BREAKING THE PROMISE
J. Austin Bennett
“He keeps his word.”
How many times do we use this expression without realizing the gravity of its meaning. Does it apply to you?
A more important question: “How good is God’s word?” Does He keep His promises, no matter the cost?
And what about the difficulties involved. Sometimes it isn’t easy to avoid breaking a promise. Even when a commitment is made with every honest intention, events intervene that render it impossible to fulfill that vow.
God made a commitment to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden when He revealed His plan. He described it to Abraham and promised a savior through Abraham’s progeny. David knew that a son from his line would one day redeem mankind. He had God’s word on it.
Someone else was present, as a witness, to these proclamations of Jehovah. That individual has a stake in the fulfillment of that promise, a big stake! His name is Satan!!!
We know that shortly after the birth of Jesus, King Herod, consumed with jealousy and fear, issued a decree to murder all the male children under the age of two years of age. This vile act was an attempt to kill that redeemer before he could complete God’s plan.
We recall the attempts to tempt Jesus in the desert and draw him away from the fulfillment of the promise. But were the mass murder of Jewish children and the lure of enticements to a starving and weakened carpenter’s son the best that Satan, an extremely intelligent and immensely powerful spiritual entity, could do?
What if that redeemer were never born? If his life could be prevented rather than taken, wouldn’t that be even more effective. Then what would God’s word be worth?
There is a book in the Bible that does not mention a savior or a redeemer. In fact, this book makes no reference to God whatsoever. So what is it doing in the canon of scripture?
It is the Book of Esther.
The setting is the Persian Empire during the reign of Xerxes, approximately 470 years before the birth of Jesus. The king of Persia, after being publicly humiliated by his wife Vashti, sought a new queen. To find a suitable replacement, he searched the entire kingdom. A beautiful young girl named Esther was one of those chosen as a potential wife.
Esther was an orphan. She was raised by her uncle Mordecai, a highly respected man in the already large and growing community of Jews. When she was taken to the king, Mordecai counseled her to keep secret her Jewish heritage. After a period of a year, King Xerxes made his selection of a new queen from hundreds of candidates. Yes, he picked Esther as his new queen.
You have all heard the expression, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” It was certainly true in Xerxes’ day. Two of his palace attendants plotted to assassinate him. Fortunately for Xerxes, Mordecai heard of the plan and warned Esther who reported it to the king.
While, at the time, Mordecai was not recognized publicly for his timely intervention, his act was recorded with proper credit to him.
Amidst all of this intrigue, another actor now makes his appearance. His name is Haman.
Haman is one of the nobles in the court of Xerxes and has just been elevated to the position of second in command of the empire, effectively the Prime Minister. The King commanded that all persons should bow to Haman as if they were in the presence of the king who considered himself a god. So did Haman.
Mordecai didn’t share that lofty opinion. In fact, since Haman was a descendant of the Amalekites, an ancient enemy of the Jews and Jehovah, Mordecai was not about to pay him homage.
Haman, instead of simply respecting the religious sensibilities of his Jewish subjects was enraged. Consumed with arrogance, he determined he would petition the king to have Mordecai killed. Haman’s equally haughty wife suggested that a gallows, seventy-five feet high, be built so that the entire community could witness Mordecai’s demise.
But Haman didn’t stop there. He also offered the king ten thousand talents of silver, approximately 375 tons, to destroy the Jews.
King Xerxes had no particular use for the Jews. They were a people who did not assimilate themselves into his society. They were generally peaceful but remained aloof from Persian life and customs. Xerxes told Haman to keep his ten thousand talents of silver and do as he wished regarding the Jews. The king probably thought that Haman would sell them into slavery, a common theme of the time. But Haman had other plans.
Extermination! Haman ordered that the Jews be disarmed and on a specific day be killed, to the last man, woman and child. As a further incentive, the enemies of the Jews would receive the possessions of those that they slaughtered.
(It looks bad for the Jews. Once the King issues a decree, even he cannot revoke it. Also, remember that King Xerxes still does not know that his lovely queen, Esther, is a Jew.)
When Esther is informed as to the impending fate of her people and her uncle Mordecai, she is forced to face a terrible decision. To approach the king in his inner court without being invited is a serious breach of protocol. In fact, it is a violation of the law that is punishable by death. Also, there is the little matter of her parentage. How is she to tell the king that she is a Jew? (I guess this is what we call a guts check!)
It is easy to keep silent. We all want to be accepted by those around us. Everyone has a desire for social acceptance and that is as true today as it was twenty-five hundred years ago. It is especially pertinent for anyone with a lot to lose.
Esther’s answer: (Esther 4: 15-16 NIV) Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”
Esther entered the king’s inner court without invitation. When Xerxes saw her, he invited her to the throne and asked what she wanted? He offered her anything, up to half of his kingdom. (He was really taken with Esther. Did I mention, she was beautiful.)
Esther invited King Xerxes to a banquet, which would be prepared by herself and her maids. The only other guest was to be Haman, his Prime Minister.
That night, Xerxes couldn’t sleep. Probably out of boredom, he began reading the annals of his reign as recorded by his scribes (secretaries). The king chanced upon the name of Mordecai and the events surrounding his near assassination. Xerxes realized that no honor had ever been given Mordecai for his action that had saved the king’s life. He immediately asked, “Who is in the court?”
Haman had just entered the outer court to speak to the king about hanging Mordecai on the gallows he had just erected.
Xerxes told Haman that he wanted to honor a special man and asked how best to do it? Haman, with his bloated ego thought the king was referring to him and suggested that that man should be presented a robe and a horse of the king’s and paraded through the streets to show how the king honors exceptional service.
Xerxes commanded Haman to, “Go at once... Do not neglect anything you have recommended,” for Mordecai, the Jew.
Haman knew the jig was up. Even as he was wailing with his wife and advisors, the palace messengers came to escort him to the banquet that Esther had prepared.
It was at that banquet, in the presence of Haman, that Esther informed the king of her heritage and the planned extermination of the entire Jewish population. She asked him to spare her life and the lives of her people. “If we had been merely sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king.”
Xerxes was shocked. When he asked who would dare do such a thing, Esther replied, “The adversary and enemy is this vile Haman.”
Xerxes left in a rage. Haman ended up on his own gallows. Although the king could not retract the decree issued in his name by Haman, he could issue a new one.
Xerxes ordered that the Jews be armed and given the right to defend themselves on the day of their appointed annihilation. He further ordered that the Jews could take all the possessions of those they killed who attacked them.
There ensued two days of slaughter in which the Jews killed over seventy-five thousand of their enemies. The ten sons of Haman were hanged.
The Jewish people refused to take the belongings of their enemies and, after the great victory, proclaimed a two-day feast. This holiday is known as the Feast of Purim and today is celebrated with gifts, festivities and costumes commemorating the unveiling of Esther’s secret heritage. It will take place on March 3, 2007, about a month before we Christians celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of our Savior, a redeemer who might never have been born without the courage of Esther and the intervention of God.
Now we know why the book that never mentions God is in the Bible.
The people of Esther’s day had waited over thirteen hundred years for God to keep his promise to Abraham. They would wait four hundred and seventy more years. When that redeemer arrived, they would not recognize him.
We also are waiting. And we also have a promise.
Douglas MacArthur promised the people of the Philippines in 1942, “I shall return!” They believed him and courageously fought a guerilla war against their Japanese oppressors in World War II.
Jesus made a promise to all who would follow him: “I shall return!” Do you believe him?
Esther defied the law and risked her life to speak out. In America, we have the right to speak. But too many are silent because we all want to be accepted, to fit in.
You are not alone; not ever! The Holy Spirit is present day and night with you and me. Was it chance that Esther planned a banquet without knowing the king’s mind? Was it just a coincidence that that very night, Xerxes would have a bout of insomnia and, just by happenstance, read the chronicle of Mordecai’s life saving assistance?
“Chance is perhaps the pseudonym of God when He does not wish to sign His work.”---Anatole France, 1844 – 1924.
Jesus gave us a command. “Go ye forth….”
We are entrusted with the delivery of the most important message the human race has ever received. He told us that if necessary, even the stones would cry out.
Don’t let a stone deliver your message!
“Come soon, Lord Jesus.”
J. Austin Bennett Copyright © 2006 Use with credit.
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