Sleepless in Susa : Things are not always as they seem (Esther 6:1-6:14)
Once upon a time a man was shipwrecked on an uninhabited island. He was the lone survivor. Over several months, he constructed a shelter from pieces of wood salvaged from the wreck and from whatever he could find on the island. That little hut was the only protection he had from the elements. It was the only place he cold safeguard his meagre possessions. Upon returning from a lengthy search for food, he was distraught to find the hut engulfed in flames. He spent that night despondent, sleeping on the sand and feeling like God had completely abandoned him. He awoke early the next morning to discover a ship anchored off the island. A crew member stepped ashore and said with a smile, “We saw your smoke signal and came to rescue you.” What seemed to be destruction turned out to be deliverance. And such was the case with Mordecai. He had been shipwrecked by an undercurrent of anti-Semitism on an island of injustice. Now he stood in the shadow of death. Every hope that may have sheltered him had gone up in smoke. But, as we shall see, things are not always as they seem.
We’ve been studying the story of Esther the past few weeks. I don’t know about you, but I’m really beginning to see that God is sovereign. His plans are always providential. Throughout the entire story, although His name is never mentioned, the invisible hand of almighty God has been working behind the scenes on behalf of His people. It’s just like the promise found in Romans 8 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28). In the story of Esther we see God working out his purposes for the benefit of those who love and follow Him. This evening I want us to discover five little things you should know about a great big God:
1. When all seems lost, it isn’t.
2. When no one seems to notice, God does.
3. When everything seems great, it’s not.
4. When nothing seems just, it is.
5. When God seems absent, he is truly present
(And I am enormously grateful to Charles Swindoll for 4/5s of this outline and the inspiration for much of the content).
1. When All Seems Lost, It Isn’t
For the Jews living in Persia in Mordecai’s time, it seemed as if all was lost. Their protection had evaporated, their Queen ineffectual, their enemies gaining in power and confidence. The sand in the hourglass was running out fast. Genocide seemed inevitable. It was only a matter of time. Yet in spite of the way things seemed, that is not the way things were.
We read in verse 1, “That night the king could not sleep” (Esther 6:1). The very night before Mordecai is to be hung. “That” night… not the night before… not the night after… but that night… the king couldn’t sleep!
I’m sure He tried everything. He tried counting sheep, chariots, the number of his concubines… but nothing worked. Don’t you find it interesting that on the very night that Haman was getting ready to kill Mordecai… that was the night the King couldn’t get to sleep? You know sometimes God’s miracles aren’t so much in what He does… as when He does them! Behind the scenes God was at work. His providential plan to deliver the Jewish people was fitting into place. The king had given Esther an audience. He had offered her anything she requested, up to half his kingdom.
But none of the Jews knew what was happening behind the palace doors. Not even Haman knew. Consumed by his desire for revenge, he was too busy building the gallows for Mordechai. It would have been easy at this point for Mordecai to get discouraged – even depressed. No one seemed to remember how he once saved the king’s life. Now it was his life that was at stake and no one remembered his service to king and country. But remember, when all seems lost, it isn’t. Because.
2. When No One Seems To Notice, God Does
Just when the shadow of death seemed at its darkest, a ray of hope shone into the king’s bedroom.
“That night the king could not sleep; so he ordered the book of the chronicles, the record of his reign, to be brought in and read to him. It was found recorded there that Mordecai had exposed Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, who had conspired to assassinate King Xerxes. “What honour and recognition has Mordecai received for this?” the king asked. “Nothing has been done for him,” his attendants answered.” (Esther 6:1-3)
Think about it – of all the texts that could have been selected by the librarian from the records of Xerxes’ 12 years of rule,
isn’t it amazing that the one chosen contained the account of Mordecai’s uncovering the assassination plot in Esther 2:21-23? That’s what was read to the king, on the night he couldn’t get to sleep… the night before Mordecai was to be executed. I know, I know… coincidence right? Let me ask you … Can God direct us in the “little things” of life? How many of you would say yes? Can God direct in the books that people pick up and read? Yes, He can.
Late in February 1916, a student bought a book at a used-book store on a railway station. He’d looked at that book and rejected it at least a dozen times before, but on that day he bought it. It was called, ‘Phantastes’, by George MacDonald.
You have probably never heard of him but he is one of the finest writers of children’s books from the 19th Century… and reading that book eventually led to that young man’s conversion. His name? C.S. Lewis, probably the greatest and most popular defender of the Christian faith in this century.
He later wrote to a friend that he had picked up the book “by hazard,” Chuck Swindoll in his book on Esther writes that… “Often momentous events hang upon the slenderest of threads.
Here the deliverance of the Jews was precipitated by something as insignificant as insomnia. While all of Susa slept, the king lay awake – a reminder that God is not distant or indifferent. He sees. He cares. He intervenes on our behalf.” While the king tossed and turned, Mordecai slept. So in spite of the fact that no one seemed to notice, God did.
Can you empathise with Mordechai? Do you feel like you have been overlooked? Have you been bypassed or sidelined in the company? Others rewarded or given promotion when it was actually your hard work that gave success to the project? Have others ever been given credit for something you did? Sadly, it can even be true in the church. Dedication and sacrificial service is not always acknowledged or appreciated in the way that it should. If you can identify with Mordechai, don’t become resentful.
“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” (Hebrews 6:10)
Though we may feel abandoned, we are never out of God’s watchful eye or far from His protective care. Remember, when all seems lost, it isn’t. Because when no one seems to notice, God does.
3. When Everything Seems Great, it’s Not
As soon as the king heard that nothing had been done to reward Mordecai, he immediately set out to rectify the situation.
“The king said, “Who is in the court?” Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the palace to speak to the king about impaling Mordecai on the pole he had set up for him. His attendants answered, “Haman is standing in the court.” “Bring him in,” the king ordered. When Haman entered, the king asked him, “What should be done for the man the king delights to honour?” (Esther 6:4-6)
Its ironic that the king sought advice from the very person who was in the Palace seeking Mordecai’s destruction not decoration. Thinking he was the person the king wanted to honour, Haman let his greedy imagination run free.
“Now Haman thought to himself, “Who is there that the king would rather honour than me?” So he answered the king, “For the man the king delights to honour, have them bring a royal robe the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, one with a royal crest placed on its head. Then let the robe and horse be entrusted to one of the king’s most noble princes. Let them robe the man the king delights to honour, and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honour!’” (Esther 6:6-9)
Haman’s jaw drops when the king reveals the name of the recipient.
“Go at once,” the king commanded Haman. “Get the robe and the horse and do just as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate. Do not neglect anything you have recommended.” (Esther 6:10)
This must surely be one of the funniest scenes in the whole Bible. What Haman had devised for himself, he would have to provide for his enemy. There are 3 ways to gain rewards in life…
- Try and reward yourself. That’s what Haman was trying to do. That is what most people do. Fiddling expenses, embellishing CVs, the photos of you with famous people on the piano or board room wall. This is the root of all temptation. More people have destroyed their lives trying to reward themselves, than any other way.
- Let others reward you. This is better than doing it yourself , but it doesn’t last very long. The trophy you get today will be sold in a charity shop tomorrow.
- Allow God to reward you. This is the best way, because although no one else may know in this life, God knows and it will last for eternity.
“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:14-17)
Allow God to reward you in his time in his way.
“Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honour.” (Proverbs 18:12). The first half describes Haman, the second half describes Mordechai.
Proverbs 29 says the same thing: “Pride brings a person low, but the lowly in spirit gain honour.” (Proverbs 29:23).
So which side of that comma are you living today? Remember, when all seems lost, it isn’t. Because when no one seems to notice, God does. Because when everything seems great, it’s not, because ultimately,
4. When Nothing Seems Just, It Is
It has been said that the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceedingly small. Haman found himself to be but tiny grist in those mills. His life was under judgement, and it was only a matter of time and he knew it.
“Afterward Mordecai returned to the king’s gate. But Haman rushed home, with his head covered in grief, and told Zeresh his wife and all his friends everything that had happened to him. His advisers and his wife Zeresh said to him, “Since Mordecai, before whom your downfall has started, is of Jewish origin, you cannot stand against him—you will surely come to ruin!” (Esther 6:12-13)
Almost before the warning from his wife could sink in and before Haman could pour himself a stiff drink, he is whisked off to the royal banquet. And the fateful end he had so meticulously planned for Mordechai would be his own.
Things are indeed not always what they seem are they? Lets summarise.
1. When all seems lost, it isn’t. Don’t give up – You can have the victory through Jesus Christ.
2. When no one seems to notice, God does. His Presence Power and Providence are all over this book -every page. He is working in your life right now even though you may not realize it.
3. When everything seems great, it’s not. Haman is a tragic figure. He was filled with hatred and yet was given many opportunities to repent. But his hard heart just got harder. Beware of a hard heart!
4. When nothing seems just, it is. In the end God will work things together for good. He will reward the faithful and punish the disobedient and rebellious in His own time – perhaps in this life, but certainly in the life to come. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). The lesson from the reversal in the fortunes of Haman and Mordechai is really simple.
5. When God Seems Absent, he is Truly Present
And if you have not got it already, let me leave you with some advice from the pen of a senior demon. In C.S. Lewis’, The Screwtape Letters, we read a warning that a senior demon gives to a fledgling demon that that could have been inspired by lessons learnt from Mordechai.
“Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemies will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
Will you still obey him when you have no earthly reason to? Remember, things are not always what they seem. Do not give up. For when God seems absent, it is more to do with our perception than reality, for God is indeed truly present.
With grateful thanks for inspiration and content from Charles Swindoll, “Esther: A Woman for Such a Time as This” and a sermon by Chris Kelly “Little Things to Know About a Big God” on www.sermoncentral.com