This past month we have been immersing ourselves in the story of Esther. Last Sunday we read from Esther chapter 6, the story of Haman’s fall, one more example of evil’s inevitable demise. Jeremy did a great job. When you tell the Biblical story well, employ a psalm to illuminate what goes on inside the human heart, and then find a Lord of the Rings reference, it is almost impossible to fail. Great meals are made from great ingredients. This is the story’s visible turning point, the moment when Haman’s hateful pride become his undoing. Up to this point evil seems much more powerful than the good; Haman’s plot to exterminate the Jews appears fully guaranteed by the inviolable laws of the Persians. But then, as almost out of nowhere, the tables turn, and quickly. Haman doesn’t see, nor can he, that Mordecai’s faithful service to the king (2:22) will be remembered at the moment he comes to talk to the king about putting Mordecai to death (6:4). It is an uncanny illustration of providence, a mysteriously God-infused moment (see 6:1).
Consider then the “grand reversal”, when what is intended for harm snaps back into salvation itself. This “small” story of Esther is a way of seeing the “big” story we are all part of. We watch as Haman, his prideful imagination in full swing, thinks he is about to be honored, only to realize that the advice he gives the king will honor his hated foe Mordecai instead. Pride reverses back into shame, and murderous intention back into deliverance. To read Esther chapter 6 is to see how evil’s moment of apparent victory is simultaneously its moment of defeat. It must be that way. Haman will quickly meet his end by the very means he devised for Mordecai.
This coming Sunday marks the completion of our Esther series. We will try to wrap up the story with some helpful perspective. Sunday also marks the first Sunday of Advent, that time in the calendar when we begin our season of watching and waiting for the coming of God’s Son into the world. As we now see Jesus enter our human story, we also see the demise of evil.
In response to last Sunday’s message, and the beginning of the Christmas season now upon us, I was reminded of a familiar christmas carol, written in the 19th century by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The carol considers the deep issues we have been rehearsing in the story of Esther. Do you know the tune?
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day Their old familiar carols play, And wild and sweet the words repeat Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head: "There is no peace on earth," I said, "For hate is strong and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men."
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: "God is not dead, nor doth he sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, With peace on earth, good will to men."
Its all there, isn’t it? All the pieces of the grand story of human history we see reflected in the story of Esther. In Longfellow’s imagination, the bells of Christmas remind us of the ultimate promise of peace on earth, the triumph of good. But that middle verse reminds us of the crisis at the heart of history, the temporary season when hatred is strong, its tone full of mocking and arrogance. But then, as Longfellow reflects on these things further, he knows the inevitability of what must happen. Its in that third verse: because God is alive and real, because goodness is inherent in the one who rules everything (though often unseen), the ultimate destiny of all things is peace on earth.
The Jewish theologian, Abraham Heshel, said, “The statement, ‘God is’, is an understatement.” I love that quote. The story of Esther is one more example of the ultimate fact of God and the inevitable triumph of goodness over evil. Because ‘God is’, goodness and truth and peace must ultimately prevail, and evil must inevitably meets its demise. This is the grand story we are part of.
See you Sunday.
Reflections on the Esther story:
- how surprised are you at the speed of Haman’s undoing in chapter 6 and 7? what examples of evil’s downfall in history are especially poignant for you?
- how do you understand the dynamics of the king’s insomnia in 6:1? read Proverbs 21:1 and comment on how God is involved in this moment.
- if you are aware of the concept of irony and how it works, consider the ironies of chapters 6 and 7. how might irony be a hopeful idea?
- how has the story of Esther helped you as a person of faith?