June 9, 2010 David Balzer

Esther 7-10: Party Time!

November 1989. And East Germany was beginning to self-destruct. News like wildfire around Europe that THE BERLIN WALL was about to fall.

It had been the GREAT SYMBOL OF DIVISION. The barrier between East and West, Between Democracy and Communism. A wall that had separated friends, and families, and fellow Germans for 50 years was coming down.

FIVE MILLION PEOPLE descended on Berlin to witness history. To celebrate the end of the Wall, the end of the Cold War, the end of Communism, and the reunification of Germany.

It was THE PARTY TO END ALL PARTIES.

Here are some recollections from Andreas Ramos, who drove from Denmark to be there.

“At the East German border, people milled around. It was nearly 3 a.m. by now. It had taken us three hours to get through the traffic jam of cheering and applause. Everyone had their radios on, and everywhere was music. People had climbed up into trees, signs, buildings, everything, to wave and shout. Television teams stood around filming everything. People set up folding tables and were handing out cups of coffee.

We walked through the border. On both sides the guard towers were empty and the barbed wire was shoved aside in great piles. Large signs told us that we needed sets of car documents. The East German guard asked if we had documents. I handed him my cat’s vaccination documents, in Danish. He waved us through.

We were finally inside East Germany, and arrived in Berlin at 4:30 a.m.

At seven a.m. or so, we headed to the Potsdammer Platz. Everything was out of control. People were everywhere. Police on horses watched. There was nothing they could do. People were blowing long alpine horns which made a huge noise. There were fireworks, kites, flags, dogs, and children.

The wall was finally breaking. Cranes lifted slabs aside. East and West German police had traded caps.

At the Berlin Wall itself, which is 3 meters high, people had climbed up and were sitting astride. In one section, the final slab was moved away. A stream of East Germans began to pour through. People applauded and slapped their backs. A woman handed me a giant bottle of wine, which I opened, and she and I began to pour cups of wine and hand them to the East Germans.

Packed in with thousands, I stood at the break in the wall. Above me, a German stood atop the wall, waving his arms and shouting reports to the crowd.

Looking around, I saw an indescribable joy in people’s faces. It was the end of the government telling people what not to do, it was the end of the Wall, the war, the East, the West.

If East Germans were going west, then we should go east, so we poured into East Berlin. Around me, people spoke German, French, Polish, Russian, every language.

Near me, a knot of people cheered as the mayors of East Berlin and West Berlin met and shook hands. I stood with several East German guards, their rifles slung over their shoulders. I asked them if they had bullets in those things. They grinned and said no.

From a nearby house, someone had set up loudspeakers and played Beethoven’s ninth symphony: “Ode to Joy”. The words begin

“Joy, bright spark of divinity, Daughter of Paradise, we tread your sanctuary. Your power re-unites all that custom has divided,  ALL MEN BECOME BROTHERS under the sway of your gentle wings.”

(pause) It must have been an incredible experience. That’s a SERIOUS party. A party to end all parties!

When you’ve got something WORTHWHILE to celebrate – like UNITY AND DELIVERANCE – a party can be a FANTASTIC experience. There’s a richness and significance to the JOY/

It’s so much deeper and more real than a party simply for the sake of having a good time.

It’s the difference between parties with PURPOSE and parties for PLEASURE. Like the sort of thing you see on TV on New Year’s Eve. Or Mardi Gras. People just getting drunk and having a good time for the sake of it. It just seems pointless to me.

And, personally, I’m all for more of the FIRST TYPE – parties with PURPOSE.

1. The trap is sprung (7)

And here in Esther Ch 7, it’s time for ANOTHER party. There’s already been plenty of parties. But here’s the most important one yet. It really IS a PARTY WITH PURPOSE.

Because it’s time for Esther to reveal her plan. It’s time the trap is sprung. Unfortunately, the heading in the NIV gives the game away a bit, so we’ll pretend we don’t see that.

But Esther and Haman and Xerxes are just settling down with a glass of wine, when the king pops the question AGAIN. For the THIRD TIME. “What’s your request?”

And this time Esther answers. Because she’s got Haman just where she wants him. And her words are perfectly chosen. She’s probably rehearsed this moment dozens of times in her head. Ch 7 v3.

If I have found favor 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. 4 For I and my people have been sold for destruction and slaughter and annihilation. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king.”

And the trap is sprung. Who could deny a request like that?

And when the King asks the next question “Who is he? Who would dare to do such a thing?”, the answer comes back,

The adversary and enemy… is this vile Haman.”

And she points to Haman. The only other person within earshot.

And Haman, who perhaps’s been leaning forward, listening with interest to the Queen’s request, collapses to the floor. Esther’s a JEW! And he knows HE’S a man!

The king’s furious.– must have been – he even left his wine behind! He goes out in the garden. Perhaps to cool off, perhaps to work out what to do – or to look for an advisor to tell him what to do.

But it’s here we get another of these delightful misunderstandings. It makes us laugh, but I’m sure Haman wasn’t laughing. V7

Haman, realizing that the king had already decided his fate, stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life. 8 Just as the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was reclining. The king exclaimed, “Will he even molest the queen while she is with me in the house?”

The king thinks Haman’s trying to attack his wife. As if making plans to wipe her out aren’t enough. Now he’s even trying to molest her in her own home! And the king REALLY loses it.

And his fate IS sealed. The servants cover his face. He’s a man walking.

And then, it JUST SO HAPPENED the king finds out about Haman’s gallows. Prepared for Mordecai. (The one who spoke up to help the king). Just in case we’d forgotten.

So the king says PERFECT. And Haman swings from his own gallows. That’s what you call POETIC JUSTICE.

2. The great reversal (8-9:17).

And so justice is served. Haman gets what he deserves. And, instead, Mordecai gets what HE deserves. He gets the king’s signet ring – that he’s taken back from Haman. As well as Haman’s estate. It’s THE GREAT REVERSAL!

(pause) The first crisis is over, And we breathe a sign of relief. But we’ve forgotten – this is only a sideshow, the major crisis is still to come.

It’s the problem of the unchangeable decree. The day of the Jew’s massacre. As much as Xerxes would LIKE to, he can’t cancel Haman’s law. Any rule sealed with the King’s ring CAN’T BE CHANGED. The day of slaughter stands.

As usual, the king has NO IDEA what to do, so he lets ESTHER AND MORDECAI come up with the plan. Ch 8 v8.

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.”

Just in case we’d forgotten. And eventually we find out the plan. Down to v11. ANOTHER decree – that lets the JEWS FIGHT BACK.

11 The king’s edict granted the Jews in every city the right to assemble and protect themselves; to destroy, kill and annihilate any armed force of any nationality or province that might attack them and their women and children; and to plunder the property of their enemies.

And it’d be on the same day HAMAN’S edict happened.

And as the edict goes out throughout the kingdom, we see how the great reversal continues. V15. Mordecai leaves the king’s presence wearing the king’s fine clothes, and a large crown of gold.

And while HAMAN’S edict had MYSTIFIED AND CONFUSED PEOPLE. When they found out about MORDECAI’S one, there’s GREAT JOY. V16.

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, wherever the edict of the king went, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating.

And as we move into Ch 9, the months have flown past. And the dreaded day arrives. But the Jews have used the time well, and they’re well-prepared. And the great reversal is COMPLETE. V1 of Ch 9.

On this day the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, but now THE TABLES WERE TURNED and the Jews got the upper hand over those who d them. 2 The Jews assembled in their cities in all the provinces of King Xerxes to attack those seeking their destruction. No one could stand against them, because the people of all the other nationalities were afraid of them.

And look at the details – v6. They killed and destroyed their enemies. 500 men in Susa alone! Including the ten sons of Haman.

And when the king finds out the numbers, he’s a bit shocked. V12. If this is what they’ve done in SUSA, how many thousands have been killed in THE REST OF THE KINGDOM? Perhaps he’s starting to have second thoughts.

And so he asks Esther what she wants to do.

But if he thinks she’s going to back off, he’s got her wrong. She’s going for the throat. “Give us ANOTHER day. We didn’t kill ENOUGH. We need MORE time.”

And then she comes out with the thirsty statement. V13. “And let Haman’s sons be hanged on gallows!” Remember they’re already – so this is just to send a message – here’s what happens to those who mess with the Jews.!

And Xerxes agrees!

Meanwhile, Jews everywhere ELSE/ get relief from their enemies. And they kill 75,000. Which seems a HUGE number.

And so the Jews are SAVED.

3. What’s the message of Esther?

Which is GREAT NEWS. And WORTH CELEBRATING. But it’s all a bit unsettling. We can’t help feeling that Esther and Mordecai go a bit overboard. You’ve got Esther wanting another day to kill people. And then stringing up the bodies of Haman’s ten sons.

You’ve got Mordecai issuing the decree that the Jews can plunder the property of the enemies they kill.

And it seems like the JEWS THEMSELVES think this is taking it a bit far. Because THREE TIMES it mentions that even though they were ALLOWED to plunder the property, they DIDN’T.

The end of v10 – they didn’t lay their hands on the plunder.

The end of v15 – they didn’t lay their hands on the plunder.

And the end of v16 – they didn’t lay their hands on the plunder.

They seem to have scruples Mordecai and Esther don’t have.

Which leads us to an obvious question – what do you MAKE of Esther and Mordecai? Are they A GOOD EXAMPLE TO FOLLOW, or not? “What IS the message of Esther?”

Because at FIRST sight, it seems like the message IS about following their example. Living wisely in a foreign land.

And I don’t want to say there’s NOTHING of that lesson for us.

But as we look a little closer at these two, we start to see THEIR FLAWS. Just like we do with ALL the OT characters. After all, Esther’s married a foreigner. She’s feasted on food against the law of Moses. How does THAT fit into being a good Jew?

And then there’s the more obvious vengeance in Chapters 8 and 9. Barry Webb says they show “A VINDICTIVENESS AND CRUELTY NOT FAR REMOVED FROM HAMAN HIMSELF”

a) It’s NOT a morality tale

So I think, in the first instance, it’s NOT a morality tale. It’s message ISN’T primarily “Esther and Mordecai were good – be good!

b) The Conflict Between Jew and Gentile

And while God was pleased to use them as his saviours, he had A MUCH GREATER PLAN in mind.

Esther and Mordecai are used to deliver God’s people from their enemies. The other nations. To save the Jews from the Gentiles.

But they were still ENEMIES. It had always BEEN that way. In fact, God had set out, from the time of Moses, to keep them SEPARATE. For the Jews to be HOLY AND DISTINCT from the nations around them.

And the story of Esther shows how that separation has developed/ into two peoples bent on each other’s destruction.

But that was only a TEMPORARY RESCUE. God’s plan was that ONE DAY, he’d send ANOTHER RESCUER. Who’d deal with the conflict between Jew and Gentile. ONCE AND FOR ALL.

In Eph 2, it describes how Jesus has made Jew and Gentile into ONE NEW PEOPLE.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to their hostility.

And so, as Christians, we can read Esther, and rejoice at God’s deliverance of Esther. But also rejoice at the MUCH GREATER PEACE God has brought between people through Jesus. Because we’ve ALL been reconciled to God.

c) Live as godly lives as aliens and strangers

But even though we have this real peace, it’s never going to be COMPLETE. Churches all over the world are little waterholes of God’s grace. Little previews of the peace between nations that God is growing through his gospel.

But there’s still plenty of hostile desert between those waterholes. Christians ARE different, and persecution will continue.

In this world we’ll ALWAYS be on a tourist visa. Just passing through. We’ll stand out as foreigners. Who don’t fit in.

And so, in that sense, we ARE to follow the example of Esther and Mordecai. Continue to live as strangers here, trusting that God is in control, living obedient and godly lives – even when God seems hidden.

Peter puts it this way in 1 Peter 2.

11 Dear friends, I urge you, AS ALIENS AND STRANGERS IN THE WORLD, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

d) Celebrate God’s unexpected rescue

And the fourth message of Esther/ is to CELEBRATE God’s UNEXPECTED RESCUE. And that’s what the last part of the book of Esther goes on to describe.

It’s a book that’s full of parties. And full of laughter.

4. Party Time! (9:18-10:3)

From v18 of Ch 9, we see the record of how the Feast of Purim was established. On the same day every year. To remember and celebrate God’s salvation. Haman rolled the dice – the PUR, but God decided the outcome.

And the people were to DELIGHT IN HIS UNEXPECTED PROVISION. v22 of Ch 9. It was to be remembered

22 as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into JOY and their mourning into a day of CELEBRATION. He wrote them to observe the days as days of FEASTING and JOY and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.

And, while WE GENTILES don’t celebrate Purim, we can celebrate WITH the Jews. We can celebrate the goodness of God in OUR salvation. We can have PARTIES WITH PURPOSE, rather than PARTIES FOR PLEASURE.

We can celebrate and remember his salvation in the BIG THINGS. At Christmas. On Good Friday, On Easter Sunday.

The Lord’s Supper is a great chance to celebrate and remember.

And we can celebrate in the SMALL things. The everyday things. The small things. Where God works in hidden, unexpected ways to rescue us, and deliver us.

And I think the message of Esther is to put a bit more JOY into our celebration. Sometimes we think it’s IRREVERENT to ENJOY church. But that’s not the message of Esther.

Christians have more to get excited and rejoice about than ANYONE! Do you BELIEVE that? To be honest, lots of Christians don’t LOOK LIKE THAT! They look more like they’ve been sucking on lemons!

Laughter, in Esther, is a product of VICTORY. Laughter is AN ANTICIPATION OF HEAVEN – the wicked and cruel will not have the last laugh – that’s reserved for God and his people. (Rev 18:20)

We’ve got every REASON to laugh and celebrate. Let’s do MORE of it.

And, just like that the party at the Berlin Wall – the party with purpose – let’s make OUR celebrations purposeful. Rich. Deep. Let’s make it FELLOWSHIP WITH SIGNIFICANCE.

Where God is right there next to us. We’ve included him as the guest of honour. And he’s celebrating with his people.

That’s partying with purpose.

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