Sermon: The case of insomnia that changed history – Esther 5-7

On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, in front of the king’s quarters, while the king was sitting on his royal throne inside the throne room opposite the entrance to the palace. 2 And when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, she won favor in his sight, and he held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter. 3 And the king said to her, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given you, even to the half of my kingdom.” 

4 And Esther said, “If it please the king, let the king and Haman come today to a feast that I have prepared for the king.” 5 Then the king said, “Bring Haman quickly, so that we may do as Esther has asked.” So the king and Haman came to the feast that Esther had prepared. 6 And as they were drinking wine after the feast, the king said to Esther, “What is your wish? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” 7 Then Esther answered, “My wish and my request is: 8 If I have found favor in the sight of the king, and if it please the king to grant my wish and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come to the feast that I will prepare for them, and tomorrow I will do as the king has said.” 

9 And Haman went out that day joyful and glad of heart. But when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate, that he neither rose nor trembled before him, he was filled with wrath against Mordecai. 10 Nevertheless, Haman restrained himself and went home, and he sent and brought his friends and his wife Zeresh. 11 And Haman recounted to them the splendor of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the servants of the king. 12 Then Haman said, “Even Queen Esther let no one but me come with the king to the feast she prepared. And tomorrow also I am invited by her together with the king. 

13 Yet all this is worth nothing to me, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.” 14 Then his wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, “Let a gallows fifty cubits high be made, and in the morning tell the king to have Mordecai hanged upon it. Then go joyfully with the king to the feast.” This idea pleased Haman, and he had the gallows made. 

6 On that night the king could not sleep. And he gave orders to bring the book of memorable deeds, the chronicles, and they were read before the king. 2 And it was found written how Mordecai had told about Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, and who had sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. 3 And the king said, “What honor or distinction has been bestowed on Mordecai for this?” The king’s young men who attended him said, “Nothing has been done for him.” 4 And the king said, “Who is in the court?” Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the king’s palace to speak to the king about having Mordecai hanged on the gallows that he had prepared for him. 

5 And the king’s young men told him, “Haman is there, standing in the court.” And the king said, “Let him come in.” 6 So Haman came in, and the king said to him, “What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?” And Haman said to himself, “Whom would the king delight to honor more than me?” 7 And Haman said to the king, “For the man whom the king delights to honor, 8 let royal robes be brought, which the king has worn, and the horse that the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal crown is set.

 9 And let the robes and the horse be handed over to one of the king’s most noble officials. Let them dress the man whom the king delights to honor, and let them lead him on the horse through the square of the city, proclaiming before him: ‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.’ ” 10 Then the king said to Haman, “Hurry; take the robes and the horse, as you have said, and do so to Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate. Leave out nothing that you have mentioned.” 11 So Haman took the robes and the horse, and he dressed Mordecai and led him through the square of the city, proclaiming before him, “Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.” 

12 Then Mordecai returned to the king’s gate. But Haman hurried to his house, mourning and with his head covered. 13 And Haman told his wife Zeresh and all his friends everything that had happened to him. Then his wise men and his wife Zeresh said to him, “If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him.” 

14 While they were yet talking with him, the king’s eunuchs arrived and hurried to bring Haman to the feast that Esther had prepared. 

7 So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. 2 And on the second day, as they were drinking wine after the feast, the king again said to Esther, “What is your wish, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” 3 Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be granted me for my wish, and my people for my request. 4 For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have been silent, for our affliction is not to be compared with the loss to the king.”

 5 Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has dared to do this?” 6 And Esther said, “A foe and enemy! This wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen. 

7 And the king arose in his wrath from the wine-drinking and went into the palace garden, but Haman stayed to beg for his life from Queen Esther, for he saw that harm was determined against him by the king. 8 And the king returned from the palace garden to the place where they were drinking wine, as Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was. And the king said, “Will he even assault the queen in my presence, in my own house?” As the word left the mouth of the king, they covered Haman’s face. 

9 Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Moreover, the gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, is standing at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” 10  So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the wrath of the king abated. 

Prayer 

Our Heavenly Father,

“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?”

Lord, may the praise of your goodness, glory, and majesty never be out of our hearts.

Lord, today, may we remember and pray for the persecuted church and for Christians in other parts of the world who suffer greatly for the cause of Christ, who are forced to worship in secret for fear of retribution. We pray for these Christians and churches. Lord, we pray for your nearness to them. Lord, we pray for their faith and reliance on you.

And we pray for this church as well, that we would love you above all else, hope in you, and worship you alone. May we not take for granted the rights and privileges we have. May we not be complacent about faith, but may we grow in faith.

Lord, may we continue to pray for our community, in spite of the challenges that we are facing. You are the God in the sunshine and in the rain. You are our God in the stillness and in the bleakness.

Lord, we continue to pray for this advent season. Lord, may we remember great Biblical themes of hope, joy, peace, and love during advent. May those be present in our hearts and in our actions.

May we remember that our only hope as people and a world is in your Son, our Lord Jesus.

May we rejoice that the light has come into a dark world.

May we be peacemakers. May we be uniters, not dividers in a fallen and divisive world. 

And may we be pointed to greater love for you, for our neighbor, for our community. 

Lord, we ask that you bless our time in your Word. In Jesus’ name, amen. 

Introduction 

We’re continuing our advent series in the Book of Esther this morning. 

Last week, when we left off, the major conflict of the story was developing. Haman had put forward plans of extermination against the Jewish people throughout the Persian Empire. Which would have effectively wiped out the Jewish race. 

Esther is the Queen of Persia. Her cousin Mordecai has explained these plans to her. At first, she wants to pass the buck. Yes, she’s the queen but she has no real authority.  Approaching the king unrequested could put her at risk of a capita punishment. 

Nevertheless, Mordecai persuades Esther. He argues that she is in this place of royalty in that time for this purpose when he says: And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?

At the end of our scene, Esther instructs Mordecai to have all of the Jews in Susa fast for three days. 

One thing I’ve said over the last couple of weeks is that I look at the scenes in Esther like a play. This week, we see the climax of the story as the plot is thwarted. 

I mentioned a moment ago, that there was to be a three day fast. 

And that’s where chapter 5 begins. 

 On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, in front of the king’s quarters, while the king was sitting on his royal throne inside the throne room opposite the entrance to the palace. 

She goes before the king. 

Now, we’ve seen in this story that the king is somewhat volatile. Unpredictable. 

And Esther is taking a risk by going to him. 

And also keep in mind that Haman has a plot against the Jews. The king doesn’t know that Esther herself is Jewish. 

So there really are risks that she’s taking. 

In verse 2, we see that the king responds favorably to Esther.

And he makes a grand offer to her. 

5:3: the king said to her, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given you, even to the half of my kingdom.”

We see a similar scene to this in the Gospel of Matthew. 

 Half of the kingdom. 

It’s a figure of speech. The point isn’t that the king is going to literally portion off half of the kingdom. The point is that the king wants to be generous to someone in whom he has found favor. 

And that’s the offer the king makes to Esther. 

Instead of explaining the situation, or advocating for the Jews, or talking about the wickedness of Haman, Esther does something most unexpected. 

Verse 4: Esther said, “If it please the king, let the king and Haman come today to a feast that I have prepared for the king.” 

She wants to have Haman over for dinner. 

The man who’s seeking to kill the Jews. 

The king responds by summoning Haman. Haman comes and they have a feast. 

As a brief aside. It’s worth noting that there’s a lot of eating in the Book of Esther. 

The book opens with a feast, and then the king throws another feast for various dignitaries. Vashti has a feast. When Esther is selected as queen in chapter 2, there’s a feast. 

And here we have another feast. 

At this feast, the king offers again to give Esther whatever she wants, up to half his kingdom. Second time he’s made this offer to her. 

So is that the time when Esther will explain the situation? 

No. 

She asks for…

Wait for it.

Another feast. 

The next day and for Haman to be invited to that one as well. 

Haman is elated. He’s feeling pretty good about things. 

The queen is showing him favor. He’s already one of the most powerful people in the kingdom. And Haman went out that day joyful and glad of heart. But when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate, that he neither rose nor trembled before him, he was filled with wrath against Mordecai.

Haman is on top of the world, but he lets his anger towards Mordecai continue to gnaw away. 

Haman goes home, and he stews about this to his wife, Zeresh. 14 Then his wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, “Let a gallows fifty cubits high be made, and in the morning tell the king to have Mordecai hanged upon it. Then go joyfully with the king to the feast.” This idea pleased Haman, and he had the gallows made. 

Zeresh tells her husband to have Mordecai killed.

She suggests he have a gallows built 50 cubits, 75 feet, hight. 

That’s what we call overkill. Massively high. 

It’s an ironic scene. Haman is seeking to have Mordecai killed and then go to a feast. There’s no indication that Esther knows about the plot to have Mordecai executed. 

Haman is plotting against Mordecai. Esther is plotting against Haman. 

With that, we come to the end of chapter 5. 

Chapter 6 begins. This timeline really matters to the story. It’s later that evening. 

And the story takes a most unexpected turn. 

6:1: On that night the king could not sleep. And he gave orders to bring the book of memorable deeds, the chronicles, and they were read before the king. 

What’s happening? 

The king can’t sleep. 

And he’s like “read me a story.” 

And so the chronicles of the events of his reign are read to him. 

Brief pause. 

It’s worth remembering where we’ve been in the Book of Esther. 

At the end of chapter 2, Mordecai discovers a plot to kill the king. He reveals this plot and the perpetrators are executed. 

I had mentioned at the time that it was customary in the ancient world to reward such an act. The reason for that was you wanted to incentivize people in the kingdom to look out for the wellbeing and safety of the king. 

But Mordecai was never rewarded.

Ok, now back in chapter 6. 

Verse 2-3: 2 And it was found written how Mordecai had told about Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, and who had sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. 3 And the king said, “What honor or distinction has been bestowed on Mordecai for this?” The king’s young men who attended him said, “Nothing has been done for him.”

So you have Mordecai, whom Haman is plotting to have killed off. 

Also, if you read Esther and pay attention to the dates that it’s giving, Mordeai had saved the king’s life five YEARS before. 

But on the eve of the night when Haman plans to have Mordecai killed, the king learns of Mordecai’s effort to save him. 

Why? 

Why does he remember? 

Because they’re reading him his chronicles because he can’t sleep. 

As I keep saying, God isn’t mentioned in Esther, but he’s present. And he works in mysterious ways. 

Some of the most important events are the moments where their importance is not realized at the time.  

Back in our story. 

4 And the king said, “Who is in the court?” Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the king’s palace to speak to the king about having Mordecai hanged on the gallows that he had prepared for him.

Lots of situational irony in the story. 

Had Haman asked a few hours earlier, this request might have been granted. 

But the king has just been reminded that Mordecai is his savior. 

The king and Haman are both thinking about Mordecai, but for different reasons, and neither knows what the other is thinking. 

Verse 6: So Haman came in, and the king said to him, “What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?” And Haman said to himself, “Whom would the king delight to honor more than me?” 

Do you see what’s happening? 

The king is almost thinking out loud. What should I do for someone I want to honor? 

And Haman thinks “whom would the king delight to honor more than me?”

He thinks the king is talking about him! 

Because Haman is a bit of an ecomaniac if you’ve been paying attention to the story. 

Verse 8, Hama responds:  let royal robes be brought, which the king has worn, and the horse that the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal crown is set.

Mordecai tells the king the things that he would want. 

He wants to be paraded around like a king and celebrated. 

But the irony is that he’s actually suggesting the treatment for his hated nemesis. 

Haman continues going on and on and on about the great procession that should be given. We won’t read the whole section. 

But he wants all the trappings of royalty, not realizing that the king is asking for ideas for Mordecai and not for himself. 

10 Then the king said to Haman, “Hurry; take the robes and the horse, as you have said, 

I’m pausing in the middle of this verse. 

Haman is like “Yes. This is what I’ve always wanted.” 

The king says: and do so to Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate. Leave out nothing that you have mentioned.”

Haman has to be shocked. 

And everything Haman had wanted for himself is given to Mordecai. 

 So Haman took the robes and the horse, and he dressed Mordecai and led him through the square of the city, proclaiming before him, “Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.” 

What a story! 

Haman heads back home. 

He tells his wife. 

She was the one who just told him to have these massive gallows built. 

But she’s not really going to give him a shoulder to cry on. 

Verse 13: “If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him.” 

Translation: that’s not good. 

Chapter 6 ends with the king’s servants arriving at Haman’s house. Why? 

To take him to the feast. Remember. Esther wanted to invite him to a feast. 

What a reversal of fortunes we’ve seen in this chapter. 

And it was all sparked by what?

By the king’s insomnia. 

Some of the most important events are the moments where their importance is not realized at the time. 

That can be true with the events which transpired which brought us to faith in Christ. It was a series of events. And on the road to faith, there are lots of events that can be seemingly insignificant, but are important steps in our Spiritual journey.

Maybe it was an interaction you had with someone, a sermon you happened to hear.

In the Book of Esther, the Jewish people are on the brink of a holocaust, and that is turned upside down because of a bad night of sleep. 

There are places in the Bible where we see dazzling miracles. The signs that God brings on Pharaoh before the Exodus. God parting the waters of the Red Sea.

We see miracles during the ministry of Jesus and in the early church.

But miracles are actually primarily concentrated in three different periods in the Bible. The time of the Exodus, the ministry of Jesus, and the ministry of Elijah and Elisha.

For the rest of the Bible, God is no less God. He is no less sovereign. But he often works providentially through other means.

In the Book of Esther, the main turning point, something so simple as a restless night’s sleep is something that God providentially uses on behalf of his people.

And we should keep that in mind in our own lives as well. Yes, God is God of the big things.

But he’s also God of the little things. He’s also God of the seemingly random things. He’s also God of the seemingly insignificant things.

I think of some of the events surrounding my niece’s birth a few weeks ago. My sister-in-law had switched doctors and instead of having the baby in a small, rural hospital, she had the baby in a city with more resources. I think of the 25 minutes the doctors spent reviving her. If they had stopped a minute or two earlier. She would have died. 

I think about when Kari and I met. 

Before we had met, a chain of events had already happened that made it possible. We were living on other ends of the country. She in Atlanta, I in Minnesota. She had a boyfriend and was getting ready to move closer to him, to sign a lease. But shortly before she did that, they broke up. The same week that happened, her dad accepted a job in St. Louis. They asked Kari if she wanted to go. Since she didn’t have anything keeping her in Atlanta, she said “sure.” 

We met online. Living in a rural area in Minnesota, I had expanded my search radius on eHarmony. It included St. Louis, but not Atlanta. Kari created her profile, saying she lived in St. Louis but still living in Atlanta. 

Had her relationship not ended when it ended, we might not have ever met. Had her dad not taken a job in St. Louis, we might have never met. Had she not agreed to move to St. Louis, we might never have met. 

Ironically, she ended up moving from Atlanta to Minnesota.

Had that not happened, I probably wouldn’t be standing here today. 

So many things work together as the Lord works out his sovereign plans. 

God is at work. He’s at work in our community, he’s at work in our lives, he’s at work in our world. 

And he has been at work throughout history. 

Before the birth of Christ, God used an angel to communicate with Mary and a dream to speak to Joseph. Here he used a sleepless night to work his plans through the king of Persia. 

At the birth of Christ, God used Roman laws to orchestrate Jesus being born in Bethlehem. Just like the vain and insecure Haman, when Jesus was born, you had the cruel Herrod who saw the advent of the Chrsit as a threat to himself. Just like Haman, he was a genocidal leader, but God brought Jesus and his parents to safety in the Gospel of Matthew when they went from Israel to Egypt, and coming from Egypt fulfilled an Old Testament prophecy. 

God is sovereign over his creation. 

And here, God is working on behalf of Esther and Mordecai and on behalf of his people. 

With that, we come to chapter 7. I feel like the previous two chapters took their time at building up the story. We see a fairly rapid climax to the book in chapter 7. 

They’re at the feast that Esther has thrown. 

The king again asks Esther what she wants, up to half his kingdom. 

3 Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be granted me for my wish, and my people for my request. 4 For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have been silent, for our affliction is not to be compared with the loss to the king.”

This is the first time in the story where Esther is publicly revealing that she’s Jewish. 

She doesn’t say it in those terms. But it’s obvious as she talks about the plan of destruction against her people. 

Where she say they have been sold to be destroyed, killed, and annihilated, she’s referring to Haman’s bribe of the king. 

Verse 5, the king responds: Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has dared to do this?” 

Some commentators think that the king is trying to divest himself of any responsibility. He’s the king. He ultimately gave permission for this to happen. 

And here at the feast with Haman who thought he was being honored by Esther, who thought he was to be honored by the king is called out by name. 

6 And Esther said, “A foe and enemy! This wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen. 

The king leaves the room. Full of fury. 

Haman pleads with Esther for his life. 

In the process, he falls down on a couch just as the king walks back into the room. The king thinks of that as Haman trying to assault the king, and that seals Haman’s fate. 

9 Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Moreover, the gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, is standing at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” 

The unnecessarily high gallows that Haman had constructed for Mordecai, are the very place where Haman would be his end. 

That’s just too ironic. 

That’s like how when the French developed the guillotine, King Louis XVI suggested they make it with oblique blade instead of a crescent blade, and then Louis XVI was later executed by guillotine. 

It’s amazing to consider Haman’s life. 

He had been on top of the world. The king’s number 2 in the superpower of that day. 

And in one night, he lost it all. 

Life is fleeting. 

Blessings can come when we least expected. Life can change in an instant. 

And that can be true for better or for worse. 

Our lives are finite and fragile. We’re always one event from our lives or our families lives being turned upside down. 

Haman was powerful, and at the end of this chapter, he’s dead. Judgment does come for those who oppose the Lord and his people. 

Even when justice seems far off or like it doesn’t come, it will in this life or in the afterlife. 

And when we’re suffering or struggling, things can change. Again, maybe not always on the timeline we want, or in the way we expect.

And that too will not always happen on this side of eternity. 

Sometimes things change, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes things get better, sometimes they don’t. 

It can all seem random, and cruel, and unforgiving. 

And when things seem unfair, or cruel, or random, we must have a theology of who God is to fall back on. 

But what the Book of Esther should remind us is that it that nothing is random, nothing is meaningless in our lives. 

If God can use the unjust killing of his son for the good of the world, he can use the difficulties and injustices in our own lives for his ultimate purposes. 

Because in our lives, in the good times, the bad times, and the in between times, what we need to do is to remember our God, to live for him, serve him, and know that he is working all things to his plans, he is working all things to his glory, and he is working all things for our good.