DIG: What was so special about the thirteenth day of the twelfth month of Adar? How and why were the Jews able to triumph? Who turned the tables? Who were the Gentiles really “afraid” of? Why did all the rulers support Mordecai?
REFLECT: When might “winning the battle,” mean “losing the war?” Is there a time when “going easy” on a defeated enemy might only invite troubles later on? Why or why not? How do you know the difference? When have you had the tables turned on you? How did you feel? What did you learn from that? Looking back on your life, when did God work silently behind the scenes for your benefit?
Eleven months after Haman had cast lots, the dreadful day arrived at last. On the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, the decree commanded by the king was to be carried out. Before the author described what happened on that historic day, he summarizes the significance of the events: On this day the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, but now, because of the counter-decree (see Bi), the tables were turned and the Jews got the upper hand over those who hated them (9:1). Although the circumstances are illustrated with the passive phrase, the tables were turned, the sense is clearly that ADONAI had caused them to turn. In the book of Esther where the LORD appears to be absent, He is nonetheless present. Namely, God is the hero of the story.
The Jews assembled in their cities in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus to defend themselves from those determined to destroy them. No one could stand against them, because the people of all the other nationalities were afraid of them (9:2). The fear of God’s people could only be explained in terms of the fear of their God, who vindicated their righteous cause by convincing their enemies in the whole Persian Empire of having backed the losing side.103 Even with government opposition, however, the hatred that many Persians felt for the Jews resulted in the children of Isra'el having to defend themselves nonetheless. The phrase, no one could stand against them, did not mean their enemies failed to attack. It meant that they could not conquer them. Many times in the Scriptures ADONAI causes fear to fall on the enemies of the Israelites. Here, He uses the counter-decree, Mordecai’s rise to power, and the authority given to the Jews to defend themselves.
In fact, even the government authorities helped them. And all the nobles of the provinces, the satraps, the governors and the king’s administrators helped the Jews, because fear of Mordecai had seized them (9:3). Given that Mordecai was then the prime minister, all the rulers wanted to please him. It is astounding how quickly the political winds can shift. When that happens, it is because ADONAI is working behind the scenes. The author is careful not to mention the LORD; however, he definitely wanted his readers to see God’s hand at work.
Only by the sovereign intervention of ADONAI was Mordecai in a position of authority. Mordecai was prominent in the palace; his reputation spread, literally, his reputation was walking throughout the provinces, and he became more and more powerful in the brief months as prime minister (9:4). Probably part of his new found prominence was due to the political shrewdness of the government officials, part was due to genuine affection for who Mordecai was, but we must not discount the fact that they feared the man who stood up to Haman and ruled in his place.
Like Joseph, Mordecai had gone through difficult days and had been in danger of death (see my commentary on Genesis Ja – Joseph in the Pit). But as a result of God’s providence, Mordecai’s crisis, like Joseph’s, became the means of greater influence (see my commentary on Genesis Jv – Joseph as Prime Minister). This fact is often times repeated in the lives of the servants of ADONAI.
Who do you fear? The Bible says the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline (Proverbs 1:7). The fear of the LORD occurs eleven times in Proverbs (and fear the LORD occurs four times). Beginning is the Hebrew re’sit and means the start. We cannot gain knowledge of spiritual things if we start at the wrong point, or refusing to fear the LORD. But what exactly does that mean? To have the fear of the LORD means to recognize God’s character and respond by revering, trusting, worshiping, obeying and serving Him. Re’sit also means the capstone or the essence. Therefore, the essence of true knowledge is fearing God. Apart from Him we are ignorant of spiritual things (Romans 1:22; Ephesians 4:18; First Peter 1:14).
The book of Esther invites us to think about the nature of faith in a world where ADONAI is unseen. Those who have placed their faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob can understand what the author of Esther expresses so eloquently. Hebrews 11:1 says it this way: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. In other words, the very definition of faith calls us to believe in the unseen reality lying behind, or beyond, the events we do see, even when, and perhaps especially when, He acts in unexpected ways. Therefore, on what do we base our lives, if not the visible presence of God? It is the explanation of life that ADONAI gives us in His Word. The deliverance of the Jews gives us the hope of God’s presence and power in our lives even when He seems absent. And as seen in the book of Esther, the answers to our prayers are already on their way, set in motion through a chain of events that may have seemed insignificant at the time.104