The Old Testament teaches that God is a “lover of justice” (Psalm 99:40). The prophet Isaiah said that God loves justice, “For I the LORD love justice” (Isaiah 61:8). God is a God who cares about justice, he is a God who is committed to act in society to deal with injustice and to judge evil according to his standards of justice.
Angelika Berlejung said that “divine judgment over each individual is a theological necessity. It is the only way that the power and justice of God are finally proven: justice is established only if the disturbed order is re-established through punishment of sinners and the salvation of the righteous” (2015:287). This truth about divine justice is seen in the events that culminated in the salvation of the Jews in the days of Queen Esther.
After Mordecai had sent a message to Esther detailing Haman’s plan to kill the Jews who lived in the Persian empire, Mordecai urged Esther to go to the king and intercede on behalf of her people. At first, Esther was reluctant to appear before the king unannounced because it could cost her life. In response, Mordecai reminded Esther that probably she came to the kingdom with a purpose, “perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14 NLT).
Esther, then, made an important decision. She ordered Mordecai and the Jews throughout the empire to fast and pray for three days as she prepared to go before the king. On the third day, while her people were fasting and praying, Esther put on her royal robes (Esther 5:1) and went before the king: “if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). It is significant that Esther went to see the king wearing the royal robe. Esther came before the king of Persia, not as a wife or a consort, but as the queen of Persia.
As Esther stood before the king, she waited for the verdict, life or death? The king was seated on his royal throne in the audience chamber, facing the doorway of the chamber. The king followed the protocol of the court; when the king saw Esther standing at the entrance of the chamber, she won his favor. The king held out the golden scepter that was in his hand to Esther. Esther went up to him and touched the top of the scepter (Esther 5:2).
The king addressed Esther as “Queen Esther.” This indicates that the king understood that Esther had an important matter that needed immediate attention since she had come before him without being invited. The king asked Esther, “what is troubling you?” He promised to give her whatever she wanted, even half of his kingdom. Esther had an opportunity to have whatever she desired, but her request was simple and humble.
Esther invited the king to a banquet she had prepared in his honor and she asked him to bring Haman with him to the banquet. The Hebrew text is ambiguous about Esther’s intention and the English translations of verse 4 complicate the problem. The ESV translates verse 4 as follows: “If it please the king, let the king and Haman come today to a feast that I have prepared for the king.” According to the translation of the ESV, the banquet was prepared for the king. The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) translates verse 4 as follows: “If it pleases the king, may the king and Haman come today to the banquet I have prepared for them.” According to the HCSB, the banquet was prepared for both the king and Haman. The NIV translates verse 4 as follows: “If it pleases the king, let the king, together with Haman, come today to a banquet I have prepared for him.” According to the NIV, the banquet was prepared for Haman. The “him” of the Hebrew text probably refers to the king, but it is possible that Esther indirectly was referring to Haman.
The king accepted her invitation and quickly summoned Haman to come to the banquet Esther had prepared for them. During the banquet, the king again asked Esther what she wanted and promised to give her whatever she desired. Esther had a petition and a request for the king (Esther 5:7). Esther’s petition was an invitation to the king and Haman to come back the next day and at that time she would reveal her request to the king. Come back tomorrow, then “I will answer the king’s question” (Esther 5:8).
Haman was delighted that the queen had invited him to eat with her and the king for a second time. He was happy and feeling good about the honor the queen had bestowed on him. But his happiness ended when he saw Mordecai at the king’s gate. Once again, Mordecai did not honor Haman. Mordecai did not stand before Haman nor honor his position in the court. At this, Haman was furious with Mordecai.
When Haman got home, he called his friends and his wife Zeresh (Esther 5:10). Haman bragged to his friend how important and how successful he was. His wealth and his many sons (Haman had ten sons; Esther 9:13) were symbols of his wealth. His promotion and high position in the government were symbols of his power.
The fact that he and the king were the only two persons who were invited to eat with the queen demonstrated to his friends that he was highly honored by all people, except Mordecai. His wife and his friends advised Haman to kill Mordecai and bring shame to him by exposing his body publicly, “Let a gallows fifty cubits high be made, and in the morning tell the king to have Mordecai hanged on it” (Esther 5:14). The purpose of the gallows (Hebrew: “tree”) was to impale Mordecai. The size of the pole, fifty cubits or seventy-five feet high was to hang Mordecai high enough so that everyone could see his dead body. In the morning, Haman would ask the king’s permission to impale Mordecai on the gallows.
That night, after the banquet, the king could not sleep. The king asked some court officials to read the court records to see whether matters needed to be attended. The king’s official probably read the court records all night. During the reading of the book, the king discovered that Mordecai had not been rewarded for saving his life. The king sought to rectify this omission by honoring Mordecai. He sought advice from his officials and the one who was available that morning to advise the king was Haman: “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” (Esther 6:4).
When Haman came before the king, before Haman could present his request to the king, the king asked him, “What shall be done for the man whom the king wishes to honor?” In his pride, Haman believed that the king desired to bestow another great honor on him. Haman said to himself, “Whom would the king wish to honor more than me?”
“So Haman said to the king, ‘For the man whom the king wishes to honor, let royal robes be brought, which the king has worn, and a horse that the king has ridden, with a royal crown on its head. Let the robes and the horse be handed over to one of the king’s most noble officials; let him robe the man whom the king wishes to honor, and let him conduct the man on horseback through the open square of the city, proclaiming before him: ‘Thus shall it be done for the man whom the king wishes to honor’” (Esther 6:6-9).
To Haman’s surprise, the king agreed to do all the things Haman had suggested. Unfortunately, Haman was not the man whom the king wished to honor; it was Mordecai. The king ordered Haman to do to Mordecai all the things he had proposed and then emphasized, “Leave out nothing that you have mentioned.” Haman the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews (Esther 3:10) now must honor Mordecai, the Jew. Haman obeyed the king, paraded Mordecai throughout the city proclaiming, “This is what is done for the man whom the king wishes to honor.” After the parade, Haman hurried home humiliated, in great shame, “mourning and with his head covered” (Esther 6:12).
That same night, the king and Haman returned to the banquet Esther had prepared for them. During the banquet, the king asked Esther once again what her request was. The king had promised to give her half of his kingdom, but Esther did not want fame or fortune; she wanted the well-being of her people. At this time, for the first time, Esther revealed that she was a Jewess. She pled with the king for the deliverance of her people.
Esther said to the king: “If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, Your Majesty, spare my life. That is my request. And spare the lives of my people. That is what I ask for. You see, we-my people and I-have been sold so that we can be wiped out, killed, and destroyed. If our men and women had only been sold as slaves, I would have kept silent because the enemy is not worth troubling you about, Your Majesty” (Esther 7:3-4).
The king was amazed at the things to be done to Esther’s people. Irate, the king interrupted Esther and asked her, “Who is this person? Where is the person who has dared to do this?” In reply, Esther told the king, “Our vicious enemy is this wicked man Haman” (Esther 7:5-6). When the king heard what Esther had said, he was furious. The king got up, left the banquet, and returned to the palace. Haman remained behind, begging Esther for his life, because he knew that the king would not forgive him for what he had done.
Soon after these events, the king returned to talk to Esther. When he came to the palace dining room, the king saw Haman on the couch on which Esther was reclining. He thought that Haman was going to rape Esther. Immediately, the king sentenced Haman to death. Haman was greatly humiliated by being hung on the pole he had prepared for Mordecai.
On the day Haman died, the lives of Esther and Mordecai changed forever. The king gave Haman’s property to Queen Esther. Esther told the king that Mordecai was her adoptive father. After he discovered that Mordecai was related to the queen, the king took off his signet ring, gave it to Mordecai and put Mordecai in charge of Haman’s property. Mordecai was promoted to a position that was second in rank to the king (Esther 10:3). Thus, Mordecai was honored by the king by being promoted to Haman’s position and by being in charge of Haman’s possessions. In addition, Mordecai left the king’s presence “wearing royal robes of blue and white, with a great golden crown and a mantle of fine linen and purple” (Esther 8:15).
In order to save Esther’s people, the king authorized Mordecai to write a decree in the king’s name and seal it with the king’s signet ring, authorizing the Jews to defend themselves. The decree was sent to all the provinces of the empire, and as a result of Esther’s decision to intervene on behalf of her people, the Jews survived and celebrated their victory against their enemies.
By Esther’s command that day of deliverance was established, and it became known as Purim. Purim became a Jewish holiday in which the Jewish people commemorate their deliverance from the extermination ordered by Haman.
My pastor, Jeff Griffin, Senior Pastor of The Compass Church in Naperville, Illinois preached a sermon on November 22, 2020 titled Esther: For Such a Time as This – “God’s Justice.” The post above is based on his sermon.
In his sermon, Jeff spoke about divine justice. A legal maxim says that “justice delayed is justice denied.” In the case of Haman and Mordecai, it seems that evil was prospering and Haman’s evil intentions for the Jews would bring untold tragedy for Esther’s people. But God, the righteous judge, brings justice to all, even when justice does not come in a timely manner.
Walter Brueggemann (2005:248) said that as judge, God does indeed, enact justice, “but it is a justice that is demanding, fierce, and uncompromising.” Divine justice, at times, becomes poetic justice. Jeff mentioned five ways in which divine justice came in the form of poetic justice. The parade that Haman wanted for himself was given to Mordecai. The pole Haman prepared to impale Mordecai became the pole on which Haman was impaled. The house that belonged to Haman was given to Mordecai. The signet ring that Haman received from the king was given to Mordecai. The position of honor that Haman had was transferred to Mordecai. God is a God of justice: “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-7).
Jeff concluded his sermons by emphasizing that Mordecai became an agent of justice: “Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Xerxes, preeminent among the Jews, and held in high esteem by his many fellow Jews, because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews” (Esther 10:3).
Mordecai used his influential position to serve the king and to help his people. He became an agent of justice to help his people in exile. Mordecai had received justice from God. Now, from his position in the palace, he dispensed justice and fought for justice.
Christians can become agents of God’s justice in the world. Jeff relates the story of a member of the church whose heart to help others made him a servant of justice. In a world where there is much oppression and injustice, where people live marginal lives, God can bring justice to others through people who want to become servants of justice. The book of Esther tells the story of two people, Esther and Mordecai, who were willing to stand up for people who needed help and whose lives brought God’s justice to them.
Esther: For Such a Time as This – “God’s Justice.” A Sermon by Jeff Griffin.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Other Posts on Esther
Angelika Berlejung. “Sin and Punishment: The Ethics of Divine Justice and Retribution in Ancient Near Eastern and Old Testament Texts.” Interpretation 69 (2015):272-287.
Walter Brueggemann. Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005.
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