the King. And apparently, the queen adores him!

But check this out.  But when he saw Mordecai sitting at the palace gate, not standing up or trembling nervously before him, Haman became furious. 10 However, he restrained himself and went on home.

Mordecai is still giving Haman the berries.  He has nothing to lose now – so he refuses to bow before this murderous egomaniac.  And if there has ever been an egomaniac – this guy is it.

But the problem with prideful people is that they get their “feewings” hurt really easily.  Prideful people are fragile people.  All it takes is one person driving dumb in the left lane, or one person not bowing down to throw the guy into a pit.

Then Haman gathered together his friends and Zeresh, his wife, 11 and boasted to them about his great wealth and his many children. He bragged about the honors the king had given him and how he had been promoted over all the other nobles and officials.

12 Then Haman added, “And that’s not all! Queen Esther invited only me and the king himself to the banquet she prepared for us. And she has invited me to dine with her and the king again tomorrow!” 

The saying, “Pride goes before the fall.” is a variation of Proverbs 16:18 – that actually says Pride goes before destruction!  And Haman is the poster child for this saying, isn’t he?  Pride leads to destruction.

13 Then he added, “But this is all worth nothing as long as I see Mordecai the Jew just sitting there at the palace gate.”

Pride makes one pathetic. Can we agree?  How pathetic.

14 So Haman’s wife, Zeresh, and all his friends suggested, “Set up a sharpened pole that stands seventy-five feet tall, and in the morning ask the king to impale Mordecai on it. When this is done, you can go on your merry way to the banquet with the king.” This pleased Haman, and he ordered the pole set up.

I’m guessing that they placed a pole up on top of a hill – so that people passing by could see Mordecai up on that pole, as a warning to anyone who dares dishonor him.  And for the record, can we just say that Haman’s wife seems like a real jewel, doesn’t she?  Just impale the guy and go on your merry way?  Waaa????

Listen if your wife suggests killing someone who irritates you, you got trouble.  You’ve got a toxic relationship, okay?  You need to go to Spence Counseling like right away.  Especially if you are like, “Good idea babe!”

Now – chapter 6 – things are going to get sideways in a hurry for Haman.

That night the king had trouble sleeping, so he ordered an attendant to bring the book of the history of his reign so it could be read to him. In those records he discovered an account of how Mordecai had exposed the plot of two of the eunuchs who guarded the door to the king’s private quarters. They had plotted to assassinate King Xerxes.

“What reward or recognition did we ever give Mordecai for this?” the king asked.  His attendants replied, “Nothing has been done for him.”

Now this entire story is about to take a turn.  It’s about to swing and to a complete reversal.  And we are going to talk about this more next week, but can I just note here that it swings NOT on the bravery of Esther, or the advise of Mordecai, or even the stupidity of Haman.  The pivotal moment in the book is the night when the King can’t sleep.

Don’t overlook these “coincidences”.  He can’t sleep the night before his second banquet.  Coincidentally, he asks for the reading of the record, coincidentally the bravery of Mordecai is brought up.  Coincidentally, it just so happens that who, of all people, should be walking by the kings quarters at that very moment?  You got it.

“Who is that in the outer court?” the king inquired. As it happened, Haman had just arrived in the outer court of the palace to ask the king to impale Mordecai on the pole he had prepared.  Uh oh.  Bad timing Haman.

So the attendants replied to the king, “Haman is out in the court.”

“Bring him in,” the king ordered. So Haman came in, and the king said, “What should I do to honor a man who truly pleases me?”

Once again, although God is never mentioned, God is all over the page of every page in Esther’s story.  And once again, I will remind you, that God is all over the pages of your life as well.  And if you are here today, my guess is that it might be coincidences that brought you here.  And you might believe that for a few more moments.  But at some point God is going to tap you on the shoulder and say, “Surprise!”  I was with you all along!

Haman thought to himself, because he is Haman, he thinks the most Haman thought of all.  “Whom would the king wish to honor more than me?” So he replied, “If the king wishes to honor someone, he should bring out one of the king’s own royal robes, as well as a horse that the king himself has ridden—one with a royal emblem on its head. Let the robes and the horse be handed over to one of the king’s most noble officials. And let him see that the man whom the king wishes to honor is dressed in the king’s robes and led through the city square on the king’s horse. Have the official shout as they go, ‘This is what the king does for someone he wishes to honor!’”

10 “Excellent!” the king said to Haman. “Quick! Take the robes and my horse, and do just as you have said for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the gate of the palace. Leave out nothing you have suggested!”

11 So Haman took the robes and put them on Mordecai, placed him on the king’s own horse, and led him through the city square, shouting, “This is what the king does for someone he wishes to honor!” 

You think Mordecai was enjoying this little turn of events?  I imagine he was thoroughly enjoying it.  Although, as yet, he was still a man living under a death sentence.

12 Afterward Mordecai returned to the palace gate, but Haman hurried home dejected and completely humiliated. 

God often offers us the choice – humility or humiliation.  It’s humiliation for Haman.  And worse.  The reversal has begun.  It was Haman who was once paraded around the city, the edict passed demanding people bow in respect.  But here it’s Mordecai who is honored.  And of all the people, it’s Haman who must show respect to Mordecai.

13 When Haman told his wife, Zeresh, and all his friends what had happened, his wise advisers and his wife said, “Since Mordecai—this man who has humiliated you—is of Jewish birth, you will never succeed in your plans against him. It will be fatal to continue opposing him.”

14 While they were still talking, the king’s eunuchs arrived and quickly took Haman to the banquet Esther had prepared.

The Eunuchs are back!  And they are going to have a say in this by the time it’s all done.

On to chapter 7.  So the king and Haman went to Queen Esther’s banquet. On this second occasion, while they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “Tell me what you want, Queen Esther. What is your request? I will give it to you, even if it is half the kingdom!”

Queen Esther replied, “If I have found favor with the king, and if it pleases the king to grant my request, I ask that my life and the lives of my people will be spared. For my people and I have been sold to those who would kill, slaughter, and annihilate us. If we had merely been sold as slaves, I could remain quiet, for that would be too trivial a matter to warrant disturbing the king.”

“Who would do such a thing?” King Xerxes demanded. “Who would be so presumptuous as to touch you?”

Esther replied, “This wicked Haman is our adversary and our enemy.” Haman grew pale with fright before the king and queen. Then the king jumped to his feet in a rage and went out into the palace garden.

Now the king has a problem on his hand.  He was, after all, the one who signed the edict.  How is he going to save face here?  Can he punish Haman for a plot he himself approved? If he does so, won’t he have to admit his own role in the fiasco?

The king’s dilemma will soon be resolved by Haman, who completely loses his cool after the King leaves the room.

See the law was such that men weren’t allowed to be within seven feet of the Queen.  And well, Haman seems to have completely lost his cool.

Haman, however, stayed behind to plead for his life with Queen Esther, for he knew that the king intended to kill him. In despair he fell on the couch where Queen Esther was reclining, just as the king was returning from the palace garden.

The king exclaimed, “Will he even assault the queen right here in the palace, before my very eyes?” And as soon as the king spoke, his attendants covered Haman’s face, signaling his doom.  Now my guess is that the King saw what he wanted to see – when he declares that Haman is assaulting the queen.  Haman has made it quite a bit easier for the King to save face.

And so his fate is sealed.  And then – the Eunuchs!

Then Harbona, one of the king’s eunuchs, said, “Haman has set up a sharpened pole that stands seventy-five feet tall in his own courtyard. He intended to use it to impale Mordecai, the man who saved the king from assassination.”

“Then impale Haman on it!” the king ordered. 10 So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai, and the king’s anger subsided.

Let’s take a quick review of all of the great reversals in this story thus far.

In chapter 4 Mordecai is wearing sackcloth and is covered in ash as a sign of his distress.  In chapter 6 he is wearing the kings clothing.

In chapter 5 Mordecai at one point was walking around the city weeping and wailing.  while Haman is described as a very happy man.  And by the end of chapter 6, well, it’s the other way around, isn’t it?

Haman was the one who was paraded around demanding honor, and yet it’s Mordecai who eventually is paraded around by Haman.

In chapter 5 Haman brags about his great wealth, and in chapter 8 – you can read it yourself, all that Haman owned was given to Mordecai.

In Chapter 3 it says the city of Susa was bewildered by the Edict against the jews – and by chapter 8, it says the city was rejoicing.

And of course, the Gallows – set up for Mordecai, eventually becomes Haman’s own instrument of death.

The book of Esther is all about reversals.

But all of these reversals – the all pale in comparison to a reversal that has been made available to you and me, yes, this very day through faith in Jesus Christ.

Talk about reversals!

  • Jesus leaves heaven and is born into poverty, in order that we might have the riches of heaven at our disposal.
  • The Lord of all creation becomes part of the creation so that he might be able to rescue nun in our time of need.
  • The Master of the Universe shows himself to be the humble servant of all.
  • He who had no sin became sin for us.
  • Put to death, and by doing so ensures death’s defeat. (O death, Where is your sting?)

2 Corinthians 5:21

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Can we just appreciate the divine reversal of our own fortune?

  • We were destined to die because of our sin, but in a reversal, Jesus dies in our place.
  • Our sin should have brought us death, but in a reversal, Jesus’ death brought us life.

As we read stories like Esther, we find ourselves wanting to identify with the hero’s of the story.  I’d be like Mordecai or Esther.  Not Haman.  No one ever says, I identify with Haman.  But I think that if we dug a little bit into the heart we might find a little bit of Haman inside us.

What?  I’ve never plotted the destruction of an entire race of people, Phil!  Well, good for you.  Here’s a cookie.  I will agree with you – Haman is a worse human being than you.  Congratulations you finally found someone worse than you!  I knew you could do it.

But here’s the astounding truth.  Even if you were, deep down, a little bit Haman, Jesus died even for you.  Even you – can turn and stumble your way into a different kingdom through faith in Jesus.

The greatest reversal of all is that God loves you, yes you.  And he made a way for us to swap with Jesus.  He dies our death.  We live His life.

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