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April 19 lesson: An Executed Scoundrel

April 03, 2020
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An Executed Scoundrel

Spring Quarter: Justice and The Prophets
Unit 2: God Promises a Just Kingdom 


Sunday school lesson for the week of April 19, 2020
By Dr. Hal Brady


Lesson Scripture: Esther 7:1-10
Key Verse: 7:10 


Lesson Aims 
  1. State how Haman’s plan backfired.
  2. Suggest elements of the account that are more likely to be providential than others.
  3. Repent of a sin omission concerning a time when he or she should have opposed injustice but did not do so. 
Scholars inform us that the story of Esther is one of several in the Old Testament that point out the success of Israelites living in foreign surroundings. In a few noteworthy cases, the Israelites rose to influential positions. Joseph, Nehemiah, and Daniel immediately come to mind. 

These accounts illustrate God’s care for his Covenant people. They also illustrate God’s resolve to use them as agents of influence even when (or especially when) they faced opposition, criticism, and ill-treatment. 

The events in the book of Esther take place in the Persian citadel of Susa during the reign of Xerxes, also known as Ahasuerus (485-465 BC). Two of the main figures in the account are the close relatives Mordecai and Esther. Though they were actually cousins, Mordecai treated Esther as his daughter following the death of her parents. 

At any rate, they were part of a Jewish community that had remained in the area even after a decree in 538 BC allowed them to return home (Ezra 1:1-4; Esther 2:5-7). 

Esther became queen after Vashti, the previous queen, was divorced by Xerxes (Esther 1:10- 22). Realizing his loneliness, Xerxes’ staff sought to have a beauty contest to find Vashti’s replacement. 

Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us that there were many as 400 women involved in this competition. 

Throughout the selection process, Mordecai forbade Esther from revealing her nationality, and she complied (Esther 2:10). There is no indication that the king himself would have held her Jewish identity against her. But perhaps Mordecai was aware of a general prejudice among the members of the royal court in the larger community. 

However, eventually, a scheme to destroy the Jews did materialize. Xerxes’ highest official, Haman, had developed a fierce animosity for Mordecai (Esther 3:1-5). Haman hated Mordecai because he couldn’t kneel down before him and because Mordecai was a Jew. This resulted in Haman’s seeking an edict from Xerxes for the annihilation of all Jews throughout the Persian Empire (3:6). Haman secured this edict without revealing to Xerxes which people he had targeted for destruction. A date for their eradication was set, and the Jews found themselves in grave peril. 

Then it was that Mordecai convinced Esther to act, at the risk of her own life, to save her people (Esther 4). A key part of his appeal was to consider the possibility that divine providence was at work. This possibility can be seen in his question to Esther, “who knows but that you are come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (4:14). Esther’s resolve is now seen in her reply, “I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” (4:16). 

So after three days of fasting, Esther went before Xerxes and received his mercy (Esther 4:16- 5:2). She asked that he and Haman join her in a banquet, where she would answer the king (5:3,4). When asked at the meal to offer her petition, she requested only that they come to another feast the next day (5:5-8). 

Scheme Explained (Esther 7:1-4) 

Esther’s invitation to “the king and Haman” is brought about by Mordecai’s telling her about Haman’s plan to slaughter the Jews (Esther 4:7, 8, 15, 16). The banquet hosted here is the second the two men attend at Esther’s request. 

“What is your petition?” the king asks Esther. “What is your request?” He’s already asked two other times: when she first approached him and he held out his scepter, and then at the first banquet, but Esther never answered him, because the time wasn’t right. Esther had a sensitive ear and she knew when to act and when to wait. Everything must always be put in terms of what benefit it brings to the king. 

Xerxes once again expresses his willingness to hear Esther’s “petition.” Having been asked to wait during the banquet the night before, he is undoubtedly intensely curious about what’s on Esther’s mind. Thus his exaggerated offer of up to “half the kingdom” is spoken. 

In verse 3, we see that time is running out. At least two months have elapsed since the king’s extermination order was issued, leaving less than nine months before it is to be enacted. That may seem like plenty of time in a modern sense. But it’s not considering the vast expanse of the Persian Empire and the limited methods of communication in the ancient world. 

Once King Xerxes opened the door the third time, Esther then took courage to express her petition. 4a. says, “For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated.” Esther begins to expose Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews (Esther 3:9). Haman most likely began to connect the dots first: Esther is a Jew! Her statement “my people have been sold,” phrased in the passive voice, avoids implicating the king. The heaping up of phrases “to be destroyed, killed and annihilated,” emphasizes the dire consequences of her “people being sold.” 

4b. says, “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.” 

This second clause of Esther’s accusation is a bit strange. We are told that the Hebrew is uncertain and the translations differ. Is she really saying that slavery would be acceptable? Or is she just playing a rhetorical game? 

Actually, what Esther seems to be saying is, “If we had only been sold into slavery, I would keep silent, for it would not be worth bothering the king about.” 

No matter what, this statement is Esther’s diplomatic way of stressing the important of this issue. Talk about the power of a woman! Can you believe Esther’s diplomacy and sensitivity, even in the midst of pleading for her life and the lives of her people? Amazing! 

Culprit Exposed (Esther 7:5-8) 

Horrified, King Xerxes asked Queen Esther who had made this murderous plan? We might wonder how the king could be so clueless about this situation, yet there are several possible answers. First, it’s been several weeks since he was involved with this issue (comparing the time references of Esther 3:7,12; 8:1,9). Second, kings are busy people and therefore delegate tasks to subordinates. And third, the king is just now being made aware that Esther is part of the target group. At any rate, the king is still trying to put together the bigger picture. 

To the king’s inquiry, Esther replies, “An adversary and enemy: This vile Haman!” (Verse 6). Note that Esther does not identify Haman as her personal enemy but as “an adversary and enemy.” 

Esther had stated her concern with humility and deference, following the expected protocol of the royal court. Tact is of utmost importance (compare Daniel 2;14), given that Esther is accusing the king’s most trusted advisor of treachery that involves misuse of the king’s own power. She is careful to level this accusation at Haman without implicating Xerxes himself. 

However, realizing that her moment had arrived, Esther neither stammered nor hesitated. As Esther put it, Haman is a traitor to the king as well as an enemy of the Jews. As she points to this wicked Haman she senses her triumph and notes the terror of Haman. He might well be terrified. Esther’s words to the king had been an eye-opener for him also, because he had not known Esther’s nationality. The realization that he had inadvertently threatened the queen’s life was a knock-out blow on top of his earlier humiliation. 

So Haman’s reaction is like that of many who are caught in wrongdoing: his once steely exterior became a “deer caught in the headlights” look. Interpreters often identify this moment as the climax of the entire story. Haman knows he is exposed; the only question is how the king will react. Esther has completed her speech and speaks no further in this chapter. 

With his blood boiling, King Xerxes storms out. He doesn’t need to hear Haman’s self-defense. The king has put the pieces together, and Haman’s guilt is obvious. The king’s highest official has abused royal authority, though the king does not know why. Haman has had his own best interests, not the king, in mind. 

7b says, “But Haman, realizing that the king had already decided his fate, stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life.” The king’s intentions toward Haman are clear (compare Proverbs 20:2). Haman must do something, but he has no good options. He cannot follow the king outside, nor can he add to his guilt by fleeing. 

8a. “Just as the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was reclining.” Persian royal banquets involved reclining on beds, like couches, instead of sitting at a table. Desperate for mercy, Haman approaches the queen who is reclining on her couch to plead for his life. Her silence may have increased his desperation, for he falls onto her couch. Ironically, Haman was enraged earlier when a Jew wouldn’t bow down to him, but now he will find himself at the feet of one of those same Jews. 

Xerxes came back into the palace and, detecting Haman fully on Esther’s couch, misconstrued his intentions, accusing Haman of attempted rape. 

How the king might have handled Haman’s treachery before seeing the man on his queen’s couch no longer matters. Xerxes indicts Haman for violating harem protocol and, even worse, appearing to molest the queen. In the Persian system, the only men allowed near the queen or the king’s other wives and concubines were eunuchs. Otherwise, an advance on any member of the harem was considered an affront to the king himself. 

Thus, the king’s officials act on what they recognize as a capital offense. They cover Haman’s face because he is no longer worthy to see the king. 

Scoundrel Executed (Esther 7:9,10) 

In verse 9, a eunuch named Harbona, who must have been present throughout the scene, proves helpful again. He recalls the gallows Haman had erected for Mordecai. Harbona also reminds the king of Mordecai’s speaking good concerning the king. 

At this point, Xerxes needs no further prompting; he again makes a snap decision at the leading of others. Haman is hoisted on his own gallows, the one he had built for Mordecai, and finally “the wrath of the king subsides.” 

Such an outcome points to God’s work on behalf of his Covenant people. God brings Haman’s wickedness down on his own head in the same way the Bible often declares (Psalm 9:16, Matthew 7:1,2). Before that day ends, Xerxes will give to Mordecai the signet ring that he had entrusted to Haman along with the position and authority that Haman had held. The Jews find deliverance by a second decree of the king (8:11,12). 

Purim 

Esther’s story is the basis for the Jewish holiday “Purim.” It is a time of celebration when members of the Jewish Community gather to read the book of Esther (twice) and celebrate how they were saved from Haman’s plot. It usually falls in March. 

Summary 

Though God’s name is not mentioned one time in the whole book of Esther, nevertheless God is present in every scene and event and brings everything to a thrilling climax. From Esther’s selection as queen to Haman’s execution to the Jew’s deliverance – the eyes of faith clearly see these events as much more than luck or happenstance. Rather God was at work behind the scenes.

Like Esther and her relative Mordecai, we are God’s imperfect servants in rectifying the wrongs in the world. But God can and does work through us nonetheless. Note there are two extremes to avoid: (1) thinking that confronting evil is all up to us and (2) thinking that confronting evil is all up to God. The proper path to take in any given situation will depend on prayer, Bible study, and openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit. We must always consider the possibility that God has placed us in a circumstance “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). 

In his commentary on Esther, Charles R. Swindol reminds us of another person who took a stand. His name was Martin Luther and the date was April 18, 1521, at the Diet of Worms, where he said, “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen.” The prelates of the Roman Church despised him for his staunch determination and independent spirit. They would have killed him if they could. They had to be content with excommunicating him. Nevertheless, there he stood. God helped him, and he raised the torch that lit the fires of the Protestant Reformation. 

I repeat, we must always consider the possibility that God has placed us in a circumstance “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). 

Action Plan 
  1. While God is not mentioned in the book of Esther, many of the events seem providential. Even though there are definite answers, please be prepared to give reasons to support your conclusions.
  2. What do you think is the main point of Esther chapter 7:1-10? Please explain.
  3. Though the prayers will not be collected, write a prayer of repentance about a time when you could have opposed an injustice but failed to do so. 
Resources for this lesson 
  1. “2019-2020 Standard Lesson NIV Commentary, Uniform Series, International Bible Lessons for Christan Teaching,” pages 285-292.
  2. “The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume III,” pages 917-920.
  3. “Esther” by Charles R. Swindol, pages 93-96; pages 130-134. 
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries (halbradyministries.com).

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